Monthly Archives: August 2016

Hooray for ‘Animal Crackers’ at 6th Street Playhouse

6th Street Playhouse Animal Crackers

Photo by 6th Street Playhouse

Animal Crackers
By George S. Kaufman & Morrie Ryskind
Music and Lyrics by Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby

Directed by Craig A. Miller
Music Direction by Justin Pyne
Choreography by Joseph Favalora

For tickets & schedule:
www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa, CA

RUN: August 19 – September 18, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(August 27, 2016)

Animal Crackers is based on the Marx Brothers’ 1930 film, set at a prominent socialite’s elaborate house party. Eager to impress and dress down her rivals, Mrs. Rittenhouse brings in big game with Captain Spaulding, the African explorer, and an unveiling of Beaugard’s “After the Hunt” oil painting. The stage is set for a glittering masterpiece of entertaining, until a series of unfortunate incidents plunges the house into tragicomic chaos that only Marx Brothers shenanigans can instigate. It is not so much a musical as the singing is a natural extension of comedic rhythm woven throughout the story.

Jeff Coté captures Groucho’s poise and mannerisms flawlessly, although his execution of ad lib humor lacks the editing prowess and timing of the original actor. It is admirable to attempt infusing off the cuff humor, but many of the jokes fell flat and may have been better carefully scripted instead. His entrance is surprising and dramatic, capturing the spirit of the original while navigating our modern sensibilities of other cultures with more grace than carting the Captain out carried by Africans in native apparel. Famous scenes are reproduced with attention to detail, such as his conversation with Mrs. Rittenhouse (Jacinta Gorringe) regarding hunting. “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.” Incidentally, Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont recreated the scene on the Hollywood Palace show in her final on screen appearance, a tribute to its longevity. Jacinta Gorringe takes to her role as society matron with alacrity, towering in majestic indignation at the increasing antics ruffling her house party. Their chemistry together is crackling, keeping pace with the Captain’s witty barbs.

6th Street Playhouse Animal Crackers

Photo by 6th Street Playhouse

From April George’s clever lighting design to a lovely 1930s set design by Joe Klug, Animal Crackers evokes the era without being enslaved to precise accuracy. The orchestra is strong, and participates in well-done comedic moments involving Harpo. Unfortunately they often overshadow the singing, rending lyrics into indecipherable buzzing underneath the orchestration.

Juggling the multiple roles of innocent debutante with acerbic villainess, Abbey Lee alternates between a bubbly blonde doting on her handsome young beau to the vodka swigging crafty Mrs. Whitehead determined to take down anyone in her way. Partner in crime Grace Carpenter (Lydia Revelos) is a remarkable songstress despite a formidable pair of false buck teeth, belting out The Blues My Naughty Baby Gives to Me. Joseph Favalora’s remarkable choreography for the two of them had the audience roaring; a highlight of the production. Her alternate persona as nerdy Mary Stewart was equally engaging, paired with Matthew Herida’s hapless artist. David L. Yen ambles about with Emmanuel Ravelli’s signature ne’er-do-well charm, egging on the madness in a quiet unassuming way, with a memorable bit attempting to conduct the orchestra. The Professor (Erik Weiss) sweetly mimics Harpo’s absurd expressions, leading to hilarious misunderstandings.

6th Street Playhouse Animal Crackers

Photo by 6th Street Playhouse

Animal Crackers at 6th Street Playhouse is a madcap musical comedy and touching tribute to the Marx Brothers—an impressive opening to their new season. Join the zany cast of characters for an evening of acerbic one-liners, sentimental lovers, and genuine belly laughs.

‘The Comedy of Errors’ is the Cat’s Meow

Comedy of Errors Curtain Theatre Mill Valley

Photo by Russell Johnson

The Comedy of Errors
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Carl Jordan

For schedule (free admission):
www.curtaintheatre.org
Old Mill Park Amphitheatre
Mill Valley, CA
The Curtain Theatre

RUN: August 20 – September 11, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(August 20, 2016)

The Comedy of Errors is Shakespearean comedy at its finest. Two sets of twins are separated in a shipwreck, and years later happen upon the same town, Ephesus, where they are constantly mistaken for each other. The Curtain Theatre has surrounded them with a vibrant Roaring 20s community filled with pinstripe suit gangsters, glamorous warbling courtesans, and enough fringe to cover an entire fleet of surreys. The play is made to be set in this era—with two feisty heroines, merchants willing to look the other way for a payout, and a lot of fuss made over a gold chain.

Steve Coleman’s set design is a detailed winding street with splashes of warm Tuscan colors, complete with a miniature centaur hanging by the inn bearing its name. Baubles and bangles galore dazzle from the costume design team of Amaris Blagborne, Melissa Claire, and Janice Deneau. Set amid a stately redwood grove, the stage is a feast for the senses.

The two Dromios (Heather Cherry and Nick Christenson) caper in increasing confusion between masters, receiving hard knocks from whatever is at hand—baguettes, forks, stuffed animals, and rubber chickens, assisted by percussion from the musicians. Carl Jordan’s direction leads to clever buffoonery and comical reactions from other cast members observing Dromio’s distress. The twin masters, Skylar Collins and Adam Niemann, react to circumstances with genuine surprise and distress, buffeted along by increasingly odd circumstances.

Comedy of Errors Curtain Theatre Mill Valley

Photo by Russell Johnson

Luciana (Heather Gordon) carries herself with sprightly ease, wrestling with an attraction toward the man she supposes to be her brother-in-law. Adriana (Melissa Claire) believes her husband has deserted her, and after downing several flutes of champagne, sets off to bring him home. She is the driving force of the plot, and a powerful example of a woman unwilling to give up on the man she loves. Equally put upon is the drawling Mae West goldsmith (Alexis Christenson) peering over her furs with a cunning eye, and outraged when her chain is taken without payment.

Curtain Theatre puts the old razzle-dazzle into The Comedy of Errors, creating a jazz hall adaptation that will delight all ages. Do not miss this charismatic take on Shakespeare’s classic play—it’s the bee’s knees.

Sparks Fly in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

Review of The Taming of the Shrew
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Steven David Martin

For tickets / schedule :
www.raventheater.org
Bear Republic Courtyard
Healdsburg, CA
Raven Players

RUN: August 11-27, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(August 19, 2016)

taming-of-shrew-raven-healdsburg-1

The Taming of the Shrew is a disturbing comedy to modern audiences, presenting a formidable directing challenge. In a world where women speaking their minds are considered shrewish and should be starved and abused to gain their docile obedience, how can the play be remotely amusing? Director Steven David Martin has an alternate perspective that Kate is hounded by a conniving younger sister, and acts out, using her final speech as a take down of Bianca, rather than truly meaning what she says. For the most part it works, augmented with gender defying casting choices and characters, but the underlying theme of the play cannot be entirely overwritten. Its setting is the 1950s, a time of repression and domestic expectations for women—an apt era for the play, and the flavor is so Italian you can taste pesto and ciabatta in the air.

Rather than depending on elaborate sets, Bear Republic’s intimate outdoor courtyard becomes the backdrop, surrounded by trees in resplendent bloom scattering bright petals, as the audience is serenaded by Steve Albini’s light accordion melodies. His accompaniment continues throughout the play, including a recurring theme for Bianca until Kate scolds him into silence.

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Petruchio (Bill Garcia) and Katharina (Julie Schuldt) are well matched in a passionate physical flirtation that is mutually aggressive. His outrageous appearance at the wedding is suitably embarrassing, and despite mercenary motives, Garcia portrays a man smitten with Kate’s raw energy and spirit. His servant, Grumio (Zack Acevedo), is a highlight of the play, strutting with straight-faced eccentricity through scenes of utter chaos. Bianca’s suitors are a notable team of middle aged bachelors with merry hearts, who give in with good-natured grace when they see her fall in love with a youth her own age.

Lucentia (Samantha Haviland) is sweetness itself, but her servant, Tranio (Matt Farrell), shines out of the duo. He transforms from a bumbling companion into Lucentio, the fresh-faced suitor. Their antics to claim Bianca reach legendary proportions, causing hilarity and heartache. Siobhan O’Reilly as Bianca puts on the perfect outer show, hiding a deceitful woman as shrewish as her sister. Rather than being a surprise at the end, her refusal to answer Lucentia’s summons is in character; the shock is to characters who were unaware of her duplicity.

Raven Players have crafted The Taming of the Shrew into a form palatable to a modern audience, filled with slapstick laughs while raising important questions as to gender roles in society and how far we should be willing to go for revenge.

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