Monthly Archives: September 2016

Venture Down the River with Huckleberry Finn

Review of Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Music and Lyrics by Roger Miller
Book by William Haupton
Adopted from the novel by Mark Twain
Directed by Taylor Bartolucci and Barry Martin
Music Direction by Craig Burdette
Lucky Penny Productions
For tickets / schedule :
http://www.luckypennynapa.com
Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, Napa

RUN: September 9 – 25, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(September 10, 2016)

Big River Huckleberry Finn Lucky Penny

Photo from Lucky Penny Productions

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most important and controversial works of American fiction. Scholars have argued for its merit as an abolitionist work, and criticized it as racist. What can be agreed upon is that it raises questions that are relevant today. Lucky Penny states that “Much consideration was spent when analyzing the script before production began, and we decided that it was written in this manner for a reason. So we chose not to alter this classic piece of literature to ensure it maintained the author’s original intent.” The era and setting of the story demonstrate how ingrained the idea of slavery as an honorable institution was in society. Huck Finn reprimands himself for helping a runaway slave, thinking it will send him to hell, and makes him a bad person, but the sacrifice is worth it to save his friend.

Roger Miller’s music and lyrics draw on the African American spirituals tradition, with strong melody, minor key accents, and powerful singing. Kennedy Williams steps in for a series of moving laments, such as her Crossing solo as a recaptured slave being herded back to St. Louis. Having lived in that city, I saw first-hand how devastating racial tension can be to this day. The scene was a heart-rending reminder of how far we have to go as a country to become one people, rather than divided. The strength of this musical is its ability to combine a fun adventure story with tragic moments that silence us into contemplation of how human beings could treat each other in such a way.

Big River Huckleberry Finn Lucky Penny

Photo from Lucky Penny Productions

Adam Blankenship as Huckleberry Finn is an amiable country bumpkin who is batted back and forth between two strict Christian women and his drunken abusive father. His stage presence keeps the energy level high throughout the play, his forceful voice carrying many a solo. The two con artists, portrayed boisterously by Barry Martin and Michael Scott Wells, swagger and entertain until greed turns their antics into a nightmare. Tom Sawyer (Jordan Martin) provides constant laughs with his romantic notions and schemes. Phillip Percy Williams’ performance as Jim is a masterful combination of comedy and anguish. He pals around with Huck Finn until moving the atmosphere to a quiet opening of the heart, sharing his love for the family that was ripped away from him, and plans to work for their freedom if it takes him the rest of his life. Free at Last is a beautiful cry of longing from Jim as he languishes shackled in an old shed. The reprise of River in the Rain closes the musical on a quiet note of regret and yearning.

Big River Huckleberry Finn Lucky Penny

Photo from Lucky Penny Productions

Barbara McFadden’s costume designs are streamlined and nostalgic, with enough historical accuracy to create a believable setting. Huck Finn’s single strap overall is evocative of the original Huckleberry Finn illustrations from 1885, but it is troublesome in a moving play, causing constant adjustments that distract from the action. The set design by Taylor Bartoluci and Barry Martin places the small theatre on the banks of a river, complete with rushes and hanging mosses.

Do not miss Big River by Lucky Penny Productions—an impactful journey into the past, when slavery was not only accepted, but considered the natural order. It is a reminder of how far we have come, and how much farther we need to go to eliminate racial inequality. Big River is a play to bring the whole family to; it features a strong cast of young people, important message, and lively musical numbers.

Fiery Rhythm from Sol Flamenco

REVIEW OF SOL FLAMENCO
Marin Onstage & Sol Flamenco
For tickets / schedule :
marinonstage.org
For more about Sol Flamenco:
solflamenco.com
Belrose Theatre, San Rafael

RUN: September 9-10, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(September 9, 2016)

Sol Flamenco Santa Rosa at the Belrose

Sol Flamenco opens with explosive palmas fuertes filling the intimate Belrose Theatre with exhilarating sound. Mark Taylor’s intricate toque skims the guitar in mesmerizing speed, interwoven with heart-felt, but not overpowering cante by El Moreno. The ensemble has cheerful, festive atmosphere with a good-humored sense of fun. The cozy velvet-draped theatre with tiny tables is the perfect setting for flamenco, which is often performed in cafés and bars throughout Spain.

A soulful, vibrant style of dance, flamenco comes out of the gypsy tradition when several cultures found themselves joined together taking mutual refuge. It gradually evolved into a performance art, when it solidified into the form we are familiar with today. Sol Flamenco is based in Santa Rosa, and was first invited to the Belrose last year to a delighted audience.

Sol Flamenco Santa Rosa at the Belrose

The evening’s program was varied, from the emotional longing of Soleá de Alcalá, to an electrifying flurry of footwork in Bulería fin de fiesta. I am partial toward Alegrías, since it was my favorite to perform, and Aldo Ruiz created a fast tempo lyrical performance with poise and elegance. Starting in traditional silence, Joelle Gonçalves’ Tangos de Malaga transitioned from haunting to playful and energetic. Her floreo is stunning—her fingers nimbly shift in flowering hand movements, flowing like water. Equally impressive, her feet strike precise sounds in clean rhythm across the floor.

Sol Flamenco is an electrifying evening of phenomenal music and dance that will carry you into a world of passion that is unique to flamenco.

Marin Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’—Powerful Tragedy

Review of Othello
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Robert Currier
For tickets / schedule :
www.marinshakespeare.org
Marin Shakespeare
Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University of California

RUN: September 2 – 25, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(September 3, 2016)

Marin Shakespeare Othello

Photo by Lori A. Cheung

Othello is rooted in raw emotion—passion, jealousy, revenge—demonstrated powerfully in the ballet version by Lar Lubovitch. The story relies heavily on internal unvoiced emotion conveyed through the actors, rather than repartee. Othello’s deep love is moved to disgust, Iago’s stung honour festers into rage, and Emilia’s coldness turns to horror. Director Robert Currier brings out the popular Medieval concept of faege feallan, that death at the appointed time is inevitable. The audience watches powerlessly as Iago lays elaborate traps, serving as cruel puppet master until the one player he thought was fully under his control breaks free.

Marin Shakespeare Othello

Photo by Lori A. Cheung

Cassidy Brown’s Iago takes pleasure in his machinations with collected ease. He is a disturbing mix of pleasant companion and thoughtful villain, rather like Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes. What begins as a source of amusement for him, pushing Othello as far as he can, spins into a treacherous plot in earnest, reaching dark depths in the murder of innocent Desdemona. His clever wife, Emilia (Elena Wright), goes along at first with minor jests, but does not realize how far he is willing to go. She catches glimpses of his true nature, which gives her pause, and when she discovers her husband caused the death of her dearest friend, Emilia snaps. Elena Wright is riveting in her frantic pleas that Iago’s lies be revealed, irate at the injustice of Desdemona’s fate. She cries out what the audience wanted to do from the beginning—rip the mask away from Iago and show his duplicity.

The Moor is inhabited by Dameion Brown, whose commanding presence dominates the stage. Toward Desdemona, his tenderness is heartbreaking—soft even while snuffing out her life. Breaking up Cassio’s drunken brawl, his leadership causes men to tremble from a look. That focus and confidence will serve him well as an actor. His lovely, naïve wife Desdemona (Luisa Frasconi) trips about with girlish solicitude, looking for the best in everyone and oblivious to her own destruction. She is caught up in her own world, unable to discern Othello’s moods or Iago’s jealousy.

Marin Shakespeare Othello

Photo by Lori A. Cheung

Dreary castle walls loom over the stage, illuminated by flashes of torchlight flickering through the gloom. The set design by Jackson Currier includes a moat and tiered performance areas used to excellent effect during the production. Abra Berman’s costumes continue to impress, from flowing robes to tight scarlet jerkins.

Marin Shakespeare’s Othello is a somber study in the difference one man can make in the lives of others—a tribute to doomed love, set amid the intimate Forest Meadows amphitheatre in gathering dusk. Othello is pure Shakespeare, traditionally staged with an exemplary cast and setting.

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