Monthly Archives: October 2016

Murder is Brewing in Santa Rosa

Photo by North Bay Stage Company

Photo by North Bay Stage Company

Review of Dial M for Murder
By Frederick Knott
Directed by John Faulkner

For tickets / schedule :
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
North Bay Stage Company

RUN: October 21 – November 6, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(October 28, 2016)

Footsteps creak in the passage, and the audience is holding their breath, tensing with the couple huddled in the dark, clinging to each other in anticipation and terror. Will the key fit the lock? Will an innocent be sent to death row for a crime she did not commit? Dial M for Murder is unique among its genre—the murderer is known all along, and the thrill is in whether or not he can get away with the perfect crime. Director John Faulkner references it as “one of the not-so-common plays where the villain takes center stage.”

Michael Walraven’s Tony has the façade of polished society thinly veiling a chilling psychotic killer. He transitions between self-inflicted personas: a cold intellectual who is fond of rambling to those he has elegantly trapped between his pincers. The scene with Paul Menconi’s Lesgate is disturbing—Tony casually walks about the room, wiping fingerprints off glasses and furniture alike, while Lesgate realizes he has been trapped, his expression growing more panicked as Tony’s leisurely cleaning unfolds. While tennis is the sport referenced by characters, the play is closer to a baseball game—quietly tiptoeing along interspersed with moments of wild action. It is Tony’s mesmerizing dialog that drives the story, not violence.

The loving tenderness of Margot is memorable from Grace Kelly’s performance in the Alfred Hitchcock adaptation, and Jesse Bell brings the poise and innocence of the role to life with an acerbic edge to it. When she successfully defends herself, it is believable considering the strength Margot displays from the opening scene. Although the desperation of the situation causes an eventual breakdown, Jesse Bell’s performance is determined and sympathetic. Despite a skillfully covered for mishap, Tom McIntyre’s Max captures a romantic writer caught up in his own world. Naively in love, he fails to see the cruel cunning of the man beside him until it is nearly too late.

Audie Foote and the team’s set design of drab grey and black furnishings create an overcast atmosphere punctuated by the sunset colored couch where most of the action takes place. Lighting designer Robin Delucca recreates film noir with dramatic changes in lamps and evening moonlight—a crucial aspect of building tension. Because the play is comprised of lengthy monologues, it can become rather static. John Faulkner’s direction shifts actors around the stage: pacing, staring, and limping. This creates a dynamic movement to the scenes, although the hard soled period shoes can become distracting in their loud clacking.

You will be on the edge of your seat for North Bay Stage Company’s Dial M for Murder—a timeless classic of the “nice guy” who is not what he seems. Prepare for a chilling evening of machinations and intrigue from a capable cast of local actors.

‘Titanic The Musical’ is Unsinkable

Review of Titanic The Musical
Story and Book by Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston
Directed by Gene Abravaya
Music Direction by Tina Lloyd Meals
Choreography by Kate Kenyon

For tickets / schedule :
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: October 14-30, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(October 15, 2016)

Titanic Musical Spreckels

Photo by Eric Chazankin

The Titanic disaster has fascinated and appalled generations in the catastrophic loss of life that could have been prevented “if only”. What if they had rammed the iceberg head on, leaving more watertight bulkheads in tact? What if there had been enough lifeboats aboard to hold the entire crew and passengers? What if the SS Californian wireless operator had stayed on call ten more minutes, and heard the distress call? Titanic The Musical could have been a stirring tragedy, emphasizing the pathos of the event, rather like Les Misérables. Instead, it examines the entire journey, capturing the dynamic radiance surrounding Titanic’s maiden voyage, from the sparkle of glittering evening gowns in First Class to elated Irish emigrants dreaming of a new world, and the stokers sweating their passage in front of a boiler, remembering sweethearts at home.

The setting moves throughout the floating city, where we glimpse eloping lovers, a henpecked husband, stewards, officers, the wireless operator, and luxurious upper class passengers, augmented by historical photographs and researched illustrations of Titanic looming over the stage, especially dramatic in her massive engine room. In the hindsight of knowledge, it is easy to consider the voyage ill fated, but that is not how she was seen when pulling away from the dock in Southampton. Passengers are giddy with excitement on the ship of dreams, based on actual historic figures, such as Ismay (Jeremy Berrick) who pompously insists they pick up speed, no matter the cost, Captain Smith (Steven Kent Barker) who is ready to retire, and making a final voyage for the company, Ida Straus (Cindy Brillhart-True) and her husband Isidor Straus (Kit Grimm) co-owners of Macy’s department store, who refused seats on a lifeboat, perishing together in a bittersweet duet Still while the ship sinks.

Titanic Musical Spreckels

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Driven primarily by song, this staged concert has the feel of an opera, with interspersed dialog moving the story along. An extensive cast brings the ship to life through a series of impressively swift costume changes, populating steerage in a lively Lady’s Maid pondering what roles they will have in America, to the condescending aristocracy’s What A Remarkable Age This Is! In a crisp dark evening, Titanic strikes the iceberg, prompting an electrifying second act, as different classes are forced to depend on one another, some choosing to make sacrifices for strangers, and others giving in to terror, seeking only to save themselves. The musical languishes in its final moments, opting for a heavy handed denouement, rather than allowing characters to speak for themselves, and the audience to reflect on the experience.

Come aboard the Titanic for a remarkable excursion into history—join the passengers as they hope and dream; a harmonious cast of remarkable singers recreates life aboard in 1912. If you are wondering how the story of Titanic could be turned into a musical, and are skeptical of the Spreckels’ production, put your doubts aside and prepare to be astonished at this moving tribute to an unforgettable event.

‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ Shines in Sebastopol

Review of Dancing at Lughnasa
By Brian Friel
Directed by Molly Noble
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: October 14-30, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(October 14, 2016)

Dancing at Lughnasa Sebastapol Main Stage West

Photo by Eric Chazankan

This year, the North Bay abounded with Brian Friel’s masterful play Dancing at Lughnasa. I have yet to tire of this bleak, yet intimate story of an Irish family’s final moment of happiness during the harvest festival of Lughnasa in 1936. Director Molly Noble paints a delightfully hopeful vignette, filling it with innocence, contemplation, and toe tapping Irish step dancing that has been missing in recent productions. Distinctly unique sisters come together with vibrant chemistry in a strong ensemble cast, nestled in an airy set design that concentrates on the house, rather than outdoor action, leaving the tree to imagination and centering on the living women instead. Missy Weaver’s lighting design transforms a soft coral background painting by Marie Lynne into deep reds evocative of African bonfire ceremonies, or cheerful pale gold when laughter permeates the air: a visual representation of shifting emotion in the play.

As evident from recent productions, the narrator Michael (Steven Abbott) is crucial to maintaining the weight of tension between scenes. If energy drops during his soliloquies, the main cast struggles to right it again. Fortunately, Steven Abbott carries his role with easy grace, using a hint of lyrical brogue and gentle humor. His memories enhance the story, filling in cracks of knowledge, leading the audience through the experience with compassionate retrospection.

Dancing at Lughnasa in Sebastapol Main Stage West

Photo by Eric Chazankan

Outwardly stern Kate (Floriana Alessandria) feels that she alone must keep the household together, but senses that her control is slipping. Her breakdown to Maggie reveals a woman who desperately needs to be useful to the family she loves. Ivy Rose Miller as Chris, though slipping with her accent, brings the sweet naiveté of one who is genuinely in love, and unwilling to admit failure; she chooses hope over bitterness. Maggie is known for her outgoing antics; Liz Jahren brings out the devouring depression that underlies her character, glazed over in agony after considering her story of the Military Two-Step judges. Ilana Niernberger’s Agnes is a focused presence onstage, intermittently bursting with passion beneath her brooding. Providing lighthearted relief through his anecdotes and search for proper vocabulary, Father Jack (John Craven) shuffles through the family drama with detached serenity, content in his faith and daydreaming of returning to Uganda.

This spirited production reminds us that each moment is fleeting; we must grasp onto them while we can. Main Stage West presents an optimistic Dancing at Lughnasa through a subtly tender love story, pondering what it means to be adrift, and discovering faith in unlikely places. Spend your evening with the Mundy sisters in this engaging Irish play.

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