Monthly Archives: October 2016

Delightful Evening of Jane Austen

Review of Pride and Prejudice – The Musical
Music and Lyrics by Rita Abrams
Book by Josie Brown
Directed by Lexie Papedo Gasparini
Musical Direction by Rita Abrams
Choreography by Nicole Helfer

For tickets / schedule :
The Southside Theatre, Fort Mason Center
San Francisco, CA
IAM Theatre Company

RUN: September 23 – October 9, 2016
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(October 1, 2016)

Pride and Prejudice The Musical IAM

Photo by Dudley Mendenhall

Pride and Prejudice captures the imagination and offers a hopeful outlook on the eternal quest to find a perfect partner. It has been adapted in many incarnations, from the modern vlog The Lizzie Bennet Diaries that took the internet by storm in 2012 to the iconic Colin Firth miniseries, faithfully adapting book to screen. This lighthearted romp into Regency England features jaunty tunes, lyric packed songs reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan, and an enthusiastic cast. Streamlined set backdrops roll in and out, transforming the stage between manor houses and country lanes, augmented by lovely pieces of vintage furniture.

The first act falters, hampered by weak opportunities for significant encounters between characters, but catapults forward to a heartwarming conclusion, thanks to heightened drama and intimate interchanges in the second act. Darcy’s (David Crane) The One I Could Have Been With You brings out his deep tenderness for Elizabeth (Brittany Law) which was not evident in their ferocious argument during his proposal, which is closer to the violent response from Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, rather than the coldly polite gentry of Jane Austen’s era. There are anachronisms galore, which can be overlooked due to the high caliber of singing throughout the cast.

Lizzy Moss (Jane Bennet) embodies a sweet, shy woman who feels acutely without demonstrating it in overblown displays of affection—the ideal Jane. Her Charles Bingley (Kodo Elder-Groebe) is equally good natured with a beaming smile and welcoming demeanor, leading to a charming proposal that received a sigh of contentment from the audience. Kathy Deichen’s Mrs. Bennet, while inconsistent with her English accent, is a powerful presence and formidable singer. Geoffrey Colton as Mr. Bennet stole the evening with his comic asides, stalwart expression, and poised performance. Unlike the novel, obsequious Mr. Collins (Chris Maltby) appears throughout, lending amusing reactions to the main action.

Pride and Prejudice IAM

Photo by Graham Law

The strength of this production is Lexie Papedo Gasparini’s stage direction. Despite a large cast, the background is always active with mini vignettes between characters, and enough movement to avoid the trap of standing about reciting dialog back and forth. Pride and Prejudice is fluid, with spirited, if occasionally over dramatized, acting. When using the flow of Jane Austen’s wit, Josie Brown’s book is excellent; the music is not as consistent, with delightful standouts such as Five Daughters and In My Imagination interspersed with oddly coarse language that pleases a modern audience, but jolts the story out of its historical setting.

Pride and Prejudice – The Musical is an exceptional evening of song and romance, capturing the playfulness of Jane Austen’s story while reimagining it as a lively musical. While there are moments that will cause a purist to cringe, overall it is an enjoyable production. To borrow a Regency phrase, it is excessively diverting.

Adorable ‘Sylvia’ in Ross Valley

Ross Valley Players Sylvia

Photo by Gregg Le Blanc

Review of Sylvia
By A.R. Gurney
Directed by Buzz Halsing

For tickets / schedule :
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross, CA
Ross Valley Players

RUN: September 16 – October 16, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(September 30, 2016)

Dogs have been cherished companions throughout history, whether in a Victorian country manor, ancient Chinese court, or bounding through a pet friendly tech firm between cubicles. Human relationships form with them in close-knit bonds, leading to “dog children” and a market devoted to pampering and playing. They will always adore us, eager to please, brimming over with love. It is no surprise when weary, dissatisfied Greg (Keith Jefferds) who is miserable at work and ignored by his career driven wife, latches onto a lost dog in the park. When Sylvia (Jannely Calmell) appears, his world brightens with her energetic joy and love for him. Greg’s enthusiasm for a dirty, messy mongrel is not looked kindly upon by Kate (Jennifer Reimer) who sees “Saliva” as a nuisance getting in the way of her work. In an amusing ever building battle, she becomes obsessed with driving Sylvia out of their lives.

Jannely Calmell is phenomenal as the coquettish canine, embodying classic dog behavior—scratching her ears on the floor, sniffing fire hydrants, and leaping to the door when a visitor arrives, yipping “Hey! Hey!” Emotion flits across her expressive face, from ecstasy at going for a walk, to mournful despair when Greg leaves her alone in the dark apartment. Constantly shifting costumes from Michael Berg reflect her moods, with a splash of pink to match her personality. Don’t miss Calmell’s fascinating performance—as much a treat as Sylvia’s rewards for rolling over and catching the little red ball. Buzz Halsing’s direction has her bounding in dog fashion interspersed with vulnerable moments interacting more as a human with other characters.

Eccentric bibliophile dog owner, stuffy society matron, and New Age therapist, Jim Fye shifts between characters with adaptable ease. As Phyllis, the antics of an unanticipated dog send her over the edge, glugging Scotch and desperately attempting escape from the hair strewn apartment. His Tom offers sage, if questionably valid, advice. Jim’s characters offer unique perspectives into Sylvia’s presence and her impact on Greg and Kate.

Sasha Oaks’ glittering New York skyline set is simple and enticing. From the moment patrons entered, I heard exclamations of awe at the lights and buildings ringing the stage. Its distant elegance parallels Kate’s journey. She thought her life was completely sorted out and planned until an irritating mutt plopped her behind on the pristine couch. Jennifer Reimer moves from stern reproach to hysterical fervor, tying the story together with a deeply moving twist at the end. Keith Jefferds’ Greg is unflappable in his doting on Sylvia, even when she disappoints him; a beautiful picture of dog and beloved owner.

Sylvia explores the human need for steadfast love during difficult times, when we want a companion waiting at the door to welcome us home, and lift our spirits with enthusiastic, if soggy, affection. It is a warning not to become too wrapped up in personal goals, unwilling to let go for those we care about. Ross Valley Players Sylvia is a captivating journey of acceptance and love.

Note: This play features adult content and language, it is not appropriate for a young audience member.

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