Yearly Archives: 2016

Steampunk Christmas Carol Captures the Holiday Spirit

A Christmas Carol 6th Street Playhouse 2016

Photo by Eric Chazankin

A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Michael Wilson

Directed by Craig A. Miller
Choreography by Jacinta Gorringe

For tickets & schedule:
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa, CA

November 25 – December 23, 2016

RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(November 25, 2016)

A Christmas Carol is the beloved tale of rekindling childhood joy that has been weighed down by survival in the harsh world of what millennials refer to as ‘adulting’. In a whirlwind of paying bills and furthering his career, Ebenezer Scrooge (Charles Siebert) loses his first love and drowns himself in a self-constructed prison of bitterness. Siebert’s crotchety antics possess glimmers of comedy in between shaking down an innocent doll vendor (Jessica Headington) and a Jules Verne inspired clockmaker (Ryan Severt). Townspeople scatter in terror at Scrooge’s name, until he transforms into a giddy philanthropist eager to spread the Christmas spirit, inviting them in for turkey and festivities.

Director Craig A. Miller has created a tightly oiled flow between scenes—what might be awkward transitions of moving furniture become delightful choral moments of caroling, and the play moves at a fast enough pace to keep the younger members of the audience enthralled. Scattered through the props, projections, Jesse Dreikosen’s splendid Steampunk set design, and Pat Fitzgerald’s costumes, are clock gears and an impending sense of time being the story’s true author. The Spirits arrive through a dramatic fog laced clock face swinging open, immediately making an impression and dominating the stage.

A Christmas Carol 6th Street Playhouse 2016

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Headington’s Ghost of Christmas Past is an ethereal dancer wafting through scenes while scattering magical snow to reveal secrets that Scrooge has forgotten. Robert Finney arrives as the Ghost of Christmas Present, bringing revelry and merriment in his wake, convincing Scrooge how wrong he was to pass judgment so harshly on his family and those less fortunate who can cannot afford a proper Christmas dinner. George’s costume for the Ghost of Christmas Future (Severt) is alarming in its dark simplicity. Miller and John Gromada’s sound design for the future, with grinding gears and unnerving screeches, adds to the haunting nature of the spirit’s message.

The Cratchit family is A Christmas Carol’s heart, with an outstanding performance by Jeff Cote as the father, who realistically shivers in a freezing office and is overcome with pride upon seeing his family gathered to greet him. In the dual roles of Belle and Fred’s Wife, Crystal Carpenter turns what can be an uninteresting flashback to a moving scene of tragic love when she bids farewell to a younger Scrooge (Stefan Wenger). The two solicitors (Dwayne Stincelli and Tice Allison) are a lively comedy duo throughout the play—aghast that Scrooge would refuse their charity cause, and eager for a proper lunch at his funeral.

A Christmas Carol at 6th Street Playhouse is a charming holiday play for the whole family, with memorable set design and an engaging cast. If you are looking for a merry way to start the season, come to Railroad Square for a heartwarming production of holiday cheer.

Board the H.M.S. Pinafore for Rollicking Entertainment

Ross Valley Players H.M.S. Pinafore

Photo by Robin Jackson

Review of H.M.S. Pinafore
By W.S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan
Directed by James Dunn
Musical Direction by Jef Labes
Choreography by Sandra Tanner

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

RUN: November 17 – December 18, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(November 18, 2016)

Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas carry a whimsical, larger than life tone similar to short stories in a turn-of-the-century Punch magazine. Heroines are sweet and doe-eyed, villains are mustache twirling caricatures, and young star-crossed lovers find their happy ending through a twist of fate. In H.M.S. Pinafore, the daughter of the captain falls hopelessly in love with a common sailor, while her father plots to marry her off to the bumbling Sir Joseph Porter. All is well in a hopeful, if confusing, deus ex machina finale.

Ross Valley Players excel with set design; Ron Krempetz recreates the deck of a Royal Navy ship complete with portholes, hatches that are actual stage entrances, ladders, and guns, inviting the audience onto the ship with its crew. Sandra Tanner’s choreography uses the confined space well, creating patterns that add to the comic charm of musical numbers, rather than relying on flashy steps and soloists. Since the ensemble has a variety of dance abilities, she keeps it simple, creating a strong unity between characters. Michael Berg’s sailor costumes have a clean white cut to them with a splash of color, similar to George Balanchine’s Union Jack. Josephine’s late 1910s dresses are becoming and suit her personality, making up for the other women, who are arrayed in less definitive eras of costuming.

Ross Valley Players H.M.S. Pinafore

Photo by Robin Jackson

Gilbert & Sullivan can be a tongue-twister to sing, with libretto such as, “I always voted at my party’s call, and I never thought of thinking for myself at all.” It requires clear enunciation while maintaining a pleasing tone simultaneously—no mean feat. For the most part, the cast manages to balance the two. Sibel Demirmen’s Josephine is angelic and riveting, her voice exquisite and poised, as a proper captain’s daughter should be. Cordell Wesselink’s Ralph Rackstraw adroitly parodies the saccharine melodies of his romantic lead. The key with this type of musical is to take the character utterly seriously, and that over-enthusiastic ardor becomes the scene’s comedy. Jim Fye’s Dick Deadeye will entertain children in attendance—his sinister expressions, curled fingers, and crouching stance create a fun mischief-maker in the crew. Despite prop difficulties, Fye did not break character, turning it into part of the story instead. A standout was Dana Cherry as Cousin Hebe, who’s expressive eyes, dazzling smile, and flirtatious advances at Sir Joseph are cause for hilarity. Heather Werkheiser’s Little Buttercup is rosy cheeked and energetic, even when in the background of a scene reacting to the main action.

Ross Valley Players frolic with maritime lovers in this delightful production of H.M.S. Pinafore. Bring your sisters, and cousins, and aunts to a lighthearted evening of clever satire. If this is your first time at a Gilbert & Sullivan play, prepare for frivolity, ridiculous plot points, asides to the audience, and songs based on repetition from the chorus for comedic effect. As Sir Joseph would suggest, don’t think too much about it, sit back and enjoy the tomfoolery as it unfolds.

‘Picasso at the Lapin Agile’ in Graton

Review of Picasso at the Lapin Agile
By Steve Martin
Directed by Matt Cadigan
For tickets / schedule :
Pegasus Theater Company
Graton Community Club, Graton

RUN: November 4-27, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(November 12, 2016)

Picasso at the Lapin Agile Graton Pegasus Theater Company

Photo from Pegasus Theater Company

Penned by renowned comedian Steve Martin, Picasso at the Lapin Agile is an effervescent confection of comedy vaguely set in 1904, unburdened by historical accuracy. Blatant flirting with the Countess conveniently ignores that Einstein was a newlywed with an infant son by his physicist wife Mileva Marić, and characters regularly use modern slang to gain a laugh. Beulah Vega’s costumes are decidedly modern with touches of the turn-of-the-century, saved by Godey’s Lady’s Book Gibson girl hairstyles, which are superior to the attempts of most Edwardian plays. Characters flit in and out of the bar as the evening progresses, save for old Gaston (Jim Maresca) who’s wistful comments on aging and the pursuit of beauty ground the production in his down-to-earth perspective.

As the name of the bar suggests, this play is a “Nimble Rabbit” hopping from one topic to the next, bouncing between sub plots and scenes, loosely held together by a central thread that ideas and concepts are worth pursuing. Einstein and Picasso shift from adversaries to brothers discussing the origins of creative thought. Both are poised on the verge of greatness, moments before their careers set them apart as geniuses. The play is overly conscious of that fact, placing intense emphasis on “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” and the Theory of Relativity, although Einstein’s repartee with Germaine regarding adding illustrations to liven up his book is quite amusing. Steve Martin gathers a collection of intelligent, lively characters in an informal setting to toss out notions and opinions simply for the sake of an entertaining evening.

Capturing romantic spark and tension are the clever bartenders Freddy (James Rowan) and Germaine (Tricia Siegel) who fearlessly interrupt to improve the caliber of conversation. Sagot’s (Arnold House) brief appearance is memorable and lighthearted, glowing with enthusiasm for the world of art. Rush Cosgrove’s Picasso is an arrogant womanizer who is confronted with his flaws by Germaine’s insight. He initially clashes with Einstein, leading to a ferocious duel with pencils to napkin for the perfect drawing. Matlock Zumsteg’s Einstein oozes bravado and the youthful ambition that his banal job with the patent office is a temporary setback. The ensemble is exuberant and silly, while giving justice to their characters and acknowledging the import of an evening with Einstein and Picasso.

Join two intellectual giants on a pub crawl through the early 20th century; Picasso at the Lapin Agile is a relaxing divertissement of ideas doused in absinthe and frivolity.

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