Monthly Archives: May 2017

Love and War in ‘Private Lives’

Review of Private Lives
By Noël Coward
Directed by Ken Rowland

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

RUN: May 19 – June 18, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(May 19, 2017)

Ross Valley Players - Private Lives

Photo by Robin Jackson

Daring passion can be magnificent when lovers are in harmony, but what happens when its explosion of power leads to virulent quarrels, self destructing the relationship? Is a calm, cozy affection better in the long run, or a watered down version of true love? For two couples on honeymoon, it becomes a life changing decision. Penned in mere days, when Noël Coward was ill in Shanghai, the play has a quick, flowing pace, driven by emotions of the characters, rather than a decisive plot. The final scene is bittersweet and satisfying—a fitting conclusion to the open question of whether love is worth fighting for.

Ken Rowland’s set design creates a romantic atmosphere, with sheer curtains, rose colored marble balconies and cascading potted plants that shift into a comfortable Art Deco flat for Act II. Augmenting the mood is Stephen Dietz’s sound design of ocean waves and light orchestra. When combined with tactile language from Coward’s script, it is easy to picture lights from the yachts twinkling on moonlit water far below.

The tempestuous stage fight, choreographed by Zoë Swenson-Graham, is riddled with breaking objects, some of which seem quite real, and had the audience on the edge of their seats, gaping at the quarrel while actors ducked and threw books, records, chairs, pillows, and anything else at hand, smashing lamps and vases with gleeful abandon. It must have been quite the scene to stage, and keeps its spontaneous quality, thanks to being well-rehearsed and smoothly executed. Janice Koprowski’s costume designs are opulent, with flowing 1930s gowns and modish pant suits, rather like Miss Fisher’s Mysteries.

Ross Valley Players - Private Lives

Photo by Robin Jackson

Four quite varied characters inhabit Private Lives—the feminine “girl next door” Sibyl, suave world traveler Elyot who has a habit of becoming flippant when faced with an awkward situation, Amanda, a wildcat and consummate liar, yet alluring despite it, and Victor, the stuffy, normal sort of fellow who is taken aback at the proceedings. Together they must navigate the dangerous path of love; whether they succeed or not is up for interpretation.

LeAnne Rumbel’s Amanda struggles with finding her identity—she retains the charged zeal of her youth, but tempered, until passion rips apart her perceived maturity. Rumbel’s melodramatic dancing is a sight to behold, and she tosses out javelin insults with the practiced ease of an Olympian. Gregory Crane as Elyot carries the quality of a Shakespearean actor into the role, bringing out the music and elegant repetition of Coward’s lines. Simon Patton’s Victor is quietly present for most of the play, until blazing into action during the final act. Laura Morgan as Sibyl enters an emotional roller coaster, which the character’s sheltered upbringing has not prepared her for, and keeps a level of naïve surprise when she bursts into tears at being treated in such an unfamiliar manner. Susan Stein as Louise, the French maid, may not have lines in English, but she does not need them to make an impression—the way she flings garlic about, snarling at the state of the room is highly amusing in any language.

Ross Valley Players - Private Lives

Photo by Robin Jackson

Private Lives with Ross Valley Players is an honest portrayal of how love can bring out the best and worst in a couple. When passion runs hot, so does anger and jealousy—is it worth the journey? Noël Coward’s classic play remains relevant, with a sparkling, witty cast and well timed direction from Ken Rowland.

Comedic Mayhem at 6th Street Playhouse

Review of A Masterpiece of Comic…Timing
By Robert Caisley
Directed by Craig A. Miller

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

RUN: May 12-28, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(May 12, 2017)

A Masterpiece of Comic ... Timing - 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin

In the hands of the right director and actors, a mediocre play can become entertaining. Such is the case with the audaciously named A Masterpiece of Comic…Timing. While it does not live up to the promise, nevertheless, the play is a frothy confection of tawdry farce.

Producer Jerry Cobb wants to create a hit comedy on Broadway, and brings in a talented writer—what could go wrong? The writer arrives in a melancholic state, unable to work, the hotel turns into an unnatural array of weather zones, and what they thought would save the day makes the situation worse instead. As the tension builds, taking the bourbon with it, characters unravel under the stress, turning from classic tropes into crazed maniacs desperate for an out. While the first act has a slow build, the interaction between Cobb (Chris Schloemp) and his assistant Charlie Bascher (Benjamin Stowe) keeps the rhythm moving with their enthusiastic physicality.

A Masterpiece of Comic ... Timing - 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin

A Masterpiece of Comic…Timing is filled with veteran actors, who manage to keep the energy level high, despite the lack of exceptional jokes and disconcerting portrayal of women. It is a period piece, set in the 1960s, which was a different culture, but despite Rose Roberts’ extraordinary performance as Nola Hart, it is difficult to see past the fact that she is portraying a sexual object without much in the way of intellectual caliber. The acting in this play is extraordinary, and Craig A. Miller’s creative, over-the-top directing style is vibrant and engaging, but the team was tasked with eking out humor from undistinguished lines.

Jesse Dreikosen’s set design is retro chic with an attention to detail that makes it feel like an actual hotel room, not a stage. From the teal and orange vinyl couch to maraschino cherries on the bar, it captures the splashy sophistication of the 1960s.

A Masterpiece of Comic…Timing is a lively, amusing evening, despite its flaws, with a strong cast and flair for the dramatic. If you enjoy slapstick farce and vintage style humor, this is the play for you.

Swing Into the Jungle at Spreckels

Review of Disney’s Musical Tarzan
Book by David Henry Hwang
Music and Lyrics by Phil Collins
Directed by Gene Abravaya and David L. Yen
Music Direction by Tina Lloyd Meals
Choreography by Michella Snider

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: May 5-21, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

Spreckels - Tarzan

Photo by Eric Chazankin

(May 6, 2017)

Humid jungle creeps across the stage in tiers of hanging vines, flora and fungi with rough stone ruins leading up a steep cliff. Enter the world of Tarzan, filled with magical adventure and talking animals, romance and wild combat with ferocious leopards. Loosely based on the pulp fiction series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, it aligns with the Disney version, although the stage production includes additional songs and deeper characterization. Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen’s set design of an overgrown hillside is fascinating to watch actors interact with. A child in the audience gleefully exclaimed “It looks real!” when the curtains moved back to reveal another world filled with verdant plant life.

Shawna Eiermann (Kala) and Brian Watson (Kerchak) bring an intense emotional resonance to their roles as Tarzan’s adoptive parents. Eiermann’s depiction of ferocious love and fearless devotion for a child that is not even her species transcends barriers as an example that people do not need to be alike in order to feel a strong connection. Her moment with Tarzan “You’ll Be in My Heart” is genuinely moving.

Spreckels - Tarzan

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Like The Flash television series, this play mixes drama with cartoonish elements. At times it works well, especially Jane and Tarzan’s scenes of romantic comedy moving into graver decisions when her ship is about to leave. Other transitions gave me a bit of whiplash between several different styles, moving between heart wrenching acting from Eiermann and Watson to the mustache twirling villain and sidekick or dancing mushrooms and flowers galavanting across the stage. Tarzan overall is enjoyable, it is the balance between directing styles that seems confusing.

Abbey Lee’s Jane is sophisticated while capturing the character’s boundless energy and eager exploration of a new and fascinating world. Kit Grimm as Porter is the perfect father—understanding, kind and inquisitive. Michael Lumb’s Tarzan is infused with innocent wonder, and he shifts physicality during the course of the play. His shuffling on all fours using knuckles to propel himself forward gradually changes to upright, hesitant walking as he learns from Jane. The supporting cast is well chosen, from Lily Spangler’s Young Terk who has enough attitude to fill Spreckel’s formidable stage single handed to the apes with their semi-dancing antics. Return early from intermission for a mini scene of the expedition crew attempting to set up camp in the jungle before Act II officially begins.

Pamela Enz steps up with brilliant costume designs for the apes in flowing, draped fringe and multiple changes of elegant attire for Jane. Inez Viera’s make-up design adds geometric, tribal shapes on the animals, rather than a literal approach, which was visually effective.

Spreckels - Tarzan

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Swing into Spreckels for a lively evening of adventure in Tarzan with your favorite characters from the Disney movie coming to life onstage. On May 21st after the final show, stop by the theatre for a gathering honoring Gene Abravaya as he leaves on his own journey into retirement. He will be missed in the North Bay, where he re-invigorated Spreckels into the vibrant theatre it is today and has been a joy to the local community.

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