Monthly Archives: July 2017

Get to the Cannery in Apple Blossom Time

Review of In the Mood
Adapted from William Shakespeare
Directed by David Lear
For tickets / schedule :
www.shakespeareinthecannery.com
Railroad Square, Santa Rosa
(Enter through 6th Street Playhouse parking lot)

RUN: July 13 – August 5, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(July 15, 2017)

Shakespeare in the Cannery - In the Mood

Photo by Alex Shapiro

Romantic sunset light envelops the ruins of an old cannery in Santa Rosa, from which Shakespeare in the Cannery derives its name. A patriotic set resplendent in red, white and blue becomes the backdrop for this Hogan’s Heroes style retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, set in World War II at the USO in Messina. Tracy Hinman’s costume designs of adorable vintage dresses, bathing suits and lineup of dashing army officers sets the tone for a boogie-woogie version of the classic tale that is lighthearted and fun for the whole family.

Denise Elia-Yen is a thoughtful Beatrice in addition to being saucily witty; she takes her cousin’s playful chiding about being scornful to heart in a contemplative performance that adds depth to the character. David L. Yen’s Benedick heavily relies on physical comedy and outrageous reactions that are highly amusing. His disgusted gagging at the mention of “love” had the audience in fits of laughter, and director David Lear uses the series of trap doors in his set design to advantage as Benedick attempts to hide during the discussion of Beatrice’s supposed affection.

In a slight twist of the story, Elizabeth Henry portrays Leonora, instead of Leonato, which works with minor adjustments, such as “be happy, lady; for you are like an honourable mother.” Her calm, stately presence centers the production, and her fierce confrontation with those caused her daughter’s ruin is formidable. In a brief exchange with Sergeant Dogberry (Brandon Wilson), Henry’s comedic timing duels well with his, augmented with support from Michal Victoria (Antonia).

Shakespeare in the Cannery - In The Mood

Photo by Alex Shapiro

The Watch is hilarious, marching in and out with a brisk “left, left, left, right, left” while bumping into one another, eating muffins and coming to attention while facing opposite directions. Wilson’s Dogberry and Brian Abbott’s Verges are quite the team, flawlessly pronouncing hopelessly ill placed vocabulary with the gravity of saints.

Finding an angle for the villains, conspicuously wearing black covers in this production, is a challenge, and Lear took a unique perspective that I enjoyed. Rather than making Don John (Stefan Wenger) the instigator, he is portrayed is rather bored and making sport of discomfort with a Loki trickster personality. It is Borachio (John Browning) whose cruelty suggests the disgrace of Hero and sinister machinations.

While this is an abbreviated retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, it fills the gaps with enchanting musical numbers and toe-tapping swing dances from choreographer Alia Beeton and costumed musicians led by Justin Pyne with favorites like “Stormy Weather,” “In the Mood” and “Taking a Chance on Love.” The finale floats with infectious rhythm, and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is one of the more elaborate dance sequences I have seen in a North Bay musical.

This nostalgic romp through the 1940s with William Shakespeare’s brilliant comedy is a colorful evening of music and dance with a talented cast and creative direction from David Lear. Shakespeare in the Cannery continues to amuse and delight with this year’s In the Mood.

Humanity Explored in ‘Rhinoceros’

Review of Rhinoceros

By Eugène Ionesco
Translated by Derek Prouse
Directed by Rómula Torres Carroll

For tickets / schedule :
www.birdbaththeatres.com
The Belrose Theatre
San Rafael, CA
Birdbath Theatres

RUN: July 7 – 22, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(July 15, 2017)

Birdbath Theatres - Rhinocerous

Photo by Robin Jackson

Rhinoceros has a double meaning; the exterior story is of a quiet country village interrupted by charging animals, as the townspeople slowly transform into rhinoceroses. Underneath is an examination of the herd mentality of humanity—how the majority can sway an entire population into belief systems they would otherwise never accept. The concept is fascinating, however the play itself suffers from a disjointed presentation. The first act is a playful, lighthearted comedy, filled with colorful characters and nimble writing, such as parallel conversations bouncing back and forth across the stage. It transitions through a surrealist phase, adeptly acted by David Abrams, into pure post-apocalyptic fantasy reminiscent of The Birds. Each piece is of itself an excellent play, but it does not have a unified structure and feel.

Written in 1959, the vintage worldview shows through with some jarring moments of racism and domestic abuse that were acceptable at the time, but are in poor taste to modern audiences. It draws on the German occupation of France and the reaction of citizens during World War II, demonstrating how the human mind is capable of shifting to protect itself, find companionship, and be accepted as normal. A thread of discussion regarding what is abnormal and what is normal leads many characters to conclude that perhaps becoming a rhinoceros is the new acceptable behavior, even though it disgusted them at first.

What holds the play together is the friendship between Berenger (Spencer Acton) and Jean (David Abrams). Jean is a self-absorbed dandy who is easily excitable and tries to hide his longing to belong behind a pompous demeanor. Down to earth, amiable, and charmingly rumpled, Berenger clings to his humanity—the good and the bad—perhaps inspired by the Maquis guerilla movement.

Birdbath Theatres - Rhinocerous

Photo by Robin Jackson

The cast is clearly enjoying themselves, and each actor has a chance to shine, from Nat (Krima) Davis as the Fireman toting a miniature ladder to Andrew Byars as the Logician, poking exaggerated fun at philosophers’ propensity to long discussions of definitions rather than actual facts. There is an attention to detail for each character, such as a brief homage to the painting American Gothic in the background of a scene toward the end of the second act. The visuals in this play are charged with emotion; I was particularly moved by the transparent backdrop being clawed at by a herd of animals during the final act.

Wyatt E. Dunkerly’s costume designs for the men were well executed, and created powerful images when juxtaposed with rhinoceros heads. I was impressed by the staging, which used the audience, piano and characters hanging out of windows for an interactive experience. The scene change transitions were barely noticeable, since entertaining vignettes filled the time and delved deeper into characterization. Genevieve Schaad creates a soundscape of the jungle, huffing rhinoceroses, smashing glass and chiming bells.

Rhinoceros at The Belrose is a high energy production of an intellectually stimulating French play. Although it runs rather long and could use some tightening of direction, it is both amusing and thought provoking with an excellent cast.

Believing is Seeing this Rhinoceros

Review of Rhinoceros
by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

By Eugène Ionesco
Translated by Derek Prouse
Directed by Romula Torres Carroll

For tickets / schedule :
www.birdbaththeatres.com
The Belrose Theatre
San Rafael, CA
Birdbath Theatres

RUN: July 7 – 22, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(July 15, 2017)

Birdbath Theatres - Rhinocerus

Photo by Robin Jackson

We are living in a time of split affiliations. Different groups are focusing on philosophies that are mutually exclusive. Arguments from either side are deflected by the belief that belonging to a group is more important than the truth.  More importantly, “truth” becomes relative to the group, and the rhinoceros flourishes on the street.

Rhinoceros was written in 1959 by Eugène Ionesco as a post World War II “theatre of the absurd” reflection of the group acceptance and mob hysteria that accompanied the rise of the Nazi party in Europe. More importantly to Ionesco, the Vichy government of France survived because of group acceptance and mob hysteria.

Existence is a lonely place by definition. We are born and die alone, and we long to belong to a group that loves us during our life, even if we don’t believe in the same things the group believes in. Enter the rhinoceros.  t is an animal that is thought to rush into the fray, running over plants and animals and people. Ionesco uses the rhinoceros as symbolic of the “different” and destructive behavior of the mob.

Birdbath Theatres - Rhinocerus

Photo by Robin Jackson

In Rhinoceros, low brows, high brows, bureaucrats and intellectuals, rich and poor, succumb to the need to believe in the group philosophy of the rhinoceros. Slowly, the entire town questions, and then believes in the rhinoceros mentality roaming the city streets.

This new theatre group, Birdbath Theatres, chose a challenging play to present to their community. Characteristically French in the topics and tone, the play develops the humorous incidents in the beginning that set the stage for the serious impact at the end of the play.

Director Romulo Carroll brings out the best in the actors to move the simplest of interactions into riveting theatre. I was struck by the animation of David Abrams and Spencer Acton while they launched into their roles of Jean and Berenger, respectively, with gusto and over the top enthusiasm.  The talent of these actors is amazing.

Birdbath Theatres - Rhinocerus

Photo by Robin Jackson

Abrams (as Jean) is the righteous, dedicated bureaucrat attempting to make the case for a good life without the drinking and carousing of other citizens.  He is the first person to see the rhinoceros running through the streets. Ultimately, he pulls away from his traditional society and joins the majority viewpoint. His physical transformation at the end of act 2 is truly amazing.

Acton (as Berenger) is the good natured hedonist who drinks and likes life, but longs for the ideal and disciplined life described to him by Jean. His watches his friends change one by one into the other camp, but cannot help them. As they transform, Berenger remains the sole holdover to the life he knows and loves.

Andrew Byars (as Mr. Papillion) enjoys a good syllogism with friends to prove that a dog is a cat, but he slowly comes to believe it, at the expense of the cat, who is trampled by a raging rhinoceros. Emma Farman (as Daisy) plays the straight receptionist starkly drawn against the background of the absurd behavior consuming the other citizens in town.

Abrams and Acton help to make the play enjoyable with their facial expressions, enthusiasm, body language and extreme reactions to the developments along the way. The timing was done well in acts 1 and 2 to keep me on the edge of my seat, anticipating the resolution in act 3.

However necessary act 3 is to illustrate the actual emotional transformations taking place in the rest of the town, its length and understatement were disappointing. At one high point, Farman and Acton work through the arguments for and against love and rhinoceroses, finally coming to an emotional catharsis of their relationship. Acton summarizes the encounter by saying to the audience: “in just a few minutes we have gone through twenty-five years of married life!”

The other villagers, Jenny Donohue, Terra Schamun, Jack Sabido, McKay Williams, Nat Davis and Jarrod Ackerley all portrayed their characters well and distinctly. This reviewer would have enjoyed reading their bios, which were absent in the program. Their experience in theatre certainly helped them with their good supporting roles.

The set is simple and effective, shifting between the marketplace, Jean’s bedroom and Berenger’s bedroom. Costumes were period French and mostly appropriate to French fashion and class.

Humor is always present under the surface, with perfect “off the cuff” comments designed to release the building dramatic energy into audience laughter relief. This production is a good study in classic “absurd” theatre.

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