Monthly Archives: September 2017

Spunky ‘Cabaret’ from Ross Valley Players

Review of Cabaret
By Joe Masteroff
Music & Lyrics by John Kander & Fred Ebb

Directed by James Dunn
Musical Direction by Debra Chambliss
Choreography by Sandra Tanner

For tickets / schedule :
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross, CA
Ross Valley Players
Tickets: $27, $16 under 24

RUN: September 21 – October 15, 2017
Extended through October 22

RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(September 22, 2017)

Cabaret by Ross Valley Players

Lulu (Jannely Calmell), Texas (Mia Camera), Sally Bowles (Emily Radosevich), Frenchie (Cindy Head) and Rosie (Alexa Sakellariou) warn not to tell mama! Photo by Robin Jackson.

I find revival productions exciting when the audience is abuzz with discussion about its connection to current news, and although Cabaret has a lighthearted, sexy side to it, the prevailing topic that resulted was rather heavy. The story takes place in Berlin from 1929-1930; its festive atmosphere evaporates under the Nazi Party, and otherwise ordinary German citizens are drawn toward anti-Semitic values. It starts with small choices—blaming them for having too much wealth, of not being properly German, and tossing bricks through their windows. In the resulting fervor, relationships are ripped apart, and characters find themselves forced to take a stand, even if that decision is to ignore what is going on. When Nazi sympathizers join together in a rousing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” the audience is left stunned, unable to applaud the blatant swastika.

Cabaret unfolds in a blind lashing out against those of Jewish descent. Sweet, kind-hearted neighbors like Herr Schultz are treated as enemies, and women are taunted in song. “She’s clever; she’s smart; she reads music. If you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.” The line is controversial enough to have been removed in some productions, but the shock value resonates with our treatment of today’s immigrants and the beautiful tapestry of backgrounds that form modern America. Fräulein Schneider (Maxine Sattizahn), a spinster who discovers love with Herr Schulz (Ian Swift) feels the struggle acutely, and she explains her plight in a heart-wrenching “What Would You Do?”

Cabaret - Ross Valley Players

Rosie (Alexa Sakellariou), Texas (Mia Camera), Emcee (Erik Batz), Frenchie (Cindy Head), and Lulu (Jannely Calmell) enjoying their moment in the spotlight. Photo by Robin Jackson.

Caught up in the glittering stage of a local cabaret, Sally Bowles avoids the entire situation, preferring to keep the harsh reality at bay with flirtatious songs. Emily Radosevich may not be a dancer, but she is able to infuse emotion into her singing without loss of voice quality. Nearly in tears, she forces a smile for the title song in a bitter-sweet farewell. The sparks do not fly with her partner, Izaak Heath as Cliff Bradshaw. While they are excellent individually, it is difficult to imagine them as lovers, and their interactions appear to be based on convenience, rather than attraction. This may have been intentional, since the production accentuated Bradshaw’s homosexual tendencies and the pressure to avoid giving into them. If so, it is a fascinating twist.

The floor show snippets from Kit Kat Klub’s ensemble are adorable, although slightly stiff, which could have been due to the deliciously sensual, but restricting corset costumes by Michael Berg. Exuberant Emcee Erik Batz gives an entertaining performance with a powerful conclusion and was received with well-deserved enthusiasm. Musical director and pianist Debra Chambliss, Mike Evans (drums), and Jonathan Bretan (bass) balanced with the singers, rather than overwhelming them, and kept the pacing energetic.

This opportune staging of Cabaret is compelling in its depiction of Germany on the brink of World War II, with diverting interludes from the Kit Kat Klub and an excellent cast. Director James Dunn keeps it teetering on the edge between a comedy and thoughtful drama, allowing the audience to consider serious questions while having an enjoyable evening.

Haunting Journey in ‘Constellations’

Review of Constellations
By Nick Payne
Directed by Juliet Noonan

For tickets & schedule:
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa, CA
Tickets: $25-28, $22-25 Senior 62+, $18 Under 30

RUN: September 8 – 24, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(September 17, 2017)

Constellations - 6th Street Playhouse

Marianne (Melissa Claire) and Roland (Jared Wright) comfort each other. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Think back to the last time you made a decision, perhaps one where either outcome would have made a significant difference in your life. What if you were able to see the results of choosing an alternate path? It could be a matter of having chocolate ice cream over lemon sorbet for dessert, or it might lead to an entirely unique story with new relationships and outcomes. According to string theory, there may be a multiverse where each possibility exists, layered in a glorious tapestry of parallel universes. The structure of Constellations explores what it would be like to observe this phenomenon in action.

Step inside a swirling galaxy of lights by Ryan Severt and Conor Woods, lending a somber, contemplative atmosphere to 6th Street Playhouse’s Studio Theatre. This brief, intense play is a roller coaster of emotion; it gathers momentum, leaving the audience breathless by the end, tears forming from the level of raw vulnerability witnessed through Melissa Claire (Marianne) and Jared Wright (Roland) who are expertly directed by Juliet Noonan.

The actors move within situations in which multiple outcomes are possible—they begin dating, but say the wrong things and it falls apart, one of them loses interest, or it goes splendidly until he attempts to propose and chokes on his speech. Rather than a linear story, it is more of a waltz, stepping forward, then back, off to the side, and twirling to the beginning space. I felt myself wondering “what will happen this time?” eager to see the next vignette.

Throughout the interchanges, an odd, unexplained moment keeps repeating, as if so weighty that all other universes are drawn to it like gravity. This teasing mystery is slowly unveiled, until it becomes clear why that precise scene is pivotal, and this payoff is what causes the play to have personal depth beyond a technique experiment.

Constellations is a candid glimpse of possibilities that touch our existence, through two extraordinary actors, who take the audience on a journey through the clamor of multiple universes, demonstrating the power of connection and love through tragic circumstances. There will be laughs along the way, awkward dates, and lost opportunities, but through it all they find each other and the strength to eventually let go.

‘Grace’ Ponders the Intimacy of Belief

Review of Grace
By Craig Wright
Directed by John Craven
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol
Tickets: $30, $25 Senior 65+, $15 Students

RUN: September 8-24, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(September 14, 2017)

Grace - Main Stage West

Sam (Sam Coughlin) and Sara (Ilana Niernberger) share a moment while Steve (John Browning) questions his decisions. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Personal beliefs formed through experience powerfully motivate decisions, whether feeling a sense of wonder in the universe or bitterness from the darkness it contains. Grace is a collection of four characters examining life through different lenses. Steve is an overbearing “born again” Christian, urging his faith on others whether they want to hear about it or not. His wife Sara has a quiet, deeper spirituality based on her loving, compassionate view of the world. Karl’s heinous experiences in Nazi Germany caused him to reject the idea of a deity entirely. Sam’s self-loathing and survivor’s guilt leave him vulnerable and searching for meaning.

This dark comedy follows a couple who recently moved to Florida, planning to renovate hotels, and their shut-in neighbor who is a scientist at NASA. What begins as an innocent attempt to help him feel included blossoms into friendship with the equally lonely stay at home wife.

Grace - Main Stage West

Sara (Ilana Niernberger) discusses hotel renovations with Steve (John Browning). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

While there is a definite story, playwright Craig Wright plays with abstract use of time, rearranging sequences, pausing scenes at crucial moments, and replaying encounters in slow motion to reiterate a point. Doug Faxon’s sound design situates the audience, moving through the complexity of this presentation style; John Craven’s direction keeps the sudden shifts clear and easy to follow. Missy Weaver’s creative lighting design shifts focus, illuminating specific areas of the stage, as needed. The result is a fascinating surreal journey with spikes in tension and a dramatic climax.

Blustering husband Steve (John Browning) constantly asks if others attended church growing up, and becomes irate at their lack of interest. I have met plenty of similarly enthusiastic Christians, wishing they could let it rest long enough to have a regular conversation. His smugly content facial expressions slowly grate at Sara (Ilana Niernberger) who is tired of his discordant insistence on ignoring the emotional landscape of a room to push his beliefs. He blusters at Sam, while his wife huddles on the couch, head in her hands, wishing it would end.

Grace - Main Stage West

Steve (John Browning) explains an investment opportunity to Sam (Sam Coughlin). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

The two apartments overlap locations simultaneously, offering unique visual dynamics. A view of palm trees silhouetted by the sunset shimmers in the background, printed by Robert Brendt. Sam (Sam Coughlin) slides effortlessly between comedic exchanges with uncooperative technical support for his camera software and opening up to Sara about the tragedy of his past with anguished sensitivity. In a brief, dynamic role, Craven as Karl is an exterminator who arrives at the apartments, willing to argue down Steve’s self-righteous rhetoric.

Despite the title Grace, this is not a lighthearted Christian play. Wright brings the sharpened intellect of his Master of Divinity degree to bear on a broken faith community, shining a light into the crevices of petty arrogance and willful ignorance. Sara’s acute embarrassment at the typical behavior of a modern Christian is a reminder that whatever a person’s belief, it is more important to be present and aware of others, willing to set aside pride for their hopes and dreams. Main Stage West’s Grace is a disturbing and desperately needed commentary on using faith to excuse a litany of behaviors toward fellow human beings, gathering a riveting cast of local talent.

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