Monthly Archives: December 2017

‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ Be Careful What You Wish For

Review of Rapture, Blister, Burn
By Gina Gionfriddo
Directed by Nadja Masura
For tickets / schedule :
Curtain Call Theatre
Russian River Hall, Monte Rio
Tickets: $20, $15 Students / Seniors 60+

RUN: December 1-16, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

Rapture, Blister, Burn in Monte Rio

Gwen (Wanda Wiemar), Don (Lew Brown) and Catherine (Lisa Posternak) in discussion.

(December 1, 2017)

Feminist ideals of empowerment and equality are juxtaposed with the messiness of real relationships in this multi-generational drama. It enfolds on a muddled canvas of frustrated ambitions through the lives of Don, a college dean, his wife Gwen, their babysitter Avery, and Catherine, an old friend who has returned to town because of her ailing mother.

Catherine is restless, and proposes teaching a summer course inspired by her popular books examining the influence of porn on contemporary culture, resulting in Gwen wondering if she should have finished her degree, rather than becoming a stay-at-home mother, and Catherine musing on the emptiness of her successful, lonely middle-aged existence. The situation is complicated by Don and Catherine’s poorly hidden affair, which forces each character to take a long, honest look at what they have become.

Unfortunately, the performance quality outstrips its material. Rapture, Blister, Burn includes pretentious intellectual discussions hung on a framework more commonly found in a sensation novel, which creates a perplexing result, rather like attending a university lecture with a group of students who spent the previous night binge drinking. While the structure is contrived, playwright Gina Gionfriddo is deeply thoughtful, willing to examine the results of the feminist movement and its practical impact on the lives of women today, regardless of age. Director Nadja Masura has taken a frank, reasonable approach to the outrageous circumstances which come to light in the play, making it easier for the audience to acclimatize to Gionfriddo’s style of presentation.

Lisa Posternak (Catherine Croll) nuances a sexy, confident woman who’s polished career has become a mask covering lack of fulfillment and hollow dreams. Her raw plea to Don at the play’s close shows us the real Catherine, who yearns for companionship. In contrast, Wanda Wiemar (Gwen Harper) whinges in an excruciating fashion only to surprise with level-headed decisions and acceptance of her character’s lot in life, for a fascinating performance. Katie Cady (Avery Willard) is a walking “goth” runway thanks to a variety of bold fashion choices, and keeps her razor-sharp mind at work, constantly pushing for answers and soaking up Catherine’s rhetoric, along with Kathy Ping-Rogers (Alice Croll) the rather spry mother who shows no signs of wear after her heart attack. Lew Brown’s Don Harper has given up on life, losing his drive for success, blissful with his day old pizza and cheap porn. It is the women who move the play forward, taking center stage.

Rapture, Blister, Burn is a lengthy, honest inspection of how feminism compromises in the face of day-to-day challenges and the reality of mediocre relationships. Curtain Call Theatre’s observant, engaging production stirs up challenging questions, and is willing to consider multiple points of view—even Phyllis Schlafly.

The Secret of Happiness is ‘Daddy Long Legs’

Main Stage West - Daddy Long Legs

Jervis (Tyler Costin) professes his love to Jerusha (Madison Genovese). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Review of Daddy Long Legs
Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon & John Caird
Directed by Elly Lichenstein
Musical Direction by Dave MacNab
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol
Tickets: $30, $25 Senior 65+, $15 Students

RUN: November 17 – December 10, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(November 30, 2017)

Daddy Long Legs is a delightful and intelligent Edwardian romance set to music, which ebbs and flows in a soft current of sound, rather than creating distinct, disjointed songs. Feather light with an edge of wit, it follows the story of Jerusha Abbott, an orphan who is sponsored to attend college by a mysterious benefactor. His attempt to remain anonymous crumbles as he reads her lively, engaging letters, addressing him playfully as “Daddy Long Legs” from a brief glimpse she had of his height. Curiosity gets the better of studious Jervis Pendleton, and he introduces himself without revealing the nature of their true relationship, swiftly falling in love with the clever orphan. He faces the task of admitting that he is Daddy Long Legs, risking losing her forever.

Main Stage West - Daddy Long Legs

Jerusha (Madison Genovese) muses on her letter to Daddy Long Legs (Tyler Costin). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

The orchestra is as much a character in this musical as the actors, led by musical director Dave MacNab in a velvet cascade of sound carrying the audience through Jerusha’s four years of education and discovery. Missy Weaver’s lighting design and Elizabeth Craven’s set transform the miniature stage into multiple rooms, weaving between spoken letters and chance encounters for a cohesive narrative. Costume designs by Adriana Gutierrez are simple and accurate, reflecting the conservative personalities in this two-hander.

Elegant and sincere, Madison Genovese as Jerusha Abbott captures the era’s poise without sacrificing passion and candid outbursts of frustration. Tyler Costin’s Jervis Pendleton journeys from an uptight aristocrat who is sure of himself, to a warm, genuine human being capable of love and sacrifice. Their chemistry onstage is magical, with a mutual respect and admiration.

Main Stage West - Daddy Long Legs

Jervis (Tyler Costin) is torn between his two personas. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Daddy Long Legs is not flashy or sensational, it is like wandering through a field of brittle grass and coming across a perfectly formed cluster of wildflowers in gentle colors that is painfully beautiful, set apart from the surrounding desert. There is a refreshing, restorative power to this sort of play that is desperately needed.

‘Inspecting Carol’ Backstage Chaos

Sonoma Arts Live - Inspecting Carol

Zorah Bloch (Melissa Claire) discovers the funding crisis. Photo by Katie Kelley.

Review of Inspecting Carol
Written by Daniel J. Sullivan
and the Seattle Repertory Theater

Directed by Carol Jordan
Sonoma Arts Live
For tickets / schedule :
Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma
Tickets: $22-37

RUN: November 29 – December 10, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(November 29, 2017)

Leave your sensibilities at the door for this politically incorrect comedy filled with festive shenanigans. Backstage during final rehearsals for an annual production of A Christmas Carol, the company discovers that their coffers are empty and the National Endowment for the Arts grant has failed to come through. Pinning their hopes on an inspector attending to consider reinstating the grant, they mistakenly believe an amateur actor is in fact the representative in disguise.

This error causes a waterfall of questionable choices in the tradition of Noises Off and The Inspector General, culminating with the most dreadful production of A Christmas Carol I have ever seen—dreadfully funny that is. Scenery topples, the Ghost forgets his lines, and the mayhem reaches a point where stage director M. J. (Alexis Evon) stumbles off, doubled over with hysterical laughter.

Inspecting Carol is not a heartwarming “Hallmark Channel” holiday play; it is a crude, boisterous parody of the catastrophes that can happen outside an audience’s view, with exaggerated characters ruthlessly mocking theater traditions. The acting warmup scene was particularly well done, with newcomer Walter astounded at the other cast members smelling and squeezing imaginary lemons, passing them around through the air, led by Nellie Cravens as Dorothy Tree Hapgood.

Sonoma Arts Live - Inspecting Carol

Wayne Wellacre (Nicolas Christenson) interprets Richard III in a unique fashion. Photo by Katie Kelley.

Director Carl Jordan has gathered a talented group of local actors, and brings out their strengths. Wayne Wellacre (Nicolas Christenson) auditions for the company with a creative, highly animated opening to Richard III, dramatically whacking his shoulders for “our bruised arms hung up for monuments.” Walter E. Parsons (Dorian Lockett) is aghast at the lack of organization and haphazard rehearsal style. Luther Beatty (Ty Schoeningh) is a Tiny Tim who is too old for the part, making up for it with pure spunk, ironically the most professional member of the fictional company.

Their director, Zorah Bloch (Melissa Claire) will go to any length to secure the grant, with amusing results, which distracts her from the wildly inappropriate scene edits by Larry Vauxhall (Larry Williams) who is taking out his personal issues on her script. His rewritten version of the Cratchit family Christmas turns into a rant on the lack of funding for womens’ healthcare, and the Ghost of Christmas Past is quite alarming, but not in the spectral sense.

Sonoma Arts Live - Inspecting Carol

Larry Vauxhall (Larry Williams) rehearses as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photo by Katie Kelley.

Inspecting Carol has the feel of a bawdy Shakespearean comedy and gives the impression of a barely contained train wreck, which is a more accurate depiction of the holiday season than a perfectly trimmed tree and polished production of A Christmas Carol. It is not for everyone, but if you want a break from sentimental plays for a silly, disastrous romp, Sonoma Arts Live is the place to be.

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