Journey of Acceptance in Cinnabar’s ‘Quartet’

Review of Quartet
By Ronald Harwood
Directed by Jereme Anglin
For tickets & schedule:
Cinnabar Theater
Petaluma, CA
Tickets: $28-35, $25-30 ages 62+, $20-25 under 30 and military, $15-20 under 18

October 13-29, 2017

RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(October 15, 2017)

Cinnabar Theater - Quartet

Wilfred Bond (Clark Miller), Jean Horton (Laura Jorgensen) and Reginald Paget (Michael Fontaine) convince Cecily Robson (Liz Jahren) that she is not about to go on holiday. Photo by Victoria Von Thal.

Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered who the aging face was staring back? Surely the reflection could not be real; it does not feel like so many years have passed. For the residents of a retirement home for musicians, their glory days as opera stars are long gone, but that does not mean their lives have ceased to have meaning. Quartet is an honest, hopeful examination of growing old with long-time friends and rivals. Joseph Elwick’s set design is marvelous, filled with portraits of famous composers, a comfortable array of elegant couches, and a grand piano dominating the room.

Struggling to hold onto her past that has dwindled into memory, Jean Horton (Laura Jorgensen) is left with pride as her consolation, until confronted with its fragility and hurtful consequences. Her ice princess façade is shattered when she opens up to explain the reason for her veneer in a beautiful, vulnerable moment from Horton. Better able to embrace the present, senility and all, Cecily Robson (Liz Jahren) is a bubbly, outgoing artist whose mental acuity is crumbling, to the consternation of her companions, who do not want her sent away. Jahren’s performance is admirable, capturing a compassionate, dazzling opera diva who is losing control, forgetting where she is, yet unfailing in her enthusiasm.

Cinnabar Theater - Quartet

Cecily Robson (Liz Jahren) comforts Jean Horton (Laura Jorgensen). Photo by Victoria Von Thal.

The story falters with Wilfred Bond, who constantly comments sexually about the assets of women. In the wake of Harvey Weinstein, its inclusion is not amusing—a relic of earlier attitudes that have come into question. Despite this, Clark Miller is excellent in the role, and has true insights that demonstrate a depth to his character. Reginald Paget (Michael Fontaine) is an entertaining intellectual, who has his nose perpetually in a book, seeking to escape what his life has become.

Verdi’s birthday celebration is an annual tradition at the home, and the group has been requested to perform the famous Quartet from Rigoletto. Their reactions vary from excitement to terror, and through negotiation they hatch a plot that will satisfy the diverse personalities, leading to a cheerful, hilarious finale.

Cinnabar Theater has gathered a delightful cast for this eccentric home of retired artists coming to terms with their faded careers and romantic flings in Ronald Harwood’s Quartet. Relax with the senior residents for an evening of laughs mingled with somber moments. Reginald speaks volumes to the current Sonoma County community “I’ve nowhere now,” but he realizes that friendship has become his home. This play is fitting for what we are going through, and worth spending time with Cinnabar.

Evocative Historical Satire in ‘Thomas and Sally’

Review of Thomas and Sally
By Thomas Bradshaw
Directed by Jasson Minadakis

For tickets & schedule:
Marin Theatre Company
Mill Valley, CA
Tickets: $10-49

RUN: September 28 – October 22, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(October 4, 2017)

Marin Theatre Company - Thomas and Sally

Betty Hemings (Charlette Speigner), Martha Hemings (Ella Dershowitz), and Karen (Rosie Hallett). Photo by Kevin Berne.

Thomas and Sally shakes the dust off history with a controversial new play by Thomas Bradshaw. He takes delight in arousing a heightened level of discomfort in the audience, eliciting shock from the humiliation of Robert Hemings, revulsion at the level of hypocrisy characters are capable of, and anger that manipulation can be such a powerful tool in the wrong hands.

Framed through the eyes of two college girls, who are refreshingly open about sexual needs, their perspective threads through the play, with musings on topics from how to safely masturbate when pregnant to whether the Electoral College is useful or eliminates the democratic process. Their imagination drives the story, leading to a confrontation between the students over whether Sally’s relationship with Jefferson was a lustful older man taking advantage of his teenage slave or a position of mutual understanding that Sally used to her benefit. The play does not attempt to answer the question; it presents a possible interpretation, leaving the audience to decide.

Marin Theatre Company - Thomas and Sally

Simone (Ella Dershowitz) and Karen (Rosie Hallett) watch the story unfold. Photo by Kevin Berne.

The knotwork family trees are explained in a detailed lobby display; the crucial connection is between Jefferson’s wife and her half-sister, Sally’s mother. Because the Hemings were therefore family, they resided in the house and did not participate in menial field labor. In Bradshaw’s vision, this made it difficult for Jefferson to see them as ordinary slaves; they had a certain level of standing, and he is flummoxed by their fiercely held dreams of becoming free.

The casual racism from white characters is alarming: a reminder of what this country was and still is in many ways. Jefferson’s quietly run estate is far from violent depictions of slavery, instead the institution runs silently in the background, ever present, erasing the humanity of its victims. He refers to them as servants, commenting that it is a lofty ideal to free them, but viewing his slaves as inferior children who need guidance and protection from a loving, intelligent master. I found myself nauseous from his horrifying statements that are introduced as normal observations in polite society. Director Jasson Minadakis subtly shifted focus between characters during such scenes, augmenting their effect.

From dorm room pajamas to a parade of extravagant 18th century gowns, Ashley Holvick’s costumes are remarkable. Sean Fanning’s classical set design is modular, expanding with the story, mingling modern pieces, like the mini fridge, with vaulting Ionic columns.

Marin Theatre Company - Thomas and Sally

Thomas Jefferson (Mark Anderson Phillips) contemplates architecture with Robert Hemings (Cameron Matthews). Photo by Kevin Berne.

Marin Theatre Company has assembled a forceful group of actors. Tara Pacheco as Sally Hemings captures an astute young woman who is aware of her difficult position, and is willing to fight for something more. William Hodgson is her brother, James Hemings, a talented man whose resourcefulness becomes a source of depression. Deeply troubled, he dutifully presses on; Hodgson carries the transformation from eager youth to jaded submission with painful accuracy. Portraying Thomas Jefferson as a flawed dreamer, Mark Anderson Phillips carefully steps between a sympathetic view and naively bigoted Jefferson who is used to getting his own way. Charlette Speigner’s fiery Betty Hemings manages to combine humor with tragedy in a memorable performance as Sally’s mother.

Marin Theatre Company’s commissioned Thomas and Sally is a challenging story for our time, laying bare preconceived impressions of American History through the energetic imagination of college students wrestling with current issues of race and the motivation that sex has on our culture. It may not be comfortable, but it is a brutal and entertaining reflection that needs to be considered if we are to move forward as a society.

Parental advisory: this play contains adult themes and full nudity.

Followup: Please consider reading the open letter to Marin Theatre Company from Truth Telling which discusses the social justice implications of this play and its impact on the African American  community. They have a perspective that needs to be heard for full context of this play.

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.

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