Imagination Soars in ‘Buyer & Cellar’

Buyer & Cellar 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Review of Buyer & Cellar
By Jonathan Tolins
Directed by Sarah Muirhead

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

RUN: February 3-19, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(February 4, 2017)

Buyer & Cellar is a whimsical story sparked by the unique interior design of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu home where she chose to display her collections in a European style mall complete with Bee’s Doll Shop, antique shops, and a candy store with frozen yogurt. Playwright Jonathan Tolins was captivated by the attention to detail, and speculated on what it would be like to work in the faux stores, waiting for their one customer to arrive.

Enter struggling actor Alex More (Patrick Varner) who has been reduced to job hunting after being banished from the Magic Kingdom for an incident in Mickey’s Toontown. His dubious reaction to playing a part in the mall transforms into obsession with Streisand’s world; he throws himself into the role, creating elaborate backstories for the dolls, becoming consumed with his work. His relationship suffers for it, causing bittersweet exchanges with his boyfriend, both portrayed with unrelenting energy by Varner, who slips between characters with expressive physicality.

Buyer & Cellar 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Buyer & Cellar is pleasant throughout, with moments of intense contemplation, but it does not fully succeed as either a fluffy comedy or darker introspection of how important the impact of a distressing childhood can be. It flirts with both, and while the humor is amusing, the play is not a stand-out comedy. 6th Street’s production is strongest in the delightful performance of Varner, who is fascinating throughout the one act play, taking scenes that could have lagged in the hands of a less competent actor and focusing them into vivid pieces of imagination. Sam Tansleau’s elegantly simple set design becomes filled with glittering vintage gowns, picturesque barnyards, and a cramped Los Angeles apartment through the power of Varner’s storytelling and tight direction from Sarah Muirhead.

Buyer & Cellar is an escape into a universe of opulence and eccentricity, away from the demands of everyday work and disturbing news reports. Enjoy a frivolously diverting evening at the theater with a talented actor to forget your worries and spend time in Barbra Streisand’s extraordinary cellar.

Friendship at the Breaking Point in ‘A Steady Rain’

Review of A Steady Rain
By Keith Huff
Directed by Argo Thompson
(Remount of production by Left Edge Theatre in 2016)
For tickets / schedule :
www.mainstagewest.com
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: February 3-19, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(February 3, 2017)

A Steady Rain - Main Stage West and Left Edge Theatre

Photo from Left Edge Theatre

Have you ever felt your life spinning out of control—despite your best efforts, nothing went right? For police partners Joey and Denny, the inconvenience of being passed over for promotion snowballs into a disturbing web of self-inflicted darkness. Joey watches his best friend become consumed by paranoia, and his feeble efforts to avert it are thwarted by his own inner demons. The play gains momentum, hurtling through the final act with engrossing suspense, striping characters bare, revealing fears and desires, smashing through pent-up emotions. Stark lighting design from April George creates an interrogation atmosphere, with sound design by Argo Thompson adding to the realism with accompanying effects bringing the story to life.

Joey (Nick Sholley) is worn down by loneliness, a dead end job, and abusive friend. He coasts along, describing events in mildly disgusted terms, accepting outrageous behavior, and slowly working up the courage to do something about it. He slumps his way through scenes, shrinking away from his partner. Denny (Mike Schaeffer) is a firecracker, reacting instantly to how he feels, whether that is lashing out or impulsively showing his love for others. Thompson’s set design takes a beating from Denny’s tantrums, emphasizing the explosive energy of his outbursts.

Their occasionally overlapping monologues describe the same events through entirely different personalities. Joey’s description is reasonable, well thought out, and linear; Denny is the personification of an unreliable narrator, yet there is a truth to his heart and devotion to family that Joey lacks. Writer Keith Huff, known for House of Cards, exposes the grim story through two men who have been tossed together since childhood, and are coming to terms with the fact that they should have drifted apart years ago, but hung on out of a perverted sense of loyalty.

A Steady Rain is a brutally honest portrayal of mutually destructive friendships, the gradual breaking down of trust in a marriage, and reminder that when we cling too desperately to what we love, it will evade our grasp. If you missed Left Edge Theatre’s production last year, take the time to attend this remount with a stellar cast and chilling tale of being on the street as a “beat cop” in Chicago.

(Recommended for high school and above due to sexual content and language.)

Power and Artifice Thrive in ‘Evita’

Review of Evita
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice

Directed by Lauren Miller
Music Direction by John Partridge
Sonoma Arts Live
For tickets / schedule :
www.sonomaartslive.org
Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma

RUN: January 20 – February 5, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(January 28, 2017)

Evita Sonoma Arts Live

Photo by Miller Oberlin

Was Eva Peron a saint of philanthropy who gave hope to a nation, or a corrupt social climber? Both views are explored through memorable music that will keep you humming for days with beloved songs such as “On This Night of A Thousand Stars” and “On The Balcony of The Casa Rosada”. A story that constantly questions itself, as examinations of history should, it does not shy away from the power of a well crafted public image that is designed to manipulate those struggling in poverty—a technique that has been used throughout the world to take control of a country. Hung in the lobby and as a dramatic backdrop, graffiti of Evita and Peronism remind the audience that the president and his wife were admired and despised in Argentina.

Set designer Bruce Lackovic creates a harsh urban environment of primitive scaffolding, keeping the projections as secondary texture, rather than dominating the stage. Occasional use of the levels adds interest, but clambering in and out, ducking under low railings is visually awkward. Music Director John Partridge discovered the synth keyboard languishing in a closet, and brilliantly arranged the score to work with a much smaller core group of musicians. The chorus also faced challenges as the harmony moved from an extensive supporting cast to only four, one of whom was replaced during rehearsals. The energy and concentration that is expended to compensate for the lack of usual chorus adds a touch of unnatural enthusiasm to the diminished cast, who do their best to fill in the gaps.

Evita at Sonoma Arts Live

Photo by Miller Oberlin

Ellen Toscano’s Evita glows with passionate stage presence. Elegantly seductive, she wins the hearts of lovers and audience alike, with explosions of righteous indignation and melting tenderness mingling into the singular woman that was Eva Peron. Robert Dornuss III (Che) is a compelling critical narrator, who shapes the lyrics with clear enunciation and a soothing voice. Michael Conte as Juan Peron and Tod Mostero’s Agustin Magaldi give her strong support with rich tones and poise on stage. The dynamic choreography of Evita is missing in this production, partly due to space considerations, and its lack of presence is felt acutely with the rather stagnant blocking. It is the story and music that form the primary emphasis of this smaller scale adaptation, and they are still a joy to experience on their own. Lauren Miller and Ruth Dunn’s costume designs are an array of glamorous luxury and work attire, standing out in the industrial background for a dramatic effect.

The bewitching magnetism of Evita infuses Sonoma Arts Live through Ellen Toscano’s enticing performance as Eva Peron, and a unique adaptation of the sprawling Broadway favorite to an intimate venue.

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