‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ in Sebastopol

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Main Stage West

Photo from Main Stage West

Review of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
By Edward Albee
Directed by David Lear
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

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

(March 17, 2017)

Exquisitely crafted language is filled with painful candor in this quintessential American play. It can be a vicious picture of a middle aged couple whose relationship has been sucked dry of any respect, reduced to lashing out at each other and competing in a series of “games” that celebrate their rancor. Director David Lear has taken a different approach to this classic play that is a refreshing vision; George and Martha give the impression that underneath the arguing they are still deeply in love, on the verge of giving up, but pushing for a better life together. There are glimmers of light peeling back the layers of routine and frustration that culminate in a touching conclusion as they clutch for each other, torn up from the fight and ready to find peace.

Peter Downey’s George brings a steady flow through movement and an easy going attitude that speaks of intellectual boredom exercising itself by wrecking havoc on less finely tuned minds. Martha (Sandra Ish) is perfectly capable of tossing his dark repartee back at him in manner that disturbs their guests and occasionally the audience in a manner that the couple, in contrast, seem quite comfortable with.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Main Stage West

Photo from Main Stage West

Rose Roberts as the younger Honey has few lines, and does not need them to make an impression. She is fully present and hilarious as an extremely tipsy guest ready with well timed reactionary expressions and a sudden breakout of interpretive dance that is brilliantly executed. John Browning’s Nick keeps a stiffness that oozes disgust at having to put up with the shenanigans, until alcohol takes hold and rips away his inhibitions, leading to a loosely passionate moment reveling in exhausted inebriation. This is an all-around strong cast that holds their own, each bringing unique energy to the stage.

The prevailing feel of Lear’s set design is emptiness, reflecting the state of George and Martha’s lives, leaving the bar to take center stage, as it does in the story. One of the few distractions in this staging was the lack of ice tongs—it may seem minor, but the amount of times that George reaches in to pick ice up with his bare hands to toss them in glasses took me into a train of thought wondering how anyone who drinks as much as they do could have a household without simple bar tools; it seemed out of character, especially in that time period.

Main Stage West has embraced the lighter side of Edward Albee’s play—replacing bitter venom with a realistic couple struggling to regain control over their dreams. Lear’s intimate portrait reveals how easy it is to give up, and the importance of pressing forward through the pain to reclaim an honest and loving relationship.

Masque Unit Theatre of Marin

Serving Marin County for over 50 years, Masque Unit Theatre of Marin is a non-profit organization that brings together volunteers to present live theater for children and their families, drawing on traditional stories and fairy tales through a contemporary lens. The adaptations are lively musicals, estimated at providing over 300,000 children over the years with affordable entertainment, sparking creativity in the arts.

Founded in 1962 by a group of local women, known at the time as the Masque Unit Junior Theatre of Marin, their earliest play was The Pale Pink Dragon, inspired by a beloved fire breathing prop. Current productions are delightfully vibrant, with an annual play at the Marin Center Showcase Theatre, followed by two weeks of traveling performances to Bay Area schools that were unable to participate due to lack of transportation funding. Masque provides the teachers with age appropriate materials to prepare students before the visit, and encourages questions for the cast after the performance.

Masque Unit of Marin Jack and the Beanstalk

“Jack and the Beanstalk” (2016) with Lucy Goose (Susan Bell-Warner of Novato); Jack (Kathy Eggert of Novato); and Rita the Cow (Sheila Jones of San Rafael). Photo by Jim Clark.

Susan Bell-Warner, Co-Producer of the 2017 play Cinderella Gone to the Dogs! graciously provided background on the company’s rich history and ongoing mission.

What does live theater offer young people today in a world driven by technology and film?

Sadly, children today don’t utilize their imaginations as much as before the invention of so much screen-oriented entertainment. Live theater provides a great opportunity to engage it! It provides a type of magic that consists of: living breathing characters in colorful costumes, stage make-up, creative sets, catchy musical song and dance numbers, and even an opportunity to interact with the cast. Masque productions teach young children audience etiquette, how to listen to a story unfold, that it’s okay to laugh, and even when to applaud. While there is a place for technology, live theater incorporates a human element to entertainment and storytelling that children often miss today.

Since its founding, Masque has used all female volunteers; other than offering an opportunity for women in the community to give back, what is the main reason to continue that tradition?

All Masque Unit members are female volunteers who share a passion for theater and a love of children. We are a female empowered group that supports one another through the joys, and challenges of life. Many have been in Masque Unit for 10, 20, even 40 plus years. We are friends who enjoy being together socially, as well as working hard each year to provide quality productions. While other similar children’s theatre groups have disbanded, this year marks our 56th production!

How are the stories for plays chosen each year?

Our annual productions are chosen by our script reading committee made up of a small subset of our volunteer membership. They search for pieces that both entertain and send positive messages. The age appropriate stories need to mesmerize, engage, and challenge children to think outside of the box. Our audiences tend to leave with their imaginations ignited and often humming a catchy tune.

What is the biggest challenge to keep Masque Unit going for another 50 years?

Attracting new energetic members. Many of us started when we had young children, because we rehearse and hold social events while children attend school. Because more and more Marin families have two working parents, it’s a real challenge to find women who can join us in this incredibly creative and fulfilling charity work.

Masque Unit Marin Cinderella

“Cinderella Gone to the Dogs” (2017) with Audrey Zavell of Novato, Susan Bell-Warner of Novato and Carol Sheerin of San Rafael. Photo by Sheila Jones.

Join Masque Unit Theatre of Marin for Cinderella Gone to the Dogs! a fun, one-hour interactive musical for ages three and up, presented at the Marin Center Showcase Theatre in San Rafael. Featuring book, music, and lyrics by Ron Lytle, this fractured adaptation of the timeless fairytale features Broadway style songs, dancing, comedy, and magic. Familiar characters are portrayed as dogs and the Fairy God-Mouser appears as a cat. The story follows Cinderella as she goes from the lowest existence to “Best in Show” at the Bow Wow Ball.

Saturday, March 4, 2017
11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.

Tickets are $10-12, for more information, call (415) 473-6800 or visit the box office

Masque Unit Website: www.masqueunit.net

San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Frankenstein’ is a Modern Masterpiece

Review of Frankenstein
Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson
Choreographer Liam Scarlett
Composer Lowell Liebermann
For tickets & schedule:

San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA

RUN: February 17 – 26, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

February 19, 2017

Joseph Walsh in Scarlett's Frankenstein. (© Erik Tomasson)

Joseph Walsh in Scarlett’s Frankenstein. (© Erik Tomasson)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is filled with rich angst-driven prose of piercing beauty that drives into the heart of a man plagued by his inner demons. It is a landscape of extremes, from icy tundra to engulfing flames of desire. The intensity of Shelley’s writing is captured in Liam Scarlett’s choreography; Frankenstein is haunted by what should have been an achievement that turns into a nightmare clawing through his family, The Creature is intelligent and desperately lonely, craving attention and love. When denied, he lashes out, his heart broken.

David Finn’s inspired lighting design is a dark atmosphere of gothic horror, from a lightning strewn courtyard to the subtle shadows of towering windows stretching across the stage. He melds in perfect harmony with Finn Ross’ projection design of cruel rain dashing against a battered orphan and hand written notes appearing across the looming skull painting that comes to life, gazing menacingly into the audience.

Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh in Scarlett's Frankenstein. (© Erik Tomasson)

Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh in Scarlett’s Frankenstein. (© Erik Tomasson)

The downward spiral of emotion is exemplified in a pas de deux between Victor Frankenstein (Joseph Walsh) and his love Elizabeth (Frances Chung) in each act. They first meet in playful youth, swinging in utter adoration and bounding through the set with bubbling joy, supported by delicate string music. The second meeting is melancholic—Frankenstein needs her, but keeps his distance and will not tell her what is tormenting him, driving a wedge in their relationship. Soaring lifts maintain a hope that their love will eventually prevail, a tender portrait of their all too human relationship of mislaid trust.

The final pas de deux is shrouded in gloom, despite the sparkling atmosphere of a ball with jewel-tone gowns and flowing jackets. It is somber, with subdued pirouettes in attitude derriere, intimate embraces, and gossamer bourrées. Ghosts of murdered innocents waft past Frankenstein, who freezes in horror at their manifestation in his mind. The scene is chilling, leading to a series of violent encounters with The Creature both with the terrified Elizabeth who is flung about the stage against her will and Frankenstein struggling to realize he is drawn to The Creature, who is a part of himself, and overcome by its monstrous behavior.

Vitor Luiz in Scarlett's Frankenstein. (© Erik Tomasson)

Vitor Luiz in Scarlett’s Frankenstein. (© Erik Tomasson)

Within the emotional resonance of the ballet, there are moments of fun, such as the buffoonery at university, sensual tavern carousing, and the awe-inspiring creation of The Creature. Stage magic has outdone itself with a mechanical device of luminescent green bubbles, cylinders, flashing electricity, smoke, and lights. In an exhilarating scene closing the first act, Frankenstein’s creative genius flows into a spectacular visual that leaves the audience reeling, exploding with delight when the curtain falls for intermission.

San Francisco Ballet’s Frankenstein has infused the intensity of Shelley’s novel into a viscerally meaningful ballet of emotional power and dark beauty. It is certain to become a classic of its own in the years to come, deeply human and operatic in spectacle.

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