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Imagination Lane https://imaginationlane.net/reviews San Francisco North Bay Theater & Dance Sat, 21 Sep 2019 19:57:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.18 The Curtain Falls on Imagination Lane Reviews https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-curtain-falls-on-imagination-lane-reviews/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-curtain-falls-on-imagination-lane-reviews/#respond Sat, 21 Sep 2019 19:57:24 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3851

Thank you for your support through the years; after consideration, Imagination Lane Reviews has come to its final chapter.

I will leave the archival website up as a reference, but there will be no new reviews being posted.

The Curtain Falls on Imagination Lane Reviews originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 21, 2019.

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North Bay Live Theater – May, 2019 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-may-2019/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-may-2019/#respond Thu, 09 May 2019 02:25:33 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3840

Paige Picard and Ariel Zuckerman in ‘This Random World’ at Left Edge Theatre. Photo by Katie Kelley.

‘The Belle of Amherst’
3 of 5 Stars
Sonoma Arts Live
Sonoma
Through June 2, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella’
4 of 5 Stars
Spreckels Theatre Company
Rohnert Park
Through May 26, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘Lungs’
4 of 5 Stars
Main Stage West
Sebastopol
Through May 26, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘This Random World’
4 of 5 Stars
Left Edge Theatre
Santa Rosa
Through May 26, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘Unusual Comedies Coming to Sonoma County’
April theater preview article
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – May, 2019 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 9, 2019.

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North Bay Live Theater – April, 2019 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-april-2019/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-april-2019/#respond Thu, 25 Apr 2019 03:54:05 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3830

Raven Players 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike." Photo by Ray Mabry.

Raven Players in ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” Photo by Ray Mabry.

‘Born Yesterday’
3.5 of 5 Stars
Sonoma Arts Live
Sonoma
Through May 12, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’
3 of 5 Stars
Raven Players
Healdsburg
Through May 5, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘Spring Dance Concert’
4 of 5 Stars
Sonoma State University
Rohnert Park
Through April 27, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘110 in the Shade’ Turns Up the Heat
Theater Preview
READ ARTICLE

‘Heathen Valley’
5 of 5 Stars
Main Stage West
Sebastopol
Through April 14, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘A Perfect Ganesh’
3 of 5 Stars
Cinnabar Theatre
Petaluma
Through April 14, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘Local Theater Challenges Social Status’
April theater preview article
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – April, 2019 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 25, 2019.

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North Bay Live Theater – March, 2019 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-march-2019/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-march-2019/#respond Tue, 19 Mar 2019 04:59:09 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3821

Leila Rosa in ‘The Nether’ at Left Edge Theatre. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

‘The Revolutionists’
3.5 of 5 Stars
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa
Through April 7, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘Surprise Party’
3 of 5 Stars
Raven Players
Healdsburg
Through March 23, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘The Nether’
5 of 5 Stars
Left Edge Theatre
Santa Rosa
Through March 24, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘All the Great Books (Abridged)’
3 of 5 Stars
Santa Rosa Junior College
Santa Rosa
Through March 17, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘ReVerberation: The Fire Circle Festival of Community Voices’
READ ARTICLE

‘Eclectic Comedies’
March theater preview article
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – March, 2019 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on March 19, 2019.

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North Bay Live Theater – February, 2019 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-february-2019/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-february-2019/#respond Mon, 04 Feb 2019 05:42:55 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3810

'Hamlet' at Spreckels Performing Arts Center. Photo by Jeff Thomas.

‘Hamlet’ at Spreckels Performing Arts Center. Photo by Jeff Thomas.

‘Forever Plaid’
4 of 5 Stars
Lucky Penny Productions
Napa
Through March 3, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘After Miss Julie’
5 of 5 Stars
Main Stage West
Sebastopol
Through March 3, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘Hamlet’
5 of 5 Stars
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park
Through February 17, 2o19
READ REVIEW

‘Underneath the Lintel’
5 of 5 Stars
Cinnabar Theater
Petaluma
Through February 17, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘Room Service’
3 of 5 Stars
Raven Players
Healdsburg
Through February 10, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘Arsenic and Old Lace’
4 of 5 Stars
Sonoma Arts Live
Sonoma
Through February 10, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘Inquisitive Passion’
February theater preview article
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – February, 2019 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 4, 2019.

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North Bay Live Theater – January, 2019 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-january-2019/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-january-2019/#respond Wed, 30 Jan 2019 03:56:03 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3805

Sam (Skyler Cooper) and Rebecca (Michelle Maxson) share a moment in ‘Swallow’ at Main Stage West. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

‘Swallow’
5 of 5 Stars
Main Stage West
Sebastopol
Through January 27, 2019
READ REVIEW

‘Moon Over Buffalo’
3 of 5 Stars
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa
Through February 3, 2o19
READ REVIEW

‘Live Theater Previews’
January theater preview article
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – January, 2019 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on January 30, 2019.

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North Bay Live Theater – December, 2018 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-december-2018/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-december-2018/#respond Fri, 07 Dec 2018 06:05:35 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3794

Chris Schloemp in ‘Polar Bears’ photo by David Templeton.

‘The House of Yes’
5 of 5 Stars
Main Stage West
Sebastopol
Through December 16, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Yo Ho Ho, A Pirate’s Christmas’
3 of 5 Stars
Cloverdale Performing Arts Center
Cloverdale
Through December 16, 2o18
READ REVIEW

‘Scrooge in Love!’
4 of 5 Stars
Lucky Penny Productions
Napa
Through December 16, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Every Brilliant Thing’
5 of 5 Stars
Left Edge Theatre Company
Santa Rosa
Through December 9, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Polar Bears’
5 of 5 Stars

The Belrose in San Rafael
Through December 15, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Annie’
3 of 5 Stars

6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa
Through December 22, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Festive Live Theater’
December theater preview article
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – December, 2018 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 7, 2018.

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North Bay Live Theater – November, 2018 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-november-2018/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-november-2018/#respond Wed, 07 Nov 2018 01:29:51 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3788

Hand to God at Left Edge Theatre in Santa Rosa

Carl Kraines, Melissa Claire, and Dean Linnard in Left Edge Theatre’s ‘Hand to God’ in Santa Rosa. Photo by Katie Kelley.

‘Shrek The Musical’
3 of 5 Stars
Santa Rosa Junior College
Santa Rosa
Through December 2, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘The New Century’
2 of 5 Stars
Pegasus Theater Company
Guerneville
Through November 25, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Marquee Theater Journalists Association’
Nominations for 3rd Annual Awards
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – November, 2018 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 7, 2018.

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North Bay Live Theater – October, 2018 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-october-2018/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-october-2018/#respond Thu, 18 Oct 2018 03:27:54 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3777

“The Addams Family” at Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. Photo by Jeff Thomas.

‘Hand to God’
4 of 5 Stars
Left Edge Theatre
Santa Rosa
Through November 11, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘The Night Alive’
5 of 5 Stars
Main Stage West
Sebastopol
Through October 28, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘The Great God Pan’
5 of 5 Stars
Cinnabar Theater
Petaluma
Through October 28, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘The Addams Family’
3.5 of 5 Stars
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park
Through October 28, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Count Dracula’
3 of 5 Stars
Curtain Call Theatre
Monte Rio
Through October 27, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Spooky Live Theater for Halloween’
October Theater Preview
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – October, 2018 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on October 18, 2018.

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North Bay Live Theater – September, 2018 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-september-2018/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-september-2018/#respond Wed, 12 Sep 2018 02:32:22 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3766

Into the Woods - Lucky Penny Productions

Cinderella (Madison Genovese) in “Into the Woods” at Lucky Penny Productions in Napa.

‘Guys and Dolls’
3.5 of 5 Stars
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa
Through October 14, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘The Naked Truth’
2 of 5 Stars
Left Edge Theatre
Santa Rosa
Through September 30, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’
5 of 5 Stars
Spreckels Theatre Company
Rohnert Park
Through September 30, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Into the Woods’
3 of 5 Stars
Lucky Penny Productions
Napa
Through September 23, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Savage Wealth’
3 of 5 Stars
Main Stage West
Sebastopol
Through September 16, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Cabaret’
5 of 5 Stars
Cinnabar Theater
Petaluma
Through September 23, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Willkommen to Cabaret’
September Theater Preview
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – September, 2018 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 12, 2018.

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North Bay Live Theater – August, 2018 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-august-2018/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-august-2018/#respond Thu, 16 Aug 2018 04:38:41 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3751

Heroes at Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

Philippe (Dale Harriman) sparks an idea in Henri (Peter Immordino). ‘Heroes’ at Cloverdale Performing Arts Center. Photo by John Gobeille.

‘Speechless Shakespeare’
3 of 5 Stars
Foundry Wharf
Petaluma
Through September 2, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Henry IV, Part 1’
5 of 5 Stars
The Curtain Theatre
Mill Valley
Through September 9, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘The Comedy of Errors’
4 of 5 Stars
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa
Through September 2, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change’
4 of 5 Stars
Raven Players
Healdsburg
Through August 19, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Heroes’
3 of 5 Stars
Cloverdale Performing Arts Center
Cloverdale
Through August 19, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Shall We Dance’
5 of 5 Stars
Transcendence Theater Company
Glen Ellen
Through August 19, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Pericles’
4 of 5 Stars
Marin Shakespeare Company
San Rafael
Through August 5, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Shakespeare by the River Festival’
August Theater Preview
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – August, 2018 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on August 16, 2018.

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North Bay Live Theater – July, 2018 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-july-2018/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-july-2018/#respond Fri, 13 Jul 2018 05:00:51 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3731

The Imaginists

“An Imaginists’ Odyssey” Photo by Tibidabo Photography.

‘Guys and Dolls’
4 of 5 Stars
Marin Musical Theatre Company
San Anselmo
Through July 28, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Shakespeare in Love’
3.5 of 5 Stars
The Arlene Francis Center and Shakespeare in the Cannery
Santa Rosa
Through August 5, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Always… Patsy Cline’
5 of 5 Stars
Sonoma Arts Live
Sonoma
Through July 29, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘An Imaginists’ Odyssey’
3 of 5 Stars
The Imaginists
Santa Rosa
Through July 22, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Walking Elephant Theatre Company’
July Theater Preview
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – July, 2018 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on July 13, 2018.

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North Bay Live Theater – June, 2018 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-june-2018/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-june-2018/#respond Fri, 08 Jun 2018 04:47:04 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3718

Transcendence Theatre Company

Transcendence Theatre Company “Broadway Under the Stars”. Photo by Rebecca Jane Call.

‘Illyria’
5 of 5 Stars
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa
Through July 8, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Stairway to Paradise’
5 of 5 Stars
Transcendence Theatre Company
Glen Ellen
Through July 1, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Honky’
4 of 5 Stars
Left Edge Theatre
Santa Rosa
Through July 1, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Bullshot Crummond’
3 of 5 Stars
Curtain Call Theatre
Monte Rio
Through June 23, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘The Fantasticks’
3 of 5 Stars
Cinnabar Theater
Petaluma
Through June 24, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Hands on a Hardbody’
4.5 of 5 Stars
Lucky Penny Productions
Napa
Through June 17, 2018
READ REVIEW

Theater PREview: ‘The Fantasticks’
READ ARTICLE

‘Glittering Broadway Music Arrives in Glen Ellen’
June Theater Preview
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – June, 2018 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on June 8, 2018.

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North Bay Live Theater – May, 2018 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-may-2018/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-may-2018/#respond Mon, 07 May 2018 03:40:35 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3701

‘Jeeves Intervenes’ at Sonoma Arts Live. Photo by Miller Oberlin of Oberlin Photography

‘Hamlet’
4 of 5 Stars
Marin Shakespeare Company
San Rafael
Through July 8, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)’
3 of 5 Stars
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa
Through June 3, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Jeeves Intervenes’
3 of 5 Stars
Sonoma Arts Live
Sonoma
Through May 27, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Peter Pan’
4.5 of 5 Stars
Spreckels Theatre Company
Rohnert Park
Through May 20, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Eurydice’
3 of 5 Stars
Main Stage West
Sebastopol
Through June 2, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Women in Jeopardy!”
3.5 of 5 Stars
Left Edge Theatre
Santa Rosa
Through May 27, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘La Cage aux Folles’
3.5 of 5 Stars
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa
Extended Through May 27, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Water by the Spoonful’
4.5 of 5 Stars
Raven Players
Healdsburg
Through May 13, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Hubris and Loyalty in Upcoming Theater’
May Theater Preview
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – May, 2018 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 7, 2018.

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‘Pericles’ at Marin Shakespeare Company Finds Hope Through Adversity https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/pericles-at-marin-shakespeare-company-finds-hope-through-adversity/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/pericles-at-marin-shakespeare-company-finds-hope-through-adversity/#respond Wed, 02 May 2018 01:53:46 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3742

By Alexa Chipman
August 2, 2018

Pericles at Marin Shakespeare

Pericles (Dameion Brown) fights his way through a perilous tempest.

Romantic escapades and daring sea voyages surround the rarely performed ‘Pericles’ with assassins, pirates, bold heroes and true love. It is the theater equivalent of an action adventure blockbuster, with a ‘Flash Gordon’ theme of strange worlds and science fiction props. The protagonist is searching for a partner to rule with him, encountering unique civilizations and cultural expectations of leadership, from savage dictators to fainthearted monarchs.

He confronts the best and worst of humanity, which nearly breaks his spirit. Persevering in spite of adverse circumstances, Pericles finds strength through trusting those he cares for. The whirlwind journey through worlds and shipwrecks gives the plot a chaotic impression, but Dameion Brown as Pericles anchors it in a powerful, hopeful figure who refuses to give in to the turmoil surrounding him. “I do not fear the storm” he states, gazing defiantly at the night sky.

Pericles’ is most likely a collaboration between William Shakespeare and George Wilkins. Published in quarto, rather than being included in the First Folio, it has been dissected by scholars, who believe that Wilkins is primarily responsible for the first half of the play, and Shakespeare for the remaining scenes. Director Lesley Schisgall Currier has augmented the fantastical elements and draws inspiration from current politics with an amusing scene of irate fishermen sporting “Make Pentapolis Great Again” mottos as they bluster at Pericles, who has washed ashore as an accidental immigrant.

Pericles at Marin Shakespeare

Pericles (Dameion Brown) is reunited with Thaisa (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn) through the patronage of Diana (Cathleen Riddley) and Cerimon (Elena Wright).

A core ensemble takes on multiple roles, depending on the location, leaning heavily on costume designer Merissa Mann to clarify who they are portraying. She uses color, fabric weight and silhouettes to give each kingdom its own aesthetic. Tyre is soft, filled with lavender and dove gray, contrasting with Antioch’s harsh black and magenta with stiff satin and BDSM references. Composer Clint Bajakian’s symphonic score soars through ‘Pericles’ and Jackson Currier’s intergalactic set design of swirling stars dominated by a golden throne.

Melancholy musings on life and a rich thread of forgiveness speak to the maturity of Shakespeare’s later career, leading to a scene of piercing beauty when Pericles is reunited with his daughter. Kathryn Smith-McGlynn (Thaisa) and Eliza Boivin (Marina) do not flinch when facing danger, yet demonstrate a vulnerability that prevents them from becoming one-dimensional. Rod Gnapp’s Helicanus has to convince the audience that he is trustworthy within the space of a few lines, and manages to do so with wisdom and poise.

“By hope I live” Pericles writes as his motto in a tournament, and they are not empty words. ‘Pericles’ at Marin Shakespeare is a rush of daring exploits, jeopardy, and surprisingly perceptive ideology.

4 of 5 Stars
Presented through August 5, 2018
Thurs/Fri/Sat at 8:00pm, Sun at 4:00pm

Marin Shakespeare Company
Forest Meadows Amphitheatre
890 Belle Ave, San Rafael, 94901
(415) 499-4488
www.marinshakespeare.org

Photos by Jay Yamada.

‘Pericles’ at Marin Shakespeare Company Finds Hope Through Adversity originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 2, 2018.

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North Bay Live Theater – April, 2018 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-april-2018/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-april-2018/#respond Sat, 07 Apr 2018 20:55:28 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3690

“Scream Queens” at Lucky Penny Productions in Napa.

‘Into the Woods’
3.5 of 5 Stars
Santa Rosa Junior College
Santa Rosa
Through May 6, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Just My TYPE’
3 of 5 Stars
Ross Alternative Works
Ross
Through April 29, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Head Over Heels’
4 of 5 Stars
Curran
San Francisco
Through May 6, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Death of a Salesman’
4.5 of 5 Stars
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa
Through April 28, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Scream Queens’
3 of 5 Stars
Lucky Penny Productions
Napa
Through April 14, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘The Time of Your Life’
2 of 5 Stars
Cloverdale Performing Arts Center
Cloverdale
Through April 15, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Lost in Yonkers’
3.5 of 5 Stars
Raven Players
Healdsburg
Through April 15, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Amadeus’
3.5 of 5 Stars
Cinnabar Theater
Petaluma
Through April 15, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Urban Artistry in Sonoma County Theater’
April Theater Preview
READ ARTICLE

North Bay Live Theater – April, 2018 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 7, 2018.

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North Bay Live Theater – March, 2018 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-march-2018/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/north-bay-live-theater-march-2018/#respond Fri, 09 Mar 2018 05:24:16 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3677

Left Edge Theatre - The Realistic Joneses

‘The Realistic Joneses’ at Left Edge Theatre. John (Chris Ginesi) is comforted by Jennifer (Melissa Claire). Photo by Argo Thompson.

‘Blackbird’
4 of 5 Stars
Main Stage West
Sebastopol
Through April 1, 2018 (Extended! April 6-7)
READ REVIEW

‘By the Water’
4.5 of 5 Stars
Spreckels Theater Company
Rohnert Park
Through April 8, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Twelfth Night’
3 of 5 Stars
Sonoma State University
Through March 31, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter’
3 of 5 Stars
Santa Rosa Junior College
Through March 18, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Noises Off’
3.5 of 5 Stars
6th Street Playhouse
Through March 31, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘The Realistic Joneses’
4.5 of 5 Stars

Left Edge Theatre (Santa Rosa)
Through March 25, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘The Language of Flowers’
3.5 of 5 Stars
Curtain Call Theatre (Monte Rio)
Through March 24, 2018
READ REVIEW

‘Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical’
3.5 of 5 Stars
Lucky Penny Productions (Napa)
Through March 11, 2018
READ REVIEW

North Bay Live Theater – March, 2018 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on March 9, 2018.

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Clash of Kings in ‘Richard II’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/clash-of-kings-in-richard-ii/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/clash-of-kings-in-richard-ii/#respond Sun, 11 Feb 2018 18:15:06 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3662

Review of Richard II
By William Shakespeare
Directed by David Abrams
For tickets / schedule :
Birdbath Theatres
www.birdbaththeatres.com
Key Tea / Open Secret
921 C St, San Rafael, CA
Tickets: $24, Student/Senior $20 (or donation as can afford)

RUN: February 1-18, 2018
Extended through February 25

RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(February 9, 2018)

Birdbath Theatres - Richard II

King Richard II (David Abrams) abdicates to Henry Bolingbroke (Winona Wagner).

The reign of Richard II is perplexing to historians; he gained the throne at a young age, shaping the court into a peaceful sanctuary for the arts, patronizing literature, fashion, and architecture. He encouraged the use of English as a primary language, inspiring writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer. On the other hand, his actions seem abrupt and tyrannical in a fragile gathering of noble houses and tenuous loyalty from the peasants, who went into open revolt under his rule. Shakespeare considers the king through a biased lens of the Tudor dynasty, eager to paint Henry Bolingbroke (future King Henry IV) in a friendly light, rather than Richard II, the rightful ruler.

History plays have the potential to be confusing, with so many dukes and earls plotting against each other, often changing sides. If you are unfamiliar with the story, it is helpful to quickly glance over the life of Richard II before attending, despite the liberties taken with recorded history. The power plays between families can be fascinating to observe, and Shakespeare’s tumbling verse is executed to perfection by this cast, with clear elocution.

Birdbath Theatres - Richard II

The Earl of Northumberland (Rob Garcia) rants against the king.

Key Tea / Open Secret is an eclectic cafe and bookshop in downtown San Rafael, with a casual, New Age environment. Costume designs by Wyatt Dunkerly reflect the setting; he observed that Renaissance styles have “similar lines” to attire seen at burning man. Director David Abrams explained the purpose of mingling eras in the costuming. “We decided to play with the similarities of shape and differences in material to give a nod to the past and present while setting the play in a neither here nor there place and time. We felt that setting the play in this alternate universe might serve the audience in letting go of where and when this is happening to listen to what is said.”

Although the play is rarely performed, it is filled with well-known passages, such as “grace me no grace” and “this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England” which are placed back into context. Abrams crafts a naïve ruler, out of touch with his subjects, and self-absorbed until grief forces compassion from him. In a clever directing choice, a love affair is extrapolated between Richard and the Duke of Aumerle (Jesse Lumb), which adds depth to the young man’s decisions with regards to the king.

Birdbath Theatres - Richard II

The Duke of York (Melanie Bandera-Hess) worries for the future of his house.

Melanie Bandera-Hess is dynamic as the Duke of York, an aging general forced to support Bolingbroke, for whom he has little admiration. Leon Goertzen charges onto the field as Thomas Mowbray, swiftly transforming into the troubled Bishop of Carlisle, mincing Bushy, and a hilarious Duchess of York. Winona Wagner’s noble Bolingbroke is charismatic, and her gentle Queen brings the royal gardeners to tears. The ensemble is able to carry the shuffling of characters, although Genevieve Schaad, a newcomer to theater, is still working on delivery and comfort with her roles.

Richard II flows with Shakespeare’s agile grace, emphasizing the elements of fire and water, referenced in Birdbath’s playbill cover. This exquisite production of a difficult history play has a unique, intimate setting and sensational cast. The political intrigue may not be for everyone, but the underlying motivations of loyalty, friendship, and love are universal.

Clash of Kings in ‘Richard II’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 11, 2018.

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‘Buried Child’—Fading Americana’s Final Breath https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/buried-child-fading-americanas-final-breath/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/buried-child-fading-americanas-final-breath/#respond Sat, 10 Feb 2018 23:23:12 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3654

Review of Buried Child
By Sam Shepard
Directed by Elizabeth Craven
For tickets / schedule :
www.mainstagewest.com
Main Stage West, Sebastopol
Tickets: $30, $25 Senior 65+, $15 Students

RUN: February 2-25, 2018
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(February 8, 2018)

Main Stage West - Buried Child

Dodge (John Craven) is presented with corn by his son Tilden (Keith Baker). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Buried Child examines the reality behind a Norman Rockwell “all-American” family decaying into sunset years. The confident father holding court at Thanksgiving with a glistening roast turkey has become a cantankerous invalid bellowing for whisky, and the popular high school halfback shuffles about the kitchen with a haunted expression, a fragile shell of the man he was. Sam Shepard’s writing is a product of his era—its leisurely pacing and measured dialogue is difficult for a contemporary audience to connect with, although the genius of his imagination echoes through the play.

Swaying between gritty realism and flights of the surreal, Buried Child is a mashup of genres, held together by Missy Weaver’s extraordinary lighting design enveloping the actors in gloom, swaths of green, and dramatic ruby bleeding across the walls. The emotional journey is less focused, eliminating transitional arcs in favor of disjointed snapshots. Buried Child is not entirely linear; time overlaps, expanding into a mosaic of chaotic pieces in its conclusion, giving the story a dreamlike quality.

Main Stage West - Buried Child

Shelly (Ivy Rose Miller) contemplates the odd situation. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Shelly, a young woman visiting the house, becomes a stand-in for the audience, reacting to the jaded family with horror and pity at what they have become. Ivy Rose Miller portrays Shelly as openhearted, hoping to believe the best in others, while maintaining an intelligent outlook. Her boyfriend Vince (Sam Coughlin) appears to be reasonable at first glance, until his dismissive, violent attitude emerges.

John Craven as Dodge is both engrossing and repellent, wrapped in his soiled blanket, blustering orders that are no longer obeyed. His sons, Tilden (Keith Baker) and Bradley (Eric Burke) are ghoulish shadows of their former youth, equally disturbing in contrasting ways. Tilden’s innocent, yet perturbing desire to stroke Shelly’s jacket earned a mutter of “disgusting” from the audience, and Bradley takes perverse pleasure in shaving his father’s hair until the scalp bleeds from his attention.

America’s idealized family and white picket fence rot before our eyes in Buried Child, parading the flawed nature of humanity. Is there a future beyond the corrupt, decomposing dream?

‘Buried Child’—Fading Americana’s Final Breath originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 10, 2018.

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Pippin Revealed https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/pippin-revealed/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/pippin-revealed/#respond Sat, 10 Feb 2018 18:25:09 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3646

Review of PIPPIN
by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Roger O. Hirson
Directed by Kim Bromley & Jenny Boynton
Music directed by Judy Wiesen
Choreography by Katie Wickes

For tickets / schedule :
www.marinmusicals.org
The Belrose Theatre
San Rafael, CA
1415 5th Avenue, San Rafael
Marin Musical Theatre Company
Tickets: $30-$50

RUN: January 26 – February 10, 2018
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(February 9, 2018)

Pippin - Marin Musical Theatre Company

Photo by Marin Musical Theatre Company.

This production of PIPPIN is fun and high energy, a surprisingly good match to the little Belrose Theatre in San Rafael.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson, this show won 5 Tonys for its debut on Broadway in 1973 and 4 for its revival in 2013.  Not bad for a play that started out its life as a student musical at Carnegie Mellon.

This play within a play is presented by a traveling troupe of actors.  It’s set in 780 AD, somewhere in the old Holy Roman Empire.  At curtain, the MC or “Leading Player” (played by Earl Alfred Paus) magically transforms a simple stage into a sensual blank canvas, ready to be painted.  The group has cast Pippin (played by Zachary Isen) as a newer actor who is searching for the true meaning of his life. Not satisfied with just being the eldest son of “Charles” (king Charlemagne, played by Jere Torkelsen) in the Middle Ages, Pippin wants more. As a prince, Pippin has all the choices of the age available to him – war, academia, religion, politics, hedonism and more.  What road does he take?  Why not all (spoken like a true humanities student)?

And so it goes. The troupe takes the blank stage and creates scenes with all the choreography and costumes and makeup so outstanding in the original production on Broadway. Did I say the original Director & Choreographer was Bob Fosse? This production goes all out to bring out the best of dance and choreography so inherent in its sensual beginnings.

Pippin’s first choice of life path is academia, but this grows old fast within the court of Charlemagne. The path of war leads to battle with the Visigoths, but Pippin is appalled by the violence (surprise?). Escaping to the countryside, Pippin visits his exiled grandmother Bertha (played by Kim Bromley), who clears the air a bit by telling him that he needs to experience life, because youth is gone “in no time at all.” Life revels in romantic antics on stage, accentuated by the delightful ensemble. Pippin tires of that as well and follows the Leading Player’s advice to try politics.

Charles’ second wife Fastrada (played by Marla Cox) does a good job of cajoling Pippin into murdering her husband, the good Charles. She hopes her son Lewis (played by Nelson Brown) will survive the plot to become king. “Down with tyrants” becomes the mantra of the minute, and Pippin kills his father for his heartless ways as king. Intermission follows after a promise of the “best finale ever” after the break.

Pippin - Marin Musical Theatre Company

Photo by Marin Musical Theatre Company.

Pippin takes over the crown, but is not able to resolve the issues of the kingdom and begs the Leading Player to bring king Charles back to life so he can settle the kingdom down again. DONE!  Pippin then tries art and finally religion. Nothing works. He despairs. Along comes the widow Catherine (played by Jenny Boynton) who takes Pippin in to help her on the farm with her son Theo (played by Carl Robinett). Eventually, we get to love as the answer to Pippin’s developmental crises. Simple, but it takes a life to appreciate love.

The troupe ensemble ebbs and flows around the characters to add interest to this rather linear story. It works. There is never a dull moment with song and dance defining the emotions along the way. Comedy is the rule here, and when Bromley sings her “No Time at All,” she invites the audience to join her chorus to wish Pippin a full love life around the neighborhood.

The ensemble dancers are fantastic. Nine “players” fill all the dancing and support roles perfectly with face makeup and costumes having a mix of styles and colors reminiscent of “King Arthur” and “Hair.”  In the small space that is the Belrose, the audience shares the intimacy of the work onstage. Having made quick work of the art of war, the players move smoothly into the exotic, erotic and passionate areas around Pippin’s future development.

The lighting works well to define the action and sensuality surrounding Pippin’s travels.  It is obvious that lighting designer Marilyn Izdebski knows her lights and technique. Choreographer Katie Wickes and costumer Amaris Blagborne do wonders with this play to make it shine. The ensemble in these capable hands looks stunning. The 5-piece band was perfect for the voices working Judy Wiesen’s music magic.

Overall, PIPPIN at the Belrose Theatre is fun and energetic, with a good cast that is able to carry the storyline with an attitude that does not let the play drag. Yes, there is a dramatic ending but I can’t reveal it. The ending hints at the beginning of another life on this stage. I believe the Lead Player will take it from here.

Pippin Revealed originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 10, 2018.

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‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ at Sonoma State University https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/youre-a-good-man-charlie-brown-at-sonoma-state-university/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/youre-a-good-man-charlie-brown-at-sonoma-state-university/#respond Tue, 06 Feb 2018 05:41:48 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3634

Review of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
Book, Music and Lyrics by Clark Gesner
Music Direction by Lynne Morrow
Stage Direction by Doyle Ott
Choreography by Anna Leach, Emily Rice with Dylan Smith
Sonoma State University Department of Music and Theatre Arts & Dance
Sonoma State University, Evert B. Person Theatre
Rohnert Park, CA

RUN: January 31 – February 11, 2018
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

February 2, 2018

Sonoma State University You're A Good Man Charlie Brown

Snoopy (Emily Rice) sings to Woodstock. Photo by James Wirth.

Heartwarming vignettes mingle seamlessly in a steady stream of insights and amusing antics from the beloved comic strip Peanuts in this tranquil musical. Sally rants against an unfairly graded art project of bent coat hangers, Lucy rules the playground, Linus waxes poetical while clutching his blanket, and Snoopy daydreams as a World War I flying ace in pursuit of the infamous Red Baron.

Michael Smith’s simplistic set design recreates the casual line drawings of Charles M. Schulz, filled with primal colors; the “kite eating tree” is particularly effective and integrates with the bold palette of Roxie Johnson’s costumes. Robin DeLuca’s lighting design takes center stage, shifting in vivid hues across an otherwise unencumbered backdrop. The puppet element of a fuzzy Woodstock entrances children in the audience, giving Snoopy a friend to interact with during songs.

Stage direction by Doyle Ott takes advantage of the shifting set elements, keeping visuals fresh between scenes, although the brick wall’s constant rotation becomes distracting during the Peter Rabbit book report. A clever reference to Les Miserables revitalizes it, with Charlie Brown enthusiastically waving a carrot flag while perched heroically atop the wall.

Noah Evans exaggerates the trials of Charlie Brown for comedic effect, trailing his baseball bat dejectedly after a disastrous game, and wringing his hands at the mailbox while waiting for a Valentine. Emily Rice lopes with boundless enthusiasm as Snoopy, exploding into a tap routine, while crooning “Suppertime”.

Sonoma State University Your'e A Good Man Charlie Brown

The ensemble gathers for the title song. Photo by James Wirth.

Anna Leach is an effective Lucy Van Pelt, curling her fist when life does not go her way, with an operatic clarity to her songs. Brandon Matel’s Schroeder blings up for “Beethoven Day” and manages to ignore Lucy’s constant pestering. Sally Brown’s (Hailey Patrick) innocent, cheeky comebacks add zest to the musical, although her rabbit hunting expedition became rather rambunctious with audience interactions. Mathew Adiao as Linus Van Pelt needs more rehearsal of the blanket dance, which is easily overlooked due to his natural chemistry with Leach. They are believable siblings, quarreling over a missing pencil only to come together with mutual understanding and support when the need arises.

Incorporating tumbling and dance infuses energy into this production. The action is infectious, with characters playing catch during the baseball game, running through the audience with nets, and leaping into forward rolls across the stage. Sonoma State University’s lively You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is a fun-filled performance for children and the young at heart.

‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ at Sonoma State University originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 6, 2018.

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‘Skeleton Crew’ Deeply Human Drama https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/skeleton-crew-deeply-human-drama/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/skeleton-crew-deeply-human-drama/#respond Mon, 29 Jan 2018 04:20:21 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3623

Review of Skeleton Crew
By Dominique Morisseau
Directed by Jade King Carroll

For tickets & schedule:
www.marintheatre.org
Marin Theatre Company & Theatreworks Silicon Valley
Mill Valley, CA

RUN:
January 25 – February 18, 2018 (Marin Theatre Company)
March 7 – April 1, 2018 (Theatreworks Silicon Valley)

RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(Preview Performance, January 26, 2018)

Marin Theatre Company Skeleton Crew

Tensions run high during a mandatory stop and search. Faye (Margo Hall), Reggie (Lance Gardner) and Dez (Christian Thompson). Photo by Kevin Berne.

In a struggling economy, set during the 2008 Great Recession, Detroit’s infrastructure is crumbling. Factories are shutting down, leaving the former workers stranded in neighborhoods without proper police or fire departments; crime is spiking and hope failing as families lose everything.

That dark cloud permeates a small factory that has remained operational, setting nerves on edge, pushing the boundaries as to what is acceptable behavior to survive short-term, and what will ultimately become self-destructive. After being stripped of home, income, and loved ones, what is left? Is it worth crossing the line to escape?

Ed Haynes’ set design of grungy lockers, worn break room furnishings covered in duct tape patches, and dirty windows instantly evokes the feeling of a factory long past its prime, with trash shoved under scratched tables and clothes strewn about. Sound designer Karin Graybash maintains a background of distant machinery, buzzing shift notices, and everyday life, such as the percolating coffeemaker.

Skeleton Crew - Marin Theatre Company

Shanita (Tristan Cunningham) hears of the factory shutdown. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Warning signs from the supervisor plaster the walls with no smoking notices, a scrawled “Faye” underneath, introducing us to the grizzled factory worker who snorts at her name and promptly lights one up. Margo Hall’s performance amuses at first, gently revealing layers of carefully hidden pain. Her endearing stubborn exterior is packed with quirky behavior under the direction of Jade King Carroll.

Reggie (Lance Gardner), her protégé, has risen to management, placing him in the precarious situation of pleasing his supervisors in order to protect his family or giving that up to help the union members and almost mother-figure of Faye. Gardner comes across as stiff, which seems awkward until it is explained during the second act, when he is able to relax and come into his own as Reggie, with the audience cheering him on.

Skeleton Crew - Marin Theatre Company

Reggie (Lance Gardner) realizes the consequences of his outburst. Photo by Kevin Berne.

The playfully flirtatious relationship of Shanita (Tristan Cunningham) and Dez (Christian Thompson) buoys up otherwise distressing content and they represent a wide spectrum of optimism for the future. Shanita is considering her unborn child, determined to persevere, and becomes dangerously sanguine about her prospects, considering the economic reality. Dez has a pragmatic view, driven to acquire whatever he can before the world falls apart, while clinging to what is left of his pride and moral compass in the process. As the playwright points out, some personalities are drawn to be part of the destruction, others to implement restoration.

The Bay Area premiere of Skeleton Crew is a dynamic, multi-faceted exploration of humanity under pressure. Without clear-cut right and wrong, it is easy to forget how easily we could find ourselves on the other side of the table—the moment that happens, compassion is lost, and people become numbers and statistics on a ledger. Dominique Morisseau has crafted relatable, complex characters and snappy repartee for a tightly written production.

‘Skeleton Crew’ Deeply Human Drama originally appeared on Imagination Lane on January 29, 2018.

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Teens n’ Training at Sonoma Arts Live https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/teens-n-training-at-sonoma-arts-live/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/teens-n-training-at-sonoma-arts-live/#respond Sun, 21 Jan 2018 22:46:14 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3613

Providing opportunities for young people to explore theater and have the chance to perform has become a collaborative effort of The Theater School and Sonoma Arts Live. Local teens are able to rehearse at the school and use the Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall of the Sonoma Community Center for plays such as The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Carrie the Musical, and the inaugural 2014 production of Rent. Jaime Love wanted to create “a program that immersed them in the craft of theater.”

EMMA! A Pop Musical

Cast of ‘EMMA! A Pop Musical’ (2017). Photo by Miller Oberlin.

Starting with a check-in before rehearsal, the group is framed with gracious and honest social interaction; Teens n’ Training encourages a supportive atmosphere. “The most important element of my teaching and directing is safety and trust between the ensemble and adults working together” explains Libby Oberlin, Education Director for Sonoma Arts Live / Teens ‘n Training and owner of The Theater School, a sentiment which she learned during her own experiences as a teenager studying the craft.

Auditions are welcome from around the Bay Area, they have had applicants from Napa and further afield, not just Sonoma County. Rather than standing awkwardly in front of a panel, attempting to perform a monologue, the Teens ‘n Training audition process involves fun theater games, more like a casual class. “I know how scary even the word ‘audition’ can be, so I hope that doesn’t sway anyone from trying out” Oberlin encourages.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Cast of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ (2016). Photo by Miller Oberlin.

This year’s production is Peter and the Starcatcher, a re-imagined prequel to Peter Pan with ludicrous plot and chaotic, entertaining characters. With a strong ensemble theme, Oberlin describes it as being “fast paced, hilarious, but also…a beautiful message.”

The cast has been rehearsing four times a week since early January, and will be presenting their production March 8-18 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday with a 2:00 p.m. matinee on Sunday. For further information on Peter and the Starcatcher and upcoming performance opportunities, visit the Teens ‘n Training website.

Teens n’ Training at Sonoma Arts Live originally appeared on Imagination Lane on January 21, 2018.

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Multisensory Experience at the ‘Fermentation Symposium’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/fermentation-symposium/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/fermentation-symposium/#respond Sat, 30 Dec 2017 00:36:30 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3603

One year ago, an extraordinary team came together to create a multisensory theatrical experience. Mingling cuisine with music, vocal work, and dance in a cabaret setting, each course of the menu is paired with a unique presentation. Arranged by co-directors Nick Ishimaru and Kyoko Yoshida, artists were given a dish as inspiration and rehearsed on their own before combining the ensemble.

“The biggest initial challenge was how to get everyone on the same page,” Ishimaru explains. Mariko Grady of Aedan Foods led the group in preparing miso, a traditional Japanese seasoning, which they were able to bring home to ferment over the year apart, a symbol of the percolating artistry and ideas that became the performance.

Chef Eri Shimizu - Fermentation Symposium

Chef Eri Shimizu displays tofu dengaku and tamagoyaki. Photo by Megumi Konishi.

Fermented foods transition on a microscopic level, as organisms are transformed into a new set of flavors. Ishimaru feels that yugen shares a similar process, “a subtle, hidden, intangible grace, in that mysterious, invisible world.” Chef Grady confirms the importance of koji, the basis of fermented foods, which she grew up with. “I see both cooking foods and performing on stage as an art that requires creativity, skills, memory, and philosophy, so working in a combined setting of the two felt natural.”

Theatre of Yugen worked in collaboration with the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network (CTN) to develop the Fermentation Symposium; Yoshida has assisted the theatre’s leadership, and the CTN facilitated bringing their “Moon of the Scarlet Plums” to Japan at the Aichi World Expo in 2005.

Yoshida describes the importance of performing arts as a cultural exchange, “arts connect people on an emotional and visceral level, which is much stronger than an intellectual level. When people share a special experience, it becomes a tie to bond, even with cultural differences.” Concepts such as diversity and social justice can be joined with a balancing connection to nature and sustainability through an understanding between Japan and the United States.

Fermentation Symposium

Mariko Grady (left) explains how koji is developed. Shinichi Iova-Koga (right) looks on. Photo by Kyoko Yoshida.

Sharp & Fine contemporary dancers, a San Francisco company founded by sisters, are contributing to the event, along with inkBoat physical theater and dance, specializing in site specific performances.

Dr. Carol Ishimaru, from the University of Minnesota, gives a scientific background on the chemical process of fermentation through her expertise in plant biology.

This collaboration is an intriguing experiment, combining the senses with a specific artistic concept. Rather than splitting out the disciplines, Theatre of Yugen has brought them into a unified piece for the audience with a delicious menu of Tofu Datemaki, Kabura-sushi, Shiokoji-chicken with root vegetables, Miso Dengaku, Zouni, Kuromame, and Amazake Dessert.

 

PERFORMANCES
Saturday, December 30 at 4:00pm
Sunday, December 31 at 2:00pm

$20 student, $30 under 30 years old, $40 general admission, $50 VIP (free drinks)
Tickets at Theatre of Yugen
2840 Mariposa Street, San Francisco (415) 621-0507

Multisensory Experience at the ‘Fermentation Symposium’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 30, 2017.

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Highlights of North Bay Theater in 2017 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/highlights-of-north-bay-theatre-in-2017/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/highlights-of-north-bay-theatre-in-2017/#respond Fri, 29 Dec 2017 00:45:18 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3576

Looking back on this tempestuous year both politically and due to the devastating forest fires, local theaters have stepped up with thought provoking drama and welcome comedic relief. With such a vibrant performing arts community in the North Bay, these are merely a selection of productions that stood out for me in 2017.

The Elephant Man
Curtain Call Theatre in Monte Rio

The Elephant Man

Dr. Frederick Treves (Lew Brown) explains the meaning of “home” to John Merrick (James Rowan)

Based on the experiences of Joseph (John) Carey Merrick, who struggled with deformities in the late 19th century, the story follows an intelligent man who is ridiculed by society for his outward appearance until being discovered by a doctor, who provides him a safe haven.

This clever play by Bernard Pomerance shows that “the other” is not to be feared, first impressions should be questioned, and compassion can change lives. Rather than using heavy makeup, John Merrick is recreated through physicality and a powerful portrayal by James Rowan. When I look back on this year, The Elephant Man stands out as a moving piece of theater.

Visiting Mr. Green
6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa

Visiting Mr. Green

Mr. Green (Al Kaplan) cannot understand why Ross Gardiner (Kevin Kieta) is not interested in marriage and a family. Photo © Eric Chazankin.

An accidental friendship is formed when Ross is court appointed to check in on elderly Mr. Green, who is living alone and not eating properly. Through their confrontations and slowly built relationship, Ross admits to being rejected by his family for being gay, and although Mr. Green has difficulty with the news, he ultimately becomes the loving father that Ross needs.

Al Kaplan’s Mr. Green and Kevin Kieta as Ross Gardiner give mature, vulnerable performances. For anyone who has been isolated by family for being LGBTQA, the fiery arguments and loneliness are all too real. Watching Mr. Green work through his initial shock to discover that love of family and friends is more important than prejudice is beautiful.

Daddy Long Legs
Main Stage West in Sebastopol

Daddy Long Legs

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

Unlike traditional musicals, Daddy Long Legs has a perpetually lilting melody, rather than separate songs. It weaves a delightful romance between Jerusha Abbott, an orphan, and her mysterious benefactor who finds himself falling in love with her letters.

Lively curiosity, new beginnings, and a hopeful outlook create a relaxing atmosphere that leaves a lingering smile in the audience. The two-hander musical with Madison Genovese and Tyler Costin was a quietly absorbing experience, demonstrating that musicals do not need to be flashy and filled with chorus lines to be effective.

The 39 Steps
Ross Valley Players in Ross

The 39 Steps

Photo by Gregg Le Blanc.

This chaotic comedy is loosely based on Hitchcock’s 1935 spy film, packed with chase scenes, romance and nefarious foreign agents. Hannay finds himself on the run to protect the 39 Steps from falling into the wrong hands. Three talented actors take on every other character in the play, from a mysterious professor to raging Scottish householder.

Using the stage to full effect, actors clamber through windows, use the ceiling to shimmy along a moving train, and wander among the darkened aisles, tripping over pig styes. In an exhilarating performance, this was a fantastic comedy from Ross Valley Players.

Guards at the Taj
Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley

Guards at the Taj

Babur (Rushi Kota) muses on beauty to his friend Humayun (Jason Kapoor). Photo by Kevin Berne.

Controversially gruesome, this play delves into the psychology of atrocities through a legend that builders of the Taj Mahal had their hands cut off by a capriciously cruel leader. Rather than examining it through court politics, the story narrows its focus to ordinary guards who find themselves forced to slice off the artists’ hands or face death themselves.

Childhood friends Humayun (Jason Kapoor) and Babur (Rushi Kota) joke around until discovering they have been chosen for the deed. In a dramatically blood drenched set, they deal with the aftermath of trauma in humanizing interactions, leading to a terrible decision that threatens their friendship. I was on the edge of my seat the entire play, it will stay with me for years to come. It also turned a full house into a handful of audience members who stayed to final curtain—many walked out, unable to take the violence and raw energy of the play, or disagreeing with how it was being portrayed. That being said, playwright Rajiv Joseph should be proud of this work and I stand by my belief that this is an outstanding production.

Sideways
Left Edge Theatre in Santa Rosa

Sideways

Jack (Chris Ginesi) sips pinot noir with the tasting manager (Mark Bradbury) while Miles (Ron Severdia) describes the bouquet. Photo by Argo Thompson.

The North Bay is in the heart of wine country, and what better way to celebrate that than with Rex Pickett’s Sideways. Although set in the Santa Ynez Valley, its inside jokes are entirely appropriate for tasting rooms in this area. I have seen the overly snobbish connoisseur swirling away next to the couple who is just there to get drunk for the afternoon.

In a wild bachelor binge before the wedding, Miles (Ron Severdia) takes Jack (Chris Ginesi) through a series of wineries. Along the way, they re-examine their life goals and whether romance is worth having.

The Diary of Anne Frank
Raven Players in Healdsburg

Diary of Anne Frank

Photo by Ray Mabry Photography.

Combining a compelling set design by Michael Mingoia with a strong ensemble, The Diary of Anne Frank is a timely reminder of what can happen when ethnic groups are targeted by society. Offered for free by Raven Players to any teenager in attendance during its run, this story of wonder and exploration set in the backdrop of war remains a relevant warning.

I will never forget when I first saw this play as a child and understood the implications—I am grateful that this year the next generation had an opportunity to experience it with such a fine cast.

Highlights of North Bay Theater in 2017 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 29, 2017.

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‘White Christmas’ Beloved Holiday Classic https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/white-christmas-beloved-holiday-classic/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/white-christmas-beloved-holiday-classic/#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 23:59:38 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3568

Review of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas The Musical
Book by David Ives & Paul Blake
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin

Directed by Michael Fontaine
Music Direction by Ginger Beavers
Choreography by Joseph A. Favalora

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

RUN: December 1-23, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(December 8, 2017)

White Christmas - 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin.

White Christmas is a vintage holiday musical, filled with nostalgia, romance, and showstopping numbers. To some, it evokes memories of sitting with hot cocoa watching Bing Crosby belting out the famous song, Vera-Ellen and Danny Kaye lightly whirling in unison to “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and luminous Rosemary Clooney from the 1954 film. To others, it is a song that appears when requesting a holiday themed music stream, without the context of a story.

Army buddies Phil Davis and Bob Wallace have made a name for themselves after World War II with their dazzling song and dance revue, and through a combination of accidental and playfully planned circumstances, board a train to a failing Vermont inn, giving up their luxury Florida vacation. To their surprise, it is run by General Henry Waverly, whose livelihood is in serious trouble. The two hatch a scheme to bring the old 151st Division to the inn for Christmas, to turn his fortunes around. Along the way, they meet the Haynes sisters, and sparks fly with the passionate duo, leading to a festive finale bubbling with holiday cheer.

White Christmas - 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Brandy Noveh’s Betty Haynes is poised, with a lovely voice for “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” and its rich complexity. Her irritation at Bob’s callus attitude and its transformation into admiration is subtle and well handled. Christopher Vettel’s crotchety Bob Wallace is compelling, portraying the hard shelled exterior that easily cracks when those he loves are in need. The pleasure-seeking younger couple, Judy Haynes (Morgan Harrington) and Phil Davis (Caleb Daniel Noal), ricochet through an emotional roller-coaster. Unfortunately the musical’s age shows through with a pair of ditzy showgirls who follow him around simply to make sexual innuendos.

Choreographed by Joseph A. Favalora with music direction from Ginger Beavers, sparkling chorus numbers emerge with a fun tap routine opening the second act in “I Love a Piano” and the smooth night club rendition of “Blue Skies” interrupted by comedic scene crossings from the flustered general and his staff. The dances needed further rehearsal to be fully effective, but the parade of colorful costumes from Pat Fitzgerald and jubilant stage presence of the cast, particularly Hillary St. John, is charming throughout the songs.

White Christmas - 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Jacinta Gorringe as Martha Watson commands vaudevillian style with sincere affection for those under her care. “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” is a highlight with humor and flair. Smelting the bit part of Ezekiel into comedic gold, Tim Hayes shuffles through the barn, grunting at the stage manager’s hysterical outbursts to rapturous laughter from the audience.

White Christmas is a holiday treat with just enough sentiment to warm the heart, lively dances, and an engaging cast. 6th Street Playhouse has caught the Christmas spirit this season with a delightful production of this classic musical.

‘White Christmas’ Beloved Holiday Classic originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 16, 2017.

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‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ Be Careful What You Wish For https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/be-careful-what-you-wish-for/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/be-careful-what-you-wish-for/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 02:47:37 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3562

Review of Rapture, Blister, Burn
By Gina Gionfriddo
Directed by Nadja Masura
For tickets / schedule :
www.russianriverhall.com
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.

‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ Be Careful What You Wish For originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 7, 2017.

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The Secret of Happiness is ‘Daddy Long Legs’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-secret-of-happiness-is-daddy-long-legs/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-secret-of-happiness-is-daddy-long-legs/#respond Tue, 05 Dec 2017 03:19:26 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3554

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 :
www.mainstagewest.com
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.

The Secret of Happiness is ‘Daddy Long Legs’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 5, 2017.

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‘Inspecting Carol’ Backstage Chaos https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/inspecting-carol-backstage-chaos/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/inspecting-carol-backstage-chaos/#respond Tue, 05 Dec 2017 02:06:58 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3546

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 :
www.sonomaartslive.org
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.

‘Inspecting Carol’ Backstage Chaos originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 5, 2017.

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Family Fun Under the Sea with ‘The Little Mermaid’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/family-fun-under-the-sea-with-the-little-mermaid/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/family-fun-under-the-sea-with-the-little-mermaid/#respond Fri, 24 Nov 2017 03:24:50 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3528

SRJC Theatre Arts - The Little Mermaid

Ariel (Ellie Condello) longs to be where the people are. Photo by Tom Chown.

Review of Disney’s The Little Mermaid
Book by Doug Wright
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater
Directed by John Shillington
Music Direction by Janis Dunson Wilson
Choreography by Alyce Finwall

For tickets / schedule :
www.theatrearts.santarosa.edu
Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
Maria Carrillo High School Theatre
Tickets: $12-22

RUN: November 17 – December 3, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(November 18, 2017)

 

This charming musical is oriented for children, with interactive elements such as cue cards for “boo” when the sea witch appears, brightly costumed characters dancing through the audience, and cheerful dialogue aimed directly at the audience. Its flashy colors, sparkling crowns, and animated projections keep the little ones entertained during their undersea adventure.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid is loosely inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story, revised to include the relationship between Ariel and her father, King Triton, as the reason for her desperate plea to Ursula for legs to visit the world above. It adds a happily ever after ending, where she and the prince sail off into the sunset.

SRJC Theatre Arts - The Little Mermaid

Sebastian (Jordan Diomandé) tries to convince Ariel (Ellie Condello) to stay in her world. Photo by Tom Chown.

Ellie Condello’s Ariel is wistfully enthusiastic with a spectacular voice; I can understand why the sea witch covets it. Her gestures and timid dancing when reaching shore, unable to speak, read well throughout the large auditorium. Cruel and power-hungry Ursula (Sandy Brown) strutted through “Poor Unfortunate Souls” with such gusto that I heard snatches of it being hummed during intermission. Her hoopskirt gown with waving tentacles was created by Maryanne Scozzari, whose glittering costume designs were a spectacle to behold.

The vocal quality dropped with Prince Eric (Armand Beikzadeh) and King Tritan (Vince Bertsch). Their characterizations when not singing showed attention to detail and emotional investment, which balanced the performances overall.

Jordan Diomandé’s Sebastian is a comedic treat during the dinner sequence, scuttling under tables and dashing away from the chef. “Under the Sea” is a toe-tapper, with his melodic lead and the energetic orchestra conducted by Janis Dunson Wilson. Grace Reid (Flotsam) and Roberto Pérez Kempton (Jetsam) embody the eels with undulating hissing and expressive physicality.

The Little Mermaid will delight young children, immersing them in a vibrant undersea universe of dancing fish, foam, and mermaids. Feel the soaring yearning of Ariel’s “Part of Your World” and smile at the romantic shenanigans in “Kiss the Girl” that are timeless classics from Disney’s 1989 film, brought to life on stage.

Family Fun Under the Sea with ‘The Little Mermaid’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 24, 2017.

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‘Bakersfield Mist’ Tenacious Struggle for Meaning https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/bakersfield-mist-tenacious-struggle-for-meaning/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/bakersfield-mist-tenacious-struggle-for-meaning/#respond Mon, 20 Nov 2017 00:59:03 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3514

Review of Bakersfield Mist
By Stephen Sachs
Directed by Argo Thompson and Kimberly Kalember

For tickets & schedule:
www.leftedgetheatre.com
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
Left Edge Theatre
Tickets: $25 General Admission

RUN: November 17 – December 2, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(November 17, 2017)

Bakersfield Mist - Left Edge Theatre

Maude (Sandra Ish) attempts to convince Lionel (Mike Pavone) that her painting is a genuine Jackson Pollock.

Sagebrush Trailer Park is cluttered with gaudy chachkies, milk carton furniture, frumpy decorative plates, and a Bigfoot Crossing sign courtesy of set designer Argo Thompson. It is the last place that a dramatic “Black and White” Jackson Pollock painting would be on display, yet that is what resident Maude Gutman claims to possess. Visiting art expert with impressive credentials, Lionel Percy, is rigidly pompous, unwilling to consider the possibility that a whisky swilling low-brow could possibly have a real Pollock next to her dreadfully vulgar clown painting.

A battle of wills commences over its authenticity, shifting between clever banter, effective parody of the stuffy pretension art enthusiasts can fall into, and darker glimpses into the reasons Maude is so set on her painting being genuine. In this tight single act play, the pace is exhilarating, building to a fever pitch as tensions rise. It finds a balance between amused chuckles and dramatic depth as Maude’s story unfolds.

Playwright Stephen Sachs is a master at crafting individual characters; Maude’s casual f-bombs and openhearted approach to conversation is contrasted with Lionel’s intellectual vocabulary of carefully chosen words and approach to social interactions.

Bakersfield Mist - Left Edge Theatre

Lionel (Mike Pavone) explains to Maude (Sandra Ish) that her painting is a fake.

Sandra Ish as Maude Gutman is a force to be reckoned with; she is absolute in her belief that the painting is real, and brings comfortable honesty to the role—it feels like Maude is a real person, not a character in a play. Despite the fact an expert is giving compelling reasons why the painting could not possibly be a Pollock, her unyielding faith is contagious, and had me wondering if maybe it was.

Mike Pavone’s Lionel Percy is easy to be amused by in early scenes, with his fussing over being a “fake buster” and unwillingness to shake Maude’s hand with more than his pinkie finger. He shines in the description of Pollock’s creative process, as unbridled enthusiasm breaks through the crust of academia to reveal an animated mania for the artist, leaving Maude and the audience staring with amazement at his transformation.

Bakersfield Mist is a dark comedy of prejudice, artistic passion, and the importance of believing in something, even if it is a piece of canvas covered in dripped paint. The dynamic duo of Ish and Pavone are mesmerizing; it is well worth the journey to Luther Burbank Center.

‘Bakersfield Mist’ Tenacious Struggle for Meaning originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 20, 2017.

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Beauty and the Geek in a Modern Fairytale Romance https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/beauty-and-the-geek-in-a-modern-fairytale-romance/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/beauty-and-the-geek-in-a-modern-fairytale-romance/#respond Thu, 02 Nov 2017 04:40:58 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3503

REVIEW OF PINKY
By David Templeton
Directed by Carl Jordan
Marin Onstage
For tickets / schedule :
marinonstage.org
Belrose Theatre, San Rafael
Tickets: $25, $21 Seniors, $15 Students, $12 Children

RUN: October 27 – November 18, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(October 28, 2017)

Pinky at Marin Onstage

Pinky (Melissa Claire) exchanges a quiet moment with David (Larry Williams).

Stories influence early impressions of romance, whether amusing family anecdotes or princesses in towers waiting for a prince to ride up astride a dashing charger. David grew up hearing tales of the persistence of true love, and its ability to overcome all odds. Pinky is determined to wait for the perfect man, and has a PC (Prince Charming) list of required attributes, such as tall, but not too tall.

Their youthful dreams are challenged when David sees her from across the room, backlit in glorious beauty, and is determined to prove his adoration, while Pinky considers him a friend who might check off a few items on her list, but holds no romantic attraction. Unrequited teenage love leads to madcap adventures through cemeteries, the mall food court, and culminates with a choreographed sword fight in full costume to Lord of the Rings music.

Melissa Claire is a radiant Pinky, along with a host of other characters, from a drawling surfer accent to hair twirling “valley girl” friend. Many of the scenes are a single actor interacting with themselves while switching roles, and for the most part it is effective, although there were places where it lagged.

David is being portrayed by both Jeffrey Weissman (October 27, November 10, 11, 17, 18 at 8:00 p.m.) and Larry Williams (October 28, November 18 at 2:00 p.m.) who bring unique perspectives to the character. I was present for Williams’ performance, and his warm enthusiasm created an instantly accessible David who was easy to root for, despite possibly going too far in his quest to get Pinky’s attention.

Pinky - Marin Onstage

David (Larry Williams) and Pinky (Melissa Claire) discover their friendship.

The play contains hints of “nerd” trivia like Dungeons and Dragons alignment recitations, causing stumbling over lines; playwright David Templeton is a wordsmith, crafting delightfully complex language that requires extensive rehearsal time to fully appreciate them, and he has the background to include accurate references explaining the difference between Lawful Good and Chaotic Neutral. Gary Gonser’s set design of castles and LARPing swords set the scene for this imaginative narrative.

Pinky is a heartfelt comedy drawing parallels from the 1946 film La belle et la bête which delves into the territory of love and friendship. While the carefully planned antics are highly diverting, Pinky has a touching message that while love is worth fighting for, it is also important to know when to stop and move on with someone else. Join Pinky and David as they navigate the difficult territory of friends who could turn into more, and the adorably awkward stages of first love.

Beauty and the Geek in a Modern Fairytale Romance originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 2, 2017.

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‘The Rainmaker’ Finding the Space Between https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/rainmaker-finding-the-space-between/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/rainmaker-finding-the-space-between/#respond Sat, 28 Oct 2017 18:06:43 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3492

Review of The Rainmaker
Written by Richard Nash
Directed by Patrick Nims
Sonoma Arts Live
For tickets / schedule :
www.sonomaartslive.org
Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma
Tickets: $22-37

RUN: October 13-29, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(October 27, 2017)

Sonoma Arts Live - The Rainmaker

H.C. Curry (Montgomery Paulsen) comforts his daughter Lizzy Curry (Abbey Lee). Photo by Marina Fusco Nims.

Unrelenting heat oppresses the Curry’s ranch; cattle are perishing in the drought and tempers have worn to a thread, ready to lash out. Compensating for the powerless feeling of watching their home fall apart without a cloud in the sky or chance of rain, family members cling to lifelines of their own making. Noah’s rational view of the world becomes an obsession, while Jim finds himself swept into a whirlwind romance, despite the impracticality it poses. The household is on the verge of open conflict when a smooth-talking con artist arrives with wild stories of how he can make it rain for a mere one hundred dollars. On a whim, the father agrees, considering it a gamble worth attempting, and goes along with the stranger’s odd requests.

Playwright Richard Nash crafts fascinating arcs for each character. This is not a high drama play; The Rainmaker is an in-depth view of what causes human motivations and actions. Forced by circumstances to examine inner beliefs, the family is permanently changed by what they discover.

Lizzy’s story touched me, because despite modern assurances that it is perfectly fine for a woman to be alone, there comes a time when you wonder if perhaps it is due to being worthless and unattractive; being an “old maid” may not have as much stigma today, but it is still a difficult struggle that is often unacknowledged. Powerfully acted by Abbey Lee, Lizzy is not interested in outlandish dreams for her future, she has quiet hopes that appear to be slipping away. When Noah takes out his anger on her, shouting that she is plain over and over, Lizzy breaks down, wallowing in self-loathing. Bill Starbuck (Tyler McKenna) picks up the pieces, reminding her that the only looking glass that matters is what she sees in herself. McKenna maintains a confident exterior, revealing layers of self-doubt through body language and flashes of pleading eye contact with Lizzy.

Sonoma Arts Live - The Rainmaker

The Curry family gathers for a tense dinner. Photo by Marina Fusco Nims.

There is no weak link in the cast; Nick Gallagher portrays Noah’s grim desperation and scramble for a well-ordered structure in the family, Matthew Loewenstein’s File is hiding from the truth about his wife, pushing through his reluctance to speak out, Montgomery Paulsen is a soothing, caring father as H.C. and Nick Moore’s rash Jim radiates youthful enthusiasm and innocence.

Adding relaxing ambience through traditional cowboy songs, Rick Love as Sheriff Thomas has a pleasant, natural singing voice. He led an entertaining sing-along before the show with the audience laughing and clapping along. Scene transitions were enjoyable with his appearances to pass the time with favorites like “Tennessee Waltz” and “Get Along Little Dogies” on his guitar.

Director Patrick Nims utilizes Bruce Lackovic’s tiered, rustic set design for silent moments of rummaging through the kitchen, folding blankets in the tack room, and frantic clearing up in the sheriff’s office, without the need for dialog. Take a deep breath, sit back, and be present in this timeless story of self-discovery and hope. The Rainmaker challenges us to find a balance between dreams and reality, because in that space we can truly live.

‘The Rainmaker’ Finding the Space Between originally appeared on Imagination Lane on October 28, 2017.

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‘Steel Magnolias’ is a Haven of Compassion https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/steel-magnolias-is-a-haven-of-compassion/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/steel-magnolias-is-a-haven-of-compassion/#respond Wed, 25 Oct 2017 00:42:55 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3482

Review of Steel Magnolias
By Robert Harling
Directed by Beulah Vega

For tickets & schedule:
www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa, CA
Tickets: $28-33, $23-28 Ages 62+, $20 Under 30

RUN: October 20 – November 5, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(October 20, 2017)

Steel Magnolias - 6th Street Playhouse

Truvy (Jennifer Peck) discusses Shelby’s (Ellen Rawley) dialysis treatments. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

On the surface, Steel Magnolias is a lighthearted gathering of women in a salon, discussing whether their colors are Autumn or Spring. Underneath is a hinted darkness that gains power, threatening their lives, and the pink draped beauty parlor transforms into a refuge of support and understanding. Playwright Robert Harling based the story on his sister, Susan, who passed away from complications after giving birth as a type 1 diabetic, and it was adapted into several popular films.

In the classic Southern town of Chinquapin Parish, Truvy is the hair primping queen, ready with a smile or tears as needed for her beloved customers and friends. Wandering into her shop with a shady past, Annelle is welcomed with open arms, despite her sudden obsession with “born again” Christianity. Affluent Clairee appears to have gentle poise, but enjoys practical jokes, and has saintly tolerance for rough around the edges Ouiser and her bitter commentary. The play opens with Shelby’s wedding preparations and her well-intended argument with M’Lynn, her mother, over whether baby’s breath belongs in an elegant hairstyle. Their relationship is a ping pong match of anger and tenderness.

mollie boice portrays Ouiser as hiding a romantic soul under layers of gall and sarcastic remarks, clomping about while discovering just the right moments to slip in a humorous look or reaction. Effervescent Jennifer Peck (Truvy) gives continuity to the play with her reassuring presence. The cast is superb, and Jill K. Wagoner’s anguish as M’Lynn in the final scene was heart-breaking, leading to an impactful denouement.

Steel Magnolias - 6th Street Playhouse

Gail Reine’s costume designs are classic 1980s with tapestry vests, puffed sleeves and vivid colors. Sam Transleau’s set has echoes of Evangelical church banners surrounding a lounge that shifts décor as time passes, covered in gaudy Christmas decorations or crocheted Kleenex boxes.

Director Beulah Vega creates a realistic atmosphere of women who are far from perfect, but stalwart in their affection for each other, ready with a stern lecture or comforting shoulder to cry on. Life is messy, and Steel Magnolias shows that it is more important to be there for each other, rather than attempt to fix the situation alone. Hairspray clouds the air in this hopeful picture of six extraordinary women at 6th Street Playhouse.

‘Steel Magnolias’ is a Haven of Compassion originally appeared on Imagination Lane on October 25, 2017.

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Journey of Acceptance in Cinnabar’s ‘Quartet’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/journey-of-acceptance-in-cinnabars-quartet/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/journey-of-acceptance-in-cinnabars-quartet/#respond Mon, 23 Oct 2017 02:54:43 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3473

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

RUN:
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.

Journey of Acceptance in Cinnabar’s ‘Quartet’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on October 23, 2017.

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Escape Into a World of Laughter With ‘Spamalot’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/escape-into-a-world-of-laughter-with-spamalot/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/escape-into-a-world-of-laughter-with-spamalot/#respond Sun, 15 Oct 2017 18:01:55 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3460

Review of Monty Python’s Spamalot
Book & Lyrics by Eric Idle
Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle
Directed by David L. Yen
Music Direction by Lucas Sherman
Choreography by Michella Snider

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company
Tickets: $28

RUN: October 13-29, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(October 14, 2017)

King Arthur (Robert Nelson) and Patsy (Ted Smith) celebrate with the knights of Camelot. Photo by Jennifer Griego.

Sonoma County continues to struggle with heavy smoke, wildfires and devastation. Cast member Riz Gross was taken to the hospital with burns and others have been evacuated from their homes during the initial outbreak on Monday. Despite the situation, director David L. Yen received enthusiastic notes that the cast and crew were determined to perform and bring this lighthearted, fun play to a grieving community. The lobby atmosphere was appreciative of the effort; it was the first time I had properly smiled in days. Sometimes we need a dose of silliness in our lives, and Spreckels Theatre Company’s courageous decision to move forward with the production gives just that.

Spamalot is a musical version of the popular film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, combined with additional material. King Arthur and his faithful servant, Patsy, scour the eccentric countryside for worthy knights to join him at Camelot, which is a glittering Las Vegas lounge, complete with feather clad showgirls and a disco ball. They receive a quest from God to discover the Holy Grail, although some knights are confused by how an all-knowing being managed to lose a cup—couldn’t he just buy another one? They set off around the world, rescuing a gay prince from his tower, where an evil father prevents him from singing, and looking for a shrubbery demanded by the Knights of Ni. The quest becomes so zany and ridiculous that The Lady of the Lake appears angrily to demand “Whatever Happened to My Part” during a scene change. The laugh-a-minute show can be juvenile in its humor, but there is an underlying sense of hope. In an appropriate addition, Spreckels projected the lyrics to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” for an audience sing-along after the performance.

The Lady of the Lake (Shannon Rider) and ensemble. Photo by Jennifer Griego.

Shannon Rider has magnificent stage presence as The Lady of the Lake. She sweeps in with dazzling gowns to belt out a wide range of songs, including the gospel parody “Find Your Grail” where she deliberately upstages poor King Arthur, who slumps off to the back row chorus, unable to compete. Robert Nelson keeps a straight face through the mayhem as a glum, pompous King Arthur, and has quite the dance moves during the glittering Camelot routine. Choreographer Michella Snider creates movement in keeping with the theme, going for jokes and exaggerated parodies of classic dance styles. Ted Smith’s Patsy wanders behind his king, armed with snarky remarks and a massive backpack.

Gathering a veteran group of local comedic actors as the knights, Zane Walters, Craig Bainbridge, Peter Rogers, and David Gonzalez are brilliant. Walter’s rants about the working class are perfectly timed, and Gonzalez as his mother minces and flirts shamelessly with King Arthur. The French Taunter, Thomas Yen, spouts gibberish insults with spitting accuracy, gathering enthusiastic applause from the audience after delivering the famous line “your father smelt of elderberries!”

The ensemble swaps roles and costumes with astounding speed, often for one liner jokes, like the monks passing through chanting “Pie Iesu domine. Dona eis requiem” while hitting themselves with prayer books. A colorful group of dancers arrives from Finland, after the Historian mumbles the word “England” during his introduction, causing the mistake. A quaint set design by Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen includes mobile platforms and trees, with enjoyably appropriate costume designs by Sonja Roberts and lighting with a mind of its own, created by Hansen.

Patsy (Ted Smith), King Arthur (Robert Nelson), and The Lady of the Lake (Shannon Rider) realize that the show must end with a wedding. Photo by Jennifer Griego.

Set aside the fear and uncertainty surrounding our county with this nonsensical Monty Python play where the most terrifying creature is a tiny white rabbit puppet, and everything works out in the end for the gallant knights—even Sir Robin who ran, ran away. As artistic director Sheri Lee Miller wrote in the playbill, “in this complex world of ours, we also need to laugh.” With what the community is facing, those words have become especially true. The enthusiastic number “I’m Not Dead Yet” captures the spirit of Sonoma County. We will stand strong, and deserve to have a few hours to laugh with each other. Spreckels Theatre Company has provided an opportunity to gather for an exciting evening with the silly knights of Spamalot.

Escape Into a World of Laughter With ‘Spamalot’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on October 15, 2017.

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Spunky ‘Cabaret’ from Ross Valley Players https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/spunky-cabaret-from-ross-valley-players/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/spunky-cabaret-from-ross-valley-players/#respond Wed, 27 Sep 2017 04:18:38 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3437

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 :
www.rossvalleyplayers.com
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.

Spunky ‘Cabaret’ from Ross Valley Players originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 27, 2017.

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Haunting Journey in ‘Constellations’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/haunting-journey-in-constellations/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/haunting-journey-in-constellations/#respond Wed, 20 Sep 2017 00:54:36 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3422

Review of Constellations
By Nick Payne
Directed by Juliet Noonan

For tickets & schedule:
www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
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.

Haunting Journey in ‘Constellations’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 20, 2017.

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‘Grace’ Ponders the Intimacy of Belief https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/grace-ponders-the-intimacy-of-belief/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/grace-ponders-the-intimacy-of-belief/#respond Sat, 16 Sep 2017 20:16:46 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3412

Review of Grace
By Craig Wright
Directed by John Craven
For tickets / schedule :
www.mainstagewest.com
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.

‘Grace’ Ponders the Intimacy of Belief originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 16, 2017.

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Aroma of Friendship and Vice in ‘Sideways’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/aroma-of-friendship-and-vice-in-sideways/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/aroma-of-friendship-and-vice-in-sideways/#respond Sat, 16 Sep 2017 19:47:54 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3404

Review of Sideways
By Rex Pickett
Directed by Argo Thompson

For tickets & schedule:
www.leftedgetheatre.com
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
Left Edge Theatre
Tickets: $25 General Admission

RUN: September 8 – October 1, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(September 15, 2017)

Sideways - Left Edge Theatre

Jack (Chris Ginesi) sips pinot noir with the tasting manager (Mark Bradbury) while Miles (Ron Severdia) describes the bouquet. Photo by Argo Thompson.

Sideways has morphed forms from bestselling novel to film and this stage adaptation by the original author, Rex Pickett. Although it takes place in Santa Ynez Valley wine country, the play is appropriate for this area, and the industrial style tasting room set design by Argo Thompson with vino pin wine racks is reminiscent of wineries in Sonoma County.

Wine snob and floundering writer Miles takes his buddy Jack on a whirlwind bachelor party, consuming vast amounts of alcohol in a quest for the perfect pinot noir. Along the way, they meet two beautiful vino enthusiasts and strike up an impromptu romance.

Sideways - Left Edge Theatre

Miles (Ron Severdia) lectures Jack (Chris Ginesi) for getting into another scrape. Photo by Argo Thompson.

Wine country inside jokes abound, with hissy managers sputtering “this is a tasting room, not a bar” while pulling bottles away, and Miles attempting to explain how to properly drink wine, describing a delicate bouquet in pompous detail that has Jack rolling his eyes and downing the pour in a single gulp. The burgundy soaked sex scene with lovers as turned on by the wine as each other had the audience laughing hysterically, and constant derision of merlot was hotly contested in the lobby by locals who favor that varietal.

Ron Severdia’s Miles portrays an outward veneer of confidence that wears away in a downward spiral personified by clutching at an unopened bottle of Château Latour that is slowly degrading in quality. He is unwilling to uncork it and take the consequences, since it has become a parallel to his overall life decisions. In contrast, Chris Ginesi’s easy going Jack is terrified of commitment, bouncing between women in a headlong rush toward his wedding.

Recently divorced Maya (Maureen O’Neill) discovered her love of wine by taking revenge on her ex-husband’s infidelity by breaking open his treasured cellar and consuming the finest burgundies. O’Neill’s reserved charm is appropriate to the character, and she has a grounded authenticity to her reactions. Jazmine Pierce as Terra is a wildcat in her confrontation with Jack’s dishonesty, leaping on the bed, ferociously brandishing a golf club. The supporting cast moves through a variety of roles, Mark Bradbury’s tasting room managers being especially memorable.

Sideways - Left Edge Theatre

Terra (Jazmine Pierce) furious with Jack (Chris Ginesi) and Miles (Ron Severdia). Photo by Argo Thompson.

The downfall of the play is in its length and pacing. With engaging characters and an entertaining concept, a tighter editing pass would have maintained the energy; instead, it slumps in several scenes, until building up to a satisfying conclusion. There are enough captivating interactions throughout to keep the audience interested; Thompson’s direction and the cast’s investment in their roles make up for the scattered timing by keeping characters realistic and connected. Left Edge Theatre’s Sideways celebrates the significance of close friendship, with its ups and downs, in a hilarious wine drenched road trip.

Aroma of Friendship and Vice in ‘Sideways’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 16, 2017.

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Academic Escapades in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/academic-escapades-in-loves-labours-lost/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/academic-escapades-in-loves-labours-lost/#respond Wed, 13 Sep 2017 04:52:37 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3391

Review of Love’s Labour’s Lost
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Rob Clare
For tickets / schedule :
www.marinshakespeare.org
Marin Shakespeare
Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University of California
Tickets: $37, $34 Senior 65+, $12 for 25 and younger or pay your age

RUN: September 2-24, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(September 10, 2017)

Love's Labour's Lost - Marin Shakespeare

Longaville (Walter Zarnowitz), Dumain (Terrance Smith), Biron (Patrick Russell), and King Ferdinand (Dean Linnard) enjoy the last moments of freedom before signing the edict. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Shakespeare’s comedies range from wickedly sharp banter between lovers to drunken buffoonery, utilizing clever plot twists and mistaken identities. In this frothy little play, it is language that takes the forefront; Shakespeare is showing off and doing it splendidly. Dancing rhythms range up and down in a capering melody of words. It is no wonder that love blossoms so easily when the atmosphere is charged with sizzling poetry.

In the court of King Ferdinand, four young men decide to eschew the pleasures of female company and lengthy banquets to concentrate on academic pursuits that will sharpen their minds. The agreement is signed just as a princess and her ladies arrive. Secretly, declarations of affection are written, and the firm pact is set topsy-turvy. The women have their fun at the suitors’ expense, until realizing that the men are truly in earnest.

With eight lovers dashing about in various disguises, I was grateful to costume designer Abra Berman for color coding the couples with hat ribbons and sashes. Her elegant Edwardian summer frocks are a pleasing sight against golden stone walls of the Oxford University quad inspired set design by Jackson Currier. The visuals in this play are a confection of light colors and frivolity, matching the meters of frolicking poetry.

Love's Labour's Lost - Marin Shakespeare

Rosaline (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn) flaunts her love letter. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Despite being a solid ensemble piece, each character flashes with individuality. Dean Linnard’s King Ferdinand attempts to hold firm to his studies with stoic duty, while hiding the fact he is a hopeless romantic at heart. Linnard’s hilarious attempt at singing a tune for the princess was matched only by his heel kicking performance in a Russian dance while in disguise. Playful rascal Biron (Patrick Russell) would rather be playing cricket than worrying about books, the opposite of his quietly earnest friend, Longaville (Walter Zarnowitz) and energetic Dumain (Terrance Smith) whose antics land him in the pond rather than face King Ferdinand to admit he is in love.

Their affections are not to be wondered at, with wit cracking Rosaline (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn) who triumphs in every encounter, Livia DiMarchi as the poised princess able to hold her own against the flustered king, flirtatious Maria (Eliza Boirin), and mischievous Katharine (Morgan Pavey) who finds her suitor’s ardor amusing.

Love's Labour's Lost - Marin Shakespeare

Biron (Patrick Russell), King Ferdinand (Dean Linnard), Longaville (Walter Zarnowitz), and Dumain (Terrance Smith) prepare to face the ladies. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Amy Lizardo as Costard has a never ceasing loquacious tongue that could cause Sense and Sensibility’s comment “I do not think she drew breath from the moment we left London.” Lizardo’s personable warmth is a welcome addition to the cast. Carl Robinett’s Moth wanders by in the background of scenes, making snarky remarks until having his moment to shine as the young Hercules wrestling with a snake, causing enthusiastic cheering from the audience and characters alike.

Love’s Labour’s Lost may not have the popular appeal of other Shakespearean comedies, but its richness in language and charming love stories are an entertaining delight with this exquisite production. Rob Clare’s direction crafts a spirited gambol of poetry and awakened desire that is the perfect way to end this year’s outdoor theatre season.

Academic Escapades in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 13, 2017.

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Encountering the Other in Curtain Call Theatre’s ‘The Elephant Man’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/encountering-the-other-in-curtain-call-theatres-the-elephant-man/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/encountering-the-other-in-curtain-call-theatres-the-elephant-man/#respond Wed, 13 Sep 2017 01:52:31 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3385

Review of The Elephant Man
By Bernard Pomerance
Directed by Michael Tabib
For tickets / schedule :
www.russianriverhall.com
Curtain Call Theatre
Russian River Hall, Monte Rio
Tickets: $20, $15 Students / Seniors 60+

RUN: September 1-23, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(September 9, 2017)

The Elephant Man - Curtain Call Theatre

John Merrick (James Rowan) is discovered by a London policeman (Vince Black) and Carr Gomm (Joseph Potter)

Finding humanity in those who are radically divergent is a struggle for society; if someone looks or acts differently from what we are used to, it challenges our comfort zone. Historically it has been difficult to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and respected equally, as recent news attests to. With the severely disfigured “elephant man” it is easy to react with fear, revulsion, or pity, rather than recognizing him as an intelligent equal worthy of normal attention and dignity.

Loosely based on the life of Joseph Carey Merrick, who is known as John in the play, it takes place in 1884-1890. Curtain Call Theatre’s stark scenic design allows the actors to become the main focus, rather than an elaborate Victorian setting, utilizing chilling black and white projections by Bill Young as a backdrop.

John Merrick’s deformities are not recreated with makeup or illusion; it is entirely on the shoulders of James Rowan’s strength as an actor to bring the audience into Merrick’s world, which he confidently succeeds in. This difficult role is not only physically daunting, with specific facial contortions, arm weight, and shuffling limp, but emotionally draining as the character experiences heartbreak, joy, despair, and love over the course of the evening. Rowan is absolutely invested, deeply connecting with the audience who feels the journey with him.

The Elephant Man - Curtain Call Theatre

Dr. Frederick Treves (Lew Brown) explains the meaning of “home” to John Merrick (James Rowan)

Rustling in luxurious satin, Yelena Segal is Mrs. Kendall, the down-to-earth actress who is able to see the real Merrick. Her tenderness and open friendship revolutionize his life as she goes to extreme lengths ensuring that he does not miss important moments. Lew Brown’s Frederick Treves captures the quiet suffering of a successful doctor who is adrift when it comes to managing his personal affairs, caught up in reconciling a keen scientific mind with the archaic moral values of the culture he resides in. The nightmare sequence in act two is riveting and a cruelly accurate examination of the idealized male during that time period.

The Elephant Man from Curtain Call Theatre confronts our perceptions with heartfelt awareness that external features do not reflect the soul and personality within; if we run away like the terrified nurse, refusing to encounter the “other” it is a mistake. Instead, reaching out to discover the unique contributions of each person shapes a compassionate, creative environment where men like Merrick are accepted and able to thrive.

Company photographer: Dave Hall Photography

Encountering the Other in Curtain Call Theatre’s ‘The Elephant Man’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 13, 2017.

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Contemporary Twist on ‘Henry IV Part 1’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/contemporary-twist-on-henry-iv-part-1/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/contemporary-twist-on-henry-iv-part-1/#respond Mon, 04 Sep 2017 05:39:46 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3376

Review of Henry IV Part 1
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Skylar Evans

Petaluma Shakespeare Company
Tickets: Free Admission (donations appreciated)
www.petalumashakespeare.org
Foundry Wharf, 2nd & H Streets
Petaluma, CA

RUN: August 25 – September 9, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

Henry IV Petaluma Shakespeare

Sir Walter Blunt (Matthew Leffel), King Henry IV (Neil Thollander) and Harry Percy (Ryan Whitlock) debate loyalty. Photo by Oliver Wenz.

(September 1, 2017)

On the edge of Petaluma’s downtown waterfront is an enclosed lawn overlooking the river at Foundry Wharf, with dramatic staircases, benches, and plantings that create a natural set for the play. Director Skylar Evans uses the environment to enhance scenes, whether for comedic effect with Falstaff drunkenly running into the grove of trees or guards descending smartly down the staircase with eyes peeled for danger, like the modern day secret service.

Shakespeare’s history plays involve complicated political shenanigans interspersed with wanton exploits to keep the audience entertained. Sarah Passemar’s color schemed costume designs establish who belongs to which faction—white for the Percys, red and black for Henry IV, and green for the Welsh.

It helps to have a rough background of the time period; the Percys assisted Henry IV in becoming king, and they feel that he owes them for that allegiance, the Scottish are discontented with the English in general, and Owain Glyndŵr (Glendower in Shakespeare’s version) has become frustrated enough with England’s chokehold on Wales to take up arms. They form a dubious alliance against Henry IV and his son, who will become Henry V. Welcome to the rat’s nest of political intrigue that paved the way for the Wars of the Roses.

In this production, roles have been distributed between men and women, evening out the gender gap present in history plays. It did not seem out of place, in fact Alexis Evon as Glendower brought a nobility and poise to the role that is rarely seen when presenting the Welsh royal. The setting is contemporary with a vintage edge to it in the costuming, and beautiful swords by Weapons of Choice that fight choreographer Barton Smith put to good use during the battle sequences.

Henry IV - Petaluma Shakespeare Company

Prince Hal’s nefarious companions. Photo by Oliver Wenz.

Neil Thollander’s powerhouse Henry IV thunders his way through scenes, making you believe he truly is the king. Political rival Harry “Hotspur” Percy is undeterred, with a passionate display of rash heroism from Ryan Whitlock. Their clash creates tense, exciting scenes that would otherwise be static strategy discussions. Around them, family members and allies scheme to an extent that would impress Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones.

Young and fiery Anya Cherniss is a punk inspired Prince Hal, sporting leather jackets and glugging down bottles of wine when not making sport of Sir John Falstaff, portrayed with bumbling magnificence by Nicolas Christenson. Their energetic antics keep the audience laughing in between serious political scenes, and Falstaff’s “Platypus” style bottle filled with alcohol was a stroke of genius.

This free production is good fun and a rarely performed play that is a treat for Shakespeare enthusiasts. Arrive early and bring your own chairs or blanket to sit on; there is plenty of parking at Foundry Wharf. Laugh with Falstaff and Prince Hal, pick a faction to cheer for in the fight over England’s throne, and enjoy Shakespeare’s wit in this thought provoking play.

Contemporary Twist on ‘Henry IV Part 1’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 4, 2017.

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Frustrated Lovers Conspire for Freedom in ‘The Miser’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/frustrated-lovers-conspire-for-freedom-in-the-miser/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/frustrated-lovers-conspire-for-freedom-in-the-miser/#respond Sun, 27 Aug 2017 21:06:20 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3363

Review of The Miser
By Molière
Directed by  Kim Bromley

For schedule (free admission):
www.curtaintheatre.org
Old Mill Park Amphitheatre
Mill Valley, CA
The Curtain Theatre

RUN: August 19 – September 10, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(August 20, 2017)

The Miser - The Curtain Theatre

Harpagon (Grey Wolf) and La Flèche (Nelson Brown) debate what it means to be a miser. Photo by Russell Johnson.

The Curtain Theatre transforms a picturesque redwood grove in Mill Valley’s Old Mill Park into an enticing outdoor amphitheatre, with delicately painted sets by Steve Coleman, creating the ambiance of a 17th Century French parlor.

Director Kim Bromley’s broad comedic brushstrokes exaggerate foibles of characters—Cléante is obsessed with his own appearance, covered in golden ribbons and lace, Valère manipulates to any length forwarding his goals, and Harpagon, otherwise known as the miser, ignores his children to protect material wealth instead. This satirical examination of society was one of Molière’s later plays, and wildly popular at its premiere in 1668, quickly spreading to the rest of Europe.

Harpagon, a tightfisted elderly gentleman, wishes his children to marry for wealth. Under his watchful eye, both have fallen in love with penniless suitors, and are secretly hoping to marry without his consent. After a series of mistaken identities and hidden truths come to light, all is well in a suitably chaotic deux ex machina denouement, in the style of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.

The Miser - The Curtain Theatre

Élise (Isabelle Grimm) and Valère (Steve Beecroft) in a tête-à-tête. Photo by Russell Johnson.

Live music drifts across the stage in romantic waltzes and well-timed pratfalls, lead by Don Clark. Isabelle Grimm as coquettish Élise minces through her formidable amount of dialogue beside Steve Beecroft’s calculating Valère. Their melodramatic love affair is charming and amusing in its awkward scenes behind her father’s back, attempting to escape his wrath.

Embodying an overtly emotional, plumed nobleman is Nick Moore as Cléante, a young actor who is studying at College of Marin. He boldly interacts with the audience, pleading for money, and succumbing to a faint spell in their midst after discovering his beloved Marianne is claimed by another.

Krystina Morrill’s feisty Marianne does not appear until after intermission, and she is far from the submissive innocent that is expected. Women in this play are confident, willing to take matters into their own hands, and adept at maneuvering situations to their advantage.

The Miser - The Curtain Theatre

Cléante (Nick Moore) reveals his secret love for Marianne to Élise (Isabelle Grimm) Photo by Russell Johnson.

In its earliest run, Molière himself portrayed the title character, and added Harpagon’s hacking coughs to cover his own illness. Grey Wolf’s miser is a lecherous, greedy villain whose hobbling gait and cantankerous insults plague the servants of his household and send his children running. Nelson Brown as the sharp tongued valet La Flèche stands up to him, saving the day.

The Miser can be enjoyed on weekends and Labor Day Monday at 2:00 p.m. in the relaxing shade of Old Mill Park below the library. Admission is free, although donations are encouraged; arrive early to take advantage of their preset chairs, or bring a blanket to sit on the hillside.

Frustrated Lovers Conspire for Freedom in ‘The Miser’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on August 27, 2017.

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‘The Arts Academy School of Classical Ballet’ Mentors All Ages in Napa https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-arts-academy-school-of-classical-ballet-mentors-all-ages-in-napa/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-arts-academy-school-of-classical-ballet-mentors-all-ages-in-napa/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 00:43:15 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3357

Kirsten Livingston of Arts Academy School of Classical Ballet

Photo courtesy of Arts Academy School of Classical Ballet

Ballet training fosters a sense of confidence, physical awareness, dedication, and can be an encouraging community atmosphere with the right teacher. Opening this September in Napa, The Arts Academy School of Classical Ballet will be offering classes for all ages. Founder Kirsten Livingston is putting her extensive experience and passion for teaching into the new school. “I believe that everyone should dance regardless of what their particular goals are.” There is a place for all at Livingston’s school—young people wishing to express a lively, creative spirit in a positive environment, teenagers who plan to pursue a professional career in classical ballet, or adults looking for an artistic outlet. “I want every child who walks through my doors to have the best possible experience with dance and their training,” Livingston assures.

With twenty-six years of teaching experience, Kirsten Livingston has learned how to shape her program to individual needs while retaining a sense of discipline in the studio. It takes focus and hard work to train with classical ballet, but it should be enjoyable as well; finding that balance is key to a well-run dance academy. Her own formation ranges from the intricate staccato style of contemporary ballet at the Balanchine school to personal training with Russian ballerina Madame Valentina Belova in a traditional style of ballet. She has had training from the Pacific Northwest Ballet, our local world-class company San Francisco Ballet, and has studied the more structured RAD style of teaching. As a result, no matter what each student is trying to achieve, Livingston is able to draw on a wide range of influences to choose what will work best for them.

Because ballet is a performance art, there will be opportunities to do so, although as a fledgling school, that program will be built up with time. Starting with small scale productions, such as holiday cheer to bring into homes for the elderly, or a spring concert, productions are likely to be based on story ballets and perhaps in the future a staging of Nutcracker. Partnering with Lucky Penny Community Arts Center for a location, the academy is conveniently accessible from the highway.

To learn more about the new school, ask questions, and sign up for classes with a 10% discount, join Kirsten Livingston at the open house sessions, August 26 and September 2 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Fall classes will begin on September 5, meeting on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

The Arts Academy School of Classical Ballet
Website: www.theartsacademynapa.com
Email: artsacademynapa@gmail.com
Phone: (408) 309-8029

Lucky Penny Community Arts Center
1758 Industrial Way, Suite 208, Napa
www.luckypennynapa.com

‘The Arts Academy School of Classical Ballet’ Mentors All Ages in Napa originally appeared on Imagination Lane on August 18, 2017.

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Glittering ‘FairyWorlds!’ at the Cannery https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/glittering-fairyworlds-at-the-cannery/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/glittering-fairyworlds-at-the-cannery/#respond Mon, 14 Aug 2017 02:27:14 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3345

Review of FairyWorlds!
Adapted from William Shakespeare
Directed by Jared Sakren
For tickets / schedule :
www.shakespeareinthecannery.com
Railroad Square, Santa Rosa
(Enter through 6th Street Playhouse parking lot)
Shakespeare in the Cannery in association with 6th Street Playhouse

RUN: August 10 – September 2, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(August 11, 2017)

Shakespeare in the Cannery - FairyWorlds!

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Adapted from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Jared Sakren‘s vision wraps the stage in shimmering mists of fairyland with a host of floral draped creatures hovering in twinkling adoration of their otherworldly royals. April George’s lighting design casts mystical colors of moonlight, while Maci Cae Hosler’s costumes are almost unwieldy in their spectacle, with sweeping cloaks, light infused wings and streamlined battle gear of Amazon warriors.

Despite the visual feast of this production, which at times suffers from technical hiccups, it is the intimate character driven moments that make FairyWorlds! come alive. In a brilliant choice of casting, Elizabeth Henry is both Hippolyta and Titania, while Chris Schloemp portrays Theseus and Oberon, creating parallel mature love stories. Sakren’s nuanced directing becomes obvious when he takes the nearly mute Hippolyta and turns her into a force to be reckoned with, using the physicality of an Amazon to keep her engaged in scenes, rather than melting into a backdrop piece as I have seen in other productions. The antics of Schloemp and the wedding party turn the final act’s mechanicals performance into Renaissance RiffTrax style hilarity.

Craig A. Miller struts into the role of Bottom, wheezing and bellowing as the monstrous love of Titania, and causing fits of laughter from the audience in his prolonged comedic death scene as Pyramus. His fellow mechanicals take to their roles, with Al Kaplan as the put-upon Peter Quince / Prologue, whose bellowed pronunciation corrections from backstage are perfectly timed. Jill K. Wagoner’s Tom Snout / Wall interacts adroitly with Miller’s Pyramus, making faces at him throughout the scene.

Shakespeare in the Cannery - FairyWorlds!

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Haplessly caught in the snares of fairies are the young lovers, who wander through the woods, tossed by magic’s capricious ways. Abbey Lee’s feisty Hermia turns Marty Pistone’s fight choreography into a sort of vicious dance, furious at her new rival, Haley Rome’s Helena, who keeps a level head at the gathering whirlwind of events. Joseph Favalora’s acrobatic Puck is cheerful and graceful; his poise, always at the tips of his toes, maintains the fairy quality of his character, contrasting the heavily traditional role he takes as Philostrate.

FairyWorlds! captures the enchantment of Shakespeare’s play with a dreamscape atmosphere. It’s exciting lighting design and enthusiastic cast weave an entertaining evening in the unique cannery ruins venue.

Glittering ‘FairyWorlds!’ at the Cannery originally appeared on Imagination Lane on August 14, 2017.

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Rhythm Transcendence on a Summer Night https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/rhythm-transcendence-on-a-summer-night/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/rhythm-transcendence-on-a-summer-night/#respond Sat, 12 Aug 2017 06:14:55 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3336

Review of Fascinating Rhythm
By Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

Directed by Eric Jackson
Music Direction by Matt Smart
Choreography by Nick Kepley

For tickets / schedule :
www.transcendencetheatre.org
Jack London State Historic Park
Glen Ellen, CA
Transcendence Theatre Company

RUN: August 4-20, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(August 4, 2017)

Transcendence Theatre - Fascinating Rhythm

Photo by Rebecca Call

The grounds of Jack London State Park reserved for the Transcendence Theatre always inspires me. A short trek up to the check-in tables and we are greeted by both volunteers and performers who really show they are glad we have come this evening. A little further and we see the valley open up in front of us with tables, booths, food trucks and live music. This is not just another venue space, but a commitment to making the stay here as relaxing and exciting as possible.

This is opening night under a variable sky. The rain has passed and the clouds are making way for stars and a full moon. The local patrons from Sonoma and Santa Rosa told me they would not miss these summer evenings. Many have been coming here for 4 years or more and are quite content to relax into the show with a picnic and some wine.

Slowly, we all make our way into the old winery walls that define the “theatre” and find our seats facing the large stage and vineyard hill behind. Stephan, Brad and Amy greet us with a high energy welcome. The band is onstage for this production, spread across the backstage and ready to start the show. What do they have for us this evening?

Transcendence Theatre - Fascinating Rhythm

Photo from Transcendence Theatre

The rhythms in this production are varied from the bright “Everything Old is New Again” with Gavin Waters and Rachel Louise Thomas to the tap dancing energy of “Happy Feet.”  The orchestra has a particularly rich brass section that comes out in “Happy Feet” for our enjoyment. Janis Snyder assembles some excellent costumes to show off the dancers.

The progression of a song from singer to ensemble comes naturally to Transcendence. Erika Conaway starts the “Song of Purple Summer” and draws her ensemble group onto the stage to fill the early evening with choral music and modern dance. This is the type of music that fills the valley and sky with shimmering song, floating up to the moon above. A little heaven, please.

Transcendence Theatre - Fascinating Rhythm

Photo by Chris Hardy

With the 50th anniversary of the summer of love upon us, Transcendence presents the dueling guitars of AJ Ackleson and Colin Campbell McAdoo with “Summer of 69.” This early rock is mesmerizing and reminds us of the better parts of the 1960s.  We can always romanticize about what it would have been like with this music on our minds.

Add “Arthur in the Afternoon,” “Dancing with Myself,” and “Rise Up” for rhythms that are not your Broadway standards and lyrics! The point is to use the talent, music, variety and dance to create fantastic music with a flair for the stage. The little vignettes that spotlight the unusual routines and music build up to the entire company taking over the stage with “Fascinating Rhythm” and act 1 is complete.

The sun has gone down by the intermission, just on schedule for this show. The full moon moves out to help light the entertainment and our hearts.  Shaleah Adkisson belts out a mean “Play That Song” with full company backup moving and singing to fill the large stage.

“Baby That is Rock and Roll” pulls out the stops for the band and company. Suddenly the tempo changes to “I Got Plenty of Nothing” with Mike Kirsch. This flow of energy from large to intimate keeps the music and dance fresh for the audience while giving the dancers time to change. The second act continues this segue from large to small to large to keep us on the edge of our seats.

Matt Smart plays a mean piano with “Piano Man” as his baby grand piano moves center stage. The company is drawn out onstage to catch the mood with the audience. Now the sky is dark and the stage takes on a nightclub atmosphere for dance and song. This is perfect for the ebb and flow of the late night rhythms.

“A Sky Full of Stars” and “The World Goes Round” finish up the evening with hope and caring. Transcendence Theatre goes a full circle from the rhythms of 1960s rock to the peaceful rhythms of a thoughtful evening out with friends. It could not be better.

For large vision music and dancing, the Transcendence Theatre Company is making its presence known in the North Bay. Fascinating Rhythm runs through August 20 at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.

Tickets:
$39, $59, $65, $85
Available online at www.transcendencetheatre.org

Rhythm Transcendence on a Summer Night originally appeared on Imagination Lane on August 12, 2017.

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Join the Quest in ‘Man of La Mancha’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/join-the-quest-in-man-of-la-mancha/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/join-the-quest-in-man-of-la-mancha/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 05:25:07 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3327

Review of Man of La Mancha
Music by Mitch Leigh
Lyrics by Joe Darion
Book by Dale Wasserman
Direction & Music Direction by Les Pfutzenreuter

For tickets / schedule :
www.northbaystageco.org
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
North Bay Stage Company

RUN: July 21 – August 6, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(July 23, 2017)

Man of La Mancha - North Bay Stage Company

Photo by John DeGaetano

Inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the musical focuses on an imaginative journey clinging to the hope that chivalry and lofty ideals will triumph, despite being constantly assured that “the world’s a dung heap and we are maggots that crawl on it.” Set in a Seville prison, a fictionalized version of the author finds himself in trouble with the Spanish Inquisition, and is called upon by his fellow prisoners to answer for his crimes. Cervantes defends in the form of a play within a play, which launches the story of Don Quixote, the madman or knight errant, depending on your point of view. The strength of this play is in its songs by Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh, which I find myself humming for weeks afterward. Classics like “The Impossible Dream” and “I’m Only Thinking of Him” are memorable moments, along with the less savory tunes “It’s All the Same” and “Little Bird, Little Bird.”

Director Les Pfutzenreuter sets the scene as the doors open, with cast members on stage as if in a medieval prison, fighting over captured bugs, searching for an escape, and wearily lamenting their lot. Debi Stone gazes hauntingly toward the audience, filled with despair, wandering back and forth to an unseen fireplace. The cabaret seating gives the feeling of being in a Spanish café, along with a clever Don Quixote inspired menu. Scenic painter Ayla Decaire transforms the set into mobile blocks of stone, and the Luther Burbank Center’s appropriate brick wall is revealed between gently draped curtains.

Pedro Rodelas is an operatic Don Quixote / Cervantes, with noble bearing, a powerful voice and intense expressions that work well with his characters. The final scene as his eyes light up upon remembering that he is Don Quixote and not Alonso Quijano is beautifully moving. His partner in misadventures is Perry Aliado as Sancho Panza, who takes the down-to-earth servant and adds endearing enthusiasm to the role. Their encounters with windmills, gypsies, and muleteers leaves Don Quixote’s armor and weapons in various states of amusing disrepair.

Man of La Mancha - North Bay Stage Company

Photo by John DeGaetano

Paula Samonte’s fiery Aldonza is well acted, such as discussing a “missive” with Sancho that the knight has sent her, while she sloppily eats her soup and cross examines his motives for following the madman. Unfortunately, her voice is lost in the auditorium without a microphone to augment it, leaving the audience straining to hear her. Similar concerns appear with Susan Markcity’s Antonia; her lovely, sweet toned voice fails to carry, which renders the duet with Richard Rader as the Padre a trifle one sided.

Villainous Head Muleteer / Pedro dominates the stage with Ayrick Broin’s machismo and a dangerous whip at his side, ready to bend the world to his whims. Subtle bloody makeup after his dustup with the knight adds to the impression, and his treatment of Aldonza was tastefully directed by Pfutzenreuter while retaining the horror of her situation.

North Bay Stage Company’s Man of La Mancha captures the story in an enjoyable production with a capable cast. It is worth attending if the musical appeals to you or for an evening away from cares to join in the adventures of Don Quixote and to “follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.”

Join the Quest in ‘Man of La Mancha’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on July 26, 2017.

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Thriller Meets Farce in ‘The 39 Steps’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/thriller-meets-farce-in-the-39-steps/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/thriller-meets-farce-in-the-39-steps/#respond Mon, 24 Jul 2017 03:03:31 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3322

Review of The 39 Steps
By John Buchan
Adapted by Patrick Barlow from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon

Directed by Adrian Elfenbaum

For tickets / schedule :
www.rossvalleyplayers.com
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross, CA
Ross Valley Players

RUN: July 14 – August 20, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(July 21, 2017)

Ross Valley Players - The 39 Steps

Photo by Gregg Le Blanc

Pursued by police and nefarious foreign agents, Hannay races across the United Kingdom in an effort to clear his name and prevent the mysterious 39 Steps from falling into the wrong hands. Vaguely inspired by Hitchcock’s 1935 film, it turns the spy thriller into a slapstick comedy of intrigue and romance, with three actors portraying a cornucopia of characters, from a raging Scottish householder to mincing professor’s wife, swapping hats and costumes at outrageous speeds, often within the same scene.

Michael Monagle as Hannay is sarcastic and heroic, plagued by a mounting set of unfortunate circumstances that paint him as a murderous villain to the public. His tireless physicality in the role includes a re-enactment of the train chase—leaping across moving cars, climbing roofs and jumping through windows before throwing himself to the ground under fire from a trailing airplane.

Robyn Grahn portrays the three main women in the play: femme fatale secret agent Annabella, sharp witted Pamela, and flirtatious Margaret. It is not the hasty wig and costume changes that transform Grahn; rather her poise, accent and personality define the characters and their individuality. The scene when she is dragged about the moors handcuffed to Hannay, trudging through mud and clambering over stiles was especially effective through her indignation and staging by Adrian Elfenbaum that moves them through a darkened auditorium, allowing her auditory reactions to spark imagination, rather than relying on projections or sets.

The remaining roles fall upon the talented Sean Garahan and Andre Amarotico. Taking on the blustering, fiery personalities is Garahan, who’s sputtering passion is memorable and had the audience applauding with delight. In a wide range from truly disturbing child at a windswept inn to the hysterical charwoman who discovers a body stabbed in the back, Amarotico is brilliant in this adaptation designed for versatile comedic actors.

Ross Valley Players - The 39 Steps

Photo by Gregg Le Blanc

This satirical examination of the film noir genre is playful fun, while retaining the suspense of a thriller; for those unfamiliar with the story, you will find yourself on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen to Hannay and what the 39 Steps might be. Alfred Hitchcock enthusiasts will notice tributes to his work, such as Tina Johnson’s lighting design casting distinctive shadows and an iconic moment from one of his films. Ron Krempetz was inspired by the mayhem to put on a show with so many quick changes, and created a vintage backstage set design that parallels the openly revealed nature of the production, while echoing the 1930s with period furniture and an Indiana Jones vibe.

It is easy to be captivated by The 39 Steps at Ross Valley Players—whether you enjoy secret agent adventures, Alfred Hitchcock films, or theatrical comedy that the whole family will enjoy, this play is a treat of first-rate entertainment.

Thriller Meets Farce in ‘The 39 Steps’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on July 24, 2017.

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The Recipe for a Wonderful, Wild Frolic https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-recipe-for-a-wonderful-wild-frolic/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-recipe-for-a-wonderful-wild-frolic/#respond Tue, 18 Jul 2017 00:05:00 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3310

Review of The 39 Steps
by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

By John Buchan
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
Directed by Adrean Elfenbaum
For tickets / schedule :
www.rossvalleyplayers.com
The Barn Theater in Marin Art and Garden Center
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Ross, CA
Ross Valley Players

RUN: July 14 – August 20, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(July 16, 2017)

Ross Valley Players - The 39 Steps

Photo by Gregg Le Blanc

Take a rather tired story with a chase scene from 100+ years ago, add a successful film adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock from 1935, modify that with a concept by Simon Corble & Nobby Dimon, then finalize that in a 2005 script by Patrick Barlow for Broadway that uses four actors to play all the scenes and roles from the Hitchcock classic film, and you have a wonderful, wild ride.

The story starts out backstage at the Palladium in London. Michael Monagle (as Hannay) is sitting in the theater, only to be interrupted by Robyn Grahn (as the spy, Annabella). She is looking for a room for the night to hide from other spies looking to kill her. Hannay takes her in and after a short discussion of a secret document leaving the country in a few days, Annabella is killed. Hannay escapes only to find himself on the run from the cops, while tracking down the spies and secrets that killed Annabella.

Simple enough, but it’s a long way from London to the highlands of Scotland on a train, especially constrained by a single set and four actors. Along the way, Grahn morphs into Pamela (a wide-eyed highland sheep farmer’s wife) and Margaret (a fair city slicker aka “love interest”). Monagle remains the stable, indefatigable Hannay, tracking his prey to clear his name and save England from its enemies.

Ross Valley Players - The 39 Steps

Photo by Gregg Le Blanc

But wait! Who plays the comics onstage at the Palladium, or the cops chasing Hannay, or the spies, or the sheep farmer and hotel proprietors, or the Scots’ election team, or the many smaller parts done by extras in Hitchcock’s film?  Enter Sean Garahan and Andrew Amarotico to the rescue.

Garahan and Amarotico are amazing actors who take quick costume and dialog changes in stride as they exit off one part of the stage only to enter as different characters through another part of the stage. Each character they play is different in dress, accent (yea, the Scots’ accent is as fun as their German and British accents), and personality. This reviewer stopped counting the distinct parts after 15. I would actually see four people on stage, and wonder where the others were.

Yes, of course there is more. Not only are all scenes and characters from the Hitchcock film “39 Steps” included in this pastiche, but little treasures from all Hitchcock’s films are tucked away in the scenes for us to find.  For example, music from “Psycho” plays for 5 seconds in an unexpected spot, while visuals from “Vertigo” expand a scene. This is a scavenger hunt for hidden trivia celebrating Hitchcock, the master “who done it” filmmaker.

The whole show is a masterpiece of comic teamwork by expert actors having the time of their lives in this wild frolic of stagecraft done with perfect timing.  It is an engrossing puzzle to the audience (“which Hitchcock film did I see that in?,” “who is that character?” etc.) that infects the audience in a matter of minutes with infectious laughter that cheers throughout the show.

Ross Valley Players - The 39 Steps

Photo by Gregg Le Blanc

This is not suspenseful mystery, but it is a cacophony of acting challenges that bring out the best of each minute of the show.  The set never changes, but basic set pieces are moved as necessary to smoothly create the necessary scenes along the way. Costumes and choreography are included with the meal as tasty “side dishes” to the main dish of plot and action.

Add the exotic spices of spot-on lighting and sound, and we have the perfect meal. This reviewer is going back for seconds.

 

Tickets:
$27 General Admission
$15 Young Adults under 25
Available through Brown Paper Tickets (+8% fee), or at the door

The Recipe for a Wonderful, Wild Frolic originally appeared on Imagination Lane on July 18, 2017.

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Get to the Cannery in Apple Blossom Time https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/get-to-the-cannery-in-apple-blossom-time/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/get-to-the-cannery-in-apple-blossom-time/#respond Mon, 17 Jul 2017 03:33:22 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3301

Review of In the Mood
Adapted from William Shakespeare
Directed by David Lear
For tickets / schedule :
www.shakespeareinthecannery.com
Railroad Square, Santa Rosa
(Enter through 6th Street Playhouse parking lot)

RUN: July 13 – August 5, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(July 15, 2017)

Shakespeare in the Cannery - In the Mood

Photo by Alex Shapiro

Romantic sunset light envelops the ruins of an old cannery in Santa Rosa, from which Shakespeare in the Cannery derives its name. A patriotic set resplendent in red, white and blue becomes the backdrop for this Hogan’s Heroes style retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, set in World War II at the USO in Messina. Tracy Hinman’s costume designs of adorable vintage dresses, bathing suits and lineup of dashing army officers sets the tone for a boogie-woogie version of the classic tale that is lighthearted and fun for the whole family.

Denise Elia-Yen is a thoughtful Beatrice in addition to being saucily witty; she takes her cousin’s playful chiding about being scornful to heart in a contemplative performance that adds depth to the character. David L. Yen’s Benedick heavily relies on physical comedy and outrageous reactions that are highly amusing. His disgusted gagging at the mention of “love” had the audience in fits of laughter, and director David Lear uses the series of trap doors in his set design to advantage as Benedick attempts to hide during the discussion of Beatrice’s supposed affection.

In a slight twist of the story, Elizabeth Henry portrays Leonora, instead of Leonato, which works with minor adjustments, such as “be happy, lady; for you are like an honourable mother.” Her calm, stately presence centers the production, and her fierce confrontation with those caused her daughter’s ruin is formidable. In a brief exchange with Sergeant Dogberry (Brandon Wilson), Henry’s comedic timing duels well with his, augmented with support from Michal Victoria (Antonia).

Shakespeare in the Cannery - In The Mood

Photo by Alex Shapiro

The Watch is hilarious, marching in and out with a brisk “left, left, left, right, left” while bumping into one another, eating muffins and coming to attention while facing opposite directions. Wilson’s Dogberry and Brian Abbott’s Verges are quite the team, flawlessly pronouncing hopelessly ill placed vocabulary with the gravity of saints.

Finding an angle for the villains, conspicuously wearing black covers in this production, is a challenge, and Lear took a unique perspective that I enjoyed. Rather than making Don John (Stefan Wenger) the instigator, he is portrayed is rather bored and making sport of discomfort with a Loki trickster personality. It is Borachio (John Browning) whose cruelty suggests the disgrace of Hero and sinister machinations.

While this is an abbreviated retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, it fills the gaps with enchanting musical numbers and toe-tapping swing dances from choreographer Alia Beeton and costumed musicians led by Justin Pyne with favorites like “Stormy Weather,” “In the Mood” and “Taking a Chance on Love.” The finale floats with infectious rhythm, and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is one of the more elaborate dance sequences I have seen in a North Bay musical.

This nostalgic romp through the 1940s with William Shakespeare’s brilliant comedy is a colorful evening of music and dance with a talented cast and creative direction from David Lear. Shakespeare in the Cannery continues to amuse and delight with this year’s In the Mood.

Get to the Cannery in Apple Blossom Time originally appeared on Imagination Lane on July 17, 2017.

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Humanity Explored in ‘Rhinoceros’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/humanity-explored-in-rhinoceros/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/humanity-explored-in-rhinoceros/#respond Sun, 16 Jul 2017 19:45:16 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3289

Review of Rhinoceros

By Eugène Ionesco
Translated by Derek Prouse
Directed by Rómula Torres Carroll

For tickets / schedule :
www.birdbaththeatres.com
The Belrose Theatre
San Rafael, CA
Birdbath Theatres

RUN: July 7 – 22, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(July 15, 2017)

Birdbath Theatres - Rhinocerous

Photo by Robin Jackson

Rhinoceros has a double meaning; the exterior story is of a quiet country village interrupted by charging animals, as the townspeople slowly transform into rhinoceroses. Underneath is an examination of the herd mentality of humanity—how the majority can sway an entire population into belief systems they would otherwise never accept. The concept is fascinating, however the play itself suffers from a disjointed presentation. The first act is a playful, lighthearted comedy, filled with colorful characters and nimble writing, such as parallel conversations bouncing back and forth across the stage. It transitions through a surrealist phase, adeptly acted by David Abrams, into pure post-apocalyptic fantasy reminiscent of The Birds. Each piece is of itself an excellent play, but it does not have a unified structure and feel.

Written in 1959, the vintage worldview shows through with some jarring moments of racism and domestic abuse that were acceptable at the time, but are in poor taste to modern audiences. It draws on the German occupation of France and the reaction of citizens during World War II, demonstrating how the human mind is capable of shifting to protect itself, find companionship, and be accepted as normal. A thread of discussion regarding what is abnormal and what is normal leads many characters to conclude that perhaps becoming a rhinoceros is the new acceptable behavior, even though it disgusted them at first.

What holds the play together is the friendship between Berenger (Spencer Acton) and Jean (David Abrams). Jean is a self-absorbed dandy who is easily excitable and tries to hide his longing to belong behind a pompous demeanor. Down to earth, amiable, and charmingly rumpled, Berenger clings to his humanity—the good and the bad—perhaps inspired by the Maquis guerilla movement.

Birdbath Theatres - Rhinocerous

Photo by Robin Jackson

The cast is clearly enjoying themselves, and each actor has a chance to shine, from Nat (Krima) Davis as the Fireman toting a miniature ladder to Andrew Byars as the Logician, poking exaggerated fun at philosophers’ propensity to long discussions of definitions rather than actual facts. There is an attention to detail for each character, such as a brief homage to the painting American Gothic in the background of a scene toward the end of the second act. The visuals in this play are charged with emotion; I was particularly moved by the transparent backdrop being clawed at by a herd of animals during the final act.

Wyatt E. Dunkerly’s costume designs for the men were well executed, and created powerful images when juxtaposed with rhinoceros heads. I was impressed by the staging, which used the audience, piano and characters hanging out of windows for an interactive experience. The scene change transitions were barely noticeable, since entertaining vignettes filled the time and delved deeper into characterization. Genevieve Schaad creates a soundscape of the jungle, huffing rhinoceroses, smashing glass and chiming bells.

Rhinoceros at The Belrose is a high energy production of an intellectually stimulating French play. Although it runs rather long and could use some tightening of direction, it is both amusing and thought provoking with an excellent cast.

Humanity Explored in ‘Rhinoceros’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on July 16, 2017.

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Believing is Seeing this Rhinoceros https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/believing-is-seeing-this-rhinoceros/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/believing-is-seeing-this-rhinoceros/#respond Sun, 16 Jul 2017 18:04:29 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3276

Review of Rhinoceros
by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

By Eugène Ionesco
Translated by Derek Prouse
Directed by Romula Torres Carroll

For tickets / schedule :
www.birdbaththeatres.com
The Belrose Theatre
San Rafael, CA
Birdbath Theatres

RUN: July 7 – 22, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(July 15, 2017)

Birdbath Theatres - Rhinocerus

Photo by Robin Jackson

We are living in a time of split affiliations. Different groups are focusing on philosophies that are mutually exclusive. Arguments from either side are deflected by the belief that belonging to a group is more important than the truth.  More importantly, “truth” becomes relative to the group, and the rhinoceros flourishes on the street.

Rhinoceros was written in 1959 by Eugène Ionesco as a post World War II “theatre of the absurd” reflection of the group acceptance and mob hysteria that accompanied the rise of the Nazi party in Europe. More importantly to Ionesco, the Vichy government of France survived because of group acceptance and mob hysteria.

Existence is a lonely place by definition. We are born and die alone, and we long to belong to a group that loves us during our life, even if we don’t believe in the same things the group believes in. Enter the rhinoceros.  t is an animal that is thought to rush into the fray, running over plants and animals and people. Ionesco uses the rhinoceros as symbolic of the “different” and destructive behavior of the mob.

Birdbath Theatres - Rhinocerus

Photo by Robin Jackson

In Rhinoceros, low brows, high brows, bureaucrats and intellectuals, rich and poor, succumb to the need to believe in the group philosophy of the rhinoceros. Slowly, the entire town questions, and then believes in the rhinoceros mentality roaming the city streets.

This new theatre group, Birdbath Theatres, chose a challenging play to present to their community. Characteristically French in the topics and tone, the play develops the humorous incidents in the beginning that set the stage for the serious impact at the end of the play.

Director Romulo Carroll brings out the best in the actors to move the simplest of interactions into riveting theatre. I was struck by the animation of David Abrams and Spencer Acton while they launched into their roles of Jean and Berenger, respectively, with gusto and over the top enthusiasm.  The talent of these actors is amazing.

Birdbath Theatres - Rhinocerus

Photo by Robin Jackson

Abrams (as Jean) is the righteous, dedicated bureaucrat attempting to make the case for a good life without the drinking and carousing of other citizens.  He is the first person to see the rhinoceros running through the streets. Ultimately, he pulls away from his traditional society and joins the majority viewpoint. His physical transformation at the end of act 2 is truly amazing.

Acton (as Berenger) is the good natured hedonist who drinks and likes life, but longs for the ideal and disciplined life described to him by Jean. His watches his friends change one by one into the other camp, but cannot help them. As they transform, Berenger remains the sole holdover to the life he knows and loves.

Andrew Byars (as Mr. Papillion) enjoys a good syllogism with friends to prove that a dog is a cat, but he slowly comes to believe it, at the expense of the cat, who is trampled by a raging rhinoceros. Emma Farman (as Daisy) plays the straight receptionist starkly drawn against the background of the absurd behavior consuming the other citizens in town.

Abrams and Acton help to make the play enjoyable with their facial expressions, enthusiasm, body language and extreme reactions to the developments along the way. The timing was done well in acts 1 and 2 to keep me on the edge of my seat, anticipating the resolution in act 3.

However necessary act 3 is to illustrate the actual emotional transformations taking place in the rest of the town, its length and understatement were disappointing. At one high point, Farman and Acton work through the arguments for and against love and rhinoceroses, finally coming to an emotional catharsis of their relationship. Acton summarizes the encounter by saying to the audience: “in just a few minutes we have gone through twenty-five years of married life!”

The other villagers, Jenny Donohue, Terra Schamun, Jack Sabido, McKay Williams, Nat Davis and Jarrod Ackerley all portrayed their characters well and distinctly. This reviewer would have enjoyed reading their bios, which were absent in the program. Their experience in theatre certainly helped them with their good supporting roles.

The set is simple and effective, shifting between the marketplace, Jean’s bedroom and Berenger’s bedroom. Costumes were period French and mostly appropriate to French fashion and class.

Humor is always present under the surface, with perfect “off the cuff” comments designed to release the building dramatic energy into audience laughter relief. This production is a good study in classic “absurd” theatre.

Believing is Seeing this Rhinoceros originally appeared on Imagination Lane on July 16, 2017.

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Appalachian ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/appalachian-much-ado-about-nothing/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/appalachian-much-ado-about-nothing/#respond Sat, 01 Jul 2017 22:19:11 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3266

Review of Much Ado About Nothing
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Robert S. Currier
For tickets / schedule :
www.marinshakespeare.org
Marin Shakespeare
Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University of California

RUN: June 30 – July 23, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(June 30, 2017)

Marin Shakespeare - Much Ado About Nothing

Photo by Jay Yamada

Much Ado About Nothing’s musical elements have been brought to the forefront in this creative hoedown of an adaptation. The iconic characters find themselves in the Appalachian mountains on the side of the McCoys during the early 20th Century, with gunslingers, cavalry troops and outspoken ranchers. Jackson Currier’s rustic set design has meticulous attention to detail, from the hay loft to copper distiller for moonshine. Director Robert Currier makes full use of the space, with Beatrice acquiring her disguise from overalls hanging on the outhouse, entertaining dance moves in doorways, and Benedict jumping into a clothes basket to hide, with highly amusing consequences.

The play itself stays firmly to the original, with place names swapped out and the occasional modern adjustment. Billie Cox weaves in original music, based on traditional folk songs, which augment ambience, explain backgrounds of characters, and assist with smooth scene transitions. Rather than feeling out of place, they are comfortably part of the story and setting. Abra Berman’s wide range of costume designs add a sense of fun with colorful farm dresses, Sunday “duds” for the wedding and pastoral masks.

Marin Shakespeare - Much Ado About Nothing

Photo by Jay Yamada

Elena Wright is the finest Beatrice I have had the pleasure of seeing inhabit the role. Her boundless energy and spunk are captivating; it is no wonder that Don Pedro proposes and insists that she was “born in a merry hour.” Her swaggering antics, cigar chewing and use of the spittoon add to her charm—this production is worth attending simply to enjoy her sparkling portrayal. Dameion Brown’s Benedict had a rocky start, most likely due to nerves, but relaxed into the second act, when his natural bearing and well-timed humor carried the day.

The hillbilly Watch brandishing clubs and an oversized baking whisk are kept in a shambling sort of order by the brilliant Barry Kraft as Dogberry with a scattered Verges (Debi Durst) by his side. They manage to capture the two conspirators by accident, leading to an interrogation scene filled with dry wit and saucy interchanges with arrogant Conrade (Lindsey Schmelzer) and a hipster inspired Borachio (Ben Muller).

Marin Shakespeare - Much Ado About Nothing

Photo by Jay Yamada

John the bastard (Clay David) is a difficult character, since he has little motivation for his actions, so Currier chose to emphasize this lack of substance by turning him into a classic mustache twirling villain from a “B” Western. It is so dramatically over-the-top that he is distracting at times, although his rendition of “I’m Bad” is delightful. His knavery might have worked better had it been toned down in favor of balancing with the rest of the cast.

Marin Shakespeare has collected a strong group of actors—Brittany Law’s Margaret is coquettish and handy with a guitar, Leonato (Steve Price) has a heartwarming relationship with his daughter, Hero (Nicole Apostol Bruno), Joshua Hollister’s Claudio is a believable wronged lover, and even the Gardener (John Neblett) is hilarious while puttering about the stage.

Marin Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is a heel tapping shindig celebrating the triumph of love, with a lively cast and inventive setting. Promenade down to the Forest Meadows Amphitheater for a frolicking adventure in romance with the bard.

Appalachian ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on July 1, 2017.

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‘Tempestuous’ Imaginative Shakespeare Mashup https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/tempestuous-imaginative-shakespeare-mashup/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/tempestuous-imaginative-shakespeare-mashup/#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:58:00 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3259

Review of Tempestuous
By Merlyn Q. Sell
Directed by Beulah Vega
For tickets / schedule :
www.pegasustheater.com
Pegasus Theater Company
Riverkeeper Stewardship Park, Guerneville

RUN: June 9 – 25, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(June 17, 2017)

Pegasus Theater Company - Tempestuous

Photo by Anna Narbutovskih

A sleepy, rundown riverside resort is turned upside-down by the accidental release of local fairies from Oberon’s court. Playwright Merlyn Q. Sell deftly balances modern characters, wandering through on their cell phones, with a closet sorceress who is fond of crossword puzzles, hippie inspired Ariel munching on cheese snacks, and eerily cruel other-worldly tricksters.

The underlying sense of magic in the play is hinted at from the first scene, as Cal saunters in overtly wearing a Dumbledore’s Army t-shirt. Weaving in and out are discussions regarding the nature of magic and its interaction with humans and fairy kind, touching on the idea that there is something missing from both that can only be found when working together without ulterior motive. Although it borrows heavily from William Shakespeare’s plays, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Coriolanus, the story is entirely of Sell’s devising, and extremely clever; it twists and turns with philosophical musings and its emphasis on the importance of family is oddly comforting.

Olivia Rooney (Andy) always delights with her nuanced expressions and vivacious personality. In this role, she struggles with classic millennial frustrations—after graduating school and working hard to make ends meet, her dreams are crushed, and she returns home, defeated and desperate for something to give her a reason to get up in the morning and continue the fight. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Cal (Conor O’Shaughnessy) who accepts his lot in life and makes the best of it, not wanting excitement to upset that equilibrium. His choices throughout the story, leading to a difficult, but necessary decision at the end, are steady and logical, saving the world from being overrun by wild sorcery.

Pegasus Theater Company - Tempestuous

Photo by Anna Narbutovskih

Nick Christenson’s bumbling, scatterbrained Ariel retains childlike enthusiasm and wonder, which is maddening and endearing simultaneously. Straight talking Roxie (Jana Molina) and Toni (Alexis Evon) are the sort of strong female characters I appreciate seeing on stage. Although his portrayal is rather over-the-top, Paul Menconi’s Professor has a dramatic presence, and as the evening progressed, he loosened up and become more comfortable inhabiting his character. The two nefarious fairies, Triniculo (Noel Yates) and Stefano (Rusty Thompson) oil their way through the action with vile elegance and poise, turning invisible when it suits them.

There is almost no need for a set, because the play was commissioned with the miniature stage beside Russian River in mind, and its dancing boughs of trees from surrounding groves are often referenced, becoming characters in their own right. While the cast needs more rehearsal time to work through kinks in timing and dropped lines, they bring the story to life, and the patchwork of contemporary slang with Shakespearean language I find to be highly entertaining. Tempestuous is a warmhearted, magical play set in the natural beauty of Guerneville’s Riverkeeper Stewardship Park.

A note if you plan to attend: Walk down behind Sonoma Nesting Company where the bridge begins, do not cross the bridge, but continue straight to the other side of the road and look for tall banners marking the trail entrance. Follow the brief meandering riverside trail until you reach the box office in a circular paved area. Cushioned seating is provided, but bring extra blankets or pillows if you like for a more comfortable experience.

‘Tempestuous’ Imaginative Shakespeare Mashup originally appeared on Imagination Lane on June 22, 2017.

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Entrancing Journey in ‘Becky’s New Car’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/entrancing-journey-in-beckys-new-car/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/entrancing-journey-in-beckys-new-car/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 06:03:06 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3251

Becky's New Car - Sonoma Arts Live

Photo by Miller Oberlin

Review of Becky’s New Car
Written by Steven Dietz
Directed by Carl Jordan
Sonoma Arts Live
For tickets / schedule :
www.sonomaartslive.org
Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma

RUN: June 9-25, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(June 18, 2017)

Complacency and lack of self-awareness lead to questionable but highly entertaining decisions as Becky attempts to recapture the lost passion in her life. Struggling with a stressful, unfulfilling job, apathetic son, and dull existence, she reaches for the first life-line flung her way—a rich, successful widower who confuses her for an available, intriguing woman who can cure his loneliness. Rather than correct his assumption that her husband passed away, she plays along, tired of being the one constantly giving to others without receiving support in return.

The situation quickly spirals out of control, leading to deliciously awkward exchanges, and although it is not a fairytale ending, Becky is forced to truly examine herself, revitalizing the spark of self-confidence, and ultimately deepening more relationships than she breaks.

Not often performed on the West Coast, playwright Steven Dietz is a master of agile dialogue and duplicitous, yet lovable characters. The fourth wall is non-existent in this play; Becky invites the audience into her home, complete with toilet paper, asking to collate documents, and direct appeals for fashion advice. The collaboration between Bruce Lackovic’s set design and Frank Sarubbi’s lighting creates a fantastical mixture of locations, including projections of high speed chases on an imaginative backdrop of bubbles.

Becky's New Car - Sonoma Arts Live

Photo by Miller Oberlin

Melissa Claire is bewitching as Becky Foster, capturing a burned out middle-aged woman who has a spark of vitality fighting to break through and turn her into the vivacious younger version of herself who was daring and romantic. With rich lines dropping hilarious and wise observations on life, she inhabits the character in an irresistible performance. Matt Witthaus as her down-to-earth, practical husband is a solid foil for her antics, and demonstrates a strength of character that is admirable, while retaining his sense of fun.

The elegant and bewildered Walter Flood (Mike Pavone) does not realize what is going on, remaining aloof to the main action of the play, whereas his daughter, Kensington Flood (Katie Kelley) dives right in, manicured nails and all. Her attempts to find someone real who cares for her without reference to money or background form a parallel love story, with an ending just as thoughtful.

Carl Jordan’s direction takes advantage of the intimate vintage theater to draw the audience into the story, while fine tuning comedic timing in rapid fire exchanges. Becky’s New Car is a sizzling comedy, and not because of the hot weather we’ve been having in Sonoma County. The cast is on fire, with a high caliber play and talented artistic team. Sonoma Arts Live is the place to be for the enchanting Becky’s New Car.

Entrancing Journey in ‘Becky’s New Car’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on June 21, 2017.

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Unlikely Friendship Blossoms in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/glittering-the-legend-of-georgia-mcbride/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/glittering-the-legend-of-georgia-mcbride/#respond Sun, 18 Jun 2017 18:57:21 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3236

Review of The Legend of Georgia McBride
By Matthew Lopez
Directed by Kent Gash

For tickets & schedule:
www.marintheatre.org
Marin Theatre Company
Mill Valley, CA

RUN: June 8 – July 2, 2017   Extended through July 9!
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(June 14, 2017)

Marin Theatre Company - The Legend of Georgia McBride

Photo by Kevin Berne

Amid the glamour and show stopping montages of dynamic drag queens shimmering with personality is the story of a young man floundering to discover himself and finding an understanding mentor in the least likely place imaginable. What begins as Miss Tracy Mills feeling pity for the washed out Elvis impersonator she is replacing becomes a strong friendship that is a joy to watch unfold. The Legend of Georgia McBride is filled with compassion and hope that with the support of a community, dreams can come true and life will turn itself around to be something worth fighting for.

Casey (Adam Magill) accidentally finds himself onstage as a queen in a “show must go on” situation, with a gloriously awkward first attempt, tottering in high heels and barely managing to lip sync. His affection for the persona of Georgia McBride fights with his identity as a straight soon to be father, causing havoc in his relationship with Jo (Tatiana Wechler), his wife. Wechler portrays a no-nonsense, practical woman deeply in love with her husband, and the two of them have heartwarming scenes together, particularly in the final act.

Marin Theatre Company - The Legend of Georgia McBride

Photo by Kevin Berne

Kraig Swartz as mature drag queen Miss Tracy Mills is a natural—perfectly comfortable in heels, wigs and skirts. It takes hours before each performance for the transformation, and it is worth it; from the moment Miss Tracy Mills appears, in an elegant gown with vintage bob of a hairpiece and kind, warm demeanor, she is sensational. Diva in every sense of the word, Rexy (Jason Kapoor) is the over-the-top sort of queen, relishing her “shades” and obnoxiously arrogant, until a lapse into vulnerability reveals complexity beneath the hard exterior.

While Casey’s gradual transformation through practice and talent is an ongoing theme, the club owner Eddie (John R. Lewis) is perhaps the most dramatic shift in character. Suspicious of drag queen culture, he is not interested in participating, until he observes the positive impact it is having on his business. By the end of the play, he is donning flashing light-up glasses and twirling his way into the spotlight, excited to be part of the team.

Marin Theatre Company - The Legend of Georgia McBride

Photo by Kevin Berne

Lighting designer Kurt Landisman had way too much fun with this production—from starry night fields surrounding a glittering disco ball to pulsing colors bouncing off the silver waterfall backdrop, he unleashes a party atmosphere that is infectious. The audience is encouraged to interact during the drag performances—go ahead and shout, applaud, and react as if it is an actual club, rather than a theater. The script has leeway for a remarkable amount of creative freedom, and the team at Marin Theatre Company went all out with music and lightning fast costume changes thanks to designer Kara Harmon. Standouts were “I Will Survive” and “Born This Way” in runway style.

The Legend of Georgia McBride is a tinsel draped coming of age spectacular that celebrates acceptance and being true to yourself, even if it is not the person you wanted to be. The cast is genuinely enjoying the show, creating a confident, positive atmosphere. For a transfusion of creative enthusiasm, drive to Mill Valley for this one-of-a-kind theatrical experience.

Unlikely Friendship Blossoms in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on June 18, 2017.

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Catastrophe Turns Comedic in ‘Noises Off’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/catastrophe-turned-comedic-in-noises-off/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/catastrophe-turned-comedic-in-noises-off/#respond Tue, 06 Jun 2017 04:06:54 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3228

Review of Noises Off
By Michael Frayn
Directed by Avi Lind
For tickets / schedule :
www.russianriverhall.com
Curtain Call Theatre
Russian River Hall, Monte Rio

RUN: June 2-24, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(June 2, 2017)

Curtain Call Theatre - Noises Off

Photo by Curtain Call Theatre

In rehearsal for a flimsy, trope heavy farce, with actors ready to walk on the project, Noises Off is an attempt to put on the play within a play Nothing On. What begins as slight technical glitches and the occasional missed line becomes a disaster by the final act, with axe wielding actors, incorrect cast members on stage during crucial scenes, and sardines everywhere.

Directing this barely contained mayhem is Avi Lind, who stages humorous tableaux, particularly in the second act, when Michael Tabib and Jake Hamlin’s set design shifts into a backstage setting. What is amusing to the audience is doubly so for those of us who have participated in productions where similar fiascos occurred. Nadja Masura’s haunted, stressed expression upon realizing the rest of the cast has no idea what to say, and she must take up the torch to keep the play moving is all too familiar.

Curtain Call Theatre - Noises Off

Photo by Curtain Call Theatre

Henpecked fictional director of Nothing On, Joseph Potter, attempts to navigate the high-strung cast, adding a dose of dry humor with his outbursts at the lack of professionalism. Katy Cady as his young protégé, Brooke, plays the daydreaming actress to perfection; her antics while fumbling under furniture for a lost contact drew quite a reaction from the audience. Lisa Psternak as the agitated stage manager, Poppy, took her cliché role and ran with it, assisted by Punk inspired touches on the costume and makeup design.

Marc Hirschman wandered in and out as the senile Selsdon, often falsely accused for leaving bottles of alcohol concealed about the set. His recurring ill-timed entrances are a constant source of amusement throughout the evening. This cast is a well-tuned ensemble of eccentricity, with delicate timing of the numerous opportunities for physical comedy, from costume entanglements to a misbehaving telephone cord.

Noises Off is a stereotypical comedy about the theater, but with this spirited production and a ceaseless array of jokes, it is difficult not to laugh along with the misfortunes of Nothing On and its doomed cast. Relax and enjoy the calamities—it is worth the drive out to Monte Rio.

Catastrophe Turns Comedic in ‘Noises Off’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on June 6, 2017.

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Compassion is Forgotten in ‘From Both Hips’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/compassion-is-forgotten-in-from-both-hips/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/compassion-is-forgotten-in-from-both-hips/#respond Mon, 29 May 2017 19:11:32 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3217

Review of From Both Hips
By Mark O’Rowe
Directed by John Craven
For tickets / schedule :
www.mainstagewest.com
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: May 19 – June 4, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(May 27, 2017)

From Both Hips - Main Stage West

Photo © Eric Chazankin

Accidentally shot during a drug bust, Paul returns home an invalid, determined to make the cop pay for his mistake. Using an inventive technique of including phone conversations to transition between scenes, giving additional context to the story, Mark O’Rowe’s play has crackling dialogue and relentless pacing.

Profoundly flawed human beings inhabit this dark comedy—Theresa, who is lonely enough to have an affair just to be noticed, co-dependent Liz who hangs onto her friends with leech-like tenacity, Willy’s lack of self-awareness leading to flashes of anger, and Paul’s despicable attitude toward others. What they have in common is a desire to be accepted and loved, a theme paralleled by a casually discussed article on whether or not dogs are capable of affection, which is brought up throughout the play.

Lydia Revelos as Liz hovers through scenes—a coiled spring waiting for her moment. She brings across a personality that believes she is acting out of good intentions, oblivious to the disregard of others as the odd one out. Ilana Niernberger’s anxious Theresa is brilliant in a moment of misinterpretation when she thinks Liz has discovered the affair, only to realize it is the dog they are discussing. Her mounting tension and over excited imagination regarding the break-in is both amusing and ominous, considering her fears have foundation in actual incidents.

From Both Hips - Main Stage West

Photo © Eric Chazankin

Sam Coughlin (Willy) and Alanna Weatherby (Irene) make a solid team. With direction from John Craven, their tenderness toward each other, small comforting gestures and strained emotion during arguments shows a marriage with foundation to it, despite superficial problems. When cross-examined about where Willy goes when upset, Irene insists he comes home to her, and that pronouncement is believable from what we see of the couple.

In contrast, the marriage of Paul (Chris Ginesi) and Adele (Nora Summers) has been shattered by a combination of his ego and her coldness. She prefers to depend on a friend in her illness, rather than admitting how far gone she is and asking for help. He could care less about what she is going through, and believes he is the primary victim—after all, they weren’t the ones who were shot in the hip.

From Both Hips - Main Stage West

Photo © Eric Chazankin

From Both Hips is a reminder not to become self consumed when feeling alone and abandoned; the toxic relationships caused by reaching out to the wrong people in destructive ways harm all those involved. It is easy to laugh at the shenanigans, and think we are nothing like these nasty sort of characters, but they are exaggerated versions of people we know, perhaps ourselves, and we can learn from their mistakes. Don’t miss the United States premiere of this thought provoking and disturbingly amusing Irish play.

Compassion is Forgotten in ‘From Both Hips’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 29, 2017.

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‘Suddenly It’s Springtime One Acts with Heart’ at Marin Onstage https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/suddenly-its-springtime-one-acts-with-heart-at-marin-onstage/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/suddenly-its-springtime-one-acts-with-heart-at-marin-onstage/#respond Mon, 29 May 2017 17:06:06 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3206

Review of The Public Eye & Ludlow Fair
Marin Onstage
For tickets / schedule :
marinonstage.org
Belrose Theatre, San Rafael

RUN: May 26 – June 10, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(May 26, 2017)

Photo by Gary Gonser

The Public Eye
By Peter Shaffer
Directed by Billie Cox

Dive into 1960s London with this classic play examining the challenges of youthful enthusiasm dimming into middle aged stodgy intellect that eschews imagination. Charles Sidley, played with indignant stuffiness by Mitchell Field, has become convinced that his wife’s absences indicate that she is having an affair. Eccentric private detective Julian Cristoforou (Ellen Brooks), with a penchant for eating sweets when nervous, is on the case, in between hunting down chocolate macaroons. This one act play feels full length, and could have carried the evening on its own.

Brimming with curiosity and adventure, Emily Ludlow as the wife, Belinda Sedley, captures the stage with her confidence and innocent amusement at small discoveries, such as enraptured praise for Ingmar Bergman films. Ellen Brooks’ outlandish detective is a quintessential 1960s English character, complete with raincoat and kooky flower, designed by Nancy Bodan-Gonser. Direction from Billie Cox layers comedy under each scene, creating a delightful period piece with an agreeable denouement that warms the heart.

Photo by Gary Gonser

Ludlow Fair
By Lanford Wilson
Directed by Renee Mandel-Sher

In contrast to the quirky and sentimental The Private Eye, this one act is more of an experiment in form than a completed work. It leans heavily on rambling monologues from roommates who are forced into intimate discussions based entirely on their proximity to each other. There are glimmers of depth toward the end, when Agnes admits that she wanted to have children—an opportunity that has slipped by and become merely a dream. Hande Gokbas muses with quiet sorrow, clutching tiny dolls that are all she has, tears misting her expressive eyes.

Keara Reardon’s Rachel is erratic and emotional over a recent breakup—energetic in embracing the role, although the overall concept flounders. The play feels like the newsreels that used to be added onto feature films—more of an educational piece that is part of the experience, but does not hold its own.

One Acts with Heart lives up to its name, offering two unique plays that are enjoyable and well directed. If you are fond of vintage BBC shows, The Public Eye will be a treat, and the Belrose Theater is a comfortable environment to spend the evening.

‘Suddenly It’s Springtime One Acts with Heart’ at Marin Onstage originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 29, 2017.

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‘The Money Shot’ Highlights Triviality in Our Culture https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-money-shot-highlights-triviality-in-our-culture/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-money-shot-highlights-triviality-in-our-culture/#respond Wed, 24 May 2017 00:23:50 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3198

Review of The Money Shot
By Neil LaBute
Directed by Kimberly Kalember & Sandra Ish

For tickets & schedule:
www.leftedgetheatre.com
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
Left Edge Theatre

RUN: May 19 – June 4, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(May 20, 2017)

Left Edge Theatre - The Money Shot

Photo by Left Edge Theatre

The Money Shot is a study in superficiality—living on the casual level, unwilling to form deeper human connections. Neil LaBute presents a kaleidoscope of examples, from Steve’s blatant disregard for the company he is with to Karen’s subtle narcissism through constant name dropping of her accomplishments and snide remarks that make her partner feel under valued. This cesspool of insincerity comes to a boil in a drawn-out conflict that leaves the audience with an abrupt, odd sort of ending, wondering if there was another scene meant to be there, or if the sudden cutoff of action was deliberate.

The premise is quite simple, if rather smutty; two famed Hollywood actors are considering an actual sex scene in their latest film to raise ratings overseas, and have met with their partners to discuss the implications. Argo Thompson’s set design is an upscale “outdoor room” sort of style, straight out of the latest Frontgate. In between sips from a Sangria dispenser, the cast politely quarrels for the majority of the play—typical of a party where too little attention has been paid to the guest list and their compatibility.

Left Edge Theatre - The Money Shot

Photo by Left Edge Theatre

Loudest with voicing her concerns is Karen’s partner, Bev (Sandra Ish) who takes the thoughtless remarks about her sexuality and culture personally, and is not about to let them slide. While her reactions are warranted, the character comes across as belligerent and a bit of a bully, showing the opposite side of the spectrum from Missy (Heather Gordon), who is Steve’s partner and prefers to stay aloof from the situation. Gordon keeps the audience guessing about whether her lack of attention and persona is simply an act for the sake of her career, or genuine. Either way, we do not get to know who she really is—representing those whose façade might be purposefully imposed to attain certain goals.

Laurie Gauguin’s Karen is the quintessential self obsessed star—she ignores the task at hand to quibble over where her name appears on the movie poster, and constantly talks about her non-profit organizations, Malibu restaurant and fragrance line. Dodds Delzell as Steve is the character you love to hate, “manspreading” across half the couch, spouting ignorant nonsense, and oblivious to the chaos until it affects him personally.

Left Edge Theatre - The Money Shot

Photo by Left Edge Theatre

Left Edge Theatre’s The Money Shot is a quirky play with talented comedic actors that makes you think as much as you laugh, putting a spotlight on awkward social situations caused by the tendency to avoid discussing what really matters, preferring to live in a sort of fantasy realm of general topics until it becomes so offensive that a battle ensues.

‘The Money Shot’ Highlights Triviality in Our Culture originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 24, 2017.

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Love and War in ‘Private Lives’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/love-and-war-in-private-lives/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/love-and-war-in-private-lives/#respond Sat, 20 May 2017 00:23:34 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3191

Review of Private Lives
By Noël Coward
Directed by Ken Rowland

For tickets / schedule :
www.rossvalleyplayers.com
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross, CA
Ross Valley Players

RUN: May 19 – June 18, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(May 19, 2017)

Ross Valley Players - Private Lives

Photo by Robin Jackson

Daring passion can be magnificent when lovers are in harmony, but what happens when its explosion of power leads to virulent quarrels, self destructing the relationship? Is a calm, cozy affection better in the long run, or a watered down version of true love? For two couples on honeymoon, it becomes a life changing decision. Penned in mere days, when Noël Coward was ill in Shanghai, the play has a quick, flowing pace, driven by emotions of the characters, rather than a decisive plot. The final scene is bittersweet and satisfying—a fitting conclusion to the open question of whether love is worth fighting for.

Ken Rowland’s set design creates a romantic atmosphere, with sheer curtains, rose colored marble balconies and cascading potted plants that shift into a comfortable Art Deco flat for Act II. Augmenting the mood is Stephen Dietz’s sound design of ocean waves and light orchestra. When combined with tactile language from Coward’s script, it is easy to picture lights from the yachts twinkling on moonlit water far below.

The tempestuous stage fight, choreographed by Zoë Swenson-Graham, is riddled with breaking objects, some of which seem quite real, and had the audience on the edge of their seats, gaping at the quarrel while actors ducked and threw books, records, chairs, pillows, and anything else at hand, smashing lamps and vases with gleeful abandon. It must have been quite the scene to stage, and keeps its spontaneous quality, thanks to being well-rehearsed and smoothly executed. Janice Koprowski’s costume designs are opulent, with flowing 1930s gowns and modish pant suits, rather like Miss Fisher’s Mysteries.

Ross Valley Players - Private Lives

Photo by Robin Jackson

Four quite varied characters inhabit Private Lives—the feminine “girl next door” Sibyl, suave world traveler Elyot who has a habit of becoming flippant when faced with an awkward situation, Amanda, a wildcat and consummate liar, yet alluring despite it, and Victor, the stuffy, normal sort of fellow who is taken aback at the proceedings. Together they must navigate the dangerous path of love; whether they succeed or not is up for interpretation.

LeAnne Rumbel’s Amanda struggles with finding her identity—she retains the charged zeal of her youth, but tempered, until passion rips apart her perceived maturity. Rumbel’s melodramatic dancing is a sight to behold, and she tosses out javelin insults with the practiced ease of an Olympian. Gregory Crane as Elyot carries the quality of a Shakespearean actor into the role, bringing out the music and elegant repetition of Coward’s lines. Simon Patton’s Victor is quietly present for most of the play, until blazing into action during the final act. Laura Morgan as Sibyl enters an emotional roller coaster, which the character’s sheltered upbringing has not prepared her for, and keeps a level of naïve surprise when she bursts into tears at being treated in such an unfamiliar manner. Susan Stein as Louise, the French maid, may not have lines in English, but she does not need them to make an impression—the way she flings garlic about, snarling at the state of the room is highly amusing in any language.

Ross Valley Players - Private Lives

Photo by Robin Jackson

Private Lives with Ross Valley Players is an honest portrayal of how love can bring out the best and worst in a couple. When passion runs hot, so does anger and jealousy—is it worth the journey? Noël Coward’s classic play remains relevant, with a sparkling, witty cast and well timed direction from Ken Rowland.

Love and War in ‘Private Lives’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 20, 2017.

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Comedic Mayhem at 6th Street Playhouse https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/comedic-mayhem-at-6th-street-playhouse/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/comedic-mayhem-at-6th-street-playhouse/#respond Fri, 19 May 2017 03:24:00 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3183

Review of A Masterpiece of Comic…Timing
By Robert Caisley
Directed by Craig A. Miller

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

RUN: May 12-28, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(May 12, 2017)

A Masterpiece of Comic ... Timing - 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin

In the hands of the right director and actors, a mediocre play can become entertaining. Such is the case with the audaciously named A Masterpiece of Comic…Timing. While it does not live up to the promise, nevertheless, the play is a frothy confection of tawdry farce.

Producer Jerry Cobb wants to create a hit comedy on Broadway, and brings in a talented writer—what could go wrong? The writer arrives in a melancholic state, unable to work, the hotel turns into an unnatural array of weather zones, and what they thought would save the day makes the situation worse instead. As the tension builds, taking the bourbon with it, characters unravel under the stress, turning from classic tropes into crazed maniacs desperate for an out. While the first act has a slow build, the interaction between Cobb (Chris Schloemp) and his assistant Charlie Bascher (Benjamin Stowe) keeps the rhythm moving with their enthusiastic physicality.

A Masterpiece of Comic ... Timing - 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin

A Masterpiece of Comic…Timing is filled with veteran actors, who manage to keep the energy level high, despite the lack of exceptional jokes and disconcerting portrayal of women. It is a period piece, set in the 1960s, which was a different culture, but despite Rose Roberts’ extraordinary performance as Nola Hart, it is difficult to see past the fact that she is portraying a sexual object without much in the way of intellectual caliber. The acting in this play is extraordinary, and Craig A. Miller’s creative, over-the-top directing style is vibrant and engaging, but the team was tasked with eking out humor from undistinguished lines.

Jesse Dreikosen’s set design is retro chic with an attention to detail that makes it feel like an actual hotel room, not a stage. From the teal and orange vinyl couch to maraschino cherries on the bar, it captures the splashy sophistication of the 1960s.

A Masterpiece of Comic…Timing is a lively, amusing evening, despite its flaws, with a strong cast and flair for the dramatic. If you enjoy slapstick farce and vintage style humor, this is the play for you.

Comedic Mayhem at 6th Street Playhouse originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 19, 2017.

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Swing Into the Jungle at Spreckels https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/swing-into-the-jungle-at-spreckels/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/swing-into-the-jungle-at-spreckels/#respond Thu, 11 May 2017 04:13:27 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3174

Review of Disney’s Musical Tarzan
Book by David Henry Hwang
Music and Lyrics by Phil Collins
Directed by Gene Abravaya and David L. Yen
Music Direction by Tina Lloyd Meals
Choreography by Michella Snider

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: May 5-21, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

Spreckels - Tarzan

Photo by Eric Chazankin

(May 6, 2017)

Humid jungle creeps across the stage in tiers of hanging vines, flora and fungi with rough stone ruins leading up a steep cliff. Enter the world of Tarzan, filled with magical adventure and talking animals, romance and wild combat with ferocious leopards. Loosely based on the pulp fiction series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, it aligns with the Disney version, although the stage production includes additional songs and deeper characterization. Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen’s set design of an overgrown hillside is fascinating to watch actors interact with. A child in the audience gleefully exclaimed “It looks real!” when the curtains moved back to reveal another world filled with verdant plant life.

Shawna Eiermann (Kala) and Brian Watson (Kerchak) bring an intense emotional resonance to their roles as Tarzan’s adoptive parents. Eiermann’s depiction of ferocious love and fearless devotion for a child that is not even her species transcends barriers as an example that people do not need to be alike in order to feel a strong connection. Her moment with Tarzan “You’ll Be in My Heart” is genuinely moving.

Spreckels - Tarzan

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Like The Flash television series, this play mixes drama with cartoonish elements. At times it works well, especially Jane and Tarzan’s scenes of romantic comedy moving into graver decisions when her ship is about to leave. Other transitions gave me a bit of whiplash between several different styles, moving between heart wrenching acting from Eiermann and Watson to the mustache twirling villain and sidekick or dancing mushrooms and flowers galavanting across the stage. Tarzan overall is enjoyable, it is the balance between directing styles that seems confusing.

Abbey Lee’s Jane is sophisticated while capturing the character’s boundless energy and eager exploration of a new and fascinating world. Kit Grimm as Porter is the perfect father—understanding, kind and inquisitive. Michael Lumb’s Tarzan is infused with innocent wonder, and he shifts physicality during the course of the play. His shuffling on all fours using knuckles to propel himself forward gradually changes to upright, hesitant walking as he learns from Jane. The supporting cast is well chosen, from Lily Spangler’s Young Terk who has enough attitude to fill Spreckel’s formidable stage single handed to the apes with their semi-dancing antics. Return early from intermission for a mini scene of the expedition crew attempting to set up camp in the jungle before Act II officially begins.

Pamela Enz steps up with brilliant costume designs for the apes in flowing, draped fringe and multiple changes of elegant attire for Jane. Inez Viera’s make-up design adds geometric, tribal shapes on the animals, rather than a literal approach, which was visually effective.

Spreckels - Tarzan

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Swing into Spreckels for a lively evening of adventure in Tarzan with your favorite characters from the Disney movie coming to life onstage. On May 21st after the final show, stop by the theatre for a gathering honoring Gene Abravaya as he leaves on his own journey into retirement. He will be missed in the North Bay, where he re-invigorated Spreckels into the vibrant theatre it is today and has been a joy to the local community.

Swing Into the Jungle at Spreckels originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 11, 2017.

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‘Guys and Dolls’ at Luther Burbank Center https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/guys-and-dolls-at-luther-burbank-center/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/guys-and-dolls-at-luther-burbank-center/#respond Mon, 08 May 2017 02:57:03 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3165

Review of Guys and Dolls
Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Directed by John DeGaetano
Music Direction by Les Pfutzenreuter
Choreography by Emily DeGaetano

For tickets / schedule :
www.northbaystageco.org
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
North Bay Stage Company

RUN: April 28 – May 14, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(May 5, 2017)

Guys and Dolls - North Bay Stage Company

Photo by John DeGaetano

Guys and Dolls is a beloved musical with lively songs and a heartwarming, absurd plot. Filled with heart-of-gold gangsters, gamblers, music hall girls and enthusiastic missionaries, it sashays through 1940s New York with glitzy show tunes and infectious rhythm. North Bay Stage Company presents it in concert, with live big band sound from local musicians.

While there is no set to speak of, Kathy Katz’s costume design adds a dash of color in the spirit of the show and helps define who the characters are, even if it is not entirely accurate to the time period. The Hot Box Girls in “Take Back Your Mink” are adorable, with sassy choreography by Emily DeGaetano. Their high strung soloist, Miss Adelaide (Cindy Brillhart-True), is comically delightful in “Adelaide’s Lament”, taking full advantage of the clever lyrics. Trotting on high heels, she weaves through the waiting actors for her scenes, gathering laughs from the audience in her wake of righteous indignation.

The young lovers, Sarah (Maureen O’Neill) and Sky (David Strock), sparkle with chemistry and have beautiful sound, although there needs to be better balance with the orchestra, which drowned them out in their signature duets. O’Neill’s tipsy ballad in Havana was euphoric with happiness, and Strock owned the stage with “Luck Be a Lady”.

Supporting characters in vintage inspired suits and fedoras are an amusing ensemble, including Gary Sciford’s antics as Benny Southstreet, Paul MacKinnon’s anxious Harry the Horse and Bill Stone’s ominous stage presence as Big Jule. The narrator is on book, but assists with explaining scene transitions for audience members who are unfamiliar with the fully staged production.

If you love Guys and Dolls for its toe-tapping music, North Bay Stage Company will be an evening with old friends. It is not a polished production, but the cast gives it their all for enjoyable entertainment filled with laughter and song.

‘Guys and Dolls’ at Luther Burbank Center originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 8, 2017.

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Blood-soaked Legend Comes to Life in ‘Guards at the Taj’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/blood-soaked-legend-comes-to-life-in-guards-at-the-taj/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/blood-soaked-legend-comes-to-life-in-guards-at-the-taj/#respond Wed, 03 May 2017 11:16:37 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3158

Review of Guards at the Taj
By Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Jasson Minadakis

For tickets & schedule:
www.marintheatre.org
Marin Theatre Company
Mill Valley, CA

RUN: April 27 – May 21, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(May 3, 2017)

Marin Theatre Company - Guards at the Taj

Photo by Kevin Berne

If you see one play this year, it should be Guards at the Taj. Its gruesome theatricality parallels the Mughal Empire’s reign of staggering artistry living hand-in-hand with excessive violence. Completed in 1648, the Taj Mahal stood in regal glory, sparking the legend that Shah Jahan ordered such a thing of beauty should never be built again and required the hands chopped off of the 20,000 workers and artisans, ensuring its rival could not be created. It is highly unlikely such an event actually took place, but it is a recurring motif in folklore found around the globe, and likely the local manifestation of that theme, according to resident dramaturg Laura A. Brueckner. The story concept’s massive scale could become unwieldy, and in an early draft the play was filled with characters. Playwright Rajiv Joseph realized the centrality was represented in its least grandiose characters—the guards. The resulting two-hander play Guards at the Taj takes ordinary people and sets them in a world beyond their control, forcing them to make impossible decisions and live with the consequences.

While there are lofty moments debating the philosophy of beauty and play of power structures, at its heart the play is about friendship. Humayun (Jason Kapoor) believes that if he obeys the rules, his life will get better, despite the horror of living in between. Childhood friend Babur (Rushi Kota) is playful and emotion driven, leading him to feel the situation acutely, whether it is cheerily cracking jokes while standing guard, or wading through a blood covered set, traumatized by the experience. Their interactions are acutely humanizing moments; Humayun’s gentle kindness, silently washing his friend’s face is tragically beautiful.

Marin Theatre Company - Guards at the Taj

Photo by Kevin Berne

Both actors are magnificent in this piece, from subtle eye twitches becoming comedic gold to numb horror when faced with a set drenched in blood. This is a gory play, with around 100 gallons of stage blood in various forms used in each performance. To practice, director Jasson Minadakis used puzzle pieces dumped onto the studio floor, and the actors practiced working through the dialog while moving them around, putting puzzles together, or flipping pieces over. This is no quaint Victorian fairy tale, it embodies the raw violence of ancient mythology before Disney got hold of it, when villains and heroes alike gushed blood and body parts.

Marin Theatre Company - Guards at the Taj

Photo by Kevin Berne

Although the subject matter is extremely violent, most of the play is two men hanging out casually discussing whatever comes to mind, which happens to be quite profound. Joseph creates a conversational atmosphere, whether that is lighthearted ribbing about getting to guard the harem to desperately trying to deal with a dangerous situation by talking about something else to keep the mind occupied and not thinking about what is going on. Sound designer Chris Houston adds texture to the setting, layering recorded Indian bird songs in outdoor scenes to the point where they almost become another character, and ominous echoing and dripping blood when necessary. Annie Smart’s deceptively simplistic set design is effective and filled with concealed traps that become relevant as the story progresses.

This play has an intrinsic shock value, but also the intimacy of two friends trying to survive in a world that doesn’t care about individuals. Through creativity of spirit they manage to keep their humanity in tact until the monarch requires something so heinous that it crumbles around them. As Humayun laments, “what is caring going to get me?”

Please note that this play is not for children; it contains traumatic imagery and brief nudity. The first two rows of the theater are a splash zone, do not wear your favorite outfit if you plan to attend in that area.

Blood-soaked Legend Comes to Life in ‘Guards at the Taj’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 3, 2017.

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‘Agnes of God’ Defies Expectations https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/agnes-of-god-defies-expectations/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/agnes-of-god-defies-expectations/#respond Sat, 22 Apr 2017 18:03:43 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3146

Review of Agnes of God
By John Pielmeier
Directed by Amy Lovato
Cloverdale Performing Arts Center
For tickets / schedule :
www.cloverdaleperformingarts.com
Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

RUN: April 21-30, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(April 21, 2017)

Agnes of God at Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

Photo from Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

A bleak cross dominates the unadorned stage and a psychiatrist steps into the light, captivating the audience with an honest examination of how she came to find her own faith away from the Catholic Church, tugging at a cigarette and contemplating what brought her to the steps of a convent. Sister Agnes was found bleeding in her room, a suffocated newborn stuffed in the waste basket, while claiming no knowledge of the child—is she insane, lying, or so innocent that she did not understand what was happening? Agnes of God is the clash of two powerhouse women who have the same goal of helping the young sister, but with entirely different notions on how to do so.

John Pielmeier’s play has a way of tripping up expectations, shifting reason from one character to the next until it is difficult to fathom who knows the truth. On the surface, Mother Miriam Ruth appears to be a cliché authoritarian who is suspicious of newfangled notions from Vatican II. The play strips away her façade to show a deeply troubled woman with a failed marriage, two children who despise her, and nearly shattered belief in God. Athena Gundlach’s portrayal is sensitive to the multi-faceted woman, eyes glowing when she describes her love of Agnes, and pragmatic in her assertion to the audience that her character is a regular person who is not losing her mind, simply grasping for something to give life meaning.

Agnes of God - Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

Photo from Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

Dr. Livingstone struggles with her own demons, drawing strength from the intellect and natural confidence. Elizabeth Henry gives a heartfelt performance, transitioning from hardened professional to the shaken closing monologue of a woman questioning her entire belief structure. Pristinely naïve Sister Agnes, Isabella Peregrina, is haunted by her vindictive mother in a terrifying ghost story that overshadows the play. It may be all in the nun’s head, but I could feel the goose bumps as she shrieked, blood pouring out of stigmata in her hands, weeping that she was being punished by her dead mother.

The three women, often present but not active in the scene, are staged in a triangular formation by director Amy Lovato, invoking a Trinitarian feel. Dramatic chiaroscuro lighting design by Yave Guzman keeps attention focused on the speaker, while adding a supernatural sensation to flashbacks. Agnes of God in Cloverdale is a chilling ghost story and powerful depiction of women delving into who they are at the core, questioning assumptions and challenging the Church. It shows the dark side of convents without vilifying nuns, who are doing the best they can as flawed human beings. It is worth the drive to Cloverdale for this mesmerizing production.

‘Agnes of God’ Defies Expectations originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 22, 2017.

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‘Way Out West’ Passes Inspection https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/way-out-west-passes-inspection/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/way-out-west-passes-inspection/#respond Sun, 16 Apr 2017 18:55:06 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3138

Review of Way Out West
By Joel D. Eis
Directed by Buzz Halsing

For tickets / schedule :
www.rossvalleyplayers.com
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross, CA
Ross Alternative Works (Ross Valley Players)

RUN: April 7 – 23, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(April 14, 2017)

Ross Valley Players - Way Out West

Photo by Robin Jackson

Loosely based on Nickolai Gogol’s The Inspector General, it is 1848 in the frontier outpost of San Francisco, where corrupt officials hear that an incognito inspector will be arriving in town. Terrified, the local yokels fall over themselves, at times quite literally, to please the newcomer in town, hoping for a positive report back to the capital. This campy, nostalgic romp would fit right in as a street performance in Virginia City, with a gunslinger mayor and mysterious stranger. The overacting shifts between amusing and artificial, leaving an uneven impression, but overall it is an entertaining play and imaginative retelling of Gogol’s satire.

Pam Drummer-Williams as Pearl Monahan is a treat in this production—she sashays through scenes as an enthusiastic social climber who is far too much woman for any man in the room, gathering laughs with each twitch of her elaborate fan. Maureen Coyne as Maxine creates a clever, worldly maid whose perpetual eye rolls and cynical one liners keep the story from losing momentum. Country bumpkins Ike Bobkins (Ralph Kalbus) and Ida May Dobkins (Carrie Fisher-Coppola) find a balance of waddling caricatures and carefully crafted timing in their portrayals.

Ross Valley Players - Way Out West

Photo by Robin Jackson

The strength of Way Out West is in the relationship between Ridgeway (John Anthony Nolan) and partner in crime Rex Reynard (Paul Stout) long-time friends who need a break from each other, but are forced into increased intimacy. Their sniping, brawls, and tender moments have the ring of realism; it feels like they have been companions for years, which grounds the nonsensical characters who inhabit this mythological San Francisco. A particularly well-done moment was at the hotel, after arguing over who should portray servant and master, Ridgeway opens the door to find half the cast peering through expectantly, only to have him shut it in their faces, turning away in disgust at what he has to put up with.

Way Out West is reliant on Bruce Vieira’s sound design, which is both well done, such as the ambient background of a saloon to set the scene and carriage noises in the street, and distracting with pratfalls that do not need to be there—directed by Buzz Halsing, the actors are capable of being effective in physical comedy without accompaniment. Eugene De Christopher’s set design is marvelous; I have been on tours of mansions from the time period, and it looks like a parlour that would have been in use by a pretentious mayor, with wainscoting, deep burgundy walls, stiff furnishings, and Classical flair. For a relaxed comedy, Janice Koprowski’s costume designs are quite elaborate, from a smoking jacket to multiple gowns for Rose-Marie Monahan.

Way Out West is outrageous tomfoolery with a few good laughs that may be a trifle too ridiculous for some audience members. It could benefit from additional nuances to the shenanigans onstage, but is a fun jaunt through “Old West” San Francisco.

‘Way Out West’ Passes Inspection originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 16, 2017.

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Captivating ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ from Raven Players https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/captivating-the-diary-of-anne-frank-from-raven-players/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/captivating-the-diary-of-anne-frank-from-raven-players/#respond Sun, 09 Apr 2017 23:23:48 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3124

Review of The Diary of Anne Frank
By Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
Adapted by Wendy Kesselman
Based on Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Directed by Diane Bailey

For tickets / schedule :
www.raventheater.org
Raven Performing Arts Center
Healdsburg, CA
Raven Players

RUN: April 7-23, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(April 8, 2017)

The Diary of Anne Frank - Raven Players

Photo by Ray Mabry Photography

When I was a teenager, my mother insisted that I watch the 1959 film adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, and its harsh insight into an era filled with horror yet brimming with humanity and love is a moment I will never forget. This play, revised by Wendy Kesselman, has not lost its power and is staged with a strong cast and dramatic set design by Michael Mingoia at Raven Players.

Forced to go into hiding to avoid being sent on transports to their deaths, the Frank and Van Daan families find themselves together in a tiny set of rooms. Personalities clash, aggravated by claustrophobic conditions, nerves on edge, starvation, and being absolutely silent to avoid detection during the day. Tom Luekens’ sound design is masterful, setting the feel of Amsterdam with rippling water and gulls, snippets of historical radio broadcasts, ominous creaking, and terrifying Gestapo sirens. As a member of the audience, I found myself straining to hear voices from downstairs along with the actors, jumping at every sound.

Mingoia’s set design winds its way up and down multiple levels with a wistful background of painted handwriting from Anne’s journal, mixed with watercolor style paintings based on photographs from her life. Diane Bailey’s direction takes advantage of the space, showing the families at everyday tasks, quietly going to bed, or huddled staring into the sky as an air raid warning screeches across the auditorium. Anne’s story gracefully transitions between diary entries as soliloquies and activity in real time with the inhabitants. The cast embraces their roles and works well as an ensemble, such as the intense confrontation when Mr. Van Daan (Thomas Gibson) is caught stealing bread by an irate Edith Frank (Saskia Baur) who threatens to evict them to the mercies of the Nazis, and family members quickly take sides until reason prevails.

Supporting the bulk of dialogue is the talented young actress Claire Lentz as Anne Frank, whose beautiful smile lights up the stage with joy and laughter, while equally able to feel the suffering of a character with recurring nightmares who struggles with a mother who refuses to accept her. Unfortunately, her voice does not carry well in the large theater, a technique that will improve with time and practice. Her brooding beau, Peter, is portrayed by Ari Vozaitis, who mopes about until Anne draws out his cheerful side just in time for them to be dragged off by the Nazis. Mr. Dussel (Robert Bauer) brings an exhausted, broken realism to his stories of occupied Amsterdam, and an amusing touch with a fussy reaction to Peter’s cat. Dawn Gibson’s Miep Gies is kindness personified, constantly insisting she is not a hero, while proving herself wrong with selfless acts. The idealized father of Anne’s diary, Gregory Skopp’s Otto Frank is the quiet, steady presence that keeps the family going. His final scene is heart wrenching as he relives the last days of each character, trembling when he tells of Anne’s death so close to liberation.

This play is timely, warning of the danger when specific ethnic groups are targeted and dehumanized. Thanks to underwriting by Lauren, Susan, and Hawlyn, teen attendance to this play is free during the entire run. Raven Players’ The Diary of Anne Frank is vibrant and challenging, remaining relevant to a modern audience, with a beautiful set and forceful ensemble.

Captivating ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ from Raven Players originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 9, 2017.

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Humanity Fights for Survival in ‘The Birds’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/humanity-fights-for-survival-in-the-birds/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/humanity-fights-for-survival-in-the-birds/#respond Sun, 09 Apr 2017 00:55:35 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3129

Review of The Birds
By Conor McPherson
Adapted from a short story by Daphne du Maurier
Directed by Elizabeth Craven
For tickets / schedule :
www.mainstagewest.com
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: April 7-23, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(April 7, 2017)

Main Stage West - The Birds

Photo from Main Stage West

Bay Area residents are well aware of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, which was filmed in Bodega Bay, and while the play is set in the same world where birds flock together to attack their nemesis, humans, it is based on the work by Daphne du Maurier, where survivors join together for shelter in an abandoned New England cabin. Time jumps between each scene, strung together as snippets of reactions, often ignoring crucial pieces of information for tantalizing insights, rather than a linear plot. The anchor is Diane (Liz Jahren) a former author on the run whose sanity is faltering under the stress of constant attacks by birds, the loss of her family, and twisted love for Nat (Nick Sholley) whom she met on the road.

The Birds, while an intriguing concept, rang hollow. It is too cheerful for a thriller, rather tame to be post-apocalyptic, and melodramatic for a comedy. As a result, it feels scattered, with snippets of excellent theater, such as the entrance of the Mad Max road warrior neighbor in ornate handmade armor from costume designer and actor Anthony Shaw Abaté, exuberant delight when scavenging hoarded pound cake, and the cold-hearted actions of conniving Diane, but overall there is no connecting theme that holds the play together; it has a War of the Worlds vibe without the frightening follow through.

Characters are casual and relaxed the majority of the time, despite their situation, acting out in minor ways by jumping to radical conclusions or playing little tricks to get on each other’s nerves. For a plot that examines what happens when people begin losing their humanity and turning on each other, the cast is quite calm and upbeat with hints of unrest. Emotional moments pass by quickly, making it difficult to connect with and follow the progression of character development that leads to the rather shocking decisions made in the final act.

Liz Jahren’s Diane is poised and appears quite normal, with a proclivity for nasty journaling, and is effective in her nervous body language when Tierney appears wielding a shotgun. Julia (Rae Quintano) lounges across furniture, and is unabashedly in pursuit of Nat; she comes across as either secretive and naïve or a woman with an agenda, switching between the personas in a manner that confuses Diane, aggravating her suspicion. Nat (Nick Sholley) tries to make the best of the situation. “As long as there is kindness, there is hope,” he exclaims, convinced that the human race can be saved, and perhaps with enough people like him, it can.

Despite its lack of focus, this is an entertaining play with fascinating characters and a rich sound design by Doug Faxon—swinging shutters, howling wind, and birds tapping at the walls. For a lighthearted take on the post-apocalyptic genre with an unexpected twist at the end, The Birds is an amusing way to spend the evening.

Humanity Fights for Survival in ‘The Birds’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 9, 2017.

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Tempers Flare in ‘The Sunshine Boys’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/tempers-flare-in-the-sunshine-boys/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/tempers-flare-in-the-sunshine-boys/#respond Thu, 06 Apr 2017 02:07:30 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3117

Review of The Sunshine Boys
By Neil Simon
Directed by Ron Nash
Marin Onstage
For tickets / schedule :
marinonstage.org
Belrose Theatre, San Rafael

RUN: March 31 – April 15, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(April 1, 2017)

Marin Onstage - The Sunshine Boys

Photo from Gary Gonser

The bustling heyday of Vaudeville languished toward the late 1940s, leaving comedy teams marooned and turning to alternate work. Inspired by the era are the fictitious “Sunshine Boys”—Al Lewis, who gave up his top hat to become a businessman and retired happily onto a porch in New Jersey, and Willie Clark, who refused to acknowledge that his acting career was over, clinging to every scrap of opportunity, even as he grew too senile to remember the lines. Their vibrant personalities clash; Clark vehemently blames his partner for breaking up the act and forcefully retiring them both from show business, while Lewis is cold and fastidious, convinced he made the right decision, if only his former partner could accept it.

While there are comedic moments, such as a painfully drawn out argument over how to arrange the furniture during a rehearsal, director Ron Nash has chosen a more dramatic angle on the play, concentrating on the tempestuous team and strained relationship of Clark with his nephew, Ben, who is moved to tears when he finally connects with his uncle in the final act. Nash is unafraid of silence, encouraging natural pauses that build tension and creating realistic characters who are awkward, irritated, and somehow pressing on while caught in a situation they would rather avoid.

Grey Wolf as the curmudgeonly Willie Clark is the grandfather you love, but are equally relieved to leave behind. He portrays the older actor with a playful spirit beneath the bitterness, which comes out in a cheerful dance during an advertising jingle, while maintaining a character whose health is failing, holding on through force of will. Richard Kerrigan is the every man as Ben Silverman, the nephew who refuses to give up on his feisty relative. Their scenes of talking at cross purposes and not listening properly are all too accurate of conversations within a family. Michael Walraven’s Al Lewis is debonair with an air of suspicion, carefully accurate in details—brushing off a chair before sitting, or holding the grimy telephone well away from his pristine suit jacket.

Marin Onstage - The Sunshine Boys

Photo from Gary Gonser

During the play, a vintage Vaudeville act is reproduced, complete with over-the-top props, groan worthy one-liners, and a sexy nurse whose job is to jiggle about on stage and bat her eyes, which strains a modern audience. Christina Jaqua’s alternate ego, the Registered Nurse, restores the depiction of women with an irreverent character who can match wits with Clark’s attempts at humor, and brazenly eats her way through his chocolate.

The Sunshine Boys depicts the misery of a faded career, the danger of ignoring age and circumstances rather than accepting that life is changing, and the power of reconciliation, even if it isn’t perfect. Marin Onstage has a contemplative, grittier staging of the play than the usual bantering comedy, which allows the depth of Lewis and Clark’s story to be revealed in a different way. The intimate Belrose Theater is well adapted for this type of production, which feels like being inside Clark’s tiny, worn hotel room as part of the action.

Tempers Flare in ‘The Sunshine Boys’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 6, 2017.

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Transcendence Music and Dance Inspires https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/transcendence-music-and-dance-inspires/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/transcendence-music-and-dance-inspires/#respond Tue, 04 Apr 2017 05:25:23 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3107

Best of Broadway Under the Stars
Review by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

Directed by Roy Lightner and Tony Gonzalez
Music Direction by Daniel Weidlein
Choreography by Dylan Smith and Roy Lightner

For tickets / schedule :
www.transcendencetheatre.org
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
Transcendence Theatre Company

RUN: March 11-12, 2017
Extended run at Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, March 18-19, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(March 11, 2017)

The Best of Broadway Under the Stars - LBC

Photo by Ray Mabry

After producing theater and music shows for 20 years, I was pleasantly surprised by the music and dance, rhythms and humor of this show. It is a pleasure to experience good productions again that fill the heart with the great energy that transcends the plodding seasons of shows many theaters are providing these days.

Good Broadway musicals leave you singing your favorite songs as you walk out into the real world. Transcendence takes these wonderful songs, and adds new choreography, costumes, singers and energy to them to bring them alive again. It doesn’t hurt to have a 30 foot thrust into the audience to let the performers sing to you up close and personal. It doesn’t hurt to have 25 professional dancers/singers with big stage experience perform singly and in unison with the best material they can find and arrange. Finally, it doesn’t hurt to have a big band play all the music for the show.

The Best of Broadway Under the Stars - LBC

Photo by Ray Mabry

In “Don’t Rain on my Parade”, from Funny Girl, Meggie Cansler sings as she walks downstage with a voice that fills the auditorium with unforgettable sounds and quality that condenses the entire show for us into one song. Follow this with Eric Jackson leading eight men in a signature Fosse jazz arrangement of “Bye Bye Blackbird” that honors the Bob Fosse traditional dance forms while showing us what the flock can do with good dancers.

“I Can Do That”, from A Chorus Line, allows Rachel Thomas a chance to teach an amazing new dancer, Evan Ruggerio, a new tap dance step or two—or is it the other way around? I learned what talent, guts and fortitude can do. Crazy for You gave us “I Got Rhythm”, but with the entire troupe tapping to the music, we get a broad sense of what is possible with this company, and it warms the heart and feet.

Leah Sprecher and Stephan Stubbins do Andrew Lloyd Webber and Les Miserables. Yes, I mean they really do a full medley of both, with irreverent humor and charm.

Forget the strong voices of the two for a minute and focus on the words. Having seen many shows of Mr. Webber and, of course, Les Miserables, I could place all the music. The two sets were amazing, non-stop fun.

Amy Miller, Brad Surosky and Stephan Stubbins are the executive life blood of this company. They started Transcendence as performers who wanted to make a difference in the world. True to form, they continue to dance and sing onstage, appearing as major singers in this show even after five years of guiding the company to new heights. Their dedication to professional quality is obvious.

For large vision music and dancing, the Transcendence Theatre Company is making its presence known in the North Bay. On March 18-19, they journeyed to the Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael with a reprise of this show. They return to their Jack London Park summer venue on June 16, 2017, with their “Another Openin’ Another Show!”.

Transcendence Music and Dance Inspires originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 4, 2017.

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In the Company of Outstanding Talent https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/in-the-company-of-outstanding-talent/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/in-the-company-of-outstanding-talent/#respond Tue, 04 Apr 2017 05:01:01 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3098

Company
Review by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Directed by Patrick Nims
Musical direction by Andrew Klein
Choreography by Kate Kenyon

For tickets / schedule :
www.novatotheatercompany.org
Novato Theater Company
Novato, CA

RUN: March 23 to April 16, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(March 26, 2017)

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Company is a surprising show by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth. Written in 1970, the Broadway production won 6 Tony Awards in that year, including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Lyrics and Best Score.

Although this is not my favorite Sondheim show, the quality of this amateur production surprised me. The actors were well defined and their relationships made sense, sometimes all too painfully. This show is the one to see at the Novato Theatre Company this year.

Director Nims sets his sights on telling it like it is, at least as far as the playwright allows. He does not pull many punches with his characterizations, and draws the appropriate emotions out of his cast to add depth to the roles. Sometimes strong and boisterous, sometimes shy and hidden, the couples and singles emerge through the show to break out in the final scenes as people I might know.

The set is simple and functional, but never dull or boring. The background lighting expands the mood shared by the characters in transparent shades of blue through pink. Choreographer Kenyon moves her characters in different groups and ensemble dances smoothly and carefully to really define the space; I appreciate the effective simplicity of her work with these people who are not really dancers, but are actors and singers.

What to do about Robert? Robert Nelson plays the part in understated ways, alternately merging with his friends and pulling out to see what he has become in the process. He is the focus of Company, but rather than being outspoken, he is the counterpoint to other actors to bring out their characters. Perhaps this is why he is the friend to all, while still defining himself. Nelson plays the part well.

Stephen Beecroft and Paula Gianetti become the essence of “blood spilled” on the stage (metaphorically, of course!). They are both experienced actors who can retain their characters in this explosive relationship. They are memorable to watch and enjoy, even if the underlying message has cynical undertones. Gianetti’s rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch” is complete and accurate to the writer’s intent: ironic and hopeless. Beecroft also did an outstanding job with fight choreography.

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Did I say I was surprised by this production? Nicole Thordsen was one major reason. Her rendition of “Getting Married Today” (subtitled “I’m not getting married today”) was just amazing. The staccato words flowed like a Tommy gun over the audience, loud and clear, thanking everyone in the scene but no thanks. I got the picture!

Amanda Morando and Gillian Eichenberger stand out for the quality of their singing and the roles they play. As totally different competitors for Robert’s affections, they show the soft and hard sides of love; could it be that they embody the theme of the story here?

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Good Broadway musicals leave you singing your favorite songs as you walk out into the real world. The cast did a wonderful job presenting the music, but the songs did not stand out to stay with me. Sondheim tries to be unique with his music, writing for each of the many situations that the actors experienced on stage. No musical theme for the show emerged from this variety.

Overall, Company at Novato Theater Company is well done and energetic, with a good cast that is able to develop the many personalities in the script. I can certainly identify with Robert’s reaction to his well-meaning friends at the conclusion.

In the Company of Outstanding Talent originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 4, 2017.

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Invigorating ‘Company’ in Novato https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/invigorating-company-in-novato/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/invigorating-company-in-novato/#respond Sat, 01 Apr 2017 00:58:52 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3089

Review of Company
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Directed by Patrick Nims
Musical direction by Andrew Klein
Choreography by Kate Kenyon

For tickets / schedule :
www.novatotheatercompany.org
Novato Theater Company
Novato, CA

RUN: March 23 to April 16, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(March 31, 2017)

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Commitment can be a terrifying word when it comes to relationships; is marriage fulfilling or a nightmare? Is there an advantage to staying single, or will you miss out on something special? When Robert reaches 35, he wrestles with the classic dilemma, receiving a plethora of advice from his married friends, from the balance of giving up independence for the sake of being with the person you love, to fear of losing individual identity, and a sound suggestion that it isn’t enough to want marriage in general, it needs to be desired for a specific person instead. Rather than a linear story, he wafts through vignettes of couples that he knows—the fun and wild duo wrestling through their living room, Jenny and David who have little in common and manage to stay together through force of will, and a captivating incident of premarital jitters with Robert as the hapless Best Man. Throughout the evening come echoes of “Bobby, Bobby!” from backstage, constantly harassing him into a relationship.

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Paula Gianetti’s Joanne is outwardly loud and bitter, with an inner yearning for acceptance behind her chain-smoking veneer. Her The Ladies Who Lunch is belted out with dramatic fervor, to the chagrin of Larry (Stephen Beecroft) her put-upon, but attentive husband. Amanda Morando is the self confident Marta, with a fascinating commentary on New York and the importance of truly seeing those you come into contact with, rather than walking past without noticing the crowd. She is unafraid of celebrating her unique personality, and does not push Robert to be a person he is not. Nicole Thordsen’s Amy is a standout in her neurotic panic attack, gibbering about boiled orange juice and marriage while being serenaded by Jennifer Rodway’s increasingly satirizing lyrics, clutching a bouquet of lilies with counterfeit innocence. It is Robert Nelson who carries the show, with lengthy solos, such as Someone is Waiting and Being Alive. His soothing voice and earnest quest for a partner are easy to sympathize with.

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Informed observations on marriage appear throughout the musical, such as relationships being built on the little things done together, but ultimately it is a comedy with over-the-top lyrics and dances, complete with top hats and a chorus line. Choreographer Kate Kenyon tosses out an amusing reference to Charlie’s Angels when the three single women take on You Could Drive a Person Crazy. Director Patrick Nims arranges the large cast with care throughout the play, keeping the overall visual lively, even when couples are not actively participating in a scene. I appreciated that Marina Nims’ costume design was based on the personality of characters, rather than rigid period accuracy.

Company’s songs are not memorable, and include often repeated phrases, but it is a charming experiment in using a theme, rather than plot to create a musical. Novato Theater Company has gathered a talented core of actors who are a triple threat—they can sing, dance, and act. Company in Novato is an enchanting production exploring the comedic pitfalls of marriage through a series of scenes chronicling lovers and their struggles.

Invigorating ‘Company’ in Novato originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 1, 2017.

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Worldviews Challenged in ‘Visiting Mr. Green’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/worldviews-challenged-in-visiting-mr-green/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/worldviews-challenged-in-visiting-mr-green/#respond Mon, 27 Mar 2017 19:29:15 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3082

Review of Visiting Mr. Green
By Jeff Baron
Directed by David L. Yen

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

RUN: March 17 – April 2, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(March 26, 2017)

6th Street Playhouse - Visiting Mr Green

Photo © Eric Chazankin

When it comes to family, expectations are rooted out of genuine concern, but that can make them the least understanding people in our lives, and the hardest to tell about choices that will not be approved of. In Visiting Mr. Green, two generations are thrown together, suspicious and wary at first, used to their own solitary ways, until familiarity and time pry open their hearts. Playwright Jeff Baron draws on personal experience to humanize both characters—from the seemingly closed minded Mr. Green to forward thinking Ross Gardiner, in scenes that are vibrantly familiar. Their clashing points of view are tempered by gentle personalities, willing to listen and apologize during misunderstandings.

The story takes place in a series of scenes set a week apart, requiring swift costume and set changes. David L. Yen’s direction keeps it simple enough to be accomplished with swift dexterity. The brief pause between scenes gives a breath of time to reflect, leading into the next encounter. Sam Transleau’s set design recreates a vintage apartment of a shut in who is disinterested in change. Touches of unseen characters influence it—a coat from Mr. Green’s wife Yetta, a photograph of Rachel. Their spirits are as present in the play as the men that we see onstage.

6th Street Playhouse - Visiting Mr Green

Photo © Eric Chazankin

Al Kaplan is magnificent as Mr. Green; his family background influences the portrayal with a natural attitude toward Ross, and brings an emotional resonance to their relationship. When the younger man appears, broken, rejected by his family, Mr. Green reaches out and becomes the father Ross needs, overcoming his personal beliefs out of compassion. Kevin Kieta’s Ross Gardiner is a vulnerable performance, maturing the character from a man who feels he must pretend to be someone else to pushing past what has been holding him back. Kieta’s outbursts of truth resonate with anyone who has been restricted from admitting who they are for fear of isolation and censure.

Visiting Mr. Green encourages reaching for reconciliation in an active way, rather than waiting for it to magically happen. It is a difficult road, and will not occur overnight—it requires constant work and a willingness to articulate the pain without holding back. Spend an evening at 6th Street Playhouse with two courageous characters in Visiting Mr. Green’s powerful reflection on fatherhood.

Worldviews Challenged in ‘Visiting Mr. Green’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on March 27, 2017.

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‘The Sugar Bean Sisters’ Supernatural Antics https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-sugar-bean-sisters-supernatural-antics/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-sugar-bean-sisters-supernatural-antics/#respond Sun, 26 Mar 2017 19:22:01 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3070

Review of The Sugar Bean Sisters
By Nathan Sanders
Directed by Denise Elia-Yen

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: March 17 – April 9, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(March 24, 2017)

Spreckels The Sugar Bean Sisters Rohnert Park

Photo © Eric Chazankin

When sisters have been living too long together, tempers bubble to the surface, causing unfounded squabbling mingled with compassion. Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen’s set design is a crumbling shrine to the Nettle sisters’ departed parents in a humid, marshy version of Miss Havisham’s dusty sanctuary; rotting wood and Christmas decorations linger on the edges of the stage as a reminder of their passing. Deep in sugar bean territory, infested with mosquitos, the neglected house sinks into the mire, taking its inhabitants along with it.

The eldest sister, Willie Mae Nettles, suffers from loneliness, clutching at the hope of finding a husband to love her, while weighed down by her age and appearance making that unlikely. Mollie boice’s nervous energy realistically depicts a paranoid woman who has stretches of calm with an other worldly sense of delight. Mary Gannon Graham’s fiery Faye Nettles seems to be the practical, common sense sister until her eyes light up with the promise of returning alien visitors coming to take her away from the meaningless state her life has become, trapped in her role as caregiver in a dank house far from civilization. She needs that release desperately enough to go to extreme lengths to achieve her perception of freedom. The transition from irritated helpmate to violent machinations felt rushed and out of character, perhaps there was not enough in the script to work with, but a gradual shift in behavior or reactions may have smoothed that in earlier scenes.

Spreckels The Sugar Bean Sisters Rohnert Park

Photo © Eric Chazankin

The Sugar Bean Sisters opens in silence as a mysterious visitor pokes about the house, searching it with careless indifference to the inhabitants, making herself at home with the cookie jar and vanity mirror. Director Denise Elia-Yen brings out Lydia Revelos’ physical comedy in an engaging introduction to Vidella Sparks, who flounces her way through the window, losing colorful feathers and her dignity, but capturing the audience’s heart. Pamela Johnson’s exotic costume design combined with Revelos’ mincing steps creates a flighty, dangerous creature who is not what she appears to be.

For a story about alien landings and sisterly antics, it has a grounded feel to it with touching moments of family connection and loss interspersed with outlandish side stories, such as the melodramatic Reptile Woman (Sharon Griffith) wielding voodoo prophecies, and Vidella Sparks’ sinister exit. Join the Nettles in this supernatural comedy set in the depths of Florida’s swampland.

‘The Sugar Bean Sisters’ Supernatural Antics originally appeared on Imagination Lane on March 26, 2017.

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‘peerless’ is Deftly Crafted Dark Comedy https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/deftly-crafted-dark-comedy-in-peerless/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/deftly-crafted-dark-comedy-in-peerless/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 04:02:28 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3058

Review of peerless
By Jiehae Park
Directed by Margot Bordelon

For tickets & schedule:
www.marintheatre.org
Marin Theatre Company
Mill Valley, CA

RUN:
March 9 – April 2, 2017

RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(March 22, 2017)

Marin Theatre Company - peerless

Photo by Kevin Berne

I will not look at gluten free cookies again without thinking of peerless. Playwright Jiehae Park populates this imaginative retelling of Macbeth with exaggerated versions of high school students we can relate to—D, the dopey nerd who manages to enjoy life in spite of himself, Dirty Girl, who disgusts and mesmerizes, dragging on a cigarette and ignoring expectations, and the driven academic achievers who eschew anything that does not fit into their perfect plan. While realistic, the drama heightens their personalities to throw a light on societal flaws. The pressure of being accepted to “The College” drives students to murder for a place, while gender and race gaps are addressed with brutal satire.

It is the sound of this play that is truly unique. Phrases are tossed back and forth, interrupting in overlapping chorus. The twins, L (Rinabeth Apostol) and M (Tiffany Villarin) begin in unison, almost with their own language, until it becomes clear that one dominates the other, and their relationship takes a damaging codependent turn, changing their intimacy into poison. Sound designer Palmer Hefferan creates an ever shifting background that culminates in the visceral and disturbing skittering rats that travel from one side of the stage to the other, using a trail of small speakers backstage. The atmosphere he creates is chilling, combined with Heather Basarab’s lighting design, which flashes into use during the hauntings.

Marin Theatre Company - peerless

Photo by Kevin Berne

References to Macbeth abound, from knocking to shouts of “Wake up!” a modern translation of “Sleep no more!” Rosie Hallett’s Dirty Girl is grounded with an air of dark prophecy to her, adding layers of magical realism that leave the audience wondering if perhaps she does see the future. Underneath the snappy repartee is an aura of mysticism that permeates the story, right until the final curtain. Kate Noll’s set design utilizes three sliding doors that move the narrative along—the middle panel might reveal a dance studio bathed in fuchsia light with a chattering L one moment, then close with the far right revealing a high school classroom of M and BF arguing about grades the next. It is a functional and dynamic way to shift between locations, although the brisk pace makes the story difficult to follow without prior familiarity with Macbeth.

M labors under the dictates of her sister, repressing the first glimmer of love, which Villarin’s expressive portrayal displays in soft shifts of expression, discomfort, and guilt which slowly drives her character mad. Apostol’s domineering L carries herself with vicious confidence, bereft of pity in her single-minded goal. Jeremy Kahn as D is awkwardly enthusiastic, naively reminiscing while L plots his downfall. His artless rambling about death and conquering fear is irresistibly charming.

Peerless is a nimble comedy of captivating characters with a twisted sense of humor and remarkable execution. Its clever dialog and ruthless twins take the stage by storm, leaving the audience laughing, and confused as to why they are doing so. Marin Theatre Company’s West Coast premiere of peerless is a rousing success.

‘peerless’ is Deftly Crafted Dark Comedy originally appeared on Imagination Lane on March 24, 2017.

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Impactful Journey in ‘Program 5: Contemporary Voices’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/impactful-journey-in-program-5-contemporary-voices/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/impactful-journey-in-program-5-contemporary-voices/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 06:13:45 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3044

Program 5: Contemporary Voices
Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson
For tickets & schedule:
www.sfballet.org

San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA

RUN: March 9-19, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

March 19, 2017

In these three curated pieces, San Francisco Ballet explores a powerful coming of age story in Salome, the intensely sensual Fearful Symmetries, and a hopeful future in the compelling Fusion from Yuri Possokhov. This is a dynamic program, filled with expressive dancing and poignant choreography.

Fusion - San Francisco Ballet

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Yuri Possokhov’s “Fusion” at San Francisco Ballet. (© Erik Tomasson)

Fusion
Choreographer: Yuri Possokhov
Composers: Graham Fitkin & Rahul Dev Burman

Delicate musicality infuses this melding of traditional and progressive movement. Enhanced with flowing costumes by Sandra Woodall, white robed men turn in casual fluidity, weaving with serene music and simple undulating torsos. The partnering in Fusion is unusual and creative, utilizing angled port de bras and subtle connections—a comforting hand or light twist of the shoulder. In a dramatic pas de deux, the ballerina darts through a wall of corps de ballet to her waiting partner shrouded in darkness, only to find herself alone, cast back into the light.

The steps have a gentle detail to them, rather like ornate filigree. James F. Ingalls’ lighting design brings the piece from soft twilight through the day, sliding gradually into shadow, with a precision that is reflected throughout. It is a restful piece that is elegant and quietly hopeful.

Salome - San Francisco Ballet

Dores André, right, and Aaron Robison in the world premiere of Arthur
Pita’s “Salome” at San Francisco Ballet. (© Erik Tomasson)

Salome
Choreographer: Arthur Pita
Composer: Frank Moon

Loosely based on the Biblical tale of King Herod and Herodias, it wavers on the border between theater and dance; as Ballet Master Katita Waldo pointed out in a pre-performance talk, rather than being driven entirely by the movement, Salome depends on sets, lighting, and costumes—they are not just a frame, but integral to the production, leading to the term “dance theater” to describe this type of structure.

An ominous, cinematic score washes across the stage, lifting billowing fog as a black limousine slides into view. Flanked by bodyguards, “the family” emerges, stalking downstage with eerie confidence. While the visuals in this ballet are stunning, at its core is the journey that Salome is forced to endure. She is unsure at first, clutching her gown, eyes darting in exploration and uncertainty. When the hostages appear, she draws on inner strength, her posture straightening, her reactions gathering an elevated domination as she tests her newfound power. When Salome embraces the physicality of her environment, explosions of petals shoot across the stage with deepening red hues, littering the stage in ever fluctuating rivers of blood hued ground, bringing to mind the “red” scenes in Hero, a Chinese film that used a similar cinematic technique. Salome revels in her position, until its inevitable conclusion drives her to question what she has become, leading to a chilling denouement that leaves the audience shivering as the fog returns, covering the glowing limousine as the curtain falls.

Dores André gives riveting performance as Salome, turning her from an innocent child-like girl through a horrific coming of age, revulsion, and ultimate maturing, using body language of how she walks and reacts to others. Aaron Robison’s John maintains a dignity tempered with outbursts of fiery rebellion against his captors, taking to the strongly grounded and primitive choreography with ease. Val Caniparoli’s Herod and Anita Paciotti’s Herodias have no dancing, using their presence and experience to guide them; the stillness adding to their cruelty.

Fearful Symmetries - San Francisco Ballet

Lorena Feijoo, right, and Luke Ingham in Liam Scarlett’s “Fearful
Symmetries” at San Francisco Ballet. (© Erik Tomasson)

Fearful Symmetries
Choreographer: Liam Scarlett
Composer: John Adams

Taken from William Blake’s poem The Tyger, this ballet is starkly contemporary, set on a black stage with geometric bars of white light that shift in patterns. Dancers trace the floor with pulsing energy, isolating joints and limbs for oscillating rhythm interspersed with snapping ferocious speed.

John Morrell’s post-apocalyptic charcoal gray costumes lend a futuristic, ragged feel as multi layered as the music. Despite the frantic pace, there is a sense of community between the dancers onstage, building suspense into a series of intimately sensual encounters under a rich soundscape. The interplay of the corps de ballet keeps the dancers in constant flux, each with a specific role to play, like looking through a powerful microscope. There is a give and take of control throughout the piece, which pairs well with Salome, although it is a darker expression of subjugation.

Impactful Journey in ‘Program 5: Contemporary Voices’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on March 22, 2017.

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Boisterous Fun in ‘Emma! A Pop Musical’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/boisterous-fun-in-emma-a-pop-musical/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/boisterous-fun-in-emma-a-pop-musical/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 05:07:07 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3037

Review of Emma! A Pop Musical
Written by Eric Price
Music by various artists
Directed by Libby Oberlin
Vocal Direction by Sherrill Peterson
Choreography by LC Arisman
Sonoma Arts Live
For tickets / schedule :
www.sonomaartslive.org
Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma

RUN: March 9-19, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(March 18, 2017)

Emma! A Pop Musical Sonoma Arts Live teens

Photo from Sonoma Arts Live

Shakespeare plays are regularly staged in contemporary settings, and it was a matter of time before classics such as Jane Austen’s Emma received similar treatment, inspired by the success of Clueless in re-imagining her world for a modern audience. Gathered from students of Sonoma Arts Live’s education director, Libby Oberlin, these teens in training have become Highbury Prep—an elite boarding school housing the timeless characters from Jane Austen’s novel.

Emma! is not so much a musical as a chain of songs chosen to illustrate themes and emotions surfacing in the story, given voice through popular music. They are used to comedic effect, such as a rendition of “Be My Baby” that cooes across the stage whenever Harriet finds a new crush, leading to hysterical laughter when it wafts toward yet another potential beau. The result is infectious frivolity that parallels the plot’s zany matchmaking humor, with additional impact infused by the unpolished but talented young cast.

Emma’s naïveté and enthusiasm are the perfect fit for a high school student; Veronica Love captures her genuine excitement to find Harriet a boyfriend, with wide-eyed enthusiasm and an authoritative voice that speaks to leadership qualities that attract men like Elton and Knightley. Kamryn Conway as Harriet Smith is a strong singer, dominating the stage with “How Will I Know?”. The two women form a compelling duo that brings out their friendship in a way most adaptations avoid in favor of placing Harriet in a simpering, subservient role.

Alex Garber’s Miss Bates is a delightfully awkward old maid stumbling through the school balancing a martini glass and dropping one liners with precise comedic timing. A fellow scene stealer is Cooper Bingham as Jason, the ever present minion of Philip Elton, who’s reactions to the unfolding drama are perennially amusing. Preening himself for a future political career, Philip Elton (Graham Durfee) oils his way through the school with despicable ease; Durfee gives the character realistic adolescent cruelty in his dismissal of Harriet. Jeff Knightley is a difficult role to take on; Knightley balances closely guarded affection for Emma with outward criticism and an innate maturity that sets him apart from her. Max Szanyi maintains a gentleness in his lectures, reaching for her and pulling away, casting glances across the room, and avoids the trap of what Mrs. Elton would call “puppy” responses to his harbored crush.

While the dialog leaves something to be desired, Emma! A Pop Musical is creative fun that will keep your toes tapping with a cast of young actors honing their craft and enjoying the moment as students of Highbury Prep.

Boisterous Fun in ‘Emma! A Pop Musical’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on March 21, 2017.

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‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ in Sebastopol https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/whos-afraid-of-virginia-woolf-in-sebastopol/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/whos-afraid-of-virginia-woolf-in-sebastopol/#respond Sun, 19 Mar 2017 03:58:50 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3030

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 :
www.mainstagewest.com
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.

‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ in Sebastopol originally appeared on Imagination Lane on March 19, 2017.

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Masque Unit Theatre of Marin https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/masque-unit-theatre-company/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/masque-unit-theatre-company/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 23:57:34 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3018

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

Masque Unit Theatre of Marin originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 25, 2017.

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San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Frankenstein’ is a Modern Masterpiece https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/san-francisco-ballets-frankenstein-is-a-modern-masterpiece/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/san-francisco-ballets-frankenstein-is-a-modern-masterpiece/#respond Mon, 20 Feb 2017 22:52:13 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=3004

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

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.

San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Frankenstein’ is a Modern Masterpiece originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 20, 2017.

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Cheeky Homage to the Founding Fathers https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/cheeky-homage-to-the-founding-fathers/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/cheeky-homage-to-the-founding-fathers/#respond Fri, 17 Feb 2017 05:01:49 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2995

Review of 1776
Book by Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Directed by Larry Williams
Music Direction by Lucas Sherman
Choreography by Michella Snider

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: February 10-26, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(February 11, 2017)

1776 Spreckels Theatre Company

Photo © Eric Chazankin

America’s earliest years were passionately contested, with hot-blooded colonials seeking independence, Tories who enjoyed the comfort of life as a British citizen, and those who preferred being left alone and hoped the conflict would pass. The debate came to a focal point when the Second Continental Congress met in the heat of Philadelphia to address the matter. A room filled with sweating politicians sniping at each other does not seem like fodder for a musical, or even a lively documentary; fortunately the combination of a solidly crafted book by Peter Stone and clever lyrics from Sherman Edwards transforms the representatives into larger-than-life characters filled with enthusiasm for their point of view.

Spreckels Theatre Company has pulled together an all-star cast of North Bay musical talent, filling the stage with favorites, from Jacob Bronson’s Courier in the piercingly mournful ballad “Momma, Look Sharp” to Gene Abravaya’s impeccable comedic timing as ladies’ man and genius extraordinaire Benjamin Franklin. Poetic license has been taken with the historical figures, leading to amusing songs such as “The Lees of Old Virginia” which is drenched in puns that leave you smiling and groaning simultaneously. From opening curtain to bows, the play skips along at a lively pace, spotlighting representatives for insight into the buildup of the Declaration of Independence. The 1969 musical holds up marvelously well, but shows its age when depicting women, who are largely objectified or thrust into the backdrop of domesticity.

1776 at Spreckels Theatre Company

Photo © Eric Chazankin

Conflict in 1776 ranges between arguments over whether to keep the windows open to relieve the heat, or closed to keep out flies, to a tragic debate about slavery as the horrified John Adams (Jeff Cote) confronts the smug Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (Anthony Martinez). Each character pulls their weight in the story, crafting a unique individual. It is not a cardboard cutout chorus line—this musical is a gathering of giants, whether they are half asleep and drinking rum, perpetually nose in a book like Thomas Jefferson (David Strock), or striding the boards ranting at the assembly. There are no background roles, which provides a rich canvas to enjoy as an audience member.

If history classes were this exciting, it would be everyone’s favorite subject. 1776 at Spreckels turns dull congress meetings into an inventive masterpiece of comedy, laden with innuendos and fun mingling with deeper questions of what we might be willing to give up as the cost of freedom.

Cheeky Homage to the Founding Fathers originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 17, 2017.

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Riveting Artistry in ‘Program 2: Modern Masters’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/riveting-artistry-in-program-2-modern-masters/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/riveting-artistry-in-program-2-modern-masters/#respond Sat, 11 Feb 2017 23:46:34 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2984

Program 2: Modern Masters
Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson
For tickets & schedule:
www.sfballet.org

San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA

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

February 5, 2017

Playful lyricism becomes stark staccato in this diverse program from San Francisco Ballet featuring a world premiere by Yuri Possokhov, “Optimistic Tragedy”. Presented in the opulent War Memorial Opera House by a world renowned company, it exemplifies the mingling of classical and contemporary through narrative and purely abstract movement. Have you wondered why there are three dances in a repertory program? San Francisco Ballet answered in their blog post The History of Triple Bills.

San Francisco Ballet Ratmansky's Seven Sonatas.

Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas. © Erik Tomasson

Seven Sonatas
Choreographer: Alexei Ratmansky
Composer: Domenico Scarlatti

Relationships blossom in this heartfelt examination of community. Couples come together with miniature stories and varied personalities, from coyly flirtatious to tender embraces of mutual affection, reminiscent of George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” giving vignettes of hope and luminous comfort to each other. Mungunchimeg Buriad flows over the piano, blending perfectly with the dancers, and is on stage with them in a gesture of solidarity. This piece floats with subtle hints of folk dancing and elegant simplicity in Holly Hynes’ costume design of gold edged white gowns.

San Francisco Ballet - Possokhov's Optimistic Tragedy

Possokhov’s Optimistic Tragedy. © Erik Tomasson

Optimistic Tragedy (World Premiere)
Choreographer: Yuri Possokhov
Composer: Ilya Demutsky

In a single short piece, Possokhov elicits a level of emotional resonance that many full length ballets fail to achieve. It is deeply powerful and cinematic, unsurprising considering it was partially inspired by the 1925 film Battleship Potemkin, which I have had the privilege of seeing on a cinema screen with live orchestra accompaniment. The visuals are instantly recognizable, with bold masculine stances in the exclusively male corps de ballet, wild frenzy of battle, augmented by black and white projections, and piles of bodies left from the war that call to mind the bloodied train tracks in Gone With the Wind. It does not glorify conflict; this ballet depicts it in raw ugliness, and through that journey finds beauty.

Yuan Yuan Tan’s Commissary is forced to defend herself from attempted rape, and embodies the shame and shock in a tense pas de deux with the Captain (Aaron Robison) that layers complex feelings of desire, duty, self loathing, and honor with intricate partnering and musicality. Gloomy ocean waves wash across the backdrop, bringing the audience on board the ship, with strong lighting design from Christopher Dennis and mobile ship railings and decks designed by Alexander V. Nichols. Possokhov’s choreography and Tan’s performance are stunning in her character’s death, with seemingly dead weight lifts and manipulation of her limp corpse that require perfect cooperation with her partners. Optimistic Tragedy is a heightened form of dance, showcasing the abilities of the company in a dynamic tribute to those who perished in the Russian Revolution at its 100th anniversary.

San Francisco Ballet - Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2016

Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2016. © Erik Tomasson

Pas/Parts 2016
Choreographer: William Forsythe
Composer: Thom Willems

A vividly modern piece surrounded by bare gray walls and marley, an extensive cast takes to the stage with slanted, direct visuals and flawless technique. The dance is stripped down, emphasizing angles with a sculptural aesthetic to the duets. Intensely contemporary music is monotone and gritty, which becomes wearing given the length; the dancers took ownership of the electronic score, pausing, drawing out, or cutting off with sensitivity that maintains interest all the way through, despite a style of music that not all of us appreciate in the same way as traditional classical compositions.

Program 2: Modern Masters is a selection of challenging contemporary works that delight, horrify, and inspire with sublime artistry and movement.

Riveting Artistry in ‘Program 2: Modern Masters’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 11, 2017.

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‘Forever in a Second’ at Sonoma State University https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/forever-in-a-second-at-sonoma-state-university/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/forever-in-a-second-at-sonoma-state-university/#respond Sat, 11 Feb 2017 21:32:15 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2974

Sonoma State University Forever in a Second

Photo by James Wirth

Review of Forever in a Second
Directed by Kristen Daley
Sonoma State University Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
Sonoma State University, Ives Hall 119
Rohnert Park, CA

RUN: February 10-12, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

February 10, 2017

Forever in a Second is a collection of contemporary dance primarily from choreographer and professor Kristen Daley, with a work by Mark Haim. Underlying the pieces is a sense of our humanity, reaching for what gives value and purpose to life. Local artists have come together for these performances, from dancers and vocalists to original music from Jesse Olsen Bay, who has created collages of sound ranging from serenely contemplative to the harsh cacophony of modern society interpreted through music.

In the Absence (2016)
5 of 5 Stars
Choreography: Kristen Daley in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Jesse Olsen Bay

Chilling loneliness opens this piece with a riveting solo, utilizing stillness and reaching round movement tracing across the floor. The dancers are garbed in ragged sand-colored tunics designed by Ashley Williams, bound together in an oppressive sense of fear, unified and beaten down by circumstances, yet always gazing up, hoping for release. The choreography is earthy and grounded, filled with group lifts and slow exploration, moving from the core with hints of Martha Graham. I have seen this piece before, and it always inspires a sense of beautiful longing.

Sonoma State University Forever in a Second

Photo by James Wirth

Donna Anna Study (2003)
4 of 5 Stars

Choreography: Mark Haim
Music: Recitativo accompagnato: “Don Ottavio son morta…!” and Aria: “Or sai chi l’onore” from W.A. Mozart’s Don Giovanni

An astonishing and clever dance, it uses the rhythm and feel of the opera translated into physicality. Kristen Daley’s strong technique reacts viscerally to the singing as counterpart to emotions being portrayed in the music with silent film style melodrama and comedy. Standing to the side in an ornate 18th century jacket, Jared Wiltse is the passive recipient of Daley’s passionate reprimands. Juxtaposing traditional with modern costuming felt distracting as an audience member, taking away from the dance, which was a joy to watch and unique idea to explore. Mark Wilson’s lighting design shifted seamlessly in parallel with the resonance and drama of the choreography.

I can see everything from here (2016)
4 of 5 Stars
Choreography: Kristen Daley in collaboration with the dancers
Music: “I can see everything from here” by Jesse Olsen Bay

Using the phrase that titles this piece as a motif, the dance ebbs and flows like an ocean with the gentle harmonious humming of three live singers who create a mantra atmosphere and sense of awe. Dancers journey through the stage, switching places, building tension that explodes into screaming agony and settles into leery steps of discomfort, whispering “I can see everything from here.” Uncertainty layers over an ensemble that attempts connection with each other, sliding in graceful passé leaps and constant shifting. Costumes of muted colors in navy blue, burgundy, and moss green emphasize the quiet desperation of this dance.

…the words we have forgotten (Premiere)
5 of 5 stars
Choreography: Kristen Daley in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Jesse Olsen Bay

Thunder rolls into darkness, triggering a brilliant collage of sound effects, from a telegraph to dripping water, traffic, and an echoing heartbeat. This concentrated powerhouse of a pas de deux is filled with nervous energy; it is reminiscent of PTSD victims facing their fear, shaking uncontrollably, yet persisting through support of each other. Aimée Otterson and Jared Wiltse fight to be together, often dancing apart, and rushing past in flashes of complexity. Long straight lines feature in this piece that speaks to anyone who has experienced a tragedy or terror and is struggling to have a relationship with others as a result.

Interface (2012)
3 of 5 stars
Choreography: Kristen Daley in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Jesse Olsen Bay
Text: Peter-Peringer Batten

In the 21st century, we have become a culture of physical disconnect—clinging to smart phones and tablets, spending more time on social media than actually meeting with friends, and rarely having the opportunity for the intimacy of a touch, embrace, or face to face conversation. Interface explores this phenomena, and while the concept is authentic, the dance feels artificial and too literal at times, particularly the concluding tableaux. The center of the piece has energy to it, with chaotic jetés and sprinting from one side of the stage to the other, breaking into small groups and returning to the synchronicity of a crowd with smooth, swinging movements. Dancers use their back to the audience, which is a subtle nod to the meaning of the piece, and even as the last dance on the program, the technical aspects were sharp; unless a jump was meant to slap into the ground as part of the percussion, landings were soft and silent. Geometric and angled, Interface is an intriguing piece and did open discussion about how as a society we need to find better ways to connect that do not involve technology in between.

Kristen Daley continues to impress with her emotionally driven choreography that does not shy away from commentary on current issues. She has gathered a talented group of students, alumni, and local performers; I look forward to what she will bring to the stage this year and beyond.

‘Forever in a Second’ at Sonoma State University originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 11, 2017.

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Imagination Soars in ‘Buyer & Cellar’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/imagination-soars-in-buyer-cellar/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/imagination-soars-in-buyer-cellar/#respond Thu, 09 Feb 2017 04:27:06 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2963

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.

Imagination Soars in ‘Buyer & Cellar’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 9, 2017.

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Friendship at the Breaking Point in ‘A Steady Rain’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/friendship-challenged-in-a-steady-rain/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/friendship-challenged-in-a-steady-rain/#respond Sat, 04 Feb 2017 19:25:48 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2955

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.)

Friendship at the Breaking Point in ‘A Steady Rain’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 4, 2017.

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Power and Artifice Thrive in ‘Evita’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/power-and-artifice-thrive-in-evita/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/power-and-artifice-thrive-in-evita/#respond Tue, 31 Jan 2017 04:36:53 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2950

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.

Power and Artifice Thrive in ‘Evita’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on January 31, 2017.

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‘A Little Night Music’ Charming Edwardian Love Story https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/a-little-night-music-charming-edwardian-love-story/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/a-little-night-music-charming-edwardian-love-story/#respond Mon, 30 Jan 2017 01:16:18 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2942

Review of A Little Night Music
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Inspired by a film by Ingmar Bergman
Directed by James D. Sasser
Music Direction by Craig Burdette
Choreography by Staci Arriaga
Lucky Penny Productions
For tickets / schedule :
http://www.luckypennynapa.com
Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, Napa

RUN: January 27 – February 12, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(January 27, 2017)

Lucky Penny Productions A Little Night Music

Photo from Lucky Penny Productions

In the tradition of tangled romantic comedies that miraculously create perfect endings for each couple, this adorable musical may seem a trifle dusty to modern audiences, which adds to its vintage charm. Rather like a maypole of bright ribbons, lovers are interwoven with each other in varying degrees of happiness and misery, yearning for others, and dissatisfied with their lot, despite lovely surroundings and attentive servants. Through accidental circumstances and deliberate subterfuge, the knots are unwoven and carefully tied into ideal little bows of romantic bliss, interspersed with ditties and laments. While the music does not create standouts, it is always delightful, with the amusing duet “You Must Meet My Wife”, ensemble piece “A Weekend in the Country”, and flirtatious “The Miller’s Son”.

James D. Sasser and Barry Martin’s set design rotates to fully engage each side of the stage, with tattered purple drapes reminiscent of wedding décor fluttering overhead. Taylor Bartolucci’s props make each location instantly recognizable, while keeping a minimalist feel that does not involve extensive scenery changes, so the play flows well without lengthy transitions. There are some odd choices in placement and direction, causing actors to perform with their backs to the audience, which hampers the drama and without better microphones often renders them unintelligible beneath the musicians, particularly Katie Motter’s Anne Egerman. Pianist Craig Burdette and cellist Ami Nashimoto were lovely accompaniment, even if the sound balance was off, and their vitality was a highlight of the musical.

Lucky Penny Productions A Little Night Music

Photo from Lucky Penny Productions

This ensemble has sparkling chemistry, from flippant barbs to unrequited love. While over-the-top farce and more traditional musical comedy styles need to find a more universal tone across the ensemble, overall they worked well together. Sasser’s lawyer Frederik Egerman portrays a midlife identity crisis as he is torn between the young man he was and the person he has become. Ellen Brooks’ Madame Armfeldt is the grandmother you always wanted, with deliciously suggestive stories, a penchant for cards, and dash of the dreamer. Her protégé Fredrika (Charlotte Kearns) captivates with every entrance, while maintaining a Victorian sense of manners and presence. Wickedly sharp-tongued with one liners that would make James Bond jealous, Jenny Veilleux as Countess Charlotte Malcolm cut well with her delivery and expressions. Desirée Armfeldt (Dyan McBride) combines raw sex appeal with a genuine desire to be deeply loved by a stable family, and is willing to risk opening her heart to gain that ideal with the wistful song “Send in the Clowns”. Robert Francis’ Henrik Egerman gathered laughter with his melodramatic pain of secret passion and physical comedy.

Lucky Penny Productions A Little Night Music

Photo from Lucky Penny Productions

A Little Night Music is like opening a box of different flavored petits fours and trying them one after another; it is light and fluffy with occasional darker themes that leaves you entertained and in a pleasant mood, ready to believe the best of the world when it comes to love conquering all.

‘A Little Night Music’ Charming Edwardian Love Story originally appeared on Imagination Lane on January 30, 2017.

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‘Native Son’ Challenges Perceptions https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/native-son-challenges-perceptions/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/native-son-challenges-perceptions/#respond Sun, 22 Jan 2017 20:39:32 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2931

Review of Native Son
By Nambi E. Kelley
Adapted from the novel by Richard Wright

Directed by Seret Scott
For tickets / schedule :
www.marintheatre.org
Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley

RUN: January 19 – February 12, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(January 20, 2017 – Preview Night)

Native Son Nambi E Kelley Marin Theatre

Photo by Kevin Berne

Trapped by circumstances and fear, a young African American is on the run, drowning in an ever shrinking world of suspicion and paranoia, until he falls shivering onto a snowy rooftop in South Side Chicago. In that moment, memories flit across his consciousness, mingling past and present, reliving the cause of his distress in an overlapping kaleidoscope of time. This electrifying 90-minute play is a window into the mind of Bigger, mingling factual events with feverish imagination in a non-linear narrative. Nambi E. Kelley draws from Edward Burghardt Du Bois’ idea of double consciousness to explain the duality of experience that oppressed minorities feel, pulling between who they are and what society expects them to be; rather than looking directly at oneself, it is always through the lens of outside perception. This can be true of racial differences and economic struggles, and is a concept that desperately needs to be understood as a reality in our current society.

Rather than using plain monologue to reproduce Bigger’s inward conflict, Kelley personifies it in The Black Rat, allowing for dynamic internal dialogue and commentary without interrupting the flow. Seret Scott’s direction keeps the core of the story clear, while deftly moving between locations and chronology through use of Giulio Cesare Perrone’s sparse wood beam set and the lighting design of Marc Stubblefield, who shifts the audience’s attention as needed.

Native Son Nambi E Kelley Marin Theatre

Photo by Kevin Berne

Native Son premiered in Chicago, with Jerod Haynes as Bigger, who is reprising his role for Marin Theatre Company. Haynes’ performance is vulnerable, allowing for an intimate connection with his character, while the physicality of Bigger’s building terror drives him into excruciating violence. William Hartfield’s The Black Rat is an ever present shadow, remarking on situations with acerbic wit and alternatively trying to restrain Bigger and taunt him, as internal voices are wont to do. He is the collected calm to Bigger’s primal emotions. Cautiously optimistic and ready to take on the world is Dane Troy as Buddy, who ambles through memories with his comic book, a timely nod to Marvel’s recent work with African American stories such as the Netflix series Luke Cage and the revised Iron Man, Riri Williams.

Kelly Wright (Hannah) is a powerhouse in this production, transforming a brief role into both touches of comedy and an anguished mother pleading for her son’s life. Adam Magill’s Jan is a starry-eyed dreamer who wants to see the best in people, but has no idea of the true darkness of their situation. Rosie Hallett (Mary) bounces with naïve enthusiasm, weaving between a giggling heiress and haunting reminder of Bigger’s tragedy. Ryan Nicole Austin is the conscience of the story—her characters love Bigger, wanting the best for him, and slowly have that hope stripped away. Her horror and isolation in the freezing snow, watching him slip away from her is grim and terrifying. She is the heart of this adaptation, demonstrating the depth to which Bigger falls when panicking about his future.

Native Son is an exacting confrontation of the harsh circumstances that surround racial minorities and the economically deprived, hemmed in by a world that ignores or despises them, demanding that they act and speak and look a certain way, regardless of internal needs. While Bigger gives in to those expectations, he feebly fights against them, angry at himself and those who forced him to see himself as a monster. This passionate and heart-pounding drama is a unique view into the soul of a man cornered by prejudice and despair.

Due to mature themes and sexual content, I recommend this play for high school age and above.

‘Native Son’ Challenges Perceptions originally appeared on Imagination Lane on January 22, 2017.

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A Life Lived Fully Can Change the Universe https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/a-life-lived-fully-can-change-the-universe/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/a-life-lived-fully-can-change-the-universe/#respond Mon, 16 Jan 2017 02:33:42 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2916

Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight
Review by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

By Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Patricia Miller

For tickets / schedule :
www.rossvalleyplayers.com
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross, CA
Ross Valley Players

RUN: January 13 – February 5, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(January 14, 2017)

Emilie Defends Her Life Ross Valley Players

Photo by Ross Valley Players

Emilie becomes the retelling of the life of La Marquise du Châtelet, with all the nuances remembered to create a coherent fabric. She existed and the events are real. The rich story of her life is laid out after her death, by Emilie herself interacting with her main characters.

Lauren Gunderson’s premise is superb to sweep the viewer into the story at the right time and place of the adult Marquise, to take us where we need to go: into the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century. Contrary to our current world outlook, the enlightenment focused on science to bring us out of the door opened by the Renaissance, and into the light of progress. Adding Voltaire as the counterpoint to our Emilie provides the perfect balance to the telling.

This play is an amazing production. Gunderson’s script is difficult with concepts that could be lost in a lesser production. Patricia Miller has laid out a feast of ideas for us in a coherent fashion. The French and American Revolutions had not yet happened, Newton was developing his ideas of the universe, and Louis XIV ruled France with an open attitude that fostered scientific exploration. 300 years later, we focus on one woman who lived and worked in that time.

Emilie is our perfect heroine: rich, educated, aristocratic, and published. But she was not happy with the results of her life. The play has Emilie interacting with her history again. She was fond of tying love, as the human dilemma, and philosophy, as the scientific dilemma, together into an understandable science of the universe. These ideas are fused to suggest that a life lived fully can change the universe. The play sets the stage for her to reshape her destiny to realize this end, or not.

Emilie Defends Her Life Ross Valley Players

Photo by Ross Valley Players

Robyn Grahn is fantastic as Emilie. Her surprise and authenticity at the retelling is packed with emotion and energy that sweeps along with her. Here, she is able to interact with her life and change it; what a promise! Grahn takes advantage of the concept and runs with it: flowing from situation to documentation to understanding to speaking out against the limits imposed upon her by her age and peers. This is no small feat. I congratulate Grahn on her wonderful achievement in this production.

Catherine Luedtke worked no small magic as the probable Voltaire who loved Emilie, but who also loved the superiority of man as promoted by 18th century France. Balancing Voltaire’s humanity with the elements of a man wanting to succeed in his world of the court and the scientific community was tricky. Luedtke played up to the challenge, while remaining appropriately in the background to Emilie’s development.

Tamar Cohn played many parts to Emilie’s retelling. She was maid, mom, critic, and collaborator to round out and add color to many scenes. Cohn’s obvious flexibility comes out on this stage. As Emilie’s mother, Cohn explains just how happy she is in her very small world in the household. We can’t wait for Emilie to explode at the very thought of being so confined. Cohn was never the “fifth wheel” of the scenes, but became the very talented opposition needed to complete the role.

Emilie Defends Her Life Ross Valley Players

Photo by Ross Valley Players

Neiry Rojo moved through time with grace and sexuality, playing the “real” Emilie with Voltaire, then Voltaire’s niece and other parts. Rojo was never an extension of the retelling, but was the embodiment of the physical interactions needed to prove the love in relationship to the philosophical questions so required by our heroine.

Shoresh Alaudini plays many parts through Emilie’s life, from her husband to her lover. He is a new actor and works well in these parts.

Reliving one’s life is difficult. There are so many things that we forget in the retelling. Emilie’s set is perfect to separate out the science in a classroom opposite the love in the bedroom. The center of the stage is clear to develop Emilie’s relationships to both. Appropriate to the Age of Enlightenment, Grahn smoothly uses mathematics to define the forces of nature in her life, writing and modifying the equations to match her and our development.

A Life Lived Fully Can Change the Universe originally appeared on Imagination Lane on January 16, 2017.

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Holocaust Journey in ‘Becoming Dr. Ruth’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/holocaust-journey-in-becoming-dr-ruth/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/holocaust-journey-in-becoming-dr-ruth/#respond Mon, 09 Jan 2017 03:54:56 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2904

Review of Becoming Dr. Ruth
By Mark St. Germain
Directed by Elizabeth Craven & Betty Abramson
For tickets / schedule :
www.mainstagewest.com
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: January 5-22, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(January 7, 2017)

Becoming Dr. Ruth Main Stage West

Photo by Larry R. Wagner for the Mendocino Theatre Company.

Dr. Ruth’s dry wit and accessibility transformed sex education and therapy, moving her from a 15-minute radio show into becoming an international celebrity. She is a master at humorous and challenging responses to questions about sexuality, building on years of study and an agile mind. Becoming Dr. Ruth is a reminiscence of the daunting childhood that created her strength and independence. Diane Larson’s scenic design offers a cozy lived-in apartment filled with aging chairs, books, and knick-knacks. Dr. Ruth mourns her third husband who has just passed away, leading her to question who she is without him.

While there are moments of scintillating advice, Becoming Dr. Ruth is primarily the story of her childhood as a Jew escaping from Hitler’s regime. Her singular narrative is told in a matter-of-fact style by Ann Woodhead, adding to the horrific realism. One of the lucky few to be chosen for the Kindertransport program out of Germany, her situation did not improve much in the “kindly” host country. At ten years old, she had to fend for herself, slowly realizing she would never see her parents again. Instead of giving up, she fought to find the person she wanted to be, at times literally, living everywhere from a hard-working kibbutz to the classical avenues of Paris. She discovered her home and purpose in New York, where her dedication and quirky humor found an audience.

Becoming Dr. Ruth Main Stage West

Photo by Larry R. Wagner for the Mendocino Theatre Company.

Woodhead uses items in the apartment to piece together Dr. Ruth’s past, gently wrapping them in packing paper, adding movement to an otherwise inactive play. It is a quietly moving performance, without flash or drama, yet Woodhead keeps attention on her story, with Dr. Ruth’s unique accent and mannerisms. Historical photos are projected through the apartment window in parallel with Woodhead’s performance, and Elizabeth Craven’s sound design brings locations to life—the Kindertransport train station, saying farewell to her mother for the last time, and bustling energy of Times Square. The play rewards an imaginative audience, augmented by the authenticity of Craven and Betty Abramson’s direction.

Becoming Dr. Ruth challenges preconceptions, offering a woman who pushed forward to discover who she was, willing to take risks, and searching to recapture the sense of family that was lost to Auschwitz. In her journey we can discover the strength to keep moving forward, making the difficult decisions necessary to fully realize our potential.

Holocaust Journey in ‘Becoming Dr. Ruth’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on January 9, 2017.

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Sharon McNight in the Glitzy ‘Red Hot Mama’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/sharon-mcnight-in-the-glitzy-red-hot-mama/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/sharon-mcnight-in-the-glitzy-red-hot-mama/#respond Sat, 07 Jan 2017 18:35:35 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2899

Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story
By Sharon McNight
For tickets & schedule:
www.cinnabartheater.org
Cinnabar Theater
Petaluma, CA

RUN:
December 31, 2016 – January 29, 2017

RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(January 6, 2017)

Red Hot Mama Sophie Tucker Cinnabar Theater

Photo from Cinnabar Theater and Sharon McNight

Sophie Tucker defied the expectations of her time, pursuing a theater career instead of staying at home to care for her son, attacking challenges and overcoming them, and taking the entertainment world by storm as a big, beautiful woman who was proud of it, a sentiment immortalized in I Don’t Want to Get Thin. She was unapologetically passionate, pouring her fiery personality into bawdy songs that shocked 20th century audiences. Tony award nominee Sharon McNight steps into those glittering and formidable shoes with an engaging one woman musical filled with dozens of classic Sophie Tucker songs, repartee with the audience, and vignettes set in various dressing rooms, recreated by scenic designer Wayne Hovey, including a run down theater scrawled with graffiti on peeling paint.

Cinnabar has been transformed into an atmospheric cabaret; Red Hot Mama encourages audience participation, from McNight’s flirtatious quips to sing-alongs projected in silent film era inspired cards above the stage. It is an ideal introduction to theater, or for an intimate romantic evening enjoying McNight’s glorious voice belting out memorable pieces such as Hula Lou, If Your Kisses Can’t Hold the Man You Love (Then Your Tears Won’t Bring Him Back) and Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love. Tucker worked with legendary composers: Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George & Ira Gershwin, and Harry M. Woods to name a few. She was in the forefront of new movements, recording wax cylinders with Thomas Edison, appearing in “talkies” as early as 1929, and was so popular as a vaudeville artist that she gave a command performance for King George V at the London Palladium. She was known for dazzling gowns and orchids, recreated in a lovely array by costume designer Patti Whitelock, concluding with Tucker’s trademark furs and feathers for the finale.

Sharon McNight captures Tucker’s powerful presence, mingling it with vulnerable moments through her life—discovering the death of her mother, and contemplating the early days of Tucker’s career that were a difficult struggle. She deftly changes focus to include everyone in the audience, shifting between sides of the stage, and calling out to the far back to make sure they feel part of the experience. Jan Martinelli (bass) and John Shebalin (drums) act as accompaniment and comedic foils. Richard Riccardi portrays her pianist and music director Ted Shapiro. A lack of sufficient rehearsal time affects the production, which will most likely be more polished later in January. McNight’s story has a steady flow to it, interspersing background on Sophie Tucker with musical numbers. The denouement is rather awkward in its construction; the audience was not sure when the final applause was meant to take place. This is perhaps a reflection on what Tucker herself used to offer, but without that context it remains confusing.

Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story embodies the glamour and delightfully risqué music of the beloved entertainer, while offering insights into Sophie Tucker’s history through Sharon McNight’s well researched and candid portrayal. For a spirited evening with a powerful woman of show business, visit Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma to meet Sophie Tucker.

Sharon McNight in the Glitzy ‘Red Hot Mama’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on January 7, 2017.

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Retrospective of North Bay Theater in 2016 https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/retrospective-of-north-bay-theater-in-2016/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/retrospective-of-north-bay-theater-in-2016/#respond Fri, 30 Dec 2016 02:22:52 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2886

The San Francisco North Bay is rich with opportunities to see a wide variety of theater—from polished productions in large venues to swashbuckling adventures perched under a bridge by the Russian River. I was unable to cover every company this year, due to the sheer amount of plays opening simultaneously around the counties, but I am grateful for the hard work of the theater community, even if they may not be specifically mentioned. We are lucky to reside in an area filled with the arts, and my hope is that in 2017 companies will continue to experiment, push the boundaries of regional theater expectations, and of course entertain in the North Bay.

Main Stage West maintained a consistently high standard of thought-provoking plays that tug at the heart and filled their small theater with local talent. Save the dates for their upcoming productions; it is always worth a trip to downtown Sebastopol.

Introducing contemporary and premiere works with stunning set designs and riveting direction, Marin Theatre Company shone this year with Anne Boleyn, a unique perspective on the Reformation in England, The Invisible Hand, a suspenseful and timely piece set in the Middle East, and the sparkling holiday play Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.

A significant standout production was The Curtain Theatre’s staging of The Comedy of Errors set in the 1920s. I was suffering Shakespeare fatigue by late summer, and their lively, madcap romp made it exciting again, prompting a second attendance to enjoy the flapper era mayhem under towering redwoods in Old Mill Park.

The far north had a strong year with the roving Pegasus Theater Company, Curtain Call Theatre, and Cloverdale Performing Arts Center. They are accomplishing a great deal with limited resources, and the drive is beautiful through the rolling hills and forests of Sonoma County. I especially enjoyed Cloverdale’s The Importance of Being Earnest and interactive Puss In Boots.

Dedicated, hard-working, and producing an astonishing number of plays that are often elaborate musicals, 6th Street Playhouse and Spreckels Theatre Company remain the backbone of the North Bay. While they may not always have the highest caliber of presentation, they achieved several memorable productions this year, including Titanic: The Musical, The Little Mermaid, Wait Until Dark, and Baskerville from Spreckels and Anna in the Tropics, Animal Crackers, and A Christmas Carol from 6th Street Playhouse.

There were many other phenomenal artists and productions that could be named, such as the students of Sonoma State University and Lucky Penny Productions in Napa. I look forward to what 2017 has to offer audiences in the North Bay.

Retrospective of North Bay Theater in 2016 originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 30, 2016.

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‘Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley’ is a Holiday Treat https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/miss-bennet-christmas-at-pemberley-is-a-holiday-treat/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/miss-bennet-christmas-at-pemberley-is-a-holiday-treat/#respond Mon, 26 Dec 2016 00:48:56 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2875

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
By Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon
Directed by Meredith McDonough

For tickets & schedule:
www.marintheatre.org
Marin Theatre Company
Mill Valley, CA

RUN:
November 25 – December 18 (Extended to December 23), 2016

RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(December 22, 2016)

Miss Bennet Christmas at Pemberley Marin Theatre Company

Photo by Kevin Berne

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is ‘excessively diverting’; having read and experienced a plethora of Jane Austen inspired works, I can vouch that it ranks at the pinnacle. Characters feel like themselves, the dialog crackles with lighthearted banter, and the love story is genuine and amusing, creating the perfect Christmas gift for ‘Janeites’. Playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon were inspired by an author who was daring enough to write about women in the early 19th century, examining their social position and calling into question practices such as entailment, where the estate was left to the nearest male relative, rather than daughters, while creating vivacious, strong characters who are universal across race and time.

A road trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival brought the two writers of Miss Bennet into a discussion of the lack of holiday plays—endless productions of A Christmas Carol cannot be the future of theater. Their casual conversation turned to taking notes in earnest for an original play. “We do our best work in the car” Melcon quipped in a Q&A Discussion. The result is a tightly paced love story “what if” the characters from Pride & Prejudice met for Christmas several years later. Mary Bennet’s quiet observation and studies have transformed her into a mature and dryly witty young woman, Jane is expecting a child, and Elizabeth sends the household topsy-turvy with her exotic spruce tree decked with candles and bows.

Miss Bennet Christmas at Pemberley Marin Theatre Company

Photo by Kevin Berne

Jane Austen’s quintessential Mr. Darcy (Joseph Patrick O’Malley) has become comfortable in his new situation; O’Malley has an easy grace and gentleness in his portrayal. Cindy Im’s Elizabeth sparkles with holiday spirit, eager to see her family happy and still very much in love with her husband, which does not prevent her teasing him. Laura Odeh’s Anne de Bourgh’s brief appearance is as stately and ferocious as the late Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Odeh’s formidable presence would frighten anyone out of a drawing room. Rather than keeping characters precisely like their personalities in the book, there is growth in both Lydia and Mary. Lydia (Erika Rankin) hides a miserable marriage under her flirtatious exterior, and nasty asides turn into an acceptance of her sisters’ love when they try to help her. Rankin flits in and out of scenes with boundless energy, leaving chaos in her wake.

Martha Brigham’s Mary Bennet is curious and precise; she must have definitions secured, and strides through life as a continuous formal debate, which irritates or inspires, depending on who she is in contact with. Her sisters have ignored her for years, and Mary realizes she is restless in her assigned role in the family, but is unsure what to do about it. Brigham’s comedic timing and clipped delivery of deadpan lines in response to the action is riveting, leaving the audience in hysterics, while also pitying her lot as the sidelined middle sister. It is Adam Magill’s Arthur de Bourgh, an original character, who steals the show with his awkward attempts at romance. Symbolic to the love story’s uncertain course, Mary and Arthur own identical books with different color covers that are swapped back and forth, dropped, and mistaken for each other throughout the scenes. Arthur de Bourgh is a lanky, socially inept Oxford student who has spent his life in libraries, rather than the company of ladies, and is at a loss when he realizes that Mary has secured his affections. Magill draws on his considerable talent at physical comedy, and is a believable addition to the canonical core of characters.

Miss Bennet Christmas at Pemberley Marin Theatre Company

Photo by Kevin Berne

In addition to brilliant writing and a stellar cast, Miss Bennets scenic design and costumes are spectacular. Erik Flatmo’s set recreates the Regency era with intricate medallion moldings, colorful décor, a cozy library, and snow gently falling behind the windows. Callie Floor’s pastel and festive gowns add cheerful gaiety to the scenes, and Arthur’s oversized hat is a humorous touch. Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is the new standard in holiday plays. It celebrates individuals who are a force of nature, while advocating that strong personalities can find a way to live together with kindness and understanding. It reminds us to follow our dreams, even if they do not seem practical at the time, and push the boundaries of what others expect us to be. The end of its run was sold out weeks in advance for good reason—do not miss the opportunity to enjoy this Christmas treat.

‘Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley’ is a Holiday Treat originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 26, 2016.

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‘Polar Bears’ Rekindles Christmas Magic https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/polar-bears-rekindles-christmas-magic/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/polar-bears-rekindles-christmas-magic/#respond Tue, 13 Dec 2016 09:49:38 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2786

Review of Polar Bears
By David Templeton
Directed by Sheri Lee Miller

For tickets / schedule :
www.sonomaartslive.org
Sonoma Community Center
Sonoma, CA
Sonoma Arts Live

RUN: December 8-17, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(December 10, 2016)

Polar Bears Sonoma Arts Live

Photo from Sonoma Arts Live

Do you remember the moment you stopped believing in Santa Claus? Perhaps an older sibling blurted it out, or the evidence piled up, or your parents informed you that it was just a game. Have you watched the light in a child’s eyes dim as they realize the truth? For the young David Templeton, that moment came too soon, leading to a list of his own as a parent determined to give his children the gift of a magical childhood. His antics as the man behind Santa Claus are joyful and clever, until the mother’s passing casts a shadow across Christmas, drowning that levity with heartbreak.

Polar Bears navigates the numb landscape of loss and coming of age, mingled with laughter and windows of hope—as Templeton suggests, the holiday spirit is fragile, like stepping on a glass ornament when tiptoeing around the house in the dark pretending to be Santa Claus, but it is worth the effort to preserve and nourish.

Over 100 years old, the Sonoma Community Center is piece of history itself, with touches of Edwardian elegance arching over the stage. The Polar Bears set, by Steve Hagstrom and the Sonoma Arts Live team, recreates a comfortable, lived in family room strewn with decorations, toys, and boxes. It is easy to imagine living there, and Templeton spends the solo performance casually unpacking, enjoying a beer, and speaking to the audience as if they are sitting on one of the sofas beside him. He has an ease and warmth that feels natural. Simple props such as stuffed animals and a massive gray steamer trunk become characters in the stories. Templeton is a representation of all fathers who yearn for their children to be happy and loved, occasionally taking the sentiment too far and blundering, but always with their family’s best interests at heart.

Polar bears are woven throughout the stories, from frivolous details such as a wrapping paper anecdote to a deeply moving vignette at the mother’s funeral, when Andy, one of the children, begs to be a “polar bear” (pall bearer) with his father. While most of the play is crafted directly from memory, there were gaps to fill in, and Templeton turned to his children, mining surprises from their perspectives on the events. This imaginative play is filled with universal themes of love, loss, and the importance of family that are the heart of Christmas. Polar Bears does not rely on ornate costumes, a flashy plot, and a large cast. It is a quietly true exploration of the holidays that stirs our own memories, offers a hopeful future, and proves the tenacity and creativity of parents can bring a family through the darkest of times.

‘Polar Bears’ Rekindles Christmas Magic originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 13, 2016.

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‘HOPE’ Filled with Bittersweet Musical Memories https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/hope-filled-with-bittersweet-musical-memories/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/hope-filled-with-bittersweet-musical-memories/#respond Sat, 10 Dec 2016 20:45:09 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2781

Review of HOPE
By Si Kahn
Directed by Elizabeth Craven
Musical Direction by Jim Peterson and Roxanne Olivia
For tickets / schedule :
www.mainstagewest.com
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: December 1-18, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(December 9, 2016)

HOPE Main Stage West Si Kahn

Photo by Main Stage West

HOPE is an intensely personal memoir of playwright and composer Si Kahn’s family and their journey to America. It meanders in the manner of a relative sharing tales of their youth, lingering here, jumping forward there. Stories are grouped by side of the family—act one ‘Mom’ and act two ‘Pop’. Remembrances are a mix of factual, rather embellished, and completely outrageous. The small cast switches roles frequently, which can cause confusion. One moment they speak in the voice of the writer, the next they take on a variety of characters, real and imagined. A talented group of musicians swap instruments as often as the actors change character, offering sound effects in addition to toe tapping songs and melancholy notes for softer emotions. The musical wanders a great deal, yet never fails to entertain. Elizabeth Craven’s set design of vintage trunks, suitcases, and benches sets the past in a tactile present, emphasizing how vibrant our great-grandparents were in their lives.

John Craven’s Cossack and Shoe Factory Owner demonstrate his comedic range, and he shines in “Crossing the Border”, a combined narrative and song of a soldier trying to flee the horror of war. Mary Gannon Graham’s Angel of Death with a strong Brooklyn accent turns an outlandish tale into comedy gold. Sharia Pierce owns the shoe factory story with a steely glint in her eyes, and continues to draw laughter through her impersonations. Her devotion to the yellow frying pan stands out as particularly well done.

Jim Peterson primarily plays guitar and mandolin, breaking out a trombone for a jazzy number. I rarely tear up at a play, but his tribute to Warsaw Ghetto victims, “Children of Poland”, was quietly heartbreaking, augmented by projected images from historical archives. Tim Sarter and Roxanne Olivia rounded out the musicians; HOPE’s style is primarily folk music, with infusions of gospel and Irish melodies evident in songs like “Dreamers”. It is a mix of standouts, such as the opening “Gone, Gonna Rise Again” and less compelling songs that serve as transitions or general commentary on the dialog.

HOPE follows the dreams and struggles of immigrants longing for a fresh start, passing on family stories of strength and sorrow. Even the playbill becomes part of that sharing, with immigrant backgrounds of the actors instead of the usual biographies. We learn about Pierce’s eccentric and fun Aunt Rose, and Peterson’s father performing in big bands during World War II. HOPE joins us together as a community, looking forward from a foundation of inspiration through our ancestors, with reopened eyes toward the immigrants of today who long for a safe and free country to call home.

‘HOPE’ Filled with Bittersweet Musical Memories originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 10, 2016.

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A Broadway Christmas in Santa Rosa https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/a-broadway-christmas-in-santa-rosa/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/a-broadway-christmas-in-santa-rosa/#respond Tue, 06 Dec 2016 06:39:32 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2771

Joy to the World Transcendance Theatre

Photo by Ray Mabry

Joy to the World
Review by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

Directed by Eric Jackson & Roy Lightner
Musical Direction by Matt Smart
Choreography by Roy Lightner and Dylan Smith

For tickets / schedule :
www.transcendencetheatre.org
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
Transcendence Theatre Company

RUN: December 2-4, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(December 2, 2016)

I was introduced to the Transcendence Theatre Company back in 2004, when they were just starting out. The rumors had it that a small group of dancers and singers were trying to do good shows in the Jack London State Historic Park area in Sonoma. Then, in 2015, we went to their “Broadway Under the Stars” show and were amazed at the quality of the production.

This may be the only holiday show you see this year, but it certainly makes the holidays bright with good dancing and songs to charm the coal out of your stockings.

Singers and dancers with Broadway show experience have moved into town and are bringing their talent to Sonoma. Under the able direction of Eric Jackson and Roy Lightner, Transcendence Theatre puts a show together that highlights the music and dancing of these bright actors.

The cast come into a musical dance number for “The Christmas Waltz” right in the beginning, with high energy and (mostly) synchronized joy to warm the audience up. The music is jazz and the dance is modern: straight from Broadway with a simple background of lights and unique costumes to cheer us all, and we are off.

The show numbers alternate from large tap and jazz dancing, to couples talking about the “Twelve Days After Christmas”, to small groups talking and singing of the many parts of the holidays, romantic and mundane. The show is designed to offer variety and fun for all. There are some traditional Christmas numbers with the whole company, but this is Broadway at its best and “The Challahday Song” brings in the best of the Jewish traditional fun of “Fiddler” with Hanukkah overtones to round out the offerings.

Transcendance Theatre Joy to the World

Photo by Ray Mabry

“Joy to the World” finishes the first act with a flourish to include the “fishes in the deep blue sea”, something this reviewer was humming coming into the auditorium in hopeful expectation.

The “Little Drummer Boy” was presented as a full blown tap dance routine in the second act, with backdrop lit with stars and a clear heaven. This was followed by a “Silent Night” with three dancers slowly and quietly following the music with gestures indicating the lyrics in sign language. This juxtaposition of numbers and styles show the youthful imagination and talent of this theatre group.

The New York backgrounds of these dancers come to a head in a full-blown holiday dance line a la “Rockettes” that really rocks. This routine took guts to imagine and skill to pull off with precision, congratulations.

Santa Claus was presented through the eyes of Mrs. Claus, trying to make sure the evening would go smoothly for his journey. His elves came through as well with some quirks of their own. This was a grand introduction to the Season with energy and joy for all, and to all a great night.

For large vision music and dancing, the Transcendence Theatre Company is making its presence known in the North Bay. On March 11-12, they will be at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, and on March 18-19, they journey to the Marin Center in San Rafael. They return to their Jack London State Historic Park summer venue on June 16, 2017, with their Another Openin’ Another Show!.

A Broadway Christmas in Santa Rosa originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 6, 2016.

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Peter and the Starcatcher at Spreckels Theatre Company https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/peter-and-the-starcatcher-at-spreckels-theatre-company/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/peter-and-the-starcatcher-at-spreckels-theatre-company/#respond Wed, 30 Nov 2016 02:54:45 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2753

Review of Peter and the Starcatcher
By Rick Elice
Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Music by Wayne Barker

Directed by David L. Yen
Music Direction by Lucas Sherman

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: November 25 – December 18, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(November 27, 2016)

Peter and the Starcatcher Spreckels Rohnert Park

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Peter and the Starcatcher is a zany, slapstick comedy that laughs at its own in jokes, using a mashup of characters loosely inspired by Peter Pan. Spreckels has added a sprinkle of holiday magic to the production, including an amusing introduction where the pirate captain receives coal as his Christmas present, while the rest of the cast unwraps bits and bobs of costumes to complete their attire. The ensuing action resembles a group of children playing Peter Pan, with random asides, interruptions, complicated plot twists, and plenty of piratical flair. Despite an older cast, the ensemble manages to capture the excitement of their younger characters, diving into the chaos with enthusiasm.

Set designers Eddy Hansen, Elizabeth Bazzano, and David L. Yen have created a jungle gym of crawl spaces and cabins, emphasizing the symbolism of flight; details are left to the imagination of the audience, filling in lush jungles and storm washed decks from crates and canvas. Pamela Enz’s costumes are sparse, keeping to the minimum required to recognize a character.

Peter and the Starcatcher Spreckels Rohnert Park

Photo by Eric Chazankin

The swashbuckling pair of Larry Williams as the infamous Black Stache, and Chris Schloemp as his sidekick Smee return after their adventures in the recent Spreckels’ production Baskerville, lending their comedic genius to the notorious villains, when they aren’t busy prancing about in glittering tails for You Made a Mermaid out of Me. Ross Hagee’s Lord Aster is suitably pompous, raising an eyebrow at the mayhem surrounding him. Anderson Templeton’s Boy brings out the kindness and wistful dreamer in Peter, who is frustrated by the constant duplicity of adults. Denise Elia-Yen kindles her inner child with a youthful performance as Molly. The talented ensemble do what they can with the play, which suffers from a disconnected story and less than admirable writing. Yen, the director, has created an energetic staging—using the abilities of his cast to create a whimsical world that glosses over the failings of the play itself.

Whether or not you will enjoy Peter and the Starcatcher is largely a matter of taste. Characters speak rather oddly in third person, the plot leaves something to be desired, and the overall impression is that of vaguely organized revelry interspersed with rigid dialog. For a casual, frivolous evening of entertainment, Peter and the Starcatcher is a unique way to spend the holiday season with family and friends, but it has the substance of a light profiterole.

Peter and the Starcatcher at Spreckels Theatre Company originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 30, 2016.

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Steampunk Christmas Carol Captures the Holiday Spirit https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/steampunk-christmas-carol-captures-the-holiday-spirit/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/steampunk-christmas-carol-captures-the-holiday-spirit/#respond Sat, 26 Nov 2016 18:43:21 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2746

A Christmas Carol 6th Street Playhouse 2016

Photo by Eric Chazankin

A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Michael Wilson

Directed by Craig A. Miller
Choreography by Jacinta Gorringe

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

RUN:
November 25 – December 23, 2016

RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(November 25, 2016)

A Christmas Carol is the beloved tale of rekindling childhood joy that has been weighed down by survival in the harsh world of what millennials refer to as ‘adulting’. In a whirlwind of paying bills and furthering his career, Ebenezer Scrooge (Charles Siebert) loses his first love and drowns himself in a self-constructed prison of bitterness. Siebert’s crotchety antics possess glimmers of comedy in between shaking down an innocent doll vendor (Jessica Headington) and a Jules Verne inspired clockmaker (Ryan Severt). Townspeople scatter in terror at Scrooge’s name, until he transforms into a giddy philanthropist eager to spread the Christmas spirit, inviting them in for turkey and festivities.

Director Craig A. Miller has created a tightly oiled flow between scenes—what might be awkward transitions of moving furniture become delightful choral moments of caroling, and the play moves at a fast enough pace to keep the younger members of the audience enthralled. Scattered through the props, projections, Jesse Dreikosen’s splendid Steampunk set design, and Pat Fitzgerald’s costumes, are clock gears and an impending sense of time being the story’s true author. The Spirits arrive through a dramatic fog laced clock face swinging open, immediately making an impression and dominating the stage.

A Christmas Carol 6th Street Playhouse 2016

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Headington’s Ghost of Christmas Past is an ethereal dancer wafting through scenes while scattering magical snow to reveal secrets that Scrooge has forgotten. Robert Finney arrives as the Ghost of Christmas Present, bringing revelry and merriment in his wake, convincing Scrooge how wrong he was to pass judgment so harshly on his family and those less fortunate who can cannot afford a proper Christmas dinner. George’s costume for the Ghost of Christmas Future (Severt) is alarming in its dark simplicity. Miller and John Gromada’s sound design for the future, with grinding gears and unnerving screeches, adds to the haunting nature of the spirit’s message.

The Cratchit family is A Christmas Carol’s heart, with an outstanding performance by Jeff Cote as the father, who realistically shivers in a freezing office and is overcome with pride upon seeing his family gathered to greet him. In the dual roles of Belle and Fred’s Wife, Crystal Carpenter turns what can be an uninteresting flashback to a moving scene of tragic love when she bids farewell to a younger Scrooge (Stefan Wenger). The two solicitors (Dwayne Stincelli and Tice Allison) are a lively comedy duo throughout the play—aghast that Scrooge would refuse their charity cause, and eager for a proper lunch at his funeral.

A Christmas Carol at 6th Street Playhouse is a charming holiday play for the whole family, with memorable set design and an engaging cast. If you are looking for a merry way to start the season, come to Railroad Square for a heartwarming production of holiday cheer.

Steampunk Christmas Carol Captures the Holiday Spirit originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 26, 2016.

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Board the H.M.S. Pinafore for Rollicking Entertainment https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/board-the-h-m-s-pinafore-for-rollicking-entertainment/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/board-the-h-m-s-pinafore-for-rollicking-entertainment/#respond Wed, 23 Nov 2016 07:27:04 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2736

Ross Valley Players H.M.S. Pinafore

Photo by Robin Jackson

Review of H.M.S. Pinafore
By W.S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan
Directed by James Dunn
Musical Direction by Jef Labes
Choreography by Sandra Tanner

For tickets / schedule :
www.rossvalleyplayers.com
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross, CA
Ross Valley Players

RUN: November 17 – December 18, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(November 18, 2016)

Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas carry a whimsical, larger than life tone similar to short stories in a turn-of-the-century Punch magazine. Heroines are sweet and doe-eyed, villains are mustache twirling caricatures, and young star-crossed lovers find their happy ending through a twist of fate. In H.M.S. Pinafore, the daughter of the captain falls hopelessly in love with a common sailor, while her father plots to marry her off to the bumbling Sir Joseph Porter. All is well in a hopeful, if confusing, deus ex machina finale.

Ross Valley Players excel with set design; Ron Krempetz recreates the deck of a Royal Navy ship complete with portholes, hatches that are actual stage entrances, ladders, and guns, inviting the audience onto the ship with its crew. Sandra Tanner’s choreography uses the confined space well, creating patterns that add to the comic charm of musical numbers, rather than relying on flashy steps and soloists. Since the ensemble has a variety of dance abilities, she keeps it simple, creating a strong unity between characters. Michael Berg’s sailor costumes have a clean white cut to them with a splash of color, similar to George Balanchine’s Union Jack. Josephine’s late 1910s dresses are becoming and suit her personality, making up for the other women, who are arrayed in less definitive eras of costuming.

Ross Valley Players H.M.S. Pinafore

Photo by Robin Jackson

Gilbert & Sullivan can be a tongue-twister to sing, with libretto such as, “I always voted at my party’s call, and I never thought of thinking for myself at all.” It requires clear enunciation while maintaining a pleasing tone simultaneously—no mean feat. For the most part, the cast manages to balance the two. Sibel Demirmen’s Josephine is angelic and riveting, her voice exquisite and poised, as a proper captain’s daughter should be. Cordell Wesselink’s Ralph Rackstraw adroitly parodies the saccharine melodies of his romantic lead. The key with this type of musical is to take the character utterly seriously, and that over-enthusiastic ardor becomes the scene’s comedy. Jim Fye’s Dick Deadeye will entertain children in attendance—his sinister expressions, curled fingers, and crouching stance create a fun mischief-maker in the crew. Despite prop difficulties, Fye did not break character, turning it into part of the story instead. A standout was Dana Cherry as Cousin Hebe, who’s expressive eyes, dazzling smile, and flirtatious advances at Sir Joseph are cause for hilarity. Heather Werkheiser’s Little Buttercup is rosy cheeked and energetic, even when in the background of a scene reacting to the main action.

Ross Valley Players frolic with maritime lovers in this delightful production of H.M.S. Pinafore. Bring your sisters, and cousins, and aunts to a lighthearted evening of clever satire. If this is your first time at a Gilbert & Sullivan play, prepare for frivolity, ridiculous plot points, asides to the audience, and songs based on repetition from the chorus for comedic effect. As Sir Joseph would suggest, don’t think too much about it, sit back and enjoy the tomfoolery as it unfolds.

Board the H.M.S. Pinafore for Rollicking Entertainment originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 23, 2016.

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‘Picasso at the Lapin Agile’ in Graton https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/picasso-at-the-lapin-agile-in-graton/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/picasso-at-the-lapin-agile-in-graton/#respond Sun, 13 Nov 2016 03:10:13 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2728

Review of Picasso at the Lapin Agile
By Steve Martin
Directed by Matt Cadigan
For tickets / schedule :
www.pegasustheater.com
Pegasus Theater Company
Graton Community Club, Graton

RUN: November 4-27, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(November 12, 2016)

Picasso at the Lapin Agile Graton Pegasus Theater Company

Photo from Pegasus Theater Company

Penned by renowned comedian Steve Martin, Picasso at the Lapin Agile is an effervescent confection of comedy vaguely set in 1904, unburdened by historical accuracy. Blatant flirting with the Countess conveniently ignores that Einstein was a newlywed with an infant son by his physicist wife Mileva Marić, and characters regularly use modern slang to gain a laugh. Beulah Vega’s costumes are decidedly modern with touches of the turn-of-the-century, saved by Godey’s Lady’s Book Gibson girl hairstyles, which are superior to the attempts of most Edwardian plays. Characters flit in and out of the bar as the evening progresses, save for old Gaston (Jim Maresca) who’s wistful comments on aging and the pursuit of beauty ground the production in his down-to-earth perspective.

As the name of the bar suggests, this play is a “Nimble Rabbit” hopping from one topic to the next, bouncing between sub plots and scenes, loosely held together by a central thread that ideas and concepts are worth pursuing. Einstein and Picasso shift from adversaries to brothers discussing the origins of creative thought. Both are poised on the verge of greatness, moments before their careers set them apart as geniuses. The play is overly conscious of that fact, placing intense emphasis on “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” and the Theory of Relativity, although Einstein’s repartee with Germaine regarding adding illustrations to liven up his book is quite amusing. Steve Martin gathers a collection of intelligent, lively characters in an informal setting to toss out notions and opinions simply for the sake of an entertaining evening.

Capturing romantic spark and tension are the clever bartenders Freddy (James Rowan) and Germaine (Tricia Siegel) who fearlessly interrupt to improve the caliber of conversation. Sagot’s (Arnold House) brief appearance is memorable and lighthearted, glowing with enthusiasm for the world of art. Rush Cosgrove’s Picasso is an arrogant womanizer who is confronted with his flaws by Germaine’s insight. He initially clashes with Einstein, leading to a ferocious duel with pencils to napkin for the perfect drawing. Matlock Zumsteg’s Einstein oozes bravado and the youthful ambition that his banal job with the patent office is a temporary setback. The ensemble is exuberant and silly, while giving justice to their characters and acknowledging the import of an evening with Einstein and Picasso.

Join two intellectual giants on a pub crawl through the early 20th century; Picasso at the Lapin Agile is a relaxing divertissement of ideas doused in absinthe and frivolity.

‘Picasso at the Lapin Agile’ in Graton originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 13, 2016.

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Sonoma State University Fall Dance Concert https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/ssu-fall-dance-concert/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/ssu-fall-dance-concert/#respond Mon, 07 Nov 2016 01:33:08 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2715

Review of Fall Dance Concert
Directed by Christine Cali
Sonoma State University Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
Evert. B Person Theatre

RUN: November 3-6, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

November 6, 2016

The Sonoma State University Fall Dance Concert is a celebration of student work; supervised by faculty, they choreograph, design, and manage pieces in the short space of two months, with only eight rehearsals per choreographer. Due to the outpouring of interest this autumn, it has been split into two separate productions: Heart and Soul—the latter of which I attended. Soul is an intimate evening of emotionally charged pieces ranging from crushing sorrow to playful romps in a tightly paced hour of riveting dance.

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Solo Dolo
5 of 5 stars
Choreography: Kyle Her
Music: Anvil by Lorn

A lone couch becomes the focal point of this stunning solo that slowly builds from stark loneliness to anxiety, anger, and letting go, sinking back into stillness. Kyle Her’s mesmerizing athletic performance is constantly fluid—extensions reach into the air, arms long and graceful, elbows jut out first with the body following. Mark Wilson’s low lighting sets a somber, rhythmic tone, moving with the dancer in a tangent symphony.

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Tension
4 of 5 stars
Choreography: Bella Wenneberg
Music: “Magnets” by Disclosure, “Do I Wanna Know” by Arctic Monkeys

Western themed white corsets, shirts, and braids give the impression of a conventional piece, but Tension swiftly breaks that illusion and becomes a creative set of three vignettes. Groups stalk in emotionless symmetry across the stage, linked or isolated, crossing in straight lines, breaking formation to push, lift, or manipulate each other, constantly connected. They disperse in favor of a mirrored pas de deux of unique relationships, ending with the powerful depiction of a single dancer struggling with a rope to the sound of her heartbeat, fighting to move forward against all odds, and breaking free for a captivating final moment—her fist clenching and relaxing to the beating sound, ending in darkness.

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Contingency
4 of 5 stars
Choreography: Anjelica Martinez in collaboration with the dancers
Music: “Atomos X” by A Winged Victory for the Sullen

Weaving Classical and modern sensibilities, this trio seeks for purpose, tentatively searching themselves, languidly stretching in long expansive shapes. Babbling voices drive them into communal purpose, coming together to discover meaning. It is a fascinating dance, although the performers could be lighter on their feet—the heavy footsteps took away from an otherwise contemplative piece.

No One Left Behind
3 of 5 stars
Choreography: Christina Campos in collaboration with the dancers
Music: “Brotsjór” by Ólafur Arnaldas

Earth smeared dancers crowd the stage, shifting between pleasing tableaux. Dynamic lighting by Jessica Amen projects shadows and flashes of lightning, while heart-racing music charges through the auditorium. It has the elements of success, but it is trying too hard without a unifying look to the movement or clear thesis of what is being portrayed, leaving a muddy, detached impression.

Surrounded
4 of 5 stars
Choreography: Caitlin Colangelo
Music: “Losing the Light” by Explosions in the Sky

This quiet piece is deeply vulnerable; dancers silently shiver, subtly shifting and cocooning beneath the stress of life. Shoulders initiate movement, simulating distress by curving up and inward. Dancers slowly balance and meditate, comforting each other or giving in to sorrow. Silent dark shadows envelop the stage, and this brief window illuminates the importance of supporting each other through difficult times.

The Space Between
5 of 5 stars
Choreography: Bria Gabor in collaboration with the dancers
Music: “Untitled” spoken word by Jasmine Williams and “Midnight” by Coldplay

Literature and dance mingle in this powerful message of acceptance that our world needs hope to survive. Words spark gentle pantomime journeying from birth through childhood, how we are trained to hate what is different. Music echoes across the end of Bria Gabor’s reading, washing the stage in blue moonlight of Kieran Latham’s lighting design. Tiny threads of blood glow in white and blue across the dancers’ wrists, prompting them into a slow coming together, finding similarities, and accepting who they are, forging the peace we strive for through unforgettable visuals.

Subliminal Taps
3 of 5 stars
Choreography: Carissa Pinnix
Music: “Heart Cry” by Drehz

Continuing the theme of light, this frothy tap piece includes shoes that flash in the dark. It is a joyful, bright frolic that is infused with party energy and fun. The music is unexpected, and I am not sure if it works or not, but the piece was the perfect uplifting note to close the performance.

Sonoma State University Fall Dance Concert originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 7, 2016.

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Lively Staging of ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/lively-staging-of-peter-and-the-starcatcher/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/lively-staging-of-peter-and-the-starcatcher/#respond Sun, 06 Nov 2016 20:57:59 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2707

REVIEW OF PETER AND THE STARCATCHER
By Rick Elice
Based on the novel by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson
Music by Wayne Barker

Directed by Patrick Nims
Marin Onstage
For tickets / schedule :
marinonstage.org
Belrose Theatre, San Rafael

RUN: October 21 – November 12, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(November 4, 2016)

Peter and the Starcatcher marin onstage san rafael

Photo from Marin Onstage

Peter Pan’s world is a genre that is difficult to define; while wrapped in the outer appearance of a bedtime story, its darker elements are crafted for adults. In earlier stories, he is a sinister figure, which recently resurfaced in the Once Upon a Time adaptation where parents fight to protect their children from the immortal kidnapper of Neverland. Touches of cruelty and bitterness surround the boy in Peter and the Starcatcher. As an orphan, he has endured suffering and rejection; adults betray Peter, leading to repeated outcries of anger against them. Nick Gallagher captures the character’s brooding nature that secretly yearns for companionship. Through decisions made by adults within the play, we are forced to examine how they affect children who do not understand the nuances behind those choices. Peter struggles with why he has been treated unfairly, internalizing the abuse until it isolates him. These compelling themes run underneath a play filled with melodramatic antics.

From flashing red lights and awed shouts of “Black Stache!” to toothbrush toting mermaids mincing across the stage, this production is a masterpiece of primitive theater, drawing on the competence of the actors over elaborate sets and props. When Molly creeps through the ship, peering into cabins, the cast becomes doors and bulkheads. The backdrop by Gary Gonser is a simple and effective wall of stacked crates as if inside the cargo deck of a clipper ship; remaining sets are created by ropes, a ladder, and the occasional sea chest. Leffie Martin’s imaginative fight choreography includes toilet plunger and brush wielding combatants facing off on a storm tossed ship amid Harrison Moye’s inspired lighting design. Unfortunately, despite an ensemble that gives it their all, the production suffers under a poorly constructed plot, staid dialog, and narration that attempts to be clever. There are flashes of dry humor in the style of Douglas Adams, but not enough to hold up the play.

Peter and the Starcatcher marin onstage san rafael

Photo from Marin Onstage

Hannah Bloom’s Molly Aster shines like the stardust pendant around her neck—she manages a consistent accent, coquettish energy, and grows from a petulant young girl in the first scene to a maturing woman who bids Peter farewell with wistful acceptance. Mark Clark as Mrs. Bumbrake lightens the mood with his touches of eyelash fluttering comedy, and the entire cast hams it up with enthusiasm, dashing about, tumbling, and running, rather like a group of friends playing dress up in the attic and having a grand old time.

Enjoy a boisterous evening of inside jokes and clownish antics with thoughtful musings on being an adult. Unwind after a stressful day with Peter and the Starcatcher in the cozy cabaret seating of San Rafael’s Belrose Theatre.

Lively Staging of ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 6, 2016.

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Murder is Brewing in Santa Rosa https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/dial-m-for-murder-north-bay-stage-company/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/dial-m-for-murder-north-bay-stage-company/#respond Sat, 29 Oct 2016 22:09:52 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2699

Photo by North Bay Stage Company

Photo by North Bay Stage Company

Review of Dial M for Murder
By Frederick Knott
Directed by John Faulkner

For tickets / schedule :
www.northbaystageco.org
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
North Bay Stage Company

RUN: October 21 – November 6, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(October 28, 2016)

Footsteps creak in the passage, and the audience is holding their breath, tensing with the couple huddled in the dark, clinging to each other in anticipation and terror. Will the key fit the lock? Will an innocent be sent to death row for a crime she did not commit? Dial M for Murder is unique among its genre—the murderer is known all along, and the thrill is in whether or not he can get away with the perfect crime. Director John Faulkner references it as “one of the not-so-common plays where the villain takes center stage.”

Michael Walraven’s Tony has the façade of polished society thinly veiling a chilling psychotic killer. He transitions between self-inflicted personas: a cold intellectual who is fond of rambling to those he has elegantly trapped between his pincers. The scene with Paul Menconi’s Lesgate is disturbing—Tony casually walks about the room, wiping fingerprints off glasses and furniture alike, while Lesgate realizes he has been trapped, his expression growing more panicked as Tony’s leisurely cleaning unfolds. While tennis is the sport referenced by characters, the play is closer to a baseball game—quietly tiptoeing along interspersed with moments of wild action. It is Tony’s mesmerizing dialog that drives the story, not violence.

The loving tenderness of Margot is memorable from Grace Kelly’s performance in the Alfred Hitchcock adaptation, and Jesse Bell brings the poise and innocence of the role to life with an acerbic edge to it. When she successfully defends herself, it is believable considering the strength Margot displays from the opening scene. Although the desperation of the situation causes an eventual breakdown, Jesse Bell’s performance is determined and sympathetic. Despite a skillfully covered for mishap, Tom McIntyre’s Max captures a romantic writer caught up in his own world. Naively in love, he fails to see the cruel cunning of the man beside him until it is nearly too late.

Audie Foote and the team’s set design of drab grey and black furnishings create an overcast atmosphere punctuated by the sunset colored couch where most of the action takes place. Lighting designer Robin Delucca recreates film noir with dramatic changes in lamps and evening moonlight—a crucial aspect of building tension. Because the play is comprised of lengthy monologues, it can become rather static. John Faulkner’s direction shifts actors around the stage: pacing, staring, and limping. This creates a dynamic movement to the scenes, although the hard soled period shoes can become distracting in their loud clacking.

You will be on the edge of your seat for North Bay Stage Company’s Dial M for Murder—a timeless classic of the “nice guy” who is not what he seems. Prepare for a chilling evening of machinations and intrigue from a capable cast of local actors.

Murder is Brewing in Santa Rosa originally appeared on Imagination Lane on October 29, 2016.

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‘Titanic The Musical’ is Unsinkable https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/titanic-the-musical-is-unsinkable/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/titanic-the-musical-is-unsinkable/#respond Wed, 19 Oct 2016 06:57:28 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2684

Review of Titanic The Musical
Story and Book by Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston
Directed by Gene Abravaya
Music Direction by Tina Lloyd Meals
Choreography by Kate Kenyon

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: October 14-30, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(October 15, 2016)

Titanic Musical Spreckels

Photo by Eric Chazankin

The Titanic disaster has fascinated and appalled generations in the catastrophic loss of life that could have been prevented “if only”. What if they had rammed the iceberg head on, leaving more watertight bulkheads in tact? What if there had been enough lifeboats aboard to hold the entire crew and passengers? What if the SS Californian wireless operator had stayed on call ten more minutes, and heard the distress call? Titanic The Musical could have been a stirring tragedy, emphasizing the pathos of the event, rather like Les Misérables. Instead, it examines the entire journey, capturing the dynamic radiance surrounding Titanic’s maiden voyage, from the sparkle of glittering evening gowns in First Class to elated Irish emigrants dreaming of a new world, and the stokers sweating their passage in front of a boiler, remembering sweethearts at home.

The setting moves throughout the floating city, where we glimpse eloping lovers, a henpecked husband, stewards, officers, the wireless operator, and luxurious upper class passengers, augmented by historical photographs and researched illustrations of Titanic looming over the stage, especially dramatic in her massive engine room. In the hindsight of knowledge, it is easy to consider the voyage ill fated, but that is not how she was seen when pulling away from the dock in Southampton. Passengers are giddy with excitement on the ship of dreams, based on actual historic figures, such as Ismay (Jeremy Berrick) who pompously insists they pick up speed, no matter the cost, Captain Smith (Steven Kent Barker) who is ready to retire, and making a final voyage for the company, Ida Straus (Cindy Brillhart-True) and her husband Isidor Straus (Kit Grimm) co-owners of Macy’s department store, who refused seats on a lifeboat, perishing together in a bittersweet duet Still while the ship sinks.

Titanic Musical Spreckels

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Driven primarily by song, this staged concert has the feel of an opera, with interspersed dialog moving the story along. An extensive cast brings the ship to life through a series of impressively swift costume changes, populating steerage in a lively Lady’s Maid pondering what roles they will have in America, to the condescending aristocracy’s What A Remarkable Age This Is! In a crisp dark evening, Titanic strikes the iceberg, prompting an electrifying second act, as different classes are forced to depend on one another, some choosing to make sacrifices for strangers, and others giving in to terror, seeking only to save themselves. The musical languishes in its final moments, opting for a heavy handed denouement, rather than allowing characters to speak for themselves, and the audience to reflect on the experience.

Come aboard the Titanic for a remarkable excursion into history—join the passengers as they hope and dream; a harmonious cast of remarkable singers recreates life aboard in 1912. If you are wondering how the story of Titanic could be turned into a musical, and are skeptical of the Spreckels’ production, put your doubts aside and prepare to be astonished at this moving tribute to an unforgettable event.

‘Titanic The Musical’ is Unsinkable originally appeared on Imagination Lane on October 19, 2016.

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‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ Shines in Sebastopol https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/dancing-at-lughnasa-shines-in-sebastopol/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/dancing-at-lughnasa-shines-in-sebastopol/#respond Sat, 15 Oct 2016 22:27:01 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2674

Review of Dancing at Lughnasa
By Brian Friel
Directed by Molly Noble
For tickets / schedule :
www.mainstagewest.com
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: October 14-30, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(October 14, 2016)

Dancing at Lughnasa Sebastapol Main Stage West

Photo by Eric Chazankan

This year, the North Bay abounded with Brian Friel’s masterful play Dancing at Lughnasa. I have yet to tire of this bleak, yet intimate story of an Irish family’s final moment of happiness during the harvest festival of Lughnasa in 1936. Director Molly Noble paints a delightfully hopeful vignette, filling it with innocence, contemplation, and toe tapping Irish step dancing that has been missing in recent productions. Distinctly unique sisters come together with vibrant chemistry in a strong ensemble cast, nestled in an airy set design that concentrates on the house, rather than outdoor action, leaving the tree to imagination and centering on the living women instead. Missy Weaver’s lighting design transforms a soft coral background painting by Marie Lynne into deep reds evocative of African bonfire ceremonies, or cheerful pale gold when laughter permeates the air: a visual representation of shifting emotion in the play.

As evident from recent productions, the narrator Michael (Steven Abbott) is crucial to maintaining the weight of tension between scenes. If energy drops during his soliloquies, the main cast struggles to right it again. Fortunately, Steven Abbott carries his role with easy grace, using a hint of lyrical brogue and gentle humor. His memories enhance the story, filling in cracks of knowledge, leading the audience through the experience with compassionate retrospection.

Dancing at Lughnasa in Sebastapol Main Stage West

Photo by Eric Chazankan

Outwardly stern Kate (Floriana Alessandria) feels that she alone must keep the household together, but senses that her control is slipping. Her breakdown to Maggie reveals a woman who desperately needs to be useful to the family she loves. Ivy Rose Miller as Chris, though slipping with her accent, brings the sweet naiveté of one who is genuinely in love, and unwilling to admit failure; she chooses hope over bitterness. Maggie is known for her outgoing antics; Liz Jahren brings out the devouring depression that underlies her character, glazed over in agony after considering her story of the Military Two-Step judges. Ilana Niernberger’s Agnes is a focused presence onstage, intermittently bursting with passion beneath her brooding. Providing lighthearted relief through his anecdotes and search for proper vocabulary, Father Jack (John Craven) shuffles through the family drama with detached serenity, content in his faith and daydreaming of returning to Uganda.

This spirited production reminds us that each moment is fleeting; we must grasp onto them while we can. Main Stage West presents an optimistic Dancing at Lughnasa through a subtly tender love story, pondering what it means to be adrift, and discovering faith in unlikely places. Spend your evening with the Mundy sisters in this engaging Irish play.

‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ Shines in Sebastopol originally appeared on Imagination Lane on October 15, 2016.

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Delightful Evening of Jane Austen https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/delightful-evening-of-jane-austen/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/delightful-evening-of-jane-austen/#respond Mon, 03 Oct 2016 01:52:06 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2665

Review of Pride and Prejudice – The Musical
Music and Lyrics by Rita Abrams
Book by Josie Brown
Directed by Lexie Papedo Gasparini
Musical Direction by Rita Abrams
Choreography by Nicole Helfer

For tickets / schedule :
www.iamtheatre.org
The Southside Theatre, Fort Mason Center
San Francisco, CA
IAM Theatre Company

RUN: September 23 – October 9, 2016
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(October 1, 2016)

Pride and Prejudice The Musical IAM

Photo by Dudley Mendenhall

Pride and Prejudice captures the imagination and offers a hopeful outlook on the eternal quest to find a perfect partner. It has been adapted in many incarnations, from the modern vlog The Lizzie Bennet Diaries that took the internet by storm in 2012 to the iconic Colin Firth miniseries, faithfully adapting book to screen. This lighthearted romp into Regency England features jaunty tunes, lyric packed songs reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan, and an enthusiastic cast. Streamlined set backdrops roll in and out, transforming the stage between manor houses and country lanes, augmented by lovely pieces of vintage furniture.

The first act falters, hampered by weak opportunities for significant encounters between characters, but catapults forward to a heartwarming conclusion, thanks to heightened drama and intimate interchanges in the second act. Darcy’s (David Crane) The One I Could Have Been With You brings out his deep tenderness for Elizabeth (Brittany Law) which was not evident in their ferocious argument during his proposal, which is closer to the violent response from Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, rather than the coldly polite gentry of Jane Austen’s era. There are anachronisms galore, which can be overlooked due to the high caliber of singing throughout the cast.

Lizzy Moss (Jane Bennet) embodies a sweet, shy woman who feels acutely without demonstrating it in overblown displays of affection—the ideal Jane. Her Charles Bingley (Kodo Elder-Groebe) is equally good natured with a beaming smile and welcoming demeanor, leading to a charming proposal that received a sigh of contentment from the audience. Kathy Deichen’s Mrs. Bennet, while inconsistent with her English accent, is a powerful presence and formidable singer. Geoffrey Colton as Mr. Bennet stole the evening with his comic asides, stalwart expression, and poised performance. Unlike the novel, obsequious Mr. Collins (Chris Maltby) appears throughout, lending amusing reactions to the main action.

Pride and Prejudice IAM

Photo by Graham Law

The strength of this production is Lexie Papedo Gasparini’s stage direction. Despite a large cast, the background is always active with mini vignettes between characters, and enough movement to avoid the trap of standing about reciting dialog back and forth. Pride and Prejudice is fluid, with spirited, if occasionally over dramatized, acting. When using the flow of Jane Austen’s wit, Josie Brown’s book is excellent; the music is not as consistent, with delightful standouts such as Five Daughters and In My Imagination interspersed with oddly coarse language that pleases a modern audience, but jolts the story out of its historical setting.

Pride and Prejudice – The Musical is an exceptional evening of song and romance, capturing the playfulness of Jane Austen’s story while reimagining it as a lively musical. While there are moments that will cause a purist to cringe, overall it is an enjoyable production. To borrow a Regency phrase, it is excessively diverting.

Delightful Evening of Jane Austen originally appeared on Imagination Lane on October 3, 2016.

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Adorable ‘Sylvia’ in Ross Valley https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/adorable-sylvia-in-ross-valley/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/adorable-sylvia-in-ross-valley/#respond Sat, 01 Oct 2016 22:00:44 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2658

Ross Valley Players Sylvia

Photo by Gregg Le Blanc

Review of Sylvia
By A.R. Gurney
Directed by Buzz Halsing

For tickets / schedule :
www.rossvalleyplayers.com
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross, CA
Ross Valley Players

RUN: September 16 – October 16, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(September 30, 2016)

Dogs have been cherished companions throughout history, whether in a Victorian country manor, ancient Chinese court, or bounding through a pet friendly tech firm between cubicles. Human relationships form with them in close-knit bonds, leading to “dog children” and a market devoted to pampering and playing. They will always adore us, eager to please, brimming over with love. It is no surprise when weary, dissatisfied Greg (Keith Jefferds) who is miserable at work and ignored by his career driven wife, latches onto a lost dog in the park. When Sylvia (Jannely Calmell) appears, his world brightens with her energetic joy and love for him. Greg’s enthusiasm for a dirty, messy mongrel is not looked kindly upon by Kate (Jennifer Reimer) who sees “Saliva” as a nuisance getting in the way of her work. In an amusing ever building battle, she becomes obsessed with driving Sylvia out of their lives.

Jannely Calmell is phenomenal as the coquettish canine, embodying classic dog behavior—scratching her ears on the floor, sniffing fire hydrants, and leaping to the door when a visitor arrives, yipping “Hey! Hey!” Emotion flits across her expressive face, from ecstasy at going for a walk, to mournful despair when Greg leaves her alone in the dark apartment. Constantly shifting costumes from Michael Berg reflect her moods, with a splash of pink to match her personality. Don’t miss Calmell’s fascinating performance—as much a treat as Sylvia’s rewards for rolling over and catching the little red ball. Buzz Halsing’s direction has her bounding in dog fashion interspersed with vulnerable moments interacting more as a human with other characters.

Eccentric bibliophile dog owner, stuffy society matron, and New Age therapist, Jim Fye shifts between characters with adaptable ease. As Phyllis, the antics of an unanticipated dog send her over the edge, glugging Scotch and desperately attempting escape from the hair strewn apartment. His Tom offers sage, if questionably valid, advice. Jim’s characters offer unique perspectives into Sylvia’s presence and her impact on Greg and Kate.

Sasha Oaks’ glittering New York skyline set is simple and enticing. From the moment patrons entered, I heard exclamations of awe at the lights and buildings ringing the stage. Its distant elegance parallels Kate’s journey. She thought her life was completely sorted out and planned until an irritating mutt plopped her behind on the pristine couch. Jennifer Reimer moves from stern reproach to hysterical fervor, tying the story together with a deeply moving twist at the end. Keith Jefferds’ Greg is unflappable in his doting on Sylvia, even when she disappoints him; a beautiful picture of dog and beloved owner.

Sylvia explores the human need for steadfast love during difficult times, when we want a companion waiting at the door to welcome us home, and lift our spirits with enthusiastic, if soggy, affection. It is a warning not to become too wrapped up in personal goals, unwilling to let go for those we care about. Ross Valley Players Sylvia is a captivating journey of acceptance and love.

Note: This play features adult content and language, it is not appropriate for a young audience member.

Adorable ‘Sylvia’ in Ross Valley originally appeared on Imagination Lane on October 1, 2016.

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The Footprints of a Gigantic Hound! https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-footprints-of-a-gigantic-hound/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-footprints-of-a-gigantic-hound/#respond Sat, 24 Sep 2016 01:08:55 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2645

Review of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
By Ken Ludwig
Directed by David L. Yen

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: September 16 – October 9, 2016
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(September 17, 2016)

Spreckels Rohnert Park Baskerville

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Baskerville is an outrageous, laugh every minute adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle classic tale The Hound of the Baskervilles. In addition to Holmes and Watson, a versatile cast of three creates over thirty additional characters, from gender bent seedy Londoners (Zane Walters) to a brashly Texan rendition of Sir Henry Baskerville (Larry Williams). Mayhem is king in this chaotic and terrifically funny staging, reminiscent of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Equally entertaining is watching audience members unfamiliar with the story gasp as plot points are revealed, eager to find out who the true villain is. For all its silliness, Baskerville stays true to the original story, other than adjustments to scenes for comedic effect, such as a normal conversation turned into hilarity by violent gusts of wind against which the cast struggles to stand.

The setting is created by a simple door and chairs wheeled about the stage, with projections that change using the side table with a stereoscope and cards that match sepia toned images surrounding the stage. The ominous hound looms across the screen until an eventual appearance onstage surrounded by billowing clouds of moor fog and darkness in a dramatic conclusion. Actors use the small stage to full effect, rushing about with well timed energy, and sliding down the ramp for thrilling entrances.

Spreckels Rohnert Park Baskerville

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Zane Walters, Larry Williams, and Kim Williams caper and strut across the stage, changing costumes with lightning speed and accents even faster, occasionally playing multiple characters simultaneously, such as Sir Henry and Inspector Lestrade. Not all appearances are fully successful; standout performances include Kim’s Mrs. Barrymore and Zane’s Stapleton. Background characters are utterly ridiculous and therefore hilarious in the context of the scene–the Baby mewling in a hotel lobby comes to mind.

Chris Schloemp as Dr. Watson is brilliant, capturing his intelligence and naive excitement at being involved in one of Holmes’ cases. His friendship with Sir Henry is explored in this adaptation, and throughout the play it is clear they will protect each other in the face of danger. Stephen Cannon has the look of Holmes, but slips rather badly with the accent. In this loose, slapstick production, his anachronistic American voice does not cause the depth of problems that it would in a serious presentation, but it is distracting.

All ages will enjoy this ingenious romp into the world of Sherlock Holmes. Whether your copy of the story is well thumbed, or you have no idea who Holmes is, this will be an amusing evening. Bring your family and friends to Spreckels for a deliciously ridiculous evening of misadventures.

The Footprints of a Gigantic Hound! originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 24, 2016.

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Engaging Lecture on Jack London https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/engaging-lecture-on-jack-london/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/engaging-lecture-on-jack-london/#respond Sun, 18 Sep 2016 01:50:21 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2622

Review of The House That Jack Built
By Cecelia Tichi
Directed by Craig A. Miller

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

RUN: September 9 – 25, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(September 16, 2016)

The House That Jack Built

Photo by Eric Chazankin

The House That Jack Built is a product of meticulous scholarship, which is both a blessing and a curse. Packed with detailed historical information, it brilliantly ties Jack London’s social justice work into the present day, rendering his works relevant to a modern audience. Quotes from Jack London are seamlessly mingled with original writing—recognizable to those who have spent time in Glen Ellen or are familiar with his work. Attending the play is rather like having a history book read aloud, causing the drama to struggle under heavy prose and preachy asides that constantly interrupt flow. A hilarious reference to Fanny Farmer’s cookbooks is cut short by a screeching halt in the play to explain who Fanny Farmer is to the audience. References are laboriously picked apart, talking down to the audience and repeating information.

As a Chautauqua it is wildly successful; as a play it falls short. The purpose is admirable—there should be more public awareness of Jack London’s work for the marginalized, poor, labor laws, prison reform, and environmentally friendly farming techniques. I have seen history plays fall into this trap before; it is possible to over research to the point where facts and data overwhelm the story.

Mingled with straight lecturing is an engaging love story between Jack and Charmian that is both relaxed and challenging. From lounging about in the cottage to a passionate boxing match thanks to accurate and exciting fight choreography by Marty Pistone, their relationship is the best part of The House That Jack Built. Costume Designer Beulah Vega recreates the characters’ looks, from Jack’s signature loose tie and light suit to Charmian’s dressing gown that you can see a photo of in the cottage. Jesse Dreikosen’s set design evokes the Wolf House in craggy ruins and a stone floor, with quiet homages to the locations, such as strung up writing notes in Jack’s study that I have seen when walking past his room in the museum.

The House that Jack Built

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Edward McCloud as Jack London embodies his character in poise, expression, and study of a brief audio clip of the author. He projects Jack’s soul onstage in a palpable way; his hopelessness seated amid the ruins of the Wolf House brings that moment in history to life with the assistance of clouds of smoke and Ryan Severt’s fiery lighting design. For a moment, we were part of that terrible day with him. Elizabeth Henry (Charmian London) is the highlight of this production. Her vivacious portrayal comes alive as a loving, adventurous companion. Her chemistry with McCloud’s Jack is dynamic and heartwarming, pulling their romance out of forgotten history into breathing reality. The supporting cast does their best with the fact heavy dialog. Ben Harper adds atmosphere and silent commentary to the bar scene, which lurches between tense drama and a race to see how many historical notes can be crammed into the least amount of time, rather like a docent who has ten minutes to explain an entire museum, because the tourists’ bus is about to leave.

Jack London is an integral part of North Bay history, and his stances on the economic problems of his age are crucial to understand for our crisis today. The House That Jack Built is the perfect introduction to a life that was more than mere adventure—his thoughtful and firmly held beliefs in a better world are an inspiration. Despite problems with dense presentation, there is enough life in this play to maintain the audience’s interest. It prompted a visit to Jack London State Historic Park for me, and although the play reads like a guided tour of the Wolf House, it is worth attending for its historical significance and excellent cast.

For hours and fees to visit the Wolf House and cottage, visit: www.jacklondonpark.com

Enjoy photos I took today from my trip to Jack London State Historic Park of locations and objects referenced in the play:

Engaging Lecture on Jack London originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 18, 2016.

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Cautionary Tale of Family Rancor https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/cautionary-tale-of-family-rancor/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/cautionary-tale-of-family-rancor/#respond Fri, 16 Sep 2016 01:56:47 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2612

Photo by Kevin Berne

Photo by Kevin Berne

Review of August: Osage County
By Tracy Letts
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
For tickets / schedule :
www.marintheatre.org
Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley

RUN: September 8 – October 2, 2016 (Extended to Oct 9)
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(September 13, 2016)

Vitriolic wit permeates this dark comedy in a depressingly accurate portrayal of the modern American family. Flashes of poetry lash out through mumbling exchanges and misunderstood conversations typical of disillusioned relationships. Family members talk and shout at each other, unwilling to listen before replying, deliberately twisting words, and desperately unhappy. Lighting designer Kurt Landisman expertly weaves a story through careful illumination—harsh daylight for the main action, soft for supporting vignettes, and semi-darkness silhouetting poignant tableaux of the grieving family huddled in pain, watching TV, or quietly reading. Beverly, the patriarch, goes missing and is eventually found drowned after committing suicide. His wife turns to her addiction for solace, ruling with cruel wordplay until her daughter snaps under the poisonous atmosphere, ripping apart the already broken gathering. August: Osage County heightens the drama many families suffer from, spotlighting how casual quips can turn into hurtful exchanges and true pain when we inflict them on those we love. In the lobby, discussions came up of re-evaluating what to say during holidays; perhaps comments like “Elbows off the table! Were you born in a barn?” are not appropriate or constructive, but serve simply to wound.

August: Osage County ramps up in the second act into spine-tingling drama due to the tempestuous relationship of Barbara (Arwen Anderson) with her mother, Violet (Sherman Fracher). Anderson’s performance in the confrontation is sensational. She moves from irritated sniping to seething at the emotional jabs, and righteous fury, thundering out “I’m running things now!” leaving the audience catching their breath. Fracher’s physicality makes the role; she stumbles up and down the teetering set, kneeling, swaggering, and falling with reckless abandon. Her breakdown of grief for Beverly (Will Marchetti) takes powerful form as she crawls upstairs, clutching at the wood, crying out for her lost husband. Danielle Bowen (Jean) is the odd one out as the youngest—present, but not seen as a contributor. Her casual, wannabe bad girl front hides a dangerously innocent teenage girl.

Photo by Kevin Berne

Photo by Kevin Berne

Running through the play is a theme of living in the present, and embracing what that means, good or bad. It is shown in Ivy’s (Danielle Levin) romantic notions, Bill’s (David Ari) pursuit of a younger woman, and Violet’s jaded vision of female body image. The supporting cast is riveting, from Robert Sicular’s awkward speech of grace before dinner as Charlie to Kathleen Pizzo’s (Johnna) comforting and occasionally daring interactions. Realistic Native American characters are rare, and she is a grounding presence in the mayhem onstage.

Ashley Holvick’s costume designs underline the authentic feel of the family. Clothing is soiled, well used, and sloppy or starkly understated in an intimate reflection of each character. Barbara’s journey descends from elegant lines of a perfect suburban housewife to underwear and old pajamas. J.B. Wilson’s sets of naked beams crisscross in a chaotic jumble, allowing for intimate family moments while maintaining the isolation of characters such as Johnna in the attic, or Violet in a Spartan bedroom. Dialog becomes the set dressing of the unadorned dwelling, painting a visual picture in the mind, rather than handing over the interior on a silver platter. A strength of theatre over cinema is that imagination still plays a vital role in the story’s creation, rather than relying on polished special effects. The bare house is filled with emotion, rather than objects, colored by our own family history. Marin Theatre Company has brilliantly set up an in depth display thanks to the work of dramaturg Lydia Garcia, including a board for post it notes from audience members talking about what family means to them. Take a moment to peruse them—sentiments vary wildly from statements that family is “the best most important part of my life” to merely “awkward holiday dinners”. Detailed analysis continues into the bathrooms, which feature hanging plaques about life on the plains in Oklahoma.

Photo by Kevin Berne

Photo by Kevin Berne

August: Osage County is a bleak examination of human nature, and our propensity to attack those we love instead of building them up. Marin Theatre Company presents a clever, gloomy depiction of family that serves as a reminder not to take our relationships for granted, but to nurture them. August: Osage County features a stellar cast in a Pulitzer Prize winning play that is not for the faint of heart, delving into the loathsome depths of frustrated dreams.

Cautionary Tale of Family Rancor originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 16, 2016.

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Venture Down the River with Huckleberry Finn https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/venture-down-the-river-with-huckleberry-finn/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/venture-down-the-river-with-huckleberry-finn/#respond Sun, 11 Sep 2016 20:25:03 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2600

Review of Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Music and Lyrics by Roger Miller
Book by William Haupton
Adopted from the novel by Mark Twain
Directed by Taylor Bartolucci and Barry Martin
Music Direction by Craig Burdette
Lucky Penny Productions
For tickets / schedule :
http://www.luckypennynapa.com
Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, Napa

RUN: September 9 – 25, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(September 10, 2016)

Big River Huckleberry Finn Lucky Penny

Photo from Lucky Penny Productions

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most important and controversial works of American fiction. Scholars have argued for its merit as an abolitionist work, and criticized it as racist. What can be agreed upon is that it raises questions that are relevant today. Lucky Penny states that “Much consideration was spent when analyzing the script before production began, and we decided that it was written in this manner for a reason. So we chose not to alter this classic piece of literature to ensure it maintained the author’s original intent.” The era and setting of the story demonstrate how ingrained the idea of slavery as an honorable institution was in society. Huck Finn reprimands himself for helping a runaway slave, thinking it will send him to hell, and makes him a bad person, but the sacrifice is worth it to save his friend.

Roger Miller’s music and lyrics draw on the African American spirituals tradition, with strong melody, minor key accents, and powerful singing. Kennedy Williams steps in for a series of moving laments, such as her Crossing solo as a recaptured slave being herded back to St. Louis. Having lived in that city, I saw first-hand how devastating racial tension can be to this day. The scene was a heart-rending reminder of how far we have to go as a country to become one people, rather than divided. The strength of this musical is its ability to combine a fun adventure story with tragic moments that silence us into contemplation of how human beings could treat each other in such a way.

Big River Huckleberry Finn Lucky Penny

Photo from Lucky Penny Productions

Adam Blankenship as Huckleberry Finn is an amiable country bumpkin who is batted back and forth between two strict Christian women and his drunken abusive father. His stage presence keeps the energy level high throughout the play, his forceful voice carrying many a solo. The two con artists, portrayed boisterously by Barry Martin and Michael Scott Wells, swagger and entertain until greed turns their antics into a nightmare. Tom Sawyer (Jordan Martin) provides constant laughs with his romantic notions and schemes. Phillip Percy Williams’ performance as Jim is a masterful combination of comedy and anguish. He pals around with Huck Finn until moving the atmosphere to a quiet opening of the heart, sharing his love for the family that was ripped away from him, and plans to work for their freedom if it takes him the rest of his life. Free at Last is a beautiful cry of longing from Jim as he languishes shackled in an old shed. The reprise of River in the Rain closes the musical on a quiet note of regret and yearning.

Big River Huckleberry Finn Lucky Penny

Photo from Lucky Penny Productions

Barbara McFadden’s costume designs are streamlined and nostalgic, with enough historical accuracy to create a believable setting. Huck Finn’s single strap overall is evocative of the original Huckleberry Finn illustrations from 1885, but it is troublesome in a moving play, causing constant adjustments that distract from the action. The set design by Taylor Bartoluci and Barry Martin places the small theatre on the banks of a river, complete with rushes and hanging mosses.

Do not miss Big River by Lucky Penny Productions—an impactful journey into the past, when slavery was not only accepted, but considered the natural order. It is a reminder of how far we have come, and how much farther we need to go to eliminate racial inequality. Big River is a play to bring the whole family to; it features a strong cast of young people, important message, and lively musical numbers.

Venture Down the River with Huckleberry Finn originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 11, 2016.

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Fiery Rhythm from Sol Flamenco https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/fiery-rhythm-from-sol-flamenco/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/fiery-rhythm-from-sol-flamenco/#respond Sun, 11 Sep 2016 18:49:39 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2593

REVIEW OF SOL FLAMENCO
Marin Onstage & Sol Flamenco
For tickets / schedule :
marinonstage.org
For more about Sol Flamenco:
solflamenco.com
Belrose Theatre, San Rafael

RUN: September 9-10, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(September 9, 2016)

Sol Flamenco Santa Rosa at the Belrose

Sol Flamenco opens with explosive palmas fuertes filling the intimate Belrose Theatre with exhilarating sound. Mark Taylor’s intricate toque skims the guitar in mesmerizing speed, interwoven with heart-felt, but not overpowering cante by El Moreno. The ensemble has cheerful, festive atmosphere with a good-humored sense of fun. The cozy velvet-draped theatre with tiny tables is the perfect setting for flamenco, which is often performed in cafés and bars throughout Spain.

A soulful, vibrant style of dance, flamenco comes out of the gypsy tradition when several cultures found themselves joined together taking mutual refuge. It gradually evolved into a performance art, when it solidified into the form we are familiar with today. Sol Flamenco is based in Santa Rosa, and was first invited to the Belrose last year to a delighted audience.

Sol Flamenco Santa Rosa at the Belrose

The evening’s program was varied, from the emotional longing of Soleá de Alcalá, to an electrifying flurry of footwork in Bulería fin de fiesta. I am partial toward Alegrías, since it was my favorite to perform, and Aldo Ruiz created a fast tempo lyrical performance with poise and elegance. Starting in traditional silence, Joelle Gonçalves’ Tangos de Malaga transitioned from haunting to playful and energetic. Her floreo is stunning—her fingers nimbly shift in flowering hand movements, flowing like water. Equally impressive, her feet strike precise sounds in clean rhythm across the floor.

Sol Flamenco is an electrifying evening of phenomenal music and dance that will carry you into a world of passion that is unique to flamenco.

Fiery Rhythm from Sol Flamenco originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 11, 2016.

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Marin Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’—Powerful Tragedy https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/marin-shakespeares-othello-powerful-tragedy/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/marin-shakespeares-othello-powerful-tragedy/#respond Fri, 09 Sep 2016 04:46:10 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2585

Review of Othello
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Robert Currier
For tickets / schedule :
www.marinshakespeare.org
Marin Shakespeare
Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University of California

RUN: September 2 – 25, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(September 3, 2016)

Marin Shakespeare Othello

Photo by Lori A. Cheung

Othello is rooted in raw emotion—passion, jealousy, revenge—demonstrated powerfully in the ballet version by Lar Lubovitch. The story relies heavily on internal unvoiced emotion conveyed through the actors, rather than repartee. Othello’s deep love is moved to disgust, Iago’s stung honour festers into rage, and Emilia’s coldness turns to horror. Director Robert Currier brings out the popular Medieval concept of faege feallan, that death at the appointed time is inevitable. The audience watches powerlessly as Iago lays elaborate traps, serving as cruel puppet master until the one player he thought was fully under his control breaks free.

Marin Shakespeare Othello

Photo by Lori A. Cheung

Cassidy Brown’s Iago takes pleasure in his machinations with collected ease. He is a disturbing mix of pleasant companion and thoughtful villain, rather like Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes. What begins as a source of amusement for him, pushing Othello as far as he can, spins into a treacherous plot in earnest, reaching dark depths in the murder of innocent Desdemona. His clever wife, Emilia (Elena Wright), goes along at first with minor jests, but does not realize how far he is willing to go. She catches glimpses of his true nature, which gives her pause, and when she discovers her husband caused the death of her dearest friend, Emilia snaps. Elena Wright is riveting in her frantic pleas that Iago’s lies be revealed, irate at the injustice of Desdemona’s fate. She cries out what the audience wanted to do from the beginning—rip the mask away from Iago and show his duplicity.

The Moor is inhabited by Dameion Brown, whose commanding presence dominates the stage. Toward Desdemona, his tenderness is heartbreaking—soft even while snuffing out her life. Breaking up Cassio’s drunken brawl, his leadership causes men to tremble from a look. That focus and confidence will serve him well as an actor. His lovely, naïve wife Desdemona (Luisa Frasconi) trips about with girlish solicitude, looking for the best in everyone and oblivious to her own destruction. She is caught up in her own world, unable to discern Othello’s moods or Iago’s jealousy.

Marin Shakespeare Othello

Photo by Lori A. Cheung

Dreary castle walls loom over the stage, illuminated by flashes of torchlight flickering through the gloom. The set design by Jackson Currier includes a moat and tiered performance areas used to excellent effect during the production. Abra Berman’s costumes continue to impress, from flowing robes to tight scarlet jerkins.

Marin Shakespeare’s Othello is a somber study in the difference one man can make in the lives of others—a tribute to doomed love, set amid the intimate Forest Meadows amphitheatre in gathering dusk. Othello is pure Shakespeare, traditionally staged with an exemplary cast and setting.

Marin Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’—Powerful Tragedy originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 9, 2016.

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Delve into Einstein’s Life with ‘Capacity’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/delve-into-einsteins-life-with-capacity/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/delve-into-einsteins-life-with-capacity/#respond Sat, 03 Sep 2016 18:57:54 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2576

Review of Capacity
By Rebecca Louise Miller
Directed by Elizabeth & John Craven
For tickets / schedule :
www.mainstagewest.com
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: September 1-18, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(September 2, 2016)

Capacity Main Stage West

In 1905, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity shook the world, prompting a prodigious career that echoes through history. Single minded and passionate, he fell in love quickly, without the sensitivity and courtesy required to maintain a long-term relationship. Capacity gives insight into his life through the eyes of his first wife, Mileva, a physicist who entered Zurich Polytechnic in the same year as Einstein. The play unfolds their intellectual attraction, whirlwind romance, and its affect on Mileva’s career. Forced to separate from her out of wedlock daughter, she is too troubled to focus on her studies, which Einstein cannot understand.

Their love dissipates until he appears with a cold list of demands taken directly from one of his actual letters to her. “A. You will see to it (1) that my clothes and linen are kept in order, (2) that I am served three regular meals a day in my room. B. You will renounce all personal relations with me, except when these are required to keep up social appearances…You must leave my bedroom and study at once without protesting when I ask you to”. Unable to keep up the façade of caring for her, and caught up in an infatuation with his cousin Elsa, he leaves her to raise two young sons on her own, including Eduard, who suffered from mental illness. In the discussion of whether Mileva co-authored the paper on Relativity, or if she was merely a clever sounding board, the play takes a conservative stance, which seems to be upheld by existing evidence.

Capacity Main Stage West

Freedom is a recurring theme in the play; is it the ability to pursue a goal, or the freedom to love and feel a connection with others? Einstein insists Mileva can only know freedom when unencumbered and returning to physics, but she postulates a different kind of living. Early scenes highlight the role of women at university in the turn-of-the-century, indicating their struggles through banter, rather than heavy force-fed dogma. Projections indicate passing years, which is a helpful guide to a play that jumps through time, keeping the audience guessing which era is next. Rick Eldredge’s scenic painting is startling, evocative of an event horizon in electric blue, amber, and grey as the mood calls for it. Tracy Hinman’s subdued costume designs capture the elegant early 20th century silhouette. The set is simple wooden furniture, brought to life by the actors into raucous smoke-filled rooms or an unsettling psychiatric clinic. Due to shifting through time and space, the constant transitions feel artificial, rather like a museum tour guide racing through fascinating rooms at a breakneck speed, unwilling to stop and savor the exhibits.

Ilana Niernberger’s portrayal of Mileva is inspiring. Her trademark dark nuances slide a sharp, witty student into depression, hopelessness, and trauma. Her pleading when Einstein leaves her is heart-breaking. Sam Coughlin’s resemblance to Albert Einstein is eerie, and his boyish charm in the early years chasing after fleeting theories shows a glimpse into the mind of a genius. Playwright Rebecca Louise Miller finds the right balance between technical mathematics and down to earth dialog, giving a flavor of science without the play becoming a lecture on physics. The supporting cast shifts between multiple roles, although a bedside scene of Hermann Einstein was a confusing moment of comedy in an otherwise sincere story.

Mingled in the compelling series of vignettes is the idea that an emotion more powerful than love is wonder. Rather than being driven by desire, characters reach for something beyond themselves, causing clashes in everyday life. Capacity is a study in wonder—its beauty of creation and destruction. As Game of Thrones vividly comments, “many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but they refuse; they cling to the realm, or the gods, or love—delusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.” Mileva was willing to give up everything for love, only to find that Einstein was as elusive as light, always speeding away beyond grasping. In the end, wonder is what survived, illuminating her face in the final moment of the play.

Main Stage West’s Capacity is a rare opportunity to enter the world of Albert Einstein and wrestle with the question of what freedom truly means. Journey through an evening of intellectual stimulation and tragic love with an exceptional cast.

Delve into Einstein’s Life with ‘Capacity’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on September 3, 2016.

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Hooray for ‘Animal Crackers’ at 6th Street Playhouse https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/animal-crackers-at-6th-street-playhouse/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/animal-crackers-at-6th-street-playhouse/#respond Tue, 30 Aug 2016 02:51:09 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2558

6th Street Playhouse Animal Crackers

Photo by 6th Street Playhouse

Animal Crackers
By George S. Kaufman & Morrie Ryskind
Music and Lyrics by Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby

Directed by Craig A. Miller
Music Direction by Justin Pyne
Choreography by Joseph Favalora

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

RUN: August 19 – September 18, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(August 27, 2016)

Animal Crackers is based on the Marx Brothers’ 1930 film, set at a prominent socialite’s elaborate house party. Eager to impress and dress down her rivals, Mrs. Rittenhouse brings in big game with Captain Spaulding, the African explorer, and an unveiling of Beaugard’s “After the Hunt” oil painting. The stage is set for a glittering masterpiece of entertaining, until a series of unfortunate incidents plunges the house into tragicomic chaos that only Marx Brothers shenanigans can instigate. It is not so much a musical as the singing is a natural extension of comedic rhythm woven throughout the story.

Jeff Coté captures Groucho’s poise and mannerisms flawlessly, although his execution of ad lib humor lacks the editing prowess and timing of the original actor. It is admirable to attempt infusing off the cuff humor, but many of the jokes fell flat and may have been better carefully scripted instead. His entrance is surprising and dramatic, capturing the spirit of the original while navigating our modern sensibilities of other cultures with more grace than carting the Captain out carried by Africans in native apparel. Famous scenes are reproduced with attention to detail, such as his conversation with Mrs. Rittenhouse (Jacinta Gorringe) regarding hunting. “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.” Incidentally, Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont recreated the scene on the Hollywood Palace show in her final on screen appearance, a tribute to its longevity. Jacinta Gorringe takes to her role as society matron with alacrity, towering in majestic indignation at the increasing antics ruffling her house party. Their chemistry together is crackling, keeping pace with the Captain’s witty barbs.

6th Street Playhouse Animal Crackers

Photo by 6th Street Playhouse

From April George’s clever lighting design to a lovely 1930s set design by Joe Klug, Animal Crackers evokes the era without being enslaved to precise accuracy. The orchestra is strong, and participates in well-done comedic moments involving Harpo. Unfortunately they often overshadow the singing, rending lyrics into indecipherable buzzing underneath the orchestration.

Juggling the multiple roles of innocent debutante with acerbic villainess, Abbey Lee alternates between a bubbly blonde doting on her handsome young beau to the vodka swigging crafty Mrs. Whitehead determined to take down anyone in her way. Partner in crime Grace Carpenter (Lydia Revelos) is a remarkable songstress despite a formidable pair of false buck teeth, belting out The Blues My Naughty Baby Gives to Me. Joseph Favalora’s remarkable choreography for the two of them had the audience roaring; a highlight of the production. Her alternate persona as nerdy Mary Stewart was equally engaging, paired with Matthew Herida’s hapless artist. David L. Yen ambles about with Emmanuel Ravelli’s signature ne’er-do-well charm, egging on the madness in a quiet unassuming way, with a memorable bit attempting to conduct the orchestra. The Professor (Erik Weiss) sweetly mimics Harpo’s absurd expressions, leading to hilarious misunderstandings.

6th Street Playhouse Animal Crackers

Photo by 6th Street Playhouse

Animal Crackers at 6th Street Playhouse is a madcap musical comedy and touching tribute to the Marx Brothers—an impressive opening to their new season. Join the zany cast of characters for an evening of acerbic one-liners, sentimental lovers, and genuine belly laughs.

Hooray for ‘Animal Crackers’ at 6th Street Playhouse originally appeared on Imagination Lane on August 30, 2016.

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‘The Comedy of Errors’ is the Cat’s Meow https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-comedy-of-errors-curtain-theatre/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-comedy-of-errors-curtain-theatre/#respond Sun, 21 Aug 2016 20:27:41 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2549

Comedy of Errors Curtain Theatre Mill Valley

Photo by Russell Johnson

The Comedy of Errors
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Carl Jordan

For schedule (free admission):
www.curtaintheatre.org
Old Mill Park Amphitheatre
Mill Valley, CA
The Curtain Theatre

RUN: August 20 – September 11, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(August 20, 2016)

The Comedy of Errors is Shakespearean comedy at its finest. Two sets of twins are separated in a shipwreck, and years later happen upon the same town, Ephesus, where they are constantly mistaken for each other. The Curtain Theatre has surrounded them with a vibrant Roaring 20s community filled with pinstripe suit gangsters, glamorous warbling courtesans, and enough fringe to cover an entire fleet of surreys. The play is made to be set in this era—with two feisty heroines, merchants willing to look the other way for a payout, and a lot of fuss made over a gold chain.

Steve Coleman’s set design is a detailed winding street with splashes of warm Tuscan colors, complete with a miniature centaur hanging by the inn bearing its name. Baubles and bangles galore dazzle from the costume design team of Amaris Blagborne, Melissa Claire, and Janice Deneau. Set amid a stately redwood grove, the stage is a feast for the senses.

The two Dromios (Heather Cherry and Nick Christenson) caper in increasing confusion between masters, receiving hard knocks from whatever is at hand—baguettes, forks, stuffed animals, and rubber chickens, assisted by percussion from the musicians. Carl Jordan’s direction leads to clever buffoonery and comical reactions from other cast members observing Dromio’s distress. The twin masters, Skylar Collins and Adam Niemann, react to circumstances with genuine surprise and distress, buffeted along by increasingly odd circumstances.

Comedy of Errors Curtain Theatre Mill Valley

Photo by Russell Johnson

Luciana (Heather Gordon) carries herself with sprightly ease, wrestling with an attraction toward the man she supposes to be her brother-in-law. Adriana (Melissa Claire) believes her husband has deserted her, and after downing several flutes of champagne, sets off to bring him home. She is the driving force of the plot, and a powerful example of a woman unwilling to give up on the man she loves. Equally put upon is the drawling Mae West goldsmith (Alexis Christenson) peering over her furs with a cunning eye, and outraged when her chain is taken without payment.

Curtain Theatre puts the old razzle-dazzle into The Comedy of Errors, creating a jazz hall adaptation that will delight all ages. Do not miss this charismatic take on Shakespeare’s classic play—it’s the bee’s knees.

‘The Comedy of Errors’ is the Cat’s Meow originally appeared on Imagination Lane on August 21, 2016.

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Sparks Fly in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/raven-taming-of-the-shrew/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/raven-taming-of-the-shrew/#respond Sun, 21 Aug 2016 04:48:18 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2542

Review of The Taming of the Shrew
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Steven David Martin

For tickets / schedule :
www.raventheater.org
Bear Republic Courtyard
Healdsburg, CA
Raven Players

RUN: August 11-27, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(August 19, 2016)

taming-of-shrew-raven-healdsburg-1

The Taming of the Shrew is a disturbing comedy to modern audiences, presenting a formidable directing challenge. In a world where women speaking their minds are considered shrewish and should be starved and abused to gain their docile obedience, how can the play be remotely amusing? Director Steven David Martin has an alternate perspective that Kate is hounded by a conniving younger sister, and acts out, using her final speech as a take down of Bianca, rather than truly meaning what she says. For the most part it works, augmented with gender defying casting choices and characters, but the underlying theme of the play cannot be entirely overwritten. Its setting is the 1950s, a time of repression and domestic expectations for women—an apt era for the play, and the flavor is so Italian you can taste pesto and ciabatta in the air.

Rather than depending on elaborate sets, Bear Republic’s intimate outdoor courtyard becomes the backdrop, surrounded by trees in resplendent bloom scattering bright petals, as the audience is serenaded by Steve Albini’s light accordion melodies. His accompaniment continues throughout the play, including a recurring theme for Bianca until Kate scolds him into silence.

taming-of-shrew-raven-healdsburg-2

Petruchio (Bill Garcia) and Katharina (Julie Schuldt) are well matched in a passionate physical flirtation that is mutually aggressive. His outrageous appearance at the wedding is suitably embarrassing, and despite mercenary motives, Garcia portrays a man smitten with Kate’s raw energy and spirit. His servant, Grumio (Zack Acevedo), is a highlight of the play, strutting with straight-faced eccentricity through scenes of utter chaos. Bianca’s suitors are a notable team of middle aged bachelors with merry hearts, who give in with good-natured grace when they see her fall in love with a youth her own age.

Lucentia (Samantha Haviland) is sweetness itself, but her servant, Tranio (Matt Farrell), shines out of the duo. He transforms from a bumbling companion into Lucentio, the fresh-faced suitor. Their antics to claim Bianca reach legendary proportions, causing hilarity and heartache. Siobhan O’Reilly as Bianca puts on the perfect outer show, hiding a deceitful woman as shrewish as her sister. Rather than being a surprise at the end, her refusal to answer Lucentia’s summons is in character; the shock is to characters who were unaware of her duplicity.

Raven Players have crafted The Taming of the Shrew into a form palatable to a modern audience, filled with slapstick laughs while raising important questions as to gender roles in society and how far we should be willing to go for revenge.

Sparks Fly in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on August 21, 2016.

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Spreckels Catches a Big Fish https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/spreckels-big-fish/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/spreckels-big-fish/#respond Sat, 13 Aug 2016 19:27:30 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2535

Spreckels Big Fish

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Review of Big Fish
Book by John August
Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the Columbia Motion Picture by John August
Directed by Gene Abravaya
Music Direction by Lucas Sherman
Choreography by Michella Snider

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: August 12-28, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(August 12, 2016)

Big Fish is a spectacle of glittering adventure mingled with genuine human conflict of a father and son struggling to build their relationship. In a study of extremes, the father exists in a fantasy world of romance and magical creatures, but lacks substance and leaves his wife and son to fend for themselves. His son, Will, reacts by retreating into pure facts, rejecting imagination for strict practicality, losing the beauty of life in his self constructed prison. Through exploration and loss, the two perspectives are brought together in a bittersweet denouement. Big Fish captures common experiences, such as the acute embarrassment only parents can inflict on their children, while wild fairy tales of giants and mermaids inhabit the same world. Like The Princess Bride, it defies categorization, carving its own genre of storytelling.

Spreckels Big Fish

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen’s set designs recreate a simple green strewn park, relying on Spreckels’ projection system to supply ever-shifting visuals. The orchestra pit rim becomes a river bank, the emotional focus of Big Fish. Pamela Enz outdoes herself with a wide range of costumes, using specific color palettes to set the scene, from the pastel and black old West to a sparkling 1940s USO show in vivid red, white, and blue. Collaborating beautifully with Michella Snider’s choreography in the witches, capes are turned into whirling pieces of art, swirling mystical energy through Jessica Johnson’s layers of sound design in the eerie swamps of Alabama.

Tracing through the real world and outlandish tales is the love story between Edward Bloom (Darryl Edward Strohl-De Herrera) and Sandra (Heather Buck) whose devotion to each other is hopeful and tragic. Although it suffers from archaic notions of a woman’s place in society, which distract from its romantic power, their story is set in an earlier time when women were not considered equal partners—insisting they take care of the kitchen and household chores without assistance. Despite these problems, it is clear the two adore each other, leading to a deeply moving song by Sandra, I Don’t Need a Roof, pleading with her dying husband not to leave her. Darryl Edward Strohl-De Herrera is compelling as a flawed hero, easily switching between the capering Don Quixote of his wild stories to a father who cannot understand his son’s anger, and is slowly beaten down by his fading life.

Spreckels Big Fish

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Assisted by a strong supporting cast, such as Nathaniel Mercier as Don Price, the High School nemesis, Bobby Finney as Karl, and Jordan Martin as Young Will, the production works well as a unit. Gene Abravaya’s direction reconciles the fantastical and mundane in a cohesive story, creating smooth transitions between scenes, such as using a measured circling between Will and Young Will as they change places.

Big Fish is a visual feast of circuses, fairy tales, and true love that does not avoid the harsh realities of broken families and struggling relationships. Follow the Blooms through fields of daffodils and rivers of regret, discovering what it is to be a storyteller in a suffering world.

Spreckels Catches a Big Fish originally appeared on Imagination Lane on August 13, 2016.

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Midsummer Madness at Marin Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/marin-shakespeare-twelfth-night-2016/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/marin-shakespeare-twelfth-night-2016/#respond Sun, 31 Jul 2016 21:28:38 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2524

Review of Twelfth Night
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Lesley Schisgall Currier
For tickets / schedule :
www.marinshakespeare.org
Marin Shakespeare
Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University of California

RUN: July  29 – August 21, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(July 29, 2016)

Marin Shakespeare Twelfth Night Review

Photo Copyright Lori A. Cheung

Twelfth Night is a rollicking tale that builds into chaos, settling in for a hasty ending moments before the plot spins out of control. Wrangling the story into a discernible and amusing form is experienced director Lesley Schisgall Currier. Celebrating the absurdity of amore, star-crossed lovers are effusive and melodramatic, while men strut about in oversized sparkling codpieces designed by Abra Berman. Marin Shakespeare’s production is bawdy and satisfying, but does not push boundaries; it is a conservative staging, despite the ruckus.

Elena Wright (Viola) is believable as a man, and carries a sense of melancholy through her sisterly concern and unrequited love for her master. Her interactions with Duke Orsino (Dean Linnard) are tragic and comedic, showing how often people are forced to wear a mask of contentment when feeling entirely different. In modern society, we are greeted with “How are you?” a question Viola would have to lie in response to. Beset with suitors she does not care for, Olivia (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn) reacts by retreating into herself, until opening her heart to love. The character shifts dramatically from plaintive mourning to a schoolgirl’s crush in the space of a few lines; a difficult transition to bring the audience along for. As a result, Olivia’s motivation is rushed and confusing, making mockery of her character prematurely. There is potential in the performance, if the imprecise timing can be overcome.

Marin Shakespeare Twelfth Night Review

Photo Copyright Lori A. Cheung

The antics of gin-soaked Sir Toby Belch (Daren Kelly) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Michael J. Hume) steal the show. Puffed up and confident, they carouse the night away, stumbling through practical jokes and enabling a duel that turns out quite fishy. Their accomplice Maria (Mary Baird) schemes in a lucid state of mind, her wit a sharpened awl against adversity. Together they become the focus of Twelfth Night. Untouched by greater concerns of love, good company and drink are all they require for a happy life. Accomplished acrobat Jeremy Vik juggles and tumbles as the fool Feste, who brings the two worlds of the play together in a central thread of merrymaking and inventive feats of balance.

Jackson Currier’s set design appears simple at first glance—pools of water and a primitive mural. It shines in use, as recessed pieces add to the staging, especially a revolving wall that turns an otherwise conventional scene of trickery from a letter into side-splitting hilarity.

Marin Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is boisterous fun under the stars at Forest Meadows. It has room for improvement in the tale of lovers, such as Duke Orsino’s stilted dialog, but does not fail to captivate for an entertaining evening.

Midsummer Madness at Marin Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on July 31, 2016.

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Clever Fairy Tale Play for Children https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/puss-in-boots-cloverdale/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/puss-in-boots-cloverdale/#respond Sun, 31 Jul 2016 21:05:33 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2516

Cloverdale Puss in Boots Review

Photo by John Gobeille

Review of Puss In Boots
By Moses Goldberg
Co-Directed by Sasha Guleff & Yave Guzman
For tickets / schedule :
www.cloverdaleperformingarts.com
Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

RUN: July  29 – August 7, 2016
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(July 30, 2016)

Puss in Boots at Cloverdale Performing Arts Center is a delightful way to introduce children to the theatre. Drawing from the beloved fairy tale, the production is less than an hour with no intermission to distract youngsters in the audience, and includes constant interactive elements with the actors. When attending, you may find yourself called upon to become a cat, or tell the King that you work for the Marquis. The cast keeps to simple concepts, not rushing scenes, and presents of the play within a play structure in a manner that is understandable to the newest theatre enthusiasts. Thanks to donors, 150 tickets were given to The Boys and Girls Club, Cloverdale Library, and Food Pantry families to bring the next generation into the theatre. Mentoring children and giving them the opportunity to see friendly, short plays such as this one is vital to the continued existence and appreciation of theatre.

Ian Munc capers as Mr. Dupress / Puss, his warmth and excitement encouraging enthusiastic responses from the audience when called upon to help him defeat the Ogre. His interpretation of Puss is innocent hope in a happy ending, rather than the calculating animal I have seen in other productions. Olivia Guleff as Fitzgerald and Robert A. Rodriguez as Wisteria demonstrate that actors do not always get along, before transforming into Simple and Princess Clarissa who adore each other. Gender bending the traditional princess and hero roles not only adds a layer of comedy, but shows children in the audience that they do not need to be constrained by gender in what characters they can play and who they become.

Cloverdale Puss in Boots Review

Photo by John Gobeille

Long-suffering John Slinkert as Mr. Jones / Ogre / King hops in and out of roles, after losing an argument that someone else should play the Ogre. His King is pompous and poised, with a kind heart, and the Ogre deliciously evil. Not only is the play meant for a younger audience, it is co-directed by teen Sasha Guleff, who was enthusiastic in requesting the opportunity to work with Yave Guzman.

Puss In Boots is the perfect production for young children and families, or those who are ready to let their inner child out to play. Fairy tales teach important life lessons, and what better place than the theatre to present them, where actors are real people, rather than images on a screen. It’s time to take the iPad away and bring children to the theatre for an engaging afternoon with a clever cat.

Clever Fairy Tale Play for Children originally appeared on Imagination Lane on July 31, 2016.

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‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ in Monte Rio https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/dancing-at-lughnasa-monte-rio/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/dancing-at-lughnasa-monte-rio/#respond Sat, 16 Jul 2016 19:21:30 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2497

Review of Dancing at Lughnasa
By Brian Friel
Directed by Michael Tabib
For tickets / schedule :
www.russianriverhall.com
Curtain Call Theatre
Russian River Hall, Monte Rio

RUN: July 8-30, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(July 15, 2016)

Nestled in picturesque Monte Rio, Russian River Hall is home to Curtain Call Theatre, a volunteer organization bringing performances to the Northern Sonoma County community. Their inspiration this season is Dancing at Lughnasa, a recent award winning play set in rural Ireland. Director Michael Tabib creates a traditional, formal staging. Michael Mundy (Bill Young) ruminates on his past as a boy in 1936 from a formal pulpit, detached from the energy of his family set in tableaux. While his perspective gives insight, isolated blocking slows the rhythm and infuses lonesome wistfulness to the primary action; Young does not have the dynamism to carry momentum through his soliloquies, causing uneven pacing. Although it is not a polished production, it is intimately emotional and filled with heart. The Mundy sisters are revealed as deeply passionate and vulnerable, willing to take chances for love.

Rustic, idealized set design by Jake Hamlin, Michael Tabib, and Dax Berg is a charming foundation for a gentle glimpse into Michael Mundy’s memories. His aunt Maggie (Avi Lind) is amiable, rather than fiery, an encouraging presence clinging to her Wild Woodbines. Kate (Michelle Randall) has an underlying sweetness to her struggle with modern values. Pamela Henderson’s Christina is demonstrative in her emotions, diving into misery and soaring with the heights of requited love, transforming into a fury when she realizes Gerry (Chris Reid) is openly flirting with her sister. Petra Sperling-Nordqvist as the unstable Rose is poised and elegant, augmenting the tragedy of her character’s future. Wanda Wiemar’s Agnes Mundy is clearly in love with Gerry, squirming in agitated guilt when he saunters into the cottage.

Recently returned from a lifetime in Africa, their brother Father Jack (Joseph Potter) is overwhelmed by his strange surroundings, and weakened by illness. Potter weaves a man who is not suffering from dementia; his Father Jack believes in the beauty and power of native ceremonies and culture, eschewing Catholicism for a religion of unfettered dancing and music. His rejection of the mold that Kate and the local parish wish to foist on him is calculated, not confused.

As evidenced in the title of the play, dance is integral to the story. Are the sisters too old for overt displays of pleasure—is hard duty and housekeeping all that is left to them? On the surface, the answer is affirmative, and firmly enforced by Kate, but in a moment of excitement she leaps from her chair to jump about the kitchen waving handkerchiefs and shrieking to music with the rest of them. Curtain Call Theatre’s Dancing at Lughnasa is a nostalgic journey of fleeting joy in a family decaying from unmet dreams. Russian River Hall is cozy, staffed by friendly theatre enthusiasts and is an easy, beautiful drive through the redwoods along the river just past Guerneville. Spend an evening with the Mundy sisters in a comfortable setting with lovely sets and good company.

‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ in Monte Rio originally appeared on Imagination Lane on July 16, 2016.

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Foul is Fair in the Cannery https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/macbeth-shakespeare-cannery-2016/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/macbeth-shakespeare-cannery-2016/#respond Sun, 10 Jul 2016 02:38:23 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2485

Shakespeare in the Cannery Macbeth 2016Review of Macbeth
By William Shakespeare
Directed by David Lear
For tickets / schedule :
www.shakespeareinthecannery.com
Railroad Square, Santa Rosa
(Enter through 6th Street Playhouse)

RUN: July 1-23, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(July 9, 2016)

Branches entwine a rough stage bordered by towering brick buildings adorned with vibrant graffiti. Taiko drumming emerges from the juxtaposition of historic and abstractly modern, rumbling with earthy rhythms. Shakespeare in the Cannery’s Macbeth is a grounded production, emphasizing the ever-present fates, and preserving a mingling of ancient and modern that parallels the setting in Santa Rosa. Bike gang leather joins with Scottish capes in Tracy Hinman’s costume designs, and David Lear’s scenic design blends perfectly into its environment, while referencing the prophetic line “Fear not, till Birnam wood do come to Dunsinane”.

Layered throughout is a multi faceted performance by Sonoma County Taiko, from muted heartbeats to adrenaline infused ferocious combat. The sound was particularly effective building up to the final battle, dropping off in eerie silence with the pronouncement of Lady Macbeth’s death. The raw energy combined with brilliant stage direction for the Weird Sisters creates a mystical atmosphere pervading the story.

Shakespeare in the Cannery Macbeth 2016

Benjamin Stowe’s Macbeth was adequate until the weight of his deeds transformed the character, culminating in the feverish horror of the banquet scene, when Banquo’s ghost appears, known only to him. Rather than portraying a classically mad king, Stowe’s Macbeth is riddled with guilt eating him up from the inside, poisoning his actions. Playing on his inherent ambition, Ilana Niernberger’s Lady Macbeth is intense and driven, until she also succumbs to repugnance of her deeds. The subtle costume design shifts with her moods, from sexy corset to a belt reflective of Duncan’s crown, and flowing unrestricted black when her outlook darkens. The supporting cast is excellent, such as Alan Kaplan’s stalwart Banquo, loyal to the end, and Sam Coughlin’s cunning and courageous Malcolm. Brief and memorable, Eric Thompson was hilarious as the hung over Porter, clowning through the audience and wincing with each stroke of knocking.

Bring a picnic ahead of the performance for unique outdoor ambiance, and a blanket or chairs to stay comfortable. Shakespeare in the Cannery’s Macbeth thrills with the clash of battle, Lady Macbeth’s sensual manipulations, and exhilarating Taiko drumming. Railroad Square is the place to be for a journey into the highlands with Shakespeare’s iconic play.

Foul is Fair in the Cannery originally appeared on Imagination Lane on July 10, 2016.

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All for One, and One for All in Guerneville https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-three-musketeers-pegasus/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-three-musketeers-pegasus/#respond Sun, 19 Jun 2016 06:32:05 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2476

Review of The Three Musketeers
By Ken Ludwig
Directed by Beulah Vega
Adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas

For tickets / schedule :
www.pegasustheater.com
Pegasus Theater Company
Riverkeeper Stewardship Park, Guerneville

RUN: June 17-26 (Excluding 23), 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(June 17, 2016)

Photograph by Al Christenson

Photograph by Al Christenson

The Three Musketeers has engaged audiences in swashbuckling escapades since 1844, leading to a series of thrilling stories featuring d’Artagnan, who lives by his high-principled notions of honor in a mercenary world. Volunteer staffed Pegasus Theater Company has chosen to present an adaptation in Guerneville’s Riverkeeper Stewardship Park, nestled under a bridge overlooking the lush Russian River flowing by in gentle ripples during the action of the play. The intimate wooded setting is perfect for Alexandre Dumas’ idealized France. A simple set design highlights the natural beauty of the environment.

A youthful romp filled with enthusiastic dueling choreographed by Nadja Masura and Peter Rogers, the musketeers and their opponents range up and down the hillside, into the trees, and across the stage with gleeful skill. Rather than presenting a serious retelling, Ken Ludwig’s Sabine (Olivia Rooney), d’Artagnan’s younger sister, creates a surreal world where Tumblr fangirls are personified alongside the traditional story. Oliva Rooney brings a fresh infusion of comedy to her portrayal of a jarring Mary Sue character with such delight in her role, that Sabine becomes a forgivable addition. In contrast, the sultry Milady (Yelena Segal) and innocent Constance (Rosie Frater) are the essence of their original characters. Yelena Segal was magnificent as the cold-hearted temptress, beguiling and terrifying.

David O’Connell’s d’Artagnan is a young man caught up in a flood he cannot control, accidentally becoming the most important man in France. Rather than the angry youngster with a chip on his shoulder from the novel, this d’Artagnan is kind and a bit hapless, eager to prove himself. The three musketeers are portrayed with gusto and well-earned pride, racing back and forth in a flurry of chase sequences worthy of a classic Western. Nicolas Christenson as Porthos is a future Falstaff in the making; his jovial antics are captivating. Athos (Rusty Thompson) manages to bring a disturbing edge to his character despite being surrounded by drunken revelry when he describes his background with Milady. Athena Gundlach’s Cardinal Richelieu preens and schemes, balancing between melodrama and slapstick comedy. The supporting cast is well intentioned, but still honing their craft. Their scenes slowed the pace, and occasionally distracted, but overall the impression of this production is fast-paced.

The Three Musketeers is an adventure for the whole family, and a fun introduction to live theatre for a younger audience. Its unique natural setting by the river is a treat to experience. When arriving, do not cross, but go down and left when you reach the foot bridge. The theatre trail will be marked with large red banners.

All for One, and One for All in Guerneville originally appeared on Imagination Lane on June 19, 2016.

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‘The Invisible Hand’ Delivers With Interest https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-invisible-hand/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-invisible-hand/#respond Sat, 04 Jun 2016 22:08:27 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2470

Review of The Invisible Hand
By Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
For tickets / schedule :
www.marintheatre.org
Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley

RUN: June 2-26, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(June 3, 2016)

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Harsh brick walls punctuated by a lone barred window overshadows two men huddled in earnest conversation. Young banker Nick Bright (Craig Marker) was mistaken for a higher executive and dragged from his car for ransom by Pakistani extremists. Ayad Akhtar’s nuanced depiction of Nick’s captors shows us relatable, flawed human beings who struggle with universal issues. The Invisible Hand is instantly compelling, augmented by Chris Houston’s sound design that plunges the audience into the dusty streets of Pakistan. Frantic to save his life, Nick pleads that his expertise in the stock market is invaluable. Intrigued by the idea of an easy ten million, Imam Saleem (Barzin Akhavan) agrees, setting the clever, though volatile Bashir (Pomme Koch) to work with the prisoner. Tension builds to intense trading, setting hearts racing with anticipation. As profits grow, characters struggle with desires, duty, and corruption.

In this intimate thriller, the West is stripped of its glamor; one group profits, while another suffers from food shortage as a result of a get rich quick scheme. Bashir points out that the post-WWII Bretton Woods financial system may have caused the U.S. dollar to become the center of world trade, dooming currencies such as the rupee. The captors are an uncomfortable mix of reasonable men and violent aggressors, vacillating between the two in a terrifying manner.

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The cast is riveting, all the more impressive since 40% of the script was changed mere weeks earlier, including most of the second act, due to revisions from Akhtar based on the early run of his play. The actors do not falter, maintaining a high level of concentration and coiled energy lashing out in dramatic moments. Pomme Koch’s Bashir is well educated with a deep-seated passion for learning, challenged by his immutable belief that Western greed is destroying his country. The harangued guard Dar (Jason Kapoor) is a kind, generous soul caught up in a war he is not sure of. He exemplifies those who want to live their lives in peace with their families, but are not given that choice, and do the best with what they have. Barzin Akhaan’s Imam Saleem is disturbing beneath his charming veneer, his story unexpected in its conclusion. Craig Marker as Nick Bright is engrossing; the banker moves from haughty demands to barely contained madness throughout the play in a spectacular performance.

Jasson Minadakis has directed a masterpiece of suspense at Marin Theatre Company. Middle East tensions continue to rise, and works such as this one are instrumental in demystifying the causes. The Invisible Hand transports us to a world floundering in corruption. Was it caused by indifferent Western business practices? Join this talented cast to decide for yourself.

‘The Invisible Hand’ Delivers With Interest originally appeared on Imagination Lane on June 4, 2016.

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I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/i-love-you-youre-perfect-now-change-napa/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/i-love-you-youre-perfect-now-change-napa/#respond Sat, 28 May 2016 18:10:36 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2462

Review of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change
Book and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Music by Jimmy Roberts
Directed by Larry Williams
Music Direction by Craig Burdette
Lucky Penny Productions
For tickets / schedule :
http://www.luckypennynapa.com
Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, Napa

RUN: May 13 – May 29, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(May 27, 2016)

Photo by  Kurt Gonsalves, KMG Design

Photo by Kurt Gonsalves, KMG Design

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is a series of musical vignettes following the lifespan of relationships from the awkward first date to married “bliss” and beyond. It is a smorgasbord of biting sarcasm, contemplative laments, tongue-in-cheek commentary, and deeply felt romance. Nestled in Napa, Lucky Penny Productions is a welcoming, lively environment, complete with full bar and enthusiastic volunteers. The production has been tailored to the wine country, with references to the di Rosa Preserve and Napa’s fine wine, and updated from its 1990s origins with smart phones dominating the dating environment.

Four stellar actors trade off between scenes in a whirlwind of costume changes, darting between tempo and styles while maintaining a common thread of focus. Standouts include Waiting Trio with one husband glued to watching football, while the other is trapped in Macy’s while his wife shops for shoes and On the Highway of Love accurately portraying couples fighting in the car. My personal favorite is He Called Me, which captures the euphoria of receiving a text or phone call when the man said he would call, instead of days later after staring at the phone in agony.

Photo by  Kurt Gonsalves, KMG Design

Photo by Kurt Gonsalves, KMG Design

The play is not entirely composed of comedic settings; Daniela Innocenti Beem’s soliloquy The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz is tragic in its awkward plea for love after a cutting betrayal by her ex-husband. Versatile Danielle DeBow maneuvers through scenes with expressions that would make Lucille Ball jealous. Barry Martin and Michael Scott Wells shine in Why? Cause I’m a Guy. I noted many an elbowed wink between couples in the audience while realistic situations played out on stage. Classic dilemmas, such as the parents shock when their son breaks it off with a long-term girlfriend, lead to harmonious counterpoint accompanied by the glorious Craig Burdette (Keyboard) and Matthew Vincent (Violin).

Costume designer Taylor Bartolucci built on a simple base of white to quickly place new locations with elegant simplicity. Barry Martin and Larry Williams’ set is rough painted graffiti and minimalist furnishings to keep the interaction of actors at the forefront, rather than a complex set distracting from the scene.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is the perfect date night, or a diversion for singles in a slump who need a good laugh. There is a hilarious moment for everyone; it is a fun evening of silliness mingled with provoking insight into the madness that is love, skillfully directed by Larry Williams.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 28, 2016.

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Novato Theater Company ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/dancing-at-lughnasa-novato-theater-company/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/dancing-at-lughnasa-novato-theater-company/#respond Sat, 21 May 2016 22:31:57 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2455

Review of Dancing at Lughnasa
By Brian Friel
Directed by Patricia Miller
For tickets / schedule :
www.novatotheatercompany.org
NTC Playhouse, Novato, CA
Novato Theater Company

RUN: May 20-June 12, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(May 20, 2016)

Dancing at Lughnasa Novato

Photo by Mark Clark

During hardship and loss, relishing wild, unfettered dancing creates a cleansing experience. In the Middle Ages, ferocious forms of dance were popular in times of suffering; the two have lived hand-in-hand for centuries. There is a poignant joy and disturbing agony in shrieking with delight and bounding about in the face of adversity. The Mundy home struggles for basic human needs, trying to spread a couple of eggs into a meal for the entire family, and losing the opportunity for what little income they have due to outside pressures. When the wireless set blares cheerful dance music, the women fling themselves into a flurry of action, forgetting for the moment their worries and burdens through Patricia Miller’s choreography. Dancing at Lughnasa is not an idealized Irish household; it demonstrates the reality of poverty and sisters slowly growing apart, written by Brian Patrick Friel, a true Irishman.

Dancing at Lughnasa Novato

Photo by Mark Clark

A subtly beautiful choice is using Michael Evans (John J. Hanlon) who was a child at the time the play is set, as the narrator. His presence and reaction to memories playing out before him is nostalgic and distressing when he relates the future. His soliloquies are quiet and emotionally charged, bringing a darker mood to superficially lively scenes. Bubbly and energetic, Maggie (Shannon Veon Kase) has a folk song on her lips and endless array of terrible riddles. Beneath the careful façade of gaiety, she is lonely and terrified, concealing it in a stream of merriment.

Kate (Kristine Ann Lowry) is the opposite of her sister; stern and uptight on the outside, she slips up and reveals an open heart with unerring love of family. She is dismissed as a teacher by the parish priest when it is revealed that her brother Father Jack (Jim McFadden) went native during his time in Africa. Judgmental attitudes of the community toward what is perceived as an unforgiveable sin have a direct impact on Kate, but she does not allow them to color her relationships. Despite initial shock at Father Jack’s behavior, his earnest, child-like appreciation for native rhythms and culture win her over. Oozing his way in and out of the Mundy sisters’ lives is Gerry Evans (Mark Ian Schwartz), a complete cad with unshakable charisma. His charm wins over Christine (Lily Jackson), who realizes they cannot be together, yet hopes for it despite herself.

Dancing at Lughnasa Novato

Photo by Mark Clark

It is the characters who form the central focus of this staging, supported by primitive, rustic set design by Mark Clark, realistic 1936 props from grocery packaging to the old-fashioned iron, and unassuming yet impeccable costumes by Misha Murphy. While director Patricia Miller also served as dialect coach, the cast slipped back and forth with their accents rather frequently, other than John J. Hanlon, who remained consistent throughout. Keeping up full brogue is a challenge, and the attitudes of the characters shone through, despite lapses in speech patterns.

Dancing at Lughnasa is a window into fleeting moments of optimism for the Mundy family; it is a plea to enjoy life as it happens, rather than brood on the future or lost opportunities. Enter a world where daily survival hangs in the balance, infused with the passion of five sisters who refuse to back down from their right to live.

Novato Theater Company ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 21, 2016.

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‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in Cloverdale https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-importance-of-being-earnest-cloverdale/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-importance-of-being-earnest-cloverdale/#respond Sun, 15 May 2016 18:30:33 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2443

Review of The Importance of Being Earnest
By Oscar Wilde
Directed by Jason Edington
Cloverdale Performing Arts Center
For tickets / schedule :
www.cloverdaleperformingarts.com
Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

RUN: May 13 – May 22, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(May 14, 2016)

Photo by John Gobeille

Photo by John Gobeille

The Importance of Being Earnest crackles with wit; I have seen it staged more times than I can count, and it remains highly diverting. Oscar Wilde reveals the triviality of upper classes with devastating effect, while presenting characters who are easy to fall in love with. Cloverdale’s cast enunciates clearly, and hits most of the right beats that are crucial to Wilde’s cheetah paced dialogue.

Photo by John Gobeille

Photo by John Gobeille

Costume Designer Holly Werner brings the early 20th century to life with billowing sleeves, clean lined Edwardian skirts, and outrageous hats that reflect both the time period and personalities of the wearers. Creating historical costumes for theatre is no easy feat; I have seen it badly done indeed, and it is refreshing to see fairly accurate designs. Shawn Olney’s set designs are elegant, although the scene changes took rather long. The garden is worth the wait, using live rose boxes scattered about the stage.

Jonathan Graham as Jack Worthing keeps his poise, until his friend eating muffins in such an alarming manner sets him off, causing hilarity. He is adept at Wilde’s rhythm, and an excellent Jack Worthing. His partner in bunburying, Dan Stryker as Algernon Moncrieff, flounces in full Algie fashion, consuming everything in sight, and enjoying himself immensely. He struggles with the accent, but is so likeable as the character, that it is possible to overlook. The two beauties, Nichole Phillips as Gwendolen Fairfax and Corey Sceales as Cecily Cardew, are true English roses. Cecily is portrayed with genuine youthful fervor, and Gwendolen, although unsure of where to put her hands in some scenes, has a confident allure.

Diana Grogg as Lady Bracknell and Janet M. Denninger as Miss Prism need more rehearsal time, and hesitate over the lines, but Dee Dee Robbins’ Lane and Jeff Terauds’ Merriman are stoic and deliberate in their delivery as the “straight man” butlers within a whirlwind of wit.

Despite an uneven cast, this is one of the better productions I have seen. The Importance of Being Earnest at Cloverdale Performing Arts Center is charming, bringing Edwardian manners on stage with accomplished style thanks to Jason Edington’s skillful stage direction.

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in Cloverdale originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 15, 2016.

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‘My Fair Lady’ at 6th Street Playhouse https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/my-fair-lady-at-6th-street-playhouse/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/my-fair-lady-at-6th-street-playhouse/#respond Sat, 14 May 2016 00:31:06 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2432

Review of My Fair Lady
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Composed by Frederick Loewe
Based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Craig A. Miller
Music Direction by Nathen Riebli
Choreography by Joseph Favalora
6th Street Playhouse
For tickets / schedule :
www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa

RUN: May 6 – June 5, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(May 13, 2016)

my fair lady 6th street

My Fair Lady is an enduring musical with glorious music, and a tongue-in-cheek examination of gender and societal roles. Exaggerated in the opening scene, the difference between Eliza’s class and the opera audience is striking, yet within a few months, Eliza is able to fit in with them through extensive training. It calls into question how important class distinctions are, and whether education is a possible solution. At its heart, My Fair Lady is a love story, whether it is Freddy’s puppy-like obsession, Eliza’s realization that she cherishes being with the professor, for all his faults, or a possible underlying relationship between “confirmed bachelors” Colonel Pickering and Henry Higgins.

Superb stage direction from Craig A. Miller keeps background characters engaged in delightful antics or stiff gentility, as the scene calls for. The supporting cast is marvelous, such as Jon Rathjen as Professor Zoltan Kap or Shirley Nilsen Hall as Mrs. Higgins, who delivers verbal barbs reminiscent of Dame Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey. Joseph Favalora’s choreography has a touch of physical comedy to it which shines in the servants’ flustered twirling during I Could have Danced All Night and cavorting in Get Me to the Church on Time. Scenic designer Jesse Dreikosen’s sets are simple and functional, augmented by props that are used to great effect in the jug band style With a Little Bit of Luck. The staging of Show Me is the best I have seen—Eliza tosses poems at Freddy’s (Brett Mollard) head while he tries to write more, dodging her caresses. Kit Grimm’s Colonel Pickering stole many a moment with subtle comedic expressions and timing. He can turn adjusting a pillow into a hilarious commentary on the other characters. Storming the gin joints of London, Norman Hall as Alfred P. Doolittle and his cronies are as lovable as they are disreputable.

my-fair-lady-6th-street-2

The backbone of a musical is its orchestra, and unfortunately violinist Linda Welter is not up to the task. Laboring under what Henry Higgins might call a sound “painful to your ears” the string heavy overture and Embassy Waltz were difficult to endure. Fortunately, this is not a problem when drowned out by the strong singing of the cast, which is the majority of the production.

I grew up listening to the original Broadway cast recording of My Fair Lady, and watching the film religiously; David Yen as Henry Higgins is the equal of Sir Rex Harrison. His I’m an Ordinary Man alone is worth attending this production to see. He is slightly softer in his portrayal, giving insight into the professor’s vulnerable moments under the prickly façade. The final moment when he realizes Eliza has decided to come back is heart-wrenching. Denise Elia-Yen as Eliza Doolittle is sweet-natured with a foundation of courage that flares out when she needs it. The Ascot scene when she describes her father and the gin is hilarious, leaving Freddy and the audience snickering with genuine amusement. Costume designer Tracy Hinman’s Ascot hats and gowns do not disappoint, presenting a stately tableaux.

my-fair-lady-6th-street-3

Despite a weak orchestra, My Fair Lady is buoyed up by its talented cast and effective staging. Husband and wife team Denise Elia-Yen and David Yen are a force to be reckoned with, dueling with finesse and enthusiasm. Do not miss Eliza and Professor Higgins at 6th Street Playhouse, as together they learn there is more to life than speaking correctly. While it is not a perfect production, it is a lively and an enjoyable way to spend an evening.

If you arrive early, be sure to visit the new gallery show at The Studio next door, I was drawn to Susan Barri’s Equine Aerobics, Stan Saloman’s photography, and Peter Turk’s clockwork art pieces that reminded me of Gallifrey in Doctor Who.

‘My Fair Lady’ at 6th Street Playhouse originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 14, 2016.

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‘Venus in Fur’ at the Belrose https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/venus-in-fur-belrose/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/venus-in-fur-belrose/#respond Sun, 08 May 2016 17:13:53 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2425

REVIEW OF VENUS IN FUR
By David Ives
Directed by Carl Jordan
Produced by Gary Gonser
Marin Onstage
For tickets / schedule :
marinonstage.org
Belrose Theatre, San Rafael

RUN: May 6-21, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(May 7, 2016)

Photo by Gary Gonser

Photo by Gary Gonser

Cloaked in sensuality, Venus in Fur explores the power dynamics between the sexes in a fluid give and take. An aspiring actress arrives to audition for a burned out director ready to go home, and a tug-of-war in dominance ignites, leaving the stage crackling with unspoken desires. The play premiered on Broadway in 2011, and evokes Classical tragedies, using the influence of primal gods such as Aphrodite in understanding human experience. Marin Onstage’s Venus in Fur is captivating with a dash of erotic humor, wrapping the audience in an expanding web, eager for more.

Melissa Claire as Vanda Jordan / Vanda von Dunayev sparkles with mystery and bravado blended into a riveting combination as she effortlessly sways between characters. Her transformation from ditsy chorus girl to an intelligent critic who tears apart the message of the play leads to a provocative denouement. Tyler McKenna as Thomas Novachek / Severin von Kushemski grounds the world as an ordinary man who finds his life peeled back before his eyes, powerless to resist it. They are expertly directed by Carl Jordan, who uses the intimate Belrose Theatre to advantage.

A powerful one act production, Venus in Fur demonstrates that dominance is a matter of perspective. In the audition, Vanda von Dunayev takes control of a scene, while Vanda Jordan is informed “It’s also an audition to see if you can take direction. Now stand there.” She turns the tables when the playwright loses his temper, demanding an apology, which he is forced to make out of courtesy. It is fascinating to watch the interchanges shifting back and forth like a dance. Venus in Fur is a sexy, intriguing evening, delving into the depths of what it means to be a man and woman.

‘Venus in Fur’ at the Belrose originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 8, 2016.

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‘Hamlet’ at Sonoma State University https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/hamlet-sonoma-state/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/hamlet-sonoma-state/#respond Sat, 07 May 2016 07:24:34 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2401

Review of Hamlet
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Paul Draper
For tickets / schedule :
www.sonoma.edu
Sonoma State University, Evert B. Person Theatre, Rohnert Park

RUN: May 3-8, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(May 6, 2016)

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Depression gorges itself on the young prince of Denmark, when a glimmer of hope is offered. Craving a reason to live, he finds it in the consuming mission to fulfill his father’s need for revenge. Shakespeare expertly interplays gained purpose with its loss. Ophelia finds herself adrift, unable to clasp an anchor to hold her in the world, while Hamlet embraces his deadly commission. The desperate search for meaning grants and destroys life, leaving no character unchanged. Sonoma State’s production is a loose contemporary setting with echoes of the 1960s. Stark yet poignant set design by Mikiko Uesugi is augmented by Michael Ackley’s subtle lighting and the finest sound design I have experienced in a Shakespeare play (Jesse Olsen Bay).

Hamlet opens to an atmospheric, wind-swept atmosphere of drifting fog, setting the tone for a grounded, energetic staging. The mix of modern themes and attitude with traditional melodramatic presentation is somewhat jarring, creating a muddied result. There is a lack of cohesive emphasis—the effect is a mix of comedic and intense, such as the confrontation between Hamlet (Matt Lindberg) and his mother (Lyla Elmassian) which moved between both. Matt Lindberg carried the role with poise and flashes of brilliance, but delivered in a monotone manner, occasionally slurring the elocution. Régine Danaé’s Ophelia conveys a wide range of emotion despite her few lines; her madness flitting through horrified bystanders akin to the notable scene from Giselle.

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Photo by David Papas

Rosemarie Kingfisher as a gravedigger is a delightful surprise, and easily became the highlight of the second act. Her cheerful, yet deadpan delivery foils well with Hamlet. Many of the characters had a gender recasting, which is effective in creating memorable roles for women in a play where they are relegated to plot point and hapless symbol. From the strong, yet calculating Polonius (Reneé Hardin) to passionate swordswoman Laertes (Deanna Maher) the Danish court is diverse and personable to a modern audience.

Sonoma State’s Hamlet is solid, with fetching production design. While not entirely consistent in its presentation, it is an entertaining evening, and I applaud the students’ efforts on the longest play in Shakespeare’s canon. It raises difficult questions to ponder—are we alive simply because we fear death, is there a purpose worth dedicating everything to, and how honest should we be to that mission while risking our relationships? The end is far from silent.

‘Hamlet’ at Sonoma State University originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 7, 2016.

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Religious Upheaval in ‘Anne Boleyn’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/anne-boleyn-marin-theatre-company-2016/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/anne-boleyn-marin-theatre-company-2016/#respond Sun, 01 May 2016 20:35:42 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2402

Anne Boleyn Marin Theatre

Photo by Kevin Berne

Review of Anne Boleyn
By Howard Brenton
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
For tickets / schedule :
www.marintheatre.org
Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley

RUN: April 14 – May 15 (Extended), 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(April 30, 2016)

16th century England was plagued with succession conflict and religious fervor tearing the country apart, until the relatively stable ascension of James I, who calmed the situation through his translation of the Holy Bible as a bridge between factions. Anne Boleyn is an interwoven story of his bawdy Scottish escapades and desperate desire to see a resilient country, and Anne’s ambition to bring protestant reform to England. She navigates treacherous court politics and noblemans’ greed, lit by her genuine love for Henry VIII and a vision for God’s word in the hands of ordinary people. Director Jasson Minadakis orchestrates the multitude of time transitions with alacrity, through movement and Kurt Landisman’s superb lighting design.

Anne Boleyn Marin Theatre

Photo by Kevin Berne

Streamlined costumes with Tudor accents by Ashley Holvick are mirrored by Nina Ball’s elegant paper cutout sets that feel like the inside of a miniature palace. Key conflicts revolve around William Tyndale’s (Dan Hiatt) 1528 book The Obedience of a Christian Man and the danger of being in possession of such a heretical work. Anne’s (Liz Sklar) courageous decision to confront Henry is reminiscent of Esther’s prayers before facing King Xerxes. Although the vulgarity is shocking to a modern conservative Christian, there is a strong devotional thread throughout the play, such as the poignant lyrics of Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, “the body they may kill:  God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever” which might be the rallying cry of this play.

While I applaud retelling history from a woman’s perspective, it is a disturbing trend to vilify men in order to do so. Cromwell is portrayed as a scheming blackguard with as much depth to him as Don John from Much Ado About Nothing. The atmosphere of the play is quite Shakespearean, not only from the setting, but the style and structure. It clocks in at three hours, but the pacing is uneven, which makes passing time acutely felt when the action slows.

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Photo by Kevin Berne

Liz Sklar as Anne Boleyn is earnestly passionate about her mission for God, not understanding why men have difficulty reconciling it with her personal relationships. Bringing dignified wisdom to the stage is Charles Shaw Robinson as both Cardinal Wolsey and Lord Robert Cecil. Poised and noble, Arwen Anderson as Lady Jane Rochford is a compelling presence, attempting to hold her own against a violent system. As both kings, Craig Marker is commanding as Henry, winsomely boorish as James.

Anne Boleyn is an enigma of our time that continues to fascinate. She is closely entwined with crucial upheaval in Western civilization, yet we know little of her. Marin Theatre Company’s production adds another strand to her history that is gilded as the Tudor court and creates a startling and entertaining evening.

Religious Upheaval in ‘Anne Boleyn’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on May 1, 2016.

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‘The Little Mermaid’ Makes a Splash at Spreckels https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-little-mermaid-spreckels-2016/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-little-mermaid-spreckels-2016/#respond Fri, 29 Apr 2016 10:52:47 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2391

Review of Disney’s The Little Mermaid
Book by Doug Wright
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater
Directed by Gene Abravaya
Music Direction by Tina Lloyd Meals
Choreography by Michella Snider

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: April 29 – May 22, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(April 29, 2016)

The Little Mermaid Spreckels Rohnert Park

Photo by Eric Chazankin

The Little Mermaid is a splashy spectacle of lighthearted melodies and true love, based on the Disney film. While this production is colorful and lively, keeping the smallest audience members enraptured, its origins are far darker. Hans Christian Anderson wrote the story out of heartbreak, when the man he loved was married, leaving Anderson alone and grief stricken. The little mermaid is given the choice of death or slaying the prince to receive her tail back. In an act of self sacrifice and love, she tosses the dagger into the sea, throwing herself in after it to perish, while the prince happily sleeps beside his beautiful human wife. There is no trace of the anguished original tale; Spreckels’ production is a fun and lively coming of age story that warms the heart.

From flirty mermaids in sparkling fins to extensive wirework, a production of this scale requires countless parts to move in harmony. The result is a vibrant display, such as the Under the Sea extravaganza musical number. Lighting designer Eddy Hansen worked wonders, bringing characters to life and transitioning between locations with ease. Costume designer Pamela Enz outdid herself with varied but unified creations. Abstract kelp patterns and jellyfish brought the sea to life onstage. Their choreography, by Michella Snider, mimicked gentle rippling water without becoming distracting as a background. Putting the voice talents of the cast to good use was musical director Tina Lloyd Meals, with the memorable She’s in Love, Positoovity, and Kiss the Girl.

The Little Mermaid Spreckels Rohnert Park

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Dominating the stage in true kingly fashion was Steven Kent Barker as Triton. A lost father grieving for his wife, Triton covers up his uncertainty with booming pronouncements, realizing in the end that family is what truly matters. Her sweet voice capturing a love-sick, petulant teenager, Julianne Thompson Bretan was a delightful Ariel. Her Prince Eric (Jacob Bronson) portrayed an equally naïve romantic, creating the perfect fairy tale couple.

It was Robert Finney as Sebastian whose exuberant personality was as wide as the ocean in an impressive Spreckels debut. His comedic interludes with Chef Louis (Jeremy Berrick) had the audience in stitches. Equally impressive was Fernando Siu as Flounder, who took to the half roller-skates like a fish to water, gliding in perfect comfort about the stage. His adorable crush on Ariel was well-played, and gave me new appreciation of the role. Sean O’Brien’s Scuttle was brief but amusing as he flapped about, consumed with self-importance. Mary Gannon Graham as Ursula belted out Poor Unfortunate Souls with enthusiasm, relishing her evil role, in a stunning squid inspired skirt.

The Little Mermaid Spreckels Rohnert Park

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Spreckels’ The Little Mermaid is a marvelous opportunity to introduce children to live theater. It is an enchanting vision of the world, with a magical orchestra, dazzling underwater pageant, and picturesque finale. Sell your soul to the sea witch if you have to, but swim over to Spreckels’ before this show closes.

‘The Little Mermaid’ Makes a Splash at Spreckels originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 29, 2016.

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‘All My Sons’ in Healdsburg https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/all-my-sons-raven-theater-healdsburg/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/all-my-sons-raven-theater-healdsburg/#comments Sat, 09 Apr 2016 00:42:40 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2382

Review of All My Sons
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Carl Hamilton
For tickets / schedule :
www.raventheater.org
Raven Performing Arts Theater, Healdsburg

RUN: April 8 – 24, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(April 8, 2016)

Photo by Ray Mabry Photography

Photo by Ray Mabry Photography

The award winning All My Sons premiered on Broadway in 1947, and has been adapted to the silver screen upon several occasions. Playwright Arthur Miller was facing a bleak future coming off the failed The Man Who Had All the Luck, and had yet to achieve his masterpiece Death of a Salesman. Inspired by the story of Wright company’s Lockland plant, which came under investigation by the Truman Committee for shipping faulty aircraft engines, the action centers around Joe Keller (Steve Thorpe) and how far he is willing to go in the name of family.

We do not feel the acute rage of a 1940s audience upon hearing of the deaths caused by Keller’s compromise, but making business decisions based on outside pressure, financial distress, and for the sake of family are relevant today, as is the terrible inhumanity caused by putting money first. It is easy to explain away and selfishly justify actions that will harm others when they are not right before us, but in the end, every person is a son or daughter. All My Sons is a heartbreaking story of families so focused on what is best for them individually, that they are blinded to the world until rudely confronted by it.

While most of the cast are exuberant but inexpert—difficult to hear and self conscious—there are standouts that gave life to the production. Steve Thorpe is Joe Keller in the flesh, a comfortable businessman who can be a tease, and is genuinely incapable of understanding why his decisions are wrong. Thorpe gives depth to an otherwise dislikeable character using his disarming charm. Portraying his son Chris is Jeremy Boucher, a regular guy who is realistically in love, not overdoing the infatuation. His abilities come into focus during the violent second act, when he is consumed with anger, but manages to keep it under control as Chris Keller would do. Angela Squire’s Ann Deever is bubbly and sweet-tempered, yet able to hold her own in a dispute.

Despite tenuous production values, Arthur Miller’s aptitude with the spoken word shines through, supported by a core of dedicated actors. While not a memorable All My Sons, the Raven Players tackle the difficult play with enthusiasm. Director Carl Hamilton’s talent for blocking is to be commended. There was an offset symmetry to the emotionally charged scenes that was augmented by triangle and trailing formations that brought out the best of Arthur Miller’s language.

‘All My Sons’ in Healdsburg originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 9, 2016.

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‘Three Viewings’ in Unique Venue https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/three-viewings-santa-rosa/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/three-viewings-santa-rosa/#comments Mon, 04 Apr 2016 01:06:15 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2373

Review of Three Viewings
By Jeffrey Hatcher
Directed by Diane Bailey
For tickets / schedule :
www.theatreanew.com
Church of One Tree, Santa Rosa, CA
Theatre Anew

RUN: April 1 – 16, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(April 2, 2016)

Photo by Michael Mingoia

Photo by Michael Mingoia

Theatre Anew is driven by a need to present plays in unique environments inspired by the intended settings. Since Three Viewings takes place in a small chapel, they are presenting it in Santa Rosa’s historic Church of the One Tree. Built in 1873, it has a lovely quiet feel inside with nature based stained glass depictions of forests and flora. The set is a comfortable settee with flower arrangements that rotate in color based on the three stories—red for the passionate Tell-Tale, white for mournful Thief of Tears, and yellow depicting a wave of hope in Thirteen Things About Ed Carpolotti.

Because of its nature as a series of monologues, the actors have full responsibility for the success of each story, inspired by the playwright’s conversations with funeral directors, a fascination that began with his father’s death. Three Viewings premiered in 1995, and this production is set during that time period, evident in the costume design.

Tell-Tale was influenced by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Telltale Heart, and is a painfully accurate depiction of unrequited love. Steven David Martin as Emil is spectacular—his deep love is so palpable on stage that it brings to life the woman he speaks of without her ever appearing. We feel his exhilaration and defeat, and a difficult monologue expands with fervent desire.

Photo by Michael Mingoia

Photo by Michael Mingoia

Sandra Ish as the complex woman Mac in Thief of Tears sparkles like the diamonds her character lusts for. On the surface, Mac is a superficial gold digger who cares for no one, but when she goes for the big score at her grandmother’s funeral, the façade cracks, revealing an ocean of anguish beneath.

In the final monologue, Virginia (Diane Bailey) struggles under the weight of debtors left behind by her husband’s thoughtless business dealings. While the intense makeup was a distraction at first, Bailey’s depiction of the artless housewife coming to grips with a life crashing around her was moving and especially tragic to a generation looking toward a future where retirement is a fairy tale of the past. Virginia’s tearful realization that there might be no house, car, or provision for the end of her life is the cry of so many today, young and old.

Three Viewings is a hidden gem in Santa Rosa, and one not to miss. It is both hopeful and melancholy—an exquisite staging of Jeffrey Hatcher’s play in an apt setting.

‘Three Viewings’ in Unique Venue originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 4, 2016.

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Sonoma State University Spring Dance Concert https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/spring-dance-concert-sonoma-state-2016/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/spring-dance-concert-sonoma-state-2016/#respond Sun, 03 Apr 2016 00:43:43 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2367

Review of Spring Dance Concert
Directed by Kristen Daley, Christine Cali
Sonoma State University Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
Evert. B Person Theatre

RUN: April 1-7, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

April 1, 2016

Sonoma State University dance instructors came together to address difficult social justice concerns such as gun violence in this provocative concert where collaboration is emphasized both between instructors and students and in the US-Korean collaborative piece HERE.

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

In the Absence
5 of 5 Stars
Music by Jesse Olsen Bay
Choreographed by Kristen Daley in collaboration with the dancers

Opening with an atmospheric fog horn that builds into rhythmic echoes, the dancers are unified in angular lines, twitching in lonely sharp movement. This evocative piece is garbed in primitive sack cloth designed by Ashley Williams, using the floor as an equal space and heavily influenced by Martha Graham with a contracting core and powerful extensions. The mood wanders in a terrifying world, perhaps reflecting human trafficking, but there was no background to the piece to make the social commentary clear. This is the strongest dance of the evening, I would highly recommend attending simply to see it.

Modus
5 of 5 Stars
Music “You and the Space Between” by Brandan Wolcott and Emil Abramyan
Choreographed by Eric Handman

Lyrical punctuated by pauses and slow motion, Modus demonstrates a loss of control, reaching and curling, transfixed and oblivious to the outside world. Dancers interact with pushing, almost combative postures. Martha J. Clarke’s costume design is casual everyday clothes in subdued jewel and earth colors. The stage itself is stripped bare, fully showing the wings and lighting rig. While visually dark, the choreography is hopeful, and concludes with a beautiful pas de deux of mimicking and exploration in contemplation.

Cease
3 of 5 Stars
Music by Aaron Gold
Choreography by Jennifer Meek in collaboration with dancers

A commentary on gun violence in youth culture, Cease suffers from being too literal and heavy handed with the subject matter. Lighting flashes simulate gunfire, searchlights are reminiscent of West Side Story, and bodies are bathed in a wash of blood lighting. Projections give death statistics and a dynamic poem by Cristoval Barajas-Madriz AKA Crigga Small Town Cemetery. Dancers run back and forth, clutching at wounds and climbing over each other in linear based blocking. Slower group steps are juxtaposed with punctuated twisting soloists in arranged anarchy. Diana Banas’ costumes are black combat suits with slashes of red patches in geometric designs. While it is visually stimulating, the message is lost by being blatant and demanding on the audience.

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

HERE
3 of 5 Stars
Music by Matt Langlois / Matt EL
Musicians: Matt Langlois, Adam Rossi, Mike Stevens, Guenevere Q
Choreographed by Christine Cali and Kyoungil Ong in collaboration with the dancers

Christine Cali spent a two-year residency in South Korea, and HERE was designed to share that experience in a manner the director describes as “visceral and emotional”, which is an apt characterization. At its core, HERE is a raw exploration of human emotion in all its neurotic glory. Thanks to brilliant live music from the Matt EL musicians, and using vocal elements such as breath and speaking on stage, there is a unique layer underneath the piece. Unfortunately, the choreography itself is mostly classic contemporary and predictable. The dancers were not putting much energy into it, perhaps due to fatigue; the result clashed with the music, which frequently overpowered the movement.

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Isolated sections are profound, such as the physicality of the opening, and sensory anxiety portrayed in fluttering movement, but the overall piece was trying to do too much at once. Multiple tones and types of dance are stuffed together without a unifying thread. It cried out for more editing passes; there are at least three different dances in here, and as a result they all suffered. The focus needed to be narrowed down and expanded from there, rather than jumping around with abrupt transitions or relying on gimmicks.

The caliber of dance continues to be inspiring, especially in the first half of this production. While there is room for improvement, the deep issues being addressed in the Spring Dance Concert invoke the sense of responsibility we have to discuss them. Physical visuals are powerful tools for social justice, wielded with skill at SSU.

Sonoma State University Spring Dance Concert originally appeared on Imagination Lane on April 3, 2016.

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‘4000 Miles’ is Worth the Journey https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/4000-miles-novato/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/4000-miles-novato/#respond Sun, 27 Mar 2016 21:14:59 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2362

Review of 4000 Miles
By Amy Herzog
Directed by Norman A. Hall
For tickets / schedule :
www.novatotheatercompany.org
NTC Playhouse, Novato, CA
Novato Theater Company

RUN: March 25 – April 17, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(March 25, 2016)

4000 Miles Novato Theater Company

Photo by Kim Bromley

Premiering in 2011, this is a recent play from Amy Herzog, and is inspired by her family. Long distance bike trips and hiking have become the rage among athletic young people, carrying with them sets of evolving traditions, such as dipping tires in the ocean or taking shadow pictures, as referenced by Leo (Jesse Lumb). Tragedy strikes his journey with Mika, who is killed in an accident. Lost and stricken with sorrow, Leo drifts toward his opinionated grandmother, Vera (Shirley Nilsen Hall). An unlikely friendship ensues, punctuated by Leo’s half-attempted quests for love.

Shirley Nilsen Hall as Vera embodies the physicality of being elderly. Her trembling efforts to fold laundry or open a locked door are heart-breaking, showing both her determination to keep living to the fullest and the insensitivity of the younger generation to step in and help. Leo lounges on the couch while she fumbles and drops the keys, unwilling to take a few steps to open the door for her. Undaunted, she is ready to both challenge and support him to the best of her ability. Ultimately the story is about the close bonds of family, no matter how different they are from each other. Jesse Lumb as Leo has an ease about him, covering pent up bursts of anger that are misplaced expressions of sorrow over Mika’s loss. His midnight reminiscence of Mika’s death is quietly moving, punctuated by well timed dark humor.

Fred Deneau

Photo by Fred Deneau

On-and-off girlfriend Bec (Emily Radosevich) fights between her attraction to Leo and a practicality that they do not work well together. After a passionate series of debates, the two part amicably, perhaps wondering what could have been. Representative of an odd sub-plot, Amanda (Courtney Yuen) enthusiastically bounces into the story, giving Leo the push he needed to move on with his life, stepping in as a sort of sister figure.

The language of 4000 Miles is conversational and natural; it could be heard in a living room rather than a theatre. Characters are brutal and loving to each other, often self-absorbed and realistic. Unfortunately the denouement is not satisfactory; it is too neatly packaged and convenient for a play about messy lives. At the same time it is comforting to have a hopeful ending for characters who have suffered.

Journey with a young person struggling to find meaning and his place in life, helped along by the family’s matriarch who has already discovered her confidence. 4000 Miles is a comforting coming of age story about the importance of family, even if they can be irritating at times. It is well researched with high production values and a stellar cast.

‘4000 Miles’ is Worth the Journey originally appeared on Imagination Lane on March 27, 2016.

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‘Outside Mullingar’ in Sebastopol https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/outside-mullingar-main-stage-west/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/outside-mullingar-main-stage-west/#respond Thu, 24 Mar 2016 04:46:28 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2355

Review of Outside Mullingar
By John Patrick Shanley
Directed by David Lear
For tickets / schedule :
www.mainstagewest.com
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: March 18 – April 3, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(March 18, 2016)

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Outside Mullingar premiered in 2014 and is set in an agricultural town in Westmeath, Ireland. A lush area of lakes and farms, it is often washed with rain, reflected in the play with sound design by Albert Casselhoff and an abundance of wellies. Weather is a luminescent thread throughout the play, reflecting character moods, adding misery to their struggles and joy to lighter moments. Two rival farms are adjacent to each other, one cut off from the road thanks to a long-standing feud, but despite these differences, the families are still close.

The younger generation questions whether the hard work of farming is worth the effort, or if it is time to leave it all behind, while the older characters grow bitter at their lives slipping away and strive to find hope in a bleak future. In an age when many fear death or speak of it in reverent tones, Outside Mullingar accepts it and is unafraid to discuss the ramifications. As Marcus Aurelius suggests, “death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back.” Elly Lichenstein as the elderly Aoife audibly creaks her way through grief with enough Irish fire to hold her own when questioned. Riposting her barbs is Clark Miller as crotchety Tony, a farmer who is ready to leave his life, but wants to drag everyone else down with him.

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Photo by Eric Chazankin

At the play’s heart is the eccentric Rosemary (Sharia Pierce) a dreamer who longs to be a swan, and refuses to give up on her childhood crush, willing to wait years for him to realize she is right next door. Loneliness has turned her passionate poetry to angry jabs at the recipient of her affection. Jereme Anglin as Anthony is an oblivious introvert at one with the fields, rather than comfortable inside with people. It takes a rainy day and a lost treasure to bring the two of them together.

While the premise and plot are predictable and at times cliché, reminiscent of The Decoy Bride with David Tennant, the language flows through otherwise awkward scenes. Playwright John Patrick Shanley brings a quirky realism to a classic romantic comedy, and the setting is enjoyable to relax in for a few hours. Outside Mullingar is a quiet evening in Ireland with a dash of romance. I raise a pint of Guinness to an engaging cast and enjoyable production.

‘Outside Mullingar’ in Sebastopol originally appeared on Imagination Lane on March 24, 2016.

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‘Wait Until Dark’ at Spreckels https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/wait-until-dark-at-spreckels/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/wait-until-dark-at-spreckels/#respond Mon, 14 Mar 2016 01:06:52 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2346

Review of Wait Until Dark
By Frederick Knott
Directed by David L. Yen

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: March 11 – April 3, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(March 12, 2016)

Wait Until Dark Spreckels

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Frederick Knott’s 1966 play Wait Until Dark was so well received that it was turned into a film starring Audrey Hepburn the next year. Three conmen descend on a blind housewife in the quest for a heroin filled doll, but she discovers their intent and fights back in a desperate bid for survival. The primary antagonist, Harry Roat (Erik Weiss), is introduced with a German accent, reflective of the lingering suspicion of foreigners, particularly from East Germany, during the ’60s, adding a layer of menace to his character.

Rehearsals on the set began earlier in the process than is usual, due to extended scenes in pitch darkness or low light, and for the lead character, Susy Hendrix (Denise Elia-Yen), who is blind and needed to look comfortable in her surroundings. Set designer and decorator Elizabeth Bazzano recreated a typical 1960s home complete with raffia and a vintage ice box.

Chris Schloemp as Mike Talman is sympathetic, trying to get by after time in lockup, and finds himself dragged back into a life of crime to get by in the world. He subtly demonstrates pity for Susy that turns into respect and a genuine wish for her well being. When he tries to confront her, she tells him that he could never hurt her enough to break her resolve, and he softens, admitting she is right. His partner in crime, Carlino (Nicholas Christenson), has adept comedic timing, adding a light touch to otherwise disturbing situations. His continual attempts to wipe off fingerprints are an ongoing gag that leave other characters perplexed and the audience deliciously amused.

Wait Until Dark Spreckels

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Denise Elia-Yen brings depth to Susy, demonstrating steadfast courage in impossible situations, authentic frustration at her condition,  and raw terror when she realizes the danger of her situation. The audience feels her journey, triumphant when she cleverly deduces the plotting of those she trusts, and frightened for her when she claws for survival against the nefarious Harry Roat. Lighting is used to great effect during that sequence, adding to the tension and allowing imagination to run wild with sound as a guide.

Wait Until Dark is a clever adventure that builds to knuckle whitening suspense, relying heavily on the talented cast, rather than special effects to create tension. It is a good old fashioned thriller that is intellectual, rather than using blood and gore for shock value. Wait Until Dark is an exciting evening in an intimate theatre, thanks to director David Yen’s brilliant direction and a gripping story.

‘Wait Until Dark’ at Spreckels originally appeared on Imagination Lane on March 14, 2016.

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‘Anna in the Tropics’ at 6th Street Playhouse https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/anna-in-the-tropics-6th-st-playhouse/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/anna-in-the-tropics-6th-st-playhouse/#respond Sat, 12 Mar 2016 23:39:21 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2339

Review of Anna in the Tropics
By Nilo Cruz
Directed by Marty Pistone
6th Street Playhouse
For tickets / schedule :
www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa

RUN: March 11 – March 26, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

anna-in-the-tropics-2

(March 11, 2016)

Pulitzer Prize winning play Anna in the Tropics was crafted by Nilo Cruz in 2002, premiering in Florida near where the play is set. In the 19th century, Cuban immigrants brought their culture and experiences to the Tampa area, including the tradition of using a lector in cigar factories to educate workers during the mindless repetition of cigar rolling. In 1929, the world was changing; cigars were falling out of favor for quick smoking cigarettes, and automation encroached on factory workers, who found themselves out of work.

Director Marty Pistone’s staging is visceral and sensatory. Through movement and props, tropical humidity wafts into the audience, transporting them to sticky Florida heat through the power of suggestion. The story is an intricate weaving of relationships paralleled and opposed to the lector’s reading of Anna Karenina to the workers. The icy passion of winter Russia melts its way into hearts, freeing them to explore their dreams or trapping them within self-made prisons of desire. While there are exciting moments, the majority of the play is quiet stirring of the depths of souls thirsting for something more to life. Desires are found and lost, longing is denied or succumbed to, and emptiness is filled by Tolstoy’s words for good or ill.

anna-in-the-tropics-1

This play is not appropriate for a younger audience, as there are mature concepts and brief nudity. While not shown on stage, there is a rape scene which warrants a trigger warning. The character affected by it reacts with numbed detachment, wrapping herself in a fur coat despite the summer heat, keeping close to herself. As is often the case with such attacks, the perpetrator is a family member, which makes it all the more tragic for her character.

The cast is superb, even Bibi Small as Factory Worker, who rarely says a word, but is a forceful presence on stage. Dan Villalva brings Santiago full circle from caricature gambler to an insightful overseer who is tender to his wife and enthusiastic about his career. Laura Sottile exudes confidence as matriarch Ofelia, the true force behind the factory, yet retains her femininity. The parallel to Anna, Bronwen Shears (Conchita) is a poet trapped in a practical life with a husband who does not understand her. Lito Briano (Palomo) has given up on finding happiness, until seeing Conchita discover it with her paramour, and a spark awakens inside him, recapturing his affection for her. She quotes Tolstoy. “If it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts,” encouraging him to find a new way to love her. Dapper and sophisticated, Armando Rey as Juan Julian, the lector, is drawn to the romanticism inherent in Conchita, helping her find parts of herself she did not know were there. When machines are introduced to the factory, his stirring speech about the pace of modern life destroying society is riveting.

anna in the tropics 3

Immerse yourself in tropical intrigue with an exceptional cast, thoughtful interwoven vignettes, and warm set designs from Jesse Dreikosen. 6th Street Playhouse’s Anna in the Tropics is a tribute to Cuban-American culture and the struggles of balancing tradition with the frenzied expectations of modern living. It brings out the best and worst of humanity’s ability to love, much as Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina was to the 19th century.

‘Anna in the Tropics’ at 6th Street Playhouse originally appeared on Imagination Lane on March 12, 2016.

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‘Kismet’ at Spreckels Performing Arts Center https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/kismet-arabian-nights-spreckels/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/kismet-arabian-nights-spreckels/#respond Sun, 14 Feb 2016 22:11:22 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2326

Photo by Tamarah Barton

Photo by Tamarah Barton

Review of Kismet
Book by Charles Lederer & Luther Davis
Music and Lyrics by Robert Wright & George Forrest
Directed by Gene Abravaya
Music Direction by Diego Garcia & Lucas Sherman
Choreography by Michella Snider

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: February 12 – 28, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(February 13, 2016)

Kismet the play premiered in 1911, running for two years in London. The Broadway musical version was popular in the early 1950s, especially the song Stranger in Paradise, which is well known to this day. The original playwright, Edward Knoblock, led an exciting life, serving in the British Secret Service during WWI shortly after penning Kismet. He was born Knoblauch, but anti-German sentiment in the early 1900s caused him to alter it in 1916. Kismet is heavily influenced by ancient fairy tales of the sort found in Andrew Lang’s books, where a trickster uses deception to make his way through life, unexpectedly becoming successful.

Photo by Tamarah Barton

Photo by Tamarah Barton

Spreckels’ production has Bollywood sparkling colors filled with sprightly dancing and an enthusiastic cast, but is hindered by ill-fitting costumes and politically charged themes. What was acceptable when Georges Prosper Remi created Middle Eastern illustrations for TinTin filled with black robed fanatics and bumbling officials in bazaars is difficult to swallow for modern audiences considering the current situation in that part of the world. It can be done with careful taste, such as American Ballet Theatre’s Le Corsaire, but the line between farce and insensitivity is narrow, and Kismet may have crossed it. Depiction of women is also concerning in the musical. They are perpetually seen as objects to conquer, and strong active women such as the Ababu Princesses are sneered at. Humor often involves making fun of people, but watching an entire musical denigrating women can become tiresome and is not amusing. What was appropriate in 1911 before women had the vote is not necessarily acceptable in 2016.

Photo by Tamarah Barton

Photo by Tamarah Barton

Tim Setzer as Hajj is a powerhouse, inhabiting a dashing middle aged poet with fervor. He oils his way across the stage, convincing or entrancing everyone he meets with dynamic songs. His patron and arch nemesis, the Wazir (Harry Duke), is operatic in his villainous machinations. Carmen Mitchell glows as the lovely kind-hearted Marsinah, her sweet tones mingling well in duets with Jacob Bronson’s Caliph. The lovers are convincing in their immediate infatuation, creating beautiful music together. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade woven into the music was a treat thanks to the in concert orchestra conducted by Diego Garcia.

There are fun moments in Kismet, despite the underlying themes, such as the beggars’ antics and witty one-liners throughout the play. Kismet is old-fashioned glitzy entertainment representative of early musicals, and contains a charming love story. While production values could be improved upon, Spreckels puts on a good show.

 

‘Kismet’ at Spreckels Performing Arts Center originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 14, 2016.

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‘The Road to Mecca’ in Sebastopol https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-road-to-mecca/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-road-to-mecca/#respond Sun, 07 Feb 2016 01:14:34 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2318

Review of The Road to Mecca
By Athol Furgard
Directed by Elizabeth Craven
For tickets / schedule :
www.mainstagewest.com
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: February 5 – 21, 2016
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(February 6, 2016)

the-road-to-mecca-2

The Road to Mecca premiered in 1984 at Yale University, giving a vignette of Helen Martins in her final year. Nieu-Bethesda in South Africa was a conservative area during the 1970s, heavily influenced by apartheid. From the tradition bound society, a free-thinking artist emerged, catalyzed by her husband’s death. She created what has become known as The Owl House, surrounded by elongated figures with arms stretched toward the East in a journey to Mecca. Playwright Athol Furgard grew up in South Africa during the apartheid period, and creates a compelling picture in this play.

The Main Stage West set design, by Elizabeth Craven and David Lear, is quintessential Sebastopol, an interior rather like the di Rosa. The actual Owl House is a more elegant English Regency affair with simple lines and squares, only accented with crushed glass. What they have created instead is an atmosphere that feels real to Sonoma County natives, bringing us closer to the wilds of the Karoo. What they have in common is a love of candlelight glistening in Eastern splendor.

the-road-to-mecca-1

Miss Helen (Laura Jorgensen) is facing impending despair; her eyes and physical strength are failing, and worst of all her inspiration has dried up. In a lament I have seen first-hand in elderly artists, she cries out with terror that the images might no longer come, that she has created all she can—darkness is descending for good, snuffing out the spark in her life that no candle can light. The play ends with hope, in a remark by Marius Byleveld (John Craven) that her inner light is brighter than all the candles. Unfortunately, Craven has not entirely learned his lines yet, which breaks the flow of many emotional scenes.

The play depicts a close relationship between two women, both the ups and downs. They support and push each other, alternating between arguments and genuine compassion. Young Elsa Barlow (Ilana Niernberger) arrives after a long car ride in a foul mood, from her own baggage and a disturbing event that happened on her way there. She begs to be left alone for a few minutes upon arrival, an irritation I have felt myself after traveling a long time. Niernberger is engaging in her portrayal of a woman struggling with betrayal and a broken heart by hiding behind logic and list making. Jorgensen’s Miss Helen flounders when trying to make a decision, unable to put her true feelings into words until the end, when she blossoms from flustered hesitation into glorious confidence.

It is an exposition heavy play, but I do not believe it suffers from it. Rather, the detailed analysis augments the world, creating two highly intelligent women who reason and think with each other while trying to make difficult decisions. When the truth of Elsa’s predicament comes out, it is both heart-wrenching and beautiful. The Road to Mecca is an intimate portrait of the love between two women who challenge and draw inspiration from each other. I would highly recommend taking the opportunity to see this South African play from a director who clearly cherishes the material.

‘The Road to Mecca’ in Sebastopol originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 7, 2016.

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Wishes Come True at Sonoma State University https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/into-the-woods-sonoma-state/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/into-the-woods-sonoma-state/#respond Sat, 06 Feb 2016 22:38:46 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2302

Review of Into the Woods
By Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Marty Pistone
Musical Direction by Lynne Morrow
For tickets / schedule :
www.sonoma.edu
Evert B. Person Theatre, Sonoma State University
Department of Theatre Arts & Dance

RUN: February 4 – 14, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(February 5, 2016)

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Into the Woods premiered on Broadway in 1987, and has experienced a recent resurge of popularity due to the 2014 film adaptation. Before being relegated to the nursery during the Victorian era, fairy stories were the realm of adults seeking to understand life through a different lens. Perspectives can change “in the woods” through the power of storytelling. Characters experience real challenges that shake their world, and lash out in violence or through comforting each other; making constant re-evaluations that allow the audience to consider with them.

Wishes are compared to children; they do not always listen, and what is wished for might not be that which is best or truly wanted. Cinderella’s mother tree asks what she truly wants, but it is not until the tree is crushed that Cinderella understands that perhaps an idle wish to go to the ball was not her heart’s desire. Lyrics and music weave through the story—jabbing exchanged barbs, mingling in perfect harmony, or layering each other in shared distress. The orchestra captures the timing and magical quality of the music with alacrity and are a joy to experience.

Setting is crucial to a magical kingdom, and set designer Patrick Szczotka creates a constantly shifting forest scene with touches of jungle quality mixed with traditional triptych presentation of cottages for the openings. He is supported by lighting designer Theo Bridant, whose stunning gradients haunt the backdrop with the intelligence of a character in itself. His work in the Witch’s Last Midnight is thrilling. Allie Evans as the Witch dominates the stage, enthralling any who come near with terrifying sensuality, yet her heart breaks with the loss of her daughter. Evans uses costume designer Carmella Nohai’s cape in sweeping grandeur, adding a dash of color and movement to the neutral toned sets.

Most of the cast are strong singers, particularly Emily Thomason as Cinderella, who has a luminous quality. You can imagine her as a princess stepping out of the animation into flesh and bone. This production opted for a rather cartoonish portrayal of Into the Woods, pushing boundaries of how far to stretch farce while retaining the important messages of the story, evident in the princes. Rather than hiding their licentious personalities under a mask of beauty, they do not bother to hide who they are, expecting the world to love them for the sake of a title.

Natasha Potts - Baker's Wife; Brett Mollard - Baker; and Allie Evans - Witch

Photo by David Papas

Holding the disparate characters together is the Baker (Brett Mollard) and the Baker’s Wife (Natasha Potts). Their struggle to have a family first breaks them apart, then brings them together. Mollard is captivating as his character faces loss and heroism, grumbling through life with cranky tolerance.

While there is room for improvement, such as the directing choices to the ending of Rapunzel’s story, overall this was a successful staging of Into the Woods. It is a complex, difficult piece to create, and SSU’s production pulled out all the stops to accomplish it. For an evening of belly laughs and the challenge of self examination, enter the woods, if you dare. Sonoma State University’s Into the Woods is a vibrant production filled with thrills and high jinks.

Wishes Come True at Sonoma State University originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 6, 2016.

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‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ in Healdsburg https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/raven-players-brighton-beach-memoirs/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/raven-players-brighton-beach-memoirs/#respond Tue, 02 Feb 2016 04:14:55 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2293

Review of Brighton Beach Memoirs
By Neil Simon
Directed by Joe Gellura
For tickets / schedule :
www.raventheater.org
Raven Performing Arts Theater, Healdsburg

RUN: January 29 – February 14, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(January 30, 2016)

Photo by Ray Mabry

Photo by Ray Mabry

Brighton Beach Memoirs premiered on Broadway in 1983, and was adapted for film three years later. Playwright Neil Simon grew up in New York during The Great Depression of the 1930s, an era which parallels our current economy. Characters agonize over seventeen dollars gone missing, living in the crushing reality that a lost job could mean living on the street. When faced with moral dilemmas to working, the family must decide what means more—principles or putting food on the table. Interwoven with exterior pressures are growing tensions in relationships. Sisters are pushed to their limits with each other, boiling over in a confrontation years in the making, and young Nora Morton (Giovanna Poulos) struggles to make life changing decisions without a father to confide in.

Sasha Guleff as Eugene Jerome instills life into a shadowed world of hardship through snarky running commentary to the audience. He treats every situation as comedic gold, no matter how dismal it is, demonstrating how one person with a cheerful personality can raise the hopes of an entire family. Despite stumbling with the Brooklyn accent, Guleff is exhilarating and enthusiastic. His character’s never-ending quest to glimpse a disrobed girl for the first time is charming, although it does make the play unsuitable for young children to attend.

Photo by Ray Mabry

Photo by Ray Mabry

Mary DeLorenzo as Kate Jerome portrays a bellowing Jewish mother who expects perfection, but secretly loves her family deeply. Jack Jerome (Gregory Skopp) is a quiet, amiable father who slowly bends to financial pressures, realizing that hard work isn’t enough, an all-too real sentiment for a modern audience. The ensemble puts their heart and soul into the production, and although there is inconsistency with the lines and the accents could use improvement, there were real moments of feeling in the play that I was impressed by.

Set designer Steve Thorpe outdid himself with tiered layers of rooms, furnished in a haphazard manner, demonstrating the financial difficulties faced by the Jeromes. The living areas are meticulously clean, a reflection of Kate’s personality. While the costumes were not entirely accurate, they gave the general impression of the time period without being fussy.

Brighton Beach Memoirs explores a family’s struggle to understand each other and not give in to tragedy. You will laugh and weep with the Raven Players through this bitter-sweet venture into 1937.

‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ in Healdsburg originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 2, 2016.

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San Francisco Ballet ‘Program 2’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/san-francisco-ballet-2016-program-2/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/san-francisco-ballet-2016-program-2/#respond Mon, 01 Feb 2016 00:03:59 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2310

Review of Program 2
For full program notes, tickets, and schedule : San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA

RUN: January 27 – February 6, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(January 31, 2:00pm, 2016)

Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan in Balanchine's "Rubies". (© Erik Tomasson)

Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan in Balanchine’s “Rubies”.
(© Erik Tomasson)

Rubies
Choreographed by George Balanchine
Composed by Igor Stravinsky

Rubies sparks with energy at San Francisco Ballet; rather than using it as a show-off of extensions, the dancers create a powerhouse piece of dynamic lines interspersed with playful capers. Karinska’s timeless costume designs glimmer, accentuating the richness of movement. Supported by Stravinsky’s syncopated piano and strings entwining with each other, this ballet’s exacting rhythm traces confidently across the stage. I have seen Jewels many times, and do not tire of the second segment—it continues to inspire and delight.

San Francisco Ballet in Morris' Drunk To Me With Only Thine Eyes.. (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet in Morris’ Drink To Me With Only Thine Eyes..
(© Erik Tomasson)

Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes
Choreographed by Mark Morris
Composed by Virgil Thomson

A casual piece, Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes is rather like what dancers fool around with in the studio when no-one is watching. Shifting with waves in the music, it changes between shuffling marking, warmup, and explosions of virtuosity. Santo Loquasto’s costume designs reflect a formalized version of practice studio attire, perhaps influenced by the music, which is 13 piano etudes. Pianist Natal’ya Feygina was mesmeric, building the melody into delicate longing in the finale. Gennadi Nedvigin is magnificent in this piece, languidly making his way across the stage with lyrical pirouettes. Vanessa Zahorian nimbly took to the stage with her characteristic bright cheerfulness. Comfortable and beautiful, Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes is musical and spontaneous.

Lorena Feijoo and Luke Ingham in Scarlett's Fearful Symmetries. (© Erik Tomasson)

Lorena Feijoo and Luke Ingham in Scarlett’s Fearful Symmetries.
(© Erik Tomasson)

Fearful Symmetries (World Premiere)
Choreographed by Liam Scarlett
Composed by John Adams

Light and shadow drive Fearful Symmetries in constantly fluctuating darkness, from hovering twilight gray to chiaroscuro black. Geometric shapes suspend over the dancers, winking on and off. David Finn’s lighting design is spectacular, reflecting the altering emotion of music and movement. Jon Morrell’s costume designs demonstrate the individuality of each dancer through shades and necklines, yet is cohesive and perfectly tailored to augment placement. Fearful Symmetries radiates vitality, with techno overtones and precise motion, interspersed with sinuous intimate moments. It was described as primal by Tina LeBlanc in the Meet the Artist interview, which captures the grounded sensuality of the piece.

Do not miss San Francisco Ballet’s Program 2—it is a luscious buffet of exhilarating dance with an astounding world premiere by Royal Ballet’s Liam Scarlett. The program is a technical and artistic masterpiece.

San Francisco Ballet ‘Program 2’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on February 1, 2016.

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Voodoo Shakespeare Magic in Novato https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/midsummer-night-dream-novato/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/midsummer-night-dream-novato/#respond Sat, 30 Jan 2016 21:05:36 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2286

Review of A Cajun Midsummer Night’s Dream
By William Shakespeare, adapted by Clay David
Directed by Clay David
For tickets / schedule :
www.novatotheatercompany.org
NTC Playhouse, Novato, CA
Novato Theater Company

RUN: January 29-February 21 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(January 29, 2016)

Jim Norrena-ACT OUT Photography

Jim Norrena-ACT OUT Photography

An imaginative restaging of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this production is rooted in the dripping warmth and mystery of Bayou swamps. Watery lighting design from Courtney Johnson and moss festooned sets spawn moonlit Voodoo nights filled with Delphic creatures. Contrasting the wily landscape of witching faeries is the Cajun influenced human world of boisterous festivity and honky-tonk music, sashaying across the stage in cowboy boots and merriment.

The play’s opening scene is the most challenging; it is filled with characters who are not given much to work with, other than introducing themselves and establishing plot. Clay David injects a call and response style of humor which livens up the scene. Hermia (Arden Kilzer) takes center stage, reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s feigned flighty blonde personality that peels back to reveal a sharp intellect under the mask. Unlike some of the other actors in the production, Kilzer finds a subtle balance for the small theatre, not needing to overact as though it were a massive auditorium. Her timing is perfect, and facial expressions priceless when she confronts Lysander (Mark Ian Schwartz).

Jim Norrena-ACT OUT Photography

Jim Norrena-ACT OUT Photography

Creeping through dark magic infused nights are the Voodoo faeries. Sumi Narendran’s Titania is as mesmerizing as her powers, transforming her lines into spells to enthrall the audience. Michael Walraven as Oberon brings a gentleness to the role that is not often portrayed. He is furious with Titania, but it fades swiftly, and his kindness toward the human lovers and Puck is heartwarming. Unfortunately, the production falters when it comes to the trickster. I have yet to see a successful Puck; it is perhaps the most difficult character to portray in Shakespeare. Alison Sacha Ross gave it her best attempt, but melodrama was out of place in the overall production, and her lines did not have enough variation in rhythm and pitch.

I have seen many renditions of the Mechanicals, from Hawaiian surfers to blue collar workers. The Cajun version is by far my favorite; a group of primarily retirement home aged women gathers, flowered day dresses, canes and all, to perform a reverse gender bending to what we are used to in Pyramus and Thisbe. Marilyn Hughes takes on the role of Nicole Bottom, a no-nonsense spinster ready to take on the world in a delightfully revised version of the timeless character. The rude mechanicals’ antics are the jewel of this production, well worth attending to see.

Jim Norrena-ACT OUT Photography

Jim Norrena-ACT OUT Photography

A Cajun Midsummer Night’s Dream is as richly seasoned as Cajun cuisine, and just as delectable. It is a unique perspective on the popular play, trimming and spicing it into a hilarious evening. Whether a Shakespeare enthusiast or not, Novato Theater Company is the place to be for a rollicking good time.

Voodoo Shakespeare Magic in Novato originally appeared on Imagination Lane on January 30, 2016.

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Chaotic Genius – ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/one-man-two-guvnors-6th-street/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/one-man-two-guvnors-6th-street/#respond Thu, 21 Jan 2016 06:04:56 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2274

Review of One Man, Two Guvnors
By Richard Bean
Stage Direction by Carl Jordan
Music Direction by Jake Turner
6th Street Playhouse
For tickets / schedule :
www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa

RUN: January 15 – February 7, 2016
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(January 16, 2016)

One Man, Two Guvnors 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Adapted from an 18th century Venetian comedy, Servant of Two Masters, the story and humor has been updated for a modern audience by Richard Bean, a comedian himself. Its West End opening was in 2011, moving to Broadway one year later to critical acclaim. It is not so much a play as an entire experience, richly drawn upon by 6th Street Playhouse. Performances feature a live band, The Craze, ostensibly from Brighton, who entertain well into the evening. Using audience members, the story becomes an interactive experience, leaving the fourth wall non existent.

The plot and exaggerated stock characters will be familiar to Shakespeare enthusiasts—it is reminiscent of A Comedy of Errors and other classic early English works, as well as many comedic operas. The actors strike a balance between fully embracing the absurdity of their roles and reigning in the nonsensical elements to be palatable for consumption thanks to direction from Carl Jordan. Scene transitions take on a playful feel through a series of musical performances from the cast in full character, sparkling with fun. With a minimalist set, April George’s lighting design took center stage, shifting colors with the story’s mood.

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Leading the charge is Craig A. Miller (Francis Henshall) bumbling his way Falstaff style through impossible situations. His brilliance as a buffoon supersedes occasional drops in the accent; his work attempting to move a heavy trunk into the pub alone were hilarious, and his reactions masterful. He is surrounded by a talented cast. Benjamin Stowe (Stanley Stubbers) played it straight with deliberate flair, balancing the pandemonium and augmenting the comedy. While an ensemble role, Michael Temple’s performance is of note, with a constant array of cameos. While his challenges with the accent were noticeable, the poise and powerful acting of Norman A Hall (Charlie “The Duck” Clench) combined for an intriguing character.

6th Street Playhouse’s topsy-turvy production of One Man, Two Guvnors is boisterous, light entertainment with a vintage twist. For a lively evening with good company, visit Brighton via Santa Rosa for an unforgettable experience. Please note that it is not suitable for children due to mature content.

Chaotic Genius – ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on January 21, 2016.

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‘This Is Our Youth’ Shines at the Belrose https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/this-is-our-youth-belrose-2016/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/this-is-our-youth-belrose-2016/#respond Sat, 16 Jan 2016 21:28:59 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2267

REVIEW OF THIS IS OUR YOUTH
By Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by Pat Nims
Produced by Gary Gonser
Marin Onstage
For tickets / schedule :
marinonstage.org
Belrose Theatre, San Rafael

RUN: January 15 – 30, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(January 15, 2016)

Photo by Marina Nims

Photo by Marina Nims

This Is Our Youth premiered on Broadway at the Cort Theatre in 2014, and was first performed in 1996. Written by Kenneth Lonergan, it brings elements of his time growing up in New York City; he was twenty years old in 1982 when this play is set. Every stage of living has challenges, and this play snapshots the early twenties. The trio represents three types of youthful struggles: a driven student trying to cling to her failing relationship with a parent, feeling lost and in pain with no-one to turn to who understands, and an exterior bluster hiding terror at the unknown future ahead.

Each character is wrapped up in his or her own world, unable to be a true friend as a result. They take out their pain and fear on each other, unable to find an outlet for what they are going through. While presented as a comedy, the subject matter is gritty and relevant to the youth of today. In between the laughs is a sobering picture of the darkness that permeates early twenties and the difficult undertaking to find independence and meaning.

Photo by Marina Nims

Photo by Marina Nims

Marin Onstage has brought together a superb cast of young actors. Fernando Siu (Dennis Ziegler) dominates the stage, swaggering through interactions with other characters while portraying an inner trepidation that consumes him in the final act. Andrew Pryor-Ramirez (Warren Straub) has an excellent grasp of physical comedy and timing, while managing to captivate the audience into pity during emotion-charged scenes, such as when he talks about his sister. Bessie Zolno (Jessica Goldman) perfectly portrays a jittery, stressed out character who is not sure what she wants, constantly questioning every move when not arguing furiously to claw her way into self esteem.

Set Designers Pat Nims and Gary Gonser outdid themselves with an accurate scene, complete with empty pizza boxes lying on the floor, a messy futon and 1980s appliances that some of us still remember owning.

This Is Our Youth is a compelling production with an accomplished cast highlighting the difficult path of a modern young person. Please note that it is not suitable for children, due to drug use, mature language, and sexual themes.

‘This Is Our Youth’ Shines at the Belrose originally appeared on Imagination Lane on January 16, 2016.

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Diverting ‘Nutcracker’ at Spreckels https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/santa-rosa-nutcracker/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/santa-rosa-nutcracker/#respond Sun, 20 Dec 2015 12:48:57 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2259

nutcracker-2-1414125Review of The Nutcracker
Santa Rosa Dance Theatre
with Santa Rosa Youth Ballet Company
Sonoma County Philharmonic
with Norman Gamboa
Directed and Choreographed by Tamara Statkoun

For tickets / schedule :
www.ci.rohnert-park.ca.us
Spreckels Performing Arts Center

RUN: December 18-20, 2015
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(December 19, 2015)

This beloved holiday tradition was inspired by an E.T.A. Hoffmann story and has been performed since 1892, coming to the United States through San Francisco Ballet in 1944. Santa Rosa Dance Theater and the Sonoma County Philharmonic present this colorful production that is quite good for a small ballet company. The costuming is tasteful yet beautiful, accenting what most of the children in the audience came to see—ballerinas. For example, the Mouse Queen (Siena Warnert), rather than being a frightening figure, appears in a gray tutu with a variation reminiscent of Balanchine choreography, with rapid grands battements. There is a definite stylistic choice of a tutu that is a combination of a shortened romantic and drooping classical which ties the production together while delighting children in the audience.

The Party Scene of Act 1 is set in an idealized Regency era with luscious high-waisted velvet gowns and elegant sweeping choreography for the adults. While not the most innovative depiction, it hits all the right notes and is a flawless classic rendering of Act 1. There were a few costuming details that could have been tighter; one of the party guests had knotted her shoes, rather than sewing the elastics. That is fine for rehearsal, but a trifle sloppy for a performance. Clara (Ella Feleay) is a beautiful dancer, confident on pointe and cheerful toward the audience. Her acting is believable, and drew the story along with alactrity.

The Battle Scene transition is splendid; adding a feminine touch to the mice works well. The battle itself concentrates on the Mouse Queen and Nutcracker (Cameron Lasater) in a cleverly choreographed showdown that is one of the best I have seen in a Nutcracker production. The Snow Scene showcases Theo Bridant’s set designs to advantage. Trees are given in brushstroke patterns, mingling with Spreckels’ projection system without overusing the technology. The Snow Queen (Catherine Liang) has a strong stage presence, but needs to improve her extensions all the way through her feet. If she can nurture her technique to match the presence she has, Liang will be a force to be reckoned with.

Act 2 uses the traditional divertissements and opens with a shimmering golden angel dance that sets the tone. While the Spanish Cocoa needed more passion to it, the Arabian Delight made up for it with stunning choreography by Joshua Trader. The sinuous music is used to form shapes and gliding patterns with supple dancing from Catherine Liang and Charbel Rohayem. The Russian Tea Cakes was trying to emulate the danse des petits cygnes from Swan Lake, but the skill level of the dancers was not up to it. The costumes were adorable, and the dancers tried their best to add enthusiasm. The Waltz of the Flowers was lovely and relied on classic choreography that is safe and well loved by the audience, ending in an opening bloom. Princess Clara (Stephanie Burns) and the Nutcracker Price show excellent partnering skills. In the variations, Clara’s fouettees are accomplished, and the Prince shows admirable poise and ballon, although his pirouettes à la seconde could use improvement.

One of the treats of this production is that there is a live orchestra, which both augments and distracts from the dancing. When the musicians were at their best, such as during the Snow Scene, the collaboration was marvelous, but the Philharmonic was not consistent in quality, perhaps due to lack of rehearsal.

Overall this is a quality local production, with excellent plot foreshadowing and acting as well as elegant costuming and talented student dancers. I would recommend it for an entertaining evening to bring children to or enjoy the holiday tradition with friends.

Diverting ‘Nutcracker’ at Spreckels originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 20, 2015.

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Raven Players Lasso the Moon https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/its-a-wonderful-life-raven-windsor/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/its-a-wonderful-life-raven-windsor/#respond Sun, 13 Dec 2015 05:43:00 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2250

Review of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
By Joe Landry
Directed by Sylvia Jones
For tickets / schedule :
www.raventheater.org
Raven Theater, Windsor

RUN: December 4-20, 2015
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(December 11, 2015)

Life_castcolor 5in

Photo by Ray Mabry

Premiering in 1996 at Stamford Center for the Arts, the play is set in 1946 at a radio studio. What I found innovative was the lack of fourth wall in the production. The sound check was part of the play, and intermission saw the cast interacting as if on a break at the studio, pulling out 1940s magazines to peruse while they waited. For those of my generation, the world of radio drama moved to podcasting, and audio is mixed in post-production with effects added later, pulled from vast internet archives of sound. That was not the case with early radio drama, which relied on instant mixing, such as walking over corn flakes to simulate the sound of snow footsteps. Watching a meticulously attired young lady vigorously pumping a toilet plunger to sound like an icy river is an eye opener for those of us who grew up looking at tracks in Audacity when creating audio drama productions.

This play is riveting from the sheer amount of interaction between characters, since there are two plays happening simultaneously—It’s a Wonderful Life on one hand, and the radio studio on the other. The result is a light hearted version of the tale, with plenty of laughs, while preserving the passionate joy and sorrow of the original story.

Life_2color 5in

Photo by Ray Mabry

The core message of It’s a Wonderful Life is relevant today; each person has meaning, and without them a gaping hole is left in the world. In the San Francisco Bay area, where the average middle class household cannot afford to buy a house of any size, the Savings and Loan crisis is especially meaningful, and its survival bitter sweet. The play is not heavy-hearted, despite the subject matter. Those of us who listen to old radio plays on a regular basis will find the faux advertisements complete with ridiculous jingles quite hilarious in their delicious accuracy. If you have not had the pleasure of hearing any old fashioned radio drama, I recommend looking up Escape, Bold Venture and X Minus One to get started.

Life_Clarence 5in

Photo by Ray Mabry

The cast has quite the challenge, since they are actors portraying actors portraying a wide range of characters. Gregory Skopp as Freddie Filmore astounds with his lightning fast switches between voices and a radio show host whose pompous attitude defies measurement. Matt Farrell stumbles on stage as Harry Heywood, the rather inebriated actor attempting to portray Clarence. He passes out partway through, ignored by his fellow radio actors, who continue their knitting as if nothing had happened. Angela Squire as Lana Sherwood takes her golden age Hollywood starlet act quite seriously, slinking and posing her way through the story.

With this production there are two plays for the price of one, as it were. The radio studio aspect is a fantastic comedy, and their It’s a Wonderful Life is moving and heartfelt. When looking for the perfect holiday play this December, stop by the Raven Theater in Windsor. It’s a Wonderful Life: A Life Radio Play is captivating and fun, infused with genuine holiday spirit.

Raven Players Lasso the Moon originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 13, 2015.

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Haunting Evening of Dance at Sonoma State University https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/fall-dance-ssu-2015/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/fall-dance-ssu-2015/#respond Sat, 05 Dec 2015 08:02:49 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2240

Review of Fall Dance Concert: Heart & Soul
Directed by Nichele Van Portfleet
Sonoma State University Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
Evert. B Person Theatre

RUN: December 3-6, 2015
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

December 4, 2015

This is a performance of mixed dance styles that are choreographed and performed by students of Sonoma State University, and is a delightful evening for dance enthusiasts.

ssu-fall-dance-2015-1

Photo by David Papas

Lit
5 of 5 stars
Choreography by: Maddie Watson in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Son Lux, Zoe Keating

An atmospheric piece of deep longing undermined by fear, Lit exposes the entire stage, including the wings, lit by strung lights high out of reach, a glow that is near enough to see but not experience. There is an emphasis on the feet pointing and flexing, breaking the otherwise lyrical quality of the piece, layering on its message. The costuming is a stunning array of ink splashed flowing gowns.

The Art of Expression
3.5 of 5 stars
Choreography by Peter A in collaboration with the dancers
Music: The XX, Bironnex, 6ix Toys, Naruto OST

Merging Eastern and Western sensibilities in an angular array of geometric lighting design by Mark Wilson, the piece is primarily mimed. It feels experimental, using video clips of Bruce Lee book-ending the action, and moves suddenly between extreme emotions, well executed by the dancers.

Empty and Marvelous
3 of 5 stars
Choreography by James DeSoto
Music: Mark McKinney, James DeSoto, voice of Fina Wheeler

This modest piece is simple, accompanied by live drummers. The dancers use natural percussion to add detail to the soundscape, such as slapping feet on the floor. It evokes the Flower Child movement of the 1960s, with colored skirts and free-flowing hair, whirling in circles. The dance is interesting, but lacking a spark to it.

Hysteria: A Portrait of “Insanity”
3 of 5 stars
Choreography by Stephanie DeGroote
Music: Midnight Syndicate, Emilie Autumn

It is clear that research went into this piece. I have visited Victorian insane asylums that have been turned into museums, and what went on was rather disturbing, particularly since men could commit women simply because they wished to be rid of them. While I admire the sentiment, the dance is rather heavy handed with the subject matter. Costuming and makeup are excellent, and the use of stillness juxtaposed with terrified jerking movement quite ominous, but it does not have much emotional impact, because the choreography strays toward farce too easily. The choice of music is perfect for the extreme depiction of an asylum, featuring Emilie Autumn’s Take the Pill to great effect.

ssu-fall-dance-2015-2

Photo by David Papas

Operational
4 of 5 stars
Choreography: Katy Lohse in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Safia

This is the most unique piece of the evening, using exaggerated shadows similar to Fred Astaire in Swing Time’s famous piece. The dancers are costumed identically in black page boy wigs, with expressionless doll-like movements that reminded me of Leeloo in The Fifth Element. The dancing is excellent, keeping to small staccato movements in a fascinating piece.

For Example
5 of 5 stars
Choreography: Hannah Ingwerson in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Ólafur Arnalds

Post-apocalyptic styling creates an earthy grounded scene, accompanied by lyrical piano that melts the heart. The dancers embody broken suffering survivors of trauma, quietly creating the message that Hysteria tried to convey. This piece is truly moving, almost bringing me to tears. It is worth attending the performance to see.

TheBOARD
3 of 5 stars
Choreography: Jasen Valdez
Music: Johnny Stimson, Chance The Rapper, Lil B, Beyoncé, Omarion

This is a quilt of various music and dance styles, but its execution is a bit sloppy and does not have enough of a thread to keep it feeling like a completed piece. The iPhone projected throughout is certainly relevant to modern times, but I’m not sure what it did to accompany the dance, it felt like more of a distraction. There is a lot going on with this dance, and pieces of it were well done, but it does not feel fully realized as a unit.

Vital(ity)
3.5 of 5 stars
Choreography: Farrah McAdam in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Ólafur Arnalds

Layered on monotone music, this energetic dance features lovely extension lines, and must have been a challenge to the stamina of the performers. It keeps a level of high animation throughout, and is quite floor based, using levels to advantage. There is unfortunately little substance to the piece—it was pretty to watch, but the dancing is not of a high level of accomplishment, and the choreography somewhat repetitive without having a clear theme.

Hey Ladies
3 of 5 stars
Choreography: Brenda Lopez
Music: Alicia Keys, Missy Elliot, Eminem (DJ), Sia, Major Lazor, Rihanna

Grrl power explodes onstage in a splashy dance with bold lighting and showy choreography. While it radiates attitude, there isn’t enough powerful dancing backing it up, and the movement does not fully utilize the dynamic music.

The World Enders
4 of 5 stars
Choreography: Christina Kitchen
Music: Unknown

Femme fatales invade with deadly elegance in a strongly Noir piece. The opening is entirely in dramatic silhouettes—it is like watching the opening credits to a James Bond movie live on stage. If Audrey Hepburn turned bad girl in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, this would be the result.

Study Break
5 of 5 stars
Choreography: Take 5
Music: Lea Salonga, Corbin Bleu, Lucas Grabeel, Alan Menken, The Cheetah Girls

Using props can be difficult, but they are handled with alacrity in this fabulous comedic piece. It weaves between popular music, from umbrella toting Disney princesses, played to hilarious effect by male dancers, to I Don’t Dance while balancing on top of a couch wielding a baseball bat. It is extremely clever, even utilizing the stage manager in a cameo appearance, with fascinating and varied movement. This is parody dancing at its best.

The performance concludes with a lively coda, interweaving elements of choreography from the pieces of the evening in an entertaining manner. Sonoma State’s Fall Dance Concert is dynamic and diverse with strong performing skills among the dancers.

Haunting Evening of Dance at Sonoma State University originally appeared on Imagination Lane on December 5, 2015.

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Family Holiday Musical – ‘Little Women’ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/little-women-spreckels-2015/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/little-women-spreckels-2015/#respond Sun, 29 Nov 2015 01:03:04 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2233

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Review of Little Women: The Musical
Book by Allan Knee
Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Music by Jason Howland
Directed by Thomas Chapman
Music Direction by Jim Coleman
Choreography by Michella Snider

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: November 27 – December 20, 2015
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(November 27, 2015)

Little Women: The Musical opened on Broadway in 2005, condensing the 600 page novel by Louisa May Alcott into a single evening. Like the character Jo, the original author suffered financial difficulties while growing up and staunchly supported causes she was passionate for. She did not simply write about the Civil War, she lived it, serving as a Union nurse. Despite a dark childhood, she flourished as a writer, and that hope shines through her novels. The story’s core is redemption, forgiveness and finding love through challenging times, one we can take to heart today. It does not shy away from tragedy, but brings the characters through it in a heartfelt manner.

Accompanied by a talented trio, songs range from the haunting Here Alone (Tina Lloyd Meals as Marmee) to the lively Off to Massachusetts (Kailey Hewitt as Beth March), interspersed with the book at key emotional moments. Of particular note is the beautiful duet Some Things are Meant to Be (Rebekah Pearson as Jo, Kailey Hewitt as Beth). The cast has a sweetness together that is perfect for the subject matter.

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Rebekah Pearson as Jo March has a strong stage presence, bringing Jo to life in a unique way. Tariq Aamir Malik (Laurie) has dazzling comedic timing, while retaining the poise of a young gentleman. Beth walks off the pages and into Spreckels in the guise of Kailey Hewitt—a flawless portrayal of her character. Sean O’Brien as Professor Bhaer was rather cold at first, but warmed up by the second act into the kind-hearted man we know from the books.

The costume and hair design and was rather confusing, which distracted from the play. I was not sure if they were wearing 2015 with touches of the 1860s, or attempting 1860s with a strong sense of 2015. Costuming era mashups do work upon occasion, such as in A Knight’s Tale, but only if they are deliberate and consistent. Despite this, I found the evening highly diverting and quite fitting as a holiday production. Phil Shaw and Thomas Chapman’s set design is lovely, recreating a Victorian parlour with elegance and charm.

While not one of Spreckels’ better musicals, it retains the company’s passion for theatre, and is a wonderful play that brings back nostalgia for Alcott enthusiasts and new wonders for those who have not read the books. I recommend it as a fun holiday evening for the whole family, with an enthusiastic cast and excellent story.

 

Family Holiday Musical – ‘Little Women’ originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 29, 2015.

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‘In Love and Warcraft’ – Delightful Social Commentary https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/in-love-and-warcraft-custom-made/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/in-love-and-warcraft-custom-made/#respond Thu, 19 Nov 2015 05:47:31 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2221

REVIEW OF IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT
By Madhuri Shekar
Directed by James Nelson
Custom Made Theatre Co.
For tickets / schedule :
www.custommade.org
Custom Made Theatre, San Francisco

RUN: November 12-December 12, 2015
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(November 15, 2015)

Note: The play and this review contain mature content.

Photo by Jay Yamada

Photo by Jay Yamada

Created by the young playwright Madhuri Shekar, In Love and Warcraft is set in a college atmosphere, complete with struggles and insecurities. The story is the journey of a woman who is asexual in a refreshingly unique perspective, which is sadly lacking in modern theatre and literature. Strides have been made depicting characters who are a range of sexual orientations, but not the smaller group who prefer not having sex at all in a relationship as they find it unappealing and uncomfortable. Current cultural standards place a great deal of pressure on asexuals that there is something “wrong” with them, and they should be having sex because it is “normal”. When Evie (Monica Ho) finds herself in a relationship, she is not sure what to tell him, because it takes courage to open up on such a deep level.

Photo by Jay Yamada

Photo by Jay Yamada

The play’s underlying social commentary weaves into online expectations as well; Evie is an avid gamer with friends who are primarily on the internet, similar to Felicia Day’s brilliant web series The Guild. Adding in the layer of an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) dominating Evie’s world and putting her in conflict with her IRL (In Real Life) friends and boyfriend is a realistic depiction of many relationships today. When Raul (Ed Berkeley) gives her an ultimatum, she can only give WoW (World of Warcraft) up for so long before she is sucked back into her online world. Balancing living and the internet is a constant challenge, which not everyone can understand. The play is eerily accurate regarding gamers; I was impressed by the stage direction given for the characters in avatar form to softly bob back and forth like in the game. I was confused by the guild throwing her out for missing a couple of dungeon raids and going on a date, since usually they are understanding of that sort of thing, although in a post-Gamergate world the acceptance of women has shifted. I appreciated the attention to detail from costume designer Brooke Jennings, both in the avatar armor and array of DC Comics and zombie t-shirts.

Photo by Jay Yamada

Photo by Jay Yamada

Monica Ho as Evie embodied the awkward yet vivacious gamer with alacrity, from her enthusiasm in game to genuine pain when Raul betrayed her. Laura Espino portrays Kitty, who is the other side of the coin, bordering on sexual addiction. Ed Berkeley as the boyfriend Raul settles the play firmly in reality, keeping other characters grounded in an endearing way. Of special note is Sal Mattos as four characters, injecting such different personalities into himself that it is easy to believe they were separate actors instead of one. Although technically a comedy, I found the play thought provoking and relevant, thanks to strong performances from the cast.

Geek & Sundry recently interviewed Madhuri Shekar, “I went into this play not with the question of gaming, but really the question of sexuality and young women on college campuses.” In Love and Warcraft tackles the difficult subject in a quirky humorous manner. I would highly recommend this play whether or not you consider yourself part of geek culture. It uses gaming as a means to discuss a more fundamental question, for which I highly applaud the playwright and Custom Made for bringing it to the Bay Area.

‘In Love and Warcraft’ – Delightful Social Commentary originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 19, 2015.

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An Entertaining Evening of Harold Pinter https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/harold-pinter-belrose-2015/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/harold-pinter-belrose-2015/#respond Sun, 08 Nov 2015 21:29:41 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2210

REVIEW OF AN EVENING OF HAROLD PINTER
By Harold Pinter
Directed by Ron Nash
Produced by Gary Gonser
Marin Onstage
For tickets / schedule :
marinonstage.org
Belrose Theatre, San Rafael

RUN: November 6-21, 2015
RATING: Landscape 4 of 5 stars, The Dumb Waiter 3 of 5 stars

(November 7, 2015)

harold-pinter-landscape

Accoladed English playwright Harold Pinter was prolific and beloved from the 1940s until passing away in 2008. Landscape was broadcast on the radio in 1968 and performed on stage a year later. The Dumb Waiter was an earlier play, premiering abroad in 1959 and later brought to London. Pinter was a master of creating a play that is both concrete and abstract simultaneously, open to multiple interpretations. Directing his works is a challenge, and ultimately a personal journey for the director to choose what to emphasize. The audience is an active participant, absorbing what resonates to them. Like attending a Mondrian exhibition, each viewer will have their own interpretation of meaning.

It is a treat to be able to experience these plays, and Marin Onstage put a great deal of effort into their portrayal. Landscape is a series of interwoven monologues, with strong water symbolism of the pond, sea, and distilling recurring throughout. Beth and Duff’s relationship is cut off from each other, they are unwilling to learn about the other beyond a superficial level. Duff (Kit Grimm) craves intimacy, but is not willing to listen to her in order to attain it. His performance captures the mannerisms of the character, and rather than attempt an accent, he gives a more natural performance that works well, and is quite engaging. Beth (Esther Mulligan) reflects on the softness of romance, but does not explain what she wants to her partner. Esther Mulligan’s accent was quite good, and felt realistic, but her eyes were used in rather an exaggerated manner that felt odd in so small a theatre.

harold-pinter-the-dumb-waiter

The Dumb Waiter features two thugs waiting for a job to begin. They are worn down by their chosen occupation and sick of each other’s company, rather like a darker version of the gangsters from Kiss Me Kate. I was impressed by how much of the play was in silence using pure physicality. The opening bit by Gus (Michael Walraven) with his shoe and Ben (GreyWolf) reacting was priceless. Friendships often degrade into these sorts of relationships, where one side is overly outgoing and blissfully unaware of the other’s irritation until it bursts out. In a way, it is a parallel to Landscape, since both duos lack communication. It does not matter whether or not the two parties are actively speaking to each other, what matters is whether they are considering the needs of the other and truly listening. The Dumb Waiter is amusing and thought provoking, but was brought down by attempted accents. Most Americans cannot manage it properly. The constant drop in and out and wild shifts between geographic areas of the UK was intensely distracting. The play would have benefited from dropping the accents altogether and simply giving a genuine performance in natural voice patterns, letting the characters speak for themselves. It was rather jarring in its current state, despite excellent acting overall and a solid play to work with.

Despite problems with the accents, the production is well done, and Landscape is a moving one act exploration of relationships that is worth attending for. It’s melancholy is reversed by the dark frivolity of The Dumb Waiter.

An Entertaining Evening of Harold Pinter originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 8, 2015.

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‘The Hummingbird Wars’ by Sonoma State University https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-hummingbird-wars-by-ssu/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/the-hummingbird-wars-by-ssu/#respond Sat, 07 Nov 2015 23:59:06 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2203

REVIEW OF THE HUMMINGBIRD WARS
By Carter Lewis
Directed by Judy Navas
Sonoma State University Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
Ives Hall, Studio 76

RUN: November 5-15, 2015
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

November 6, 2015

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Hummingbirds are in constant danger of starvation, always looking for their next meal to stay alive. This play delves into the state of society in America today—a place where young people working two jobs cannot afford a studio apartment, and when faced with a life-threatening illness the terrifying part is inevitable financial crisis, not the illness itself. The cost of needed prescription drugs is horrifying, even with insurance, and nearly 42% of bankruptcies are a result of medical expenses. Living is a struggle to survive, but there is no tangible enemy to fight but ourselves. The system is so firmly in place that we dissolve within it, incapable of changing our fate. The Hummingbird Wars examines the reactions of a small family.

The father (David O’Connell) is not fully present, pulled down by PTSD, spending hours standing outside the house looking in the window—physically there but miles away. His son is clever, but tormented at school, degraded by standardized education. Portrayed to brilliant effect by Carlos Rodriguez, the teenager acts out despite having a good heart. His sister Kate (Rosemarie Kingfisher) begins full of hope and love, but is slowly beaten down by harsh reality, cocooning inside herself and clinging to the arts as a life raft, cutting herself off from the world. In a stunning performance, Renee Hardin as Tracey ricochets in wild mood swings caused by prescriptions for her respiratory illness. In brief lucid moments, she laments the loss of her ability to love.

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Liam Robertson’s sound design is another character in the play, from ticking clocks and the microwave to gunshots and bulldozers. The soundscape is masterful and adds a tactile sensation to an already intimate theatre. As the family’s situation degrades, the house follows suit, cracking and flooding until it builds to a spectacular conclusion. This is not a production for the faint of heart, there are guns, blood, and a depressing accuracy to the propounded theories of this country’s current state. The writing is poetic and thought provoking, backed by an excellent cast.

The Hummingbird Wars is well worth a journey into the underbelly of Ives Hall.

 

‘The Hummingbird Wars’ by Sonoma State University originally appeared on Imagination Lane on November 7, 2015.

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‘Into the Woods’ in Novato https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/novato-theater-company-into-the-woods/ https://imaginationlane.net/reviews/novato-theater-company-into-the-woods/#respond Sat, 24 Oct 2015 22:43:29 +0000 http://imaginationlane.net/reviews/?p=2194

Review of Into the Woods
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Kim Bromley
Musical Direction by Andrew Klein and Debra Chambliss
Choreography by Alison Peltz
For tickets / schedule :
www.novatotheatercompany.org
NTC Playhouse, Novato, CA
Novato Theater Company & Theatre-at-Large

RUN: October 23 – November 22, 2015
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(October 23, 2015)

Novato Theater Company Into the Woods

Photo by Jon Bretan

A Tony Award winning musical that premiered on Broadway in 1987, Into the Woods was recently adapted to film in 2014. Like Once Upon a Time, the musical is a “what if?” combination of fairy tale characters interacting with each other. It can be enjoyed on a variety of levels, from child-like fun of seeing Cinderella and Rapunzel to deep psychological concerns. The book and lyrics are rich with thought-provoking moments; a person who is nice might not be good, being charming does not mean sincerity. Characters struggle to find their happy endings in Act 1 only to find them destroyed in the post-apocalyptic landscape of Act 2, partly due to their own selfishness. An overall theme of the musical is that after going through nightmares and idealized dreams, perhaps the best place to be is in between.

I grew up with fairy tales like everyone else, but not the Disney ones. I heard the older versions, mostly from Andrew Lang, where characters were rolled down the hill in spiked barrels, toes and fingers were routinely sliced off, and violent endings were the norm. Into the Woods captures the