Thursday, September 20, 2018

Young Jean Lee's Existential Church

Church

Written by Young Jean Lee
Directed by Mira Morita

Crowded Fire Theater Company
September 13-October 6, 2018
The Portrero Stage, 1695 18th Street
San Francisco, CA , 94107


Say you have a friend that invites you to attend her church, and you agree out of politeness or curiosity. You go along, not knowing what to expect except the usual rote hymns, rituals and perhaps boredom. Then, SURPRISE!
Reverend Jose (Lawrence Radecker) preaches it

The unsuspecting audience, full of the charged anticipation of theater-goers, files into the small Portrero space where Crowded Fire is presenting Young Jean Lee’s play Church. The lights dim and everyone hushes up. We wait in the dark. And wait. Until we hear the calm yet unsettling voice of a man we later learn is “Reverend Jose” (Lawrence Radecker) who begins to tell us stories, stories that slowly chisel away to reveal our own insecurities, failings, foibles, weaknesses and pushes us to the brink of discomfort and possibly the Void.  Finally, to our sense of relief, the lights go up.

Nkechi Emeruwa, Alison Whismore, Jordan Maria Don, "Reverends"
We meet three women (Nkechi Emeruwa, Jordan Maria Don, and Alison Whismore), all designated as "Reverend." They exude a wild, contagious energy and fervor as they bring a weird sort of order with prayers of intention, the laying on of hands, the revved-up, roof-shaking shared experience. We listen to their stories even as they veer into the absurd and frighteningly graphic (perhaps familiar to many who were raised Catholic). The energy rises to maximum level, and we don’t know what is being believed but we go along with it, jumping up and down.

Invitation to the dance...

What’s the alternative? Twist in the winds of your own despair and meaninglessness?  Or believe, brother, believe? Raise your voice and rejoice, scream at the void, does it matter if you understand why? In his book The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker writes “Religion takes one’s very creatureliness, one’s insignificance, and makes it a condition of hope.” As more and more singers bound onto stage clapping and dancing to the spiritual “Ain’t Got Time to Die” in this "church," you have your own decision to make.

Church

CAST
Jordan MarĂ­a Don, Nkechi Emeruwa, and Alison Whismore as the Reverends
Lawrence Radecker* as Reverend Jose

PRODUCTION
Assistant Director: Nailah Harper-Malveaux*
Dramaturg: Sonia Fernandez*
Assistant Dramaturg: Isabelle Smith
Stage Manager: Rachel Mogan*
Assistant Stage Manager: Kitty Dacy
Scenic Designer:  Randy Wong-Westbrooke
Costume Designer: Alice Ruiz
Lighting Designer: Cassie Barnes
Sound Designer: James Ard*
Choreographer: Mark Allen Davis
Music Director: Min Kahng

*Crowded Fire Resident Artist

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Sparkling Diffraction of Stories and Spirit

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf

Written by Ntozake Shange
Directed by Elizabeth Carter
September 15-29, 2018

African-American Shakespeare Company
Taube AtriumTheater, 401 Van Ness Avenue

Ntozake Shange’s 1975 choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf lives again in a remarkable new production directed by Elizabeth Carter that bursts, vibrates and sings its stories of loss, joy, pain, strength and most of all, resilience.

Natasha LaGrone, Bobbi Kindred, Tiffany Tenille

Seven unique characters are simply named “Lady in Brown” (Jan Hunter), “Lady in Yellow” (Tiffany Tenille), "Lady in Purple" (Bobbi Kindred), "Lady in Red" (Paige Mayes), "Lady in Green" (Brittany Nicole Sims), "Lady in Blue" (Natasha LaGrone), and "Lady in Orange" (Regina Monique). Each speaks the rich and musical monologue that is their story, each voice a thread that interweaves with the others to create a strong fabric of power and pride.

Tiffany Tenille, Jan Hunter, Regina Monique, Bobbi Kindre

This is a simple, elegant production in the newly restored Taube Atrium Theater, and the creative collaboration of the all-female cast and production crew is evident. The lighting design by Stephanie Anne Johnson subtly suggests a cityscape, and the set design (Randy Wong-Westbrooke) uses moveable frames for each Lady to act as portals, cages, islands, and personal stages for the stories. The minimal set suggests that it is the stories that endure, despite the time and place.

Paige Mayes and Tiffany Tenille

Choreographer Kendra Kimbrough Barnes taps into the rhythm of emotion that informs this play, adding depth to the stories. Especially beautiful are the sensual and flowing dances by Lady in Red (Paige Mayes) and Lady in Yellow (Tiffany Tenille).

After the show, a male audience member was moved to tears, saying “I didn’t know what women had to go through.”

Support from the sisters

Although created in the 70s, For Colored Girls... remains a classic celebration of the hearts and souls of black women--and all women---as they struggle to find and celebrate their voice.

Weaving the stories


For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf

CAST
Jan Hunter — Lady in Brown
Bobbi Kindred — Lady in Purple
Natasha LaGrone — Lady in Blue
Brittany Nicole Sims — Lady in Green
Regina Monique — Lady in Orange
Tiffany Tenille — Lady in Yellow
Paige Mayes — Lady in Red

PRODUCTION TEAM
Director — Elizabeth Carter
Set Designer — Randy Wong-Westbrooke
Lighting Designer — Stephanie Anne Johnson
Costume Designer — Nikki Anderson-Joy
Production Manager & Stage Manger — Leontyne Mbele-Mbong
Design Execution — Kate Boyd
Sound Designer — Lana Palmer
Choreographer — Kendra Kimbrough Barnes

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

West Side Story Still Keeping It Cool

West Side Story

Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Arthur Laurents; concept by Jerome Robbins


Directed by Erica Wyman


Hillbarn Theatre
1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, CA 94404
1.650.349.6411
boxoffice@hillbarntheatre.org


Until September 16, 2018


Reviewed by Christine Okon

Tucked on a quiet side street in Foster City, CA is a gem of a venue, The Hillbarn Theatre, now celebrating its 78th season with West Side Story, the perennial musical set in 1950s Manhattan and made memorable by the 1961 movie with Natalie Wood.

Directed aptly by Eric Wyman, this production shows that there is nothing like live theater to create a visceral experience made even more intimate by Hillbarn’s close arrangement of stage and seating.

All of the performances are solid, but the special gift is Ana Paula Malagon as Maria, with her beautifully trained operatic voice that fills the entire space with the spirit of the lovable and vulnerable young woman who is ready to open her heart to love. Maria is schooled in the ways of the world by the older Anita (Danielle Philapil) who brings a powerful sensuality that deepens the pulse of what would otherwise be a simple boy-meets-girl tale. The fierce duet of Anita and Maria ignites with the anger of "A Boy Like That," melting into the mutually felt truth of "I Have a Love."

Anita (Danielle Philapil) and Bernardo (Jorge Diaz) at the Big Dance
When Maria meets good guy Tony, sweetly played by Bay Area favorite Jeffrey Brian Adams, we believe in the power and possibilities of love, expressed beautifully in "One Hand, One Heart." Adams is no stranger to the difficult vocal range demanded by songs like "Something’s Coming" and "Maria," and his convincing connection with Maria makes us want to protect the young lovers from the harshness they are bound to encounter.

Maria (Ana Paula Malagon) and Tony (Jeffrey Brian Adams)

Kimberly Horvath’s choreography, in the spirit of Jerome Robbins, is innovative and sparkling: from the way the finger-snapping Jets slink together like a jungle animal on the prowl, to the beautiful pas de deux of dancers Angela Curatto-Pierson and Neil Rushnock as they act out the yearning for universal peace and place of "Somewhere," sung beautifully in a haunting solo by Danielle Chelken as Rosalia.

Ready to Rumble

The ensemble of Jets, Sharks and their women works great together yet manages to reveal distinct personalities that add touches of humor and contrast. Richard Ames plays a very likable, calm Doc, and Josiah Frampton and Jorge Diaz bring strong machismo to Riff and Bernardo, respectively. Detective Schrank (Marty Lee Jones) was sometimes hard to hear, and with the drab grey trench coat did not come across as the tough arm of the law. The live orchestra led by Rick Reynolds carried the score adequately, complete with bongos, although some of the woodwinds strayed a bit.

All in all, this production of West Side Story is “okay by me.”


West Side Story
Hillbarn Theatre
www.hillbarntheatre.org
1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, CA 94404
1.650.349.6411
box office@hillbarntheatre.org

CAST 

Maria - Ana Paula Malagon
Tony - Jeffrey Brian Adams*
Anita - Danielle Philapil
Bernardo - Jorge Diaz
Riff - Josiah Frampton
Doc - Richard Ames

Velma - Rachelle Abbey
Pepe - Armand Akbari
A-Rab - Luke Arnold
Minnie - Christine Baker
Glad Hand - David Blackburn
Officer Krupke - Shawn Bender
Rosalia/Somewhere Solo - Danielle Cheiken
Teresita/Dream Ballet - Angela Curotto-Pierson
Chino - Jose Gallentes
Baby John -Tucker Gold
Diesel - Tyler Harding
Schrank - Marty Lee Jones
Estella - Allie Lev
Anxious - Joseph Macadaeg
Anybodys - Katie Maupin
Luis - Carlos Nunez
Glad Hand - Randy O’Hara (opening weekend only)
Francisca - Fiona O’Neill
Pauline - Catherine Rieflin
Big Deal/Dream Ballet - Neil Rushnock
Action - James Schott
Snowboy - Jack Swartz
Consuelo - Catherine Traceski
Indio - Victor Valasquez
Graziella - Breanna Van Gastel

CREATIVE STAFF
Director - Erica Wyman
Music Director - Rick Reynolds
Choreographer - Kimberly Harvath
Costumes, Hair & MakeUp - Raven Winter
Scenic Design - Ting Wang
Lighting Designer - Pamila Z. Gray
Properties Designer - Phyllis E. Garland
Master Carpenter - Eric Olson
Sound Designer - Grant Huberty







Thursday, August 30, 2018

Boundaries Strained in Native Gardens


Native Gardens

Written by Karen Zacarias
Directed by Amy Gonzalez

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 

Until September 16, 2018


Even before the play begins, the set of Karen Zacarias’ play Native Gardens tells a story.

The backyards of two townhouses sit side by side. On the left is a neat, orderly garden and patio, with furniture, flowers, and grass arranged just so, suggesting that whoever lives there lives by the rules. On the right is a similar structure that needs TLC but it is appealing in its unkempt wildness, including an impressively real-looking huge oak tree overhanging the neighbors' yard. Big kudos to set designer Andrea Bechert  for an amazing feat of stage construction, with real mulch, flowers, and feel.

Native Gardens explores how we protect our personal spaces with protective but not necessarily impermeable boundaries, something that any homeowner realizes about the realities of property lines, laws and history.

Tania (Marlene Martinez) and Pablo (Michael Evans Lopez) visualize their new space
Tania, a young mother-to-be (played with earnest optimism by Marlene Martinez), emerges from the back of the shoddier house. she is soon joined by her husband Pablo, an ambitious young Chilean-American professional played with an earnest nervousness by Michael Evans Lopez.. Each is dreaming of what can be done with their new space: Tania envisions a native, pesticide-free habitat that will draw indigenous birds, bees and bugs, while  Pablo, in an impulse to impress his new boss, has invited the entire department over for a BBQ only six days away. After a moment of panic, the decision is made to have the party catered in the new yard which can be fixed up well enough except for the unsightly chain link fence that separates their space from the neighbors.

Frank (Jackson Davis) and Virginia (Amy Resnick) check out the new neighbors

As good neighbors, Tania and Pablo seek the approval of their established neighbors Frank (a composed yet finicky Jackson Davis) and Virginia (an inviting yet fierce Amy Resnick). The four get together in Frank and Virginia's yard, and usual chit chat unveils differences of opinion and attitude, as when Frank reveals how he douses his garden with pesticides amid other finicky actions to prepare for the annual garden competition, behavior that is anathema to Tania in sense of protection for the environment.

Tania and Pablo chat with Virginia and Frank
All four agree that the unsightly fence has to go, until good intentions are trumped by hard data when Pablo and Tania confirm that their property boundary legally extends into the neighbors yard--right through Frank’s cherished garden. This dilemma strains neighborliness to the breaking point, and suddenly the fence line escalates into a border dispute, creating fertile ground for humorous attempts to thwart the opposition. For example, Virginia attempts to cut down the beautiful oak tree, and Tania tries to keep peace within reason. Hilarious yet tense confusion and disagreement abound, masterfully directed by Amy Gonzalez, and the once-friendly neighbors lock horns until an event of life and death proportions puts property concerns in their perspective.

Virginia (Amy Resnick) and Frank (Jackson Davis) literally hold their ground against PO-Pablo (Michael Evans Lopez) and Tania (Marlene Martinez)
With a solid, well-crafted and fun script performed by top-notch actors, Native Gardens shows us how how our quickly-formed differences can dissolve  in the realization that we are all in this together.

Native Gardens
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Until September 16, 2018

Photography by Kevin Berne

CAST
Pablo — Michael Evans Lopez*
Tania — Marlene Martinez*
Virginia — Amy Resnick*
Frank — Jackson Davis*
Landscaper — Laura Espino
Landscaper — Mauricio Suarez

PRODUCTION TEAM
Scenic Designer — Andrea Bechert
Costume Designer — Noah Marin
Lighting Designer — Steven B. Mannshardt
Sound Designer — Jeff Mockus
Casting Director — Jeffrey Lo
Los Angeles Casting Director — Julia Flores
Stage Manager — Sara Sparks*
Assistant Stage Manager — Amy Smith Goodman*

*Equity Members

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Serious Activism as Crazy Caper


#GETGANDHI
A Seriously Radical Feminist Comedy

August 10 -26
At Z Below, 450 Florida St, San Francisco
Written by Anne Galjour
Directed by Nancy Carlin
Presented by The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits Theatre Collective


The hashtag in the title sets the time and tone of this play by the accomplished Bay Area playwright Anne Galjour who, with the “Sisterhood of Traveling Pantsuits Theatre Collective,” has brought forth the World Premiere of #getgandhi, a sitcom-like production that echoes the outraged chorus of the #metoo and #itsabouttime movements.

The play centers around three women: Miriam (a feisty Patricia Silver), an old school activist itching to fight for a cause; Helen (Jeri Lynn Cohen), a gentle but perceptive yoga teacher; and Maya (Miranda Swain), a spirited young artist who knows her way around Burning Man. Although each has a unique perspective, they are united in their disgust at what they deem to be hypocrisy of that guru of nonviolence, Gandhi, who had naked young women sleep next to him to test his spiritual resolve. In other words, he used these young women, an act that is simply unforgivable.
Miriam (Patricia Silver) and Helen (Jeri Lynn Cohen)

But what to do? Miriam poses a call to action: topple the bronze statue of Gandhi from its pedestal in San Francisco’s Embarcadero. At first the quest seems quixotic, but eventually Helen and Maya pitch in to bring Gandhi down, an endeavor that turns into a mad caper full of fun comic moments somewhat reminiscent of I Love Lucy.

The frenetic, farcical urgency of the three women is evened out by laid-back Bob (a wonderfully mellifluous Howard Swain), Helen’s partner of many years who embodies mellowness as he patiently tries to be as supportive as possible to the worried Helen. Their bond is strong, even as they interact with their daughter Rebecca (a cool Lyndsy Kail) who is married to a Republican political aspirant.

Maya, newly schooled by Miriam and Helen in the art of protest, wants to do more than topple the statue. She aims to create something new, such as dressing the statue of Gandhi in a pink sari and pink pussy hat.

With crisp, vivid and fun dialog, each character’s voice is clear and understood.  Although some scenes (such as the opening yoga class) could benefit from a little more editing, #getgandhi works as a whole and ends with Maya’s delightful dance with her arms like Shiva, showing us that it takes the movement of many to effect change.

Shiva


The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits Theatre Collective presents
#GETGANDHI
A Seriously Radical Feminist Comedy

CAST
Jeri Lynn Cohen (Helen)
Miranda Swain (Maya)
Patricia Silver (Miriam)
Howard Swain (Bob)
Lyndsy Kail (Rebecca)

CREATIVE TEAM
Nancy Carlin (Director)
Julius Rea (Assistant Director)
John Mayne (Scenic Designer)
Michelle Mulholland (Costume Designer)
Kate Boyd (Lighting Designer)
Cliff Caruthers (Sound Designer)
Tony Guidry (Stage Manager)
Lawrence Helman (Publicist)



Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A Dark Night of the Soul

4.48 Psychosis

Written by Sarah Kane
Directed by Robert Estes
Choreography by Bridgette Loriaux
Performed by Anastasia Barron, Jody Christian, Adrian Deane

Anton’s Well Theater Company
at Temescal Arts Center
511 48th Street, Oakland

Until August 5, 2018


The demons come out at night.

You may know these demons, the ones that wake you from sleep and swirl around you in a unstoppable whirlwind of anger, remorse, panic, pain and confusion.

Playwright Sarah Kane knew them all too well. In 4.48 Psychosis, written shortly before her suicide in 1999, Kane expressed her interior world not with pat narrative, three-act structure, or even dialog; instead, her sparse, 24-scene script is a streaming fugue of images, impressions, and snatches of conversations that comprise the mind-churning prelude to breakdown.
Jody Christian, Anastasia Barron, Adrian Deane (Jane Shamaeva)

Anton’s Well Theater Company has brought 4.48 Psychosis to a small studio at Temescal Arts Center in Oakland. Director Robert Estes and choreographer Bridgette Loriaux create a visceral and verbal experience where three brilliant performers (Anastasia Barron, Jody Christian, and Adrian Deane) dance, interact, intertwine, explode, recoil and literally throw themselves against the wall while uttering lines like “Built to be lonely/to love the absent/Find me/Free me/from this/corrosive doubt/futile despair/horror in repose…” or “What do you offer your friends to make them so supportive?”

4.48 Psychosis is no easy piece of theater; there is no neat resolution or comic relief. It is an intense glimpse into a very dark night of the soul rendered beautifully.


Friday, July 13, 2018

A Hunchback Full of Heart

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical

Presented by Bay Area Musicals
Victoria Theatre
2961 16th St, San Francisco
July 7 to August 5, 2018

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Like the stony interior of the renowned cathedral itself, The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical is suffused in a human darkness that first flowed from Victor Hugo’s pen and many years later coursed its way to becoming a Disney musical animation. Although rich with moving songs, the show never made it fully to Broadway and, like Quasimodo, was not completely formed.
Quasimodo (Alex Rodriguez) as the King of Topsy-Turvy
Set in medieval times, it’s the beautiful, sad story of Quasimodo, the bastard orphan of a gypsy and a life-loving but aimless young man who, at his death, beseeches his brother Frollo, the clerical caretaker of Notre Dame, to care for the child. Appalled by the child’s physical deformities, Frollo sees it as a cursed, aberrant monster that must be hidden away at all costs, and in what better place than the dark sanctuary recesses of the cathedral.

Closing its season, Bay Area Musicals brings a fantastic, talent-rich production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical to the Victoria Theater in San Francisco. One thing that distinguishes BAM is how its cast and crew consistently generate an energy of collaboration and enthusiasm for their shows, and Hunchback is no different.

Opening night ended with a rousing standing ovation for the performers and artistic team, with the only challenge being some inconsistent lighting during the performance.

The play’s undercurrent of religious fanaticism masking sexual repression, of loneliness and rejection, of cruelty and fear, are the kinds of things that would make anyone, much less a child, lie awake at night. But the musical does take on these topics, expressed in lovely songs like "The Bells of Notre Dame," "Out There" and "God Bless the Outcasts." In the darkness, there is, like Notre Dame's beautiful circle of stained glass, some glimmer of hope,kindness, acceptance and love.
Frollo (Clay David)
Clay David as Frollo has a Christopher Lee kind of chilly intensity, looming like a clerical cobra with his severe frock and wildly stern expression; it is always a pleasure to see this finely trained and experienced actor perform.
Esmeralda (Alysis Beltran)

Tormented by his attraction to the sensuous gypsy Esmeralda (played with heart, sultriness, compassion and a beautiful voice by Alsyis Beltran), Frollo reconciles his confusion by declaring witchcraft and the ultimate punishment of death to Esmeralda. "Hellfire," with its liturgical strains of "kyrie eleison," speaks of the rigid good-evil, heaven-hell, righteous-sinning dichotomous worldview of Frollo and the medieval world he resides in.

Quasimodo (Alex Rodriguez)
Alex Rodriguez, another Bay Area treasure, is a gentle, loving Quasimodo who can barely speak but whose interior voice soars in songs like "Heaven’s Light." Friends with the stone gargoyles that guard the cathedral and the huge bells he names as friends, Quasimodo’s yearning for, and right to, love and be loved is what touches our hearts.

A delightful disruption is Trouillefou Clopin, the extreme and ebullient trickster played so entertainingly by Branden Thomas.

The set (Matthew McCoy) suggested, as well as one can on a tiny stage, the cavernous cathedral and the busy town square. The costumes (Brooke Jennings) were colorful, creative and well-designed, and the orchestra (Jon Gallo) sustained the pace, in some cases competing a little too much with the singers. There were some technical glitches in lighting and miking that will most likely be worked out in subsequent performances.
The Cast
This story about outcasts, oppressors and enduring love is a sad, timely mirror of our current political situation where the idea of sanctuary is seen as a threat and not redemption.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical
Bay Area Musicals
Victoria Theatre, San Francisco
July 7 to August 5, 2018

Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Peter Parnell
based upon the Victor Hugo novel and songs from the Disney film
Direction and Choreography by Matthew McCoy 
Musical Direction by Jon Gallo

All photos by Ben Krantz

CAST

Alex Rodriguez, Quasimodo
Clay David, Frollo
Alysia Beltran, Esmeralda
Jack O'Reilly, Phoebus
Branden Thomas, Trouillefou Clopin
Pauli Amornkul, Player
Patrick Brewer, Player
Alvin Bunales, Player
Jorey Cantu, Player
Juan Castro, Player
Julio Chavez, Player
Z Hansen, Player
Christopher Juan, Player
Benjamin Nguyen, Player
Loreigna Sinclair, Player
Kaylamay Suarez, Player

ARTISTIC TEAM

Matthew McCoy, Director/Choreographer
Jon Gallo, Musical Director
Wayne Roadie, Stage Manager
Cat Knight, Assnt. Stage Manager
Genevieve Pabon, Assnt. Stage Manager
Matthew McCoy, Set Designer
Brooke Jennings, Costume Designer
Eric Johnson, Lighting Designer
Anton Hedman, Sound Designer
Clay David, Prop Designer
Jackie Dennis, Wig Designer
Jake Delgado, Sound Board Op
Richard Gutierrez, Wardrobe Master
Stewart Lyle, Technical Director
ORCHESTRA
Trumpet - Sonja Lindsay
Trombone - Jeremy Carrillo
Reed 1 - Amar Khalsa
Reed 2 - Larry De La Cruz
Violin - Corey Johnson
Cello - Laura Boytz
Keyboard 1 / Conductor - Jon Gallo
Keyboard 2 - Kjirsten Grove
Percussion - Randy Hood