Tuesday, October 2, 2018

All in the Family with Uncle Vanya

Uncle Vanya

by Anton Chekhov
translated by Paul Schmidt
directed by Paige Rogers

Cutting Ball Theater
Cuttingball.org
141 Taylor Street
San Francisco

September 21 – October 21, 2018

It’s hard to ignore the sleeping figure in his whitey-tighties slumped in an easy chair on the tiny stage of Cutting Ball Theater’s production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. As the audience settles in, a shapely woman dances seductively to La Chica Mamey as the man, Vanya, enjoys brief, sweet respite from waking life.
Before the play begins.. (Photo by Christine Okon)
It’s a delightful way to begin Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, a play about longing, dreams, disappointment, frustration, and attempts to find love, life and joy within the confines of a country estate.
George Saulnier and Adam Magill - photo by Ben Krantz
The set is instrumental in fleshing out the characters. In its isolation, a country estate in the middle of nowhere is a type of cage, and the set design by Fred Kinney intensifies the feeling of entrapment. Two tall metal interlocking shelving structures, something that could be found at Ikea, extend the vertical space at opposite ends of the stage, allowing objects to be placed out of reach or walls to be climbed by desperate characters. On a higher shelf is a shiny samovar, and on the floor a rug, table and chairs. Two drop microphones are at either side of the stage, and they are gripped, swung, and nearly devoured by characters as they whisper or stress their lines, a brilliant technique to add emphasis and action to dialog.
Nanny (Nancy Sans) comforts Sonya (Haley Bertelsen) - photo by Ben Krantz
The estate’s been managed for years by Ivan “Vanya” Petrovich (George Saulnier, bringing a Wallace Shawn kind of openness); his niece Sonya (filled with desperate yearning by Haley Bertelsen); “Nanny” Marina (a fun and down-to-earth Nancy Sans); the innocuous and insipid Ilya Ilych Telegin, a.k.a. “Waffles” (played with a mousy near-invisibility by Merle Rabine); Vanya’s “Maman” (a cool Miyoko Sakatini); and the as-needed Hired Hand (Omar Osoria-Perla).
Yelena (Virginia Blanco) and Astrov (Adam Magill) - photo by Ben Krantz
The comfortable sense of order created by the routine of chores and meals at set times is disturbed by visitors: the pompous Professor Alexander Serebriakov (a distinguished yet whiney Douglas Nolan); his lovely young wife Yelena (played with sustained sensuousness by Virginia Blanco); and the uber-exuberant Dr. Mikhail Lvovich Astrov, who has been summoned to a futile mission to care for the professor’s myriad complaints of aches and pains.

This play about the yearning for lost “life, youth, and happiness” vibrates with the charged interactions among the characters, each brimming with his or her own desire to reclaim a fading dream. Director Paige Rogers has brought a sweet vulnerability to the characters, making this Vanya more modern and relevant in a way that really resonates with audiences.
Vanya (George Saulnier) and Yelena (Virginia Blanco) - photo by Ben Krantz 
Vanya is revealed as a man of fervent appetites that are ignited by the young Yelena whom he urges to “wake up to the pulse of her mermaid life” and hopefully take him along, while in truth she prefers to wallow “morbid with laziness” in ennui and boredom. Such dreams are impossible when there’s work to be done, and Vanya is left with the anger at living his whole life for nothing, at having to work hard for nothing, of letting dreams die. George Saulnier’s Vanya is a creature of habit, the lovable schlub who has put his dreams on the shelf as he exhibits an amazing emotional range from mischievousness to rage.
The restless Dr Astrov (Adam Magill) - photo by Ben Krantz
Also delightful is Adam Magil’s Astrov, jumping around like a bird distraught by the small periphery of his cage, restless with his visions and desire to make a difference. Astrov sees the future in nature but is dismayed by human beings ”who must destroy what they can never create,”  a sentiment that echoes our current woes.

Unrequited love, yearning, boredom, ennui, pretentiousness, fear/anger at aging, sense of urgency to flutter your wings before they are stilled forever: how can you not relate? The only reward for hard work is..rest. Which implies nothingness. And it is very sad that these people have only rest to look forward to. As the wise Nanny notes, “in 100 years, no one will care.”

This most original production of Uncle Vanya is simultaneously delightful and disturbing, fun and fearful. You’re bound to feel right at home.


Uncle Vanya
by Anton Chekhov

Cutting Ball Theater

Cast
Haley Bertelsen: Sónya
Virginia M. Blanco: Yeléna
Adam Magill: Mikhaíl Lvóvich Ástrov
Doug Nolan: Alexánder Serebriakóv
Omar Osoria-Peña: Hired Man
Merle Rabine: Ilyá Ilych "Waffles" Telégin
Miyoko Sakatani: Mrs. Voinítsky (María Vasílyevna)
Nancy Sans: Marína (Nanny)
George Saulnier: Iván Petróvich (Ványa)

Design Staff
Scenic Designer: Fred Kinney
Lighting Designer: Ted Boyce-Smith
Costume Designer: Alina Bokovikova
Sound Designer: Jaren Feeley
Properties Designer: Steffanie Dittbern
Associate Costume Designer: Ge Jia

Stage Management Team
Stage Manager: Michaela Byrne
Assistant Stage Manager: Eteya Trinidad












Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A Dark dirty butterfly at Anton's Well

dirty butterfly

Written by debbie tucker green
Directed by Robert Estes
Anton’s Well Theater Company
antonswell.org

At Waterfront Theater, 2020 Fourth St, Berkeley
Until October 7, 2018


In the play dirty butterfly, three characters living separately in a building with very thin walls share a psychic space that is electric with the dark energy of domestic violence.
Jesse Vaughn and Kim Donovan
Jason, a timorous, isolated neurotic with his ear glued to the wall, suffers from second-hand trauma from what he overhears. Amelia, self-contained and straightforward, chooses to protect her boundaries by trying to not get involved. And Jo, the victim of abuse, nevertheless resents the perceived intrusion of her neighbors until she is forced to take desperate action for her own survival.

Jesse Vaughn as Jason

dirty butterfly is an intriguing but disturbing and confusing study of the decisions we must make to watch, engage in, or ignore what others are enduring. Paranoia, rage, compassion and indifference both inform and spring from these decisions.

The minimal set suggests that no matter how we build our personal walls, we are exposed. The characters are skillfully brought to life by Mikah Kavita as the steadfast Amelia, Jesse Vaughn as the somewhat pathetic jason, and Kim Donovan as the abused victim Jo, but none is especially likable. All have British accents, but it is interesting to imagine it in American dialect.
Mikah Kavita as Amelia
Director Robert Estes is to be commended for bringing to light yet another relatively obscure play to Anton's Well Theater Company, taking on the challenge of unprecedented interpretation.

Seeing dirty butterfly is like passing an accident on the freeway: you’re curious and perhaps concerned, but what happens if you get involved?


dirty butterfly
Written by deborah tucker green


Cast
Jo - Kim Donovan
Amelia - Mikah Kavita
Jason - Jesse Vaughn

Creative Team
Director - Robert Estes
Assistant Director/Producer - Wm. Diedrick Razo
Lighting Designer - Bert van Aalsburg
Costume Designer: Helen Slomowitz
Sound Designer: James Goode
Stage Manager - Ayumi Namba

Photography: Jane Shamaeva


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 María 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

Friday, June 22, 2018

What You Need to Know about Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel: What I Need You to Know

June 22-24, 2018
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture


For her performance as Scarlett O’Hara’s maid “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind, Hattie McDaniel, in an era replete with racism and segregation, made history as the first African-American woman to receive an Oscar and win a place in the Hollywood firmament, even if that place was far in the back and near the kitchen.
Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in Gone With the Wind
In Hattie McDaniel: What I Need You to Know (currently playing until June 24 at the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason), actress, singer and songwriter Vickilyn Reynolds brings Hattie to life, telling her story from being the youngest of 13 children of former slaves to pursuing her dream of performing on stage and eventually in films in the early days of Hollywood, where roles for black actors were limited and scarce.

Vickilyn Reynolds as Hattie McDaniel (photo: Alissa Banks)
In a series of loosely-joined vignettes that could benefit from tighter direction, editing and a stronger story thread, Reynolds presents Hattie as an intrepid fighter undeterred by the word no. What makes this show is Reynolds’ remarkable songwriting and singing talent. Her original songs such as "Hollywood," "When Will It Be My Turn," "Dis, Dat, Deez, Dem Day," "Any Kinda Man" and more are moving, warm and very creative. She has a belt-it-out, come-to-Jesus voice that lifts you out of your seat, and this experience alone is worth the price of admission. And, to boot, Reynolds resembles McDaniel’s in stature and feisty attitude.

Vickilyn Reynolds (photo: Alissa Banks)
Opening night was challenged by abrupt or delayed lighting and costume changes and a persistent feedback buzz, but such things can be corrected with repeat performances, especially as the show begins its USA tour.

Audiences will walk away humming a few new tunes, enlightened and entertained by the story of a legendary Hollywood icon who deserves much more recognition.
Hattie McDaniel
Hattie McDaniel: What I Need You to Know
June 22-24, 2018
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture

Performer
Vickilyn Reynolds as Hattie McDaniel

Director, Lighting and Set Design: Byron Nora
Costumes: Kevin Mays and Mylette Nora
Stage Manager: Alyssa Champos

Tickets range from $25 - $100 and are available by emailing ticketing@fortmason.org or in-person at the Box Office. More information about the production can be found online at www.hattiewhatineedyoutoknow.com or by calling (415) 345-7500.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Stories of Street and Struggle



Reflections in Black 2018
San Francisco Recovery Theater
June 1-16, 2018 (7pm Fridays and Saturdays)

at Piano Fight
144 Taylor St
San Francisco

$20 general admission but free for Tenderloin residents
Tickets


A quiet but powerful agent of change in the heart of the Tenderloin is San Francisco Recovery Theatre, which for 20 years has provided “a safe place for those who are suffering, their families and those in recovery.” It’s a theater of the spirit and stories about lives lived and lost, and a haven for often-unheard voices.

Led by accomplished actor, director, playwright and SFRT founder Geoffrey Grier, SFRT’s Reflections In Black 2018 revisits an existing collection of original monologues and devised plays, and excerpts, songs and adaptations of plays and essays by African American writers and actors whose individual stories create a mosaic of what it means to be Black in the United States.

Staged in one of Piano Fight’s tiny hot box theater spaces, this production is as up close and personal as it can be as it begins with the all-too-familiar (and sometimes cliched) Twilight Zone intro music to bring us into “The Black Zone.” Grier begins to explain what will ensue only to be interrupted by The Homeless Prophet (Vernon Medearis) who had been sitting in the audience mumbling to himself and being a slight nuisance before he takes the mike to tell his story and prophecy. What follows is a series of vignettes including the story of Paul Robeson (Benn Bacot) whose story far exceeded the singular reputation he had for singing Old Man River; "Angela’s Rant," where the wife (Beverly McGriff) of an incarcerated man rants at him during a prison visit, berating him for the disappointment and pain he has caused her as he sits there in silence; the very powerful "Salaam Huey, Salaam," performed by Grier as the friend of fellow junkie Huey Newton in his last days of life on the Oakland streets. There are 10 stories in all, each with its own power.

With this production, SFRT is reaching out to much of the Mid-Market and 6th Street corridor population as well by organizing groups from neighborhood organizations to see the play free of charge, and by casting actors who are currently or have lived in the Tenderloin.

Reflections in Black 2018 is a small diamond tucked deep in the urban landscape, and it is a treasure to experience.

Reflections in Black 2018
San Francisco Recovery Theater

CAST
Vernon Medearis
Geoffrey Grier
Benn Bacot
Richard May
Eric Ward
Beverly McGriff

Encore! Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical



Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical
By Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott
Directed by John Fisher
Produced by Theatre Rhinoceros therhino.org

May 26 –  July 7, 2018
Gateway Theatre
215 Jackson San Francisco
Run time: @ 2-1/2 hours


Depressed by the news? Bored by the same old-same old? Then what you need is some glitz and glam and disco to shake it up, and Theater Rhinoceros does that with its encore of their 2017 award-winning production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert - The Musical, just in time for Pride month. Based on the 1994 movie about a group of drag queen friends on an Australian outback driveabout, this production is at the Gateway Theater until June 30, 2018.

Everyone in the cast simply revels in the joyful chaos of this show, with disco favorites such as “It’s Raining Men,” “Don’t Leave Me this Way,” “I Love the Nightlife,” “I Will Survive,” “Go West” and more keeping the audience chair-dancing. The over 100 costumes were fun and fab and feathery and sparkly as if dozens of closets were raided at once.

Felicia (Charles Peoples III), Mitzi (Rudy Guerrero) and Bernadette (Kim Larsen)
Counterpoint to the drag queens are the various outback characters, country folk with a rough edge who ain’t seen nothin’ like the show the queens put on. We feel the bravery of the queens as they venture into unknown territory onboard their pink bus christened “Priscilla”: they are vulnerable outsiders who manage to win over the toughest crowds. There are some absolutely wacky and fun scenes in the play, and some sad and shocking ones as well.

Priscilla - the fabulous ship of the desert
Rudy Guerrero brings a superb professionalism and skill to Tick (aka Mitzi), the man on a mission to see his son Benji (gamely played by the young Cameron Zener). Guerrero is a pro at singing and dancing and seems the most comfortable on the stage; he was the only one who managed to sustain a convincing Aussie accent. A few of the other actors had to work to keep up with Guerrero, and some of them were slightly off key. (Is it possible to set this play in America, which has its own deserts, small towns and country boys? It’s hard to learn an accent.)
Rudy Guerrero (Mitzi/Tick)

If you’re looking for a night of campy energy and fun, go see this production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - The Musical -- and don’t forget your dancing shoes.

Trailer
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMBp-mwKH2A&feature=youtu.be


Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
The Musical


PRODUCTION
Director - John Fisher
Choreography - AeJay Mitchell
Rudy Guerrero - Dance Captain
Scenic Designer - Gilbert Johnson
Lighting - Sean Keehan
Costumes Robert Horek
Headdress Designer Glenn Krumbholz
Sound - James Goode

CAST
Rudy Guerrero - Tick/Mitzi
John-Thomas Hanson - Pastor, ensemble
Kim Larsen - Bernadette
Charles Peoples III - Adam/Felicia
Morgan Lange - Lars 1, Errol, Jules, Ensemble
Grace Liu - Cynthia, ensemble
Lisa McHenry - Shirley, Diva
Phaedra Tillery - Marion, Diva
David Tuttle - Miss Understanding, Lars 2, Band Boy, Young Bernadette, Ensemble
Dee Wagner - Marion’s Wife, ensemble
Cameron Weston - Bob, Ensemble
Cameron Zener - Benji




Thursday, May 24, 2018

A Kick-Ass J. C. Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar

Ray of Light Theatre
http://rayoflighttheatre.com

At the Victoria Theater until June 9, 2018
2961 16th Street between Mission and Capp streets
#shesus


Reviewed by Christine Okon

What would Jesus say about Ray of Light Theatre’s all-woman production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Jesus Christ Superstar?

Jesus would say, “hell, yeah, THAT’s what I’m talkin’ about! Radical.Rebellious. Relevant!”

This show wins on all counts--directing, singing, dancing, set design, music, video, costumes, everything--and it would be a shame if you didn’t get to experience it for yourself.

Jesus (Janelle LaSalle) and the Apostles

As the familiar, wailing LIVE guitar overture fills the Victoria theater, we are immersed in the chaos of a present-day conflict that is played out on stage while at the same time, four large TV screens blare the “Breaking News,” all of it disturbingly familiar to our own lives in the current world state. Protesters clash against “Rome,” a symbol of tyranny for any age, as the music reaches a crescendo until it is settled by the main theme music and the spotlight illuminates the powerful yet peaceful form of Jesus Christ (a remarkable Janelle LaSalle), comforting and interacting with the apostles. And we soon meet Judas, Jesus’s passionate “right-hand man” (a powerful Jocelyn Pickett) who argues that the mission is going off track and that the apostles have too much “Heaven on Their Minds.”

Judas (Jocelyn Pickett) returns
As one of those people who knows the whole score by heart, it was a pleasure to experience the innovative staging of each song. Most incredible is Janelle LaSalle as Jesus, her strong voice moving across the range of notes from gentle prayer to argumentative scream; her version of “Gethsemane” is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. This production has some powerful talent, especially Maita Ponce as Mary Magdalene and Heather Orth as Caiaphas. An especially delightful splash of humor was the visit to Herod, played by Hayley Lovgren as the glitzy, ditzy host of “The Herod Show” where we are the studio audience, instructed to respond to cue cards of “APPLAUSE,” “OOH” and “AHH.”

Herod (Hayley Lovgren) and dancers
I am so glad the lyrics were not “feminized,” i.e. changing he to she, etc. as it would have changed the songs. This play is about the universal human Christ, so it’s not necessary.

Ray of Light's production of Jesus Christ Superstar is such a moving, kinetic experience that I did not want it to end; in fact, I may go back to see it again.


Jesus Christ Superstar

CAST
Maita Ponce (Mary)
Janelle LaSalle (Jesus)
Melinda Campero (Simon)
Sarita Cannon (Priest)
Jennifer Mitchell (Priest)
Angel Adedokun (Peter)
April Deutschle (Apostle)
Madeline Lambie (Apostle)
LeighAnn Cannon (Apostle)
Audrey Baker (Apostle)
Amy Alvino (Priest)
Rachel Witte (Apostle)
Cecily Schmidt (Apostle)
Jillian Bader (Priest)
Crystal Liu (Apostle)
Heather Orth (Caiaphas)
Courtney Merrell (Pilate)
Kathryn Sullivan (Apostle)
Christen Sottolano (Annas)
Sara Altier (Priest)
Jocelyn Pickett (Judas)
Jill Jacobs (Apostle)
Hayley Lovgren (Herod)

PRODUCTION TEAM
Jenn BeVard (Dramaturgy)
Daniel Cadigan (Technical Director)
Connie Carranza (Assistant Stage Manager)
Peet Cocke (Props Designer)
Lori Fowler (Stage Manager)
Chanterelle Grover (Wardrobe Associate)
Anton Hedman (Sound Engineer
Theodore J.H. Hulsker (Sound Designer)
Josh Kirkbride (Spot Operator)
Eliza Leoni (Co-Director)
Kuo-Hao Lo (Set Designer)
Christian V. Mejia (Lighting Director)
Aaron Mills (Spot Operator)
Patrick Nims (Video Coordinator)

Ben Prince (Music Director)
Shane Ray (Co-Director)
Alex Rodriguez (Choreographer)
Erik Scanlon (Video Designer)
Weili Shi (Master Electrician, Assistant Lighting Designer)
Maggie Whitaker (Costume Designer)

MUSICIANS
Ben Prince (Keyboard/Conductor)
Stephen Danska (Guitar)
Travis Kindred (Bass)
Taylor Rankin (Drums)
Ken Brill/Dave Dobrusky (Keyboard 2)