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)









Monday, May 21, 2018

The Persistence of Memory


Marjorie Prime

Written by Jordan Harrison
Directed by Ken Sus Schmoll

Until May 27, 2018

Marin Theatre Company
Marintheatre.org

397 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA
415.388.5200


A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for? - Robert Browning

If you want to exceed your grasp, there’s probably an app for that. In a time where technology is woven in the familiar cloth of our daily lives, it’s not implausible to imagine a time, say 2062, where the essence of a person can persist long after the body is gone.

Marjorie Prime (at Marin Theatre Company until May 27) begins with a scenario that is all too familiar to many people: caring for an aging parent whose memory and faculties are fading. In a sparse, office-like living room sits Marjorie, an 86-year-old woman. She faces a crisply-suited, handsome young man perched on the couch. They engage in a simple and predictable conversation that seems to comfort Marjorie while at the same time confusing her. The young man is Walter Prime, a digitally-created derivative of her late husband Walter when he was in his handsome prime, bought by Marjorie’s daughter Tess and her husband Jon in an effort to assuage Marjorie's grief as well as to lighten the load of caretaking.

Marjorie (Joy Carlin) and Walter Prime (Tommy Gorrebeeck)

Joy Carlin is adept at playing aging, frail and somewhat confused Marjorie as well as the precise and curious Marjorie Prime, with subtle differences in stance, movement and speech. Tommy Goorebeeck conveys the paradox of a caring but detached digital presence, his machine learning skills activated to absorb as much data about Walter as possible.


Tess (Julie Eccles) and Jon (Anthony Fusco)

Walter Prime exercises Marjorie’s recall of past events and reminds her to perform activities of daily living, such as eating a tablespoon of peanut butter. He is humanoid enough to irk Tess, who seems to resent his ability to engage Marjorie in ways she cannot. Tess is conflicted internally and externally, a middle-aged woman dealing with her own demons and fears, powerfully played by Julie Eccles. Her husband Jon, patiently portrayed by Anthony Fusco, tries to be supportive of Tess as well as Marjorie but is caught in the middle of problem solving and disappointing reality.

Marjorie’s death is subtly implied, and her space is filled by Marjorie Prime, commissioned by Jon to help Tess through her pain and disconnectedness. Like Walter Prime, Marjorie Prime seems perfect but not enough to keep Tess from the darkness that grips her.

Marjorie Prime explores an eerie but beautiful projection into a timeless, spaceless dimension where digital entities can continue to converse in their finite loops.

Marjorie (Joy Carlin) and Tess (Julie Eccles)

The passage of time in this play happens in the blink of an eye, and you realize that you have journeyed to a time without space and time. MTC’s Marjorie Prime takes us on an important journey through the stages of human grief and the reality that even with slick technology, we cannot escape our human condition.

Marin Theatre Company always goes the extra distance is expanding the spheres of the plays they produce; with Marjorie Prime, the lobby is full of interesting, educational and interactive exhibits about memory, dementia, caregiving, and memory. Try to catch this show before it ends May 27.

CAST
​Joy Carlin*   Marjorie
Julie Eccles* Tess
​Anthony Fusco*  Jon
Walter Thomas Gorrebeeck*

CREATIVE TEAM
​Jordan Harrison Playwright
Ken Rus Schmoll Director
Kimie Nishikawa Set Designer
Michael Palumbo Lighting Designer
Jessie Amoroso Costume Designer
Brendan Aanes Sound Designer

* Denotes member of Actors Equity Association







Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Bugs and the Human Heart

An Entomologist's Love Story

World Premiere
Written by Melissa Ross
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli

May 8 to June 23, 2018

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street San Francisco, CA 94102
sfplayhouse.org  


Reviewed by Christine Okon

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even entomologists with PhDs do it.

And they find out that love’s a bitch.

San Francisco Playhouse brings us another great World Premiere play with Melissa Ross’s  An Entomologist’s Love Story, a smart, delightful, educational, funny and very moving look at love at all levels.

The play begins with an eeewww-inducing big-screen projection of an insect to illustrate a lecture on the sex lives of insects, given by Betty, a PhD-certified entomologist with the NYC Museum of Natural History. Betty has given this talk many times, and even though it strains her adherence to the scientific method she knows and loves, she realizes that sex, after all, sells. With spicy, sardonic wit she narrates slide after slide of the violent world of insect love, where the female often destroys the male after she’s done with him, concluding with everyone’s favorite: the female praying mantis chomping off the head of her partner. Lori Prince's Betty is serious, snarky and borderline frumpy, quick to strike out with a confidence that veils lurking insecurity.

Jeff (Lucas Verbrugghe) and Betty (Lori Prince) in the lab
Betty has studied bugs for years, and science is her life, or at least the only life she has allowed. She has little tolerance for sloppier, unpredictable activities that humans are prone to, like relationships. Her caustic wit, self-containment and knee-jerk hostility protect her like an emotional exoskeleton as she reigns over the lab that she shares with her lab partner of many years, Jeff. Lucas Verbrugghe as Jeff is the perfect foil, likable in his good-guy simplicity as we root for him to withstand Betty’s constant beration and grip. Like the hundreds of insect specimens displayed floor to ceiling (kudos to set designer Nina Ball), Betty assumes she has Jeff pinned and wriggling.

Lindsay (Jessica Lynn Carroll) and Jeff (Lucas Verbrugghe)

There’s a bedbug scare in the city, and a worried young woman named Lindsay (sweetly unassuming and unpretentious) emails the lab to find out what bit her in the night to cause a rash on her leg. Betty punts the query to Jeff, who makes an extra effort to help and eventually meet the young woman. The possibility of a relationship excites Jeff but inflames Betty who launches a salvo of insults about Lindsay; she concludes that Jeff, like most men, only cares about looks and sweetness and that Lindsay is probably a silly and stupid bimbo. Yay for Jeff as he stands up to Betty’s barrage and continues a relationship with Lindsay who insists, while peeking through the lab microscope, that the bug is staring back at her, that it has a face. This is not possible, says Jeff the scientist, but Lindsay persists with the simple question “but how do you know?” a question that's a threshold to other realms of thinking and being. This is what makes the play so wonderful: that it is possible to see beyond the habits of certainty to experience life.

Andy (Will Springhorn Jr.) and Betty (Lori Prince)

Betty later meets Andy, a stranger who has seen her lectures, on a park bench, and quickly retreats into her protective shell by making assumptions about his life and character. Will Springhorn Jr., resembling a young Nick Cage, is superb as Andy who delivers some of the best lines in the play, especially the subjunctive and heartfelt litany of “what if I told you that..” to dispel each of Betty’s assumptions about him. Each character in this love story is richly painted with surprising and delightful character points.

Beautifully directed, An Entomologist’s Love Story bookends with Betty again lecturing, this time about why fireflies blink in the night darkness. Thanks to Kurt Landisman’s beautiful lighting design, those fireflies could just as easily be seen as stars, depending on how you look at it.

Behind the scenes look: https://www.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/2017-2018-season/entomologists-love-story/


An Entomologist's Love Story

CAST
LINDSAY  Jessica Lynn Carroll
BETTY Lori Prince
ANDY  Will Springhorn Jr.
JEFF Lucas Verbrugghe

CREW
PLAYWRIGHT Melissa Ross
DIRECTOR Giovanna Sardelli
SCENIC DESIGNER Nina Ball
COSTUME DESIGNER  Brooke Jennings
SOUND & PROJECTIONS DESIGNER Theodore J.H. Hulsker
LIGHTING DESIGNER Kurt Landisman
PROPERTIES DESIGNER Jacquelyn Scott

Photos by Jessica Palopoli