Monday, December 24, 2018

Inviting Our Better Ghosts

A Noh Christmas Carol

Jakubei (Stephen Flores) haunting Sukurooji (Simone Bloch) Photo: Shannon Davis

Theatre of Yugen
At Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa Street, San Francisco

Ending December 30, 2018
Fridays at 7 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM and 7 PM, Sundays at 4 PM

We all know how Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the holiday staple that reminds us of the true meaning and magic of the season. We all have ghosts of past present and future, but to see this story presented in a new light by Theatre of Yugen is transformational. (The word Yugen is from the Japanese YU, meaning deep, quiet or otherworldly, and GEN, to mean subtle, profound or obscured).

A Noh Christmas Carol keeps the skeleton of the familiar story with a leap into unknown spiritual dimensions. As practiced as a tea ceremony, as simple as a brush painting, and as clear as a flute, this production is intriguing, engaging, and even disturbing. It’s the story of the miserly Sukurooji (Scrooge) who is callous to the pain of his workers and tenants until he is taught a lesson that he has suppressed all of these see and love life anew, as a child.

Kurando [Cratchit] (Zoe Chien) and his wife (Mikah Kavita) at dinner as Sukurooji [Scrooge] (Simone Bloch) watches happily. Photo: Shannon Davis

Under the direction of Nick Ishimaru, each performer honors the ancient craft and discipline of Noh for a modern stage. Simone Bloch’s Sukurooji is both menacing and kindly, her expressions exaggerated by classic makeup. The chains that bind us into the next life are dragged by the ghost Jakubei (Stephen Flores), a scary and hunched apparition that mouths true agony. Rachel Richman is ethereal and elusive as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet-to-come. Even the invisible koken stage hand moves like a silent spirit.

Stephen Flores as the tortured ghost of Jakubei Photo: Shannon Davis
A sublimely constrained format, like haiku and bonsai, minimalist abundance, is evident in this production. The very simple and deliberate set design features a large portal suggesting the Japanese character Enso, the circle of life’s journey. The music and sounds work subtly to bring a sense of mystery to this very familiar story, making it ring anew.

Set portal Photo: Christine Okon
There is still time to see A Noh Christmas Carol before it ends December 30. It would be a perfect way to celebrate a transition from past to present to future.

A Noh Christmas Carol
Theatre of Yugen

Simone Bloch - Sukurooji (Ebenezer Scrooge)
Zoe Chien -  The Men
Steven Flores  - Jakubei Mashima (Marley); Kurogo
Mikah Kavita -- The Women
Rachael Richman -- The Christmas Ghosts

Nick Ishimaru -- Director
Mel Ramirez -- Stage Manager
Ella Cooley  -- Sound Designer
Josh McDermott -- Set Designer
Cassie Barnes -- Lighting Designer
Liz Brent -- Costume Designer

Monday, December 10, 2018

A Visit with a Timeless Icon of Hollywood Fashion

A Conversation with Edith Head

Susan Claasen as Edith Head

Based on Edith Head’s Hollywood by Edith Head and Paddy Calistro
Starring Susan Claasen

Until December 16, 2018

Pear Theater
1110 La Avenida St, Mountain View CA

Edith Head, that fierce little bespectacled bird of Hollywood fashion, lives again in Susan Claasen’s world-renowned solo show. A Conversation with Edith Head is indeed just that, with Claasen, as Head, engaging the audience with her “wit, wisdom, and a whisper of gossip” as she recounts her life as one of Hollywood’s foremost costume designers.

The "Real" Edith Head with her Oscars

Claasen, who bears a striking resemblance to Head, creates an easy intimacy as she chats about the 44 years at Paramount Studios where she costumed the likes of Elizabeth Taylor (with a 19-inch waist), Dorothy Lamour, and especially Grace Kelly, that paragon of exquisite beauty. Admitting that she best loved dressing men like Cary Grant, Paul Newman, and Danny Kaye because of how they looked and moved, she stresses how important it is for costumes to enhance, and not distract from, character. One of Head’s secrets of success is that she really listened to what the performers needed and wanted in their clothes while at the same time complying with the director, knowing that her role was, as Tim Gunn would say, to “make it work.”

When she was suddenly let go from Paramount after decades of service, her friend Alfred Hitchcock, whom she loved working with, helped her get established at Fox. Her anecdotes about working with Hitchcock are delightful and funny, as when Tippi Hedren’s green suit in The Birds had multiple iterations, “one for each peck.”

Classen's "Head" Shot

It is clear that Claasen relishes channeling the confident and sometimes snarky designer who stayed true to herself and thrived in the jungle that is Hollywood. She interacts easily with the audience, answering their questions, praising a woman’s put-together outfit and admonishing a man with an aghast “You wore JEANS to see ME?!”

Claasen’s knowledge of Head’s life, her love of the subject, and her easy demeanor on stage all create a comfortable and enjoyable visit with an icon of yesteryear. A Conversation with Edith Head will most likely appeal to the limited set of theatergoers who know and love the history of Hollywood glamor, and for those not familiar with the subject, it will be a learning experience.

More information about the show:

A Conversation with Edith Head
Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St, Mountain View CA
Thurs-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm

Edith Head: Susan Claassen

Producer: Elizabeth Cruse Craig
Production Designers: James Blair and Susan Claasen
Costume Recreations:  Chris Brewer and Maryann Trombino
Wig Designer: Renate E. Leuschner
Voice and Movement Director: Dianne J. Winslow

Spirits in Migration

The Conference of the Birds

Danie Citlali Valdivieso (Mockingbird), Omar Osoria-Pena (Eagle), Jane Eisner (Goldfinch), Ashley Jaye (Hoopoe), Ben Elie (Duck) photo: Simone Finney

by Sholeh Wolpé
directed by Giulio Cesare Perrone
based on the Sufi poem by Farid ud-Din Attar 
co-produced by Inferno Theater and Ubuntu Theater Project

NOV 30–DEC 16
Brooklyn Preserve
1433 12th Avenue
Oakland, CA 94606

The Conference of the Birds, the 12th-century Sufi gem of Persian literature by Farid ud-Din Attar, is a magical tale about the migration of the soul toward enlightenment. This collaboration of Inferno Theater and Ubuntu Theater Project, directed by Giulio Cesare Perrone, brings us a production based on a recent modernization by Iranian poet Sholeh Wolpé, setting the ancient parable in motion and magic on a shoestring.

After climbing to the second floor of the rather dantesque venue of the Brooklyn Preserve on an Oakland side street, the audience enters a large attic-like space where the floor is covered in Persian rugs. A solitary musician (Amir Etemadzadeh) coaxes mournful and evocative strains from a stringed instrument, and we are greeted by the wise and gentle Attar (Joshua-Morris Williams) who guides us through the story as it unfolds.

Ali-Moosa Mirza (Nightingale), Saira Kaur Mangat (Owl), Omar Osoria-Pena (Eagle) and Jane Eisner (Goldfinch) photo: Simone Finney

The Hoopoe (Ashley Jaye) is an enlightened bird that beseeches the birds of the world to join her on a journey to the Simurgh, the great source of knowledge. Hoopoe warns that although it will be challenging, the rewards will be great. The other birds--Nightingale, Osprey, Goldfinch, Owl, Duck and Parrot--respond in a way that reveals their weaknesses such as vanity, fear, doubt, complacency, and more. Each revealed frailty creates an opportunity for our guide Attar to teach us a lesson with an illustrative story about a spider in a web, moth to flames, a lover and his mistress, and others, acted out.

Joshua-Morris Williams as Attar photo: Simone Finney 

The costumes are simple but creative and full of color, and Annie Hallatt’s bird masks suggest the essence and personality of each bird. The birds move and dance in unison (you must admire the synchronous joy of the actors) as they proceed on their treacherous pilgrimage to Simhurgh, and they must cross the Valleys of the Quest, Love, Understanding, Detachment, Unity, Astonishment, Deprivation and Death. It is not unlike the journey to Oz.

Omar Osoria-Pena photo: Simone Finney

Although The Conference of the Birds is well known in middle eastern cultures, it may not be readily understood by Americans. Providing some explanation of each bird, the lessons, and the steps of the journey would help audiences follow along. Nevertheless, this very simple and engaging production of an ancient Sufi parable brings a relevance that is worth experiencing.

by Sholeh Wolpé
directed by Giulio Cesare Perrone

NOV 30-DEC 16
Thursdays 12/6 & 12/13: 8pm
Fri & Sat Evenings: 8pm
Sundays,12/2 & 12/9: 7pm
Sundays, 12/16: 2pm

Brooklyn Preserve
1433 12th Avenue
Oakland, CA 94606

$15-45 online, pay-what-you-can at door

Joshua Morris-Williams: Attar
Ashley Jaye: Hoopoe
Sarah Brazier: Parrot, Hoarder Mother, Golden Pheasant
Jane Eisner: Goldfinch, Scientist Moth, Princess, Eqyptian Queen
Ben Elie: Duck, Dervish, American, Majnun
Saira Kaur Mangat: Owl, Dervish Moth, Layli. Sufi, Sheikh
Ali-Moosa Mirza: Nightingale, Adeeb, KingMahmud
Omar Osoria Pena: Osprey, Khizir, Courtier, Moses
Danie Citlali Valdivieso: Mockingbird, Beautiful Woman, Devil, Lovelorn Princess

Director: Giulio Cesare Perrone
Assistant Director: Sarah Brazier
Lighting Designer: Danielle Ferguson
Musician/Composer: Amir Etemadzadeh
Costume Designer: Giulio Cesare Perrone
Set Designer: Giulio Cesare Perrone
Movement/Choreography: Ensemble
Mask/Prop Designer: Annie Hallatt

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A Very Pemberley Christmas

The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley

Brian (August Browning) keeps his distance from George (Kenny Toll) and Lydia (Madeline Rouveral)

Marin Theatre Company
Until December 16, 2018

By Lauren Gunderson & Margot Melcon
Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian

Even the happiest of holidays can stress out any family, including the residents of the Pemberley estate featured in Jane Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice. What an engine of human dramedy is this novel, inspiring numerous interpretations (including the film Bridget Jones’ Diary).

In The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley, playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have again revved up the Austen engine to create another holiday spinoff like 2016’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. The Wickhams takes place at the same time as Miss Bennet, except in the downstairs realm of the servants who work hard to create, manage and execute the holiday magic that appears so effortless to “upstairs” folk like Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy (David Everett Moore) and Mrs. Elizabeth “Lizzie” Darcy (Melissa Ortiz) and guests.

Downstairs is the domain of Mrs. Russell (​Jennie Brick),  the cook and “operations manager” who bustles and fusses to keep the house running smoothly with the help of the footman Brian (August Browning) and new maid Cassie (Neiry Rojo). There’s so much to be done: orange biscuits to be baked, meals planned, wreaths assembled, decorations prepared, boots polished, and the live evergreen tree cut down and hauled inside as part of the new German novelty in holiday tradition.

Cassie (Geiry Rojo) and Brian (August Browning)

The routine moves like clockwork until a wrench is thrown into the gears, the wrench being the “ne’er do well” George Wickham (a wonderfully scurrilous Kenny Toll) who appears unexpectedly at the servants’ door at Pemberley even though he has been banned from the premises for deceitful and conniving actions regarding his relationship and bargained marriage to Lydia (Madeline Rouverol), the youngest Bennet sister who lives in a ditzy whirl of balls, pretty dresses, and flirtations with men. Lydia has come to visit her sister Lizzie without George, unaware that he’s hiding out downstairs. The whole play is fun and farcical as the staff tries to keep George and the chaos he brings away from the family.

George Wickham (Kenny Toll) sweet talks Mrs. Reynolds (Jennie Brick)
Downstairs is like the backstage before opening night. It’s also an escape for Lizzie and Lydia to literally let their hair down, explode with emotion, and munch on one of those delicious orange cookies. (MTC would do well to sell those cookies in the lobby!) And the whiff of budding romance and a new future for Cassie and Brian is heartwarming.

Lizzie Bennet (Melissa Ortiz) with her sister, Lydia Wickham (Madeline Rouverol)

One thing that MTC does well is the dramaturgical research (Laura A. Brueckner) needed to create authenticity. Courtney Flores’ meticulous costume design brings form and color to the actors’ movements, and Wilson Chin’s scenic design is packed with intriguing details to fill in the experience of working among the servants. MTC displays the research in engaging lobby exhibits to depict life just prior to the Industrial (and thus social) Revolution in England. An innovative and fun touch were the bottles of scents the characters might have experienced in the early 1800s: you could smell the spices, laundry soap, and even brandy.

All performances are solid, with Mrs. Russell, Brian, and Cassie maintaining sanity while George and Lydia rant hysterically and Mr. Darcy and Lizzie strive to maintain decorum.

This latest Christmas jaunt into a secret corner of the Pemberley estate makes for a delightful time at the theater, leading me to wonder what new story will come next year.

Photo credit: Kevin Berne

The Wickhams:  Christmas at Pemberley

Marin Theatre Company

​Jennie Brick* -- Mrs. Reynolds
August Browning -- Brian
David Everett Moore*  -- Fitzwilliam Darcy
Melissa Ortiz* -- Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy
​Neiry Rojo -- ​Cassie
Madeline Rouverol -- Lydia Wickham
Kenny Toll* -- George Wickham

Lauren M. Gunderson -- Playwright
Margot Melcon -- Playwright
​Megan Sandberg-Zakian -- Director
Kevin Johnson* -- Stage Manager
Wilson Chin+ -- Scenic Designer
Courtney Flores -- Costume Designer
Wen-Ling Liao+ -- Lighting Designer
Sharath Patel -- Sound Designer
Jessica Berman -- Dialect Coach
Laura A. Brueckner -- Production Dramaturg
Dori Jacob -- Casting Director

Saturday, November 24, 2018

We Need You, Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins

San Francisco Playhouse
588 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Until Jan 12, 2019

A Musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film
Original Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman; Book by Julian Fellowes; New Songs and Additional Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe; Co-Created by Cameron Mackintosh

Directed by Susi Damilano
Music direction by Katie Coleman

Reviewed by Christine Okon

San Francisco Playhouse’s production of Mary Poppins is absolutely delightful, bringing us the spoonful of sugar we need to stomach these stressful times.

Based on the Broadway musical and the 1964 Disney film which was in turn based on the book by P.L. Travers, this version of Mary Poppins honors the shadows as well as the joy in the story of the magical, quirky nanny who saves the spirit of the Banks family (George, Winifred, Jane and Michael) in early 20th century England.

Bert the Chimney Sweep (Wiley Naman Strasser)
Class differences create contrast. The amiable chimney sweep Bert (a puckish and engaging Wiley Naman Strasser) is the chorus of the lower working class and gives us the widest perspective from rooftop to street. As the upper class moves along in their entitled sphere of wealth and profit, the striving middle class, represented by George Banks (Ryan Drummond), is in danger of becoming a corporate automaton, relishing order and precision above all else until Mary Poppins enters.

The incorrigible Banks children (Ruth Keith as Jane and David Ruskin as Michael) have burned through several nannies, much to the frustration of their mother Winifred Banks (Abby Haug), the bustling cook Mrs. Brill (Marie Shell), and servant Robertson Ay (Rod Voltaire Edora). As soon as the children voice the wording of the ad they’d like to place for “The Perfect Nanny,” there’s a knock at the door. As if by magic (and indeed it is magic), Mary Poppins appears in her crisp dress and carpetbag, ready to step into the job. El Beh gives us a solid, no-nonsense Mary Poppins, a “bit of a badass---and I like that,” as my theater companion said. Mary Poppins sees herself as “Practically Perfect” and is honest and direct; her example provides structure and guidance rooted in love, not control. She teaches Michael and Jane to own their actions and take responsibility for the repercussions of their decisions.

Mary Poppins opens up a world of whimsy and discovery, leading to some sparkling scenes where toys come to life, as in “Playing the Game,” with Gina Velez as “Valentine” and ensemble spinning in a kaleidoscope of colorful costumes as fun as a pile of unopened gifts under the Christmas tree. A big thumbs-up to costume designer Abra Berman and wig designer Laundra Tyne for creating the closest thing to a Disney animation on stage.

A Kaleidoscope of Color
Mary Poppins has friends in high places, namely, the rooftops full of “guardian angels” -- chimney sweeps--who keep the home fires burning clean. The number “Step in Time” bursts with so much energy that you feel worn out as an audience member; it’s that much fun, thanks to choreography by Kimberly Richards.

Bravo to the set, prop and lighting designers (Nina Ball, Jacquelyn Scott, and Patrick Toebe) who created the rotating stage where each setting--the rooftops and sky, the children’s bedroom, the Banks home, the park--unfolds like a pop-up storybook being read to you in an easy chair.

Mary Poppins (El Beh) arrives

The songs you know and love such as ”A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and others rekindle childhood right in your seat. The most moving song is “Feed the Birds,” said to be Walt Disney’ favorite and what the whole story is about. It’s soulfully sung by the incredible Katrina Lauren McGraw as the Bird Woman, surrounded by feathered friends, calling out her simple plea for kindness from the steps of the church. Whether or not one buys seed from her reveals character, as when Michael is willing to give his sixpence away and, even more profoundly, Mr. Banks notices her and gives something without expecting return. One suggestion: It would be very effective to project an image of a sky full of birds to suggest the endless opportunities to share kindness with others.

Katrina Lauren McGraw as the Bird Woman

Not only can she portray the old Bird Woman, but McGraw shows her eclectic range as the totally opposite Mrs. Andrews, the “Holy Terror” nanny of Mr. Banks’s childhood who, with her threats of a “Brimstone and Treacle” remedy bullies the Banks household until she meets her match in Mary Poppins. As a kindly old woman or a fearsome witch, McGraw’s powerful and beautiful voice fills the space in the theater and our hearts.

Bravo to director Susi Damilano for bringing us an outstanding synchronization of acting, staging, music, dance and fun. Give yourself a chance to snatch a little bit of joy this holiday season, and you’ll even get to see Mary Poppins fly!



El Beh

Dominic Dagdagan

Ryan Drummond*
Rod Voltaire Edora
Rod Voltaire Edora*

Rudy Guerrero*

Kathryn Han*

Abby Haug*

Billy Hutton

Grace Hutton

Ruth Keith

Sophia LaPaglia

Catrina Manahan

Jessica Mann

Katrina Lauren McGraw*

Anthony Rollins-Mullens*

David Rukin

Marie Shell*

David Stein

Wiley Naman Strasser

Gina Velez

Ruth Keith

Sophia LaPaglia

Catrina Manahan

Jessica Mann
Katrina Lauren McGraw*

Anthony Rollins-Mullens*

David Rukin

Marie Shell*

David Stein

Wiley Naman Strasser

Gina Velez


Cameron Mackintosh

P.L. Travers

Sherman Brothers
Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman

Julian Fellowes

George Stiles

Anthony Drewe

Susi Damilano

Katie Coleman

Kimberly Richards

Nina Ball

Abra Berman

Theodore J.H. Hulsker

Patrick Toebe

Jacquelyn Scott

Sarah Selig

Angela Knutson

Shannon R. Carroll

Maria Kosta

Mike "Miguel" Martinez

Eliana Adise

Caitlin McFann

Dori Jacob

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Crazy for You: Gershwin Galore

Crazy for You  

Bobby (Conor DeVoe) and Chorus

NOV 10 - DEC 16, 2018

Bay Area Musicals

Alcazar Theater
650 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA

Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Book by Ken Ludwig
Direction and Choreography by Matthew McCoy
Musical Direction by Jon Gallo

I like a Gershwin about you?

If you also like lots of singing and dancing and don’t mind an insipid, outworn plot, then you may enjoy Bay Area Musical's production of Crazy for You, a mishmash of Gershwin songs from the 1930 Girl Crazy and other productions. For this "New Gershwin Musical Comedy" from 1992, it’s pretty dated.

Under the direction of Matthew McCoy, BAM players put their hearts and hooves into this production that was unfortunately weakened by the flimsy premise, missed comic timing (where throwaway humor was really thrown away), audio problems, and mismatched energies of some performers. But then again, it’s quite the feat to capture that big Broadway show feel on the Alcazar stage.
Bobby Child (Conor DeVoe) is a bored rich kid who’s gotta dance and tries out for the bright lights, big stage, and Broadway thrill of the Zangfeld Follies. When dispatched by his greedy mother Irene Roth (Mary Gibboney) to foreclose on a property way out West in Nevada, he meets his match in Polly Baker (Danielle Alitzio), the feisty daughter of vaudeville actors who fights to keeps the old hotel, stage, and post office running. Surprise! Love triumphs over greed but not without some mishaps, some funny, some tedious.

Polly (Danielle Alitzio), Bobby (Conor DaVoe) and Chorus

Let’s talk about what’s good. First of all, the dancing! Matthew McCoy and Danielle Chaiken do justice to Susan Stroman’s choreography for the original Broadway production. The chorus girls are a collection of quirky personalities who dance and sing in sparkly and fun costumes designed by Bruce Jennings and Ge Jia. They are a joy to see, with special standout by Danielle Chaiken as Tess, keeping a snappy wryness to her everygirl character. The chorus of “cowboys” is equally delightful, and when the entire chorus moves together it’s a dazzling spectacle.

Conor DeVoie is a exubeant dancer, comfortable in his body, and fun to watch. He has a knack for physical comedy, from his facial expressions and doubletakes to the goofy, Marx Brothers-inspired “mirror” scene he has with Bela Zangfeld (Tony Michaels). Danielle Alitzio as his counterpart Polly is equally adept with the steps but somehow kept within her own sphere of energy. Her rendition of "Someone to Watch Over Me" didn’t have the soulful yearning this song was made for. As good as she was with song and dance, she seemed uncomfortable.

The main weakness is the play itself. Despite the energy of some talented people, the story is flat-footed, clumsy and at times boring. Although there are things to enjoy in this production, crazy for it I am not.

Crazy for You
Bay Area Musicals

Polly Baker, Danielle Altizio
Bobby Child, Conor Devoe*
Irene Roth, Morgan Peters
Bela Zangler, Tony Michaels
Lottie/Patricia Fodor, Mary Gibboney
Perkins/Eugene Fodor, Paul Plain
Everett Baker, Charles Evans
Lank Hawkins, Sean McGrory
Tess, Danielle Cheiken
Patsy, Zoe Swenson-Graham
Mitzi, Leslie Waggoner
Elaine, Alyson Chilton
Louise, Katie Baritell
Susie, Laura Morgan
Moose, Lucas Brandt
Mingo, Mitchell Mosley
Sam, Jean-Paul Jones
Harry, Patrick Brewer
Junior, Brendan Looney
Custus, Jesse Cortez
*Denotes a member of Actors’ Equity Association

Matthew McCoy, Director & Choreographer
Jon Gallo, Musical Director
Danielle Cheiken, Assistant Choreographer
Cat Knight, Stage Manager
Andrea Fanelli, Assnt. Stage Manager
Kayleigh Glenn, Assnt. Stage Manager
Kuo-Hao Lo, Set Designer
Brooke Jennings, Costume Designer
Eric Johnson, Lighting Designer
Anton Hedman, Sound Engineer
Clay David, Prop Designer
Jackie Dennis, Wig Designer
Laurence Tasse, Sound Board Op
Richard Gutierrez, Wardrobe Master
Ge Jia, Assnt. Costume Designer
Stewart Lyle, Technical Director
AC Hay, Master Electrician

Sonja Lindsay - Trumpet
Jeremy Carrillo - Trombone
Will Berg - Woodwinds
Kjirsten Grove - Keyboard / Woodwinds
Jon Gallo - Keyboard / Conductor
Kyle Wong - Bass
Dominic Moisane - Drums

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

No Rest for the Weary

The Resting Place

James Carpenter as Mitch (Jennifer Reiley)
World Premiere
By Ashlin Halfnight
Directed by Jessica Holt

Magic Theatre
Until Nov 4, 2018

Perhaps you can recall a news story that has appalled you so much that you ask, “what kind of monster could do such a thing?” Then try to imagine that the monster has a family who, having had nothing to do with the heinous act, is nevertheless left to suffer the repercussions of shame, grief, loss, and love.

Such is the premise of The Resting Place, an emotional pressure chamber of a play that explores how members of a middle-class family, the Jacksons, each cope with the sudden tragedy of a family member who has committed suicide in the wake of public exposure of his repeated acts of pedophilic abuse.

Martha Brigham and Emilie Talbot (Jennifer Reiley)
Director Jessica Holt brings each character forward in his or her own struggle as they hide from the press and public in their home. Annie (Martha Brigham) has rushed home from a self-care retreat to be with the family and to mourn her older brother Travis. Although she has heard the “facts” of her brother’s behavior, she is intent on presenting the Travis that she thought she knew and loved: the decent son, fun-loving brother, and a good person. Her unconditional optimism seems out of place in the atmosphere of grief, anger, fear, sadness that has seized the rest of her family. Her mother Angela (Emilie Talbot) has numbed herself with alcohol into a state of detachment that could be mistaken for calmness. Her father Mitch (James Carpenter, in a volcanic performance) implodes with grief as he explodes with rage at his daughter’s obliviousness, and the arguments that ensue are visceral and disturbing. Macy (Emily Radosevich), Annie’s slightly younger sister, has had more practice holding on to her own sanity and provides some emotional balance to the chaos. Also affected is Liam, Travis’s former lover who was the last person to have heard from him.

Intent on planning a memorial service, Annie wants to creates a photo board of photos as if assembling a jigsaw puzzle of the Travis she remembers...but the the biggest piece is missing: how Travis has hurt and traumatized several boys. When Mitch brings home Charles, one of Travis’s victims who is now trying to piece his life together, Annie cannot bear listening and continues in her imbalanced denial.

James Carpenter, Emilie Talbot, Emily Radosevich, Martha Brigham (Jennifer Reiley)
In an abrupt set change, the rear wall collapses, furniture is moved off stage, and a simple podium is moved front and center as we, the audience, find ourselves uneasily attending the memorial service for Travis. As Annie begins her halting eulogy to her brother, she notices that Charles is taking a seat among the attendees. Why? Was Charles just curious, or was he forgiving his abuser? We too wonder why we are there. Annie is at last unnerved by the epiphany of the reality of what her brother did...are some acts irredeemably horrible? When she falls apart and shifts her tone, it is not convincing, however; her passionate conviction too easily dissolves into futile and helpless resignation. Nevertheless, she speaks her doubt to the listeners, and asks people to leave, knowing that there is no real place to escape or rest from the reality.

The Resting Place could have been tightened in many areas, and some of the characters’ actions seemed either pat or incongruous. Nevertheless, the swirl of complex emotions is intense, creating a visceral experience that will be remembered after the words echo away. Despite the connections in our life, how we deal with tragedy is personal and very lonely.

The Resting Place

James Carpenter - Mitch
Emilie Talbot - Angela
Emily Radosevich - Macy
Martha Brigham - Annie
Wiley Naman Strasser -  Liam
Andrew LeBuhn - Charles

Edward T. Morris - Scenic Design
Sara Huddleston - Sound Design
Shelby-Lio Feeney - Costume Design
Wen-Ling Liao - Lighting Design

Dates: October 10 – November 4, 2018
Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday – Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94123

Tickets: Online:
Phone: (415) 441-8822

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
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 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

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