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