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