Friday, August 16, 2019

"Somebody's Baby, Somebody's Child"

52 Letters

Regina Evans and Rashida Chase Photo: Scott Tsuchitani

Written and performed by Regina Evans
Vocals by Rashida Chase

Ubuntu Theater Project
The FLAX Building, 1501 MLK Jr. Way, Oakland, CA

Until August 25, 2019

By Christine Okon

"52 Letters" is more than a play.

It is a prayer, a poem, a cry, and an impassioned call to action to acknowledge a terrible wrong that is all too common yet invisible: the sex trafficking of young girls. Ubuntu Theater Project gives space to artist, activist, and poet Regina Evans to proclaim her message in a stage play that also won the Best of San Francisco Fringe Festival in 2013.

Like an angel of truth, a stunning woman (Rashida Chase) in a regal white dress and headdress enters singing “Motherless Child” with a deep and mournful voice that creates a sanctifying effect sustained throughout the play. Evans begins to tell the stories of young victims, each one “somebody’s baby, somebody’s child.”

Regina Evans Photo: Scott Tsuchitani

As a former victim herself, Evan uses her voice, body, and soul to convey her message, writhing and moaning as if reliving her own nightmare. Poetry flows from her like cleansing water from a deep, natural spring, immersing us in vivid and visceral descriptions of the degradation, suffering, and entrapment of young girls who are abducted, “processed,” and transformed into instruments of profit for their “handlers.” A real horror is how organized and collaborative traffickers are, smoothly moving girls like product from city to city, state to state, country to country. The recent exposure of wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of young girls made the news, revealing that the crime crosses all socioeconomic boundaries. But how many such stories remain invisible and unheard?

Regina Evans and Rashida Chase Photo: Scott Tsuchitani

Like a wise medicine woman who knows the path to healing, Evans traces the journey from the hell of slavery to the hope of renewal. This is her mission in life: to help young girls find their way back to themselves and society. Evans is the founder of Regina’s Door, a non-profit that helps trafficking victims learn new skills in retail and fashion, and she joins in the voices of other organizations dedicated to helping young victims.

Each performance of "52 Letters" is followed by a guest speaker from one such organization. For example, former victim Sarai Mazariegos tells us that “we don’t sit on our trauma,” meaning that the goal of the S.H.A.D.E. movement she founded is to help victims realize their power to “thrive, not just survive.”

Center: Sarai Mazariegostion of S.H.A.D.E Photo by Christine Okon

Many more organizations exist, and "52 Letters" urges us to not only learn about the reality of sex trafficking but to take action to help. In this way, theater can indeed be an instrument of change.


"52 Letters," written and performed by Regina Evans at Ubuntu Theater Project, The FLAX Building, Oakland, CA, through Sunday, August 25, 2019. , Info: ubuntutheaterproject.com/letters

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Come to This Cabaret

Cabaret


John Paul Gonzalez and Dancers Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Book by Joe Masteroff; Based on the play by John Van Druten 
and Stories by Christopher Isherwood; Music by John Kander; Lyrics by Fred Ebb

Directed by Susi Damilano
San Francisco Playhouse

Until September 14, 2019

By Christine Okon

I saw “Cabaret” about 10 years ago at San Francisco Playhouse in a powerful production that showed how joy could be decimated by encroaching, fascistic powers that be. “Good thing we’re not in Nazi Germany,” I thought naively ruminating on the history lesson of how a whole country changed.

How the world has changed, with our democracy threatened from within as never before. In San Francisco Playhouse’s current production of the musical “Cabaret,” a subtle pulse of apprehension about the growing swell of fascism before WWII beats with the fabulous music about the lives of people in “a city called Berlin in a country called Germany and it was the end of the world.”

John Paul Gonzalez and Dancers Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Like a thousand moths beating their wings madly before the light goes out, this “Cabaret” is rich with story, dance, and songs of dark irony and warm poignancy. The scenic design (Jacqueline Scott) transforms the theater into the decadent Kit Kat Klub where the devious-trickster Master of Ceremonies (John Paul Gonzalez) insists that you can “leave your troubles outside” because “in here, life is beautiful...”  The Cabaret Girls, Cabaret Boys, and emcee raise the heart rate with "Willkommen" to show they are “happy to see you..” Fosse-inspired choreography by Nicole Helfer and the live music directed by Dave Dobrusky spark every dance number, and all of the dancers are decadently precise in their movements.

Kit Kat Klub Dancers Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Clifford Bradshaw (a gentle and convincing Atticus Shaindlin) rides the train into Berlin where he hopes to make his mark as a novelist. He is befriended by the uber-suave, powerful German businessman Ernst Ludwig (Will Springhorn Jr.); with a smile on his face and ice in his veins, Springhorn embodies a dispassionate character who later turns dangerous.

Ernst takes Cliff under his wing and finds him a place to stay at the run-down boarding house of Fräulein Schneider (Jennie Brick). In many ways, the real story of "Cabaret" is the story of Fräulein Schneider, an ordinary German woman way past any semblance of youth, who must “learn how to settle” for what she gets, bemoaning that “it will all go on if we’re here or not / So who cares? / So what? / So Who Cares?”

Jennie Blick and Louis Parnell Photo: Jessica Palopoli

If you wonder how a “whole nation” could support Hitler, consider Fräulein Schneider’s choice between resistance and resilience. Jenny Brick brings a fullness to Fräulein Schneider; even the ill-fitting wig is in character to present a woman just trying to keep it together. Fräulein Schneider is courted by the sweet Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz who woos her with gifts of sweet Italian oranges and other delights. Louis Parnell is a lovable Schultz, and as the two grow in love for each other we root for them as they begin to choose happiness over loneliness.

One of the tenants is Fräulein Kost (a lithe and strong Mary Kalita). She has many visitors, mostly sailors, who are all somehow “related.” Although Schneider clucks disapproval, she must look the other way or else lose the rent money. Kost shows up later as the dangerous arm candy of Ernst as he sports a swastika armband. She sings the rousing nationalist theme “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” as well as a loving “Heirat”  but also casually informs Ernst of Herr Schulze’s religion. Things turn ugly and the audience is filled with dread as arms are raised in the Nazi salute before intermission.

At the Kit Kat Klub, Cliff meets Sally Bowles, the British expat headliner of the cabaret show. Melissa WolfKlain creates an energetic Sally with a strong, moving voice that brings a lot of heart to the role. It's exciting to watch her lead the Kit Kat Klub dancers in a knockout, acrobatic "Mein Herr" complete with teetering chairs and floor-slapping. When Sally sings the final song "Cabaret," it is not as a joyful invitation to fun, but a sad, ironic reference to just the opposite. Watching WolfKlain in this scene is like watching a wounded creature dying, robbed of hope, and trapped in a stillborn dream.

Ambiguity and contradictions thread through the story. So many things hang in the balance between male-female, neighbor-enemy, trust-suspicion, poverty-wealth, compliance-power. This "Cabaret" taps into a dark desperation that transcends its time to convey the fear and  uncertainty of living on the brink of change.

"Cabaret," Book by Joe Masteroff; based on the play by John Van Druten and Stories by Christopher Isherwood; Music by John Kander; Lyrics by Fred Ebb, directed by Susi Damilano, San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., San Francisco, through September 14, 2019. Info: sfplayhouse.org

CAST
Jennie Brick* as Fräulein Schneider
John Paul Gonzalez as Emcee
Carlos Guerrero as Victor
Mary Kalita as Fräulein Kost
Melissa Wolfklain* as Sally Bowles
Zachary Isen as Bobby
Jean-Paul Jones as Texas
Nicole Helfer* as Frenchie
Louis Parnell* as Herr Schultz
Atticus Shaindlin* as Clifford Bradshaw
Will Springhorn Jr.* as Ernst Ludwig
Zoë Swenson-Graham as Helga
Shaun Leslie Thomas as Max
Joe Ayers as Rosie

*Member, Actor's Equity

CREATIVE TEAM
Susi Damilano  DIRECTOR
Dave Dobrusky MUSIC DIRECTOR
Nicole Helfer  CHOREOGRAPHER
Jacquelyn Scott  SCENIC & PROPERTIES DESIGNER
Abra Berman  COSTUME DESIGNER
Michael Oesch  LIGHTING DESIGNER
Teddy Hulsker SOUND DESIGNER
Laundra Tyme  WIG DESIGNER



Saturday, July 27, 2019

Dreamscapes of Mortality

Escaped Alone and
Here We Go


By Caryl Churchill

Directed by Robert Estes

Anton’s Well Theatre Company 
At Thousand Oaks Baptist Church, 1821 Catalina Ave., Berkeley

Until August 3, 2019. (Thursdays-Saturdays, with additional performance on Wednesday, July 31, all 7:30) 

By Christine Okon

Robert Estes, director of Anton’s Well Theatre Company, has chosen to produce two of Caryl Churchill’s later short plays "Escaped Alone” and “Here We Go" because they “so acutely chart our shared future.”

Victorian Skull Illusion

“Escaped Alone” brings to mind the Victorian image that shows either two women talking or a skull, depending on how it is viewed. Church presents a bifurcated reality of chit-chat among old friends against graphic descriptions of apocalyptic devastation and horror.

The audience waits in a small outdoor garden; there’s a waterless fountain and hummingbirds cruise the red flowers on the bushes.

Three women--Vi (Jenn Lucas), Sally (Jan Carty Marsh), and Lena (Susannah Wood) enter, sit down, and begin to engage in the ordinary, friendly banter of old friends. A fourth woman, Mrs. Jarrett (Marsha Van Broek), joins the group but seems uncomfortable. She faces the audience and describes an appalling and terrifying scenario of death, violence, and destruction; this is what the world has come to.  She then joins the other women in their conversation about daily routines, gossip, and pleasantries. All four sing The Beatles’ "Help," united in giddy familiarity with a tune from their youth until Mrs. Jarrett describes more horror, and the personal, bizarre crises of the women are revealed.

Sally is extraordinarily paranoid about her cat and is heading for a breakdown. Another talks fearfully about gunshots. All are traumatized somehow, yet they shift back into mundane chatter mode. To Churchill, images are visual morphemes to be interpreted as one would try to make sense of a strange dream.

Sound effects (e.g., meowing, explosions, or guns firing) were distracting and should have been used sparingly, if at all. Still, “Escaped Alone” reminds us of how easy it is to become inured to the global horrors we are exposed to every day.

Jenn Lucas & Jan Carty Marsh in ESCAPED ALONE Photo: Jay Yamada

After a brief intermission, the audience moves indoors for the next play,  “Here We Go.” The title alone connotes either enthusiasm or resignation. There are three scenes, each a study of the experience and reality of death and dying.

The first scene presents eight mourners at a post-funeral party chatting about their lives and reminiscing about the dearly departed man, who wanders among the crowd unseen yet wanting to participate. As each mourner steps forward to state how and when they later died, we are put on Churchill’s time-space continuum where past, present, and future are blurred, and existential finality underscores the most ordinary conversations.

Abe Bernstein in HERE WE GO Photo: Anton's Well Theatre Company

In “After,” a dead woman fretfully ruminates on death, dying, the afterlife and the meaning of existence but receives no answer. Words, even if philosophical, are empty in a vacuum.

The last scene, "Getting There," is the most moving and beautiful, with no words at all.  A caretaker in scrubs (Jan Carty Marsh) assists an old, frail,  woman (Alison Sacha Ross) in a hospital gown. The woman has long, flowing, gray hair, and she is tiny, almost melted away. Her body language denotes intense pain. The caretaker combs the woman’s hair and gives a sponge bath in a routine that is repeated a few times during the scene. Although the caretaker is simply doing her job, the patient relishes the act as a delicious, tactile respite from suffering and a moment of connection with another living being. When the caretaker moves across the room, the woman reaches forward in longing as if begging for the moment to last longer. Gradually, the caretaker becomes more involved and exhibits fondness, and the emotional intensity is profound and visceral. The two actors become one entity of empathy, and their interaction is remarkable to observe.

Both "Escaped Alone” and “Here We Go" are contemplations and meditations rich with images, talk, and the simple gift of presence, making for a quiet yet disturbing night of theater.


"Escaped Alone” and “Here We Go" by Caryl Churchill, directed by Robert Estes of Anton’s Well Theatre Company, at Thousand Oaks Baptist Church in Berkeley. Through Saturday, August 3, 2019. Info: antonswell.org



Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Translating the Language of the Heart

The Language Archive



By Julia Cho
Directed by Jeffrey Lo
Lucie Sterm Theatre, Palo Alto

Until August 4, 2019

By Christine Okon

Here’s a sobering fact from UNESCO: of the 7,000 living languages in the world, more than half will be extinct by the end of the century. In urgent response to the dilemma, many people dedicate their lives to the study and preservation of such languages.

In Julia Cho’s “The Language Archive,” George (Jomar Tagatec) is a linguist so immersed in the study of dying languages that he is oblivious to his wife Mary’s (Elena Wright) attempts to communicate. These two are not the kind of people who finish each other’s sentences, and it seems that one's signal is the other’s noise. For example, Mary leaves little desperate notes for George and cries continuously in her unhappiness, while George is befuddled by her actions. How did these two ever get married?

Jomar Tagatac and Elena Wright Photo: Alessandra Mello

When the last two remaining speakers of the dying language Elloway agree to visit from a far-off and unspecified country, George looks forward to fulfilling his research by capturing their conversation in their native language. He is surprised when his guests Resten (Francis Jue) and Alta (Emily Kuroda), an old married couple, bicker about trivial things in English because, as Alta explains, “it is the language of anger.” Jue and Kuroda are as funny and practiced as an old vaudeville team as they shake up George’s, and our, expectations. Costume designer Noah Marin must have had a lot of fun dressing Resten and Alta in the motley and colorful items of clothing from a far-away land.

Francis Jue and Emily Kuroda Photo: Alessandra Mello

George, upset that his study is straying from protocol, tries to steer his subjects toward his ends. The concept of love is brought up, with George fretting in “analysis paralysis” while Resten and Alta define their bond as simply not being able to imagine living without the other person. Cho’s poetric gifts infuse “The Language Archive," illuminating how language gives voice to the heart. 

The give-and-take and sad breakdowns of communication form a delicate cat’s cradle among the characters. George thinks compiling a CD of “I Love You” in dying languages will win Mary back, but she leaves him to nourish an unfulfilled longing for her own life and passion. George’s assistant Emma (Adrienne Katori Walters) is his work-wife of sorts and strives to demonstrate her love by learning Esperanto, his favorite language. Torn by conflicting but unexpressed feelings, Tagatac delivers a heartbreaking portrayal of a man who cannot even communicate with himself.

L-R Elena Wright, Jomar Tagatac, Francis Jue, Emily Kuroda, Adrienne Kaori Walters
Photo: Alessandra Mello

Justifiably exuberant with winning the 2019 Regional Theatre Tony Award, Theatreworks Silicon Valley begins its 50th season with this play. Even though “The Language Archive” has ingredients for a perfect production: superb cast, smooth direction by Jeffrey Lo, an evocative and versatile set (Andrea Bechert), poignant music and sound (Sinan Refik Zefar), it was hard to connect with the characters except for Resten and Alta, who seemed to be the only ones who had self-awareness. The beautiful image of Resten and Alta after death becoming  “two trees whose leaves whisper to each other all day long” lingers long after the play ends, hinting at what real communication is all about.

"The Language Archive" by Julio Cho, directed by Jeffery Lo, Theatreworks Silicon Valley at the Lucie Stern Theater, Palo Alto, through August 4, 2019.
Info: theatreworks.org or call (650) 463-1960

CAST
George  Jomar Tagatac
Mary  Elena Wright
Emma  Adrienne Kaori Walters
Alta and others  Emily Kuroda
Resten and others  Francis Jue

CREATIVE TEAM
Playwright  Julia Cho
Director  Jeffrey Lo
Scenic Designer  Andrea Bechert
Costume Designer  Noah Marin
Sound Designer  Sinan Refik Zafar

Friday, July 12, 2019

This "Hairspray" Has Bounce and Shine

Hairspray


Cassie Grilley and Company Photo: Ben Krantz Studio

Music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan; based on the 1988 film of the same name by John Waters

Directed by Matthew McCoy

Bay Area Musicals
Victoria Theater, San Francisco

Until August 11, 2019

By Christine Okon

Long ago, my mother would take me to get a wash, set and styling for next to nothing at the local beauty school. The student would grab her can of Aqua Net hairspray as I squeezed my eyes shut and held my breath as the ssshhhh buzzed around my ears, and small sticky droplets hit my neck.  Hairspray was the essential, bubblegum fix for the instant glamour of beehives, bouffants, and big hair.

Bay Area Musicals (BAM) has launched a high-powered, fun show with the musical "Hairspray.”  Under the direction of Matthew McCoy, BAM performers, in any show they put on, always exude commitment and enthusiasm, and this show is no different.

"Hairspray," set in 1962 when times were about to be a-changin’, follows the sweet and “pleasingly plump” teenager Tracy Turnblad (a big-haired and bubbly Cassie Grilley) as she celebrates her life in Baltimore, “where every day is an open door,” and dreams of meeting and marrying Link Larkin, the handsomest dancer on the Corny Collins (a slippery and suave Scott Taylor-Cole) after school dance show. Tracy and her best friend Penny Pingleton (a remarkably versatile Melissa  Momboisse) squeal and wriggle as they watch the show on the small black and white television in the Turnblad living room. With her “radio and hairspray,” Tracy can take on the world, which indeed she does.

Dave J. Abrams and Company Photo: Ben Krantz Studio

This musical beats like the heart of a teenage girl dancing to songs, joys, challenges and triumphs. From beginning to end, the stage is full of action and surprises with dance numbers that keep on coming. You feel that sweet anticipation for the next 45 rpm to drop down the spindle rack and hit the turntable.

Jon Gallo and musicians adeptly travel the musical allusions that range from doo-wop, girl band, surf, and Trudy’s favorite: rhythm and blues and soul, which Corny Collins plays once a week on “Negro Day” when local black kids take the floor.  As lead dancer Seaweed J. Stubbs, Dave Abrams lights up the stage with his moves, flips and grinds in “Run and Tell That.”

Sarah Sloan and Lauren Meyer Photo: Ben Krantz Studi

When Tracy asks innocently why Negroes can’t dance every day with the white kids, she unveils the racism and snobbery of the show’s producer Velma Von Tussle (Sarah Sloan) who, with her equally vacuous and pink-chiffon-dressed daughter Amber (Lauren Meyer). will stop at nothing to do the white, er, right thing to protect the status quo. It’s as if she were using the show’s sponsor “Ultra-Clutch Hairspray” to keep flyaway hair, times, behavior, rules and mores in place.

Tracy’s eyes and consciousness are widened by Motormouth Maybelle (Elizabeth Jones), a “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” black woman in shimmering blue lame and sequins (cheers to costume designer Brooke Jennings). When Jones belts out “I Know Where I’ve Been,” I felt as if I were at a leap-to-your-feet church celebration.

Elizabeth Jones Photo: Ben Krantz


With “Welcome to the 60’s,” Tracy urges her mother Edna Turnblad, who has not left the house since 1951, to take chances. Scott DiLorenzo fills out Edna’s housedress adequately but needs to create a more convincing mother-daughter bond of affection.

Although the miking had problems opening night, BAM brings another fun night at the theater. When the audience leaps up to join the actors in the final number “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” everyone dances out the history lesson that teaches that for true change to happen, “just to sit still would be a sin.”

"Hairspray" by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, directed by Matthew McCoy of Bay Area Musicals at The Victoria Theatre, San Francisco, through Sunday, August 11, 2019. Info: bamsf.org

CAST
Cassie Grilley, Tracy Turnblad
Melissa Momboisse, Penny Pingleton
Scott DiLorenzo, Edna Turnblad
Kamren Mahaney, Link Larkin
Elizabeth Jones, Motormouth Maybelle
*Dave Abrams, Seaweed J. Stubbs
Kennedy Williams, Little Inez
Paul Plain, Wilbur Turnblad
Lauren Meyer, Amber Von Tussle
Sarah Sloan, Velma Von Tussle
Scott Taylor-Cole, Corny Collins
Bonnie Lafer, Prudy Pingleton/Others
Kim Larsen, Principal/Male Authority
Stephen Kanaski, Brad
Ronald James, Fender
Emma Sutherland, Brenda
Brendan Looney, Sketch
Claire Pearson, Tammy
Steven McCloud, I.Q.
Peli Naomi Woods, Detention Kid/Dynamite
Smita Patibanda, Detention Kid/Dynamite
Chanel Tilghman, Detention Kid/Dynamite
April Deutschle, Detention Kid
Carlos Carrillo, Detention Kid
Zoe Hodge, Detention Kid
Ajay Prater, Detention Kid

*Appears courtesy of Actor’s Equity Association   

ARTISTIC TEAM
Matthew McCoy, Director/Choreographer
Jon Gallo, Musical Director
Leslie Waggoner, Assnt. Choreographer
Cat Knight, Stage Manager
Andie Fanelli, Assnt. Stage Manager
Lynn Grant, Set Designer
Brooke Jennings, Costume Designer
Eric Johnson, Lighting Designer
Anton Hedman, Sound Engineer
Jackie Dennis, Wig Designer
Matthew McCoy/Cat Knight, Prop Designers
Richard Gutierrez, Wardrobe Master
Stewart Lyle, Technical Director

ORCHESTRA
Sonja Lindsay, Trumpet
William Berg, Woodwinds
Adam Hughes, Guitar
Kyle Wong, Bass
Dominic Moisant, Drums
Jon Gallo, Keyboard/Conductor


Sunday, June 30, 2019

Quantum Dragon Breathes Fire into Bradbury Classic

Fahrenheit 451


Dorian Lockett as Beatty Photo: Morgan Finley King

By Ray Bradbury

Directed by Sam Tillis

Quantum Dragon Theatre
Potrero Stage / 1695 18th St, San Francisco

Until July 7, 2019

By Christine Okon

In 1953, Ray Bradbury wrote the novel Fahrenheit 451 to first lament McCarthy-era suppression of free thought and later to sound the alarm about mass media’s threat to reading literature. Although Marshall McLuhan called television “medium cool,” Bradbury’s story reveals how easily everything that defines a person--and society--can go up in flames. It’s especially relevant today in a global digital world that displaces discourse with sound bites, soul searching for quick Google results, and logic with Twitter rants. Does anyone have time to think?

Quantum Dragon Theater (one of four theaters in the country dedicated to science fiction and fantasy theater) brings a tight, intense and profoundly moving production of "Fahrenheit 451" to the Potrero Stage. Sam Tillis directs a wonderful ensemble cast in Ray Bradbury's own adaptation of his novel, with the ending inspired by Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film version.

In the distant future, the act of reading books threatens government control and is therefore a punishable crime. To enforce the law, firemen are dispatched as needed to destroy books by starting fires. Don’t like a particular point of view? Burn the book. Upset by the emotions stirred by reading? Burn the book. Why not make it easy and burn every book? (Substitute “burn the book” with “block or delete” to see how it relates to digital life.)

Guy Montag is a fireman not quite happy with his job, or his life for that matter. Ron Chapman gives us a Montag who is a somewhat confused dreamer who drifted into his occupation without thought and is just now realizing how it consumes him. He’s challenged and intrigued by his bright and questioning neighbor Clarisse (Emily Dwyer) who has the fierce cunning of a French Resistance fighter. His mind sparked by curiosity, Montag goes home to see his wife Mildred (Emily Corbo) once again asleep on the couch; even when awake, she can communicate only in terms of meaningless TV shows and drugs. He begins to realize that something is wrong with this picture, and thus begins a shift in his blind compliance to authority.

Emily Corbo and Ron Chapman Photo: Morgan Finley King

As Fire Captain Beatty, Dorian Lockett brings us a remarkable, sardonic character who heightens ordinary discourse with literary allusions that fly over the heads of his underlings (Melanie Marshall, James Aaron Oh). Like many people, he had long ago taken the job of fireman as a matter of survival only to become engulfed in the dangerous mediocrity of its responsibility. Lockett delivers an amazing 13-page monolog to paint the story of a man who revered books before he was forced to forsake discovery for destruction, details over headlines, and prattle over discussion. He is a man in despair.

Melanie Marshall, James Aaron Oh, Dorian Lockett Photo: Morgan Finley King

Beatty smokes a pipe that emits the sweet scent of a glowing fireplace, adding olfactory enhancement to the experience. Smells are suggested in other scenes, as when an elderly woman (Annette Oliveira) presses her nose into a book as if it were a baby’s belly, or when Montag describes the rich odor of kerosene. Strategic lighting to suggest fire and screaming alarms add to the multi-sensory drama.

Montag begins to revere books as sacred objects when he realizes they are written by individuals. He moves away from his soul-killing work toward self-discovery with the help of old Professor Faber (Annette Oliveira) who quotes lines from books to Montag via a tiny earpiece. Montag’s resolve is rewarded when he encounters a renegade tribe of book-lovers who have memorized the works of Dickens, Melville, Dostoevsky and others to protect them via oral tradition, not unlike the origins of language itself.  Montag realizes he is home at last as he is welcomed by these guardians of literature, and there is a feeling of hope in the embers.

After turning off my phone before the play began, I was in no hurry to turn it on again when the play ended. There was just so much to think about, and the digital realm could wait.

"Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, directed by Sam Tillis of Quantum Dragon Theatre at The Potrero Stage, San Francisco, through Sunday, July 7, 2019. Info: quantumdragon.org

CAST
Beatty...Dorian Lockett*
Montag...Ron Chapman
Mildred...Emily Corbo
Clarisse...Emily Dwyer
Black/First Paramedic/Helen...Melanie Marshall
Holden/Second Paramedic/Alice...James Aaron Oh
Hudson/Faber...Annette Oliveira
Aristotle...Crystal Why
Tolkien...Lucianne Colón
Dostoevsky...Christine Sheppard
Saint-Exupéry...Willow Mae
Carroll...Jacinta Sutphin
Plato...Omar Osoria-Peña
Melville...Ray Dequina
Stevenson...Abe Bernstein
*Appears with the special permission of Actors' Equity Association.

PRODUCTION TEAM
Director...Sam Tillis
Stage Manager…Annie Tillis
Set Design...Katie Whitcraft
Master Builder…Karl Haller
Lighting Design...Sara Saavedra
Sound Design…Larry Tasse
Costume Design...Marisely Cortes & Emily Dwyer
Properties Design...Miles Callan
Projection Design...Colin Johnson
Poster Design...Marisa Darabi
Promotional Photography…Morgan Finley King



Monday, June 17, 2019

A Rhino Walks Into a Bar...

Rhinoceros

Eugène Ionesco Drawing by George Chialtis

by Eugène Ionesco

Translated by Derek Prouse
Directed by Frank Galati

A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, San Francisco

Until June 23, 2019

By Christine Okon

If “fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong,” a whole town turning into rhinoceroses should be no big deal. Unless you’re Berenger, the only man who stands alone against a growing stampede of conformity in Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist classic “Rhinoceros” at A.C.T. until June 23, 2019.

Director Frank Galati has unleashed his Asolo Theatre production in San Francisco where it goes on a rampage of hilarity and surprise. Although the play is said to be inspired by Ionesco’s reaction to how quickly his supposedly intellectual friends embraced Fascism, “Rhinoceros” is a fun circus of puppetry, mime, clowning, vaudeville, and ingenious set and sound design where a huge rhinoceros sits upstage like, well, an elephant in the room and people react with shock, awe, or skepticism as the beasts take over the town.

Jomar Tagatac, Danny Scheie, David Breitbarth, Rona Figueroa, Teddy Spencer, Trish Mulholland
Photo: Kevin Berne

Berenger (David Breitbarth) and Gene (Matt DeCaro) are two friends in a somewhat dysfunctional relationship, where Gene berates Berenger for his drinking, slovenliness, and timidity while Berenger tries to keep hold of his sanity and dream of winning over his coworker Daisy (Rona Figueroa). It’s a joy to watch Breitbarth and DeCaro play off each other like practiced vaudevillians or dancers engaged in conversations that go nowhere. Using only his body, expressions, and voice, DeCaro masterfully sculpts the illusion of a man indeed actually turning into a rhinoceros while his loyal friend Berenger reacts like a concerned parent nursing a child with a fever.

Matt DeCaro and David Breitbarth Photo: Kevin Berne

The whole town is literally shaken by the onslaught of the strange, powerful creatures, and so is the A.C.T. stage as a rhino trapped in the basement bashes through the floor, howling and bellowing (thanks to Joseph Cerqua’s sound design). When a frantic Mrs. Boeuf (hilarious Trish Mulholland) recognizes her husband-turned-rhino, she reaches out to him and later rides off on a rollicking rump of amazing stagecraft.

David Breitbarth and Trish Mulholland Photo: Kevin Berne

Soon everyone is joining Team Rhino, with some gradually changing while others, like Mr. Dudard, played with geeky self-constraint by Teddy Spencer, take a huge leap of faith. And why not join the rhinoceroses? They are singing, having fun, being together. They’re strong and powerful. The only one who us not enticed is Berenger who exclaims “I will never capitulate!” By the end of the play, one wonders whether it’s worth it to stay a Berenger.

David Breitbarth Photo: Kevin Berne

Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” ("No, I do not regret anything") is played throughout as a type of theme song, appropriate for someone who’s made  a decision one way or the other and resists change.

Rhinoceros” by Eugene Ionesco, directed by Frank Galati, at A.C.T. Geary Theater, San Francisco, through Sunday, June 23, 2019. Info: act-sf.org


CAST
David Breitbarth -- Berenger
Matt DeCaro --Gene
Rona Figueroa -- Daisy
Trish Mulholland -- Mrs. Boeuf
Göran Norquist -- Marcel
Danny Scheie -- Mr. Papillon
Lauren Spencer -- Collette
Teddy Spencer -- Mr. Dudard
Jomar Tagatac -- Mr. Botard

CREATIVE TEAM
Author -- Eugène Ionesco
Translator -- Derek Prouse
Director -- Frank Galati
Scenic and Costume Designer -- Robert Perdziola
Lighting Designer -- Chris Lundahl
Sound Designer & Original Music -- Joseph Cerqua
Vocal Coach -- Christine Adaire
Movement Coach -- Danyon Davis
Dramaturg  -- Joy Meads

The actors and stage managers employed in this production are members of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Unescapable Prison of Destiny

Oedipus El Rey

Sean San José and Esteban Carmona  Photo: Jennifer Reiley

Written by Luis Alfaro
Directed by Loretta Greco

Magic Theatre
Fort Mason Center, San Francisco

Until June 23, 2019

By Christine Okon

Sophocles’ tragedy about a hubristic king ensnared in a destiny that leads him to kill his father and marry his mother is the template for Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey, now in a 10th anniversary revival at Magic Theatre.

Brimming with machismo, afire with passion and rage, and studded with vivid (to say the least) urban Spanish idioms, Oedipus El Rey is a powerful journey of a soul traversing the past, present, and future in realms of the physical and mystical to reach a painful self-discovery. Alfaro weaves his own ancient and contemporary Hispanic roots into a complex tapestry of cultural beliefs, expectations, spirituality, and street-survival.

The play opens with men in orange prison jumpsuits shuffling in line. As the heavy gates slam shut, a power dynamic of cutthroat competition begins to play out among the men practiced in the game of survival. “Who is this man?” asks the chorus (Sean San Jose, Juan Amador, Armando Rodriguez, and Gendell Hing-Hernandez) who throughout the play voices ancient wisdom and admonitions of culture and spirit.

Gendell Hing-Hernandez, Esteban Amador, Sean San José, Armando Rodriguez
Photo: Jennifer Reiley

The man is Oedipus, a young and beautifully fit inmate who calls himself king. Esteban Carmona presents a visually strong Oedipus with an innocence that doesn’t quite project the ruthless toughness of a cursed man who has suffered his way to power. Oedipus has been protected from birth by the blind Tireisas (a wry and compassionate Sean San Jose) who alone knows the boy’s history and who has come to see him as a son. Because of Tiresias, Oedipus thinks above the fray enough to see himself as a king, and it is this attitude that locks him in the unstoppable train of destiny.

Gendell Hing-Hernandez, Armando Rodriguez, Esteban Amador,  Juan Amador
Photo: Jennifer Reiley
Once out of prison, Oedipus embarks on a journey to power, starting with a fierce standoff with another driver that ends in the fateful death of his father Laius (steely Gendell Hing-Hernandez). Fleeing from the crime, Oedipus finds a place with his uncle Creon (a tough and savvy Armando Rodriguez) who runs a “family business” with his sister Jocasta (played with a timeless sensuality by Lorraine Velez), the widow of Laius. “The dead can get into your head and make you stop living, even from the grave,” she says, in one of Alfaro’s many beautifully rendered lines. In blissful ignorance of their fated reality, Oedipus and Jocasta follow their palpable and vivid attraction into a deep and arousing passion that only heightens the devastating shock of truth.

Juan Amador, Esteban Carmona, Lorraine Velez
Photo: Jennifer Reiley
Throughout the play, the backdrop shifts like shadows on the cave wall in an evocative dreamscape of abstract and floating images. The square floor of the Magic’s northside theater, however, could be used to present more than static tableaux of characters interacting with each other.

Oedipus El Rey is about boundaries that, when crossed, can trigger deadly machismo standoffs as well as the wrath of the gods punishing the defiant, a reality faced all too often by those who must struggle to survive.

Oedipus El Rey by Luis Alfaro, directed by Loretta Greco, at Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, San Francisco, through Sunday, June 23, 2019. Info: magictheatre.org

CAST
Oedipus -- Esteban Carmona*
Jocasta -- Lorraine Velez*
Coro/Tiresias -- Sean San José*
Coro/El Sobador -- Juan Amador
Coro/Creon --  Armando Rodriguez*
Coro/Laius -- Gendell Hing-Hernandez*
*Member of Actors' Equity Association

CREATIVE TEAM
Hana Kim** (Scenic/Projection Design)
Ulises Alcala** (Costume Design)
Wen-Ling Liao** (Lighting Design)
Jake Rodriguez (Sound Design)
Amanda Marshall (Stage Manager)
Sonia Fernandez (Dramaturg)
Libby Martinez (Props Design)
Jacquelyn Scott (Tattoo Design)
**Member of United Scenic Artists local USA 829

Friday, May 31, 2019

Wordless Resistance to Oppression

Antiwords


Spitfire Company, Czech Republic
Inspired by Vaclav Havel's "Audience"

Directed by Petr Bohac

San Francisco International Arts Festival
Building D, Fort Mason, San Francisco

Until June 2, 2019

By Christine Okon

The artistic troupe Spitfire from the Czech Republic gained permission just in time to participate in the San Francisco International Arts Festival with their performance piece “Antiwords.”*

Inspired by Vaclav Havel’s play “Audience” about working in a Communist-era beer factory, "Antiwords" revels in the same absurdist, bird-flipping attitude that Czechs have always maintained under oppression. Menial work will get done, yes, but at a surreptitiously slower pace interspersed with much drinking, complaining, and peeing.

Two lithe, young women wearing matching drab pants, T-shirt and sneakers carry two large paper mache heads. As each vie to catch the eye of audience members, the pecking order is soon established as one is obviously more powerful, but over what? Both women put on the heads, don drab coats, and sit at a small table. They look exactly alike as Man #1 takes control by inviting the other to “have a beer” while Man #2 reluctantly obliges.

Again and again, a beer bottle is opened, a mug is filled to a heady froth, and the order to drink is uttered, because it is “the tradition.”  This action iterates ad absurdum, with the audience sometimes cheering “chug, chug, chug” as one of the performers lifts her mask to down the entire glass. (I was amazed at how quickly the actresses could polish off nearly a case of Pilsner Urquell.) In an environment where all is “shit” and nothing really matters, the only options are to drink or find a way not to, in other words, to comply or resist.


“Antiwords” is a quirky, delightful one-hour show of unspoken but powerful dynamics. The head masks are wonderfully sculpted to indicate an everyman capable of riding a wide range of emotions. The deliberate, practiced and expressive micro-movements of the two women animate each head, reminding me of Czech or Polish animation that tells a story with universal imagery and no dialog. "Antiwords" is physical theater at its best, with shifting power dynamics conveyed through slumped shoulders, shrugs, crazy dances (including a superb moonwalk) and reactive gestures.

Spitfire’s “Antiwords” ends Sunday, Jun 2. While you’re at Fort Mason, check out the other incredible performances from around the globe at sfiaf.org

* NOTE: The San Francisco International Arts Festival is keenly feeling the trickle-down effect of the US political decree that has stalled or denied visa approvals for some performing groups from other counties, leading to an unprecedented need for costly legal help. You can attend the free “Artist Visa Crisis Panel Discussion”  on Saturday June 1, 2:00pm, at Friends of SFPL Bookstore, Building C, Fort Mason. Info: https://www.sfiaf.org/theatre_power_democracy_panel


“Antiwords” based on “Audience” by Vaclav Havel, directed by Petr Bohac, at San Francisco International Arts Festival, Fort Mason, San Francisco, through Sunday, June 2, 2019.
Info: https://www.sfiaf.org/spitfire_company

Performers: Miřenka Čechová and Jindřiška Křivánková
Masks: Paulina Skavova
Lighting: Martin Spetlik
Music: Sivan Eldar, Karel Gott


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Love that Spans Decades


The View UpStairs


Chris Morrell, Cameron Weston, David Bicha, Gary M. Giurbino, Anthony Rollins-Mullens*, Coleton Schmitto, Jessica Coker, and Jesse Cortez. Photo: Lois Tema.

By Max Vernon
Directed by Ed Decker

New Conservatory Theatre Center
25 Van Ness, SF

Until June 9, 2019

By Christine Okon

The New Conservatory Theatre is celebrating 38 years as San Francisco’s center for LGBT themed theater, and its current production of Max Vernon’s musical The View UpStairs  brings that span of history to life.

In 1973, homosexuals were targeted, assaulted, discriminated against, and reviled by general society. But in the New Orleans French Quarter there was “The Upstairs Lounge” that served as a bar, meeting place, church, family room, sanctuary and “Some Kind of Paradise” for gays in the know. An arsonist’s attack destroyed the building, killing 32 and injuring 15, and no one was ever arrested.  The View UpStairs is the playwright’s homage to this bar, its patrons, and the sweep of gay history.

Cameron Weston, Anthony Rollins-Mullens*, Jessica Coker, Coleton Schmitto, and Nick Rodrigues. Photo: Lois Tema
The play begins with a dance party in a deliciously decadent room full of Christmas lights, a disco ball, and even a framed centerfold of a naked Burt Reynolds. Everyone freezes in place as director and NCTC founder Ed Decker steps up to welcome the audience to the party.

The stage darkens as a young man Wes (wide-eyed Nick Rodriguez) wanders the room and wonders why, in 2019, he bought this decrepit building that needs a ton of work. Suddenly, magically, the lights go up, the party resumes, and Wes, clutching his smartphone, joins the group of diverse characters who all welcome him. Is he “Lost or  Found”?

Anthony Rollins-Mullens*, Jessica Coker, and Cameron Weston Photo: Lois Tema

As with most time travel stories, the stranger from the past and/or future is baffled and amused by differences from the other era. Wes, who is used to interacting only through his phone via text, Grindr, Facetime, and hashtags, is not used to interacting face-to-face with people in real time. He finds more connection with the “ghosts” than with the usual 21st century faceless digital entities. Patrick, the handsome guy in orange bell bottoms that is drawn to Wes, scoffs at the need for technology. Vernon creatively compresses the arc of decades into the same moment, and we are right there with Wes taking it all in. What endures over the years are love, connection, and friends.

Jesse Cortez, Linda Dorsey*, and Nick Rodrigues. Photo: Lois Tema


Although not everyone had the same caliber of singing talent, some standouts are Coleton Schmitto as Patrick, the man who teaches Wes about real love. Jesse Cortez as the newbie drag queen who is lucky to have a supportive mother (open-hearted Linda Dorsey*) sings with sweetness and vulnerability. All of the cast members convey that The Upstairs Lounge was a real home for many, heightening the sadness of the tragedy.

Those who remember 1973 can see how far things have evolved and how precariously close we are to regressing, should certain powers have their way. The lessons of the past can give us resolve to move into the future.

The View UpStairs by Max Vernon, directed by Ed Decker, at New Conservatory Theatre Center, San Francisco, through Sunday, June 9, 2019. Info: www.nctcsf.org

CAST
David Bicha, Jessica Coker, Jesse Cortez, Linda Dorsey, Gary M. Giurbino, Chris Morrell, Nick Rodriguez, Anthony Rollins-Mullens, Coleton Schmitto, and Cameron Weston
* Member of Actors Equity Association

CREATIVE TEAM
Technical Director ... Carlos Aceves
Music Director ... Kelly Crandell
Choreographer ... Rick Wallace
Wig design ... David Carver-Ford
Production audio technician / Sound design ... Wayne Cheng
Costume design ... Wes Crain
Production audio engineering ... Taylor Gonzalez
Scenic design ... Devin Kasper
Fight choreography ... Kristen Matia
Lighting design ... Mike Post
Stage management ... Kaitlin Rosen
Props design ... Daniel Yelen

BAND
Guitar ... Khalil Anthony-Doak
Drums ... Tim Vaughn





Sunday, May 19, 2019

Bloodthirsty and Bespoke

American Psycho: The Musical


Patrick (Kipp Glass) and Ensemble Photo: Nick Otto

Music & Lyrics by Duncan Sheik
Book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Ray of Light Theatre
Victoria Theater / 2961 16th St / SF

Until June 8, 2019

By Christine Okon

Obsession with winning at all costs.  The need to be the center of attention and alpha male at all times. Ruthless competitiveness that wrecks the lives of others. Solipsistic grandiosity. Dangerous. Does this guy sound familiar?

No, not that guy. But close.

From the start, Ray of Light Theatre's production of American Psycho: The Musical  hurtles us into the late 1980s MTV-frenzied world of 26-year-old Wall Street investment banker Patrick Bateman, where appearance trumps substance, greed is good, and one’s purpose in life is to crush the competition at all costs. Underneath the smooth and suave exterior is a psychopath with bottomless bloodlust for getting what he wants and wanting what he can’t get. Like Showtime's serial killer "Dexter," Patrick manages to hide the monster behind a human disguise.

Patrick (Kipp Glass) on a "Killing Spree" Photo: Nick Otto

And with this premise American Psycho takes us on a wild and darkly satirical ride through the world of Patrick Bateman.

Inspired by the 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis and 2000 film starring Christian Bale, American Psycho: The Musical premiered in London in 2013 and came to Broadway in 2016 where it closed after only 27 previews and 54 regular performances, although it captured two Tony Awards for the projection design and lighting which inspired this current production directed by Jason Hoover.

Ray of Light has done great justice to the sadly underacknowledged music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik and book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and gives the audience one hell of an aerobic workout to an incessant 80s dance beat and adrenaline rush of fear. From the exquisite, precise dancers who recreate the technology-infused 80s to the top-notch singing, this production is as good as it gets.

We are thrown into the world of “what it means to be Patrick Bateman” as he does the “Morning Routine” that keeps him in lean, mean fighting form. Kipp Glass is the perfect Patrick, a mix of sleek disdain, inordinate self-assuredness, and designer-perfect looks. In “Selling Out,” he revels in how easily he gets others to buy whatever he’s selling. His supreme egotism is captured in “Not a Common Man”: “There are gods, there are kings / I’m pretty sure I’m the same thing. / Beyond boundaries, beyond rules...” Kipp is a sharklike pro who easily swims between his cool exterior to inner sadist.

Melinda Campero, Danielle Altizio, Desiree Juanes, Madeline Lambie, Kirstin Louie, Jill Jacobs Photo: Nick Otto

Patrick sees himself as the biggest and only star in a universe where others are mere satellites obsessed with looking good, and better than others, at all costs. In “You Are What You Wear,” the women prance around a party and flaunt their fashion choices: “I'm with Prada / I'm with Gucci / Missoni, Versace, / Which one is best? / The guys just buzz, / Do I look underdressed?” As Patrick’s self-absorbed fiance Evelyn who sees marriage to Patrick as a another prize to acquire, Danielle Altizio brings a convincing and shimmering shallowness to the character. Evelyn’s opposite is Jean (Zoey Lytle), Patrick’s executive assistant who holds an innocent love for him, seeing substance where Evelyn sees style. Lytle sings “In the Air Tonight” in a moving and mournful solo, and the more we learn about Patrick, the more we fear for her.

Patrick’s male coworkers are equally obsessed with appearance, captured in “Cards” where the choice of font and paper for a business card, that immediate indicator of power and status, is critical because “The question isn't what's in a name, but what it's printed on.”

Kyle Ewalt as Paul Owen Photo: Nick Otto

When Patrick finds out that his rival Paul Owen (Kyle Ewalt) not only wins the prized Fisher account, can get a reservation at the elite restaurant Dorsia, AND has a better looking business card, the inner monster flashes his teeth. When Patrick invites Paul to his apartment before both attend a party, both men dance to “Hip to Be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News, and Ewalt, all legs and arms, shows his moves like a Gumby-Michael Jackson machine. When Patrick raises “cutthroat competition” with Paul to bloody Grand Guignol, we are shocked just in time to take an intermission breather.

This American Psycho: The Musical features superb choreography (Leslie Waggoner), costumes (Katie Dowe), set design (Angrette McCloskey), sound design (Jerry Girard), lighting (Weili Shi) and video projection (Erik Scanlon), showing that Ray of Light is on its way to becoming even brighter. It’s an experience to die for.


American Psycho: The Musical
Music & Lyrics by Duncan Sheik
Book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Ray of Light Theatre
Victoria Theater

Until June 8, 2019

CAST
Patrick Bateman: Kipp Glass
Paul Owen: Kyle Ewalt
Tim Price: Matt Skinner
Van Patten/Ensemble: Clint Calimlim
McDermott/Tom Cruise/Ensemble: Julio Chavez
Jean: Zoey Lytle
Courtney: Kirstin Louie
Evelyn: Danielle Altizio
Mrs B/Svetlana/Ensemble: Anna Joham
Luis/Ensemble: Joshua Beld
Vanden/Ensemble: Melinda Campero
Victoria/Ensemble: Desiree Juanes
Sabrina/Video Clerk/Ensemble: Jill Jacobs
Sean/Ensemble: Spenser Morris
Christine/Waitress/Ensemble: Madeline Lambie
Detective Kimball/Homeless Man: Timothy Beagley

PRODUCTION TEAM
Director: Jason Hoover
Music Director: Ben Prince
Choreographer: Leslie Waggoner
Set Designer: Angrette McCloskey
Costume Designer: Katie Dowse
Lighting Designer: Weili Shi
Sound Designer: Jerry Girard
Video Designer: Erik Scanlon
Props Designer: Peet Cocke
Stage Manager: Lori Fowler

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Undiscovered and Unexpected

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY


Hunter Scott MacNair, Chris Steele, Ava Roy Photo: Lauren Matley

Written and directed by Ava Roy
We Players - weplayers.org
Sunnyside Conservatory /  236 Monterey Blvd, San Francisco

Th-Sun until May 19, 2019

By Christine Okon

Leave it to We Players to conjure a magical stage from a familiar, real world place. In past productions, for example, Fort Point in the Presidio became Macbeth’s castle, and Sutro Baths was where Ondine came from the sea.

Now they’ve turned the historical and beautifully restored Sunnyside Conservatory into Undiscovered Country where the Wild West meets Shakespeare in Love inflamed with the madness of Hamlet. Written and directed by We Players Artistic Director Ava Roy and set in the American West in the late 1800’s United States, Undiscovered Country is a fast, visceral, fun, and sexy ride for actors and audience alike (especially if you agree to be a stagecoach "passenger.")

We think we know what to expect with the familiar western trope of two law-breakin', gun-totin’ cowboy pardners, a beautiful rich widow, and a stagecoach robbery. But whoa, there’s more.

Ava Roy and Hunter Scott MacNair Photo: Lauren Matley

Turns out that the alpha outlaw, Jack Spear, is as wild and unpredictable as a mustang and a manic actor who LOVES Shakespeare and draws only on lines from Hamlet to communicate with his compliant sidekick and best friend Horace. Red-haired and spry Hunter Scott MacNair percolates with Jack’s desperate and sparking madness as he spews dialog from Hamlet while Chris Steele’s Horace patiently obliges and replies in kind. When the widow Aurelia (Ava Roy), no innocent lamb, reveals that she also loves and knows Shakespeare even better than Jack (echoes of Annie Oakley’s “I can do anything better than you can..”) there’s no stopping the passionate repartee of the secret language "bardolalia" that ignites between them. The Hamlet-inspired back-and-forth volleys, slings and arrows of attraction soon burst into obsession, and things turn steamy indeed when the two engage in “country matters.”

Hunter Scott MacNair and Chris Steele Photo: Lauren Matley
Inevitably, the "bromance" of Jack and Horace is rocked as Jack’s passion for Aurelia escalates. As his hurt and resentment increase, Horace confronts Jack with the perceived betrayal. The tension builds to fighting, with Jack and Horace rolling across the floor in graceful and convincing fight scenes (designed by Steele).

Although no guns are fired, some beautifully crafted and historically accurate firearm artifacts from the collection of JD Durst are used. The scent of leather from the holsters and saddle adds to the verisimilitude along with the spot-on costumes meticulously researched and designed by Brooke Jennings.

We don’t really know where the characters are headed, and neither do they, it seems. As Jack spins off into madness, Aurelia and Horace face off and, in the kind of twist Shakespeare would have written himself, take first steps into their own undiscovered country.


UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY
Written and directed by Ava Roy
We Players
Sunnyside Conservatory 236 Monterey Blv SF
Th-Sun until May 19, 2019

CAST
Hunter Scott MacNair -- Jack Spear
Chris Steele  -- Horace
Ava Roy -- Aurelia

CREATIVE TEAM
Brooke Jennings -- Costume Designer
JD Durst -- Historic Weapon and Leather Consultant
Chris Steele -- Fight Director
Britt Lauer -- Stage Manager
Nick Medina -- Collaborator





Thursday, May 9, 2019

New Rhythms of the Heart

JAZZ

Dezi Soley and Dane Troy Photo: Kevin Berne

Adapted by Nambi E. Kelley 
Based on the book by Toni Morrison
Directed by Awoye Timpo 
Music by Marcus Shelby 
Choreography by Joanna Haigood

Marin Theater Company 
397 Miller Ave | Mill Valley, CA 94941

Until May 19, 2019

By Christine Okon

Like the music itself, Marin Theatre Company’s (MTC) production of Toni Morrison’s book Jazz lifts and flows through the spirits, histories, needs and passions of African Americans living in Harlem in the 1920s. Part narrative, part dream, and part dance, Jazz focuses on four main characters: Joe Trace (Michael Jean Sullivan), his wife Violet (C. Kelley Wright), his mistress Dorcas (Dezi Soley) and Dorcas’s Aunt Alice Manfred (Margo Hall) with echoes of the past that shape the passion and hope of the present.

Jazz spans many layers of time and space, from a cotton field in Virginia to a dance hall in Harlem, from the solemn presence of a funeral to the ephemeral memories of childhood. Representing all of this on the MTC box stage must have posed quite a challenge to the set designers, and the result is confusing to the audience, especially those unfamiliar with the book.

Nevertheless, the power of this production is in the acting. As the fulcrum of strength, resilience and wisdom, Margo Hall’s Aunt Alice Manfred brings a spirit big enough to endure pain and eventually allow forgiveness when her niece Dorcas is killed; in the midst of chaos, Alice is a kind of healer.

Ensemble in the past Photo: Kevin Berne

C. Kelly Wright gives us an emotional Violet frazzled by her husband’s infidelity and her own fear of aging and loneliness. As the smooth-talking cosmetics salesman Joe Trace, Michael Gene Sullivan taps into the character’s wild and ancient roots that reveals why he would be so obsessively drawn to the young girl Dorcas (Dezi Soley as a Janus of innocence and seduction) with zero tolerance of her wanting to see other men.

C. Kelley Wright, Paige Mayes, Michael Gene Sullivan Photo: Kevin Berne

Especially captivating is Paige Mayes (in an amazingly resplendent suit designed by Karen Perry) as both the parrot who is Joe’s gift to Violet, saying the “I love you” she longs to hear, and Golden Gray, the mysterious and seductive mix of racial beauty from the past. When Mayes voice lifts into song, along with the constant live jazz pulse of Marcus Shelby and musicians, we get a visceral understanding of what jazz can do to a person; “It’s the music’s fault” is said many times in the play.

Director Awoye Timpo sustains playwright Nambi E. Kelley’s vision of Morrison’s novel to present a time when people, thoughts and music were moving wildly toward a new and unknown freedom.  And, as always, MTC fills its lobby with excellent background exhibits coordinated by dramaturgs Laura A. Brueckner and Arminda Thomas to make us aware of the significant historical and social context of the play.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/333218932

JAZZ
Adapted by Nambi E. Kelley
Based on the book by Toni Morrison
Directed by Awoye Timpo
Music by Marcus Shelby

Marin Theatre Company
marintheatre.org

CAST
*C. Kelly Wright: VIOLET / COUNTRY VIOLET
*Michael Gene Sullivan: JOE TRACE / COUNTRY JOE
Dezi Solèy: DORCAS / WILD
Tiffany Tenille: FELICE / CIGARETTE GIRL / WILD'S SHADOW
Paige Mayes: PARROT / GOLDEN GRAY
*Margo Hall: ALICE MANFRED / TRUE BELLE
*Lisa Lacy: MALVONE / COUNTRY GOSSIP
*Dane Troy: HENRY LEVOY / ACTON / COUNTRY DRUNK / NUMBERS RUNNER

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association

CREATIVE TEAM
​Nambi E. Kelley: Playwright
​Awoye Timpo: Director
Marcus Shelby: Composer
Kimie Nishikawa: Scenic Designer
Karen Perry+ : Costume Designer
Jeff Rowlings+ : Lighting Designer
Gregory Robinson+ : Sound Designer
Joanna Haigood: Choreographer
Arminda Thomas: Co-Dramaturg
Laura Brueckner: Co-Dramaturg
Jerome Butler: Dialect Coach
+ Member, United Scenic Artists
^ Member, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers