ART hound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Cinnabar Theater’s “Of Mice and Men,” through April 13, 2014

 

Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma presents John Steinbeck’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men,” starring Samson Hood (left) as Lennie and Keith Baker (right) as George.  The unlikely friends drift from job to job across the farms and fields of California, holding fast to their dream of one day having an acre of land they can call their own.  Photo by Eric Chazankin)

Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma presents John Steinbeck’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men,” starring Samson Hood (left) as Lennie and Keith Baker (right) as George. The unlikely friends drift from job to job across the farms and fields of California, holding fast to their dream of one day having an acre of land they can call their own. Photo by Eric Chazankin)

The 1937 New York Times review of the Broadway stage production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” reads “If the story were callously told, the conclusion might be unbearable. But Mr. Steinbeck has told it with both compassion and dexterity…In the bunkhouse of a ranch in CA, the story ensnares rootless lives and expands into dreams of a glorious deliverance. (Brooks Atkinson , original review Nov 24, 1937, NYT, p. 20.) It’s now seventy-seven years later and the play, performed at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater under the tight direction of Sherri Lee Miller, delivers all the potency and magic that it had back in the Great Depression when audiences could personally relate to the bleak life of migrant workers. Most of us read the novella in high school and were under strict pressure to knock out an essay on some aspect of Lennie and George’s relationship. Revisiting the story and its archetypal characters as adults is another experience all together. Miller has pulled together a team of impeccable actors who bring these tragic characters to life and revitalize their struggles. The audience on opening evening was squirming with anticipation and revulsion at the injustice of Lennie’s plight, the imploding of dreams and the ugly, unquestioned racism of the times. ­­

Set in the 1930’s, the play is carefully staged by Joe Elwick to reflect the grit and sparseness of ranch-hand life in Salinas Valley at the time. From the opening scenes at the riverbank, marked by a simple line of rocks along the stage line, to the sturdy simplicity of the handcrafted log cabin bunk house, which serves as a humble home for the workers, to Crook’s isolated room in the hay barn; the set works both as a backdrop and catalyst. And in Cinnabar’s intimate space, it all makes for a near perfect experience. I’d be willing to bet that the Broadway revival opening in April at the Longacre Theatre with James Franco as Lennie has nothing over Cinnabar’s.

Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma presents Steinbeck’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men,” featuring (L to R) Kevin Thomas Singer, Samson Hood, Tim Kniffin, and James Gagarin.  After the boss’s son Curley attacks Lennie for no good reason, Lennie squeezes Curley’s hand too hard and crushes it.  Slim tends to Curley while lumbering Lennie is shocked at what he has done.  Photo by Eric Chazankin

Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma presents Steinbeck’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men,” featuring (L to R) Kevin Thomas Singer, Samson Hood, Tim Kniffin, and James Gagarin. After the boss’s son Curley attacks Lennie for no good reason, Lennie squeezes Curley’s hand too hard and crushes it. Slim tends to Curley while lumbering Lennie is shocked at what he has done. Photo by Eric Chazankin

The great pleasure in the production comes from watching Samson Hood embody Lennie, who is mentally challenged. It’s not much of a stretch for him physically—he’s a giant of a man with huge hands and a lumbering gate that already speak volumes. But the magic is in his thoroughly convincing facial expressions and the absolute sincerity of his child-like delivery, whether he’s hunched over and trying to hide that he has stroked his little mouse to death, or is excitedly dreaming of raising rabbits and living off the fat of the land or is spilling secrets that he’s been asked to keep quiet about. Kind-hearted and simple Lennie doesn’t understand the power of his own strength or the complexity of the world or the ugliness of human nature and he is completely dependent on George to navigate his course.

 As George, Keith Baker, is an intriguing combo of protective caregiver and a go-getter with big dreams. He is gruff and impatient with Lennie one moment and then, after lashing out, he whips back to tender and sentimental. The friendship is exacts a heavy toll on George who must constantly protect and cover up for George as they drift from job to job holding on to their dream.

James Gagarin plays Curley, the ranch-owner’s son with such spite and fury towards everyone that we shudder with revulsion and feel no empathy him when his hand is crushed accidentally by Lennie.

As one-armed Candy, Steinbeck’s for foil the aged and abandoned, Clark Miller manages to convincingly convey the pain of isolation and physical frailty. The scene involving the shooting of his ancient and beloved dog will tug at your conscious. It’s made all the more dramatic by the using a real dog who is old but not so decrepit as to be near death. The idea of shooting it to put it out of its misery seems wrong and is one of the play’s more dramatic moments, beautifully navigated by Clark Miller and by Anthony Abaté who plays callous Carlson with bone-chilling precision.

After the loss of his dog, Candy has nothing to live for but after he overhears George and Lennie discussing the farm, he offers them his life savings (some $250) to go in on the farm and he has something to fix his dreams on. Steinbeck’s play is full of dreaming and, in contrast, the harsh reality of the life of itinerant workers. The men poor their blood and sweat into keeping up the owner’s ranch for a minimal wage and three daily meals—work may keep a man honest but the capitalist system is stacked against the worker who toils his entire life and never advances.

As Crooks, the black stable hand who is forced to live in the barn, Dorian Lockett is cagey, defensive and so disempowered that he is wary of everyone. The repeated use of the word “nigger” predictably drew cringes from the Cinnabar audience who had empathy for Crooks’ plight and recognized his insightfulness and warmth once he let his guard down and began to dream of a place, a piece of land, where he too could be free.

Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma presents Steinbeck’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men,” featuring Dorian Lockett as Crooks.  Photo by Eric Chazankin

Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma presents Steinbeck’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men,” featuring Dorian Lockett as Crooks. Photo by Eric Chazankin

Ilana Niernberger, Curly’s vulgar wife does a marvelous job of guiding the audience through a love-hate relationship with her. At first, she appears to be a tart who flirts shamelessly with the workers and is interested in stepping out on her new husband Curly. In the barn, alone with the men, we see her vulnerability and that she is lonely and craves emotional attachment and conversation. Her flirtatious nature ushers in the play’s tragic climax. When she coaxes Lennie to stroke her hair, she finally and fatally understands that he is not able to gauge the power in his touch. Her screams for help only worsen things. As Lennie covers her mouth and tells her to be quiet, he breaks her neck.

The play’s emotional trajectory goes from hope in the American Dream to the shattering of that hope. Cinnabar has taken this great classic and elegantly brought it to life.

Run-time: Two hours and 20 min, including one intermission

Creative Team: Of Mice and Men stars Keith Baker and Samson Hood as the famous friends, George and Lennie. The ensemble of talented actors also features Anthony Abaté (Carlson), James Gagarin (Curley), Tim Kniffin (Slim), Dorian Lockett (Crooks), Clark Miller (Candy), Ilana Niernberger (Curley’s wife), Kevin Singer (Whit), and Barton Smith (The Boss). Directed by Sheri Lee Miller.

Design Team: Joe Elwick (scenery), Pat Fitzgerald (costumes), Wayne Hovey (lights), Jim Peterson (sound). This production is generously underwritten by Sandra O’Brien and Elly Lichenstein.

Details: Of Mice and Men  has been extended an additional week through April 13, 2014, at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, CA 94952. Performances: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $15 for ages 21 and under; $25 for adults. Purchase tickets online here or call Cinnabar’s Box Office at 707 763-8920 between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM on weekdays. Tickets may also be available at the door 15 minutes prior to each performance, but pre-purchase is recommended as Cinnabar shows tend to sell out!   For more information about Cinnabar Theater — www.cinnabartheater.org .

March 26, 2014 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Berkeley Rep’s “Accidental Death of An Anarchist”…tweaked for the liberally inclined, through April 20, 2014

Comic actor Steven Epp returns to Berkeley Rep as the insanely shrewd Maniac who sets off the investigation in Dario Fo’s classic comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist.” Photo by Joan Marcus

Comic actor Steven Epp returns to Berkeley Rep as the insanely shrewd Maniac who sets off the investigation in Dario Fo’s classic comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist.” Photo by Joan Marcus

Ever since he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979, Italian playwright and actor Dario Fo has been on my radar.  An anarchist and a profoundly gifted clown, Fo’s genius comes in his ability to make us look at ourselves in new light. All of his plays, in some way or another, deal with subverting ideology, questioning why society is set up a certain way and why some people are the winners and others losers. Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which opened Wednesday at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater and runs through April 20, 2104, is a tweaked version of Fo’s original masterpiece from 1970, a  bit too tweaked.

Adapted by Gavin Richards from a translation by Gillian Hanna and directed by Christopher Bayes, this Yale Repertory Theatre co-production has been injected with some (stale) references to contemporary American politics and pop culture (Obama health care, NSA, Netflix, Bush-Cheney and so forth) intended to resonate with the well-informed liberal cognoscenti.  The resulting mash-up feels like an overdone affirmation, considering Berkeley’s Rep’s sophisticated audience.  The good news is that the add-ons are fired off quickly and only mildly detract from the play’s exhilarating tour de farce—Steven Epp.  Director Stephen Bayes and Epp were the team behind Berkeley’s Rep’s 2012 hysterical hit A Doctor in Spite of Himself.  Here, Epp works with a great group of comic actors whose chemistry and timing and lunacy are so spot on you have the impression it’s all being improvised on the spot.  The play contains some of the finest comedic acting you’ll see in the Bay Area this year.  And the various musical gigs, all under Aaron Halva’s direction, are lyrically delightful and hysterically performed.

The play addresses a real-life mystery that got tremendous play in Italy—the 1969 death of a suspected anarchist who “fell” from the fourth floor window of a police station window while being interrogated for bombing of a bank in Milan which left 16 dead.  Did he fall, or, was he pushed?  That’s the question.  The charges were eventually dropped against the anarchist but it was too late to be of benefit.  Fo called his play a “tragic farce.”  Knowing full well that laughter can be a profound vehicle for exploring human nature, Fo deconstructed this man’s tragic death through comedy.  A Maniac (Steven Epp in the role Fo wrote for himself), who himself has been arrested for fraud, sequentially questions the police who are holding him captive  By pretending to be on their side, he gradually wins the trust of the gullible officers, records their conversations and tricks them into divulging what really happened.  In the process, he exposes their brutality, corruption and collusion with neo-fascist gangs carrying out such bombings in Italy at the time.  The events of the play are fictional but the implications profound.  The fast-paced momentum, epic slack stick and wonderful moments of musical comedy are delightful.

In Dario Fo’s comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” now at Berkeley Rep, Maniac (Steven Epp) (center) impersonates a judge and interrogates quack Constable (Eugene Ma, left) and dim-witted Inspector Pissani (Allen Gilmore) and catches them in a lie about a death that occurred at the police station.

In Dario Fo’s comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” now at Berkeley Rep, Maniac (Steven Epp) (center) impersonates a judge and interrogates Constable (Eugene Ma) (left) and dim-witted Inspector Pissani (Allen Gilmore(right)) and catches them in a lie about a death that occurred at the police station.

Highpoints are the opening of the play, when Inspector Bertozzo (Jesse J. Perez) is interrogating the Maniac on the first floor of the police station. Perez and Epps are magical.  Perez later shows how light he is on feet as he performs a number of song and dance gigs with Inspector Pissani (Allen Gilmore), the Superintendent (Liam Craig), and Eugene Ma, brilliantly playing two Constables at once and seemingly embodying Oliver Hardy.  Renata Friedman steals the action as Feletti, an Oriana Fallaci-style investigate journalist who is conducting her own investigation in a short red dress. When she lets go with a stupefyingly-agile rap riff, prepare to have your jaws drop.  But nothing compares with Epp, who jumps from one disordered personality to another, never ever missing a beat.

Cast & Creative Team: The cast of Accidental Death of an Anarchist includes Liam Craig (Superintendent), Steven Epp (Maniac) Renata Friedman (Feletti), Allen Gilmore (Pissani), Eugene Ma (Constables), Jesse J. Perez (Bertozzo).   The creative team consists of Aaron Halva (music director, composer, and musician), Travis Hendrix (musician), Kate Noll (scenic design), Elivia Bovenzi (costumes), Olivier Wason (lighting), Charles Coes (sound designer), Nathan Roberts (composer and sound designer), Michael F. Bergmann (projection designer). The stage manager for Berkeley Rep is Kimberly Mark Webb.

Jesse J. Perez (L) is the fiery tempered police inspector, Bertozzo, and Renata Friedman (R) is an Oriana Fallaci-style investigative journalist, Felletti, who bring considerable depth to Dario Fo’s classic comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” at Berkeley Rep. Photo by Jared Oates

Jesse J. Perez (L) is the fiery tempered police inspector, Bertozzo, and Renata Friedman (R) is an Oriana Fallaci-style investigative journalist, Felletti, who bring considerable depth to Dario Fo’s classic comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” at Berkeley Rep. Photo by Jared Oates

Special Events:

Repartee :  FREE docent talks before Tuesday and Thursday evening performances, and free discussions after all matinees

Post-play discussions:  Thursday 3/27, Tuesday 4/1, and Friday 4/11 following the performance

Open captioned performance:  Sunday 4/20 @ 2pm

Details:  Accidental Death of an Anarchist runs through April 20, 2014 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704.

Performances are Tues-Sun with matinees on Sat, Sun and some Thurs.

Tickets: $29 to $99.  Discounts:  Half-price tickets available for anyone under 30 years of age; $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain.  Tickets and info: 510 647–2949 or visit: www.berkeleyrep.org

Parking:  Paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre. The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $5 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM.

March 17, 2014 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Storefront Church,” John Patrick Shanley’s new play, finishes his Church-State trilogy with a hard-edged look at the mortgage crisis, greed, and redemption—at San Francisco Playhouse through January 11, 2014

Gloria Weinstock (center) is kindhearted Jesse in “Storefront Church” at San Francisco Playhouse.  Her financial woes become significant when she “rents” the ground floor of a store front to Chester, an impoverished Pentecostal preacher whose church was destroyed in the Katrina hurricane.  In Chester’s three months of occupancy, he has not paid Jessie and she has financed all the “upgrades” to the church by taking out a second mortgage.  Her husband Ethan (Ray Reinhardt) (left) goes to bat for her at the bank and she asks Donaldo (Gabriel Marin) (right), the Bronx Borough president, and her best friend’s son to assist her.

Gloria Weinstock (center) is kindhearted Jesse in “Storefront Church” at San Francisco Playhouse. Her financial woes become significant when she “rents” the ground floor of a store front to Chester, an impoverished Pentecostal preacher whose church was destroyed in the Katrina hurricane. In Chester’s three months of occupancy, he has not paid Jessie and she has financed all the “upgrades” to the church by taking out a second mortgage. Facing foreclosure, her husband Ethan (Ray Reinhardt) (left) goes to bat for her at the bank and she asks Donaldo (Gabriel Marin) (right), the Bronx Borough president, and her best friend’s son to assist her. Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley’s new play Storefront Church, at San Francisco Playhouse, transports the audience to a wintery Bronx, where a disenchanted and broke preacher has lost his faith while trying to start over in New York after his New Orleans church was washed away by Katrina.  His Latina landlady, Jesse, has taken out a second mortgage trying to help him pay for the renovation of the storefront church.  Her Jewish husband, Ethan, a retired tax accountant, pays a visit to an unsympathetic loan officer at the bank that is about to foreclose on her.  Donaldo, the Bronx Borough president, who has known Jessie since his childhood tries to intervene and the bank’s CEO seizes the moment to enlist borough support for a new mall he hopes to finance.  It sounds dismal but it all ends on a hopeful note— the preacher conquers his despair enough to deliver a sermon; the characters reconnect with their faith; Jesse gets to keep her property; the mall is given the green light with a percentage of the space allocated for community use.

In 2005, Shanley won a Pulitzer Prize in drama and a Tony Award for best play for “Doubt” in which a strict nun accuses a highly respected priest of being sexually inappropriate with one of the school students under her charge. “Doubt” was the first in Shanley’s trilogy of Church and State plays; the second play, “Defiance,” from 2006, explored racism and the disunity it caused aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina as the Vietnam War was winding down.  “Storefront Church is an exploration of contemporary society’s lack of faith and of the plight of the individual striving to survive in a world dominated by corporate greed.

Money, money, money, faith and the borough. Pastor Chester (Carl Lumbly) and Borough President (Gabriel Marin), the son of a Latino storefront preacher, have a fateful and intense meeting over church vs. mortgage.  Both men have lost their faith.  Photo: Jessica Palopoli.

Money, money, money, faith and the borough. Pastor Chester (Carl Lumbly) and Borough President (Gabriel Marin), the son of a Latino storefront preacher, have a fateful and intense meeting over church vs. mortgage. Both men have lost their faith. Photo: Jessica Palopoli.

While “Storefront Church” is less powerful than the other two plays in the triad, it is a moving portrait of our troubling times, when one’s convictions and sense of self are under constant siege and achieving and maintaining financial security is a game few succeed at.  In order to cover overarching themes, Shanley sacrifices character development resulting in some confusion about back stories and relationships.  Director Joy Carlin has assembled a talented cast— popular Bay Area actors Derek Fischer (CEO of the bank), Rod Gnapp (bank loan officer), Carl Lumbly (Pastor Chester), Gabriel Marin (Borough President), Ray Reinheart (Ethan, Jesse’s husband), and Gloria Weinstock (Jesse).  As usual, San Francisco Playhouse’s staging is impeccable.

Stay-tuned to San Francisco Playhouse…Director Bill English says their next play, Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem,” (January 21-March 8), is “probably the best play written in the 21st century so far.”  I’ve come to trust Bill English…he serves us our moral peas and carrots in the most interesting dishes.  He promises that the San Francisco Playhouse’s production will be the “first American” production of the play that earned raves at London’s Royal Court in 2009.  It makes frequent allusions to Blake’s poem from which its title is derived.

Details: Storefront Church ends Saturday, January 11, 2014.  San Francisco Playhouse is located at 450 Post Street (2nd Floor of Kensington Park Hotel, b/n Powell & Mason)  Performances: Tuesday to Thursday 7pm, Friday and Saturday 8pm. Matinees: 3pm Saturdays; 2pm Sunday on 1.5.14   Tickets: $30-$100.  For more information visit www.sfplayhouse.org  or call the box office at (415) 677-9596.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cinnabar’s Young Repertory Company and their amazing “Annie,” through Sunday, December 15, 2013

Laura Sandoval, 13, is one of two local actors playing the adorable orphan, Annie, in Cinnabar Theater’s Young Rep production of the family musical “Annie,” on stage through December 15, 2013.  Image: courtesy Cinnabar Theater.

Laura Sandoval, 13, is one of two local actors playing the adorable orphan, Annie, in Cinnabar Theater’s Young Rep production of the family musical “Annie,” on stage through December 15, 2013. Image: Nathan Cummings, Cinnabar Theater.

In case you haven’t heard, Cinnabar Theater’s Young Repertory Theater has the holiday musical that everyone north of the Golden Gate is buzzing about—Annie.   Featuring local youth, who sing and act with gusto, the superb show is delightfully staged in Cinnabar’s intimate hill top theater just down the road from historic Petaluma.  The heartwarming musical sold out within hours of being announced and Cinnabar’s new Executive Director, Terence Keane, reports they’ve been hounded like crazy for tickets.  That’s no surprise as all of Cinnabar’s performances in their 41st season, both professional and youth, have been slam-dunks—from The Pavilion to La Cage Aux Folles in their professional company, to Rent, from their youth corp.

I was lucky enough to buy a ticket to Thursday’s performance, added earlier this week, and it was so worth the extra effort.  From the moment I entered the cozy theater and saw rows of kids perched in the front rows awaiting the show, my heart leapt…the energetic vibe was palpable. No doubt part of their enthusiasm was due to being out late on a school night and the super-sized brownies and rice crispie treats available in the lounge.  Once the show began though, they were quiet as mice, discovering the thrill of theater and immersing themselves in the original 3-D, high-definition style of storytelling.  Kudos Cinnabar!

Set in the 1930s, during the gloom of the Great Depression, Annie is a story of hope and optimism that was first staged in 1977 and went on to become one the world’s most beloved family musicals.  Based on Thomas Meehan’s book, with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, Cinnabar’s production is under the helm of directors Dezi Gallegos and Brain Bryson with music direction by Sandy and Richard Riccardi and Choreography by Nancy Rush. Cinnabar’s entire youth rep program is in the capable hands of Nathan Cummings who has plenty to be proud of—Petaluma may be far from Broadway but, thanks to the training they receive at Cinnabar, some of them may be Broadway bound.

An adorable cast of orphans, who auditioned for their roles in August 2013, complete the cast of Cinnabar’s “Annie,” on stage at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater through December 15, 2013.  Image: courtesy Cinnabar Theater.

An adorable cast of orphans, who auditioned for their roles in August 2013, complete the cast of Cinnabar’s “Annie,” on stage at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater through December 15, 2013. Image: Nathan Cummings, Cinnabar Theater.

Annie, a true spuntress, is a whip-smart orphan who is on a mission to find her birth parents who abandoned her years ago on the doorstep of a New York City Orphanage run by the cruel Miss Hannigan.  Despite her loneliness, Annie is all light and sunshine, delivering positivity and kindness to everyone she encounters.  When Annie meets the industrious billionaire, Mr. Warbucks, she helps him realize that having all the money in the world means nothing unless you have someone to share your life with.  Of course, when big money is involved there are always a few plot twists, and Annie deliver them in spades, along with a blossoming love story.

While each young actor brings something special to Cinnabar’s production, I was bowled over by thirteen-year-old Laura Sandoval who played Annie on Thursday.  There are two casts and Sandoval is part of the “Leapin’ Lizards” cast and splits the lead with Lucy London, part of the “Oh Boy cast.”  It was obvious from Sandoval’s first solo, “Tomorrow”—that famous sing-when-you-are-down-in-the-dumps tune, that she had the voice and acting talent and charisma sufficient to anchor this core of young performers.  As her infectious optimism spread, and the song caught on to include more and more of her fellow tousled orphans on stage, it was clear that these kids had really worked hard on this production.  Half of the fun though is in watching them move around the stage in Diana Banas’ rag-a-muffin orphan costumes attempting to stay in sync and in tune at the same time.  “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” was delightful.  Cast stand-outs were Marvin Roca as the tycoon Warbucks, Maryanne Boas as FDR, Bashya Terronez as the orphanage supervisor, Miss Hannigan, and Ian Purcell, as Rooster, Miss Hannigan’s no-good brother and Samantha Royall as Grace, Mr. Warbuck’s kind-hearted secretary.  And I wouldn’t be ARThound if I didn’t mention the adorable Grace Miguel as the stray dog, adopted by Annie.

Laura Sandoval, 13, is one of two local actors playing Annie, in Cinnabar Theater’s Young Rep production of the family musical “Annie,” on stage through December 15, 2013.  Image: courtesy Cinnabar Theater.

Laura Sandoval, 13, is one of two local actors playing Annie, in Cinnabar Theater’s Young Rep production of the family musical “Annie,” on stage through December 15, 2013. Image: Nathan Cummings, Cinnabar Theater.

You know a performance has worked its magic when the people leave humming the last tune they heard and are polite to each other as they all try to exit Cinnabar’s rubric parking lot at the same time.  Annie’s message bears repeating again and again…families come in all shapes and sizes and there’s always hope for brighter days ahead!

Cinnabar’s “Annie,” on stage at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater through December 15, 2013 includes an insanely cute cast of talented local actors, all in Cinnabar’s Young Rep Program.  Image: courtesy Cinnabar Theater.

Cinnabar’s “Annie,” on stage at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater through December 15, 2013 includes an insanely cute cast of talented local actors, all in Cinnabar’s Young Rep Program. From Act II, set in FDR’s oval office where, Annie, surrounded by Roosevelt’s cabinet of advisors, inspires the President to be optimistic through rough times. Image: Nathan Cummings, Cinnabar Theater.

More about Cinnabar’s Young Rep Theater:  Founded in 1983, Cinnabar Theater’s Young Repertory Theater is Sonoma County’s largest and longest-running program for youth in the performing arts, serving hundreds of students annually from Sonoma County and beyond. In addition to several fully-staged youth productions each year, Young Rep includes year-round classes and summer camps, adult choruses and concerts as well as opportunities for students to perform in Cinnabar’s professional season. Young Rep is open to youngsters aged 4-18, who benefit from the instruction provided by working theater professionals. No child is turned away due to inability to pay.

Details: Annie runs through Sunday, December 15, 2013.  The show is completely sold-out.  Best chance for tickets is to show up 30 minutes before the performance and wait for no-shows or audience members selling tickets.  Remaining performances:  Dec 13 & 14th at 7:30 PM  and Dec 15th at 2 PM.  For more information, visit www.cinnabartheater.org, or call 707.763-8920 from Monday through Friday between 10 AM and 3 PM.  All seating is general admission and the theatre opens about 30 minutes prior to each performance.

Cinnabar Theater is located 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, at the intersection with Skillman Lane, Petaluma, CA 94952.

December 13, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kneehigh’s “Tristan & Yseult” at Berkeley Rep—playful, profound, high-energy

Based on an ancient tale, Tristan & Yseult is an epic love triangle between two men—the warrior Tristan and his uncle Mark, the King of Cornwall—and the beautiful young Irish woman, Yseult.  Britain’s Kneehigh Theatre, under the direction of Emma Rice, brings the story to glorious life at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre where it has its West Coast premiere.   This beautifully choreographed and staged performance sealed Kneehigh’s reputation a decade ago and the revised show is now touring internationally.  With a script by Carl Grose and Anna Maria Murphy and a score by Stu Barker, the production is so fresh and inventive that it extends the very boundaries of theatre while expanding the dialogue between past and contemporary culture.  The performance stars Andrew Durand as Tristan and Patrycja Kujawska as Yseult and features a phenomenal young cast.   In constant churning, beat-bopping motion, they do it all—act, sing, dance, fly through the air, play instruments—and are a delight to behold.  Creative touches include Yseult’s maid, Brangian, in drag, some very acrobatic love scenes which transpire on the mast of a ship, a riotous crew of Love spotters as the chorus, and a cabaret that above the stage called the Café of the Unloved from which Ian Ross and a small band of musicians deliver a musical mash-up featuring tunes from sources as divergent as Nick Cave, Roy Orbison, Bob Marley, Irving Berlin and Wagner.  You’ll be blowing up balloons, dancing at the intermission, singing along and wishing there was a CD to buy afterwards of all the great music.

Adapted and directed by Emma Rice
Writers: Carl Grose and Anna Maria Murphy
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission

Details: Tristan & Yseult runs through January 6, 2014 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704. Performances are Tues-Sun with matinees on Sat, Sun and some Thurs.  Tickets: $29 to $99.  Discounts:  Half-price tickets available for anyone under 30 years of age; $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain.  Tickets and info: 510 647–2949 · berkeleyrep.org

Parking:  Paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre. The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $3 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM or all day on Saturday or Sunday when your garage-issued parking ticket is accompanied by a free voucher ticket that is available in the theatre lobby.  These new tickets accommodate the newly automated parking garage’s ticket machines and are available in a pile located where the ink stamp used to be.

December 2, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna,” it’s the women who astound—through January 12, 2014, under the Grand Chapiteau, AT&T Park, through January 12, 2014

“Amaluna’s” most evocative performance comes from the Balance Goddess (Lara Jacobs) who  builds a 45 pound Calder-like mobile from thirteen huge palm leaf ribs that are held in balance by the weight of a feather.  Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

“Amaluna’s” most evocative performance comes from the Balance Goddess (Lara Jacobs) who builds a 45 pound Calder-like mobile from thirteen huge palm leaf ribs that are held in balance by the weight of a feather. Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

Dazzling, daring, elegant— Cirque du Soleil’s newest touring show, Amaluna, is a celebration of female power that invites the audience to a mysterious island governed by muscle-toned Goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon.  Amaluna opened last Friday under the Grand Chapiteau at San Francisco’s AT&T Park where it runs through January 12 and then moves on to San Jose on January 22.  If you’re looking for some excitement to stave off the daylight savings/winter time blues, Amaluna is well worth crossing the bridge for.  It features an enthralling combination of art and agility-testing acrobatics that involve legs and arms and whole bodies being supported in unnatural positions by nothing more than a long rung of twisted rope, a thin bar or a fellow human as a pedestal—all beautifully lit and staged.

The poetic title expresses it all, a fusion of the words for “mother” and “moon.”  And while it’s heavy on the XX chromosome, Amaluna is at its core a love story about all forms of love— between family, lovers and friends.

Loosely based on “The Tempest,” Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” and ancient Greek mythology, Amaluna is directed by Diane Paulus, the talk of the town.  She’s a leading Broadway producer and the artistic director of Harvard University’s American Repertory Theatre, who recently netted a Tony Award for her Broadway revival of “Pippin” and whose Porgy and Bess, which opened at SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre a few days ago, is getting rave reviews.

Amaluna transforms Shakespeare’s wizard Prospero into Shamanic Queen Prospera (Julie McInnes) whose daughter, Miranda, on the brink of womanhood, is her utmost priority.  For kicks though, satin-clad Prospera plays her midnight blue Cello like a rocker from Heart.  You’d never believe that energetic McInnes, a 14-year Cirque veteran, is 52 and played in the orchestra pit in O and Ka, as she owns this stage.

Having been brought up on a remote island where female Goddesses and Amazons use their powers freely, daughter Miranda (contortionist Iuliia Mykhailova) dreams big dreams.  Early in the show, she slowly twists and balances herself impossibly on one arm on a pole on a platform atop a hot tub sized glass water bowl, wearing a bikini that miraculously manages to stay put as she moves through a series of poses that will leave yoga practitioners transfixed.  The tub, alight in green and blue, is just one of Scott Peck’s visually hypnotic sets in this dream-like performance.

Contortionist Iuliia Mykhailova is Miranda is Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna.”  After taking a playful swim in a glorious onstage glass waterbowl, she emerges dripping wet in a bikini to balance along the edge of the bowl and bends herself like pretzel into all sorts of shapes.  Talk about abs!   Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

Contortionist Iuliia Mykhailova is Miranda is Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna.” After taking a playful swim in a glorious onstage glass water bowl, she emerges dripping wet in a bikini to balance along the edge of the bowl and bends herself like pretzel into all sorts of shapes. Talk about abs! Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

When Prospera conjures a fierce sea storm that summons men to their island so that her daughter can come of age, Miranda is smitten with buff Romeo (Evgeny Kurkin).  Romeo sports his strength in an astounding Chinese pole climbing act where he supports himself horizontally in mid-air, making it look effortless, and then releases his grip sliding head down towards the floor only to brake himself inches before impending crash by gripping his legs and stopping cold as if someone had flipped a huge off switch.

But Cali (Victor Kee), after Caliban in The Tempest—Miranda’s friend and confidant before Romeo appeared—is determined to prevent Romeo from winning her.  Half-lizard, half human, Cali sports a huge and creepy alligator tail, dreamed up by costume wizard Mérédith Caron who intentionally labored to give each of her elaborate costumes an emotional resonance as well.  As Cali slithers, preens and twists this phallic tail in every which direction, even juggling balls off of it; we are thoroughly repulsed.

Alas, the path to true love is not an easy one and the couple faces many obstacles along the way which characters, like a trio of dazzling aerial Valkyrie warriors, help subdue.  Cirque performances are known for being more about performance art and less about story.  This is also true of Amaluna, which is being billed as more story-oriented but the actual story arc is pretty hard to follow amidst the spectacle of bodies in motion, gorgeous sets and bold music.  No worries!  It’s all so engrossing that it encourages your mind to create its own internal stories while watching.

The show-stopper was a quiet and meditative moment when Prospera brings Romeo and Miranda to witness the Balance Goddess (Lara Jacobs) ritualistically create a world in equilibrium.  Accompanied by nothing but the sound of her own breath and the beating hearts of the audience, she builds a huge Calder-like mobile from thirteen palm leaf ribs that are all held in balance by the weight of a feather.  Jacobs’ movements are slow, deliberate and almost meditative as she concentrates all her attention on creating this breathtaking 45 pound sculpture before our eyes.  The audience was so enthralled, you could have heard a pin drop…but that’s what great art does, its touches our soul and takes our breath away.  As she removes the smallest piece, everything disintegrates and the young couple’s trials begin.

In “Amaluna’s” daring Teeterboard act, young men launch themselves high into the air, twisting and turning in a playful high-speed attempt to escape from their prison. They pull off several seemingly impossible feats, like landing in a handstand on another performer’s upturned palms.  Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

In “Amaluna’s” daring Teeterboard act, young men launch themselves high into the air, twisting and turning in a playful high-speed attempt to escape from their prison. They pull off several seemingly impossible feats, like landing in a handstand on another performer’s upturned palms. Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

Not all of the show is so enthralling.  I could have done without the clowns, especially a ridiculous scene where two clowns fall in love and deliver clown babies on stage which then roll all over the place, even off the stage. Ouch!  Overall though, Amaluna delivers two and a half hours of pure escapism.  Once inside the big top, one’s world changes immediately as the outside world and its worries fade.  The energetic and uplifting vibe starts in the bustling lobby where you are offered peacock feathers and all sorts of treats (which you pay for, except on opening night).  I was delighted with “Tempest,” a delicious special limited edition ice cream flavor developed by Humphry Slocombe and Cirque—crème fraîche-blueberry swirl—which will also be available in-store at Humphry Slocombe (2790 Harrison Street, San Francisco) beginning November 13, 2013 (while supplies last).  The huge main tent has comfortable seating that affords a great view from almost everywhere.  Of course, the sheer physicality of the performance is best enjoyed from as close as possible but no matter where you are, you’ll be dazzled.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, one intermission

Details: Through January 12, 2014 under the Cirque du Soleil Big Top, AT&T Park, San Francisco; January 22-March 2, 2014 under the Big Top at the Taylor Street Bridge, San Jose.  Tickets: $45-$270. Info: 800-450-1480, www.cirquedusoleil.com

November 22, 2013 Posted by | Dance, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: “Pianist of Willesden Lane”—a daughter strikes a deep chord in her mother’s musical story of survival, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre through January 5, 2014

In “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” acclaimed pianist and storyteller Mona Golabek performs some of the world’s most beloved piano music while chronicling her mother’s escape from the Holocaust. At Berkeley Repertory Theatre through January 5, 2014.  Photo courtesy of mellopix.com

In “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” acclaimed pianist and storyteller Mona Golabek performs some of the world’s most beloved piano music while chronicling her mother’s escape from the Holocaust. At Berkeley Repertory Theatre through January 5, 2014. Photo courtesy of mellopix.com

In The Pianist of Willesden Lane, piano virtuoso and author Mona Golabek channels the very spirit of her mother, Austrian pianist Lisa Jura, in the musical telling of Jura’s Holocaust survival story.  This heart piercing solo show of music and words, which opened last Wednesday (Oct 30) at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, is a deeply moving triumph.

Produced and adapted by Hershey Felder, who just a few months ago brought and performed the solo show, George Gershwin Alone, to Berkeley Rep’s Thrust Stage, The Pianist of Willesden Lane is based on the acclaimed best-selling book, The Children of Willesden Lane (Grand Central Publishing, 2002) by Mona Golabek & Lee Cohn.  The story is one of separation, sacrifice, and the power of music and family to elevate the spirit in the darkest of times.  Golabek performs some of the world’s most beloved piano music in this searing tribute to her remarkable mother.

Golabek’s mother, Lisa Jura, was just 14 in March 1938 when German troops entered Vienna and interrupted her life in this cultural capital where Jews congregated.  The changes were confusing and unpleasant—Lisa, a piano prodigy, could no longer take piano lessons from her beloved teacher who was discouraged from interaction with Jews.  Her dream of a debut at the fabled Musikverein concert hall was shattered.  The situation escalated on Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass, November 9-10, 1938), when her father—a tailor—suffered a humiliating brush with death that led to the decision to flee Austria.

The family was only able to secure a single ticket on the highly-demanded Kindertransport train which rescued children threatened by the Nazis and took them to England.  It was decided that Lisa, the middle child, should go, as she stood the best chance of thriving as a classical pianist.

Bolstering Lisa throughout the ordeal were the last words her mother spoke to her—“Hold onto your music.  It will be your best friend in life.” These words were uttered at the Vienna train station in November 1938 as Lisa joined hundreds of crying children in saying their good-byes forever to their parents.  Many times, in those darkest of days, when disappointments, fear or pain were about to overwhelm her, Lisa recalled these words.

Jura was one of 10,000 refugee children brought to England before World War II as part of the Kindertransport mission.  As soft-spoken Golabek recounts her mother’s story, we are riveted. Imagine Lisa’s anxiety when the relative, who was supposed to meet her at the station in London and care for her, was unable to fulfill his promise to her family and she was abandoned.  Like many refugee children aged 14 and above, she became a domestic worker and was expected to earn her keep.  She was sent to a large country estate to work.  When she was unable to play the piano there, which she was told was for show purposes only; she left abruptly and travelled alone to London where she settled in at the titular Willesden Lane home for children. It was there that she slowly began to flourish—the piano as her anchor— and began life anew in London with the sad realization that she might never see any of her family members again.

In “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” award-winning pianist Mona Golabek plays the piano under a projected image of her parents, Lisa and Michel Golabek.  Photo courtesy of mellopix.com

In “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” award-winning pianist Mona Golabek plays the piano under a projected image of her parents, Lisa and Michel Golabek. Photo courtesy of mellopix.com

Mainly seated at the Steinway piano, Golabek uses slight shifts in her posture at the keyboard and in phrasing to help tell the story of young Lisa’s gradual transformation into a young virtuoso.  She plays interludes from Beethoven, Debussy, Chopin, Bach, Gershwin, Strachey, Rachmaninoff and Grieg without sheet music and also commits considerable spoken passages in the 90 minute performance to memory.  Her calm delivery is achingly authentic.

From the performance’s earliest moments, we learn that Lisa dreams of making her own concert debut with Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor, Opus 16,” an exceedingly difficult and challenging piece that requires maturity, stamina and technique. The Norwegian composer was just 24 when he wrote this brilliant concerto in three movements, the only concerto he ever completed. Hershey Felder fleshes out the great storytelling moments in Lisa’s journey and loosely hangs them around the Grieg concerto and Golabek plays portions of all three movements.  The audience was clearly stirred at the very exciting moment of Lisa’s scholarship audition at the London Academy of Music where she performed from stirring Bach, Beethoven, Scriabin piano classics flawlessly.  But at the end of the evening, when Golabek played from the Grieg Third Movement, with its adventurous rhythms, tears flowed freely.

Well-executed décor and video projections greatly enhance the performance.  A gorgeous array of huge gold gilt picture frames surround the Steinway on the Thrust stage.  These antique frames serve as video portals for Felder’s well-curated of selection of personal and archival news photos, newsreel footage, and famous artworks.  Set in the glow of the midnight blue stage, with Jura’s punctuated playing, it’s a sight to behold.  Particularly riveting are portraits of family members, glorious shots of old Vienna, and the devastation of the London Blitzkrieg which destroyed Lisa’s place of asylum in London, the home for young refugees at 243 Willesden Lane.

The impact of this inspiring performance comes in waves…. What strength it must take for Golabek to channel her mother on a daily basis, knowing full well that she is here and only able to do what she does because of her grandparents’ sacrifice that allowed for her mother to pursue her dream.

Based on the book The Children of Willesden Lane (Grand Central Publishing, 2002) by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen.  Starring Mona Golabek as Lisa Jura

Creative team: Trevor Hay and Hershey Felder (scenic designers), Jaclyn Maduff (costume designer), Christopher Rynne (lighting designer), Erik Carstensen (sound designer), Andrew Wilder and Greg Sowizdrzal (projection designers).

Run-time is 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Post-play discussions: Thursday 11/14, Tuesday 11/19, and Friday 12/6 following the performance and after all weekend matinees

Repartee: FREE docent talks @ 7:00 PM on Tuesday and Thursdays and free discussions after all weekend matinees

Details: Pianist of Willesden Lane, has been extended through January 5, 2014 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704. Performances are Tues-Sun with matinees on Sat, Sun and some Thurs.  Tickets: $29 to $89.  Discounts:  Half-price tickets available for anyone under 30 years of age; $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain.

Parking:  Paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre. The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $3 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM or all day on Saturday or Sunday when your garage-issued parking ticket is accompanied by a free voucher ticket that is available in the theatre lobby.  These new tickets accommodate the newly automated parking garage’s ticket machines and are available in a pile located where the ink stamp used to be.

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Classical Music, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: “La Cage aux Folles”—lively, hilarious, heartfelt—at Cinnabar Theater through November 10, 2013

Cinnabar Theater has sold so many tickets for its risqué production of “La Cage aux Folles” that it has extended the musical through November 10, 2013.  The exotic Cagelles make their first appearance as mysterious silhouettes behind transparent screens.  Photo: Eric Chazankin)

Cinnabar Theater has sold so many tickets for its risqué production of “La Cage aux Folles” that it has extended the musical through November 10, 2013. The exotic Cagelles make their first appearance as mysterious silhouettes behind transparent screens. Photo: Eric Chazankin)

There’s a tender story of family at the heart of the Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein multi Tony-award-winning musical comedy La Cage aux Folles and Cinnabar Theater’s revival, which opened last weekend, plays it to perfection.  That makes two hits in a row for Cinnabar’s 41st season and, having recently fulfilled their subscription goal by a whopping 168 percent, the future’s looking bright for the small theatre company in Petaluma’s old school house.

This is the West Coast premiere of the revised score of La Cage aux Folles which was developed for the 2008 award-winning London revival.   In 2010, this version moved on to accolades on Broadway and the West End.  The original songs, with their emotionally grabbing lyrics, are all still there and the story, with some slight tweaks, is still intact.  Under the careful stage direction and choreography of Sheri Lee Miller and musical direction of Mary Chun, Cinnabar’s production literally soars.

For La Cage, Cinnabar’s stage has been transformed into the Saint-Tropez night club La Cage aux Folles replete with magical dancing Cagelles (chorus line) in glorious drag— J. Anthony Favalora, Jean-Paul Jones, Quinn Monroe, Cavatina Osingski, and Zack Turner.  By way of opening remarks, Cinnabar’s new Executive Director, Terence Keane, challenges the audience to guess who among the Cagelles is male and who is female.  In most cases, it’s a tough call as the make-up and acting are that good.  The production starts off artfully and doesn’t let up with the creativity or energetic rush—the Cagelles first appear as mysterious curvaceous silhouettes behind transparent screens which they then burst out of as they dance and sing “We Are What We Are,” with Georges joining in.

The story, which some audiences found shocking 33 years ago, is now a classic— Nightclub owner Georges (Stephen Walsh) and transvestite performer Albin/Zaza (Michael Van Why) have been married for more than 20 years.  Georges is also Albin’s manager.  Together they have raised Jean-Michel (Kyle Stoner), Georges’ son, the unexpected result of a one night stand with a gorgeous show girl named Sybil.  Jacob, the couple’s live-in transvestite butler, who dresses as a maid, played by the hysterically funny James Pelican, has also helped raise the boy.  When 24-year-old Jean-Michel arrives at their doorstep to announce he has fallen in love with Anne (Audrey Tatum), Georges can hardly believe that his boy is marrying a woman.  He has even more trouble accepting that Anne is the daughter of the bigoted Minister of Moral Standards, Edouard Dindon (Stephen Dietz) (who would eradicate homosexuals entirely if possible) and that the intended in-laws—Edouard and his wife Marie (Madeleine Ashe)—are coming to their house for dinner.  But it is Jean-Michel’s request that Albin not be present when the prospective in-laws visit and that their blaringly gay apartment be re-decorated that puts the household in a tizzy.

Anchoring the show is Michael Van Why’s pitch perfect performance as Albin / ZaZa, a role he reprises and seems born to.  In Act I, he comes off as a grand, self-involved diva but very soon it’s evident he’s quite maternal, compassionate and a more than a tad fragile navigating the pitfalls of middle age.  Half the fun in this production is watching Albin don various outfits and moods.  He actually dresses less flamboyantly than in some productions of La Cage but with a twist of his finger and sideways glance, he really works it.  That face, with those huge doe eyes, is hard to resist and Van Why, a classically trained singer, can really carry a tune.  From his opening solo “A Little More Mascara” to his numerous duets with Walsh, he is a joy to behold.

Stephen Walsh (left) is Georges and Michael Van Why is Albin/ZaZa in Cinnabar Theater’s poignant production of “La Cage aux Folles.” (Photo by Eric Chazankin)

Stephen Walsh (left) is Georges and Michael Van Why is Albin/ZaZa in Cinnabar Theater’s poignant production of “La Cage aux Folles.” (Photo by Eric Chazankin)

Stephen Walsh is also amazing as Georges.  His on stage chemistry with Van Why is palpable and his tenderly rendered “Song in the Sand” and “Look Over There” are aching love songs we can all relate to.  The performance serves as a kind of opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come in the past 30 years in our acceptance of gay and alternative lifestyles, so much so that many of the songs which may have once been provocative are now anthems of pride.

The couple is bolstered by a strong supportive cast, all of whom seem to be having the time of their life. One of the funniest moments happens when the supposedly uber-conservative Marie Dindon, played delightfully by petite Madeleine Ashe, discovers that the plates in the redecorated apartment (where they are supposed to be having a “normal” dinner in a “normal” home) are embossed in gold with homoerotic love scenes.  Out pops the tigress in her and she’s not getting back into the cage without a good romp.  Another standout is the vivacious Valentina Osinski as the celebrated restaurateur, Jacqueline.  And what a pleasure to see Cinnabar’s Artistic Director, Elly Lichenstein, who has opera in her veins, take to the stage as the delightful Madame Renaud and sing, beaming with pride at the magic that surrounds her.

Cinnabar’s Music Director Mary Chun is usually conducting Cinnabar’s small orchestra, but for La Cage, she plays the piano vibrantly and queues from the bench.   The clear stand-out, though, is trumpet player Daniel Gianola-Norris  whose numerous solos, some muted and some not, produced an evocative sound that left me wanting more. Gianola-Norris is a trumpet teacher at Santa Rosa Junior College and owns and operates “Music to My Ears,” a music education center located in Cotati.

David Clay’s inspiring costumes, which include an array of sensual form-fitting evening gowns and di rigueur glam accessories, make this modest budget production seem like a million bucks.

Cinnabar Theatre, with its warm feel and exceptional acting, is the best kept secret in the Bay Area.  The charming theatre seats just 99 people and there’s nothing more wonderful than attending a spectacular performance that unfolds just a few feet before your eyes. Added to that are special touches, like the delicious homemade cookies and brownies served at intermission, which are outrageously priced at just $1, and the good vibe community feeling that permeates the place. It’s almost impossible not to have a great time.

Run time: Two hours and twenty minutes.

Book by Harvey Fierstein / Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman / Based on the play by Jean Poiret.

Details: La Cage aux Folles has been extended through November 10, 2013.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM. Tickets: $35 for adults and $25 for ages 21 and under.  Purchase tickets online at www.cinnabartheater.org, or call 707.763-8920 from Monday through Friday between 10 AM and 3 PM.  Advance ticket purchase is essential as this show is selling out rapidly.   Sat Oct 26 and Sun 27 are sold out.  Seating is general admission and the theatre opens about 30 minutes prior to each performance.

Cinnabar Theater is located 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, at the intersection with Skillman Lane, Petaluma, CA 94952.

Cinnabar’s Production Team:  Music Director—Mary Chun, Stage Director and Choreographer—Sheri Lee Miller, Scenic Designer—David Lear, Costumes—Clay David, Lighting Designer—Wayne Hovey

The Cast: Albin / ZaZa—Michael Van Why, Georges—Stephen Walsh; Jacob— James Pelican; Jean-Michel—Kyle Stoner; Anne—Audrey Tatum, Jacqueline—Valentina Osinski, Monsieur Dindon—Stephen Dietz; Mademoiselle Dindon—Madeleine Ashe; Monsieur Renaud—Clark Miller; Mademoiselle Renaud—Elly Lichenstein

Cagelles (Chorus Line)— J. Anthony Favalor—Sassy Sparkles, Jean-Paul Jones—Chantal, Quinn Monroe —Mercedes, Cavatina Osingski—Hannah from Hamburg), and Zack Turner—Anita Spotlight

October 24, 2013 Posted by | Dance, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”—an hilarious reflection on the what-ifs in Chekhov, at Berkeley Rep through October 25, 2013

(l to r) Leading Bay Area actor Anthony Fusco (Vanya), award-winning actress Lorri Holt (Masha), and stage and TV actor Mark Junek (Spike) star in Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at Berkeley Rep through October 25, 2013. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

(l to r) Leading Bay Area actor Anthony Fusco (Vanya), award-winning actress Lorri Holt (Masha), and stage and TV actor Mark Junek (Spike) star in Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at Berkeley Rep through October 25, 2013. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

There are very few Chekhov shows that have the audience busting out in laughter, but that’s exactly what happened last Wednesday at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s regional premiere of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the Broadway blockbuster from Obie Award-winner Christopher Durang.  Richard E.T White, who directed numerous productions at Berkeley Rep between 1984 and 1993, is back at the helm for the staging of this delightfully zany production.  I can’t think of a recent Berkeley Rep performance that I’ve enjoyed more.  Demand has been so strong that the play has been extended through October 25, 2013.

Durang, the renowned author of rollicking comedies such as Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You (1979) and The Marriage of Bette & Boo (1985), has described his farcical family drama as “Chekhov in a blender,” referring to the fact that he took his characters and themes from the Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov but set them in present-day Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he actually resides with his long-time partner.  The play draws on characters and themes from Chekhov’s most popular works—Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Seagull, and Cherry Orchard.  Durang cleverly combines elements of those stories, asking the “what-if” questions that Chekhov’s characters themselves might have asked about the trajectories of their lives had Chekhov not penned them another way.  It’s not essential to have read Chekhov or seen any of these plays but if you have, you’ll get a lot of more of the references. To keep it popping, and in sync with his own signature of outrageous, Durang added loads of great one-liners, a great voodoo pin-stabbing doll scene, crazy storybook costumes, wild impersonations, and boy-toy eye candy.

Beloved Bay Area actors Anthony Fusco and Sharon Lockwood portray Vanya and Sonia, the two terminally melancholic siblings anchoring the production.  They got their names from their community college professor parents who were enamored with Chekhov.  They dawdle through their days in their family’s peaceful Bucks County farmhouse performing such rituals as morning tea and daily bird watching while bickering like an old married couple.

Lockwood gives a priceless tender and comedic performance as Sonia, the dutiful adoptive spinster sister, who bemoans the fact that life has raced by while she’s has been stuck on the farm caretaking.  At least, she’s got her beloved cherry orchard.  There are 10 struggling cherry trees way out back which Sonia insists constitute an orchard and Vanya insists don’t.  So Chekhovian…and not.

Vanya, a struggling writer who keeps his play hidden in the parlor, is brought to pitch-perfect life by Fusco.

There’s also Cassandra, their belligerent but good-hearted servant who is brought to life by the bright energy and stage presence of Heather Alicia Simms.  Cassandra doesn’t cook much but, like her Greek namesake, she’s a psychic whose pronouncements are heeded.  She also happens to whip up a mean voodoo doll.

(l to r) Bay Area actors Anthony Fusco (Vanya) and Sharon Lockwood (Sonia) portray siblings in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, this year’s Tony Award winner for Best Play, at Berkeley rep through October 25, 2013.  Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

(l to r) Bay Area actors Anthony Fusco (Vanya) and Sharon Lockwood (Sonia) portray siblings in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” this year’s Tony Award winner for Best Play, at Berkeley rep through October 25, 2013. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

The whole play transpires in an expansive wood-and-stone home, with gorgeously appointed wicker furnished sunroom by set designer Kent Dorsey, with lighting by Alexander V. Nichols.

The anxiety-ridden question of the moment is how Vanya and Sonia will handle the pending visit of their sister Masha (Lorri Holt), a Hollywood B-movie star, who made her career in the “Sexy Killer” film franchise and who’s been footing all their bills.  These middle-aged dependents worry that she’ll sell the house and leave them homeless. When glamorous Masha arrives, it’s in grand style— she’s dressed in sophisticate clothing, is full of interesting conversation (about herself) and is accompanied by her dim-witted hunky young lover, Spike (Mark Junek).  Masha is not really there to see Vanya and Sonia but to attend a costume party down the road at Dorothy Parker’s house and to show off.

Masha triggers jealousy and longing in frumpy Sonia.  Preening Spike triggers carnal urges in Vanya.  Enter Nina (Caroline Kaplan)—the sweet, sincere and very comely neighbor, straight out of The Seagull, who draws Spike’s attention away from Masha and ignites Vanya’s literary passions.  In the shadow of Nina’s radiant natural beauty, Masha’s anxieties about aging quickly come to the surface.

As they all prepare their costumes for the party, the play achieves comic brilliance.  To ensure that she will steal the show as Snow White, Masha tries to control what everyone else wears, insisting they go as her attendant dwarfs, with the exception of Spike who is to be Prince Charming.  Costume designer Beaver Bauer’s Disney Snow White costumes are delightful.

Sonia’s priceless moment of ascension comes when she defies Masha, steps out of her sorry self and dons a sparkly evening gown to channel Maggie Smith, “on her way to claiming an Oscar in California Suite.”  And does she shine, so much so that she attracts some long-overdue male interest.

Vanya’s moment comes when Nina gives the group a read-though of his secret play about a molecule…a slow existential boiler whose enactment is rudely interrupted by Spike’s texting.  The cell phone incident triggers Vanya’s inspired rant about horrors of the modern technology.  It all neatly ties in with Chekhov’s main themes in The Cherry Orchard— the inescapable forward march of time and the arrival of progress into the change-resistant cherry orchard.  This full-on comedy, with as much depth as you want to give it, is a wonderful way to celebrate the start of Berkeley Rep 46th season.

Run-Time is 2 hours 45 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

Creative Team:

Kent Dorsey (scenic designer) has designed sets for a number of Berkeley Rep productions, including The Alchemist, For Better or Worse, Serious Money, The Importance of Being Earnest, Dancing at Lughnasa, Mother Jones, and Blue Window. Beaver Bauer (costume designer) has designed several Berkeley Rep productions: What the Butler Saw, Tartuffe, Blue Window, In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe, Rhinoceros, The House of Blue Leaves, and Menocchio. Alexander V. Nichols (lighting designer) returns to Berkeley Rep for his 26th production. His theatre credits include Berkeley Rep’s production of Wishful Drinking here and on Broadway, Hugh Jackman Back On Broadway, and the off-Broadway productions of Bridge and Tunnel (also at Berkeley Rep), Horizon, In the Wake, Los Big Names, Taking Over, and Through the Night. Composer Rob Milburn and sound designer Michael Bodeen composed music and designed sound for Berkeley Rep’s previous production, No Man’s Land, which moves to Broadway this fall.  The stage manager for the production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is Michael Suenkel, Berkeley Rep’s resident production stage manager.  Executive producers are Bill Falik and Diana Cohen.

Details: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike has been extended through October 25, 2013 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704. Performances are Tues-Fri at 8 PM and Sat at 2 PM and 8 PM and Sun at 2 PM and 7 PM.  Tickets: $29 to $89.  Discounts:  Half-price tickets available for anyone under 30 years of age; $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain.

Parking:  Paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre. The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $3 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM or all day on Saturday or Sunday when your garage-issued parking ticket is accompanied by a free voucher ticket that is available in the theatre lobby.  These new tickets accommodate the newly automated parking garage’s ticket machines and are available in a pile located where the ink stamp used to be.

October 2, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“People Show 121: The Detective Show”—the UK’s longest-running alternative theater company makes its first Bay Area appearances since 1989, at San Francisco’s Southside Theater through October 5, 2013

Gareth Brierley (left) and Mark Long (right) in “People Show 121: The Detective Show,” at Fort Mason’s Southside Theatre through October 5, 2013.  An interrogator grills a murder suspect, whose memory is limited to just three items: he's a compulsive gambler, he's in love with an Agatha Christie expert, and he may just be a fictional character in a detective story. Photo: Rob Kennedy, courtesy The People Show.

Gareth Brierley (left) and Mark Long (right) in “People Show 121: The Detective Show,” at Fort Mason’s Southside Theatre through October 5, 2013. Photo: Rob Kennedy, courtesy The People Show.

Someone’s been murdered. But there’s no body, no weapon, and no motive.  An interrogator grills the suspect, whose memory is limited to just three items: he’s a compulsive gambler, he’s in love with an Agatha Christie expert, and he may just be a fictional character in a detective story.

People Show England’s longest-running alternative theater company, makes its only U.S. appearance in the Bay Area — and its first since 1989 — with its award-winning 121st show, a murder mystery called  People Show 121: The Detective Show.   This clever and quick-paced Agatha Christie-like mystery involves three main actors, all hiding something—Gareth Brierley, Mark Long, and Fiona Creese—who transition into several characters by exchanging various hats and coats.  The naturally hilarious Gareth Brierley serves as the rambling narrator and the main suspect in this whodunit.  Clues and plot twists are doled out in equal proportion.   The intimacy of the Southside Theater at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center makes it feel like the troupe is extending you a personal invitation to pit your wits against theirs to solve the case.

Sam Shepard, Bill Nighy, and generations of UK theater fans agree: the world of alternative theater would be quite different without People Show, the troupe founded in 1966 and now the longest-running alternative theater company in Britain.  Shepard says, “Theatre without the People Show would be like music without rock ‘n’ roll.”

Free Wine:  The People Show engagement is being produced by Lost Hog Productions, led by Tony Cartlidge of Cartlidge and Browne Winery of St. Helena. Cartlidge, a native of the UK, is a lifelong friend of Mark Long of People Show. Show tickets include unlimited wine at the event.

People Show 121: The Detective Show won the 2012 Herald Archangel Award in Edinburgh.

 

Running Time: 75 minutes, no intermission

Details:  People Show 121: The Detective Show is at Southside Theater, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco.  Remaining Performances: Thursday, October 3 at 8 PM and -Saturday, October 5 at 8 PM. Tickets: $39, general seating includes unlimited wine http://peopleshowusa.com/tickets/

 

October 2, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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