Geneva Anderson digs into art

Crawling Out of Bed for René Pape—Saturday’s Spectacular Met Opera Live in HD performance of Boris Godunov

Bass Rene Pape’s repertoire of wounded power figures reaches new heights with the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Musorgsky's Boris Godunov. Pape perfectly embodies the role of the tormented Russain tsar, Boris Godunov, whose guilt whittles away his essence. Photo Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

It takes dedication to make it to a 9 a.m. opera in a blustery rain storm; when that performance is 4.5 hours long and tackles a complex historical theme, it discourages all but the die-hard.  Count me among the dedicated and the lucky.  I was one of 217 other Sonoma County opera devotees who turned up early Saturday morning at Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theatre for the Metrpolitan Opera’s  “Live in HD” simulcast of “Boris Godunov,” the most riveting performance of its season so far.  Whether you like the opera or not, the performance itself was one of near perfection—singers, chorus, orchestra, conductor and director came together in a perfect fit.  And with director Stephen Wadsworth’s late entry to the new production, just 5 weeks before it opened, that is a fete.  With an opera of this complexity, I really appreciated the riveting close-ups and back stage interviews that accompany the HD Live transmissions.   The chance to literally crawl out of bed and into my car in yoga pants and to the theatre without the typical drama around what to wear makes it all about the music too. 

The Met’s new production is based on Mussorgsky’s final (and fullest) version of the opera.  It features German celeb bass René Pape in his Met debut in this role and a host of Russian and Slavic Eco-stars—Ekaterina Semenchuk (Marina), Aleksandrs Antonenko (Dimitri), Oleg Balashov (Prince Shuisky), Evgeny Nikitin (Rangoni), Mikhail Petrenko (Pimen), Andrey Popov (Holy fool), and Vladimir Ognovenko (Varlaam)—who all worked together like clockwork to keep the drama high in this epic story of the tormented unravelling of 16th Century Russian tsar, Boris Godunov.  The opera really involves three embedded stories, the most important of which is Boris’ complete disintegration brought on by the psychological burden of the guilt he carries for murdering the rightful heir apparent, Dimitri, the young son of the late Tsar, Ivan the Terrible.   The second story is that of succession—the grab for the throne that carries the drama through 4 acts.  An ambitious young monk named Grigori realizes that he’s the same age as the murdered young heir apparent Dimitri would have been and he schemes to take over Russia himself while pretending to be the late czar’s son.  As Grigori and his army march on Moscow, Boris is forced to battle the inner demons unlocked by his guilt.  These chip away at his faculties, leaving him physically drained and demented, a short step from his death which occurs in the final act.  The third story is that of the immiserated and fickle-willed Russian people themselves who are beset by religious and political separatism and poverty.  As Director Stephen Wadsworth explains “In a bigger sense, the opera is about history repeating itself—in the beginning the people resent a leader who took power through deceit and violence, and in the end they celebrate a new leader who does the same.  And they themselves celebrate with violence. It’s frightening.”

I love the opera because it explores just what is “Russianness,” and does the quality come from its peasants or its nobility, from Europe or from Asia?  In real life, part of how the actual Boris Godunov meets his end is that he is not himself in the Romanov line.  Instead, he was the orphan of a boyar (a citizen whose rank was just under than of the ruling class) who grew up in the household of Ivan the Terrible and became a very powerful regent who instituted the system of serfdom and helped secure Russia’s borders.  When Tsar Ivan killed his son and successor Ivan, another of his sons, preferably from his current wife Anaztasia Romanova, had to take the crown.  Fyodor, who was married to Boris’ sister Irina, was chosen but he had mental problems and proved an unfit Tsar.  Throughout Fyodor’s reign, the Russian government was contested between his brother-in-law, Boris Godunov, and his Romanov cousins.  When Fyodor died childless, the 700-year-old line of Moscow Ruriks came to an end.  The Assembly of the Land elected Boris tsar in 1599, though Ivan the Terrible had another son, Dimitri, who to some seemed the true heir to the throne.  Dmitri was born to one of Ivan’s earlier wives who preceded Anastasia Romanova.  When Dimitri died of a throat-cutting at age 10, it was speculated that Boris was behind it.  Modern historians tend to dismiss this but Boris Godunov has carried the stigma ever since and the story motivated Pushkin to write the play on which Mussorgsky based his opera.  Once tsar, Godunov sought swift revenge on the Romanovs–all the family and its relatives were deported to remote corners of the Russian North and Urals, where many met starvation or were imprisoned.  Like in opera, the Romanovs’ fortunes would again dramatically reverse with the fall of the Godunov dynasty in 1605.

The press hype around bass René Pape, set designer Stephen Wadsworth, and conductor Valery Gergiev has been phenomenal but well-deserved.  Pape was born for this role and anchors the drama throughout despite his appearance in just a few scenes. With his Eurasian looks, dark expressive eyes, and long unkempt mane–which grew more tangled as the performance progressed– Pape looks as if he came right from very line of Tatars bent on breaking tsarist Russia.  Pape’s plush bass gives Samuel Ramey, whose majestic 2003 performance as Boris at the the San Francisco Opera was the talk of the town, a run.  Pape’s repertoire includes a spade of crumbling authority figures with huge issues–King Marke in Tristan und Isolde, Méphistophélès in Faust, Gurnemanz in Parsifal, and King Philip in Don Carlo–and these at the Met alone.  What is brilliant about this performance is that Pape doesn’t overact the part.  In fact, he downplays the physical drama, and through stunning vocal delivery gives us a Boris who is battling intense inner demons but remains vulnerable and tender.

Mikhail Petrenko as the old monk, Pimen, chronicling Russia’s history in a huge manuscript which is central to the story. In the background is Rene Pape performing the title role in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godinov. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Because of Director Stephen Wadsworth’s last minute entry to the production, it’s hard to know what exactly he is responsible for and what he accepted from his predecessor Peter Stein, who left in a reputed protest over an immigration issue.

The stage design is sparse but spectacular.  Central to the drama from the very beginning and visible downstage in every scene is a huge (about 6 x9 feet) and beautiful book of Russian history, being penned at the Chudov monastery by Pimen (Mikhail Petrenko), an old monk who knows or thinks he knows the history surrounding Boris.  I was completely smitten with Petrenko after his emotive Act 2 solo which he express both intense rage and compassion.  When Pimen tells his young novice Grigori (Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko) that power hungry Boris murdered Ivan’s successor and son, Dimitri, so that he could become tsar, Grigori (the same age as Dimitri would have been) is motivated to take justice into his own hands by pretending to be Dimitri.  From that point on, the book’s centrality is emphasized by many of the main characters actually standing and performing on it.  In one scene, The Holy Fool, played splendidly by Andrey Popov, wraps himself in a page of this book, illustrating how a part of Russia’s history will be forgotten and lost and that the drama that is unfolding on stage reflects history being written before our very eyes.  The book motif is even carried through in the scene at the Polish court with the large maps that foretell the future expansion of Marina’s empire.

According to the program notes, this new production is based on Mussorgsky’s final and fullest 1872 version of the opera with the 1869 version guiding the beginning of the final act and Boris’ monologue in the Act II Kremlin scene.   The main thing about this long version is that it includes the Polish court scene in Act III, which I appreciated but some consider a lengthy distraction from the main story of Boris.  Balarus mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk in her debut as the conniving Polish vixen Marina was fantastic.  Her voice was rich and, with her fiery wavy long red hair and ample curves, she played the aging princess to the hilt.  It was very credible that power-thirsty Marina is aching to become tsarina and is trying to steer her lover

Ekaterina Semenchuk as the manipulative and power-thirsty Mirina and Aleksandrs Antonenko as Grigory/Dimitri conspire at the Polish court. Marina needs Grigory to ascend the throne of Russia. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Grigori towards the throne.  The bizarre sensual relationship between Marina and her Jesuit confessor, Rangoni (baritone Evgeny Nikitin), who extols her to support the Catholic cause, was so over the top that it became farcical.  What irony too, that I came across with such disdain for Marina and pretender Grigori/Dimitri  while Boris, just as much the conniving murderer, pulled at my heart strings. 

Valery Gergiev, using the original orchestration, did an awesome job of drawing out the very best musically from all of the performers from the main characters to those in the glorious chorus.  The chorus, stand-in for the fickle Russian people, had a major part in the opera— they initially hail Boris as symbol of hope and later revile him as a Herod who has brought the wrath of heaven down on them.  The chorus was especially effective when they were pleading for bread and later, when total anarchy occurs.

The HD experience can be a blessing and curse.  Its biggest plus is that the camera precision is so fine that we can see things that can’t be seen even from the very best seats at the Met.  It became very clear, for example, that large portions of Ekaterina Semenchuk’s face had been rendered immobile by Botox which may not have been visible to those at the opera house but produced some humorous close-ups of the outermost regions of her eyebrows moving expressively.  On the other hand, we are captive to the cameraman’s framing and Saturday’s filming included a big blunder.  We never got to see the actual grand and triumphant court entrance on horseback by Marina and Grigori, which was so disappointing since our appetites had been whetted during the second intermission when we got to watch these magnificent white horses being led through the corridors of the opera house as they readied for that symbolic entrance.  What the HD audience saw instead—the horses as a static tableau, after the entrance had been made. Ahheemmnn.   What is so wonderful about the HD performances though is the additional commentary that we are privy to at intermission.  Saturday’s hostess was Patricia Racette.  She lacks the verve of Rene Flemming, but she conducted informative interviews with Pape, Semenchuk, Popov, and chorus members.  She didn’t ask Wadsworth what he inherited from Stein and what he did to imprint his signature on the performance. 

 The Metropolitan Opera’s HD live broadcasting is now in its fifth season.  The opera series of 12 live transmissions is sponsored in Sonoma County by the Sonoma County Jewish Community Center by arrangement with Rialto Cinemas.   There are two Sonoma County transmissions for each opera—a Saturday morning performance that is a live simulcast as the opera is performed in New York at the Metropolitan Opera House and a Wednesday evening encore performance.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Understanding the World through Film: 2nd Petaluma International Film Festival, October 22-24, 2010

Oana Marian’s 2009 documentary short “Sunset,” screening Sunday at the 2nd Petaluma International Film Festival, was shot at Petaluma’s Sunset Line and Twine Factory and features a mysteriously rebellious twine machine. Image courtesy Mihai Malaimare.

The 2nd Petaluma International Film Festival (PIFF) concludes its run of international independent film Sunday afternoon with a fabulous line-up at the Boulevard Cinemas including 5 new feature films and 10 shorts.  This gem of a festival has hardly gotten any publicity but it’s worth a look and a visit—it includes 40 important new films from 27 countries and guests from all over the world.   For me, it represents the new face of Petaluma, a town that is opening to the world and embracing its artistic hipness right along with its grass-roots hominess.  The festival is the brainchild of Tiburon resident Saeed Shafa, founder and executive director, who also organizes and founded the Tiburon International Film Festival, about to turn 10.   You may not have heard of Shafa before but his eye for interesting films that might not otherwise be screened due to commercial reasons, and certainly not in Petaluma, grabbed my attention.   Shafa has put together a line-up that includes a great mix of documentaries, dramas and shorts focusing on what loosely might be called global understanding–seeing the world through the eyes of another.

The festival opened Friday afternoon with “Into the Forbidden Zone,” a riveting documentary by Richard Mackenzie, Charles Poe, and Jody Shiliro featuring author Sebastian Junger and photographer Reza as they journey into war-torn Afghanistan in search of Northern Alliance resistance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, the so-called Lion of Panjshir.  Later Friday, director Robert Adanto made a guest appearance for the screening of his latest feature length film “Pearls on the Ocean Floor,” which profiles contemporary Iran through the creative lives of female artists such as Shirin Neshat and Gohar Dashti who work under tremendous pressure both inside and outside of Iran.

Friday’s screening came to a dramatic close with “The Last Script Remembering Luis Buñuel” produced by Javier Espada and Gaizka Urresti, a documentary that reflects Shafa’s keen interest in revolutionary filmmakers.  Topping that list is Spanish director, writer, occasional producer, Spanish Civil War propagandist Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) who worked mainly in Mexico and France but also in his native Spain producing an influential body of surrealistic and radical film that became entangled with his celebrated personality.  “The Last Script” is a pilgrimage following Buñuel’s eldest son Juan Luis Buñuel accompanied by his screenwriter friend Jean Claude Carrière, on a fascinating exploration of Buñuel’s life chronologically that begins in his home town Calanda continues in Zaragoza, Toledo, Madrid, and Paris, before jumping stateside to New York and Los Angeles and ending in Mexico. The script was based on Buñuel’s best-selling memoir, “My Last Sigh.”

Saturday included Romanian transplant Oana Marian’s charming 12 minute documentary short “Sunset,” filmed and shot at our beloved Sunset Line and Twine building that graces corner spot across from the railway depot, aka Petaluma Arts Center.  The film is about a twine braiding machine with a mind of its own that escapes its factory-setting and goes on a journey, which Oana captures in film.  In attendance were Anahid Nazarian (Producer), Mihai Malaimare (Cinematographer), and Pete Horner (Sound designer).

Saturday evening concluded with Serbian- Bosnia‐Herzegovinan director Predrag Velinovic’s humorous and reflective romantic drama “Motel Nana,” that follows the expulsion of Ivan, a Belgrade high school history teacher from his job for impulsively slapping a rebellious student.  Ivan accepts a post as an elementary school teacher in a remote Muslim town in Serbia and, along the way, meets Jasmina, a young woman who changes his life.   The film poignantly explores the underlying tensions in this war torn land that will never completely heal as long as prejudices abound.

Up Sunday is “Sergio Leone: The Way I see Things Now,” Italian director Giuilio Reale’s tribute to Italian director, producer and screenwriter Sergio Leone, closely associated with the Spaghetti Western (“The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” “A Fist Full of Dollars,” etc.)

Contrary Warrior” is director John Ferry’s documentary exploration of the life of Native American Adam Fortunate Eagle, an activist, artist, author, ceremonial leader and one of the principle architects of the American Indian takeover of Alcatraz Island in 1969 – an action that brought about social change and got him declared an enemy of the state.  Fortunate Eagle, now 79, is an iconic figure, who has shape the modern conception of what it means to be a Native American.  John Ferry will be in attendance.

On Sunday evening, local director Steve Clark Hall will make an appearance at the screening of his new documentary “Out of Annapolis,” which explores the experiences of eleven gay and lesbian alumni of the U.S. Naval Academy who share their lives as midshipmen at Annapolis and as officers in the U. S. Navy and U. S. Marine Corps.  Their stories reveal the difficulties and joys of coming and being out in the naval service, both before and during “Don’t‐Ask‐Don’t‐Tell.”  Petaluma resident Linda Postenrieder, co-owner of Pelican Art & Custom Framing, U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1982, who is profiled in the film will also be in attendance.

The festival concludes with the Northern California premiere of Ryan Ward’s “Son of the Sunshine,” which profiles the gripping story of Canadian Sonny Johns, a young man with Tourettes Syndrome who is on a quest for healing which involves an intense struggle to decouple himself from the cadre of unhealthy relationships he is enmeshed in.  The film profiles Sony as he spends his savings from years of disability payments to undergo an experimental procedure that promises to eradicate his symptoms.  Upon his recovery, Sonny discovers that the surgery has somehow smothered an amazing supernatural gift he has had all his life: the uncanny ability to heal the sick and the dying.

Tickets:  $10 per screening at Cinema West Boulevard Cinemas, Petaluma Blvd. North at C Street.  Most screenings include a feature-length film coupled with a short.  For detailed programming information and list of filmmakers attending, visit the Petaluma International Film Festival homepage.

October 24, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival turns 15–Something for Everyone, October 5 – December 1, 2010

Gertrude Berg in a scene from "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg," sold out at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival. Gertrude starred in the domestic sitcom that started on radio and moved to television and established the character-driven domestic sitcom as a tv staple.

Looking for a mid-week lift?   The 15th annual Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival sponsored by the Jewish Community Center of Sonoma County is in full swing and the line-up is excellent.  In fact, whether you’re Jewish or not, you will appreciate having the world at your feet with this diverse mix of new international films that includes dramas, comedies, and documentaries, many of which have won numerous awards.  With the recent closing of the Rialto Lakeside Cinemas, The Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival is the main platform in Sonoma County for new independent and foreign films that otherwise get little exposure, outside of the film festival circuit.   The series of six films runs on Tuesday evenings at 7:15 pm at Cinema West’s Boulevard Cinemas in Petaluma and on Wednesdays at 1 pm and 7:15 pm at the Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa.  Screenings are selling out fast but individual tickets are still available for screenings at both venues.

The festival is the brainchild of Ellen Blustein, program director, who says that she and a dedicated programming committee screen films from around the world that are about engaging with life and that also have a Jewish connection.    The idea was originally to expand the outreach of the Jewish Community Center, a non-religious Jewish cultural organization in Sonoma County.   “Film was perfect.  What life lessons don’t get addressed in film?    That’s what keeps people in our community coming out to this festival.”  

Blustein is also proud that the festival  is financed entirely through private contributions.  At each screening, the sponsors for that particular film are asked to stand and are warmly applauded.  And, at every screening, there is a raffle—$2 buys a chance to win a fabulous prize, for example, dinner for two at Everest Restaurant and theatre tickets at the Cinnabar Theatre.  

Still left in the series—

 Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg:  For two and a half decades, Gertrude Berg, the creator of the wildly popular radio and TV show, “The Goldbergs” was the most famous woman in America, and the winner of the first ever Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The Oprah of her day, Gertrude Berg’s blend of comedy and social commentary, with Jewish characters at the center, endeared her to audiences and made her an American cultural icon. This highly entertaining feature length documentary blends interviews with Ed Asner, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Norman Lear,and Susan Stamberg, among others.  Documentary, USA, 92 minutes, English.  Tuesday, October 12, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, October 13, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

 Nora’s Will:  Nora plots to reunite her family and friends by ending her life on the eve of Passover. In this dark comedy, her curmudgeonly ex-husband of 30 years propels the zany and poignant events forward, including hilarious burial plans, the expectations of several orthodox rabbis, answers to long held secrets and Nora’s meticulously pre-planned Seder. Winner of seven Ariel Awards (Mexican Academy Awards) including Best Picture, Best Original screenplay and Best Actor,  Comedy,  Mexico, 92 minutes, Spanish, English subtitles.  Tuesday, October 19, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, October 20, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

Saviors in the Night:  Based on the true story of three German farm families who hid and saved a Jewish family during Nazi rule, the film reveals the complex relationships and emotional and physical hardships of saviors and saved. Ultimately hopeful, this example of a new self-reflective German film movement shows the potential for the heart to care for all humankind. The names of the farmers have been immortalized in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  JFF audience award winner.  Drama,  Germany, 95 minutes, German, French and English, English subtitles.  Tuesday, October 26, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, October 27, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

Camera Obscura: Growing up in late 19th century Buenos Aries, Gertrud  is a disappointment to her mother from the moment of her birth. As the invisible ugly duckling, she is compelled to create beauty in everything she does, while remaining unseen. Married off to an older Jewish rancher, her husband hires an itinerant photographer for a family portrait. Through the photographer’s eyes, Gertrudis becomes visible for the first time. This luminous, artistic film uses archival and surrealistic photographs, black and white film, and hand drawn animation.  Drama, Argentina, 86 minutes, Spanish and Yiddish, English subtitles.  Tuesday, November 16, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, November 17, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueberger: In this coming-of-age comedy, Esther, a feisty outsider at her posh private girls’ school, becomes desperate to fit in and discover her true self at the time of her Bat Mitzvah. Secretly, rebelling against her “perfect” upper middle class parents, Esther befriends Sunni, a public school bad girl and her super hip mom. Adopting a new identity, Esther becomes entangled in a web of lies, betrayal and bullying, ultimately finding a more honest self in the process. Actors include Keisha Castle- Hughes, Toni Collette and Danielle Catanzariti (winner of AFI Young Actors Award). Comedy, Australia, 103 minutes, English.  Tuesday, November 30, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, December 1, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

Tickets: $10 per matinee tickets, $12 per evening ticket. For further information on tickets, locations and times, contact the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County (707) 528-4222 or Ellen Blustein (707) 526-5538 or visit the JCC website and click on Film Festival.

October 14, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

33rd Mill Valley Film Festival, October 7-17, 2010–a stellar weekend of cinema ahead, virtually at our doorstep

In "The Debt" which closes the Mill Valley Film Festival on Sunday, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington and Martin Csokas are Israeli Mossad agents searching for a Nazi war criminal they failed to capture 30 years earlier. Image courtesy Miramax.

There’s still time to catch the 33rd annual Mill Valley Film Festival  which runs through Sunday night with a flurry of screenings and closing events.  For those of us in Sonoma County, still reeling from the recent closure of our beloved Rialto Lakeside Cinemas, this is a fantastic opportunity to see the launch of new films that are bound to become significant and other quieter gems than will leave us basking in their glow.   Like Mill Valley itself, the 11-day festival has a laid-back vibe but is  ranked among the top 10 nationally–selling over 40,000 tickets and welcoming more than 200 top filmmakers from around the world.  This past week’s guests have included Alejandro Gonzalez Inartitu, Julian Schnabel, Edward Norton and Annette Benning.  The closing weekend promises a superb mix of dramas, comedies, compelling documentaries, programming for children, and on stage Spotlight interviews.

Last week, I spoke with co-founder Zoe Elton, who has been director of programming since the festival began 33 years ago.  Elton worked with a team who viewed film submissions from over 4o countries and whittled it down to the 143 films that are presented.   What does she look for?  “I call it ‘informed intuition,’ said Eltman.  “I have trained myself to really look at films, not in a film criticism kind of way, but I try more to see what the filmmaker’s intention is and how successful they are in fulfilling that, at getting to the core truth of what they are exploring.  When a film starts, you get an idea, a jolt, right out of the gate, whether it’s working on its own terms or not.  In terms of topics, we look at what the consensus is that is coming out of films themselves about what is important and we let that speak.  It’s fascinating how in looking at films from over 40 countries, you can actually see these connective threads of important issues.”  

Co-founder and Executive Director Mark Fishkin confirmed “We’ve been very lucky that we’ve shown really important films that date way back to (1987) “Walking on Water,”  the pre-release title for title for “Stand and Deliver,”  which went on to become the highest grossing independent film of its time and, more recently, “Precious ”—films that really established themselves in the genre.   Over the years, we have built real trust with our audience and with filmmakers.  And, in this box office return-oriented environment, the  festival becomes very significant because it allows you to see films that you might not see anywhere else.” 

Friday night kicks off of with Swedish filmmaker Stefan Jarl’s much-awaited documentary “Submission,” inspired by the results of a blood test that Jarl took that revealed an alarming number of industrial chemical toxins in his blood.   Years ago, Jarl began fascinated with shooting a documentary about how humans manipulated nature and how nature strikes back.  In “Submission,” Jarl interviews prominent scientists to find out just what problems this build-up of chemicals in the human body can cause.  He brings in his pregnant friend, the Swedish actress Eva Rose, who is also tested, to explore the lingering unknown impacts on unborn children.  American musician Adam Wiltzie from the band Stars of the Lid made the music and calls the film “a horror movie for the 21st century.”  (Friday, October 15, 6:30 PM and Saturday October 16, 4:45 PM Rafael Theatre, San Rafael)

Helen Mirren stars as the sorcerer "Prospera" in Julie Taymor's adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest." Image Melina Sue Gordon, 2010 Tempet Production LLC.

Are middle-aged women invisible?  A loaded question if ever there was one. With such a concentration of accomplished and vibrant older women in the Bay Area, we sometimes seem to forget—or do we?– that, for women, aging also means negotiating many transitions related to society’s norms  about sexuality, vitality and relevance.  

Julia’s Disappearance” (Giulias Verschwinden) is a German coming of age comedy starring actress German actress Corrina Harfouch. One the very day Julia turns 50, she suddenly realizes that things have shifted, not so much in her but in the way she is perceived and that in turn, impacts the way she acts (out).   The film has its North American premiere at Mill Valley. Subplots revolve around age– smitten teens and Julia’s rebellious 80 year old mother.  (Friday October 15, 9 PM, Rafael Theatre, San Rafael)

On Saturday’s must-see list is Director Julie Taymor’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s last play “The Tempest” starring Helen Mirren as a gender-switched sorcerer Prospera, the exiled ruler of Milan, who has been banished to an island with her daughter, Miranda.  Prospera schemes and plots revenge by conjuring up a storm that traps those who wronged her onto the island where she presides and hatches a scheme to steal back the throne for her daughter.  (Saturday, October 16, 8:45 PM, Sequoia Theatre, Mill Valley)

Ineke Houtman’s film “The Indian” (De Indiaan), has its North American premiere on Sunday and is part of the Children’s FilmFest.  It tells a (fictionalized) story close to hearts of many international adoptees and adoptive parents—how to handle the inevitable situation that emerges when your child understands that he is from another culture, is different from his adoptive parents and wants to know more about who he really is.  Eight year old Koos Steggerda desperately wants to look like his adoptive Dutch father but that’s going to be a tall order for the small dark-haired boy Peruvian boy who is Indigenous.  One day, by accident, Koos meets another Peruvian boy in the market and at that moment he meets and sees his own face, a life-changing moment for any adoptee. (Sunday 12:15 PM, Rafael Theatre, San Rafael)

Sunday also includes two important documentaries.

In Julia's Schulberg's restoration of her father Stuart Schulberg’s film "Nuremberg: Its Lessons for Today," courtroom cameras capture the very first trial of Nazis. Nuremberg introduced an explosive and controversial principle into international law: the idea that political, military and business leaders could be held personally liable for waging aggressive warfare, for murdering civilians or captured enemies, and for "crimes against humanity." Film still courtesy of Julia Schulberg.

One of the greatest real courtroom dramas in history “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today,” shows how the international prosecutors built their case in the early 1940’s against the top Nazi war criminals using the Nazis’ own films and records.  The trial established the “Nuremberg principles,” laying the foundation for all subsequent trials for crimes against the peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

The back story behind this film’s 2009 restoration is fascinating. In 2006, producer Sandra Schulberg, granddaughter of former Paramount studio chief B.P. Schulberg, got a grant to write The Celluloid Noose, a forthcoming book about her father Stuart Schulberg and uncle Budd Schulberg’s hunt for Nazi film and photo evidence that was integral to the Nuremberg trial (which convened in 1945). In 2009, she completed (with Josh Waletzky) the restoration of her father’s filmthe restoration of her father’s film and why it never released in the U.S. remains a mystery.  The Mill Valley screening will be the West Coast premiere of this critically important documentary.  (Sunday, October 17, 2 PM, Sequoia Theatre, Mill Valley)

Ever wonder how effective Peace Corps missions are over the long run?  Niger 66, A Peace Corps Diary by award-winning filmmaker Judy Irola has its world premiere at Mill Valley and looks back on a critical Peace Corps mission in Niger that Irola participated in.  In the summer of 1966, a group of 65 idealistic Peace Corps volunteers headed for Africa and landed in the dusty, heat-scorched desert of Niger.  They stayed for two years working in agriculture, digging wells and starting health clinics for women and their babies.  In 2008, five of them returned to Niger for three weeks to revisit the country and witness how their work had improved the lives of the people there.  Irola captured the poignant experience from village to village. (Sunday, October 16, 2:30 PM, Sequoia Theatre, Mill Valley)

The festival concludes on Sunday night with two screenings that will be hard to choose between.

 In “The Debt,” a group of Israeli Mossad agents– Ciaran Hinds and Tom Wilkinson and Helen Mirren–search for a Nazi war criminal

In "127 Hours," Bay Area actor James Franco plays hiker Aron Ralston who becomes pinned under a bolder while hiking solo in Southern Utah and is forced to cut off his arm. Franco, who has also been in Pineapple Express, Milk and Spider Man , will be honored in a "Spotlight presentation at the Rafael Film Center on Sunday, October 17.

they failed to capture 30 years earlier.  Mirren’s character lied about killing him so when he surfaces, she has to cover her tracks.  The unbearable weight of this secret she has carried has unforeseen consequences. The film is directed by John Madden, who achieved great success with “Shakespeare in Love.” (Sunday, October 17, 5 PM and 5:15 PM, Sequoia Theatre, Mill Valley)

In “127 Hours,” Bay Area native James Franco, plays Aron Ralston, a hiker whose solo trip in remote Southern Utah goes tragic when he is pinned under a bolder that falls on him and he decides to cut off his arm.  The film was directed by Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and based on Ralston’s harrowing story Between a Rock and a Hard Place.  After the screening, Franco will take the stage for an onstage Spotlight interview with Danny Boyle.   

(“127 Hours” screens Sunday, October 16, 5 PM, Rafael Theatre, San Rafael)  Franco will be at a reception at Frantoio Restaurant & Olive Oil Company at 1:30 PM. (152 Shoreline Highway, Mill Valley)  ($85 for the reception and Spotlight interview following “127 Hours”; $30 screening and Spotlight interview)  Franco also stars in “William Vincent” about a Manhattan-dwelling outsider who slips into the shady New York crime world. (“William Vincent” screens Saturday, October 16, 9:30 PM, Sequoia Theatre, Mill Valley and Sunday, October 1617, 4:30 PM, Rafael Theatre, San Rafael)

Tickets: Prices vary for screenings and closing events.  Check for availability and additional screenings at

October 14, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

As Peanuts turns 60, the Mahoney Library Gallery explores “Peanuts in Petaluma”…through October 30, 2010

You don’t have to twist any arms to get long-time Petalumans to talk about wristrestling. For those of us who grew up in Petaluma in the 1960’s, wristwrestling and Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts comics, which appeared in both the Argus Courier and Press Democrat newspapers, were an integral part of our lives. “Peanuts Comes to Petaluma,” at the Mahoney Library Gallery through October 30, gives us a chance to look back on those days through the genius of Schulz as a storyteller and one of the great artists of our time. 

Between April and May 1968, Schultz created 11 Peanuts comic strips, all related to Snoopy coming to Petaluma to win the Petaluma World Wristwrestling Championship.   The Charles M. Schulz Museum, of Santa Rosa, has generously lent the Mahoney Library Gallery full size high-resolution scans of all Schulz’s original 4 panel gag strip drawings related to wristwrestling in Petaluma.  These are scans of ink drawings with each panel measuring about 4 x 4 inches.   The series tracks Snoopy’s pilgrimage to Petaluma to compete and his exploits with iconic Peanuts characters Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy.  

Snoopy was so memorable, loveable, because we all could read his mind as his very human thoughts unfolded.   Schulz knew that most dog lovers and owners felt that they alone had special insights into their dogs’ thoughts and in creating Snoopy he gave us a dog who we could rely on to be himself, even when he was doing something crazy.  In imagining himself capable of entering and winning the world’s wristwrestling championship, Snoopy channeled the inner sportsman in all of us– and the traveler and the dreamer.  Never mind that almost everything Snoopy tried, ended him up back in his doghouse laid out flat, tired, but he was never ever defeated.  Unfortunately, Snoopy did not thoroughly read the instructions before embarking on his journey to Petaluma.  In the final strip, he was eliminated because the official armwrestling rules stated you must lock your thumbs with the opposing competitor.  Snoopy had no thumb.

The "Wristwrestling Memorial Sculpture," 1988, by artist Rosa Estabanez features World Wristwrestling founders Bill Soberanes and Dave Devoto locked arm in arm.

Peanuts ran in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of 355 million in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages. Reprints of the strip are still syndicated and run in many newspapers.

 The exhibition also includes a rich archive of historical materials—books, newspaper clippings and photographs–that Mahoney librarian and gallery curator, Karen Petersen, has collected   about Charles Schulz and wristwrestling in Petaluma.  There is also information about sculptor Rosa Estabanez, who created the Wristwrestling Memorial Sculpture in 1988, which quickly became a downtown Petaluma landmark (intersection of Petaluma Blvd. North and East Washington Street).  The sculpture commemorates the late Argus Courier columnist Bill Soberanes, co-founder of the Petaluma World Wristwrestling Championship, along with Dave Devoto who is depicted wristwrestling Soberanes in the sculpture. The Mahoney Library Gallery exhibition coincides with the sculpture’s restoration undertaken by the city of Petaluma.

The “Peanuts” exhibit is funded by a grant from the Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation, the Randolph Newman Cultural Enrichment Endowment, and is being displayed courtesy of the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California.


Snoopy turns 60 and there’s a nationwide celebration

The exhibition also coincides with the 60th anniversary of Peanuts comic strip and there are a number of events happening nationwide to celebrate Schulz’s achievement.

Portraits of Schulz” October 1 – February 6, 2011, Charles M Schulz Museum, Santa Rosa, CA.  An exhibition celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Peanuts though portraits of Schulz.  See rare self-portraits by Schulz, as well as how fellow artists captured and admired him through their own art in a mixture of mediums from oil paintings to sculptures. This exhibition will run concurrently with the debut of Schulz’s photographic portrait in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

A photograph Charles Schulz will be presented to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in a ceremony for invited guests on October 1, 2010. The 1986 photograph, created by acclaimed portraitist Yousuf Karsh, is the Portrait Gallery’s first image of Schulz.

Charles Schulz, by Yousuf Karsh. Chromogenic print, 1986. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Estrellita Karsh in memory of Yousuf Karsh ©1986 Estate of Yousuf Karsh.

On October 2, the National Portrait Gallery will host a family-and-friends day with events for all ages: cartooning workshops; a screening of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; and guest appearances from Snoopy and Peanuts animation producer Lee Mendelson.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will also mark the 60th anniversary with a case that will feature objects from Schulz.

Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz  Author Beverly Gherman’s all-ages biography on the Schulz, an insightful look into the life and career Charles Schulz. Gherman will be at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco from 1:00-3:00pm on Saturday, October 9, 2010 signing books and leading a discussion about Schulz.

 “Peanuts Comes to Petaluma,” through October 30, 2010, Mahoney Library Gallery, Mahoney Library, Petaluma Campus SRJC, 680 Sonoma Mountain Parkway, Petaluma, CA  94952.

Gallery Hours:   Monday-Thursday: 8 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday: 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday: 10 a.m – 3 p.m.

Parking: $4.00 parking permits required in campus lots.  Automated machines take cash and coins.

October 6, 2010 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review–Teatro ZinZanni’s HAIL CAESAR through October 31…a madcap performance tossed up by two of history’s most famous lovers.

Dreya Weber as Cleopatra and Frank Ferrante as Caesar in Teatro ZinZanni's "Hail Caesar" through October 31, 2010. Photo courtesy of Cory Weaver

Love a wacky love story, saucy humor?  Teatro ZinZanni’s “Hail Ceasar!,” through October 31, will delight you to no end.  Imagine a resurrected Cleopatra—”Cleo”–with the take-charge bravado and killer bod of “Xena: Warrior Princess,” who falls head over heels for Caesar, a wise-cracking chef.  Toss in brilliant improv, stunning aerial acrobatics, spicy subplots, wonderful music and a five-course meal delivered by servers in satin bustiers.  Top it off with “love powder” and let yourself laugh hard.  That’s how I spent my Thursday evening.

 HAIL CAESAR! features Frank Ferrante as Caesar and acclaimed aerialist, actress and musician Dreya Weber as Cleo, an unforgettable Queen of the Nile whose heart pounds only for Caesar. ZinZanni has run various Caesar stories for the past decade, with a changing plot and a new set of performers every 4 months, but the run is about to end when Ferrante, the show’s anchor, goes to Philadelphia at the end of October.  If you’ve been wanting to catch this performance, do it now.  In addition to Ferrante and Weber, the current international cast of performers includes opera mezzo-soprano Christine Abraham, Australian Tim Tyler as the eccentric Mr. PP, Chinese acrobat sensations Ming and Rui, US National Champion gymnast Alexa Hukari, and Vertical Tango duo Sam Payne and Sandra Feusi. 

 Exteriors can be deceiving

Teatro ZinZanni has been around since 2000, combining sit-down dinner with theatre, music, comedy and very close-up Cirque du Soleil type acrobatics.  I had driven by the off-white tent that is Teatro ZinZanni on Pier 29 many times and chalked it off as something for tourists.  It took prompting from a fellow writer to get me to make the schlep into San Francisco from Sonoma County for a 6:15 pm arrival on a weekday.  I’m glad I did.    

Once inside, my world changed immediately…the energetic vibe was inescapable, uplifting. Escorts in seductive cabaret-style costumes greeted and guided me through the period-style lobby, and into the bar area, bustling like an elegant bordello.  I picked up my ticket and joined the line to enter the main tent—Le Palais Nostalgique, which is what all the fuss is about.  This splendid antique “spiegletent” (Dutch for “mirror tent”) is one of the few remaining hand-crafted traveling tents in use and it is every bit a star in the evening, defining the elegant and intimate mood.  Originally these spiegletents were constructed in the Flemish region of Belgium and served as mobile wine tasting pavilions and dance halls for thousands European locales lacking proper entertainment facilities.  Le Palais Nostalgique was built in 1926 and transported from Barcelona, Spain, to the United States for the first time in October 1998, especially for Teatro ZinZanni.  

 The luxurious interior is a site to behold.  At twenty-nine-feet tall, and with a circumference of over 200 feet, the circular antique theater can accommodate about 275 people and still feel intimate.  Every seat has a view and excellent acoustics but those closest to the center, where the performance occurs, are best.  The dining and performance areas are swathed in plush velvet, with lush drapes sporting antique tassels and gold brocade.  

Dinner is Served

Dinner is an integral part of the plot and entertainment.  The pre-fixe gourmet meal is a full five courses, using seasonal and local ingredients, and is excellent

Frank Ferrante is Caesar and Dreya Weber is "Cleo," a love-struck Cleopatra in Teatro Zinzanni's "Hail Caesar" through October 31. Photo courtesy of Eye of Passion.

considering the volume they do—about 285 people served all at the same time.  All the food is prepared off-site, yet everything arrived appropriately cold or warm and exquisitely staged.  I tried and recommend the wine pairing menu– five 2.5 once tasting portions, $38 prix fixe. (Dinner, matinee and wine menus change periodically and are online.)   The courses are delivered with escalating fanfare by the cast and servers about every 40 minutes.  Each course– appetizer, soup, salad, entrée, dessert—relates to the musical.  Prior to salad, for example, Caesar woos a special lady with an outrageously huge veggie necklace, a cheesy gesture that somehow works.  

Ferrante –the eternal and comedic Emperor of Love

Frank Ferrante is foolproof–Zinzanni’s comedic anchor.  Like all master improvisers who work spontaneously with audience members, he asks a question, listens intently and then seemingly, without thinking, pounces.  Through a quick series of exchanges, he gets into some very interesting and provocative stuff, aware of the line between suggestive and crude.  His conversation with a Rahluca, a blonde Romanian bombshell in stilettos and a low-cut dress, opened like this—

“You’re a beautiful woman, what is your name?”


“Ahh, ‘Rahluca,’ that was my second guess.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-nine?  You just made the cut.  What do you do for a living, Rahluca?”

“I have my own business.”

“I bet you do.  What is it?”

“Car leasing.”

“At my age, I only lease, I refuse to buy.”  

Aeriaist Dreya Weber combines graceful artistry with extreme atheleticism as she takes to air, performing on twisted fabric ropes. Photo courtesy of Eye of Passion.

Later in the evening,  he selected three men from the audience, each a cliché of maleness, to bat about.  In anyone else’s hands, this could easily deteriorate into something tired and worn but Ferrante keeps it fresh and hopping.  You don’t really need to think about any of it, it just flows.  But it’s actually very hard work.  In the performance I attended, Ferrante had to contend with a woman–either drunk or crazy–who got up and tried to insert herself into the act several times.  A 38 could not have stopped her, but he kept his cool and zinged her into submission.  There’s only one clown in the room and it’s Ferrante.

The Dreya Factor: A Cleopatra of the Air with killer abs

The chemistry between Ferrante and new leading lady Dreya Weber is magical.  Weber, as the sultry Cleo, initially pursues Caesar in song but he isn’t interested and flirts it up with the audience instead.  Weber takes to the air literally—in a stunning aerial performance—and it is hard to take your eyes off that perfectly conditioned body that must be at least 40, with not an once of flab.   As Weber elegantly swings and drops from a twisted fabric rope, frequently landing in full center splits just feet from you, you can see her breath and her muscles contracting.  A renowned aerialist, Weber has choreographed several aerial acts for stars like Madonna, Cher, and Pink, including Pink’s performance at the 2010 Grammy Awards.  You may also recognize her as the chief female model and lead demonstrator for the P90X workout program developed by Tony Horton, or remember her performance  in the film “The Gymnast,” which she also produced.    Weber can sing and act and adds emotional resonance to the show.  As Cleo and Caesar gradually reveal their soft sides, it is not hard to imagine they are actually in love.   Ferrante admits that their chemistry is real—“We are wearing costumes and grease paint but underneath all of that, for this to work, there has to be a real connection to make it special and we have that in real life. …Dreya is a Cleopatra who is in the air, of the sky, a goddess.   She is ethereal.  My character is of the earth, and his desires come from down below, but we find out that they have much in common.  As Cleopatra the woman, she has these passions, appetites and we are both hungry.   As leading characters in the ring together, that makes for an interesting evening.   How lucky am I that every night I get to kiss Cleopatra?”

Husband and wife duo Sam Payne and Sandra Feusi, (from Sausalito) as a bookish Egyptologist and a Scottish waiter, do an astonishing sensual “vertical tango,” wooing each other in beautifully choreographed tango moves on a pole. Photo courtesy of Cory Weaver.

Physicality—European Cirque-style

The enthralling combination of aerial acrobatics that involve legs and arms being supported in unnatural positions by a nothing more than a long rung of twisted fabric is something we’ve become familiar with thanks to Cirque du Soleil.   At Teatro Zinzanni, it all unfolds on a small platform  just a few feet from you and that closeness makes all the difference.   The sheer physicality of this performance is exceptional AND it is smoothly integrated with dancing and music and involves other professional performers in the cast.    

Vertical Tango husband and wife duo Sam Payne and Sandra Feusi, (from Sausalito) as a bookish Egyptologist and a Scottish waiter do an actual “vertical tango,” wooing each other in beautifully choreographed tango dancing, passionately weaving up, down, and around each other and scaling a 20 foot pole.  The couple performed for years in Cirque du Soleil’s “Saltimbanco” and their perfectly toned bodies stretched horizontally in positions that are almost impossible to imagine, along with their fiery passion, make you feel as if you are watching a very private form of communication.   

Particularly impressive is Tim Tyler  as Mr. PP, a Safari clad explorer character who combines a prissy head-master vibe with outrageous mouth juggling skills and acrobatics.  Before making an important phone call, Mr. PP nervously coughed up nine! ping-pong balls and then juggled three of them simultaneously, using his throat and mouth muscles.   


A chat with Frank Ferrante who leaves ZinZanni on October 31st

Geneva Anderson:  You always play Caesar but the plot changes.  Do you have input into the story?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Frank Ferrante:  I do have input and lots of flexibility.  I started in San Francisco in 2001 and this is my 9th year at ZinZanni—two tents, one here and one in Seattle.  They came up with this because I had been working the material for a few years and I think it was Norman Langill’s (founder, artistic director) way of saying we like what’ve you’ve been doing here, let’s do a show that’s built around Caesar and his adventures.  That was very flattering and that was 5 or 6 years ago.  We’ve done several different stories and this one here feels brand new and Dreya is new to this show.  We are both here until the 31st with this run and then we both leave.  I go to Philadelphia to the Walnut Street Theatre to do a new show based on the Caesar character called Caesar’s Palace O’ Fun.  ZinZanni changes the show every 4 months and they are having a whole new show come in “License to Kiss,” with a new cast the first week of November. 

GA:  How do you size up the audience and figure out who you are going to work with?

Frank Ferrante:  It’s a mixture of knowing there are certain types that are in your back pocket that I can play with and I scan the audience for them…and sometimes I just wing it, creating the context as I go.  You don’t want people who are hambones, who are showy.  There’s only one clown in the room and that’s me.  You want someone who’s going to be fairly straight….but then they can be outrageous in their own way, in their responses about their profession, etc., or interaction with you.  You try to hedge your bets but your chance to fully control what’s happen is impossible.  That’s what I love about what I do.

GA:  How did you get used to working with aerialists and all the theatrics that unfold in the show, in addition to the comedy?                                                                                                                      

Frank Ferrante:    I had never done anything like that until ZinZanni 9 years ago and it’s such a different experience, it took me a couple of years to get my footing.  I come from the theatre—directing, acting in regional theatre, New York–and I did a play about Groucho Marx in New York and London but those were straight acting jobs.  For this, I had to watch and adjust and just survive the cirque world experience.  It is simply a different experience.  ZinZanni maintains and promotes a great American tradition of comedy that evokes a sense of yesterday—Zero Mostel, Jackie Gleason, Groucho, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Jack Benny.  There’s a bit of that in what I do and you’ll find the European traditions in ZinZanni as well.  It was strange thing to get used to, but basically we are all in the same boat…all trying to be the best we can be… but when we get used to it, and when it all comes together, it is magical.  The production staff designers, crew are brilliant.  And it’s a beautiful production–the costumes are beautiful, it’s beautifully lit and there’s something very unique about the setting that many Americans haven’t experienced.  They’ve been to Cirque d’Soleil, maybe Broadway, but this is distinct.

 GA:  There seems to be something very special about your interaction with your current leading lady Dreya Weber. Your chemistry with her is fantastic.

Frank Ferrante:    We’re very close.  We understand each other and we have affection for each other and we both take our work seriously–we have the same attack and question every word that we utter.   That is our attraction.  We consider ourselves the “Lunt and Fontanne” of Pier 29 (Husband and wife team, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, 1920’s-1940’s, are widely considered the greatest acting team in the history of American theatre.)  We never worked together until this show and, in rehearsals, she was a kick in the pants and a real joy.   What is great for me is that we have the comedy juxtaposed with scenes of passion.

GA:  What moves it beyond the cliché of “dinner theatre”?  

Frank Ferrante:    We are both trained actors and have similar theatre references too.  We are trying in the show to give people something that is both low brow and high brow and that is pretty rare.  It’s vaudeville really with body elements and it has elements of a play and a musical and somehow it all works in its own way, as a strange amalgamation of styles.

GA:  How do you keep it fresh, do the performance over and over and bring newness into      it?                                                                                                                                                                                              

Frank Ferrante:    It is fresh because, for me, the audience is a character apart from Dreya and the other cast members.  The audience is my lover and I need them in the show–their laughs, their response– to play off.  Every night the audience is new, so I have unsuspecting petrons to work off of every day and I never get bored.

GA:  Who is your favorite live comedian and why?  I know that you have a long association with Groucho Marx and are still performing “An Evening with Groucho.”

Frank Ferrante:    My favorite living comedian from that era of comedy that I love is Sid Caesar who was able to clown but able to be truthful.  And what makes those scenes I do with Dreya work is that they are honest—the improv I do is actually fairly autobiographical and points to some truths about ourselves.  I like that I say things that people wish they could say and I do things that people wish they could do.  I can really say it all and do it all and it’s greeted with laughter and that’s very cathartic.  I love the tradition of comedy that I come out of which is linked to Groucho and to Sid Caesar, really to another time.  Caesar walked that line between outrageous and truthful like a genius.  All the great comedians tell the truth on some deep level.…and if you don’t tell the truth, the audience smells it and they drop down to another level of engagement.


Tickets: $117-$195 for a five course meal and 3 hour performance, plus a $12 per guest dining room service charge applied to your beverage bill.  All beverages are separate and are available at the bar before entering the dining area and inside, during the evening performance.  A wine pairing menu which pairs 5 local wines with each of the courses runs $36. 

Seating:  The circular tent seats about 285 people in an arrangement of concentric seating that includes both booths and table.  All tickets are sold under “General Admission and seating is arranged by the Maitre d’ who assigns your seats the night you attend, “restaurant style.”  The best seats are premium seats, closest to the center of the tent.  There are 7 premium tables which seat four and 4 premium tables for two.

Box Office Phone (415) 438-2668 or buy directly online.

Current Menu: Cowgirl Creamery Peirce Point Cheese with marinated olives, spiced almonds and crostini, Corn Soup, Heirloom Tomato Salad, Grilled Pork Flat Iron with yukon gold mashed potatoes and peach chutney, Honey Chibouste & Hazelnut cake.  All arrived appropriately cold or warm and exquisitely staged.  My only complaint was that baby frissee in my heirloom tomato salad was like cardboard and many people left it on their plates.  Dinner, matinee and wine menus change periodically and are online.   

Be warned, while it is clearly written on the web page and repeated by your server, there is a $12.00/person additional “dining room” service charge that will be added to your bill.  

Parking is available at Pier 29, directly behind the tent with direct access to Teatro ZinZanni, for $10.00 through an automated machine that takes cash and credit cards.

October 3, 2010 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment