ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

A big Verdi week—San Francisco Opera celebrates the composer’s bicentennial in grand style with the “Requiem,” performed by 312 choristers and musicians from Naples and San Francisco, as the magnificent “Falstaff” continues to mesmerize

Giuseppe Verdi's 200th birthday is being observed by San Francisco Opera on Friday with a huge and historic performance of his choral masterpiece “Messa de Requiem.”  Nicola Luisotti, Music Director of both the San Francisco Opera and Italy's Teatro di San Carlo of Naples will conduct 320 singers and musicians from both companies on stage at War Memorial Opera House with vocal soloists Leah Crocetto, Margaret Mezzacappa, Michael Fabiano and Vitalij Kowaljow.  Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Giuseppe Verdi’s 200th birthday is being observed by San Francisco Opera on Friday with a huge and historic performance of his choral masterpiece “Messa de Requiem.” Nicola Luisotti, Music Director of both the San Francisco Opera and Italy’s Teatro di San Carlo of Naples will conduct 320 singers and musicians from both companies on stage at War Memorial Opera House with vocal soloists Leah Crocetto, Margaret Mezzacappa, Michael Fabiano and Vitalij Kowaljow. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

San Francisco Opera’s Music Director Nicola Luisotti is preparing to conduct the performance of a lifetime on Friday— Giuseppe Verdi’s choral masterpiece “Messa de Requiem” which will be jointly performed by both his companies—San Francisco Opera and Italy’s Teatro di San Carlo of Naples.  Talk about an of embarrassment riches!  In case you haven’t heard yet, this month marks the bicentennial of the composer’s birth— he was born October 9 or 10, 1813 in the Italian village of Roncole—and the entire world is celebrating.  And the Bay Area is not to be outdone.   Our silver haired maestro will conduct 312 singers and musicians from both companies in the Requiem Mass at War Memorial Opera House on Friday evening—161 choristers (90 SFO  and 71 Teatro di San Carlo (TSC)), 146 orchestra members and four soloists.  In the interest of true cultural exchange, Luisotti has interspersed the SFO and TSC choruses so that a SFO chorus member sits by a TSC member.

An exacting combo of fury and fear, punctuated with hammering chords and explosive bass drum bangs and soft, chillingly quiet moments, the Requiem Mass is one of Verdi’s most striking choral works.  Just as its music is characterized by wild undulations, its message too moves from the otherworldly to the fire and brimstone of inevitable mortality and judgment and back again, making for a deeply penetrating spiritual experience when performed soulfully.  Vocal soloists are soprano Leah Crocetto, mezzo soprano Margaret Mezzacappa, tenor Michael Fabiano and Ukranian bass Vitalij Kowaljow.   It was Crocetto, a former Adler Fellow, who gave an astounding and emotionally riveting performance as Liù in SF Opera’s Turandot  in 2011, working in perfect harmony with Luisotti who seemed to pull every tender ounce of lyricism she had to give.  She’ll have plenty of solo time on Friday as well.

The highly-anticipated performance of the Requiem has been sold out for months.  SF Opera donors and subscribers and those with Italian cultural connections got first dibs on the tickets, leaving slim pickings for regular attendees.  ARThound pounced and was able to purchase some real estate in an outer corner of Row X in the Orchestra, normally nothing to brag about because it’s beneath the dreaded overhang, but cause for celebration in these circumstances.

This unique presentation of the Requiem is offered as part of the worldwide Verdi bicentennial celebration and in recognition of 2013 The Year of Italian Culture in the United States, an initiative held under the auspices of the president of the Italian Republic.

Verdi’s Messa da Requiem premiered in May 1874 in Milan and was composed to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Alessandro Manzoni, the celebrated Italian writer and one of the leaders of the Italian Risorgimento, the Italian unification movement.  Verdi himself conducted the world premiere of one hundred twenty chorus singers and orchestra of one hundred musicians. The work was immediately hailed as a masterpiece and quickly made the rounds to the world’s leading music capitals where it garnered critical and popular acclaim.  Verdi’s Requiem is set in seven movements: Requiem and Kyrie; Dies Irae; Offertorio; Sanctus; Agnus Dei; Lux aeterna; and Libera me.

Fantastic Falstaff:

SFO also continues its acclaimed run of Verdi’s comedic opera Falstaff.  If you haven’t been to the opera this season, Falstaff is the opera to see—it stars the great Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, today’s definitive Falstaff, in the lead role, supported by an outstanding cast which includes American contralto Meredith Arwady masterfully singing Dame Quickly.  This Lyric Opera of Chicago production, directed by Oliver Tambosi, with scenery and costumes by Frank Philipp Schlössmann, premiered in 1999 but still feels fresh.  ARThound was lucky enough to catch last Sunday’s (October 20) matinee, the most delightful SFO performance I’ve attended since the inventive Magic Flute in summer 2012, which showcased the fanciful creativity of visual artist Jun Kaneko.

Falstaff, played by Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel, schemes to make some extra money by romancing a pair of wealthy wives in Verdi’s comedic opera.  Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Falstaff, played by Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel, schemes to make some extra money by romancing a pair of wealthy wives in Verdi’s comedic opera, “Falstaff.” Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

After being wowed by Bryn Terfel’s intimate recital of British sea poems, lieder by Schumann and Schubert, and Celtic songs at Green Music Center on the 13th, experiencing him sing Falstaff at SFO the following weekend was even more special, as I got a taste of the range of his artistry.  His fluid transformation into the fat, lecherous scoundrel Falstaff, is mesmerizing.  His rich voice is so powerful that he filled the expansive War Memorial Opera House as easily as he did the much smaller Weill Hall.

Falstaff was Verdi’s last opera, written when he was near 80 and still at his creative peak.  His only other comedy had been written some 50 years earlier.  Ialstaff is based on Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and parts of Henry IV.  In a nutshell, Falstaff, the main figure, is running out of money and looking for a quick solution.  He sets his sights on two rich women at once— Alice Ford (Basque soprano Ainhoa Arteta) and Meg Page (American mezzo soprano and Adler Fellow Renée Napier)— and writes them both love letters.  Of course, he doesn’t fool anyone; the crafty women of Windsor collaborate and out-scheme him and ultimately the “fat Knight” learns his lesson.  Along the way, while dressed in his best red finery, he is stuffed in a laundry hamper by the women and dumped out a window into the Thames, a scene which Terfel mines for all its worth.  

American contralto Meredith Arwady (L) as Dame Quickly and Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel as Falstaff.  Arwady’s powerful lower register, charisma, and comedic heft make her a scene stealer. Here, she argues that Falstaff’s being dumped into the River Thames from a large laundry basket was not planned.  Photo: Cory Weaver

American contralto Meredith Arwady (L) as Dame Quickly and Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel as Falstaff. Arwady’s powerful lower register, charisma, and comedic heft make her a scene stealer. Here, she argues that Falstaff’s being dumped into the River Thames from a large laundry basket was not planned. Photo: Cory Weaver

While all the women are in top form, Meredith Arwady, a former Adler and Merola alumna, grabs the spotlight as Dame Quickly, the pivotal emissary between the women and Falstaff.  Aside from a rich and glorious voice, she’s got that magic “it” factor that makes her memorable despite the size of her role.  She is on par with Terfel in her contribution to the opera’s magic.   Her Act III invitation to Falstaff/Terfel to get to Herme’s Oak, leaves us wanting more from the duo who are delightful together.   

Nicola Luisotti’s impassioned conducting is one of the production’s main draws. The characters’ words direct the metre and melody of the ensembles in this masterpiece and orchestra helps tell the story with an array of cheers, sighs, grunts and screams.  Last Sunday, Luisotti kept it brisk and energetic and the singers, chorus and orchestra were in perfect sync.  There are many musical highpoints, but Kevin Rivard’s penetrating horn call from Box Z—a distant sound that wafts over the audience—adds rich atmosphere to the Act III recreation of Herne’s Oak in moonlit Windsor Forest.

The magnificent singing, music, staging, and costumes make this the perfect Verdi experience. Sung in Italian with English subtitles.  (4 remaining performances—Thursday, 10.24 at 7:30 PM; Sunday, 10.27 at 2 PM, Wed 10.30 at 7:30 PM and Saturday, 11.2 at 8 PM (all have OperaVision except Sat 11.2)

Details:  The Verdi Requiem is completely sold-out.  A limited number of $10 Standing Room tickets go on sale at 11 A.M. day of performance.  For more information on San Francisco Opera and their upcoming performances, including Falstaff, visit http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx

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October 24, 2013 Posted by | Classical Music, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

This weekend’s 5th Petaluma International Film Festival spans the remote corners of the globe—ARThound looks at the line-up

Junya Sakino’s “Sake Bomb” (Japan/USA 2013) was filmed in Petaluma and screens Friday at 7:45 PM at the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival.  This comedic film is about a cynical, sarcastic and self-deprecating young Asian American man from L.A. who takes his naive Japanese cousin on an adventurous road trip along the California coast to Petaluma to find his ex-girlfriend.

Junya Sakino’s “Sake Bomb” (Japan/USA 2013) was filmed in Petaluma and screens Friday at 7:45 PM at the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival. This comedic film is about a cynical, sarcastic and self-deprecating young Asian American man from L.A. who takes his naive Japanese cousin on an adventurous road trip along the California coast to Petaluma to find his ex-girlfriend.

With more than 40 independent films from 20 countries and a new program showcasing local filmmakers, 5th Annual Petaluma International Film Festival (PIFF), this Friday through Sunday, has its best line-up ever.  Organized by Saeed Shafa who founded the popular annual Tiburon Film Festival in 2002, PIFF not only emphasizes great storytelling and international points of view; it has films that you just won’t see elsewhere.  The festival kicks off at noon on Friday with German filmmaker Hermann Vaske’s acclaimed documentary Balkan Spirit (2013, Germany) which explores the vast creative landscape of the war-torn Balkans and closes with a Sunday 10:15 PM screening of award-winning documentarian Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s dynamically-shot Touba (2013, Senegal/USA) reveals a face of Islam the world rarely glimpses—the Grand Magaal pilgrimage of 1 million Sufi Muslims to their holy city of Touba, Senegal.  PIFF offers six screenings daily, running from noon till just before midnight, with each time slot allocated to a full-length film and at least one short (30 minutes or less).

This year, filmmakers and/or films span the globe from Athens to Kosovo to remote Papua New Guinea to Senegal to Yemen.  That’s right…Papua New Guinea!  How does Shafa find these gems? “When we send out our call for entries, they come to us,” said Shafa. “Fortunately, every year more countries are participating and more filmmakers are getting to know our festival and the kind of programing we have. This, at the same time, makes our selections very difficult but is the reward of having so many good films to choose from for our sophisticated audiences.”

The fine selection of entertaining shorts this year proves that stories can be highly effective in a limited time framework.  Shafa has purposely paired all the feature-length films with shorts to get the point across.  The incomparable Gérard Depardieu stars as a befuddled door-to-door salesman in Constance Meyer’s comedic short Frank-Étienne Vers la Béatitude (2012, France) and in just 12 minutes gets caught up in a struggle between an irresistible young woman (Marina Fois), her ex, and their dog. (screens Saturday 8 PM)

New to this year’s festival is Sonoma Filmmakers Showcase, Saturday October 12, 6 PM—a program celebrating 5 short films made by Sonoma County filmmakers in support of the community’s rich and diverse talent.  All the filmmakers will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.  On the program—Greg Blatman’s Kitty Litter (2012, 9 min, shot in Petaluma); Beth Nelson’s The Sky is the Roof (2013, 30 min—historical overview of pre-colonial Napa Valley); Laura Owen & Aron Campisano’s Chocolatés (5 min); Bret Smith’s Rat-Face Burattino (2013, 5 min) and Paul Winston’s The World is My Stage (2013, 26 min).

Full schedule here.

Film descriptions here.

ARThound has attended this festival every year since it opened and has implicit trust in Saeed Shafa’s programming but here are the films caught my eye:

FRIDAY, OPENING DAY

Balkan Spirit —Friday, noon, :  The festival kicks off with German filmmaker Hermann Vaske’s acclaimed documentary Balkan Spirit (2013, Germany).  Vaske and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek explore the cultural, philosophical, political and artistic renaissance that is literally breathing life into this amazing region after decades of war and stagnation.  The engaging film features Angelina Jolie, Isabelle Huppert, Emir Kusturica, Dušan Makavejev, Abel Ferrara, Jasmila Zbanic and many other who will be forever on your creative radar. 80 minutes.  Screens with Shane Atkinson’s short, Penny Dreadful (USA, 2013, 13 min).

SATURDAY

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc—Saturday, 2 PM *great for kids*:  French filmmaker Luc Besson’s action films (La Femme Nikita, Colombiana, The Fifth Element, The Messenger) often feature a courageous female lead.  The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc (France, 2013) stars Louise Bourgoin as Adele Blanc-Sec, a daring female investigative reporter and action-seeker.  Based on the historical comic book series by French comics artist, Jacques Tardi, the film has the whip-smart and charming young heroine using her reasoning skills to solve a mystery that will save her comatose sister Agathe (Laure de Clermont).  Adele believes that an imprisoned scientist, Professor Espérandieu (Jacky Nercessian), can reanimate a legendary doctor, who in turn might be able to revive Agathe. With the help of her number-one fan, Andrej Zborowski (Nicolas Giraud), Adele must evade her nemeses long enough to save her sister.  107 minutes.  In French with English subtitles

The Professor—Saturday, 2 PM with short Frank-Étienne Vers la Béatitude:  In Tunisian director Mahmoud ben Mahmoud’s retro-thriller, the struggle for social justice and human rights in late 1970s Tunisia is dramatized against the backdrop of a perilous extra-marital affair between a law professor (played by Ahmed Hafiane) who heads Tunisia’s new human rights commission and his radical young student .  The period Ben Mahmoud has recreated captures the historical roots of Tunisia’s long slide into tyranny.  The period explored coincides with recently deposed Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s career-boosting appointment as General Director of National Security, a major stepping stone towards his 23-year authoritarian rule. Begun in the final days of Ben Ali’s reign, the film was subject to official interference, and could only be completed after the ousted dictator fled to exile in Saudi Arabia last year.  Michael Portal’s stirring musical score, with European and Arabic references, has been praised.   (2012, Tunisia, France, Qatar, 92 minutes)  Screens with Constance Meyer’s comedic short Frank-Étienne Vers la Béatitude (2012, France, 12 minutes).

Gérard Depardieu, one of the most beloved and prolific characters in film history (and who recently renounced his French citizenship to become a citizen of the world and avoid high taxes) plays a salesman who is sidetracked by an irresistible young woman (Marina Foïs) with a dog in Constance Meyer’s 12 minute comedic short “Frank-Étienne Vers la Béatitude” (2012, France) which screens Saturday at 8 PM at the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival.

Gérard Depardieu, one of the most beloved and prolific characters in film history (and who recently renounced his French citizenship to become a citizen of the world and avoid high French taxes) plays a salesman who is sidetracked by an irresistible young woman (Marina Foïs) with a dog in Constance Meyer’s 12 minute comedic short “Frank-Étienne Vers la Béatitude” (2012, France) which screens Saturday at 8 PM at the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival.

Sonoma Filmmakers Showcase—Saturday, 6 PM—A new addition to PIFF, a special screening of five short films made by Sonoma County filmmakers in support of the community’s rich and diverse talent.  All the filmmakers will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.  On the program—Greg Blatman’s Kitty Litter (2012, 9 min, shot in Petaluma); Beth Nelson’s The Sky is the Roof (2013, 30 min—historical overview of pre-colonial Napa Valley); Laura Owen & Aron Campisano’s Chocolatés (5 min); Bret Smith’s Rat-Face Burattino (2013, 5 min) and Paul Winston’s The World is My Stage (2013, 26 min).  Total Length:  Approx. 2 hours

Agnus DeiSaturday 10 PM, screens with short Jacobo:  Kosovar filmmaker Agim Sopi’s feature drama is based on a true horror story born out of the brutal atrocities of the Kosovo War which occurred in late 1990’s.  The film’s backdrop is the face-off of Serb paramilitaries against Kosovar Albanian rebels (KLA) as the Serbs try to remove all Kosovo Albanians from Kosovo.  The story involves Peter (Astrit Alihajdaraj), a young Serb solider who is the product of a forbidden love between his Serb mother and Kosovar Albanian father.  Peter goes off to war and rescues and then ends up falling in love with an Albanian girl named Maria (the beautiful Dafina Berisha).  They travel back to Peter’s mom’s house, only to discover a terrible family secret that will destroy Peter’s entire world.  This modern day Odepius-like tale is perfect for its late night time slot. (2012, Kosovo, 85 min) In Serbian with English subtitles.  Screens with David del Águilla’s Jacobo (2012, Spain, 14 minutes)

   

SUNDAY

Isolated —Sunday, 2 PM, screens with short Via Tango:  American director Justin Le Pera’s documentary Isolated  (USA 2013) was shot in remote New Guinea, which seems reason enough to check it out.  It follows 6 thrill seeking surfers who embark on a journey to search for one of the world’s last undiscovered waves New Guinea, a vast sprawling region where black magic, sorcery and cannibalism sometimes occur. There’s thrilling surfing footage as they encounter epic waves.  The film gets very serious when they run up against human rights atrocities surrounding the West Papua-Indonesian civil war and an unethical mining corporation—alarming maladies that seem to plague the world’s most beautiful places.  The film features never before seen footage of an ancient aboriginal culture.  90 minutes.  Screens with the Spanish short, Via Tango.

The Last Winter (Zemestane akha)—-Sunday 6:15 PM, Screens with the animated short Double Occupancy:  Saeed Shafa, PIFF founder, has a passion for the great poetic of film.  This year’s gem from Iran is Salem Salavati’s documentary The Last Winter (Zemestane akhar) (Iran, 2012), an elegant parable about the threatened culture of Iranian Kurdistan told through the story of a family who is unable to change and to come to terms with a tragedy. Salavati’s documentary is an expanded version of his previous short Snowy Dreams with the same picturesque winter scenery, calm, realistic life style and culture of Iranian Kurdistan.  95 minutes.  English subtitles.  Screens with the animated short Double Occupancy (2012, Germany, 9 min) by German filmmaker Fabian Giessler.

Salem Salavati's documentary The Last Winter (Zemestane akhar) (Iran, 2012, 95 min) won the FIPRESCI  Prize at the Yerevan International Film Festival and screens Sunday, October 13, at the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival.  With beautiful cinematography, it tells the story of rural family in a remote corner of Iran and, like many Iranian films, it employs allegory to make a larger statement the threatened culture of Iranian Kurdistan.

Salem Salavati’s documentary The Last Winter (Zemestane akhar) (Iran, 2012, 95 min) won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Yerevan International Film Festival and screens Sunday, October 13, at the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival. With beautiful cinematography, it tells the story of rural family in a remote corner of Iran and, like many Iranian films, it employs allegory to make a larger statement the threatened culture of Iranian Kurdistan.

Touba—Sunday 10:15 PM:  The festival closes with a lush doc.  Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s Touba (Senegal, 2013) has won awards for its cinematography and received glowing reviews for delivering a rare sensory experience.  This observational film follows the annual Grand Magaal pilgrimage of 1 million Sufi Muslims to the holy city of Touba, Senegal.  Dynamically shot in 16mm, it captures the sights and sounds and rituals of the Mouride Brotherhood: one of Africa’s most elusive organizations.  Pilgrims travel from all over the world to pay homage to the life and teachings of Cheikh Amadou Bamba, whose non-violent resistance to French colonial persecution in the late 19th century inspired a national movement: freedom of religious expression through pacifism. Vasarhelyi, a Sundance fellow, is the acclaimed director of the award-winning documentary Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (2008) which explored the African pop artist N’Dour as he released a spiritual album that unexpectedly alienated his Senegalese countrymen.  Touba screens with the Lebanese filmmaker Mokhtar Beyroth’s short, Studio Beirut (Lebanon, 2013, 15 min).

In “Touba,”which screens Sunday at the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival, award-winning filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi gains unprecedented access to one of the largest religious pilgrimages on the African continent, revealing a face of Islam the world rarely glimpses. Shot on 16mm film, defying the all-digital trend, its vivid cinematography and soundtrack weave together a humanist film poem.

In “Touba,”which screens Sunday at the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival, award-winning filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi gains unprecedented access to one of the largest religious pilgrimages on the African continent, revealing a face of Islam the world rarely glimpses. Shot on 16mm film, defying the all-digital trend, its vivid cinematography and soundtrack weave together a humanist film poem.

PIFF Details:  The 5th Petaluma International Film Festival is Friday, October 11, through  Sunday, October 13, 2013 at Petaluma’s Boulevard Cinemas, 200 C Street, Petaluma. Tickets are $11 for all PIFF screenings and are available in person or for online purchase at Petaluma’s Boulevard Cinemas.  All inclusive festival pass is $150 and can be obtained by phoning (415) 251-8433 or by emailing info@petalumafilmfestival.org.

October 10, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating the harvest with Sonoma County vigneron Wayne Roden and his colleagues from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

San Francisco Symphony Violist Wayne Roden in his Cotati vineyard. Photo: Geneva Anderson

San Francisco Symphony Violist Wayne Roden in his Cotati vineyard. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The morning after the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) gave its September 12 concertthe first in a four concert series at Green Music Center this seasona selection of orchestra members assembled for another kind of performance altogether, this one starting at 6:30 a.m. and involving pruners rather than tuners.  The venue was a small vineyard just West of Cotati, on the farm of long-time San Francisco Symphony violist Wayne Roden and his wife, novelist Barbara Quick.  Instead of the usual white tie and tails, the dress code for this performance was denim and sneakers.  The highly-educated and accomplished harvest crew—including relatives and friends, fiddle players from SFS and a dog named Sophie—all showed up at the crack of dawn to help harvest and crush a bumper crop of Pinot noir.

The idea for the harvest party came about two years ago when Barbara convinced Wayne to do what they do in France during the vendange, when friends and family who help harvest the grapes are rewarded with a lavish feast afterwards.  

Even though ARThound doesn’t play an instrument, I’d heard about the fun they had at the last harvest and was keen to hang out with these musicians, several of whom I’ve interviewed  in the past couple of years.  So, I too, was there—ready to lend a hand, to record the morning’s activities in a series of photos and, of course, to taste such delicacies as Barbara’s roasted heirloom tomato quiche, her heirloom tomato caprese, home-made pesto and amazingly sweet roasted cherry tomatoes, all of which came from her own garden harvest.

San Francisco Symphony Violist Wayne Roden and his wife, novelist Barbara Quick backstage at San Francisco Symphony.   Photo: Geneva Anderson

San Francisco Symphony Violist Wayne Roden and his wife, novelist Barbara Quick backstage at San Francisco Symphony. Photo: Geneva Anderson

When Wayne first decided to move from San Francisco to Sonoma County, he was thinking about horses rather than grapevines. But the favorable meso-climate of the little farm he bought 25 years ago, as well as his appreciation for Sonoma County’s wonderful wines, inspired him to join the growing league of hobby wine-makers. With the help of his grown son, film-maker Sam Roden, he planted a tenth of an acre in Pinot noir and Pinot gris. Seven years later, he is now in the process of vinifying the sixth vintage of his wonderfully delicious, Burgundian style Pinot Noir. (A glass of the 2012 frankly blew me away with its uniquely spicy, subtle dark-chocolate aromas.)

It’s been a great year for grapes and this was Wayne’s biggest harvest yet—782 pounds of Pinot noir and 168 of Pinot gris. This year’s musician-powered harvest should yield 325 bottles of the red stuff and 50 of the white.

Just as some of the finest houses of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or grow their grapes on miniscule but devoutly tended plots of land, Wayne nurtures his 275-or-so vines with the same diligence and artistry he devotes to playing the viola.  He says it’s hard for him to imagine not being a member of the Symphony after 40 years of playing and touring around the globe with SFS.  But if and when he does retire, he thinks he might like to turn his hobby into a small-scale, boutique wine-making operation.

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Sam and Barbara recently collaborated on designing a new label for Roden Wines, featuring an image of a fine old violin. Once a musician, always a musician!

October 8, 2013 Posted by | Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 36th Mill Valley Film Festival just opened—ARThound looks at opening night and gives top picks

Geoffrey Rush takes center stage at the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival.  He stars in “The Book Thief” which opened the festival on Thursday evening. He will be presented with the MVFF Award at Saturday night’s special “Geoffrey Rush Tribute.” He also stars in Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Best Offer which screens twice at the festival.

Geoffrey Rush takes center stage at the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival. He stars in “The Book Thief” which opened the festival on Thursday evening. He will be presented with the MVFF Award at Saturday night’s special “Geoffrey Rush Tribute.” He also stars in Giuseppe Tornatore’s “The Best Offer” which screens twice at the festival.

The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF36) is off and running in grand style.  Tonight, there were two opening night screenings to choose from and an opening party.  ARThound is just back from the enthralling world premiere of director Brian Percival’s The Book Thief with Academy Award®-winner Geoffrey Rush as an accordion-playing foster father and Sophie Nélisse as Lisel Meminger, the young heroine.  Over seven years from inception through filming, the film is an adoption story of sorts set in Nazi Germany. Narrated by Death, it relates a spirited young girl’s relationship with her new German foster parents and neighbors just as WWII breaks out in Germany and is a remarkable roller-coaster story of inspiration, perseverance, loss, and the ability of books to liberate the soul. Following the screening at the jam-packed at the Century Cinema Corte Madera,  Brian Percival, Geoffrey Rush, Sophie Nélisse and the film’s production team appeared on stage for a discussion with festival organizer Mark Fishkin, which included an audience Q & A.  These spontaneous exchanges are a big part of the thrill of experiencing a world premiere at MVFF.

Enchanting Sophie Nélisse, a born story-teller, delighted us all with her rendition of her nonchalant audition for the part of Lisel which all began with an emailed video and ended up with a live read in Berlin.  Nélisse confided that she hadn’t read Markus Zusak’s book or even put much thought into prepping for the audition. She was an Olympic caliber gymnast who had her sites set on making the national team instead.  Once she got talking, it was easy to see why she was selected. Her bright warm energy and enthusiasm for life, much like that of Lisel,  gave us all a boost.

Geoffrey Rush, who will be presented with the MVFF Award on Saturday evening, part of the Geoffrey Rush Tribute (tickets are still available), exhibited pride and a myriad of smiles while his young co-star chatted with the audience. Rush also stars as antiquarian art auctioneer in Giuseppe Tornatore’s (Cinema Paradiso, Baarìa) first English-language feature, The Best Offer which screens twice at the festival.  Critics have praised Rush’s sensitive performance. The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Rush brings a striking depth of character to this classic Old World mystery…”  (Both screenings are AT RUSH) I can’t wait to attend Saturday’s tribute and to experience more of his razor-sharp humor and learn more about this fascinating actor’s life and career.

The filmmakers admitted that they are actually still putting finishing touches on the The Book Thief and that MVFF was indeed the film’s very first reveal.  The release date will be November 15.  Bay Area audiences can expect to see the film out for the holidays.

The 10 day festival runs through Sunday, October 13, and eases into its first weekend with several Friday evening screenings clustered around 6 PM and 9 PM at venues in San Rafael and Mill Valley.  The programming revs up to full days on the weekend and continues full force until closing.

Many of the films and special tributes are already sold out.  For a list of films currently at rush, click here.  Below are my recommendations among the films which still have ample ticket availability as of opening night.  Several of these films are newly announced entries for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.  If these films sound interesting, don’t dally, as they will sell out.

A Long and Happy Life (Dolgaya schastlivaya zhizn) (Russia, 2013) US Premiere

Screens: Sat, Oct 5 2:30 PM at Rafael 3 (AT RUSH) and Mon, Oct 7, 4 PM at Sequoia 1

Russian director Boris Hlebnikov’s latest film depicts the futile struggle of an idealistic young farmer, Sasha (Alexander Yatsenko), in the Russian provinces against corrupt local authorities.  Hlebnikov’s previous film, Till Night Do Us Part ( Poka noch ne razluchit, 2012), took a satirical look at the Moscow elite and now he explores graft in a small village.  The setting is the picturesque Kola Peninsula in the Murmansk region, the northern most territory of Northwest Russia, above the Polar Circle.  The film was shot on a hand-held digital camera in natural light by former Berlinale cinematography prize-winner and all-around camera-tzar Pavel Kostomarov (How I Spent This Summer (2010)).  Sasha (Yatsenko) has come from the city to run a collective farm with dreams of finally thriving.  He works hard and is well-respected by the locals who even turn a blind eye to his romance with Anna (Anna Kotova) who works for the town council.  Things get tense when he is pressured by local council bureaucrats (the provincial arm of the new Russian state) to sign over his land to them so that they can profit from redevelopment. It’s an epic story of a man who stands up for what is right and rightfully his but, as in real life, there’s the dream of a “long and happy life” and what life dishes out. 80 min. In Russian with English subtitles.

The Past (Le Passe) (France, Italy, 2012)

Screens: Sat, Oct 5, 8 PM at Sequoia 2 (AT RUSH) and Thurs, Oct 10, 3 PM at Rafael 1

This year’s Cannes Film Festival honored Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) as Best Actress for her galvanizing performance as Marie, a French woman who has summoned her estranged husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) from Tehran to Paris to finalize their divorce. Marie takes Ahmad to her slightly disheveled house on the outskirts of Paris, where she lives with her two daughters from a previous marriage, her fiancé Samir (Tahar Rahim of A Prophet) and his young son. Asghar Farhadi, Academy Award–winning director of A Separation, crafts another superb drama of domestic secrets and unexpected revelations. Farhadi invests this intricately layered tale with an essentially humanistic point of view, in which every character—young or old—has his or her own reasons. 130 min. In French with English subtitles.

The Human Experiment (U.S., 2013) World Premiere

Screens: Sun, Oct 6 8:30 PM Rafael 1 (AT RUSH) and Thurs Oct 10 3:30 PM at Sequoia 1

What if the greatest chemical disaster of our time wasn’t an oil spill or the threat of a nuclear meltdown but instead was constant, low-level chemical exposures affecting every single being on the planet?  In certain ways, our lives are longer, healthier, and more prosperous than those of our great-grandparents but the inexorable march of progress is exhibiting major glitches—cancer, infertility, asthma, autism and a plethora of noxious diseases are all on the rise.   The Human Experiment is the latest documentary from acclaimed Bay Area filmmakers Dana Nachman and Don Hardy (Witch Hunt).  They again team up with impassioned activist Sean Penn, this time examining the high stakes battle to protect our health from literally thousands of untested chemicals in our everyday consumer products.  Narrator Sean Penn thoughtfully guides this fascinating look into the duplicitous tactics of the chemical industry and its stranglehold on regulation efforts.  The film’s brilliant four-dog argument about how corporate power beats down and co-opts is worth the price of admission alone.  In short, we’re on our own—Even China has better regulation than we do here in America.  Yes! China is sending its dubious ingredient products here to our markets and we are snapping them up.  Unscrupulous scientists and lobbyists are carefully managing scientific evidence about the health risks of chemicals.  Sham-science conducted by product and industry defense specialists has been elevated to the status of sound science and has created confusion about the very nature of scientific inquiry.  As our confidence in science and U.S. government’s ability to address public health and environmental concerns is shaken, chemicals continue their insidious spread.

Gloria (Chile, Spain 2013)

Screens: Tues Oct 8 8 PM at Sequoia 1 and Thurs Oct 10 at 2 PM at Sequoia 2

(Chile, Spain 2013) When acclaimed Chilean stage actress Paulina García tried her hand film, starring in Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria, she walked off with Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival.  The film was just chosen to represent Chile in the in the Foreign Language race for the 86th Academy Awards. García has been called the Meryl Streep of Chile and, like our amazing Meryl, brings out an inner candescence in her characters that has everything to do exposing the nakedness of their souls. Gloria finds García playing a 58-year-old divorcee who stumbles into a dubious romance with a man her own age (Sergio Hernandez) who she meets at a singles club.  The film has been praised for its courageous and juicy middle age sex scenes.  At its heart, it speaks to a woman with a story a lot of us can identify with—a woman who’s raised her children and is financially comfortable, and who is a bit fragile but who is more or less making the best of her situation…until a man who might just be the next big love comes along and shoots it all to hell.  As the new couple try to forge a lasting bond, their pasts constantly intrude.  This uplifting film was inspired by the life of director Sebastián Lelio’s own mother and her generation in Chile.

Like Father, Like Son (Soshite Chichi ni Naru) (Japan, 2013)

Screens: Wed, Oct 9 2:30 PM at Rafael 1 and Sat, Oct 12 8 PM at Lark Theatre (AT RUSH)

Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda knows how to weave a sensitive drama and his wonderful Like Father, Like Son picked up the esteemed Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for good reason.  The mixed up babies saga has been visited often but rarely executed in way that rips at your heart the way this tender and slow-paced telling does.  When the bourgeois Nonomiyas (workaholic architect Ryota and passive obedient mom Midori) receive news that their biological son may have been switched at birth with another couple’s boy and that Keita, the six-year-old boy they have been raising, may not be their biological child; a slow meltdown ensues that threatens their stability as individuals, as parents and as a family unit.  Keita is actually the biological child of working class suburban appliance storeowners Yudai and Yukari Saiki, who have unwittingly raised the Nonomiyas’ son, Ryusei, as their own.  As the two families arrange gatherings for their children to mingle, and begin a trial system of exchanging the boys on weekends, we see just how complex the nature vs. nurture arguments are when actually road-tested.  Should nature trump nurture? Can the tentacles of attachment really recede when you’ve raised a child from infancy? What does it mean to pass something on to your children? And what are the lessons to be learned from forced socialization with people you normally wouldn’t have anything to do with?  120 min. In Japanese with English subtitles.

The Missing Picture (L’image manquante) (Cambodia, France 2013)

Screens: Sat, Oct 12 4:45 PM at Lark Theatre and Sun Oct 13 5:30 PM at Rafael 3

Cambodian director Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture uses simple sculpted clay figures to retell the atrocities he and others endured under the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.  The documentary won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and was recently selected as the Cambodian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards. Panh was 13 on April 17, 1975, the day the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh and rounded up civilians and deported them to forced labor camps. There, they worked as slaves for the Pol Pot’s revolution which centralized the peasant farming society of Cambodia virtually overnight. One after another, Panh’s father, mother, sisters and nephews died of starvation or exhaustion, as they were held in a remote labor camp in rural Cambodia. In just three short years, over 25% of the country’s population was eliminated.

“Missing Picture” centers on Panh’s search for a “missing picture” via his recreated vision of the atrocities Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge committed.  These clay figures intercut with archival footage and Panh’s spoken word fill in the gaps in history and allows us to witness the human experience below the surface of this tragedy with an incredible compassion. 92 min In French with English subtitles.

Details:  The festival’s homepage is hereAdvance ticket purchase is essential as this festival sells out. To purchase tickets online for MVFF screenings, browse the film listings—the full list and scheduling information are online here.  Most tickets are $14 and special events and tributes are more.  Tickets can also be purchased in person at select Marin ticket outlets.

Rush tickets: If seats become available, even after tickets have sold out, rush tickets will be sold. The rush line forms outside each venue beginning one hour before show-time. Approximately 15 minutes prior to the screening, available rush tickets are sold on a first-come, first serve basis for Cash Only.)

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

review: The child returns…Magic Theatre’s revival of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” is still gripping after 35 years—through October 13, 2013

No one recognizes Vincent (Patrick Alparone, center) when he returns home and tries to reconnect with his father, Tilden (James Wagner, right), and grandfather, Dodge (Rod Gnapp, left) in Sam Shepard’s Buried Child at Magic Theatre. Photo: Jennifer Reiley

No one recognizes Vincent (Patrick Alparone, center) when he returns home and tries to reconnect with his father, Tilden (James Wagner, right), and grandfather, Dodge (Rod Gnapp, left) in Sam Shepard’s Buried Child at Magic Theatre. Photo: Jennifer Reiley

Tightly held family secrets are unearthed in Magic Theatre’s revival of Buried Child, Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize winning odyssey about finding one’s way back home and finding one’s place in that home.  The play, directed by Producing Artistic Director Loretta Greco, opens Magic’s 47th season and continues its “Sheparding America” celebration of the playwright’s 70th birthday−up this November.  Buried Child premiered at the Magic in 1978, during the exciting eight-year period that Sam Shepard was the theatre’s playwright-in-residence, a time when he also unveiled such classics as True West (1980) Fool for Love (1982)−productions which I, then an undergrad at UC Berkeley, attended and which deeply and viscerally impacted me.  Despite winning the Pulitzer, Shepard reworked Buried Child for its 1995 Broadway revival and it’s this version that Magic currently has on stage and has extended through Sunday, October 13, 2013.

Buried Child remains a dark detective story of sorts, devised in such a manner as to enmesh the audience in the festering wound of the endlessly complex and broken American family.  The 35 year-old play is as relevant as it ever was and the acting is exceptional in Magic’s revival. Special touches like the sight and sound of torrential rain and the startling crack of breaking beer bottles by sound designer Jake Rodriguez and scenic designer Andrew Boyce are elevating.

Rod Gnapp as Dodge, the aging, alcoholic, emasculated family patriarch. Sam Shepard’s Buried Child is at Magic Theatre through October 13. Photo: Jennifer Reiley

Rod Gnapp as Dodge, the aging, alcoholic, emasculated family patriarch. Sam Shepard’s Buried Child is at Magic Theatre through October 13. Photo: Jennifer Reiley

The plays opens in a ramshackle living room, with Dodge, the father and family patriarch, glued to the couch, covered with an Afghan, sneaking drinks from the bottle of booze he keeps hidden in the cushions. Rodd Gnapp, last seen in Magic’s Se Llama Cristina, again outdoes himself in this principal role, delivering a broken man with a serious case of emotional dry-rot.  Unable to face the consequences of his past, Dodge lies unshaven and passive on the couch, rasping and hacking.

Upstairs, his wife Halie (Denise Balthrop Cassidy), talks at him non-stop, in a blistering unrelenting monotone, as she readies herself for church and a visit with Father Dewis (Lawrence Radecker), a priest she’s having an open affair with.  This is not the first time she’s stepped outside her marriage; the dark consequences of her past infidelity have devastated the family.  Instead of facing her pain, she revels in the past glories of her sons who are enshrined in old family pictures lining the walls of her bedroom.  Her investment in the dream, has caused her to erect a kind of mental fortress around her memories (real and imagined) and it will take two outsiders to obliterate lay waste of them. Balthrop Cassidy is great with the unseen banter but when she appears in person, she seems to be working too hard at playing a parody of Halie rather than just being the complex piece of psychic work that is Halie.  This is a noticeable contrast from the ease with which the other actors embody their characters wounds.

As two adult sons make their entrance, it becomes apparent that the dysfunction extends beyond the marriage. Tilden, the eldest, (James Wagner) who lives with his parents, seems confused and easily shaken.  He lumbers around and dumps down a huge pile of fresh corn which he says he’s just picked from the field in the backyard, a field which has been fallow for years.  One-legged amputee Bradley (Patrick Kelly Jones), a victim of a chainsaw accident, is combative and scary.  He lives close by, close enough to come over and harass his family whenever he pleases.  The whole lot of them exhibit symptoms that solidly put them in DSM-IV territory for trauma, an area that has long captivated Shepard.

With the unexpected appearance of Tilden’s twenty-something year old son, Vince (Patrick Alparone), and his girlfriend Shelley (Elaina Garrity), the past rears its head.  While Vince has only been gone for six years, no one will acknowledge or recognize him.  He is desperate for affirmation and yet has been stripped of his identity.  His solution–to run away.  Patrick Alparone does a masterful job of navigating the minefield of emotions and expectations associated with coming home to what he remembers of his family and meeting up with this abominable clan. His third act transformation, his return home–to ownership of himself and the farm–is palpable.  Elaina Garrity nearly steals the show with her very believable Shelley, an outsider, immune to the family dysfunction, who functions as a mirror to the audience. Shallow, disengaged and skeptical at first, the willowy young woman, ultimately proves relentless in her quest to get to the truth and unearth the secret.

Vince (Patrick Alparone) brings his girlfriend Shelly (Elaina Garrity) to his family homestead after a long absence in Sam Shepard’s Buried Child playing at Magic Theatre. Photo: Jennifer Reiley

Vince (Patrick Alparone) brings his girlfriend Shelly (Elaina Garrity) to his family homestead after a long absence in Sam Shepard’s Buried Child playing at Magic Theatre. Photo: Jennifer Reiley

Buried Child functions brilliantly on many levels while casting out psychic hooks that reel in the wounded amongst us, bringing us to confrontation with our own demons.  At it heart, it is about the ways that family members withhold from each other and perpetuate more hurt as they attempt to shield themselves from the unbearable pain of having broken a moral code. There is no hero, there is no forgiveness but there are many villains and many victims. When the truth emerges, the characters, nursing their wounds, grudges and regrets, can’t bring themselves to move beyond their entrenched patterns despite the fact that reality has shifted.

Loretta Greco has revitalized the Magic Theatre since she was appointed Artistic Director in 2008. She is able to mine emotion and insight from every remark, every nagging resentment that is expressed in Shepard’s masterpiece.   “For almost two decades I’ve longed to work on Buried,” said Greco.  “I believe that in 1,000 years philosophers and civilians alike who are searching for meaning will still be mining the depths and Sophocles’ Oedipus, Chekov’s Three Sisters and Shepard’s Buried Child.”

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Details: Magic Child has been extended through October 13, 2013.  The Magic Theatre is located in Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd. Building D. 3rd floor, San Francisco, CA. Parking is readily available at Fort Mason Center.  Performances:  daily performances Tues-Sunday.  Tickets:  Tues, Wed, Thurs: $45 to $55; Fri, Sat, Sun: $50-60.  Purchase tickets online here or by phone (415) 441-8822.  For more information about this play and Magic Theatre’s 2013-14 Season, visit http://magictheatre.org/.

October 1, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment