ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

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.

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

Review: A.C.T.’s heartwarming performance of Dickens’ holiday classic “Christmas Carol” through December 24 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theatre

In A.C.T.’s annual holiday favorite, “A Christmas Carol,” James Carpenter is Ebenezer Scrooge and Rebekah Brockman is the Ghost of Christmas Past, playing November 30–December 24, 2012, at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater. Photo by Kevin Berne.

In A.C.T.’s annual holiday favorite, “A Christmas Carol,” James Carpenter is Ebenezer Scrooge and Rebekah Brockman is the Ghost of Christmas Past, who first appears on a swing. “A Christas Carol” runs November 30–December 24, 2012, at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Bah Humbug!  It’s time again for those immortal and endearing words.  With dozens of productions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” opening this holiday season,  one that really stands out in the Bay Area is A.C.T.’s (American Conservatory Theatre), which opened last Tuesday and runs through Christmas Eve.

Now in its 36th year at A.C.T.,  A Christmas Carol  is thoroughly enjoyable, offering fine acting, vivid characterizations, dazzling special effects, lush staging and beautiful period costumes.  Adapted by Carey Perloff and Paul Walsh in 2005, and directed by Domenique Lozano, with music by Karl Lundeberg, this lively version stays true to the heart of Dickens’ timeless story of redemption but it has some updates and cast changes that keep it fresh.   The production runs two hours (with intermission) and the evening show begins an hour early, at 7 pm, with additional 1 or 2 pm performances nearly every day through Christmas Eve.  Combine it with a walk through bustling and gorgeously lit Union Square en route to A.C.T.’s historic Geary Theatre and it’s a very doable evening outing for families or for those who are from the greater Bay Area and face a longer drive home.

We all know the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s wake-up call and it rings ever true today. Wealthy Ebenezer Scrooge was a miser and a kill joy.  “The only thing more ridiculous than Merry Christmas is falling in love!” sputters crotchety James Carpenter early in the play.  Carpenter, now in his 6th year in the role, keeps adding new layers of complexity to Scrooge.  This year, he plays him as a member of the 1 percent who is willfully and persistently ignorant to the suffering of his fellow human beings and who is completely unaware of how closed off, disagreeable and unkempt he has become over the years.

 By contrast, Bob Cratchit (Nick Pelczar), Scrooge’s overworked clerk, hasn’t a schilling to his name but he has vast inner resources—a heart of gold and a large loving family. Cratchit is played with genuine warmth and dignity by Pelczar, whose radiance is matched by Delia MacDougall’s portrayal of his equally good-hearted wife, Anne Cratchit. The Cratchit’s material hardship makes the wealthy Scrooge seem all the more despicable, even pitiable, because he cannot enjoy or share the massive fortune he has amassed. Dickens shows not only Scrooge’s miserliness but also how it would come to ruin the lives his beloved sister’s descendants and harm his impoverished clerk’s family. While writing his classic, Dickens realized that if Scrooge’s imagination could be stimulated, it would be possible for him to wake up on Christmas morning an entirely new man and that’s the message of the play. Scrooge’s remarkable transformation—ideological, ethical and emotional—is brought about by the visits of four ghosts on Christmas Eve—Jacob Marley (his former business partner) and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future.

The Ghost of Jacob Marley (Ken Ruta) haunts Scrooge on Christmas Eve to save his soul, warning him of the three other ghosts that will visit him. Photo: Kevin Berne

The Ghost of Jacob Marley (Ken Ruta) haunts Scrooge on Christmas Eve to save his soul, warning him of the three other ghosts that will visit him. Photo: Kevin Berne

The visits of these ghosts, who lead Scrooge through some very poignant and harrowing scenes from his life, represent the production’s most creative parts. Setting the bar for ghastly ghost behavior highlighted by special effects is the Ghost of Jacob Marley, played by Ken Ruta, who originated this role in the 2005 production. Amidst billowing clouds of colored smoke, he robustly pops out of the headboard of Scrooge’s bed, rattling chains and issuing warnings and looking like death-warmed over with his crazy frizzed out hair.  Ruta replaces the revered Jack Willis who is over at Berkeley Rep playing a meddling Buddhist monk in Mary Zimmermann’s adaptation of The White Snake.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, is played humorously again by A.C.T.’s Omozé Idehenre who appears in striated green velvet as a Bacchic spirit of abundance.  One of the production’s unique touches is that the ghosts are, at times, suspended above Scrooge on swings, adding a playful touch.

And gauging’s the Bay Area’s love of puppets, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is spot on—a giant black bat-like puppet apparition that fills the stage and moves its appendages in and out as if it could readily swallow someone up.  It also serves as a screen. As projections of the harrowing future that await Scrooge flash rapidly before him, Scrooge gets his final wake-up call.

Carmen Steele is Tiny Tim (little Timothy Cratchit), the play’s emotional center, and has a wonderful stage presence.  When Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Present, he learns just how ill Tim really is, and that Tim will die unless he receives treatment (which the family cannot afford due to Scrooge’s miserliness). When he’s next visited by The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Tim’s little wooden crutch is all that is shown because Tim has died.  This and several other harrowing visions, lead Scrooge to reform the moment he wakes up on Christmas morning. And change he does!   He gives his cleaning lady, Mrs. Dilber, a real jolt by thanking her, paying her generously, and giving her the holidays off.  Sharon Lockwood, who brilliantly channels Bewitched’s dingy Aunt Clara, makes Mrs. Dilber one of the most endearing characters of all.

In A.C.T.’s annual holiday favorite, “A Christmas Carol,” James Carpenter (L) is Ebenezer Scrooge and Carmen Steele (R) is Tiny Tim Cratchit.  Runs November 30–December 24, 2012, at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater. Photo by Kevin Berne.

In A.C.T.’s annual holiday favorite, “A Christmas Carol,” James Carpenter (L) is Ebenezer Scrooge and Carmen Steele (R) is Tiny Tim Cratchit. Runs November 30–December 24, 2012, at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Val Caniparoli’s choreography, as always, is fantastic.  There’s lots of lighthearted and fluid dancing which showcases Beaver Bauer’s beautiful period costumes and Caniparoli has interjected some new funk and spunk into the scary ghosts.  Caniparoli, who is currently dancing the role of the toymaker, Drosselmeyer, in SF Ballet’s treasured Nutcracker, really understands how much enjoyment an audience gets from the gestures communicated through dance. Under his direction, the lively ball at the Fezziwig Warehouse, with its new cartoon-like sets, was delightful and Act II’s lively “Waltz of the Opulent Fruit” was charmingly executed by six young Bay Area actors who had been transformed into plump and colorful French plums, Turkish figs, and Spanish onions.  Their festive jig, which showcases composer Karl Lundeberg’s talent, is always an audience favorite.

The message is profoundly clear in this play of new beginnings: generosity comes in many forms and its rewards are priceless.  Scrooge doesn’t so much need to celebrate Christmas (but when he finally does, he does it admirably) as to open his heart which enables to him to both give and receive…which is the one of the joys of Christmas. 

The Dickens novella that inspired it all is at the Morgan Library: “A Christmas Carol” was written by Charles Dickens and published in somber Victorian-era Britain in December 1843, when new customs such as the Christmas tree and greeting cards were just being introduced. This was before Christmas became today’s highly commercial venture but also during a time when there wasn’t much gleeful celebration. The novella was an instant hit, largely for its memorable characters and its realistic depictions of the hardships of the working class which people related to. It infused people with hope during a stifling period and has been credited with putting the “merry” in Merry Christmas in England and America. When it was first published, its 6,000 copies printed up in time for Christmas, sold out. Because Dickens had selected lavish drawings in red and green ink by John Leech, one of the Britain’s best illustrators, the book was a financial bust. It went on to become a literary staple, so Dickens fared well but it was also pirated immediately after publication. It was shortly adapted to the stage and the rest is history.

The financier J.P. Morgan bought the manuscript in 1890 and it has been housed at 225 Madison Avenue, in Pierpont Morgan’s historic Library.  The 66 page handwritten manuscript, written in large scribbling cursive in just 6 days, is exhibited each holiday season at The Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan.  As a matter of expedience, only one page is put on view each year, under glass. This year, page 61 is on display, which is the first page of the final Stave (Stave V), titled “The End of It.”  This is the scene in which Scrooge, awaking after the visitation of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, celebrates his reprieve. (Click here to be directed to that page.) The entire original manuscript, along with a very useful audio option that allows readers to hear a page read aloud is available online here courtesy of the Morgan Library.

Run-time A.C.T.’s  A Christmas Carol:  Two hours including one 15 minute intermission.

Cast:  James Carpenter (Ebenezer Scrooge), Ken Ruta (Ghost of Christmas Past), Nick Pelcar (Bob Cratchit, Delia MacDougall (Anne Cratchit), Jarion Monroe (Mr. Fezziwig), Sharon Lockwood (Mrs. Fezziwig), Omozé Idehenre (Ghost of Christmas Present).  The adult cast also includes Cindy Goldfield, Howard Swain, Arwen Anderson, Stephanie DeMott.

The Christmas Carol cast also includes six third-year students from the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program, many of whom traditionally receive their Actors’ Equity cards as a result of their participation in A Christmas Carol —Rebekah Brockman, Raymond Castelán, Allegra Rose Edwards, Nick Steen, Tyee J. Tilghman and Titus Tompkins. And a record 27 young actors from the A.C.T. Young Conservatory (YC) are participating in the production—Graham Bennett, Frank Demma, Ian DeVaynes, Chloe Durham, Jack Estes, Dashiell Ferrero, Elke Janssen, Leo Jergovic, Louis Kehoe, Sydney Kistler, Shalan Lee, Madelyn Levine, Elsie Lipson, Katerine Liviakis, Sarah Magen, Timothy Marston, Rachel Metzger, Kai Nau, Evelyn Ongpin, Gavin Pola, Kennedy Roberts, Lindsay Sohn, Carmen Steele, Sasha Steiner, Emma Sutherland, Samuel Sutton, and Seth Weinfield.

Creative Team:  John Arnone (set design), Beaver Bauer (costume design), Karl Lundeberg (original music), Val Caniparoli (choreography), Nancy Schertler (lighting design), and Jake Rodriguez (sound design), and Robert Rutt (musical direction).

Details: A Christmas Carol runs through December 24, 2012 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theatre, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco.  Performances:

7 p.m.: December 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22

5:30 p.m.: December 16, 23

2 p.m.: December 12, 15, 21, 22

1 p.m.: December 16, 23, 24

Tickets: $20-$95, available online through the A.C.T. online box office , or by phone (415)439-2473.  For all performances, no children under the age of 5 are permitted.  Performances sell out quickly.  Act now for the best seats !

December 10, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Bless us, everyone! A heartwarming performance of Dickens’ classic “Christmas Carol,” through December 24 at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre

In A.C.T.’s annual holiday favorite, “A Christmas Carol,” the Ghost of Jacob Marley (A.C.T. core acting company member Jack Willis, left) haunts Scrooge (James Carpenter) on Christmas Eve to save his soul, warning him of the three other ghosts that will visit him. The play runs through Christmas Eve. Photo: Kevin Berne

The holiday season for me means time spent with family and friends and getting back in touch with my “goodwill towards all” vibe.  Tuesday evening, after a romp through a bustling Union Square, I had the pleasure of attending A.C.T.’s “A Christmas Carol” and highly recommend this family-friendly classic for setting spirits right.  This classic and beloved tale of transformation just doesn’t get any better.  The performance (with intermission) runs two hours and the evening show begins an hour early at 7 pm, with additional 1 or 2 pm performances nearly every day through Christmas Eve.  This makes it a doable evening outing for families with kids or for those who are from the greater Bay Area and face a long drive home.

 “A Christmas Carol” was written by Charles Dickens and published in somber Victorian-era Britain in December 1843, when new customs such as the Christmas tree and greeting cards were just being introduced.  This was before Christmas became today’s highly commercial venture but also during a time when there wasn’t much gleeful celebration.  The novella was an instant hit, largely for its memorable characters and its realistic depictions of the hardships of the working class which people related to.  It also infused people with hope and has been credited with putting the “merry” in Merry Christmas in England and America during a stifling period.   It was pirated immediately and adapted to the stage and the rest is history.  Now in its 35thyear at ACT, the play is a cornerstone of ACT’s repertory and has become a holiday tradition for families all around the Bay Area.  Adapted by Paul Walsh and Carey Perloff, and directed by Domenique Lozano, this version has been around since 2004 and has been performed over a thousand times and stays true to the heart of Dickens’ timeless story of redemption. 

Ebenezer Scrooge (James Carpenter, right) scolds his overworked employee Bob Cratchit (A.C.T. core acting company member Manoel Felciano) on Christmas Eve. Photo: Kevin Berne

 We all know the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s wake-up call which rings ever true today.  Rich Ebenezer Scrooge was a miser and a kill joy–not very loving, giving, or even friendly.  James Carpenter, now in his fifth year in this role, doesn’t flinch from playing Scrooge’s harsh sides to the hilt but he also shows us a man who is completely and tragically unaware of how stuck and disagreeable he has become.  In Northern CA, we all know what happens when there’s no positive energy flow and Scrooge embodies the big “NO” with every ounce of his being.  

By contrast, impoverished Bob Cratchit, A.C.T. core acting company member Manoel Felciano, who is Scrooge’s clerk and whipping boy hasn’t a schilling to his name but he has vast inner resources– a true heart of gold- and a large loving family.  Cratchit is played with genuine warmth and dignity by Felciano whose radiance is matched by Delia MacDougall’s portrayal of his equally good-hearted wife, Anne Cratchit.  The Cratchit’s material hardship makes the wealthy Scrooge seem all the more despicable, even pitiable, because he cannot enjoy or share the massive fortune he has amassed.   Dickens realized that if Scrooge’s

The dancing is delightful in A.C.T.'s "A Christmas Carol." The produce sellers (A.C.T. core acting company member Annie Purcell, right, and Cindy Goldfield) bring in the bounty of the season, including belly-dancing Turkish figs (on cart: Emily Spears, left, and Elsie Lipson). Photo: Kevin Berne.

imagination could be stimulated, it would be possible for him to wake up on Christmas morning an entirely new man and that’s the message of the play.  Scrooge’s remarkable transformation—ideological, ethical and emotional– is brought about by the visits of four ghosts on Christmas Eve—Jacob Marley (his former business partner) and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future.   At Tuesday’s press opening, the show was full of marvelous special effects associated with the visits of each of these ghosts who led Scrooge through some very poignant and harrowing scenes from his life.  Jack Willis, who returns as the Ghost of Jacob Marley, set the pace by robustly rising from Scrooge’s bed, rattling chains and warnings amidst clouds of smoke. The Ghost of Christmas Present, played delightfully by A.C.T.’s Omozé Idehenre, emerged in striated green velvet as a Bacchic spirit of abundance with lusty vibes.  

The Cratchit family toasts to Scrooge's health on Christmas in A.C.T.'s annual production of "A Christmas Carol," thorugh December 17, 2011. Photo: Kevin Berne

And then there’s Tiny Tim (little Timothy Cratchit), the play’s emotional center, played wonderfully by young Graham Bennett.  When Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Present, he learns just how ill Tim really is, and that Tim will die unless he receives treatment (which the family cannot afford due to Scrooge’s miserliness). When he’s next visited by The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, all he can see is Tim’s little wooden crutch because Tim has died.  This and several other harrowing visions, lead Scrooge to reform which begins from the moment he wakes up on Christmas morning and shocks his cleaning lady Mrs. Dilber (Sharon Lockwood channeling Bewitched’s dingy Aunt Clara ) by thanking her, paying her generously and giving her the holidays off.

A reformed Scrooge (James Carpenter, center) celebrates the season with his nephew, Fred (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Jason Frank, far left), Fred’s wife, Mary (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Maggie Leigh, second from left), and the Cratchits: Bob (A.C.T. core acting company member Manoel Felciano), Anne (Delia MacDougall), and Tiny Tim (Graham Bennett). Photo: Kevin Berne.

Val Caniparoli’s choreography is fantastic—lots of lighthearted dancing and movement that show off the period costumes designed for the production by Beaver Bauer of Teatro ZinZanni.  Dickens’s lovely descriptions of the abundance of Christmas bounty are staged creatively at the start of Act 2 as “The Waltz of the Opulent Fruit,” with six charming young Bay Area actors taking on the roles of dancing French plums, Turkish figs, and Spanish onions.  The production will infuse one and all with holiday cheer and is highly recommended for families and children of all ages.

Details:  American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco.

7 p.m.: December 20, 21, 22, 23

5:30 p.m.: December 18

2 p.m.: December 21, 22, 23, 24

1 p.m.: December 18

Run-time: Two hours including one intermission. Tickets: $15-$105, available online through the A.C.T. online box office , or by phone (415) 749-2228.  For all performances, no children under the age of 5 are permitted

December 18, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: God Bless us, everyone! A heartwarming performance of Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” through December 24 at San Francisco’s A.C.T. (American Conservatory Theatre)

The Ghost of Jacob Marley (A.C.T. core acting company member Jack Willis, left) haunts Scrooge (James Carpenter) on Christmas Eve to save his soul, warning him of the three other ghosts that will visit him. Photo: Kevin Berne

The holiday season for me means time spent with family and friends and getting back in touch with my “goodwill towards all” vibe.  Tuesday evening, after a romp through a bustling and very commercial Union Square, I had the pleasure of attending A.C.T.’s “A Christmas Carol” and highly recommend this family-friendly classic for setting spirits right.  The performance (with intermission) runs two hours and the evening show begins an hour early at 7 pm, with additional 1 or 2 pm performances nearly every day.  This makes it a doable evening outing for families with kids or for those who are from the greater Bay Area and face a long drive home.

 “A Christmas Carol” was written by Charles Dickens and published in somber Victorian-era Britain in December 1843, when new customs such as the Christmas tree and greeting cards were just being introduced.  This was before Christmas became today’s highly commercial venture but also during a time when there wasn’t much gleeful celebration.  The novella was an instant hit, largely for its memorable characters and its realistic depictions of the hardships of the working class which people related to.  It also infused people with hope and has been credited with putting the “merry” in Merry Christmas in England and America during a stifling period.   It was pirated immediately and adapted to the stage and the rest is history.  Now in its 34th year at A.C.T., the play is a cornerstone of A.C.T.’s repertory and has become a holiday tradition for families all around the Bay Area.  Adapted by Paul Walsh and Carey Perloff, and directed by Domenique Lozano, this version has been around since 2004 and has been performed over a thousand times and stays true to the heart of Dickens’ timeless story of redemption.

Scrooge (James Carpenter, center) is touched by Christmas memories of his younger self (Tony Sinclair) and his sister, Fan (Emma Rose Draisin). Photo: Kevin Berne.

 We all know the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s wake-up call and it rings ever true today.  Rich Ebenezer Scrooge was a miser and a kill joy–not very loving, giving, or even friendly.  James Carpenter, now in his fifth year in this role, doesn’t flinch from playing Scrooge’s harsh sides to the hilt but he also shows us a man who is completely and tragically unaware of how stuck and disagreeable he has become.  In Northern CA, we all know what happens when there’s no flow and Scrooge embodies the big “NO” with every ounce of his being.   

By contrast, impoverished Bob Cratchit, who is Scrooge’s clerk and whipping boy, hasn’t a schilling to his name but he has vast inner resources– a true heart of gold- and a large loving family.  Cratchit is played with genuine warmth and dignity by Nicholas Pelczar whose radiance is matched by Delia MacDougall’s portrayal of his equally good-hearted wife, Anne Cratchit.  The Cratchit’s material hardship makes the wealthy Scrooge seem all the more despicable, even pitiable, because he cannot enjoy or share the massive fortune he has amassed.   Dickens realized that if Scrooge’s imagination could be stimulated, it would be possible for him to wake up on Christmas morning an entirely new man and that’s the message of the play.  Scrooge’s remarkable transformation—ideological, ethical and emotional– is brought about by the visits of four ghosts on Christmas Eve—Jacob Marley (his former business partner) and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future.   At Tuesday’s press opening, the show was full of marvelous special effects associated with the visits of each of these ghosts who led Scrooge through some very poignant and harrowing scenes from his life.  Jack Willis, who returns as the Ghost of Jacob Marley, set the pace by robustly rising from Scrooge’s bed, rattling chains and warnings amidst clouds of smoke.  The Ghost of Christmas Present, played delightfully by A.C.T.’s Steven Anthony Jones, emerged in striated green velvet as a jovial and lusty Bacchic spirit of abundance.  

And then there’s Tiny Tim (little Timothy Cratchit), the play’s emotional center, played wonderfully by young Sadie Eve Scott.  When Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Present, he learns just how ill Tim really is, and that Tim will die unless he receives treatment (which the family cannot afford due to Scrooge’s miserliness). When he’s next visited by The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, all he can see is Tim’s little wooden crutch because Tim has died.  This and several other harrowing visions, lead Scrooge to reform which begins from the moment he wakes up on Christmas morning and shocks his cleaning lady Mrs. Dilber (Sharon Lockwood channeling Bewitched’s dingy Aunt Clara ) by thanking her, paying her generously and giving her the holidays off.

A reformed Scrooge (James Carpenter, center) celebrates the season with his nephew, Fred (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Patrick Lane, right), Fred’s wife, Mary (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Jenna Johnson, second from right), and the Cratchits: Bob (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program alumnus Nicholas Pelczar), Anne (Delia MacDougall), and Tiny Tim (Sadie Eve Scott). Photo: Kevin Berne.

Val Caniparoli’s choreography is fantastic—lots of lighthearted dancing and movement that show off the period costumes designed for the production by Beaver Bauer of Teatro ZinZanni.  Dickens’s lovely descriptions of the abundance of Christmas bounty are staged creatively at the start of Act 2 as “The Waltz of the Opulent Fruit,” with six charming young Bay Area actors taking on the roles of dancing French plums, Turkish figs, and Spanish onions. 

 

Details:  American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco.  

Remaining Performances–

7 p.m.: December 10, 11, 15, 16, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23

5:30 p.m.: December 12, 19

2 p.m.: December  9, 11, 21, 22, 23, 24

1 p.m.: December 12, 19

Run-time: Two hours including one 20 minute intermission.

Tickets: $15-$102, available online through the A.C.T. online box office , or by phone (415) 749-2228.  For all performances, no children under the age of 5 are permitted

December 9, 2010 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment