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Geneva Anderson digs into art

Review: Cinnabar Theater’s “I am My Own Wife”—a crafty and true survival tale featuring Steven Abbott as 36 characters, through February 22, 2015

Cinnabar's Steven Abbott stars in “I Am My Own Wife,” the astonishing one man show about a cross-dressing man, Lothar Berfelde, who took on a woman’s identity and lived in East Germany throughout its Communist era.  As Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, Berfelde created the Grunderzeit Museum of Mahlsdorf, a museum of artifacts commemorating the pre-WWI furniture, household objects and culture that he loved.  The play, by Doug Wright, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Play, 2004. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Cinnabar’s Steven Abbott stars in “I Am My Own Wife,” the astonishing one man show about a cross-dressing man, Lothar Berfelde, who took on a woman’s identity, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, and lived in East Germany throughout its Nazi and Communist eras. Charlotte von Mahlsdorf’s exquisite collection of pre-WWI furniture and objects eventually became the Grunderzeit Museum of Mahlsdorf. The play, by Doug Wright, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Play, 2004. Photo: Eric Chazankin

You do what you have to do to survive—that’s the underlying theme of Doug Wright’s stunning one man play, I Am My Own Wife, at Cinnabar Theater through February 22.  Dressed in a baggy black dress and pearls, transgender Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who was born  a man, survived both the Nazi and East German Communist regimes with her unique identity intact.  She also ran a thriving Weimar cabaret in her basement, managed to amass an important collection of late 19th century antiques and became a decorated national hero.  On the down side, she murdered her abusive father and may have betrayed her friends and colleagues by informing on them to the Stasi, the dreaded East German secret police.  Director Jennifer King and actor Steven Abbott team up for the third time to present this remarkable solo show, which burst onto Broadway in 2004 and won every major honor, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.

The reason to go—the entrancing Steven Abbott, well-known to Cinnabar audiences for A Couple of Blaguards and No Regrets: The Songs of Edith Paif.   Abott plays transgender Charlotte von Mahlsdorf and 35 other distinct characters who were in her life with seamless fluidity, transitioning from one to the other with just the slightest inflection of voice or movements of his sparkling eyes.  It’s a study in perfect alchemy.

Transgender refers to a person who identifies with the male/female role opposite their birth gender.  Charlotte von Mahldorf was born Lothar Berfelde in Germany in 1928.  Both the Nazi and Communist regimes would have labeled her a sexual deviant and sought to kill her, had they known.  The performance begins as Charlotte looks at the audience, smiles and shows us a delightful antique cylinder phonograph,  She then proceeds to lead us on a tour of her home, a private museum in Mahlsdorf, a suburb of East Berlin.  Soon we are aware that the sparsely appointed Cinnabar stage, with its elegant European double doors, blue patterned wall paper, two tables, two antique chairs, phonograph and vast black fabric wings on each side, represents a vast floor-to-ceiling collection of von Mahldorf’s fine late 19th century antiques—sideboards, gramophones, clocks, etc.  And in this collection of artifacts, which is now the celebrated Gründerzeit Museum, is her precious life story.  We also learn that, before her home became a museum, it was a safe haven for people the State denied the right to exist because of their sexual orientation.

It was just after the fall of the Berlin Wall that American playwright Doug Wright learned about Charlotte from his journalist friend, Texan John Marks, the Berlin bureau chief for U.S. News & World Report.  Marks had discovered her in 1992 when she was giving guided tours of her extensive collection of antiques.  Wright traveled to the former East Germany to interview Charlotte on several occasions.  Around that time too, noted German filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim made a documentary about von Mahlsdorf, I Am My Own Woman (1992) (Ich bin meine eigene Frau) and her autobiography I Am My Own Woman: The Outlaw Life of Charlotte von Mahldorf  came out in 1995.  Wright was so overwhelmed with the breadth of Charlotte’s story that it took him several years to develop the material into the play and he actually inserted himself into it.

It was his discovery of Charlotte’s extensive Stasi file which claimed that she, like many other East German citizens, had not only been a subject of surveillance but also been an informant for that oppressive regime that left him conflicted.  How could the subject of his respect and admiration have carried out such a betrayal?

In a tour de force performance at Cinnabar Theater, Steven Abbott plays all 36 parts in the Tony Award-winning solo show “I Am My Own Wife.” Photo: Eric Chazankin

In a tour de force performance at Cinnabar Theater, Steven Abbott plays all 36 parts in the Tony Award-winning solo show “I Am My Own Wife.” Photo: Eric Chazankin

According to director Jennifer King,  “the tension resulting from the ethical implications about von Mahlsdorf’s alleged complicity with this monstrous regime is just one of many factors that make this an extraordinary subject for theatre.”

Tackling dozens of characters is a herculean task that Abbott handles in masterful stints of split second shifts.  Some of those fascinating roles are frustratingly underdeveloped.  As a journalist, I was hungry for more of Wright’s story and for more detail about Charlotte’s father who drove her to commit murder.  What does come through in this 100 minute performance is the sheer complexity of von Mahlsdorf’s personality and the scars exacted by life under fascism.  Abbott’s close to the chest depiction of Charlotte, who speaks matter of factly in an emotionally detached manner, is most engrossing.  He plays her as an artifact that is tightly, brilliantly curated never admitting or denying Stasi complicity.  Of course, we all know that, when presented correctly, moral quandaries can be the most intensely dramatic dilemmas of all and Cinnabar’s  I am My Own Wife is indeed a gem of many facets.

Creative Team:   written by Doug Wright; directed by Jennifer King; staring Mike Abbott; staging by Ross Tiffany-Brown; Lighting by Wayne Hovey; sound by Joe Winkler; costume consultant Lisa Eldredge; set construction by Mike Acorn, Joe Elwick, Aloysha Klebe & Ross Tiffany-Brown

Details: There are 6 remaining performances of “I Am My Own Wife” but several of these are sold out.  Limited tickets are still available for Friday, Feb 20 (8 PM); Sat, Feb 21(8 PM) and Sunday, Feb 22 (2 PM).  *Please note: Cinnabar advises that this show is best appreciated by ages 15 and up due to adult content.  Youth ages 12-18 who are interested in seeing the show are encouraged to attend Friday Night Live on 2/6, when a speaker from Positive Images, Santa Rosa, will help provide context on the story. Tickets for this event are only $9.

Cinnabar Theater is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA, 94952.  Buy tickets online here.  For more information, visit cinnabartheater.org.

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February 12, 2015 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Cinnabar Theater rings in 2015 with the world premiere of “Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies”—through January 18, 2015

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, (L to R) Melissa Weaver, Valentina Osinski, and Michael Van Why star in the world premiere of “Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies.”  The reckless, romantic, jaded and traditional sides of Piaf’s personality are sung by four different performers. Constantly beside Piaf is her half-sister and life-ling partner, Simone Bertraut (Missy Weaver).  The audience experiences Piaf’s songs in new English translations and in their original French as spellbinding solos, duets and harmonies. Nostalgic, gorgeously lit, black and white photo projections of Piaf and Paris serve as a backdrop to the action on stage. Photo by Eric Chazankin

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, (L to R) Melissa Weaver, Valentina Osinski, and Michael Van Why star in the world premiere of “Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies.” The reckless, romantic, jaded and traditional sides of Piaf’s personality are sung by four different performers. Constantly beside Piaf is her half-sister and life-ling partner, Simone Bertraut (Missy Weaver). The audience experiences Piaf’s songs in new English translations and in their original French as spellbinding solos, duets and harmonies. Nostalgic, gorgeously lit, black and white photo projections of Piaf and Paris serve as a backdrop to the action on stage. Photo by Eric Chazankin

The music, singing and scenes from Cinnabar Theater’s brassy new commission, “Édith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies,” are so ingenious that it’s easy to imagine them invigorating Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris (2011) or Olivier Dahan’s “La Vie en Rose” (2007) or even the outrageously countercultural “Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975).  Conceived and written by Valentina Osinski and Michael Van Why, this new musical had its world premiere on Saturday and is a gem will linger in your memory long after the last chanteuse sings.

“Beneath Paris Skies” brings together five wonderful performers and a talented five-piece band to take you on an enthralling trip to mid-century France through the eyes of Édith Piaf and her half-sister and life-long partner, Simone “Mômone” Berteaut.  No joy ride, this is a fractured fairy tale that delves into the tempestuous “Little Sparrow’s” epically messy life.  It  presents her famed song repertoire with new lyric  translations in English by Lauren Lundgren and in the original French.  Fractured is a key theme of the production as the reckless, romantic, jaded and traditional sides of Piaf’s complex personality are sung by four different performers.   Mezzo soprano Valentina Osinski, soprano Julia Hathaway, tenor Michael Van Why, and tenor Kevin Singer appear throughout the performance, each mining their juicy bits of Piaf for all they’re worth.  Aside from playing parts of Piaf, the performers take on other roles too, such as those of Piaf’s many lovers.  Suffice it to say, there’s a bed on stage and it’s frequently got more than two people in it.  It’s complicated and quickly-paced but a lifetime has cleverly been packed into two hours… and it works.   We’re given resonating personality slices and a chance to experience Piaf’s songs in dramatically different voices as spellbinding solos, duets and harmonies.

The chemistry between the singers is the glue that binds it all together.  As the small ensemble shifts through various roles and costume changes–Pat Fitzgerald has dressed the singers in Piaf’s signature black–sparks fly and we can feel their pain, their joy and the palpable crush of the green monster, jealousy.  It is pure pleasure to behold soprano Valentina Osinski in action.  She sings with a smoldering intensity and her Piaf is tantalizing, pitiful, despicable and enviable.  Osinski was honored last year with a San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award.  It’s a real treat to see her in Cinnabar’s intimate space, where you can almost feel the rustle of her movements.  As Simone Berteaut, lovely Melissa Weaver delivers an equally beguiling performance.  We see a master of facial expression at work as she anguishes over loosing years basking in the shadow of her famous but dysfunctional half-sister.

 

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, soprano Julia Hathaway (foreground) is one of five performers starring in the world premiere of “Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies.”  In the second part of the musical, Hathaway sings Piaf’s signature song, “La Vie en Rose,” whose lyrics, newly translated for Cinnabar by Lauren Lundgren, tell of love blissfully reclaimed. Hathaway  appeared in  “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” (2014) and sang Frasquita in “Carmen” (2014) and Musetta in “La Bohème” (2009)).  In the background is Melisa Weaver who plays Simone Bertaut, Piaf’s half-sister, and is also the stage director for the musical.  Weaver is the artistic director of First Look Sonoma and has had a hand in the production of several original operas.  Photo by Eric Chazankin

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, soprano Julia Hathaway (foreground) is one of five performers starring in the world premiere of “Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies.” In the second part of the musical, Hathaway sings Piaf’s signature song, “La Vie en Rose,” whose lyrics, newly translated for Cinnabar by Lauren Lundgren, tell of love blissfully reclaimed. Hathaway appeared in “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” (2014) and sang Frasquita in “Carmen” (2014) and Musetta in “La Bohème” (2009). In the background is Melisa Weaver who plays Simone Bertaut, Piaf’s half-sister, and is also the stage director for the musical. Weaver is the artistic director of First Look Sonoma and has had a hand in the production of several original operas. Photo by Eric Chazankin

These are the same artists and creative team who crafted and appeared in Cinnabar’s sensational tribute Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” that rang in 2014.  As far as winning creative partnerships go, Cinnabar has a great thing going by drawing on local talents who are also multitalented—conception and stage adaptation was done by Valentina Osinski (also sings Edith Piaf), Michael Van Why (also sings Piaf and various lovers) and Lauren Lundgren (also did lyric translations), with stage direction by Melissa Weaver (also plays Piaf’s half-sister) and music direction by Al Haas (also plays guitar) and Robert Lunceford (also plays accordion).  Other musicians include Daniel Gianola-Norris (horn),  Jan Martinelli (bass), and John Shebalin (drums).

Adding to the splendor are nostalgic black and white photo projections of Piaf and period Paris, designed by Wayne Hovey, that serve as a backdrop to the action on stage.  And the intimate 99 seat theater itself has been transformed into a cozy French cabaret with small tables set-up between most of the seats so that you can get to know each other and properly enjoy your drinks along with the show.

Lauren Lundgren on translating Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” into singable English for Cinnabar: 

Throughout her life, Édith professed absolute faith in love.  She thought of it as a remedy for pretty much everything, even though, or maybe because, it’s so easy to lose, so often painful, and so damnably hard to find.  When “La Vie en Rose” came out, she was thirty and had had countless one-night stands, a fair amount of affairs, but had not yet met the love of her life.  Was she wistful, ardent, anxious, ecstatic, naïve, or cynically commercial?  With the help of outside research, I decided that she was all about fairy tale love, pure romance, without any dishes to wash or beds to make, with a definite patina of lust.  Her songs are drenched in longing, and they are also dipped in a bit shit, pardon my French.  That is what guided the translation.

“It became a quandary…how much to sanitize her vs. how much to reveal her.  …There are times when it’s a sin to deviate one iota from the meaning of a phrase and other times when its a sin not to.  And now I find myself having to inoculate you against the French that demanded a translation you’ have to pardon.  Who knows.  You may welcome a smattering of course language. … After an enormous struggle with the problem, I concluded that one can’t second guess an audience and I might as well come as close to the original as possible. (Extracted from Lundgren’s remarks entitled “Pardon My French” at Cinnabar’s Cinelounge on Saturday, January 4, 2015)

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, tenor Kevin Singer is one of five performers starring in the world premiere of “Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies.” Singer co-stars with three others as the legendary Edith Paif.  He also appeared in “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” (2014) and in “Of Mice and Men” (2014).  Photo by Eric Chazankin

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, tenor Kevin Singer is one of five performers starring in the world premiere of “Édith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies.” Singer co-stars with three others as the legendary Édith Paif. He also appeared in “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” (2014) and in “Of Mice and Men” (2014). Photo by Eric Chazankin

Details: There are 7 remaining performances of “Édith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies” but several of these are sold out.  Limited tickets are still available for Friday, Jan 16 (8 PM); Sat, Jan 17 (2 PM and 8 PM) and Sunday, Jan 18 (2 PM).  Cinnabar Theater is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA, 94952.  Buy tickets online here.  For more information, visit cinnabartheater.org.

January 6, 2015 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review—Cinnabar Theater’s fabulous“Figaro”—Mozart’s playful and tangled web of matrimony

Mozart’s music soars at Cinnabar Theater as (l to r) Kelly Britt, Cary Ann Rosko, and Bharati Soman star in a hilarious production of "The Marriage of Figaro," through June 15, 2014.  Photo: Eric Chazankin

Mozart’s music soars at Cinnabar Theater as (l to r) Kelly Britt, Cary Ann Rosko, and Bharati Soman star in a hilarious production of “The Marriage of Figaro,” through June 15, 2014. Photo: Eric Chazankin

A big Figaro, up close and personal in Cinnabar’s intimate schoolhouse theater is a treat you can’t pass up.  After last season’s sold-out run of Carmen, Artistic Director Elly Lichenstein and Music Director Mary Chun reunite to close Cinnabar Theater’s 41st season with Mozart’s glorious marriage of music and theater.  The opera opened last Saturday to a sold-out house and closes June 15 but it has been so successful that an additional performance has been added on Wednesday, June 11.

For those who haven’t experienced Mozart’s magical farce, The Marriage of Figaro which premiered in Vienna in 1786, Cinnabar’s is a wonderful introduction.  It has all the special touches that we associate with Cinnabar’s bankable perfectionism and it’s in English.  Jeremy Sams’ smooth translation of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto eliminates the fuss of subtitles and lays out all complex plot twists, of which there are many. For those who know Figaro, here’s a chance to sit back and enjoy the scheming, with a new twist—it’s set in the 1920’s rather than the usual 18th century.

The performance takes place on a small ground-level stage with gorgeous sets by Wayne Hovey that take their inspiration from a well-appointed Downton Abbey-like estate. Wherever you’re seated at Cinnabar, you’re just a few feet from the action, so you can take in the expressions on the singer’s faces and the fine details in the costumes and props, making it intense and immersive, just as opera should be. You’re in for a visual treat with the 1920’s inspired costumes created by Lisa Eldrege, who outfitted the entire cast of 22 in hues of black and white, gray, and gold.  The gents sport country tweeds and linens and the ladies, lavish evening attire and gowns appointed with delicate lace.  The chorus members wear individualized servant’s uniforms.

Figaro is one of my favorite operas because of the wonderful match between Mozart’s lively music and the onstage drama.  Mary Chuni and her small but ample orchestra of ten outdid themselves AGAIN.  Snuggled between two walls and sitting in a snaking line, they opened with a gorgeous overture and proceeded to play beautifully for all four acts, in perfect sync with the action.

Soprano Kelly Britt, as the young maid Susanna, glows with bright energy and has natural chemistry with her fiancé, Figaro (Eugene Walden), and with Countess Rosina (Bharati Soman) and a palpable revulsion for the skirt-chasing Count.  Susanna does the most singing of all the characters and Britt’s powerful voice carried her through the opening night performance, growing lovelier and more nuanced as she relaxed into her role.  Her Act III duet with the Countess, about a letter intended to the dupe Count, was a wonderful blending of two naturally lyrical voices.  Her Act IV garden aria, “Come Here” (“Deh vieni”), where she sings of love and confuses Figaro, was touching.

Soprano Bharati Soman has her debut at Cinnabar as the pained Countess Almaviva.  Shes loves her husband, the Count, but knows that he wants to cheat on her with Susanna, her maid, who is engaged to Figaro, the Count’s servant.  Photo: Eric Chazankin

Soprano Bharati Soman has her debut at Cinnabar as the pained Countess Almaviva. Shes loves her husband, the Count, but knows that he wants to cheat on her with Susanna, her maid, who is engaged to Figaro, the Count’s servant. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Soprano Bharati Soman has her debut at Cinnabar as the Countess Almaviva and what a lovely voice and countenance she has.  She’s in love her husband, the Count, but knows that he wants to cheat on her with gorgeous Susanna, her maid, who is engaged to Figaro, the Count’s servant.  At times regal and at times terribly vulnerable and regretful, Soman sang the Countess’s two great arias with poise and great tenderness— Act II ”Oh Love give me some comfort!” (“Porgi, amor”) and Act III “Where are the beautiful moments?” (“Dove sono I bei momenti”). 

Baritone Eugene Walden, as Figaro, has a natural comedic flare and excelled in his solo arias and in the wonderful ensembles. In the Act I duet, “Five, ten, twenty” (“Cinque, dieci, venti”), where he’s taking measurements in the bedroom, his endearing chemistry with Susanna set the tone for the rest of opera.

Charismatic baritone Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek sang the role of the scheming lord of the manor, Count Almaviva, impressively, revealing his brooding insecurity.  Almaviva fancies himself a wild womanizer but without his money and position, he’d be washed up. Smith-Kotlarek’s Act III revenge aria, “Shall I live to see” (“Vedro, mentr’io sospiro”), is an incisive commentary on class, revealing the Count’s seething anger about his vassals Susana and Figaro outwitting him and finding the happiness that has eluded him.

The cheating Count Almavira (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) tries to woo his suspicious wife Countess Almaviva (Bharati Soman). Photo: Eric Chazankin

The cheating Count Almavira (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) tries to woo his suspicious wife Countess Almaviva (Bharati Soman). Photo: Eric Chazankin

Standouts in the ensemble include the wonderfully animated mezzo soprano Krista Wigle as Marcellina (Dr. Bartolo’s housekeeper) who claims Figaro owes her money and, if he doesn’t pay, he will have to marry her.  Wigle has the “it” factor—it’s  impossible to take your eyes off her and she’s a delight in every scene she’s in.

Mezzo-soprano Cary Ann Rosko shines in a pants role as Cherubino, the Count’s flirtatious young page, whom the Count suspects is having an affair with his wife.  Rosko’s impish antics are delightful, especially when Susanna and the Countess dress him in girl’s clothes as a disguise. Rosko’s Act II aria “You ladies know what love is” was well sung and the leap out the window that followed comically executed.

Cudos to Wayne Hovey, who spent years doing Cinnabar’s lighting, and is now applying his engineering skills to set design. His set of fluidly shifting walls get top billing, right along with the music and singing—they expand, contract and pivot to create a garden and three beautifully appointed rooms replete with period paintings and portraits.

(l to r):  Kelly Britt, Cary Ann Rosko, and Bharati Soman.  Mezzo-soprano Rosko is delightful in the pants role of Cherubino, the Count's flirtatious young page.   Photo: Eric Chazankin

(l to r): Kelly Britt, Cary Ann Rosko, and Bharati Soman. Mezzo-soprano Rosko is delightful in the pants role of Cherubino, the Count’s flirtatious young page. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Details: Cinnabar Theater is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA, 94952.  The Marriage of Figaro has 7 remaining performances—June 6 (sold-out), 7, 8, 11, 13, 14, and 15.  Buy tickets online here.   ($40 General, $25 under age 22, $9 middle-school and high-school.)

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Craig Wright’s “The Pavilion”—old lovers meet at a high school reunion and unload 20 years of baggage—at Cinnabar Theater through September 22, 2013

Sami Granberg (left) and Nathan Cummings portray old lovers who encounter one another at a high-school reunion in "The Pavilion," Craig Wright’s bittersweet comedy which opens Cinnabar Theater’s 41st season.  Photo” Eric Chazankin

Sami Granberg (left) and Nathan Cummings portray old lovers who encounter one another at a high-school reunion in “The Pavilion,” Craig Wright’s bittersweet comedy which opens Cinnabar Theater’s 41st season. Photo” Eric Chazankin

Can you turn back the clock on love and start over?  That’s just one of the questions raised in Craig Wright’s delicate drama The Pavilion, which opens Cinnabar Theater’s 41st season.   Emmy nominee Wright, who also penned episodes for TV shows like “Six Feet Under” and “Lost,” is no stranger to the difficult but endlessly fascinating state of human connection and creating characters that embody the walking wounded.  The Pavilion, written in 2,000 and directed by Tara Blau, delivers many laughs amidst the universally familiar pain and frustration of love gone sour.  The play’s psychological acuity represents a slight but welcome shift in Cinnabar’s programming.

The Pavilion is enacted by three main characters and is set around a 20th high school reunion in Pine City, a small town that feels a lot like old Petaluma.  Sami Granberg and Nathan Cummings portray old lovers, Keri and Peter, who encounter one another at a high-school reunion.  Keri is now married and her life as a bank employee who escorts people to and from their safety deposit boxes is as stagnate as her marriage.  Peter is a big beefy likable guy, a therapist who’s in need of therapy himself.  He’s in a relationship but has come to the reunion hoping for another chance at love with Keri whom he abandoned twenty years ago after getting her pregnant.  Peter’s betrayal of Keri altered both of their lives for the worse and he wants redemption.

As the Narrator, Jeff Coté starts the play off philosophically by setting its context as the slow forward march of time.  He also adroitly plays a surprising number of secondary characters at the reunion who nudge Peter and Keri through their interactions.  Aided by Coté’s mastery of gestures, these humorous encounters reveal a motley collective of broken and warped souls at the Pine City reunion.

Under the feigned joviality of reconnection, everyone wants something.  Peter is most honest about his sense of dissatisfaction about where life has led him.  He is desperate to salvage lost love which he has fantasized will be his only real shot at happiness in this life but he must first get Keri to talk with him.  The clock stopped for Keri emotionally when she made the painful decision to terminate her pregnancy.  Twenty years later, she is still childless and anguished, and she claims she wants nothing to do with Peter.  A bevy of push pull signals reveal otherwise though.  The burning questions—will reconnecting heal their old wounds or inflame them?  Will talking about what transpired and the mistakes that were made free them to move on with their lives separately, or, will they find happiness ever after with each other?

Cinnabar Theater’s Tara Blau directs an exceptional dramatic journey which is well worth the price of admission (which is about half of what you’ll pay elsewhere).  Joe Elwick’s set is a wonderfully simple slice of small town nostalgia— a wooden dance hall, the Pavilion, with just a few tables and mood-setting Japanese lanterns whose backdrop is a picturesque lake.  To one side, there’s a garden and swing.  The Pavilion, ironically slated for destruction right after the reunion, holds a special place in the hearts of those former students and suggests the fragility of the past.

In Wayne Hovey’s capable hands, the beautiful lighting becomes a vehicle of great transformation, capable of evoking a myriad of moods and the magic of shooting stars.

From the beginning of the play, the Narrator (Coté ) functions as an all-seeing poetic consciousness capable of tracking the movements of the universe, from the enormous cosmos right down to the development of the little pavilion that is human consciousness and further down to this particular moment in Pine City High’s history.  Philosophically, every person becomes a lens through which the whole reflects itself and every passing moment a unique outgrowth of this unique universe.  It’s impossible to erase the past and start over but Peter imagines he is entitled to happiness and begs the Narrator to intervene and stop the inevitable.

Jeff Coté (left) and Sami Granberg star in "The Pavilion", a romantic new play  that opens Cinnabar Theater’s 41st season.  Coté is the Narrator and he comically plays a number of secondary characters—male and female— at a 20th high school reunion.  Granberg plays Keri, who has been seething since high school over being abandoned when she got pregnant. Photo:  Eric Chazankin

Jeff Coté (left) and Sami Granberg star in “The Pavilion”, a romantic new play
that opens Cinnabar Theater’s 41st season. Coté is the Narrator and he comically plays a number of secondary characters—male and female— at a 20th high school reunion. Granberg plays Keri, who has been seething since high school over being abandoned when she got pregnant. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Petaluman Nathan Cummings steps into the role of Peter with ease.  Here’s a guy who screwed up royally years ago and Cumming makes him fascinating as he ruminates dreamingly on why he’s entitled to another chance and how he’ll become a better man through love.  His shining moment comes when he takes to the pavilion and serenades Keri with “Down in the Ruined World,” a ballad which he delivers with intention.

Sami Granberg creates a resonant Keri—in a red satin dress, she’s still a youthful looking woman but she is frozen in bitterness and resigned to her fate.

The Pavilion is one of the most engaging plays I’ve seen at Cinnabar.  The story is laced with the pathos of regret and there’s no easy answer to the emotional wreckage that has emerged…the acting is genuine and it all rings true.

Details:  The Pavilion ends September 22, 2013.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM. Cinnabar Theater is located 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, at the intersection with Skillman Lane, Petaluma, CA 94952.

Tickets: $25 for adults and $15 for ages 21 and under. Significant discounts available as part of a ticket package.  Purchase tickets online at www.cinnabartheater.org, or call 707.763-8920

Monday through Friday between 10 AM and 3 PM.  Tickets may also be available at the door, but advance purchase is recommended.  Seating is general admission but the theatre is open about 30 minutes prior to each performance.

September 14, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pounce! From dimwit to witty, Heather Gordon is talented and luscious in Cinnabar Theatre’s “Born Yesterday,” through June 10, 2012

Heather Gordon, of Novato, plays ex-chorus girl, Billie Dawn, in Cinnabar Theatre’s production of Garson Kanin’s “Born Yesterday,” through June 10, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Tuesday’s election didn’t go the way you had hoped?  Is the country going to hell in a hand-basket held by special interest groups awash in money?  It’s certainly maddening but it’s not new.  As relevant and funny today as it was when it made its 1946 Broadway debut, “Born Yesterday,” now at Cinnabar Theater,  charms with its bittersweet comedy and sardonic look at politics.  After Cinnabar Theater sold out all three performances for its opening weekend week run from June 1 to June 3, 2012, it added a Thursday night show to accommodate overwhelming box office reservation requests.

Ex-show girl and mistress, Billie Dawn, played by the captivating Heather Gordon, gets a new lesson on life, love and politics when she comes to Washington with her corrupt and uncouth junk tycoon boyfriend, Harry Brock, James Pelican.  When Harry hires a liberal newspaper reporter to tutor her in current events, grammar and the necessary gentility for mixing with Washington D.C.’s political elite, he’s the one in for a big awakening.  Newly educated and wisened-up to Harry’s schemes, Billie Dawn sets out to get even with her law-breaking schmuck and then move on.  This endearing story of how one woman changed her life and threw a wrench in a big influence peddler’s machinery, gives hope in a world where it’s a getting to be a real ugly jungle.

Heather Gordon commands, seduces and bewitches with her vulnerability, bringing mesmerizing freshness to Billie Dawn.

Cast: Heather Gordon as Billie Dawn, Gary Grossman as Harry Brock, Paul Huberty as Paul Verrall, Charley Queary as Ed Devery, Samson Hood as Senator Norval Hedges, Nuria Ibars as Mrs. Hedges, Madeleine Ash as Helen, James Pelican as Eddie Brock, Dezi Gallegos as Bootblack, Assistant Manager, Pascale Serp as Bellhop, Barber

Production team: Sheri Lee Miller, Director; Ross Tiffany Jones, Stage Manager; Peter Parish, Scenic Manager; Lisa Eldredge, Wayne Hovey, Costume Designer; Jim Peterson, Lighting Designer; Sound Designer, Jim Peterson; Sharlyn Klein, Production Manager; Production Assistants, Mike Acorne, Aloysha Klebe, Mike Orton.  

Details:  Cinnabar Theatre is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA, 94952.  Tickets online: $25 General, $22 Seniors 65 & Over, $15 Age 22 & Under.  Tickets can also be purchased before the performance but pre-purchase of tickets is highly recommended as the theatre is small.  Early arrival is also recommended as there is no assigned seating.  For more information, call 707-763-8920 or visit http://www.cinnabartheater.org

There are 4 remaining performances:  Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 8 p.m., Friday, June 8, 2012, at 8 p.m., Saturday, June 9, 2012, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 10, 2012, at 2 p.m.

June 6, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Opera review: Cinnabar Theatre’s “Don Giovanni,” a new production that is sure to ignite your passions, through April 15, 2012

Baritone Anders Froehlich is the captivating Don Giovanni in Mozart’s enduring classic of the same name which opened at Cinnabar Theatre on March 23, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

When Cinnabar Theatre cast baritone Anders Froehlich for the title role in their new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the classic retelling of the Don Juan legend, they were half way home.  Not only can Froelich sing, but he has the physique of a lean and muscled Romeo.  And, he so convincingly plays the part of Mozart’s suave, seductive, and morally reprehensible aristocrat, that it’s pure pleasure to sit back and experience being seduced by him.  Add to that baritone Eugene Walden’s remarkable performance as Leporello, Giovanni’s faithful but grumbling sidekick, and this production soars.  Truth be told, the entire cast is superb, the music is glorious and the production is so creative that it represents the opera’s tremendous dramatic possibilities as well a small theatre company at it best.

Soprano Kelly Britt, a 2011 graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, makes her Cinnabar Theatre debut as Donna Anna in Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni,” which runs through April 15, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

One of the most amazing aspects of this 225 year-old opera is that it is so filled with fabulous ambiguities, that almost every production emphasizes something different.  Cinnabar’s production, staged by Elly Lichtenstein, gives us a Don Giovanni whose beguiling and complex personality is matched by the equally complex women he encounters.  After the opening night performance, I found myself ruminating on these women—what they represented in their time and what they bring to the table in the here and now.  There’s the unhinged young Donna Anna (soprano Kelly Britt), who has, in the very least, been ravished by Don Giovanni and is mourning the death of her father, who was murdered trying to defend her honor.  Normally, she’s depicted as icy cold and hell-bent on retaliation. Here, we also see her warmth and humanity.  There’s matronly Donna Elvira (mezzo soprano Eileen Morris) who has been jilted by Giovanni and she too seeks revenge and but, beneath the hurt, she still loves him and can’t free herself of her co-dependent obsession.  When she tries to protect young Zerlina from Giovanni’s reckless ways, we see a preservation instinct that we wish she’d exercise on herself.  There’s the young peasant girl Zerlina (soprano Emma McNairy), who loves Masetto but is also taken in by the suave Giovanni’s proclamations and the high life he represents.  She wants both men and, for a moment, deludes herself into thinking that this can work.  And then there is the chorus of women, voluptuous nymphs in all shapes and sizes, writhing in full sensual abandon with each other and with Don Giovanni.  The opera’s rich comic and tragic elements are driven by all these interactions and Lichtenstein has really made Giovanni’s journey—to eternal damnation—one riveting ride.

Don Giovanni (baritone Anders Froehlich, right) attempts to seduce the young peasant girl Zerlina (Soprano Emma McNairy, left) at her own wedding party. Photo: Eric Chazankin

23 year-old soprano Emma McNairy was delightful as Zerlina.   Winner of the San Francisco Conservatory’s 2011 Voice Concerto Competition, McNairy’s expressive voice shows incredible range and she has a commanding stage presence. And did she snap into character!  She played Zerlina as sweet and crafty, bringing a refreshing and realistic complexity to the role.  Her pairing with William O’Neill as Masetto, her hunky intended, produced some of the opera’s most fiery moments, another example of the sizzling chemistry that makes this production pop.

Soprano Kelly Britt as Donna Anna was striking—her distinctive voice was smooth, powerful, and evocative.  From the moment she appeared, she displayed a whirlwind of emotional extremes that made the impact of Donna Anna’s rape, or ravishing, by Don Giovanni and the sudden death of her father seem very real.   The twenty-three year-old has that extra something coursing through her that produces a riveting sound, not yet honed to perfection but on its way, and that’s very exciting to experience.

First to appear and last to utter a solo, baritone Eugene Walden was a thoroughly engaging Leporello.   One of the opera’s most humorous moments occurred during his lighthearted “Catalog Aria,” (Madamina, il catalogo è questo) (Act I, Scene v).  As the beleaguered Leporello sings the amazing tally of his boss’s conquests to Donna Elvira, he pulls out a seemingly endless accordion book, chock full of women’s faces and descriptive notes, and flings it towards Donna Elvira.  This gesture so captivates and infuriates her that she engages in a tug of war with him over the book.  This is just one of Elly Lichtenstein’s clever and amusing touches whose effect is priceless.  Another of these magical moments occurs with the famous balcony serenade at the beginning of Act II.  Just behind the singer and through a widow, we see a very seductive striptease occurring between two voluptuous women in silhouette—the scene is gorgeously back lit and has all the resonant flair of a fan dance.  As the women almost get it on, you can feel the heat rising in the audience.  The sensuality is carried through to the famous banquet scene, done wine country style, with Giovanni dining on plump grapes and scantily-clad women.  In the opera’s final chilling scene, the powerfully built John Minágro, who makes a very commanding Commendatore, now turned singing statue, comes to swoop Don Giovanni to his just desserts—hell.  Froelich’s Don Giovanni’s is so intoxicating that, even on his way to hell, he still gets to us.

Cinnabar Theatre’s “Don Giovanni,” has inventive props. Here baritone Eugene Walden, Leporello, sings his famous “catalog aria” to Eileen Morris, Donna Elvira, and flings a seemingly endless accordion-style book that documents his boss’s many romantic conquests. Photo: Eric Chazankin

One of the pleasures of the hearing Mozart’s dramatic music played in the intimate 99 seat setting that Cinnabar offers is that every musician stands out.   Conductor Mary Chun and the orchestra of 10 did a valiant job, offering an elegant and cohesive blending with the voices on stages, but at times the sound seemed understated.  I had never heard the opera sung in English before, which is the only opera experience that Cinnabar Theatre provides, keeping with founder Martin Klebe’s wish to make opera accessible to all audiences.  The main advantage is an immediate understanding of the story, which means it’s very easy to take it all in and you’re not scrambling with translation.  If you know the opera in Italian, its beloved arias such as There, we will entwine  our hands (Là ci darem la mano), (Act I, between Zerlina and Giovanni) are made all the more enjoyable by singing them in Italian in your mind and checking your Italian against the English as you go.

Music by W.A. Mozart, Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, Sung in English (da Ponte’s full translation/libretto translation of Don Giovanni is available free online here.)

Mary Chun artistic director/conductor; Elly Lichtenstein, Stage Director

 

The Cast, in order of appearance: 

Leporello— servant to Don Giovanni, Eugene Walden

Don Giovanni—Anders Froehlich

Donna Anna—Kelly Britt

The Commendatore, Anna’s father—John Minágro

Don Ottavio, Anna’s fiancé—Mark Kratz

Cinnabar Theatre’s production of “Don Giovanni,” is staged and lit ingeniously. Here baritone Anders Froehlich, as Don Giovanni, sings against a dramatically back-lit window where silhouettes of sensuous delights unfold before the audience. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Donna Elvira—Eileen Morris

Zerlina— Emma McNairy

Masetto, Zerlina’s fiancé— William O’Neill

Sandrina, Leporello’s love—Arden Kwan

Paul Gilger, set design; Wayne Hovey lighting design, Tracy Hinman Sigrist, costume design, Barton Smith, choreography

 

Underwritten by Frank and Mary Lou Schomer and The A to Z Concert series.

Details:  Cinnabar Theatre is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA, 94952.  Tickets online: $35 General, $32 Seniors 65 & Over, $25 Age 22 & Under.  Tickets also be purchased before the performance but pre-purchase of tickets is  highly recommended as the theatre is small.  Early arrival is also recommended as there is no assigned seating.   For more information, call 707-763-8920 or visit http://www.cinnabartheater.org

Run time is 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.

There are 5 remaining performances:  Wednesday April 4, 2012, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 7, 2012, at 8 p.m. Friday, April 13, 2012, at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 14, 2012, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 15, 2012, at 2 p.m.

April 3, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment