Monday, December 21, 2015

"The Eddys: Our Top Theatre Productions, 2015, San Francisco Bay Area"


Theatre Eddys Presents
“The Eddys”
Our San Francisco Bay Area Top Theatre Productions, 2015”

Ed & Eddie (aka as "The Eddys") Announce Their 2015 Bests
Even for us, attending 144 live theatre and opera productions in 2015 has been a record, 131 for which a full review was posted on Theatre Eddys.  Of those 144, we rated 53 as “5 E” (our top rating), representing 21 different theatre companies.  This year, the most “5 E” ratings went to American Conservatory Theatre and TheatreWorks (5 each), followed closely by San Francisco Playhouse and Berkeley Repertory Company (4 each).

Choosing “Top Lists of the Year” is made complicated by so many outstanding productions in a region blessed with so many phenomenal companies of all sizes (over 300 stages in the SF Bay Area).  Here is Theatre Eddys take on the best of the best for 2015:

Theatre Eddys Top 10 Plays in 2015, San Francisco Bay Area

1. Lake Effect, Rajiv Joseph.  TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
A winter storm rages outside; but inside a shuttered Indian restaurant, things have only started to heat up as the two grown-up children of the diner's owner gather to ponder the legacy of their recently deceased father.  The appearance of Dad's mysterious bookie (and possible best friend) only complicates their memories and confounds their assumptions about a man they thought they knew.

2.  Head of Passes, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
In anticipation of her birthday, Shelah’s family and friends gather at her home in the Head of Passes—the mysterious shifting marshlands at the mouth of the Mississippi River.  As the guests appear, so do ghosts from the past; and Shelah’s convictions about her life begin to dissolve, along with her home in the Louisiana rain.  Inspired by the book of Job.

3.  Eurydice, Sarah Ruhl, Shotgun Players
A retelling of the myth of Orpheus from the perspective of Eurydice, his wife.  In this adaption, Eurydice must choose between returning to earth with Orpheus or to stay in Hades with her father.

4.  Stage Kiss, Sarah Ruhl, San Francisco Playhouse
An ode to what happens when lovers share a stage kiss — or when actors share a real one.  When two actors with a history are thrown together as romantic leads in a forgotten 1930s melodrama, they quickly lose touch with reality as the story onstage follows them offstage.

5.  Gruesome Playground Injuries, Rajiv Joseph, Made Up Theatre
An accident-prone dare devil and a corrosive masochist navigate friendship and love.  Doug and Kayleen meet in a school nurse's office, beginning a lifelong intimacy that is revealed through the physical and emotional injuries they sustain over 30 years.

6.  Tree, Julie Hebert, San Francisco Playhouse
A southern white woman shows up at the home of an African-American man in Chicago and claims to be his half-sister, impelling them to confront a shared past. In their search for the truth, they must navigate the fragmented memories of the man’s aged mother to discover where their roots intersect.

7.  Between Riverside and Crazy, Stephen Adly Guirgis, American Conservatory Theatre
A retired police officer faced with eviction is living with his recently paroled son, Junior.  They struggle to hold on to their rent-stabilized apartment on Riverside Drive while colliding with old wounds, sketchy new houseguests, a church lady, and city hall cops demanding an end to a disability lawsuit.

8.  The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie, Shotgun Players
In the midst of a terrible snowstorm, Mollie and Giles Ralston open Monkswell Manor, a remote guesthouse.  While they struggle to manage their first day of business, a policeman arrives to investigate a grisly murder.  Comedy and chaos ensue, and then – murder!  Who did it?

9.  How the World Began, Catherine Trieschmann, Custom Made Theatre Co.
A Manhattan woman travels to a rural town in Kansas recently devastated by a tornado to take a teaching job in a makeshift high school.  But when she makes an off-handed remark regarding the origins of life, she unleashes community outrage and the particular distress of a disturbed young boy.

10.  The Convert, Danai Gurira, Marin Theatre Company
Southern Africa. 1896.  Against her family’s wishes, a young Shona girl escapes a forced marriage arrangement by converting to Christianity and becoming servant and student to an African evangelist.  However, as anti-European sentiments rise among her people, she must face an impossible choice between colonial and ancestral ways of life.

Five Honorable Mention Plays in 2015 (in no particular order)

--> Our Town, Thornton Wilder, Shotgun Players
--> Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller, San Jose Stage Company
--> Handle with Care, Jason Odell Williams, (Hebrew by Charlotte Cohn), City Lights Theater Company
-->Hay Fever, Noël Coward, Stanford Repertory Theater
-->Fifth of July, Lanford Wilson, Aurora Theatre

Theatre Eddys Top 10 Musicals in 2015, San Francisco Bay Area

1.  Triangle, Curtis Moore, Thomas Mizer, & Joshua Scher, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
A gay, high-tech scientist learns that his New York lab was once the site of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and discovers his mysterious connection to several of its Jewish immigrant victims.  In this musical, parallel affairs unfold a century apart, interweaving two star-crossed couples willing to risk everything they have -- and believe -- for love.

2.  Fire on the Mountain, Randal Myler, Dan Wheetman, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
With relatively few spoken words but instead with three dozen songs and several score of projected, vintage photographs, Fire on the Mountain tells a moving, powerful story of the Appalachian coal miner.  The might of the media used in this timeline history that covers much of the twentieth century is felt in every minute of the ninety as large black-and-white, Dorthea-Lange-like images illustrate the lyrics being belted across the stage.

3.  Heathers, the Musical, Laurence O’Keefe, Kevin Murphy, Ray of Light Theatre
Based on 1988 cult film. Veronica Sawyer, a brainy, beautiful, teenage misfit hustles her way into the most powerful and ruthless clique at Westerberg High, the Heathers.  But before she can get comfortable, Veronica falls in love with the dangerously sexy new kid J.D.  When Heather Chandler kicks her out of the group, Veronica decides to bite the bullet and apologize, but J.D. has another plan for that bullet.

4.  Dogfight, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, Peter Duchan, San Francisco Playhouse
Vietnam’s darker cousin to WWII’s joyous On the Town. Three young Marines troll the alleys and cafes of 1963 San Francisco to find the ugliest girl possible as a date in their last night before heading to Vietnam jungles for what they feebly hope will be a few months of testosterone adventures.  Each seeks to win a pot of cash contributed by fellow buddies who are rip-roaringly following a proud (and pathetic by our standards today) tradition of Marines on their last night before shipping off to war.

5.  Chicago, Fred Ebb, John Kander, Bob Fosse, Palo Alto Players
Musical set in Prohibition-era Chicago and based on a 1926 play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins about actual criminals and crimes she reported on. The story is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the "celebrity criminal."

6.  Company, Stephen Sondheim, George Furth, San Francisco Playhouse
It’s today in Manhattan, and Robert is unable to make a commitment of his own as he makes the circuit of his married friends, alternately observing and participating in the ups and downs of their relationships.

7.  Lizzie, Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt, Tim Maner, Ray of Light Theatre
In 1892, Lizzie Borden was the primary suspect for her father and stepmother’s brutal murder.  Though eventually acquitted, Lizzie became a tabloid sensation and the most controversial figure of her time.  Did she do it?  Four women and a driving rock score meld this infamous 19th century story with a modern-day twist.

8.  Choir Boy, Tarrell Alvin McCraney, Marin Theatre Company
An all-black prep school for boys is the setting for a play with music that provides sometimes direct, sometimes allusive commentary in a coming-of-age work that explores the tug between tradition and self-expression in young, African American men.  The effeminate Pharus wants nothing more than to take his rightful place as leader of the school's legendary gospel choir.  Can he find his way inside the hallowed halls of this institution if he sings in his own key?

9.  Mighty Real, A Fabulous Sylvester Musical, Anthony Wayne, AnthonyKen LLC at Brava Theater Center
Musical concert that celebrates the life of the 1970's SF Disco Queen Sylvester. With songs like "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)", "Can't Stop Dancing" and "You Are My Friend,” the show tells the life story of Sylvester through his music and his point of view.

10.  Jane Austen’s Emma, Paul Gordon, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Musical adapted from the novel by Jane Austen. The town's young and beautiful matchmaker is meddlesome in other's affairs and clueless about her own feelings.

Three Honorable Mention Plays in 2015 (in no particular order)

-->Candide, Leonard Bernstein, John Caird, Hugh Wheeler, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lamplighters Music Theatre
-->Ghost Quartet, Dave Malloy, Curran Theater
-->The Rocky Horror Show, Richard O'Brien, Ray of Light Theatre

Theatre Eddys Top 5 Solo Shows in 2015, San Francisco Bay Area

1.  RFK, Jack Holmes, San Jose Stage Company
Bobby Kennedy's words, struggles, and ideals come to life in this one-man tour de force of the late politician and committed advocate for civil rights, the poor, and racial minorities.

2.  Steve Cuiffo Is Lenny Bruce, Steve Cuiffo, Lenny Bruce, Curran Theater
One man show that reprises Bruce's Curran performance from 54 years ago.  His routines and style influenced George Carlin, Cheech & Chong, Dick Gregory, and others.  They also stretched new political, sexual, religious, and cultural boundaries into territories previously considered too taboo, vulgar, and obscene for the public's ears.

3.  Oh No There’s Men on the Land, Karen S. Ripley, The Marsh, Berkeley
Gay comedy pioneer Karen Ripley tells the stories of lesbian life in the '70s/early 80s in her solo show.

4.  Loveland, Ann Randolph, The Marsh
Franny Potts faces up to the loss of her mother while flying from LA to Ohio surrounded by strangers.

5.  The Jewelry Box, Brian Copeland, The Marsh
How will a 6-year-old Oakland boy be able to buy the "perfect" gift he's found in a White Front department store for his mother?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

"Avenue Q"


Avenue Q
Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx (Music, Lyrics & Original Concept)
Jeff Whitty (Book)

The Cast of "Avenue Q"
What does it mean when the same theatre company brings back the same musical three years in a row – one that is still selling out each night -- and is extending the run yet again?  What it means is that New Conservatory Theatre Center’s patrons are having a love affair with Avenue Q and NCTC’s year-in, year-out hilarious, high-energy, and heart-warming production.  The popularity of this 2004 multi-Tony winning musical also continues in New York (where it has been Off-Broadway since 2009) and across the land.  All it takes is a few minutes into the musical to understand why -- even when seeing it for the second, third, or whatever time.  Jeff Whitty’s book (based on an original concept of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx) opens up in clever ways the universal experiences of urban young adults just out of college who find that living on their own while juggling job hunts, rents, annoying apartment mates, and first loves is not as easy as it looked when they were kids at home with their parents (watching Sesame Street).  Coupled with catchy, easily remembered tunes that often resemble those of childhood TV but whose no-holes-barred, often X-rated lyrics are nothing like what Bert and Ernie would have ever sung (masterfully created also by Lopez and Marx), Avenue Q is a clever musical that in fact can be seen again and again in the same ways another generation repeated their attendance at Lerner and Lowe or Rogers and Hammerstein classics.

The world of this garbage-bagged avenue somewhere in the depths of New York City (where recent grads arrive wondering “What Do You Do with a BA in English?”) is one full of diversity of every imaginable sort -- where being different is an accepted way of life.  Humans of all shapes and ethnicities, puppets of every color, and hairy monsters hang out as neighbors, date among themselves, and even inter-marry; and no one seems to care or really notice.  This is a world where being gay, straight, or even former TV child-star Gary Coleman in a woman’s body is A-OK.  On the other hand, these apartment-house dwellers are the first to admit in song to each other, “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist,” including all of them.  Avenue Q presents a slice-of-life look of what it is like to fall in love with someone who may not yet be ready to settle down with you, to lose a job and wind up on the streets, to live in the closet until the door is so open that coming out is the only option, and/or to realize at one time or another, “It Sucks to Be Me.”  On the street, one will find hot sex between naked puppets, neighbors laughing at others’ (and their own) misfortunes, and almost everyone searching the Internet for porn – all a part of a normal, any day on Avenue Q.  But in this peek into everyday life, there is also genuine caring for one’s neighbors and friends, helping others find and obtain their true purposes in life, and deep understanding what community can really mean.  And on Avenue Q, this is all accomplished with equal doses of sass, silliness, and sincerity.

Casting geniuses Stephanie Desnoyers, Lori Fowler, and Ben Randle along with puppet designer Travis Howse have assembled an outstanding cast whose multi-colored human and non-human appearances and squeaky, gravely, bull-throated, and nasally voices are almost, but not quite exactly, as we remember from our Sesame Street days.  In baggy overalls and tilted baseball cap and with a sauntering walk that is just a bit cocky, Sam Jackson plays apartment manager Gary Coleman and particularly shines as she sings, “When I see how sad you are, it sorta makes me happy” (in “Schadenfreude”).  Best friends and roommates Nicky and Rod (voiced and manipulated by Chris Morrell and William Giammona) have many of the quirks and qualities of Ernie and Bert; and each talk and sing in voices that ring truth to the originals.  Chris Morrell also lets his arms become those of Trekkie Monster (close cousin to a garbage-can-dwelling hairball of Sesame Land).  His guttural, rough voice sounds off with gritty gusto in “The Internet Is for Porn” and with full heart in “School for Monsters.”  William Giammona also takes on the second puppet role of Princeton, who in a clear, sweet-voice is looking for his “Purpose” while accompanied by six lid-flapping boxes.  He is also finding the search for his life’s calling getting side-tracked by a growing attraction to a certain, cute Kate Monster, aided by her puppet master Teresa Attridge, who reigns supreme in numbers like “It’s a Fine, Fine Line.”  When she doubles as the other, momentary love attraction of Princeton -- the slutty, big-bosomed nightclub singer Lucy – Ms. Attridge’s puppeteering and singing are showstoppers in “Special.”

This fine ensemble is further enhanced by actual human beings and soon to be newly weds, Brian (Gary Walker) and Christmas Eve (Pamela Sevilla).  Brian is an aspiring stand-up comedian who prods a depressed Princeton into a night on the town with “There is Life Outside Your Apartment.”  Ms. Sevilla is delightful in her heavy Chinese accent (that sometimes crosses comically into a Southern US drawl) as she brings great humor into many spoken and sung sequences.  She also knocks out of the ballpark her duet with Kate in “The More you Ruv Someone,” moving from caricatured vocals into a cabaret voice that belts a sustained tone as clear as any bell.
Playing also multiple roles, Erin Ashe is particularly funny helping two Bad Idea Bears (in contrast to their Care Bear relations) come to life as they tempt Princeton, Kate, and others to do all the things they know they should not do.

Kuo-Hao Lo has created a street of two-storied, bricked brownstones drawn in childlike simplicity that immediately recalls the world of Cookie Monster and Big Bird, with windows that open to hiding rooms and basement grills that pull out to be beds.  Wes Crain has outfitted humans, puppets, and monsters with cartoon-bright stripes, patterns, and solids as appropriate (with voicing puppet handlers in all black).  Directed by Dennis Lickteig and accompanied by Christian V. Mejia’s lighting, James Ard’s sound, Robert Lopez’s TV animation, and Ben Prince’s musical direction of singers and three-piece orchestra, this New Conservatory production of Avenue Q has all it needs to be totally memorable and absolutely worthy of many, multi-year revivals.

Rating: 5 E

Avenue Q continues through December 31, 2015 in an extended run on the Decker Stage of The New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Avenue at Market Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available online at http://www.nctcsf.org or by calling the box office at 415-861-8972.

Photo by Lois Tema

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"The Mousetrap"


The Mousetrap
Agatha Christie

The Cast of "The Mousetrap"
For as much as any one of us decries the awful acts of gun violence we hear about on a near-daily basis, who among us does not like a juicy, suspenseful murder mystery?  And who is better to tell such a tale than the master herself, Agatha Christie, the most-published novelist in history and the playwright with the world’s longest, continuously running play.  With over 25,000 performances in London alone and thousands more on stages around the entire globe since premiering in 1952, The Mousetrap now arrives at Shotgun Players to end in magnificent fashion its 25th season, one that has featured only women playwrights. 

And what a production Shotgun has created!  Walking into the theatre, we are greeted by the cozy entry room of a countryside English inn, Monkswell Manor, with its angled corners and tall windows, figured wall paper, roaring fireplace, roller desk, and comfy looking furniture.  Outside of Mark Hueske’s high-ceiling set, we can see a blowing snowstorm and trees drooping with flakes’ weight -- all made more realistic by his excellent lighting design.  Throughout the play, Mark Stines contributes realistic sounds of storms, radio music and news of the 50s, and even the choking last gasps of a murder victim or two.  Patrick Dooley directs this whodunit with split-second-timed accuracy of slamming doors, surprise twists and turns, and cold-nosed guests who arrive bundled in assorted coats and muffs and in 1950s Saturday Evening Post dress, so deliciously costumed by Valera Coble.  Speaking in various English and European dialects as ably coached by Lizzie Calogero, a fine cast of quirky characters completes this picture-perfect setting for a mystery that grabs attention from the opening sounds of a London murder to the final moments of a surprise revelation of the culprit’s identity.

Mollie and Giles, newly weds of one year, are the novice owners of this antique inn (recently inherited from her aunt) with its cold drafts, banging steam pipes, and multi-storied nooks and crannies.  Megan Trout is the smartly attired, blonde hostess who nervously and excitedly scurries about on this, their opening day in the middle of a huge, English blizzard.  Her curly-haired, sometimes scowling husband -- who dutifully shovels snow and chops kindling while still in his tweed coat, tie, and smart-looking sweater – is played by Nick Medina.  Both Ms. Trout and Mr. Medina are always convincing and sometimes comical in their striving efforts for perfection as new innkeepers and in their naiveté of just what they have gotten themselves into.

And who could ever be quite prepared for the array of snow-dusted, shivering guests about to plop through their doorway, all idiosyncratically peculiar in just the way Agatha Christie can create such characters?  Blasting in full of questions, with chubby and dimpled cheeks, and with a devilish penchant for dramatics (all the time hinting rather loudly of his preference for good-looking men) is Christopher Wren, hilariously portrayed by Nick Medina.  He immediately chums up with Mollie (dashing to the kitchen to help with dinner); raises the suspicions of jealous husband Giles; and compares the terrible weather to “Dickens, Scrooge, and that terrible Tiny Tim.”  Following Wren are the white-haired, matronly Mrs. Boyles (crankily and pompously portrayed by Trish Mulholland) and the jovial, backslapping Major Metcalf (the pipe-smoking David Sinaiko).  The rather masculine, reserved, twenty-something Miss Casewell (Karen Offereins) arrives with a curiously small suitcase and no desire to answer any questions about her background or hometown.  Right on time in a Christie story, an unexpected guest with no luggage tumbles in (“My Rolls Royce is stuck in a snow field”).  Alex Rodriguez is Mr. Paravicini, a highly excitable, talkative Italian with an overly affected, lilting voice; annoying and cackling laugh; and a propensity for ending his words with exaggerated consonants. 

But before the anticipated murder of one of these seven occupants can occur, one more character on the evening’s playbill is to pop in.  Appearing suddenly in the front window is a young, handsome Detective Sergeant Turner (Adam Magill).  He has come to warn the occupants that the play’s opening, murdered soul we heard but did not see die in a London street may be the first of a trio of demises and that the next victim or victims might well be at this fated inn.  The connection has something to do with a nearby farm where three foster children were abused some twenty years before and with this inn’s address being on the murdered victim in London.  In the midst of the young-faced detective’s questioning of all the occupants and at a moment we, he, or the victim least expect, all lights go out; and what we in the audience have all been waiting for, occurs.

Down goes a new victim; and the Sergeant’s investigation gains new priorities as it soon becomes clear to all that somewhere in the house is the murderer and that someone else may yet be the intended, third victim.  We will soon learn from him that “You all had opportunity ... Each and every one were alone (at the time of the new murder).”  His interrogations lead him to conclude, “I almost think you are all guilty by the looks of you.”  All this builds to a surprise conclusion that has for sixty-plus years of The Mousetrap history been kept quite secret.  The script has never been published in a book, and despite tens of thousands of audience members, all departing audiences have been dutifully sworn to secrecy, having been fully entertained by a rippingly good page-turner they got to watch rather than read.

Shotgun Players has outdone itself in this picture-perfect rendition of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.  No more proof of that was needed for this reviewer than the broad smiles of the departing, buzzing-with-delight audience.

Rating: 5 E’s

The Mousetrap continues in an extended run through January 17, 2016 at Shotgun Player’s main stage, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley.  Tickets are available at https://shotgunplayers.org/.

Photo by Pak Han.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"The 39 Steps"


The 39 Steps
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
Based on the Novel by John Buchan
From the Movie by Alfred Hitchcock

Cassidy Brown & Allison F. Rich
Beginning as a 1915 novel by British author John Buchan, The 39 Steps became one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most enduring thriller films, ranked in 1999 by the British Film Institute as the fourth best, 20th century film.  In 2005, Patrick Barlow took the 1935 espionage nail-biter and turned it into a rip-roaringly funny, fast-action play that took both London and New York by storm, winning multiple awards in both locales.  Along with a 2015 New York revival, subsequent regional productions have swept through this country by the dozens with now San Jose’s The Stage bringing the four-person comedy as a holiday gift to its patrons.

Please continue to my full review on Talkin' Broadway:  http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanjose/sj19.html

Rating: 3 E’s

The 39 Steps continues through December 20, 2015 at The Stage, 490 South 1st Street, San Jose.  Tickets are available at https://sjstage.vbotickets.com/events or by calling 408-283-7142.

Photo Credit: Dave Lepori
 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

"The Jewelry Box"

Brian Copeland as a 6-Year-Old

The Jewelry Box
Brian Copeland
The Marsh

When a six-year-old boy decides he must buy his Mom a wooden jewelry box with gold latch and rich velvet interior for her Christmas, there is nothing that can deter his big-eyed dream. 

The $11.97 needed for this White Front Stores purchase is like a Fort Knox fortune to the young Brian Copeland.  His retelling those boyhood adventures in acquiring that momentous sum is a rich holiday gift for any audience member who ventures this December to The Marsh in San Francisco to hear this master storyteller recount once again his 2012 runaway hit, The Jewelry Box.

My complete review can be read on Talkin' Broadway:http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanfran/s1521.html

Rating: 5 E's

The Jewelry Box continues through December 19, 2015, at The Marsh, San Francisco (1062 Valencia Street), running Fridays at 8 pm and Saturdays at 5 & 8 pm Tickets are available at http://themarsh.org



Photo by Patti Meyer

 

Monday, December 7, 2015

"Jane Austen's Emma"


Jane Austen’s Emma
Paul Gordon (Music, Lyrics & Book)
Adapted from the novel by Jane Austen

Travis Leland & Lianne Marie Dobbs
With a bit too much pride in the prejudices she firmly holds about who should be married to whom, Emma allows her sense and sensibilities to cloud her good-hearted judgments about others’ lives and to squelch her own true feelings of love.  And in Paul Gordon’s Jane Austen’s Emma as revived by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, she does so in a gloriously stunning stage setting, through soaring and memorable music, and with many more comedic twists and turns than most Austen readers will associate with the much-loved author.

Please click to read my review of this MUST SEE production: http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanjose/sj18.html


Rating: 5 E’s

The production of Jane Austen’s Emma by TheatreWorks Silicon Velley continues through January 2, 2015 at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.  Tickets are available at http://www.theatreworks.org/box-office/buy-tickets/ .

Photo by Kevin Berne