Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"Skeleton Crew"


Skeleton Crew
Dominique Morisseau

Margo Hall, Lance Gardner & Christian Thompson
FAYE: “You ‘fraid of ghosts?”
DEZ: “Them assembly line ghosts?  Hell yeah. ...
Say them empty plants a breeding ground for ‘em.”

The winter of 2008 was more than just cold and windy for Detroit.  It was a time when the year-old Great Recession was blowing hard through the entire country but no place with more chill-biting destruction than in the nation’s once-glorious auto capital, Detroit, home to an industry shutting down plants almost weekly.  In her Skeleton Crew, Dominique Morisseau takes a slice out of a few days’ lives of four workers in one of those plants, displaying the no-holes-barred, stark effects of one factory’s imminent closing on their lives.  In the play’s regional premiere at Marin Theatre (to be followed in March as a co-production at TheatreWorks SiliconValley), Skeleton Crew lays bare the tensions, fears, and angers that millions felt across America at that time.  But her gut-wrenching script and production also highlights the humor, hope, and heart that Americans everywhere somehow were still able to find in their day-to-day lives where their once solid foundations were suddenly crumbling away, no fault of their own.

We meet in a shabby, concrete-wall worker’s lounge the four people that Ms. Morisseau selects out of the thousands of similarly threatened auto workers for her focused examination.  As created by scenic designer Ed Haynes, this is a room that speaks volumes about the state of the failing industry and of management’s view of its workers.  A portable heater warms an otherwise cold room but cannot be plugged in at the same time the microwave is on.  On a wooden bench and a few hard chairs around a small table is all the lounging these folks will get to have.  Lighting designed by Steve Mannshardt is harsh, the kind that only cheap fluorescent bulbs emit.  The sounds of factory bells that control breaks and starts-stops of day are just some of the realism that Karin Graybash has created.  And through the opaque windows, we see projected, shadowy figures and fractured, floating pieces of assembly line machines (all designed by Mike Post), already portending a closure that in the play’s beginning is just a rampant rumor running through the lines.

Margo Hall & Lance Gardner
After twenty-nine years on the line in capacities wide and varied, Faye is just waiting for that thirtieth year to receive her full pension and health benefits for life.  Her aging body shows the wear-and-tear of all those years as well as the effects of fights with cancer; but her spirit is feisty and always up for a good-natured battle of wits and words, at which times her old body revs up into a dance of spastic jerks and jumps, with arms flailing and fingers pointing.  Margo Hall gives nothing short of an award-worthy performance, a true tour de force depiction of this out-lesbian union rep (just think about that for a moment) who regularly and with some glee ignores the posted signs of  “No Smoking, FAYE.”  She spouts one-liners like a hardened comic in a late-night bar (“If if was a spliff, we’d all be high) and philosophizes with an edge and an honesty that comes with all the hard knocks she’s gone (and is now going) through: “... [E]verybody got they bag of shit; you got yours and I got mine ...  Leave me to my own stink and don’t go tryin’ to air me out. 

And when she uses her rough, throaty voice to say, “I runnin’ on soul now ... Only thing that still got fuel in it,” one gets the feeling she is at that moment Every Worker, speaking for a whole nation of folks who in 2008 were feeling much the same way.  Margo Hall dominates this small stage with Faye’s rough-edged charisma, and she is a delight to get to know and to admire.

Tristan Cunningham
With popping pregnant, twenty-something, and single Shanita, Faye is like a mother, offering her a list of possible names (gender-neutral, of course) for her baby and providing daily encouragement for Shanita to continue to be the star employee that she is.  Tristan Cunningham’s Shanita talks a mile a minute in her enthusiasm for the work she is doing (“I feel like I’m building something important ... My touch, my special care, it matter”); and she is full of hope and belief that her hard work and the admiration everyone seems to have of her work will actually count for something, even if times get tougher.  Shanita already shows signs that she knows how to be a survivor, and Ms. Cunningham embeds a determination and steel-mindedness into her while also letting her occasionally burst with a few youthful moments.

Christian Thompson
Shanita is the focus of the puppy-love-filled eyes of Dez, an otherwise somewhat bumbling, sullen, and moody guy who is full of distrust for both the ploys of union and of management.  Christian Thompson’s Dez swings from explosive moments of bent-up anger and angst that erupt in expletive-filled, street-talk diatribes to moments where he is tongue-tied tender in his caring for Shanita.  He knows he is a management target for his oft-tardiness and sometimes slouching ways; but he is also aware he is a target on the streets just because of who he is as a young, black male.  Dez is a man who is prepared to deal with whatever comes his way (“Everybody just out to protect themselves, keep they own neck from gettin’ broke”).  Mr. Thompson knows how to make sure this that defiant, determined hot-head leaves his mark on us as a guy we are going to leave pulling for him, even for all his faults and furies.

Lance Gardner
The manager of these three is Reggie, a thirty-something family man who comes in every morning to hang in the lounge his hand-made signs to say the management things he would rather not have to say out loud.  (“You see your mama here?  No, then clean up after yourself.”)  Lance Gardner also shows contrasting, often contradictory sides of his character – all totally believable for a guy who may have to lay off everyone and then himself, including the woman (Faye) who is responsible for him to have the job he does.  He too can lose his cool and explode into shouting matches, especially with Dez whose job he is trying his best to protect as long as he can but is thwarted in doing so due to Dez’s tendency to self-destruct.  His Reggie is the manager that many have had to be in tough times, a man caught in the middle between friends he wants to protect and upper management he wants to impress so that maybe he (and his family) can in the end be protected.  And by the look in Mr. Gardner’s eyes, it is clear Reggie knows he can probably do neither.

Jade King Carroll directs this magnificent cast with an ability to take everyday life in a factory where lives are potentially falling apart and show how there are moments the day is still boring; moments, somehow funny; and moments totally lonely and scary.  Taking this brilliant script of Dominique Morisseau’s, he, the cast, and the creative team have given the Marin Theatre audience (and subsequently that of TheatreWorks) a realistic, thought-provoking, and emotional glimpse of what Detroit and many other cities and towns of America endured during what we now call the Great Recession of 2007.

Rating: 5 E 

Skeleton Crew continues through February 18, 2018 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley CA.  Tickets are available online at http://www.marintheatre.org or by calling the box office Tuesday – Sunday, 12 -5 p.m.

Photos by Kevin Berne

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

"1984"


1984
Adapted by Michael Gene Sullivan from the Novel by George Orwell

The Cast of 1984
Los Alto Stage Company has chosen a timely, if uncomfortable-to-watch, 1984 for its current season, particularly in the harshly realistic and disturbing adaptation by Michael Gene Sullivan.  Their production proves the power of live theater and what can be done on a stage that cannot be duplicated in quite the same way on the written page or even the movie screen.  This is a production daring for a small, local company and one that should be seen, discussed, and then discussed again.

For my full review of this adaptation by a Bay Area actor and playwright, please refer to Talkin' Broadway: https://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/sanjose/sj112.html.

Rating: 4 E

1984 continues through February 18, 2018 at Los Altos Stage Company, at Los Altos Stage Company, 97 Hillview Avenue, Los Altos, CA.  Tickets are available online at http://losaltosstage.org or Monday – Friday, 3 – 6 p. in person at the box office or by calling 650-941-0551.

Photo Credit: Richard Mayer
 

Monday, January 29, 2018

"Still at Risk"


Still at Risk
Tim Pinckney


The Cast of Still at Risk
As the final decade of the twentieth century was just beginning, an article in the July 16, 1990 New York Times reported that in the U.S., “212 cases of
full-blown AIDS are diagnosed every day; there is one AIDS death every 12 minutes; and a new case of infection every 54 seconds.”  At a time when between one and one-and-a-half-million Americans were already infected, Larry Kramer -- the article’s author and a founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the in-your-face activist group ACT UP -- advocated a “Manhattan Project” for AIDS, “an equivalent of the scientific effort that produced the atomic bomb.”

A quarter century later, being HIV-positive is no longer the automatic death sentence it once was; and much has been done to curtail new infections.  In former AIDS hot-beds like New York and San Francisco, there is often voiced concern – especially by those who lived through and survived the devastating ‘80s and ‘90s – that millennial gays have no appreciation for what they and the thousands who died went through and that the younger set does understand the real threat of it happening again. 

Into this present atmosphere where a daily PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) pill virtually and thankfully eliminates the risk of infection but where there is an also increasing ho-hum attitude toward the lurking dangers of AIDS, Tim Pinckney has written a play appropriately titled Still at Risk.  Currently receiving its world premiere at the New Conservatory Theatre Center – home to the first program in the U.S. to tour schools educating students about AIDS -- Tim Pinckney laces through his tight script a mixture of one survivor’s lingering anger, guilt, and regrets with generous helpings from that survivor, his friends, and his foes of razor-sharp humor, ego-packed hubris, and genuinely felt heart.

Showing up at his best friend’s apartment covered in dung from a slip on a New York sidewalk, Kevin’s stinky self is appropriately symbolic of his current state in life.  Going into his seventh (or is it eighth?) year of unemployment, this former ACT-UP veteran once taught AIDS-awareness workshops while naked in bathhouses; and he still wears his number of times arrested as a proud badge of honor.  Today he is steaming mad that an upcoming benefit to honor the founders of the Manhattan AIDS Project is excluding one key person – Eric, his lover of many years who died quickly and horrifically of the disease they both fought hard to get others in the Reagan/Bush years to confront.  Scott Cox is brilliantly convincing as a wound-up ball of still-smoldering fury and frustration, one who is more than ever determined to fight yet one more battle to secure his lover’s rightful honor. To that end, he generously employs his bulldog barking and his bull-in-a-china-shop threats of disruption.  Everything about his Kevin’s current modus operandi upholds the former activist’s claim that “you cannot make change without making people mad and uncomfortable” – and for Kevin those “people” can most certainly include his friends.

He now seeks some clean clothes and a hug of support from his long-time best buddy, Marcus, a handsome, out-of-work actor still famous for his two-time Emmy role in a popular soap opera.  William Giammona has the air of a star even in his own living room, but he is also one who carries an air of vulnerability in his worried eyes that his future may not be as rosy as his past.  There is a bond visceral between the two friends, and yet there is a creeping tension popping up that is somehow connected to the fact that Marcus ‘missed’ the AIDS crisis years while Kevin was there body and soul. 

Kevin heads to meet with the organizer of the upcoming benefit, planning to use an in-your-face presentation of facts to remind the present-day organization that Eric must be honored -- even if Eric was kicked out years ago of the Project he founded after upsetting many donors and board members with his highly confronting and accusing tactics.  (Think of Larry Kramer and the Gay Men’s Health Crisis for a real-life example.) 

William Giammona & Desiree Rogers
In the waiting room, he runs into an old friend, Susan, who is gathering data to write an article about the benefit. A former lesbian activist, Susan is now married to Roger (an ACLU lawyer) and mother to a kid, all news to shocked Kevin.  The two immediately pick up an evidently long-practiced, back-and-forth script that makes them sound like a comic duo in a West Village club.  Susan is particularly talented in three-word comebacks delivered in a dry, dead-pan manner in between her calling Kevin a string of names like “Mary Beth” and “Little Nellie.”  Desiree Rogers does not miss a beat in shooting her one-liner, usually good-natured arrows as Susan, using her ever-expressive, bold eyes and her ways of using a look to say the paragraph her few, spoken works omit. 

J. Conrad Frank & William Giamonna
Both Kevin and Susan are about to meet their match in Byron, the Project’s newly hired and quite young director of fund-raising.  He is the determined head of this benefit dinner where raising record dollars appears to be his only goal (for the good of the cause and the better of his own reputation).  With a voice that slides ever so freely up and down hills and around corners, J. Conrad Frank as Byron makes his points with toothy smiles, flashing blinks of his eyes, and a half-turned up arm against his chest whose hand talks as much as his mouth.  But for all his forced charm, this Byron is the epitome of confidence and cockiness and a force both Kevin and Susan soon learn is formidable. 

J. Conrad Frank & Matt Weimer
Into the fast-building drama over Eric’s being omitted as an honoree enters Christopher, trust-fund rich and ready to write a big check for Byron’s star-studded benefit.  That Christopher (a southern-drawler aristocratically played by Matt Weimer) was also Eric’s partner his final six months may explain why he greets Kevin upon their meeting with “I thought I smelled anger and discontent.”  It also explains why Kevin is so disgustingly appalled that this rich, come-late-to-the-party do-gooder is now stealing his role in advocating for some mention of Eric – and doing so with a check versus with righteous-rich demands.

Each member of this well-picked cast has moments nothing short of stunning.  Emotions rage –expressed both in voices raised and in looks that can kill.  But those emotions also take surprising and moving turns; and both this cast and their director, Dennis M. Lickteig, show deft skills in allowing those emotions to flow naturally and convincingly.  As director, Mr. Lickteig brings the action to points just short of either too-silly comedy or too-exaggerated chaos, but he clearly also knows just the moment to settle back into a story that always feels currently realistic and relevant. 

How difficult is it to let go of all those years of fear and pain and to move on into a world where there is actually mounting hope for a cure?  How understanding can a new generation really be of a history that is in some ways just as ancient to them as the Vietnam War or the horrors of WWII?  What would it look like not to forget and to honor those who paved the way for today with their lives and/or their anger and activism?  These are just some of the questions the director and this cast milk from this rich and efficient script -- a script in its first full production and yet a script that already feels near perfection in achieving the goal of engaging and educating today’s audience about a time not so far, yet in many ways so distant from today.

The underlying message of ‘never forget’ plays out powerfully in the arresting set design of Devin Kasper.  Triangles occupy everything from the shape of furniture to dramatic room dividers, with the triangle being of course reminiscent of the pink patches gay Holocaust victims were forced by Nazis to wear and are the shape throughout the world today of never-forget memorials to those victims.  With some triangles dangling precariously in the air, there is a sense that remembering the past is in jeopardy.  However, from Mr. Kasper’s background wall of rippling waves where Maxx Kurzunski’s beautiful, multi-colored lighting seeps through, there is an implied message of hope that this generation will figure out how both to remember and to continue to fight until AIDS is no longer.  The star-studded creative team also includes Theodore JH Hulsker bringing his ever-excellent sound design and Jorge R. Hernandez who adds much of the play’s humor and fun through costumes that define and enhance both the quirky and highly individualistic natures of the five characters we meet.

Still at Risk is an important addition to the American theatre scene that hopefully will have long legs to play all across the land.  This is a play especially calling for younger audiences, including those of high school and college ages.  It educates without being preachy or pedantic; and it entertains with its humor while sucking in its audience to consider difficult questions needing to be considered and addressed.  Congratulations to Artistic Director Ed Decker and New Conservatory Theatre Center for finding and nurturing to its well-deserved world premiere this compelling, affecting new play.

Rating: 5 E

Still at Risk continues through February 25, 2018 on the Walker Stage of New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at http://www.nctcsf.org/ or by calling the box office at 415-861-8972.

Photos Credit:  Lois Tema


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

"Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour"


Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour
Jonathan Larson (Book, Music & Lyrics)

The Cast of Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour
A year ago, “Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour” rolled into San Francisco for a multi-week run at the Golden Gate Theatre, resulting in many rave reviews from critics and audience members alike (including this reviewer).  A year later, the tour that began in September 2016 in Bloomington, Indiana arrives for just a week at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts as part of the current Broadway San Jose season.  Since this is essentially the same show with only some changes here and there in key cast, the following is an update of my “Theatre Eddys” review from a year ago. 

Unfortunately, while the opening night still earned an immediate standing ovation and while I still found many things to like and several times to tear up with deep-felt emotion, there was not the consistent and sustained energy and electricity of the Golden Gate outing of February 2017. The San Jose show is particularly suffering from a venue’s sound system that left – especially in the first act – many of its brilliant, fast-spilled lyrics often unintelligible.  That is a shame and something that hopefully is corrected as the week progresses.  But overall, the integrity of this anniversary version remains; and my guess is that both veterans and newcomers to the show will still find much to relish.

And now for the updated review from February 9, 2017:

Twenty years ago, onto a Broadway stage burst a sexy, soaring musical daring to give unforgettable faces and personalities to seven artists struggling to survive not only their East Village poverty, but also the plague of AIDS/HIV that appeared ready to wipe out an entire generation.  Two decades later, Rent is no less relevant and timely than when it won multiple Tonys in 1996 (including Best Musical), as witnessed by the heart-warming and heart-breaking production now sixteen months into its national tour at Broadway San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts.  The characters and their stories that are largely based on Puccini’s 1896 opera La bohème still bring both laughter and tears in great quantity as they did in ’96; but in early 2018, the musical seems particularly apropos once again. 

Lines like “How do you document real life when real life is getting more like fiction each day?” sound sadly too current.  Scenes of ignored homeless on dirty, drug-laden streets mirror the scene throughout the Bay Area and beyond.  The threat of young artists losing their funky, warehouse abode is right off the headlines of today’s newspapers and social media.  The timing for this revival tour could not be more eerily perfect with its message that transcending all these very real and troubling issues is the power of unconditional love for all -- no matter gender preference, race, sexual orientation, economic status, or even if dying from society’s still most-shunned disease.

Not only was the dark subject matter of drug-using and hungry street people along with the subject of AIDS and its effects on New York’s artistic community startlingly bold when Rent premiered, other new ground was broken for the American Musical at the time.  Its rock opera approach introduced numbers sounding much like recitatives, arias, duets, and grand chorus numbers of Puccini’s original but done with electronic pulses and pounding beats that introduced a new generation to classical themes in a way that they could hear and understand.  The result in 2018 are musical numbers that have entered the Great American Songbook as classics and can be hummed and sung in well-know phrases by a generation that may or may not have even seen the original production in its twelve-year run on Broadway or all its tours.  “Seasons of Love,” “Another Day,” “La Vie Bohème,” and “Take Me or Leave Me” (among many others) and the ubiquitous “five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes” are now etched into our collective psyche forever.

Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour takes the original and updates it with neon-hued energy, freshness, and contemporary feel that zings and snaps from beginning to end.  Evan Ensign directs this large and talented cast with an eye to pushing those original, daring boundaries even further to edges that are raw, painful, and yet utterly beautiful.  The set of Paul Clay is massive in scope with its multiple and climbing levels of twisted metal and stairs against the Golden Gate’s back brick wall.  The lighting of Jonathan Spencer provides hints of Christmas against the dark dreariness of poverty and illness while offering looming, gigantic shadows that hint of the threats of abandonment, eviction, and death.  Angela Wendt’s costumes sparkle, shock, and satisfy all at the same time, bringing this old story a new look of today’s starving in the streets and hungry in the studios.


Kaleb Wells & Sammy Ferber
With his camera ever in hand, aspiring documentarian Mark sets out to record a year in the life of his current and former artistic roomies and their lovers and friends.  A strong-voiced, intense Sammy Ferber is joined by a stage full of his cohorts climbing, jumping, kicking, and literally flying in all directions while urging him on in “Rent,” singing in loud, rambunctious voices multiple protests of their plights: “We’re not gonna pay last year’s rent, this year’s rent, next year’s rent ... ‘Cause everything is rent.” 

Mark is still getting over his break-up with his old roomie and lover, Maureen, whose new girlfriend is Joanne (Jasmine Easler, also with great singing pipes and a member of the 2017 show in SF). The two rivals discover a surprising symbiosis of their common ills with the cheating, but highly seductive “diva” as they dance and sing with dramatic flair in “Tango Maureen.”  The focus of their past and present love is arranging a Christmas Eve benefit show to protest eviction of the homeless from a vacant lot where another former roomie, Benjamin Coffin III (a somewhat underwhelming Marcus John) wants to put up a new studio for artists. 

Lyndie Moe
The over-powering personality and attractive dynamism of Maureen eventually splashes in full body gyrations, hair-flinging dips, and over-the-top poses as Lyndie Moe sings in crazy ranges of voice her avant-garde rendition of the child’s rhyme, “Hey Diddle Diddle” in her stellar performance of “Over the Moon.”  As the year progresses and her relationship with Joanne begins to look like a yo-yo with their habitually attracting  and repelling each other.  However, the two come together for a sexual, sensual “Take Me or Leave Me.”  In doing so, they also provide a key theme and message of Rent, “Take me for what I am, for what I was meant to be.”

Skyler Vople & Kaleb Wells
Other pairs of lovers are equally impressive in the story’s telling.  Mark’s roommate, Roger, who is depressed about his HIV and a girlfriend’s recent suicide, strums repeatedly a few chords on his guitar in “One Song Glory” as Kaleb Wells introduces us to his captivating, soul-stirring vocals while he searches for “one song before this virus takes hold ... one song to redeem this empty life.”  Into his life comes a erotic dancer of seedy nightclubs, Mimi, shivering in the heatless, dark warehouse where they are both seeking refuge.  Mimi seeks a match to “Light My Candle” as well as Roger’s warm body for comfort.  With a voice that mixes teasing seduction, tongue-in-cheek humor, and starving desperation into one bundle of stellar performance, Skyler Volpe fails to win Roger this time; but she is not one to give up.  Her drive is fully witnessed as we see her dressed in skin-tight blue in a cheap club scene singing “Out Tonight” in a voice meant for Vegas while dancing as if making love to the balcony’s bars in front of her.  (Both Mr. Wells and Ms. Volpe are fortunately still with the tour as they were last January.)

The two will struggle to find their relationship equilibrium and will deliver some of the evening’s more heart-piercing, deeply emotional, and truth-telling numbers – ones like “Another Day” and “Without You” that are now iconic among the musical’s fans.  Each singer performs with a genuineness that reaches to the farthest, back seat in the balcony.  Kaleb Wells in particular brings rock-star quality time and again to his singing and probably has the best voice in a cast (as he also did a year ago in San Francisco).

Aaron Alcaraz & Josh Walker
A cross-dressing street drummer -- racked by AIDS and hunger -- finds an injured, mugged philosophy teacher on the street named Tom Collins, a friend of Mark’s and Roger’s.  There is immediate attraction between the giant of an African American man more teddy than grizzly in his huge form and the undersized, dangerously thin drag queen performer, Angel.  The story of their love and devotion is at the core of Rent’s emotional pull on its audience.  Josh Walker (Tom) and Angel (Aaron Alcaraz) deliver one of the musical’s best love songs, “I’ll Cover You,” in which Angel sings, “Live in my house, I’ll be your shelter” and Tom replies, “Open your door, I’ll be your tenant.”  Angel’s glittering red lips and outlandish elf attire and Tom’s look of lumberjack cement into a tender love that cannot help but inspire even the hardest of hearts.

To balance the gripping moments of personal, romantic, and social-issues drama threading throughout Rent are small and big numbers often full of humor and winks to the audience.  Homeless gather to sing about Christmas coming, always ending with a funny, but cynical remark comparing the world’s celebrating to their street-bound non-party.  Nasal-sounding mothers with aristocratic airs (Yale Reich and Chrissy Naruo) leave phone messages from far-away resorts to their almost-homeless and always-rebelling kids.  But it is when the whole cast executes with full gusto the gymnastic choreography of Marlies Yearby that fireworks truly happen.  The Last Supper imitation of twelve friends gathered in a café after Maureen’s concert on Christmas Eve is a fabulously produced rock number (“La Vie Bohème”) with its hilariously and precisely coordinated movements of necks, shoulders, fingers, heads, hips, and abdomens along with a dozen bodies gyrating in chairs, on and under the table, and over the entire floor.  

Twenty years have only made this then-hit once again a show still well worth seeing and current in its messages.  While the San Jose opening night had some hits-and-misses in terms of delivery that were absent a year ago, my guess is that these were due to venue and maybe some just to ongoing road wear-and-tear.  But there is still much to revel in the individual and collective performances, the brilliant script and sets of lyrics, and all of the still-memorable music of this current, touring Rent.

Rating: 3.5 E

Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour continues through January 28, 2018 at
the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts as part of Broadway San Jose, 255 South Almaden Boulevard, San Jose.  Tickets are available online at http://broadwaysanjose.com.

Photo Credits: Carol Rosegg


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

"The Laramie Project"


The Laramie Project
Moisés Kaufman (and Members of Tectonic Theatre Project)


The Cast of The Laramie Project
Palo Alto Players joins thousands of previous productions to present a play that still shakes one to the core as we and the citizens of Laramie try to understand how and why this crime could have happened in their community.  And although much has improved for LGBTQ folks since 1998, in 2017 alone, more transgender people were murdered in the U.S. than ever recorded; and both the A.C.L.U. and the Human Rights Commission report that incidents of hate against LGBTQ people has seen a dramatic and troubling uptick since the latest presidential election.  Palo Alto Players’s decision to include The Laramie Project in its 87th season is both a tribute to a play that has touched and changed lives for two decades and a too-timely reminder that deadly violence against LGBTQ people is still an issue crying for continued focus and diligence.

For my full review, please proceed to Talkin' Broadway: https://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/sanjose/sj111.html.

Rating: 4.5 E

The Laramie Project continues through February 4, 2018 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.  Tickets are available at www.paplayer.org or by calling 650-329-0891.

Photo Credit: Joyce Goldschmid

Monday, January 22, 2018

"Alabama Story"


Alabama Story
Kenneth Jones

Maria Giere Marquis, Karen DeHart, Bezachin Jifar,
and Erik Gandolf
Perhaps no profession is more universally stereotyped in movies and minds than the local librarian.  Portrayed and generally viewed as meek, prudish, and out of touch with day-to-day reality, the views seem quite universal, be the librarian male or female.

At first glance, Head Librarian of Alabama Emily Reed fits that description quite well in her conservative, color-matched-to-a-‘t” outfits where nary a wrinkle invades.  However as Kenneth Jones’ Alabama Story begins to unfold in its fully engrossing, highly educating West Coast premiere at City Lights Theatre Company, we soon learn there is nothing out-of-touch or meek about this keeper of the state’s library system in 1959.   

To read more about this important piece of history, please continue to my Talkin' Broadway review: https://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/sanjose/sj110.html.

Rating: 4.5 E

Alabama Story continues through February 18, 2018 at City Lights Theater Company, 529 South Second Street, San Jose.  Tickets are available online at https://cltc.org/ or by calling 408-295-4200 Monday – Friday, 1-5 p.m.

Photo Credit: Taylor Sanders
 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

"Peter and the Starcatcher"


Peter and the Starcatcher
Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson

Dan Demers & Will Springhorn, Jr.
With tongue often in cheek, with twinkles in every eye, and with impishness in the corner of each mouth, the Hillbarn Theatre cast of thirteen romps through Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher, providing us the prequel story of how Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, Tinker Bell, Smee, and Captain Hook all ended up living forever in Neverland.

Fly over to Talkin' Broadway to read my full review:   https://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/sanjose/sj109.html.


Rating: 4 E

Peter and the Starcatcher continues through February 4, 2018 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City.  Tickets are available online at http://hillbarntheatre.org or by calling 650-349-6411.

Photo Credits:  Mark and Tracy Photography
 

Friday, January 19, 2018

"Sondheim on Sondheim"


Sondheim on Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim (Music & Lyrics); James Lapine (Conceiver)

Conceived by James Lapine and running in limited run on Broadway in 2010, Sondheim on Sondheim features not over fifty of the Great One’s songs from nineteen of his shows, but the musical review is also interspersed throughout with perfectly timed (to the second) interviews with Sondheim from various stages of his life.  For many in the opening night audience of Sondheim on Sondheim at the 3 Below Theatres & Lounge in San Jose (also on its own premiere night), there seemed to be little sign of disagreement with a divine proclamation made by the eight-person cast:
“God!
I mean the man’s a god!
Wrote the score to Sweeney Todd
With a nod
To de Sade.
Well, he’s odd.
Well, he’s God.”

For my complete review, please proceed to Talkin' Broadway: https://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/sanjose/sj108.html.


Rating: 4 E

Sondheim on Sondheim continues through February 4, 2018, at 3 Below Theatres & Lounge, 288 South Second Street, San Jose.  Tickets are available online at https://3belowtheaters.com/.