Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
From the Novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Adam Magill as Mr. Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) has spawned seemingly countless movies (silent and sound), cartoons, TV specials, plays, and a major Broadway musical.  The phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” can be heard almost daily as two opposite sides of one person are described in common parlance.  The question might be raised why the stage needs yet another adaptation.  City Lights Theatre Company has found the answer with its engrossing adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a tale full of gripping intrigue, engaging mystery, forbidden love, and raw lust.  

Read on in my full review on Talkin' Broadway at http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanjose/sj7.html.

Rating: 4 E's

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde continues at City Lights Theatre, 529 S. Second Street, San Jose through October 18, 2015.  Tickets are available online at http://cltc.org/tickets/ or by calling 408-295-4200.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner & Alan Stevens Hewitt

Lizzie Borden took an axe,
Gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
Gave her father forty-one.

Elizabeth Curtis as Lizzie, Jessica Coker as Emma, Taylor Jones as Alice and Melissa Reinertson as Bridget.
With this children’s ditty probably running through our minds as we enter San Francisco’s Victoria Theatre to see a musical entitled Lizzie, the dark, cavernous stage draped ominously in massive, white cloths becomes the final touch to ready us for an evening of the macabre.  What may not be expected is that this tale of unspeakable secrets, multiple motives for murder, and a barbaric bloodbath will be told in a rock-style concert by four fabulous female voices.  Ray of Light Theatre continues a tradition of presenting in first-class fashion quirky, off-the-main-path musicals (Carrie the Musical, Heathers, Yeast Nation, Triassic Park) as the Company stages Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer’s, Tim Maner’s, and Alan Steven Hewitt’s Lizzie.

Four women in appropriate, floor-length dresses for 1892 Massachusetts (authentically designed by Melissa Wortman) step forward to introduce themselves in the stark, almost spooky spotlights of Light Designer Joe E’Emilio.  Lizzie Andrew Bordon (“Not Elizabeth and Andrew after my Father,” she defiantly informs us), Sister Emma, Housekeeper Bridget, and Neighbor Alice each stare hauntingly straight ahead as they move upstage to establish their personas.  With continuous songs and scant dialogue, the women tell their tale beginning with a description of “The House of Borden”: “In the house of Borden, there is a lock on every door … In every room, a prisoner.”  Subsequent songs become more and more disturbing and foreboding.  Elizabeth Curtis’s Lizzie belts without ever over-blasting in “This Is Not Love,” “What kind of life am I living if I have no voice?… Is it so wrong to want more ‘cause this is not love.”  Harshly bending at the waist, almost hitting head on the ground, she goes into a gut-wrenching “Ahh-hhh” as she recalls the regular night visits to her room by her father.  (Certainly every hair on every neck in the audience in now standing at attention.)  With her neighbor and increasingly intimate friend Alice (Taylor Iman Jones), she goes into a madwoman sequence declaring in a wild-circling duet, “I gotta get out of here; something does not feel quite right.”  Alice herself is carrying a secret love she fears to reveal to Lizzie and laments in tender tones,
“A secret of my own I am afraid to share, so I come home alone. …   
If you only knew how I watch everything you do …
If you know how every night I dream of you.”

Jessica Corker’s Emma is bitterly angry their stepmother has caused their father to cut her and Lizzie out of his will.  In “Sweet Little Sister,” she shares with her much younger sister in a deep voice powerfully clear in its richness and resonance, [This is a house] “where both realize the other has been hurt by their father,” leading her not to only to cry out in song but also to leave with packed bag, “I’ve got to get away.”   Always watching in the background, Irish redhead Bridget joins Lizzie and Alice in a metallic rock jam where their bodies jerk synchronistically and spastically in “Mercury’s Rising,” leading to their loud, raucous warning,
“Somebody will do something,
Somebody will take something,
Somebody will steal something,
Somebody will die.”

Individually and collectively as an ensemble, these four women are superb in all regards.  Lyrics, even when blared in the loudest rock sections through hand-held mikes pulled out of dress folds, are understandable and deliver big impacts.  All voices handle majestically a full range of demands from full-sounding ballads to a close-harmony hymn to the zaniest and hardest of rock.  Whether called on for a sweet love scene (Lizzie and Alice on a romantic, seductive picnic in “Will You Stay”) or a totally frenetic, physically demanding scream-fest (Emma and Lizzie in “What the F**k, Lizzie?!”), each of the four brings impressive finesse and skill to her acting.  The often split-second dips, twists, and pace shifts of Nicole Helfer’s effective choreography are executed with such vigor and precision to raise the blood pressure of anyone watching.  It is difficult to imagine how a better cast could have been assembled for this Ray of Light winner.

Supporting this cast is a band of six, under the musical direction of David Moschler, that knows how to excite and energize, shift moods and effect transitions, and enhance a voice without ever taking over.  The musical sound from opening notes to climatic close is always right for the moment.

And why is a musical about parental slaughter so appealing?  Because the real story is not about patricide and matricide, but rather it is about strong women rising above traditional patterns of society and its overly constrictive expectations of what is proper for them.  Pushing boundaries beyond where women were/are supposed to go in terms of love, of righting wrongs done to them by men, and even of consciously lying to protect themselves and each other, these four may not be angels; but they are possibly heroic.  Their final and triumphant “Into Your Wildest Dreams” demonstrates in flowing, stunning costume change that for these women, their hell is now past, no matter what others might think or how they might judge.

Musically, visually, and story-wise, Lizzie is the next generation mash-up of Spring Awakening and Hedwig and the Angry Inch that will surely be packing in the audiences, young and old, into Ray of Light’s production at Victoria Theatre.

Rating: 5 E

Ray of Light’s Lizzie continues at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco, through October 17, 2015.  Tickets are available online at http://www.victoriatheatre.org/index.php/box-office.

Photo by Eric Scanlon

Friday, September 25, 2015

"Moments of Truth"

Moments of Truth
Patricia Milton (Book); Caroline Altman (Music & Lyrics)

Danielle Thys, Tyler McKenna, Bekka Fink & Douglas Giorgis
In a living room setting with studio to the side where walls are adorned with numerous abstract paintings in washed-out colors, our eyes cannot help but go to schlocky portrait of a smiling cow with big ears and soulful eyes.  In their world premiere chamber musical, Moments of Truth, Patricia Milton and Caroline Altman use this same cow as the near-breaking point for an artist facing a crisis of confidence in her creative pursuits and in her marriage.  Thus will begin at 3 Girls Theatre an artist’s journey searching for what is next -- a trip marked by confronting old and new doubts, exploring what was once at the heart of former artistic inspiration, and testing new waters to find former anchors. 

After Nan Browne’s art broker husband Gerald has set up a show of cow paintings in juxtaposition to her abstract landscapes at which all cows and no landscapes are sold, Nan is fast retreating from her studio to domestic scrap booking and bread-making.  As she humorously yet sadly sings in her opening “Fallen,” “Round me up and brand me; I’ve been mooed.”  No matter the prodding of Gerald, she is unable to pick up a brush, singing,
“I can’t find the proper view. 
Where is the picture? 
I can’t paint this.
I can’t paint.” 

Bekka Fink, Danielle Thys & Tyler McKenna
A knock at the door brings the surprise entrance of a former art school roommate, brassy and brazen Chloe, who has just faced a foreign country deportation for a gallery show of some shocking, disturbing photograph.  (This is the same Chloe who was arrested for lap dancing naked on Lincoln’s gigantic lap in D.C.).  Her appearance opens up a Pandora’s box of rivalry and suspicion involving the two women and their once-mutually desired Gerald, whom Chloe immediately eyes with lust and claws with fingers that roam.  But Gerald sees in Chloe’s surprise intrusion a chance to reignite Nan’s artistic pursuits by manipulating events for her to join photographer Chloe in a bizarre art project.   The ploy is to catch on film and canvas unsuspecting ‘victims’ in a moment of truth telling about something they have not admitted out loud, all using a new-fangled lie detector that Chloe has brought with her.  Amidst all the drama playing out on the stage, much comedy abounds for us as audience as we begin to watch this art project unfold and a triangle of lovers – past, present and maybe future – go at it.

Bekka Fink intensely brings the artist-in-crisis to life before us.  Her Nan searches desperately for the sparks she knows she once had, in both her art and in her marriage.  In “Moment of Truth,” she plaintively sings in a voice full of edge bordering on shrill,
“What can transfer lies into truth? 
Something is breaking, tearing apart? 
I can’t make it pretty anymore.” 
Later, when jealousy and anger with Chloe peaks, her reddened face, popping veins in neck, and eyes that shoot bullets bring us to the edge of our seats.  But when she does finally find renewed comfort in the arms of Gerald and in her own art, Ms. Fink also brightens with a glow that permeates her whole being as she sings, “The prize means finding out what you had before.”

Danielle Thys is Nan’s nemesis and would-be creative partner, Chloe, who walks a fine line between wench, witch, and wonder woman.  Her smiles always seem to have behind them a purpose all her own, and any statement she makes has a possible lie written all over it in the shift of her eyes, the quick toss of her head, or the smugness of her twisted smirk.  She is terrific in being sexy and sinister, sweet and suspicious – and doing all that in ways repeatedly to draw laughter from us as audience.

Gerald wavers between his sincerity to help his wife out of her funk and his drive to sell more art from whomever he can represent, even if it means possibly deceiving Nan herself.  In his black-framed glasses and totally wholesome handsomeness, Tyler McKenna brings a Clark Kent look to his Gerald while also coming ever closer to succumbing to Chloe’s slithering body and caresses.  His rich, clear voice reminisces sweetly about a picture of young Nan’s that drew him initially to her (“Pink Bedroom”), but he also sexily duets with Chloe in a dangerous-to-his-marriage tango, “If You Hadn’t Married Her.”

Time and again, however, it is Douglas Giorgis who comes close to stealing the show and drawing the most laughs as he plays multiple visitors to the Browne apartment/studio.  He opens and closes the show as a rather silly, jet-set art collector, gullible to a fast-talking dealer like Gerald.  He also appears at the door as a number of oddities from Nan’s neighborhood that get sucked into lying in front of Chloe’s camera (including a wonderfully goofy grocery bagger, a prim and proper – or not – priest, and a wild homeless man in rain slicker).  At each entrance, Mr. Giorgis brings flurry and fun to the story and stage.

While Caroline Altman’s music and lyrics often capture the heart of the dilemmas facing Nan and the essence of the motives and drives of the other characters’ surrounding her struggles, it is the book of Patricia Milton that really shines in this new musical.  Coupled with excellent timing of direction of Louis Parnell, the dialogues and interactions are packed with both comedic gems and soul-touching probes and confrontations.  This is a musical that could very easily, and maybe even more effectively, be a play.   The story tends to shine best when the music is more background, even though the actors and Music Director Scrumbly Koldewyn do a good, solid job of bringing score and songs to bear.   A little more attention to filling in the book could also help an ending that comes to resolution a bit too easily, given all the emotions and betrayals that have preceded it.

All in all, Moments of Truth is a worthy new creation that leads us each to contemplate those times in our lives when we have lost confidence in the innate strengths of our abilities and/or relationships.  The new musical also joins a long line of works focusing on the making of art and its effects on the lives around that act; and in my book, those works are usually well worth the night out.

Rating: 4 E’s

Produced by 3 Girls Theatre, Moments of Truth continues at Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa Street, San Francisco, through October 18, 2015.  Tickets are available at http://3girlstheatre.org or by calling 415-527-0301.

Photos by Jim Norrena

Monday, September 21, 2015

"The Walls of Jericho"

The Walls of Jericho
Diane Tasca

Drew Reitz & Sarah Cook
Already known by many of a certain generation since the same story is the basis for the Oscar-winning It Happened One Night, the romantic comedy is prime to delight through the repartee and funny situations of the travelers we are about to meet in Pear Theatre's world premiere The Walls of Jericho by Diane Tasca.

Please link to a full review on Talkin' Broadway: http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanjose/sj6.html.

Rating: 3 E's

The Walls of Jericho continues at Pear Theatre, 1110 LaAvenida, Mountain View thorugh October 4, 2015.  Tickets are available at www.thepear.org or by calling 650-254-1148.

Photo Credit: Ray Renati

"Homeward Bound: An Orphan Train Journey"

Homeward Bound: An Orphan Train Journey
Cathy Spielberger Cassetta

Ginger Hurley, Ashley Wilson, Sarah Dorsey, Emily Anne Goes, Samantha Goes, and Chloe Allen
Between 1854 and 1929, over 250,000, mostly immigrant children were removed from the streets of New York and shipped on “orphan trains” to small town and farming community families all throughout the United States.  Today, an estimated one of every twenty-five Americans has some connection to one of those children who were relocated.  Cathy Spielberger Cassetta has taken this largely unknown story and written Homeward Bound: An Orphan Train Journey, now in its world premiere production at The Tabard Theatre Company, where she is also founder and artistic director.

Please link to my full review is on Talkin' Broadway: http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanjose/sj5.html.

Rating: 3 E's

The Tabard Theatre Company’s Homeward Bound: An Orphan Train Journey continues at Theatre on San Pedro Square, 29 North San Pedro Street, San Jose through October 11, 2015.  Tickets are available at http://www.tabardtheatre.org/tickets.html or by calling 408-679-2330.

Photo: Edmond Kwong, ImageWurx

"The Oldest Boy"

The Oldest Boy
Sarah Ruhl

Wayne Lee, Jinn S. Kim & Christine Albright
In the past few years, stages all across the Bay Area have had a love affair with Sarah Ruhl, offering acclaimed and often multiple productions of A Clean House; Dead Man’s Cell Phone; Eurydice; Orlando; Late: a cowboy song; and In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play.  Marin Theatre Company opens its 49th season with the West Coast premiere of yet another play, The Oldest Boy, where Sarah Ruhl takes a fascinating, slightly off-kilter story and creates a mesmerizing tapestry of words, images, sounds, and ideas that together reveal heart-touching truths about the human condition --  particularly motherhood.

Christine Albright represents the role of Mother and is brilliant in portraying all the many tender and frustrating moments, anxieties and hopes, exhaustions and exhilarations that most mothers face daily.  We meet her as she diligently attempts to meditate on a floor surrounded with all the entrapments of a three-year-old (scattered toys, blanket turned into tent, tossed clothes and snacks … and of course a monitor to hear the slightest, next-room cry).  An unexpected doorbell interrupts her peace in more ways than she can ever imagine as two red-robed holy men enter.  One soon tells her and her Tibetan-refugee husband (a solid and pensive Kurt Uy) that their son is likely his reincarnated teacher and destined to become a lama.  Jinn S. Kim as the Lama brings to his role a calming, pleasant, totally respectful manner that does not hide his deep determination that this young son must relocate to India and to a monastery for intense instruction.  Along with Wayne Lee as his accompanying, always smiling and obedient Monk, they intrude into the lives of this Western-culture Mother and displaced-Eastern-culture Father, who are shocked and saddened, yet somehow honored and humbled that their son may be chosen for greatness.   Being careful to pay deep homage to the role of the mother in determining the fate of her son, the two visitors also project to each other penetrative, knowing looks that a greater fate has already made the decision.  Together, this fine ensemble performs a kind of ritual dance as Father and Mother, Lama and Monk mix and mingle to balance present life’s tugs of parental love, family bonds, and personal wishes against some unseen, but increasingly clear destiny.  That Act Two has shifted from a New Jersey apartment to a stunning Buddhist temple with the Himalayas as its backdrop (designed by Collette Pollard) comes as no surprise to us or to the family.

Melvign Badiola, Tsering Dorjee (Bawa), Jed Parsario, Tenzin & Christine Albright
Rounding out this excellent cast is the real star of the show, Tenzin, the son and the only character whose name we learn.  A puppet who is intensely, even reverently supported and moved by puppeteers Melvign Badiola and Jed Parsario, Tenzin is full of three-year-old mischief and inquisitiveness and is expressive to the point that it is impossible to believe his face is actually painted and stationary.  Although only three, he is beautifully voiced by the hunched, older man Tsering Dorjee (Bawa), whom we come to recognize as the former Lama master of his previous life.  As Tenzin approaches being enthroned as the newest Lama, his toddler ways slowly give way to a calm, knowing maturity that is still boyish yet shows a deeper understanding he now has of who he really is – all magnificently portrayed by what we begin to forget is a puppet.  Jesse Mooney-Bullock is to be much congratulated as the Puppetry Creator.

Sarah Ruhl likes to catch us off guard, to change abruptly the flow and pace, and to educate while also entertaining.  Under the inventive and sensitive direction of Jessica Thebus, our playwright once again takes us on side trips from the main story.   An extensive pause (perhaps too extensive in after-thought) allows Mother and Father to explain how they met at his celebrated restaurant on a stormy evening (and the storm their proposed marriage caused for his traditional family in India).  Ms. Ruhl later inserts a long, wondrously moving sequence in Act Two where no words are spoken for many minutes yet some of the evening’s clearest messages are conveyed.  And a side conversation between the Mother and the Lama about their own mothers and former teachers could be a worthy piece unto itself apart from the rest of the play.

Themes of beginnings and endings, of bringing into life and of knowing when to let go, and of the interplay of conscious choice and felt-destiny permeate throughout The Oldest Boy.  These are particularly made poignant as struggles any mother and her child must face together and separately.  The play also opens a realm not so explored in most Western theatre of what exists in the ‘in between.’  “You jump from one language to another, and there is something in between,” we hear.  Sarah Ruhl challenges us that new meanings and possibilities exist in being open to what happens between death and life in addition to life and death; and she highlights a possibility of eternal continuity and connectedness through the interplay we witness between the living Oldest Boy and the puppet, Tenzin. 

While slow in pace and pedantic at times with its prolonged teachings and explanations about Tibetan and Buddhist traditions, The Oldest Boy still is totally engrossing, intriguing, and enthralling.   Marin Theatre Company has created in every respect a tale of East meets West and lulls us into relaxing enough from our frenetic lives to take in its deep beauty and meaning.

Rating: 4 E’s

The Oldest Boy continues through October 4, 2015 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley.  Tickets are available online at https://tickets.marintheatre.org/Online/ or by calling 415-388-5208.

Photos by Kevin Berne

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Amélie: A New Musical"

Amélie: A New Musical
Craig Lucas (Book)
Daniel Messé (Music)
Nathan Tysen & Daniel Messé (Lyrics)

Samantha Barks as Amélie & Cast
If evaluating on a series of 1-10 scales such as ‘quirky,’ ‘imaginative,’ and ‘eye-popping,’ anyone would be hard pressed not to rate Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s world premiere Amélie: A New Musical 10+ on each.  But if we add ‘sweet’ to that list, then be forewarned that I was advised by a friend the night before I attended, “Don’t eat any dessert before going; you’re going to get enough sweet as it is.”  But like any good dessert, how can anyone not walk away from this delightful feast for eyes, ears, and soul fully satiated?  Craig Lucas, Daniel Messé, and Nathan Tysen have taken the award-winning, globally popular 2001 film and added their own American flair to this very French tale of a young girl in the Montmartre of Paris, replacing screen technical wonders with stage theatrics that amaze.  The result has Broadway-bound written all over it, and certainly the Rep’s production looks and feels as if already on the Great White Way.

We first witness scenes of a childhood where Amélie is over-protected by too-distant parents, resulting in her being home-schooled and isolated from any friends (and even being forced to toss her goldfish Fluffy into the  Seine).  Eventually she escapes to be waitress in Paris and soon begins anonymously figuring out how to better the lives of people around her, using The Café of Two Windmills in Montmartre as her base.  Amélie retains her favorite childhood toy, a collapsing telescope, that she uses to peer into the lives of her fellow life travelers.   She then goes around creating fantastical mazes and puzzles that they must magically traverse and solve to find some missing bliss that is right before their eyes.  As Amélie tells us, “The secret to life is to leave a trail of bread crumbs.”  Along the way, she begins to notice a very cute guy who is always lying on the ground with a camera, looking up under the curtains of “Photomats” (those booths where a deposited coin produces 4 instantaneous photos).  Her extreme shyness keeps her from introducing herself to Nino, but of course he begins to notice her, too; and that is where our story becomes ever more deliciously complex, mystical, and yes, romantic.

The story above might be viewed actually as rather ho-hum, but what makes this telling so wonderfully off the map is the way it is told.  Set in David Zinn’s storybook setting of numerous oversized bureaus, chests, and drawers; doors galore that often come and go with flare; and an arced bridge high in the sky (all done in colors right out of a kid’s paint box), Amélie is full of fun and fantasy.  A large cast of ever-moving, ever-changing characters right off a page of a modern fairy tale are somehow wondrously directed by Pam MacKinnon constantly to parade in every direction, always supplying just at the right second needed props (like cartoonish, directional arrows) or moving scenic sections on and off the stage without a pause in the story’s fast and furious flow.  Puppets like Fluffy the Goldfish or props like a yard gnome can all of a sudden become alive on stage and then morph again into a prop.  Brightly hued, overdone-in-just-the-right-way costumes are both French and fantastical in nature (somehow created out of the wild imaginations of David Zinn).  Enchantment is enhanced by Jane Cox’s lighting scheme that never ceases to surprise and fascinate with its sudden spots and twinkles.  The projections that are both child-like in simplicity and head scratching in ‘How are they doing that?’ by Peter Nigrini never intrude but only enhance.  Just the right sound effects occur to let us know that what we are watching is both in and out of this world (Kai Harada).  Finally, but not at all least among this horde of creative geniuses, is the musical direction of Kimberly Grigsby whose orchestra magnificently paints an atmosphere of music that always supports and magnifies the moment’s magic.

And then there are the players themselves and the sometimes bizarre, often eccentric, and always heart-warming characters they portray.  How could there be a more perfectly cast Amélie than Samantha Barks?  With wide eyes of wonder and her combined looks of quizzical mischief, she plots and plans how to reunite a stranger with his boyhood box of wonders, to bring two reluctant lovers together (in a bathroom, no less), and to publish a would-be poet’s one written line all over Paris in order to stimulate him to write more.  And she sings with a fresh, clear voice that delivers Nathan Tysen’s and Daniel Messé’s always-clever, usually-humorous lyrics with ecstatic ease.  At the same time, there is a sadness, shyness and longing for love that is always lurking behind Ms. Barks’ Amélie that becomes more pronounced and almost paralyzing as the story moves to its climax.

Adam Chanler-Berat & Samantha Barks
To match this Amélie, a Nino who is strikingly cute, himself a mystery, and able to be both impetuous and charming is demanded; and Adam Chanler-Berat checks all those and many more boxes.  He too is able to melt hearts with a tenor voice that stretches to tonal heights seemingly without effort.  When he and Amélie finally come face-to-face, their playful, tender, and sexy first kiss has to be one of the best ever on a stage.

Tony Sheldon is Dufayel, the aged painter and guardian angel-of-sorts to Amélie whose wonderfully wrinkled, expressive face and eyes full of dreams help him become the caring father figure hers was never able to be. Joining Amélie in the Montmartre café set is Suzanne (Maria-Christina Oliveras), a former trapeze artist and now big-hearted owner and overseer of her unorthodox staff and clientele.  Paul Whitty’s Joseph mopes at the same table day after day and bemoans the girl that got away while Alyse Alan Louis’ Georgette sneezes through her hypochondriac, lonely life as she waits on him, setting up the perfect scenario for an Amélie intervention.  Other café denizens that combine into a family of sorts include the would-be poet laureate Hipoloto (Randy Blair) who lacks creative inspiration, the young woman with an attitude of “humph” and an opinion about everything and everybody (Carla Duren as Gina), and the really hilarious Alison Cimmet as a flight attendant Philomeme who zooms in and out to offer advice and hear gossip.  In addition, we meet seemingly dozens of other passers-by like a beggar who refuses a coin in his cup (“Hey, I don’t work on Sundays”) and a young fruit stand guy who all but makes love to three figs before reluctantly selling them. 

In the end, Amélie: A New Musical is a delightful, heart-warming travelogue of one girl’s journey, powered by her own incredible imagination to find the love she is so hesitant to accept but so desperately wants.  This is a trip audiences of all ages are rightly lining up to get on board at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Rating: 5 E’s

Amélie: A New Musical is extended at Berkeley Repertory Company, through October 11, 2015.  Tickets are available online at http://www.berkeleyrep.org/season/1516/9309.asp or by calling the box office at 510 647-2949, Tue-Sun 12 to 7 p.m.

Photo Credits: Kevin Berne

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse (Book); John Kander (Music); Fred Ebb (Lyrics)
Based on the Play by Maurine Dallas Watkins
Palo Alto Players

Joey McDaniel, Robbie Reign, Elizabeth Santana, and Michael Monagle
A slim, curvy woman in a tight, black gown slinks down the steps tempting us with her sexy "All That Jazz," kicking off in full style Palo Alto Players' 85th "Toniest-ever" season with Kander, Ebb, and Fosse's much-awarded, oft-revived Chicago. Already we in the audience realize that, while not a Broadway stage, the one before us is going to render an evening that is likely to be captivating, eye-popping, and professional in every respect.   

My full review can be found on Talkin' Broadway: http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanjose/sj4.html

Rating: 5 E's
Palo Alto Players continues to present Chicago through September 27, 2015, at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets and information may be found 24/7 at www.paplayers.org or by calling 650-329-0891 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesdays - Thursdays and 2 - 4 p.m. on select Saturdays.
Photo: Richard Mayer

Friday, September 18, 2015

"Between Riverside and Crazy"

Between Riverside and Crazy
Stephen Adly Guirgis

Carl Lumbly, Lakin Valdez & Samuel Ray Gates
The fact the entire suburban flat rolls back and forth a few feet between the ten scenes gives us a good clue that there is plenty of shifting about to occur in the characters and stories on this American Conservatory Theatre stage.  Those who populate the plays of Stephen Adly Guirgis tend to bring secrets and surprises that shake and usually destroy our initial impressions, and we will soon discover that the folks in his 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning Between Riverside and Crazy are to a person not quite who we may think they are upon our first meeting them.  Speaking in rich, graphic language brimming full of expletives and elegance and knit together in street-smart poetry, they each eventually reveal past lives, current motivations, and dreams of futures that are not always immediately forthcoming.  Mr. Guirgis’ latest offering in his long line of impressive works (Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, Our Lady of 121st Street, The Mother F**ker with the Hat to name a few) touches on a wide range of issues filling every current newspaper, talk show, and online discussion group.  Racial tensions, the plight of the young African American male, rising distrust of police and City Hall, the life and plight of immigrants in America, marital impropriety, adult children who return home to live, issues of aging including displacement from rent-controlled housing, and more all work their way into this mixture of dark comedy and social, family drama.

Limping painfully due to a hip full of old bullet wounds, ex-cop Walter Washington has spent many years pursuing with no luck a multi-million-dollar suit against the city’s police department in retaliation for the white officer who shot him while Walter was off-duty at a local bar.  Living with him are his adult, ex-con son Junior as well as Junior’s skimpily clad and latest girlfriend Lulu and his Nuyorican (New York/Puerto Rican) friend Oswaldo.  None of the three pay room or board, and all repeatedly duck out of their promises to walk the dog -- much to Walter’s profaned exasperation.  Tensions clearly exist between Junior and his Pops while the other two appear genuinely attached to the crusty old man they now call ‘Dad.’  Walter’s former partner, now best friend, NYPD Detective Audrey O’Connor, arrives to visit, to announce her engagement to Lieutenant Dave Caro (and show off her $30K wedding ring he bought with poker winnings), and to persuade Walter to take a final offer from the City to settle his suit.  Of course, the offer is only a fraction of what Walter feels he deserves; and the mounting threats by the two cops of what might happen if he does not sign set the scene for old skeletons to start rattling in their cages and then to break out in full fury.

Carl Lumbly’s Walter is cantankerous, crusty, and crude while also equally being vulnerable, funny, and endearing.  In his stiff shoulders and set jaw we see an unbending stubbornness; and by his glare that pierces its target like an arrow, we see into his drive for revenge.  But this Walter also has heart, generosity, and an ability to forgive; and Mr. Lumbly seamlessly swings the moods and manners of Walter to lay before us a complex man whose journey finally to his dream takes him from unexpected sexual bliss to the brink of death and on to a paradise far away from his New York flat.

Gabriel Marin as Lieutenant Dave Caro matches and may even exceed Walter in showing a wide range of emotional states and stances.  Wide smiles and gushy respect with eyes that dote on the elder cop give way to voice with a growing edge, smirks and upturned brow, and slurred words from too much drinking that begin to sting with insults directed toward both his stunned fiancé (the always excellent-in-any-role Stacy Ross) and the unbending, increasingly angry Walter.  The good cop totally gives way to the bad cop as Mr. Marin’s Caro increases his threats to get Walter to sign the agreement; and the viciousness shown and the depth of dislike that emerges makes this portrayal mesmerizing as well as troubling to behold.

Carl Lumbly & Catherine Castellanos
All other cast members (Elia Monte-Brown as Lulu, Samuel Ray Gates as Junior, Lakin Valdez as Oswaldo) bring depth and nuance to their parts as well, resulting in an ensemble that rides together in tight, well-paced fashion the roller coaster of the story’s emotional ups and downs (thanks to outstanding direction by Irene Lewis).  Catherine Castellanos particularly stands out as the Church Lady who pays a visit to brighten up Walter’s day and to entice him to ingest a holy wafer.  She has some secret skills from a past life that are not at all obvious from her Brazilian, broken-English chatter.  How she lures Walter to communion, ecstasy, and almost the eternal hereafter becomes the evening’s showstopper.

Before the final curtain, we realize that Mr. Guirgis has once again created a gem that this cast and this production have turned into rich treasure to behold.  We have laughed, gasped, been repulsed, maybe shocked, and probably come close to a tear or two as we have watched one man doggedly pursue a dream that at times becomes his, and all others,’ nightmare.

Rating: 5 E’s

Between Riverside and Crazy continues on the Geary Stage of the American Conservatory Theatre through September 27, 2015.  Tickets are available at http://www.act-sf.org/home/box_office/1516_season/between_riverside_and_crazy.html or by calling the box office at 415.749.2228.

Photos by Kevin Berne