Two Plays of Power and Games by Harold Pinter Diverse Quartet at 2011 RAW Winter Festival Doubt--A Moral Dilemma Harper's Journey The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs Heartbreak House--Still Relevant Today

Off  Broadway West is proud to present two one act plays from the acclaimed playwright Harold Pinter. Two of his most famous one acts: The Dumb Waiter and The Lover offer up a night of intellectual as well as sexual provocation.

The Dumb Waiter, written in 1957, is one of Pinter's  more exemplary plays enticing audiences with the language (Lower Manchester) and inherent tensions built into human relationships. Ben (Shane Fahy) and Gus (Conor Hamill) are hit men who are holed up in a dingy basement kitchen, waiting to be sent out on their next job.  From the start, we recognize that Gus is the more senior of the two.  

When the play begins Gus and Ben are lying on their respective beds--Gus reading the newspaper and Ben seemingly asleep.  When he gets up, Ben starts to put on his shoes tying the knots meticulously.  While reading the newspaper aloud, Ben is repeatedly interrupted by Gus.  We realize that Gus is not entirely comfortable with his line of work.  Their conversation is suddenly interrupted when an envelope is mysteriously pushed under the door. Then the dumb waiter (a small elevator used to bring food up from the kitchen below) suddenly slams down. When the hit men explore the inside, they find an order for a meal.  Bewildered yet anxious to act, they send up the few morsels of food that Gus brought with him.  More orders strangely follow changing from typical English dishes to more exotic ones.  As the orders come in, the tension between the two hit men mounts leading to physical conflict as Ben almost strangles Gus.   Director Durand Garcia's production mixes off-beat comedy with something more menacing.

Because the dumb waiter is centered in the upstage back wall, most of the action is played upstage. It would be better to open up the action and find times to bring the actors downstage.  The dialogue was difficult to understand because of the excellent lower-class Manchester accents.  

The Lover, written in 1962, is Pinter's treatise on sexual desire breaking through the confines of middle-class convention. Outside London, a married couple, Sarah (Nicole Helfer) and Richard (Chad Stender) play out a scintillating game. This couple spices up their marriage by pretending to be adulterous lovers in the afternoon. The husband pretends to go off to work as a respectable businessman and returns as a lover while his wife puts on her sexy black dress and high heels and acts like a whore.  The only problem is that role playing games can often get out of hand and here they lead to unexpected conflict.  Nicole Helfer and Chad Stender handle this difficult material, both competently and confidently.  Their performances are very entertaining. The Lover is sensitively directed by Cecilia Palmtag.  

This double bill from Off Broadway West runs through March 26, 2011 at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason St. (between Geary and Post), Suite 601 in San Francisco. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. For reservations call 800-838-3006 or go on line at
Flora Lynn Isaacson 
The Co-Producers of the RAW (Ross Alternative Works) Winter Festival are Tinka Ross and John Clevenger. The first play to be presented was Lo Mein and Tequila by Angelina Llongueras-Altimis and directed by Michael Paul Pulizzano.  The setting is an apartment in Brooklyn, a summer evening in 2003.  In this play, two people, Eduardo played by Jere Visilli and Beatriz in a moving performance by Susan Stein contrasts their prejudices, their rootlessness, their limitations and their lack becoming finally able to listen to each other.  This play is dedicated to Griselda Tirado murdered in Huehuetia in August 2003.  
Beatriz comes from Spain to Mexico as a social activist writing a book on migrant worker's rights.  Griselda had been her best friend.  Eduardo who fathered Griselda's child brings Beatriz to live with him in Brooklyn.  Both of these people are facing their pain and emptiness and learn to open up to each other with respect and truth.  
The second play of the evening was a delightful comedy titled Work In Progress by John Levine and directed by Kim Bromley.  In this play, a lesbian couple delightfully played by Melissa Claire as May and Marianne Shine as June, debate the pros and cons of matrimony and then confront a mysterious stranger, Guy played by Johnny DeBernard who is the playwright who is puzzled as to how to end his play.  
After a 15-minute intermission, the third play, Wallace Strikes Out for Heaven by Stanton Klose is next.  The play opens with two angels dressed in white who are in heaven and Wallace entering to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."  Wallace, a Dodger's fan, runs a red light on the way to the ballpark and finds himself in heaven.  The play is a bit of fluff but is expertly directed by Ray Morgan and performed with relish by Jeffrey Orth as Wallace, Robyn Wiley as Sister Gwendolyn and Glenda Vessey as Sister Roxanne.  
Hell in a Handbasket by Robert F. Bradford was the final play of the evening. This play directed by Alex Kuskulis is set in a small gymnasium which provides physical therapy for disabled men.  Monique Sims plays Amanda, the physical therapist.  Joel Roth plays Jake, an older man, who has come to terms with his condition. Jeffrey Blaze plays Rick, a newly-disabled ex-con biker with a suicidal bent and a head full of Nietzsche quotes on a  course of nihilism and Alma DeLeon steals the show with her performance of George, a paraplegic quadruped. This was a heated drama with an ambiguous ending.
Coming up next at RAW (Ross Alternative Works) will be Summer Festival, August 18-21, 2011. For information, call 415-456-9555 or go online at

Flora Lynn Isaacson
            John Patrick Shanley subtitles "Doubt"-"A Parable" and with his explorations of a series of moral dilemmas, it lives up to both title and subtitle. This 2004 Broadway hit earned both the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award.
            Currently running at Ross Valley Players, Doubt is set at St. Nicholas, a Catholic church and school in the Bronx, New York in 1964.  Doubt is so economical in Shanley's writing that it is pared down to perfection, presenting a problem and then offering potential solutions, every one of which creates its own difficulties. 
            The major clash is between Chris Macomber as Sister Aloysius, a dragon of an old school principal and Jamie Dawson as Father Flynn, a young modernizing priest.  As such, they represent traditional Catholicism and a new brand of religion that seeks to assimilate ideas that some might regard as doctrinally unacceptable, such as Frosty the Snowman. 
            The play opens in front of a wonderful set designed by Ken Rowland that swiftly takes us between scenes. Father Flynn is delivering a sermon about life's uncertainties that in his way is packed with parables. He says, "Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty."  This acts as a kind of prologue to the investigation of doubt that is to follow.
            Sister Aloysius' unwilling partner in uncovering crime is the sweet, natural and innocent Sister James played by Shannon O'Neill Creighton.   Having been bullied as a too good and generous teacher, she intimates knowledge of a misdeed.  This might not have mattered had the victim not been the school's only black pupil.  Immediately with religious fervor, Sister Aloysius' begins a campaign to unseat and defrock a man who quickly becomes her enemy.  Her justification in doing so is no more than a gut feeling she has about him.  Soon enough, that topical subject, child abuse by a Catholic priest is in sharp focus and a battle rages between these two representatives of religion.
            Added depth is offered by the boy's mother, played convincingly by Clara Kamunde (who was given a special round of applause on opening night).  This cowed lady's only concern is for her son's future and when he reveals his true nature, we learn his father beats him and her desire is to brush any problems under the carpet.  This is not the Sister's way though.  Sister Aloysius eventually proves to her own satisfaction that a mortal sin has taken place. However, the ending offers a surprise.
            Chris Macomber is at the top of her form playing the unforgiving nun who runs her school like a totalitarian state.  Jamie Dawson, with a wonderful Bronx accent, is perfectly cast as the affable priest struggling to save his reputation.  His nuanced performance shows him as a priest determined not to be just a spiritual leader, but also friend and confidant.  Shannon O'Neill Creighton as Sister James is easily the play's most likable character because of her appealing performance. 
            As directed by Cris Cassell, Doubt works well because she brings out the hidden depths of the play and offers us complete ambiguity in the ending.
            Doubt runs through Sunday, February 13 at Ross Valley Players, the Barn, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. (at Lagunitas), Ross. Performances are held Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets, call the Box Office at 415-456-9555 or go online at
            Flora Lynn Isaacson
Early in Harper Regan, the exquisitely directed, gorgeously acted and profoundly moving new show at the SF Playhouse by British playwright Simon Stephens, the fortyish title character (Susi Damilano) has to ask her employer (Richard Frederick) for a simple leave of absence to visit her dying father.  Playwright Simon Stephens penned a long monologue, beautifully delivered by Frederick in order for him to deny Harper's request.  Harper comes home to find her obnoxious teen daughter, Sarah (Monique Hafen) and her hapless unemployed husband Seth (a sympathetic Michael Keys Hall) working on material for Sarah's university entrance exams.  Harper receives cold treatment from them so she quietly walks away.  Near her home on a bridge, Harper meets and flirts with a male teen, Tobias Rich (Daniel Redmond). 

Harper journeys from Uxbridge to Manchester to see her father and his met at the hospital by an understanding nurse (Monique Hafen in a wonderful turnabout performance), who informs Harper that she is too late.  Triggered by grief and guilt, Harper wanders to a pub where she meets an anti-Semitic jerk journalist (in a  completely contrasting performance by Richard Frederick who previously played Harper's boss), who comes on so strong that Harper cuts him with a broken cocktail glass and steals his leather jacket.   Following this encounter, Harper arranges a sexual encounter over the internet from a cyber-cafe with a senior citizen, James Fortune played wistfully by Michael Keys Hall who previously played Harper's husband).  After this she visits her mother (Joy Carlin) to tell her she was a terrible mother.  Upon her return home to her family, Sarah insults Harper and Seth stiffly tries to act like everything is fine.

Harper Regan is a play packed full of unforgettable conversations and exceptional acting. All of the characters except Harper and her mother are double cast in contrasting roles.  As Harper, Susie Damilano's acting is powerful.  She tackles the script with imagination and confidence, while still allowing her co-stars to take over in all the right places.  Director Amy Glazer brings her customary flair and sensitivity to the production with her firm direction that pulls the play together.  Most scenes feel like mini-plays in their own right. 

The SF Playhouse West Coast Premiere of Harper Regan features fine ensemble acting with especially compelling performances  by Susie Damilano as Harper and Joy Carlin as her estranged mother. 
Bill English's set is a stroke of genius--a concrete shell imprinted with the reverse image of a household's walls, which was inspired by the British sculptor, Rachael Whiteread. 

Harper Regan, this truly absorbing, fiery, and memorable production continues at SF Playhouse through March 5, 2011.  Performances are held Tuesday-Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. SF Playhouse is located at 533 Sutter Street (1 block off Union Square). For tickets, call 415-677-9596 or go online at

Coming up next at SF Playhouse will be Wirehead by Matthew Benjamin and Logan Brown and directed by Susie Damilano, opening March 19, 2011.

Flora Lynn Isaacson
The Human Price of Technology

Master storyteller, Mike Daisey, has just returned to Berkeley Rep in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.  With his wry eye and eccentric intellect, Daisey examines how the Apple CEO and his obsessions profoundly shape our everyday lives; and he travels to China to investigate the factories where millions toil making i-phones and i-pods.  His journey shines a brilliant light on how our love affair with our devices and the human cost of creating them.

All throughout, Daisey's scintillating two-hour nonstop monologue, he is seated behind his little table flanked by Seth Reiser's impressive lighting design on the back wall of the theatre.  According to Berkeley Rep's Artistic Director Tony Taccone, Daisey "combines the hysteria of a comedian, the intelligence of an essayist, the intensity of an actor and the desperation of a raconteur."

In the Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Mike Daisey takes us on a tour of three cities in China where workers in the tech industry literally put their lives on the line for the privilege of having a job.  This storyteller comes equipped with his tools of emphasis and tone with metaphor and irony, and with much embellishment and humor, to get us to see things in a new light.  This newest monologue directed by his wife, Jean-Michele Gregory, has as its main focus, the rise and fall, and rise of Steve Jobs, Apple, industrial design and the human price we are willing to pay for our technology, woven together in a complex narrative.  According to Daisey, this monologue is a perfect example of years of journalism, travel, research, investigation, sweat and tears.  It examines our technology through a personal lens.  Mike Daisey share his experiences in Hong Kong and Shen Zhen and Apple's labor practices.  However, Apple is hardly alone--every major electronics manufacturer uses the same inhumane labor practices in the creation of their products.  Daisey's main concern is to make people aware of labor conditions in China and the systems we have created to feed it.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs will alternate in repertory with his other monologue, The Last Cargo Cult. Performances will take place through February 27 at Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley. Performances are held Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 p.m.; Wednesday and Sunday at 7 p.m.; and Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets and information, call 510-647-2949 or go online at
George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House (1919), directed by Robert Estes for the 5th season of Actor's Ensemble of Berkeley, transcends its time period.

Shaw's play is a notable work on many levels, but perhaps one of its most pronounced literary elements is in its profuse embodiment of modernism.  It is seen in the characters, the dialogue, the psychology of the characters and through the events that play out.  Many of the underlying statements in this play about politics, money, war and people's facades still resonate today.

The story follows a house party in the English countryside hosted by Hesione Hushabye (Michele Delattre) who lives with her father, an old salty sea captain, named Shotover (Jeff Trescott).  Hushabye's protege, Ellie Dunn (Taylor Diffenderfer), comes with news that she is to be married to Boss Mangan (Keith Jefferds), a wealthy man who financially ruined her father, and Hesione tries to convince her to marry for love instead.  After pushing Hesione learns that indeed Ellie is in love--from afar--with a man who turns out to be Hesione's husband Hector (Stanley Spenger).  In a marriage that is clearly full of affection, but whose steam has run out, Hesione turns her affections toward Ellie's father Mazzini Dunn (Matthew Surrence), while Hector, a teller of tall tales, becomes infatuated with Hesione's visiting sister, Ariadne Utterword (Amaka Izuchi). Ariadne's brother in law Randall (Brian McManus) pops in, in love with Ariadne, of course and the plot turns into a tempestuous cat-and-mouse game between the sexes. As the patriarch, Captain Shotover watches amusingly over the entire circus, while forcing his fervent opinions down people's throats.

Shaw's characters represent various aspects of the political and social climate.  Mangan is the villain, the money hungry capitalist while the quirky Shotover is the opposite, the anti-capitalist who reflects Shaw's own socialist views.  Meanwhile Hesione, who is repulsed by Mangan, is the saucy feminist ahead of her time.  And Ellie is the naive, romantic who has the most interesting character arc as she becomes a hard-edged cynic.  Joseph O'Loughlin is a burglar who not only convinces his captors to release him but persuades them to take up a collection so he can start out again on the right track.  Lynn Sotos portrays Nurse Guiness, the housekeeper who has an interesting connection with the burglar. 

With the aid of a well balanced ensemble cast, Director Robert Estes has rendered admirably Shaw's lighthearted pandemonium and his apocalyptic vision of a new English class consciousness.  The imprint of Anton Chekhov's style is apparent in Shaw's reliance on dialogue to express characterization in the atmosphere of post-war England.  The whole play takes place in the course of one evening and runs three and a half hours.

Heartbreak House continues at the Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck Avenue (at Berryman) in Berkeley through February 19, 2011, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sunday, February 13 at 2 p.m.; and Thursday, February 17 at 8 p.m. For reservations, call 510-649-5999 or go online at

Coming up next at the Actors Ensemble of Berkeley will be the West Coast Premiere of Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play, April 22-May 21.