Great Leaps of the Imagination in Art and Science in the 20th Century Performers Under Stress (PUS) Closes Season with World Premiere of "Cancer Cells"--An Evening of Short Plays and Poems by Harold Pinter. Rabbit Hole: A Family Tries to Cope with the Pain of Loss Patio Dreams Wins 1st Place Honors at 27th Anniversary of Fringe of Marin Ceremony

The Novato Theater Company is currently presenting Steve Martin's first full length play which he wrote in 1993, Picasso at the Lapin Agile.  His play features the characters of Albert Einstein (Jason Dorie) and Pablo Picasso (Robert Nelson) who meet at a bar called the Lapin Agile in Montmartre, Paris.  It is set on October 8, 1904 and both men are on the verge of an amazing idea (Einstein will publish his special theory of relativity in 1905 and Picasso will paint Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in 1907).  When they find themselves at the Lapin Agile, they have a lengthy debate about the value of genius and talent while interacting with a host of other characters.  Each character in Lapin Agile performs a specific function, for example Schmendiman (Philip Ferrero) is an inventor who believes he is a genius but really knows very little, while Gaston (John Conway), an amicable old Frenchman with prostrate problems, is hesitant to listen or believe anything that does not revolve around sex or drinking.

There is much discussion of the shaping of the 20th century.  Picasso obviously represents art, Einstein science and Schmendiman represents commercialism.  Picasso and Einstein eventually realize their abilities are equally valuable.  

Once the main characters have had their moments of insight, "The Visitor" (Phillip Swanson), a man from the future crashes the party.  The Visitor is never named but his identity can be surmised as Elvis Presley.  The Visitor adds a third dimension to Picasso and Einstein's debate representing the idea that genius is not always the product of academic or philosophical understanding.

According to playwright Steve Martin, "Focusing on Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity and Picasso's master painting, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, my play attempts to explain in a light hearted way the similarity of the creative process involved in great leaps of imagination in art and science." 

Director Jerrie Patterson has certainly directed her talented cast in the spirit of fun and lightheartedness. In order of appearance they are Freddie, the owner and bartender of the Lapin Agile played by Jeffrey Orth in a very amiable performance; Gaston, an older man, John Conway is very funny as an aging womanizer; Germaine, Monique Sims, waitress and Freddie's wife, gives a coquettish performance.  In spite of the title, the character who commands the play is not Picasso, but Einstein. As played by Jason Dorie, Einstein is a little man neatly buttoned up who appears to be polite.  He observes all, listens with care and would seem to be shy.  Suzanne (Melissa Claire), a young woman searching for Picasso gives a sexy and sultry performance.  Most outstanding of all is Joseph Hoeber as Sagot, Picasso's art dealer who is slick and powerful and steals the show. 

Picasso (Robert Nelson), the person everyone's waiting for doesn't come on until the play is almost half over.  Though decently played by Nelson, the character as written never realizes the strength, status and robust magntism assigned to him.  Phillip Ferrero totally cuts loose as the successful and completely over the top Schmendiman--representative of people who invented commonplace things but lives forever in obscurity.  One final performance is Sarah Nelson cast in two roles as both the Countess Einstein's patron, and a Female Visitor in contrasting performances.  The set design by Gary Gonser and Jerrie Patterson features a realistic bar and delightful painting of sheep in the meadow. Jerrie Paterson's direction, like her costuming, is tip-top from the first moment to the grand finale.  

Picasso at the Lapin Agile runs through June 19 at the Novato Theater Company Playhouse, 484 Ignacio Blvd., Novato.  Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. For reservations, call 415-883-4498 or go online at

Flora Lynn Isaacson
Performers Under Stress (PUS) closes its sixth season of critically acclaimed stage work in the Bay Area with the World Premiere of "Cancer Cells," a project uniting Harold Pinter's poetry and short theatrical work from his later, more politically focused era.  These are all seldom performed works, never before assembled on the same evening.  

PUS Artistic Director Scott Baker and Artistic Associate Geoff Bangs (who conceived the project) together helm this production which displays Pinter's insight into the whims of military power as they grow out of control and finally silence the life of the mind, like a cancer that destroys from within. "Cancer Cells" is a compilation of works by Mr. Pinter emphasizing topics about which he was passionate. Pinter's overtly political plays and sketches were written between 1980 and 2000. The program opens with a short poem, "Cancer Cells" performed by Valerie Fachman who shaved her head for this piece.  She looked just like the actress from the play Wit. Her silent body language was wonderful but she was practically inaudible.  

The following political plays by Pinter serve as a critique of oppression, torture and other abuses of human rights.  The first of the plays presented was "The New World Order," a dramatic sketch which provides "ten nerve wracking minutes" of two men threatening to torture a third man who is blindfolded, gagged and bound to a table.  This is followed by Pinter's look at "Democracy" beautifully rendered by Mindy Marie Vo.  

A much longer play, "Mountain Language" is divided into four parts. One-a prison wall; two-visitors room; three-voice in the darkness and four--visitors room.  Mountain Language concerns the Turkish suppression of the Kurdish language.  

Geoff Bangs gave a moving rendition of "Death May Be Aging"-another short poem by Pinter.  "Press Conference" followed with a dynamic performance by Valerie Fachman as the Minister of Culture.  Here Pinter dramatizes the interplay and conflict of opposing poles of involvement and disengagement as the Minister is interviewed by three reporters.  Nandini Minocha gives an energetic critical look at "American Football"-another of Pinter's poems.  

The last play presented is "One for the Road"--Pinter's first overtly political play. Gene Gerard Thomas gives an outstanding performance as Nicolas. The entire program ends with a young man, Carter Hartsough reciting "Death" in which Pinter merges both the personal and the political. 

Outstanding performances are given by Nandini Minocha in many roles--several different prison sergeants, a reporter, and "American football;" Mindy Marie Vo as Sarah Johnson in "Mountain Language," a reporter, as well as "Democracy" and Carlos Barrera in four different roles.

This production skillfully directed by Scott Baker and Geoff Bangs revolves around the unrelenting path power takes on innocence and existence as seen through the eyes of a cancer survivor and world humanitarian.  These two parallels draw magnetically toward one another as the pieces progress from shockingly inhuman to brutally hilarious and chillingly truthful.  

There is only one weekend left to catch "Cancer Cells" which is being performed at The Garage, 975 Howard Street, San Francisco.  Performances are Friday, May 20 at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 21 at 8 p.m. and a closing performance on Sunday, May 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets for all performances are available at and

Flora Lynn Isaacson

Beth Kellermann as Becca in Rabbit Hole at Ross Valley Players

Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, which just opened at Ross Valley Players, is a 2006 Broadway smash hit which won the Pulitzer Prize and was nominated the Best Play for the Theatre Guild's Tony Awards.  

David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole depicts a family in crisis caused by a heartbreakingly random accident and how these five people deal with the aftermath of this very personal tragedy.  Each character is enveloped in a private grieving process that little-by-little challenges the family bonds that tie them together.  Lindsay-Abaire offers no easy answers, no profound discoveries which enable its characters to move triumphantly beyond their private mourning.  But, in its honest candor and complete lack of sentimentality, Rabbit Hole gives us a glimpse into a family very much like our own, coping with loss as any family might with anger and hope, despair and humor, and ultimately profound humanity.  

Eight months after the accidental death of their four year old son Danny, Becca (Beth Kellermann) and Howie (Gregg LeBlanc) are struggling to return to their daily lives when Becca's younger and perpetually troubled sister, Izzy (Floriana Alessandria) announces she is pregnant.  The couple's differing styles of grieving are thrown into sharp contrast as Becca's desire to escape the constant reminders of her son clash with Howie's attempts to hang on to the details of their little boy's past.  

Becca, as played by Beth Kellermann, at first, is difficult to like.  She's distant from her husband, judgmental of her sister and rude to her mother.  One trait that helps to balance her difficult side is her sense of humor.  Though she occasionally employs it to biting effect, Becca manages to find both irony and humor in the circumstances of her lot.  She is not mean. She is just isolated.  She is tough and uncompromising, she cannot tolerate insincerity or impracticality.   

Howie played by Gregg LeBlanc is Becca's husband--a patient man who specializes in pretending everything is fine.  Izzy (Floriana Alessandria) is Becca's younger sister.  Ms. Alessandria plays her as a perennial party girl who never grew up.  Izzy is still trying to find herself. She and her mother are the only two characters who use a New York accent.  Her mother Nat (Maureen O'Donoghue) is the opinionated alcoholic with a knack for sticking her foot in her mouth telling parables about the Kennedy curse.  Liam Hughes gives a sensitive performance as Jason, the awkward seventeen year old boy who drove the car that accidentally killed Danny.  

Maryann Rogers directs Rabbit Hole with a recognition that we are not so different from each other, as she allows us to live closely with Howie, Becca, Nat, Izzy and Jason to see how they deal with their feelings and the feelings of those around them.  By doing so, we connect with a universal human experience as Maryanne Rogers creates a unified vision of the play.  She is ably aided by Ken Rowland's set which realistically depicts three rooms in Becca's and Howie's house.  The restricted quarters add an air of claustrophobia to the play. Both the set and Ellen Brook's lighting design are softly infused with an aura of fractured solidity.  Billie Cox's mellow sound design enhances Rabbit Hole's shifting moods and Michael A. Berg's costumes are just right for each character.  Alternately sad and funny, Rabbit Hole is a deeply human look at one family's attempt to come to terms with the impossible and emerge stronger than before.  

Rabbit Hole plays through June 17 at Ross Valley Players Barn Theatre, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross.  Thursday performances are at 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For reservations, call 415-456-9555 or go online at

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players is Table Manners by Alan Ayckbourn and directed by Robert Wilson, July 15-August 14, 2011.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

With grateful thanks to Dr. Annette Lust, Artistic Director and Festival Coordinator, The Dominican University Community Players and Fringe of Marin just celebrated their 27th Anniversary Season.  Bay Area Theatre Critic's Circle Awards for Best Play, Best Director and Best Actors were announced Sunday, May 8, 2011 at Meadowlands Assembly Hall at Dominican University.

The first awards presented were for Best Play. The pride of 1st place went to "Patio Dreams" by Don Samson.  There was a tie for 2nd place between "Jesus, She Said," by Charley Lerrigo and "Juice; Scenes from a Life" by Charselle.  3rd place honors were a three-way tie between "Convention of Spies" by Bill Chessman, "The Girl on BART" by Linda Ayres-Frederick and Claudia V. Rosa, and "Stanislavski" by Kevin Brookes.  "Bindings" by Gaetana Caldwell-Smith won 4th place.  

Next were the awards for Best Director.  Kate Jopson won 1st place for "Jesus, She Said."  2nd place for Best Director went to Carol Eggers for "Patio Dreams."  Buzz Halsing and Emily Surface won 3rd place for "Stanislavski."  There was a four-way tie for 4th place between Linda Ayres-Frederick for "The Girl on BART," Steve North for "Candle Rose," Carol Sheldon for "The Taxpayer's Nightmare" and Charselle for "Juice." 

Claudia V. Rosa won 1st place honors for Best Actress for "Patio Dreams" and "The Girl on BART."  Charselle won 2nd place for "Juice." There was a tie for 3rd place between Suzanne Birrell for "Daniel" and Andy Major for "It's Very Crowded."  4th place honors went to Sarita Ocon for "Jesus, She Said."  

The last of the Critic's Circle Awards went to Best Actor which was won by Rick Roitinger for "Patio Dreams."  There was a tie for 2nd place between Professor Henry Shreibman for "A Taste of the Silent Art" and Tyler Hewitt for "Bindings."  Chris Morrell won 3rd place for Best Actor for "Jesus, She Said."  There was a tie for 4th place between Johnny DeBernard and Ron Dailey, both for "Stanislavski." 

The Critic's Circle also gave a Nomination Award to Byron Lambie for "Candle Rose."

For the 8th consecutive time, the People's Choice Awards took place which are the results of audience votes.  Here are those results.  The 1st place award for Best Play went to "Juice; Scenes from a Life" by Charselle.  2nd Place went to "Stanislavski" by Kevin Brookes and "Jesus, She Said" by Charley Lerrigo won 3rd place.   "Patio Dreams" by Don Samson took 4th place for Best Play. "The Taxpayer's Nightmare" by Carol Sheldon won 5th place.  "Jessica" by Joe Tomalin won 6th place and "Bindings" by Gaetana Caldwell-Smith took 7th place.  "Candle Rose" by David Hirzell won 8th place for Best Play and there was a tie for 9th place between "Convention of Spies" by Bill Chessman and "It's Very Crowded" by Suzanne Birrell.  "A Puppet Is Down" by Jeffrey Smith won 10th place and there was a tie for 11th place between "A Taste of the Silent Art" by Professor Henry Shreibman and "Daniel" by Bob Weiss.  

The 1st place People's Choice Award for Best Director was a tie between Carol Eggers for "Patio Dreams" and Carol Sheldon for "The Taxpayer's Nightmare." Buzz Halsing won 2nd place as Best Director for "Stanislavski" and 3rd place honors went to Kate Jopson for "Jesus, She Said."  4th place went to Joe Tomalin for "Jessica" and 5th place tied between Bill Chessman for "Convention of Spies" and Gaetana Caldwell-Smith for "Bindings."  6th place for Best Director was won by Steve North for "Candle Rose" and 7th place went to Crystal Nezgoda for "It's Very Crowded."  Suzan Lorraine won 8th place for "A Puppet is Down" and 9th place went to Emily Surface for "Stanislavski."  10th place was won by Linda Ayres-Frederick for "The Girl on BART" and 11th place went to Henry Shreibman for "A Taste of the Silent Art."

The People's Choice Award for Best Actress went to Charselle in "Juice; Scenes from a Life"  Claudia V. Rosa won 2nd place for "It's Very Crowded," "Bindings," "The Girl on BART" and "Patio Dreams."  3rd place honors for Best Actress went to Sarita Ocon for "Jesus, She Said" and Crystal Nezgoda won 4th place for "Jessica."  There was a tie for 5th place between Carolyn Grenier and Kathryn Daskal for "Jessica."  There was a 3-way tie for 6th place between Patricia Inabnet for "Convention of Spies," Andy Major for "It's Very Crowded" and Suzanne Birrell for "Daniel."  Victoria Williams won 7th place as Best Actress for "Stanislavski" and Stephanie Stratman took 8th place for "A Puppet Is Down."  There was a tie for 9th place between Patcharee Boyd for "Stanislavski" and Sarah Doherty for "Jessica."  

Last up for the People's Choice Awards was for Best Actor.  There was a tie for 1st place between C. Conrad Cady for "A Taxpayer's Nightmare" and "Convention of Spies" and Rick Roitinger for "Patio Dreams."  2nd place for Best Actor went to Tyler Hewitt for "Bindings" and 3rd place was won by Chris Morrell for "Jesus, She Said."  Ron Dailey won 4th place as Best Actor for "Stanislavski."  Henry Shreibman won 5th place for "A Taste of the Silent Art" and Johnny DeBernard won 6th place for "Stanislavski."  Charles Grant won 7th place for "Candle Rose."  There was a tie for 8th place Best Actor between John Vincent Burke for "Convention of Spies" and Byron Lambie for "Candle Rose."  9th place tied between Tom Dembski for "Stanislavski" and Charlie Guitron for "A Puppet Is Down."  There was a 4-way tie for 10th place between Javier Alarcon for "Stanislavski," Alan Jensen for "The Taxpayer's Nightmare," Steve North for "The Taxpayer's Nightmare" and Jim Colgan for "Convention of Spies."  

Bravo to Dr. Annette Lust for maintaining the Fringe of Marin for 27 seasons!

Flora Lynn Isaacson