Table Manners-British Fun at RVP Marin Shakespeare Company Opens 2011 Season with the Scottish Play A Search for Meaning in 1934 America Keeping Tigers At Bay

Left to right, Monique Sims as Annie, Robyn Wiley as Ruth and Joseph Hoeber as Norman ham it up in the dining room. Photo courtesy of Robin Jackson.

Ross Valley Players ends its 81st season with Table Manners by Alan Ayckbourn. This tightly written comedy was originally on Broadway in 1975 and revived there by the Old Vic in 2008 when it won the Tony for Best Revival.  Table Manners is the first play in Ayckbourn's trilogy, The Norman Conquests but each play stands on its own.  The Norman of the title is a compulsive womanizer (Joseph Hoeber).  He means no harm. He just wants to make women happy--be they married or unmarried, it makes no difference to him.  He is married to the ostentatiously near-sighted Ruth (Robyn Wiley).  Ruth is the sister of Reg (Robin Schild) and Annie (Monique Sims).  

Three couples are involved on this particular July weekend in a Victorian house not far from London in 1973. They are all related either by blood or marriage except for Tom, the veterinarian (Christopher Hammond).  Table Manners introduces us to the characters--the overworked Annie, the unmarried daughter of the family who cares for her ill, but never seen mother who lies bedridden upstairs. Annie has been involved for about ten years with Tom, a shy veterinarian. He cannot bring himself to pop the question and prefers the company of his four legged friends.  Reg, Annie's brother is a real estate agent who is very involved with his work. He is married to the stern, moralistic Sarah (Pamela Ciochetti) who continually sets about preserving order and preventing much fun from taking place, like seeing that Annie does not go off on a clandestine weekend with Norman.  Then there is Norman himself, an assistant librarian, somewhat silly, but possessing an irresistible charm.  

Director Robert Wilson directs all of the proceedings with a great deal of humor.  Associate Director Judy Holmes, being British-born, coached the cast with impeccable British accents.  Both brought out wonderful performances from the talented cast. Monique Sims stands out as a frowsy and brusque Annie and blossoms into a real beauty.  Pamela Ciochetti is a thin lipped controlling Sarah, Robin Schild is a passive and clownish Reg, Christopher Hammond is a slow thinking and stoical Tom, Robyn Wiley is a brittle and near-sighted Ruth but Joseph Hoeber steals the show in a clownish and magnetic performance as Norman.

Set Designer David Apple built the charming set, a replica of an aging British country house. Michael A. Berg designed the very appropriate costumes.

Cheers to Robert Wilson and Judy Holmes and their talented cast for making Table Manners so much fun for us to enjoy!  

Table Manners continues through August 14 at Ross Valley Players, Barn Theatre, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, CA.  Thursday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For reservations, call 415-456-9555 or go online at

Flora Lynn Isaacson

William Elsman as Macbeth and Alexandra Matthew as Lady Macbeth

For their 22nd season, Robert and Leslie Currier have rolled out the Scottish Play, one that some say carries a century's-old curse.  The story goes that when William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth around 1606, he used actual witch's incantations that were then uttered by the Bard's wonderful, weird sisters.  This greatly distressed the sorceresses of the day who are said to have placed a curse on the play.  A superstitious lot, actors and directors have gone to overt pains not to utter the name of the play as doing so would supposedly bring great misfortune to those who did. Leslie Schisgall Currier and a large cast managed to thwart any curse and successfully mounted this masterpiece of ambition, power, deception and treachery.  Opening night's performance was under a full moon. There was also a little wind blowing across the Forest Meadows Amphitheater and no significant chill.  All of the rage and storm to be had was on stage in this bloody tale of corruption, and ruthless search for power.   

Three cackling hags who appear in the first scene set the tone for the night. Lynne Soffer, Sylvia Burboeck and Madeline Harris were superb as the three witches.  These women, who also play other characters, were suitably costumed by Abra Berman to change at a moment's notice.  Macbeth (William Elsman) hears from the witches that he will become King setting a murderous rampage in motion.  With the help of Lady Macbeth (Alexandra Matthew), Macbeth murders King Duncan (Keith Stevenson) in Macbeth's castle, becomes ruler, then continues his orders to kill fearful that the witch's other prophesies will come true.

William Elsman gives a wonderful nuanced performance as Macbeth whether the triumphant young general or the mad King haunted by the blood on his hands.  Alexandra Matthew, previously cast as the nice girl on stage, was a welcome surprise as Lady Macbeth.  Macbeth and his wife are spiritually in tune; they love and understand each other without speaking everything out.  The supporting cast is uniformly strong. Particularly strong is Scott Coopwood as Macduff, the man who eventually fells the play's title character in a final battle. Robert Currier does a clever bit as a sleepy Porter as comic relief to slack off the emotional tension between two strong scenes and drew much laughter from the audience.  Darren Bridgett makes a brave and noble Banquo.  

The design work is superb; Mark Robinson's remarkably flexible set; Abra Berman's imaginative costumes, Billie Cox's Gothic music and amazing sound design and Ellen Brooks' spooky lighting.  

Macbeth is a thriller from start to finish, fortified by Elsman's robust Macbeth, Scott Coopwood's dashing Macduff and a closing image that suggests how cycles of political violence churn on.  

Macbeth continues at Forest Meadows Amphitheater through August 14, 2011.  Forest Meadows Amphitheater is located at 1475 Grand Avenue, Dominican University, San Rafael, CA.  For tickets or schedule information, call the box office at 415-499-4488 or go online at

Flora Lynn Isaacson

The Petrified Forest--pictured are (L to R) Ariana Hooper as waitress Gabby Marples and Ken Bacon as drifter Alan Squire in a scene from "The Petrified Forest," presented by Ken Bacon Productions and Marin Actors' Workshop. Photo by Eric Chazankin

A remote diner located in the Arizona desert is the setting for Robert E. Sherwood's The Petrified Forest currently being produced by Marin Actor's Workshop and directed by Bay Area Critic's Circle Award winner for Best Director, Terry McGovern.  

The year is 1934, the heart of the Great Depression.  A down on his luck idealistic writer, Alan Squire (Ken Bacon) apparently bent on self destruction hikes to the edge of the Arizona desert and comes upon the Black Mesa Diner.  There he finds a kindred spirit in the young waitress, Gabby (Ariana Hooper) who seems to give his life clarity.  When a fugitive killer, Duke Mantee (Daniel Flores) overruns the diner and holds its inhabitants hostage, what emerges is a tableau of our country in one of its most trying historical periods.  The Petrified Forest is a look at an America not entirely unlike our own.  In doing so, Director Terry McGovern tried to make the characters more accessible, more in touch with the fears and hopes of the Great Depression.   

The Petrified Forest has  shrewd director in Terry McGovern and a strong acting company in the Marin Actor's Workshop, who make each role a gem.  The set design by Eugene De Christopher of a roadside cafe does a lot to establish both period and mood.  The wonderful costumes by Chris Andrews are authentic to the period as well as the old tunes on the radio.  

The environment is right, and the playing is splendid.  It is a big cast with every face and accent right and everybody's story either stated or implied.  The play begins with Jeremy Fay and Andrew Mendle as two telegraph linemen having a political argument.  Montgomery Paulsen as the cafe owner (Jason Maple) takes affront at their unpatriotic assumptions which are both real and funny. Ariana Hooper plays his daughter Gabby as bright, sensible and unmannered, a girl who could survive anywhere but who needs someplace better than this.  Jeff Taylor does wonders with the role of an ex-college football hero (Nevada Tech), Boze Hertzlinger. He makes him solid and authentic. Gabby's wild-eyed grandfather (Wood Lockhart) is a scene stealer and has some of the best lines in the play.  

So, enter Duke Mantee (Daniel Flores) and his henchmen, Jackie (Craig Logan), Ruby (Dave Crone) and Slim (Greg Davis).  Their reputation precedes them--six dead in Oklahoma City--and they've chosen Black Mesa to reunite with their women before moving on.  Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm (Mark Shepard and Stacy Thunes) a wealthy couple and their driver Joseph (Andrew Bozeman) wind up hostages while Alan finds, in dialog brilliantly delivered by Ken Bacon, a kindred spirit in Mantee, subtly and excellently played by Daniel Flores.  Another fine performance is by Bliss Leigh-Harshaw as Paula, the Mexican cook.  These actors blazing depths are blessings to Director Terry McGovern.  

The Petrified Forest continues through July 31, 2011 at the Novato Theatre Company Playhouse, Pacheco Plaza Shopping Center, 484 Ignacio Blvd., Novato.  Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.  To order tickets, call 415-883-4498 or go to

Flora Lynn Isaacson

The cast: Jeremy Kahn, Melissa Quine, Rebecca Schweitzer*, and Remi Sandri

In Tigers Be Still, the West Coast Premiere currently at San Francisco Playhouse by Kim Rosenstock, we find a young woman Sherry (Melissa Quine) having difficulty coping with unemployment and life in general after she earns her Masters Degree in Art Therapy.  Matters take a turn for the better once she gets hired as a substitute art teacher. Her sister Grace (Rebecca Schweitzer) has moved back home since her fiancee cheated on her.  Her entire existence has come down to chugging Jack Daniels and watching t.v.  

The principal of Sherry's school, Joseph (Remi Sandri) is in a perpetual state of forced optimism, and although his wife has recently died, he suppresses his emotions and pushes on.  Joseph's 18 year old son, Zack (Jeremy Kahn) is perhaps the most tragic of them all. With his mom's recent death, his uninspired job at CVS and no desire to go to college, his future looks bleak.  The 5th character in this story is unseen. Sherry and Grace's mother has been in her bedroom for months. She is also Joseph's ex-girlfriend which is the reason Sherry secured her job in the first place.  Oh, and a tiger has escaped from the local zoo!  

Kim Rosenstock's Tigers Be Still treats depression with wry humor.  Depression is repressed anger.  The "Tiger" is anger. Her characters need to break out of where they are stuck and move on with their lives.  Tigers Be Still is also about recovery.  All of the characters represent various stages of grieving or loss.  At the core of the play is hope about humanity and unexpected ways we help and heal each other.  Since the play is basically a comedy, all of the characters are hilarious.  They represent people stuck in situations we've all been in.  

Sherry's determination to help others beat off threats from their mental "tigers" is at the heart of the play.  We all root for them to get up their nerve to confront their various issues and defeat the tigers.  

Amy Glazer's direction is sharp, clear and perfectly timed.  Her pitch perfect cast are all marvelous in their roles.  Bill English comes through again with a flexible set that works remarkably well. Tigers Be Still continues at the SF Playhouse through July 30.  Performances are Tuesday-Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. plus Saturday at 3 p.m.  SF Playhouse is located at 533 Sutter Street (1block off Union Square) b/n Powell and Mason.  For tickets call 415-677-9596 or go online at

Coming up next at SF Playhouse will be Honey Brown Eyes by Stefanie Zadravec and directed by Susi Damilano opening Saturday, September 24, 2011.

Flora Lynn Isaacson