"Shrew" at Cal Shakes--a Production with Pizazz A Profusion of Confusion in Don't Dress for Dinner at RVP Ayres-Frederick's "Afield" Reminiscent of Beckett Tender Mercies Southern Style In 4 Mercy: Friendly Fires Tender Mercies Southern Style In 4 Mercy: Friendly Fires A Little Lie Is A Dangerous Thing In How the Other Half Loves at N.T.C.
Erica Sullivan is Katherine and Slate Holmgren is Petruchio in Shana Cooper ’s
production of The Taming of the Shrewphoto by Kevin Berne.
The opening of the Taming of the Shrew at Cal Shakes is very much like being in Las Vegas. The opening music and set design by Scott Dougan are just fabulous. We see a Las Vegas-type billboard and a minimal set with a second story platform with a spiral staircase leading below. The show opens with a wonderful song and dance number with all of the men in the cast wearing tuxedos and introducing Bianca (Alexandra Henrikson) as a high-fashion stripper dressed in gold and her sister Katherine (Erica Sullivan) in a gold bathing suit as a reluctant sex symbol. In so doing, Director Shana Cooper replaces Christopher Sly, the drunken tinker, with her disco beauty pageant that sets up Erica Sullivan's Katherine resentment of her statuesque sister, Bianca. This is a plastic universe in which shallowness is worshipped and substance devalued.
All throughout the production, Shana Cooper's direction shines through for its cleverness and comic timing. The whole cast is wonderful. Slate Holmgren is very charismatic as Petruchio, Katherine's suitor and as Katherine, the shrew, Erica Sullivan's transformation from impossible shrew to obedient wife is very believable. Shana Cooper has selected some of the Bay Area's best actors for her supporting cast. Rod Gnapp is Baptista, father of both Katherine and Bianca, who has promised not to let the younger daughter, Bianca, wed until Kate has found a husband. Dan Clegg is Tranio, Lucentio's servant who accompanies him from Pisa, wry and comical, he plays an important part in his master's charade. He assumes Lucentio's identity and bargains with Baptista for Bianca's hand. Lucentio is played by Nicholas Pelczar. He disguises himself as a tutor to get close to Bianca who eventually falls for him. Dan Hiatt plays two roles, both Grumio, Petruchio's servant and the fool of the play, a source of much comic relief. He also plays Vincentio who is on his way to Padua to see his son Lucentio. Joan Mankin is wonderful in multiple roles of Curtis Pedant and a widow making each character come alive with much physical comedy. Danny Scheie steals the show again as Gremio, Bianca's elderly suitor. Liam Vincent plays Hortensio, an older rival to Gremio for the hand of Bianca with both style and grace. Last but not least is Theo Black as Biondello, Lucentio's second servant who assists his master and Tranio in carrying out their plot.
Director Shana Cooper deserves a lot of credit for entertaining us with extravagant physical comedy, lots of slapstick, high spirits and sheer gaiety with a fantastic musical background throughout. To add to the pizazz were Katherine O'Neill's costume design and Erika Chong Shuch's choreography. Director, cast and crew take us on a joyful ride!
The Taming of the Shrew runs September 21-October 16, 2011. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m.
Performances are held at Bruns Memorial Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theatre Way, Orinda, CA (just off Highway 24 at the California Shakespeare Theatre Way/Wilder Road exit, one mile east of the Caldecott Tunnel). Tickets are available at the Cal Shakes Box Office, 701 Heinz Avenue, Berkeley, CA, tel. 510-548-9666 or online at www.calshakes.org.
Flora Lynn Isaacson
Tavis Kammet as Robert, David Kester as Bernard and
Sondra Putnam as Jacqueline in Don't Dress for Dinner
Sondra Putnam as Jacqueline in Don't Dress for Dinner
Ross Valley Players just opened their 82nd season with a French farce, Don't Dress for Dinner by Marc Camoletti and adapted by Robin Hawdon.
The action takes place inside a lovely renovated barn, beautifully designed by Jay Lasnik which is owned by a fabulously snobbish, big city married couple. When the play opens, Bernard pulls the ear of an antler by the center door and a whole bar opens up downstage right to the tune of the French national anthem. Bernard played by David Kester, is eagerly looking forward to his weekend liaison with his mistress Suzanne, played with a sexy French accent by Marianne Shine. He figures that he's hatched the perfect plan when he invites his friend, Robert played by Tavis Kammet, to complete his alibi. Much to Bernard's dismay, his wife Jacqueline played by Sondra Putnam, who was going away to visit her mother for the weekend, decides to stay home because she has a plan of her own when she discovers that Robert will be there. Mix in a cook named Suzette played by Melissa Claire and add one jealous husband played by Casey Bair and you end up with a delicious comedy of false identities and misunderstandings.
The pace of this play is frenetic and fun. The skillful hand of experienced Director, Richard Ryan, is evident in the clever ways he bounces the characters off each other and around Jay Lasnik's beautiful set. All of the actors do an admirable job of keeping tabs on all the convolutions of the plot. Sondra Putnam makes an amusingly jaded Jacqueline playing the role of the adulteress housewife with a smirk and a touch of sass. David Kester as Bernard is delightfully convincing as her bumbling and bewildered husband. Melissa Claire as Suzette, the spitfire of a cook, is hilariously manipulative as she realizes the advantages of pretending to be a high-class mistress and begins to demand expensive alcohol and mock her upper class employers at every opportunity. Tavis Kammet as Robert stammers and kvetches through the awkwardness of his situation but somehow still manages to come across as debonair. His performance was truly impressive in that it seemed completely natural despite the complexity of what he has to act out. Marianne Shine makes a wonderfully sexy and beautiful addition to the mix as Suzanne, snapping like a humiliated diva which her character is. Finally, Casey Bair, in his surprise appearance as Suzette's husband, who is comically jealous.
Technically, the set decorations, costumes and lighting design were very good. Special recognition should be given to Michael A. Berg for an especially inspired costume design. Suzette's off beat character is revealed instantly by her opening outfit, a succession of shirts worn by the oft-stained Bernard becomes increasingly less suitable, and the eventual nightwear of all the characters, especially the luscious Suzanne, are nicely revealing of character. Don't Dress for Dinner is a play with broad audience appeal and a lot of laughs.
Don't Dress for Dinner plays September 16-October 16 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 matinees at 2 p.m. For reservations, call 415-456-9555 or go online at rossvalleyplayers.com for more information.
Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's enduring story translated to the stage by Christopher Sergel and directed by James Dunn, November 11-December 11, 2011.
Flora Lynn Isaacson
Bruno Kanter as Samuel, Carolyn Doyle as Miriam and Heidi Wolff as Pig in Afield
San Francisco's 20th Fringe Festival is currently presenting "Afield," a World Premiere by last year's Best of Fringe winner Linda Ayres-Frederick which features an all star cast; Carolyn Doyle as Miriam, Bruno Kanter as Samuel and Heidi Wolff as Pig and directed by Joe Weatherby (also "Best of Fringe.")
With Miriam's arrival in a desolate field of land mines, farmhand Samuel becomes hungry enough to barbecue the Pig who could save his life. At issue here is who will survive their battle and the flood that comes to end their world.
The mood of this play is tense as Miriam, Samuel and Pig vie for survival in a no-man's land ravaged by floods and war. This absurdist tragicomedy by Linda Ayres-Frederick calls to mind plays by Samuel Beckett.
All three actors are outstanding in their roles. Nervous and fretful, Miriam returns to her home, a wasteland littered with land mines. She encounters Samuel, a simple minded farm hand tending a small patch of land. He is resigned to the precarious nature of their survival. They might be the last humans on earth, but are not the only creatures. Into their lives stumbles Pig, a wild boar who could prove to be a valuable ally or a great meal. Pig is cleverly costumed by Wes Crain. This play asks what it means to be human and to find hope in a world overrun with cataclysm and despair.
Brilliantly directed by Joe Weatherby, we find a strong bonding between Miriam and Pig. Samuel appears most of the time to be a villain. Linda Ayres-Frederick is a talented playwright as well as a fine actress, producer, director and critic.
The production team includes Reid McCann (Sound Design), Wes Crain (Costume Design), Anna Dal Pino (Stage Design and Props) and Sarah Selig (Stage Manager).
The final performance of the play is Sunday, September 18 at 1 p.m. at the Exit Theatre (Main Stage), 156 Eddy Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available at the door or at www.brownpapertickets.com.
Flora Lynn Isaacson
Pictured (l-r): Diana Brown as Rhonda, Susan Jackson as Beth and Adrienne Krug as Sylviein Adopt a Highway from 4 MERCY: Friendly Fires by Susan Jackson. Photo by Eric Nelson
After their sold out run of 4 Giveness In A Family Way, the Southern Railroad Theatre Company returns to the Royce Gallery to present Award-Winning Playwright Susan Jackson's latest edition to her southern universe, four new plays united under the theme of Mercy. This collection of plays includes the continuing adventures of Nandy, Peaches, Salacious and Crazy Lacy and the other citizens of small town Beaver Dam and elsewhere to examine the bonds of love, friendship and marriage.
This program opened with country-western music which introduced Rockets Red Glare Part 2.5 directed by Stephen Drewes. We are in Crazy Lacy's backyard in Severinsville County, South Carolina. Crazy Lacy (Adrienne Krug), Nandy Hollister (Diana Brown), Peaches Nasterson (Susan Jackson) and Salacious (Eric Nelson) come together in a "come to Jesus mercy meeting" to determine just who ends up with whom. A fight breaks out between Lacy and Nandy for the hand of Salacious and Peaches comes to the rescue. All is performed in the spirit of fun.
The next play Rockets Red Glare Part 2.75 was directed by Diana Brown. This play takes place in Salacious's car the next day. Salacious is wearing a red, white and blue tie. In this play, Eric Nelson gives a strong performance as Salacious, who is the son of a judge.
In the third play of the program, Adopt a Highway, directed by Ann Thomas, three friends are traveling three hours in a car driven by Rhonda (Diana Brown). To pass the time, Beth (Susan Jackson) suggest they play a game called "Let's Tell Three Secrets." The other passenger is Sylvie (Adrienne Krug). All are dressed in black to go to a funeral. Each woman gets a chance to shine in a special monologue. This play has a surprise ending. An intermission follows these three plays.
The second half of the program opens with "In Situ," described as a "tumor that is confined to its site of origin." Directed by Ann Thomas, the play takes place in Beth's backyard in North Carolina. Beth is played by Susan Jackson. Her best friend and college roommate is Henri (Diana Brown). Both women give excellent performances in this touching drama of two friends who each have a different perspective on terminal illness. Even though this is a serious play, it has a lot of humor in the first half.
This is followed by For I Am Not Breaking, Part 2, directed by Stephen Drewes and starring Susan Jackson as Marion Peallin. The play takes place in Marion's home in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here, socialite Marion Peallin, against her lawyer's advice, writes a letter to her soon-to-be bigamist husband asking him to let her keep the family residence. Susan Jackson gives a very moving performance as Marion.
The final play, Rockets Red Glare Part 3.0 takes place in a forest in Severinsville County one week later. This play was directed by Susan Jackson. Here Nandy (Diana Brown) and Salacious (Eric Nelson), former lovers, face off, arguing over which opponent, Peaches or Salacious, deserves to be Mayor of Beaver Dam. This play was a lot of fun. These plays all add up to a wonderful evening's entertainment.
4 Mercy: Friendly Fires is presented by the Southern Railroad Theatre Company at the Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa (at Harrison) in San Francisco. The plays are performed Thursday-Saturday, September 15-17 at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, go to www.brownpapertickets.com or call 415-505-2151.
Flora Lynn Isaacson
Karen Leland as Teresa Phillips and Chuck Isen as Bob Phillips in How the Other Half Loves
Director Billie Cox discovered an American version of Alan Ayckbourn's British farce, How the Other Half Loves. This version takes place in Everycity, USA in 1970. This comedy shows the lives and loves of three married couples--an upper class couple, a middle class couple and a lower class couple in American society. It is also about the precise interactions of gender and class.
How the Other Half Loves is a timeless analysis of the state of marriage as well as a study of the foibles of each of its couples' individual characters. We witness what happens when two people attempt to cover up an affair by lying to their spouses about where they were on a particular evening. Unfortunately, the lies involve an innocent couple who are then invited to dinner by the lied-to spouses.
The innocent couple attends two different dinner parties on two different nights to work through issues with hilarious results. In order to do this, the show uses one single set designed by Gary Gonser which represents two living and dining rooms at once as this play takes place in two different places at the same time and sometimes, not even the same time, as it juggles both time and space which allows events in different homes, and on two different evenings to happen simultaneously. This duality reflects the duplicity of the cheating spouses and also serves as a comedic device when the third couple is brought in. All the characters are onstage in the highly entertaining depiction of two separate dinner parties and watching the innocent couple bounce between one dinner and the next is hysterical.
Frank and Fiona Foster are an older couple with a cool, distant, yet polite marriage in an American upper crust sort of way. Played by Louis Schilling, Frank is a stereotypical, bumbling, dunderheaded, forgetful, yet endeared partner to Fiona who is played with exasperated impatience by Pennell Chapin. Fiona is having an affair with one of Frank's employees, Bob Phillips. Chuck Isen portrays Bob with a somewhat loutish and almost menacing air, especially when dealing with his complaining wife, Teresa. Teresa, as played by Karen Leland, is a stressed and neglected new mother who suspects Bob of cheating on her and is somewhat shrewish in her manner of pointing out to Bob her views of their unbalanced relationship.
Rounding out the trio of maladjusted marriages are William and Mary Detweiler. When questioned about their whereabouts on the night of one of their evening trysts, Bob and Fiona both tell their spouses they were with William and Mary respectively to lend a supportive ear to their tales of of the breakup of their marriage because of infidelity. This is the lie that sets the dinner parties in motion to the confusion of the young Detweilers who are excellently portrayed by Jeffrey Orth and Eileen Fisher.
Billie Cox has established a great sense of timing with her cast in directing this delightful farce. I highly recommend the show for a night filled with laughter.
How the Other Half Loves runs through September 25, 2011 at the Novato Theater Company, Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. The Novato Theater Company Playhouse is located at 484 Ignacio Blvd., in Pacheco Plaza, Novato. For tickets, call 415-883-4498 or go online at www.novatotheatercompany.org.
Flora Lynn Isaacson