Becky Shaw--X Generation Angst at SF Playhouse Broadway Bound by Neil Simon--A Precious Gem at Masquer's Tom Stoppard's Arcadia Lights Up Actor's Ensemble of Berkeley She Stoops to Conquer--An 18th Century Comedy of Manners at RVP Period of Adjustment-A Christmas Eve Marital Comedy

Max tries to break it off with Becky. (Brian Robert Burns & Lauren English).

Gina Gionfriddo's 2009 Pulitzer Prize Finalist, Becky Shaw is receiving its regional premiere at the San Francisco Playhouse.  Playwright Gina Gionfriddo says "The play is a journey of moral discovery, and the characters are people who are wrestling with their best and worst selves."

When Suzanna (Liz Sklar) sets up the unknown Becky Shaw (Lauren English) with her closest friend, Max (Brian Robert Burns), little can she forecast the seismic effect it will have on their lives.  Suzanna's charitable matchmaking leads to a catastrophic first date that ultimately causes each character in the play to re-assess their relationship with one another, and forced to clarify the future lives they envision for themselves.  This play asks to what extent Becky's desperation and neediness affects others around her.  Gionfriddo asks the following questions:  "What do you owe a desperate stranger?"   "What do you owe her when you invited her in?"  Social obligation and morality are heady points of contention.  At the heart of the play is a shrewd explanation of how difficult it can be to act charitably especially to people you don't particularly like.

For this regional premiere, San Francisco Playhouse Associate Artistic Director, Amy Glazer does a bang up job directing her talented cast. Liz Sklar gives a standout performance as Suzanna. Her acting was superb. She was ably assisted by Brian Robert Burns who plays a cocky Max, Lori Holt as Suzanna's mother Susan, who really knows how to take the stage and delivers some of the best lines in the play, Lee Dolson as Suzanna's husband Andrew who is both supportive and sympathetic, and finally the beautiful Lauren English as Becky who plays her with a blend of surface fragility along with a heart of steel.  

Bill English is an amazing set designer. The multi-location plot of Becky Shaw placed huge demands which he ably met, keeping the scene changes fluid and the action of one room unfolding as another closes. The play skips between various cities in the U.S. (New York, Boston, Providence and Richmond).  Becky Shaw is reminiscent of the plays of Henrik Ibsen, the Father of Modern Drama. Here in this play, as in Ibsen's, more and more is revealed about each character as it goes along, like peeling layers of an onion.

Do come to the San Francisco Playhouse to see Becky Shaw. This play entertains, challenges and inspires you to experience the power of live theatre.  

Becky Shaw continues through March 10, 2012.  Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 p.m.  The SF Playhouse is located at 533 Sutter Street (one block off Union Square b/n Powell and Mason).  For tickets, contact SF Playhouse box office at 415-677-9596 or go online at

Coming up next at SF Playhouse will be The Aliens by Annie Baker directed by Lila Neugebauer opening Saturday, March 24, 2012.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

Kate (Marilyn Hughes, left) dances with her son Eugene (Zac Schuman) in The Masquer's Playhouse production of Neil Simon's Broadway Bound.

Phoebe Moyer has directed a beautiful and sensitive production of Broadway Bound which opened last weekend at the Masquer's Playhouse which runs through February 25.

The origins of Neil Simon's comic sensibilities are revealed in his semi-autobiographical trilogy; Brighton Beach Memoirs (1983), Biloxi Blues (1985) and Broadway Bound (1987).

The setting of Broadway Bound is the Jerome household, Brighton Beach, 1949.  Eugene (Zac Schuman), the protagonist and Simon's alter-ego, and his brother Stanley (Chris Dewey) have begun writing comedy sketches for the Catskill's resorts hoping this activity will be the first step on the fame and fortune.  As they seek out funny material, the boy's home life rapidly disintegrates.  The crisis at hand includes their parent's constant quarreling (brought about by their father's philandering) and a seemingly insurmountable dilemma involving their aged grandfather.  

Director Phoebe Moyer skillfully guides her talented cast in this fine, Masquer's production.  Her ensemble works well off each other and each one offers a carefully etched characterization.  

Eugene acts as narrator, speaking directly to the audience and filling us in on the details. Zac Schum an is engaging as the glib Eugene who has a clear comeback for any situation. As Stan, Chris Dewey becomes his character completely. The two actors play well off each other in their lively, brotherly exchanges.  

Marilyn Hughes has the challenging role of Kate Jerome, who is about 50 years old and graying.  She is the mother of Eugene and Stanley Jerome and the wife of Jack Jerome (Timothy Beagley).  After 33 years of marriage, she confronts Jack with his extra-marital affair; they do not speak to each other afterward.  Shortly after the radio broadcast of a show written by her sons, Kate shows her son Eugene how she once danced with George Raft which is a dramatic highlight of the play.  Kate is a survivor and Marilyn Hughes convincingly conveys her character's inner strength. Timothy Beagley gives a low-key portrayal of Jack, as a man who has been beaten down by the demands of his restrictive life.  

Avi Jacobson is amusing as Ben, the crusty grandfather, a rabid Socialist who disapproves of his daughter, Blanche's Park Avenue lifestyle.  Georgie Craig as Blanche shares a poignant scene with her father Ben who refuses to accept her financial help.  

The realistic two level set by Phoebe Moyer and the lighting by Jon Gourdine enhance the production as does the sound effects by Billie Cox which makes this a rich listening experience especially for those fond of old-time radio drama.  The period costumes by Marjorie Moore are both realistic and authentic.  

Brother Stan points out that characters wanting something with an obstacle preventing them from getting it equals comedy.  Broadway Bound shows that the comedy can often be bittersweet.

This warm comedy plays weekends January 20-February 25 at the Masquer's Playhouse in Point Richmond.  Performances are Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on January 29 and February 5.  Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 510-232-4031.  The Playhouse is located off Highway 580 (Richmond Parkway) at 105 Park Place, Point Richmond across from the Hotel Mac.  

Coming up next in the Masquer's 2012 season will be The Real Inspector Hound and The 15 Minute Hamlet by Tom Stoppard and directed by Steve Hill from March 23-April 28.  

Flora Lynn Isaacson
Paul Stout as Septimus Hodge and Jerome Solberg as Captain Brice in Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia directed by Robert Estes played to a packed audience, Saturday, January 21, 2012.  Written in 1993, Arcadia brilliantly intermixes sex, mathematics, romance and landscape architecture in a contemporary cosmic drama that deftly travels from today's England back to the time of the wild poet, Lord Byron, all in the pursuit of desire--desire for love, desire for fame, and a desire for simply knowing how it all turns out.  This play concerns the relationship between past and present and between order and disorder and the certainty of knowledge.  

The setting is an English country manor in 1809 and the present day.  The activities of two modern scholars and the house's current residents are juxtaposed with the lives of those who lived there 180 years earlier. 

In 1809, Tomasina Coverly (Alona Bach) the daughter of the house is a precocious teenager with ideas about mathematics well ahead of her time.  She studies with her tutor, Septimus Hodge (Paul Stout), a friend of Lord Byron, who is an unseen guest in the house. In the present, a writer and academic converge on the house: Hannah Jarvis (Jody Christian), a writer, is investigating a hermit who once lived on the grounds; Bernard Nightingale (Christopher Kelly) a Professor of Literature is investigating a mysterious chapter in the life of Byron.  As their investigations unfold, helped by Valentine Coverly (Aaron Lindstrom), a post-graduate student in mathematical biology, the truth about what happened in Tomasina's lifetime is gradually revealed. The play's set by Jerome Solberg and Gunnar Ellam features a large table which is used by the characters in both past and present. Props are not removed when the play switches time periods, so the baby tortoise, coffee mugs, quill pens, portfolios and lap-top computers appear along side each other in a blurring of past and present.

This production at Actor's Ensemble of Berkeley is, for the most part, a fine production.  The play's direction is superb. Several of the performances are truly outstanding-both Paul Stout as Septimus and Christopher Kelly as Bernard Nightingale deserve to be singled out for their remarkable performances.  Also, Jody Christian, as Hannah Jarvis is a particular delight, alive in both intellect and body, while teasing the humor of Stoppard's dialogue.  Shifra Pride Raffel lights up the stage with her sure command and perfect comic timing as Lady Croom.  Alona Bach is a little hard to understand at first, but grows beautifully in the part, especially as she begins to feel the power of her social standing and intellect.  Al Badger as Landscape Architect Noakes, Barry Eitel as would-be poet, Chater, Jerome Solberg as Captain Brice and Matthew Surrence as Jellaby turn in polished gems in their cameo roles.  Aaron Lindstrom makes the most of his part of Valentine Coverly a "chaos" mathematician and Rachel Ferensowicz does a nice turn as Chloe Coverly, Nightingale's acolyte.  

Good as this production is, it is not perfect. For one thing, the 1st act gets underway too slowly and should be shortened and tightened up.  But for the most part, Robert Estes' Arcadia plays to the script's intellectual and farcical strengths, and in this case, keeps us fully entertained.  

Performances are held at the Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley through February 18, 2012 with Friday-Saturday performances at  8 p.m. and one Sunday matinee, February 12 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at

Flora Lynn Isaacson

Sean Mirkovich as Marlow and Jocelyn Roddie as Kate in She Stoops to Conquer

Written by Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer was first performed in London in 1773 and is one of the few plays from the 18th century still regularly performed today.  In the story, Mr. Hardcastle (Alex Ross) wants his daughter, Kate (Jocelyn Roddie) to meet and marry the wealthy Charles Marlow (Sean Mirkovich), but Marlow gets nervous around upper-class women so Kate needs to pretend to be "common" and "stoops to conquer" by pretending to be a bar-maid.

The play is set in an English village in 1765. When the play begins, Marlow sets out for the Hardcastle's manor with a friend, George Hastings (Adam Roy), an admirer of Miss Constance Neville (Kushi Beauchamp), another young lady who lives at the Hardcastle's.  During the journey, the two men become lost and run into Tony Lumpkin (Josh Garcia-Cotter), Kate's stepbrother and cousin to Constance.  Tony plays a practical joke by telling the two men that they are a long way from their destination and will have to stay overnight at an inn.  The "inn" he directs them to is in fact the home of the Hardcastle's.  When they arrive, the Hardcastles who have been expecting them, go out of their way to feel welcome.  However, Marlow and Hastings, believing themselves at an inn, behave disdainfully towards their hosts.  But Mr. Hardcastle bears their unwitting insults with forbearance because of his friendship with Marlow's father.  

Kate learns of her suitor's shyness from Constance, and a servant tells her about Tony's trick.  She decides to masquerade as a bar-maid changing her accent and costume in order to get to know him.  Marlow falls in love with her because she appears of a lower class and acts somewhat bawdy.  All misunderstandings are resolved by the end thanks to an appearance by Sir Charles Marlow (John Anthony Nolan).  

In the sub-plot, Mr. Hardcastle's second wife (Maureen O'Donoghue) is quite determined that her spoiled and not too brilliant son, Tony Lumpkin shall marry her niece, Constance Neville.  Constance, however, has other plans, being secretly pledged to Hastings.  

British-born Director Judy Holmes, breaks the fourth wall and makes the most of the asides the characters have with the audience.  

Alex Ross as Mr. Hardcastle gives a great performance and is the glue holding the play together. Jocelyn Roddie as Kate has a wonderful sense of timing and is excellent in her alter-ego, the bar-maid.  Sean Mirkovich as Marlow is able to switch confidently from stammering shyness of women of his social class to lascivious lothario with the bar-maid.  Maureen O'Donoghue is delightful as the fashion seeker who easily succumbs to flattery.  Kushi Beauchamp as Constance and Adam Roy as Hastings make a sincere eloping couple.  As Tony Lumpkin, Josh Garcia-Cotter has captured the oafishness of his character.  

Set Designer Ken Rowland has created the perfect English country manor and Michael A. Berg's costumes are authentic and elegant.  

She Stoops to Conquer is a wonderful play and excellently directed by Judy Holmes in the perfect style of an 18th century Comedy of Manners.  

She Stoops to Conquer plays through February 19, 2012.  Thursday performances are held at 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. All performances are at Ross Valley Players Barn Theatre, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. For reservations, call 415-456-9555, extension 1 or go to:

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be 20th Century by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, adapted by Ken Ludwig and directed by Billie Cox from March 23-April 22, 2012.

Flora Lynn Isaacson
The Cast of Period of Adjustment

To celebrate the 100 year anniversary of one of our greatest playwrights, the San Francisco Playhouse presents a rarity, a Christmas comedy by Tennessee Williams.  

Set on Christmas eve, Period of Adjustment tells the gentle, lighthearted story of two couples, one newly wed and the other married five years, both experiencing pains and difficulties in their relationships. The two male characters are veterans of the Korean War. The younger of the two experiences post-traumatic stress (shell-shock, battle fatigue, combat stress reaction), while the older man suffers from feelings of inadequacy toward his wife, the daughter of his boss.  However, the observance of each other's troubles brings both couples to realize what they have and to reconcile their own relationships.  

It is 1958 and a young couple, George (Patrick Aparone) and Isabel Haverstick (MacKenzie Meehan) have just gotten married the day before.  After the ceremony, the newlyweds drive cross-country in George's '52 hearse and he discloses to his bride that he has quit his job.  George impulsively decides to visit his older, Korean War buddy, Ralph Bates (Johnny Moreno), in High Point, Tennessee.  Unbeknown to George, Ralph has also resigned his position and as a consequence, his wife of five years, Dorothea (Maggie Mason) has just left him and taken their young son along with her to stay at her parents (Jean Forsman and Joe Madero).  As befits a comedy, all ends well with both couples headed for a happily ever after.  This is a pitch perfect ensemble who hit all the right notes!

Period of Adjustment runs through January 14 at San Francisco Playhouse, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco.  For tickets, call 415-677-9596 or visit

Their next production will be Gina Gionfriddo's Becky Shaw, directed by Amy Glazer opening January 28, 2012.

Flora Lynn Isaacson