A Taste of Tuna in Greater Tuna at RVP King John: Best Shakespeare Play You've Never Seen at Marin Shakespeare Company A Spirited and Lively Production of Spunk Sparkles at Cal Shakes

Wood Lockhart as Didi Snavely in Greater Tuna at RVP

Come visit the fictional small town of Tuna Texas during the Ross Valley Players final production of Greater Tuna by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard.  The show focuses on small town, southern life.  It depicts the folks at the radio station OKKK and the Greater Tuna Humane Society as well as many other characters in this small town.  

Director Linda Dunn is a native of a small town in Texas just like this one and has coached her cast to provide us with authentic Texas accents.  

Greater Tuna opened in New York City, October 21, 1982 at Circle in the Square Downtown.  In the original production, all of the citizens of Tuna, Texas were played by two actors.  Linda Dunn has stretched her cast to seven with the challenge of playing multiple roles.  This day in Tuna, the third smallest town in Texas, begins as usual with Thurston Wheelis (Jim Dunn) and Arles Struvie (Wood Lockhart) at the microphones at Radio OKKK broadcasting at a big 275 watts.  Topping the headlines is the winning entry in the American Heritage Essay Contest entitled "Human Rights, Why Bother?"  Then, Arles exits and comes back as Didi Snavely (Wood Lockhart in drag), of Didi's Used Guns; she leaves and gives way to Weatherman Harold Lattimer (Javier Alarcon). And the comedy continues from Petey Fisk of the Humane Society (Tom Hudgens) talking about the duck problem and Yippy the Pet of the Week to Phineas Blye (Javiar Alacorn), perpetual losing candidate for City Council announcing he's running again and revealing his plan to tax prisoners.  Of course a day is not complete without a visit to Dog Poisoner Aunt Pearl Burras (Steve Price) and her niece Bertha also played by Steve Price who is the town censor trying to make Tuna a better place by banning Romeo and Juliet and Huckleberry Finn as dangerous works of literature.   Her two children, Jody and Stanley are portrayed by a youthful Robyn Grahn.  Jeffrey Taylor effectively portrays Commentator Leonard Childer's, Sheriff Givens and Chad Hartford.  

The 20 inhabitants of Tuna parade across the stage in all their outrageous costumes designed by Michael A. Berg on Ron Krempetz's truly Texas set and comment on life, politics and what makes them tick.  

Greater Tuna is Ross Valley Player's final production of their 82nd season.  Come and enjoy this fun loving show!

Greater Tuna runs from July 12-August 12, 2012.  Thursday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Performances take place at Ross Valley Player's Barn Theatre, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, CA.  

For reservations, call 415-456-9555, extension 1 or go online at www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

Coming up next at RVP will be Lend Me A Tenor by Ken Ludwig, directed by Kris Neely from September 13-October 14, 2012.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

Erik MacRay as the Bastard in King John at Marin Shakespeare Company.

King John was largely popular on the Elizabethan stage, but it is rarely produced today.  In the Victorian era, King John was one of Shakespeare's most frequently staged plays, in part because its spectacle and pageantry were congenial to the Victorian audiences.  It has been staged four times on Broadway, the last time in 1915.  It was also been staged from 1953-2010 at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.  

Bravely directed by Leslie Schisgall Currier, this rousing story of the battle for the English throne is an action-packed history play full of humor, drama and pathos. When King John (Scott Coopwood) is asked to renounce his throne in favor of his nephew Arthur (Samuel Berston).  According to the director, "King John shows us Englishmen who, for all their faults, are less deceitful, haughty, manipulative, coarse and unethical than the play's arrogant French, brutish Austrians and hypercritical Italians."  

The action of the play takes place in England and France in courts and on battlefields.  The battle scenes are outstanding taking place among and above the audience seating as well as on stage.  

There are many outstanding performances in this production.  Scott Coopwood, in the title role, stands up to his enemies and brings out both the strength and weakness of his character.  Erik MacRay as Philip Faulconbridge, known as the Bastard because he is the illegitimate son of King Richard the Lionheart, has all the natural Plantagenet intelligence and charisma, and stands like a chorus, outside of the action, where he can comment on the foibles and political decisions with insightful wit and to illuminate all the turmoil going on around him.  Liz Sklar as Queen Constance, the mother of young Prince Arthur, makes the laments of Constance her own.  In contrast to his performance as Julius Caesar, Ashland veteran Barry Kraft, gives a performance full of affectation as Philip, King of France.  With a cast of 30 actors, Director Leslie Schisgall Currier, handles her cast with skill and brings to life many surprises along the way.

Abra Berman's costumes are colorful and accurate period.  Dialect Coach Lynne Soffer is to be commended for the clarity of speech each actor utters in several dialects.  Be sure to see King John which opened Friday, July 13 at the Marin Shakespeare Company's Forest Meadow's new and vastly improved outdoor setting. 

King John plays through August 12, 2012.  Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday.  The place is Forest Meadow's Amphitheater, 490 Belle Avenue, Dominican University of California, San Rafael.

For tickets call the box office at 415-499-4488 or go online at www.marinshakespeare.org.  

Coming up next at Marin Shakespeare will be A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Robert Currier, opening July 28 through September 30, 2012.

Flora Lynn Isaacson

Dawn L. Troupe as Blues Speak Woman and Anthony Michael Peterson a.k.a. Tru as Guitar Man in Cal Shakes’ SPUNK, directed by Patricia McGregor; photo by Kevin Berre.

California Shakespeare Theater continues its 39th season with a bluesy dynamic look at love in Spunk directed by Patricia McGregor.  Live music performed by Anthony Michael Peterson aka Tru frames the stories Harlem Renaissance Writer Zora Neale Hurston adapted into a staggeringly theatrical play by George C. Wolfe, who won an Obie for its 1989 off-Broadway premiere production. 

A trio of vignettes of African-American life in the first half of the 20th century, Spunk is a raucous, charming, blues-infused look at love, revenge, jealousy and the fine art of the hustle.  

Spunk is an anthology of three folk tales narrated and acted out by the characters and the Guitar Man (Tru) and Blues Speak Woman (Dawn L. Troupe) who transform the tales into a mini-musical. This blend of storytelling and blues makes for a spunky, delightful 90 minutes.  

Director Patricia McGregor's brilliant staging draws on three periods in a single century--the 1920's when Hurston's story was written; the 1980's when it was adapted by George C. Wolfe and 2012, where we now live.  McGregor has granted her production the full force of music, movement, text and expanded theatrical space.  

The three tales that make up Spunk are inventively dramatized by having the six actors float back and forth as narrators, chorus and characters while retaining the dialogue of the written page. The Guitar Man is in good hands with Tru and his musical partner, Dawn L. Troupe has the requisite belting power to do justice to the Blues Speak Woman.  

Michael Locher's multi-level wood set provides an imaginative background for the actors, successfully representing everything from a humble cabin to a Harlem street corner. Callie Floor's costumes are right on target as are the outrageous Zoot suits.  

As music frames the stories so do the two marital tales--"Sweat" about a long-suffering wash woman (Margo Hall) who finally gives her abusive husband (L. Peter Callender) his comeuppance and "The Gilded Six Bits" about a tender loving husband (Aldo Billingslea) who must learn to forgive his young wife (Omoze Idehenry) who betrayed him. These two pieces frame "A Story in Harlem Slang," a comic sendup of some Harlem hustlers.  

Hurston's stories and Wolfe's adaptation are remarkably brought to life by Spunk's vibrant quintet of actors. The show demands versatility; each performer sings, dances and alternately narrates the action and becomes part of it.  Music is an integral part of Spunk, underlying each phrase, plot point and conflict. Composed by Chick Street Man, the play's score is arguably its main character.  

The essence of Spunk is in its details and in its magnificent approach to storytelling. This production draws on a range of influences from African-American culture; from art to modern Harlem architecture as well as the vibrant choreography of Harlem-based Paloma McGregor.  

Go see Spunk--it positively sings!

Spunk plays July 4-July 29 at Bruns Amphitheatre, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda.  Tickets are available by calling 510-548-9666 or online at www.calshakes.org.

Coming up next at Cal Shakes will be Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit August 8-September 2 directed by Mark Rucker.

Flora Lynn Isaacson