An Aisle Seat Review ART! Review: Take A Look at These Books! – by Cari Lynn Pace

For over 25 years, Marin’s Museum of Contemporary Art has been the nexus for exhibitions, artist workspace, and art classes for adults and more than 1,000 children. Prominently located at 500 Palm Drive in the Hamilton area of Novato, Marin MOCA encourages its 160 artist members to participate in 15 annual contemporary art exhibitions.

Marin MOCA main gallery.

This August, MOCA again presents its whimsical and thought-provoking exhibition: the 11th Annual Altered Book Exhibition and Silent Auction.

“What is an altered book?” you ask.

“Good question!” answers Nancy Rehkopf, MarinMOCA’s Executive Director. “It is a form of contemporary art, in a category called the book arts. It is a fast-growing category of great interest in the Bay Area.”

…“The pieces are innovative, clever, and fun…”

There are two kinds of altered books in this year’s display of 130 objects:

The first is an “altered book” which incorporates a component of an actual book: a book spine, a cover, inside pages, illustrations, words, and so on. The artist then combines one or more of these with paint, sculpture, metalwork, etc., to create a unique original artwork. These pieces become anything: clothing, mobiles, set pieces, wall candy, even furniture.

The second category is an “artist book,” where the artist does everything to create the artwork as a book: the artist might write the words, or do the illustrations, or create the paper, or even bind the book. These pieces are typically more personal, more reflective, and always supremely creative.

“A Fisherman’s Tale”
by Jay O’Neil

The art pieces are judged for awards by two local jurors: Donna Seager, owner of the Seager Grey Gallery in Mill Valley, and Mary Austin, co-founder of the San Francisco Center for the Book.

Seager notes, “The quality of the work has grown tremendously over the eleven years that MOCA has been presenting this competitive exhibition.” Austin adds, “The pieces are innovative, clever, and fun. There were cultural tones reflecting everything from the pandemic to whimsy and escapism.”

These expert jurors raved over the quality of the works, and gave awards as follows:

      • First Place: “Kintsugi Stitches” by Lisa Rodondi
      • Second Place: “Ocean of Tears” by Paulette Traverso
      • Third Place: “The Divide States of America” by Monica Lee

Honorable mentions: “A Fisherman’s Tale” by Jay O’Neil, “Kindling Spirit” by Jeff Downing, “Inner Thoughts 2020” by Regina Bode, “Upon Reflection” by Laura DeAnna, “A Bird in the Hand” by Gale Kiniry, “Flyaways and Dedications” by Deborah Sullivan, and “Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer” by Linda Mueller.

Also, the jurors gave a Special Recognition Award to “Cindy’s Life” by Cindy Johnson, and the Glue Award went to “Stories of Place” by Julia Arndt.

The artists have donated most of MOCA’s 130 art objects toward this huge fundraising event. The works will be sold on August 21st when an online auction takes place at 7:00 PM. Go to www.marinmoca.org and click on “Get ready to bid” to open an account to bid at bidsquare.com. All pieces are displayed on the site, with details about size, media, and the artist.

“Ode to Orpheus”
by Esther Seigel

MOCA hopes to raise $50,000 from the Altered Book Exhibition to support its programs. They have a head start with a $10,000 challenge grant from Donald O. and Ronald R. Collins Fund — a loyal supporter for many years — and presenting sponsor Carson Wealth, a nationwide wealth investment management firm located in San Rafael.

Due to the museum’s closure to the general public, folks are welcome to see these pieces in person through August 29th by requesting a time and day they wish to visit at www.MarinMoca.org.

Believe me: it is a pleasure to linger over these amusing works of art without a crowd standing in the way.

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ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

 

An Aisle Seat Review ART! Review: Thinking “Outside the Box” is What These Artists Do — by Cari Lynn Pace

Give a child a hammer, and the child will find his or her expression in everything needs pounding.

Give an artist a plain wooden box, and the artist will find expression through its painting, deconstruction, carving, etching, repositioning, reconstruction, or through attachments.

The results turn out as wild, wacky, stunningly beautiful, inspiring, or just plain whimsical wall or display artworks.

Which begs the question, “Was that even a box, to begin with?”

“Love in the Time of Corona Virus” by Barry Willis

Check out what started as 150 identical shoe-size wood boxes at Gallery Route One in Pt. Reyes Station. Bay Area artists and local community members seized upon their vivid imaginations to create three-dimensional eye candy for the 21st Annual Box Show. This fundraiser (all the pieces are up for auction) has become a highly competitive Bay Area tradition and is on view now through September 12th.

…every year, the submissions increase in variety and technical skill…

Naturally, due to the pandemic, visitors must make an appointment to ensure social distancing, and everyone must wear a mask. Here is the good news: admission is free. Viewing times,  color photos of all entries, and docent comments are available at www.galleryrouteone.org.

“Japanese House”
by Dan Williams.

 

This sheer size of this show makes for an exhausting — yet undeniably entertaining — exhibit. To this reviewer, it seems like every year, the submissions increase in variety and technical skill, with many bursting forth in scope and content from a “shadow box” presentation. However, look in another direction, and other pieces are re-creations or re-imaginings of the box itself.

“Homage to Kelp”
by Jaine Kopp

Artists worked for two months to make a statement, tell a story, or both. If the artwork presents viewers with a challenge to spot the original pine box, find clues in the artist’s comments and color photos at https://secure.qgiv.com/event/theboxshow2020/.

Homebase for the Box Show is at Gallery Route One, a non-profit arts organization — and regional landmark since 1983 — adjacent to the entry for Marin County’s Point Reyes National Seashore in Point Reyes Station.

“Pine Box in Altered State”
by Will Thoms

Sales from the Box Show fund a variety of worthy outreach programs addressing art education, environmental, immigration, and social justice issues. Bidding for art pieces in the 2020 Box Show starts at $30 and culminates in the final live auction in the gallery’s parking lot (if allowed by regulations) on Saturday, September 12th, from 3 to 5 PM.

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ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

 

ASR Not-So-Random Question Time: The Stunningly Talented, The Stunningly Beautiful Amy Miller of Transcendence Theatre Co!

Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.

Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)

Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black. These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.

Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.

***

We caught up with Amy Miller, Artistic Director of the Transcendence Theatre Company (TTC) with headquarters in Sonoma. TTC is a close-knit extended family of dozens of song-and-dance stars invited from around the U.S.

Every summer (except this year) these stage and screen talents perform outdoor among the stone ruins of Jack London State Historic Park. When the nights cool down in autumn, TTC moves inside to North Bay stages performing energetic scenes from Broadway musicals.

USA Today readers discovered TTC years ago when TTC was voted #2 in the “Best Outdoor Concert Venues.”

 

Amy Miller

ASR: How did you get started in theater?

AM: I started dancing at age five and never stopped. As a tot, I looked up to the older dancers. When they shifted to the theatre in high school, it inspired me to join the theatre as well.

ASR: What was the first play you performed in or directed for a paying audience?

AM: I was The Jester in Once Upon A Mattress at McAuley High in Cincinnati, Ohio.

ASR: How many theater companies have you been involved with?

AM: Oh wow! At least 10 regional theatres as well as Broadway and national tours, not counting television and film.

…Our team works hard and believes “The obstacle is the way.”

ASR: When was your present company formed?

AM: In 2009 six of us gathered in Punta Banda, Mexico for a unique and incredible theatrical experiment. Brad Surosky, Stephan Stubbins, Randi Kaye, Robert Petrarca, Leah Sprecher, and I joined with other performers to assess challenges facing the health and wellness of the theatre community. “Project Knowledge” researched a holistic approach.

Later we learned California was planning to close Jack London State Historic Park in budget-cutting. We put on a fundraiser there in 2011 which began the Transcendence model of outdoor shows under the stars. We hoped to do one performance of our favorite Broadway numbers and sell fifty tickets to our friends. Imagine our surprise when we filled the place! Our first season of multiple summer shows began the next year. Since then we’ve raised over $515,000 to keep the park open and deliver arts education to schools.

ASR: Did you anticipate that TTC would become as successful as it has?

AM: Absolutely, I always knew this would serve the world and be very important.

ASR: Does TTC have a special focus?

AM: Transcendence has a focus on musical theatre, inspiring songs, and powerful dance. Our intention is to uplift and empower our audiences to live the best life ever. We hope that when you enjoy a Transcendence performance, you’ll be inspired to spread love and joy well after leaving the theatre. Transcendence has a mission to share the arts as a service to everyone.

ASR: How has the crisis affected your planning for coming seasons?

AM: Planning for the future is always one step at a time. At this moment we are dedicated to our staff, artists, and community more than ever. Our team works hard and believes “The obstacle is the way.”

ASR: How do you envision the future for your company? For the theater community overall?

AM: In addition to our well-loved summer season outdoors, we’re building a network online to share education and performances with the world. We continue to develop new works and encourage artists to grow and excel.

ASR: Assembly Bill 5 presently requires most workers be paid California minimum wage. There are multiple efforts in Sacramento to get performing artists exempted from this. How has AB5 affected your theater company?

AM: We are complying with AB5 and have turned all of our people into employees. It definitely has added more to our expenses which is difficult during this unprecedented time.

ASR: Life in the theater: What are some of your favorite shows?

AM: A Chorus Line, 42nd Street, Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics, and Chicago, of course. I love musicals!

ASR: Which play would you most like to see put into the deep freeze for 20 years?

AM: The Secret Garden.

ASR: Which rare gems would you like to see revived?

AM: Tick, Tick, Boom.

ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing technical work—sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes—which would it be and why?

AM: Stage Management. Stage managers are absolute heroes. What an incredible task they have each day and night!

ASR: How do you warm up before a performance? How do you relax after?

AM: I meditate, stretch, breathe, and I have a secret ritual with all the ladies in the dressing room which empowers us to give our best every night!

After a performance, like many artists, I relax by spending time with friends and family.

ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what three things would you tell them are essential?

AM:

1. Take care of yourself and your health and wellness.

2. Have a clear vision.

3. Be a strong leader with kind and compassionate communication.

ASR: What is the funniest screw-up you’ve seen on stage in a live performance?

AM: Lily Tomlin forgot her monologue in her one-woman show on Broadway, The Search for Signs of The Intelligent Life in the Universe. She told everyone she had to leave the stage and returned after a drink of water.

ASR: The most excruciating screw-up?

AM: At The Barn Theatre in Michigan, I was dancing the tango in Evita with my lifelong friend and Transcendence Artistic Associate, Tony Gonzalez. We were to do a major lift at the climax of the number and he dropped me! We ran offstage both mortified! No grudges held here, as Tony choreographs and directs for TTC today.

ASR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a guest do at the theater?

AM: An audience member once ran backstage during the show. It happened during the musical number “The Time Warp” which made it even weirder!

ASR: Life outside the theater: Do you have a “day job?” What are your interests outside of theater?

AM: Transcendence is my day job, and I am beyond grateful to enjoy it as much as I do. My interests are definitely family and friends, my son and husband. I also like photography, as well as watching the sky at sunrise and sunset.

ASR: You have the opportunity to create a 30-minute TV series. What’s it called and what’s the premise?

AM: The Broadway Artist Wine Chat, a weekly Q & A with all artists in the industry sharing stories and life connections with each other and the audience. Think James Lipton’s Inside the Actors Studio but at a winery!

ASR: Theater people often pride themselves on “taking risks”—have you any interest in true risk-taking?

AM: I have been surfing and I even stood up one time!

ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?

AM: “A vision’s just a vision if it’s only in your head if no one gets to see it, it’s as good as dead, it has to come to life…” from Sondheim’s Sunday In the Park with George.

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ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

 

ASR Not-So-Random Questions Time: All the World’s a Stage for Bob & Lesley Currier of Marin Shakes

Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.

Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)

Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black.  These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.

Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.

***

ASR: How did you get started in theater?

Lesley: My grandmother was a professional actress and my mother a drama teacher. Even with that heritage, I’m the only one of my siblings who went into theatre. In first grade, I was Gretel in a school production of Hansel and Gretel.

Bob: I started in second grade, as the Narrator of Little Toot. In high school, I did a lot of sports, but rediscovered the allure of theatre when at UC Irvine. I was studying Political Science, but the theatre building was always lit up at night and that’s where all the cute girls were. So it was back into theatre for me! My first role there was in Oh What A Lovely War. I went on to the get the first MFA in Directing that UCI ever granted.

ASR: What was the first play you performed in or directed for a paying audience?

Lesley: I was cast as a Lady in Waiting to Queen Gertrude in a professional production of Hamlet while an undergraduate at Princeton University. Harry Hamlin starred as the prince. I invited him for a meal at one of Princeton’s famous Dining Clubs, and in return he took me out for a really good dinner at a local restaurant. That was a rare treat in college. Bill Ball, Harry’s mentor at the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT), saw the production and thrilled me by telling me he understood the whole tragedy of the play through my reaction to Gertrude’s death.

Bob: I was paid to direct The Little Prince in 1972 at the Woodstock Opera House. It was the artistic home of a young Orson Welles.

ASR: How many theater companies have you been involved with?

Lesley: I joined ACT one summer during college where I fell in love with the Bay Area. After college, I stumbled upon the Ukiah Players Theatre, where I met Bob. He took me to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, which I’d never heard of. I auditioned there and was cast as a Fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Back at UFI, while working towards my MFA in theatre, I appeared in Hard Times at South Coast Repertory Theatre. It was a very long show which we performed 8 times a week, made more intense because I was nursing my first-born son.

Bob: I’ve co-founded four theatre companies, three of which are still going: Encounter With the Theatre at the Woodstock Opera House (now defunct), the Ukiah Players Theatre, Marin Shakespeare Company, and Baja Shakespeare. I’ve also directed and/or acted at Berkeley Rep, Seattle Shakespeare, Cinnabar, Spreckles, Ross Valley Players, and a few more.

ASR: Marin Shakespeare Company is your present company. What’s the history on that?

Bob and Lesley: In 1989 we got a call out of the blue asking if we would like to come to Marin to revive Shakespeare at Forest Meadows. The Forest Meadows Amphitheater was purpose built for the original Marin Shakespeare Festival in 1967, after it moved from its original home at the Marin Art and Garden Center, where it had begun five years earlier. The Festival’s last year at this Dominican location was 1972, due to a fire and some other questionable activities by art-loving hippies running around in the forest.

ASR: Did you anticipate Marin Shakespeare Company would become as successful as it has?

Bob and Lesley: Back in 1989, we hoped we’d be able to build a theatre company that would last for generations. We never dreamed that 30 years later we’d be pioneering Shakespeare in Prisons, or working with formerly incarcerated actors, or building an indoor Center for Performing Arts, Education, and Social Justice.

…Tequila.

ASR: Does your company have a special focus?

Bob and Lesley: Obviously, our focus is Shakespeare. But we’ve produced lots of other shows that are in some sense “classical” or appropriate for outdoor summer theatre. Since 2003, we’ve grown to become the largest provider of Shakespeare in Prison programs in the world. We’ve created an online video archive of over 50 performances in prisons, despite the massive logistics to do so. We can share these inspiring videos without violating any Actors Equity rules which do restrict our main stage performance videos.

ASR: It will likely be several months until theaters reopen. How is your company coping with the shutdown? What does the future look like?

Bob and Lesley: Sadly, we just announced that we are postponing our 2020 season to 2021. We don’t think it will be truly safe for actors or audience members to share theatre this summer.

During the shutdown, we stay busy, very busy, with many projects. Earlier this year we began renovations of the Forest Meadows Amphitheater, which were delayed due to Sheltering in Place. We’ll use the summer of 2020 to complete the renovations before welcoming audiences into a beautifully face-lifted venue next year.

We provide on-line MSC Education Programs and summer camps, and Alternative Programming for each of the prisons where we work. We’re continuing our plans for the Center for Performing Arts, Education, and Social Justice at 514 Fourth Street in San Rafael. We’re working to provide income opportunities for artists, and our staff is completing a number of “house-cleaning” and back-office tasks to make us stronger than ever when we’re able to return to full capacity.

ASR: Almost forgotten with the pandemic is the crisis caused in the performing arts by the passage of Assembly Bill 5, requiring most workers to be paid the California minimum wage. How has AB5 affected your theater company’s plans?

Bob and Lesley: Several years ago, we started transitioning independent contractors to employee status. With AB5, we plan to make the last group of former independent contractors – non-Equity actors – employees for the first time. We estimate that this will incur an increase to our budget of approximately $60,000. We know it’s the right thing to do.

ASR: Which rare theatre gem plays would you like to see revived?

Bob and Lesley: The three parts of Henry VI. But we know we wouldn’t sell many tickets!

ASR: What is Shakespeare’s most underrated play? Why?

Bob and Lesley:  King John – if you saw our production, you’d realize how much great comedy there is in it, in addition to superb characters and great themes.

ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing technical work—sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes—which would it be and why?

Bob and Lesley: Sets – (we’ve) always loved building things together.

ASR: As hard as it may be to pick just one, can you name a Bay Area actor who you think does amazing work?

Bob and Lesley: Scott Coopwood just keeps getting better and better. We were honored to give him his first Bay Area acting contracts.

ASR: How do you warm up before a performance? How do you relax after?

Bob and Lesley: Tequila.

ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what three things would you tell them are essential?

Bob and Lesley: Honesty and integrity. Passion for the work. Persistence and Diligence – be ready to put in a lot of hours!

ASR: The most excruciating screw-up you’ve seen on stage?

Bob and Lesley: The actor who showed up covered in poison oak and still had to put on his make-up and do his part. We always tell the actors to stay out of the poison oak!

ASR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a guest do at the theater?

Bob and Lesley: A female audience member flashed an actor once during one of those “audience participation” moments when the actors ask an audience member to respond – it stimulated audience hooting and hollering for several minutes. It was a lot of fun.

ASR: Do you have a “day job?” What are your interests outside of theater?

Lesley: I work about 80 hours a week for Marin Shakespeare Company. My “day job” is being a mom and grandmother. My hobbies include tile mosaic and free-form dance.

Bob: I’ve done a lot of building and guest directing for other theatres over the years. I love to build things around the house, travel, and be Bopo to my two adorable granddaughters who live in San Rafael.

ASR: You have the opportunity to create a 30-minute TV series. What’s it called and what’s the premise?

Bob and Lesley: “Jeers” with a bunch of characters hanging out in a theatre bar.

ASR: Theater people often pride themselves on “taking risks”—have you any interest in true risk taking, such as rock climbing, shark diving, bungee jumping, skydiving?

Lesley: I’m a coward, but I do spend a lot of time in prisons, and I hang-glided once and didn’t throw up.

Bob: I enjoy snorkeling and driving my ancient Alpha-Romeo, and I just hiked for two weeks in Japan with my youngest son.

ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?

Bob: Some Like It Hot — “Well nobody’s perfect.”

Lesley: Hamlet — “The rest is silence.”

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ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

 

 

ASR Not-So-Random Question Time: Can’t Stop Those Dancing Feet — Marilyn Izdebski

Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.

Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)

Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black.  These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.

Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.

***

Marilyn Izdebski

Marilyn Izdebski is a Bay Area dancing dynamo. A Los Angeles native who graduated from UCLA in 1970 with a degree in theatre arts, she has fulfilled her life’s passion with over six decades of dancing, choreography, singing, acting, backstage tech, and directing front and center. She inspires and educates, having founded a dance theatre school in 1978 which brought over 230 children’s and adult productions to the stage. Marilyn claims to have retired in 2018, but today she heads up the volunteer boards of Novato Theatre Company and The Playhouse in San Anselmo.

ASR: How did you get started in theater?

MI: When I was three years old, my mother took me to see the film The Red Shoes. I begged her for dance lessons. From then on, I studied ballet, jazz, tap and every other kind of dance. Ice skating too.

Fast forward to my sophomore year of high school. A friend asked me to go to two auditions with her. She got a part in one show, and I got the other show. I was cast as a dancer in Guys and Dolls at the Bluth Brothers Theatre in LA. Pretty heady stuff for a fourteen-year-old. After a few rehearsals I knew dance was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I went on to earn my theatre arts degree from UCLA and my teaching credential, and then taught for many years.

I had a tumultuous youth, and became orphaned at age sixteen. During my three years with that first theatre company, my joy of dancing helped form a dream to create a company where young people (like me) would have a real place to shine, a place to belong.

ASR: And you realized your dream?

MI: Yes, twelve years later I started Marin Studio of Theatre and Dance in Corte Madera with a partner. She wanted to move on after seven years, so I changed the name and continued as Marilyn Izdebski Productions. We produced musicals, dance recitals and had classes in dance and theatre.

ASR: What was the first play you directed for a paying audience?

MI: The Lottery, at a Junior High where I taught.

ASR: How many theater companies have you been involved with?

MI: Lots: Ross Valley Players, Marin Theatre Company, the Mountain Play Association, Rhythms Performing Arts, Stapleton School of the Performing Arts, Mayflower Chorus, and Katia & Company. Currently I throw all my energies into the Novato Theater Company.

ASR: When was your present company formed?

MI: The Novato Theater Company originated in 1909 as a community theatre. It’s grown and survived multiple challenges and moves, including being booted out of their home mid-production when their Novato Community House stage was suddenly declared an earthquake risk.

ASR: Did you anticipate that it would become as successful as it has?

MI: I first starting attending NTC shows way back in 1980, following its growth since then. NTC has always had an abundance of talented directors, actors, and designers in addition to superbly dedicated volunteers.

ASR: Does your company have a special focus, i.e., genre/historical period, contemporary, experimental, emerging playwrights, or the like?

MI: NTC’s major focus is on their audiences and what they would enjoy seeing. We want to expand their theatre experience. Our play selection committee and board combine classic plays, new works and musicals.

ASR: Who has had the largest impact on your professional development in the theater?

MI: I had a wonderful mentor at UCLA, John Cauble, who taught me all the basics of theatre and gave me opportunities at a young age for which I will be forever grateful. David Issac, my partner who left us way too soon, helped me have the confidence to achieve what I wanted and to always “take the high road.”

Hal Prince’s book Contradictions influenced me greatly as a young director. His book motivated me to be deeply involved in all aspects of a production. When I prep for a show, I always think of the elements of the set, lights, costumes, props, etc. to keep everything in my mind as I create a show.

ASR: With the coronavirus pandemic, it’s likely going to be many months until theater companies get back to regular productions. How is your company coping with the shutdown?

MI: During this difficult time, we are keeping ourselves open to this “new normal.” All of our meetings are online and our upcoming fundraiser will be a virtual online experience.

Our play selection committee and board combine classic plays, new works and musicals…

ASR: How has the crisis affected your planning for coming seasons?

MI: Making decisions is almost impossible. We have the season we selected before the pandemic hit, but are not sure when the season can even start.

ASR: How do you envision the future for your company?

MI: All we can do is one day at a time. Or even one month at a time is good. We cannot produce a show until the quarantine is over and people feel safe going to the theatre. I am very concerned for the theatre community everywhere. Society has looked to theatre for 2,500 years to provide insight and joy. Now, more than ever, we need these gifts.

ASR: Assembly Bill 5, the new state regulation, requires theater performers and technical talents to be treated as employees. Has it affected your theater company’s plans?

MI: AB5 has absolutely affected NTC. We are an all-volunteer theatre company that also gives small stipends to our designers and support staff. We’re a non-profit; we survive on a very limited budget. If we have to put independent contractors on payroll, will suffer a large blow to our financial status. We hope that non-profit theatre companies become exempt from AB5. For the moment, we are waiting to see what happens in the State Legislature and hoping for the best.

ASR: What are some of your favorite dramas? Musicals? Comedies?

MI: Les Miserables is my favorite musical. The level of artistry in the show takes my breath away. I have so many comedies that I love but I think my favorite comedy is one I saw in New York that had all of the insane things that have happened in my life in theatre in one show—The Play That Goes Wrong. There are also many dramas that have affected me in my life, especially those of Tennessee Williams.

ASR: Name three all-time favorites that your company has produced.

MI: I have seen so many shows at NTC since 1980 that it is hard to choose. In recent years, truly exceptional shows were Into The Woods, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Chicago. Notable additions are Urinetown  and August Osage County.

ASR: Which rare gems would you like to see revived?

MI: There is a little musical called Archie and Mehitabel that I fell in love with in college and always hoped someone would produce it, so I could see it!

ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing technical work—sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes—which would it be and why?

MI: I would definitely do lights. Lighting is like painting and can create the exact mood or feeling needed on stage.

ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what three things would you tell them are essential?

MI: Be a sponge. Don’t be afraid of criticism. Think outside of the box.

ASR: What theater-related friendship means the most to you? Why?

MI: The very best friends I have were made in my theatre and dance world. These friendships are so close because of the intensity and intimacy of the process making a show. You lay yourself bare to others while creating and it takes a lot of trust during this time. A cast ends up feeling like a true family by the end of a run.

ASR: What is the funniest screw-up you’ve seen on stage in a live performance?

MI: In West Side Story the gun wouldn’t go off, so the actor punched the intended victim.  Another amusing episode was during a big production number with multiple dancers, actors and singers on a turntable…it abruptly stopped working. Everyone went on with the show and moved around themselves. A few minutes later, the turntable suddenly started turning again. The lead singer stopped mid-song to exclaim “Look, it’s working!” Great audience applause!

ASR: Do you have a “day job?

MI: I just “retired” almost two years ago from my studio and production company. Now I work ten hours a day on NTC and help out at other theatre companies. Until the pandemic hit, I was directing, choreographing and doing the lighting for many groups. Guess I like to work on theatre whether it’s a “day job” or not!

ASR: What do you do in your “off time?”

MI: I avidly watch sports – all kinds – at the end of a high-energy day. After decades of dancing, there are too many things wrong with my body to participate in sports, but I love to watch football, basketball, baseball, tennis. I always use the sports analogy in teaching or directing theatre. I say “Give your body up to this. Our team goal is not winning, it is to put on a great show!”

ASR: Do you follow other arts—music, film, painting/sculpture? Do you actively do any other arts apart from theater?

MI: I love all the arts! My mom and several great teachers opened me up to ballet, opera, painting and film. I often bring what I have seen or heard into my approach to a show.

ASR: A fashion accessory you like better than others?

MI: Earrings!

ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?

MI: From Les Miserables: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

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ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

 

ASR’s Not So Random Question Time: Actor, Director, & Fight Coach Extraordinaire, Steve Beecroft

Aisle Seat Review begins a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.

Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)

Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black.  These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people. Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor.

***

Steve Beecroft

Steve Beecroft is an actor, dancer, choreographer, director, and producer as well as a pillar of the Curtain Theater in Mill Valley CA. Besides his vocal talent, Beecroft is noted for his extraordinary skill as an athletic fight choreographer. If you’ve ever seen him jumping, leaping, and swinging a sword onstage, be sure to duck.

ASR: How did you get started in theater?

SB: It was really by accident. I have always been a singer, and still do concerts for fund-raising today, but I’d never planned to act. In my senior year of high school, I somehow got roped in to play the lead in the musical “The Boyfriend”. I was hooked and never turned back. It was a real switch from athletics for me. I remember that my football coach would avert his eyes when he saw me in the school corridors after that.

ASR: How many theater companies have you been involved with?

SB: I have never counted them all, but between Canada, England and the USA, quite a few.

… We had a blast mixing Shakespeare, Star Trek and rock ‘n roll!

ASR: When was your present company formed?

SB: The Curtain Theatre was formed twenty years ago to bring Shakespeare to the outdoor stage in Old Mill Park in Mill Valley. I joined the company 10 years ago. We are blessed to have two of the original founders still in the company. Michele Delattre is Artistic Director and will direct this summer’s show “Twelfth Night”, while also playing in the band. Don Clark has been our music director throughout all the years the company has been in existence. They are both brilliant!

ASR: Did you anticipate that it would become as successful as it has?

SB: It was already pretty special with its free performances in our outdoor setting. We have grown the company further over the years and are proud of the awards and loyal audiences we continue to gather.

ASR: What’s Curtain Theatre’s focus?

SB: The Curtain Theatre is primarily a Shakespeare company, adjusted to be fun and family-friendly. Many kids come and sit at the foot of the stage. We’re delighted to see they’re totally into it, which makes it super for us. We keep the plays light with topical music and authentic costumes. We might introduce props that were not available in the Bard’s era, like the chain saw we used in “The Taming of the Shrew.” That got everyone’s attention!

We switch out of Shakespeare too, performing other classic plays such as Moliere’s “The Miser” in 2017. Back in 2013, we went completely off the Bard’s rails when I joined with Carl Jordan and Gary Gonser to put on “Return to the Forbidden Planet.” It was such a hit at Tam High that we staged it the following year at Novato Theatre. We had a blast mixing Shakespeare, Star Trek and rock ‘n roll! It was outrageous and won a batch of SFBATCC awards.

ASR: On a somber note, it will likely be several months until theaters reopen due to COVID-19. How is your company coping?

SB: Our 2020 summer show has been cast and the artistic team are hard at work planning music, choreography, sets, costumes, etc. We start rehearsals after the July 4th weekend and we are hoping to have the go ahead then.

ASR: How has the crisis affected your planning for coming seasons?

SB: Given social distancing rules, we obviously cannot meet for character work and design sessions, so we use ZOOM a lot.

ASR: How do you envision the future for your company?

SB: The Curtain Theatre has been an integral part of the cultural life of Mill Valley and Marin for a long time. Shakespeare aficionados and neophytes alike love to come to see our plays. Families come to be entertained with their children getting their first impression of the Bard at our shows. They keep coming back. So will we.

It is worth remembering that Shakespeare and his company often saw the theatres closed by the plague. But creativity continued, plays were written and rehearsed, and when the air cleared, new plays surged into the light to entertain a people much in need of it. We at the Curtain Theatre hope to do the same in these troubled times. We think it vital that we carry on, whatever the difficulties.

ASR: Has Assembly Bill 5, requiring theatre folks to be employees, affected your company’s plans?

SB: If the law were to be enforced, it would kill almost all amateur theatre companies including us.

ASR: Life in the theater: What are some personal favorites?

SB: For dramas: “Equivocation”, “Cyrano de Bergerac”, and “Shakespeare in Love.”

Musicals I like include “Les Miserables”, “West Side Story”, “Return to the Forbidden Planet”, “Mamma Mia”, and “Guys & Dolls.”

My favorite comedies include “Noises Off”, “Lend me a Tenor”, and “Much Ado About Nothing”.

ASR: What are three all-time favorites from The Curtain Theatre?

SB: Tough choice. Top of the list is “Return to the Forbidden Planet” of course, plus “Henry IV” part one, and “The Taming of the Shrew.”

ASR: What is Shakespeare’s most underrated play?

SB: “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” It has great comedy and some excellent poetry and prose. It has a problem at the end but I think that can be worked around effectively. I hope to direct the play in the future.

ASR: Shakespeare’s most over-performed play?

SB: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”…though it is still great fun!!

ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing technical work—sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes—which would it be and why?

SB: I am afraid I am hopelessly untalented when it comes to tech areas. I could probably manage props.

ASR: How do you warm up before a performance? How do you relax after?

SB: Lots of stretching and singing beforehand, and a beer with my cast mates and the Curtain team afterward.

ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what three things would you tell them are essential?

SB:  Hmmm… I guess,

1. Only do plays and roles that you are passionate about.

2. Seek to work with the most creative people you can.

3. Have fun!!

ASR: What is the funniest screw-up you’ve seen on stage in a live performance?

SB: When playing Curly in “Oklahoma”, I was supposed to shoot Jud, but the gun cap didn’t go off. I spent about 3 minutes ad-libbing and having lots of fun with the audience.

ASR: The most excruciating screw-up?

SB: I tore my hamstring doing a split-leap on stage. Not fun.

ASR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a guest do at the theater?

SB: When I was rehearsing for a John Denver concert, an elderly lady came in to listen and watch. When I finished one particular song, she proceeded to remind me that I had gotten one word wrong and that I really shouldn’t do that again.

ASR: Do you have a “day job?”

SB: I work for a multi-national investment bank.

ASR: What are your interests outside of theater?

SB: Hiking, the gym, singing both choral and in concerts, traveling, kayaking, and environmental economics.

ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?

SB: This one…

“How will it work?” 

“I don’t know, it’s a mystery.”

-30-

 

ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

 

An Aisle Seat Theater Review – What’s “Love” Got to Do with It? — by Cari Lynn Pace

Marin Theater Company presents the world premiere of Kate Cortesi’s riveting drama “Love” with a keen eye on the #MeToo movement. The play is no feminist rant; rather it is a balanced unfolding of a relationship that flashes back in time to romance, power, and inappropriateness.

It’s the present, and Penelope, launched on her own successful career, is contacted by a former co-worker friend who has charged their former boss with crossing the sexual harassment line. It’s been 15 years since Penelope has thought about her love affair and the sexual awakening she shared with her married boss, who remains her friend. Penelope is launched into soul-searching about the roles defining victim and perpetrator. It’s her moral dilemma whether to support the charges, to speak out and add her voice to the others.

This two-hour production will give rise to many conversations…

Clea Alsip does a fine job as the ingenue Penelope and R. Ward Duffy is strong and confident as her boss Otis. The stage is spare; their conversation fills the empty space with tension. They are fencing with one another, parrying and thrusting as the audience perches, watching for the next move.

“Love” is extraordinary for its abundance of nuance and moral confusion. Is any workplace attraction allowable? Is it all black and white, okay and not okay, cut and run? The playwright herself notes, “Inappropriateness could feel wonderful and then turn unsettling, and wrong.”

The sterling cast directed by Mike Donahue includes Penelope’s husband Jaime, played by Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari, with Rebecca Schweitzer as the co-worker friend Vanessa. Robert Sicular and Mari Vial-Golden each double up their supporting roles with such skill they seem to be additional characters onstage.

What will Penelope decide to do with her options to testify? Will her stalwart faith in the absolute truth trump her past youthful pleasures? If there was love, was it consensual, and will justice outdo it?

This two-hour production will give rise to many conversations. Audiences may or may not agree with Penelope’s decision, but they will understand the strength behind her reasoning.

ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionLove
Written byKate Cortesi
Directed byMike Donahu
Producing CompanyMarin Theatre Company (MTC)
Production DatesThrough Mar 29th [SUSPENDED]
Production AddressMarin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA
Websitewww.marintheatre.org
Telephone(415) 388-5200
Tickets$25– $70
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3.5/5
Performance3.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft2/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?----

 

 

An Aisle Seat Review Pick! Fragile Personalities Make RVP’s “Glass Menagerie” a Powerful Production — by Cari Lynn Pace

In “The Glass Menagerie” Tennessee Williams takes a family’s disparate characters and pumps them up with tight language and shoulder-cringing situations. Although it’s a poignant glimpse into familial tension, Ross Valley Players presents this solid drama with several touches of levity.

It works splendidly. Director David Abrams notes “Williams has the humor in his script, you just have to bring it out.”  Abrams pulled extraordinary performances from familiar talents in this production.

Veteran actor Tamar Cohn is astounding as mother Amanda Wingfield, an aging and abandoned Southern belle. Cohn is simply perfect in her role. She’s a steam-roller of drive and determination, yet drifting to her flowery and flirtatious past at the slightest provocation. Cohn pulls up so many spot-on personality changes one senses her character is schizophrenic. This is Cohn at her professional best. She’s a joy to behold.

What a breath of fresh air…

Greg Crane portrays her son Tom, a warehouse worker with no tangible prospects. Tom bottles his frustration, indeed rage, at his cage within the Wingfield family. He desperately longs for escape. He enters and exits the stage from side and rear doors, restless with frustrated energy and ready to shatter. The only tether to his family is the concern he has for his older sister Laura, a slightly disabled and extremely introverted character enacted by Carolyn Arnold. The emotional string connecting sister and brother is a delicate glass filament, as only Williams can write.

When his mother badgers him about finding a suitor for sister Laura, Tom relents and brings home a dinner guest, his co-worker Jim (Jesse Lumb). Mother transforms herself into a flittering and flirtatious belle, all her hopes pinned on this prospective “gentleman caller” for her daughter. Lumb masterfully enlivens this role as the genial and friendly potential suitor, capturing the stage with his outsize confidence. What a breath of fresh air for the stale and stagnant Wingfield family!

The conflict and synergy between Laura’s fragility and Jim’s positivity provide rays of hope that lift this timeless classic far above a simple family drama. “The Glass Menagerie” is one shows you’ll not want to miss.

ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionThe Glass Menagerie
Written byTennessee Williams
Directed byDavid Abrams
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru April 5th
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.MountainPlay.org
Telephone415. 383-1100
Tickets$17-$29
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

An Aisle Seat Review PICK! An Extended Run for “Daddy Long Legs” — by Cari Lynn Pace

Director Michael Ross persuaded Sonoma Arts Live to shoehorn this charming musical in between their regular season productions. Lucky for them that he did. This show at the Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center, scheduled to run until March 8, 2020, has just been extended to March 15, with a few Thursday night performances added as well. There must be a reason!

“Daddy Long Legs” is the story of Jerusha Abbott (enacted by the lovely songbird Madison Genovese), a young orphan woman given an extraordinary gift of college tuition by an anonymous benefactor, Jervis Pendleton. She glimpses the tall donor (a solid role by Mischa Stephens) from a distance as he departs, casting a long shadow she tags to give the show’s name.

Photos courtesy of Sonoma Arts Live

Her only duty to this silent sponsor is to write a monthly letter chronicling her progress. It’s a one-way communication, lending Jerusha to provide both the required information and a healthy dose of imagination and curiosity in her letters.

Count on the plot lines of … Cinderella love stories for (a) satisfying ending…

As the years pass, “Daddy Long Legs” becomes more enthralled with Jerusha’s engaging letters. He concocts a plan to drop into her life to see for himself the shy young lady who spins such enthralling stories. Although he keeps his true identify hidden from Jerusha, Daddy Long Legs is inadvertently captured in her web of words.

Photos courtesy of Sonoma Arts Live

The plot is engaging and the voices seamlessly matched between Genovese and Stephens. The split-level stage designed by Koitney Carson cleverly does double duty as the benefactor’s study and the hand-me-down feel of the orphanage and college dorm.

When a potential suitor emerges in Jerusha’s life, Mr. Pendleton finds himself struggling whether to reveal his identity and his attraction to her. Count on the plot lines of countless Cinderella love stories for an expected and satisfying ending to “Daddy Long Legs.”

The three-piece band of piano, cello, and guitar is located in front of the stage, on the seating level with the audience. The music’s volume made it very difficult to hear the lyrics or fully enjoy the beautifully matched voices of Genovese and Stephens.

ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionDaddy Long Legs
Written byMusic and Lyrics by Paul Gordon

Book by John Caird
Directed byMichael Ross
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesThursdays thru Sundays until March 15th
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Websitewww.sonomaartslive.org
Telephone(866) 710-8942
Tickets$25 – $42
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

An Aisle Seat Review PICK! “The Tempest” Tosses Together Storm and Shakespeare by Cari Lynn Pace

Ellen Brooks as Prospera in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” at College of Marin

Fans of Shakespeare will delight in this multi-faceted production at the College of Marin’s James Dunn Theatre. This rarely produced play, a long one at 2 ½ hours, is marvelously delivered with costumes, magnificent stagecraft, and top-caliber acting by a mix of professionals and student actors.

The plot, so to speak, is pure Shakespeare; a mix of characters who pop in and out and are difficult to keep straight. Not to worry…there’s a story synopsis in the program. It’s still unclear just who is who, but they’re all together on this really crowded deserted island. Count on multiple royals, a cave creature, a magical mother, a blithe white spirit, and numerous nymphs with seductive songs. Once the ear grows accustomed to the Shakespearean patois, it’s all entertainment indeed.

Shakespeare… would be proud!

The stage is an outstanding oceanside storm, complete with churning waves, rain, and the sound of pounding surf designed by award-winning Ronald Krempetz. The spectacular transformation is credited to a generous contribution from Warren Lefort for a back-screen projector and LED lighting. What a magnificent addition to boost the caliber of COM’s future shows!

The drama students under the Direction of Lisa Morse are fortunate to be on stage with two local professionals. Audiences delight to watch petite Ellen Brooks masterfully command her outsize role as Prospera, with her magical staff and perfect gestures. She is matched in talent and vocal inflections by Steve Price, a much-awarded performer who completely immerses himself in every role he takes on.

Shout-outs also go to Benjamin Vasquez as Caliban the cave monster, and Daniel DeGabriele as Ariel, Prospera’s slave spirit. These two have impressive movements and solid characterizations, not to mention their unique costumes designed by Pamela Johnson.

A lovely surprise of the production is the harmonious singing of “Blessings” by the nymphs in Act II. Billie Cox is the talent behind setting music to Shakespeare’s “Dance of the Harvesters” in addition to handling the rain, surf, and other sounds for the show.

The ensemble of students and professionals acting and singing is spot-on in this show. There are moments when the cast does a stop-action pose, and it pops the eyeballs. Clearly these students have worked very hard to learn the skills they need to put on such fine performance. Shakespeare… would be proud!

ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionThe Tempest
Written byWIlliam Shakespeare
Directed byLisa Morse
Producing CompanyCollege of Marin
Production DatesFridays through Sundays until March 15, 2020
Production AddressJames Dunn Theatre,
Performing Arts Building
835 College Ave, Kentfield CA
Websitehttp://pa.marin.edu/blog/tempest
Telephone(415) 457-8811
Tickets$15 – $25
https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4317842
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

 

An Aisle Seat Review PICK! “Five Course Love” Serves Up Tasty Trysts — by Cari Lynn Pace

Here’s the satisfying recipe for “Five Course Love” as served up at Lucky Penny Productions in Napa: Combine three actors and five restaurant scenes. Mix in a generous batch of costume changes. Blend well with three musicians, adding headgear as desired. Toss in two dozen amusing songs using quick lyrics by Gregg Coffin. Stir well with direction by award-wining performer Heather Buck. Cook for two hours on a warm stage until tender. Serve immediately with lots of laughs. Enjoy!

Cast at work in “Five Course Love” at Lucky Penny!

This clever and witty musical debuted off-Broadway in 2005. With no signature songs or ground-breaking drama, “Five Course Love” has stayed in the wings, depending on smaller theatres to bring this frothy bit of fluff to center stage. The costumed characters haven’t changed, nor has their search for connectedness and the holy grail of love.

Delicious!

Five singing sketches feature three actors connected by diverse yet spare cafe locations. These showcase the formidable vocals and acting chops of Sarah Lundstrom, F. James Raasch, and Brian Watson. They switch roles swiftly and seamlessly, from cowboy to nerd to bandit to dominatrix to gangster, sometimes at breakneck speed. Their tried-and-true stereotypes bring laughs and smirks of empathy from the audience.

Kudos to Lucky Penny for using mikes, enabling actors to change accents and move fluidly to Staci Arriaga’s choreography on the small stage. The intimacy of this theatre-in-the-round adds to the fun.

“Five Course Love” is not a filling intellectual meal, by any stretch. It’s familiarity and frivolity, more of a pie-in-your-face kind of show, without the pie. The characters are alternately charming, raunchy, ridiculous, and quite predictable. It’s the clever lyrics that add so much spice to this meal.

The play’s final scene is the most satisfying, where the last tidbit of love is dished out. Delicious!

ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionFive Course Love
Written byGregg Coffin
Directed byHeather Buck
Producing CompanyLucky Penny Productions
Production DatesThrough March 1st
Production AddressLucky Penny Community Arts Center
1758 Industrial Way
Napa, CA 94558
Websitewww.luckypennynapa.com
Telephone(707) 266-6305
Tickets$30-$40
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

An Aisle Seat Review PICK! Transcendence Broadway Holiday Spectacular 2019 by Cari Lynn Pace

Transcendence got the “Spectacular” name right – this show is an amazing celebration. The cadre of 19 good-looking expats from Broadway and LA blockbuster musicals rocked the Sonoma stage and travels to the Napa stage with this annual show. They mix it up with dancing (from ballet to tap), singing (from touching solos to majestic choruses) and 100% joyful energy.

Done in two acts, Transcendence talents perform holiday favorites along with signature pieces from eight classic musicals in the first half. Songs include all faiths, with “O Holy Night” and “Sabbath Prayer” beautifully juxtaposed on a two-level set.

Photo by Mimi Carroll.

Act II flashes back to carols and seasonal songs over the ages, punched up by high-energy creative choreography by Tony Gonzalez, who also directs. The talented 10-piece band under Susan Draus’s baton had a blast strutting their stuff, with a few musicians sharing the limelight with the dancers.

All ages rushed to their feet for a standing ovation…

The show provokes lots of laughter. There’s an amusing role reversal when Micki Weiner and Colin Campbell McAdoo sing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” More hilarity when five handsome guys scruff about, singing “I’m Getting’ Nuttin’ for Christmas.”

Tony Gonzalez, a veteran Transcendence member, deserves a shout out for the impressive flow of the show, so well varied in pace and volume. Ten cast members rocked the house with “Light Sings”, building up a tremendous crescendo of voices to thunderous applause. Just when you think it can’t get any more dynamic, the spotlight hits David R. Gordon with his guitar on center stage. He practically whispers his poignant solo “Let There be Peace on Earth” as the audience holds their breath. Not a pin was dropped.

Photo by Ray Martel.

All ages rushed to their feet for a standing ovation as the finale ended and the performers took their bows. Transcendence Broadway Holiday Spectacular is a power-packed show, exuberant entertainment at its festive best.

 

ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionBroadway Holiday Spectacular 2019
Written byTranscendence Theater Co.
Directed byTony Gonzalez
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesDecember 14-15, 2019
Production AddressLincoln Theater
100 California Drive
Yountville, CA 94599
Websitehttps://transcendencetheatre.org/
Telephone(877) 424-1414
Tickets$39-$129
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

 

An Aisle Seat Theater Review! A Christmas Story – The Musical by Cari Lynn Pace

This is the heart-warming story of Ralphie, the 9-year old boy who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas and fantasizes how to convince his parents and Santa to grant his wish.This stage play adds musical pieces to enhance the nostalgic and classic comedy, without losing the original’s momentum or warmth.

Larry Williams directs, or more accurately corrals, nearly a dozen kids and a handful of adults from many Bay Area theatres to present this show. It’s an amazing undertaking that overflows the small Sonoma Arts Live stage with youthful energy and authenticity. It’s a good thing Williams is a veteran actor and director. He knows how to get the best performances out of a large cast of 21 diverse ages who act, sing, and dance.

Worth the effort for this holiday treat!

Ralphie, acted and sung by Tuolumne Bunter, is a standout. This 10-year old’s gestures and facial expressions are far beyond his years. The program notes he cut off 18 inches of his hair to play the part…quite the sacrifice!

Where did these youngsters get their talent? Little brother Randy, played by Joseph Atchley, is so tiny he hides beneath the kitchen sink, to the great amusement of the audience. There’s a bully (perfectly cast in Ty Schoeningh) and his sidekick (Mario Alioto) who terrorize the other kids from their class. Every costumed youth stays solidly in character to deliver authenticity, and pure enjoyment for the audience.

Their teacher Miss Shields (Scharypearl Fugitt) gives an over-the-top performance as a lovesick spinster, including a tap dance with young Mario Alioto. She has the audience chuckling as she sings “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out,” the phrase adults use to thwart Ralphie’s wish.

Ralphie has an adult alter ego who narrates the youngster’s ever-hopeful story in flashback. George Bereschik does an admirable job in his task providing the glue to hold the scenes together. The cast’s adults, including Morgan Harrington and Rick Love (as Mom and “The Old Man”) had their work cut out for them lest they be upstaged by the many talented wunderkinds.

“A Christmas Story” is suitable for all ages, and particularly youngsters who may not be familiar with live theatre. You may have to hustle to get tickets as the show is a winner and the theatre is small. Worth the effort for this holiday treat!

ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionA Christmas Story – The Musical
Written byJoseph Robinette, based on Jean Shepard’s book
Directed byLarry Williams
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesThursdays thru Sundays until December 22, 2019
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Websitewww.sonomaartslive.org
Telephone(866) 710-8942
Tickets$25 – $42
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

An Aisle Seat Theater PICK! “She Loves Me” is a Charming Musical Romance at RVP — by Cari Lynn Pace

Photos by Robin Jackson.

Ross Valley Players has collaborated with the Mountain Play Association to present a light-hearted nostalgic musical filled with fine performances.

“She Loves Me” debuted in 1964. It’s based on the 1937 play “Parfumerie” by Miklos Laszlo, which inspired classic films as 1940’s The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail in 1998. An homage to Cyrano de Bergerac that takes place in a 1930’s Budapest perfume shop—Maraczek’s Parfumerie—the musical won multiple Tony awards for its 1993 and 2016 Broadway revivals.

The Ross Valley Players and the Mountain Play Association are two of the oldest theatre companies in Marin. Why is the Mountain Play collaborating with RVP for this special performance, not a part of the regular RVP season? “We want to become more of a year-round musical company and lend our support to others. We’ve been behind the scenes of the Ross Valley Players since one of their plays in 1935 (“The World We Live In”) was subsequently presented as our Mountain Play for that year,” explained Eileen Grady, Executive Director and Artistic Producer of the Mountain Play.

This charming and cheerful musical … is a great lead-in to the Christmas season.

“She Loves Me” enjoys an unusually lengthy run: five performances per week almost to Christmas Day. A familiar name to Mountain Play devotees is veteran choreographer/actor Nicole Helfer, who has shifted her admirable skills to direct this production. Multi-talented Jake Gale, who just completed a run as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Marin Musical Theatre Company’s “Rocky Horror Show,” serves as vocal director and also supervises the show’s music.

Photos by Robin Jackson.

A large cast of thirteen does a fine job acting, singing, and dancing in period costumes designed by Michael A. Berg. Petite Marah Sotelo is a standout as the store clerk Amalia, both in spot-on acting, gestures and a pleasing soprano voice. Max Kligman is well-matched as Georg, her “Dear Friend” mystery suitor, despite their amusing height difference.

Photos by Robin Jackson.

Another surprising talent (and this show contains many) is Anthony Maglio, who does a fine lothario shop clerk, then later becomes an aggressive waiter plagued by a clumsy busboy (Alex Munoz). Act I’s highlight has to be the hilarious café scene “A Romantic Atmosphere.” Store clerks are played and sung convincingly by Patrick Barr and young Alex Cook. Lovely Chelsey Ristaino balances out the staff and gets to steal a few scenes as she finds amusing library romance in Act II.

Photos by Robin Jackson.

Ron Dritz and Michael Walraven (also the show’s set designer) provide supporting characters. They’re joined by the song-and-dance moves of Dana Cherry, Katie Rose, MacKenzie Cahill, and a tantalizing tango by Sophie de Morelos and that clumsy busboy Alex Munoz.

This charming and cheerful musical is a bit long (2 ½ hours) with a first act of 90 minutes, but it’s a great lead-in to the Christmas season.

ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionShe Loves Me
Written byAgatha Christie
Directed byNicole Helfer
Producing CompanyMountain Play Association and Ross Valley Players
Production DatesThru December 22nd
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.MountainPlay.org
Telephone415. 383-1100
Tickets$40
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

An Aisle Seat Theater Review! “Bluff” Choice Bits to Chew on in This Slice of Life – by Cari Lynn Pace

Cameron Stuckey is Gene and Anya Cherniss is Doubling Actress in “Bluff.” Photos by: Marc Bussin

Jeffrey Sweet’s newest play is billed as a dark comedy, although it’s more drama than humor. This 90-minute peek at a couple’s relationship breaks theatre’s “fourth wall” repeatedly, interacting with the audience in San Rafael’s Belrose Theatre. This is the perfect cabaret-style venue for this show. Actors access the stage from the wings as well as the back of the house, using the center aisle to surprise the audience.

Bluff begins with two actors on the minimalist set speaking their lines with a recitation of the script’s directions. Just when you’re getting the hang of their unconventional interaction, this artifice is dropped. Someone on the street is being attacked. Neal grabs his baseball bat to the rescue. The victim is patched up. It’s NYC, so the unnamed dude (Alvin Josephs) departs without a “by your leave.”

Emily (Isabelle Grimm) and Neal (Will Livingston) are left to get acquainted, the millennials who helped defend the victim. Emily notes “It’s a good thing you’re not a tennis player, as a racquet wouldn’t make as good a weapon as your bat.”

This 90-minute peek at a couple’s relationship breaks theatre’s “fourth wall” repeatedly…

They couple up and discuss living together. The dialog is ordinary but intriguing to eavesdrop. This is a good thing as the plot isn’t much. Emily has an apartment, and Neal wisely observes “If I move in, it will be “your” place, not “our” place.”

Despite reservations, Emily and Neal cohabitate her apartment. More conversations. Emily phones her hospitalized mother (Tamara Chandler) on the West Coast who laughingly brushes off her daughter’s concerns about drinking and health.

(L to R) Cameron Stuckey is Gene, Isabelle Grimm is Emily, Will Livingston is Neal in “Bluff”.
Photos by: Marc Bussin

Emily’s stepdad Gene arrives in town for a convention, and the tension between these two is immediate and unexplained. Gene (Cam Stuckey) seems affable enough, although it’s difficult to catch all his dialog. He’s a salesman and makes the effort to be sociable to Emily and her boyfriend, but Emily won’t move off her aggressive attitude. The guys bond.

A truth-telling moment occurs when Gene admits he’s been philandering. Emily realizes that Gene has been the only stabilizing force in her alcoholic mother’s life. Self-centered Emily isn’t the least bit grateful. She weighs her dismal options if she snitches on Gene. We never really see a likable side to Emily or learn what’s behind her unrelenting bitchiness.

Emily boots out her boyfriend.

Gene goes home.

Neal shrugs.

And the play ends.

In spite of the unfinished feeling to Bluff, making it seem more like a sketch, there are some clever nuggets. The playwright demonstrates his skill with improv to make the lack of props amusing. Gene asks for a real glass in the bar scene, and the waiter crankily responds, “You’ve been using pretend phones, why can’t you use a pretend cocktail?”

The comedic high point of Bluff is the unnamed part played by Anya Cherniss. She appears briefly in the opening scene and reappears much later as a sultry temptress engaging Gene at a bar. When her lines indicate she should exit the stage, she instead begins ranting to the audience about her character’s qualities. She takes center stage to whine that she should have more lines to speak, as she is a very capable actor. Director Joey Hoeber steps up to command that she leave. Breaking that “fourth wall” brings the biggest laugh of the show.

Despite the shortage of character development or motivation, theatre is meant to be entertaining. Bluff certainly fits that description.

ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionBluff
Written byJeffrey Sweet
Directed byJoey Hoeber & Dianne Harrison
Producing CompanyJolee Productions
Production DatesFridays & Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM through November 16th
Production AddressBelrose Theatre
1415 Fifth Avenue, San Rafael, CA
Websitebrownpapertickets.com/event/4345503
Telephone
Tickets$25/advance, $27 at door
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?-----

An Aisle Seat Theater Review! A Sharp-Edged Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, NTC Collaborates w/Theatre-at-Large by Cari Lynn Pace

Alison Peltz as Mrs. Lovett, Bruce Vieira as Sweeney Todd and Fernando Siu as Tobias Ragg
Photo Credit: Kristen Schutz

This fiendishly fine performance would make Stephen Sondheim smile with sadistic glee. It’s dark and diabolical, with singing, acting, costumes, and a two-level set as sharp as the shaving razor wielded by Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Directors Kim Bromley and Bruce Vieira (masterfully commanding the title role) are skilled veterans at their craft.  They handle the darkly humorous story of a vengeful barber with restraint, using a large cadre of actors and an even larger oven. Ragged actors move in from all sections of the theatre to sweep the audience into the malevolent background story.

It’s hard times in desperate 19th century London, and many morals have been suspended. A migrant sailor (handsome Cordell Wesselink) rescues a mysterious castaway who calls himself Sweeney Todd.  Bruce Vieira seems chillingly suited for this title role, giving it an imposing figure and dour countenance.

Todd is a talented barber who captures the admiration of the street scene by challenging the local barber and mountebank (mustachioed Dominic Quin-Harken) to a shave-off.  His young assistant Tobias (irrepressible Fernando Siu) is flexible when his master becomes not only the loser, but oddly lost to sight as well.

Don’t miss NTC’s Sweeney Todd… It’s deliciously devilish…

Todd sets up shop, and gains the attention of Mrs. Lovett (charming Alison Peltz), the widowed pie-maker, despite his character’s taciturn demeanor. Peltz is the award-winning actor who connives her way into making meat stuffing for her pies from the victims of Todd’s short-tempered vengeance. This unholy alliance brings delicious accolades and business prosperity while Todd bides his time for revenge on the Judge (snidely done by Charles Evans) and the Beedle (a fine role voiced by Mauricio Suarez).

The Judge and Beedle had sent Todd to a prison colony to pave the way for the seduction of Todd’s wife. Unfortunately, she took poison rather than succumb to their lecherous plans.

Todd has escaped and returns to find that his grown daughter (lovely soprano Julianne Bretan) is the ward of the very Judge who lusted after Todd’s wife. The libidinous Judge is now focused on pursuing the daughter. It’s all one can do to resist hissing at these bad boys.

As a child, some may recall the gruesome song “Dunderbeck’s Machine.” We laughed at the invention of his sausage meat machine, and the outcome, when we boisterously sang the lyrics. Let it be noted that Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has added social elements that make it inappropriate for children.

Cordell Wesselink as Anthony and Julianne Bretan as Johanna
Photo Credit: Mark Clark

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street won multiple Tony awards, including best musical. There are a couple of recognizable songs including “(Nothing’s Going to Harm You) Not While I’m Around” and “Pretty Women.” The production possesses sufficient twists and turns in the plot to keep the audience entertained. Sondheim’s songs and lyrics are a real challenge, yet all are impressively handled by the cast who had countless rehearsals to do such an outstanding job.

NTC’s recipe for success is Hugh Wheeler’s book, mixed with Marilyn Izdebski’s choreography, and folding in the meaty music directed by Judy Weisen to bake up this tasty treat.  Don’t miss NTC’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It’s deliciously devilish.

Playing now through November 17th at the Novato Playhouse, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato CA. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2 PM.  Shows suspended by the North Bay Kincaid fires will transfer to Thursdays, Nov. 7 & 14 at 7:30pm.

ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionSweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Written byStephen Sondheim
Directed byKim Bromley & Bruce Vieira
Producing CompanyNovato Theater Company
Production DatesThrough Nov. 17th
Production AddressNovato Theater Company
5420 Nave Drive, Novato 94949
WebsiteNovatoTheaterCompany.org
Telephone(855) 682-8491
Tickets$24 – $30
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK! “The Rocky Horror Show”: Music Matched with Debauchery by Cari Lynn Pace

If you’re looking for a wild and sex-crazed show filled with energy and imaginative characters, go see “The Rocky Horror Show” produced by the Marin Musical Theatre Company.

It’s become a cult tradition to shout key lines at the actors at this outrageous show, based on the 1975 musical horror film. The MMTC program helpfully provides an audience participation script, as well as an etiquette guide with behavior rules, to keep rowdies from ruining the fun for everyone.

This is not a performance for children. Expect a young crowd of Millennials and a raunchy Act II to remind you this isn’t your grandma’s evening at the theatre. And don’t bring Grandpa, especially if he has a heart condition.

It’s eye-popping interaction as audience members show up in costumes and slutty face paint. Lucky ones are selected for the pre-show games, where they might join the cast to sacrifice virgins, imitate animal orgasms, or compete for top honors. Everyone practices the “Time Warp” steps to come later.

Cast members are dressed, or rather undressed, in racy attire. They coach the audience to holler out “Asshole” when Brad (perfectly cast Lorenzo Alviso) appears. Janet (played by Jenny Boynton, who also directed this show) has the shouted moniker “Slut”. The crowd hoots loudly and the partying begins.

Those who have never been to a live performance of “The Rocky Horror Show” might take a while to warm up to the idea of sexual perversion as humor, but that’s the nature of this show. A glass of wine or beer helps!

Those who have never been to a live performance of “The Rocky Horror Show” might take a while to warm up…

As the story of this bizarre journey begins, it follows straight-laced Brad and Janet whose car breaks down near a strange mansion opened by an even stranger ghoul, Riff Raff. Nelson Brown outdoes himself in this smarmy and lecherous role. He’s keen to have elbow sex with Magenta, acted and sung by the powerhouse Dani Innocenti Beem. These two get everyone charged up when they do the “Time Warp” again.

Already bursting with sensual anticipation, the audience explodes when Dr. Frank-N-Furter enters. Jack Gale is the ballsy and brassy “Sweet Transvestite from Transylvania.” He casts his spell in a corset and lustful smile…a trouper with great singing chops.

Out comes Rocky, the golden boy enacted by brawny and beautiful Michael Lamb. Females swoon at sight of him, but the males do, too. What obscene scene will come next?

Amidst this chaotic depravity, Daniel Savio directs five talented musicians who underscore Katie Wickes’ choreography. Several set-ups, like the ensemble performing as Brad and Janet’s car, are quite clever.

“The Rocky Horror Show” does not allow children under 13, as MMTC rates it a “strong R.” Indulge in this riotous and ribald experience through Halloween, October 31st.

ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionThe Rocky Horror Show!
Written byRichard O’Brien
Directed byJenny Boynton
Producing CompanyMarin Musical Theater Company
Production DatesThursday (Halloween) at 6:00 and 9:00 PM,

Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 PM,

Sundays at 5 PM through October 3
Production AddressThe Playhouse in San Anselmo

27 Kensington Road, San Anselmo CA
Websitewww.marinmusicals.org
Telephone---
Tickets$27 – $50
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK!: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” — Cari Lynn Pace Reviews a Musical That Gets Away with Murder!

Michael Ross directs this hilarious and campy musical at Spreckels Performing Arts Center’s Codding Theatre. The plot is immediately intriguing: impoverished Monty (well-cast in Andrew Smith) discovers he has an aristocratic birthright, making him ninth in line to inherit both title and fortune.

How did that happen? Turns out Monty’s noble-born mum had been rudely disinherited, and kept mum about it. His lady-friend Sibella (Madison Genovese) ignores poor Monty as she prefers a more financially secure suitor. Can Monty move up the inheritance list quickly enough to win her hand? Can he bump eight dismissive and nasty relatives off the queue?

“A Gentleman’s Guide” is morbidly delightful fun that’ll just kill you with laughter…

And what relatives they are! Tim Setzer, a talented veteran actor, clearly has a ball playing every one of the noble-born inheritors…including a female. It’s worth the price of admission just to watch him change personalities and voices as he doffs another costume.

 

“A Gentleman’s Guide” won four Tonys when it hit Broadway in 2014, including Best Musical. Gilbert and Sullivan might have been proud of the operetta-style music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak (with additional book and lyrics by Robert L. Freeman.) Several songs have a patter-singing character to cleverly move the plot along.

Act II has a particularly engaging number “I’ve Decided to Marry You.” While Monty hides his lover Sabella behind one door, his marriage-manic cousin Phoebe (lovely soprano Maeve Smith) embraces him behind the other. The trio has the comic chops and strong vocals which brought a cheer from the audience.

In further homage to G&S, “A Gentleman’s Guide” has several surprises and an amusing twist at the end. The musical is appropriate for all ages, despite the rather macabre story line. No blood, thank you, except for the blue kind.

The set is a stage on the stage, opulently designed by Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen. Codding Theatre takes it a step further, maximizing their rear-projection screen to depict scene changes. Ice skaters cruise back and forth. Bees swarm. Tourists take tours of the mansion. Underneath it all is the 12-piece orchestra conducted by Jim Coleman.

“A Gentleman’s Guide” is morbidly delightful fun that’ll just kill you with laughter.

ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionUrinetown, the Musical
Written byMark Holman and Greg Kotis
Directed byJay Manley
Producing CompanySpreckels Performing Arts
Production DatesThrough March 1st
Production AddressSpreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Websitewww.spreckelsonline.com
Telephone(707) 588-3400
Tickets$12-$36
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4.5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK! Ross Valley Players Catch Tremendous Show in The Mousetrap – by Cari Lynn Pace

Evan Held as Giles Ralston at RVP.

This whodunit? play is so well-loved that Ross Valley Players sold out their opening night and had to bring in extra chairs. For good reason. This character-driven and exciting play keeps the audience guessing – and delightfully entertained.

Agatha Christie, that prolific mystery author, stipulated that film and television rights to The Mousetrap could not be sold until the London production closed. The Mousetrap opened 67 years ago and set the record for the longest-running stage play anywhere.

Director Adrian Elfenbaum skillfully controls the action and pacing of this true murder mystery, with a cast of actors who go over-the-top in their roles and accents.

The action is nonstop, the clues fly everywhere, and the ending has the typical Agatha Christie twist.

Welcome to an English bed-and-breakfast manor as the new and inexperienced owners, charmingly enacted by Heather Buck and Evan Held, anxiously await their very first guests. As they plump the pillows, the wireless (Brit for radio) is reporting a recent murder in London.

Tori Truss as Mrs. Boyle; Maria Mikheyenko as Miss Casewell at Ross Valley Players.

The fun begins with the arrival of an outrageously enthusiastic guest played by Andre Amarotico. He’s followed shortly by a prune-faced spinster, beautifully acted by Tori Truss who captures every disdainfully arched eyebrow imaginable. She’s annoyingly critical and a good balance for Steve Price, the proper Major and helpful gentleman. Maria Mikheyenko poses as the next arrival, an odd and clever young woman with indeterminate plans for the future.

The final guest is one without a reservation, claiming his car was stuck in the snow. Robert Molossi arrives with no luggage and a heavy accent, immediately arousing suspicions by all.

The wireless chirps an update on the recent murder, and a local detective sergeant (Steven Samp) arrives to alert and interview the guests. The connections between the guests, the manor house owners, and the London murder develop in scene after scene. Suddenly, the lights are out and one of the guests is dead. A piercing scream (kudos to Heather Buck), cut telephone lines, and the chase … begins. But whodunit?

Heather Buck as Molly Ralston; Evan Held as Giles Ralston at work in ‘The Mousetrap’

No spoilers will come from this reviewer! The play has been a favorite not only for its puzzling mystery of the real killer, but for the fun to switch finger-pointing as more clues are revealed. The action is nonstop, the clues fly everywhere, and the ending has the typical Agatha Christie twist.

After the final curtain, a cast member announces “Now that we have seen The Mousetrap, you are our partners in crime. Please preserve the tradition to keep the secret of whodunit locked in your hearts.” It’s a worthy custom that will allow future audiences and generations to be caught up in The Mousetrap.

 

ASR Reviewer Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

 

ProductionThe Mousetrap
Written byAgatha Christie
Directed byAdrian Elfenbaum
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru October 13th.
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.rossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone415. 456. 9555
Tickets$17 - $29
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW! Novato Theater Company Exposes Tragedies and Turmoil in “The Humans” — by Cari Lynn Pace

Photo by Fred Deneau

“The Humans” is a slice-of-life peek into a dysfunctional family’s Thanksgiving dinner. It starts with discord and never lets up. Fine performances by six Novato Theater Company actors rivet sharp-edged characters as they parry and thrust at one another.

Stephen Karam wrote his drama of three generations hiding secrets and resentments in a basement apartment (a great set by Michael Walraven). Add alcohol, irritating neighbors and faulty light bulbs to put this dinner on edge. Anyone want them as relatives?

Director Patrick Nims pulled fine performances from the actors to create cohesion from their criticisms. Brigid (Olivia Brown) is the youngest in this confrontational family. She starts out angry and stays that way, even when her helpful boyfriend (Ron Chapman) tries to be supportive. He doesn’t escape a grilling, of course.

“It was a challenge to memorize the gibberish in the script.”…

Brigid’s older sister Aimee (Alicia Kraft) has serious health and relationship turmoil, which she wisely keeps close to her vest. For sport, the sisters gang up to mock their mother (Laura J. Davies), reducing her to tears. Their father (David Francis Perry) gets shredded by both wife and daughters. It’s not pretty to watch, unless you’re fond of schadenfreude.

Marilyn Hughes, playing the frail and wheelchair-bound Momo, is particularly convincing. Her character doesn’t do or say much to provoke anyone, so her family mostly ignores her. Hughes notes offstage “It was a challenge to memorize the gibberish in the script.”

“The Humans” runs for 90 minutes, with no intermission, and contains adult themes and language.

ASR Reviewer Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionThe Humans
Written byStephen Karam
Directed byPatrick Nims
Producing CompanyNovato Theater Company
Production DatesThrough Sept. 29th
Production AddressNovato Theater Company
5420 Nave Drive, Novato 94949
WebsiteNovatoTheaterCompany.org
Telephone
Tickets$21 – $27
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3/5
Performance5/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?-----

AN ASR PREVIEW! Think the Marin Symphony is for Stuffed Shirts? Think again! – by Cari Lynn Pace

Each fall, the Marin Symphony showcases light classical music to entice and delight in a program often referred to as a “Pops Concert.”

This latest show promises to blow the roof off the stodgy Marin Center Veterans Memorial Auditorium as they perform the eye-popping “Cirque de la Symphonie” in concert with half-a-dozen Cirque du Soleil-style performers. Aerial flyers, gymnasts, and strongmen take the stage in front of (and high above) the orchestra of black-suited classical musicians. The moment conductor Stuart Chafetz whisks his baton, an amazing fusion of sights and sounds fills the concert hall.

…Leave the starched shirts at home.

Look up above as powerful and lithe bodies dance and fly in sparkling bodysuits and glowing silk streamers. The orchestra ripples their bows across violins, violas, and cellos as gold-painted strongmen balance in muscle-rippling symmetry. Flutes flutter, drums pound out the beat, and the Marin Symphony seems inspired by the fluid movement of these international performers. Or is it the other way around?

The musical program includes favorites from Dvorak’s “Carnival,” Bizet’s “Les Toreadors,” Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”, Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” and other familiar classics.

With so many pieces, the musicians have to keep their eyes on their sheet music, and on the conductor. They can only steal glances at the Cirque de la Symphonie’s troupe of awe-inspiring acrobats, founded ten years ago by Alexander Streltzov. We’re fortunate that Marin is one stop on their nationwide pops tour. “I’m thrilled to be part of the Marin Symphony’s family as its first Principal Pops conductor,” Chafetz enthused. It’s a stunning start!

Performances are September 14 and 15 with tickets priced $25-$85 (Youth tickets $20). For more information go to: https://marinsymphony.org/fall-pops-cirque/ or call the Marin Center Box Office at 415-473-6800.

ASR Reviewer Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

 

 

AN AISLE SEAT THEATER REVIEW! Merry Wives of Windsor Gain the Upper Hand – by Cari Lynn Pace

Summer and Shakespeare go together like fudge sauce on ice cream. To put the cherry on top, make it an outdoor presentation reminiscent of the London Globe Theatre’s open-air venue. The Curtain Theatre, performing in the Old Mill Park Amphitheatre in downtown Mill Valley, does exactly that. Now in their 20th year, this award-winning troupe presents Merry Wives of Windsor among towering redwoods through Sunday, September 8th.

The Curtain Theatre experience envelopes their audience in the late 1500’s. Absent the plastic chairs and jet streams visible overhead, the scene in this majestic redwood grove transforms time. A quartet of musicians in period garb quietly plays original songs written by Music Director Don Clark and Hal Hughes. The air fills with sounds of a fiddle, tin whistle, concertina, and other quaint instruments. Children scamper about the soft ground while adults pour their libations and chat. Costumed and bewigged actors, (authentically designed by Kathy Kingman-Solum and Hope Carrillo) beckon patrons to available seats.

…Grey Wolf is ridiculously perfect as Falstaff, charming and powerful and capable of stealing any scene on the stage…

The Curtain Theatre has no curtain, so Producer/Choreographer (and duo-role actor) Steve Beecroft grandly welcomes all from the front of the stage. Merry Wives of Windsor’s multi-layered plot focuses on a young maiden, Mistress Anne Page (lovely Lilly Jackson), who has attracted the eye of several suitors. Each suitor has his personal champion, including Anne’s parents who advocate differing preferences for their daughter’s match. As with much of Shakespeare’s plays, it takes a while to catch on to all the characters and their relationships.

Gray Wolf and friends at work for Curtain Theatre

Enter lustful Sir John Falstaff, who boasts of his intentions to seduce not merely one, but two of his acquaintances’ wives, one of whom is Anne’s mother. Grey Wolf is ridiculously perfect as Falstaff, charming and powerful and capable of stealing any scene on the stage. When the wives get wind of his plans, they team up to plot their amusing revenge. Heather Cherry and Marianne Shine make a formidable duo, outmaneuvering Falstaff and even exacting better behavior from their clueless husbands.

Director Kim Bromley notes “The central theme of this play is power, who wields it, who wants it, and who gets it.” Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor is lengthy and uneven in spots, yet ultimately allows women to gain the upper hand in a period of time when such was certainly not the norm.

The City of Mill Valley was recently under pressure from several nearby neighbors to curtail The Curtain Theatre and other public noise-producing events in Old Mill Park, site of the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival and the Dipsea Race. Happily, Steve Beecroft reports that performances have been adjusted to mollify neighbors yet continue with these free weekend performances. To that end, all may shout “Huzzah!” Not too loudly, please.

Playing at 2 PM through September 8th on Saturdays and Sundays and Labor Day Monday. Admission is FREE. For more information surf the web over to: www.curtaintheatre.org.

Open seating, picnics welcome, cookies and coffee available for purchase, and chairs are provided on a first-come basis, or bring your own. Dress in layers as this redwood grove is always much cooler than the street level.

ASR Reviewer Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionMerry Wives of Windsor
Written byWilliam Shakespeare
Directed byKim Bromley
Producing CompanyCurtain Theatre
Production DatesThrough Sept. 8th
Production AddressOld Mill Park Amphitheater.

375 Throckmorton Avenue (behind the library), Mill Valley
Websitewww.curtaintheatre.org
Telephone
TicketsFree!
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?----

 

 

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK! — “Those Dancin’ Feet” Kicks It Up a Notch — by Cari Lynn Pace

PHOTO: Those Dancin’ Feet_61 – L to R Alex Hartman and Colin Bradbury (dancers) and Kayley Anne Collins and Neil Starkenberg (vocals).
Photo by Ray Mabry / © R. Mabry Photography 2019

Transcendence Theatre Company (TTC) has presented productions “under the stars” at Sonoma’s Jack London State Historic Park for eight summer seasons. This award-winning troupe has grown from the dream of its three founders to encompass over 50 singers and dancers taking a break from their Broadway and LA shows.

Their successful “Broadway Under the Stars” formula has traditionally been a potpourri of popular song-and-dance numbers. This year TTC experiments by adding a casual plot line to “Those Dancin’ Feet” to link the dance numbers. It works, splendidly. The show runs through August 25.

The experience at “Broadway Under the Stars” is top notch…

It starts with three couples who move with agile beauty through stages of courtship and commitment. Their ‘alter egos’ sing of passion, longing, joy, sadness, and despair. The program cleverly sprinkles a mix of 29 songs —some from decades past, some today’s Grammy winners — and everything flows and moves in a seamless and splendid reflection of love and life.

The experience at “Broadway Under the Stars” is top notch, with the production enhanced by the Transcendence Band conducted by Matt Smart.

PHOTO: Those Dancin’ Feet_262 – L to R Dee Tomasetta, Croix Dilenno and Cara Salemo.
Photo by Ray Mabry / © R. Mabry Photography 2019

There are so many intricate dance numbers that Director/Choreographer Roy Lightner is joined by choreographers Sara Brians and Chip Abbott. They showcase 20 athletic and fluid dancers, and the result is over the top.

TTC evenings, traditionally touted as the “Best night ever!” start as early as 5 p.m. at Jack London State Historic Park. Patrons bring picnics to enjoy at the umbrella-equipped tables, food trucks ply their wares, premium wine and beer vendors offer tastes, and live music encourages the fun and friendly camaraderie in the open field —  known amusingly as “The Great Lawn.”

Outdoor seating (assigned) begins in the stone ruins as the sun drops low beyond the mountains. Just before the show starts at 7:30, put away your sun hat, grab a jacket and lap blanket, and revel in the quiet beauty of the Valley of the Moon. When the lights come up on the dancers onstage, prepare to be blown away!

ASR Reviewer Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionThose Dancin' Feet
Written byTranscendence Theater Co.
Directed byRoy Lightner
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesThrough August 25th
Production AddressJack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen (Sonoma)
Websitebestnightever.org
Telephone(877) 424-1414
Tickets$49-$154
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK! MSC’s “Spamalot” a Masterful Madcap Musical – by Cari Lynn Pace

In its 30 years, Marin Shakespeare Company has never presented a full-scale musical. Until now.

The second production in Marin Shakespeare Company’s summer trio of shows, “Spamalot” is the musical comedy written by Eric Idle and “lovingly ripped off” from the zany motion picture “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Take Idle’s wit, add John DuPrez’s music, mix in seven musicians, and toss in juicy bits from the madcap screenplay. Sprinkle in new sight gags and you have a riotous musical comedy.

Replete with several outstanding comic performances, “Spamalot” loosely spoofs “Camelot,” the King Arthur legend of Medieval England. Jarion Monroe stars as the would-be “King of the Britons,” who traipses about the countryside with his loyal talking horse Patsy (Bryan Munar), trying to convince hapless peasants to join him in a quest to find the Holy Grail and thereby somehow unite the country.

… a huge production that’s one fast roller-coaster ride of laughter.

The familiarity of several characters fades quickly as the plot takes their character arcs in unpredictable directions. Nonsensical scenes and characters are amusingly disjointed, including one particularly assertive Black Knight (spoiler alert!). The show is full of clever sight gags, hysterical physical comedy, and tons of goofy banter—the Lady of the Lake (Susan Zelinsky), who gives Arthur his mandate and his magic sword Excalibur—is described by one doubtful peasant as “a watery tart.” One hesitates to laugh too long for fear of missing what comes next.

Phillip Percy Williams as Sir Robin with Chorus at Marin Shakes

Michael Berg’s colorful costumes are over the top—reportedly totaling 700 pieces if you count each sock and shoe. Choreography by Rick Wallace is the kinetic equivalent, especially some of the large-scale production numbers. You can’t beat a bevy of chorus girls swinging maces for sheer entertainment. The excellent band led by Mountain Play veteran Paul Smith propels the whole affair from just in front of center stage.

Joseph Patrick O’Malley, a languid and fluid actor who first steals his scene with “I’m Not Dead Yet,” pops up in multiple ridiculous guises. The gorgeous Zelinsky sings with power and prominence in Act I, then disappears only to show up in Act II wearing a Norma Desmond-like caftan and turban, wailing “Whatever Happened to My Part?” while “The Song that Goes Like This” will be all too familiar to audience members who’ve seen their share of modern musicals. The finale tune “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” has the audience whistling along while the chorus line kicks up its boots. Truly a marvelous madcap romp.

Award-winning Marin Shakespeare Company is run by two tireless founders, Robert Currier and Lesley Schisgall Currier, who present an annual trio of outdoor productions at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, on the Dominican College campus in San Rafael. One of the three is classic Shakespeare, one is “Shakespeare light” with alternative settings and language, and the third is a production far removed from the Bard’s influence, such as “Spamalot.” All are professionally and energetically presented by a mix of Equity actors and solid local talent, with interns in minor roles.

Director Robert Currier has a long history of updating Shakespearean comedies with unexpected adornments to plot, character, and setting. With “Spamalot,” he started with an outrageous script, and through superb choices in casting and direction has come up with a huge production that’s one fast roller-coaster ride of laughter. Don’t sit too close to the stage if you want to catch every line.

MSC has established a fine legacy among theatre-lovers from both sides of the curtain. Open seating (wooden benches with backs) can be made more comfortable by renting cushions at the gate. Nights can get cold when the fog rolls in, so dress in layers. Picnics are welcome.

ASR Reviewer Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionMonty Python’s Spamalot
Written byBook & Lyrics by Eric Idle.
Music by John Du Prez & Eric Idle
Directed byDirected by Robert Currier
Producing CompanyMarin Shakespeare Company
Production DatesThrough August 25th
Production AddressForest Meadows Amphitheater (outdoors),
Dominican University of California 890 Belle Avenue, San Rafael, CA
Websitewww.marinshakespeare.org
Telephone(415) 499-4488
Tickets$10 – $38
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4.5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK! – “My Fair Lady” Isn’t Fair, It’s Loverly! Oversize Production is a Hit on Their Undersize Stage – by Cari Lynn Pace

The cast of “My Fair Lady” at work. Photos courtesy of Eric Chazankin.

In a bold move, Sonoma Arts Live removed 12 seats from the floor of their narrow theatre to make space for a London street scene. As the house lights go down, a certain cockney flower girl mingles with other back-alley workers awaiting the evening swells in tuxes and top hats. Scruffy Eliza Doolittle crosses paths with Professor Henry Higgins, and thus begins the delightful story of “My Fair Lady”. This energetic and rousing adaptation of the famed movie and stage musical by Lerner and Loewe is playing on the Rotary Stage at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center through July 28th.

Michael Ross directs an incredibly outsize production in this small and intimate theater. If you sit in the front row, you’d best pull in your legs as the high-stepping dancers rush by. The seven-piece orchestra, directed by F. James Raasch, is completely hidden behind the raised stage, opulently decorated as a two-story English drawing room with gramophone and fireplace.

Impish Sarah Wintermeyer reveals her golden singing voice and sweet face to create an irresistible Eliza. What talent!

When Eliza, a yowling flower girl, comes to call seeking language lessons, the game is on. Larry Williams brings forth arrogant Professor Higgins with a much better voice than Rex Harrison ever didn’t have. He and Colonel Pickering, a well-cast Chad Yarish, make a wager that the dirty, lowly street urchin could be transformed to pass as a real lady in six months if she only learned to speak as one.

And the flower girl? Impish Sarah Wintermeyer reveals her golden singing voice and a sweet face to create an irresistible Eliza. What talent! Before our eyes, she transforms from a sooty guttersnipe into an elegant lady, dressed for the ball. Cinderella could take lessons from her.

Speaking of dressing, Barbara McFadden’s costumes are a real treat, from garbage men and serving maids to elegant grey Ascot tuxes and outsize flowered hats. Simply marvelous!

Alfred P. Doolittle (Tim Setzer) sings “Get Me to the Church on Time” at Sonoma Arts Live. Photos courtesy of Eric Chazankin.

Several of the 12 actors fill multiple roles, and all sing and move in a smooth-flowing ensemble. A big favorite is Tim Setzer, who seems born for his hilarious role as Alfred P. Doolittle. His knockout songs “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time” bring the house down. Ryan Hook shows a fine tenor voice when he croons “On the Street Where You Live” at Eliza’s doorway.

Executive Artistic Producer Jaime Love notes “We are thrilled to close our 2019 season with this timeless and iconic classic.” The entire family will enjoy this oversize production on this undersize stage.

ASR Reviewer Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

 

ProductionMy Fair Lady!
Written byBook by Alan Jay Lerner. Music and Lyrics by Lerner & Frederick Loewe.
Directed byMichael Ross
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesThru July 28th
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Websitewww.sonomaartslive.org
Telephone866-710-8942
Tickets$25 – $40
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK! One Singular Sensation: “A Chorus Line” – by Cari Lynn Pace

“A Chorus Line” cast (Photo courtesy of Transcendence Theatre Company)

Every summer through September, friends flock to one of four different “Broadway Under the Stars” shows: mix-and-mingle evenings full of fresh air, picnics, fine wines, stunning scenery, and professional singers and dancers. These extraordinary escapees from the bright lights of Broadway and LA have a single goal: to give patrons their “best night ever!” And they do!

Eight years ago a small circle of NYC and LA performers took the summer off and held a song-and-dance fundraiser in the open stone ruins of Jack London State Historic Park. Their first “Broadway Under the Stars” was so well attended it raised enough money to keep the park open.

Each year the three original members, Amy Miller, Brad Surosky, and Stephan Stubbins, recruit more high-energy performers and friends to join them. Today, with over 55 stellar performers, Transcendence is a family of talented dancers and singers who love performing on the beautiful open-air stage in Sonoma’s wine country. They’ve raised nearly $500,000 from ticket sales to keep the park open and are proud to bring performances and classes to local schools.

Transcendence delivers a knockout show at Jack London State Park.”

The first show in their summer lineup under the stars is the award-winning “A Chorus Line.” It couldn’t be a more appropriate choice for Transcendence. Based on actual interviews, the story is about a group of dancers anxiously trying out for limited spots in a Broadway show. Every one of the performers on stage no doubt went through countless such auditions. Now here they are, under the setting sun and rising moon, dancing and singing to win a part they’ve already joyously earned. This is life imitating life. It can’t get more real than this!

Kristin Piro and Matthew Rossoff (Photo courtesy of Transcendence Theatre Company)

About the Transcendence summer experience: Cast members exuberantly welcome Bay Area patrons who come early to the park for a pre-show dinner picnic under umbrellas. Local musicians entertain on a small stage while food trucks line the meadow. Beer and wine vendors offer tastes and glasses of their finest.

At 7:30, just before sunset, patrons gather up their picnic items (and extra jackets) to head for seats in the stone ruins. The orchestra’s pounding beat brings forth a stream of high-stepping performers who belt out songs with sleek moves and smiles against the background of Sonoma Mountain. Broadway never had such a stage setting!

Catch the stars in Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon in one of four upcoming summer shows:

“A Chorus Line” runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings through June 30th.

“Fantastical Family Night” for the youngest friends begins July 19th for one weekend through July 20th.

“Those Dancin’ Feet” features world-class dancing full of passion, energy, and excitement, backed by a full orchestra. This program runs August 9th through 25th.

The finale of the summer shows is “Gala Celebration” to complete Transcendence’s magic of music and community, for one weekend only September 6th, 7th and 8th.

ASR reviewer Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionA Chorus Line
Written byBook by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante; Music by Marvin Hamlisch; Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Directed byAmy Miller
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesThrough June 30th
Production AddressJack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen
Websitebestnightever.org
Telephone(877) 424-1414
Tickets$49-$154
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT THEATER REVIEW PICK! “Faceless” Brings Feisty Focus to Courtroom Drama – by Cari Lynn Pace

The cast of “Faceless” (Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin)

Live theatre can bring laughter or tears. You may leave feeling warm and fuzzy or puzzling over moral questions.

You’ll be immersed in all these vibrancies with “Faceless,” playing through June 2nd in the Studio Theatre at the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. This intimate theatre-in-the-round is the perfect cocoon for a courtroom clash. The audience is the jury, and the intense characters are ours to judge.

Susie (a hijab-wearing Isabella Sakkren) is a teen swept into the web of an internet ISIS “friend” and wooed into believing that she can be part of a new “family.” Arrested as she attempted to flee to Syria, she is now jailed and facing trial.

Susie’s dad, a hard-working single father (perfectly cast in Edward McCloud), still grieves the tragic loss of his wife. Was he so bound in his grief that he neglected to see his daughter becoming sullen and marginalized? Dad agonizes between consoling Susie and berating her for her empty extremism. He “mortgages the farm” to hire a top-notch defense attorney for his hostile daughter – a perfect role for Mike Pavone.

You may not want this 90-minute play to end.”

As for the prosecution, the lead attorney’s strategy (in spot-on acting by award-winning David L. Yen) is delightfully devilish. He theorizes that a female Muslim attorney on his staff would be the perfect choice for this touchy trial. He summons Claire (the lovely and spirited Ilana Niernberger) who wears her hijab with devotion, not faux faith.

David L. Yen (Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin)

The dialog between these two attorneys is like watching rams clash. They slice through untouchable issues of religion, race, privilege, and predatory behavior with knife-sharpened repartee in an astonishing feat of writing by playwright Selina Fillinger. You may not want this 90-minute play to end. When it does, you alone will make the judgment call.

Director Craig A. Miller, former Artistic Director of the 6th Street Playhouse, worked two years to gain the rights to present “Faceless.” He has exercised impressive skill in staging the characters, enabling the audience to feel included in the courtroom drama.

ASR reviewer Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionFaceless
Written bySelina Fillinger
Directed byCraig A. Miller
Producing Company6th Street Playhouse, Studio Theatre
Production DatesThrough June 2nd
Production Address6th Street Playhouse
Studio Theatre
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Websitehttp://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
Telephone (707) 523-4185
Tickets$18 – $28
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT THEATRE REVIEW: “Jazz” Dissects Life to Imitate Music at MTC – by Cari Pace

Clockwise, left to right: Troy, Tenille, Sullivan, Wright, Hall, Mayes, Lacy (Photo Credit: Kevin Berne)

The dictionary defines “jazz” as American music developed from ragtime and blues and characterized by propulsive syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, and often deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre.

It’s an accurate parallel to Nambi Kelley’s latest play “Jazz,” just opened at the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. All the jazz components are here, dissected on stage. Based on the book by Toni Morrison and directed by Awoye Timpo, this production propels story lines, characters, and time frames from 1920s Virginia cotton fields to NYC’s Harlem. It’s not a musical and there are no instruments onstage, although Marcus Shelby’s music adds to the texture of the performance.

“Jazz” opens with a young girl’s funeral, then aggressively explodes into a polyphonic ensemble of an emotional wife and a cuckolded husband, surrounded by busybodies. A colorful talking and singing parrot joins the cacophony in an over-the-top role by multi-talented Paige Mayes.

Just let it waft over and enjoy.”

With jazz music, a bluesy baseline melody can be ephemeral, quickly punctuated then disappearing. It typically returns later, played by another instrument or in a different key. The well-worn story lines in “Jazz” follow this lead.

Wright, Mayes, Sullivan (Photo Credit: Kevin Berne)

Post-funeral, a flashback begins with the blues. It’s a mother’s suicide, and a young girl (C. Kelly Wright) is sent off to work the cotton fields. Boy (Michael Gene Sullivan) meets girl, they enjoy some happy married years, then husband meets younger girl (Dezi Soley), younger girl tempts then taunts husband, husband rages out of control, wife rages at girl’s funeral. And we’re back where we started, almost.

A reappearing melody or theme is a familiar and welcoming ploy in every genre of music, yet difficult to manage on the stage. Threads of several story lines in “Jazz” repeat stage right, then left, with minor changes in pitch and timbre. These flashbacks can be confusing; it’s best not to fret. Just let it waft over and enjoy.

The actors put a lot of energy into their roles, although without mikes many quick spoken lines are lost. Local favorite Margo Hall plays multiple roles with skillful versatility while Lisa Lacy, Dane Troy and Tiffany Tenille complete the talented cast. They dance ragtime, sing snippets of spiritual songs, and make the most of the “devil music” in “Jazz.”

ASR reviewer Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.

 

ProductionJazz
Written byAdapted by Nambi E. Kelley
Based on the book by Toni Morrison
Music by Marcus Shelby
Directed byDirected by Awoye Timpo
Producing CompanyMarin Theatre Company (MTC)
Production DatesThrough May 19th
Production AddressMarin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA
Websitewww.marintheatre.org
Telephone(415) 388-5200
Tickets$10 – $70
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3.5/5
Performance3.5/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?-----