ASR Theater ~~ ASR’s Favorites of 2023

by Team ASR

2023 was a wonderful year for live theater in the Bay Area. Although many companies are still struggling financially, it’s clear that artistically most have bounced back from the pandemic. Rather than a “best of” list, here are ten of the past year’s favorites submitted by ASRians.

Dinner with Friends: In June, Sonoma Arts Live served up a Pulitzer Prize-winning treat. Director Carl Jordan had the perfect recipe for casting Ilana Niernberger, John Browning, Katie Kelley, and Jimmy Gagarin. Recipe?

The play’s friends are foodies, couples who uncouple and all but food fight on a multi-stage set by Jordan and Gary Gonser. The play had just the right amount of both relationships’ spice to flavor any postprandial discussion. — Cari Lynn Pace

Dragon Lady: Spanning most of the life of Maria Senora Porkalob, the playwright/performer’s grandmother and a first-generation Filipina immigrant, Marin Theatre Company’s Dragon Lady was an inspiring, entertaining survival yarn and a master class in solo storytelling. Part biography, part autobiography, part cabaret musical, and part comedy, Dragon Lady was a tour-de-force written and performed by Sara Porkalob, with wonderful instrumental backing by three members of the Washington-based band Hot Damn Scandal.Barry Willis

 … 2023 was a wonderful year for live theater in the Bay Area …

Stones in His Pockets: Spreckels’ production of this whip-smart Irish comedy was touching, insightful, and laugh-out-loud funny. It demanded the utmost from only two actors, playing no fewer than fifteen characters of varying ages, cultures, social classes, and genders.

All that and no costume changes, no props beyond two simple wooden crates, and a bare-bones stage with only a small stone wall and a projection screen to serve as a backdrop. A brilliant exercise in theater done right. — Nicole Singley

Crowns: Walnut Creek’s CenterREP presented an exhilarating, uplifting celebration of life with this serio-comedic musical. A coming-of-age story about a hip-hop girl from Brooklyn on a journey of discovery in a small South Carolina town, the revival-meeting production starred Juanita Harris as the town’s no-nonsense matriarch and queen bee of a bevy of church ladies, each with a collection of elaborate fancy hats mostly reserved for Sundays, when they want to look their best “to meet the king.” — Barry Willis

Silent Sky: Napa’s Lucky Penny Productions gave us a lovely rendering of Lauren Gunderson’s biographical tale about pioneering mathematician/astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, who toiled at Harvard University Observatory for approximately twenty years until she was finally allowed to look through the telescope. She faced opposition from the scientific establishment of the era, but Leavitt’s insights led to major breakthroughs in human understanding of the universe. — Barry Willis

The People vs. Mona: Pt. Richmond’s cozy Masquers Playhouse delivered a delightfully interactive comedic musical about a trumped-up murder case in the tiny south Georgia town of Tippo. The engaging Nelson Brown served as both MC and inept defense counsel Jim Summerford, who comes to the trial having never won a case. Shay Oglesby-Smith was tremendous as the town’s prosecutor and manipulative mayoral candidate Mavis Frye, matched by Michele Sanner Vargas as the accused Mona May Katt. — Susan Dunn

Clyde’s: Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre was the scene for this scathing comedy by Lynn Nottage, in which four parolees try their best to thrive under an oppressive boss.

April Nixon was brilliant as the voluptuous, wise-cracking owner of the roadside diner named for her character—a deliciously malicious force of nature. An uplifting, uproarious, and realistic tale about hope, Clyde’s was among the best comedies of the year. — Barry Willis

Hippest Trip—Soul Train, the Musical: The stage of ACT’s Toni Rembe Theater was transformed into both a giant 1970s television set and the production studio for Soul Train, reportedly the longest-running music-and-dance show ever made. Dominique Morisseau’s dazzling retrospective of the groundbreaking television show was wonderfully directed by Kamilah Forbes. Played by confident Quentin Earl Darrington, Soul Train founder Don Cornelius was a former Chicago crime reporter who envisioned a TV show that would uplift his community. Through sheer willpower, he made it a reality, and so did ACT. — Barry Willis

The Wizard of Oz: The Emerald City met Beach Blanket Babylon in ACT’s spectacularly goofy psychedelic The Wizard of Oz. The wild production adhered closely to the beloved original, including story and songs, but was as far removed from a 1940s Saturday afternoon movie matinee as you can imagine—a hilariously gender-bending extravaganza just perfect for Pride Month in San Francisco.  — Barry Willis

The Glass Menagerie: Ross Valley Players returned to the essence of mid-century theater with a sobering production of Tennessee Williams’ classic family drama. Directed by David Abrams, who also played the role of disaffected son Tom Wingfield, the show starred Tamar Cohn as his delusional, manipulative mother Amanda, Tina Traboulsi as his asocial sister Laura, and Jesse Lumb as the good-natured gentleman caller Jim O’Connor, who arrives late in the tale and quickly discovers what a dysfunctional morass he’s stepped into. Tom O’Brien’s austere set, period-perfect costumes by Michael Berg, evocative lighting design by Michele Samuels, and music collected by sound designer Billie Cox all made significant contributions to one of the year’s most compelling dramas. — George Maguire


PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Stones in His Pockets” a Must-See at Spreckels

By Nicole Singley

Something special is gracing the stage at Spreckels’ intimate Condiotti Theatre, and it’s worth every penny of the price of admission. Playing now through September 10, Stones in His Pockets is, simply put, a master class in theater done right. And it’s no easy feat, at that.

As touching and insightful as it is laugh-out-loud funny, this whip-smart Irish comedy demands an awful lot of its only two actors, who are tasked with filling the shoes of no fewer than fifteen characters of varying ages, cultures, social classes, and genders. This would be challenging enough were it not compounded by zero costume changes, no props beyond two simple wooden crates, and a bare-bones stage with only a small stone wall and a projection screen to serve as its backdrop.

…”Stones in His Pockets” is simply a must-see masterpiece of local theater…

In less talented hands, this might add up to a confusing mess of mistaken identities and muddied transitions. But thanks to the careful stewardship of director Sheri Lee Miller, stellar casting and skillful staging combine to wring every last drop of humor and heart from playwright Marie Jones’s exacting script. And boy, is there a lot of it.

Irishmen Charlie and Jake (Jimmy Gagarin and Sam Coughlin, both phenomenal) become fast friends during their stint as extras on the set of a Hollywood epic that’s taken over their small rural town. But their starstruck excitement quickly fades. Behind the scenes is an industry that doesn’t care who it hurts, dehumanizes, or exploits in the name of wealth and fame. The show must go on, after all, at any cost – even when tragedy strikes. Jones manages to touch on some heavier subject matter and launch some incisive criticisms while never losing sight of the play’s comedic billing.

Sam Coughlin and Jimmy Gagarin. Photo courtesy The Sonoma Index-Tribune.

Gagarin and Coughlin are masters of their craft, moving seamlessly between characters (often multiple in the same scene) with apparent though undoubtedly hard-earned ease. Changes in posture, inflection, and dialect – some subtle, others dramatically overt – enable audiences to easily distinguish between characters. Each is impressively distinctive and fully formed. So much so, in fact, that on opening night, it was easy for this reviewer to forget there were only two actors on stage, so wholly convincing they were in each capacity. Hats off to dialect coach John Rustan for a job well done.

Among the colorful cast of side characters are glamorous leading lady Caroline Giovanni (Gagarin, whose affectations are hilarious), persnickety director’s assistant Aisling (Coughlin, also hilarious), spirited local elder Mickey Riordan (Coughlin), no-nonsense assistant director Simon (Gagarin), and a host of others who are all brought to life with sensitivity and self-possession. The actors’ chemistry shines through in every scene.

Though there’s little on stage, the stagecraft doesn’t disappoint. Gagarin and Coughlin are aided greatly by Chris Cota’s nuanced lighting and Jessica Johnson’s simple but effective sound design, subtly transforming the stage into a local pub with aptly-chosen background music and creating the illusion of a morning shower with perfectly timed sound effects. Allison Rae Baker deserves a mention here, too, for choreographing a charming Irish dance it’s clear the actors were having fun with on opening night.

Seldom does a production come along that checks all the boxes, but Miller has hit this one out of the park. Stones in His Pockets is simply a must-see masterpiece of local theater. It’s moving, it’s smart, and it’s wildly funny, to boot. Though the show must go on, this one’s only here for two short weeks. Don’t miss your chance to see Gagarin and Coughlin at the height of their powers.


Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.




Stones in His Pockets
Written by Marie Jones
Directed bySheri Lee Miller
Producing CompanySpreckels Performing Arts
Production DatesThrough Sept 10th
Production AddressSpreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Telephone(707) 588-3429
Tickets$14 - $34
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!
  • Graphics courtesy of Liverpool Theater.

ASR Theater ~~ “Dry Powder” Superbly Performed at Left Edge Theatre

by Nicole Singley

David and Goliath. Good versus evil. The haves and the have-nots. There’s an age-old battle being waged behind closed doors in patent leather-adorned offices across America, and it’s a war the working class has been losing for decades. Left Edge Theatre’s production of Dry Powder grants audiences an insider’s view of the greedy backroom deals chiseling away at the American Dream. Experience the dramedy and allure of high finance up close at The California through March 26th.

The show opens on suit-clad Rick (Mike Schaeffer), president of a private equity firm in peril, furiously flipping through his phone to the soundtrack of angry protestors crying out in the distance. It’s not a great day at the office. As luck would have it, throwing a lavish engagement party on the same day you’ve announced massive layoffs at a business you’ve bought out is not the most popular move. In fact, it’s an outright PR nightmare, threatening to scare away all the firm’s key investors. (Was the elephant too much?)

Photos by Eric Chazankin

Enter Seth (Michael Girts) to the rescue. He’s been in conversations with Jeff (Mark Bradbury), the affable CEO of a struggling family-owned luggage manufacturer willing to sell at a price Rick can’t resist, so long as the company’s values and employees are protected. What’s more, Seth asserts, is it’s the perfect opportunity to redeem the firm’s image by investing in the growth of an all-American company. They can do the right thing, he argues, and still turn a sizable profit.

But Seth’s unscrupulous colleague Jenny (Gillian Eichenberger) is not impressed. Her analysts have crunched the numbers, and a slightly higher profit can be made if they strip and liquidate the company or lay workers off and move production overseas.

Cast of “Dry Powder” at work. Photos by Eric Chazankin

She’s not concerned with betraying Jeff’s trust or earning more bad press, insisting the backlash will soon blow over. “Of course they’re protesting. That’s what unemployed people do,” she sneers. The bottom line is all that matters in this game.

…High-stakes ethical and strategic dilemmas loom large as risks are assessed and negotiations begin…

Under Jenny Hollingworth’s direction, Dry Powder is more drama than comedy, though Eichenberg’s Jenny earns a good amount of laughs with her wide-eyed indignation and ice-cold, quick-fire jabs. She’s the perfect caricature of sociopathic greed, counterbalanced effectively by Girts’s Seth, who appears to be the only member of the firm who may possess a conscience. Their near-constant sniping provides much of the entertainment, and helps redeem a rather dense script that’s heavily steeped in mind-numbing business speak.

Schaeffer’s slick, quick-tempered Rick is – pun intended – right on the money, equal parts fire and serpentine charm. His presence on stage is commanding and his energy unwavering. It’s easy to forget that he is, indeed, acting. On the other side of the coin, Bradbury’s Jeff is endearingly earnest and likable, the seeming proverbial lamb being fed to the wolves on Wall Street.

Photos by Eric Chazankin.

It’s a commendable ensemble effort from a well-balanced cast, who are each as solid in their scenes together as they are in their individual roles. Despite a few quickly-recovered stumblings over lines and minor audio level mishaps, it’s a well polished production, with effective lighting (April George) and smartly chosen wardrobe (Tracy Hinman). A small but readily visible tattoo on a cast-member’s foot felt out of keeping with the character, and might have been easily covered.

As prior patrons may know, Left Edge Theatre relocated last fall from their humble, 72-seat space at the Luther Burbank Center to a larger downtown venue. Though The California is an upgrade in manifold ways – among them more space, a full bar, and food available for purchase from trendy local restaurants – it comes at the expense of the intimacy afforded by the smaller, better insulated venue. Opening night’s performance was disturbed by booming bass from a neighboring business. Fortunately, the actors were all miked and audible, and the distraction became easier to ignore as the show went on.

Hollingworth’s decision to stage this production in the round restores some of the intimacy lost in the larger space by bringing audiences closer to the action. Unfortunately, this often comes at the expense of visibility, with uncomfortably long periods of time spent staring at some of the actors’ backs and missing out on their facial expressions. It’s still largely effective, but the staging didn’t entirely work for this reviewer.

Dry Powder is a cleverly written and scathing exposé of truths already known, but it’s a journey worth taking all the same. This is especially so at Left Edge, thanks to a production that is crisply paced, impeccably cast, and superbly acted all around.


Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.




ProductionDry Powder
Written bySarah Burgess
Directed by Jenny Hollingworth
Producing CompanyLeft Edge Theatre Co.
Production DatesThru Mar 26th
Production AddressCalifornia Theatre
528 7th St.
Santa Rosa, CA
Telephone(707) 664-7529
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

ASR Theater ~~ SRJC’s Amusing and Disturbing “Gloria” Examines Toxic Workplace Culture

By Nicole Singley

On the Burbank Studio Theatre stage through March 12th, Santa Rosa Junior College kicks off their spring season with a show that is equal parts funny, heartbreaking, and horrific. A 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama, Gloria is both a scathing satire of cutthroat corporate culture and a chilling meditation on the human cost of the all-American rat race. Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins holds a magnifying glass to contemporary capitalism and unfeeling ambition with an incisive script both worrying and witty.

Braskamp and Bies. Photo by Thomas Chown Photography.

Set in the pre-Covid corporate offices of a major big-city magazine, Gloria is, at face value, a comic exploration of toxic workplace dynamics. But something darker lurks beneath the surface. It opens with office gossip about a coworker’s poorly-attended housewarming party, while wads of cash are repeatedly shoved at the office intern to facilitate arbitrary trips to the vending machine. But when another ordinary day at the office turns out to be anything but, who will get the story, and will they tell it responsibly?

Musser as Lorin. Photo by Thomas Chown Photography.

Nate Musser delivers a stand-out performance as jaded fact-checker Lorin, argyle sweater-clad and stuck in a dead-end role, on the verge of an early mid-life crisis. Earning big laughs in Act 1 and evoking great compassion in Act 2, Musser brings humor and pathos to the role, acting as empathetic ballast against the self-serving, soulless attitudes of others in the office. He is excellent and impeccably cast.

Bies and Lubin. Photo by Thomas Chown Photography.

Juliya Lubin is impressively versatile in diametrically opposed roles, acting first as the play’s title character, Gloria, a shy and socially awkward office worker, and later as Nan, a high-powered executive who struggles to remember the names and faces of her subordinates. Both are difficult roles and central to the show’s core conflicts, and Lubin moves between them convincingly and with ease.

Braskamp and Philidor. Photo by Thomas Chown Photography.

McDieun Philidor, Trevor Braskamp, and Lizzy Bies are also strong in multiple roles. Philidor and Braskamp play particularly well together in Act 1 as budding office intern (Philidor) and former intern/aspiring writer turned languishing editorial assistant (Braskamp), highlighting the tension that often exists between colleagues balancing on different rungs of the corporate ladder and climbing (or not climbing) at very different speeds.

…the cast and crew at SRJC are serving up a worthwhile production…

Nina Nguyen is tasked with some of the play’s longer monologues and much of the comic relief. Given this, it’s unfortunate that on opening night Nguyen struggled with delivery and pacing, resulting in speech that felt stilted and contrived. Emotional reactions to the other characters felt forced and unnatural, too, though opening-night nerves may have contributed. Despite these miscues, Nguyen brings great energy to a demanding role and sustains that energy throughout. She’s enjoyable to watch in the process.

Nina Nguyen. Photo by Thomas Chown Photography.

Lighting (Chris Cota) and sound (Alex Clark) are aptly designed and mostly spot-on, though some of the sound effects could perhaps be louder. This may have been a deliberate decision on Clark’s or director Leslie McCauley’s part, for reasons I can’t divulge without giving too much away. An opening night snag led to a lengthier scene change in Act 2, but transitions were otherwise well executed. A simple but skillfully constructed set and complementary props create an atmosphere that really feels like an office, and transforms easily into a coffee shop and back again.

Gloria contemplates the cost of living in a culture that asks only how we can capitalize on our tragedies instead of learn from them and ultimately, prevent them. It’s challenging and timely material that offers much food for thought, and despite a few rough edges on opening night, the cast and crew at SRJC are serving up a worthwhile production. This reviewer recommends it, though younger audiences and those in search of lighter fare are cautioned to steer clear of this one.


Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.




Written by
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed byLeslie McCauley
Producing CompanySRJC Theatre Arts
Production DatesThru Mar 12th, 2023
Production AddressBurbank Studio Theatre
SRJC Santa Rosa Campus
1501 Mendocino Ave
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Telephone(707) 527-4307
Tickets$5- $25
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “The Drowsy Chaperone” Delights at Sonoma Arts Live

By Nicole Singley

What do a tipsy wedding chaperone, a blundering Italian lothario, a pair of mobsters disguised as pastry chefs, and a musical theater-obsessed divorcé in an armchair have in common? They’re the unlikely ingredients for a night full of toe-tapping music, fun, and laughter in Sonoma Arts Live’s production of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” on the Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall through July 31st.

With a delightful script that both celebrates and pokes fun at roaring 20s era musicals and vaudevillian hijinks, the show opens on North Bay stage veteran Tim Setzer – billed only as “Man in Chair” – regaling the audience with his love of classic musicals and ironically, his hatred of theater that breaks the fourth wall.

Tim Setzer as “Man in Chair” (Photo by Eric Chazankin)

But lucky for us, Setzer’s character continues to shatter that fourth wall to smithereens, with his frequently hilarious, oftentimes snarky, and occasionally sweetly reflective commentary. From the comfort of his armchair, he puts on a record and invites us to listen along to his all-time favorite musical as it comes to life before us on the stage.

With a quirky cast of characters, a bevy of silly song and dance numbers, and a classic will-they/won’t-they-tie-the-knot set-up, “The Drowsy Chaperone” – a fictitious musical from the late 1920s – is fantastic light-hearted fun, punctuated by catchy tunes and comical mishaps aplenty.

Daniela Innocenti-Beem in the title role (Photo by Eric Chazankin)

The production features some excellent ensemble work and a host of talented performers, though Daniela Innocenti-Beem steals the show with her powerhouse vocals. She’s an absolute hoot in the title role, too, stumbling in and out of scenes in a semi-drunken stupor.

. . . the perfect happy escape for anyone seeking a bit of refuge and good-natured fun.”

Andrew J. Smith is equally uproarious as Adolpho, the cape-clad caricature of an Italian ladies’ man, on a mission to break up the wedding. Maeve Smith takes an endearing turn as bride-to-be Janet Van De Graff, boasting a beautiful voice and a (deliberately) terrible French accent. Setzer is the show’s anchor, and phenomenally good in the role of “Man in Chair,” chaperoning us through the action on stage.

The cast of “The Drowsy Chaperone” at work!

Supporting cast members are marvelously entertaining, too. Jonathen Blue shines as George, the tap-dancing best man, joined by Stephen Kanaski, who makes a charming groom-to-be and earns laughs with his blindfolded roller-skating. Emily Owens Evans perfects the ditzy aspiring starlet trope as Kitty, and Sean O’Brien deserves kudos for enduring a series of preposterous spit takes in the role of “Underling.”

Liz Andrews has done an admirable job with style and period-appropriate choreography for this show. Rebecca Ann Valentino’s costumes deserve a nod, too, thanks to an array of fabulous, flapper-inspired frocks and a host of other elaborate get-ups that add immensely to the fun.

Stephen Kanaski and Maeve Smith as the bride and groom to-be (Photo by Eric Chazankin)

Brindle Brundage and Ryan Severt have designed and built a simple but charming set, with a clever layout enabling it to serve as both Setzer’s apartment and the stage for a full-ensemble musical. From ringing phones to record players, sound effects by Tom Luekens are perfectly timed. The accompaniment of a live band under Sherrill Peterson’s direction makes the music loud and lively, though at times it drowns out the singers on stage, due in part to the hall’s challenging acoustics. But any bumps in the road are easily forgiven amid the merriment.

As the “Man in Chair” reminds us, music and theater have the power to transport us away from our daily stress and struggles when we’re feeling blue. “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a celebration of this power, and the perfect happy escape for anyone seeking a bit of refuge and good-natured fun.


Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.












ProductionThe Drowsy Chaperone
Written byBook by Bob Martin and Don McKellar; Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Directed byMichael Ross
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesThrough July 31st
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Tickets$25 – $42
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

ASR Theater ~~ Darkness Rules in “One Flea Spare” at Main Stage West

By Nicole Singley and Barry Willis

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut sometimes joked about his “vector analysis” approach to understanding stories, in particular the trajectories of primary characters.

For example, Cinderella’s personal vector moves like a rollercoaster through peaks of hope and valleys of despair, ultimately ending on a high note. Her arrow repeatedly goes across the “zero axis” between darkness and light. Many other stories take place entirely in the dark, without ever entering the light. Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” is one, in which a young man named Gregor Samsa, despised and reviled by his entire family, wakes up one morning to discover that he’s been transformed into a giant cockroach.  The murderous rampage that is Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” similarly takes place entirely in the dark. There’s nothing uplifting in the script, and no possibility of a happy outcome. The fact that the whole affair is miserably depressing hasn’t hampered the play’s enduring popularity. Nor has it impaired “Sweeney Todd,” a show that’s performed with inexplicable regularity.

 “One Flea Spare” is a deep probe into the dark side of human existence….

Naomi Wallace’s “One Flea Spare” is in this tradition.  A depiction of four people forced to quarantine in an upscale London home during the Bubonic Plague of the 17th century, it begins morosely and gets darker from there. Director David Lear and his excellent group of performers at Sebastopol’s Main Stage West don’t try to gussy up Wallace’s dim view of humanity but bore into the historical and emotional darkness like coal miners eager for work. Allusions to the COVID pandemic weren’t intended by the playwright, but are more than appropriate today.

The setup is simple: people are dying in droves and the city has commissioned some enforcers to keep those still symptom-free indoors at home until officials deem it safe for them to come out. Kevin Bordi plays one such enforcer, a good-natured oaf called Kabe, who visits the Snelgrave home to nail closed the shutters so that no one can escape.

Matthew Cadigan, left, rehearses with director David Lear for “One Flea Spare” at Main Stage West. (Photo by Main Stage West)

He converses amicably with the homeowners—superbly played by North Bay theater veterans John Craven and Elly Lichenstein—who are harboring two fugitives, a sailor named Bunce (Matthew Cadigan) and a young servant woman named Morse (Miranda Jean Williams), who have taken unapproved refuge in the Snelgrave home.

The four spend the next 28 days together in the dank house (set design also by Lear) getting to know more than they ever wanted to learn about each other, confessing things that might best be kept unspoken, and violating all kinds of social norms. Familiarity leads to contempt, as the old adage has it, and contempt leads to malicious violence, details of which won’t be shared here.

“One Flea Spare” is a deep probe into the dark side of human existence, offset somewhat by moments when the characters connect and seem to share some humanity with one another, usually in the context of revealing past hurts and painful secrets, such as Mrs. Snelgrave’s sad story about a fire that killed her horses and left her scarred and in a lonely marriage. Morse and Bunce have their own unhappy tales, but there’s palpable erotic tension and longing between Bunce and Mrs. Snelgrave.

Such scenes add dimension to the overwhelming darkness. Some viewers may feel compassion for all but the house’s master, and may enjoy a strange sense of delight when the others band together to strip him of his power.

It’s a beautiful bit of symbolism. All three had suffered greatly under men such as Snelgrave—the sailor’s forced military service destroyed his personal life, the servant girl literally lived under the control of her masters, and the wealthy lady of the house spent her life trapped in a dead and hostile marriage. The bizarre quarantine situation throws these three unlikely people together and enables them to challenge the power structure that has ruled their lives. Their joy, of course, is terribly short lived.

“One Flea Spare” is not a fairytale, but there is a bit of light peeking through the darkness. The production doesn’t feel like a month in quarantine, but theatrical magic does its work to convey an overriding sense of fear and claustrophobia, stretched out long enough to give the audience a taste of house arrest and an appreciation for the freedom of simply walking outside into the open air.



Aisle Seat Review NorCal Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:











Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.












ProductionOne Flea Spare
Written byNaomi Wallace
Directed byDavid Lear
Producing CompanyMain Stage West
Production DatesThru April 30th
Production AddressMain Stage West
104 N Main St
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Telephone(707) 823-0177
Tickets$20– $32
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK!-----


PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Almost, Maine” Sublimely Sweet at Spreckels

By Nicole Singley

Spreckels has something sublimely sweet in store for those in need of a little magic. On a snowy night in the remote outskirts of eastern Maine, nine couples confront questions about love, loss, hope, and healing under the spell of the northern lights. Gracing the intimate Condiotti Studio Theatre stage through April 10th, “Almost, Maine” is equal parts funny and moving, and a heartwarming night at the theater well spent.

John Cariani’s clever script features nine vignettes that play out across eleven short scenes, each brimming with witty wordplay and plentiful humor, a hearty sprinkling of magical – and sometimes absurdly literal – realism, and characters who are endearingly forthright and sincere. Cariani gives viewers a sampling of love stories in various stages of growth and decline, including missed connections, new beginnings, unexpected reunions, and sweet misunderstandings. While most of the endings are happy or hopeful, there are plenty of poignant moments, too, offering audiences a beautifully balanced exploration of human relationships and folly.

Director Anderson Templeton leans into the play’s comic absurdity just enough to earn laughs in all the right places without devaluing the more tender and genuine moments. He gets strong performances from a capable ensemble of six, who together take on the roles of nineteen different characters throughout the show, moving smoothly between parts and pairings. It is a testament to their talent that it’s not a struggle to adjust to the same faces reappearing in each new capacity. Instead, it imbues the show with a sense of intimacy and familiarity that feels becoming of the tiny, would-be town of Almost, Maine.

. . . refreshingly honest, tremendously funny, and full of love and wisdom, with a little bit of magic awaiting those who are willing to find it.”

Serena Elize Flores and Brandon Wilson (Photo by Jeff Thomas)

Serena Elize Flores and Brandon Wilson shine together as distraught Glory and earnest repairman, East, whose chance encounter under the aurora offers hope that a broken heart can possibly be fixed. John Browning and Molly Larsen-Shine are at once hilarious and charming as Lendall and Gayle, a couple on the verge of breaking up when a surprising revelation changes everything. Allie Nordby delivers a haunting performance in a touching scene with Skylar Evans, in which a woman named Hope comes home to find out if the man she once loved still holds out hope for her return. These are only a few of the most memorable scenes, but all are well-executed and highly enjoyable.

Combined with Chris Schloemp’s stunning astral projections, Andrew Patton’s simple, snow-covered set creates a lovely backdrop, and is complemented by Donnie Frank’s humble, cold-weather costumery. Elizabeth Bazzano assists with a whimsical array of props, including big red bags purportedly full of love, an ironing board that doubles as an accidental weapon, and a shoe that drops mysteriously from the ceiling with impeccable timing. Thanks to resident designers Eddy Hansen and Jessica Johnson, lighting and sound work together seamlessly to set the scene, transitioning the small stage from romantic star-lit night to local watering hole with ease.

There isn’t much more I can divulge without risk of ruining some of the delicious surprises that await first-time viewers, but suffice it to say that from start to finish, this production is an absolute delight. This reviewer laughed and cried in equal measure. “Almost, Maine” is the kind of world I want to live in – refreshingly honest, tremendously funny, and full of love and wisdom, with a little bit of magic awaiting those who are willing to find it. If you’ve been waiting to get back to the theater, this show is the perfect opportunity. Don’t let it pass you by.


Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.












ProductionAlmost, Maine
Written byJohn Cariani
Directed byAnderson Templeton
Producing CompanySpreckels Performing Arts
Production DatesThrough April 10th, 2021
Production AddressSpreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Telephone(707) 588-3429
Tickets$12 - $26
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

An ASR Pick! Transcendence’s Broadway Holiday Spectacular Offers an Evening of Magic at Belos Cavalos — by Nicole Singley

L to R: Edward Juvier, David R. Gordon, Maria Bilbao, Arielle Crosby, and Lori Haley Fox (Photo by Rob Martel)

It’s that time of the year again, and Transcendence Theatre Company has cooked up something special sure to put you in the spirit. Their Broadway Holiday Spectacular is back, and this season, it’s better than ever. Featuring a talented troupe of artists from all over the country – including many familiar faces, and some exciting new additions to the Transcendence family, too – it’s a high-energy night full of festive, foot-tapping fun for folks of all ages. Be sure to catch it while you can, before the show’s two-week run ends on December 12th.

Returning audiences will recognize all the traditional elements of a night spent with Transcendence – fresh and funny renditions of favorite tunes and classic carols, a live band and dazzling choreography, and of course, a pre-show party complete with food and wine from local vendors. But this year, the fun has moved under the big tent at Belos Cavalos, a charming equestrian estate tucked away in the hills of Kenwood, where guests will enjoy the chance to mingle with horses and goats during intermission, and gather around tables in lieu of standard theater seating.

On the program are a number of fan-favorites from previous years, including a clever play on Madonna’s “Vogue” paying homage to Rudolph of reindeer fame, and a silly song about making fruitcake set to the tune of Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” performed capably by Transcendence newcomer Edward Juvier. There are some fun surprises, too, including two four-legged guest-stars, and a creative take on “12 Days of Christmas” inviting audience members to help with the countdown.

If you’ve never experienced a Transcendence show, make this the first of many.”

Top row: Bebe Browning, Marissa Barragán, Edward Juvier, Kyle Kemph; Bottom row: Luther Brooks IV, Preston Truman Boyd, Drew Elhamalawy (Photo by Rob Martel)

Lori Haley Fox is quirky and endearing as Mrs. Claus, who serves as our narrator throughout the evening, and Preston Truman Boyd is our flannel-clad Santa, loosely framing the musical acts within an uplifting story about family, friendship, and love. Behind them onstage, the live band really rocks, and bassist Lynn Keller even joins performer David Morgan for a cute number about Chanukah, together lamenting the limited greeting card options available at the local drugstore.

There are, of course, some slower heartfelt pieces in the mix, including a haunting rendition of “O Holy Night” performed by Kyle Kemph, whose voice is so clear and bright it gave me chills, and Arielle Crosby, whose talent alone is worth the price of admission. The pair team up again for an equally moving performance of beloved Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston duet “When You Believe.” Maria Bilbao nearly steals the show with a spine-tingling version of “Please Come Home for Christmas.” She makes it sound effortless, and the high notes brought actual tears to my eyes.

Top row: Bebe Browning, Drew Elhamalawy; Bottom row: Maria Bilbao, David R. Gordon, Kristin Piro; Front: Arielle Crosby (Photo by Rob Martel)

The entire cast is immensely talented, so much so that it almost feels unfair to single anyone out. But I’d be remiss not to also mention Transcendence newcomer Luther Brooks IV, who charms with his sparkling smile and evident dance skills. Be sure to keep an eye on him during some of the big ensemble numbers. Choreographers Matthew Steffens and Marissa Barragán have worked some magic on stage, making the show as fun to watch as it is to hear and sing along to. (Did I mention there are tiny goats in diapers?)

If you’ve never experienced a Transcendence show, make this the first of many. And if you’re a repeat visitor, you’ll be happy you didn’t miss out on this one. Plan to get there early and meet the horses, take selfies with goats, and wine and dine with friends before the show. Bring layers, too – the heated tent felt a bit chilly as the night cooled down. Even so, you’re sure to leave feeling full of warmth and holiday cheer.

Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.


ProductionBroadway Holiday Spectacular 2021
Written byTranscendence Theater Co.
Directed & Choreographed byMatthew Steffens
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesThrough December 12th, 2021
Production AddressBelos Cavalos
687 Campagna Lane
Kenwood, CA 95452
Telephone(877) 424-1414
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

An ASR Pick! “The Wickhams” Delights with Warmth and Wit at Spreckels — by Nicole Singley

Leonhart and Lichirie working at Spreckles.

Those in search of some heartwarming fare this holiday season will find it at Spreckels, where “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” is scheduled to grace the intimate Condiotti Studio Theatre stage through December 12th. Second in a three-part series, “The Wickhams” is a sequel to Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice, though theatergoers need not have seen part one – nor have read the original novel – to understand and enjoy the show. Acclaimed duo Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have penned a delightful and clever continuation to one of the literary world’s most famous love stories, brimming with enough wisdom, wit, and charm to have been written by Austen herself.

…I can’t think of a better way to start the holiday season.

As those who attended may fondly recall, Spreckels staged a memorably top-notch production of part one in the series, “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” in November of 2019. “Miss Bennet” takes place on the ground floor of the Darcys’ estate, where the newlyweds are hosting the entire Bennet clan for Christmas festivities. In part two, however, we venture downstairs to see what’s happening in the servants’ quarters while the family gathering unfolds above. Amid the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, the late-night arrival of an uninvited guest threatens to throw the household into chaos. Cue the comedic mishaps, delicious drama, and sweet romance in this uplifting tale of family and love, forgiveness and redemption.

Sheila Lichirie delivers a stellar performance as head housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, who is equal parts sharp-tongued censure and quick-witted wisdom, with just enough warmth peeking through the cracks in her all-business exterior. Sam Coughlin is equally exceptional as notorious scoundrel George Wickham, whose drunken stumbling and slick overtures to the new maid would be enough to make one’s skin crawl if he weren’t so hilarious and strangely charming. Coughlin has mastered the appropriate body language and facial expressions to really sell his character.

Cohan and Coughlin at work in “The Wickhams”

Though Lichirie and Coughlin are the standouts, their companions are excellent, too. Kimberley Cohan makes a wonderfully lively and sympathetic Lydia Wickham, whose naivety is more endearing than annoying. Dale Leonhart’s Cassie, the ambitious new housemaid, is deliciously sassy, spirited, whip-smart, and self-assured. Silas Vaughn is eager and earnest as love-struck footman Brian, and delivers an enjoyably energetic performance. Allie Nordby – who was phenomenal as eldest Bennet sister, Jane, in the 2019 production – brings an irresistible sweetness and sincerity to her character that makes her impossible not to love, though lacking in some of the headstrong passion and playfulness I secretly crave in an Elizabeth Darcy. Perhaps what’s missing is convincing chemistry with her beau.

Coughlin, Nordby, and Guo work at scene of “The Wickhams” at Spreckle’s Performing Arts Center.

Byron Guo’s Fitzwilliam Darcy is appropriately stately and reserved, but perhaps just a touch too stiff, with his arms often glued to his sides. He does some effective things with his intonation and facial expressions, but his scenes with Nordby feel somewhat forced, and I kept hoping to see him loosen up a bit. Mr. Darcy isn’t supposed to be overly effusive or unrestrained, of course, but part of his charm is the way he softens in Elizabeth’s presence. Guo is more convincing as a charitable host and consummate gentleman than a newlywed man in love, though a few more performances may help him ease into the role. Despite these minor criticisms, it’s clear this is a very talented ensemble, and the show is entirely diverting.

Director Emily Cornelius has paced the production beautifully. Laughs land where they should, there are no lulls in the action, and the sweeter, softer moments don’t feel rushed. The impact is greatly enhanced by Elizabeth Bazzano’s handsome set, tempting us to gather around the kitchen table to help with holiday preparations, or cozy up by the glowing fire. The build quality and attention to detail are impressive, with doors that open to a realistic looking room and hallway, and an abundance of props that make the space feel like a real home. Costume designer Donnie Frank deserves recognition, too, for aptly chosen attire and some seriously stunning pieces. (Where can I find Lydia’s fabulous evening dress and nightgown?)

Whether you’re an Austen fan or just a fan of good theater, be sure to catch “The Wickhams.” With a hearty dose of warmth and wit that’s sure to leave you in a brighter mood, I can’t think of a better way to start the holiday season.


Nicole Singley

Sr. Contributing Writer/Editor,

Member, American Theatre Critics Association

Member, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Member, Marquee Theater Journalists Association

ProductionThe Wickhams
Written byLauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon
Directed byEmily Cornelius
Producing CompanySpreckels Performing Arts
Production DatesThrough December 12th, 2021
Production AddressSpreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Telephone(707) 588-3429
Tickets$12 - $26
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

An ASR Pick! The Laughs are On in “Noises Off” at Spreckels by Nicole Singley

If you’re in need of a good, hearty laugh (and who isn’t, these days?) Spreckels Theatre Company has you covered. Don’t miss their top-notch production of “Noises Off,” running now through October 24th on the big stage in Rohnert Park.

In Michael Frayn’s classic, door-slamming farce within a farce, a traveling theater company descends into utter chaos while attempting to stage a play called “Nothing On.” It’s a pants-dropping, riotous affair replete with perfectly timed entrances and exits, tangled phone cords, plates of sardines that vanish and reappear without explanation, and a seemingly endless series of mishaps and misunderstandings that fuel the frenzy. It becomes quickly apparent, however, that the chaos onstage can’t hold a candle to what’s unfolding among the actors behind the scenes.

This is the kind of show that requires impeccable comedic timing and painstaking coordination, and Spreckels doesn’t disappoint. Veteran director Sheri Lee Miller helms this tightly paced and carefully choreographed production with evident precision; her talented ensemble proves up to the challenge. Those familiar with “Noises Off” will be pleased to find this old favorite has been handled with care. Only the location has been changed, and though it’s a change that feels unnecessary, it in no way detracts from the overall effect.

“Noises Off” at work. Kevin Bordi, Eileen Morris, & Zane Walters.

MacKenzie Cahill is a hoot as ditzy Brooke, lovably oblivious and always losing her contacts, and Zane Walters shines as leading man Garry LeJeune, swinging axes and stumbling down stairs in his jealous rage. John Craven is delightful as Selsdon, the hard-of-hearing actor who’s a little too fond of the bottle and keeps missing his cues. And who couldn’t love Eileen Morris as Dotty Otley, even if she’ll never remember where she left those damned sardines? Kevin Bordi, Matthew Cadigan, Taylor Diffenderfer, Maureen O’Neill, and Brandon Wilson round out the bunch, and there isn’t a weak link among them.

…Those familiar with “Noises Off” will be pleased to find this old favorite has been handled with care…

The stagecraft is excellent, too, thanks to resident designer Eddy Hansen’s elaborate, two-story set piece that rotates to reveal the goings-on backstage. Scenic artist and prop master Elizabeth Bazzano has her hands full with this one. From interchangeable bags and boxes, bottles of booze and bouquets of flowers, and countless sardines, to questionably repurposed sheets and a very prickly cactus, Bazzano has covered all the bases.

“Noises Off” — full cast, set by Eddy Hansen

With three acts and two intermissions – the first of which was slated at 15 minutes but felt much shorter, and the second of which was billed at 5 but stretched on for closer to 15, it’s a long night out at the theater. But the third act is even funnier than the second, and you won’t be looking at your watch. Even the program will give you a chuckle – be sure to flip it over, where you’ll find a second program for “Nothing On,” complete with hilarious cast bios.

“Noises Off” is the perfect remedy for anyone in need of some lighthearted fun or a happy distraction, and this production is an absolute delight. Be sure to catch it while you can.


Nicole Singley

Sr. Contributing Writer/Editor,

Member, American Theatre Critics Association

Member, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Member, Marquee Theater Journalists Association

ProductionNoises Off
Written byMichael Frayn
Directed bySheri Lee Miller
Producing CompanySpreckels Performing Arts
Production DatesThrough October 24th, 2021
Production AddressSpreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Telephone(707) 588-3400
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!



An ASR Theater Review: Live at the Drive-In as Transcendence Returns with “My Hero” — by Nicole Singley

The sun presses down into the mountains, casting its colors across the ancient oaks and sprawling vineyards, as cars pull into the dirt lot at Sonoma County’s scenic B.R. Cohn Winery. Outside their cars, new arrivals are unloading blankets and picnic baskets, sitting down at bistro tables and lining up to order wine and cookies. At the lot’s edge sits an unassuming small black stage, and beside it a gigantic projection screen, staring out across the growing lines of cars. It’s as beautiful an evening as any in Sonoma Valley, but the magic has only just begun.

L to R: Meggie Cansler Ness, Arielle Crosby, Catherine Wreford, and Amanda Lopez.


In their first live production since pre-pandemic times, Transcendence Theatre Company kicks off their 10th anniversary season with “My Hero,” offering theatergoers a unique experience at their socially-distanced drive-in performances in Glen Ellen through June 20th.

In keeping with Transcendence tradition, the show is a musical mash-up of beloved Broadway tunes and other favorite chart-toppers cleverly compiled and choreographed around a common theme – this time, a tribute to our frontline healthcare workers and everyday heroes. Featuring recognizable songs traversing countless genres and decades, it’s a show that will appeal to every member of the family, with plenty of opportunities to sing along.

…a rewarding experience you won’t want to miss.

Under the capable guidance of veteran director/choreographer Matthew Rossoff – and accompanied by live music under the direction of Matt Smart – a cast of only seven fills the stage with enough energy and enthusiasm for twenty. Among them are a few familiar faces, including Transcendence veterans Meggie Cansler Ness, Colin Campbell McAdoo, Arielle Crosby, and Catherine Wreford. But there are newcomers, too, and they don’t disappoint. Amanda Lopez, Kevin Schuering, and Bernard Dotson add some refreshing new voices to TTC’s already impressive pool of talent, and boast some serious pipes, to boot.

“Arielle Crosby steals the show.” Photo by Brian Janks.

It’s a spectacular group, not a weak link in the bunch, but Arielle Crosby steals the show. (If her take on Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” doesn’t make you want to dance, I’d wager nothing will.) Other memorable numbers include a funny parody of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” with clever lyrics celebrating all things quarantine from Zoom to Tiger King, a powerful performance of Mariah Carey’s “Hero” by Lopez, and a cute golden oldies medley featuring The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman.” The show also includes some really moving pre-recorded interviews with frontline workers and other local voices, thoughtfully interspersed with the cast’s rendition of Bill Withers’s “Lean on Me.”

Despite the distraction of some lighting issues – often par for the course with outdoor shows – the technical aspects of the production are fairly impressive. The oversized projection screen, combined with large speakers spaced throughout the parking lot, make it easy to hear and see all that’s happening on stage, even at a distance.

L to R: Bernard Dotson, Amanda Lopez, Kevin Schuering, Catherine Wreford, Colin Campbell McAdoo, and Arielle Crosby

Though lacking in some of the flash and polish typical of most Transcendence productions, it’s clear a lot of hard work, heart, and creativity have been poured into “My Hero,” and the result is a rewarding experience you won’t want to miss. With only three performances left and tickets starting at $54 per car, parking spots are sure to go quickly.


ProductionMy Hero
Written byTranscendence Theater Co.
Directed & Choreographed byMatthew Rossoff
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesThru June 20th, 2021
Production AddressB.R. Cohn Winery, 15000 Sonoma Hwy, Glen Ellen, CA 95442
Telephone(877) 424-1414
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

Nicole Singley

Sr. Contributing Writer/Editor,

Member, American Theatre Critics Association

Member, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Member, Marquee Theater Journalists Association



ASR’s Not So Random Question Time: The Terrifically Talented, Totally Mind-Blowing David Templeton

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.


David Templeton is a Bay Area arts journalist and playwright best known locally for his work with the Petaluma Argus-Courier, and for 16 years as a writer and theater critic for the North Bay Bohemian. He also contributes to Strings magazine and others.

As a playwright, he’s won awards for his solo show Wretch Like Me, which has had runs at the San Francisco Fringe Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in Scotland. His other plays include Pinky, Polar Bears, Drumming with Anubis, and Mary Shelley’s Body – the latter adapted from David’s novella of the same name, published in the 2016 anthology Eternal Frankenstein.

His supernatural short story, Questions and Answers, appears in the recent anthology Tales From a Talking Board. His next play is the science-fiction mystery Galatea, which will make its world premiere in 2021 at Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park.

David Templeton

ASR: How did you get started in theater?

DT: In second grade, in Southern California, I wrote a short play called Grumpy, which was Snow White and the 7 Dwarves told from the perspective of the crankiest dwarf.

I asked my teacher if I could stage it, and we made some attempts at making that happen, but I have no memory of actually performing it, beyond my working hard to learn my lines for weeks. It’s weird because I don’t think I’d previously seen a theater production of any kind beyond my Episcopal church’s annual nativity pageant, in which I appeared as the one-and-only black sheep in the flock of white-costumed kindergarten sheep.

But for some reason, I had that idea for a play, and from Grumpy on, I knew I wanted a life in the theater. I did tons of plays in school, wrote and staged plays and puppet shows at the local library, and then started my own company in high school. It was originally a puppet theater, but we eventually added live action plays, which of course, I wrote and directed.

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

DT: That’s a hard one. A lot of those early plays I wrote and directed were done on a pass-the-hat basis but were enough to pay my bills for a year or so after I graduated from high school. If you mean, what was the first play I appeared in for a company that was not: A. a school, B. my own company or C. a troupe performing at the Renaissance Faire (where I did do some performing while operating game booths in the early 1980s), I suppose it would have to be Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) for Santa Rosa Players.

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

DT: Another hard one. By the time I did that show with the Santa Rosa Players, I’d long ago moved to Northern California, started working for newspapers on the swing shift, and started a family.

During all that time, I pretty much thought I’d given up on my earlier theatrical ambitions. Instead, I wrote poems and short stories, the occasional bad screenplay, and of course the journalistic writing I was doing more and more of.

In fact, I got the part in Complete Works of William Shakespeare “because” of journalism. I was writing for the North Bay Bohemian (not yet doing theater criticism), and I was assigned a story on local community theater. The idea my editor and I came up with was for me to go to an audition “undercover” as someone auditioning, and then write about all the wacky folks spending their evenings doing local shows.

To my surprise, I was offered one of the three roles, at which point I had to admit that I had not actually been auditioning, but was writing a newspaper story.

As I remember it, the director Carl Hamilton said, “Write what you want, we want you in this show.” I got a scathing review from the Press Democrat but was suddenly being offered parts again.

After a few shows with the Players, I segued back into writing my own plays, beginning with my one-man-show Wretch Like Me, which I wrote with the intention of performing it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I ended up performing it nearly a hundred times including runs all over the North Bay. I went on to write several more plays as you’ve already noted — thank you.

On occasion, over the years, I’ve continued to be occasionally cast in other shows, including playing Judas in Godspell and the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz (both with Santa Rosa Players), The Large and Terrible Frog in A Year With Frog and Toad (6th Street Playhouse), Rick Masters in Circus Acts (Actors’ Basement), Bill Sikes in Oliver (Lucky Penny Productions) and Commander Harbison in South Pacific (Spreckels Theatre Company).

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

DT: This one’s easy. Though I would arguably never have stepped back into writing plays were it not for Dan Zastrow and Julia Lander, two friends who “strongly” encouraged me to stop “talking” about writing my one-man show and actually write and perform the thing – and went on to produce the first several productions of it (originally directed by David Yen) – it’s been Sheri Lee Miller who has had the largest impact on me professionally – as a playwright, certainly.

She encouraged me to write my follow-up, Pinky, which she directed in its world premiere and also in its encore production. Since then, she’s been a stalwart friend, a constant supporter, champion, and exemplar of generosity, an artistically vibrant source of inspiration, a tireless feedback giver and promoter, and a frequent and ever-valuable collaborator. Every minute spent on a stage with Sheri is a directorial master class. She’s the best.

…I’ve seen two or three bad productions of ‘Macbeth’ for every good one.

ASR: It will likely be several months until theaters reopen. What are you doing till then?

DT: I’ve been mostly reading other people’s works, memorizing huge chunks of text just to keep my memorization skills intact. Having Galatea be canceled less than a week before its opening was hard because it was really looking good. It’s a script I’m incredibly proud of, and not getting to share it with the world was hard, but since Spreckels is still planning on producing the play once it is possible to do so, I’ve got that to look forward to.

That said, it kind of took the wind out of my sails, so I haven’t had much desire to write anything new just yet. But in the meanwhile, I’ve learned that a theater school in New York will be doing a Zoom-based production of my play Drumming with Anubis in July, and there’s talk of a production, either live or streaming, of my one-person-show Polar Bears this winter in Idaho.

And I “do” have some ideas for new plays (I’m suddenly having crazy new ideas all the time), and I imagine I will get the bug to start writing one of them sometime fairly soon.

ASR: What are some of your favorite dramas?

DT: Gem of the Ocean, by August Wilson (I’ve seen three productions, and would love to see more). Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel because the story, the language and the poetry of the plotting are breathtaking. The Jungle, by Joe Murphy and Joe Robinson, who collected stories from a real refugee camp in France, and spun them into an interactive, immersive experience that entirely rearranged the way I think about theater.

ASR: Musicals?

DT: Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, not normally performed “as” a stage production (usually as an orchestra piece with choruses), but I saw it done as a theatrical piece once, and I’ve never gotten over it. Come From Away, because it’s so uplifting and delightful and deeply moving. Fiddler on the Roof, because every song is gorgeous and memorable and because it’s about surviving prejudice and bigotry and hate.

ASR: Comedies?

DT: On the Razzle, by Tom Stoppard, The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde and Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley. These are plays that are weird, funny, and deeply insightful, and are consistently effective, every time I see them or reread them.

ASR: What are some of your least favorite plays?

DT: I really dislike Bye Bye Birdie, a play that – despite introducing a rare instance of interracial love in which no one ends up dead at the end – is so of its time that it just doesn’t work anymore. In fact, it’s kind of embarrassing.

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

DT:  Bye Bye Birdie, obviously. Can we make it 30 years?

ASR: What is Shakespeare’s most underrated play?

DT: Got to be Cymbeline.

ASR: Why?

DT: People just don’t seem to understand it, but to me, it’s actually a flat-out blast of a play, with a little of everything in it. It’s got a great female central character (Cymbeline, the king, is barely a presence in it; this show is “all” about Imogen), some fantastic plotting, huge twists and turns and really dark comedy, a fantastically icky villain (several of them actually), an evil stepmother, a headless body, and a fantastic battle with huge emotional impact for everyone involved. I’d love to direct it sometime. I have ideas.

ASR: Shakespeare’s most over-performed play?

DT: As opposed to “most performed?” Those would obviously be A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, but they are solidly entertaining plays and good introductions to the Shakespeare canon.

I’d say the most “over-performed” is Macbeth, because it’s actually really hard to pull off, and yet people can’t resist it because it’s spooky and fun and bloody and theater producers think it’s a good one for Halloween. But I’ve seen two or three bad productions of Macbeth for every good one.

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

DT: Props. I love making props. It’s like arts-and-crafts but with a bit of costuming and magic involved. When I was in Oliver! I ended up taking the broom-handle I was given as Bill Sikes’ murder stick, and I beat it up and stained it and turned it into a really scary-looking billy club. I still have it, actually.

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

DT: Well, I’ve already talked about Sheri Lee Miller as a director, but I do believe it’s a shame she hasn’t been on stage since she played Mary Shelley in Mary Shelley’s Body, a role I really hope she picks up again sometime in the near future.

She’s been awesome in everything I’ve see her in, but beyond that, I’d say that, Bay Area-wide, my other favorites include Margo Hall (exacting and meticulous performer, with a blinding presence and one of the most dazzling stage smiles of all time) and James Carpenter (a chameleon in every way, best death scene I’ve ever witnessed, and not a bad smile himself).

ASR: How do you warm up before a performance?

DT: It depends. There was a time I went through a list of about 20 stretches and vocal things, made a ceremony of transforming into my costume/character, but after Edinburgh, when I literally had ten minutes or less to get into costume and get ready for places, I learned to do all of that in a few intense minutes.

That said, when I’m doing a normal non-fringe solo show, where I’ll be reciting 75 minutes of text but have plenty of time in the theater beforehand, it really takes the fear-factor down if I run every word of the show, with blocking (sped up, or course), an hour or two before the house opens.

ASR: How do you relax after?

DT: I really enjoy talking with people in the lobby after a show. It’s a nice transition back to the world.

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

DT: Well, as a playwright mentor, I’d hope anyone I instructed or coached would take away that

1. Failure, while awful to experience, is as important a teacher as is success, and maybe more so, if you are up to staying in the discomfort space long enough to hear the lessons failure has to teach.

2. To get a good idea for a play, or a solution to a problem encountered in writing that play, you generally have to generate hundreds of less good ideas, so we should never fall too much in love with our first thoughts. Use the brainstorming to get a lot of material and then choose the one you think is the juiciest.

3. Listen to actors. You don’t have to take every suggestion they throw at you, but you should definitely avoid “never” listening to them. After several weeks of stepping into a character, they often get to know that person at least as well as you do, and sometimes more so.

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

DT: I once watched a production of Camelot, in which a sword escaped one of the knights of the round table, flew across the stage toward the audience, launched into the air and finally landed in the one unoccupied seat in the front row. It was, under the circumstances, hilarious, precisely because it was very nearly … not.

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

DT: I don’t know how weird this is, but during one performance of my play Pinky, in which I performed along with Liz Jahren, there was a climactic kiss scene, in which my character takes an excruciating amount of time “getting” that Pinky wants him to kiss her.

At one point, a woman in the back row suddenly yelled, “Just KISS HER … FOOL!” It was hard completing the kiss while both Liz and I were trying not to laugh, and even harder when Pinky, having been kissed by my character, thinking about whether she liked it or not, suddenly grabs him and kisses him back, really energetically.

At that point, another person in the audience, probably loosened up by the first patron’s exclamation, shouted, quite loudly, “Now THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about!!!”

ASR: Do you have a “day job?”

DT: Fortunately, yes. Currently, I’m the Community Editor of the Petaluma Argus-Courier newspaper in Petaluma.

ASR: What are your interests outside of theater?

DT: Movies have always been a major enthusiasm for me. A perfect day is one where I see at least three movies in actual theaters, which of course, hasn’t happened in a while. I’ve also recently learned to tie balloon animals. So I’ve been doing a lot of that. I especially like making balloon dogs. They are classic.

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

DT: Honestly, I’ve often thought it would be cool to turn my Wretch Like Me play into a television series. Set in the ‘70s, in the beach communities and suburbs of LA, with a nerdy puppet-loving kid who gets ”adopted” by the Jesus Club at his school, and goes to wacky extremes trying to fit in. I see it as being like That 70s Show, but with a slightly cult vibe. And darker. And possibly funnier.

ASR: What three songs are included on the soundtrack to your life? And why each?

DT: “Amazing Grace,” because it was once very important to me on numerous levels, and because I learned how to sing it forwards and backward (literally backward). Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Street,” because I once danced to it in a mayonnaise factory during a moment of profound emotional release and freedom.

And the theme song to Rockford Files, which I long ago recognized as an excellent song to which my coffin might one day be carried away from the funeral service, an idea my family is well aware of and which I continue to stick to, at least for the moment.

ASR: Rock climbing, shark diving, bungee jumping, skydiving?

DT: If randomly given the opportunity to go into space, specifically to the moon, I would go in a heartbeat. I’ve been dreaming of going to the moon since before I was dreaming of writing plays.

ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?

DT: Currently, I’d say one quote I’ve been thinking about a lot happens to be from my own play, Galatea, which I look forward to sharing with the world soon, or soon enough: “Humans. Not a bad species really … just badly programmed.”


Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.



An ASR 1-On-1 Interview: Man About Town, Director Patrick Nims of Zoom Theatre


Patrick Nims.

Two actors sit down together at a table in a modest apartment, with old photographs lining the walls. For the next forty-five minutes, they’ll be an estranged father and daughter reunited after decades apart. The only catch? The actors are in different states and have never even met in person. The apartment behind them is a green screen. And the audience members are watching from the safety of their living rooms.

“The show must go on!” or so the adage goes. But what does that mean in a world that’s living six feet apart, gloved and masked, attending school, and work through laptop screens?

Desperate times call for creative workarounds, and “Zoom Theatre” offers an inspired solution to the unprecedented challenge of producing live theater in the era of “social distancing.” Utilizing Zoom’s popular web conferencing software, stage director Patrick Nims gives theatergoers the chance to attend exclusive, live performances of plays staged explicitly for online viewing, all from the comfort of home.

Nims is an award-winning stage director whose work has appeared all over the Bay Area. He also co-founded and served as Artistic Director for Marin Summer Theater, and is currently a resident director at Portland’s Stumptown Stages. Zoom Theatre is his latest brainchild.

Its first production – David Mamet’s two short plays, “Reunion” and “Dark Pony,” brought to life beautifully by actors David L. Yen of Sonoma County and Voni Kengla of Portland, OR – aired for only three performances on April 9, 10, and 11. But two more shows are already in the works, the next of which is slated for early May.

ASR’s Nicole Singley asked Nims for a behind-the-screens look at his self-declared “experiment in theatre…


Voni Kengla and David L. Yen at work in Zoom Theatre’s first production

ASR: In your own words, what is Zoom Theatre, and what is your vision for it?

PN: Zoom Theatre is an experiment. It is an attempt to see if web conferencing software is up to the demands of live performance, with live feedback from the audience. Like in the early days of television, we know that the technology is in an imperfect state, but for me it is an intriguing and promising notion. So far it has proven successful at delivering a “theatre-like” experience, with a few gotcha’s and a steep learning curve.

ASR: How are plays rehearsed and performed for this medium? What special equipment does your team rely on?

PN: The plays are rehearsed entirely over Zoom. We have a Zoom Rehearsal Room that the actors join from their home. Each actor started with a laptop with a webcam as we did table work and then set the staging. The actors had to look in their own homes for props. As we got closer to performance each actor received an external microphone and HD webcam, a green screen kit and a ring light. While not up to sound stage quality, these items improve the quality of the image and sound greatly.

ASR: What are some of the biggest or most unusual challenges – technological or other – that your team has had to overcome in this process?

PN: There has been nothing yet that caused us to reconsider moving forward. Luckily all of our company has had fast enough and reliable enough internet to make it work. Getting matching props was fun (when the “same” item is used on both screens). Because of the 500ms delay in Zoom, it took a bit to work out the timing when they are supposed to say the same thing at the same time. Handing the live audience sound is the last big issue. We’re slowly figuring out how to dial that in so that the actors can hear the audience, without the audience being too loud. Overall we all had fun working on the project. Saddest thing so far was not being able to give the cast and stage manager Georgia Ortiz a hug after opening night.

ASR: How did you select David Mamet’s “Reunion” and “Dark Pony?”

PN: I knew the plays from my college days and when I looked at my list of possible two-person shows, it jumped to the top as being suitable for Zoom. They are actors’ plays. There are no special stage effects, machinery or blocking required. The actors don’t need to touch, and each only requires a single location. It was a perfect fit.

…we all had fun working on the project.

ASR: What was it like to direct through a screen, and to stage intimate scenes between two actors who’ve never met face-to-face?

PN: It was a great experience for me. When they were working scenes, I would turn off my video (so they could concentrate on each other) and then bring mine back on after to give notes. Within a day or two, it was just normal. Voni and David are real pros and they made it look and sound real from day one.

ASR: What other shows can we look forward to seeing from Zoom Theatre in the coming months?

PN: Next up will be “Lungs” by Duncan Macmillan in early May. It is a beautiful play about love, relationships and our responsibility to the planet. The show will star Amber and Gregory Crane who are two wonderful Marin County actors that are sheltering in place together, so in this case, they will be physically together and I will be directing remotely for a remote audience. After that is “Actually” by Anna Ziegler, May 21 through 24. It is also a two person play that with lyricism and wit, investigates gender and race politics, our crippling desire to fit in, and the three sides to every story.

ASR: Do you think online theater will endure once the pandemic has passed?

PN: Beyond the pandemic, I think Zoom Theatre will remain viable as a way of inexpensively producing small plays with work-from-home actors in unlimited locations. The technology and performance will have to improve before I’d try a musical over Zoom, but I imagine it is only a matter of time.

To learn more about Zoom Theatre and register to see upcoming shows, visit, or find and follow the Zoom Theatre page on Facebook.

Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.

An Aisle Seat Review: “Our Town” Falls Flat at NTC – by Nicole Singley

With its modest set and simple, unassuming premise, “Our Town” aims to celebrate the magic of the mundane, contemplating the ordinary, everyday moments we too often take for granted. Revolutionary when it debuted in 1938, Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama has since become an enduring staple of American theater. Under Michael Barr’s direction, this three-act classic takes the stage at Novato Theater Company through February 16th.

We open with a welcome from the Stage Manager (Christine Macomber), who introduces us to the small New Hampshire town of Grover’s Corners, and continues to serve as our guide and sometimes-narrator throughout. We meet the town doctor and the milkman, watch as families gather ‘round their kitchen tables, and eavesdrop on schoolkids discussing their homework. Wilder’s script spans over a decade of love, loss, and run-of-the-mill moments in the lives of the townspeople. At the center of it all are George and Emily (Bryan Munar and Nicole Thordsen), the all-American boy and girl next door, who we encounter first as childhood friends, again as awkward teenagers stumbling into the early stages of love, and later as bride and groom, hurdling into adulthood ‘til death do they part.

Beautifully written and subtly profound in its frank depiction of normal people living unremarkable lives, its power lies not in what happens – as very little, in fact, actually does – but in the authenticity of its characters and the relatability of their life experiences. “Our Town” could be any town, anywhere at any time, the residents as familiar as our own friends and neighbors. It’s perhaps the realization of our shared humanity, and the quiet beauty and impermanence of each little moment, that beckons us to appreciate the here-and-now before it slips through our fingers.

. . . an ever-haunting tribute to the small, extraordinary moments that comprise an ordinary life.”

This show has the potential to be powerful and poignant – possibly transcendent – in the hands of the right cast and director. NTC’s production, however, comes up lacking in sincerity, bordering on tedious and boring. Much of the acting is stiff and unnatural, the lines flat and devoid of real emotion, and where nuance and depth of feeling are needed, there is little to be found. Without believable characters and relationships, their interactions become trivial and uncompelling.

Munar and Thordsen (Photo Credit: Fred Deneau)

Arguably the most damaging weak link in this production, the love story between George and Emily is utterly unconvincing. Munar’s George is sweet but overly shy and nervous, possessing little charm and none of the archetypal trappings of a school class president and star baseball player. There is no palpable chemistry between him and Thordsen, and none of the flirtatious tension or playfulness that often accompanies a budding young romance. Their love is at the heart of “Our Town,” and it needs to feel genuine in order to effectively hold our interest, arouse our compassion, and convey the full weight and meaning of Wilder’s message. Instead, it just feels flat and forced.

Janice Deneau and Mary Weinberg have done well with costume choices. Sparse scenic design is at the playwright’s instruction, and it’s reasonably well executed here by local designer and builder Michael Walraven. The production suffers, however, from the nearly constant, distracting boom and echo of heavy footsteps clomping across the hollow stage, often making it terribly difficult to hear and follow the actors’ lines.

On the whole, the ensemble puts forth a good effort. Macomber makes an excellent narrator, and Jennifer Reimer is convincing as wife and mother, Mrs. Gibbs. What’s missing is the sense that some key players are fully at home in their roles. Perhaps a few more performances will help them find their groove. There is great potential here to ramp up the emotional impact. “Our Town” remains deeply relevant despite its age, and an ever-haunting tribute to the small, extraordinary moments that comprise an ordinary life.

Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.


ProductionOur Town
Written byThornton Wilder
Directed byMichael Barr
Producing CompanyNovato Theater Company
Production DatesThrough February 16th
Production AddressNovato Theater Company
5420 Nave Drive, Novato 94949
Telephone(415) 883-4498
Tickets$15 – $27
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?-----

ASR’s Year in Review: Our “Best of the Best” from 2019 – by Nicole Singley and Barry Willis

Better late than never, the old adage has it. Here (in no particular order) are some memorable productions from last season, a year full of four- and five-star achievements.

The Jungle (Curran Theatre): San Francisco’s renovated Curran Theatre was re-renovated for an immersive recreation of a 2016 crisis in a refugee camp in Calais, France. A huge and hugely talented multi-ethnic cast made this show last season’s most profound and moving theatrical experience. (BW)

After Miss Julie (Main Stage West): Ilana Niernberger and Sam Coughlin paired up for a thrilling pas de deux in Patrick Marber’s evocative spin on “Miss Julie,” transplanting Strindberg’s classic story to a summer night in 1945. A stunning set, great lighting, and white-hot performances brought class and erotic tensions to a boil, culminating in a seriously steamy tango scene that won’t be soon forgotten. (NS)

Rocky Horror Show (Marin Musical Theatre Company): MMTC took this Halloween favorite far over the top at the San Anselmo Playhouse, thanks to stunning efforts by Jake Gale, Nelson Brown, Dani Innocenti-Beem, Pearl Fugit and many others. (BW)

Barbecue Apocalypse (Spreckels): The laughs were served well-done in this quirky comedy, thanks to a witty script marinated in millennial-centric humor and a talented ensemble. Clever costumes, strong technical work, and excellent casting proved that all it takes to survive the end of days is a little raccoon meat and some serious comic relief. (NS)

Romeo and Juliet (Throckmorton): Mill Valley’s Throckmorton Theatre and the streets around it became Verona, Italy, in a sweetly evocative, imaginative, and fully immersive production of Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy. (BW)

Sex with Strangers (Left Edge Theatre): Left Edge Theatre turned up the heat in “Sex with Strangers,” a seductive modern romance that broaches big questions about love, ambition, and the price of success in the digital era. Dean Linnard and Sandra Ish brought the story’s unlikely couple to life with electric chemistry and powerful, nuanced performances. (NS)

Incidents in the Wicked Life of Moll Flanders (Ross Valley Players): RVP gambled and won with Jennifer LeBlanc’s adaptation of Daniel Defoe’s 1722 novel. Amber Collins Crane stole the show as the lead in a compelling tale about a beautiful, quick-witted woman who rose from miserable circumstances to respectability through petty crime, stealth, charm, and unusually good luck. (BW)

Drumming with Anubis (Left Edge Theatre): Left Edge Theatre invited us along to the Neo-Heathen Male Bonding and Drumming Society’s annual campout, where a group of aging death metal fans communes in the desert to beat their bongos. Things got a little dark, a lot hilarious, and surprisingly touching when the Egyptian god of death crashed the party. Local playwright David Templeton’s brilliant new show earned a 5-star reception, featuring a phenomenal cast and beautiful scenic design. (NS)

How I Learned What I Learned (Marin Theatre Company): Director Margo Hall coaxed a tremendous performance from Steven Anthony Jones, who brought grandfatherly wit and wisdom to the role of playwright August Wilson. A master class in story-telling. (BW)

Faceless (6th Street Playhouse): Former artistic director Craig A. Miller returned to helm this riveting courtroom drama about an American teenager caught running away to join her internet boyfriend in ISIS. Razor-sharp dialogue and powerhouse performances made for an intense and memorable experience in 6th Street’s intimate studio theater. (NS)

The Year of Magical Thinking (Aurora Theatre Company): Stacy Ross glowed in a masterly solo recital of Joan Didion’s play from her book of the same name. (BW)

Home (Berkeley Repertory Theatre): In this stunning piece of performance art by Geoff Sobelle, audiences watched a two-story house materialize from the shadows of an empty stage as if by magic. A spectacle of epic proportions, this visual feast reminded theatergoers that a house is just a space in which we come together to make a home. (NS)

Fully Committed (6th Street Playhouse): Patrick Varner channeled 40-some characters in his hilarious one-man depiction of a scheduling manager at his wits’ end in a high-end NYC restaurant, at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse. (BW)

Merman’s Apprentice (Sonoma Arts Live): Daniela Innocenti-Beem brought Broadway legend Ethel Merman back to the stage with a larger-than-life performance in this sparkling world premiere, brimming with catchy tunes and colorful humor. Innocenti-Beem and teenaged costar Emma Sutherland boast some serious pipes, which made this charming new musical all the more fun. (NS)

Mother of the Maid (Marin Theatre Company): A mother’s love and devotion were never so well depicted as in this lovely, heart-rending piece about Joan of Arc’s mother Isabelle (Sherman Fracher). (BW)

Eureka Day (Spreckels): Laughter proved contagious in Jonathan Spector’s whip-smart “Eureka Day,” pitting parents at a Berkeley charter school against each other in the wake of a mumps outbreak. An all-star cast, elaborate set design, and top-notch technical work combined to make this a 5-star production. (NS)

Cabaret (San Francisco Playhouse and Napa’s Lucky Penny Productions): Both of these productions were excellent and amazing versions of this dazzling but starkly disturbing cautionary tale. (BW) 

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Spreckels): Theatergoers were dazzled by this cleverly written and superbly acted continuation of Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice, containing everything an Austenesque story should: delicious drama, a heartwarming romance, and an abundance of humor and witPitch-perfect direction and exemplary casting made “Miss Bennet” the ultimate holiday treat. (NS)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Curran Theatre): Nonstop high-intensity theatrical magic is the only way to describe this extravagant production, running into next July. (BW)

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Spreckels): Hilarity ensued in this madcap musical about a man clawing his way to the top of the family tree. Tim Setzer stole the show as all nine members of the D’Ysquith family, all of whom meet their ends in some of the most creative and comical ways imaginable. Excellent ensemble work, cute choreography, and clever projections made this one killer production. (NS)

Barry Willis is the Executive Editor at Aisle Seat Review, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, and president of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.


An Aisle Seat Review PICK! Explosive Laughs in “Escanaba” at Left Edge Theatre – by Nicole Singley

The Cast of “Escanaba in da Moonlight” (Photo Credit: Katie Kelley)

Alien encounters, porcupine piss, and a troop of whiskey-swilling women armed with hunting rifles. These are either the makings of a really strange nightmare or a recipe for comic gold. Left Edge Theatre proves the latter with their outrageously funny production of Jeff Daniels’s “Escanaba in da Moonlight,” playing in Santa Rosa through December 15th.

It’s the eve of deer-hunting season in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the Soady clan has gathered in the family cabin to continue an annual tradition steeped in generations of folklore and a whole lot of booze. But this year, things are different. For daughter Ruby (Paige Picard), the stakes have never been higher. She’s the only Soady who has yet to bag a buck, and if she can’t pull it off this season, she’ll break an embarrassing family record.

Willing to try anything and determined to succeed, Ruby’s packed some questionable dinner fare in place of the usual “pasties.” It would be wrong to give too much away, but suffice it to say that things only get weirder and wilder. It’s a strange ride full of fun surprises, hell-raising hilarity, and one especially memorable scene that nearly brought the opening-weekend audience to tears.

This one’s guaranteed to leave you smiling . . .”

Director Argo Thompson puts a refreshing spin on this originally male-dominated show with an all-female ensemble, and thanks to excellent casting, it works beautifully. Strong chemistry between the Soady gals and pitch-perfect delivery make the whole thing absurdly enjoyable.

Parrott-Thomas and Picard (Photo Credit: Katie Kelley)

Sandra Ish is the ideal fit for tough-as-nails matriarch, Alberta, whose no-nonsense narration helps us find our footing in a land where the locals speak their own language and march to a very different drum. Chandler Parrott-Thomas is a riot as hotshot hunter Remy, whose superstition runs so deep she’s been sporting the same sweat-soaked lucky shirt each year since childhood. She and Picard evoke a comfortable familiarity that makes them believable as sisters, striking the right balance between cutthroat rivalry and abiding love.

Kalember as “The Jimmer” (Photo Credit: Katie Kelley)

The antics ramp up when “The Jimmer” (Kimberly Kalember) joins the party. She hasn’t been quite right, we’re told, since the alien abduction, and has since developed a bizarre speech impediment that makes for heaps of laughter and confusion. Kalember is ridiculously funny and a ton of fun to watch.

Thompson has a gift for designing immersive sets with thoughtful details on the intimate stage at Left Edge, and this one’s no exception. (Kat Motley helps out with a host of peculiar props.) The rustic plank walls and flannel sheets will make you want to pack a suitcase and cozy up at your own cabin in the woods this winter. Ish completes the picture with befitting costume choices that add to the amusement. April George shows off her lighting skills with forest backdrops and paranormal visitations, even bending time with a cleverly-placed stop motion strobe effect.

Whether you’re hungry for something new and unusual or just in need of a good, lighthearted laugh to ward off the holiday blues, “Escanaba” is the perfect tonic. This one’s guaranteed to leave you smiling all the way home.

Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.


ProductionEscanaba in da Moonlight
Written byJeff Daniels
Directed byArgo Thompson
Producing CompanyLeft Edge Theatre
Production DatesThrough December 15th
Production AddressLuther Burbank Center for the Arts

50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Telephone(707) 546-3600
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT THEATER REVIEW PICK! Marvelous “Miss Bennet” a Must-See at Spreckels – by Nicole Singley

Niernberger and Cadigan (Photo Credit: Jeff Thomas)

Austen lovers will rejoice at this dazzling continuation of beloved classic Pride and Prejudice, picking up two years after the novel leaves off and making its Sonoma County premiere at Spreckels through December 15th. Penned with finesse by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” rings true to the canonical author’s style and characters, full of everything an Austenesque story should be – strong, outspoken women who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo, an abundant wealth of razor-sharp wit, and a heartwarming love story for the ages.

L-R: Pugh, Park, Nordby, and Niernberger (Photo Credit: Jeff Thomas)

The show opens on an elegant drawing room in Mr. Darcy’s sprawling estate, in which he (Matt Cadigan) and Elizabeth (Ilana Niernberger) are preparing for her family to descend for the holidays. Thanks to Niernberger’s spirited demeanor and playful charm, matched with Cadigan’s stately ease, the Darcys are credibly reincarnated as though no time has passed at all. If anything, it’s clear two years of marriage have only served to strengthen and solidify their affection. The two are soon joined by Elizabeth’s eldest sister, Jane (Allie Nordby), and Mr. Bingley (Evan Held), who are expecting their first child and seem happier than ever.

All of this would be enough to make any Pride and Prejudice fan ecstatic, but Gunderson and Melcon have another treat in store. This is Mary Bennet’s turn in the spotlight, after all – the dry-humored, pedantic, and oft-overlooked middle sister, presumed doomed to a life of spinsterhood by her preference for books and pianoforte over the company of other people. Mary (Karina Pugh) has grown since we last saw her, and so too her fear that she may never leave her parents’ home. Must she sit forever on the sidelines, watching each of her sisters find the kind of love she’ll never know? Or could this Christmas bring an unexpected gift?

Pugh makes a brilliant first appearance at Spreckels with her captivating frankness and candor, earning laughs with her deadpan quips and well-timed delivery. Her scenes at the piano are equally hilarious, requiring no words to convey what her character is feeling. (She gets some help behind the scenes from pianist Nancy Hayashibara.)

Diffenderfer and Park (Photo Credit: Jeff Thomas)

Also excellent are Ella Park as Lydia Wickham, bubbling over with flirtatious energy as she cavorts about the stage, attempting shamelessly to conceal the unhappiness of her marriage, and Taylor Diffenderfer as the spine-chilling, frigid Anne de Bourgh, channeling her deceased mother’s pretentious disdain and willful intimidation tactics. Her very entrance is like a dark cloud rolling over the stage. She’s transfixing. Even though they act in small part as the story’s villains, they too are given room to grow and hope for a happier ending. Because, after all – as “Miss Bennet” suggests – don’t we all deserve a chance at love?

. . . a completely engrossing and highly enjoyable night at the theater.”

Walters and Pugh (Photo Credit: Jeff Thomas)

The playwrights have succeeded in crafting characters who are believable extensions of their predecessors, allowing their stories to develop in a way that feels natural and at home with Austen’s legacy. The addition of Darcy’s socially-awkward cousin, Arthur de Bourgh (Zane Walters), is a welcome surprise. He fits right in as the perfect complement to Mary’s hyper-studious and antisocial tendencies. Walters is simply outstanding – his Arthur is genuine and endearing, and despite his clumsy stumbling, a character you’ll want to root for.

Elizabeth Bazzano’s set is tasteful and inviting, begging us to cozy up beside the fireplace, help decorate a much-discussed spruce tree, or gaze out the beautiful window at snow falling on a frosted landscape. Pamela Johnson has chosen costumes that feel in keeping with the characters’ personalities. (A minor wardrobe malfunction was noticeable but easily forgotten amid the fun.)

Director Sheri Lee Miller helms this tightly-paced production with an evident flair for comedic timing. The unceasingly clever dialogue is well served by all members of this first-rate ensemble, and adeptly paired with physical comedy and priceless facial expressions throughout. Rarely has a show made me laugh so often and wholeheartedly.

While previous knowledge of Pride and Prejudice will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the show, it’s completely unnecessary. Even those new to Austen will find much to love in this easy-to-navigate and utterly uplifting story. Stellar writing, effective direction, and an exceptional cast combine to make “Miss Bennet” a completely engrossing and highly enjoyable night at the theater. Sincerely sweet and unforgettably good, it’s a true delight from start to finish, and over in a flash. You may even wish to catch it twice before it’s gone.


Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.


ProductionMiss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
Written byLauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon
Directed bySheri Lee Miller
Producing CompanySpreckels Performing Arts
Production DatesThrough December 15th
Production AddressSpreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Telephone(707) 588-3400
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW: SF Playhouse Missteps with “Dance Nation” – by Nicole Singley

Time flies when you’re having fun. And it slows to a crawl when you aren’t. “Dance Nation” at San Francisco Playhouse succeeds in proving that an hour and fifty-two minutes can feel like an eternity. It fails at just about everything else it ostensibly sets out to accomplish. With no intermission and thus no chance for a polite escape, this production feels more like an avant-garde experiment in torture than an illuminating night at the theater.

The premise is straightforward enough. An Ohio dance troupe comprised of preteen girls – played by adult women of various ages, at the playwright’s instruction – is vying for a spot at Nationals in Tampa Bay. The competition is fierce, and things get really strange and gory. But there isn’t much more to the story, if it could even be called that. Instead it merely serves as a backdrop for a series of disjointed, drawn-out monologues, ranging from flat and painfully boring to overly-intense and agitating, like a bad slam poetry throwdown at the local café where angry feminists commune to rail against the patriarchy and destigmatize the female body. It plays like a misguided grab at women’s empowerment wrapped up in a hollow coming-of-age story about resilience and self-discovery. But none of it rings true.

Clare Barron has packed a lot into her characters, but little that’s terribly realistic or relatable. We bear witness to one girl’s narcissistic meltdown, reaching fever pitch as she shouts at the audience “I’m going to make you my bitch, you motherfucking cunt-munching piece of shit prick. I am your god. I am your second coming.” In another scene, a girl who’s just gotten her period smears menstrual blood across her face like war paint. In yet another, a familiar childhood pact takes a warped turn when the girls wipe armpit sweat on each other’s upper lips and kiss (what ever happened to the good old pinky promise?). We watch grown women depicting thirteen-year-old girls strip naked together without a hint of modesty or embarrassment. (Does this match your childhood locker room experience? It certainly doesn’t mine.) And yet despite their comfortable bond, the show opens awkwardly on the troupe abandoning an injured teammate on the dance floor. It all feels gratuitous, ill-fitting and off-key.

Are these the inner thoughts and lives of women? Good grief, let’s hope not.”

The cast of “Dance Nation” at work at San Francisco Playhouse (Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli)

The coup de grâce is the show’s conclusion (dare I call it that), which features the entire cast chanting “I wish my soul were as perfect as my pussy!” – louder with each repetition – so many times that I could hear it echoing inside my head the whole drive home. Are these the inner thoughts and lives of women? Good grief, let’s hope not. None of it serves any discernible purpose but to shock and repulse the audience, for shock’s sake alone. Despite being the work of a young female playwright, “Dance Nation” is so deeply out of touch with its subject matter that it fails to be emotionally accessible in any meaningful way. It tries really hard to be controversial and edgy – in keeping with much of contemporary art – but only managed to leave me feeling tired, bored and angry. It certainly didn’t resonate with my experience of puberty and early womanhood, adolescent rivalries and friendships, the inherent camaraderie in competitive sports, or just about anything else it reaches for.

Without more believable and fully-formed characters or a compelling and cohesive narrative arc, it’s hard to feel all that connected to or interested in anything that’s happening on stage. The dancing isn’t very good, either. It’s just a lot of forced, unnatural dialogue broken up by obnoxious monologues and little to no plot, with some pointless nudity and a lot of fake blood thrown into the mix. The actors commit a commendable amount of energy to their roles, but it’s not enough to make us care about what happens to their characters. The set doesn’t help much, either. It’s clunky and underwhelming, offering little to look at but a shelf full of trophies and large pillars that often block the audience’s view.

In light of this experience, it’s difficult to fathom why this play has received such high praise from other critics. (It won the Relentless Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and was even a Pulitzer Prize finalist.) Is Becca Wolff’s direction at fault? Did SF Playhouse simply miss the mark with this one? Given their excellent track record, it’s hard to imagine that’s the case, but without any basis for comparison, it’s impossible to know exactly what to think. All I can say with certainty is that from start to finish, I didn’t find a single minute of this show enjoyable. Seldom have I felt so anxious for something to be over. SF Playhouse calls itself an “empathy gym,” but the only thing “Dance Nation” exercised was this reviewer’s patience.

Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.


ProductionDance Nation
Written byClare Barron
Directed byBecca Wolff
Producing CompanySF Playhouse
Production DatesThrough November 9th
Production AddressSF Playhouse
450 Post Street
San Francisco, CA
Telephone(415) 677-9596
Tickets$35 - $125
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?-----

AN AISLE SEAT THEATER REVIEW PICK! Laughter Proves Contagious in “Eureka Day” – by Nicole Singley

The Cast of “Eureka Day” (Photo Credit: Jeff Thomas)

When an outbreak of the mumps sends shockwaves through an avant-garde Berkeley charter school, parents with opposing views on vaccination struggle to uphold the school’s core principles of inclusion and government by consensus. The stakes are high and the tensions higher in this first-rate production of Jonathan Spector’s whip-smart “Eureka Day,” an award-winning comedy that first took audiences by storm last year at Berkeley’s own Aurora Theatre Company.

Eureka Day is exactly the kind of ultra-progressive school one would expect to find in Berkeley. Diversity is celebrated, alternative lifestyles and gender-neutral pronouns are embraced, and board meetings conclude with an inspirational reading set to the chime of Tibetan tingsha cymbals. It’s so Berkeley, in fact, that we open on the school’s Executive Committee deliberating whether “transracial adoptee” should be added to the list of ethnic identities on student registration forms. With unanimity required to pass any resolution, this proves only the first of many drawn-out discussions.

Rendered impotent by their quest for consensus, the group’s leaders are paralyzed by political correctness, so worried about saying the wrong thing they often struggle to say anything at all. It’s at once hysterical and exasperating to watch these perfectly-crafted, superbly-acted, and all-too-recognizable modern archetypes turn every molehill on the meeting agenda into a long-winded tightrope walk between mountains. It would play like a brilliant piece of satire if it weren’t so true to life. In either case, it’s wildly funny.

L-R: Yamamoto, Sinckler, Coté, and McKereghan (Photo Credit: Jeff Thomas)

And then the bombshell drops. A case of the mumps has been confirmed, and perhaps unsurprisingly at a school of this sort, a large percentage of the students are unvaccinated. A quarantine is issued and school policies are called into question. When the committee hosts what begins as a cordial “Community Activated Conversation” with school parents via Facebook Live, it’s only a matter of time until the adults begin to act like children, the forum rapidly devolving into utter mayhem as a storm of angry rants, barbed remarks and uproarious emojis are projected on the set’s back wall above the huddled actors.

. . . a top-notch production of a masterfully written piece of theater, as timely and thought-provoking as it is hilarious . . .”

Though vaccination serves as the catalyst here, larger questions loom about how we move forward when agreement becomes impossible, how we manage to separate fact and fiction in our modern world, whether all perspectives are equally valid or deserving of respect, and where the limits of social responsibility exist when weighing community impact against individual risk and personal beliefs. While Spector’s own stance is fairly conspicuous, his script does justice to conflicting viewpoints. There are good intentions, after all, on both sides of the fence – and playground bullies, for that matter, too.

Jeff Coté as Don (Photo Credit: Jeff Thomas)

Jeff Coté is excellent as hyper-considerate headmaster Don with his noncommittal list making and new-agey Rumi quotations. Equally superb is Sarah McKereghan as longtime board member and grown-up flower child Suzanne, who proclaims to prize inclusion and respect for all perspectives – until she finds her own perspective challenged. So convinced of her own thoughtfulness and moral superiority, Suzanne fails to recognize the hypocrisy of her assumptions and offensive remarks. McKereghan brings nuance and depth to a challenging role, harnessing the frantic energy of a well-meaning mother in denial.

Val Sinckler as Carina (Photo Credit: Jeff Thomas)

The group is rounded out by wavering mother Meiko (Eiko Yamamoto), stay-at-home father and original Google employee Eli (Rick Eldredge), who holds progressive views on marital monogamy and catches up on his yoga practice during meetings, and newcomer Carina (Val Sinckler), a sharp-witted black lesbian and the mother of a boy with special needs, who we quickly glean has been invited to join the committee in the interest of promoting diversity. All are outstanding in complex roles, though Sinckler shines brightest as the anchor and voice of enduring reason. The interactions between Sinckler and McKereghan are especially compelling, bringing humanity to both sides of a contentious and deeply divisive debate.

Hats off to director Elizabeth Craven for thoughtful staging and pitch-perfect pacing, allowing tension to build and all the laughs to land while leaving space for somber moments and heavier dialogue. Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen have designed a beautiful and believable set complete with shelves full of library books, child-sized tables and chairs, and posters that resonate with the school’s core values. Well-paired songs elicit laughter between scenes thanks to Jessica Johnson’s clever sound design.

It’s a top-notch production of a masterfully written piece of theater, as timely and thought-provoking as it is hilarious, with a side-splitting first act that builds into a frenzy and then unfolds into an unexpectedly moving and empathetic second chapter. Guaranteed to keep your wheels turning long after the actors make their exit, “Eureka Day” will leave you questioning whether consensus is worthwhile or even possible in the digital age of relentless misinformation and incompatible opinions. Be sure to catch it (the show, that is) at Spreckels Performing Arts Center through September 22nd.

ASR reviewer Nicole Singley is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.



ProductionEureka Day
Written byJonathan Spector
Directed byElizabeth Craven
Producing CompanySpreckels Performing Arts
Production DatesThrough September 22nd
Production AddressSpreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Telephone(707) 588-3400
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT THEATER REVIEW PICK! Breathtaking “Lungs” at Main Stage West – by Nicole Singley

Pierce and Wright (Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin)

Timely subject matter, timeless relationship dynamics, and dazzling performances combine to make “Lungs” the latest triumph in a series of impressive productions to grace the intimate stage at Sebastopol’s Main Stage West this season.

A world increasingly impacted by climate change and overpopulation seeds new worries and doubts for a young couple on the fence about having children. The unnamed pair (Sharia Pierce and Jared N. Wright, both phenomenal) struggle with guilt about their contribution to the carbon footprint and fear of an uncertain future for their offspring. Where does their responsibility to the planet – and each other – end? Though their decision and the aftermath serve as the story’s crux, it’s the ebb and flow of their relationship that really hits home. Global warming is just an ominous backdrop.

. . . a tour de force – visceral, raw, and utterly real.”

Pierce and Wright (Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin)

Pierce’s performance is a tour de force – visceral, raw, and utterly real. Wright feeds off of her intensity with equal authenticity, delivering nuanced and heartfelt reactions. The mounting tension, crushing heartbreak, and abiding affection between them is powerful and palpable. It’s a deeply personal and emotionally exhausting experience, rife with elements that will feel familiar to anyone who’s ever been in a tumultuous relationship or pondered what it means to be a parent.

David Lear directs with perfect pacing and thoughtful staging on a minimalistic set, with no props, a simple backdrop, and only some introductory audio for context, keeping the focus entirely on Pierce and Wright. Given the caliber of their acting, this works in the production’s favor.

“Lungs” is a beautiful journey full of philosophical quandaries, anxiety and indecision, human error, love, and loss. It’s hard to imagine Duncan Macmillan’s insightful script in better hands than those of this exceptionally talented cast.

ASR reviewer Nicole Singley is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.



Written byDuncan Macmillan
Directed byDavid Lear
Producing CompanyMain Stage West
Production DatesThrough May 26th
Production AddressMain Stage West
104 N Main St
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Telephone(707) 823-0177
Tickets$15 – $30
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK!Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT THEATER REVIEW PICK! Laughs Served Well-Done in “Barbecue Apocalypse” – by Nicole Singley

Headington and Coughlin (Photo Credit: Jeff Thomas)

Do you have what it takes to survive the end of days? Three couples put their skills to the test in Matt Lyle’s tremendously funny “Barbecue Apocalypse,” playing at Rohnert Park’s Spreckels Performing Arts Center through April 20th.

Thirty-somethings Deb (Jessica Headington) and husband Mike (Sam Coughlin) are frantically preparing to host their closest frenemies for a backyard cookout. Bemoaning their half-mowed lawn, mismatched patio furniture and dorm room-esque house decor, Deb fears they can’t possibly impress well-to-do “yupsters” Lulu (Lyndsey Sivalingam) and husband Ash (Trevor Hoffmann), or sleazy penthouse-dwelling Win (J.T. Harper) and his younger girlfriend Glory (Katie Kelley). Mike’s crowning achievement, after all, is the humble deck they’re standing on, and neither he nor Deb can keep a simple garden plant alive.

Clockwise, left to right: Headington, Coughlin, Harper, Sivalingam, Hoffmann (Photo Credit: Jeff Thomas)

When a calamitous event interrupts their awkward party, the group must find their niche in a post-apocalyptic world where once-considered strengths may now be vulnerabilities, and talents formerly perceived as useless could be advantageous. This brave new world offers Mike and Deb a chance to shine, while alpha-male Win shrivels from over-confident womanizer into sobbing, bathrobe-clad mess. Dynamics shift but the grill goes on, until an uninvited guest (Matt T. Witthaus) threatens to end the festivities once and for all.

Don’t miss this witty, laugh-a-minute romp…”

Headington is a riot as neurotic housewife turned spear-wielding survivalist. She makes the jarring transition with remarkable ease, hauling in act two’s blood-spattered dinner – “raccoon, the other red meat!” – with an air of self-possession entirely in contrast to her anxious, pre-apocalyptic stumbling over cocktail umbrellas and fashion accessories. It’s equally satisfying to watch Coughlin’s understated Mike transform from insecure would-be writer to confident grill-master and gardener extraordinaire.

Sivalingam is superb as lovably pretentious Lulu, whose flippant remarks flow faster than the mango margaritas she’s a little too fond of. Hoffmann’s Ash is the painfully familiar portrait of a modern-day screen junkie, forced to settle for library books in a now Google-less world. The apocalypse, as luck would have it, is a boon to their marriage, bringing Lulu back down to earth and pulling Ash away from YouTube. It’s fun to watch their newfound spark ignite.

Clockwise, left to right: Headington, Kelley, Harper, Sivalingam (Photo Credit: Jeff Thomas)

Harper’s Win feels a bit overdone, dripping in stereotypical frat-boy machismo. It’s a hat that doesn’t quite fit, although it serves its comedic purpose all the same. Kelley is endearing in the role of a perky wannabe Rockette, even though she spends much of her time onstage aggressively swapping spit with Harper. Witthaus delivers a truly chilling cameo appearance.

An able cast excels under Larry Williams’s direction, assisted by Marcy Frank’s pitch-perfect costumes and Elizabeth Bazzano’s thoughtful backyard set. Jessica Johnson brings finicky lawn mowers, angry raccoons and propane grills to life with well-timed sound effects.

Marinated in millennial-centric humor, “Barbecue Apocalypse” makes lighthearted fun out of some fairly dark subject matter. Don’t miss this witty, laugh-a-minute romp – or you just might live long enough to regret it.

ASR reviewer Nicole Singley is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.


ProductionBarbecue Apocalypse
Written byMatt Lyle
Directed byLarry Williams
Producing CompanySpreckels Performing Arts
Production DatesThrough April 20th
Production AddressSpreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Telephone(707) 588-3400
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT THEATER REVIEW PICK! “The Nether” Enthralls at Left Edge Theatre – by Nicole Singley

Imagine a virtual world in which you are free to live out your darkest fantasies without repercussion – a perfectly rendered, immersive escape from reality, wherein you can look, speak, and act as you please, your identity securely concealed.

But what makes something real? If a virtual experience has the power to make us think and feel, is it truly artificial? Are our choices ever free from consequence?

By turns philosophical and eerily prophetic, “The Nether” – making its Sonoma County premiere at Left Edge Theatre through March 24th –invites us into such a world, raising these and many other timely questions about morality and culpability in the digital era. But before “logging in,” users be warned: unsettling subject matter is in no short supply here.

Schloemp and Rosa (Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin)

We open on a bleak interrogation room at an unspecified time in the future. Detective Morris (Leila Rosa) sits across from a man in old-fashioned clothing with a guarded demeanor. What was once the internet has evolved into the Nether – an immense network of online realms in which students attend virtual schools, employees telecommute to virtual offices, and people like Mr. Sims (Chris Schloemp) log in to indulge their innermost desires.

Sims – or “Papa,” as his avatar is known – is the proprietor of a realm dubbed the Hideaway, an elaborately designed Victorian home conjuring up a hypnotic nostalgia for simpler times past with its ornate furniture and poplar-lined vistas. Visitors can enjoy a stiff drink, dance along to old records on the gramophone, or molest and dismember prepubescent girls.

Morris is determined to shut the Hideaway down and hold Sims accountable for his gruesome crimes – crimes committed, that is, by and against avatars in the Nether. But has anyone really been hurt? Morris presses Hideaway participant Mr. Doyle (David L. Yen) for incriminating details, her own composure slowly crumbling in the process.

Wright and Spring (Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin)

We cut between the interrogation room and scenes inside the Hideaway, where we meet Iris (the stellar Lana Spring) – Papa’s favorite little girl – and Mr. Woodnut (Jared N. Wright), an undercover agent sent to gather evidence for Morris’s investigation. Mr. Woodnut has honorable intentions, but soon discovers the lines between personal and professional – as well as virtual and actual – are hard to draw inside this realm. He is bewitched by the Hideaway and all it has to offer, becoming himself a reluctant participant in Papa’s twisted world.

…haunting, thought-provoking, and disturbingly relevant…”

It is evident Director Argo Thompson has chosen his cast with care. Schloemp brings grace and finesse to a difficult role, making Sims remarkably sympathetic given his deviant inclinations. Wright is compelling as the well-meaning detective, grappling with unexpected temptation and fearful self-reflection. Yen delivers a surprisingly heart-rending performance as the reticent and wounded Mr. Doyle. Spring’s Iris is ethereal and deeply felt, adding much to the story’s emotional impact. (It’s important to note that Spring is an adult, and that the worst of what happens is not depicted on-stage.)

Rosa is arguably the only weak link. She doesn’t seem at home in her role, and the opening scenes are a bit awkward because of this. Her behavior may be intentional, however, given what we learn later in the show.

Yen (Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin)

Thompson’s set anchors the interrogation room at its center, flanked on both sides by rooms within the Hideaway, keeping us tethered to reality as we experience the virtual world. His crew has chosen fitting furniture and props for the Hideaway, and the interrogation room feels adequately cold and futuristic. Schloemp’s projections are an effective enhancement, transforming the interrogation room’s table into an interactive portal to the Nether.

Joe Winkler has set the show to an appropriately ominous soundtrack, from floor-shaking electronic overtures to the crackle and pop of old-timey tunes on Papa’s Victrola. There’s a moment of eerie dissonance near the show’s end when the soundtracks from both worlds collide, as the real and virtual begin to meld.

Act one is weighed down by philosophical quandary and is slow to build momentum. When the pieces begin to fall together, however, the pace accelerates into a second act rich with chilling developments and surprising revelations, and an ending that begs as many questions as it answers.

Though not for the faint-hearted, “The Nether” is a haunting, thought-provoking, and disturbingly relevant ride well worth taking if you can stomach the subject matter. Playwright Jennifer Haley pulls us out of our comfort zone and thrusts us into this dark exploration of a not-so-far-off future that could very well become our own.

ASR reviewer Nicole Singley is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, the Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.



ProductionThe Nether
Written byJennifer Haley
Directed byArgo Thompson
Producing CompanyLeft Edge Theatre
Production DatesThrough March 24th
Production AddressLuther Burbank Center for the Arts

50 Mark West Springs Rd. Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Telephone(707) 546-3600
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!



AN AISLE SEAT THEATER REVIEW PICK! “Sex with Strangers” Turns Up the Heat at Left Edge Theatre – by Nicole Singley

How do you define success, and what would you sacrifice to achieve it? Would you be willing to take advantage of others? To trade in your dignity, your privacy, or even your identity? Would you dare to risk a shot at love?

Pondering the price of fame in the digital era, “Sex with Strangers” is the smart, seductive modern romance by Emmy Award-winning House of Cards writer Laura Eason, playing now through February 17th at Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre.

Olivia (Sandra Ish) has faded into obscurity following the long-ago release of her modestly successful novel. Badly bruised by mixed reviews and fearing public scrutiny, she continues to write but shares her work with no one. Now in her late thirties, Olivia has settled for a teaching job and relegated writing to a hobby.

Ethan (Dean Linnard) is an up-and-coming writer who, at only 28, has already made a splash on the New York Times Best Seller list and amassed a sizeable following online. Having leveraged his controversial blog about casual sex into two books and an impending movie deal, Ethan’s fame and fortune are on an upward trajectory. Even so, he is restless to escape his reputation as philandering lothario and rebrand himself as a serious author.

Linnard and Ish (Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin)

When a snowstorm leaves these strangers stranded and alone at a remote bed-and-breakfast, sparks fly as flirtatious tension escalates into a passionate affair. But we soon learn their chance encounter wasn’t chance at all, and when Ethan offers to help relaunch Olivia’s career, there is ample room to doubt his motives. Olivia, we learn, has ambitions of her own, and we are left to question who is using whom. Or could this be a genuine connection?

…a steamy, entertaining story full of laugh-out-loud moments…”

Anticipation is half the fun, and the opening scenes are butterfly-inducing as heat and momentum build between Olivia and Ethan. Their banter appears unrehearsed – the pair’s interactions feel alluringly natural, raw, and resultantly real. Eason’s dialogue is sharp and delightfully fast-paced, and these two pros deliver it with ease.

Linnard’s Ethan is irresistibly charming. His coarse manners and frank confidence are at once repulsive and magnetic. There’s a sweet sincerity in his affection for Olivia that helps sustain our hope in the honesty of his intentions, despite the reasons we are given to suspect he can’t be trusted. Ish is equally excellent as voluptuous Olivia, bringing a compelling blend of vulnerability, sass, and surprising strength to the role.

Ish and Linnard (Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin)

The unlikelihood of their pairing makes their romance all the more interesting to watch unfold. What might have been a modest age difference in decades past is now a significant gap made ever broader by the rapid technological advancements we’ve seen in the last twenty years. Ethan’s Wi-Fi dependent world is ruled by an ever-ringing cell phone, overflowing email inbox, and constant public exposure. Olivia’s world – at least when we first meet her – is significantly more quiet. She’s still a fan, after all, of things like privacy and hard copy books.

A subtle power shift occurs as Olivia’s star begins to rise and Ethan’s fades, culminating in a simple, striking moment when the scene is interrupted by a ringing phone. We expect to see Ethan reach into his pocket. But this time, much to our surprise, the call is for Olivia. (Kudos to Sound Designer Joe Winkler for this and other well-timed effects.)

Eason’s ending is powerful and poignant, leaving the door open for us to reflect on what we hope will happen after the curtain falls. We are at once indulged but also wanting more.

Under Diane Bailey’s direction, Linnard and Ish hit it out of the park. Light Designer April George creates a convincing blizzard outside the opening scene’s window, and Argo Thompson’s set provides an attractive and believable backdrop, converting cleanly from a cozy bed-and-breakfast to an urban apartment.

“Sex with Strangers” is a steamy, entertaining story full of laugh-out-loud moments and plenty of food for serious thought. Leave the kids at home, check your inhibitions at the door, and strap in for a night of fun you won’t regret the morning after.

ASR reviewer Nicole Singley is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, the Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.


ProductionSex with Strangers
Written byLaura Eason
Directed byDiane Bailey
Producing CompanyLeft Edge Theatre
Production DatesThrough February 17th
Production AddressLuther Burbank Center for the Arts

50 Mark West Springs Rd. Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Telephone(707) 546-3600
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT THEATER REVIEW PICK! Poignant, Poetic “Swallow” at Main Stage West – by Nicole Singley

At Sebastopol’s Main Stage West through January 27th, “Swallow” is a lyrical and haunting reflection on how we put our pieces back together and rebuild – our wounds, our relationships, our sense of purpose and of self – through the healing conduit of shared suffering and human connection.

Rebecca (Michelle Maxson) is alone and angry. Her husband has fallen in love with another woman. She takes the pain out on herself and fears her scars may never heal. Meanwhile, upstairs neighbor Anna (Dana Scott Seghesio) hasn’t left her apartment in months and is tearing it apart piece by piece, living on ice cubes and canned beans in total isolation. When the two begin to talk through Anna’s closed door, their fragile, faceless friendship evolves into an unusual but much-needed lifeline.

Sam (Skyler Cooper) is in the process of becoming the man he feels himself to be, enduring the humiliation of a job at which he is still called Samantha and struggling to gain confidence and acceptance in his new identity. Recognizing his own loneliness in Rebecca when he discovers her sitting by herself at a coffee shop, Sam takes a chance and starts a conversation.

Cast members Cooper, Maxson, and Seghesio at work.

Although she is initially wary, Rebecca begins to let her walls down as she reopens herself to the possibility of finding new love and understanding. But how will she react if Sam comes clean about his past? What unfolds is both dark and uplifting, at moments comical and others crushing.

The chemistry between Sam and Rebecca is real and their relationship utterly compelling. Cooper and Maxson are immensely talented and profoundly well-cast. It is hard to look away from them, even when their interactions pause and the spotlight shifts to Anna in her apartment. In those dark, unmoving moments, the expressions on their faces speak volumes.

…shattered mirrors, broken hearts, fractured bones, and splintered identities…

Scott Seghesio does an admirable job in a difficult role, making Anna about as interesting as she can be given the lack of development her backstory is offered by playwright Stef Smith. It is hard to care as much as we might like to about a cripplingly neurotic person we learn little about beyond her strange obsession with destruction and strained relationship with a brother who pays her rent. The result is that her scenes begin to feel like unwelcome interruptions to the story we’re more emotionally invested in. Anna’s overwrought metaphorical ramblings about an injured bird become at times torturous as we wait to see more of Rebecca and Sam.

With John Craven’s assistance, David Lear has crafted a lean, effective set which succeeds in creating the illusion of a coffee shop, an apartment building, and a city sidewalk without undergoing any major changes. Missy Weaver’s light design helps create a sense of separation between rooms and scenes. The sound effects of shattering glass and hammers pounding are well-timed and appropriately jarring thanks to Matthew E. Jones’s design.

Despite its imperfections, “Swallow” is inarguably moving, and Smith’s compassion for human suffering is evident. She reminds us that we are capable of creating beautiful things from our broken pieces and that no matter how personal or private our battles, we are never really alone in our pain. Main Stage West has handled her material with care, and the result is well worth watching.

ASR reviewer Nicole Singley is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, the Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.


Written byStef Smith
Directed byMissy Weaver
Producing CompanyMain Stage West
Production DatesThrough January 27th
Production AddressMain Stage West
104 N Main St
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Telephone(707) 823-0177
Tickets$15 – $30
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK!Yes!

AISLE SEAT REVIEW’S THEATRE FAVORITES 2018 — by Barry Willis and Nicole Singley

In 2018, Aisle Seat Review critics attended more than 100 productions, most very good and many, excellent. Rather than compile a “Best of” list—always a subjective evaluation open to rancorous discussion—we thought it might be more fun to share some favorites, in no particular order:

“Always, Patsy Cline” Sonoma Arts Live, Sonoma. Danielle DeBow brought the legendary country singer to life—and more—in this wonderful “jukebox musical” about Cline and her friend Louise Seger, emphatically played by Karen Pinomaki. Excellent male backup singers and onstage band sealed the deal for this Michael Ross production, which could have played all summer to packed houses.

“Always Patsy Cline” cast at Sonoma Arts Live.


“Oslo” Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley. Director Jasson Minidakis got amazing performances from a large cast in this West Coast premiere of J.T. Rogers’s Tony Award-winning drama, a fictionalized account of backstage negotiations conducted by unauthorized Norwegian diplomats that resulted in the 1993 peace accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“An “Entomologist’s Love Story,” San Francisco Playhouse. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli, this funny and sweetly seductive tale of love and rejection between a couple of graduate researchers took several unexpected but delightful detours on its way to providing insight into the mating behaviors of young adult humans. The award-worthy set was among many created by Nina Ball, one of the Bay Area’s most gifted designers.

“Entomologist’s Love Story,” at San Francisco Playhouse.


“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,” Spreckels Performing Arts Center, Rohnert Park. This North Bay all-star production about an autistic kid searching for his mother was special in many respects, including set design and ensemble work. As Christopher, Elijah Pinkham was tremendous in his first big-venue outing, directed by Elizabeth Craven.

“Head over Heels,” Curran, San Francisco. Perhaps the most fun show of the year—and the most unjustifiably maligned—this pseudo-Shakespearean spoof featured incredible performances, amazing set design/stagecraft, and the best-ever treatment of the music of ‘80s pop group The Go-Go’s.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” Ray of Light Theatre, San Francisco. The best rock musical ever conceived was given a spectacular treatment in the Mission District’s crusty old Victoria Theatre. Coleton Schmitto slayed as the transgendered rock star, matched in gravitas if not in flamboyance by Maya Michal Sherer as Hedwig’s lover/assistant Yitzhak.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at Ray of Light Theatre, San Francisco.


“By the Water,” Spreckels Spreckels Performing Arts Center, Rohnert Park. This heart-rending tale of a family and neighborhood trying to cope with the aftermath of a natural disaster had special meaning for North Bay residents following last year’s devastating fires. Mike Pavone and Mary Gannon Graham were superb as husband and wife trying to find their way home, in a sensitive production helmed by Carl Jordan.

“The House of Yes,” Main Stage West, Sebastopol. Director and set designer Elizabeth Craven pulled some dark magic from her bag of tricks in this stunning presentation of Wendy MacLeod’s horrifically funny portrait of an incredibly dysfunctional upper-crust family. Sharia Pierce was astounding as the Pascal family’s whacked-out “Jackie O” while Laura Jorgensen induced chills as her hard-drinking mother.

“The House of Yes” at Main Stage West.


“Death of a Salesman,” Novato Theatre Company, Novato. Arthur Miller’s classic depiction of a salesman put out to pasture could not have been more heartbreaking or more beautiful than as directed by Carl Jordan. Joe Winkler was perfectly cast as down-on-his-luck Willy Loman, as was Richard Kerrigan in the role of Charlie, Willy’s neighbor and best friend.

“Dry Powder,” Aurora Theatre Company, Berkeley. Aldo Billingsly starred as a hard-charging buyout artist in this incisive dark comedy about the often impenetrable world of private equity. Emily Jeanne Brown was rock-solid as the unfeeling, number-crunching junior partner Emily. Directed with aplomb by Jennifer King.

“Detroit ’67,” Aurora Theatre Company, Berkeley. Dominique Morisseau’s fictional but totally plausible tale of ordinary people struggling to get ahead during Detroit’s riots and fires of 1967 was beautifully conveyed in this five-actor tour-de-force directed by Darryl V. Jones, with standout performances by Halili Knox and Rafael Jordan as sister and brother Chelle and Lank.

“Detroit ’67” at Aurora Theater Co.


“A Walk on the Moon,” ACT, San Francisco. Performances and stagecraft were—pardon us, please—over the moon in this spectacular presentation of a simple story about a young wife’s coming-of-age during the summer when astronauts first landed on the moon.


“Hand to God,” Left Edge Theatre, Santa Rosa. Laughter flowed and doll heads rolled in this no-holds-barred dark comedy about a shy young Christian boy with a hand puppet, “Tyrone,” possessed by the devil. (Set in Texas. Where else?) A series of increasingly outrageous events culminated in the hostile takeover of a church basement, topped off by an absurdly funny and obscene act of puppetry that will haunt us for years to come. Dean Linnard’s impressive turn as Jason-slash-Tyrone and set design by Argo Thompson made for some devilish good fun.

“The Realistic Joneses,” Left Edge Theatre, Santa Rosa. Two couples shared an ordinary last name and an extraordinary fate in Will Eno’s poignant and darkly hilarious exploration of human connection, coping mechanisms, marriage and mortality. Melissa Claire, Chris Ginesi, Paige Picard, and Chris Schloemp brought remarkable talent and palpable chemistry to the stage, making an already interesting story unforgettable.

“Disgraced,” Left Edge Theatre, Santa Rosa. Issues of cultural appropriation, religion, racial tension, and infidelity came to an explosive head at a dinner party-gone-wrong in Ayad Akhtar’s incisive Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. Left Edge’s top-notch casting, set design and technical work were—forgive us—anything but disgraceful.

“Tinderella,” Custom Made Theatre, San Francisco. A world premiere, this clever, inventive musical put an inspired spin on an age-old classic, thrusting beloved Disney princess Cinderella into the harsh realities of 21st-century online dating. Replete with hilarious song lyrics and cultural references, the script offers surprisingly heartfelt reflections on fostering love and friendship in a modern-day landscape of social media and smartphone apps. This wildly entertaining show attracted a remarkably young audience with a story acutely relevant to millennials and Bay Area living, poking plenty of fun at our ongoing reliance on all things digital, and helped along by some seriously good singing and outrageously funny choreography.

“Blackbird,” Main Stage West, Sebastopol. An inescapable past came back to haunt an industrial production manager in David Harrower’s “Blackbird.” Sharia Pierce astounded as Una, a young woman who hunts down her former and much older lover Ray (John Shillington). David Lear’s direction and set design were beyond perfect in this chilling piece about irresistible but doomed attraction.

“Marjorie Prime,” at Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley. Humanoid artificial intelligence got a new twist as therapeutic tools in Jordan Harrison’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize contender. Set in the near future, the provocative one-act was superbly delivered by four supremely talented actors—particularly Joy Carlin as the faltering widow—directed by Ken Rus Schmoll, on a simple modernistic set by Kimie Nishikawa.

“Marjorie Prime” at Marin Theatre Company.



ASR reviewer Nicole Singley is a member of the Marquee Theatre Journalists Association and the American Theatre Critics Association.



ASR Senior Editor Barry Willis is a member of ATCA and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.




**** AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK **** Hellaciously Funny “Hand to God” at Left Edge Theatre – by Nicole Singley

It could be argued that few things in life are more worth having than a hearty laugh. If you’re partial to this school of thought, then “Hand to God,” playing now at Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre through November 11th, could easily be the most rewarding thing you do this weekend.

Jason (Dean Linnard) is a nice young Christian boy who obeys his mother and the Bible. But everything goes to Hell – perhaps literally – when his hand puppet, “Tyrone,” takes on a startling personality of his own. Tyrone is the polar opposite of his meek and socially awkward puppeteer: loud and obnoxious, wildly vulgar, and jaw-droppingly crude.

What Jason’s mother Margery (Melissa Claire) at first mistakes as a harmless, albeit bizarre, vaudevillian routine soon proves to be something more sinister. Could her son’s unsettling puppet be possessed by the devil?

Linnard and puppet at work in “Hand to God”

Linnard’s performance is nothing short of brilliant. His uncanny ability to switch so convincingly between two diametrically opposed characters at lightning speed – all while effectively maneuvering his right-hand companion – makes it a little too easy to forget Tyrone is really just a puppet.

Director Chris Ginesi has staged an expertly executed and grossly entertaining experience for theatergoers…”

The caliber of Linnard’s performance would easily make him the standout if he weren’t on stage with such a talented group of actors. There is not a weak link in the bunch; their chemistry is excellent and their timing impeccable. The sheer absurdity of the subject matter is made only more hilarious by the intensity and physicality with which they bring it all to life.

Kraines and Claire at work at Left Edge Theatre

Claire is hysterical as Margery, an unraveling widow struggling to distract herself by teaching puppetry to unenthusiastic children in the local church’s basement. Carl Kraines is superb as Pastor Greg, earning as much pity as laughter for his awkward advances toward Margery.

Neil Thollander is a perfect fit for secretly sensitive, bad-boy Timmy, and Chandler Parrott-Thomas adds a touch of much-needed normalcy as Jessica. She surprises us in the end, however, with a heroic act of puppetry guaranteed to make audience members blush.

Director Chris Ginesi has staged an expertly executed and grossly entertaining experience for theatergoers craving something unconventional. Rife with clever dialogue and R-rated humor, the script explores some darker themes without compromising the explosive laughs, turning even the most shocking moments into serious fun. From puppet sex to pedophilia, playwright Robert Askins dares go where others won’t, and the result is thought-provoking comic gold.

Argo Thompson’s ingenious set transitions with ease from classroom to playground and from bedroom to office. His stage is a living entity all its own, much like the puppet it falls prey to in a memorably elaborate set change featuring decapitated Barbie dolls and bloody handprints. The scene plays like a childhood game of “Spot the Differences in These Two Pictures.” Be sure to take in all the thoughtful touches. If the devil is really in the details, Thompson, too, may be possessed.

ASR reviewer Nicole Singley is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.



ProductionHand to God
Written byRobert Askins
Directed byChris Ginesi
Producing CompanyLeft Edge Theatre
Production DatesThrough November 11th
Production AddressLuther Burbank Center for the Arts

50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Telephone(707) 546-3600
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

An ASR Theater Review! Bottomless Laughs with “The Savannah Sipping Society” at RVP – by Nicole Singley

Cast of TSSS at RVP

Lost and looking for change, four middle-aged women forge an unlikely alliance over cocktails, romantic woes, and career changes. Fans of “The Dixie Swim Club” and “Always a Bridesmaid” will recognize the hallmarks of authors Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten in this laugh-out-loud comedy about strong southern women and the transformative powers of friendship. At Ross Valley Players through August 12th, “The Savannah Sipping Society” packs in an abundance of clever zingers and feel-good moments guaranteed to leave you smiling.

Uptight and overly-logical Randa (Monica Snell) is recovering from a meltdown and the loss of her high-pressure job, alone in a large house she can no longer afford and unsure of what to do next. Recently widowed Dot (Mary Bishop) is facing an uncertain future on her own, having retired to the area with her husband only months before his passing.

Heather Shepardson at work as Marla Faye in “Savannah Sipping Society”

Boisterous, bottle-toting Marla Faye (Heather Shepardson) is a recent arrival, too, fleeing a painful divorce and philandering husband in Texas. The three cross paths in the aftermath of a hellaciously hot yoga class, and with nothing to lose, decide to reconvene at Randa’s house for drinks.

The evening is off to an uncomfortable start when Dot shows up with an unexpected guest in tow. Bold and brazen beautician Jinx (Sumi Narendran Cardinale) is new in town, too, having spent the majority of her life-changing jobs and moving from place to place. She’s decided to try her hand at life coaching, and with a few drinks under their belts, the women agree to be her guinea pigs. We watch the group grow and bond through a series of hilarious misadventures, cheering each other on as they shake things up and work to overcome their fears and failures.

Monica Snell, Heather Shepardson, and Mary Bishop at work in RVP’s “The Savannah Sipping Society”

Thanks to good casting, awkward social tension evolves into real chemistry and camaraderie as the story progresses. Snell’s Randa is palpably high-strung and Bishop’s Dot is utterly endearing. Narendran Cardinale’s Jinx has spunk and swagger, although her closing monologue felt lacking in sincerity. The writing is strong enough to save the revelatory moment, however, and her performance is otherwise able.

Cleverly written and strongly felt, ‘The Savannah Sipping Society’ is as uplifting as it is hysterical.

Under Tina Taylor’s direction, the women offer up a heap of memorable quips with excellent timing. Shepardson is the stand-out, earning a sizable share of the laughs with well-delivered snark and sass. “Women who carry a few extra pounds,” she informs us, “live longer than the men who call it to their attention.”

The simple, charming set (designed by Tom O’Brien and constructed by Michael Walraven) remains more or less unchanged throughout the show. Miles Smith effectively highlights the characters’ different personalities with complementary costume choices. A chorus of crickets and summer thunderstorms (sound design by Billie Cox) – combined unwittingly with the heat and humidity of opening night – made for an immersive experience.

Cleverly written and strongly felt, “The Savannah Sipping Society” is as uplifting as it is hysterical. Dress for the heat, grab a drink, and sip along to your heart’s content – because according to Marla Faye, “drink responsibly means don’t spill it.”

Nicole Singley is a Contributor to Aisle Seat Review.




ProductionThe Savannah Sipping Society
Written byJessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, Jamie Wooten
Directed byTina Taylor
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru August 12th
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Telephone415. 456.9555
Tickets$15 - $27
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5

An Aisle Seat Theater Review! Uproarious, Upbeat “Shrek, The Musical” at Raven Theater – by Nicole Singley

Shrek: The Musical at Raven Theater

Based on the popular animated DreamWorks movie and book by William Steig, “Shrek, The Musical” is foot-tapping fun for the whole family, with enough adult humor in the mix to satisfy audiences of all ages. At Healdsburg’s Raven Theater through July 8th, this adventurous tale packs in a score of catchy tunes, outrageous laughs, and, of course, a happy and heartwarming ending to top it all off.

Our unlikely but lovable hero, Shrek (Caleb Daniel Noal), is a curmudgeonly ogre who keeps to himself in the solitude of his swamp. That is until a crowd of fairytale characters comes knocking seeking refuge on his land. The evil Lord Farquaad – large in ego, small in stature, and played brilliantly by Bill Garcia – has issued them an ominous eviction notice from the neighboring kingdom of Duloc, and they have nowhere else to go.

A feast for the eyes and ears…

With the unwanted help of a talkative donkey he meets along the way (the hilarious Troy Thomas Evans), Shrek sets out to Duloc and strikes a deal with Lord Farquaad to reclaim his swamp. He must rescue Princess Fiona (Kelly Hitman) from a dragon-guarded tower and escort her to the castle, where Farquaad hopes to make her his bride. Things are on course until a shocking secret threatens to derail our hero’s journey, reminding us that “beautiful ain’t always pretty,” and proving sometimes life surprises us with endings far happier than anything we could have planned.

A feast for the eyes and ears, “Shrek” features entertaining choreography by Katie Watts-Whitaker and an ensemble of talented singers, all accompanied by a live eight-piece chamber orchestra. Standout vocal performances by the vivacious Hitman and enthusiastic Evans are made all the more enjoyable by the physicality of their acting. Fiona’s facial expressions and Donkey’s body language often communicate as much or more than their lines and lyrics.

Evans Noal and Hitman in Shrek:The Musical

Noal nails the characteristic accent movie fans will remember, but he is hard to hear at times. His Shrek feels a bit muted and unenergetic; a more dynamic performance with increased physicality might help to convey more emotion. Audiences may feel inclined to cut him some slack, however, for the evident limitations of his cumbersome garb.

The artistic team and crew at Raven Theater have brought this feel-good show to life with a host of elaborate costumes (Jeanine Grey and Robert Zelenka), spectacular make-up (Tara Kelly Ryan), and clever props (Kerry Duvall). Highlights include a singing dragon (designed and fabricated by Michael Mingoia and puppeteered by Eric Yanez) and a sassy gingerbread cookie (voiced and puppeteered by Stephanie Beard).

Garcia has designed and fabricated his own ingenious masking, adding much to the tear-inducing hilarity of his turn as the altitude-challenged Lord Farquaad. The show is worth seeing for his performance alone, thanks to a handful of laugh-out-loud moments that just might bring you to your knees. (Pun intended, for those who’ve seen it.)

Nicole Singley is a Contributor to Aisle Seat Review.




ProductionShrek: The Musical
Written byJeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed byKerry Duvall
Producing CompanyRaven Theater
Production DatesThru July 8th
Production AddressRaven Theater Healdsburg
115 North Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448
TicketsSee website
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5

An ASR Theater Review! Adventurous “Good. Better. Best. Bested.” at Custom Made Theatre – by Nicole Singley

“Good. Better. Best. Bested.” at Custom Made Theater

It’s a normal night of gambling and drunken debauchery on the Las Vegas strip until a catastrophic event half a world away sends shockwaves rippling through the crowded streets of Nevada’s most infamous and alluring destination.

Jonathan Spector’s elaborately-woven satire – at Custom Made Theatre through July 7th – crashes the party and bears witness to the aftermath in a series of revealing vignettes. Making its world premiere at this intimate San Francisco venue, “Good. Better. Best. Bested.” is co-produced by Custom Made Theatre Co. and Spector’s own Berkeley-based company, Just Theater.

From magicians, prostitutes, gamblers, and bachelorette parties to costume-clad street performers and obnoxious, selfie-snapping tourists, this 90-minute, nonstop show darts back and forth between characters and storylines offering glimpses into the lives of recognizable Las Vegas fixtures. We watch their night unfold in the wake of devastating news, following along as they struggle to process and react to an unexpected buzz-kill of epic proportions. Can the party continue amid the chaos and confusion, or will doom and gloom prevail?

Jessica Lea Risco delivers a strong and nuanced performance as hired escort Simone, holed up uncomfortably in a hotel room with nervous would-be customer Alan (Gabriel Montoya) when the bad news hits.

Gabriel Montoya and Jessica Lea Risco at Custom Made.

Lauren Andrei Garcia shines as ditzy drama-queen Sue, determined to salvage her bachelorette festivities by any means possible. Tim Garcia nails an impressive, lightning-paced monologue riddled with more casino-friendly terminology than a copy of Gambling for Dummies. He is excellent as frenetic 17-year-old Sheldon, keeping his broke father Walter (David Sinaiko) afloat with handouts from his winnings.

Mick Mize is equally capable in dual roles as disenchanted stage magician Jordan and an inebriated, skirt-chasing tourist (“The Bro”) evoking blurry memories of frat-house parties past. Millie Brooks provides comic relief as Sue’s beleaguered best friend Marla, along for the wild ride whether she likes it or not.

Millie Brooks and Mick Mize at Custom Made.

Director Lauren English succeeds beautifully in bringing the humor and humanity of Spector’s script to life. A less talented group of actors may have made it difficult to see the same faces assuming so many roles, but the cast switches gears seamlessly and convincingly, making it surprisingly easy to forget that the drunken playboy hitting on our hapless bride-to-be was a magician only moments earlier. Noteworthy sound design by Jaren Feeley adds much to the overall production quality, with the well-timed entrances of voices swelling in the background and cellphone sound effects so realistic that members of the audience were seen reaching to check their own devices.

It’s an entertaining, fast-moving, emotional roller coaster of a production, shifting effectively between episodes eliciting side-splitting laughter, serious reflection, shock, and horror, all punctuated by an uneasy sense of sadness and despair that looms over even some of the most awkward and laugh-out-loud moments in this multi-dimensional comedy.

Spector has crafted his characters with empathy and depth, exploiting their flaws when it suits his purpose, but not at the expense of making them both relatable and compelling. “Good. Better. Best. Bested.” is a thought-provoking journey into the heart of Sin City and humankind at large, underlining the fragility of the ever-fleeting here and now.

Nicole Singley is a Contributor to Aisle Seat Review.





“Good. Better. Best. Bested.” by Jonathan Spector

Custom Made Theatre Co., 533 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Through July 7, 2018

Tickets: $35—$42

Info: (415) 798-2682,

Rating: Four out of Five Stars


ASR Theater Review! Enjoyable “Jeeves Intervenes” at Sonoma Arts Live – by Nicole Singley

“Jeeves Intervenes” at Sonoma Arts Live

Adapted from the stories of popular 20th-century humorist P.G. Wodehouse, “Jeeves Intervenes” brings lovable playboy Bertie Wooster and his ever-sensible manservant to the stage for new adventures in London’s 1920s haut monde. Paying homage to Wodehouse’s keen ability for satire, Margaret Raether’s script takes comedic aim at England’s strait-laced elite, weaving an entertaining web of elaborate scheming, pretense, and old-fashioned farce. The Sonoma Arts Live production, playing now through May 27th, is good for a few big laughs and an evening of light-hearted fare.

Bertie (Delaney Brummé) enjoys a life of leisurely bachelorhood, relying on his aunt’s financial support and loyal valet Jeeves (the excellent Randy St. Jean) to keep him out of constant trouble. When domineering Aunt Agatha (Jennie Brick) comes to town with plans to pressure Bertie into marriage, it’s up to quick-thinking Jeeves to rescue his charge from the unwanted union with up-and-coming socialite Gertie (Libby Oberlin).

Meanwhile, Bertie’s old school mate Eustace, aka “Bassy” (Nick Moore), is dreading the arrival of a disapproving uncle who intends to ship him off to a job in India. Having never worked a day in his life – and desperately hoping to change his overbearing benefactor’s mind – Bassy must convince Sir Rupert (Larry Williams) that he’s built a suitable life for himself in London. (Spoiler alert: he hasn’t.)

Can blundering Bassy escape a life of labor abroad without lifting a finger or losing his allowance? Is our steadfast bachelor doomed to go through life as the unpalatable “Bertie and Gertie?” Cue the shenanigans and enter Jeeves to save the day. Deception multiplies, new love blossoms, sparks fly, and old flames reignite as our clever hero works his magic behind the scenes.

St. Jean carries the show with his levelheaded demeanor, reserved sarcasm, and efficacious intonation. He is the picture of a proper gentleman’s gentleman, charming the audience with his dry wit and subtle, all-knowing expressions. Moore’s Bassy is marked by an appropriate air of highfalutin laziness and clumsy tomfoolery, which earns some laughs and helps to sell his character. Oberlin is a good fit for debutante Gertie, with a winning smile and youthful exuberance well suited to the task of whipping wayward young men into matrimonial shape.

“Jeeves Intervenes”

Brick and Williams are competent in their roles, though more believable as meddling relatives than former paramours. A lack of chemistry lessens the excitement we want to feel for their romance. Brummé’s otherwise able performance is regrettably overshadowed by a jarring vocal gimmick, which oversteps the boundary between funny and obnoxious and, at times, obscures the actor’s lines. Cracking into a shrill pitch with awkward regularity, his delivery feels more appropriate for a pubescent schoolboy than a suave womanizer in high society. It’s an unfortunate distraction from Raether’s witty dialogue, but the physicality of the comedy is often enough to overcome any confusion about what’s happening on-stage.

The production is enhanced by Carl Jordan’s colorful set and Moira McGovern’s period-appropriate musical selections. Eric Jackson’s costumes are mostly a hit, though Gertie’s outfits often (and perhaps deliberately) upstage the other characters’.

Despite its faults, the show evokes a pleasant nostalgia for eras past with its slapstick humor and whimsical characters. The mischief concludes with the satisfaction of a happy ending, all thanks, of course, to the intervention of our hero.

Nicole Singley is a Contributor to Aisle Seat Review.

“Jeeves Intervenes” by Margaret Raether, adapted from the works of P.G. Wodehouse

Sonoma Arts Live

Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall at the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E Napa St, Sonoma, CA 95476

Through May 27, 2018

Tickets: $22—$37

Info: 866-710-8942,

Rating: Three out of Five Stars

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ASR Theater Review! Dangerously Funny “Women in Jeopardy!” at Left Edge Theatre by Nicole Singley

“Women in Jeopardy!” — Too Close for Comfort

At Left Edge Theatre through May 27th, Wendy MacLeod’s “Women In Jeopardy!” promises an evening of uproarious laughter and good, light-hearted fun. Despite the murder mystery at its center, this two-act, 90-minute show feels more like an episode of your favorite zany sitcom. But will everybody make it out alive?

Divorcees Mary, Jo, and Liz are the best and oldest of gal pals, their friendship a comfortable routine of fun runs and weekly wine parties. But when Liz (Angela Squire) shows up to their regular girls’ night with – surprise! – new boyfriend Jackson (Richard Pallaziol) at her side, Mary and Jo are instantly suspicious. Liz is love-struck and insists there’s nothing sinister about her beau, but something about Jackson is a little off. Perhaps it’s his deadpan (and borderline creepy) sense of humor. Maybe it’s his bizarre fixation with Silence of the Lambs. Or it might have something to do with the recent disappearance of a young female employee from his dental practice, or the torture chamber-esque basement he’s stocked full of antique dental instruments…. Who’s to say?

Convinced they’ve lost their dearest friend to a dangerous serial killer, Mary (Shannon Rider) and Jo (Sandra Ish) are determined to save Liz and her teenaged daughter, Amanda (Victoria Saitz), from impending doom. Enlisting the help of Amanda’s on-and-off-again ex-boyfriend Trenner (Zane Walters), the women set out to derail Jackson’s upcoming camping trip with Amanda. Add a cop who could be Jackson’s twin and some awkward flirtation into the mix, strap on your hiking boots, and let the hijinks begin.

“Women in Jeopardy!” – Trenner and Mary

The cast is high-energy and hilarious, with an apparent knack for comedic timing. The characters feel comfortable in their own skins. Obvious chemistry between Rider, Ish, and Squire makes their friendship all the more convincing. Pallaziol is hair-raisingly entertaining in the role of Jackson, switching gears with ease to play the part of awkward and endearing lookalike Sergeant Kirk. Saitz is the portrait of a moody teenager, at times lovable and at others cringe-worthy. Walters is a hoot as Trenner, evoking a familiar brand of clumsy teenaged-male machismo with his stumbling attempts to wax poetic and fantasies à la Mrs. Robinson. We get the sense that he’s a good guy underneath the goofy exterior and raging hormones.

The show is aided by a capable creative team. Argo Thompson’s set transforms ingeniously from kitchen to ski shop, police station, and forested canyon. Props by Vicki Martinez and costume design by Ish help make the characters and their environments feel realistic. Sound design by Thompson and director Carla Spindt earns extra laughs with well-timed entrances of recognizable songs with fitting lyrics.

MacLeod’s script comes to an arguably rushed conclusion, making for a somewhat sudden and unsatisfying end to an otherwise enjoyable romp. “Women in Jeopardy!” is well worth attending nonetheless, thanks to an able ensemble, a heap of clever quips, and enough witty wordplay to keep audiences smiling the whole way home.

Nicole Singley is a Contributor to Aisle Seat Review.

“Women in Jeopardy!” by Wendy MacLeod

Left Edge Theatre, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Through May 27, 2018

Tickets: $25—$40

Info: 707-536-1620,

Rating: Four out of Five Stars

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ASR Theater Review! “Tinderella” Delights at Custom Made Theatre Co. – by Nicole Singley

Tinderella: Tinder Creeps

What if Cinderella were alive today, resigned to searching for her kale-munching, kombucha-swilling, flannel shirt-donning prince on an Internet dating app, adrift in a sea of creepy stalkers and unsolicited ‘dick pics?’

Running through May 26th at San Francisco’s Custom Made Theatre Co., modern musical “Tinderella” puts a wildly entertaining spin on an age-old classic, thrusting our beloved Disney princess into the harsh realities of 21st-century online dating. FaultLine Theater has partnered with Custom Made for the world premiere of a brilliant show three years in the making, attracting a remarkably young, enthusiastic audience with a story acutely relevant to millennials and Bay Area living, and poking plenty of fun at our newfound reliance on all things digital. (Boomers, be warned – some generational references may be lost in translation.)

Tinderella: Dylan & Meg

Once upon a time, (shortly after the release of the iPhone 5, but before the release of the iPhone 5C, we’re told), our princess Meg (Juliana Lustenader) naively yearns for the fairy-tale romance she grew up believing she was destined for. Her ordinary life feels inadequate when measured against the glamorous Facebook facades of her social media-savvy stepsisters, whose virtual personas exude the confidence and fulfillment Meg aspires to. But when gay fairy-god-roommate Dylan (the magnificent Branden Noel Thomas) introduces her to popular dating app Tinder, it seems as though her luck may be about to change. “If you’re straight, hot, and white,” he tells her, “Tinder is like magic, (more or less).”

Tinderella: Julie & Marcus

Meanwhile, in couples’ land, Julie (the exquisite Sarah Jiang) and Marcus (Jackson Thea) are at a crossroads. Marcus wants to settle down with Julie, move to Texas, buy a dog, and crank out a couple of kids. Julie, on the other hand, wants… well, she doesn’t exactly know yet, but she’s pretty sure it isn’t that. She urges him to take a step back and explore other options. Marcus does just that, inviting his new Tinder match Meg to a “super cool party” at his San Francisco apartment. Full of hope, Meg sets out to meet her prince, win his heart, and catch the last BART train back to Oakland before midnight. But in a world where success is measured in “likes” and love is found by “swiping right,” all bets for a happy ending are off.

The cellphone-toting ensemble is well balanced and superbly gifted, and vocal talent abounds. Thomas is dynamic, empathetic, and often hilarious as quesadilla-making, tough-loving Dylan, with a powerful voice and a flair for delivery. In lead roles, Thea and Lustenader are both convincing and cute and remain lovable despite lapses of self-centered blindness.

Tinderella: Selfies with Stepsisters

Adielyn Mendoza and Alex Akin are well cast as New York fashionista Allie and world-traveling, do-gooder Tanya (Meg’s not-so-evil stepsisters). Their excellent voices, though regrettably underutilized, are put to good use in “Picture Perfect” and “Reality Check,” calling out our obsession with ‘selfies’ and the false images of perfection we project online.

Jiang shines in a standout performance as undecided Julie, questioning whether she’s in the best place she can be (“The Best Place”) and ultimately helping lead us to one of the night’s most insightful revelations – that we are all sometimes guilty of forcing others to play a role in our own stories. It takes courage to shed our misguided fairy-tale notions and break free from the pressure to conform. “I’m not giving up on my dreams,” Julie explains to Marcus, “but I’m giving up on yours.” Jiang’s beautiful voice only accentuates her knack for acting and reacting to the other cast members throughout the show.

The production is punctuated by riotous, foot-tapping musical numbers like “Old School Chivalry,” “Slow Grind Love Song,” and “(You’re Gonna) F***ing Rock It.” Weston Scott’s lyrics are funny and sharp, pairing perfectly with Christian B. Schmidt’s hip, vibrant score. Meredith Joelle Charlson’s choreography adds much to the tear-inducing hilarity of lighter-hearted acts. The more solemn, introspective pieces are lovely, too, spotlighting some of the incredible voices on stage.

“Tinderella” is the sexy, hilarious, and highly enjoyable triumph of an immensely talented cast and creative team. You, too, may fall in love at first swipe.

Nicole Singley is a Contributor to Aisle Seat Review.


“Tinderella: The Modern Musical” by Rose Oser, Christian B. Schmidt, and Weston Scott, in partnership with FaultLine Theater

Custom Made Theatre Co., 533 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Through May 26, 2018

Tickets: $25—$49

Info: (415) 798-2682,

Recommended for mature audiences

Rating: Five out of Five Stars

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ASR Theater Review! Refreshing “Water by the Spoonful” at Raven Performing Arts Theater – by Nicole Singley

Playing through May 13th at Healdsburg’s Raven Performing Arts Theater, Pulitzer Prize-winning “Water by the Spoonful” is a complex and heartfelt exploration of poor choices and personal trauma, the difficult road to recovery, and the unlikely lifelines that help keep us afloat.

Elliot (Bill Garcia) is an Iraq War veteran and aspiring actor, reduced to making Subway sandwiches while caring for the ailing aunt who raised him. Carrying the scars of a troubled childhood and his time in Iraq, he is haunted by agonizing guilt, devastating loss, and the grudge he harbors against his mother. We gather shocking pieces of his past throughout the show. Garcia is believable as Elliot, and his energy is complemented by the talented Serena Elize Flores as cousin Yazmin.

Elliot’s mother Odessa (played effectively by Athena Gundlach) is a recovering crack addict who runs an Internet chat room for others battling addiction. “Haikumom,” as she’s known online, devotes the majority of her time to helping chat-room regulars “Orangutan” (Hande Gokbas) and “Chutes&Ladders” (Nicholas James Augusta) in their daily struggles to stay clean. Though largely isolated from her family and the outside world, Odessa finds redeeming purpose and connection in her virtual haven. But when Elliot comes home to confront the skeletons in his family’s closet, her fragile peace is threatened.

The performers are capable and well cast, and a few scenes into opening night, began to really find their groove. Matt Farrell feels natural in the role of self-centered chat-room newcomer “Fountainhead,” slowly coming to terms with the truth of his addiction. Gokbas is endearing as “Orangutan,” her passion and determination to move forward a much-needed boon to “Chutes&Ladders” as he wrestles with the fear of shaking up his safe routine. The evolution of their relationship from virtual to actual is both moving and uplifting.

A minimalistic set puts our focus on the actors and leaves much to the imagination. Clever projections illuminate to indicate when chat room members are online. The venue adds a fitting element of openness and vulnerability, enhancing the show’s emotional impact without keeping the audience at too great a distance.

Quiara Alegría Hudes has written a story about broken people, and the humanity with which she’s brought each character to life is evident under Steven David Martin’s compassionate direction. While the ending she has given us is not exactly happy, it is hopeful.

“Water by the Spoonful” challenges us to find the courage to face our own demons and the strength to do better. Redemption and atonement, it suggests, are made possible by the powers of forgiveness and human connection.

Nicole Singley is a Contributor to Aisle Seat Review.


“Water by the Spoonful” by Quiara Alegría Hudes

Raven Performing Arts Theater, 15 North St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

Through May 13, 2018

Tickets: $10-$25

Info: (707) 433-6335,

Recommended for mature audiences

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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ASR Theater Review! Journeying “Into the Woods” with SRJC’s Theatre Arts Department – by Nicole Singley

Santa Rosa Junior College’s production of beloved musical “Into the Woods,” running through May 6th at the Maria Carrillo High School Theatre, enchants audiences with an imaginative mash-up of famous fairy tale figures set to witty tunes by Stephen Sondheim.

Thanks to the curse of a hideous witch (Alanna Weatherby), a baker and his wife (Brett Mollard and Katie Smith) are unable to have the child they so desperately desire. To break the hex, they must venture into the woods to find four ingredients the witch needs to brew a special potion. Their paths soon cross with classic characters like Little Red Riding Hood (Serena Poggi), Cinderella (Ella Park), Rapunzel (Shayla Nordby), and Jack (Levi Sterling), each on a quest of their own.

The first act is fast-paced, funny, and feel-good, wrapping up neatly with the promise of ‘happily ever after.’ In the second chapter, however, all hope for a fairy-tale ending is quickly – and quite literally – crushed. The pace slows and the comedy wanes as we are forced to confront harsh realities in the ‘ever after.’ As our characters soon learn the hard way, getting what we think we want doesn’t always pan out the way we hope it will.

SRJC has assembled an energetic and enthusiastic cast, whose efforts transcended the distraction of some unfortunate technical difficulties at the opening night performance. Smith brings a charming candor and sense of comedic timing to the role of Baker’s Wife, and Mollard aptly matches her charisma. Their convincing banter propels the plot and keeps the laughter coming. Background characters add much to the amusement, too, manifesting as curious rabbits and cleverly-clad deer among other accessory roles. Siobhan Aida O’Reilly delivers a standout performance as Jack’s beloved cow, Milky-White, who at times steals the show with her expressive gestures and winning mannerisms. Victor Santoyo Cruz is hilarious in brief appearances as Hen and Dwarf.

Music drives much of the story’s action, and while Sondheim’s lyrics are sharp and entertaining, the songs often struggle to find their melody. On the whole this troupe rises to the challenge, with noteworthy vocal performances by Weatherby and Cooper Bennett (Cinderella’s Prince not-so-charming). The actors are accompanied by a live off-stage orchestra.

This production is a feast for the eyes thanks to Maryanne Scozzari’s creative, quirky costumes and Peter Crompton’s elaborate and absorbing set, evoking the magic and opulence of grand libraries past. Books act as fluttering birds and rolling shelves transform into horses. Papier-mâché masks are made from pages lined with text, and kitchen gloves become cow udders. Rather than detracting from the action, the visuals are impactful and effectively enhance the story.

Clocking in at around two and a half hours, “Into the Woods” makes for a long but enjoyable night at the theater, and remains family-friendly despite the darker turn things take in Act II.

Nicole Singley is a Contributor to Aisle Seat Review.


“Into the Woods,” by Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts Department

2.5 hours, with one 15-minute intermission

Maria Carrillo High School Theatre, 6975 Montecito Blvd, Santa Rosa, CA 95409

Through May 6, 2018

Tickets: $12-$22

Info: (707) 527-4307,

Recommended for ages 12 and above

Rating: Three-and-a-half out of Five Stars

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ASR Theater Review! “Death of a Salesman” Revived at 6th Street Playhouse – by Nicole Singley

Arthur Miller’s celebrated “Death of a Salesman,” enjoying an extended run through April 28th at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse, tells the tale of washed-up traveling salesman Willy Loman (Charles Siebert) struggling to make sense of his financial and familial failures in mid-twentieth century New York.

Facing constant debt and a crumbling career, Willy’s life is held together only by the loyalty of long-suffering wife Linda (Sheila Lichirie) and generosity of best friend Charley (Al Kaplan). A lifetime of blind idealism and pride has cost him not only the realization of his ‘American Dream,’ but has poisoned his relationship with eldest son and former high school star athlete Biff (Edward McCloud), who, for reasons revealed in a series of painful flashbacks, could not live up to his father’s lofty expectations. Willy’s life unravels before our eyes as we watch him oscillate between outbursts of anger and frustration, succumb to confusion and helplessness, and grasp at the remaining shreds of misguided optimism that had once propelled him forward.

Most of the action occurs at the Loman family’s rundown home, now overshadowed by the towering apartment buildings of Brooklyn’s increasingly crowded skyline. Its drab furnishings and perpetually breaking-down appliances serve as a fitting backdrop for the deteriorating dreams of its inhabitants. This hits home during some of Willy’s eruptions. (“Once in my life I would like to own something outright before it’s broken! ….you pay mortgage for 10 years and more and by the time it’s actually yours, you’re old and so is the house.”) Artistic Director Craig A. Miller and Technical Director Conor Woods have designed a clever set which fluidly transforms into offices, hotel rooms, and restaurants throughout the show.

In the ever-evolving landscape of advancing technology and planned obsolescence, Willy Loman is the enduring portrait of a discarded worker. It is a profoundly relevant story still today, and the cast and crew at 6th Street Playhouse have more than done it justice. Siebert adds another accomplishment to his already impressive resume with a truly first-rate performance, paying homage to Miller’s protagonist in all of his complexities. His dynamic energy is well matched by a capable cast, with notable performances by Lichirie as the admirably patient and pitiable Linda, McCloud as golden-child-turned-black-sheep Biff, and Ariel Zuckerman as younger brother Happy, following in the overly-eager and naïve footsteps of his ailing father. Supporting roles are superbly acted, too, and the result is a cohesive and emotionally impactful experience audiences will not soon forget.

Nicole Singley is a Contributor to Aisle Seat Review.

“Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller

Through April 28, 2018

6th Street Playhouse Studio Theatre, 52 W 6th St, Santa Rosa, CA 95401

Tickets: $18 – $28

Info: 707-523-4185,

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

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Aisle Seat Review! Keeping Up with “The Realistic Joneses” at Left Edge Theatre – by Nicole Singley

The Realistic Joneses, at Left Edge Theatre through March 25th, offers a hilarious and heart-wrenching glimpse into the lives of two couples who share an ordinary last name and an extraordinary fate.

The show opens on Bob (Chris Schloemp) and Jennifer (played ably by the talented Melissa Claire) sitting together in their back yard. Jennifer is struggling to make conversation with her reticent husband when neighborhood newcomers John and Pony barge in with a bottle of wine, eager to make an introduction. The exchange becomes only more strained as awkward small talk strays into the gravely personal.

As the couples’ lives begin to intertwine, unlikely connections form between the characters as they seek solace in each other’s spouses. What unfolds is a darkly comic exploration of the bonds between those who are unable or unwilling to confront life’s biggest hurdles, and those who are left alone to face them.

Chris Ginesi delivers a compelling and nuanced performance as John, eliciting plenty of laughter along the way and a few surprising tears in a heartbreaking revelation to Jennifer. Paige Picard shines as ditzy Pony, who we are not sure whether to pity, adore or detest. And we cannot decide whether to laugh or cringe at Bob’s giddy and bumbling advances toward his new neighbor’s wife. Jennifer acts as the story’s anchor, evoking as much compassion as she offers to her cohorts. At every turn, the cast excels and their chemistry is palpable.

Food for thought about marriage, mortality, coping mechanisms, and human connection, this cleverly written show makes for a highly entertaining and uncomfortable 90 minutes – rife with laughter – that will stay with theatergoers long after the curtain closes.

Nicole Singley is a Contributor to Aisle Seat Review.


“The Realistic Joneses” by Will Eno

Through March 25, 2018

Left Edge Theatre, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Tickets: $25 – $40

Info: 707-536-1620,

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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