ASR Theater ~~ Ross Valley Players Invite “Reservations”

By Cari Lynn Pace

Ross Alternative Works, referred to as RAW, is Ross Valley Players’ selection of an original play by a local playwright. One play is chosen by committee each season, adding a fresh infusion to the company’s four traditional – and typically familiar – productions. Reservations, written by Joe Barison, has a theme capturing what director Michael R. Cohen calls “the absurdity of artistic aspirations.”

The plot line opens with two New York City visitors arriving at the same hotel to find their reservations double-booked. The bellhop (Kara S. Poon) shows Mr. Segal (Evan Held) to a sumptuous room, complete with cool blue walls, lovely antiques, and a balcony. The luxurious set – designed by Venee Call-Ferrer – is a marvel considering the low ceiling limitations of the Ross Valley Players Barn stage.

(L) Michael-Paul Thomsett as Eddie D’Angelo, (R) Maxine Sattizahn as Louis Robinson, (C) Kara S. Poon as Melissa French.

Mr. Segal makes himself at home, and is surprised when Gail Hartman (Tina Traboulsi) is also shown to the same room, lugging her painting and easel. The hotel manager (Michael-Paul Thomsett) arrives, apologizes, and offers a discount coupon for another hotel stay, yet can offer no alternative lodging. With no available hotel rooms in the city, the two strangers size each other up and reluctantly agree to share the room, at least for one night.

“They explore their insecurities about pursuing their creative paths in life…”

Held does an excellent turn as an aspiring writer and frustrated government worker. He is a perfect foil in contrast to Traboulsi in her role as a marginally successful artist who cherishes the view from this overbooked room. These actors master their roles, although the dialog in Act I moves slowly. They explore their insecurities about pursuing their creative paths in life.

Helen Kim as Allison Burnside, Evan Held as Alan Segal at RVP.

Their serious conversations are truncated when Allison (Helen Kim) arrives to surprise her boyfriend. The action picks up in Act II when more characters crowd the room, or rather the balcony. The zaniness provides a pleasant end to this largely philosophical play.

The supporting cast is not quite as convincing as Held and Traboulsi, giving Reservations an uneven feel throughout. Still, it’s a thought-provoking exploration of the paths chosen by creative souls, and worth enjoying.


ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact:


Written byJoe Barison
Directed byMichael R. Cohen
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 2 PM through February 12, 2023
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?----

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ All the Right Notes: MMTC’s Raunchy “Rocky Horror Picture Show”

By Sue Morgan

The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been an audience favorite since it first premiered in London 49 years ago. The production made its US debut in Los Angeles in 1974.

Rocky pays sexually lurid and comical homage to science fiction and horror B movies of the 1930s-60s. After a film version was released in 1975, some independent and art-house theatres began a tradition of showing the film on a weekly basis, usually at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Audience members came dressed as their favorite characters and stood in front of the screen, performing in tandem with the film’s characters, while other members of the audience threw rice and toilet paper and sprayed one another with squirt guns (among other antics) inspired by the action onscreen. Both the film and theatrical versions are often resurrected – pun intended – around Halloween.

…a high energy romp…

The plot follows virginal and naïve newly engaged couple Brad and Janet who, after a flat tire on a stereotypically dark and stormy night, seek assistance at the nearest location, a creepy and foreboding mansion. Arriving drenched and more than a little afraid, they’re greeted at the door by butler-cum-ghoul Riff Raff who lures them into the dwelling with the promise of using the phone.

Mayhem ensues as the master of the house Dr. Frank-N-Furter, mad scientist and self-proclaimed “transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania,” replete in corset, fishnet stockings and outlandishly high heels, appears and invites Brad and Janet to his lab where, he sings, “I’ve been making a man with blond hair and a tan, and he’s good for relieving my tension.” The Frankensteinian man in question is the titular Rocky Horror.

The Marin Musical Theatre Company’s production – performed at Novato Theatre Company – is a high energy romp with exuberantly exaggerated simulated sex acts not at all appropriate for children, but very entertaining for mature audiences, especially those who appreciate camp with a capital C.

Photos by Jere Torkelsen

The show begins with a costume contest (winners get a brief cameo in the production) after which cast members give the audience a dance lesson to induct those new to Rocky into the fine art of performing the “Time Warp,” a raucous number involving expansive gesticulations and pelvic thrusts. The audience is also apprised of the tradition of spectators to heckle the actors during the production by shouting out prescribed and extemporaneous responses prompted by names of characters and other trigger words spoken by members of the cast. These proceedings successfully elevated the energy level in the house, ensuring the audience was excited for what was to come.

The cast was cohesive and mostly convincing in their respective roles. Stephen Kanaski did an outstanding job as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, combining seething sexual panache with the ability to strut like a runway model in ridiculously high heels. Added bonus: he can sing like there’s no tomorrow.

Sleiman El-Ahmadieh nailed his character, Brad, whose awakening from naivety to carnal rapture – and also his transformation from nerdy wimp to insatiable stud – were a pleasure to watch, and among the highlights of the show. Jenny Boynton’s voice and mannerisms were just right for Janet. Standouts characters include the Narrator (sultry Shayla Lawlor), Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s servant Columbia (Harriet Pearl Fugitt), and Magenta (Anna Vorperian), incestuous sibling of Riff Raff (Nelson Brown ). They all did fine work anchoring each scene with their sexy antics and wonderful vocal abilities.

Brown was appropriately creepy as Frank-N-Furter’s handyman/henchman, especially when fondling his sibling, Magenta. Ken Adams showed his wonderful versatility as wheelchair-bound Dr. Scott and biker/rocker/undead lover of Columbia, Eddie. Had I not anticipated having Rocky portrayed as a muscle-bound blond god in gold lame briefs, I would have loved Anne Clark’s female version, with her vacuous physicality and almost innocent sexuality. Ensemble members added a wonderful energy and vitality to the overall production. The addition of their voices helped each song reach an almost fever pitch of intensity.

“Rocky Horror” cast at work! Photos by Jere Torkelsen

Jenny Boynton’s spot-on choice of actors and direction made the production sizzle, as did Katie Wickes’ choreography. The spare setting worked within the parameters of the production. Daniel Savio’s musical direction was on point and all members of the band performed well. Krista Lee’s costuming was wonderfully true to the original show and film. Sound mixing by Simon Eves and lighting design by Michael Kessell lent a wonderful sinister ambience to the production.

Audience members are encouraged to dress in costume, to contribute to heckling the cast, and are given a list of suggested items to bring to the show in order to fully immerse themselves in the Rocky Horror Show experience. If you love over-the-top, sexually explicit, profanity-laced, hard-rocking theatre this show is for you!

Masks and proof of vaccination are required. Remember, no children allowed!


Contributing Writer Sue Morgan is a literature-and-theater enthusiast in Sonoma County’s Russian River region. Contact:



ProductionThe Rocky Horror Show!
Written byRichard O’Brien
Directed byJenny Boynton
Producing CompanyMarin Musical Theater Company
Production DatesThru Oct. 31st
Production AddressNovato Theatre Co.
5420 Nave Dr. Novato, CA 94949
Tickets$35 – $60
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?Yes!

Pick! ASR Theater ~~ Transcendence Theatre’s “The Gala”—Truly a Night to Remember

By Sue Morgan

The setting sun illuminated dramatic, pink-tinged clouds as the audience took their seats beneath the open sky in Transcendence Theatre Company’s outdoor performance venue at Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen. The air was balmy and redwoods, silhouetted against the twilit firmament, perfectly framed the vineyard below. So began a magical evening as the performers took the stage for TTC’s final performance of the summer season: “The Gala.”

Hard to believe that director and choreographer Chip Abbot, associate director Billy Bustamonte, musical director Matt Smart and the rest of the creative team could surpass the excellence of Transcendence’s earlier productions “Let’s Dance” and “Hooray for Hollywood,” but “The Gala” is nothing short of a stunner! The talent and artistry on display were Broadway quality throughout .

…Choreography throughout the evening was tight, expressive and polished…

It would be too difficult to comment on the highlights of every outstanding performance during Sunday night’s show. Suffice it to say that nearly every number was a show-stopper! The opener, “on Broadway,” performed by the entire ensemble, was energetic, precise and joyful, promising wonderful things to come.

#317: (l to r) Kathleen Laituri, Ben Lanham, Colin Campbell McAdoo, & Ruby Lewis. Photo Credit: Ray Mabry Photography

“Beautiful City” from “Godspell” seemed written to showcase frequent Broadway performer Jesse Nager’s gorgeously smooth tenor. Resonating with gentle power and a palpable sense of yearning, Nager held the audience in thrall throughout the performance. Without the impediment of a ceiling, Nager’s vocals were remarkably crisp and soared unencumbered into the night sky. As the final notes slowly faded, twilight gave way to night, as if scripted. A truly transcendent experience!

Jesse delivered again, along with veteran Transcendence performers Colin Campbell McAdoo and Kyle Kemph, with an extraordinarily moving performance of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Other standout vocal performances (again, among dozens!) were Ruby Lewis in “It All Fades Away” and Colin Campbell McAdoo and Ruby Lewis in “Shallow.” Upbeat songs were frequently followed by ballads, which lent a nice balance to both sets in the show.

The Gala Company. Photo Credit: Rob Martel

Choreography throughout the evening was tight, expressive and polished, with the dancers making even the most intricate moves seem almost effortless! Again, there were too many memorable numbers to enumerate, but I must mention the exquisite interpretive dances performed by Kathleen Laituri and Ben Lanham as well as the wonderful moves (and vocals) performed by Cecil Washington Jr., Colin Campbell McAdoo, Jesse Nager, and Kyle Kemph in the wonderful Four Seasons medley.

Lighting and sound were solid, with nary a hiccup to interrupt the flow. This production was outstanding in every respect and every member of the audience I spoke with said they were delighted and surprised by the enormity of talent on display throughout the evening. This was indeed “the best night ever!”

(l to r) Cecil Washington Jr., Colin Campbell McAdoo, Jesse Nager, & Kyle Kemph. Photo Credit: Ray Mabry Photography

In its 11th year, Transcendence Theatre continues to raise the bar as they bring ever greater talent and vitality to Sonoma County Wine Country. The non-profit company, founded by Artistic Director Amy Miller, and husband, Executive Director Brad Surosky, has been instrumental in supporting Jack London State Park by providing over $675,000 in much-needed donations to sustain the beloved historical landmark. The duo informed the audience of a matching grant that would provide $500k in additional funding if the company is able to raise commitments of $500k in donations by the end of October and have donations in-hand by the end of the year—a deeply worthy cause.

“The Gala” begins at 7:30 but come early to enjoy a picnic supper (food vendors are on site for those who prefer not to bring their own) and wine and beer provided by Transcendence sponsors while listening to acoustic music in the lawn area. Remember to bring a sweater or lap blanket, as the temperature can drop after the sun goes down.

Tickets range from $25 to $165 for VIP seating (which includes wine tickets, premium seating, and priority parking). Masks are recommended but not required.


Contributing Writer Sue Morgan is a literature-and-theater enthusiast in Sonoma County’s Russian River region. Contact:



ProductionThe Gala
Written byTranscendence Theater Co.
Directed &
Choreographed by
Chip Abbot
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesThru September 18th
Production AddressJack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen

2400 London Ranch Road, Sonoma
Telephone(877) 424-1414
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ RVP’s “Picnic” a Feast of Acting Talent

By Cari Lynn Pace

Ross Valley Players takes a brave jump from their usual lighthearted productions to bring the mid-century classic “Picnic” to the stage.

William Inge situated his 1953 Pulitzer-prize winning drama in a dusty Kansas town not far from the train tracks. “Picnic” is a period piece, a slow-moving unfolding of womenfolk who share a backyard and reveal their varied emotional shackles. Widow Helen Potts (veteran Tamar Cohn) has hired Hal, a hunky young drifter, to help her with chores. Hal possesses both animal magnetism and a body budding with muscles. Whenever Hal appears, perfectly portrayed by Max Carpenter, the febrile women bite their lips and sigh.

Helen’s next-door neighbor Flo is a controlling mother (superbly channeled by Tori Truss) who urges her pretty eldest daughter Madge to ensnare Alan (Evan Held), the town’s eligible bachelor. Madge acts compliant but is conflicted by her own perceived limitations. Dale Leonheart enacts her delicate role, balancing eagerness and wistfulness, all the while listening for the whistles of distant trains.

…“Picnic” is a period piece, a slow-moving unfolding of womenfolk who share a backyard and reveal their varied emotional shackles.

Flo pays scant attention to her studious tomboy daughter Millie, a role captured with youthful impatience by Lizzy Bies. Flo’s two daughters have a rivalry common to close-age siblings. Bies admirably remains in character throughout her performance, even when she has no lines onstage.

Lizzie Bies is terrific as Milly Owens. Dale Leonheart as Madge Owens.

Into the backyard enters Rosemary (Valerie Weak), Flo’s house boarder, a prim and proper schoolteacher with buttoned up suit and perfectly aligned seamed stockings. Weak skillfully enacts this role, emphasizing Rosemary’s aloofness. From Act I to Act IV, Rosemary morphs from a self-proclaimed independent female to one desperate to get married. Her reasons for becoming so aren’t clear, but her need to get married propels the play’s secondary plot.

…Inge’s dramatic script is an edgy slice of life, and no picnic for the characters.

Madge’s boyfriend Alan appears—handsome, respectful and reserved, played understatedly by Held. Alan recognizes the drifter Hal as his former college buddy, and their joyful reunion provides a laugh-out-loud highlight.

It’s not the only amusing scene in this drama, thanks to Steve Price in the role of Howard, Rosemary’s sweetheart. Price has the capacity to be a larger-than-life comedic presence, but he keeps it mostly real in this production. Howard cajoles the staid Rosemary to take a swig of his illegal booze. He shares his booty with eager Hal, and young Millie sneaks in a few swigs too. The combustion begins when one buzzed and desperate spinster wants to dance with a virile hunk.

Tory Truss as Flo Owens with Dale Leonheart.

RVP made a good choice choosing director Adrian Elfenbaum and adding two Equity actors to their cadre of talented local actors. RVP’s masterful casting choices secure the believability and success of this production. Elfenbaum’s direction keeps each character’s performance in balance with the ensemble.

Opening night had bits of hesitation with the actors’ lines, perhaps due to opening-night jitters, but that will surely dissipate. This period piece moves at a slow pace, and at two and a half hours might benefit by trimming a few scenes, but overall it’s a tremendous production.


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











Written byWilliam Inge
Directed byAdrian Elfenbaum
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru October 9, 2022
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily”: Ross Valley Players Blends Fantasy with Reality

By Cari Lynn Pace

A Sherlock Holmes fan, I was a bit hesitant when Ross Valley Players presented “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily.” Would it hold up to the reputation so solidly laid by the clever detective’s reputation? Would there be mental challenges to determine how Holmes knew a visitor’s occupation, history, or personal habits just by scientific observation?

No worries here. Playwright Katie Forgette has written enough clever observations for Holmes to satisfy classic fans. Veteran Director Phoebe Moyer has expertly cast a full complement of victims, villains, and simpletons to play several famous touchstone characters. The lead character could not be better cast than David L. Yen, a Bay Area favorite and an incredible personification of the famed detective. His voice and his cultivated manner channel savvy Sherlock, pipe and all.

“Playwright Katie Forgette has written enough clever observations for Holmes to satisfy classic fans.”

“Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily” opens with a quick side glimpse of a robbery. The real plot starts in Holmes’ study, handsomely designed by Tom O’Brien, where Holmes and the affable Dr. Watson, solidly enacted by Alex Ross, receive an odd visitor.

Sherlock Holmes is in residence at RVP! — Photo by Robin Jackson

At first the proposed crime adventure appears straightforward: Holmes’ client, now revealed, seeks to avoid blackmail by recovering a cache of stolen love letters. The client is famous actress Lillie Langtree (beautifully played by Ellen Brooks) who’s had an affair with her royal lover, Britain’s Crown Prince “Bertie” Edward. Lillie’s own moniker “The Jersey Lily” stems from her birth on Jersey Island in the UK.

“As details of the crime are discussed, there are twists and turns uncovered. The plot thickens, and the game’s afoot!”

Lillie’s friend and devotee, Oscar Wilde, tags along, languidly played by Isaak Heath. He adds comic relief to the repartee between Holmes, Lillie, and Dr. Watson. As details of the crime are discussed, there are twists and turns uncovered. The plot thickens, and “the game’s afoot!”

The stage setting changes to Lillie’s sitting room, a charming transformation done by two stage hands dressed as proper maids, an example of Michael A. Berg’s cleverness as costume designer.

Holmes and Langtry at RVP — Photo by Robin Jackson

Act II takes place in a warehouse where the nefarious Professor Moriarty (Michel B. Harris) outlines his plans to mastermind another theft from Lillie. It’s this act that gives Tamar Cohn a chance to shine as Lillie’s supposed maidservant. Cohn’s acting chops are superb. Professor Moriarty’s hired thug (Joseph Alvarado) also turns in a terrific performance as a fumbling dumbbell. Alvarado doubles up his roles in a cameo as the regal emissary to the Queen, a convincing switch of characters.

“Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily” runs 2 hours and 20 minutes. The second act could be tightened up, as several of the scenes were prolonged. The playwright delivers an ending, actually several endings, which seem less than believable, but then it’s a fictional work after all.

The show delivers pure escape entertainment, mingling fictional with actual people of history. It’s an enjoyable night out, especially filled with surprises and a real sword fight.

Covid Protocols: In keeping with public health protocols, Ross Valley Players note that all actors, stage crew, and volunteers are fully vaccinated. Audience attendees are required to show ID and proof of full vaccinations at the door. Masks must be worn at all times inside the theatre.


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








ProductionSherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily
Written byKatie Forgette
Directed byPhoebe Moyer
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru February 20th
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Telephone415. 383-1100
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!


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?-----

An Aisle Seat Review: Past and Present Collide in MTC’s “Noura” – by Barry Willis

David and Ibrahim (Photo Credit: Kevin Berne)

An Iraqi immigrant family finds a Christmas holiday gathering and promise of a bright future sullied by the momentum of the past in Heather Raffo’s “Noura,” at Marin Theatre Company through February 9. 

Escapees from the destroyed city of Mosul, the family of three—Noura, her husband Tareq, and their young son Yazen—share a spacious New York City apartment, one decorated with an oversized Christmas tree but little else. Their space (set design by Adam Rigg) has the disheveled, semi-organized look of a temporary refugee camp, a reflection of Noura’s sense of disconnectedness despite the fact that her family has been in the US eight years, and has gained American citizenship and Anglicized names so that they might be better assimilated. Easier said than achieved, as this fascinating if uneven production proves over the course of its approximately ninety minutes.

The Christmas season is especially difficult for Noura (Denmo Ibrahim), who longs for the life she knew in her home city—family, friends, neighbors of multiple ethnicities and religions— an extended community that was destroyed in the wake of the US invasion. Tareq (Mattico David) is an emergency room physician who seems pretty much Americanized until confronted by the arrival of a holiday visitor, Maryam (Maya Nazzal), a fellow refugee they’ve been sponsoring who shares complicated ties to their past lives in Mosul. Her impending arrival is a source of anxiety for Noura as she makes preparations. A physics student in California, young Maryam hopes to land a job as a weapons designer with the US Department of Defense.  

Ibrahim beautifully portrays her character’s abiding sense of loss and ambiguity . . .”

Maryam’s aspirations don’t seem to have any effect on Noura and Tareq, nor on their doctor friend Rafa’a (Abraham Makany), also an exile from Mosul, but the fact that she is unmarried and pregnant—both by choice—throws Tareq into a tailspin. An independent young woman with no apparent need for a man is a situation he simply can’t cope with: thousands of years of macho Arab culture upended by one modern independent feminist, resounding proof that they’ve left the old world behind. The emotional repercussions from this and other conflicts resonate off the stage and into the audience as the four adults and one boy (Valentino Herrera) struggle to make the holiday a pleasant one. 

The Cast of MTC’s “Noura” (Photo Credit: Kevin Berne)

All four adult actors are excellent. Ibrahim and David in particular are able to mine emotional nuances that actors with lesser skills might not manage. Some of their dramatic expertise must certainly be the work of director Kate Bergstrom, but there are holes in the story that detract from its intended effect. Why, for example, do these Iraqi-Americans not raise even one word of dismay over Maryam’s stated career agenda, when their entire country was demolished by high-tech weaponry and the medieval mentality behind it? Tareq must make a decent income from his emergency room work, but they still can’t afford some basic furniture? Then there are Noura’s recurring smoke-filled reveries of the life she once knew, with no counterbalancing embrace of the future’s potential. 

Noura lives in limbo between then and now, unable to let go and unwilling to move on. It’s a heartbreaking situation, the immigrant’s plight, one not understood by Americans intent on “reaching closure” as quickly and painlessly as possible. Ibrahim beautifully portrays her character’s abiding sense of loss and ambiguity, repeated several times with minor variations in the extended final scene. Playwright Raffo might better have chosen one powerful statement and let the curtain fall, rather than hammer the audience with what they’ve already learned is Noura’s unhappy truth. Not that the story needs to be tied up in a tidy little bundle of happy-ever-afterness, but a clear ending would enhance the play’s impact.

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:


Written byHeather Raffo
Directed byKate Bergstrom
Producing CompanyMarin Theatre Company (MTC)
Production DatesThrough February 9th
Production AddressMarin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA
Telephone(415) 388-5200
Tickets$25 – $70
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 THEATRE REVIEW: “Jazz” Dissects Life to Imitate Music at MTC – by Cari Pace

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

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

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

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

Just let it waft over and enjoy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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