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
Websitewww.leftedgetheatre.com
Telephone(707) 546-3600
Tickets$25-$40
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script3.5/5
Stagecraft4/5
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
Websitewww.leftedgetheatre.com
Telephone(707) 546-3600
Tickets$25-$40
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4.5/5
Stagecraft4/5
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.

 

ProductionSwallow
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
Websitewww.mainstagewest.com
Telephone(707) 823-0177
Tickets$15 – $30
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4.5/5
Script3.5/5
Stagecraft4/5
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 Theater

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.

Nicole Singley is a Contributor to Aisle Seat Review.

 

 

 

ProductionPolar Bears
Written byDavid Templeton
Directed byDavid Templeton
Producing CompanyLeft Edge Theater Co.
Production DatesSunday, December 23, 2018 7:00 p.m.
Production AddressLuther Burbank Center for the Arts

50 Mark West Springs Rd. Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Websitewww.leftedgetheatre.com
Telephone707-546-3600
Tickets$25-$40
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4.5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft3.5/5
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
Websitewww.rossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone415. 456.9555
Tickets$15 - $27
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script4.5/5
Stagecraft3.5/5

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
Websitehttp://www.raventheater.org
Telephone707-433-6335
TicketsSee website
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3.5/5
Performance3.5/5
Script3.5/5
Stagecraft3.5/5

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, custommade.org

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, www.sonomaartslive.org

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, www.leftedgetheatre.com

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, custommade.org

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, www.raventheater.org

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, http://theatrearts.santarosa.edu/

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, www.6thstreetplayhouse.com

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, www.leftedgetheatre.com

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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