Thursday, May 17, 2018

Airness

From left, John Lamb, Same Kebede, Peter Story and Josh Bonzie
are air-guitar rockers in B Street Theatre's “Airness.”
Rudy Meyers Photography/Courtesy photo

How much, if anything, do you know about the art of the air guitar? You have probably seen someone pretending to play the guitar, without an instrument, but is it really “air guitar.”

Chelsea Marcantel, the author of a play called “Airness,” now at B Street Theatre’s “The Sofia,” is not an air guitarist and admits that she had no idea such a thing existed, and when she learned of it thought, “This is the dumbest thing in the world.” As she learned more, she began to appreciate the performance art and “fell in love with that world.”

So don’t discount this fun play out of hand because you think you know what it will be like. I, too, thought this was “the dumbest thing in the world,” but feel like I had a master class in that world watching “Airness.” I won’t say I’m a convert, but I certainly have a new appreciation for the art than I did before seeing this show.

U.S. Air Guitar is the national association of air-guitar artists, whose mission is to send American representation to the International Air Guitar Competition in Finland each year. Competitions are held in a dozen or so cities around the country, each of which picks a winner to join with the other winners and travel to Finland to compete in the final. (Why Finland? Who knows?!)

We meet Nina (Stephanie Altholz), a real guitarist trying to get over a broken heart, who decides to compete in the Chicago competition and figures she has an edge because she already knows how to play the guitar, but she learns from Shreddy Eddy (Peter Story), Golden Thunder (Sam Kebede), Facebender (John Lamb) and Cannibal Queen (Tara Sissom) that air guitar is much more than just pretending to play a guitar. It’s the ability to translate your dreams of becoming a rock star, in 60 seconds, into something that the audience can see and rock out to.

What may seem ridiculous on the surface has real depth and artistry and Nina is having a difficult time grasping that. But she begins to bond with the little community. “We are all each other’s biggest fans.”

Kebede sparkles as Golden Thunder, in his shopworn golden cape and unfailing bravado. His acts get grander and grander, most memorable in his salute to the American flag. Try to forget that!

Lamb is perhaps the heart of the story, the oldest of the group who gets his personal self-worth from what he does, be-wigged, on the air-guitar stage, since he doesn’t get it in his off-stage life.

In his Facebender persona, he speaks in sonnets, which disappear when the costume comes off. His daughter has never seen him perform and the thought of her coming is enough to send him into an apoplexy of anxiety.

Sissom delivers a sizzling performance as Cannibal Queen. She has fought to be considered an equal among these men — and she has. Her performances ooze power.

She and Nina are oil and water from the start, since she is now dating the man who broke Nina’s heart, and what she teaches Nina about that relationship will shape her future as an air guitarist.

Peter Story’s Shreddy Eddy is fairly low-key, as he becomes a mentor for Nina but when he lets rip on stage, he’s unstoppable. “We share the common dedication of the air guitar world: to share world peace.”

Josh Bonzie is David D’Vicious, the reigning king of the air-guitar world, and Nina’s ex. He strides on stage with bravado, knowing he is the king and will be the king. Bonzie delivers a powerful performance and shows how brutal competition can be.

A search through the program reveals that Wade McKenzie-Bahr and Dylan Ballesteros are the theater technicians, who made the many scene changes so much fun and really were almost as much a part of the play as the actors themselves.

They say that we can keep our brains active by learning a new thing every day. Do yourself a favor by heading to The Sofia and learning about air guitar. You’ll have great fun in the process.

On June 9, B Street is hosting an official US Air Guitar Qualifier in Upstairs at the B. The winner will head to Brooklyn, N.Y., and attempt to win the national championship.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Marjorie Prime


Brock D. Vickers and Janis Stevens are spot-on in their compelling roles in
Capital Stage's “Marjorie Prime,” running through June 3. Courtesy photo

 As we all age, and the threat of dementia or Alzheimer’s looms, we fear losing all of our precious memories. What if science could ensure that we could keep those memories?

“Marjorie Prime,” a play by Jordan Harrison now at Capital Stage, deals with just such fears and how future science can help. It is science fiction and reality mixed with humor, but not really a comedy.

This production is directed by Stephanie Gularte, co-founder of Capital Stage, who left Sacramento in 2014 to become producing artistic director of American Stage Theatre Company in St. Petersburg, Fla. This is the first ever co-production with American Stage, which ended its run of this show on April 1 before moving the show, actors and all, to Sacramento (two of the cast are from Florida and two from Sacramento).

The audience greeted Gularte with a standing ovation when she came onto the stage with Michael Stevenson, Capital Stage producing artistic director, to give an introduction to the production.

Marjorie is a widow in her mid-80s who is in the middle stages of dementia. Her new companion is “Walter Prime,” a holographic creation that looks and speaks like her late husband, Walter. He helps Marjorie cope, in part by gradually erasing some details of her past and adding more pleasant memories.

Janis Stevens is Marjorie and has perfected the persona of an older woman who still has a thin grasp on her memories, but realizes they are slipping away. Her body language, the way she holds her hands, the way she speaks is spot-on.

As the play begins, Marjorie is talking with a handsome young man named Walter (Brock D. Vickers). As the action progresses, we learn that this is really “Walter Prime,” a holographic version of her husband when he was young and handsome. He is there to remind her of the past and tell her stories of their life together. It is difficult to tell holographic Walter from real Walter until he hits a bit of information that he has not learned yet, and then you can see him processing it and adding it to his database.

When Walter Prime can’t answer a question because that bit of data hasn’t been programmed yet, Marjorie complains and he responds, “I sound like whoever I talk to.” This is, perhaps, the most important message of this play — remembering the past is not the same as reliving it and the Primes can only share memories that they have been programmed to remember.

Marjorie lives with her daughter Tess (Jamie Jones) and her husband Jon (Steven Sean Garland). Tess struggles with “losing” her mother as more and more of her memory disappears and jealousy of Walter Prime, who is more important to Marjorie than Tess is. Jones gives a wonderful performance as the daughter on the edge, loving her mother, but hating her for not being the mother that she was.

Garland plays Jon as the calming influence between supporting his wife and comforting his mother-in-law.

We then see Marjorie looking younger and brighter, and sitting on the couch chatting with Tess. As the conversation progresses, we realize that Marjorie has died and this is Marjorie Prime, who is there to hold the memories for Tess, who hasn’t been in favor of the holograms, but now finds comfort in being able to speak with her mother’s Prime even though she’s angry that it’s not really her mother.

The final scene is one of those that leaves lots of questions, lots of “what happens next?” And isn’t that the sign of a great play — one that makes you want to dissect it long after it has ended?


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Jack of Diamonds

photo is courtesy of EMH Productions with Deborah Shalohoub and Lew Rooker   
Jack of Diamonds, a retirement home comedy by Marcia Kash and Douglas E. Hughes examines the lives of five residents of an upscale retirement community, who have just learned that their broker has lost their life savings in a Ponzi scheme.  The show is just plain silly, with laughs a-plenty as the crew tries to figure out how to stay in their expensive community. (There are lots of fart jokes, and bathroom jokes)

Lew Rooker is the Jack of the title, one of those TV-jewelers, with a stash of Viagra in his back pocket and an eye for Blanche (Katherine Muris), the narcoleptic woman who passes out at odd moments.

Deborah Shalhoub is Rose, a visually-challenged woman with laxatives in her purse.  Rose is addicted to the Internet.

Georgann Wallace is Flora, who suffers from dementia, but who makes beautiful jewelry.

Ryan Boyd is Barney Effward (great name), the guy who lost the money, now hiding in the retirement community pretending to be catatonic.  There are lots of funny discussions about what to do with him.

Elise Hodge is Nurse Harper, the rigid care giver, who runs the community more like a prison.  Hodge is also producer, co-director, and set designer of this production

Chas Weiss plays three small parts and is especially good as a germaphobic attorney.

Corey Morris is the director who keeps all the craziness going and who greets each patron as if he is welcoming them to their new home.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Gutenberg! the Musical!

There’s a new sheriff in town. Or at least a new theater company. Bike City Theatre Company is a promising new group, whose goal is to bring new works — dramatic and comedic, as well as improv and sketch comedy — to Davis.

The first production, “Gutenberg! The Musical!” is a zany comedy that definitely delivers on the promise to bring comedic works to Davis.

“Gutenberg!” is a musical written by Scott Brown and Anthony King. Brown and King developed the show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City, where it ran for more than a year, then transferred to The Actors’ Playhouse on Jan. 16, 2007. The production closed on May 6, 2007. It was nominated for four awards for book and music.

Bike City is not your usual company, as one discovers upon picking up tickets, where you learn that in keeping with their philosophy of saving the environment, there are no printed programs available. Either print your own from their website before coming to the theater, or you scan the QR code on the wall of the theater to get the program on your cell phone.

There are also no real “sets,” but milk cartons and cardboard covered with newsprint to serve as guidelines. Scenographer Heidi Voekler gets high marks for creativity. There is no credit given for costumes, but whoever chose Kevin Gish’s tie was inspired.

Bike City has no home theater, so this show is being performed in several locations. We saw it at Root of Happiness Kava Bar. Other locations are Sudwerk and Super Owl breweries, Watermelon Music and the Pence Gallery. The idea is to bring theater to people who might not otherwise go to theater, explained Artistic Director J.R. Yancher.

“Gutenberg! The Musical!” is a 90-minute, two-person comedy and features Doug (Gish) and Bud (Kyle Stoner) as enthusiastic playwrights who have written a musical about the inventor of the printing press. We, the audience, have been invited to a backer’s audition, where the playwrights are looking for funding to bring the show to Broadway.

Gish and Stoner are two actors with excellent dentition (one can’t help but notice when sitting in the front row, inches from the stage!) who have seemingly inexhaustible energy as they race through the story, playing some 20-plus different characters (each with his or her own unique hat, labeled to avoid confusion). The playwrights admit that their extensive Google search yielded little information on Johannes Gutenberg, so this play is made from alternative facts.

Gutenberg lives in the fictitious town of Schlimmer, Germany and is a vintner who can’t seem to make a living plying his trade. He notices that nobody in the town can read and this is causing problems, such as the death of a baby (“dead baby” is one of the characters) because his mother gave him jelly beans instead of medicine because she couldn’t read the label (“Jelly beans, not medicine/If only I could read,” she sings).

The music in this show is fun and catchy, but totally forgettable. We didn’t go home humming “Gutenberg/darn tootin’-berg/he’s the best chap around sure as shootin’-berg” or the beef-fat trimmer’s song, “The sun it rises in the east/I smell bread rising with the yeast” — but we loved hearing them.

Gutenberg’s assistant is the lovely Helvetica, who spends her time stomping grapes and pining away for the love of her boss. Gutenberg has an epiphany and decides to convert his grape press into a printing press and help the town become literate. But will the evil “monk” — who does not want the people to read, so he can interpret the Biblical word of God to be anything he wants it to be — succeed in destroying the printing press?

There is so much cleverness in this comedy. For example, when there is a meeting in the town square, the two men don all of the hats and, as they speak out as one character or the other, toss the top hat aside and become the next character. There is also a dance number that features a kick line of five dancers, which must be seen to be believed.

This show is just fun from start to finish — and may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience if the theater company finds its own stage. For the time being, being “homeless and wandering” doesn’t seem to have any adverse effect on this talented company at all.

You will have to go to the Bike City Theatre website to get information about venues and tickets. But, trust me, you won’t be sorry.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

B Street’s production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” adapted by Le Clanche du Rand and directed by Jerry Montoya has been so popular that its run has been extended to May 6. 

The 55 minute production takes place in the larger of the two theaters in B Street’s new complex, “The Sofia,” a room which is large, warm, and very comfortable. 

In addition to its regular performances, B Street also offers free performances of this play for Sacramento area school children during the week, two performances a day.  I arrived between the 10:00 and 11:30 performances and found a fleet of school buses outside the theater and what seemed like thousands of children in the lobby of the building.

The theater seats 386 and was nearly full of children from very small kindergartners to high schoolers, all of whom were surprisingly well behaved.

There is a cast of two, Dana Brooke and John Lamb, who are listed as Lucy and Peter (two of the Pevensie children) but who actually play all the characters, changing costumes, wigs, and voices as the act out the story of the children who go through a wardrobe into the magical world of Narnia, where they have adventures before returning to the wardrobe.

I was happy I had recently read the book because I think it might have been more difficult to follow the plot if I didn’t already know it.  Brooke, as the White Witch is particularly difficult to follow due to a reverb use in her microphone which gave her voice a creepy quality that my ears could not understand much of the time.

However, the kids loved it and the intermittent inclusion of the audience to answer questions brought them into the story beautifully.  When Peter and Lucy travel to find the lion Aslan’s table (which has great significance in the story), for example, their travels take them all through the audience before finally landing them back on stage.

It is essentially a bare stage, with no complicated scenery, which set designer Samantha Reno has filled with drawings to represent the various scenes, which are projected on the back wall.  From the moment the large beautiful English manor house where the children are visiting appears on the screen, one knew that sets weren’t really going to be necessary.  In fact, this production fits beautifully with the type of children’s theater that B Street has performed since 1986, which allows a child’s imagination to soar with the assistance of two excellent story tellers.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is fun for all ages, but don’t be afraid to take the very little ones (5 and older) and enjoy the show together.



Thursday, April 26, 2018

Guys and Dolls


One of the best things about Davis Musical Theatre Company’s new production of “Guys and Dolls” was seeing co-producer, musical director, set, light and sound designer Steve Isaacson in the major role of Nathan Detroit (played by Frank Sinatra in the movie).

Isaacson has been sidelined for a long time with physical problems and it’s great to see him on stage again, in such a big part. And who better to play a New York wise-cracking scoundrel than a former New Yorker. Detroit runs the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York.”

Jan Isaacson is co-producer, director and choreographer, making this show a real family affair. Isaacson has become a very good choreographer and knows how to work with dancers and non-dancers and make everyone look good.

“Guys and Dolls” is an adaptation of several Damon Runyon stories written in the 1920s and ’30s, of a fictional group of saints (missionaries) and sinners (gamblers) and is filled with familiar songs that seem to have been around forever, such as “A Bushel and a Peck,” “If I Were a Bell,” and “Luck Be a Lady.” The music is by Frank Loesser and the book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.

While there are several good performances in this production, outstanding is a newcomer to DMTC, Bridget Styles as Miss Adelaide (“the famous fiancee”), who has been engaged to Nathan for 14 years and still hopes for a wedding some day.

Styles is perfect, without going overboard, as it is so easy to do when portraying the bleach-blonde prohibition-era showgirl at the Hot Box. She is particularly good when describing the psychological effects on the body of unrequited love (“Adelaide’s Lament”).

Jori Gonzales is the idealistic, but sheltered missionary Sarah Brown, head of Broadway’s Save-a-Soul mission, determined to bring new souls to God. She is confused by her attraction to Sky Masterson (Tate Pollack, also making his DMTC debut) and is surprised to learn she has an adventurous side when Masterson convinces her to accompany him on a wild night in Havana.

Sarah’s grandfather, Arvide Abernathy is a warm-hearted missionary, with only Sarah’s good as his primary concern. Don Draughon gives a lovely soliloquy in “More I Cannot Wish You.”

Among the group of Nathan’s cronies is Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Hugo Figueroa, who, according to his program bio, is only 24 years old, but who has appeared in 26 DMTC shows). Nicely-Nicely has the show stopping “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” and sets all toes to tapping.

Mary Young, who has been with DMTC for 33 years, gives a spirited performance as General Cartwright, in town to assess the mission to see if it should be shut down or not.

Isaacson got a little carried away with the lighting design for this show, mostly with overuse of the follow spotlight which was occasionally distracting.

Jean Henderson had fun with the costumes, particularly those for the show girls at the nightclub, and also for the ensemble in the opening number, where each costume nicely explains who each person is without the need for words.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Hairspray`


Do you have fake-news fatigue? Are you tired of tweets? Are you throwing things at TV talking heads? I have the perfect solution for you.

Get on over to Woodland and see the fabulous, high-spirited production of “Hairspray,” directed by Angela Baltezore. There is not a weak spot in this show, there are incredibly good actors, and in the end you’ll want to raise your hands in the air, with the cast, in the manner of last-act finale. You’ll go home humming “You can’t top the beat.”

“Hairspray” is the story of Tracy Turnblad, a zaftig teenager who is a fan of the 1960s American Bandstand-type show, “The Corny Collins Show.” She auditions for a spot on the show, wins and becomes an overnight celebrity — to the consternation of the show’s producer, who is also an avid stage mother pushing her daughter to eventual stardom.

Can Tracy, who has a wonderful heart, stay the course and succeed in integrating the all-white show so her friends from the African-American community can dance with her?

The success of this show depends in large measure on Tracy and her mother, Edna. Carlie Robinson is making her Opera House debut as Tracy. She has an infectious smile that brightens the room and her ebullience makes her impossible to ignore. It’s a perfect casting. She is militantly cheerful, even when things are at their most bleak.

When the John Waters non-musical stage play opened on Broadway in 1988, it starred drag queen Divine in the gender-bending role of Edna, Tracy’s mother. When Mark O’Donnell, Thomas Meehan and Marc Shaiman turned it into a musical (which won eight Tony Awards), Harvey Fierstein took on the role of Edna, (one of the Tonys). When a movie of the musical was made in 2007, John Travolta played Edna, but his performance was always “John Travolta-plays-Edna” and he never really believably became the character.

The same cannot be said for Jason Hammond who is outstanding as the mother who has not left her home in years because she’s ashamed of her weight. She makes her living by doing laundry for others. She loves and is protective of her daughter and her relationship with husband Wilbur (Bob Cooner) is beautiful to see. Their duet, “You’re Timeless to Me” was such a hit that they did an encore.

Tracy’s best friend Penny is played by the talented Katie Halls, who, though she is a second banana to Tracy, makes the most of her scenes, particularly those with “Seaweed” (Michael-David Smith), the “Negro” who becomes her dancing partner and love interest. Both Halls and Smith give powerful performances.

Deborah Hammond (Jason’s real-life wife) is Motormouth Maybelle, the owner of a downtown record shop and the host of “Negro Day” (once a month) on “The Corny Collins Show.” Hammond has a set of pipes that will tear the roof off of the Opera House and her “I Know Where I’ve Been” brought cheers from the audience.

Patricia Glass is Velma, the villainess of the piece. She is mother to Amber (McKinley Carlisle) and determined to keep her daughter in the spotlight, but she sees Tracy as a threat. Often her songs, sung with sneered lips, are reminiscent of some of the Disney villainesses, like Cruella de Vil, and she succeeds at being detestable.

Amber is a spoiled brat who thinks the sun rises and sets on her and can’t stand Tracy stealing not only her thunder, but also her boyfriend Link (Ryan Everitt), the hunk with a heart who realizes that there are things more important than being the star of a music show.

Choreography by Staci Arriaga is wonderful and executed flawlessly by the 29-person cast. More than one person in the audience got up to dance with the cast during the finale.

Set design by Craig and Joey Vincent works beautifully and the TV set for the final scene is perfect.

Denise Miles has created some beautiful costumes, particularly those for Edna.

I promise that as you leave the theater there will only be happy thoughts in your head and you will turn to each other, as my husband did to me, with only one word to describe it all: “Wow!”