Monday, July 31, 2006


This appeared in The Davis Enterprise on 7/31/2006

When I interviewed Erik Daniells last month about his fledgling company, “Artistic Differences,” he indicated that his goal was to produce small, lesser-known shows, and to cast them with top notch performers from all over the Davis-Sacramento area, in the hopes of creating quality theater that everyone would want to see.

If the first production, “Falsettos,” now playing at the Hoblit Performing Arts Center, is any indication, “Artistic Differences” should have a long and successful life. Each of the 7 actors is outstanding, the stage direction by Michael RJ Campbell is tight and keeps the show moving at crisp pace.

Gino Platina’s choreography is a delight, from the opening “Four Jews in a Room Bitching” to the hilarious “March of the Falsettos.”

“Falsettos” is, in actuality, the second and third acts (“March of the Falsettos” and “Falsettoland”) of the 1992 Tony Award winning musical, “Marvin Trilogy,” by William Finn. It tells the story of Marvin (Craig Howard), a 30-something Jewish man who has admitted to himself (and to his wife and son) that he is gay. He has taken a lover, Whizzer (Jerry Lee), but because Marvin is a good family man, he decides that Whizzer should move into the family home with his wife Trina (Margaret Hollinbeck) and that they all live as one big happy family. (“I want a tight-knit family,” sings Marvin.)

Not surprisingly, this sets up some conflicts for son Jason (Joey Harris), which brings all into therapy with psychiatrist Mendel (Kevin Caravalho), a situation further complicated by Mendel and Trina becoming romantically involved. Soon Trina and Mendel are engaged, and Whizzer leaves Marvin, which leaves Marvin feeling his perfectly constructed little world is falling apart.

Confused? Don’t be. The plot all hangs together. It’s a show about growing up, whether that takes place at 13 or at 30. It’s sweet and funny, touching, and full of heart. Musically, it’s a knockout.

This cast is exceptional. Craig Howard, as Marvin, handles his complex character with aplomb. Marvin is a man who, over the course of two hours, must grow from an irresponsible, eternally boyish man to one who one who embraces the maturity that the situations in his life demand. His relationship with Whizzer is tender and believable, particularly in their final scene, and he has strong, solid voice.

Jerry Lee is a handsome and endearing Whizzer, who brings depth and realism to the role, particularly “You Gotta Die Sometime,” the defiant cry of a man in his prime facing his own mortality.

Kevin Caravalho as the perpetually addled psychiatrist Mendel radiates electricity on stage. With his goofy glasses and expressive face, he’s provides the perfect comic relief from the very first note. Though supposedly the only “sane” one in the cast, he is riddled with his own eccentricities.

Marvin’s wife Trina is played by Margaret Hollinbeck, who also serves as the show’s vocal director, and may deliver the strongest musical performance of the show. She gives a bravura performance in “I’m Breaking Down,” which displays a wide range of talents, from the comedic to the dramatic.

Joey Harris is charming as Jason, trying to come to grips with the fact that “My father’s a homo,”and watching his family fall apart around him, all the while they are trying to plan his bar mitzvah. Harris is quite convincing as a troubled child trying to make sense of a quirky family.

The lesbians next door, don’t appear until act two. Jessica Stein is the kosher caterer Cordelia, always there to offer hors d’oeuvres to anyone in need. Kristen Wagner is her partner, the doctor, who notes that “something very bad is happening,” hinting at the age of AIDS, without actually saying the word (“Bachelors arrive sick and frightened/They leave, weeks later, unenlightened.”) The two characters add some needed additional humor to the darkening mood of Act 2.

The “teeny tiny band,” under the direction of Erik Daniells provide the perfect accompaniment to the action.

Falsettos is the story of immature people of all ages, with perhaps more quirks than most, confronting difficult situations and learning that one must grow up in order to deal with them.

The cast of the newborn“Artistic Differences” handles this situation with professionalism, maturity and a level of talent which predicts a successful life for the company.

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