Thursday, October 31, 2013


Double, double, toil and trouble…

Something wicked this way comes.

Just in time for the season, Capital Stage has opened a powerful new production of Shakespeare’s classic Halloween special, “Macbeth,” with original adapted script by Capital Stage. (Of course, I don’t think Shakespeare intended it to be a Halloween special, but with witches and all that blood, what could possibly be better for the season?)

This study of a descent into madness — brought on by greed and ambition and fueled by a few murders and lots of blood dripping onto the stage — is directed by Stephanie Gularte.

The setting for this show is described a “a homeland, 13 years after a devastating global war,” so guessing the approximate year is useless, but the costumes (by Rachel Malin) probably could be found at some survivalist store today (though apparently in this global war, all weapons of mass destruction have disappeared, since all weapons in this production are swords and daggers).

Gularte has a superb cast headed by the Bryan Cranston look-alike Scott Coopwood, as the title character. It took a bit mental adjustment not to see Coopwood as the “Breaking Bad” anti-hero, Walter White, playing the role.

Coopwood’s performance was extremely powerful throughout which, in spots, may have worked against him, as some nuance seemed to be lost in the performance. His angst over the prospect of killing of the affable King Duncan (Harry Harris) was less understandable in such a powerful, ambitious character, though his later descent into madness as his power-hungry killing spree begins to weigh heavily on his soul was decidedly believable.

Janis Stevens gives it her all as Lady Macbeth. She can be as heartlessly cruel toward her enemies as she can be lustily passionate with her husband. It was a shame that her soliloquy is truncated in this production. (I missed all the perfumes of Arabia.) This Lady Macbeth is more violent than we have come to expect, as it is she who joins with other assassins to kill Macduff’s (Shaun Carroll) pregnant wife (Jessica Chisum) and it is that death about which Lady Macbeth soliloquizes, not the death of the King. (“Who would have thought the woman to have had so much blood in her.”)

A bit of miscasting was Chisum’s second gender-bending role, that of Macbeth’s general, Banquo. While Chisum gave a good performance as the scrappy young woman, fighting at Macbeth’s side, it stretched credibility to think that this young woman’s children would be a threat to Macbeth, as prophesied by the three witches (called “dark figures” in this production).

She would first have to hang up her sword, start dating, find a nice young chap, settle down to domestic bliss and start popping out babies. The threat from Banquo would have been more believable had she been a man, possibly with a family at home.

The three dark figures were a major mistake. They were distorted, amorphous figures whose voices were so digitized that it was almost impossible to understand them and, in the final scenes, they lost the digitization so that their voices were so muffled by their head gear that it was even more difficult to understand them.

Their dialog was also truncated so that the story they tell, which dictates the direction of the play, was difficult to follow. I also missed the recipe for the witches’ brew (eye of newt and all that), surely a grisly desired inclusion in a Halloween show!

Dan Fagan, as King Duncan’s son Malcolm, wore the mantle of “king” well, following the death of Macbeth (an act so shocking it should satisfy the most blood-thirsty audience member, and did cause a few audience gasps when it occurred).

Jonathan Williams is credited for fight choreography, and has created very convincing battles. That they could be so convincing in such a small area, so close to the audience, speaks volumes about Williams’ credentials.

Malin’s costumes were appropriate to the post-apocalyptic period, but there were a couple of standouts, particularly a beautifully draped jacket for Lady Macbeth.

If you’re looking for blood and gore this Halloween, this is definitely the shop for it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Prelude to a Kiss

Common House Productions has just opened the 1988 play, "Prelude to a Kiss," by Craig Lucas at the Wyatt Pavilion in the UCD Arboretum. The show will run weekends until October 27.

Director Robert Williamson admits the play "was not what I expected. It has romance, but it’s not romantic. It has mystery, but it’s not mysterious. There is magic without being magical, and on my first read-through I didn’t like it." On subsequent reads, he realized he was wrong. "There was humor I hadn’t seen, and it was mysterious and romantic and magical, not in a grand adventurous way, but in the way that occurs in everyday life."

This is an old fashioned fantasy, where we discover that people are not really who they seem to be. On the wedding day of Peter (Connor Dick) and Rita (Wendy Wyatt), a strange old man (Joachim Schnier) gives the bride a kiss and, with the flickering of lights, the two exchange bodies, the new bride now in the body of the old man, and the old man delighted with his new young body.

Inexplicably, the old man leaves the wedding without an attempt to question the new situation. Peter and his "bride" set off on their honeymoon to Jamaica, and Peter must decide what the true nature of love is.

With an actor as totally likeable as Connor Dick, the show can only be enjoyable. His comments to the audience draw us in and make us hope for him to figure out what has happened to the woman he loves.

Slowly, Peter comes to realize that there is something wrong with his new bride and decides that it happened at the time of the kiss. He sets out to search for his lost love, which he finally finds in the body of the old man.

Wendy Wyatt creates a very likeable, if complex, person in Rita. The whirlwind passion-filled courtship makes us smile as it progresses to that awkward, impulsive proposal. Wyatt does well at keeping her testosterone under control in the female body she now inhabits, but letting just enough of it out to remind the audience that there’s really a guy living in there.

Schnier is less successful in being a young woman trapped in a dying old man’s body and his scenes with Peter, which should have been poignant, after Peter realizes what has happened, seem to fall somewhat flat.

Sarah Cohen is Mrs. Boyle, Rita’s emotional mother, who ultimately helps in the culmination of this story. Cohen always delivers a convincing performance, and this one does not disappoint.

Matthew Mueller gives an uneven performance as Rita’s dentist father, who sometimes feels awkward in his portrayal, but is fierce in his dedication to his daughter. The script fails Mr. Boyle in giving him unbelievable lines following the break-up of the newlyweds.

John Malin gives an energetic performance as Peter’s friend, Taylor, instrumental in the meeting of Peter and Rita. Taylor is the friend we would all like to have in our corner.

At its core, this play is about mortality, and aging, and the nature of romantic love. Why do we love a certain person? Is it because of how that person looks, or is it because of that person’s beliefs and personality. Can you separate one from the other?

Kevin Admanski is the artistic director for this play and, given the shortcomings of the Wyatt Deck, manages to create a number of different scenes merely by the movement of two tables and a few chairs which are moved about by the cast while a scene is going on at the front of the stage, all well choreographed.

This is a short show, about 2 hours, which includes a 10 minute intermission. No refreshments are sold and the evening may get a bit cold, so jackets or blankets are recommended. Bug spray is also recommended for those mosquitos visiting from Putah Creek. A pillow for padding on the hard folding chairs may also make the time more pleasant.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Pride and Prejudice

Published in 1813, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” remains one of the most popular novels in English literature and usually can be found in the top 10 lists of “most beloved books.”

What better way for Sacramento Theater Company to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Austen’s novel than to mount an adaptation of the story by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan, directed by Michael Stevenson. It is currently on the main stage, the first in STC’s “Season of Adventure, Rhythm and Romance.”

The new production sparkles with the excitement of the five adolescent daughters of Mr. Bennet (Matt K. Miller) and Mrs. Bennet (Jamie Jones), each looking for the perfect mate. (“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”) They are all positively giddy at the notion of handsome young Mr. Bingley (Matt Surges) moving in next door (“next door” being a relative term, since it is a 3-mile walk).

Jones dominates as the social-climbing matron, determined that her daughters should marry well and keep her from the poor house in the event of her husband’s untimely demise. She gives a very funny performance and ricochets easily from overbearing wanna-be mother-in-law to attacks of the nerves when things aren’t going quite the way she expects them to.

As Mr. Bennet, Miller is sardonically patient with his emotionally flighty wife, obviously head over heels in love with his daughters, and a doting if teasing father who is the solid center of the family.

Brittni Barger is 20-year-old Elizabeth, the second-oldest daughter, around whom the plot revolves. She is intelligent, attractive and honorable, but quick to judge people at first appearance. Barger delivers a delightful performance, though her high-pitched, rapid-fire British accent is sometimes difficult to understand (a condition that afflicted most of the women in the cast, with the exception of Tara Henry, as Elizabeth’s cousin Charlotte Lucas).

Ryan Snyder is Mr. Darcy, one of the most appealing, unapproachable heroes of classic British literature. He is aloof, withdrawn, arrogant and unwilling to mingle with those he believes are his inferiors (“She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me …”). Snyder is such a perfect Darcy that his ultimate admission of his feelings for Elizabeth in the end bring relief to nearly every woman in the audience.

Elizabeth’s older sister, Jane, is played by Rebecca Scott. Jane is the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood, though not as saucy as her younger sister, and was once described by journalist/author Anna Quindlen as “sugar to Elizabeth’s lemonade.” She has an off-again, on-again relationship with the wealthy Mr. Bingley (Matt Surges), mostly because of the discrepancy in their ranks. In the end, of course, love conquers all.

Brent Bianchini is Mr. Wickham, a longtime friend of Mr. Darcy, who appears charming and desirable, though his duplicitous nature is eventually uncovered.

John Lamb gives an outstanding performance as Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet’s clergyman cousin and heir to his estate. He is “not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society.” A self-absorbed man, he is deliciously slimy and Mr. Bennet’s relief at Elizabeth’s rejection of Collins’ proposal is understandable. Collins ultimately marries Charlotte, who does not love him, but marries him for financial security.
The younger Bennet girls are double-cast and were played on opening night by Lily Rushing (alternating with Julia Fisk) as Kitty, Tori Johnson (alternating with Bella Coppola) as Lydia and Ally Boulas (alternating with Arcadia German) as Mary.

Kristine David is Mr. Bingley’s snobbish sister Caroline, herself attracted to Mr. Darcy, and trying to thwart any affections he may harbor for Elizabeth.

Costume designer Jessica Minnihan has created a beautiful collection of sherbet-colored gowns that complement each other beautifully and make a lovely visual.

Hanreddy and Sullivan have succeeded in the difficult task of moving a popular classic novel to the stage, keeping most of the characters intact and remaining faithful to the tone the author intended. Fans of this story will not be disappointed and will, in fact, be enchanted with the Sacramento Theatre Company’s vision.