Thursday, December 20, 2007


It’s a very special actor who can bring a legendary figure to life and make it believable, without making it a caricature. Some examples are Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain, Jim Brochu’s Zero Mostel, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Truman Capote, and Judy Davis’ Judy Garland. Now Janis Stevens has come along and provided us a magnificent Vivien Leigh, currently gracing the stage at Sacramento Theater Company, under the direction of Peter Sander.

It was while working together at Sierra Repertory Theater that Stevens and playwright Rick Foster developed the idea for “Vivien,” no doubt inspired at least in part by the actress’ remarkable resemblance to Vivien Leigh. But it is Foster’s delicately woven script, combined with Stevens’ resemblance and her ease at inhabiting the character which makes this play work so beautifully.

From the moment one enters the “Stage Two” theater, one is instantly “in” the theater. Scenic designer Myke Kunkel has created the feel of a backstage gone to seed – a ladder draped with red velvet, a chaise on which other material and props rest, bits of scenery tossed here and there, fading posters on the wall, and the ever present ghost light illuminating the dark.

A friend of mine, who knew Vivien Leigh years ago when she was appearing on Broadway, told me that at the end of every performance she floated out onto the stage for her bow and then suddenly turned and seemed shocked to discover that there were 2,000 people who had been watching her for the past two hours. The description aptly describes the ethereal persona which Stevens embodies, as she glides into the darkened theater, ostensibly to read for an upcoming production of Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance.”

The audience quickly realizes that things are not happening in real time. The play is set in 1967, just before Leigh’s death, at age 53, from tuberculosis. It begins as the infamous “actor’s nightmare,” finding onself on stage, in underwear, unsure of which play is being presented and what exactly are the lines.

But as the play progresses, the intricacies of Leigh’s life are revealed, including her tempestuous marriage to Lawrence Olivier (“Larry Boy,” she calls him), which brought her some of the greatest joys and deepest pain in her life. We learn her feelings about the movie roles which defined her – Blanche DuBois in “Streetcar Named Desire” and, of course, Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind,” roles of which she is proud and yet minimizes the performances, as her real love was acting on the stage.

She describes winning her first Oscar (for “Gone with the Wind”) and the problems that caused for her overlooked husband (who lost to Robert Donat’s “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”), so much so that she hid it away until he finally won his award years later.

The longer the 90 minute, one-act performance continues, the more blatant is the actress’ manic-depression evident. She has imaginary conversations with Noel Coward, Winston Churchill, John Gielgud, and Peter Finch, each of which peels back another layer of the veneer and gives us a deeper glimpse into the demons of the woman. Stevens floats effortlessly between the complex, overlapping emotions.

Stevens, like Leigh, is by turn coquettish, seductive, petulant, angry, seamlessly moving from mood to mood.

We get bits and pieces of her most famous roles, and marvel at her ability to create the role of Lady Macbeth, for example, while at the same time ranting against Olivier for never making the movie which would have given her the opportunity to play the role for a wider audience. Again, here is the beautiful marriage of actress and playwright, the scene magnificently written and deliciously presented. Over and over again one is aware of the way the two artists have brought out the best in each other.

The 90 minutes flew by and the audience rose in a body to give Janis Stevens a well deserved standing ovation at the conclusion of the performance, including, I noted, a seasoned reviewer in the front row who rarely stands for anything. High praise indeed, and well earned.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Starry Messenger

What if you could come back to life in, oh, say three or four hundred years and find out how things that were important in your life all turned out?

That’s the premise of “The Starry Messenger,” a 75 minute one-act play by Rick Foster now at Capital Stage for one more week prior to being made available for travel to schools for the 2007-2008 academic year.

“The Starry Messenger” is part of a series of touring plays by Duende Drama, a group out of Sonora, which has been touring these educational mini-plays to area schools since 1998 and which has recently teamed with California Stage to reach out to local county schools. Judging by the rapt attention from the audience, comprised of a sprinkling of adults among a crowd of young people, the program is wildly successful.

The setting is “a school assembly in California.” Sister Maria Celeste (played by Keri Fuller on the night we attended, but alternating with Bonnie Antonini) wheels in a draped figure in a wheelchair. She introduces herself as the daughter of Galileo Galilei and explains that he has been dead since 1642, and that since his death he has been so depressed he has refused to wake up again because he feels that his work was for naught. It is her plan to bring him back and show that the world ultimately accepted his concepts. She elicits the help of the audience to literally raise the dead by chanting “the earth moves around the sun” over and over again.

The draped figure stands, looking dazed at hearing what he feels are the voices of angels, and begins to speak. It is Galileo himself, played by 84 year old Mitch Agruss (whom some may remember from the years when he was the beloved “Captain Mitch” on the popular local TV program). Agruss is a robust man with a twinkle in his eye who grabs the audience instantly as he begins to interact with his daughter.

Over the next hour plus, an amazing amount of physics and world history is imparted in delightful, entertaining fashion so that learning the effect Copernicus had on Galileo’s life, or how the Catholic Church felt about his work was as easy to absorb as the plot of “High School Musical.”

Physics and astronomy concepts were reinforced with easy to understand visual aids, and there is even a bit of suspense leading to the scientist’s discovery that his theory of the movement of the tides was not accurate.

This production is part play, part classroom, but it is as enjoyable as any other play, and it’s worth the prices of admission if only to see an old veteran thespian like Agruss strut his stuff.

While Agruss is the heart and soul of this play, Fuller was the motor which kept it moving smoothly. Her irresistible wide-eyed enthusiasm kept the audience’s attention and if Agruss faltered slightly, her non-stop narration was able to get him back on track with slip hardly noticeable.

“The Starry Messenger,” in conjunction with two other plays, will be available for school productions after the first of the year, but this is equally enjoyable (and informative!) for adults and would be a fun one-act play to share with a young person during the holiday season, if one is looking for something fun to do with the kids during the vacation period.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Davis Children's Nutcracker

(Photo is of my son Paul,
in the first production in 1977)

Davis would be quite a different town if Bob Bowen didn’t like beer and girls.

Bowen was working with the Department of Parks and Recreation at the time of his graduation from Davis High School. He enrolled in UCD as a political science major along with his best friend Tom Eddy (whose father was the manager of one of the banks downtown and whose mother taught in the Davis schools for many years).

As the boys were signing up for classes, Eddy dared Bowen to take a ballet class. Bowen asked what he would get if he accepted the dare. “I seem to remember there was beer involved,” he laughs today.

Bowen enrolled in Jere Curry’s dance class. Curry was delighted to have a male enroll, especially one who seemed to be able to walk and talk at the same time. Bowen weighed the pros and cons of continuing with the class.

“There were 25 women in leotards and me. I could play intramural sports with a bunch of sweaty guys or hang out with some good looking gals.”

Fortunately for the town of Davis, Bowen continued dancing.

In 1972, Roger L. MacDonald contacted his friend Jere Curry to ask for help with a project he was undertaking to raise money for a Sacramento boys’ home (a project which grew into what is now “Best of Broadway”). MacDonald was looking for someone who could perform in a few numbers and act as the emcee for the show. By now Bowen was a regular in Curry’s classes and was even taking lessons Curry taught on the side at the Oddfellows’ Hall. Curry sent Bowen to MacDonald, who immediately cast him.

Over the next few years, Bowen watched MacDonald at work. “I saw the logistics of how you get massive numbers of people on stage and off stage. Doing a small show with a dozen people is one thing; doing a major cattle call with hundreds of people is another. I got a sense of the logistics of how to produce that.”

At the same time, Bowen continued to work part time for the Department of Parks and Recreation and perform with local theater groups. Then the Veterans Memorial theater opened in 1973.

It was like a serendipitous big bang. All the elements fell into place. Bowen been involved in the holiday recreation program for the elementary school kids, when they were out of school in December.

“We would do such things as cooking (which was mildly interesting to some kids, but mostly they were making a mess) or showing movies. (We borrowed 16 mm movies from everybody that we could for free). We also did some basketball, and occasionally took busloads of kids to Sacramento to see the ballet version of ‘The Nutcracker,’ but the program really wasn’t very creative and I was thinking maybe we could do better.”

Then Bowen happened to see an issue of “Women’s Day” magazine and an article about how to put on a production of The Nutcracker for pre-school or elementary school children. A lightbulb went off in his head. “It was a pared down version. It didn’t involve copyright so I could rewrite it (which I did a lot). It doesn’t take full orchestra. It’s just a little stage production.”

The other elements that played into the production of the very first Davis Children’s Nutcracker in 1977 were that since it would be a city production, there were no up front costs for rental of the theater and Bowen had a ready-made crew in the staff of the recreation department.

He was able to twist the arm of some friends Kate Boyce (now Bowen’s wife) and Dina Williams (now Dina Silver) to make simple costumes, burlap tunics over tights for most of the basic costumes. They borrowed a few costumes which had been made by costumers Ann Ough and Marinka Pfaff from the Davis Art Center. Since there was no children’s theater at the time, they were available.

Sets would also be very simple, a chair and a Christmas tree made out of cardboard boxes, with a green tree painted on one side for the party scene and a snow-covered tree on the backside for the fantasy portions of the show.

Bowen put a notice in The Davis Enterprise for children between the ages of 5 and 12 to audition at the Chestnut Park Roundhouse. He didn’t know if anybody would come, and he promised that everyone who auditioned would have some role in the production. In fact, about 50 children showed up.

Scott Cauchois was the prince in the first production (“I eleven years old and was one of the taller guys,” he says). Now a software salesman living in La Jolla with his wife, Scott’s fondest memory was just working with Bob Bowen. “I remember his enthusiasm. He made it a very fun and pleasant experience.”

I myself have a warm spot in my heart for The Davis Children’s Nutcracker because all five of our children performed in the first two productions. In fact my son Ned first met his now wife, Marta Wilson, when both were in the clown group. (To commemorate that meeting, I decorated their wedding cake with clowns and balloons.)

That first show took two weeks to rehearse and only one performance was scheduled. Bowen didn’t know if he could sell all 325 seats in the Vets theater, but he actually over-sold seats and had to turn Mayor Sandy Motley away at the door because she had no ticket and had no child in the production.

Unwittingly, Bowen had started a Davis tradition which is still going strong 30 years later. He continued to direct the shows for the first ten years, at which time his now-wife Kate directed some shows, while Bob continued to act as producer. Kate had graduated from UCD and had been teaching for two years, but needed money and when Bowen suggested she help direct The Nutcracker, the timing worked into her schedule.

“Barbara Wells, my principal at Pioneer School, knew that The Nutcracker was an important community event, so she arranged my schedule so that I could have every afternoon off leading into the show. She always supported any type of children’s theater,” said Kate, adding that “It has come full circle. Pioneer has just built a multipurpose room with a stage and dedicated it to Barbara Wells.”

Others knew the importance of The Nutcracker to the community too. Kids who had been in earlier productions came back to work as leaders for the various groups of children, or to work on the technical aspects of the show.

“It was ‘the thing’ to do on your Christmas vacation,” my daughter Jeri says. “It’s where all your friends were.”

"We were the crew that built The Nutcracker," Ned boasted. "Bob Bowen created the show, and then the tech part of it took off when we showed up." "We" was a group which included his siblings Jeri and Paul, Greg Wershing, Jon, Joel and Chris Lee, Paul Kagiwada, and Phil Sequeira, among others.

Ned is now 40 and is still working backstage at the show, having returned to work with his friend Wershing, who began working backstage when he was 15 and whose sons have now performed in the show for several years.

Jeri explained that “The tech crew was always looking for the ‘oooo’ factor -- how many times an audience said “oooo” during the course of the performance.”

“It was all about upping last year’s performance,” laughed Phil Sequeira, who remembered the “Vegas curtain” year, when Bowen found some glittery curtain and they found a way to use it in the show. “With Bob it was always, ‘we have this cool thing–how can we use it in the show,” explains Ned, remembering when they used a hot air balloon during the soldier/mouse fight scene because Bowen had found a hot air balloon.

Chris Wong (“the eternal Nutcracker guy,” Jeri says) was responsible for building most of the more spectacular effects, like the huge flower that rose up out of the floor with petals that slowly opened to reveal the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“We were insane,” laughed Jeri. “We had the run of the place and we had Bob Bowen who trusted us and was willing to go along with anything we wanted to try” (like drilling holes in the stage floor and filling tubes with flour that they could blast through the holes when a canon supposedly went off).

The popularity of The Nutcracker kept building and by the tenth year the city had to institute a lottery system to cast the show because they had reached the maximum number of kids (200) who could participate.

In 1977 there were 8 groups of clowns, mice, soldiers, Russian dancers, etc. In 2006 there were 18 groups, including some that Tchaikovsky never envisioned, like country line dancers, bees, birds and insects, and gnomes.

By 1997, Bob Bowen’s job duties took him away from what was now the Department of Parks & Community Services and Carrie Dyer took over as producer of The Nutcracker, a job she shared with Marianne Moore, even the year both were pregnant. Dyer continued to produce through 2006. “It’s a lot of work; it’s exhausting, and the rehearsals take a toll on your own family,” she said, “but it started as a work assignment and became something I really loved doing.”

In 2007, Dyer stepped down and turned production duties over to Shannon Clegg and Kristen Hilton. “They worked with me last year and are taking over this year,” she said.

For Sally Hosley, whose three boys have all performed, it is the highlight of her year. “My oldest son is now16 and he has been performing or working with The Nutcracker since he was in the first grade.” She adds that her sons found it a treat to move through the ranks of the show and end up as group leaders.

She credits Ann Smalley, who has directed the show for the past 17 years. “It wouldn’t be what it is without Ann.”

Smalley’s 28 year old daughter was a snowflake at the age of 6 and when the city asked her to help, she readily agreed. “I enjoy theatrical things, I love children and I love music. I love The Nutcracker and I am blessed to be able to do it. I was in right place at the right time. It wouldn’t be Christmas without this in my life. My children grew up with it.”

Ryan Kreidler, the Nutcracker in the current production, is a real pro, having worked his way up from Teddy Bear to Russian Dancer to now the lead in the show. “It’s a lot of stuff to learn, but the fun keeps me coming back,” he said.

“Ann is an incredible lady,” says Laurie Carpenter, whose children have been part of The Nutcracker since they moved from Benicia six year ago. “It’s a way for us to kick off the holidays. We cross our fingers each year. We’ve been fortunate even in the lottery system we’ve been called. I can’t imagine our holidays without it.”

“For anybody who has become a part of The Nutcracker, it remains a part of their lives forever,” said Carrie Dyer.

Bob Bowen still can’t quite believe how his little germ of an idea has blossomed. “Long after all of us are gone it will be quite a legacy to say you did something that takes on a life of its own. I had no idea.”

The city of Davis and hundreds of Davis children owe a debt of gratitude to that challenge that Tom Eddy tossed out to his friend Bob Bowen so many years ago.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Christmas Carol

It’s a foggy night in Sacramento town.

Sacramento Theater Company’s new fog apparatus is very effective in creating the proper atmosphere for the 20th anniversary production of “A Christmas Carol,” directed this year by first time STC director Michael Laun. Laun has a few new tricks up his sleeve, giving a fresh new look to the STC annual favorite.

The fun begins before the audience enters the theater, with a nicely decorated lobby, complete with Christmas tree, the “real” Santa for the little kids to visit, and a group of carolers on the small lobby stage, getting everyone in the mood.

And then, of course, there is STC’s 1987 specially commissioned adaptation of the Dickens classic, by Richard Hellesen (who was in the audience on opening night of this anniversary production). Music was written by STC’s then resident composer David de Berry.

“I was trying to turn a lot of narrative into a lot less stage dialogue,” said the playwright. “David was trying to write wonderful new music that would sound like wonderful old music you hadn’t heard before.”

In the end the collaboration succeeded in both goals, evidenced by its continued popularity 20 years later. Hellesen used the device of having the characters tell the story as they move sets and then move in to become the characters about whom they are speaking. DeBerry’s music does indeed sound like old Christmas music that you can’t quite place, but you’re sure you’ve heard somewhere before.

As always, STC has assembled a stellar cast. This the fourth year I’ve seen this show and I have to confess a special preference for Matt K. Miller in the role of the quintessential Scrooge, Ebenezer. Miller becomes a crusty curmudgeon who is able to express the anger of a man at the end of his life, the pain of loss, the pathos of man whose feelings are being reawakened, and the exuberance of a small child equally well. The “a-ha!” moments of Ebenezer’s life are skillfully handled.

Patrick Murphy steps into the chains of Jacob Marley, come to warn his old partner of the pain that will befall him if he does not change his ways. Marley sets up the visits of three spirits who will help him to look back over his life in the hope of helping him make some changes before it is too late.

Katie Rubin (whom audiences may remember for her emotional, riveting one-woman show last year) makes an unusual entrance as the Ghost of Christmas Past (later playing Mrs. Cratchitt), who takes Ebenezer on his 3-night journey of discovery. Rubin brings a real tenderness to the role which adds an extra layer to the ghost’s character.

Reprising her role from last year, Anna Miles is Ebenezer’s sister Fan, who comes to bring him home from school. She sings the beautiful “Home at Christmastide,” reminding Ebenezer of the young beggar child (Joelle Jacoby) he had spurned the day before. (Miles alternates in this role with Amanda Salmon.)

STC Managing Director Mark Standriff again tackles three roles in this show. He first appears as a “Subscription Gentleman,” come to ask Scrooge for a holiday donation for the poor. He is next seen as the ebullient Fezziwig, Ebenezer’s old boss (whose wife is played by the marvelous Lucinda Hitchcock Cone). Fezziwig celebrated Christmas as a grand holiday, meant to be celebrated with vigor (giving Ebenezer pause, as he remembers his refusal to give his clerk an extra lump of coal to warm his hands), and finally Standriff is the larger than life Ghost of Christmas Present, whose entrance is always the high point of the production.

The Ghost shows Ebenezer the party at the home of his nephew Fred (Brett Williams), who has never given up trying to establish a relationship with the brother of his late mother.

He is then shown the meager but loving celebration at the home of Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchitt (Gillen Morrison reprising the role he played so beautifully last year, as well as this). Ebenezer is moved by the ailing Tiny Tim (tiny Jackson Margolis, who alternates in the role with Campbell Salmon, who played the role last year).

Howard Gray is appropriately sepulchral as the mute Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

In the end, of course, Scrooge’s heart grew three sizes that day.
And the minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight, he bought food for the Cratchitt feast.
And we can assume that over at Nephew Fred’s, he himself carved the roast beast.

The STC Christmas Carol is a not-to-be-missed Christmas experience. It’s 20 years old and just gets better and better.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Christmas Story

There are certain elements of a show which are sure-fire crowd pleasers: a beloved story, preferably with a holiday theme, and a cast that includes cute kids.

Based on the loud applause, the audience filled with families, and the raves I heard expressed when leaving the Woodland Opera House following its current production of “A Christmas Story,” by Philip Grecian, based on the stories of Jean Shepherd, this show is indeed a real crowd pleaser.

Unfortunately, it’s possible to be a crowd pleaser in spite of problems with the production.

The problems begin at the beginning with the narration of William Powers as the adult Ralph, who is remembering a very special childhood Christmas. Powers had difficulty with his lines throughout the show, often stumbling over them, repeating, them, or seeming to forget them. He improved significantly as the show progressed, but even when he did remember his lines, his delivery seemed stilted.

As the adult Ralph narrates, we follow the young Ralphie Parker (Drew Thomsen), the boy whose one dream for Christmas was an official, Red Ryder, Carbine-action, 200-Shot, Range Model, Air Rifle. Ralphie fantasizes meetings with Red Ryder himself and campaigns to convince his parents to get him the rifle for Christmas, though his mother (Jeannie Pytel) poo-poo’s the idea with every mother’s perennial excuse, “You’ll put your eye out.”

Drew Thomsen certainly looks the part. With his big glasses and innocent expression, you feel the boy’s longing for the perfect Christmas present. Unfortunately much of his dialogue was unintelligible as he tended to rush his lines. I also blame director Bobby Grainger for the failure of what should have been one of the biggest scenes in the play. We have watched Ralphie go through hopes, prayers, and all sorts of tricks to convince his parents that he should be given the wonderful rifle. Yet, when he has given up all hope of receiving it, and then opens the box which contains the rifle he desires so strongly, he is expressionless. There is no surprise, no excitement, no joy, no nothing. One of the biggest anti-climactic moments you’re likely to see on a stage. Having seen what Thomsen can do in his Elly-nominated performance in “Boxcar Children,” I know he is capable of much better.

Most of the rest of the children in the cast are from one family. William Black plays Randy, Ralphie’s little brother who likes to hide under or behind furniture. When his mother dresses him up to go outside, he looks like a character out of South Park.

Emma Black is Schwartz, friend and classmate of Ralphie. Since Schwartz is never out of jacket and cap, it’s not obvious that the actor is actually a girl and she plays a convincing boy.

Sara Black is Esther Jane Alberry, who has a crush on Ralphie. She’s adorable and succeeds in communicating much without saying much.

Jordan Black is the bully Scut Farkas. Her height gives the perfect size differential to make her convincing as a bully, and I always thought the career path she follows (which we learn from the narrator) seems ideally suited to someone who grew up as a bully!

The last two children in the cast are Sam Kyser as Flick, who makes a memorable image getting his tongue stuck to the icy metal pole in the school yard, and Jocylyn Favors as Helen, another classmate.

Mark Fejta is “The Old Man,” Ralphie’s father, and is very funny. He has some nice physical shtik and does it well. Jeannie Pytel plays an typical 50s wife, who lets her husband take the limelight, but who is really the central figure in the family. The parents’ various scenes in Ralphie’s fantasy are particularly good.

Regina Stafford plays Ralphie’s teacher who does a fabulous Margaret Hamilton impression in one scene.

The Act 2 visit to Santa scene may have been one of the best in the show and the setting for it was very imaginative.

Jeff Kean and Doug Keowen have created a fun set with indoor and outdoor scenes ingeniously designed.

I wish that this had been a better production since so many elements were good, but when pulled together just didn’t work as well as it should have, though the improvement in Act 2 gives hope for a better Act 1 in future performances.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Every Christmas Story Ever Told

If you’re trying to decide which of this season’s holiday theatrical offerings to attend, why not just see them all at one sitting?

Capital Stage Company is presenting “Every Christmas Story Ever Told!!” by Michael Carleton, John Alvarez and Jim Fitzgerald with original music by Will Knapp, directed by Greg Alexander. It is, in a nutshell, hilarious.

A man sitting behind me told his companions that he had seen the play the year before but had laughed so much that he didn’t remember a lot of it, so had returned to see it again. That pretty much sums it up.

In the same vein as the “reduced Shakespeare” productions, the authors have taken just about every beloved holiday story ever told, added a bit of Christmas history from around the world (who knew that Christmas had such a black side?) and a few familiar classic Christmas commercials, and blended them all more or less seamlessly into about an hour and a half of laughter. The play ends with a zany rendition of every Christmas carol ever sung, complete with choreography. Sort of.

Of course, the thing that makes all this zaniness work is three incredible actors, Eric Wheeler, Gary S. Martinez, and Anthony D’Juan, playing, conveniently “Eric,” “Gary,” and “Anthony.”

Eric is the one who wants to put on a traditional version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” the way it was written and who tries valiantly to do so, though his fellow actors are tired of doing only Dickens and want to salute all the other “B.H.C.s” (beloved holiday classics) instead. Eric finally relents, on the condition that he also be allowed to perform the straight version of “A Christmas Carol” too.

The trio elicits suggestions from the audience for favorite movies, television programs, Christmas foods, traditions, commercials, etc. It doesn’t stop at Christmas, but also gives a nod to Chanukah ("It bears similarities to other Jewish festivals: They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat!") and Kwanzaa ("The best part of Kwanzaa is that you'll never see a special called 'A Very Brady Kwanzaa'.")

But the meat of the show is the retelling of all the stories you know so well.

Wheeler gets a chance to display his comic expertise as such characters as the Grinch, Hermey (the elf who wants to be a dentist in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”) and, in act 2, makes a terrific Scrooge/George Baily in a salute to “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

D’Juan is hilarious in all of his roles, but especially as the Ghost of Christmas Future, where he does an unbelievable charade.

Martinez is loveable in a “cowardly lion” sort of way, a big man with the gentleness and simplicity of a child, bringing all the heart-tugging moments. He gives a beautiful rendition of Linus’ “True Meaning of Christmas” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and he plays nearly all the characters (except George Bailey) from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In the midst of all the frenzy on stage, Martinez becomes the heart of the season.

They nearly don’t do “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” because of copyright infringement problems, but decide it’s OK if the hero becomes Gustav the Green-nosed Reingoat,

A section on fruitcake gives an opportunity to revisit the set of the old “Dating Game” and there are salutes to Christmas in Australia and in W(h)ales. Over the course of the 60 minute first act, nearly every well known Christmas show is covered, even if it is only in bad puns or passing comments.

During the 15 minute intermission, the audience is invited to participate in another BHC tradition – buying stuff (candy, drinks, subscriptions to the rest of this year’s season, etc.)

Act two is only twenty minutes long and is designed to be the Eric’s promised “A Christmas Carol” until Gary realizes that they have forgotten “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Not until you have seen these two shows interwoven do you realize how much alike the two classics are. (Wheeler also does a pretty good Jimmy Stewart impression.)

Jonathan Williams has designed a clever utilitarian set that folds and unfolds. Rebecca Redmond is credited with costume design–and some of those quick changes are quite ingenious. The lighting design of Steve Decker and sound design of Brad Thompson are also critical to the effectiveness of this play.

Save yourself a bit of extra time for holiday shopping by getting your fix of BHCs in one spot. “Every Christmas Story Ever Told!!” is an absolute delight. Evening start times for this show only are 7 p.m., so the kids can enjoy it as well.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Noises Off

(the review)

Done right, Michael Frayn’s hilarious farce, “Noises Off” is probably the funniest comedy you’ll ever see on any stage. It requires impeccable split-second timing, incredible agility, a breakneck pace, and even for an American cast, a proper British accent.

Set designer John Iacovelli describes it as “daunting for even professionals.”

Thanks to director Jules Aaron and a fabulous cast, “Noises Off” is “done right” on UCD’s Main Stage, where those who will be fortunate enough to obtain tickets (opening night was nearly sold out) will have the opportunity to laugh until their sides ache until December 2.

“Noises Off” (which refers to sounds which are meant to be heard from offstage) is the story of a hapless English acting troupe who are touring a production of a farce called “Nothing On.” It is a comedy in three acts, the first of which is the dress rehearsal for the play, which is opening the next day. Matt Rapore is perfect as the director, “Lloyd,” who sits in the audience and despairs of ever getting things right before opening night.

Act 2, which is almost more mime than actual recited lines, takes place at a matinee performance one month later, as seen from backstage, when the cast has been together long enough that interpersonal relationships are starting to interfere with the performance on stage. The stage manager, Poppy (Kate McGrath) gets a chance to shine in Act 2, and shine she does, suitably harried by the antics of the actors, and struggling with her own personal problems.

By Act 3, the tour has fallen apart and everyone is just trying to get through the last performance, which they barely do. It’s hard to know which is the funnier, Act 2 or Act 3. There are also a lot of sardines involved.

When I interviewed the actors a week ago, I learned that some had extensive stage experience, and at least one had never been on stage in a performance before. Director Aaron has created such a well-run machine that it would be impossible to pick out the veterans from the neophytes. All turn in excellent performances.

Amy Kronzer, as Dotty/Mrs. Clackett (the former being her real name and the latter her name in the play within the play) is an excellent character actress. The young Kronzer was completely believable as the over-the-hill dotty Dotty, who can never quite remember her lines or her blocking. Dotty is the anchor around which most of the action revolves and Kronzer takes her job of being very funny very seriously.

John Crosthwait is the elderly, alcoholic, nearly-deaf Selsdon, who plays a Burglar in the play and who really isn’t ever sure where he is or what he’s doing. Crosthwait could not be better at bringing this character to life.

Looking better than anyone should look in lingerie is Emily Somers as the empty-headed Brooke/Vicki. Somers (who assures me she really is a brunette) is the ideal vacuous blonde, obsessed with her looks and her figure and oblivious to everything around her.

Samuel Hardie is hilarious as the inarticulate Gary/Roger, who thinks he is making helpful suggestions, but who never actually finishes a thought. His is an amazingly athletic role and some of the things he is able to do are incredible. Gary, perhaps more than most, needs to be razor sharp, and Hardie is.

Belinda/Flavia is the peacemaker. She is the one who always tries to calm people but doesn’t help much when she spreads gossip about her fellow cast members. Alice Vasquez handles this task quite well. She may not have the same amount of slapstick that most of her fellow cast members do, but she’s perfectly suited for the part.

Ben Moroski is the mild-mannered Frederick/Philip, who is susceptible to nosebleeds at the mere mention of violence, yet manages to have several pratfalls of his own throughout the evening.

Matthew Kronzer is very funny as the laconic Tim, the overworked stagehand / bookkeeper / understudy.

An imposing solidly built set is integral to the performance of this multi-door comedy and designer John Iacovelli’s set fills the bill magnificently. Stage manager Emily Hartman, whose job it is to keep everything running smoothly is an unsung heroine of this play and must be given kudos for a job well done.

While a review doesn’t generally mention the printed program, this one, by Maish Simon, Lily Wong, Melanie B. Glover and Janice Bisgaard is not to be missed–be sure to read it carefully.

They say laughter is great medicine. If such is the case, this production of “Noises Off” is the perfect therapy for the woes of your day to day life!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Virgo: Hebrew Rising

The Sacramento Theater Company program cover describes comedian Brian Diamond’s one-man show, "Virgo: Hebrew Rising" as "anxiety done to perfection." Personally, I found it a bit "over done."

Diamond is the son of two deaf parents, one Jewish and one German, raised as the only white kid in Compton, California, and later a trailer trash kid in a more affluent area of Pollock Pines. He was a funny looking kid with weight problems and a lazy eye, while his brother Lance was handsome and popular.

Diamond is someone who has seen a lot of pain and frustration in his life. Following in the footsteps of countless comedians and monologists before him, the comedian took his pain and turned it into an act, perhaps finding the sharing of his life and his problems with an anonymous audience as therapeutic (and more profitable) than working things out in psychotherapy.

Combining bits from his comedy routines with speculation about the factors which have made him he is the way he is, and slide shows of his family and friends, Diamond attempts to sort out the complexities he sees in his life.

"I have no control over my life or my career. I have no job, no money and no girlfriend. My life’s a country western song!"

The jumping off point for all this introspection is his break-up with his live-in girlfriend Shana, whom he loves very much. Instead of being emotionally distraught by her leaving, he is more upset by the fact that his living expenses just doubled. He gives a complicated (and funny) financial calculation balancing the decision about finding a new apartment with keeping the old one and paying Shana’s part of the rent. And he wonders why he is more concerned with money than he is with the loss of the love of his life. When did he become the guy who found money so important? Is it because he grew up not having any?

Over the course of the hour and 45 minutes (about 45 minutes too long), he asks rhetorical questions about why this part of his life is that way it is, and why that part of his life is the way it is. He wonders whether it is nature or nurture. For example, is he neat, orderly, and methodical because he was born a Virgo, or because that’s how he was raised. (As the Aquarian daughter of a Virgo mother and the mother of a Virgo son, I enjoyed this section)

The best part of the material comes early in the show, as he gives the audience an idea of the pros and cons of growing up with deaf parents (how it affects his relationship with the administration of his various schools is particularly funny). He also uses more sign language more during this section of the show and one gets a fascinating view of what it’s like to both speak and sign at the same time.

The prologue emphasizes the dual ethnicities of Diamond’s parents, though the comedian himself seems to dwell on his Jewish father and his Jewish ethnicity and we learn little about his German mother, except that she seems to have bonded with several unsavory men over a period of time. We don’t learn what role he feels the German part of his ethnicity has played in making him the man he is today.

Diamond is a likeable guy and his material is funny in a gentle rather than a "socko" sort of way. It is a pleasant evening, but the material does begin to wear thin after the first hour.

The piece is directed by Matt Foyer, with a simple set by Myke Kunkel and lighting by Dale Marshall.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Noises Off

(The feature article)

Ten people stood in a circle in the middle of the living room of the mansion. They shook their hands, shook their feet, grabbed their tongues, wiggled their buttocks, rolled their heads, and recited tongue twisters like “Betty Botter bought some butter, but she said the butter’s bitter...”

It was just a normal warm-up preceding the night’s rehearsal of Michael Frayne’s hilarious comedy, “Noises Off,” opening at the UC Davis main theater on Thursday, November 15, under the direction of Granada Artist-in-Residence, Jules Aaron.

Frayne got the idea for his play while standing backstage, watching Lynn Redgrave in “Chinamen,” a farce he had written for her. He realized that what was going on backstage was as funny, if not funnier, than what was happening on stage and decided he would write a play which would reflect that.

“Noises Off” (which refers to sounds which are meant to be heard from offstage) is the story of a hapless English acting troupe who are touring a production of a farce called “Nothing On.” It is a comedy in three acts, the first of which is the dress rehearsal for the play, which is opening that night. Act 2 is a matinee performance one month later, as seen from backstage, and Act 3 is a performance near the end of the 10 week run when everyone is bored and anxious to be finished with the play. The comedy involves the mishaps that occur during the performance and the friction among the actors involved in the fictitious show. There is a lot of slapstick comedy involved.

“We’re trying to connect the physicality of the play by doing exercises,” Aaron explains to me, as he passes in front of me and shouts to the cast, ““Don’t lose track of the musicality of it, but make it make sense.”

“The warm ups are really important for this show because it’s so physically demanding,” explained assistant director Stephanie Wilcox. “The actors also have the British accents to master. It’s difficult to wrap your mouth around some of the lines if you haven’t warmed up. We do an extensive warm up every night to make sure they’re really ready to go and have the extra energy to say everything and run around, especially in Act 2.”

“It’s a beast of a show,” laughs Emily Hartman, stage managing her very first show at UC Davis (though she had done a bit in high school and assistant stage managed four shows last year.) “It’s a baptism by fire,” she adds. “I wouldn’t suggest all stage managers start with a show like this, but you can’t drown, so you just have to keep swimming.”

Jules Aaron praises Hartman and Wilcox for being invaluable to the production. “‘Noises Off’ definitely ranks with the most difficult plays I’ve directed,” he said. “It easily ranks with doing a Broadway sized musical or doing a very large Shakespeare, where there is difficult text to work with or there’s difficult integration of music and choreography.”

Aaron knows whereof he speaks. This year’s Granada Artist-in-Residence has directed more than 250 stage and television productions. His credits include 18 Drama-Logue Awards, three Backstage Garland Awards, and four Bay Area Theater awards, among many others.

A long-time friend of Emmy award winning set designer John Iacovelli, who teaches in UCD’s MFA design program (“This may be the 40th show we’ve done together over the past 20 years,” said Iacovelli), Aaron was brought to UC Davis specifically to direct this show. He is delighted to be living in Davis.

“I knew a lot about Davis because John and I are friends and I’ve heard stories for years, but it didn’t quite prepare me for the town, which is so interesting. I was only here four days when I decided there was no way I wasn’t going to have a bicycle. It’s so great because there are no hills. Everything is flat,” he gushed.

He took himself to the annual police bike sale and bought a yellow bike. “I probably paid more than most people pay, but I had to have the yellow bike. There was a serious bidding war between me and another person.”

The director also loves the feel of a campus town. He taught for 20 years at Cal Arts in Valencia and ran their MFA program for 17. “Cal Arts is like a big box with corridors and no sense of
‘campus,’” he described. He now does projects for the American Academy of Dramatic Art, at its Los Angeles campus. “That also is just a kind of a block of a building with a couple of bungalows,” he said, “...but faced with this campus which is really a campus... and the most eclectic buildings I’ve ever seen. When I did my first walk thru I was amazed at the architecture. It’s wild and it’s so large. I’ve done the acting program at UC Riverside and I’ve taught at USC and at the Cal States, so I’ve been at a variety of campuses but this is certainly the biggest and most eclectic of any I’ve been on.”

Arriving at UC Davis, Aaron was pleased with the quality of the Department of Theater and Dance, especially his “Noises Off” cast. “They are a good bunch of people and they bring a very good energy to the project. They have mutual respect for each other, which is very important. They respect the stage manager. They’ve been trained well in that sense.”

For Amy Kronzer, a native of Nevada City who is playing the role of Dottie, the theater diva who can barely remember her lines, Aaron has been a dream to work with. Kronzer, who has been acting since she was a young child and formed her own theater group at age 16, glows. “I’ve never been so prepared for a show before. Usually we’re still working on things up to the last minute, but for this show, we were ready a long time ago, so we could really dive into these characters and make them our own because we were so prepared.”

Amy’s brother Tim is doing his first comedy. “It’s quite a stretch for me, but Jules is fantastic.”

“It’s a great experience,” said Emily Somers, playing the ditzy blonde Brooke. “Jules is a professional and for those of us who want to work in professional theater some day, it’s a great opportunity to work with a director who has had this experience.”

Somers may have one of the more complicated roles to play. “She’s the traditional ditz but she thinks she’s a serious actress. She’s very serious about her exercises, her warm-ups and everything about acting, so she takes it very seriously. Playing bad acting and trying to do it well is a fun challenge.”

All of the cast love working on the huge set, particularly Samuel Hardie, appearing on stage for the first time. Hardie is a design major who felt that seeing things from an actor’s point of view would help him become a better designer. “When everything is so dependent on the set, you need a set designer who has paid close attention. Only as an actor can you truly appreciate the details that are involved in it.”

John Iacovelli’s set was originally created for a production in San Jose, after which it moved to the Pasadena Playhouse and then the Marines Memorial theater in San Francisco, where it had to be lifted 2-1/2 stories on a steep hill and loaded through a window. “The funny thing was that we all started living the lives of the people in the show,” laughed Iacovelli. “It was like living in some third dimension. Every so often people would jump from the 1st to 3rd act. It was only terrifying to us because we were the only ones who knew how screwed up it got.”

Iacovelli also had high praise for what he has seen of the university’s production. “I was really impressed with how well these student actors are doing with this show that is daunting for even professionals.”

John Crosthwaite was brought in “out of retirement” to do the character role of the elderly, nearly deaf Selsdon. Crosthwaite is also helping with fight choreography. “I do a lot of improv comedy and this is one of the crazier things I’d ever seen,” he laughed. “There is some pretty advanced farce stuff. Safety is huge because at any moment someone could just fall or a door could take someone’s nose off.”

“We’ve done several safety trainings,” added Hartman. “There are so many doors. So many possibilities for things to go wrong if the actors are not aware of their surroundings.”

Matt Rapore gets the job of keeping everyone in line, in the role of the director, Lloyd. “My role is slightly different from other people in the play because I’m sitting in the audience for almost the whole first act. I have to separate myself from the actors and play that director. I’ve looked to Jules and other directors I’ve worked with for inspiration to formulate this character. Michael Frayne’s play is so complex and technical but if it’s done well and done right it can be one of the funniest plays ever. Hopefully we’ll have people keeling over with laughter.”

Watching the cast go through their paces during rehearsal, there is little doubt in my mind that people will indeed be “keeling over with laughter” as they watch the antics of this dedicated, well-drilled cast.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


It was during the chase scene at the start of act 2 of the Davis Musical Theater Company’s new production of Lerner & Lowe’s “Brigadoon” that the age-old question was finally answered. A soft murmur went through the audience as we realized that we finally knew what a Scotsman wears under his kilt.

Brigadoon is a fairytale about a mysterious village in the highlands of Scotland which, thanks to “the miracle,” only appears one day every hundred years. For the townsfolk, life goes on a usual, but every morning when they awake, 100 years has passed in the outside world. “The miracle” was an agreement between the town cleric and God to spare the inhabitants from the threat of witches. The only threat to the village now is extinction, if anyone were to actually leave and break the spell.

The set for this show (designed by Steve Isaacson) is beauty on a modest scale. There is a lovely arching bridge festooned with garlands of greenery. There is heather on a nearby hill, and, at the start of the show, there is a huge book which sets the theme of a “fairy tale” very nicely.

The opening song is a choral number. I have been consistently impressed with the quality of the choral ensembles for DMTC (Isaacson and Laura Marzluft are credited with Musical and Vocal Direction). Their rendition of the title song was hauntingly beautiful.

Into the picture come Tommy Albright (Brennan Cull), a young man looking for meaning in his life. Tommy is engaged to Jane (Sue Sablan), but there is something missing and he doesn’t know what it is. He has some on a hunting trip to Scotland with his friend Jeff Douglas (Michael McElroy), a sardonic sidekick with a drinking problem. The two are lost and trying to sort out their map, which places them exactly in the location of ... nothing.

Suddenly the mist begins to lift and there is a quaint little village. The townsfolk are in the midst of preparations for the wedding of Jean MacLaren (Katherine Coppola) and Charlie Dalrymple (J.R.Humbert) when the oddly dressed strangers arrive.

(The Learner & Lowe script does take a bit of suspension of disbelief. If the time table is to be believed, the villagers are living in 1746, yet they seem to know about “America.” But let that pass!)

Jean’s sister Fiona MacLaren (Caitlin Kiley) has been ruminating about the lack of love in her life and how she’s waiting for that special someone to come along (“Waiting for My Dearie”) when the disillusioned Tommy walks into her life. Can we guess where this plot is headed?

Once again, DMTC has assembled a stellar cast. Though Gene Kelly played Tommy in the M.G.M. musical, there is a lot of Bing Crosby about Cull’s appearance. Cull was last seen as Curly in Oklahoma and I don’t remember him having projection problems in that production. His voice, to be sure, is strong and clear and wonderful, but much of his dialog is lost because he speaks so softly. Still he gives a wonderful performance as a man falling in love for the first time and then facing the decision of whether to give up everything for the woman he thinks he loves, or lose her forever.

Kiley is a winsome Fiona, full of spirit and longing, not willing to settle for second best, yet yearning for a love of her own as she helps her sister prepare for her wedding.

Many in the cast are excellent, such as Humbert, the eager bridegroom with the big voice, and Lauren Miller, last seen as Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun,” as the lusty Meg Brockie, who quickly gloms onto Jeff and drags him off for a little canoodling.

Tony Gabrielson is Harry Beaton, Jean’s scorned suitor who threatens to bring an end to Brigadoon by leaving the village. In chasing Beaton to prevent him from leaving, the whole theater is used and townsfolk often pass Beaton in the process. There seems to be no logic why they would bump into Beaton and then continue to run past him. Again, another bit of suspension of disbelief.

All is forgiven, though, during the sword dance at Jean and Charlie’s wedding. Dancers Tony Gabrielson, Katherine Coppola, Chris Petersen, Scott Sablan, Ryan Westlake, Jabrille Shelton, Dian Hoel, Lorna deLeoz, Lindsay Dibben and Shannon Kendal deserve kudos for their perfectly executed dance.

A bagpiper, Chris Van Wart is listed in the program, but for some reason did not appear on stage for the funeral march. (A pity–I love the bagpipe!)

DMTC has a hit on their hands with this production, as evidenced by the near capacity audience at the Hoblit Performing Arts Center on opening night.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Whistle Down the Wind

Hundreds of people went knocking on the door of the Sacramento Community Center Theater on Halloween evening, asking “trick or treat.” Which they got is up for debate.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber/Jim Steinman musical, “Whistle Down the Wind” can best be described as Elmer Gantry meets The Music Man, with a bit of racism and every western you’ve ever seen thrown in for good measure.

There is only one way to review this show, and that is to divide it up into two parts – the performances themselves, and then the show itself.

A woman I spoke with in the parking lot after the show said that it was “...uh...’thought provoking.’” I think she was being kind. “Mind boggling” is closer to it. It’s Lloyd Webber, so there is the hum-able tune which is reprised countless times throughout the evening until it becomes an ear worm (a song you can’t get out of your head) as you walk back to your car. The tune was pleasant enough, but the rest of the music was essentially forgettable.

The story was just “off.” It was as if this is what someone from England thought that an American classic would look like. (It’s what Woody Allen might have done to “Oliver Twist,” were the tables turned.) There’s the good kid. There’s the bad kid. There’s the black kid who’s OK sometimes, but other times is subject to blatant discrimination for no discernible reason (except that she likes the bad kid). There’s a revival meeting which seems to have little purpose except to do a song about snakes. And there’s the posse which is hunting an escaped convict and is out for blood, as are all southern posses, of course.

What bothered me the most was that the story takes place in a small town in Louisiana in the 1950s. People have lived in this town for generations. Everybody knows everybody else. Yet some of the townsfolk speak with very strong Louisiana accents–some of the time. Other townsfolk never show a sign of an accent–ever. In the principal family, there are three children and a father. The two youngest children have very thick accents; the father and oldest daughter have no accent.

And then there’s the nasty sheriff who snarls “Le’s go git him,” straight out of some stereotypical Western. Stuff like that, along with the perennial problem of sound system distortion making the dialogue of all of the children unintelligible, tend to prevent you from becoming immersed in the story.

That’s the “trick” part. The “treat” part is that there is little to fault with the performances. Andrea Ross is dazzling as “Swallow,” the oldest daughter in a family which has just lost its mother. She radiates goodness, sincerity and gullibility. She has a beautiful voice and she is the girl would be proud to have as your daughter.

Eric Kunze is “The man” Andrea finds sleeping in her barn, the man whose first words, as a bolt of lightning wakes him up are “Jesus Christ!” leading the devoutly religious Andrea to believe that he is the Son of God, the answer to her prayers. Kunze is an intense, angry man who begins to show a more human side as Andrea doggedly believes in his divinity.

Of course he’s not really Jesus. Or is he? A spectacular conflagration at the end raises questions about that point which are left to the audience to answer for themselves.

There are enough holes in this story to make it look like Swiss cheese. There is a great problem with believability and not really enough good music to make it worth the price of admission. So I’m afraid I left the theater with my trick or treat bag empty.

The Martian Child, a Love Story

There was a Martian mopping my kitchen floor.

The Martian’s Dad told me that Martians love to clean.

The Martian’s real name is Sean and he is the adopted son of science fiction author David Gerrold (perhaps best known for being the writer of Star Trek’s “The Trouble with Tribbles.”). Sean’s story, “The Martian Child” is about to be released as a movie, starring John Cusack with Bobby Coleman playing the role of Dennis, the boy who believes he’s a Martian. (Sean legally changed his name from “Dennis”at the same time that his adoption was finalized.)

Gerrold always wanted a child, but as a single gay man, the route for him was obviously adoption. He had already spent more than a year filling out forms and submitting to interviews. “The hardest thing about adoption is that you have to ask someone to trust you with a child,” he says.

In 1992, Gerrold attended the National Conference of the Adoptive Families of America in Los Angeles. While there, he wandered into a room with “rows of tables and heart-tugging displays. Organizations. Agencies. Children in Eastern Europe. Children in Latin America. Asian children. Children with special needs. Photo listings, like real estate albums. Turn the pages, look at the eyes, the smiles, the needs...”

Then he saw the picture that changed his life. It was at the back of a book from the Los Angeles County Department of Children’s Services. The photo had been added by someone as an afterthought on the day of the conference.

It was a snapshot of a boy with a bike on a sunny, tree-lined sidewalk. “He was caught in the act of shouting or laughing at whoever was holding the camera,” Gerrold remembers. “His blond hair was wild...his eyes shone like stars behind his glasses, his expression was raucous and exuberant.” Gerrold felt that he had found “his” son.

He arranged for a meeting with Dennis’ case worker, where he learned that the boy’s mother was a substance abuser and alcoholic who had abandoned her 1½ year old child in a motel room. His father had died of a self-induced overdose. By 1992, the boy had already been in eight foster homes, and abused in two of them. He was hyperactive, with attention deficit disorder and possible fetal alcohol syndrome. He was classified as “hard to place,” a euphemism for “unadoptable.”

After a lengthy process which included more conferences with social workers and trial visits with Dennis, Gerrold was given the OK to start the adoption process.

This was not an instant “happily ever after” story. Dennis had already been sent away from so many places that he expected the adoption to fail too and he tested the limits. “I had to prove to him that nothing he could do would make me quit, that he was finally in a home where he was loved and nurtured and where he could thrive,” the boy’s father said.

Dennis threw tantrums. “The first time he had a tantrum, I held him in a basket hug for 45 minutes,” said Gerrold. “I told him ‘I’m not giving up on you.’” The next time he only had to hold him for 20 minutes, and by the third tantrum, the boy admitted. “I don’t want to act like this any more.”

It was within the first few months of Dennis’ adoption process that Gerrold got the idea for “The Martian Child.” He was at a party where some women were talking about their children while the kids were playing in the swimming pool.

“They were talking about one of the little girls who thought she was a Martian. At the word ‘Martian’ my ears picked up. The mother explained that her little girl felt she had been implanted in the mom’s tummy. Right away I’m thinking ‘what can I do with that?’”

Gerrold thought that it would be funny if Dennis were really a Martian, but the boy said he was not. “That screwed up a beautiful story idea,” he laughed, “but I wrote the story as if he had answered yes.”

There was lots of material from which to draw. The father and son had been playing games, such as guessing color of M&Ms , wishing for stop lights to turn green, wishing for baseball players to hit home runs. At one point Dennis, always afraid that his luck would change again, said that Gerrold was making him use up all his wishes on trivial things. “No, you can have as many wishes as you want,” his father reassured him. This conversation became a part of the story.

“Almost everything in the story is true,” said Gerrold. “I wanted to capture how much I loved my kid. All of the neat stuff. I began to tweak pieces of dialog. It all fit together that Dennis’ Martian wish was to have a dad.”

Gerrold finished his novelette in 1993, about the time Dennis turned 9. “We had been together 9 months and had reached a point where we had a real father/son relationship. I was having a great time being his dad. The story had become a love letter.”

“I thought it was neat that someone would take time to write a book about my life and to include me in something special like that,” the adult Sean (now 23) remembers. “I was really proud of my dad.”

The problem was that publishers didn’t know what to do with the story. It wasn’t, strictly speaking “science fiction,” yet the Martian aspect took it out of the realm of normal fiction as well. Then Christine Catherine Rush, the editor of “Fantasy and Science Fiction” magazine decided to take a chance and published the story.

Two weeks after “The Martian Child” appeared in print the fan letters started pouring in. “It’s one thing to get letters like ‘you touched my heart’ or ‘I really liked it’,” said Gerrold, “but we were getting letters that were so over the top, things like ‘This is the best story I’ve ever read in this magazine since its beginning.’ It was startling.”

The story won the “triple crown” of science fiction that year: The Nebula, the Hugo, and the Locus Readership Poll. “That only happens once every ten years or so,” Gerrold points out, proudly.

Gerrold and his son went to Scotland for the Hugo Award ceremonies. “That was so cool,” Sean remembers. His father brought him up on stage to accept the award. “He asked me if I wanted to say anything,” says Sean. “I took the microphone and said ‘buy my dad’s books,’” he laughed.

Tor Books, which had published the Starsiders series, Gerrold’s books for young people, was looking for new books from the author. It was decided to expand the original novelette into a full length book. The resulting 190 page hardback was the closest Gerrold had come to writing an autobiography. Friends marveled at its uncharacteristic candor.

After publication of “The Martian Child” in book form, several offers to put the story on the screen came in, but Gerrold was waiting for just the right one.

David Kirschner Productions expressed interest and a workable deal was signed, although the screenplay would be written by Seth A. Bass and Jonathan Tolins. Screen credit for Gerrold was arbitrated and ultimately it was agreed that it would read, “based on ‘The Martian Child,’ by David Gerrold.”

John Cusack was cast in the role of ‘David,’ though he would be a widower, rather than a gay man. “I don’t have a problem with his being a straight guy,” said Gerrold. “The story isn’t about being gay and adopting. The story is about adopting, and the focus of the story is that there are kids who need homes, special needs kids. I’m not an activist about gay people needing to adopt. I’m in this because children need loving parents. That was the point of the story when I wrote it in 1993 and it’s the point of the movie now. Being gay is a very minor point in the novel version of the story. My only objection to ‘David’ being a widower is that you don’t adopt a child to fill a hole in your life, you adopt a child to provide something for a child’s life. If someone wants to adopt because they are grieving lost love, that disqualifies them. You have to have your life in order. That must be in the script. ‘David’ can be grieving, but he has to have both feet on the ground. The only valid reason for him to adopt is that he wants to be a dad.”

The movie was being shot in Canada and Gerrold and his son visited the set a few times during filming. “Bobby Coleman makes a good me,” said Sean. “He’s certainly cute enough,” he laughed. “We were on the set for two days and if we had stayed longer, I could have had a role as an extra in the film, but we had to leave.”

Gerrold was pleased with what he saw. “John Cusack and boy did a wonderful job with the relationship. For those who feel concern that I ‘sold out,’ I haven’t. I think it’s important to make the point that straight people can be just as good parents as gay people. It’s not a critical point for the movie,” Gerrold chuckles.

“This story has always been about one thing only: how much I love my kid,” says Gerrold. “Despite the initial settling in problems, one day you realize he may be a loathsome reptilian thing, but he’s MY loathsome reptilian thing. The story is not about the dad being gay or who died or how to raise a kid, it’s about that shift from the real face of not knowing who this other person is, to loving them for who they are, regardless of who they are. Every parent experiences this. That’s what happens in a love relationship. The movie is about that moment in time when a little boy and a grown man become a father and a son. I hope people see it as a simple father/son story and not add stuff to it. It’s like a souffle, if you add too much to it, it collapses.”

Sean, now 23 - Bobby Coleman - David Gerrold
taken at "The Martian Child" premiere in L.A. 10/18/07

La Traviata

You know you’re seeing a low budget production when the conductor gets up at the end of Act 1, grabs a flashlight, jumps on the stage and starts moving sets.

Capitol Opera’s production of “La Traviata,” at the Veterans Memorial Theater for one more performance, 3 p.m. today, is a very low budget production. It’s so low budget that there are no technicians or designers listed in the program, so it’s hard to know whom to blame for the technical problems.

An opera should be judged on its music, but there is also a world which is created, whether that world be one of a concert version or a semi-staged version or a full fledged production. When you stage an opera, even one with only seven people in the cast, there should be some care taken to make all the elements mesh.

The set (which I learned from the web site, not from the program, was probably designed by Roger Smith...but I may be wrong) was lovely, for a low budget production. It had elements which nicely created the illusion of a 19th century drawing room. Why then, for heaven’s sake, did they decide to add chrome chairs, probably borrowed from the meeting room of the Veterans Memorial Center? It threw the entire “feel” of the set completely off. Didn’t anybody have a few wooden chairs to lend to the production?

Likewise, Violetta (Elizabeth Geantner) and her maid Aninna (Elena Yakobovsky) wore lovely dresses which nicely represented the period, while Flora (Jennifer Kay) and all the men were in modern dress. Alfredo (Zachary Sheely) looked like he’d just walked out of an office on the UCD campus, and Dr. Grenvil (Roger Smith) wore a trench coat, carried a briefcase, and used a shiny modern stethoscope.

The lights seemed to be run by the Veterans Memorial Theater staff, with light cues being given from the conductor (Corey Wilkins), turning around from the pit to indicate a light change. (The house manager also told us that Wilkins was the director of the piece, but he is not given program credit for it.) At one point, I think Wilkins was running the lights himself, since he disappeared for awhile, during which time the lights went out, then he came back in, and wandered around seeming to look for a way to get into the orchestra pit.

Even the printed program has problems, with the opera described as “a masterpiece of fated love,” when I think they meant ill-fated. The synopsis for Act 2 also lists “a band of fortune-telling gypsies and some matadors who sing of Piquillo and his coy sweetheart.” The synopsis must have been lifted out of some book without even being read, since there were no gypsies or matadors and no song of Piquillo.

Despite the length I have given to these glaring elements, the opera itself – the singing and acting, that is – was better than I expected. “La Traviata” is based on Alexander Dumas’ “Camille” (“La Dame aux Camelias”), and tells the story of a romance between the consumptive courtesan Violetta and a young, penniless nobleman, Alfredo Germont, a relationship that cannot end well, with tuberculosis as the silent third partner.

Geantner stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. She has a wonderful soprano that is occasionally a little uneven in the upper range, but is mostly impressive. She is also a convincing actress who wrings every bit of emotion she can from the character.

The same cannot be said of Sheely as her lover Alfredo. Sheely’s voice is a bit tight and he had difficulty with some passages. He could bring convincing emotion from the character beautifully, as in the Act 2 scene with his father (Olando Tognozzi), but it was not consistent throughout the 3 acts.

Jennifer Kay gave a strong performance as Flora who hosts the two parties which take place during the opera and Elena Yakobovsky was likewise strong in the small role of Aninna, Violeta’s companion.

The cast was filled out by Roger Smith in multiple roles (marquis, Barone, Dr. Grenvil) and Steve Hill (Gastone).

Stella Wang did yeoman duty as keyboard accompanist, nicely augmented by Alexi Kodash and Tania Acajedo on strings.

It was a shame that the Veterans Memorial Theater was so sparsely populated because despite its many technical shortcomings, this is an enjoyable 2-1/4 hours. Reviews from previous Capitol Opera shows indicate that other performances have been given in much smaller venues and I suspect that in a smaller venue this would be quite a different show.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

While I was not permitted to review Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, by the Davis Musical Theatre Company's Young People's Theatre, because the newspaper policy is to not review children's theatre, I decided to write and post a review anyway.

This is an amazing production. Credit goes to MJ Seminoff & Emily Jo Seminoff, who directed, choreographed, and designed the sets and costumes. The sets reflected the shoestring budget, but when you have a cast of 47 talented kids on stage, you can forgive a bit of skimping in the set department.

Katie Quiring, Tyler Warren and Erin Carpenter also helped with choreography and the cheography is one of the strengths of this production, as each scene gave such a delightful "tableau," each different from the one before. Partly this was due to the size of the cast, but much was due not only to the design of the numbers, but the crispness of the performers. (I particularly liked Joseph's brothers popping their heads in from the side of the stage.)

Costumes were inventive, using things that kids would wear anyway (matching jeans and tennis shoes) with a bit of "costume" on top and delightful headgear. Joe's coat, designed by Jez Cicero was one of the best I've seen in prior community theatre productions I've reviewed. Truly spectacular.

As for the cast, it was exemplary. The role of the narrator was divided up among three singers, Caitlin Humphreys, Kennedy Wenning and Rebecca Rudy, who blended well and who each had good solo voices.

Chris Peterson, as Joseph, was simply outstanding. His bio in the lobby says he has been performing since age 6 and has done 30 shows and his experience shows. Not only is he completely at home on stage, but he has a terrific voice that never wavered once.

Joseph's brothers gave great performances. I don't know why, after so many years with the high school jazz choir, but I'm always surprised to find a chorus of young men, in their mid-teens, who are comfortable singing and dancing on stage, and who do it better than some adult choruses I've seen over the years. Little Matthew Fyhrie, as Benjamin, was adorable. In some ways he reminded me of puppy Mabel, stuck in with all the big guys, but mimicking their every move and doing it very well.

Soloists in various numbers, Nora Unkel in "One More Angel," Mark Lillya in "Caanan Days" and Meek Craig in "Benjamin Calypso" did a great job. When Craig reprised her song during the curtain call, her movements were so fluid she appeared to have no bones at all.

Staging for "One More Angel" was such fun, with Noel Parente playing the goat the brothers slaughter to convince their father of Joseph's death.

Andrew Lemons was somewhat sabotaged, as both father Jacob and the Pharaoh, by a faulty microphone which prevented his voice from being heard most of the time. Still as the Elvis-Pharaoh he gyrated nicely and deserved the screams of the girls.

The Ishmaelites, Alex Totah, Danika Carlisle, Ella Gallawa, Guiliana Salerno, Jumi Nanakida, Eric Nishiyama, Maria Martinelli, Matt Lemons and Sally Li were adorable, all being the youngest members in the cast, all made up with long beards.

By any standards, adult or children's theatre, this was a terrific show. The theatre was nearly full tonight and is almost sold out for the three remaining performances, so I guess word has got about and people are coming to see it, even without a review!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Of Mice and Men

With “Of Mice and Men,” John Steinbeck invented a new form of writing, the “play-novelette,” a novel that could be played from its lines or a play that could be read as a novel. It was first produced on Broadway in 1937, revived on Broadway in 1974 and again in Chicago in 1980. There was a movie in 1939, another in 1992, and two television productions, in 1968 and 1981, as well as a Turkish television production, “Fareler ve insanlar” in 1975.

This timeless classic story of solitude, longing and deep friendship has struck a chord with people around the world and rings true as much today as it did 70 years ago.

The Sacramento Theater Company production, directed by Michael Stevenson, remains faithful to Steinbeck’s original script – and the production is stunning.

The story centers around George and Lenny, farm workers who travel from job to job, trying to get together enough money to buy their own place and “live off the fat of the land.” George is the leader of the two, because he’s the one with the brains.

The classic description of Lenny is of a physically large, powerful man whose mind is slow and childlike. It is the way I have always seen the part played. Stevenson’s decision to make Lenny not only slow, but also obviously retarded was unusual.

That said, however, Matt K. Miller (George) and Jason Kuykendall (Lenny) turn in flawless performances. I can only assume that Kuykendall has spent a lot of time observing retarded people. Not only his speech pattern, but his body language, hand and facial movements were so convincing the “actor” got lost in the “character.” Lenny is a big-hearted man who loves to stroke soft things, but has no concept of his physical strength and can easily kill small, weak things without meaning to.

Miller’s George is a quick-tempered bulldog of a man who is both frustrated with Lenny, and at the same time feeling a brotherly love for him and a need to protect his friend at all costs, even when the “cost” is so very high.

Much of the play revolves around conversations between Lenny and George, George’s tirades at Lenny for his inability to remember simple commands, contrasted with the story that Lenny always wants George to tell him, about the place they will own, what they will grow and especially the rabbits that Lenny so passionately wants to raise and care for.

The supporting cast of this production is on a par with Miller and Kuykendall, all turning in outstanding performances.

Brett Williams is Slim, the “mule driver,” and perhaps unofficial leader of the ranchands. He’s a likeable guy and becomes a friend to George.

David Silberman gives heart and soul to Candy, who lost his hand in a farming accident and sees the writing on the wall for his future on the ranch. Candy’s one love is his old dog, literally on his last legs.

Aaron Wilton is Curley, the son of the Boss (Floyd Harden), a jealous man with a beautiful new bride, a chip on his shoulder and a hair trigger temper.

Vivian Kerr is Curley’s wife (never named), who is already bored with her new husband and bored with life on the ranch where she longs for someone to talk to. The ranch hands regard her as a slut, but Kerr gives her a sympathetic innocence.

Eddie Jackson is Crooks, the Negro blacksmith, who must sleep in separate quarters because the races don’t mix. He’s bitter and sardonic and sees George and Lenny’s plan to own their own place for what it is: an impossible dream.

The last two farmhands are David Campfield as Whit and David Pierini as Carlson, an angry, self-indulgent man without a soul.

Arthur Rotch is scenic and lighting designer for this production, effectively creating the barren landscape of the Salinas Valley and the rustic out-buildings of a run-down farmhouse. Though not, strictly speaking, a part of the production itself, the silhouettes created by the farm structures against the backdrop during set changes are striking in and of themselves.

Michael Stevenson has treated this Steinbeck classic with reverence and has directed a production which is exceptional. Miller and Kuykendall have created characters who will not soon be forgotten. The production is top notch all the way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Music Man

I can only assume that someone slipped some adrenalin into the punch backstage during the intermission on opening night of Woodland Opera House’s production of “The Music Man.” The difference between Act 1 and Act 2 was striking.

When we left the theater at the end of the show, we noticed that all of the cast photos were hanging on the board, as usual, but there were no labels identifying who was who. This led me to believe that the problem opening night was that the production, directed by Angela Shellhammer with musical direction by Laura Snell, just wasn’t as ready as everyone hoped it would be.

All the elements for an excellent show are in place. It’s visually stunning, with one glaring exception. The choreography by Shellhammer and Eva Sarry is creative and technically well executed. The performers all have impressive credentials and some were excellent on opening night, but not all. There is a nice pit band, though someone in the horn section needed to brush up a bit on “the think system” before the next performance.

Everyone was working very hard, but there was just a terrible lack of energy in Act 1. Oh they worked their little tails off, but “Music Man,” Meredith Wilson’s paean to small town America, circa 1912, is a snappy show with a lot of sizzle and Act 1 had neither snap nor sizzle.

Rodger McDonald makes a great Harold Hill, the swindler who makes his living selling non-existent boys’ bands. He has a strong voice and wonderful chemistry with Gina Marchitiello as Marian Paroo, the town librarian. Unfortunately McDonald had an inordinate number of dropped lines and bungled lyrics. He covered nicely, but the fluffs were noticeable.

Marchitiello has a lovely voice and was spot-on throughout. Her Marian strikes just the right balance between indignant, suspicious librarian and the woman whose heart softens as she gets to know Harold.

Her mother, Mrs. Paroo, was played by Nancy Agee, who created a likeable character who is pushing her daughter into a relationship with the stranger in town.

Jeff Nauer was outstanding as Marcellus Washburn, Harold’s old accomplice, now living a “straight” life with a sweet girlfriend (Jessica Larrick as Ethel Toffelmier). His “Shipoopi” at the start of Act 2 set the stage for the energized act to follow.

Particularly endearing was Samuel Stapp as the shy, lisping Winthrop, whose life is turned around by Harold and the anticipation of the boys’ band.

Abby Miles was cute as Amarylis, who is sweet on Winthrop, but who teases him anyway. Her duet with Marian was charming.

Casey Camacho played the town “bad” kid, Tommy Djilas and did a wonderful job, as did Kendra Evans as Zanetta Shinn, his girlfriend and the mayor’s oldest girl.

Mayor and Mrs. Shinn need to be larger than life. The mayor is a pompous blowhard with the eloquence of George W.Bush and his wife Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn should take center stage whenever she appears. Unfortunately, whether due to actor decisions or stage directions Stephen Kauffman and Nancy Streeter did not fill the bill. Kauffman’s halting, befuddled delivery actually managed to kill each laugh twice. A line like “I don’t think I could be clearer if I was a buttonhook in the wellwater” usually gets laughs, but when you stop after “buttonhook,” there is no laugh. Nor is there a laugh after you add “in the wellwater.” It just doesn’t work, but most of the mayor’s lines were delivered in that manner.

Streeter gave a fine performance, but it didn’t do credit to Eulalie. For example, when all the women are arguing about who is going to tell Harold a bit of gossip, Eulalia should roar “I’ll tell!” not interrupt in normal tone of voice. Eulalie knows she’s a figurehead and she needs to act like one.

The barbershop quartet of Harry Baertschi, Kent Borrowdale, Wayne Raymond and Jim Newlove improved as the show progressed.

The costumes for the show were outstanding, as one has come to expect from costumer, Laurie Everly-Klassen. So it seemed very strange that anvil salesman Charlie Cowell (Andrew Hyun) was put in a skin-head wig which flapped about on his neck, fooled no one and was only a distraction.

Past experience with Woodland Opera House has led me to believe that this show really just needed a couple of more rehearsals. It’s hard to do a bad “Music Man” and this is basically a very good show. As it settles into the run, I’m sure the wrinkles will get ironed out (and the skin head wig glued down more securely).

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dirty Story

Don’t read this review.

I’m serious.

Ever since I left Capital Stage Friday night, I thought about how to write this review without giving away one of the most clever plot twists that I have seen...and unless I want to make the review only one or two paragraphs, there just ain’t no way. part of the review. If you are at all intrigued – and I hope you will be – I’ll let you know when to stop reading! This is definitely a show you will go home talking about. If you are familiar with the previous works of playwright John Patrick Shanley (I was not), the twists and turns might not be quite as surprising as they are to those who are new to this writer.

As the play begins, it seems to be a heavy drama with dialog that would rival David Mamet for length and rapid-fire delivery. Wanda (Stephanie Gularte) is an idealistic young writer who has sent the manuscript of her novel to the writer she worships, Brutus (Scott Coopwood). The two meet at a Manhattan Park, occupied also by a quiet British man (Timothy Orr), who is, like Brutus, playing a game of chess with himself.

Brutus rages at Wanda, tearing her novel to shreds with his criticism, telling her the only advice he can give her is to throw it away and start all over again. "Never write a book like this again. Confine yourself to nonfiction. Better yet, restrict yourself to reading. Your manuscript has no understanding of the possible, much less the utterly unoriginal, very long ‘what if?’...It’s all sugar and no sh*t."

Wanda returns with passion and admits that "I want to improve myself and I’m willing to pay the price."

Abruptly Brutus calls an end to their meeting and we move to scene 2, Brutus’ apartment in the Meat District. The non-stop conversation continues, but it’s getting a little weird. Brutus confesses turning for inspiration to old movies, such as "The Perils of Pauline." He even has a costume he wears while watching the movie. He’s performing a perfectly choreographed verbal dance as he gets Wanda into the outfit, the wig and offers to take her photo dressed as Pauline, despite her misgivings.

"You’re obviously afraid, entrenched, unimaginative, and bourgeois. You wanna know why your writing doesn’t penetrate? Because you’re gutless."

It’s all very funny and she’s laughing about it when suddenly it isn’t funny any more. Ropes are involved. A chain saw is involved. Suddenly it begin to seem like some sort of sick sado-masochistic relationship.

Just as in "The Perils of Pauline," the boyfriend Frank (Harry Harris) arrives in the nick of time, kicking in the door to rescue the fair damsel, who orders him from the room, stating that she can take care of herself.

"Don’t feel bad, Frank," says Brutus. "It’s modern life. Either you’re the villain or the victim. Those are the only roles available. No one is exempt." can stop reading now.

As Act 2 begins, it’s a whole new world. A saloon. Timothy Orr ("Lawrence," the quiet Brit from Act 1) is now "Watson," a bartender and Frank appears to be the saloon owner, swaggering about, lording it over Watson, who remembers the day when he was in charge and Frank was his minion.

Call me slow, but it’s not until Wanda arrives that the brilliance of this story began to reveal itself as a political allegory on the Israeli-Palestine situation. It’s only as the Act 2 dialog progresses that we see how it all ties in with what has been said in Act 1, as Wanda begins to talk about the apartment she has been sharing with Brutus and how it originally belonged to her grandfather (she has the deed to prove it), and she wants Brutus out. It becomes clear that Frank represents the United States, Watson is Great Britain, Wanda is Israel and Brutus is Palestine and the verbal interplay among the characters is delicious.

Shanley reduces the whole history of Israel/Palestine to its least common denominator and gives the audience a lot of belly laughs along the way (particularly the cartoonish character of Frank, a combination of George W.Bush and Uncle Sam).

The cast of this show is top notch. Gularte again displays a range of talent from the dramatic to the absurd in the blink of an eye. Coopwood is a powerful Brutus, bestriding the narrow world like a colossus. Harris is over the top as Frank and playing the perfect buffoon. Orr makes an amazing impact with his understated performance.

Jonathan Williams has directed a first-rate political satire and one that will not quickly be forgotten.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pirates of Penzance

With the demise of the Davis Comic Opera Company last year, Davis has been without a resident Gilbert & Sullivan company, leaving those who love the Savoy operettas with nowhere to turn. Fortunately, the Davis Musical Theater Company decided to give it a shot, choosing "The Pirates of Penzance," Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic story of tenderhearted pirates who won’t harm orphans, as the opening production of its 23rd season. Even better, they hired director Gil Sebastian, who has extensive experience with Gilbert & Sullivan, to direct the show.

"We’re not doing the Joseph Papp Broadway version," producer Steve Isaacson assured me, when he announced the 2007-2008 season. That’s a good thing. DMTC has produced a quite nice, quite respectable, and mostly delightful rendition of Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1880 classic.

Musically, "The Pirates of Penzance" is a parody of serious opera. Parts of the score are direct spoofs of "Il Trovatore" and "La Traviata." It offers witty dialogue, a twisting plot and clever lyrics. What’s not to like?

Gil Sebastian’s direction is strictly traditional, with a few little touches that make it uniquely his own (such as the serving of tea during crucial moments).

Frederick, a young man erroneously apprenticed at age 8 to a band of pirates is hoping to reach his 21st birthday so he can devote himself to exterminating his former comrades. The complicated plot moves very quickly and covers a wide range of topics, such as the value of being an orphan, the meaning of true love and the importance of duty.

Travis Nagler, a "Little Abner"-esque Frederick is the one weak link in an otherwise strong cast. While Nagler (who also acted as Master Carpenter for the set) sings well in his lower register, the part is too high and forces him to use a falsetto voice that too often cracks as he strains to hit the notes.

Lenore Sebastian, the hard of hearing nursemaid who mistook "pirate" for "pilot" turns in a funny performance as the piratical maid of all work. She is particularly good in Act 2, discarding her "upstairs maid" costume for more suitable pirate attire. Her beautiful contralto shines in her Act 1 duet with Frederick, "Oh, false one, you have deceived me."

As the Pirate King, Brian McCann is swash-bucklingly delightful. McCann is the perfect comic pirate, at the same time menacing and soft-hearted. The tempo of his "I am a Pirate King" was a bit plodding and I feared for the rest of the show, but tempos picked up as the women came on stage for "Climbing Over Rocky Mountains"

Dan Clanton is his second in command, Samuel, good at handing out a crowbar or a center bit.

What can be said about Allyson Paris, as Mabel, the daughter of Major General Stanley, who is charmed by the young Frederick? Her performance is a gem. Her coloratura parody of Italian opera ("Poor wand’ring one") was delicious.

Rhiannon Guevin was a captivating Edith, with a strong soprano and a twinkle in her eye. Elsbeth Poe and Katie Baad are her Edith’s sisters, Kate and Isabel, respectively, and also give good performances.

Major General Stanley enters toward the end of the first Act, just in time to save his daughters from a fate worse than death (marriage to pirates) and to sing his signature "Modern Major General." Fearn’s diction is impeccable and his characterization very funny. (I particularly liked his Act 2 bathrobe, complete with epaulets - nice touch by costumer Jeanne Henderson.)

No production of "Pirates of Penzance" would be complete without a bumbling band of Bobbies, the police crew enlisted to bring the pirates to their knees. Jonathan Cagle-Mulberg, Scott Griffith, Scott Sablan, Marc Valdez, Arthur Vassar and John VanWart fill the bill, trembling in their boots at the thought of confronting the vicious pirates. Richard Spierto heads up the group as the Sergeant of Police, who tells the plaintive tale about how "a policeman’s lot is not a happy one."

Steve Isaacson is credited with musical direction and gives us some incredibly beautiful choral moments, especially the lovely "Hail, Poetry," and the hauntingly beautiful, "Oh, dry the glist’ning tear."

Director Sebastian also designed the set, which is utilitarian, but, in the first act, does a nice job of suggesting the rocky coast of Cornwall, and, in the second, the graveyard of Maj. Gen. Stanley’s estate.

There's a reason The Pirates of Penzance has been performed virtually non-stop since its premiere: it's so much fun. We humans like to laugh at the foibles of others, and see the pompous brought down a notch or two, when done with humor.

DMTC’s production does Messers Gilbert & Sullivan proud.