Friday, March 28, 2014

Wrong for Each Other

When I think of David Mamet, I think of wordy plays. But the new-to-me Canadian playwright, Norm Foster, leaves Mamet in the dust as far as “wordy” goes!

Foster’s play, “Wrong for Each Other,” is playing at the B Street Theater through April 13, under the direction of Lyndsay Burch. Foster is a favorite for B Street, having previously presented several of his plays, such as “Mending Fences,” “Old Faces” and “The Foursome.”

“Wrong for Each Other” is about two characters, Norah (Melinda Parrett) and Rudy (Kurt Johnson), who have a chance meeting in a restaurant, where Rudy is dining with a bunch of co-workers and Norah is dining alone.

We learn that the pair divorced three years and nine months ago (but who’s counting?). The awkwardness of their meeting soon resolves into the old familiarity, as Rudy gradually decides to share his meal with Norah so the two can visit. Some have subtitled this play “The Anatomy of a Relationship,” and as it progresses, we quickly learn all about the relationship between Norah and Rudy.

The action moves from the present to the past and back again seamlessly. A memory that starts in the present ends up acted out in the past, as the pair change location on the set. Set designer Samantha Reno has created a deep set, where the present takes place toward the audience and the past more toward the back of the stage, with the separation between now and then indicated by something small like the addition or removal of a piece of costume (a scarf, a hat, etc.), or a slight change in lighting.

The set itself is warm and colorful, in blues and yellows with accents from flowers and here and there. A wonderful turntable enables the back of the set to change, while the front remains static.

As the play proceeds, we begin to wonder how these star-crossed lovers ever got together in the first place. She’s a high-class, city businesswoman, into jazz and classical music. Rudy’s father runs the market where she buys her fruit and vegetables. Rudy himself is a house painter who wants to own his own business and buy a house in the country some day. He likes sports; she knows nothing of baseball or any other sport.

Norah’s only requirements of their relationship, stated early on, is that Rudy always tell the truth, and that he not cheat on her, both of which he does, of course. But truth-stretching is part and parcel of their relationship, even now, nearly four years after the fact. (“Are you seeing anyone?” “No.” “What’s her name?” “Susan.”)

In the hands of Parrett and Johnson, under the direction of Burch, the verbal sparring of the two characters is a delight to behold. The actors are pros and have worked together often. They are so at ease with each other that one might forget that this is a stage production.

They are funny, poignant, dramatic and desperate, each in turn. The scene after their first intimate encounter is particularly funny, as both are so ill at ease and not sure what, if anything, they have started.

This is a play that will appeal to anybody who has ever loved anybody and been in a relationship that either worked … or didn’t.

Foster’s brilliance is that he seems to always have something unexpected upcoming. I won’t spoil the ending, but it was one I had not expected, and that’s always when a play is at its most entertaining.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Art Theater of Davis (feature)

Just like Mickey and Judy, Timothy Nutter found himself a stage and is putting on a show.

The Davis native, a student of Hanneke Lohse and Pamela Trokanski (among others) has been teaching dance at the Davis Art Center and the Davis Holistic Health Center. Nutter attended college at Purchase College (State University of New York) and at Antioch College in Ohio. He studied at the Conservatory of Dance, produced his own dance shows and ran an independent improv dance troupe.

But after his return to Davis, he decided he wanted to start a theater. Seeing a niche in this community that has a musical theater company (DMTC), a couple of groups devoted to Shakespeare (the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble and the university’s Shakespeare on a Shoestring) and a group that does both musicals and comedies (Woodland Opera House), he realized that nobody was really doing contemporary modern drama.

He started the fledgling Art Theater of Davis with some friends he knew from ballet. Ania Mieszkowska, for example, is a director, teacher and theater practitioner to more than 30 years experience in the United States and England. She moved to Davis with family nine years ago. Since her arrival, she has worked as a drama coach and taught ballet and Pilates at The Davis Art Center, Pamela Trokanski Dance Workshop and Applegate Studio.

Once they had the seed of an idea, the next step was finding a venue. Nutter first talked with various churches in Davis. His first thought was to produce something by Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Marie Rilke.

“I thought, people like Rilke so we’ll put something together that will be fun, different and interesting,” he said.
But he ran into rental problems.

“To have a one-day event in a church is plausible, but to put on a theater event that runs for a few weeks takes so much more time. You have to control lights, space, etc., people in and out, set pieces, noise, etc. And God forbid there might be some kind of content problem or ideological conflict. That was a dream that died on the vine,” he said.

Event insurance was also a problem, as the theater company would have to cover insurance at a church venue, which could run into thousands of dollars for the two-week run of a show.

And then he found Third Space, the multipurpose space housing shops, studios, workshops and the like on Olive Drive behind Redrum Burger. He talked with the owner to ask if he would allow a theater to start in his building. It was perfect, with affordable rental rate and no insurance problems.

They created a little gem of a theater that seats 40 to 50 people (on folding chairs, some of which have padded seats), but is just perfect for the kinds of plays Nutter wished to produce.
“It’s been pretty good,” he says. “They didn’t realize how serious we were about changing part of their building, and they didn’t realize how much furniture we were going to be storing here, but it’s been a positive all around because I personally cleaned up a lot of the space and took out shelving they didn’t want anyway. We’re using a room that was underutilized and now it’s a theater, so it’s been good for everyone.”

There has really only been one big problem, so far — where to store all the set pieces, especially when the flea market is being held once a month. “My biggest fear was that someone would buy one of our set pieces!” Nutter said.

For help in casting his show, he joined the Sacramento Area Regional Theater Alliance and advertised through that group, as well as an ad in The Enterprise and individual emails to people Nutter knew who were doing the same kinds of plays he was interesting in putting on.

A multi-talented guy, Nutter also did all the graphic design and printing, so he made up fliers that he put up all over Davis.

“I have no web design skills so couldn’t create a web page other than the Davis Wiki,” he said. “I hadn’t joined Facebook, but then the people I was working with said there is no way you can do this without joining Facebook, so I set up a page on that social media.”

Next came the problem of money. “We started in my garage with my bank account — and I’m a dance teacher,” he said with a laugh. “I just sold off some of my estate and we had lots of lucre to work with.

“That was part of the push for Facebook, but what we did was a funding campaign (like Kickstarter), and 29 or 30 people donated to help us get money to rent costumes and house money to work with for buying lumber, paint, etc.,” he added. “It has mostly been publicized by me, my friends and the 12-actor cast.”

When he first began this project, Nutter thought he would do one play and see what happens, but as he got into it, it seemed that the best way to get funding was to have a plan in mind, which involved not only his first production, but future productions as well.

“Now that the first has come together and we learned we could raise money for this one and people are happy and excited, I’m planning to do more,” he said. “The next play would be a Brecht in the spring and I’m hoping to do another production in the summer and fall.

“My plan is not to go away. I talked with UCD but they have no plans for summer. I was able to rent costumes from the theater department. They were very helpful.”

Nutter sees his new theater as giving more opportunity for people outside of university to perform.

“We need more people,” he said. In fact, he had to write two minor characters out of “Three Sisters” because he couldn’t find 14 actors.

With the success of “Three Sisters,” it is hoped that there will be more interest in future productions, both in actors and in audience. While this is not a conventional theater, it’s easy to find, parking is sufficient and you can stop at Redrum Burger for dinner on your way to the show.

And with good production values and talented actors, it should become a real asset for Davis.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

You Can't Take It With You

“You Can’t Take it With You” is the 1937 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It ran for nearly 900 performances on Broadway and was made into a movie in 1938, directed by Frank Capra.

Now on the Winters Community Theatre stage, under the direction of Anita Ahuja, this revival is a comedy guaranteed to keep the audience laughing through all three acts.

It is the story of the rather odd Sycamore family, with eccentric Grandpa Vanderhof at its head. This is one of Tom Rost’s better roles. He lives his life by the philosophy “don’t do anything that you’re not going to enjoy doing.” He goes to circuses, commencements, throws darts and collects stamps, and he hasn’t paid taxes in more than 35 years.

Daughter Penny Sycamore (Dona Akers) is a would-be playwright who has a file of half-finished scripts. When we first meet her, her plot is stuck in a monastery, and she can’t figure out how to get out, so she switches to work on the “war play” for a while.

Husband Paul Sycamore (Jesse Akers) is a man who doesn’t have a lot to say, but spends his time down in the basement with “Mr. DePinna” (Rodney Orosco), designing and building fireworks for the upcoming Fourth of July celebration.

Daughter Essie (Lori Vaughn) is a dancer who spends her entire life doing pirouettes and leaps about the house as she spends time inventing new candies (she was played in the movie by a very young Ann Miller). Is Essie any good? “She stinks!” says her teacher, Boris Kolenkov (Phillip Pittman, in a commanding, overpowering performance), who calls her “my Pavlova” and encourages her because she is having such a good time. The fee he gets for her lessons is also a great incentive.

Jim Hewlett plays Ed Carmichael, Essie’s husband, a xylophone player and printer who often accompanies Essie musically and who distributes her candies with the fliers he prints to accompany them. Hewlett is always such fun to watch on stage because of his exuberance. He is obviously having a great time with his characters.

Alice Sycamore (Kathleen Dodge), Penny and Paul’s other daughter, comes the closest to being a normal person. She loves her family to death, she frequently tells everyone, but when faced with introducing them to her boyfriend Tony (William Haggerty), the son of her boss, she sees their oddities and is embarrassed. Will the family’s eccentricities hurt their relationship?

Alexis Velasquez gives a solid performance as Rheba, the maid who somehow manages to keep the family in shape. Her boyfriend Donald (Manny Lanzaro) also gets drawn into the family dynamic and escapades.

If you have ever seen Germaine Hupe on stage, you will be blown away by her performance as Gay Wellington, an actress Penny brings home for a reading of one of her plays. Trust me, this is a side of Hupe that you have never seen before. She is a delight.

Tony’s parents, Mr. Kirby (Michael Barbour) and Mrs. Kirby (Ann Rost), show up for dinner a night too early and are thrust into the height of the craziness of the Sycamore household.

In the middle of the confusion, government agents (Mike McGraw, Lou Velasquez and Larry Justice) show up to take Ed to jail for plots against the government, and end up arresting the entire stage.

When all are released and back home again, Kolenkov brings the Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (Laure Olson), now defected from Russia and working as a waitress in a New York restaurant, home for dinner. I would like to have been a fly on the wall when Kauffman and Hart came up with that plot line from left field.

The production suffered from some opening-night jitters, with lots of lines missed, but the rest of the cast covered beautifully. The audience didn’t mind. They were too busy laughing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Second Best Bed

When the curtain goes up on a stage and you see three doors on the left side and three doors on the right, you are pretty certain that madness, mayhem and hilarity will ensue.

Woodland Opera House’s world premiere of “Second-Best Bed” by Sacramento playwright Matthew Abergel does not disappoint.

Once you stop trying to make any logic whatsoever out of the fact that five people — an American student, her gay best friend, a British professor, an over-the-hill British actress trying to make a comeback, and a Jewish woman — just happen to show up on the same day at some obscure rural British B&B, run by a creepy guy with an ax in his hand, all looking for a final play that it is rumored Shakespeare might have written and hidden before his death, then you can just enjoy the comedy on its own merits … and there is a lot to enjoy.

“Second-Best Bed” is Abergel’s first full-length play, though he has been working on it ever since he was in grad school. Appearing as the nervous Frederick in Woodland Opera House’s production of “Noises Off!” rekindled his desire to write his own play, and with the help and support of writers’ groups in Sacramento and San Francisco he was able to complete it and present it to former Opera House Executive Director Jeff Kean, who agreed to produce it.

The show is directed by Abergel’s husband, Robert Cooner, who also directed (among other plays), that infamous “Noises Off!” for Woodland, so he knows how to wring the most comedy out of a script.

The story begins when Judy Cobb (Analise Langford-Clark) and her BFF Jerry Jackson (Scott Martin) arrive at the Cock and Bull B&B. The guy in charge, Toby Fowler (Dan Sattel), is a little odd and gives them unpleasant thoughts of the Bates Motel.

Naturally, when things are at their creepiest, a storm begins to form and they realize they are trapped at the B&B for the night.

Enter Dr. Charles Kennington (the always hilarious Jason Hammond), a professor of English literature who arrives all full of bluff and bluster.

The cozy little group is rounded out by Penelope Brooks (Patricia Glass), an over-the-hill British actress, and Goldie Goldstein (Renee D. Mercer), who drips Jewishness as elaborately as Scott Martin swishes his way through the gay character of Jerry — both enough to be easily recognizable, but yet without making either character a caricature.

Though everyone is trying to keep it secret, it turns out they are all looking for the elusive manuscript and trying to find a way into Toby’s bedroom to check to see if it might be hidden in his bed (more suspension of disbelief that a manuscript hidden 400 years ago would still be there!).

Act 2 kept the audience laughing almost throughout the entire act, as there are suspected kidnappings, life threats with unlikely weapons, unbelievable costumes (kudos to costume designer Denise Miles), unexpected couple pairings and, always, the search for the elusive manuscript. To say more would spoil the fun.

If this is an example of what we can expect from Matthew Abergel in the future, I would say he has all the makings of a popular playwright, and I look forward to seeing his next work.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Blue Man Group

“I loved it. Brave, adventuresome, amusing, challenging and those drummers rock! The woofers and subwoofers they used blew my hair backwards!” was a comment on Facebook by someone attending The Blue Man Group’s performance this week at the Sacramento Community Center.

The Blue Man Group is unique. There is definitely nothing like it anywhere. The group’s website even says “Blue Man Group cannot be explained; it can only be experienced!” It describes itself as “an explosion of comedy, music and technology.”

The group was founded in 1987 by Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton and consists of three actor-musicians who wear bald caps, painted with electric blue latex paint. (There are four Blue Men listed in the program, so there is no way of knowing who is on stage for any performance.)

They do not speak, but interact silently with the audience. They play drums, sometimes with colored liquid poured onto them so that it splashes into the air. They play intricate PVC pipes, they are backed up by “Blue Man Swing,” a small combo group located on two platforms above the stage. And there is lots of technical stuff going on, with strobe lights, special game-type characters projected, and lights turned out into the audience.

Technical elements sometimes can be problematical, and the curtain on opening night was held for 45 minutes while they fixed a technical glitch (which I guess was fixed, because nothing seemed to go awry during the performance).

There is a cameraman to videotape certain portions of the show and project it on the back screen, especially when the group is interacting with the audience, not only the people in the “poncho section” (the first three rows, where people are almost guaranteed to get splashed and are given complimentary ponchos when they arrive), but also climbing on the seats of the back audience, creeping up the aisles and peering intently into the faces of unsuspecting audience members.

There is an electronic message crawl above the stage, sending notes out to the audience. On opening night the audience was invited to speak “Happy Birthday” to someone and someone else was called out, informing him that he had not updated his Facebook status in the past minute and a half.

The audience loves it and it begins a nice bond between the performers and the audience.

The finale is a many-minutes-long dance party, with the audience standing and batting huge multi-colored balls around while a cannon on stage shoots streamers of paper out into the audience.

As I read this, I realize that they are right — you can’t explain Blue Man Group, you can only experience it. Some members in the audience left long before the end, others were screaming wildly for an encore.

Critics were offered earplugs in case we wanted them. I wore mine and at one point removed them and quickly put them back in again. The noise level can be ear-shattering, but if you are used to rock concerts, I suspect this is part of the attraction.

It is definitely a not-to-be-missed experience, if only to say you’ve seen them. It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, but if this rather stilted description sounds good to you, you’re gonna love it!

One thing is for certain … you’ll never think of Twinkies the same way again … or marshmallows either.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Three Sisters

It was an auspicious beginning for Davis’ newest theater — The Art Theater of Davis — as it presented its first production, Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” directed by co-founder Timothy Nutter, who is also credited with original script adaptation and set design.

I have to make one comment first off. If you know nothing about Chekhov, or about this play, it would behoove you to do a little research before seeing the show. While the program gives the names of the characters and the actor who plays which character, Chekhov rarely uses the actual name of the character in his script. Other than the three sisters, their brother and his wife, nobody else is called by his or her program name.

Baki Tezcan, for example, gives an excellent performance as Vershinin, the lieutenant colonel commanding the artillery battery in town, who enters into an affair with sister Masha, but it was not until I got home that I realized which character he was because he is only referred to by his military title in the script.

Steve Buchanan plays Tuzenbach, in love with youngest sister Irina, but is only ever called “Baron” in the play.
The only reason I knew that the servant they call “Nanny” is named Anfisa was because I had met the actress when the show was in rehearsal.

Trying to keep up with which actor plays which part is impossible.

The program also gives no help as to how much time has elapsed between the acts. Act 2 takes place nearly two years after Act 1, but as the set is the same, the characters are the same and, I believe, the costumes are the same, how are we to know how much time has elapsed, which is an important thing to know, given the changes that have happened in the family during those two years.

Act 3 is a year later and takes place in a bedroom though since the family has been talking of moving to Moscow, there is no way until well into the act that you realize this is not a Moscow apartment, but a bedroom in the house seen in the first two acts. One should not assume that everyone in the audience is familiar with the play before they see it.

However, this should not have any reflection on the actual performances by the actors, which were, for the most part fine.

Sarah Cohen gives a stern and compelling performance as oldest sister Olga, the matriarch of the family, following their father’s death the year before. Olga is a spinster who does not have much joy in her life. She longs to have married “any man, even an old man” if one had asked her, but she has compassion in her soul and takes a job (school headmistress) she does not want in order to have a home for her aging servant, Anfisa (Scarlet O’Connor, a beautiful job as a doddering old woman fearful of being fired because she is no longer capable of doing her job).

The middle sister, Masha is played by Tatiana Ray. She is 21 at the start of the play and unhappily married to Kulygin (Adam Siegel, who has serious projection problems throughout the first three acts). Her behavior, especially in Act 2, where she vacillates between hysterical, uncontrollable laughter to the depths of depression, bent over, holding a pillow in front of her as perhaps her barrier against the world, might indicate that she suffers from manic depression. She also has the most biting wit and the clearest perception of the family condition.

Irina (Claire D’Angelo) is celebrating her 20th birthday at the beginning of the play. She is young and idealistic and full of dreams of her future life in Moscow, where she knows she will find true love. Ultimately she suffers the greatest loss and though her dreams have been squelched, she resolutely decides to move to Moscow anyway.

Tyler Shaffo is Andrey (Andrei), the youngest child and only male in the family. He, too, plans to move to Moscow, where he knows he will have a shining career as a professor, but by Act 2 his dreams have faded. He is saddled with a shrewish wife and a baby and is stuck in a job as secretary to the County Council. Shaffo has the perfect look of a young Russian intellectual.

Natalia (called Natasha in the play) is played by Cheryl Leohr. She enters the family as a very shy, insecure girl, in love with Andrei. She dresses poorly and much fun is made of an inappropriate belt that she wears (though it appears to match her dress nicely … perhaps costumer Ania Mieszkowska could have made it just a bit more inappropriate!). By Act 2, however, she is a mother and throughout the rest of the play she gradually becomes the boss in the house, especially after Andrei runs up a huge gambling debt and has to mortgage the house in order to pay it.

Patrick Hunt is particularly good as Chebutykin, the old doctor (“nearly 70″), who starts the play as a fun person who has given up drinking and is living a clean life, but later reverts to his old ways and while drunk blurts out a shameful family secret. Irina is his favorite of the three sisters and he is forever bringing her gifts (some speculate that as Chebutykin once had an affair with the girls’ mother, that Irina is really his child, though there is nothing in the plot to address that).

The smallness of the theater (a little gem of a space carved out of part of Third Space, the multipurpose space housing shops, studios, workshops, etc. on Olive Drive behind Redrum Burger) brings the audience into the family and makes us all feel, at times, like uncomfortable guests at a dysfunctional family dinner.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Grapes of Wrath

Today’s newspapers are filled with stories of climate changes that are wiping out crops and causing the price of some goods to skyrocket, anger over migrant workers taking away jobs for the locals and greedy bankers ready to foreclose on homes and turn families out on the streets.

Was there ever a more perfect time for the revival of John Steinbeck’s Depression era story, “The Grapes of Wrath,” now at UC Davis’ main theater.

The climatic change was the yearly dust storms that rolled across the plains, killing off crops and making the soil uncultivable. The migrant workers of the 1930s were “Okies,”coming from Oklahoma to California on the promise of farming work, as welcome then as are today’s Mexican migrant workers. And haven’t there always been heartless bankers ready to foreclose on a family’s mortgage in order to line their own pockets?

“The Grapes of Wrath” was the perfect choice for director and Granada Artist in Residence Miles Anderson. Anderson writes that by the age of 14 he had read all of Steinbeck’s great novels and that his mother’s upbringing in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was “deprived and penniless,” so this story of the Joad family resonated with him.

He also found it significant that UCD is located in a farming community, just 150 miles north of Salinas, where Steinbeck lived and worked.

In Frank Galati’s adaptation of the story (which won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1990), music is added (by orchestra members Kristen Guggenheim, Stephen Robinson and Cole Sutliff), though this is not a musical. The musical numbers are stuck in at certain points to lend an air of period authenticity and strike the proper tone, a lovely background for a funeral and a lively accompaniment for a camp dance, for example.

John Zibell, the only Actor’s Equity actor in the production, is a wonderful Tom Joad, very noble, very dedicated. Tom has just been released from prison (“on parole,” he has to tell everyone who assumes he has escaped!) and returns to find his family home abandoned, the family having packed up and preparing to move to California because of a flyer they received saying that 800 jobs are waiting to be filled.

The family piles into a marvelous wreck of a truck (on loan from the San Francisco Opera) and proceed through several adventures, both good and bad, to head for California. On the way they bury both Grampa (Ned Jacobson) and Gramma (Lindsay Beamish), both of whom are delightful oldsters, totally devoted to each other and bereft at the thought of leaving their lifelong family home. Grampa has to be drugged to get him on the truck.

Ma Joad is a wonderful character and Janlee Marshall gives her both pride and stoicism, a woman whom life has tried to beat down, but who refuses to give up on hope. It is she who is determined to keep the family together.

Cooper Wise is Jim Casy, the former preacher who has lost his ability to preach because he just doesn’t believe any more, though when needed, he can manage to find words for grace before meals, or for a burial.

There are others in this cast who are also strong and add to the overall success of the work. David Orzechowicz is Pa Joad, a hard-working sharecropper who is determined to believe that he will find work if he can just get his wreck of a truck to California.

Amanda Vitiello is Rose of Sharon, all “growed up,” married, pregnant and already feeling beaten down by life, even more so after her husband Connie’s (Kyle Roddy) desertion and the death of her child.

The children, Ruthie and Winfield are double cast and played — on the night I attended — by Ella Kroll and Geoffrey Votaw (who is so cute he steals the show, though very professional while on stage). In other performances the roles will be played by Isabella Park and Django Zibell (“Tom Joad’s” real-life son).

Anyone who has seen the movie will remember Henry Fonda’s iconic “I’ll be all around” speech, as he prepares to leave his family to spare them having to hide him from the police. Fonda gave it the weight of any major speech, but in this production, Tom is just talking to his Ma and it’s his way of letting her know that he is leaving … and that he plans to work for better working conditions for people like the Joad family.

Steinbeck shone the spotlight on cruel and inhumane treatment of some people by other people, but he also showed that there is goodness and hope in the world. It is a message that we would all do well to remember, whether we are the downtrodden, or those in a position to do something about the conditions of our fellow man.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Romeo and Juliet

In fair Verona does Sacramento Theater Company set its scene.

That would be Verona, New Jersey, 1930.

Two mob households, both alike in dignity – the Italian Capulets and the Jewish Montagues.

For Sacramento Theater company, this is the first time in its 69 year history that it has presented “Romeo and Juliet,” but director Ed Claudio’s updated vision proves, once again, that the themes of family conflict and young love haven’t changed since the time of Shakespeare and remain relevant today.

The character of Romeo has always bothered me.  He’s head over heels in love with Rosaline, to where he cannot eat, cannot sleep and risks sneaking into a ball at the enemy Capulet home in hope of seeing her.  But on viewing the young Juliet, all thoughts of Rosaline dissolve and suddenly he is head over heels in love with Juliet.  Does not bode well for a lasting relationship.

Good thing he doesn’t live long enough to attend another ball and see another beautiful girl. (oops...spoiler alert!)

Despite the failings of Romeo’s character, there are no failings in the performance of Andrew Joseph Perez, a handsome, muscular young man with a six pack he’s not embarrassed to show off.  Perez appeared in the recent Capital Stage production of “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” where he played a wrestler. A lot of the moves he perfected in that production come in to play in his fight scenes in this production, and he climbs Juliet’s balcony effortlessly...more than once.  (Not surprisingly, Perez is also the fight choreographer for the production)

Denver Skye Vaughn may be a recent university graduate, but her Juliet looks every bit 15, a waifish figure who has to display a range of emotions from giddy young girl experiencing her first love, to defiant daughter who is going to have her Romeo despite the feelings of her dictatorial father, to fearful wife, taking a potion which will knock her out long enough for everyone to think her dead, to distraught widow, unable to live with her husband dead.  She nails each emotion and takes the audience along with her for the roller coaster ride.

Amazing how much can happen in the space of a couple of days!

Despite all the murders and suicides in this play, usually classed as a tragedy, there’s a lot of funny stuff.  In fact, act 1 is hilarious.  Director Claudio explains that there are many elements of comedy before and even after the deaths of some of the major characters in the story.  With comedienne Amy Kelly as the Nurse you can’t help but have laugh out loud scenes.  She is larger than life and dominates nearly every scene in which she appears.

There is little comedy, however, in Kirk Blackinton’s Capulet, whose rage at his daughter more than just borders on domestic violence.  He is a smoldering cauldron whose sadness at the death of his daughter comes a little too late.

Matt K. Miller is back on the STC stage as the wise Rabbi Laurence, a departure from the Friar Laurence of the original.  (Some dialog changes had to be made, as a rabbi is unlikely to invoke the name of “Holy St. Francis” which became “Jumping Jehosaphat”)

The supporting cast is very strong, with Dan Fagan as Benvolio, Sean Patrick Nill as Tybalt, Jeb Burris as Mercutio, Kristine David as Lady Capulet.  Kevin Frame and Ernestso Bustos, as a cop and the Constable are also quite effective in their characterizations.

Scenic designer Anna Katharine Mantz has designed a beautiful wooden set with many levels, the house of each of the families on opposite sides of the stage.

This is a beautiful looking, strongly acted production which has something for everyone, from broad comedy to exciting fight scenes to delicious eye candy to sexy romance to tear-jerking tragedy.  What’s not to like?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

South Pacific

Before the start of the opening performance of the Davis Musical Theater Company’s excellent new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” producer Steve Isaacson shared that it was exactly 30 years ago that night when his wife, Jan, woke him to announce that the two of them were going to start a new theater group.

Thirty years later, DMTC is going stronger than ever, with this new production proof of the pudding.  And, sadly, the message of this show rings as true today as it did when it premiered in 1949. Themes of xenophobia, hatred and fear of people who are not like “us” permeate this story of a young Navy nurse on a South Pacific island falling for a handsome middle-aged French ex-patriate,, but unable to make a commitment to him when she discovers that he has children by a Polynesian woman.

While this show has many memorable tunes, like “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Younger than Springtime,” “Bloody Mary,” and “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair,” it is the bitter song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” sung by Lt. Cable when he realizes that his inbred distaste for people with dark skin will prevent him from marrying the young girl he has come to love which still rings true today.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
of people whose eyes are oddly made
and people whose skin is a different shade...
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate...

Director John Haine has a first-rate cast for this show.  Laura Woodruff plays Nellie Forbush, the nurse who struggles with the idea of mixed-race children.  She is a strong personality, yet softens when with Emile deBecque (Travis Nagler), the plantation owner she has known only a few days.

Woodruff and Nagler have powerful voices and a lovely chemistry together.  Nagler is not a pretty-boy leading man, but a strong, barrel-chested man who exudes both strength and tenderness.

DeBecque’s children are played by Mckenna Lincoln and Andrew Montano, who are the least likely looking siblings you’d want to see, looking quite different from one another, but so darn cute it doesn’t matter.  Both have mastered their lines in French beautifully.

Bloody Mary, the Tonkinese woman who sells grass skirts and shrunken heads to the military is portrayed beautifully by Dannette Vassar in a role that seems tailor-made for her.  Vassar does not have the vocal power of some Marys, but with clearly modulated tones, the power of her “Bali Hai” comes across just as well as any other.

She is also a woman who is looking for a good future for her daughter, Liat (Ana Chan) and has eyes on Lieutenant Cable, newly arrived on the island, as a mate for the young girl.  She has no qualms about prostituting the girl if it will get her a rich American husband.

Scott Scholes is simply wonderful as Lt. Cable.  He is innocent, idealistic, tortured by his conflicted feelings for Liat...and has a great set of pipes on him too.

The military hierarchy come in the persons of Captain George Brackett (Richard Lui), and Commander William Harbison, played by Ben Bruening, who has been absent from the DMTC stage for 8 years.  It was such a welcome familiar face to see again.

Comic relief is provided by Seabee Luther Billis (Gabe Avila), a wheeler-dealer who knows what he wants and how to get it.  His duet with Nellie at the base’s Thanksgiving Day festival was very funny.

This is a large cast who move well on stage, thanks to the choreography of Katherine Coppola.

The small DMTC budget is never enough for lavish sets but the set and lighting designs of Steve Isaacson managed to create a very believable South Pacific isle.  The silhouette of the volcanic island Bali Hai against a plain sky which changed colors at various times in the day was the perfect effect, and deBecque’s plantation was lovely.  There was even a beach shower with real water for Nellie to wash that man right out of her hair.

This one’s a real winner.