Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Capital Stage’s current production of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” is a beautifully directed (by Janis Stevens), wonderfully acted, handsomely designed story of three people that we really don’t like very much at all.

The one-act play, which starts at the end of the story, works backwards in nine scenes to the beginning. The plot closely parallels Pinter’s own life at the time. The married playwright was in a seven-year affair with a BBC reporter, whose husband was his own best friend.

The set for this production, designed by Paul Kreutz, is very stark, but somehow compelling. It is an all-white stage with three platforms that overlap each other. A bed is suggested on the top level, with a lovely shimmering golden blanket (the only hint of color on the stage).

A table, bench and chairs are moved by the efficient stage crew from scene to scene to suggest the next locale. Three large screens stretch across the back, each showing a video that lets the viewer know the year, the season and the location. (Projections are by Russell Dow.)

As the show opens, Emma (Elena Wright) is waiting in a pub for Jerry (Chad Deverman). Dialog reveals that they have not seen each other in two years, and that they had a seven-year affair. They talk of her husband (whom she is about to divorce) and Jerry’s wife and whether the spouses ever knew of their involvement.

In the next scene we meet Emma’s husband Robert (Michael Patrick Wiles), who is the quintessential example of the British “stiff upper lip,” as he and Jerry dispassionately discuss the affair with Emma and whether they should get together to play a game of squash or not.

As the scenes move backward, we find betrayal everywhere. Emma lies to Jerry, Robert lies to Emma, Jerry lies to his wife, and to Emma. They have created the proverbial tangled web and lived it for seven years, and are still living with the consequences.

Elena Wright starts the story as a somewhat nervous yet likable Emma meeting her former lover after two years, but as their conversation continues, her need for reassurance that he still has feelings for her and her apparent willingness to give it another go gradually erase that likability and she starts to be annoying.

Costumer Gail Russell has chosen a violet palate for Elena, and in every scene she is wearing a new costume, but always in the same shade of violet, which is very becoming on her.

We don’t really start to dislike Jerry for several scenes. He seems an OK fellow, until he doesn’t. Russell has created a striking series of costumes for him, in colorful pastels that shouldn’t match, but do.

Wiles, as Robert, in contrast, is in a more nondescript costume that doesn’t really stand out, which matches his personality. Wiles does well keeping his anger quietly simmering just below the surface while engaging in polite conversation with his best friend, who is sleeping with his wife.

Graham Scott Green adds a much-needed touch of humor in his brief scene as the waiter in an Italian restaurant.

Perhaps the problem with this play is that there is no mystery. We know from the beginning how the relationship ends and there is nothing much surprising about how it begins.

The play is billed as one of Pinter’s “masterpieces,” but I much preferred his “Homecoming,” also directed by Stevens, which Capital Stage presented two years ago.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Shape of Things

When I left the Lab Theatre in Wright Hall on the UCD campus after seeing a fine production of Neil LaBute’s “The Shape of Things,” directed by Gregory Holmes, my first thought was: “How in the world can I review this show?”

To discuss most of the plot is to destroy the discovery that audience members will make during the 90-minute one-act play.

And so I will try to be obtuse, but still give it the attention it deserves.

Taylor Church is Adam, a somewhat nerdy grad student working two jobs to put himself through school. One of his jobs is as a guard in the campus art museum.

Melissa Cunha is Evelyn, a free spirit, an art student working on a performance-art project, who has come to the museum to deface a statue she believes has been ruined by moralistic faculty members.
In trying to convince her not to use her can of spray paint, Adam finds himself attracted to her, and, despite his reticent nature, he ends up taking her out for coffee.

Out of this, a relationship begins to grow. Because of his feelings for her, so contrary to her open, almost amoral nature, he finds himself wanting to please her and begins to make improvements in himself.

The couple meet Adam’s old roommate Philip (Emile Rappaport), a brash, outspoken man who bristles at Evelyn’s ideas. They are oil and water, and an immediate animosity exists between them.
Philip’s fiancĂ©e Jenny (Kelly Tappan) is a mild-mannered, soft-spoken woman, interested in planning their upcoming wedding.

The four actors give excellent performances, particularly Cunha and Church, as they examine the meaning of friendship, loyalty, manipulation, love, betrayal and what constitutes “art.”

The scenic design of Elizabeth Kang consists of a series of white blocks, creatively assembled to represent tables, chairs and beds, each of which quite believable (who needs real furniture when you can work so creatively with blocks?)

The costume designs of Colleen Smith are particularly good, especially for what she does with Adam.
The mood is beautifully created by the lighting design of William Ebler.

As the play comes to an end, audience members will leave the theater talking about what just happened and how they feel about it.

People considering attending this show should be aware that it contains adult language and adult situations and is not suitable for children.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Whale

Charlie is dying. He’s 600 pounds and housebound. He is grieving the loss of his partner Alan, and he is eating himself to death. His apartment is littered with the detritus of a diet of junk food: candy wrappers, pastry boxes, KFC buckets and a vat of some sort of sweet drink.

His COPD will take him soon — maybe tonight, because he’s having chest pains. But he refuses to go to the hospital because he has no insurance.

Charlie is the unlikely hero of Samuel D. Hunter’s “The Whale,” presented by California Stage and directed by Shawn O’Neal. The play is the recipient of the 2013 Lucille Lortel Award, Best Play, the 2013 Drama Desk Award for Significant Contribution to Theatre and the 2013 GLAAD Media Award, Outstanding Theatre.

Joel Mario Rickert gives a memorable performance as the reclusive Charlie, who teaches writing courses over the internet — but doesn’t use a webcam because he doesn’t want to be seen.

The most important person in his small circle is Liz (Melita Ann Sagar), a nurse, who visits every day, brings food, takes his vitals, and tries to encourage him to go to the hospital. They have known each other for many years and truly like each other.

But it is Elder Thomas (Thomas Dean), a young Mormon on his “mission” who makes the biggest impact. Fortuitously catching Charlie in the middle of one of his spells, he helps quiet the pain and get him back on track. He wants to tell Charlie about Mormonism so that he can be redeemed before his death. Elder Thomas, though filled with Mormon zeal and that fresh-faced missionary smile, is hiding his own secrets, we will learn later.

Along comes Ellie (Soren Lipman), who is Charlie’s rebellious 16-year-old daughter, from a brief marriage to her mother Mary (Aviv Hannan). Charlie has not seen the girl in 14 years, since he left her mother for Alan, but she keeps him up to date on the girl’s progress. Ellie has tracked him down and wants to meet him. She finds him disgusting, yet at the same time fascinating. She stalks out in anger many times, but she keeps coming back.

Despite the many obvious potentially negative aspects of this play, it is a surprisingly uplifting story of love, truth, raw emotion — and maybe redemption. No, Charlie is not converted. No Ellie does not fall into his arms and tell him she loves him. But it’s all OK in the end.

Charlie is a gentle, sensitive soul, beaten down by his circumstances, who affects those around him and who, conversely, is affected by them as well. There are wonderful conversations about Mormonism (it does not come out untarnished), parenting and taking control of your life.

This is an unusual play, but unique and one that is likely to stay with the viewer for a long time to come.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

It’s a tale as old as time: She’s the daughter of the crazy old town inventor, ridiculed by the townsfolk for her bookishness and her dreams of finding her prince charming. He’s a prince with a curse on his head, hiding his hideous form away in a creepy old castle, feared by the townsfolk because he’s “different.” Spoiler alert — the two outcasts find each other, fall in love, and live happily ever after.

“Beauty and the Beast,” directed by Angela Baltezore, with musical direction by James C. Glica-Hernandez and choreography by Staci Arriaga and Eva Sarry, has waltzed onto the stage of the Woodland Opera House, there to enchant any in the audience who allow themselves to be swept into the story.

At the outset, I must give great kudos to set designers Mark and Christine Deamer, surely the best purveyors of trompe l’oeil in the area. One should carefully examine the set for Belle’s town to see what I’m talking about!

Dalton McNeely is the Beast, under a spell by a sorceress for being rude to her. He is turned into a hideous beast and all of his castle staff are slowly turning into household objects. The spell can be broken only if he learns to love — and if someone loves him in return.

Crissi Cairns is Belle, the spunky heroine who, to save her father, agrees to live in the castle of the beast forever. While she does not have a powerful voice, she has a clear, true soprano and her growing affection for the beast was touching.

McNeely could not have been more perfect as the Beast. His size made him impressive and, clad from head to toe in beastliness by costumer Denise Miles, he was a ferocious sight to see. However, watching him discover that he has feelings for Belle was lovely and when they waltz around the stage, it made the hardest of hearts melt. His first-act finale, “If I can’t love her” was a high point of the evening.

The town hunk is Gaston (Daniel Silva) who is the most handsome man in the world (according to him) and he wants to marry Belle, whether she wants him or not. Silva is suitably Trumpish in his self-grandiosity.

As his sidekick/flunky, Lefou, Eddie Voyce was appropriately subservient, but I wish they could have tamed his hair a bit.

Richard Lui is Maurice, Belle’s father, the crazy inventor who wanders off into the woods and gets lost  and then captured, at the Beast’s castle.

The Beast’s household staff always steal this show. Darryl Strohl-DeHerrera played Lumiere with the proper degree of foppishness and pulls it off despite having his arms raised above his head holding candles throughout.

Then there is Cogsworth (Erik Catalan), who is turning into a clock and dear Mrs. Potts (Kara Cummins), the teapot, with her little son Chip (Severin Sunshine Morena), a disembodied head on a tea cart. All were delightful. Morena sings the title song and it is lovely.

Jaelle LaGuerre is Madame de la Grande Bouche, the former opera singer becoming a Wardrobe, while adorable Franchesca Sonoyoma flits around the house as Babette, the flirty feather duster.

After the Beast allows Belle to return home to see her father, the town calls Monsieur D’Arque, of the local insane asylum, to commit him because they all feel he is crazy. Andy Hyun outdoes himself in his gleeful evilness.

This is a show that will amuse and delight children and adults alike, and at its end you will believe that miracles do happen, people can live happily ever after, and that inner beauty can tame the beast.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Christians

Kurt Johnson, Darian Dauchan and Greg Alexander perform in
B Street Theatre's production of “The Christians.”
Rudy Meyers Photography/Courtesy photo

If you are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, or any other non-Christian religion or non-religion, you might want to steer clear of B Street’s new show, “The Christians,” by Lucas Hnath, hailed by the New York Times as “one of the freshest play-writing voices to emerge in the past five years.”

The show was apparently the break-out hit of the 2014 Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville, Kentucky, and has received good reviews Off-Broadway and all across the country.

Though it more than meets the promise of “powerful and thought-provoking,” the piece assumes that everyone accepts the divinity of Jesus Christ and follows the teachings of the Bible.

Pastor Paul (Kurt Johnson) is the head of a church (presumably non-denominational since no specific religion is mentioned), which has grown from a small group into a megachurch, ministering to thousands of believers. He has the smoothness and likeability of a Joel Osteen. He has just paid off the final debt for this beautiful edifice, he announces.

The edifice is, indeed beautiful. Scenic designer Samantha Reno has created a beautiful church altar, with a huge stained-glass window behind a golden arch and side choir stalls in which a dozen unnamed choristers add to the authenticity as they sing several hymns.

There is a lot of talk about emotional distance between the pastor and his flock, only heightened by the use of hand-held microphones throughout the show, even in intimate scenes between the pastor and his wife (Margaret Laurena Kemp).

In an overly long sermon, which began to feel like real “church,” Paul examines an emotional struggle he has been having after hearing a missionary describe a particularly painful experience of violence following a car bombing. After much prayer and study, Paul began to question the concept of “hell” and whether there really was a “hell” that was designed for all non-believers (e.g., Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.) He declares that from now on, his church rejects the concept of hell and would be all-inclusive.

This sets off a terrible division in his congregation, led by associate pastor, Joshua (Darian Dauchan) who adheres to what he believes is the strict interpretation of the scriptures.

Representing the congregants who are upset by the new thinking is one of the choristers, Jenny (Tara Sissom) who asks pointed and very difficult questions about the loss of hell and what that means for people like Hitler. When she dies, will she be in heaven with Hitler?

At first Paul’s financial backer Jay (Greg Alexander) stands by him, but as more and more congregants leave the megachurch to follow Joshua to his newly formed church, Jay also withdraws his support.

Discussion between Paul and wife Elizabeth is very painful and reveals not only cracks in religious beliefs, but in their marriage as well.

There are good dialogs going on in this show, but more and more I began to wonder if there were any non-Christians in the audience and how they felt about it, and I almost felt embarrassed to be sitting there ignoring other religions.

Friday, January 13, 2017

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

From left, David Crane, Melinda Parrett, Jennifer Morrison and Jake Mahler star
in Sacramento Theatre Company's "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.”
Charr Crail Photography/Courtesy photo

 “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” by Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts, is now on Sacramento Theatre Company’s Pollock Stage, directed by Jerry Lee.

This is a show that ran for 5,000 performances off Broadway from 1996 through 2008 and has been a favorite of small theaters around the country ever since. It has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

It is a pleasant “boutique musical” — a term used by STC Education Director, Michele Hillen-Noufer — which is guaranteed to appeal to white, older, married empty-nesters. For other demographics, perhaps not quite so much.

The show, while dated, is a celebration of the mating game. Act 1 explores the journey from dating and waiting to love and marriage, while Act 2 reveals the agonies and triumphs of in-laws, newborns, trips in the family car and pickup techniques of the geriatric set.

The cast consists of two men and two women. Melinda Parrett, frequently seen at B Street Theatre, has performed with STC twice before, but it is a debut performance for Jake Mahler, David Crane and Jennifer Morrison (so poignant in Green Valley Theater’s recent “Last Five Years”), all of whom are wonderful additions to the STC family.

The four are accompanied by Samuel Clein (alternating with Chris Schlagel), conductor and keyboard, and Annie Coke on violin.

The actors rotate through the approximately 20 roles in the show, from angst of the first date …

Will my hopes be met? Will my fear dispel?
Will I captivate? Or will I repel?
Will I show him/her just how wonderful I am?
Or will I be a date from hell?

… through marriage and the problems of finding intimacy when there are children in the house, all the way through trying to find a mate after a messy divorce, using a dating service (Parrett is very funny trying to figure out the new technology) and finding another partner following the death of the first, though each still loves the departed spouse.

Girl: Arthur, there is something I have to tell you, when it comes, to you know, I’m not the type of person who jumps in bed like an acrobat, it takes time with me,
Guy: Uh oh.
Girl: That’s a problem?
Guy: Depends, how much time you talking, cause if you’re talking years I don’t think either of us has that long.
Girl: I was talking a few weeks maybe,
Guy: No matter, I can live with that.

The scene is a less funny and more poignant moment that will touch the heart of those of us “of a certain age” who have attended too many funerals lately.

The longevity of this show is proof of its popularity, and with a load of talent like Mahler, Parrett, Crane and Morrison, along with Jerry Lee (who was in the show when STC did it in 2012), it can’t help but be another hit for the company.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

42nd Street

Add cErnestine Balisi as Peggy Sawyer and Nathan Lacy as Julian Marsh
perform in the Davis Musical Theatre Company's production of “42nd Street.”
Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

 If you like tap dancing, you’re going to love Davis Musical Theatre Company’s sparkling new production of “42nd Street,” directed by John Ewing, with choreography by Terri Taylor.

This formulaic Depression-era story of a girl from the Midwest arriving in New York, determined to become a star, was first a Busby Berkeley movie vehicle for hoofer Ruby Keeler in 1933, with a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, lyrics by Al Dubin, and music by Harry Warren.

In 1980, David Merrick decided to bring the story to Broadway, under direction of Gower Champion. The stage version used only four of the songs from the original movie version and added songs from other musicals of the 1930s. The end result was nominated for several awards in 1981 and won a Tony for best revival in 2001.

The central figure of the story is Peggy Sawyer, played by Ernestine Balisi, with a sparkle in her eyes and a big Mary Tyler Moore smile. Peggy almost never loses her conviction that she can be a star and it’s hard to believe that nobody involved with casting can see that she’s a bundle of talent.

Wendy Carey is the aging diva, Dorothy Brock, who no longer has the talent she used to when she was the darling of Broadway. Though she has the belting ability of an Ethel Merman, they now have to get the chorus to dance around her to hide the fact that her steps are no longer up to par. Carey gives the role her all, and her final message of encouragement to Peggy is touching. (“Now go out there and be so swell that you’ll make me hate you!”)

Randal Costa and Monica Parisi play Bert and Maggie, the writers of the show, who step into the chorus when necessary. Parisi has the mannerism and voice of one of those old show-biz dames who have been around Broadway forever.

Kyle Jackson is Billy Lawler, the leading tenor with whom there is a hint of a romance with Peggy. Though the actor is 22 years old, he seems younger and the chemistry often appears forced. He has a fine voice, though had problems with his voice cracking on high notes on opening night, which contributed to the feeling that he is younger than the role called for.

Steve Isaacson had great fun as Abner Dillon, the Texas gazillionaire, sugar daddy to Dorothy. It’s the kind of role Isaacson loves to play and does so well.

But the standout performance was by Nathan Lacy, as Julian Marsh, the famous but acerbic director, who eventually sees the talent Peggy has and pushes her to the limits to step into the starring role after Dorothy has an accident. He gives her a pep talk when she gets nervous: “Two hundred people, two hundred jobs, two hundred thousand dollars, five weeks of grind and blood and sweat depend upon you. It’s the lives of all these people who’ve worked with you. You’ve got to go on, and you’ve got to give and give and give.”

Surely that’s enough to calm her down! “You’re going out a youngster but you’ve got to come back a star!”

When Lacy sings his signature song, “42nd Street,” it’s a show-stopping moment. The voice that was so memorable in the recent “Man of La Mancha” blew everyone away.

If there is anything negative to say about this Julian Marsh it is that his gray hair and the obvious age difference between him and Peggy make the one emotional moment between them a little creepy, where it would not have been with a more age-appropriate actor.

Perhaps the best part of this show is the nearly nonstop tap dancing. Choreographer Taylor has worked her chorus extremely well and there is nothing more thrilling than a stage full of tap dancers.

Someday, I hope DMTC finds its own sugar daddy so that when it does one of these better-than-average musicals, it can afford the sets to give it the look it deserves. The company does well with minimal sets, but oh for a bit of glitz and glam!

Monday, January 09, 2017


Dean (Meili Monk) lashes out at Josh (Ari Wilk) in the Acme Theatre Company
production of "Pronoun," on stage through this weekend.
Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

 He or she? Him or her?

We rarely think about pronouns as we speak to each other or about each other, but in “Pronouns” — the new play produced by Acme Theatre Company and directed by Emily Henderson — we are forced to think about the great meaning such simple words have.

This play, by Evan Placey, was commissioned as part of the 2014 National Theatre Connections Festival and premiered by youth theaters across the United Kingdom. It was written especially for young actors.

It tells the story of Dean (Meili Monk), a female-to-male transgendered teen in the middle of transition, trying to work through all the trials and tribulations, to say nothing of the hormonal effects of this change. While the issues that transgendered people, especially young people, encounter are many, this play focuses primarily on the interpersonal relations and how his transition affects not only Dean, but also his intimate circle of family and friends — his parents (Benton Harshaw, Sarah Thompson), his sister (A.J. Zaragoza-Smith), and his friends, especially Josh (Ari Wilk), his former boyfriend, who is still in love with the girl he dated for so long.

Dean’s idol is James Dean (Grey Turner), who appears in Dean’s fantasy life and gives him pointers on how to move and behave as a man.

While this is a serious work, comic relief is offered by Josh’s best friend Kyle (an exceptional performance by Ryan Johnson) and his girlfriend Amy (Cassidy Smith), who are planning the most ill-advised wedding you can imagine, arranged by Amy’s best friend Laura (McKella vanBoxtel).
There is also a comic touch added by the ensemble (Cory McCutcheon, Gracelyn Watkins and Megan Abbanat), who become school board members, doctors and any other group that Dean is likely to encounter.

Monk gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Dean. The actress’ hair is a bit of a difficulty in portraying the transgendered young man, but by the second act, we have become accustomed to it and she is more believable as a he. His impassioned speech to the school board on the subject of tolerance vs. acceptance is powerful and embodies the whole point of the play.

It is a little confusing trying to figure out why the playwright put a man in the role of Dean’s mother and a woman in the role of his father, but Harshaw and Thompson do well as the estranged couple, tolerant of their daughter’s transition but confused by using the male pronoun to refer to him. Their own transition, switching costumes on stage to revert to the proper genders, is one of the most impressive scenes in the play, thanks in great part to Wilk’s lighting design.

As I say in almost every Acme production, this company always has projection problems, even in a theater as small as the Pamela Trokanski Performing Arts Center, so some crucial dialog may be swallowed. If all of them projected as well as Johnson and McCutcheon do, it would be a much more successful production.

But projection issues aside, this is an important production discussing an issue that rarely gets such a sensitive and understanding treatment. It’s the kind of show that Acme does best.

There will be a talk-back after each performance, with director Henderson and a panel of four or five members of the cast, as they explain how they prepared for the show and answer questions from the audience.

(And as an aside, anyone confused by the growing label LGBTQAI, it stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, asexual and intersex, which should cover every possibility!)