Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Beaux Stratagem

The romantic Dorinda (Sophia Nachmanoff), left, attempts to cheer up the grumpily
married Kate Sullen (Megan Abbanat) in Acme's free comedy “The Beaux' Stratagem.”

Restoration comedy, like George Farquhar’s “The Beaux Stratagem,” has always been something the Acme Theatre Company does very well.

Farquhar wrote the comedy in 1707. In 1939, it was partially adapted by Thornton Wilder (an Acme-favorite playwright), but abandoned with the outbreak of World War II. In 2000, Wilder’s 57 page manuscript was rediscovered and, with the permission of the Wilder Estate, Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor,” “Sullivan and Gilbert,” etc.) completed the work.

The Memorial Day weekend productions, which are free, have long been a gift to the city of Davis for all of its support of the young people’s theater company — the oldest in Davis (at 39 years, it beats Davis Musical Theatre Company by a year).

The current production is colorful, energetic and just plain silly. Sophia Nachmanoff has outdone herself with costumes that are deliciously over the top, particularly for Lady Bountiful, in an oversized hoop skirt so big and so broad that moving in and around the stage was particularly tricky, but done adroitly by Gavin Pinnow.

No one is credited for makeup design, but the white-face, bejeweled look for everyone was unique and fun, but with some male actors played females and vice versa, sometimes made it difficult to tell who was who.

The fun begins before the show actually starts, as the costumed actors invite the audience to join them in dancing to a Madonna tune. As the music ends, the performers run to the stage and the performance begins.

Jack Archer (Cory McCutcheon) and Tom Aimwell (Cypher McIlrath) are two young gentlemen who have squandered their respective fortunes and now plan to travel through small towns, entrap young heiresses and steal their money. To start, Aimwell poses as a gentlemen and Archer as his servant, the plan to switch on and off as they move to different towns.

They settle in at the inn run by Boniface (Kira Cubbage), whose own daughter Cherry (Sam Cubbage) is attracted to both Tom and Jack, but fears they are highwaymen, come to rob Lady Bountiful’s house

But right off the bat, the men’s plan goes awry when, in the first town, Tom actually falls in love with Dorinda (Nachmanoff), the daughter of the wealthy Lady Bountiful, who specializes in herbal medicine and amputation. She attributes her successes to the fact that her “patients” are so satisfied they never return.

At the same time, Jack makes friends with Mrs. Kate Sullen (Megan Abbanat) whose husband, Squire Sullen (Peter Syverson), is a cruel drunk who actually despises his wife.

In a parallel plot, Tom has a given the box containing the men’s last £200 to Boniface for safekeeping, unaware that he is part of a group of highwaymen, including Hounslow (Odie Lopez) and Bagshot (Emma Larson), who themselves plan to rob Lady Bountiful.

As the plot advances, it focuses more and more on Kate and Jack, who fall in love and want to marry, were it not that she is married, a situation eventually solved by the arrival of her brother, Sir Charles Freeman (Elie Bukowski), and all live happily ever after.

This production has many strong performances and the direction of Emily Henderson kept the action moving crisply at all times.

This is a great way to spend a Memorial Day weekend. Churros and other goodies are available to snack on at intermission and blankets available to rent if the weather turns cold.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Disney's Aladdin

If for some reason I had to leave the theater after the opening number of Disney’s “Aladdin,” now at the Sacramento Community Center, I would have been satisfied that I had already seen an amazing, albeit short, production.

“Aladdin” opens with color, with dancing, with music, with enough sequins to make Liberace happy and with more feathers than you’d find in an aviary. You meet the good guys and the bad guys, you experience a long, scary chase scene that would do credit to “American Ninja Warrior,” and you see amazing sword fights that only get better later on in the show.

Where do you go after such a breathtaking start?

Fortunately, the only way to go is up — and up they go.

Disney’s “Aladdin” is the stage version of the 1992 animated movie, featuring Robin Williams as the voice of the Genie. It’s your standard poor boy meets princess story that ends (spoiler alert) happily ever after.

In between, there is more dancing, more chasing, more sword fights, more incredible costumes by Gregg Barnes and lots of “you won’t believe your eyes” magic. Music is by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin, and some of it is new to the stage production. None of the songs are particularly memorable, but are thoroughly enjoyable in context.

The role of Aladdin is played by Clinton Greenspan for four performances and by Jacob Dickey for the rest. Likewise, the role of Prince Abdullah, the Sultan, is shared between Albert Jennings and Charles McCall.

In the opening number, we meet Aladdin (Greenspan) and his buddies, Babkak (Zach Bencal), Omar (Ben Chavez) and Kassim (Colt Prattes), trying to steal from market vendors and hiding from the law.
At the same time, Princess Jasmine (Kaenaonālani Kekoa) is a very independent young lady, refusing to marry for money but determined to marry for love. She slips out of the palace and finds herself in the marketplace, where she meets Aladdin. Sparks fly and things look good until he is captured for shoplifting and she has to reveal her identity as the Princess in order to save him.

Watching all of this are the evil Jafar (Jonathan Weir) and his henchman Iago (Reggie De Leon, who steals most of the scenes he is in). They make a plot to take over the kingdom. All they need is someone who can go into an enchanted cave and steal a magic lamp for them.

The heretofore energetic production becomes frenetic when Aladdin accidentally rubs the lamp and frees the Genie (Major Attaway, who played the role on Broadway). With an almost constant patter consisting of jokes and terrible puns, milking the audience for applause, Genie dominates the show and his answer to Aladdin’s first wish (to be a prince) was just a tad over the top (maybe it was the 95 monkeys).

Sparks fly again when Aladdin and Jasmine meet once more, and their magic carpet ride was just that — pure magic — perhaps the height of the special effects.

There are more fights, imprisonment, redemption and getting your just desserts before Jafar’s evil plot is destroyed and Prince Abdullah agrees to allow his daughter to marry the pauper.

For those who like their musical instruments to be real instruments and not electronic wannabes, this show will satisfy every desire. The pit band is exceptional.

“Aladdin” closes out the Broadway On Tour series, as well as the Community Center, which will now close for renovation. The 2020 season will take place at Memorial Auditorium, 1515 J St., starting in January with “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Andrew Nicholls is UCD’s Granada Artist in Residence for Spring 2019. He comes with an impressive list of credits. He began writing comedy with Darrell Vickers in junior high, and the team wrote for TV, radio and stage, as well as for comedians and cartoonists. They have written for George Carlin and Mickey Rooney, and for NBC’s “Tonight Show” from 1986-92 as Johnny Carson’s head writers. They’ve since created 20 TV series and written over 400 episodes of children’s TV.

Now Nicholls brings his talents to UCD in “{LOVE/Logic},” directed by Josy Miller.

It’s not exactly a drama because there are so many funny situations and lines, though not exactly a comedy because there are serious situations as well. What is not under question, however, is its R rating, filled with adult themes, situations and language.

Rory Gaynor-Flynn plays twin brothers, Daniel and Michael. While he gives a good performance, his self-confidence grew throughout the play and it was nice to see a stronger performance by the end. (According to his bio, he is a neurobiology/physiology major studying to become a diagnostician, but he hopes that one day he can become a full-time actor, which may make him the perfect person to play this role!)

Daniel is a physicist, headed for a conference in Switzerland, when he meets Bronwen (Olivia Coca), another physicist. Through a series of interconnected things, the two become mirror images of each other, unable to physically pass by each other, speaking the same things simultaneously.

They sit on a large train car, designed by John Iacovelli — his final design for the department of theater and dance after three decades in the UC system. The train car breaks into two pieces, moving each piece to the side of the stage, allowing other set pieces to be brought onto the Wyatt stage. The stage crew (Tristan Atkinson, Riley Morris and Stephanie Nielsen, who also play minor characters) are dressed in train uniforms and move the set pieces with choreographed precision.

On the other side of the world is Daniel’s twin, Michael, who has an obsession with women, but who tries to convince Carol (Rabiya Oberoi) that she alone is the love of his life and if she will marry him, he will give up his philandering ways. Oberoi gives a strong performance and, before accepting his offer of marriage, Carol agrees to an odd way to prove that Michael remains faithful to her.

Reagan Price appears as Michael’s adult daughter, both before she is born and years later when she is really an adult. She’s there as his conscience.

Olivia Coca appears later as Elaine, a femme fatale determined to seduce Michael, in one of the raciest scenes in the play. Coca is so successful as Elaine that it’s difficult to find her other character, Bronwen, in her.

The program includes a glossary of what it admits are probably unneeded definitions, but thanks to the list, we can understand that Michael is using a multi-variable associative analytic analysis to predict the origins and result of his interaction with Elaine.

Says director Miller, “The play is a masterpiece in physical comedy and a simultaneous critique of contemporary gender and power relationships. Reality is many-layered, and actors embody characters real, imagined and that occupy the spaces in between.”

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Other Place

Melinda Parrett was born to play Juliana Smithton, a scientist whose research has led to a potential breakthrough which will change the lives of thousands of people. Parrett has the ability to play the cold, aloof scientist, the wronged wife, and, as the play progresses, the confused and terrified woman whose life seems to be unraveling — and do it flawlessly. What is even more remarkable is her ability to switch back and forth among those feelings seamlessly.

The structure of “The Other Place,” by Sharr White, now at Capital Stage, is a little difficult to get into, as it goes back and forth in time, with Juliana both the narrator of the piece and a character in it. But when you get the hang of it, it’s brilliant.

Things move quickly, thanks to the deft direction of Michael Stevenson, and even the many set changes are choreographed so that they are done quickly and do not slow the action at all.

We first meet Juliana at a convention in the Virgin Islands, where she has been invited to give a lecture on a new drug designed to slow the neurological degeneration associated with dementia. She is aware that as a woman she is not necessarily taken seriously by her colleagues, and she dresses the part in a business suit and begins her talk professionally until she spies a woman in a yellow string bikini sitting in the audience. The presence of the unspeaking woman becomes unsettling and eventually the object of Juliana’s derision.

Cut to an interview between Juliana and another woman (Jennifer Martin). We’re not quite sure what the interview is for yet. Through bits and pieces, we discover that she is in the process of divorcing her philandering husband, an oncologist (Jonathan Rhys Williams), who also serves as her doctor because she feels she is dying of brain cancer, as her relatives did before her.

Asked if she has flirted with ideas of suicide, Juliana sarcastically retorts: “Dating them, actually, but they won’t put out.”

There is a crisis involving their daughter, who left the home at age 15 many years before, and the man (Kirk Blackinton) with whom she supposedly left. Juliana has never seen their twins and is trying to set up a way to reconnect with her daughter.

Williams is wonderful as Ian, Juliana’s husband, who is either a philanderer or a frustrated devoted husband, strained to the breaking point, trying to help his wife. He is irritating at first, as the couple argues and he seems uncaring about Juliana’s condition, but as the play progresses and we understand his suffering, you can’t help but feel sorry for him.

These are the elements of the plot and how it all unravels, twists and turns, and ultimately climaxes at the couple’s “Other Place,” a house on Cape Cod. It’s an intense 90-minute drama that is both sarcastic and heartbreaking.

Blackinton and Martin play several different characters; Martin is particularly wonderful as the stranger surprised to find Juliana in her house, who is at first afraid and then sympathetic, responding warmly to Juliana’s needs.

It doesn’t give away the plot to reveal that some of these characters are real and some are not. It is nearly halfway through the play that the truth about Juliana’s condition slowly becomes evident.

Timothy McNamara is credited with scenic and projections design. The setting, indicated by what is seen out the windows on stage, was very effective as was the rain created by sound designer Ed Lee.

There seems to be a tendency to have more one-act, 90-minute plays these days, which can sometimes get to feel draggy by the time the play ends. This is not one of them. The action is crisp and nonstop, and by the end, there will be tears wiped away.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Pajama Game

Seven and a half cents doesn’t buy a heck of a lot, but it’s enough to write an entire musical about. ‘The Pajama Game,” on stage at the Davis Musical Theatre Company, is to classic musicals what “Mad Men” was to TV. It’s a dated world, where sweatshops exist, the boss is king and raises have to be fought for. Nobody has thought of MeToo yet, but harassment is rampant.

With book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, music and lyrics by Jerry Ross and Richard Adler, this Tony-Award-winning musical premiered on Broadway in 1954, the year that director Steve Isaacson was born. It was made into a movie in 1957, starring Doris Day and John Raitt.

You probably know most of the songs, like “Hey There,” “Hernando’s Hideaway,” and “Steam Heat,” the latter the first Broadway choreography by Bob Fosse, showing the classic style which would be so recognizable in future musicals.

The action takes place at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, which has just hired a new superintendent, Sid Sorokin (Tate Pollock) who almost immediately butts heads with the grievance committee headed by Babe Williams (Morgan Bartoe). It’s not clear exactly how these two fall immediately in love/lust with each other, but it happens — though Babe vehemently denies her feelings (“I’m Not At All In Love”).

The grievance committee is concerned because they want a 7 1/2 cent per hour raise in pay. (The date of the show is shown when calculations showed that in a year’s time that would come to $852.74, which would buy a year’s supply of gasoline! It gave the audience a good, if rueful, laugh.)

Pollock says this is his “anniversary show” with DMTC, having started with last year’s “Guys and Dolls.” He has a nice charisma about him. Bartoe has a more meaty role than the feather duster she played in “Beauty and the Beast,” and she rises to the occasion. She has a beautiful voice and her duet with Sid (“There Once Was A Man,” written by Frank Loesser) was great fun.

Exter Hardy is very good as the big boss, Mr. Hasler, who wears a suit beautifully, but has the very best costume for the company picnic late in the first act. Costume designer Jean Henderson has a great sense of humor.

Hugo Figueroa is Heinzie, the timekeeper, responsible for making quotas and keeping the women working. He has the hots for Gladys, one of the secretaries, though is jealous of her relationships with other men. His duet with secretary Mabel (Dannette Vassar), (“I’ll never be jealous again”) is very funny.

Aimee Rose Santone is outstanding as Gladys, wiggling her backside provocatively at many of the males in the company. She, together with Maeve Kelly and Holly McGuinness do a great job with “Steam Heat.” Choreographer Kyle Jackson keeps the trio faithful to the familiar Fosse moves. (In a bit of fun facts, the program points out that the original Gladys, Carol Haney, broke her leg and chorus girl Shirley MacLaine covered for her. She was soon signed to Paramount Pictures, and the rest in is history!)

Matthew Evans is “Prez,” the head of the Union, and another candidate for MeToo attention. Doug Baker is Max, one of the factory’s salesmen. Amy Woodman is cute in the small role of Poopsie, but I was always afraid that her blonde wig was about to fall off.

This is a fun production and someone mentioned to me at intermission that she liked it better than the film, which has to be high praise indeed.