Wily West Productions* Continues To Produce New Plays in the Summer of 2014

July 16, 2014 Leave a comment

(Charles Kruger)

Back in 2013, Wily West initiated a policy of running two plays simultaneously over the summer, repertory style. That is an ambitious undertaking but, not surprisingly, this “can do” theatre company pulled it off with aplomb. “Lawfully Wedded” and “Gorgeous Hussy” played throughout the summer of 2013 and garnered enthusiastic reviews. In fact, “Gorgeous Hussy” won playwright (and company artistic director) Morgan Ludlow a San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC) award for Best Original Play.

Caricature of Joan Crawford, the "Gorgeous Hussy" by Charles Kruger.

Caricature of Joan Crawford, the “Gorgeous Hussy,” by Charles Kruger.

It should come as no surprise that Wily West has won awards for original work, as it is one of the few companies in the Bay Area (indeed, one of the few anywhere) to devote itself entirely to new plays by local playwrights.

Philip Goleman and Scott Ragle in "Lawfully Wedded". Photo credit: Jim Norrena.

Philip Goleman and Scott Ragle in “Lawfully Wedded”. Photo credit: Jim Norrena.

Wily West has pursued new work with a vengeance, producing hundreds of original scripts (from 10 minute plays to staged readings to full scale productions featuring professional actors) since its founding in 2008.

Among Wily West’s notable achievements is its association with the Playwright’s Center of San Francisco to produce an annual festival of plays, “Scheherazade”. In 2013 and 2014 , the Scheherazade Festival produced original work by nearly 20 playwrights.

Rick Homan & Cameron Galloway in Sheherezade 14. Photo Credit: Jim Norrena.

Rick Homan & Cameron Galloway in Scheherazade 14. Photo Credit: Jim Norrena.

For the Summer of 2014, Wily West is offering two more original plays to run simultaneously: “Superheroes”, which Opens July 17, is a collaborative work by eight playwrights, who together created a series of interwoven stories about superheroes, old and new.

Playwrights On Parade

Susan Jackson

Susan Jackson

Rod McFadden

Rod McFadden

Morgan Ludlow

Morgan Ludlow

 

Patricia Milton

Patricia Milton

Jennifer Lynne Roberts

Jennifer Lynne Roberts

Laylah Muran de Asserto

Laylah Muran de Asserto

 

Bridgette Dutta Portman

Bridgette Dutta Portman

Karl Schackne

Karl Schackne

The playwrights include Susan Jackson (SFBATCC award winner), Morgan Ludlow (SFBATCC award winner), Rod McFadden (Board Member, Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco), Patricia Milton (nationally produced playwright and multiple award winner in several states), Laylah Muran de Asserto (poet as well as playwright, and executive producer for Scheherazade), Bridgette Dutta Portman (a playwright whose work has been seen as far away as Wales and who has won awards in such exotic locales as Ohio), Jennifer Lynne Roberts (a recent MFA graduate from the prestigious California College of the Arts), and Karl Schackne (whose short play, “Chocolate”, won first place at the 2014 Daegu Play Festival).

Playing simultaneously with “Superheroes” is a second world premiere by Stuart Bousel, “Everybody Here Says Hello”. The company describes this bittersweet play as “a fast paced comedy about a man, his boyfriend and his boyfriend’s girlfriend”.

Playwright, director and producer Stuart Bousel.

Playwright, director and producer Stuart Bousel.

Stuart Bousel is well-known to Bay Area theatregoers as playwright, director and producer. This past Spring at Exit Theatre’s annual DivaFest, he premiered another original work, “Rat Girl“, a play based on the memoir of alternative music artist Kristen Hersh. Bousel’s many directing credits include The Merchant of Venice and The Crucible, both at The Custom Made Theatre Company. He is the founder of No Nude Men Productions, and is also responsible for perpetuating the beloved San Francisco Theatre Pub, known for delivering high-class Shakespearean work in deliciously low-class venues where the cast and the audience drink and carouse their way into the night.

The Bay  Area has many companies that keep the tradition of classical theatre alive. But companies like Wily West that focus on new work by emerging playwrights are a rare and precious phenomenon that deserve to be celebrated. Kudos to Wily West and the talented playwrights committed to bringing us exciting new work.

If you care about supporting local theatre, you ought to go and see what these good folk have been up to. You’ll be a part of something big.

For further information, click here.

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Review: ‘The Book of Liz’ at Custommade Theatre (***)

July 14, 2014 Leave a comment

(Charles Kruger)

(***)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“The Book of Liz” plays at the Gough Street Playhouse July 12 through August 2nd, 2014.)

Make fun of religion, the Amish, faith, immigrants and Alcoholics Anonymous, throw in Mr. Peanut, a game-changing and utterly disgusting gag about bodily fluids, a “plot” that’s not and present it all with the wit of the Sedaris “Talent Family” (siblings David and Amy) and you have a recipe for side splitting laughter or unspeakable offense, depending on the state of your mind, politics and the spiritual condition of your funny bone. If your particular funny bone does not enjoy seeing sacred cows ground into meatloaf, you had better stay away from this one.

On the other hand, if you are ready to follow a joke where laughter too often fears to tread, skip down to the Gough Street Playhouse and party hearty with Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, Reverend Tollhouse, Brother Hesikiah and what appears be a cast of thousands but is actually only four actors having a ball.

Brother Nathaniel (Stefin C0llins), Sister Elizabeth (AJ Davenport) and the Reverend Tollhouse (Justin Gillman). Photo Credit: Jay Yamada.

Brother Nathaniel (Stefin C0llins), Sister Elizabeth (AJ Davenport) and the Reverend Tollhouse (Justin Gillman). Photo Credit: Jay Yamada.

These are very good actors, letting their hair down (way down) with material that sometimes makes The Three Stooges look like Oscar Wilde. At other times, of course, the famed Sedaris wit appears to startle and delight, as when Sister Elizabeth defends a worldly friend who makes deliveries to the religious community.

Mr. Peanut (a disguised AJ Davenport) attacks the cockney Lithuanian (Stefin Collins).

Mr. Peanut (a disguised AJ Davenport) attacks the cockney Lithuanian (Stefin Collins).

Trying to keep her friend employed, she observes to the judgmental Reverend Tollhouse that “She has to support 12 Dobermans….” Before the uneasy laughter has a chance to die down, Tollhouse responds with judgment dripping from his lips and eyebrows like melting candle wax: “By different fathers, I presume….”

The story involves Sister Elizabeth’s leaving the religious community where she feels unappreciated, and finding herself working as a server at a pilgrim-themed tourist trap staffed by what can only be characterized as 12-step zombies. She finds this job after doing time as a road side advertisement in a Mr. Peanut costume. “It’s so comfortable,” she says obliviously.

The convolutions of the plot are basically just an excuse for silly performances by Justin Gillman, AJ Davenport, Stefin Collins and Teri Whipple. Gillman’s Reverend Tollhouse will make you want to climb on the stage and strangle him; and his sappy AA sponsor cum restaurant manager may inspire even worse instincts. AJ Davenport is strangely sympathetic as the guileless Sister Elizabeth and quite funny in a brief drag appearance as Brother Hesikiah. (This is Davenport’s second drag appearance of the theatrical season: is this a new career plan?) Stefin Collins sports a false beard as flamboyantly as anybody and gamely plays a variety of characters. He is a hoot and a half as Brother Nathaniel Brightbee, an unlikely sex symbol for the sincere but nasty Sister Constance Butterworth, portrayed with prim precision by Teri Whipple.

It’s all good fun.

For further information, click here.

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“The Book of Liz” by David and Amy Sedaris, produced by Custommade Theatre Company. Director: James Nelson. Lights & Scenic Design: Maxx Kurzunski. Costume Design: Scarlett Kellum. Music: Liz Ryder. 

Reverend Tollhouse/Visil/Duncan  Trask: Justin Gillman. Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, Brother Hesikiah: AJ Davenport. Brother Nathaniel Brightbee, Yvonne, Donny Polk, Rudy Bruton: Stefin Collins. Teri Whipple: Sister Constance Butterworth, Oxana, Cecily Cole, Sophisticated Visitor, Doctor Barb Ginley, Ms. Yolanda Foxley.

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Review: ‘The Comedy of Errors’ at Cal Shakes (****)

July 7, 2014 Leave a comment

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: ****)

Danny Scheie as Dromio in Cal Shakes' "The Comedy of Errors". Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.

Danny Scheie as Dromio in Cal Shakes’ “The Comedy of Errors”. Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.

This reviewer is a votoing associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“The Comedy of Errors”, presented by California Shakespeare Theatre, plays at the Bruns Amphitheatre in Orinda from June 25 through July 20.)

“The Comedy of Errors”, loosely based on earlier Roman comedies by Plautus, is one of Shakespeare’s first plays. It is an unpretentious, rollicking physical comedy, made for laughs, but not without weight. In it we find Shakespeare’s comic genius for bluster and buffoonery, as well as a hinted offer of melancholy wafting on the Ephesian breeze. The present fine production keeps the emphasis on the riotous comedy, where it belongs, but doesn’t fail to touch upon the poetry.

Once upon a time, there were two sets of infant twins separated in a shipwreck. Two of the twins were low born, destined to be servants; the other two were of a higher class. When master Antiphonus and servant Dromio arrive from Syracuse as visitors to Ephesus, they do not at first suspect that those same twins of theirs (also master Antiphonus and servant Dromio) are in residence. Of course, all four are repeatedly mistaken for one another, with farcical results.

What the Bard has given us here is a sturdy scaffold for clowning. With a company of actors boasting fine Shakespearean pedigrees along with ample circus credits, the result is pandemonium that keeps the laughs rolling.

(from l to r) Danny Scheie and Adrian Danzig as Dromio and Antipholus.

(from l to r) Danny Scheie and Adrian Danzig as Dromio and Antipholus.

Adrian Danzig enjoys a distinguished career as both actor and clown, moving easily from stage to circus. As the puzzled Antiphonus (both of them), he stretches all of his prodigious muscles on both counts. But he gets more than a run for his money from Danny Scheie who can’t seem to wave so much as a pinky without provoking laughter. Scheie has made quite a career of playing Shakespearean clowns (from Bottom to Dogberry to Launcelot Gobbo and more) and here he is at the top of his form. Watching these two careen about the stage (and through the house) like poetic pinballs is quite a treat!

Nemuna Ceesay as Adriana and Danny Scheie as Berne.

Nemuna Ceesay as Adriana and Danny Scheie as Dromio. Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.

These two linchpins of lunacy are ably supported by a cast that includes Ron Campbell (who played The King of the Clowns with Cirque de Soleil through four years of international touring), Cal Shakes stalwart Liam Vincent, Circus Smirkus alumna Tristan Cunningham, and former Director-in-Residence at SF Circus Center’s Clown Conservatory, Patty Gallagher. Dr. Gallagher (who is also a Ph.D.-wielding Professor of Theatre Arts at UC Santa Cruz and a Fulbright scholar) is dizzying to watch as both Mother Abbess of a convent and a burlesque dancing courtesan, played nearly simultaneously.

The remaining excellent cast member, Nemuna Ceesay, is the only leading company member whose program biography does not include an extensive clowning or circus resume. She must, at times, feel a bit like Margaret Dumont contending with the Marx Brothers, but she more than holds her own.

All of the production’s design elements elegantly enhance the enjoyment.

This company is having a blast with “The Comedy of Errors”. You will too.

For further information, click here.

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“The Comedy of Errors” by William Shakespeare, produced by California Shakespeare Theatre. Director: Aaron Posner. Set Design: Nina Ball. Costume Design: Beaver Bauer. Lighting Design: David Cuthbert.

Egeon/Angelo/Ensemble: Ron Campbell. Adriana/Ensemble: Nemuna Ceesay. Luciana/Ensemble: Tristian Cunningham. Antipholus: Adrian Danzig. Courtesay/Abbess/Ensemble: Patty Gallagher. Dromio: Danny Scheie. Duke/Balthasar/Enemble: Liam Vincent.

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Review: ‘Into The Woods’ at San Francisco Playhouse (***)

July 2, 2014 Leave a comment

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: ***)

Wolves (Ryan McCrary and Jeffrey Brian Adams) meet Little Red Ridinghood (Corinne Proctor) in the woods. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.

Wolves (Ryan McCrary and Jeffrey Brian Adams) meet Little Red Ridinghood (Corinne Proctor) in the woods. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Into The Woods” plays at San Francisco Playhouse June 24 through September 6, 2014)

We all know the stories of the Brothers Grimm: Cinderella marries the Prince (and lives happily ever after). The evil witch imprisons Rapunzel (and gets her comeuppance). Jack climbs the beanstalk and kills the giant so he and his mother can live — how else? — happily ever after. Little Red Riding is as innocent as the day is long. Etcetera. Right?

Well, all of this is famously not quite so in Sondheim’s rather wicked musical take on the tales, ‘Into The Woods”. Here the stories intertwine, and are informed by Sondheim’s patented cynicism and ear for moral complications.

Here’s a recipe for success:

Wolves (Ryan McCrary and Jeffrey Brian Adams) meet Little Red Ridinghood (Corinne Proctor) in the woods. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.

Wolves (Ryan McCrary and Jeffrey Brian Adams) meet Little Red Ridinghood (Corinne Proctor) in the woods. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.

Spice up the stories with a musically sophisticated score (well-served in this production by both singers and orchestra), and challenging, witty lyrics. Let director Susi Damilano and choreographer Kimberly Richards stir it up to a fine froth and season it with a company of skilled singer-actors. What you get,  if not a life time of happily-ever-after, is at least one night’s worth of glee.

Rapunzel (Noelani Neal) is comforted by her “mother” the Witch (Safiya Fredericks). Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.

Rapunzel (Noelani Neal) is comforted by her “mother” the Witch (Safiya Fredericks). Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.

Every member of the excellent company serves this piece well. Here are a few standouts: El Beh, as The Baker’s Wife, standing tall for equality. Corinne Proctor’s self-centered Little Red Ridinghood, a rather nasty bit of goods to begin with. Safiya Fredericks as a witch who is full of surprises and depth of feeling, leading us down unexpected pathways. Tim Homsley as a sweet voiced, sweet faced, sweet idiot of a Jack. And Jeffrey Brian Adams and Ryan McCrary doing dual service as creepy bro princes and dastardly forest wolves who will make your skin crawl.

Sondheim fans will find plenty of cause to rejoice.

For further information, click here.

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“Into The Woods” , music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine. Produced by San Francisco Playhouse. Director: Susi Damilano. Musical Direction: Dave Dobrusky. Choreography: Kimberly Richards. Set Design: Nina Ball. Lighting Design: Michael Oesch. Sound Design: Theodore J. H. Hulsker. Costume Design: Abra Berman. Wig Design: Tabbitha McBride. Props Artisan: Jacquelyn Scott.

Cast:

Cinderella’s Prince/Wolf: Jeffrey Brian Adams. The Baker’s Wife: El Beh. Boy: Ian DeVaynes. Lucinda: Lily Drexler. Florinda: Michelle Drexler. Stepmother/Cinderella’s Mother: Bekka Fink. Witch: Safiya Fredericks. Steward: John Paul Gonzalez. Cinderella: Monique Hafen. Jack: Tim Homsley. Rapunzel’s Prince/Wolf: Ryan McCrary. Jack’s Mother/Granny: Maureen McVerry. Rapunzel: Noelani Neal. Narrator/Mystery Man: Louis Parnell. The Baker: Keith Pinto. Little Red Ridinghood: Corinne Proctor. 

Orchestra:

Piano/Music Director: Dave Dobrusky. Clarinet/Flute: Nick DiScala or Terry Halvorson. Flute/Clarinet Bassoon: Audrey Jackson or Carolyn Walter. Trumpet/Horn: Jason Park or David Campbell. Percussion: LIly Sevier or Andrew Maguire. Violin: Lucas Gayda. Cello: Andres Vera or Ami Nashimoto. Musical Consultant: Dave Möschler.

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Review: ‘Madame Butterfly’ at San Francisco Opera (*****)

June 27, 2014 Leave a comment

(Emma Bushnell)

(Rating: *****)

(“Madame Butterfly” plays at The War Memorial Opera House on June 27, July 3, July 6 and July 9, 2014.)

How often does one begin a review unable to decide what to praise first? Anyone tasked with critiquing the San Francisco Opera’s “Madame Butterfly” will be in the unusual position of trying to provide adequate recognition for the opera’s excellent components while being unable to rustle up any negative comments to offset them.

This is one of those rare productions where everything comes together perfectly, coalescing into a whole greater then the sum of its parts: Jun Kaneko’s strikingly simple design, Leslie Swackhamer’s brilliant direction, Nicola Luisotti’s flawless orchestra, and, of course, a brilliant cast of singers.

Puccini wrote “Madame Butterfly” at a time when Western fascination with “the orient” was high. The opera is a story of culture clash between Japan and America, at times comically heightened by Puccini’s personal ignorance regarding both countries. These moments manifest themselves in some hilariously overt uses of the American national anthem in Navy man Pinkerton’s sections as well as a musical introduction to a Japanese character which is reminiscent of a theme from Arthur Sullivan’s “The Mikado” (another play about Japan written by a European who had never been).

Beneath the turn of the century obsession with Japanese paraphernalia and foreign customs lies the timeless story of the geisha who dares to believe her dream of love and prosperity will be realized with an American suitor, only to have it dashed in the cruelest manner possible. 

Patricia Racette is a privilege to watch as Cio-Cio San. Her voice is powerful, nuanced, and backed by electrifying acting. Though the audience knows how the opera must inevitably end, Racette’s energetic portrayal of Cio-Cio San’s determination and her willful ignorance of the reality she faces make us ache with hope till the last that things will indeed go her way. This story is inarguably first and foremost Cio-Cio San’s, and Racette carries the opera effortlessly and raises the tone of the entire production.

Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio San in San Francisco Opera's production of Madame Butterfly. Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.

Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio San in San Francisco Opera’s production of “Madame Butterfly”. Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.

Racette is in good company on stage. Tenor Brian Jagde is perfect as Pinkerton, Cio-Cio San’s jilting lover. Jagde’s expressive voice beautifully complements Racette’s soprano and Luisotti’s lyrical orchestra. He plays Pinkerton genuinely, which serves the story well. We love to hate Pinkerton not because he is a true villain, but because we all know (and have perhaps dated) Pinkertons — men who feel deep remorse for their arrogant actions, but who still literally run offstage to escape the messes they create rather than take responsibility for them.

Some column inches of this review must also be devoted to mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong as Cio-Cio San’s maid, Suzuki. DeShong’s colorful lower register and superb physical acting bring a deep richness to Suzuki, a woman attempting to be at once responsible for and obedient to her mistress. DeShong’s evocative portrayal heightens the drama in the second act, when her distress at having to inform her mistress of Pinkerton’s arrival with an American wife stirs the audience into the appropriately raw emotional place to be devastated by the finale.

These actors, in addition to the excellent Brian Mulligan and Julius Ahn as Sharpless and Goro, respectively, are all well served by Swackhamer’s inspired direction. In her director notes, Swackhamer writes that she wanted to focus on the story of “Madame Butterfly”, and not on the oriental fetishism. It shows — the reason her direction and Kaneko’s glorious design are so effective is because they are striking while first and foremost serving the story onstage. Kaneko’s production, originally commissioned by Opera Omaha, was clearly a direct inspiration to Swackhamer, who uses the levels of his metaphorically downward spiraling platform and simple shoji screen to maximum effect. The cast is small, but fills the stage in constant dramatic tableaux.

Being in my twenties, I have seen relatively few productions of “Madame Butterfly”, so calling this the most accomplished production I have attended may not carry much weight. Fortunately, you do not have to take my word for it — take that of the elderly gentleman next to me who, making his way out of the theater with his walker, wouldn’t stop shaking his head and saying to his companion, “That was the best ‘Butterfly’ I have ever seen.”

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“Madame Butterly”, by Giacomo Puccini, co-produced by the San Francisco Opera and Opera Omaha.  Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Sung in Italian with English supertitles. Conductors: Nicola Luisotti (Jun 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, Jul 3), Giuseppe Finzi (Jul 6, 9). Director: Leslie Swackhamer. Production Designer: Jun Kaneko. Lighting Design: Gary Marder. Chorus Director: Ian Robertson. Choreographer: Melissa Noble. Fight Director: Davie Maier.

Cio-Cio San: Patricia Racette. Lt. B. F. Pinkerton: Brian Jagde. Suzuki: Elizabeth Deshong. Sharpless: Brian Mulligan. Goro: Julius Ahn. Kate Pinkerton: Jacqueline Piccolino. Prince Yamadori: Efrain Solis. The Bonze: Morris Robinson. Commissioner: Hadleigh Adams.

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Capsule Reviews: ‘Devil Boys from Beyond’ by New Conservatory Theatre Center (****) and ‘Triassic Parq’ by Ray of Light Theatre (****)

June 23, 2014 Leave a comment

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: **** for both plays)

(“Devil Boys from Beyond” plays at The New Conservatory Theatre Center and “Triassic Parq” plays at The Eureka Theatre, both through June 28.)

Look out! It’s Pride Month, and The Theatre of the Ridiculous (a grand gay tradition if ever there was one) has invaded downtown San Francisco with multi-gendered dinosaurs and beefcake alien invaders from Pluto (turns out the on-again-off-again planet is totally gay).

‘Devil Boys from Beyond’ at the New Conservatory Theatre Center and ‘Triassic Parq’ by Ray of Light Theatre are uproariously funny and will definitely please your out of town guests looking for a gay ol’ time.

In “Devil Boys from Beyond”, gay Plutonians invade the town of Lizard Lick, Florida with hilarious results. Designed as a show case for humorous drag, “Devil Boys” delivers the laughs. Watch for Drag King AJ Davenport in a very funny turn as a Perry White style hard boiled editor, among other comic delights.

Chris Maltby, Brandon Richards and Gabriel Lopez in "Devil Boys from Beyond" at New Conservatory Theatre Center. Photo Credit: Lois Tema.

Chris Maltby, Brandon Richards and Gabriel Lopez in “Devil Boys from Beyond” at New Conservatory Theatre Center. Photo Credit: Lois Tema.

Of course the horror movie, “Jurassic Park” is the perfect material for a musical remake! How could you doubt it? And, wait, the leads should be THE DINOSAURS. Singing, tapdancing, man-eating dinosaurs! What could possible be more charming? What could possibly go wrong? What could possibly be more fun than Ray of Light Theatre’s, “Triassic Parq: The Musical!”
Where else will you learn about life from a Mime-a-saurus (such a bad idea its good), or the Velociraptor of Faith?

Singing and dancing dinosaurs in "Triassic Parq" by Ray of Light Theatre.

Singing and dancing dinosaurs in “Triassic Parq” by Ray of Light Theatre.

If you’re looking for serious theatre, go take a hike. If you’re looking for something ridiculous and painfully silly, flip a coin and select “Devil Boys from Beyond” or “Triassic Parq”. Better yet: just see both and have some dinosaur sized interplanetary fun.

For further information about “Devil Boys from Beyond” click here. For further information about “Triassic Parq”, click here.

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“Devil Boys from Beyond” by Buddy Thomas, Kenneth Elliot, and Drew Fornarola. Produced by New Conservatory Theatre Center. Director: F. Allen Sawyer. Scenic Design: Devin Kasper. Lighting Design: Christian Mejia. Costume & Prop Design: Jorge R. Hernandez.

Gregory Graham: Kai Brothers. Gilbert Wiatt: A.J. Davenport. Harry Wexler: Gabe Lopez. Florence Wexler: Chris Maltby. Mattie Van Buren: Nathaniel Marken. Dottie Primrose: Jennifer S. McGeorge. Jack Primrose: Brandon Richard. Lucinda Walsh: Drew Todd.

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“Triassic Parq”. Book & Lyrics by Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz, and Steve Wargo. Music by Marshall Pailet. Produced by Ray of Light Theatre. Director: Alex Kirschner. Musical Director: Robbie Cowan. Choreography: Dane Paul Andres. Scenic Designer: Annie Dauber. Costume Designer: Wendy Rose Kaufman. Props Designer: Kevin Pong. Lighting Designer: Joe D’Emilio.

Cast:

Mime-a-saurus: Javie Harnly. T-Rex 2: Chelsea Holifield. Velociraptor of Faith: David Naughton. Velociraptor of Innocence: Lewis Rawlinson. Velociraptor of Science/Morgan Freeman: Alex Rodriguez. T-Rex 1/Kaitlyn: Monica Turner.

Musicians:

Pianosaurus: Robbie Cowan. Guitarydactyl: Nahuel B ronzini. Bassceratops: Eugene Theriault. Percussadon: Geneva Harrison.

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Review: ‘La Traviata’ at San Francisco Opera (***)

June 20, 2014 Leave a comment

(Emma Bushnell)

(Rating: ***)

(“La Traviata” plays at the War Memorial Opera House on the following dates: 6/20/14, 6/25/14, 6/29/14, 07/05/14, 07/08/14, 07/11/14 and 07/13/14.)

San Francisco Opera’s revival of “La Traviata” is at its best in quieter, more contemplative moments, when the claustrophobic crowds have blown away and soprano Nicole Cabell shines as a delightfully expressive actress who offers a nuanced portrayal of Violetta. Her ACT IV aria, “Addio del passsato”, was a brief moment of truly moving theatre.

Otherwise, however this sixth mounting of John Copley’s 1987 production with languid direction by Laurie Feldman was a disservice to the singers. For example, in more boisterous scenes, when competing with Nicola Luisotti’s idiosyncratically led orchestra, Violetta’s voice had to struggle to be heard.

Tenor Stephen Costello plays Violetta’s ardent, if shortsighted, lover, Alfredo, sympathetically well. It is often easy to dismiss Alfredo as a fool who accomplishes little more than the ruin of a woman’s life and bringing shame to his family over the course of the three hour production, but Costello’s energetic stage presence and clear, expressive voice draws the audience to his character. This is particularly gratifying, as Violetta’s loss of love is felt that much more keenly when the lover is someone to root for as well.

Alfredo’s imperious father, a character who is obviously bad news from his bassoon-heralded entrance, is played serviceably by Vladimir Stoyanov. Stoyanov’s powerful voice befits the overbearing patriarch, yet he is a relatively weak actor whose staid presence undermines the emotional punch of Violetta’s decision to leave Alfredo for his own good.

Nicole Cabell as Violetta in "La Traviata". Photo Credit: Corey Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Nicole Cabell as Violetta in “La Traviata”. Photo Credit: Corey Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

If a piece of theater manages to endure over a century and a half, it must be good. Verdi’s classic tragedy about consumptive courtesan Violetta is packed with gorgeously moving music, lovers torn asunder, parties, and a duel, topped off with a tragic death. It is easy to see why this opera has endured as well as it has — superb score aside, the themes of love lost and early illness and death are, sadly, quite timeless. Taking this story from eighteenth century Paris and making it relevant to a modern audience should not be as difficult as the SF Opera is making it out to be. Unfortunately, one danger when mounting a warhorse like La Traviata is that it can feel gratuitous. The company has seemingly fallen into the trap of staging a classic without being able to answer the question of why.

With an opera as objectively excellent as La Traviata, even a tired production is enjoyable to watch. But I do wish the SF Opera had not merely rested on the laurels of of a long-dead composer and put some creative effort into bringing the audience a production filled with enough passion to bring Violetta’s story properly to life.

For further information, click here.

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“La Traviata”, by Giuseppe Verdi at the San Francisco Opera through July 13. Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Sung in Italian with English supertitles. Conductors: Nicola Luisotti (Jun 11, 14, 17, 20, 25, 29) and Guiseppe Finzi (Jul 5, 8, 11, 13). Set Design: John Conklin. Custome Design: David Walker.

Violetta Valéry: Nicole Cabell (Jun 11, 14, 17, 20, 25, 29)/Ailyn Pérez (Jul 5, 8, 11, 13). Alfredo Germont: Saimir Pirgu (Jun 11, 14, 25, 29)/Stephen Costello (Jun 17, 20 & Jul 5, 8, 11, 13). Giorgio Germont: Vladimir Stoyanov (Jun 11, 14, 17, 20, 25, 29)/Quinn Kelsey (Jul 5, 8, 11, 13). Flora Bervoix: Zanda Svede. Gastone: Daniel Montenegro. Baron Duophol: Dale Travis. Marquis D’Obigny: Hadleigh Adams. Doctor Grenvil: Andrew Craig Brown. Annina: Erin Johnson. Giuseppe: Christopher Jackson. Flora’s Servant: Torlef Borsting. Messenger: Bojan Knezevic.

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