Thursday, July 24, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

The Poor of New York, an 1857 melodrama about families victimized by financial corruption, opens at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Eureka with a benefit for cast and crew on Thursday July 24 at 8 p.m. As a classic melodrama, good triumphs over evil. Performances continue through Aug. 16. Directed by Alex Service, it features David Simms, Randall Larson, Shirley Santino, Toodie SueAnn Boll, Scott Osborn, Jim Buschmann and David Moore. 442-6278, www.ncrt.net.  I'll review this for next week.

On Friday, the musical The Wedding Singer opens at Ferndale Repertory Theatre. Take a 95-minute Adam Sandler romantic comedy movie set in 1985 and inject it with an additional hour and a half of musical reminders of the 1980s’ more superficial features, add frenetic energy and period costumes and you’ve got this 2006 Broadway entertainment, which has since toured the world.

I'm not much for 80's nostalgia--having lived through the decade, I can't disentangle it from the lows (Reaganomics, Iran-Contra, privatization, decimation of the NEA, PBS and arts in schools etc.) and highs that don't quite fit the comedy stereotypes (Sting, Peter Gabriel, Mandela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, The Malling of America)--but I gather that it's fashionable now so there's probably a big audience for which this is the perfect summer hoot.

I don't know how funny The Wedding Singer is, but Ben Brantley's review of the Broadway production is hilarious.  A gamut of reactions to the Chicago production can be found in this collection of reviews.

The Wedding Singer was written by Tim Herlihy and Chad Beguelin (also the lyricist) with music by Matthew Sklar. Directed at Ferndale Rep by Brandi Lacy, with musical direction by Molly Severdia and choreography by Danielle Cichon, it features Erik Standifird, Sasha Shay, Tyler Rich, Megan Hensley and Cichon heading a large cast. The Wedding Singer opens Friday July 25, playing Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through August 17. There’s a special Actors Benefit performance on Thursdays Aug. 7 at 8 p.m., preceded by live music from The Attic at 7 p.m. 786-5483, www.ferndalerep.org.

A limited run of Elisabeth's Book at Dell'Arte begins Wednesday, and is previewed below.

This is the final weekend for the Durang Durang (see, an 80s joke) comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Redwood Curtain.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Elisabeth's Book at Dell'Arte: A Preview


It’s not an ordinary book, with crisp black type on slick snow-white paper.  It consists of stitched rags and metal fragments left from the grenades the women in a Nazi slave labor camp were forced to drill.  It is a book of simple domestic images with personal meaning, small enough to hide from the guards, created secretly by one Hungarian woman for another in the final and most ferocious months of the Holocaust. It is a scrapbook of survival, handmade in hell.

Dell’Arte’s Joan Schirle happened to see an art exhibit in Canada with digital blowups of these images. Both the book and the woman who received it did survive. “I experienced a profound emotional shift when I saw these images of things crudely fashioned yet powerful, that seemed both banal and sacred at the same time,” Schirle wrote later. They inspired a stage piece, Elisabeth’s Book, which previews Wednesday (July 23) and opens Thursday for a weekend run at Dell’Arte in Blue Lake.

There are three scenes in this one-act play, revised from its April “in-progress” version. Created by actors Schirle, Laura Munoz and Ruxandra Cantir and director and designer Alain Schons, Elisabeth’s Book tells the story of three women with music, dance, poetry, projections and live video.

The first scene depicts their ordinary middle class life in Hungary, emphasizing their love of books and music.  The second is set in the Nazi camps and shows the making of the book. The third scene takes place in a little-known period between the European war’s end in 1945 and the massive Marshall Plan aid from the U.S. in 1948, when in Winston Churchill’s words, Europe was “a rubble heap, a charnel house, a breeding ground of pestilence and hate.”  Like many others liberated from the Nazi camps, these stateless and penniless women wandered, sometimes finding themselves in camps again, not as prisoners but as refugees.   

For Schirle, it is a story of survival that applies beyond historical circumstances to ever-present possibilities of today.  “These women wouldn’t have made it without each other, without friendships. Creative acts like Elisabeth’s book or the recipe books they made and the actors and singers in the camps were also vital to their survival.”

“We aren’t trying to encompass the Holocaust,” Schirle said.  “Nothing can.  The danger is always the sentimentalization of the unspeakable.  But these are ordinary women and their stories deserve to be told and remembered.  It’s also important to realize that anyone’s life can be changed in the world we’re living in. There are millions of displaced people in the world right now.”  

Even apart from its physical theatre style, the play is not a documentary (Schirle points out that the character she plays would have been considered too old to work and therefore killed.)  But it is based on real characters and events, especially on Elisabeth Raab and her memoir, And Peace Never Came.  Today Raab lives in Toronto, and her son will attend a performance in Blue Lake. Though (like other Holocaust victims) Raab couldn’t find a way to write about these events until the 1990s, she kept the book made for her at the Lippstadt camp exactly 70 years ago.

Among the projections during the show are images from that book that Schirle first saw in Canada, by artist Thelma Rosner, Elisabeth’s grand-niece.  Here's the link to images from the exhibit posted on the artist's website.

Schirle traveled to Europe to meet with director Schons, who lives and works in France.  They had worked together when Schons was at Dell'Arte.  One of the things she learned was the meaning of a name on a page of Elisabeth's book: "Geraldy."  It is Paul Geraldy (photo left), a French poet who was popular in pre-war Europe.  His name was there because Elisabeth and her friends loved his poetry.  So some of his work is included in the show, as well as lines by poets Emily Dickinson, Robert Denos and others.

Elisabeth's Book is also influenced and informed by other Holocaust memoirs, notably by poet and playwright Charlotte Delbo (photo right).  Here's more information on her.

Original music for Elisabeth's Book was composed by Tim Gray, Gina Leisxman and Schirle.  Lighting is by Michael Foster, costumes by Lydia Foreman and sound design by Tim Gray.  Here's a video excerpt plus Schirle and Schons talking about the piece.

Elisabeth’s Book is performed in the Carlo Theatre at Dell’Arte, July 23-27 at 8 p.m.   668-5663, www.dellarte.com.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

It's just one of those things.  Three shows open next week but none this weekend.  But in our Thursday-to-Thursday media,  there is Elisabeth's Book opening at Dell'Arte on Wednesday, July 23.  I'll have more on this show this weekend or early next week, and a preview in the NC Journal officially on Thursday but really on the stands Wednesday.

A stage-related event does happen this weekend, part of HLOC's promotion of its early August show, Thoroughly Modern Millie. Here's their release:

Travel back to the Roaring 20s for a Speakeasy evening with Humboldt Light Opera Company, on Friday, July 18 from 7-10 p.m. at the Arcata Playhouse. Learn the Charleston, mingle with celebrities of early American cinema, enter the costume contest, and catch club performances and a sneak preview of Thoroughly Modern Millie! Everyone is invited to come in 1920s attire: awards will be given for best female, male, and couple costumes. Admission is $25 (and includes hors d'oeuvres and one drink ticket), and can be purchased at the Holly Yashi Store in Arcata, or online at hloc.org. The Speakeasy is sponsored by Holly Yashi; all proceeds go to the HLOC Costume Fund. This event is recommended for ages 14 and up. For more info, call 822-1318.

Meanwhile, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike continues at Redwood Curtain in its penultimate weekend.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

This weekend at the Mad River Festival, clown Mooky Cornish presents The Glories of Gloria Revue. Cornish plays an aging performer reviewing her career in a revue that includes puppetry, cabaret song, dancing and magic. Created by Cornish and director Cal McCrystal, it’s in Dell'Arte's Carlo Theatre Thursday (July 10) through Saturday at 8 p.m., with afternoon shows on Saturday at 2 (a one hour version for younger attention spans) and Sunday at 4. 668-5663, www.dellarte.com.

Continuing: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Redwood Curtain.  Review and much more below.

Trouble in Chekhovania: A Review

 Once upon a time there was a man whose parents had named Douglas Fir Tree. His sister was Mary Christmas Tree. Carolyn Clay, long-time drama critic for the Boston Phoenix, told me this. Clay and Tree were engaged. If you made this up, would anyone believe you?

 So given what parents in the so-called real world are willing to do to their children, imagine--as playwright Christopher Durang did—that two American parents who are also college professors name their three children after characters in famous plays by Anton Chekhov. The result for Durang eventually was the 2012 comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, now on stage at Redwood Curtain in Eureka.

 Additional inspiration came when Durang noticed that his home in the eastern Pennsylvania countryside resembled the bucolic settings of several Chekhov plays in which aging characters expressed regrets for wasted lives. Durang, whose first stage hit was Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You in 1981, was himself entering his 60s.

 Durang has written parodies and farces (including an unproduced screenplay with my favorite of his titles: The Nun Who Shot Liberty Valance.) This is different. It riffs on Chekhov but also stands alone as a contemporary take on perennial themes of regret and hope, disappointment and new beginnings, in Durang’s unique off-center comic voice.

 Chekhov thought of his plays as comedies, but he usually neglected to include a happy ending. Durang doesn’t make that mistake. In 2013 Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike became Durang’s first Tony Award winner.

 The plays opens with Vanya and his adopted sister Sonia, both in their 50s, watching for the blue heron that visits the pond outside their farm house in a Philadelphia suburb on a late summer morning. They’ve spent 15 years taking care of their dying parents, and fear their own lives are over.

 Their stasis is stirred first by their prophetic housekeeper Cassandra, whose every sentence seems to begin with “Beware!” Their sister Masha arrives—she is a rich and famous Hollywood actress (Sexy Killer, Sexy Killer 2 etc.)-- accompanied by Spike, her much younger boyfriend and aspiring actor (a finalist for a role in the reality series Entourage 2.)

 Masha organizes them all to attend a costume party (she’ll be Snow White, her siblings will be the dwarfs), and incidentally has decided to sell the house. She’s been paying the mortgage (and to support her siblings), but she’s also aging and her career isn’t what it was.

 Meanwhile Spike finds Nina, an even younger aspiring actor visiting nearby relatives. She is thrilled to meet the immediately jealous Masha, and decides to call Vanya uncle. Though several offstage characters are important in causing what ensues, the focus is on these six as they deal with the consequences of the past, the illusions of the present and the possibilities of the future.

 The Redwood Curtain production is superbly cast. Though there are elements of caricature, these characters become individuals with their own minds and emotions, so the actors are required to inhabit and express their individuality.

 Gloria Montgomery confidently navigates Masha’s alternating flashes of ego and affection, anxiety and awareness. She also credibly works towards one of those sudden moments of emotional practicality that women seem to access while men remain swamped in clueless confusion.

 Christina Jioras creates a believable and sympathetic Sonia as she breaks out of her gloom and doubts, yet can’t believe her luck. Nadia Adame brings a sharp comic energy to the household as the psychic Cassandra, who mixes the exotic and the everyday with a feather duster that doubles as a ritual instrument, and a surprisingly effective voodoo doll.

 In their important supporting roles, Geo Alva plays Spike’s casual narcissism with a California flavor while Mira Eagle embodies Nina’s youthful spirit as she innocently discovers wonders of the past.

 Masha drives the action and Sonia makes the most transformative move, but the soul of the story is Vanya. Raymond Waldo (who has played Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya) performs brilliantly as this gentle man who misses the past and worries about the future.  Vanya’s angry, rambling monologue, accompanied by aimless wandering around the stage, seldom rises above cliche but still comically conveys his heartfelt fear of a dangerously thoughtless present.

 Even with such strong characters, some of the best moments are interactions. Jioras and Montgomery perform an amazingly realistic crying scene that is simultaneously heartrending and hilarious. The last scene strains for a feel-good finish but gets there anyway.

There are lots of laughs along the way. Most of the time Durang is so unpredictable that it seems the play is being written before your eyes.

 Director Jyl Hewston ensures her actors play the human nuances as well as the comic set pieces. Scenic and sound design are by Liz Uhazy, lighting by Telfer Reynolds and costumes by Jenneveve Hood. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is onstage at Redwood Curtain Thursdays-Saturdays through July 26. 443-7688, www.redwoodcurtain.com.

More Notes From Chekhovania

These are some additional notes on Durang and the Chekhovania play--but unlike the review, there be SPOILERS here arrrgh!

Speaking of which, Durang quotes a number of other works in this play, sometimes as "quotes," sometimes not.  One of the quotes ("fame, thou glittering bauble") someone attributes to Captain Hook in Peter Pan.  It's funny, especially because it's true--this is where the quote is from.  In the play Masha says "such an interesting thing for a pirate to say."  Gloria Montgomery goes a little further and tries it out pirate style: "Fame, thou glittering bauble, arrrgh!" A funny line which is not in my copy of the script.

Why a quote from Peter Pan?  Who knows, though it's likely that someone of playwright Christopher Durang's generation would know of Peter Pan through the Disney animated movie.  The Disney animated movie of Snow White (and what various generations know about it) becomes a droll plot point.

There's another quote that's given as a quote, though the author is never identified:
"True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment."  Masha thinks maybe she remembers it from some play she's done.  Maybe, but it was originally written by William Penn.  Penn was not only the founder of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but Bucks County--where this play takes place--is one of the three oldest counties in PA, named by Penn.

There are other quotes and partial quotes, especially within the prophetic rambles of Cassandra, housekeeper and psychic, whose namesake in Greek mythology is talked about.  Some of her lines quote the Greeks, but also "The Owl and the Pussycat" by non-Greek Edward Lear.

Chekhov Echoes

Some are obvious, such as Sonia crying “I am a wild turkey!” instead of “I am a seagull!”  Or the debate on whether 11 or 12 cherry trees constitutes a cherry orchard. Or the famous actress watching an experimental play by her son (in The Seagull) or in this play, her brother.  In this play Vanya at least mentions the repeated theme of Uncle Vanya: we must work!  However this Sonia has a more contemporary and probably practical point of view.

 There are many other echoes, some quite elegant. Durang’s Vanya is concerned about climate change, as is a different character in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya--Dr. Astrov who says at one point: "We have destroyed the forest, our rivers run dry, our wildlife is all but extinct, our climate ruined...but I pass by the woods I’ve saved from the ax. I hear the forest sighing...I planted that forest. And I think: perhaps things may be in our power. Perhaps the climate itself is in our control.”

Vanya's Tirade

Nina persuades Vanya to present the play he's written to all the others. Most are attentive but Spike doesn't understand it and grows bored, texting and "multi-tasking."  This sets Vanya off on a tirade about what's been lost in a speedier world where experiences aren't shared in the same way.

But his specific examples are oddly off.  He talks of them--mostly from the 1950s--as his own childhood experiences, but the character is supposed to be 57 in 2012, and a lot of what he talks about came earlier.  The Disney version of Davy Crockett, for example, first aired in 1954.  Vanya wasn't even born until 1955.   These are memories of somebody a decade older.  And some sound wrong.  He says he watched Bishop Sheen on Sunday evenings before Ed Sullivan.  Bishop Sheen was certainly a TV phenomenon, but he was broadcast nationally on Tuesday evenings opposite Milton Berle. This show went off the air in 1957.  He came back with a syndicated version in the 60s-- individual stations picked the air time so it's possible that some stations aired it on Sundays then.

In fact, a lot of the culture clash in this play doesn't make specific sense unless the "present" indicated as the play's time is actually about ten years ago.  But maybe it's worth it just for Vanya's observation on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet": "In retrospect they seemed medicated."

The Tony Award

This play earned Durang the Tony for Best Play on Broadway in 2013, in what I dubbed the "Resurrection Tonys."  Career-wise (not that we care about such things), Durang hadn't been hot since the 80s--say around the time that Cyndi Lauper broke big in the pop charts with "Girls Just Want To Have Fun."  But in 2013 both Durang and Lauper got Tonys--as did the 88 year old Cicely Tyson, whose decade was the 70s.  It's a tribute to hanging in there, doing your work, staying visible, maintaining and expanding your friendly contacts, being open to being asked, and mostly, hanging in there.

Generations

This play profits from Durang's experiences since his early success.  He's been one of the most successful teachers of playwriting anywhere, nurturing new talent at the Julliard School.  So he's been in touch with younger people, particularly in the theatre.  Nina in this play may learn towards a cliched innocence--and at first there's a hint of All About Eve in her heroine-worship of Masha--but she winds up as an appealing and important character, even younger than Spike and also with ambition, but with a very different sensibility that is nourished by the best of the past.

When she talks about sensing a decision point in what kind of actor she will be, Nina also has some very droll lines that are (like a lot of Stoppard's in Shakespeare in Love, for example) inside the profession humor but very funny.

Style of the Play

In my review I assert that this is not one of Durang's parodies, and stands on its own.  Here's a different view on that by a critic who reviewed the pre-Broadway New York production.  He calls it a "vaudeville"--a series of sketches more or less--and suggests it is for "educated" audiences who will grasp all the Chekhov mixes and matches (he describes a bunch of them.)

Judging from original cast photos, I suspect it was in fact played more broadly in New York than it is being played in Eureka. ("If you hate exaggeration," playwright David Hare wrote, "New York is never going to be the city for you.")  I think that's probably true of most New York comedies, especially when the characters represent stereotypes or at least familiar types to New York audiences.  Conversely, North Coast productions quite often find the more universal aspects of these plays.  That's partly because the actors generally can't play (or are uncomfortable playing) stereotypes, including variations on ethnic types.  And audiences here are less familiar with the nuances of such approaches.  For example, a recognizably Jewish character may be very funny to a New York (and Jewish) audience, but here, even if it could be done well, maybe not so much.

(Another factor mandating a more fundamental approach here is the necessarily simpler set, lighting scheme, effects etc.  This is taken to an extreme at Redwood Curtain, at least since NCRT performed Les Miz on pretty much the same set as Oedipus.  The Durang play set is really generic. You'd think they could at least have the wicker chairs called for in the script.)

What's interesting about how the play is performed is what it says about the play itself: is it strong enough to entertain, or simply to hold together, when it isn't done so broadly?  The plays that succeed here are.  The ones that aren't become painfully obvious.

There's also the intimacy of Redwood Curtain, where very broad acting may not work so well--especially by those without the skill levels of the best international actors New York can access.  Still, to make it work as a kind of burlesque may requires another level than we have available here.  Durang wrote Masha for Signourney Weaver, who played the role in New York: an aging movie star who arguably short-circuited a stage career to make a series of blood-drenched movies, played by somebody with pretty much that resume.  The interplay of actress and character had to be part of the experience for the audience.

But here the actors played their parts as people North Coast audiences might well recognize from their lives rather than their media consumption.  Geo Alva's portrayal of Spike was stylized but only slightly.  His Spike might not be part of daily life here, but he probably is in certain parts of southern California.  The other rather sly bit of stylization was Raymond Waldo's portrayal of Vanya, but it was to emphasize the Chekhovian qualities, the Uncle Vanya crossed with Konstantin in The Seagull, whose play within that play he attempts to emulate.  That Vanya in this play is gay becomes a slight part of the plot, but like Durang himself, he doesn't draw attention to it, at least thematically.

Characterizations like this make it a different play perhaps, but the play is up to it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a comedy by Christopher Durang has its one and only preview at Redwood Curtain on Thursday (July 3) at 8 p.m. before skipping the fourth and opening on Saturday July 5.

This is information, by the way, that you won't get from the NCJ Calendar.

This 2013 Tony Award winner is a takeoff on Chekhov characters set in contemporary America that rewards but does not require prior knowledge of Chekhov. I’ve been looking forward to this one all year. Directed by Jyl Hewston, it features Christina Jioras, Gloria Montgomery, Mira Eagle, Nadia Adame, Giovanni Alva and Raymond Waldo. It continues Thursdays-Saturdays through July 26. 443-7688, www.redwoodcurtain.com.

At Dell'Arte it's the final weekend for Korbel V: The Secret.  After the show on Saturday, the annual Red Light in Blue Lake adult cabaret is performed in the Carlo, starting at about 10:30 p.m.  Bring a designated driver. www.dellarte.com.




Thursday, June 26, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Ongoing at the Mad River Festival in Blue Lake: Korbel V: The Secret continues in the Rooney Amphitheatre out back at Dell'Arte (my NCJ review is here) now followed at 10:30 or so by Taken Away: An Acrobatic Theatre Event in the Carlo. Created and performed by Alyssa Hughlett, Jerome Yorke, Moses Norton, Hannah Gaff and Dell'Arte faculty Nicholette Routhier and director Joe Krienke.  Final two performances are Thursday and Friday (June 26 & 27.)

Also this weekend at the Fest: Clowns Without Borders gets the Prize of Hope with dinner and entertainment at 4 pm on Saturday June 28, and a benefit headlined by clown Mooky Cornish on Sunday June 29 at 2 p.m. Then Cornish performs at the Blue Lake Center of the Universe party that same afternoon at 4:30 in the Big Hammer Tent.

Though it's a little past the weekend it's before the next one: on Wednesday July 2, Mad Lab consists of three works-in-progress by Dell’Arte alums: “Camel Camel,” a vaudeville review by Glitter Gizzard, Janessa Johnsrude and Meghan Frank (it's scheduled to tour US and Canada dates later this summer); “Life Lessons with Pat McKensie,” a satirical comedy by Emily Newton; and “La Fenetre,” a clown comedy by Darci Fulcher and Emily Newton. 668-5663, www.dellarte.com.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Opening Thursday June 19 and continuing for three weekends at Dell'Arte is    Korbel V: The Secret.  It's the outdoor show that opens the greatly expanded Mad River Festival (more about that in my last NCJ column), and the latest in Dell’Arte’s outrageously epic working class soap opera that has seen death, a wedding, a birth and a fateful accident amidst much local color and family angst over the years. This summer’s story finds the surly and unemployed Tommy Dugan living in a ramshackle trailer, eventually confronting the Korbel Timber Company as it evicts workers’ families from company housing.

 It’s written and directed by Lauren Wilson, who wrote the memorable 2010 summer show, Blue Lake: The Opera. Returning to Korbel are Michael Fields as Tommy and Joan Schirle as his mother Dorothy, who despite having died in the first play has appeared in all the sequels, plus the traditionally large cast.  Music is provided by Marla Joy, Tim Randles and Mike LaBolle.

 In a TV commercial for the festival, Fields as Tommy Dugan describes the show: “They say it’s a comedy but my life ain’t so funny to me.” That nails the mood of this series. It’s been satirical, melodramatic, over the top, but with heart and eyes open to the Humboldt of the moment. “It is pure ‘theatre of place’, Dell’Arte style,” Fields said (off-camera). “I don’t know of another theatre that follows characters over decades with keen attention to the times, looking at it all through the lens of place.” Dell’Arte is offering a festival pass to any four shows plus some extra benefits. (707) 668-5663, www.dellarte.com.

Dixie Swim Club continues at Ferndale Rep and Les Miserables completes its run at North Coast Rep.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

This North Coast Weekend (and Audition)


Murder By Dessert is performing another interactive mystery, and this one sounds particularly intriguing.  It's called Sherlock Holmes and the Steampunk Murder Mystery, and is described as featuring "the greatest science fiction authors of the late 1800s attempting to solve the murder of one of their own."  I don't know who that would be except H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, although it would be decades before anybody called it science fiction. But the Robert Downey Holmes movies are definitely steampunk.

  It's happening on Saturday June 14 at the Siren's Song Tavern, 325 Second St., Eureka, from 7-10 p.m. 672-5651, murderbydessert.com.  Jeremy Brett won't be appearing as Sherlock Holmes alas, but any excuse to post his photo.

If you're getting your stage information from the NCJ Calendar (print edition) you are going to be misinformed about this weekend.  (In general the Calendar, which used to be the gold standard for upcoming events, has been sliding downhill for months.)

So here's the weekend:

Thursday (June 12) at Ferndale Repertory Theatre is an Actors Benefit performance of the ongoing production, The Dixie Swim Club.  All proceeds on this night go to cast and crew. Otherwise the production continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 2 through June 22.

Les Miserables continues at North Coast Rep Friday and Saturday at 8, and Sunday at 2.

North Coast Rep also announces auditions:

The North Coast Repertory Theatre announces open auditions for the musical Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, with music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice; and book by Linda Woolverton. The production will be directed by Lauren Wieland, with musical direction by Jonathan Webster and Dianne Zuleger. There are roles for 11 men and 12 women of a wide variety of ages. No roles will be pre-cast. The first round of auditions will consist of singing only, there will be no cold readings from the script. Please come with a prepared audition piece of no more than 2 minutes in length. An accompanist will be present. Please come prepared with sheet music. A CD player will be available. Please bring a resume and headshot if available. Auditions will take place on Saturday, June 28th at 2 p.m., and Sunday, June 29th at 6 p.m. at NCRT, 300 Fifth Street in Eureka. Call-backs will be on July 6th in the evening. Production dates are November 13th thru December 13th, 2014 with rehearsals beginning mid-August. Please contact director Lauren Wieland at laurencwieland@gmail.com if you have any questions.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Opening Friday June 6 at Ferndale Rep is the comedy The Dixie Swim Club by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Mamie Wooten.  Directed by Leira V. Satlof, it features Marilyn McCormick, Marilyn Foote, Rae Robison, Dana Zurasky and Natasha White.  Scenic design is by Ray Gutierrez, with costumes by Lynnie Horrigan.

 The story is about the friendship of five women who met on their college swim team and reunite at a beach cottage in North Carolina, one weekend a year for 33 years.  The play portrays four of those weekends.   Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 through June 22.  There's a special Actors Benefit performance on Thursday June 12.  786-5483.

Les Miserables continues at North Coast Rep.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Members of Dell’Arte International School’s graduating class of 2014 present The Finals: an evening of ten minute plays as their final projects, Thursday through Saturday (May 29-31) at 8 p.m. in the Carlo Theatre. Audience members are asked to make comments and give grades. (707) 668-5663, www.dellarte.com.

The musical Les Miserables continues at North Coast Rep.  My review is in this week's North Coast Journal. 442-6278, www.ncrt.net.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

The musical Les Miserables opens Thursday (May 22) at North Coast Repertory Theatre. Directed by Calder Johnson, with musical direction by Elisabeth Harrington and Nanette Voss-Herlihy, it features Dan Stockwell, Craig Benson, Jo Kuzelka, Greta Stockwell and Voss-Herlihy. 442-6278, www.ncrt.net.

 Aria da Capo by Edna St. Vincent Millay is performed by 12 Northcoast Preparatory Academy students directed by Jean Bazemore at the Arcata Playhouse on Monday May 26 at 8 p.m. It is a benefit for developing a theatre exchange program with a school in Japan where these students recently performed this play, on a trip to study Japanese theater in Kyoto and Tokyo. A $10 donation is suggested but not required.

The 2014 Dell'Arte International School Thesis Festival continues for its final week, Thursday through Saturday (May 22-24) at 8 p.m. in the Carlo Theatre at Dell’Arte in Blue Lake.  My review is in this week's NC Journal.  Appropriate for ages seven and up. 668-5663, www.dellarte.com.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

This North Coast Weekend


Dell'Arte School MFA Class of 2014 presents their Thesis Festival plays for two weekends, beginning Thursday May 15.  The evening includes a comedy featuring Lucy Shelby and Ariel Lauryn, a tragicomedy with Andrew Eldredge, Allie Menzimer and Emily Newton, and a comedy concerning free will with Jerome Yorke, Darci Fulcher and Billy Higgins, plus alums Grace Booth and Ruxandra Cantir.

Shows are Thursdays-Sundays May 15-17, 22-24 at 8 p.m. in the Carlo.  Pay what you will, for audiences older than 7.  668-5663.

Final three performances of the contemporary musical comedy I Love You Because at Redwood Curtain are this weekend: Thursday-Saturday.  443-7688.  A co-production with Humboldt Light Opera.

Friday, May 9, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Nothing new this weekend, but I Love You Because continues at Redwood Curtain, a co-production with Humboldt Light Opera Company.

A Happy Birthday to Michael Fields of Dell'Arte!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Dell'Arte School first-years present their original clown show, titled clownishly enough, Clown! Thursday through Saturday (May 1-3) at 8 p.m. in the Carlo.  This year's students come from Sweden, Greece, Zimbabwe, Iran, Georgia, Spain, Brazil, exotic Canada and the U.S. (707) 66-5663, www.dellarte.com.

It's the final weekend for the HSU Theatre, Film & Dance production of Playhouse Creatures , reviewed in the Mad River Union by Beti Trauth.  Last shows are Thursday-Saturday (May 1-3) at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee Sunday at 2, in Gist Hall Theatre. 826-3928, HSU Stage & Screen.

Continuing: the musical  I Love You Because at Redwood Curtain in a co-production with Humboldt Light Opera Company.  Busy Beti Trauth gives it a rave at Tri-City Weekly.   www.redwoodcurtain.com.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Ophelia, Lady Macbeth and all female characters in Shakespeare and English drama were played by males before King Charles II decreed in 1660 that henceforth they must be portrayed by actual women. Playhouse Creatures by contemporary British playwright April DeAngelis is about those first actresses, backstage as well as on stage.  Its Old Vic production was billed as a “tragic-comic burlesque.”

 An HSU production opens on Thursday (April 24) for a two-weekend run. Directed by Mark Swetz, it features Queena DeLany, Anna Duchi, Michelle Purnell, Ambar Cuevas, Vanessa Fragoso, Adrienne Ralsten, Giovanni Alva and Kyle Rispoli. Scenic and prop design are by Derek Lane, costumes by Kaden O’Keefe and lighting by James McHugh. Shows start at 7:30 p.m. in Gist Hall Theatre Thursdays through Saturdays, with a matinee on Sunday May 4 at 2 p.m. 826-3928, HSUStage.blogspot.com.



 The Dell’Arte School MFA Class of 2015 presents I Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust, their self-created exploration of tragedy, Thursday through Sunday (Apr. 24-27) at 8 p.m. in the Carlo Theatre. Creator-performers are Hannah Gaff, Alyssa Hughlett, Christopher Kehoe, Sarah McKinney, Moses Norton, Kaitlen Osburn, Drew Pannebecker and Cooper Lee Smith. 707-668-5663, www.dellarte.com.

At the Arcata Playhouse on Saturday (Apr 26) Cirque du Shwazee presents a family-friendly comedy cabaret, in a benefit for the Arcata Playhouse Summer Youth Programs.  It all begins at 6:30 p.m. with local band Bandamonium and a circus midway for kids that includes face painting and a puppet show.  The main performance begins at 7:30, with aerialists, clowns and circus theatre acts, featuring Amy Tetzlaff as the giant rabbit, Guapo the Handsome One, and Cirque du Soleil clown Mooky Cornish.  822-1575, www.arcataplayhouse.org.

While strictly speaking not a stage event, Ferndale Rep opens its two weekend event Music From the Hart on Thursday.  The night-by-night lineup is here at Brown Paper Tickets.  If you asked me I would guess that, despite the success of Spamalot, this is the direction the Rep Board is taking, if indeed there is a direction.

I Love You Because, the HLOC musical at Redwood Curtain, continues Thursday through Saturday (until May 17).  See review directly below.

Imperfect Love

My review of I Love You Because at Redwood Curtain runs in this week's NC Journal with changes that I didn't see in time to respond to, and still don't agree with.  In particular, I didn't write the subhead, which lifts a line I wrote about the music and applies it to the show as a whole.  The other changes mostly shifted shades of meaning to other shades, or were less than precise.

So I'm posting the review here as I wrote it, without any of these changes(including the ones that improved it.)  I had a particularly hard time finding the words for one overall impression.  Though I think I finally came up with a decent way to say it, I'll take this opportunity to make it a critique note.  At the performance I attended (Friday preview) I never got the feeling that the appropriate characters were attracted to each other, sexually and otherwise (though of course they said so and sang so.)  The closest moment was the very last, in Sarah Mullen's eyes.  This is something that might have been peculiar to the energy of that performance (the night before opening night), or if it is true, there is plenty of time in the run to figure out if it is true (or just my delusion) and see if anything can be done about it.  Because it is something that on stage as in life can make a lot credible that otherwise isn't.

Imperfect Love
Twentysomething Musical at Redwood Curtain

Humboldt Light Opera Company typically mounts a big production in late summer and a smaller musical in spring, often staged at CR with accompaniment by a single pianist. Meanwhile Redwood Curtain, which tends to specialize in contemporary “relationship” comedies, occasionally does a small musical with that theme. A few years ago the two groups actually did the same show within months of each other (The Last Five Years.)

 So a partnership of sorts seemed natural, resulting in I Love You Because, the small musical about “relationships” now on stage at Redwood Curtain in Eureka. Directed by HLOC’s Carol Ryder and featuring a HLOC cast, it benefits from the intimacy of the small house, where it is possible to be practically sitting in the pianist’s lap.

 As to be expected from a HLOC production, the singing was strong and the direction was fluid and inventive. The comic acting met the high standards of both HLOC and Redwood Curtain. And then there’s the play.

 I Love You Because is a contemporary musical comedy about twentysomethings in New York City. Austin, a conservative greeting card writer (played by Craig Waldvogal) and Marcy, a free-spirited photographer (Sarah Mullen) are each facing the end of a “relationship.” Marcy’s mathematically inclined friend Diana (Amy Chalfant) counsels her on the correct number of months she should allow before getting serious about someone else. Austin’s buffoonish brother Jeff advises him to play the field. Shaelan Salas-Rich and Carl McGahan play the chorus of barkeep, waitress and barista.

 Austin and Marcy, Diana and Jeff meet cute, then wobble into sexual liasons until the end of the first act when all of them are breaking up and desolate. Guess what happens in the second act.

I Love You Because was written by Ryan Cunningham (book and lyrics) and Joshua Salzman (music), at least partly while they were students in New York University’s musical theatre graduate program. The play has the seams-showing quality of a thesis, layered with a lot of what’s euphemistically called “language.”

 The mostly upbeat music is dominated by the kind of wordy, wandering pop that’s become standard since early Alanis Morissette. It can express contemporary self-consciousness and emotion, while also exposing banalities. The lyrics like the script vary alarmingly from the witty to the moronic.

 Still, the score is mostly pleasant and has some variation, from do-wop to a couple of second act songs that might fit nicely into a 40s or 50s musical. And it has the proper mixture of solos, duets, quartets etc. likely learned from the NYU curriculum, that with this cast yield some transcendent musical moments.

There are funny bits in a formulaic script. The original producers billed it as a gender-switched version of Pride and Prejudice, but except for a few Austen puns and distant, incoherent echoes, the claim is so disingenuous as to be counterproductive. People who don’t really know Pride and Prejudice won’t care, while Austen devotees may be so offended that any chance of appreciating the evening on its merits is lost. If Jane herself got wind of this claim she’d likely be throwing up in her grave.

 The competitive and superficial frenzy of New York may well have spread among twentysomethings with the speed of Instagram. This potential audience, dealing with real emotion in their lives, may appreciate the musical’s observations and messages, especially about accepting imperfection. But a better script and more of a sense that the appropriate characters are actually attracted to each other might make this a convincing experience: more of a show than a tell.

 During scene changes, this production played vivid taped testimonies written by North Coast people about their actual love lives.

 Laura Welch is musical director and accompanist, Jayson Mohatt is scenic and lighting designer. I Love You Because is on stage at Redwood Curtain through May 17. This unusually long run is meant to compensate for the small number of seats, so reservations are highly recommended by management. 443-7688, www.redwoodcurtain.com.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Redwood Curtain and Humboldt Light Opera Company team up to produce the musical I Love You Because, with book and lyrics by Ryan Cunningham and music by Joshua Salzman.  It's directed by Carol Ryder and features Gino Bloomberg, Amy Chalfant, Carl McGahan, Hannah Mullen, Shaelan Salas Rich and Craig Waldvogel.  Previews are Thursday and Friday (April 17, 18) with official opening night on Saturday.  It's scheduled for a five week run but it's in the relatively tiny Redwood Curtain theatre, so reservations are highly recommended. www.redwoodcurtain.com, 443-7688.

At North Coast Rep, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Revised) [Abridged] concludes its run with shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Closing out its Family Fun series, Arcata Playhouse hosts Santa Barbara's Boxtale Theatre Company with its production of The Odyssey Friday and Saturday  (April 12-13) at 7 p.m. plus a 2 p.m. show on Saturday.  Using physical theatre, masks, stilts, shadow puppets and live music, the show dramatizes the homeward voyage of Odysseus and his encounters with Poseidon, Athena, Zeus, the Cyclops, the Sirens, etc.  This is of course a family-friendly event (school classes will see it in addition to these public performances.)  (707) 822-1575, arcataplayhouse.org.

Dell’Arte presents a work-in-progress, Elisabeth’s Book, Friday and Saturday (April 12-13) at 8 p.m. in the Carlo Theatre.  (There will be no Thursday show for the public, as previously announced.)  This original piece uses movement, music and images to tell the story of three women who survive concentration camps and further trials after World War II. Based on a true story and conceived by Joan Schirle, it is a collaboration among performers Schirle, Laura Munoz and Ruxy Cantir, and director Alain Schons (a French designer/director and former director of the Dell’Arte School.) Audiences for this in-progress version will help shape Elisabeth’s Book for its official premiere at Dell’Arte in July. Tickets are pay-what-you-can. It is deemed not suitable for young children. (707) 668-5663 ext. 20. www.dellarte.com.

After the weekend, Dell'Arte also presents a one night reprise of Three Trees, the anti-militarist clown show created and performed by Lauren Wilson, Stephanie Thompson and Joe Krienke, on Tuesday April 15 at 8 p.m. in the Carlo.  It's a warm-up for a subsequent tour.  The Dell'Arte publicity quotes the North Coast Journal as describing it as "Alice in Wonderland meets Mother Courage."  I guess that was me.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] continues at North Coast Rep Friday and Saturday at 8 . Then on Sunday at 7 p.m., another film in "NCRT's Night at the Movies" series is screened: the classic 1950 Cyrano de Bergerac, with Jose Ferrer, directed by Michael Gordon.  It's free to season ticket holders and five bucks for everybody else.


Physical Reality, the HSU Dance Concert, completes its run Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 in the Van Duzer, with a matinee on Sunday at 2 p.m. Maia Cheli-Colando reviews it in this week's NCJ.  HSU Stage & Screen.  Tickets: 826-3928.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

The annual HSU Dance show, this year entitled Physical Reality, opens tonight (April 3) at 7:30 in the Van Duzer Theatre.  It continues Friday and Saturday evenings, Thursday-Saturday next weekend, with a matinee on Sunday April 13 at 2 p.m.  Tickets: 826-3928.  Information: HSU Stage and Screen.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] continues at North Coast Rep.  My NCJ review includes the following sentences--see if you can spot the multiple puns. (Yeah, well I've got to have some fun.)

So the authors of this more recent revision had the benefit of hundreds of audiences to fine-tune a perfect laugh machine. If the highly lubricated opening night audience at North Coast Rep is any proof, it works.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

This North Coast Weekend


North Coast Rep opens The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] on Thursday (March 27.)  This Shakespeare parody is directed by David Hamilton and features Victor Howard, Anders Carlson and Gavin Lyall.  It plays weekends through April 19.

Monty Python's Spamalot continues at Ferndale Rep.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Dell’Arte School first-years present 10 short melodramas of their own devising in An Evening of Melodrama, Thursday-Saturday March 20-22 at 8 p.m. in the Carlo Theatre. The 27 students involved come from 12 countries, including Iran, Georgia, Brazil, Greece, Puerto Rico, Zimbabwe, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Canada and Spain.  (Photo above is from a 2007 melodrama performance.)  707-668-5663, www.dellarte.com.

The Random People's Theater Project presents a community-based project, Night At The General: 10 vignettes set in a hospital.  It's performed at the Mateel Community Center Friday through Sunday (March 21-23) at 8 p.m. with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Monty Python's Spamalot continues at Ferndale Rep.  My review (with an update on Ferndale's future) is in this week's North Coast Papa Murphy's Pizza Journal.

The Love List continues at Redbud Theatre in Willow Creek Friday and Saturday .