Lynn Ruth Miller

Commedienne - Not dead yet

Category: Reviews (page 1 of 8)

THE BRIGHTON FRINGE REVIEWED

NEWS FROM THE BRIGHTON FRINGE
SHORT COMMENTARY ON WHAT IS HAPPENING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE POND
I had the unexpected pleasure of stumbling on BITCH BOXER written and performed by Charlotte Josephine. I am not a sports fan and I particularly abhor boxing, yet this play with its fast moving dialogue, exquisite direction by Bryony Shanahan and truly brilliant lighting effects by Seth Rook Williams captivated me from the moment Josephine stepped on the stage and brought tears to my eyes as I relived a young girl’s torment, torn by her own determination to validate herself in her fathers eyes. This is a play that must be seen because words cannot cast its spell. I takes place in 2012 when women entered the Olympic boxing ring for the first time. We see Chloe training to compete in the event even as she is torn by cosmic events in her own life. Through it all, we see her hanging on to a tattered faith in herself and reaching for a star she knows belongs to her. It is Josephine’s performance that makes this production stellar. She is an artist in every sense of that word and beyond
BITCH BOXER returns to the Marlborough Theatre May 25,26,& 27 7:30 pm
www.brightonfringe.org; 01273 917272
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THE SPEIGEL TENT IS THE PLACE TO BE ……
LA CLIQUE happens every night but MOnday at 9 pm and iach performance is unique. You will see Scotty the Blue Bunny charming you with is wagging little tail and marvelous repartee; Shay Horay amaze you with rubber bands, Lilikoi Kaos spinning hula hoops in ways you cannot imagine and the Wau Wau Sisters doing a trapeze act that defies gravity. The show is spellbinding from start to finish and for me a huge highlight is Paul Zenon’s combination of magic and comedy. This is an hour and a half of superb entertainment…fun, exhilarating and spirit lifting.

My favorite performers ever are and have always been MIKLEANGELO AND THE BLACK SEA GENTLEMEN. They perform at 5 pm in the tent from the 13-19 and are an experience not to be missed “These are performers at the top of their game,” says The Scotsman; The Sydney Morning Herald says “They are not so much a band as a dream you cannot wake from.”

The show combines musical theatre and black humor in unexpected ways. You will never see its like anywhere in the world. Mikelangelo has composed and arranged songs that blend Balkan melodies and European Kabaret with comedy and farce. The Gentlemen are superb musicians and each has his own comedic sense. Mikelangelo is brilliant on every level as their leader and your host in the production. When they play AN A MINOR DAY you laugh and yet you know just what they mean…and I defy you not to nod your head at the black humor in A FORMIDABLE MARINADE. You will chuckle; you will dance and you will love every minute you spend with MIKELANGELO AND THE BLACK SEA GENTLEMEN. That is a promise. Tickets 01273 917272 www.brightonfringe.com.

THE BIG BITE-SIZE BREAKFAST: Fresh Fruit *****
This is a series of award winning one-minute plays delightfully presented with coffee and a croissant included in the 12.50/9.50 ticket. Fresh Fruit is a collection of 5 vignettes directed and produced by Nick Brice/Sam Holland and Sophia Wylie. Each play in this series gives us a new take on what it is to be human, mixing pathos with humor. Of special note is Tegen Hitchens whose monologue Thin Air about a tight rope walker who learns what courage is all about is mesmerizing and unforgettable. Do not miss this delightful mid day hour. Tickets 01273 917272 www.brightonfringe.com.

THE BIG BITE-SIZE BREAKFAST: Interpretations *****

It is rare to see a show that has an almost universal appeal. The audience for this “menu” ranged from a rapt 3 year old to a woman of 80 and everyone there was captivated by the selection of plays that combine comedy with a dose of unvarnished reality. Of special note was Becky Norris’s monologue VALENTINE’S DAY about a woman who receives a valentine from a most unusual stranger. Norris’s characterization is multi-faceted and believable, yet laced with dead-pan humor. Kudos to Nick Brice, Sam Holland and Sophia Wylie for their programming and expert direction. Once again they have given us a delightful and unforgettable morning. Tickets 01273 917272 www.brightonfringe.com.
ROAD Written by Jim Cartwright and directed by Julian Kerridge *****
This award winning play is as moving today as it was when it was written in 1986. “Now, 24 years later, as the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider….once again it is the very poorest in society who suffer,” says director Julian Kerridge. Theater is our best vehicle for social outrage and this gorgeous piece will make you cry, laugh and ponder at what is happening now in our world. Perfectly paced, beautifully directed and acted by an all-star cast, it is the most important piece of theater I have seen in a very long time. Tickets 01273 917272 www.brightonfringe.com.

THE BIG BITE-SIZE BREAKFAST: Desires. The Latest Music Bar May 19, 2013 *****
Once again, the audience is beautifully entertained with five ten-minute plays, all unforgettable because each is a commentary on the human experience. The play selection for all three menus (at Theatre Royal and The Latest) is superb. We are given literary quality, spot-on direction and amazing acting. These talented performers must switch from one character to another in a repertory of fifteen plays (for all 3 shows) and not one of them loses the narrative flow. Each menu is well worth seeing both for its social commentary, its quality, humor and pace. Tickets 01273 917272 www.brightonfringe.com.

THE TREASON SHOW *****
This special Festival show is at the Sabai Pavilion at 9pm Tuesday May 21 until Thursday May 25. The very talented cast present fast moving acerbic commentary on the news in song and satire that cannot help but appeal no matter what your level of political interest. This venue is very large and lacks the intimacy that works so well for the production at The Latest Music Bar, but the skits still get laughs and leave the audience with unforgettable memories that poke holes in the public image of our all too pompous public officials. Most memorable in this production was Daniel Beales’ impersonation of Angela Merkell singing a parody of My Way. This show runs monthly. If you missed this one go to www.treasonshow.co.uk for the next edition.

BIG BOYS DON’T DANCE *****
This show is a must see for every age. The music is superb, the dancing is mind boggling and the talent of the two stars amazing. There is a recognizable and believable story line running though the hour about two brothers about to split up because one is getting married. However, the show is held together with almost magical rhythm, dialogue and dance. The hour passes in an instant, so memorable are the performances of these two South African actors with unequalled comedic timing and pace. At The Warren until May 24 at 6 pm Tickets www.otherplacebrighton.co.uk or 01273 917272 www.brightonfringe.com.

QUA, QUA, QUA !! *****
Prepare yourself for a delightful, interactive experience creating comedy in the Jacques Tati tradition. This charming hour sweeps the audience into the Tati experience highlighting the tiny absurdities that are life itself. Chris Cresswell has created this gem of a piece and it is his comedic genius that propels the action. He is supported by a talented cast who pantomime his words. Marion Deprez is outstanding in her characterizations of the conductor on a train, a frustrated sunbather and just another woman in the rain. Do not miss this tribute to a moviemaker who saw what being human means. Cresswell’s presentation is sensitive to every nuance that makes life worthwhile. Tickets: emporiumbrighton.com. May 30-June 1 @ 7:30 13.50 pounds

NIGHT AFTER NIGHT *****
Paul Shaw is a consummate actor, a thrill to see on any stage. His performance in this touching and very wise production is nothing short of stellar. The story begins in 1958 when homosexuality was considered a mental disease. A married couple meet for theater and ponder on their future and the baby soon to be born. Shaw who plays all the characters in Neil Bartlett’s profound script has an understated delivery that makes the dramatization all the more powerful. His series of characters explore the need to accept who we are and what we have become as a fact of our lives. The music composed by Nicolas Bloomfield only enhances the poetic rhythms of the monologue. The tragedy is that this show was only performed May 31 and June first at the Marlborough Theatre and more people lost the opportunity to experience it.

THE WEATHERMAN *****

Kiki Lovechild proves how unnecessary words can be in his charming pantomime of how to amuse yourself in purgatory. His show is beautifully paced and combines movement with sound and lighting that sweeps his audience into a world of fun and fantasy unlimited by earthly notions. Anything can happen on his stage and does from umbrellas swirling to multicolored lights flashing and unexpected gifts shared by a captivated audience. Nothing verbal can describe the magic of this production and why should it? The show is an unforgettable hour that cannot fail to make you laugh and love being alive. Seen at the Marlborough Theatre May 30-June 1.
JULIAN CADDY SPEAKS ON THE IMPACT OF THE 2013 BRIGHTON FRINGE
This is the second year that Julian Caddy has been at the helm of the Brighton Fringe. In that time, the number and quality of shows have increased by 60% as have the number of attendees. The Brighton Fringe is the second largest festival in the UK. Caddy made these comments after a spectacular performance of THE BIG BITE SIZED BREAKFAST: INTERPRETATIONS (reviewed in this article). The Big Bite Sized Breakfast series was a group of delightful and very meaningful 10-minute plays, each one giving the audience a new view of our own life experience. Caddy spoke to us after the show. “What Bite Sized is doing is basic to what we are about,” he said. “Over 200,000 come to The Brighton Fringe. And the shows that come here reflect the values of the society that hosts it.”
The majority of the patrons that attend shows for this festival are from Brighton as opposed to The Edinburgh Festival Fringe where the majority of punters are visitors. Each production lives or dies on what they produce and the audience’s reaction to their work. “That is why we should make more of what we have here, now,” Caddy said. “The Fringe should continue to support the arts by giving vibrant offerings throughout the year. That is my ambition.”
Nick Brice produced the Bite Sized Breakfast show. “Showing people the choices they have gives them the power to make change happen,” he said.
Brice pointed out the parallel between theatre and business. He creates similar productions to businesses to help both employees and employers empathize with one another and learn how to actually understand what the other person is thinking. His goal is to show people how to do business in a different way through theater. “Building a brand is making a piece of theatre,” he said.
Theater then is a reflection of life in all its many phases. Perhaps, this is why experiencing a fringe festival anywhere is so very exhilarating. Suddenly, the arts take precedence over profit…even over our daily routines. Instead of going home, eating dinner and watching television, we take in a play, listen to music, laugh at a comedy and experience live entertainment with people of like interests. All the shows that came to The Brighton Fringe this year were forms of communication and so was the act of attending them. Theater, be it a play, a dance, a concert… indeed, in all its forms…. gives us invaluable tools to keep us human.

The Sixites Weren’t Kind ot Everyone

FINDING LIBBY
Written and performed by Kate Saffin
Directed by Moya Hughes

The freedom that women were supposed to have found in the Sixties
Largely boiled down to easy contraception and abortion;
Things to make life easer for men, in fact.
Julie Burchill
Kate Saffin truly comes into her own in her touching portrayal of shy, unhappy Libby, a stuffy old maid in every sense of the word. When her neighbor convinces her to emerge from her comfortable routines to take a holiday boat trip, she is suddenly forced to confront an uncomfortable, stifling past she has buried for far too many years. Libby had been on a similar boat years ago in the sixties, met a man and destroyed her future for too many reasons that social pressure and family values pushed beyond her control. Now, her mourning for things lost and her determination to come to terms with who she really wants to be emerges and we leave her on the road to resolution and a new look at life’s possibilities.
Saffin is her character. She paints a completely believable picture of Libby with empathy and the wisdom that only an author can acquire. It is obvious that through fashioning the script into a solid dramatic piece, the writer Kate Saffin has understood the thought processes that motivated Libby’s actions…her worries, her demolished sense of self. It is this vulnerable, very human person that Kate Saffin the actress gives us on stage.
“It is a witty, evocative, humorous and touching play,” says Director Moya Hughes “I sincerely hope that you enjoy the performance as much as we have enjoyed the process of bringing it to you.”
Indeed, Libby’s story has elements that will touch us all. Anyone who sees Kate Saffin’s moving production will learn and grow in his own life because of it.
That attitude toward women as objects may have worked
For the late Sixties, but it doesn’t do so now.
John Schlesinger

FINDING LIBBY is at The 2013 Edinburgh Fringe, Assembly Hall on the Mound, August 1-26. http://www.assemblyfestival.com

GLITZ AND GLITTER COMES TO SAN FRANCISCO

The Thrill Peddlers present….
TINSEL TARTS IN A HOT COMA
Music and lyrics: Scrumbly Koldewyn
Book: Sweet Pam” Tent
Directed by Russell Blackwood
“The Cockettes were basically complete sexual anarchy
Which is always a good thing.
John Waters
“The Cockettes were the first hippie drag queens,” said filmmaker John Waters, “Insane hippie drag queens on and off the stage.” And that sentence sums up that outrageous and delightful group of wild, flamboyant hippies, transsexuals, gays and rebels that managed to destroy all our sacred cows on and off the stage. They created a series of drug infused ostentatious musical shows so camp only the sub-culture in San Francisco could understand them. Their musicals were disorganized and wild, filled with glitter and nudity, mad and maddening yet irresistible to anyone ready to accept the unacceptable.
When they brought the original production of “Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma” to New York In 1971, the establishment simply could not handle their “in your face” exuberance. It was critic Lillian Roxon who realized that, inexperienced, chaotic and rough as they were, the group blazed a trail for a cultural evolution we are experiencing today “Their influence will be felt years from now,” she said. “Every time you see too much glitter or a rhinestone out-of-place, you (will) know it’s because of the Cockettes.”
Russell Blackwood, director of the Thrill Peddlers fell in love with the Cockette spirit and in 2009 he re-invented the Cockette production Pearls Over Shanghai and followed it with Vice Palace. Now, we have his re-imagining of Tinsel Tarts In A Hot Coma the 1971 musical originally performed by The Cockettes at The Palace Theatre in San Francisco.
Blackwood’s interpretation of that production is on stage now at the Hypnodrome theatre and if you like splashy costume, great energy and not much plot, this production is your cup of tea. Three of the original Cockettes are in this version of the musical that blossomed in San Francisco and died in New York. Two of them, Scrumbly Koldewyn and Pam Tent also rewrote the book and added 18 songs from the original four-page outline used in that first production. For this reviewer, Scrumbly Koldewyn is worth hearing and seeing anytime he takes to the stage. His musical talent is beyond words, so original and exciting are his compositions; so thrilling his keyboard technique. Pam Tent steals the show in a parody of Hedda Hopper and no one can resist her.
The energy and enthusiasm of the cast is infectious and everyone who sees the show cannot help but have a wonderful time. This production is so much more than a musical, It is a happening and great fun from the opening number Ain’t We Deluxe to the spirited finale loaded with flashing breasts, swinging dicks, glittering gams and feathers, Hades Lowdown.
The question is: Are we so jaded by all that has gone before that the Cockette spirit is just a bit too over the top for today’s audiences? “It’s nothing but a high school musical,” said one member of the audience. “All the performers put out lots of effort and enthusiasm, and the songs were clever….but I didn’t see any reason for the nudity in the finale. I’m hardly a prude but it just seemed out of place.”
The truth is naked bodies aren’t that shocking anymore and too much glitter and glitz is boring. We have all been there, done that and seen it so many times before. That said; if you want a fun evening that does nothing to enrich you but everything to tickle your funny bone, don’t miss this fast-moving, melodic farce. Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma is a production you’ll not soon forget: more colorful than a rainbow, and as delightful as a surfeit of ice cream and cake.
The sixties are gone; dope will never be as cheap
Sex never as free and rock & roll never as great.
Abbie Hoffman
TINSEL TARTS continues through June 1, 2012
Thursday-Saturday @ 8pm
The Hypnodrome Theatre 575 Tenth Street, SF
Tickets: brownpapertickets.com or 800 838 3006
Info: thrillpeddlers.com 415 377 4204

Marin Theater explores issues of morality and slavery

MARIN THEATRE COMPANY PRESENTS
THE WHIPPING MAN
by Matthew Lopez
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
Starring L. Peter Callender, Nicholas Pelczar and Tobie Windham
The people made worse off by slavery
Were those who were enslaved.
Thomas Sowell
Marin Theatre consistently gives us exceptional productions and Jasson Minadakis is without equal as a director. Any production he touches becomes thought provoking, meaningful theater at its best. THE WHIPPING MAN is no exception. “Set a week after the fall of Richmond at the end of the Civil War and spanning the date of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, THE WHIPPING MAN explores a moment in our history when everything changed and anything seemed, and perhaps actually was, possible,” says Minadakis. “Matthew explores how faith is one of the strongest ways to build family and community and to honor history…..….Faith in ourselves, our family and friends, our community or a divine power is the light that parts the darkness.”
The faith in this play is Judaism. When the Southern Aristocracy owned slaves, those people became a part of their family. Although they were possessions, they were still expected to follow the moral constructs of the people who owned them. Simon (L. Peter Callender) and John (Tobie Windham) are Jewish. They belonged to Caleb’s (Nicholas Pelczar) family. The play opens in Caleb’s now almost destroyed home in Richmond, Virginia in 1865 on a Friday night during the Jewish Passover. It is important to understand the Jewish humanistic philosophy when you watch this play because it colors each characters reaction to one another. Jewish law forbids unethical treatment of slaves and encourages owners to make them part of the family. They were forbidden to physically abuse their slaves or to sell them to harsh masters.
And yet, these people were property and no matter how well meaning the master was, there were moments when he fell from grace. In this play Caleb’s father who was portrayed as a kind, humane man beat both Simon and John, and violated Simon’s wife. Caleb was overbearing and cruel to John even though the two grew up together as brothers. As Simon explains, ”You did it because you could.”
Caleb disillusioned by the cruelty and bloodshed of the war has abandoned his faith. “I stopped believing. It’s as simple as that,” he tells Simon. And Simon who still believes there is a higher power to protect them all says, “God doesn’t like fair weather friends. “ He continues, ”You don’t lose your faith by stopping believing; you lose your faith by not asking questions.”
As the play develops, we are asked to question where justice begins and why men abandon their sense of humanity when they have power over another. The acting in this play is nothing short of amazing. L Peter Callender is a supreme artist and anyone who has the privilege of seeing him perform on stage knows he is unforgettable in any part he plays. He outdoes himself in this play. He carries the action and he is breathtaking every moment he is on that stage. Tobie Windham is perfect as the rebellious angry brother and Caleb is right on the mark as the disillusioned son of a Jewish plantation owner who finally sees how little help his faith was to him when faced with impossible choices not just on the battlefield but in a home where people were subjugated to humiliation because they were owned.
The production is a masterpiece on every level and we have Jasson Minadakis to thank for that. He is both the director of this fine and memorable piece of theater and artistic director of the theater. One can wax eloquent about the set, the lighting and the action…but there are no words to substitute seeing the play for yourself. It is far more that a work of fiction on a stage. It is a reflection of what life means and how we can all try to live it with honor and dignity.
Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery,
I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN
THE WHIPPING MAN continues until April 21, 2013
Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941
415 388 5208
www.marintheatre.org

Don’t miss this Hillbarn production

HILLBARN THEATRE PRESENTS…..
JOHN & JEN
Music by Andrew Lippa; Lyrics Tom Greenwald
Directed by Jay Manley
Starring Alicia Teeter and William Giammona
Our brothers and sisters are there with us
From the dawn of our personal stories
To the inevitable dusk.
Susan Scarf Merrell
Cast aside your preconceived notions about what a musical is before you come to this beautifully staged and artistically produced play. Jay Manley has taken a weak text and poorly developed plot and transformed it into a theatrical work of art. jon & jen is the musical story of a sister and brother who protect and love each other, yet are foiled by their own inadequacies. Jen is the older sister determined to protect her baby brother from their dysfunctional parents. Sadly, because she is only a child, she cannot keep him from absorbing their irrational behavior and warped values. She can only give her brother her unconditional love and support. John, determined to defy his sister and get his father’s approval enlists in the army and is killed. When Jen marries, she names her baby after her lost brother and when her own marriage falls apart, she smothers her son with love and protection just as she did her brother.
It is very difficult to create believable characters when the only vehicle is song. Andrew Lippa’s music and Tom Greenwald’s lyrics are lovely and deep but alone they cannot draw the depth of character we need to fully understand and relate to this poignant story.
Alicia Teeter is perfectly cast in her role as Jen. She manages to touch our hearts with every note she sings and with every nuance of expression. She is a fine actress to the core. Andrew Lippa has a much more challenging job. He must portray a baby and grow up into a man in both acts. He carries it off very well…but the audience must take a leap of faith to believe in the validity of his character.
And that is where Jay Manley’s genius shines through. By choreographing the movements of these two fine performers and creating costume changes that tell as much of the story as the libretto itself, he carries the story through to its lovely resolution when the two stars sing the unforgettable Every Goodbye Is Hello. Robert Broadfoot has outdone himself in designing the set…it is simple and yet perfect for action that spans 42 years. He has created four different levels to indicate the many changes of time and place on the spacious open stage at Hillbarn.
“Ultimately this musical play is about familial love, loss, grief, forgiveness of others and self, and most important, moving on – learning how to let go and forge a way forward,” says Manley. “Who has not been touched by these universal tests?”
This is not a play for everyone. It is deep and disturbing and will touch your heart, if you let it. Kudos to Hillbarn for including it in their season. jon and jen is a theatrical masterpiece.
IF YOU GO:
JON & JEN CONTINUES THROUGH APRIL 7, 2013
Ticket Flash Sale! $28 tickets to any remaining shows of “john & jen” Enter promo code “HBFLASH” when buying online and instantly save. MORE INFORMATION AT hillbarntheatre.org or 650 349 6411
HILLBARN THEATRE is located at 1285 Hillsdale Blvd. in Foster City.

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, now playing at Landmark’s Embarcadero and Clay
Cinemas in San Francisco and elsewhere in the Bay Area, is a charmingly intimate look
at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s life at his home in Hyde Park, New York.

The film focuses on Roosevelt’s erotic relationship with his cousin Daisy Suckley,
which only became public knowledge decades later when her letters (and some of his)
were discovered under her deathbed. Roosevelt is played, with a touch lighter than
air, by the great Bill Murray; Laura Linney’s Daisy is a wallflower at first flattered by
Roosevelt’s attention and then angered by its limits. Both are completely believable and
very affecting.

The other focus is on the weekend in June 1939 when the King of England, George
VI, and his wife Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother), came to Hyde Park and
were famously treated to an informal (for them) hot dog picnic. They are presented (by
Samuel West and Olivia Colman) quite differently from the way we saw them in The
King’s Speech.

Olivia Williams is astonishing as Eleanor Roosevelt. She has her look, her manner,
her physical presence, even her gait, to the life. The screenwriter Richard Nelson gave
Eleanor almost nothing to do, which was a miscalculation. In her occasional few seconds
of action Williams gives the best performance in the film. Also excellent in brief roles
are Elizabeth Marvel as Roosevelt’s secretary Missy LeHand, and Elizabeth Wilson as
his gorgon of a mother. The costumes and production design are true to the period and
beautifully enhance the presentation.

The main interest of the film is the insight it gives into President Roosevelt’s life, and
by extension into his work. Nelson (who adapted his BBC radio play for this film), and
Murray too, succeed admirably by their restraint. Some reviewers have criticized the
film for not giving a rounded view of FDR, larger than life (as he could be) and booming
out an inspirational message. But Roosevelt was a hugely complicated man, and Hyde
Park on Hudson is not a biopic. A lot of the value of the film is precisely that it shows
him in a way we are not familiar with – quiet, lonely, exasperated by the tensions in
his household, needing intimacy but also moved as much by his own nature as by his
circumstances toward extreme reserve in his emotional life. By keeping most of the
action centered on small things, and by deliberately underplaying this publicly expansive
figure, Nelson and Murray give us a better look at Roosevelt than most of us have ever
seen before.

In particular, the film shows a lot about how Roosevelt’s paralysis affected his life.
We see him in his wheelchair, being carried when necessary, moving with difficulty
by clinging to the side of his desk. During his lifetime the press scrupulously avoided
showing any of this – there are only eight seconds of film in existence that show
him (after polio) walking (with a brace and a strong man to lean on), and only two
photographs (both taken by Suckley) showing him in a wheelchair. The film helps us
understand this part of his life in a way difficult to access otherwise.

The visit of the royal couple was not just a colorful episode, but a historically important
event. In June 1939 war in Europe was recognized as inevitable, and Britain urgently
needed American help to survive. But Roosevelt was constrained by the isolationist
views of Congress and the electorate, and couldn’t give the help he wanted to. Not
only were Americans determined not to repeat the experience of World War I, a lot of
them (especially the Irish) were actively hostile to Britain. The Mayor of Chicago said
publicly that if he ever met the King he would punch him in the nose. The real point
of the hot dog picnic was to humanize the British royals in American eyes and make
them appear friendly and approachable, so it would become easier to help them. And
Roosevelt did after this manage a lot of back door help (Lend-Lease, the Destroyers for
Bases program) before Hitler solved that problem by declaring war on the United States
after Pearl Harbor.

In keeping with the private focus of the film, close attention is given here to the
personal relationship between the King and the President, which developed into a
strategically important one. It is handled here with great sensitivity and insight.
One false note is the character of the Queen, who is shown here shrewishly hectoring
the King about his stammer and comparing him unflatteringly to his brother (the former
Edward VIII).
This is quite inconsistent with the historical record and all that is known about their
relationship, and it mars the film’s effectiveness.

But on the whole, and in almost all its parts, Hyde Park on Hudson is a superbly
crafted and beautifully presented look at a moment in time and an aspect of the life and
personality of one of America’s most important and compelling historical figures.

A BEAUTIFUL PRODUCTION AT THE SHELTON THEATER

The Shelton Theater presents……
THE RAINMAKER
By
Richard Nash
Directed by Julie Dimas-Lockfeld
Starring Amanda Gerard-Shelton & Matt Shelton

Magic is believing in yourself.
If you can do that, you can make anything happen.
Goethe

Part of the mission of the Shelton Theater is “to communicate what it means to be human in the world” and Richard Nash’s classic play does just that. “This poetic story has touched us with its quirky nature and courage to embrace the unknown,” says Director Julie Dimas-Lockfeld. “It only takes a sliver of hope…to step into the grandeur of a larger and even more real perspective.”

Lockfeld worked with actors who have studied at The Shelton Studios. Together, they created a moving tale of hope, love and beauty “The story for me becomes a romance between the elements of earth and sky – caring and dreaming,” says Lockfeld. “The heart of the story is about opening up our closed minds and valuing what is right here. Funny thing is that what is here is so much more than what we imagined.”

For those of you who do not know the story of The Rainmaker, it is set in rural depression America during a drought that is destroying livestock, crops and hope. Lizzie (Amanda Gerard-Shelton) is farmer H.C (Phillip Estrin)’s only daughter. She is single, lonely and as big a source of worry to her father and two brothers as the lack of rain.

Noah, her older brother sees her for what she really is, a plan, quiet girl whose prospects diminish with each passing year, but her father sees the beauty that is beneath the surface: her goodness, her honesty and her compassion for others. He loves her and wants her to find love and companionship, security and comfort. The younger brother, Jim (John Kiernan) is a bit of a lush and a dreamer and does not realize that while he squanders money and time womanizing and drinking, his family needs him at home to help with the farm.

Into this quagmire of starving cattle, failing crops, spinsterhood and frustration comes Starbuck (Matt Shelton) a con man whose real name is Smith. Shelton has created a character so charming and charismatic that his chicanery only adds to his appeal. He burst into the kitchen and his appeal mesmerizes both the audience and the family on stage. “I woke up this morning and I said to the world, this world is going at it all wrong” he says. The family is so hungry for hope that Starbuck manages to convince H.C. and Jim to give him $100 to make it rain. Both Lizzie and Noah doubt the rainmaker, but he reassures them: “Maybe God whispered a special word in my ear.” He goes on to say, “Faith is believing you see white when your eyes tell you black.”

This is an ensemble piece and all the actors support one another beautifully, but it is Amanda Gerard-Shelton’s professionally accurate and sensitive performance that carries the play. We not only hear her need in her speech, we see it in her eyes and her every movement. She is lonely and she has accepted that all those hopes she once had will never come true. “I’m sick and tired of being me,” she tells Starbuck and she goes out to the tack room where he is sleeping to find out if there can ever be something more in life for her. Starbuck convinces her that beauty begins in the mind. Sometimes, he says, it is a good thing to ignore what seems real, and believe that life is the way you want it to be.

When the brothers realize their spinster sister has spent the night with a crazy man they hardly know, they are scandalized. But H.C, knows the importance of love even if it is only for a moment. He tells Noah,” You are so full or what right you can’t see what’s good.”

And indeed that is the point of this play. We so often let our minds get in the way of our hearts that we keep ourselves from living the lives we could have if we but reached for the stars.

The set designed by Steve Coleman is a perfect replica of the time and place. It sustains the mood of the play and yet looks as if it were plucked out of an American farmhouse from long ago. Lockfeld uses the magic strains of the violin and artistic lighting to bring the audience into the world they see on stage.

The first thing we see is Lizzie in her bunk bed sleeping and we know that she is the fulcrum of the story. “I just thought that this story is actually more of a fable. It’s more like elements in the psyche and I had the idea to style the production as a storybook tale. I wanted the experience of the actors to be real and personal and we keep working to grow that truth of experience in our work,” said Lockfeld. “Then maybe our modern sophistication and political correctness could be suspended a bit and we could enjoy the old fashioned family love, living close to the land, keeping faith in your heart qualities of The Rainmaker.”

The story, sentimental as it is, touches on important truths that transcend generations. Only we can live our lives and only we can make those lives magic. Lizzie says to Starbuck, “Maybe if you’d keep company with the world…if you saw it real.”
But the truth is that if we can believe in miracles, they will comfort us. As T. S. Elliot once said, “Mankind cannot stand too much reality.”

This is a beautiful production, understated and real. It lasts an hour and 35 minutes without intermission and in that short space of time, you will be transported into a charming world where thinking makes it so.
Where there is great love
There are always miracles.
Willa Cather

IF YOU GO….
WHERE: The Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter, San Francisco
WHEN: Now through December 22, 2012,
Fridays and Saturdays, 8 PM
TICKETS: $38 GENERAL ADMISSION
WWW SHELTONTHEATER.ORG
1 800 838 3006

THE BEST HOUR IN TOWN

FOODIES! THE MUSICAL
By Morris Bobrow
Starring David Goodwin, Kim Larsen, Sara Hauter, Deborah Russo

YUM YUM YUM


Statistics show that of those who contract
The habit of eating, very few survive.
George Bernard Shaw

Everybody does it….we all look forward to breakfast lunch and dinner….and unless we are anorexic, we indulge in all three, every day. But in the Bay Area, eating and the food experience have been elevated to a pretentious and elaborate ritual. Morris Bobrow pokes fun at it all in this new, delightful and all too real spoof about what advertising, heath addicts and the medical community have managed to do to our eating habits.

The show opens with a full cast presentation “I Like to Eat” (and who doesn’t?) and works its way through pompous waiters, falling in love with the food truck guy and trying to keep it kosher. Who cannot see themselves and blush when the cast is so excited about a new place to eat that they simply cannot choose. “OMG” they sing, and that is exactly what we say when we find a new and different restaurant.

We all have been put off by the pompous waiter who not only gives you dining suggestions but tells you his life story. We have been smothered in the friendly restaurant atmosphere where you meet everyone involved in creating your meal. Who can forget Deborah Russo ‘s brilliant smile when she announces, ”I’m your dishwasher!”? It is almost too real to be funny.

The hour is filled with many memorable moments, but unforgettable is the song, “Taking the Waters” that discusses the different types of water we drink these days in the same lingo that wine connoisseurs evaluate wine (and that in itself is about as affected as you can get.) Gone the days when you could walk up to a counter and ask for a cup of coffee. Now you have so many choices and so many decisions, it is almost easier to forget the whole thing and buy a tea bag.

All the habits we have adopted, the hang ups that guide us, the foolishness in the name of health we read about and hear about every day are lampooned in this tuneful, energetic, beautifully paced little musical. We smile; we tap our feet; and we love every minute of this performance because each person in the audience has experienced the frustration of worrying about what the food we are eating ate, and the humiliation of cooking a wonderful meal that no one likes. It has happened to all of us, but in FOODIES: THE MUSICAL, we don’t throw pots and pans at one another, we laugh.

Don’t miss this opportunity for a unique, laugh-filled hour filled with unforgettable tunes by the very talented Morris Bobrow, composer of “Shopping! The Musical!” And “Party of 2-The Mating Musical.” The cast work together as a team and yet each one shines in his own way. The music is hummable and never detracts from the movement on stage. The show is as marvelous to watch as it is to hear. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Where: The Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040
When: Preview performances Sept. 28-29, Oct. 5; show runs Fridays and Saturdays from Oct. 6-Nov. 17
Cost: $30 for previews; $34 general (purchase via Brown Paper Tickets)

To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.
François de La Rochefoucauld

Freud’s Last Session

San Jose Rep presents….
FREUD’S LAST SESSION
By Mark St. Germaiin
Directed by Stephen Wrentmore
Starring Ben Evett & J. Michael Flynn

To be an atheist requires an indefinitely greater measure of faith
Than to receive all the great truths which atheism would deny.
Joseph Addison

This play is an imaginary glimpse into the minds of two great thinkers, C. S. Lewis and Dr. Sigmund Freud in a conversation the day before England enters World War II and two weeks before Freud, dying of oral cancer ends his own life. The two men discuss love, sex and the existence of God and debate the value and impact of all three on the human condition.

Kent Dorsey’s magnificent set recreates Freud’s study and sets the mood for the 90 minute discussion between the two men. Director Stephen Wrentmore manages to keep the play moving by making use of the entire stage. The characters move from the tea table, to the couch to the radio to listen to the news proclaiming the imminence of war. Somehow, the combination of excellent direction and superb acting keeps the dialogue from descending into a tiresome recitation of two men’s conflicting philosophies.

C. S. Lewis ((Ben Evett) has recently embraced religion and Freud (J. Michael Flynn) says, “I want to learn why a man of your intellect would abandon truth and embrace a lie.” The remaining 90 minutes is spent hearing the reason Lewis knows that God exists and Freud is equally sure religion is a myth.

Freud points out that the very existence of Hitler proves that there is no supreme being watching over us and Lewis disagrees. “Hitler’s actions reinforce the opposite,” he says. “We have to accept that there is a moral law.” And he goes on to say, “The wish that God doesn’t exist can be stronger than the wish that God does.

Freud counters with “Theologians hide behind their ignorance;” and as the discussion continues he says, “I always find what people don’t tell me is less important than what they do.” Lewis sees that Freud is dying and he says, “How can a man of your intelligence think the end is the end? When you are faced with death, then what?”

Indeed, through the endless back and forth discussion whether God exists or if He is a product of our imagination, the arguments presented were the same l ones religious leaders and atheist have been tossing back and forth every since religion began. It was Michael Bakunin who said, “All religions, with their gods, their demi-gods, and their prophets, their messiahs and their saints, were created by the prejudiced fancy of men who had not attained the full development and full possession of their faculties.”

In contrast Calvin Coolidge said, “It is hard to see how a great man can be an atheist. Without the sustaining influence of faith in a divine power we could have little faith in ourselves. We need to feel that behind us is intelligence and love.”

The debate we heard on the San José Repertory’s stage was the one that has been going on for centuries. There were no shocking revelations, no new lights cast on the eternal conflict between religion and its opponents. The play is saved by the virtuosity of the actors moving across an amazing set that recreates the time the play is taking place and the pace of the production. You won’t hear anything new in this play, nor will the ideas presented convince you that your own belief is invalid. I doubt that either argument presented in the script will be innovative or strong enough to convert a believer and convince one who does not. The virtue of this production is in the acting and direction and for that alone it is well worth the price of admission.

FREUD’S LAST SESSION continues through November 4, 2012
San Jose Repertory theatre
101 Paseo de San Antonio
San Jose
Tickets $29-$74 408 367 7255 or www. Sjrep.com

MarinTheatre has a Winner


TOPDOG/UNDERDOG
By Suzan-Lori Parks
Directed by Timothy Douglas
Starring Biko Eisen-Martin & Bowman Wright
Being black is not a matter of pigmentation –
Being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.
Steven Biko

Be prepared to be spellbound from the moment Biko Eisen-Martin walks on the Marin Theatre Company’s stage until the climax of this disturbing, all too real drama, two and a half hours later. You will see and actually feel this story of two brothers barely scavenging their way uphill through one disappointment after another not because of their lack of ability or ambition, but because of what they are and what they have been.

Booth (Biko-Eisen Martin) is living in a one room tenement flat with no running water that his older brother Lincoln (Bowman Wright) is sharing with him because Lincoln’s wife has thrown him out of his former home. Booth’s is the only bed and Lincoln sleeps in a recliner.

The brothers have managed to survive a rollercoaster childhood. They were abandoned by both parents two years apart; first their mother then their father. Lincoln, at sixteen, was forced to watch out for Booth who was only 11 years old. Throughout this play, Lincoln continues to worry about his younger brother. He still feels responsible for Booth’s well-being and he shields him from unpleasant truths. He gives him the food he prefers, gives him money not just for rent and utilities but for special treats that Booth doesn’t really need. Booth’s talent is stealing and he is so light-fingered he can take any product from anywhere undetected. Lincoln’s talent is dealing cards but he has given up that kind of life for a conventional one with a real job with benefits….and he isn’t doing very well.

His job is Impersonating Lincoln the day he was assassinated. He has to whiten his face to resemble the famous president and he is being paid less than the going rate for his services because he is black. He swears he likes his job because it gives him time to think about things and compose songs in his head, but he is worried he is going to be replaced by a fabric dummy. The real reason Lincoln clings to the daily grind that is wearing him down is his determination to live the conventional way with a steady job, one where he isn’t depending on his wits for fast cash. Before he started this job, he was a highly successful dealer in a Three Card Monte scam. Three Card Monte is a con game that no one can ever win.

The game is as much a performance as it is a contest that proves the hand is always quicker than the eye. Lincoln was so quick with his hands that he was the best on the street. He made more money than he could spend and he felt good about himself. His luck seemed eternal until his mark, Lonny, the man who starts the betting and keeps the game moving, was killed. In that moment, Lincoln saw the game for what it was and he knew he wanted no part of it. Still, dealing is his special gift and he is proud of what he could do. “Lucky?” he says. “Aint nothing lucky about cards. Cards aint luck. Cards is work. Cards is skill. Ain’t never nothing lucky about cards.”

Booth doesn’t share his brother’s sense of right and wrong and he is desperate to earn the kind of money his brother once did on the street. . He believes the two of them can start their own game and earn a living together. Booth is sure he can be a dealer because he is so quick and facile with his hands. He is so adept at stealing that he managed to get both them both new suits, a room divider, a blanket and food.

This play is dialogue driven and the plot takes its shape from the brothers’ rapid fire conversation. The acting is beyond wonderful and the two men manage to make their characters loveable and very vulnerable. We know that they are trapped their life because of their color and because of the disruptive, chaotic childhood that prepared them for nothing but a desperate, frustrating fight to keep their heads above water. The author Suzan Lori Parks says “There is no such thing as THE Black Experience. That is there are many experiences of being Black which are included in the rubric….What can theatre do for us? We can tell it like it is, tell it as it was, tell it as it could be.”

And in Top dog/ Underdog that is just what she does, using rich and textured dialogue delivered with consummate skill by Martin and Wright. Make no mistake. This is not a play about being black. It is about being poor and underprivileged. It is about living on the edge of society, never feeling that your humanity gives you privilege.

This production sparkles and moves at so rapid a pace one cannot believe over two hours have passed since the play began. Timothy Douglas’s direction is a masterpiece of movement and staging. The men co-ordinate their actions across the stage as if in a macabre dance. As their dialogue bounces off one another, we relive their hopes, their disappointments and we ache for them. We watch in terror as they deceive themselves and each other leading them both to their own inevitable destruction.

I realize that I’m black, but I like to be viewed
as a person, and this is everybody’s wish.
Michael Jordan

Topdog/Underdog continues through Oct. 28.
Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley.
Tickets $36-$57. (415) 388-5208. www.marintheatre.org.

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