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Going Rogue At Last

It’s finally time to launch my own website as a venue for sharing my reviews of theatre productions, my thoughts on culture and the arts, and some fun stuff too. After decades of writing for media outlets such as the Palo Alto Weekly, Mountain View Voice, TalkingBroadway.com, and the SJ Metro, I’m happy to transition to At Large status, where I won’t worry about word count or editorial limitations.

Comments welcomed as long as they’re in the spirit of respectful suggestion or collegial debate. I reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason and to block unruly visitors.

I hope you enjoy reading the site as much as I enjoy writing it.

UPDATE: In mid-January, I was named a North Bay theatre correspondent for Talkin’ Broadway, charged with seeing as much theatre as I can in the North counties and posting reviews for this revered source of theatre news and reviews. I will continue to post reviews on my own site when there’s no conflict; and, I’m permitted to post the first two paragraphs of a Talkin’ Broadway review, with a link to the full review, after it has been published. I’m delighted to have this platform for my reviews, and eager to work again with the TBC team of Patrick Thomas, Richard Connema, Eddie Reynolds, and editor Ann Miner.  Go here to check out the amazing national website:  Talkin’Broadway.com

 

The Odd Couple

Ross Valley Players
Runs through December 16, 2018

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David Boyll and Russ Whismore. Photo by Robin Jackson.

Arguably playwright Neil Simon’s greatest hit and the number one theater comedy of the 20th century, The Odd Couple, endures, surviving productions of every stripe to share its apparently timeless humor with audiences again and again. The play premiered in 1965, and the script occasionally reveals its dated origins, but not in a way that mars the comedy—Simon’s genius creates a world of identifiable and genuine characters no matter the era or circumstance. The current production at Ross Valley Players falls somewhat short of the mark, as it’s less funny than one would hope, but it manages to be entertaining overall with some fortuitous casting.

The Odd Couple focuses on two middle-aged men, recently divorced Oscar (Russ Whismore), in his eight-room Manhattan apartment, and his friend, newly separated Felix (David Boyll). When the weekly poker game at Oscar’s pad gets interrupted by Felix’s suicidal threats following his eviction from home, Oscar is prompted to offer Felix a temporary landing, which Felix gratefully accepts.

We soon learn that Felix’s neatnik habits, compulsions and neuroses make a poor match with Oscar’s free-wheeling, slovenly bachelor demeanor, leading to amusing arguments and stand-offs. …

To read more about this production, go to Talkin’Broadway:
The Odd Couple

God of Carnage

Novato Theater Company
Runs in Novato through Nov. 11, 2018

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Ken Bacon, Jena Hunt-Abraham, Heather Shepardson, 
and Marty Lee Jones.  
Photo by Fred Deneau

Yasmina Reza has made a playwriting career out of portraying smart, educated people as they descend, quite humorously, into uncivilized behavior, thus exposing the caveman-like underbelly of so-called polite society. Her 2008 hit play God of Carnage delivers this descent in hilarious fashion, and you can see it in action right now in Novato Theater Company’s excellent staging. A fine cast and superior production values make for a superb 90 minutes of entertainment, full of surprises, zingers, and even some food for thought.

Self-made businessman Michael and earth mother arts writer Veronica (Marty Lee Jones and Heather Shepardson) have invited the Raleighs to their upscale Brooklyn home to discuss an altercation between their 11-year-old boys. Corporation lawyer Alan and trophy wife Annette (Ken Bacon and Jena Hunt-Abraham) readily admit their son Benjamin’s wrongdoing, as he did after all hit Henry with a stick, damaging two teeth. Initially, it all seems cut and dried, the two couples amicably discussing potential strategies for resolution of the conflict: Perhaps a meeting? With or without parents? What kind of consequences? And so forth.

But over espresso and homemade clafoutis, conflicting opinions emerge, tensions surface, and intellectual demeanors and niceties begin to crumble. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review at Talkin’ Broadway:
God of Carnage

The Night Alive

Main Stage West
Runs in Sebastopol through Oct. 28, 2018

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Anthony Abaté and John Craven
Photo by Ilana Niernberger

Irish playwright Conor McPherson, called “quite possibly the best playwright of his generation” and a “true poet” of the theatre, is noted for plays featuring believable, ordinary folk mired in difficult circumstances, working-class stiffs barely getting by and struggling with life’s challenges, and plots infused with a pervasive malevolence. Yet his plays famously are also touched with the extraordinary—a radiant sense of something unnameable, something larger than ourselves that pulls towards redemption, reducing the struggles to bearable noise. His 2013 New York Drama Critics Circle Best Play The Night Alive has that luminous redemptive edge in spades, especially in the glowing, exceptional production currently gracing the stage in Sebastopol at Main Stage West.

Tommy (Anthony Abaté) is already in his fifties, but still hasn’t managed to find his way, subsisting on random odd jobs and living in a room in his uncle Maurice’s house. We see in the shabby room the detritus of a man’s meager existence—scattered clothes, accumulated trash and newspapers, mismatched crude furnishings, a makeshift sink and tiny toilet room. At opening, Tommy has stepped out for fish and chips but returns with a young woman nursing a punched nose. Aimee (Ivy Rose Miller) insists the man who punched her was not her boyfriend, but Tommy is skeptical. He offers her tea and a place to sleep if she needs it, assuring her he’s different and would never hit a woman.

Tommy’s erstwhile odd-job partner Doc (Kevin Bordi) arrives and becomes upset over Aimee’s possible interference in his dependence on Tommy—Doc sometimes sleeps on Tommy’s spare cot when his sister’s boyfriend kicks him out. He also claims to be disabled, and Tommy explains his mind is always five to ten minutes behind everyone else. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review at Talkin’ Broadway:
The Night Alive

Hand to God

Left Edge Theatre
Runs in Santa Rosa through Nov. 11, 2018

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Dean Linnard & Melissa Claire. Photo by Katie Kelley.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, theatrically speaking, who shows up on stage but a foul-mouthed, Satanic, and raunchy hand puppet named Tyrone, who unleashes a violent but hilarious reign of terror on the world around him—that is, around the poor unsuspecting teenager Jason, whose right arm seems possessed when Tyrone is on it. Robert Askins’ madly funny and irreverent play Hand to God gets a terrific airing with a strong cast at Left Edge Theatre, featuring a mind-blowing tour de force performance by Dean Linnard as the teen and his demonic alter-ego.

Jason (Linnard) is an unhappy, forlorn teenager, timid and a little lost after his father’s recent death and his mother’s apparent preoccupation with her own grief. He joins her newly formed church puppet troupe, the Christketeers, reluctantly. The group meets in the church basement classroom, adorned with cheery messages about Jesus and Christian love. Jason is not convinced this will cure his depression, and even tries to abandon his puppet: “I think it’s doing bad things to me.” But mom Margery (Melissa Claire) refuses to hear it, insisting that Jason continue with the troupe so she can have at least one good thing going on in her equally depressed life. …

To continue reading more about this production, see the full review at Talkin’Broadway:
Hand to God

The Great God Pan

Cinnabar Arts
Runs in Petaluma through October 28, 2018

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L-R: Nick Sholley, Aaron Wilton. Photo by Victoria Von Thal.

Jamie seems to have it all—a beautiful girlfriend, a promising career in journalism, a comfortable, stylish life—until he’s contacted by a childhood friend he hasn’t seen in 25 years, who shares unsettling news. Frank has decided to prosecute his father for the sexual abuse inflicted on him as a child—disturbing enough, but he also wonders if Jamie can corroborate his story. Thus begins the timely and compelling play by Amy Herzog, currently being given a sensitive and stunning production at Cinnabar Theater.

Jamie (Aaron Wilton) reels from this meeting with Frank (Nick Sholley), and returns home to his girlfriend of six years, Paige (Taylor Diffenderfer), to share the encounter. What can he say about Frank’s revelation when he remembers absolutely nothing other than a few random snippets, including recollections of their old babysitter Polly (Kate Brickley). Like faded snapshots with no names on the back, these random images don’t add up to much for Jamie, but something impels him forward, something urges him on in a quest to connect the dots, to … what? Be sure? Remember something he doesn’t remember? Recall history for certain? Is it even possible?

Herzog weaves two-person scenes over 85 minutes into an intriguing inquiry into the vagaries of memory, but more so into the ripple effect of childhood sexual abuse, in the victim’s life and adult world. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review at Talkin’Broadway:
The Great God Pan

The Addams Family

Spreckels Theatre Company
Runs in Rohnert Park through October 28, 2018

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Peter T. Downey, Serena Elize Flores, Emma LeFever, Erik Weiss, Brian Bertoli, Tika Moon, Mario Herrera. Photo by Jeff Thomas.

They’re crazy and kooky, all right, and taking up residence just in time for Hallowe’en in the Spreckels Performing Arts Center. You might recognize the wacky Addams Family from the long-running cult-fave TV series, or from the hit movies. The musical, based on both of these and Charles Addams’ quirky cartoons for the New Yorker, supplies song and dance for the macabre troupe, along with a plotline for lovable ghouls. Spreckels’ production, albeit a bit of a departure and somewhat long, gleefully pumps up the kooky factor with wonderful spectacle and excellent performance, keeping it on the bright side.

Gomez and Morticia Addams (Peter T. Downey and Serena Elize Flores) inhabit the gloomy ancestral mansion hidden somewhere in Central Park, Manhattan, sensibly holed up there eschewing the outside world with the rest of the family, including children Wednesday (Emma LeFever) and Pugsley (Mario Herrera), Grandma (Tika Moon) and Uncle Fester (Erik Weiss), and butler Lurch (Brian Bertoli). Plus, on this occasion, a cadre of ghostly Ancestors who are resurrected for one night and then commanded by Fester to help him in a mission of love. …

To continue reading more about this production, see the full review at Talkin’Broadway:
The Addams Family

Hello, Dolly!

Sonoma Arts Live
Runs through October 21, 2018

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Tim Setzer & Dani Innocenti Beem. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Hello, Dolly! (book by Michael Stewart, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman) has now been staged thousands of times the world over, including four Broadway revivals since its first outing in 1964, multiple touring productions, several West End productions, and countless regional and educational shows. The awards won is a list as long as your arm. The list of performers who have played Dolly is equally long, and reads like a Who’s Who of female stars of stage and screen in any given decade, including Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Mary Martin, Barbra Streisand, Pearl Bailey, Betty Grable, Ethel Merman, Dorothy Lamour, Eve Arden, and Bette Midler, just to name a few. Now, you must add the name of Dani Innocenti Beem, who thoroughly deserves to be named in that stellar company for the absolutely terrific performance she gives in the title role of the show presented by Sonoma Arts Live.

Beem’s adept comic skills, particularly her wise-cracking, dry humor, combined with her classic Broadway-style belt, add up to a brilliant portrayal of the iconic Dolly Levi, the widowed matchmaker from Yonkers. Happily, her star turn is ably supported by a talented and enthusiastic cast of seasoned locals who know how to strut their stuff and deliver first-class entertainment. A plethora of technical woes marred the opening, but the cast rose to the fray and pulled out all stops to earn a well-deserved standing ovation. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review at Talkin’Broadway:
Hello, Dolly!