Anne of Green Gables

Sonoma Arts Live
Runs in Sonoma through December 9

Bryan Hendon, Shirley Nilsen Hall, and Melody Payne
Photo by Miller Oberlin

Billed as a family musical, the adaptation of Anne of Green Gables playing at Sonoma Arts Live fulfills that appellation with its homespun, innocent and charming warmth. Commendable acting, particularly that of Melody Payne playing Anne, along with attractive spectacle and staging make for a pleasant evening spent in 1908 Avonlea.

Based on the much-loved novels of L.M. Montgomery, Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman’s musical unfolds in episodes highlighting the best-known scenes from the books. Spunky orphan girl Anne (Payne), with her flaming red hair and freckles, is adopted somewhat by accident by siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (Bryan Hendon and Shirley Nilsen Hall), who originally wanted a boy. Anne’s natural exuberance and generous spirit earn her way into their hearts and a forever home at Green Gables farm. After early missteps and mishaps, Anne also wins over schoolmates and neighbors, eventually becoming a beloved citizen for the town.

Anne’s trials and antics are sometimes amusing, sometimes sobering, and still have a contemporary feeling—Montgomery’s stories include scenes of bullying, prejudice and small-mindedness, as well as young love, friendship, and familial affection. There’s also a nascent feminism in Anne’s forthright nature, intelligence, and refusal to accept limitations on her potential. More than 100 years from her creation, she remains a good role model for all of us. Children (of nine or more) and teens unfamiliar with Anne may enjoy this introduction to the young heroine. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review at Talkin’
Anne of Green Gables

Every Brilliant Thing

Left Edge Theatre
in Santa Rosa through December 16

Ron Severdia. Photo by Argo Thompson. 

One of the most hauntingly beautiful theatre pieces I’ve seen this season is Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing, currently running at Left Edge Theatre. Thoughtful without being sentimental, an antidote to holiday treacle without being crass, it’s a memorable and moving show that warms the heart and affirms life, even with sadness, depression, and death in the bargain. Solo actor Ron Severdia gives a stirring performance that feels fresh and familiar, capturing both the comedy and the pathos in an intriguing tale.

Tone is important for this piece, and Severdia hits it just right—there’s humor, joy and laughter, along with a very straightforward, natural delivery that invites us in and avoids the maudlin. He tells the story, in first person, of a man whose mother attempted suicide when he is seven years old. His father tells him, “your mother has done something stupid,” and the boy pieces together scant bits of information to try and understand what has happened. His young mind hears, accurately or not, that she didn’t feel there was any thing worth living for. This leads the boy to create a list, hoping it will cure his mother’s depression, a comprehensive list of “every brilliant thing” that makes life worthwhile.

The list grows and takes on a kind of life of its own. We get to hear the first 10 things, then another group, then another group, and so on, into the hundreds—ice cream, roller coasters, staying up late—simple or sublime, they ring out like bells on a Christmas tree, from a boy’s simple pleasures to more adult joys. As the boy grows into teenage and adulthood, sharing observations and experiences (and more things on the list), he draws us inside his life in an easy but intimate way. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review at Talkin’
Every Brilliant Thing

The Odd Couple

Ross Valley Players
Runs through December 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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