Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Spreckels Theatre Company, Rohnert Park
Runs through May 26, 2019

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Brittany Law
Photo by Jeff Thomas

It’s a relatively new adaptation (2013) of the Rodgers and Hammerstein original, so you may not have seen this version of Cinderella and, as staged by Spreckels Theatre Company, it’s full of fun and froth, with magic, romance, comedy, and fine performances all around. The modern message and fresh dialogue in the new book by American playwright Douglas Carter Beane make it enjoyable for adults as well as youth. Spreckels does such a bang-up job capturing the new themes and the gentle humor, you may not see a better production of this show for a long while.

You all know the basic fairy-tale plot, but in this version there are a few new twists, including a sympathetic stepsister, Gabrielle (Shawna Eiermann), her revolutionary love interest Jean-Michel (Michael Coury Murdock), and a villainous major-domo named Sebastian (Larry Williams), who tricks Prince Topher (Zachary Hasbany) into signing repressive legislation. The stepmother, Madame (Daniela Innocenti-Beem), is more cartoonishly nasty and klutzy than darkly evil. Even Cinderella (Brittany Law) gets a makeover into a conscientious young woman who aspires to create a kind and just world—and must come into her own self-confidence and belief in her dreams before she can partner with the prince.

That’s what makes it truly a modern tale, and more palatable for today’s young audiences—Prince Topher and Cinderella are equals, each having to find their life path and learn “who they are” before they embark on a journey together. . . .

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

To Kill a Mockingbird

6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa
Runs through May 19, 2019

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Cecilia Brenner and Jeff Coté
Photo by Eric Chazankin

Like so many of my generation, I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” when I wasn’t much older than the fictional Scout—that the protagonist was a young girl, coming of age in the Deep South, learning about discrimination and prejudice while also being taught empathy, was huge, making an indelible impression on my mind. When the film came out in 1962, with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, so faithful to the tone and imagery of the book, it cemented the story in my heart for all time, melding my coming of age with Scout’s, encouraging my own commitment to truth and justice.

Since then I’ve seen several stage productions of Christopher Sergel’s adaptation, valiant and heartfelt attempts to replicate the book’s effect on an entire nation. However, none succeeded to the extent that the current production at 6th Street Playhouse does—it’s a triumph, a definite cut above the others, combining thoughtful understanding of the book and script with effective staging and stirring music to deliver Lee’s timeless message, yet again—hopefully for new generations as well as my own.

Sergel’s adaptation follows Lee’s literary device of memory, placing pre-teen Scout (Cecilia Brenner) as the protagonist, remembered by her adult self Jean Louise (Ellen Rawley), who provides narrative for the events, her dialogue closely excerpted from the book. Scout, her older brother Jem (Mario Giani Herrera), and friend Dill (Liev Bruce-Low) spend the summer of 1936 in their small Alabama town enjoying their usual mischiefs, being reprimanded by housekeeper Calpurnia (Val Sinckler) and kept in line by widowed father, attorney Atticus (Jeff Coté).  . . .

To continue reading about this production, see the full review at Talkin’ Broadway:
To Kill a Mockingbird 

 

This Random World

Left Edge Theatre, Santa Rosa
Runs through May 26, 2019

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Chandler Parrott-Thomas and Anthony Martinez
Photo by Katie Kelley

“If I had to do it all over again, I would have doubted more. What was I so busy being certain about?” says senior citizen Scottie (Trish DeBaun) in Steven Dietz’s enigmatic play This Random World, now running at Left Edge Theatre. A strong cast and beautiful production values make an attractive airing for this quirky, comic, and provocative script. Sure to spark after-show debate, the play offers a salve for yearning and regret, if one accepts its unconventional narrative style.

We first meet Scottie’s two adult children, Beth (Heather Gordon) and Tim (Anthony Martinez), casually bickering, as siblings do, about caring for their mother, about each other’s life/love choices, and, somewhat oddly, about death—seems Beth has her memorial service planned already, including writing her own obituary. She’s taking a dangerous trip to Nepal and wants Tim to be prepared in case she doesn’t return. Beth also laments that her mother doesn’t travel or have any activities, and admonishes Tim to keep in touch with her.

But we soon learn that Scottie indeed travels, keeping it secret from her children with the help of her aide Bernadette (Rosie Frater). There’s one trip she’s planning, to a shrine in Japan located in “The Forest Where Lies Are Revealed.” …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review at Talkin’ Broadway:
This Random World 

Born Yesterday

Sonoma Arts Live, Sonoma
Runs through May 12, 2019

Born Yesterday
David Abrams and Melissa Claire
Photo by Eric Chazankin

A timely piece about corruption and politics, Garson Kanin’s classic comedy Born Yesterday deserves some fresh attention in these contentious times, and gets a credible airing in the current production at Sonoma Arts Live. It’s also a story of a woman’s awakening to her own power and potential, and Melissa Claire starring as Billie Dawn makes the transformation both believable and fun to watch.

Junk king Harry Brock (Kevin Bacon) brings his mistress Billie Dawn (Claire) with him to Washington D.C., where he plots to bribe congressmen to pass legislation that will benefit his business. When Billie’s rough edges get in the way of his schmoozing Senator Hedges (Dan Monez), Harry hires journalist Paul Verrall (David Abrams) to give her enough learning to converse without embarrassment. But Billie’s education begins to unravel her relationship with Harry, as she realizes how corrupt he is and that his businesses have illegal foundations that run counter to the ideals of democracy.

There’s a sweet love story as teacher and student are clearly attracted to each other, developing into a full-blown romance. Verrall also gives Billie respect and understanding she has never had from Harry, or from herself. It’s truly a new “Dawn” as the sun rises on Billie’s self-awareness and appreciation of her rights as a woman, an American citizen, and a human being. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review at Talkin’Broadway:
Born Yesterday

The Nether

Left Edge Theatre, Santa Rosa
Runs through March 24, 2019

The Nether
Jared N. Wright and Chris Schloemp
Photo by Eric Chazankin

“What you want is a life outside of consequence,” opines Mr. Sims, aka “Papa,” in Jennifer Haley’s intriguing exploration of real ethics in a virtual world. A sci-fi, futuristic look at humanity with an eerie, creepy tinge, the play dares us to consider whether living digitally can or should be policed—and if so, how, and by whom? What might be the potential fallout from lives fully lived virtually? Or, that matter, from policing crimes perpetrated solely on avatars? How do we assess consequences in such a context? Where are we headed in this brave new virtual world? An excellent cast offers up Haley’s timely piece in this Left Edge production, although the subject matter may be too grim and sensitive for some.

Sims (Chris Schloemp) has engineered the most advanced virtual world in his time, known as the Hideaway, a Victorian home complete with sensory details such as music from a Victrola and the kick of aged Cognac. Logging in to the Nether (what used to be called the internet), one can create an avatar and visit the Hideaway—that is, if one is interested in being able to virtually molest and murder children.

It’s important to note that there is no actual molestation or murder depicted, but there may be discomfort from even the suggestion or description of these acts. …

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

Arsenic and Old Lace

Sonoma Arts Live, Sonoma
Runs through February 10, 2019

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Karen Brocker, Tim Setzer, and Karen Pinomaki
Photo by Miller Oberlin Photography

If you’ve never seen a live performance of Joseph Kesselring’s Arsenic and Old Lace, the venerable classic in the Western theatre canon, hustle a pair of tickets to the production at Sonoma Arts Live before it closes. Even if you’ve seen it many times, you will find this cast and staging a solid tribute to the old chestnut that delivers a satisfying entertainment.

Spinster sisters Abby and Martha Brewster (Karen Brocker and Karen Pinomaki) have a new charitable hobby—helping lonely old men to a speedy demise with a socko dose of poison in their homemade wine. Fortunately for them, their live-in nephew Teddy (Tim Setzer) believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt and is happy to dig graves in the cellar, otherwise known as Panama, for each new “yellow fever victim.”

Teddy’s brother Mortimer (Michael Coury Murdock), a well-known theatre critic, has developed a romance with Elaine Harper (Julianne Bradbury), who resides next door to the Brewsters with her minister father (Rick Love). By chance, Mortimer finds the latest victim, elderly Mr. Hoskins, temporarily stowed in the window seat, which leads him to interrogate his aunts, uncovering their nefarious activities that have dispatched twelve men so far. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review on Talkin’Broadway:
Arsenic and Old Lace

Underneath the Lintel

Cinnabar Arts, Petaluma
Runs through February 17, 2019

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John Shillington in Underneath the Lintel. Photo by Victoria Von Thal

A lonely librarian whose life is circumscribed by the mundane activities and petty workaday concerns of the small Dutch library where he works makes an unlikely and astonishing discovery: checking in the returned books from the overnight depository one morning, he finds a weary-looking Baedeker travel guide that was overdue—not just a few days, or few weeks overdue, but 113 years. The surprise of this excess leads the fastidious librarian on a search for the patron who returned the book, using meager clues—a search that takes him around the globe and ultimately changes his life. Cinnabar Theater is presenting a revival of the production originally staged at MainStage West starring Sonoma favorite John Shillington in the one-man show.

Presented as a kind of lecture with chalkboard and slide projections, the premise promises an intriguing conundrum as we follow clue upon clue in the librarian’s search. How could the book have been checked out for over a century? Where has it been all this time and who returned it? Ordinary explanations fail as the clues deepen the search and become a kind of obsession. The librarian abandons his job, feigning illness in order to follow increasingly complex and even older clues, connecting dots until the dots seem to point to one answer. But it’s an unbelievable answer, one that defies rational thought and demands a leap into a world of belief that the librarian has previously avoided. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review at Talkin’Broadway:
Underneath the Lintel