Twelfth Night

Ross Valley Players
Runs through Oct. 21, 2018

Shakespeare’s much-loved, laugh-out-loud comedy Twelfth Night shines in a charming and clever staging at Ross Valley Players. Director Jennifer Le Blanc has assembled a fine cast of seasoned comic actors to breathe delightful fresh air into a well-known script. It’s a good choice for the first-ever Shakespeare in RVP’s 89-year history. Even if you’ve seen the show before, you will find much to enjoy and laugh over in this playful, entertaining production.

Michel Benton Harris, Sarah McKereghan, and Steve Price
Photo by Robin Jackson

If you’ve never seen the show, the story may sound familiar: Twins, separated by shipwreck, each presumed dead by the other. The girl, Viola (Robyn Grahn), disguises herself in her brother’s garb and thus posing as a man finds work in the palace of Duke Orsino (Jackson Currier), where her main employment is to take missives of love to Countess Olivia (Melanie Bandera-Hess), even though the dame has sworn off men while she mourns her brother’s death, and Viola herself has fallen for the Duke. Naturally, as soon as Olivia sets eyes on Cesario (Viola in disguise), the plot of mistaken identities spins into high gear. …

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Twelfth Night

The Naked Truth

At Left Edge Theatre
Runs in Santa Rosa through Sept. 30, 2018

Serena Elize Flores, Katie Kelley, Bonnie Jean Shelton, Heather Danielle, Anabel Pimentel, and Angela Squire. Photo by Eric Chazankin

Five women gather in a village hall somewhere in London, ostensibly to take a pole-dancing class, but really to kick-start their lives in one way or another. Playwright Dave Simpson is best known in the U.K. for his hit play Girls’ Night Out, described as a hen party meets The Full Monty, which features a bachelorette group going to a male strip club. In The Naked Truth, Simpson takes the hen party pole-dancing, with similar effect—lots of “girl talk,” raunchy dialogue about men, weight issues, marital woes, and sex. Left Edge has assembled an excellent cast, all of whom communicate their characters and the pole-dancing premise wonderfully, especially assuming that none of them were professional pole-dancers before this.

There’s Bev (Angela Squire), who tosses off randy jokes about sex and men, and glibly counters criticisms about her weight, but inside she’s lonely. Her young friend Faith (Anabel Pimentel) just wishes she could actually have a boyfriend. Trisha (Katie Kelley) has the perfect husband, but obsesses about making her body even more ideal, until she gets reproof from Sarah (Bonnie Jean Shelton), upscale matron who has had a partial mastectomy. Rita (Serena Elize Flores) hopes to launch a new career, and the class teacher, Gabby (Heather Danielle), strives to meet all their diverse needs and personalities while nursing wounds from her own past.

There’s no actual nakedness, and sometimes the truth proves elusive, but the jokes are plentiful, as are sight gags as the women struggle with “loving their pole.” …

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The Naked Truth

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

At Spreckels Theatre Company
Runs in Rohnert Park through Sept. 30, 2018

When 15-year-old Christopher is discovered kneeling over the body of a dog killed with a

Elijah Pinkham & Bronwen Shears. Photo by Jeff Thomas.

gardening fork, it’s easy for others to assume he had something to do with the death, especially as his responses to questioning are oddly literal and unhelpful. And he screams when anyone touches him. So begins one of the most heralded plays of recent years, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, presented by Spreckels Theatre Company in its area premiere. This is a challenging and ambitious piece, given its technological and physical demands. STC does it excellent, admirable justice, especially owing to a talented ensemble led by the remarkable Elijah Pinkham as young Christopher.

Based on the 2003 book by Mark Haddon, Stephens’ play creates a play-within-a-play context, and won numerous Oliviers when it first opened in London in 2013, and more awards on Broadway in 2014. The play shifts from the first person of the book, but tries to retain the feeling of being inside the mind of a young man with who appears to have a behavioral disorder (no specific diagnosis is ever stated).

We quickly begin to pick up on aspects of Christopher’s (Pinkham) behavior—he is brilliant in math, thinking and speaking literally, incapable of lying, and fearful of germs through touching or strange bathrooms. But he’s also a feeling youth, apparently capable of love for his parents (David Yen and Bronwen Shears), for his pet rat, and for his teacher/mentor Siobhan (Gina Alvarado). …

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The Curious Incident…

Guys and Dolls

At 6th Street Playhouse
Runs in Santa Rosa through October 7, 2018

Randy Nazarian, Ariel Zuckerman and Brett Mollard. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

The venerable musical Guys and Dolls has often been referred to as the great American musical, praise supported by its many awards and revivals since 1950 in the U.S., the U.K., and around the globe. Its popularity seems unbounded, and audiences love to discover or revisit it, as witnessed on opening night at 6th Street Playhouse. Happily, this production warrants the revisit and praise, for its excellent cast and enjoyable staging.

Based on several Damon Runyon short stories, the book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling captures the New York post-Prohibition underlife world of petty gangsters, gamblers, and con men, as well as the missionary efforts of those who aimed to reform them. Nathan Detroit (Ariel Zuckerman) runs the “oldest, established, permanent floating crap game in New York,” but he’s having trouble finding the right spot for it, owing to police crackdowns and a lack of funds. His cronies Nicely Nicely (Randy Nazarian) and Benny (Brett Mollard) lend a hand, fending off police lieutenant Brannigan (Levi Sterling) and gun-toting Chicago gangsters (Benjamin Donner and Carl Kraines).

Nathan also has to mollify his “doll” Adelaide (Ella Park), lead performer at the Hot Box nightclub; their engagement of 14 years hangs in the balance, as she’s fed up with his nefarious activities. When notorious gambler Sky Masterson (Ezra Hernandez) hits town, Nathan sees a way to raise funds for his game and put the pesky Save-a-Soul Mission folks to good use, especially their attractive leader Sarah (Eleanor Paul). Insert mayhem, miscommunications, misunderstandings, and Cuba, before we get to a resolution. …

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Guys and Dolls

Church and State

by Jason Odell Williams
Runs through Oct. 7, 2018 at Raven Players Theater, Healdsburg

Matt Farrell, Priscilla Locke, Katie Watts-Whitaker,
and Zack Acevedo

Photo by Ray Mabry

Blatantly political, Church and State seeks to awaken your sensibilities regarding religion, government, and gun control, wrapping the substantive debates in a veneer of humorous banter and stereotypical characters. Playwright Jason Odell Williams lulls the audience in a comfortable comedic vein, but then delivers a serious punch meant to challenge preconceptions and encourage action. Raven Players is staging a credible and ultimately powerful version of this timely piece, conveying its unequivocal message just in time for midterm elections.

North Carolina Senator Charles “Charlie” Whitmore (Matt Farrell) is just three days shy of a re-election bid, and due to give an important campaign speech. He’s groomed by his campaign manager Alex Klein (Katie Watts-Whitaker), a savvy New Yorker determined to log another win on her resume and ride this pony all the way to the Oval Office. But tonight she’s worried, as the Senator is clearly off his game and thinking of improvising his speech. …

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Church and State

A Chorus Line

Novato Theater Company
Runs through Sept. 30, 2018

The award-winning musical A Chorus Line has been around since 1975, when it swept the Tonys and went on to become one of the longest-running Broadway musicals ever. With music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, the show captured the vagaries of auditioning for a Broadway show as a metaphor for life, and won the hearts and sympathies of its audience. Novato Theater Company faithfully renders a version close to the original, with enthusiastic performers and some adroit staging.

The company of A Chorus Line. Photo: Fred Deneau.

Dancers are auditioning for the ensemble of a new Broadway show, and they’re at the mercy of director Zach (Gregory Crane), who seems at once capricious and tyrannical. With the help of his assistant Laurie (Elise Terry), he puts some 24 dancers through their paces in order to narrow it down to 17, and eventually will select eight lucky people. What seemed radical in 1975 was his insistence on interviewing the auditionees, asking them to divulge personal histories and especially the stories of how they became dancers. …

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A Chorus Line

Savage Wealth

by Bob Duxbury
Runs at Main Stage West, Sebastopol, through Sept. 30, 2018

Matt Cadigan, Peter T. Downey, Ilana Niemberger. Photo: Eric Chazankin

A slight but delightful new comedy now runs at Main Stage West, featuring three accomplished actors in a triangle of complications over a real estate deal. Well, that’s the overall premise in Bob Duxbury’s latest play, although the situation rapidly escalates with deceptions and lies and subterfuge on the hopeful road to riches. Despite a few plot anomalies in the play, the production succeeds in providing lots of laughs and, ultimately, some food for thought.

Meet two brothers, Gabe (Matt Cadigan) and Todd (Peter T. Downey), whose frugal father recently died while changing a lightbulb in the family Tahoe home. Todd takes charge of readying the home for sale, assigning tasks to Gabe such as finding a realtor and ditching the useless furnishings. Mostly, he’s annoyed to learn that the lot across the street is going up for sale soon, which will no doubt lower the sale value of their home, when potential buyers know that the lake view will vanish.

But the brothers know who owns that lot: Childhood friend Beanie (Ilana Niernberger) inherited the property when her father died, and she’s ready to harvest the investment, having recently returned home from a spiritual sojourn in India. …

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Savage Wealth