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

AaOL for IT-5
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

 

Sex with Strangers

at Left Edge Theatre
Runs through February 17, 2019

Sex With Strangers
Dean Linnard and Sandra Ish
Photo by Eric Chazankin

When confronted with a choice between fame or obscurity, between celebrity or ho-hum existence, which would you choose? Even if it meant setting aside your long-held principles and ethics? Even if it depended on a fake identity and persona on the internet? Powerful questions of identity and behavior in the digital age arise for the two characters in Laura Eason’s stirring play. Strong actors and attractive production values give it a solid, thought-provoking rendition at Left Edge Theatre.

Olivia (Sandra Ish) mutters to herself, “Who are you?” as she spies out the window at a car that has pulled up, in a blizzard, to a writer’s retreat in remote Michigan. Soon she reluctantly agrees to share the cabin with Ethan (Dean Linnard), whose stated credentials and mutual acquaintances seem safe enough, at least for one night. But as they talk, sharing writing interests—she’s proofing her novel, he’s working on one—it surfaces that Ethan actually came because he knew Olivia would be there, and has in fact read, and loved, her first book.

Surprised and a bit shaken by this stalkerish revelation, Olivia nevertheless is intrigued and ultimately flattered by Ethan’s admiration of her writing, since that first book didn’t fare well in the competitive market— . . .

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

Deathtrap

at Ross Valley Players
Runs through February 17, 2019

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Amber Collins Crane, Bryce Smith, 
and Gregory Crane

Photo by Robin Jackson

Premiering in 1978, Ira Levin’s comic thriller Deathtrap was an immediate hit and has been around the community and regional theatre block many times since. As stated in its own dialogue, it’s such a surefire script that “even a director can’t hurt it,” and is still a winner with audiences for its disarming wit and devious plot twists. Ross Valley Players is mounting a thoroughly entertaining version, one that will charm you with laughs and thrills even if you’ve seen the play before.

Director Chloe Bronzan has opted to set the play back in time to the 1960s, paying homage to Hitchcock’s indelible influence on the genre of thrillers—a smart concept, since his works are referenced in Levin’s script, held up as masters to model for the two main characters who are attempting to write their own hit plays.

Acclaimed but fading playwright Sidney (Gregory Crane) and Clifford (Bryce Smith) apparently met in a workshop Sidney ran for aspiring writers, leading to Clifford mailing a draft of his latest work to Sidney for feedback. But Sidney rails over the script, titled “Deathtrap,” as it’s so brilliant he’s instantly jealous and depressed at the thought of its imminent success. . . .

To continue reading about this production, see the full review on Talkin’Broadway:
Deathtrap

Moon Over Buffalo

at 6th Street Playhouse
Runs through February 3, 2019

Moon Over Bufffao
Dodds Delzell, Madeleine Ashe, Robert Nelson, 
and Chandler Parrott-Thomas

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Another raucously funny entry in the genre of farce, Ken Ludwig’s 1995 Moon Over Buffalo, skewering behind the scenes theatre life and the colorful wackiness of actors, abounds with sight gags, pratfalls, and witty sitcom dialogue, delivering a laugh-out-loud treat. The current production at 6th Street Playhouse features seasoned, energetic actors with strong comedic skills who pull out all the stops to provide non-stop zaniness and laughter.

It’s 1953, and box office stars George and Charlotte Hay (Dodds Delzell and Madeleine Ashe) try desperately to hold on to their fading glory, their budget, and their dignity as they slog through plays in repertory at middling theatre venues like Buffalo, New York. Actors are quitting because they haven’t been paid, and it’s getting harder for George to persuade Charlotte to continue the lackluster tour, especially when their company lawyer Richard (Joe Winkler) keeps trying to woo Charlotte away.

The Hays’ daughter Rosalind (Chandler Parrott-Thomas) has already abandoned theatre in search of a normal life, but she shows up unexpectedly with weatherman fiancé Howard (Erik Weiss) in tow, hoping to introduce him to mom and dad at an opportune time. Her ex-fiancé Paul (Robert Nelson) still manages the company, and still carries a torch for Roz. . . .

To continue reading about this production, see the full review on Talkin’Broadway:
Moon Over Buffalo