[title of the show] at TheatreWorks is not for all SHIRLEY VALENTINE at Cinnabar a must see CARE OF TREES is a clinical descent into madness

Hunter (Jamison Stern) Susan (Laura Jordan), Heidi (Farah Alvin), and Jeff (Ian Leonard) prepare their submission to the New York Musical Theatre Festival in the regional premiere of [title of show] at TheatreWorks. Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka

[title of the show]: Musical Comedy. Book by Hunter Bell, music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen. TheatreWorks at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street (at Mercy), Mountain View, Ca. (650) 463-1960 or www.theatreworks.org. June 3 –June 26, 2011.

[title of the show] at TheatreWorks is a throwback to the “Let’s put on a show” era.

The journey of [title of the show] from fruition to the Broadway stage will take a place alongside the charming children’s book The Little Engine That Could as an exhortation to succeed against terrible odds. Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen did just that starting with a libretto and music about their trials and tribulations of writing a musical, submitted and accepted for production at the 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival. In the process they elicited the aid of Actors Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff and they were off and running. The show did not make it to Broadway until July 2008 and it earned a Tony nomination for Bell.

It is a musical comedy about two guys with the help two girls writing the musical. With the deadline for submission rapidly approaching they decide to write an original musical about writing a musical with only four actors and a piano. Of course they write themselves into the script. For the TheatreWorks regional premiere the actors are , in order of appearance, Jeff (Ian Leonard), Hunter (Jamison Stern), Susan (Laura Jordan) and Heidi (Farah Alvin) with William Liberatore on the piano. The result is an amiable but hardly charismatic pastiche of insider jokes, theater and people references that requires a glossary in the program for the uninitiated.

Within the play, the creators worry their show would have a limited audience and this is probably true. That is not to say, it is not enjoyable. It has some clever lines, some of them garnering solid laughs. But at 100 minutes of running time without intermission it is more than a bit too long. All the singing voices are acceptable with Farah Alvin delivering a knockout with “I Am Playing Me.” “Die Vampire, Die” is a rousing production number, if one can visualize such with “four chairs and a piano.”

There are scenes with very, very clever visual staging (Kate Edmunds) one being “Monkeys and Playbills” but these are minimal. It is great fun to see TheatreWorks musical director on stage for the entire performance adding a touch of class to the shenanigans. Conflict does arise as one would expect from egos associated with the theatre. This allows the writers to throw in a semi-maudlin reconciliation with “A Way Back to Then.” “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” is faith affirming vocal and should have been the finale but it was not to be.

Director Meredith McDonough keeps the comedy on line with great pacing, but she is at a disadvantage with the male actors who would be more at home in a college show.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com


SHIRLEY VALENTINE: Solo performance by Willy Russell staring Mary Gannon Graham and directed by John Shillington. Cinnabar Theater. 3333 N. Petaluma Blvd., Petaluma. begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 707.763.8920 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or www.cinnabartheater.org May 29 – June 12, 2011.

SHIRLEY VALENTINE at Cinnabar highlighted by Mary Gannon-Graham

Mary Gannon-Graham who gave an award winning performance as Patsy Cline in Always. . .Patsy Cline at the 6th Street Playhouse in 2010 returns to Cinnabar Theater to reprieve the role of Shirley Valentine that she performed in 2008 under John Shillington’s direction. Gannon-Graham sheds any personal traits to become the title character in this solo performance.

Actually, it is hardly a solo show since she creates a dozen other off stage characters with her deft voice intonations and nuanced body movements. They include neighbors, childhood companions, ungrateful son and daughter and boorish husband Joe Bradshaw to name a few. Not only is her acting award worthy but she has also mastered English/Liverpool dialect and you see her not as an actor but as the British middle-aged, working class housewife named Mrs. Bradshaw hiding the subjugated soul of Shirley Valentine.

Mary Gannon-Moore projects the unassuming air of Shirley’s station in life yet radiates a hidden sense of humor with her facial expressions. In the first scene as she busies herself preparing dinner of chips and eggs she delivers her relaxed monologue and copiously savors white wine poured from a screw-top bottle. Not only has she come to enjoy the pleasures of wine, she also discovers her over-bearing, talking to the fridge boorish husband Joe knows nothing about the clitoris thus hardly making sex enjoyable. She also meets a much admired, well-traveled, wealthy chum who bluntly states, “An Air-hostess? Hardly, I’m a hooker.”

Over time Shirley has recognized the dullness of her life but with the shake of her head has come to accept the comedy of it all. But that airline ticket to Greece has sparked an inner desire, similar to her childhood dare to jump off a roof, and her inner self struggles to come out. Being too afraid to ask Joe’s permission she secretly prepares for the trip. Act one ends with new lingerie purchased, a real silk dressing gown given to her by a neighbor and with bags packed, hat jauntily perched on her head she goes out the door. In Greece she has life changing experiences and we cheer for Shirley where she reconnects with pubescent past that was only hidden and not lost.

Shillington directs with nuanced skill and allows the show to flow on Jay Lasnik pitch perfect sets all appreciated by the sold out audience.

Kedar K Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com


CARE OF TREES: Mystical Drama by E. Hunter Spreen, directed by Susannah Martin. Shotgun Players, The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94703. 510-841-6500 or www.shotgunplayers.org.

May 18 - June 19, 2011

CARE OF TREES is a clinical descent into madness

Shotgun Players 2011-2012 season began with a brilliant Beardo and now has a world premiere of Care of Trees to grace their boards. Toward the very end of the play, an off-stage voice (there are many) asks, “And you left your wife all alone in the forest?” It brought to mind a line from the Lizzie Borden song from New Faces of 1952, "You can't chop your momma up in Massachusetts that kinda of thing just isn't very nice." After an opening scene of a man violently digging real dirt onstage, next to dominating stylistic spiral staircase tree (set by Nina Ball) with roots set into the stag, there is a flashback and the beginning of a love story. "The first year of our marriage, if I could've used one word to describe our life I would have chosen idyllic: our life was idyllic."

The non-linear telling of the love story is exceptional with Spreen’s dialog and the acting of Liz Sklar and Patrick Russell giving life and depth to their characters. Despite ethical differences regarding the cutting down of an ancient Oak Tree to make room for buildings, Travis and Georgia are married and the idyllic life begins. Then strange things begin to happen to Georgia and the idyllic life becomes a quagmire of medical symptoms, diagnostic tests and treatments. Spreen shifts into mystical no-man’s land, vacillating between using inner thought of his characters including breaking the fourth wall then juxtaposing present, past and virtual time frames. Sigmund Freud would have a field day with Georgia’s descent into madness.

As the metaphors pile up, the pace becomes extremely hectic as director Martin runs Sklar and Russell up and around the stairs surrounding the tree, rolls them on the floor and even sends them into wings and back again with video loops (Ian Winters) to frame the action. At the end of the two hours, with intermission, the accolades go to Liz Sklar and Patrick Russell while playwright Spreen and director Martin deserve polite applause.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com