THE UNDERSTUDY at San Jose Rep a charmer A Taut Performance of THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA at RVP

(RIGHT) (l to r) Jake (Craig Marker) argues with Harry (Gabriel Marin) about the "correct" way to play the scene in San Jose Rep's West Coast premiere of The Understudy.

(LEFT)(l to r) Jessica Wortham as Roxanne and Gabriel Marin as Harry in San Jose Rep's West Coast premiere of The Understudy.

THE UNDERSTUDY: Comedy by Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Amy Glazer. San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. (408) 367-7255 or May 23 –June 3, 2012

How does one create a comedy out of plot that revolves around Franz Kafka? First you find a talented author, like Theresa Rebeck, to bring all her knowledge of the inside workings of the theatrical world to create a backstage story line around a fictional recently discovered Kafka play in rehearsal. Then find three top-notch actors with great comic ability to perform before a fantastical revolving set by Annie Smart.

San Jose Rep’s production of The Understudy has all the ingredients mentioned and even has added competent Amy Glazer as director although she, like the revolving set, gets out of hand part of the time. The play will probably be more appreciated by theatre people but general audience on this Saturday matinee seem to be very appreciative of all the shenanigans.

Harry (Gabriel Marin) is an actor who is a perpetual understudy. Marin breaks the fourth wall with his opening monolog and sets up the audience for what is to come. He is more than a bit bitter about never getting to take over the role he is understudying. In this gig he is even more internally distressed since the lead is Jake (Craig Marker) a successful Hollywood no talent star hired to bolster the box office. It becomes a battle of ego and likeable Marin and Marker keep us entertained with Marin getting the slight edge in accolades.

For those not in the know, unheralded stage managers often rehearse the actors in preparation for the opening night. As bad luck would have it, Roxanne (Jessica Wortham) the stage manager was left stranded at the altar six years ago by Harry. Rebeck is a dedicated feminist and has created some memorable female characters. In this play Roxanne’s role seems to be an adjuvant to the male characters. Her diatribes just do not ring true and her actions are a stimulus rather than being symbiotic.

An off stage character is a stoned technician in control of the lights and the revolving stage. Her miscues are often hilarious and her non-control of Annie Smart’s marvelous revolving set can be considered as a fourth actor. Rebeck updates an ancient device of private conversations inadvertently being overheard by those who should not hear. If this were a Richard Brinsley Sheridan 17th century play there would be screen to hide listener. Rebeck uses the implausible open-mike to spill the beans to the off-stage listener.

Rebeck has great talent for writing subtle punch lines that bring a plethora of laughs. With the fine acting of Marin and Marker to deliver those lines, this play is well worth seeing. But, once again the set almost takes the cake and I might suggest that San Jose Rep commission a play to match the set. Enough said, this 95 minute play is well worth a visit to the South Bay.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of


Eric Burke as Shannon and Kristine Ann Lowry as Hannah relax on the exotic set of Ross Valley Players presentation of The Night of the Iguana. Photo by Robin Jackson

THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA by Tennessee Williams directed by Cris Cassell. Ross Valley Players’ Barn Theatre (RVP), 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, CA, 94957. (415) 456-9555 or May 17 to June 17, 2012

A Taut Performance of THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA at RVP

The Ross Valley Players continues to bill themselves as the “oldest continually operating community theater on the West Coast.” They may have begun as a “community theatre” in 1930, but their deservedly great reputation has expanded beyond the community of Ross since they attract actors from the entire Bay Area. For their top-notch production of Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana they have “imported” three great actors from Santa Rosa (Eric Burke to play Shannon), Rohnert Park (Cat Bish as Maxine) and Sausalito (Wood Lockhart as Nonno) to join San Rafael local Ann Lowery (Hannah) creating a taut evening honoring Tennessee Williams on what would have been 100th birth year.

The stage play began as a 1948 short story and premiered on Broadway in 1961 starring Patrick O'Neal as Rev. Shannon, Bette Davis as Maxine and Margaret Leighton as Hannah. The 1964 film version that has become a cult classic starred Richard Burton as Rev. Shannon, Ava Gardner as Maxine and Deborah Kerr as Hannah Davis. If you have seen the film, do not bring preconceived thoughts of how the roles should be played and just be fascinated as was a seatmate who was seeing the play for the first time.

The time and place are 1940s in a cheap hotel on the Mexican coast run by the concupiscent widow Maxine. Defrocked Episcopal minister Shannon who has been locked out of his church has become a tour guide for a second-rate agency and is leading a tour group of Baptist women. Shannon insists he has not been de-frocked but has been locked up in an institution when he becomes “spooked”, usually during drinking episodes. He has committed statutory rape with a 16 year old girl in the tour group and will suffer the consequences when they return to Texas.

Shannon is intimately connected with Maxine who has looked after him previously when he was spooked. Into this smarmy atmosphere arrives spinster, traveling painter and sketch artist Hannah Jelkes with her aged poet grandfather Nanno composing in his mind his last poem. Hannah and Nonno have traveled the world scraping by selling her sketches to travelers and he relying on offerings for his recitations. The bond between Shannon and Hannah quickly nurtures, each recognizing the weakness of the other. Maxine does not take too kindly to “her Shannon” getting overly friendly with Hannah but he is able to arrange lodging and food for the travelers.

The play’s main theme revolves around the deep human bond between Shannon and Hannah. Like the iguana, captured and tied to a pole by the Mexicans they have come to the end of their rope. Whereas he eventually cuts the iguana free, he too throws off his constraints by violently tearing the golden cross from his neck symbolically freeing him from his demons

Director Cris Cassell is very, very fortunate to have Eric Burke and Ann Lowery as the protagonists. They capture the gist of Williams’ words and play off each other with synchronicity during their verbal and physical interchanges as well as delivering those poetic lines that are trademarks of Williams’ writing. Casting Cat Bish as the lusty Maxine was a perfect choice and one would wish that Williams had given her more time on stage. Wood Lockhart as the nonagenarian poet adds the proper pathos to the role and it is appropriate that Nanno’s final poem partially sums up the intricate inner psychological turmoil and hope of the characters.

All this plays out in 2 hours and 30 minutes (The RVP production has deleted the German Nazi characters from the script.) on Malcolm Rodgers’ fantastic set complete with ramshackle buildings, palm trees, tropical foliage and the necessary hammock that is integral to the play.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of