Tuesday, November 23, 2021

'Great Expectations' takes to the stage in San Jose


Miss Havisham (Li-Leng Au, left) tells Estella (Jennifer Le Blanc) and Pip (Keith Pinto) how her
heart was broken. Dave Lepori photo

Charles Dicken’s 19th century English novel “Great Expectations” has been adapted for the stage by Neil Bartlett.

San Jose Stage Company is presenting this adaptation with six actors. Only one of them, Keith Pinto as the hero, Pip, plays just one character. The rest do double and triple duty playing a mix of characters.

The plot follows Pip from childhood to young adulthood.

As a boy, the orphaned Pip was taken in by his shrewish older sister, Mrs. Joe (Li-Leng Au), and her kindly husband, Joe (Norman Gee), a blacksmith.

He unexpectedly is summoned to the home of Miss Havisham (Au), who commands him to play with her haughty adopted daughter, Estella (Jennifer Le Blanc).

Aside from Pip, Miss Havisham is the most interesting character. Jilted on her wedding day many years ago, she still wears her tattered wedding gown and retains her moldering wedding cake.

She has trained Estella to break men’s hearts, just as her own was broken. Nevertheless, Pip grows to love Estella.

Several years later, he’s told that he has an anonymous benefactor who will pay for him to go to London to get educated and become a gentleman. That’s when his great expectations arise and are dashed.

Besides Pinto, Gee, Au and Le Blanc, the versatile cast features Julian Lopez-Morillas and Nick Rodrigues. Directed by Kenneth Kelleher, all of them fully inhabit their roles, even when the plot becomes convoluted.

Pinto is especially impressive, remaining onstage throughout the show and reflecting Pip’s transformation from boy to man with both vocal inflection and body language.

The simple, almost barebones set and Jean Cardinale’s costumes facilitate the frequent scene changes and the actors’ changing roles. The sound by Steve Schoenbeck helps to create settings and mood.

Running about two hours with one intermission, “Great Expectations” will continue through Dec. 12 at The Stage, 490 S. First St., San Jose.

For information, tickets and COVID protocols, call (408) 283-7142  or visit www.thestage.org.



Wednesday, November 10, 2021

'Revolutionists' tells four women's roles in French Revolution

From left: Charlotte (Katherine Hamilton), Olympe (Gabriella Goldstein), Marianne (Kimberly Ridgeway) and Marie-Antoinette (Olga Molina) all have their own motives. (Scott Lasky photo)  

Seeing Lauren Gunderson's "The Revolutionists" might send Palo Alto Players audiences scurrying to find information about the French Revolution's Reign of Terror. 

Based on four actual women and set in 1793, the play is talky yet seems to assume that everyone remembers high school classes in world history.

It opens with a playwright, Olympe de Gouges (Gabriella Goldstein), trying to come up with an idea for a play that won’t send her to the guillotine. In Gunderson’s sly reference to “Les Miserable,” Olympe says a musical will never work.

Her musings are interrupted when Marianne Angelle (Kimberly Ridgeway) pounds on the door seeking refuge. She’s a Haitian spy who’s opposed to French-imposed slavery in the Caribbean.

Yet another sudden arrival is Charlotte Corday (Katherine Hamilton), who’s intent on martyrdom for stabbing Jean-Paul Marat in his bath.

Finally Marie-Antoinette (Olga Molina) flounces in. She’s just trying to save her head.

Only one survives.

Directed by Tessa Corrie, overacting and fast talking prevail except for Ridgeway as Marianne, the spy. Her character remains calm, but she sometimes speaks so softly that she’s hard to hear. 

The flexible set is by Scott Ludwig with sound by Jeff Grafton and effective lighting by Edward Hunter. Lisa Claybaugh deserves kudos for the period costumes that reflect each character’s place in society.

Running about two hours with one intermission, “The Revolutionists” will continue through Nov. 21 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. A recording will be streamed on demand from Nov. 18 to 21.

For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.    


Why all of Shakespeare's plays are available

Alice Heminges ((Lauren D’Ambrosio) looks over the First Folio preface as Henry Condell (Michael Rhone, left) and her father, John (Anthony Silk), await her opinion. (David Allen photo)

 Presented by Foothill College Theatre Arts, Lauren Gunderson’s “The Book of Will” looks at the efforts involved in preserving the works of William Shakespeare for posterity.

Most of the action takes in a tavern adjoining the Old Globe Theatre three years after the Bard’s death. As it opens, three actors from the theater’s resident company, the King’s Men, are lamenting the publication of a pirated version of “Hamlet.”

They are Henry Condell (Michael Rhone), John Heminges (Anthony Silk) and Richard Burbage (John Musgrave).

After Burbage’s death that night, Henry and John discuss the possibility of assembling all of Shakespeare’s plays into one volume. Unfortunately, there are few complete scripts available.

Moreover, an unscrupulous publisher, William Jaggard (Musgrave), apparently has the rights to most of the plays.

Through luck, ingenuity and the assistance of scribe Ralph Crane (Gwendolyne Wagner), who had served as a prompter and had saved many of the scripts, Henry and John are closer to their goal.

After Jaggard dies, his more honest son, Isaac (Steve Allhoff), steps in to help. Despite more obstacles, the First Folio is published and Shakespeare’s plays preserved for posterity.

The play offers some glimpses of life’s perils at that time, as evidenced by the deaths of Burbage, Jaggard the elder and John’s wife, Rebecca Heminges (Carla Befera).

Providing moral support and encouragement are Henry’s wife, Elizabeth Condell (Eiko Yamamoto), and the Heminges’ daughter, Alice (Lauren D’Ambrosio).

Directed by Bruce McLeod, the cast is a mix of student and seasoned actors. Hence the results are mixed with solid performances by several actors and overacting by others.

The set by Yusuke Soi works well, as do the costumes by Lisa Rozman and sound by Max Stanylov.

Lines from some of the plays add interest to the show, which nevertheless drags in spots.

Running about two hours with an intermission, “The Book of Will” will continue through Nov. 21 in the Lohman Theatre, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills.

For tickets and information, call (650) 949-7360 or visit https://foothill.edu/theatre.







Tuesday, October 12, 2021

TheatreWorks opens season with 'Lizard Boy'


Kirsten “Kiki” deLohr Helland is Siren and Justin Huertas is Trevor in "Lizard Boy." (Photo by Kevin Berne) 

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley has opened its 51st season with “Lizard Boy,” billed as an “indie folk-rock musical.”

One might also add the words “convoluted comic book fantasy.”

With music, lyrics and book by the lead actor, Justin Huertas, the gist of the plot is that a young man, Trevor (Huertas), looked like a lizard after the eruption of Mount St. Helens and the release of a dragon.

That means he’s mostly green, but his greenness is represented merely by green spangles placed randomly on his arms and neck.

Now he has decided to end his self-imposed isolation to meet a man to be a friend and perhaps lover. He winds up with Cary (William A. Williams).

They go to a Seattle nightclub where the lead singer is Siren (Kirsten “Kiki” deLohr Helland), who has been lurking in Trevor’s dreams.

Things get weirder after that. It’s nearly impossible to sort everything out. Suffice it to say that there’s a happy, though entirely fantastical ending.

Directed by Brandon Ivie, the three-person cast is multi-talented, singing well and playing a variety of instruments. For example, Trevor accompanies himself on the cello in several songs.

Other instruments range from piano and guitar to ukulele and even kazoo. Many of the songs seem similar, though, and the lyrics aren’t always easy to comprehend.

The costumes by Erik Andor are mostly nondescript for the men, but Helland as Siren wears a skin-tight red outfit with 4-inch stiletto heels – appropriate for the character.

Andrea Bechert has adapted the original scenic design, while the lighting is by Robert J. Aguilar with sound by Jeff Mockus.

Running about 95 minutes without intermission, performances continue through Oct. 31 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. They’re also available for streaming.

Patrons for live performances must provide proof of COVID vaccination and an ID. Masks are required.

For tickets and more information, call (650) 463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org.






Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Musical 'Working' honors folks in everyday but essential jobs

Linda Piccone (center), with Mai Abe (left) and a bewigged Ray D'Ambrosio, makes an art of waitressing (Photo by Henry Wilen)

 Palo Alto Players has opened its 91st season with “Working,” a musical adaptation of Studs Terkel’s 1974 book of interviews with American workers from all walks of life.

As managing director Elizabeth Santana pointed out, it’s “a celebration of the essential worker.”

These are the people who wait on tables, clean houses, build buildings, teach children, deliver food, drive trucks, fight fires, rear children and perform other everyday but essential services.

Directed by Patrick Klein, the multi-talented cast of four women and three men tell their characters’ stories through songs by Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz and James Taylor. Schwartz and Nina Faso did the original adaptation.

The characters talk about pride in doing their jobs well along with their hopes and dreams. Their pride is best expressed in the company’s final number, “Something to Point To.” This refers to the construction workers who can point to a building and say they helped build it.

The characters range in age from a Cal freshman (Mai Abe) to a retired man using a walker (Ray D’Ambrosio). Linda Piccone has two solo turns as a veteran teacher who doesn’t know how to deal with today’s kids and as a waitress who makes an art of her work.

Also featured in multiple roles are Izetta Fang Klein (alternating with Stacey Reed), Jomar Martinez, Jason Mooney and Eiko Yamamoto.

The two-level set is by Scott Ludwig with character-specific costumes by R. Dutch Fritz. Choreography is by Stacey Reed with musical direction by Dolores Duran-Cefalu.

The one flaw is Jeff Grafton’s sound design, which is so loud that it distorts most lyrics.

In-person performances continue through Oct. 3 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road. Masks, proof of vaccination or recent COVID test and ID are required.

In addition, a live performance will be streamed at 2 p.m. Sept. 26. A recorded performance will be streamed Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 at scheduled curtain times.

For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.



Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Black actor learns more than history in ‘Aren’t You…?’

Fred Pitts

 Calling himself a history geek, Fred Pitts undertook a weeklong   journey to see all 21 California missions in 2012.

 The San Francisco actor chronicles his experiences in his one-man   play, “Aren’t You…?” developed in collaboration with David Ford   and presented by Palo Alto Players to conclude its 90th season.

 He provides interesting tidbits about each stop, starting from Mission   San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma and continuing south to Mission   Basilica San Diego in San Diego.

 Built by Spain starting in 1769, each was about 30 miles apart, or a   day’s journey by horseback. 

 Part of the missions’ purpose was to convert Indians to Christianity.   However, as Pitts discovered, they also were places where the Indians  were enslaved and persecuted – a historic form of racism that is little known today.

As a Black man, Pitts encountered another form of racism in the way he was spoken to by people along the way.

In many cases, they mistook him for such Black men as Richard Roundtree, Will Smith, Rafer Johnson, Barry Bonds and even former president Barack Obama. Hence the title, “Aren’t You …?”

The personable actor gives voice to the people he talks about.

Directed by ShawnJ West, Pitts injects much humor as he relates his adventures and harks back to his own religious background.

It started with the Black churches he attended as a young boy and continued with a predominately white Catholic school where he was an object of interest because he was Black.

He performs on a barebones stage adorned only by a table and chair and backed by a large screen where photos of each mission are projected.

Running about 65 minutes without intermission, “Aren’t You …?” is both amusing and enlightening.

Live performances will continue through Aug. 29 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Patrons must provide proof of vaccination against the coronavirus or a negative test within 72 hours prior. Masks are required.

A recorded performance will be streamed on demand from 9 a.m. Aug. 27 through 11:59 p.m. Sept. 5.

For tickets and more information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Palo Alto Players goes live with 'Tea for Three'

From left: Gwendolyne Wagner as Lady Bird Johnson, Patricia Tyler as Betty Ford, Gabriella Goldstein as Pat Nixon. (Photo by Joyce Goldschmid) 

 Local theater lovers finally can see a fully staged play in person thanks to Palo Alto Players.

Celebrating its 90th season, the company is presenting “Tea for Three, Lady Bird, Pat and Betty” by Eric H. Weinberger and Elaine Bromka.

As the title implies, the play focuses on the first ladies who occupied the White House during the tumultuous period between 1963 and 1977.

It opens with the sound of President Lyndon Johnson announcing in 1968 that he will not seek a second elected term in office. Then his wife, Lady Bird Johnson (Gwendolyne Wagner), begins a 25-minute monologue talking about her life and her relationship with the president.

As vice president, LBJ became president on Nov. 22, 1963, after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She talks about that terrible day and the actions of Jackie Kennedy, who nevertheless gave her a White House tour a few days later.

Now Lady Bird is preparing to give her successor, Pat Nixon (Gabriella Goldstein), a tour.

Pat’s monologue is preceded by Richard Nixon’s resignation speech on Aug. 9, 1974, during his second term following the Watergate scandal, which she thinks was a setup. Like Lady Bird, she discusses her life and relationship with her husband.

She does this while awaiting her successor, Betty Ford (Patricia Tyler), whose husband, Gerald, became vice president after the resignation of Spiro Agnew, and then president after Nixon’s resignation.

Unlike the two women before her, Betty is still in her dressing gown while waiting for Rosalynn Carter, whose husband, Jimmy, defeated Ford in the 1976 election.

And unlike the other two, she drinks and takes pills, which she said she uses for arthritis pain. Although the play doesn’t say so, she founded the Betty Ford Center for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

But like the two before her, she talks about her relationship with her husband and her own life, which included a divorce and a successful battle against breast cancer.

The 75-minute, intermission-less play is ably directed by Patrick Klein, the company’s artistic director with costumes by R. Dutch Fritz.

Although it’s a live performance, it’s far from usual. Because of the coronavirus pandemic that has halted live performances for 14 months, it involves numerous safety protocols.

It’s staged outdoors in the grassy patio of the Lucie Stern Community Center. Attendance is limited to about 50 with patrons seated 6 feet apart singly or in pairs. Masks are required.

Because it’s outdoors, early evenings can be chilly, so dressing in layers is advised.   Airplane noise and sounds from the neighboring Junior Museum & Zoo can be heard, but they don’t interfere with enjoyment of this interesting look at the nation’s recent past.

Live performances will continue through May 23 at 1305 Middlefield Road. Streaming performances will be available from May 19 through May 23.

For tickets and more information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.