Sunday, June 19, 2022

Palo Alto Players updates 'Twelfth Night' to the '20s

Olivia (Kristen Kaye Lo, left) hears from Feste (Caitlin Gjerdrum). (Kate Hart Photography)

Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” seems to tempt theater directors into trying different concepts, many of which have been seen in the Bay Area over the decades.

The latest comes from Roneet Aliza Rahamim at Palo Alto Players. Using an adaptation by Max Tachis, this one is set at Coney Island in the 1920s.

For the most part, it works, especially since the plot, characters and Shakespeare’s glorious language are preserved.

Still, one difference is immediately apparent before the curtain rises. A small band and a jazz singer, played by Caitlin Gjerdrum, performs period songs. Other songs are heard throughout the play, but sometimes they come during dialogue and obscure the lines.

The curtain rises, and Gjerdrum then becomes Feste, the fool.

The action focuses on Viola (Emily Scott), who is washed ashore after a shipwreck. For self-preservation in this unknown land, she disguises herself as a boy called Cesario and offers her services as a page to Duke Orsino (Christopher Mahle). She’s immediately attracted to him.

Orsino pines for Olivia (Kristen Kaye Lo), a countess who wants nothing to do with him because she’s still mourning for some family members’ deaths.

Therefore, Orsino dispatches Cesario to her to plead his suit. Instead, Olivia is attracted to Cesario.

Adding much of the comedy to this tale of misplaced love are the antics of characters like Feste along with the drunken Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle; and his sidekick, Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

On opening night the latter two were played by understudies: Troy Johnson as Sir Toby and Sam Putney as Sir Andrew. Although they carried scripts, both did an excellent job.

Two other characters from Olivia’s household are her attendant, Maria (Gay Penter Richard), and the steward, the dour Malvolio (James Shelby), who secretly loves Olivia.

Maria, Feste, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are responsible for the gulling scene in which Maria writes a letter supposedly from Olivia in which she says she loves Malvolio and wants him to wear yellow stockings, be cross-gartered and smile, an alien action for him.

Mistaken identities with more comic implications arise when Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian (Brian Flegel), arrives.    

This being a romantic comedy, everything works out as it should.

Most of the cast and the director have connections to Gunn High School in Palo Alto as alumni or teachers.

For the most part, they do a commendable job. The only weak link is Mahle, who doesn’t have the strong stage presence needed for Duke Orsino.

Among the standouts, besides the two understudies, are Scott as Viola, Lo as Olivia, Richard as Maria and Gjerdrum as Feste.

Rahamim, the director, is aided by a strong production team: Todd L. Summers, music director; Scott Ludwig, scenic designer; Brooke Jennings, costume designer; Brian Hemmen, lighting designer; and BetterLed Productions, sound designer.

The opening was delayed by a week, but the show still will close June 26. It runs just over two and a half hours with an intermission at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

A recorded performance also will be streamed on demand June 23-26.

For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit












Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Issues in 'Ragtime' still plague the nation


The versatile cast of "Ragtime." (Kevin Berne Photo)

After a two-year COVID-caused delay, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s production of “Ragtime” has finally come to fruition.

It’s well worth the wait. Using only 15 actors rather than the 36 he used in the electrifying 2002 production, the company’s retired founder-artistic director Robert Kelley has helmed a more intimate version of this epic musical.

With music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Terrence McNally, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, it stresses the strains of racism, anti-immigrant bias, sexism, anti-Semitism and corporate exploitation that still plague the nation, more than a century after the events in “Ragtime.”

Starting in 1908 and continuing through 1913, these events focus on three groups of people: the white upper class of New Rochelle, N.Y.; eastern European immigrants fleeing oppression and living in squalid New York City tenements; and Southern Black Americans who settled in Harlem and brought their ragtime music with them.

The New Rochelle family includes Mother (Christine Dwyer), her Younger Brother (Sean Okuniewicz), Father (Noel Anthony), their Little Boy (Joshua Parecki in the reviewed performance), and Grandfather (Colin Thomson).

The immigrants are the Latvian Jewish widower Tateh (Leo Ash Evans) and his daughter, the Little Girl (Ruth Keith in the reviewed performance).

The Blacks include pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Nkrumah Gatling) and his girlfriend, Sarah (Iris Beaumier).

Most cast members portray several characters.

The story begins when Mother discovers a newborn Black baby in the garden. Soon the mother, Sarah, is discovered. Over Father’s objections, Mother allows Sarah and the baby to live in their attic.

Devastated that Sarah has disappeared, Coalhouse eventually finds her and visits every Sunday trying to persuade her to see him.

She finally agrees after hearing him play a familiar tune.

Other events involving all of the characters ensue, but everything is easy to follow.

Some of the more notable people seen include J.P. Morgan (Anthony), Henry Ford (Thomson), Booker T. Washington (Michael Gene Sullivan), Harry Houdini (Keith Pinto), Emma Goldman (Suzanne Grodner) and Evelyn “the girl on the swing” Nesbit (Melissa WolfKlain).

Everyone in the cast is versatile and talented, blending well musically, but Dwyer as Mother and Gatling as Coalhouse deliver standout musical and dramatic performances.

Overseeing Flaherty’s ear-pleasing tunes is pianist/musical director William Liberatore with a seven-member orchestra.

The lively choreography is by associate director Gerry McIntyre.

The simple, flexible set is by Wilson Chin with lighting by Pamila Z. Gray, sound by Jeff Mockus and period costumes by B. Modern.

Running about two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, “Ragtime” will continue through June 26 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

For tickets and information, call (877) 662-8978 or visit



Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Board game's switch to stage anything but boring


One of many bodies hits the floor in Hillbarn's "Clue." (Mark and Tracy Photography)

Thunder, lightning and the sound of barking dogs precede the arrival of six dinner guests in “Clue: On Stage,” presented by Hillbarn Theatre.

Sandy Rustin’s stage adaptation is based on the 1985 screenplay by Jonathan Lynn, who was inspired by the board game.

The guests don’t know each other, nor do they know who their host is or why they’re locked in that gloomy New England mansion.

What they do have in common is that they all live or work in Washington, D.C., in 1954 during the red scare.

Miss Scarlet (Maria Marquis) is a high-class madam. Mrs. Peacock (J. Conrad Frank in drag) is married to a senator.

Mrs. White (Hayley Lovgren) has probably murdered a string of husbands. Col. Mustard (Mohamed Ismail) works in the Pentagon.

Professor Plum (Jay Thulien) is a psychologist who has lost his license. Mr. Green (Steve Allhoff) is a gay Republican.

Also part of the scenario is Yvette (Jocelyn Pickett), the French maid.

It soon turns out that each guest is being blackmailed by their host, Mr. Boddy (Jesse Cortez). Each is given a weapon and told to kill the butler, Wadsworth (Miyaka Pical Cochrane). Otherwise, they’ll have to pay double.

Before the evening is over, several people die, and Mr. Boddy’s real identity is revealed.

In trying to discover the killer or killers as well as the evidence that Mr. Boddy has against them, the guests search the mansion’s maze of rooms and endure the occasional power outage.

All of this occurs amid one comic moment after another with puns galore.

Dan Demers, Hillbarn’s former artistic director, oversees the mayhem. For the most part the actors in his ensemble cast capture their characters’ strong emotions without overdoing it. The result is lots of laughs.

Eric Olson’s set, Sophia Craven’s lighting and Sheraj Ragoobeer’s sound help to create the mysterious mood, while Pamela Lampkin’s costumes are well suited for each character.

Running just under 90 minutes with no intermission, “Clue” will continue through June 19 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411, Ext. 2, or visit








Thursday, June 2, 2022

'Beehive' goes on musical journey through the '60s

Arielle Crosby (center) portrays Tina Turner with  Constance Jewell Lopez (left) and Erica Richardson.


The 1960s were an era of profound change in the United States, especially after the relatively serene Eisenhower years.

Some of these changes are musically captured in “Beehive,” a jukebox musical created by Larry Gallagher and presented by Center REPertory Company.

The story is loosely woven around six multi-talented women who take the audience on a chronological journey from when Wanda (Erica Richardson) was in ninth grade through her early years after college.

Elizabeth Curtis as Janis Joplin.

Musically the journey progresses from girl groups of the early ’60s through Woodstock in 1969 and artists like the Shirelles, Aretha Franklin (portrayed by Constance Jewell Lopez) and Tina Turner (a show-stopping performance by Arielle Crosby), the Supremes and Janis Joplin (another show-stopping performance, this one by Elizabeth Curtis).

Some of the highlights include “It’s My Party,” “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “One Fine Day.”

Others include “You Don’t Own Me,” “Proud Mary” and “Me and Bobby McGee.”

Seminal events included the assassinations of President John Kennedy, Sen. Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Then there were Vietnam, peace marches and dances like the twist, mashed potato and frug, and, of course, the Beatles.

Styles changed from full-skirted dresses to miniskirts, big hair, go-go boots, tie-dye shirts and bell bottoms.

All of this is encapsulated by the ensemble cast. Besides Richardson, Lopez, Crosby and Curtis, the cast features Monique Hafen Adams and Ashley Cowl.

They’re skillfully directed and choreographed by Dawn Monique Williams.

The flexible set, with the band seated on an upstage platform, is by Kelly James Tighe with lighting by Sim Carpenter. Period costumes are by Loran Watkins. The over-amplified sound is by Lyle Barrere. Musical direction is by Eryn Allen.

One drawback to enjoying this production is that no printed programs are available with artist credits and song lists. There’s a code to scan with a smart phone, but those without smart phones are out of luck. This is a disservice to the artists and the audience.

Otherwise, it’s a high-energy, highly enjoyable trip down memory lane for those of a certain age and an eye-opener for the younger set.

Running about 90 minutes without intermission, “Beehive” will continue through June 26 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek.

For tickets and information call (925) 943-7469 or visit

Photos by Kevin Berne


Sunday, May 29, 2022

Miracle cure turns fatal in 'Radium Girls'


Irene (Kayli Smith, left), Kathryn (Sydney Harmon) and Grace (Caitlyn Kyong) paint watch dials with radium in "Radium Girls." (Foothill College Theatre Arts)

Covering up. Making shady deals. Caring more about the corporate bottom line than employees’ well- being or the environment.

Sound familiar? Of course it does, but the events in D.W. Gregory’s “Radium Girls” happened about a century ago.

Presented by Foothill College Theatre Arts and based on actual events, the story begins during World War I. Employees painting watch dials with radium to make them glow in the dark for easy reading by U.S. soldiers begin falling ill with a mysterious, fatal disease.

These employees, including Grace Fryer (Caitlyn Kyong), Kathryn Schaub  (Sydney Harmon) and Irene Rudolph (Kayli Smith) experience problems that begin with bloody mouths and tooth pain leading to their jaws rotting away.

At the time, radium was believed to be a miracle cure touted by Dr. Marie Curie (Day Armstrong). However, studies determined radium had caused the employees’ illness, but their employer, U.S. Radium Corp., didn’t release those studies.

Because they were so ill, several employees died and the others lost their jobs. Grace, believing radium was the issue, filed a complaint and eventually sued with the help of Kathryn Wiley (Jackie Roach).

Lawyers for U.S. Radium kept stalling in the hopes that the employees would die before their case was tried.

They also offered a paltry cash settlement, while a tabloid newspaper offered $250,000 for the exclusive rights to their story. Though conflicted, Grace refused both despite urging by her mother (Valerie Allen) and her fiancé, Tom (Osmanthus Lynch), to accept them.

Along with Grace, the other central character is Arthur Roeder (Matt Brown). At first he believed wholeheartedly in radium, but as he became aware of its terrible effects, he was torn between protecting his company’s bottom line and his own moral principles.

Well directed by Tom Gough, many in Foothill’s cast of more than 20 students and community members portray several characters.

With such a mix of experience, the acting is uneven at times, though earnest.

The simple set by Yusuke Soi, costumes by R. Dutch Fritz and lighting by Bruce McLeod complement the production. However, the sound design by Max Stanylov doesn’t overcome the need for better projection by some actors.

Thus some dialogue is hard to discern, especially given the play’s episodic structure. On the other hand, a large clock with projections of the time and place is helpful.

Overall, though, the play is absorbing as it tells a little known but true chapter in American history. It’s worth seeing.

Running about two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission, “Radium Girls” will continue through June 12 in Foothill College’s Lohman Theatre, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills.

For tickets and information, call (650) 949-7360 or visit   


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Shameful event in history inspires musical, 'Allegiance'


Japanese Americans wait for a train headed for a relocation camp. (Scott Lasky photo)

Presented by Palo Alto Players, “Allegiance” is a musical based on one of the most shameful events in American history: the relocation of people of Japanese descent during World War II.

With music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book by Kuo, Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thione, it was inspired by the childhood experiences of actor George Takei (Lt.  Sulu on “Star Trek”).

It focuses on a Salinas farm family, the Kimuras, who have only a few days to sell the farm and assemble for transport to the bleak Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941.

The family includes Sammy (Jomar Martinez) and his older sister, Kei (Marah Sotelo), along with their father, Tatsuo (Bryan Pangilinan), and grandfather, Kaito (Ron Munekawa).

Sammy wants to enlist in the military to prove his patriotism, but is rejected. Later he meets the camp nurse, Hannah Campbell (Corinna Laskin), and falls in love with her.

In the meantime, Kei and Frankie Suzuki (Christopher J. Sotelo) have fallen in love, too.

After Japanese men are allowed to enlist in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Sammy signs up and serves with distinction, but Frankie resists the subsequent draft with Kei’s support. Sammy bitterly rejects them both.

Other characters, both good and not-so-good, are involved.

The show opens and closes in 2001 when Sammy (played by Munekawa as an older man) attends Kei’s funeral and finds he has a chance to forgive and to forge new family ties.

Thoughtfully directed by Vinh G. Nguyen, the mostly Asian, 20-member ensemble cast is excellent with standout performances by Martinez as Sammy, Laskin as Hannah, Marah Sotelo as Kei and Christopher J. Sotelo as Frankie. (The Sotelos are husband and wife.)

At the keyboard, music director Benjamin Belew oversees the talented singers and the six-person orchestra.

Nicole Tung has choreographed the lively dancing, including the jitterbug at a camp dance.

The minimal but effective set is by Skip Epperson with lighting by Edward Hunter.  Sometimes the lyrics are hard to discern in the sound design by Brandie Larkin.

The costumes, hair and makeup are by Y. Sharon Peng.

Running about two hours and 40 minutes with intermission, “Allegiance” is interesting and entertaining despite some slow spots. In some ways, it might work better as a drama rather than a musical, but some songs allow characters to express their inner thoughts.

It will continue through May 8 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Recorded performances will be available for streaming-on-demand May 5 to 8.

For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit





Monday, April 25, 2022

Humor, insight in 'I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change'

Jack O'Reilly and Samantha Rose Cardenas imagine they're "A Stud and a Babe."

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” takes a humorous yet insightful look at how relationships change from first date to 30 years of marriage.

Presented by Hillbarn Theatre & Conservatory and adroitly directed by Erica Abrahamson, this musical comedy features four talented actors who portray dozens of characters of varying types and ages in more than 20 scenes, each a self-contained vignette.

Because the characters’ names change from scene to scene, the actors are simply labeled Man #1 (Jack O’Reilly), Man #2 (Keith Pinto), Woman #1 (Samantha Rose Cardenas) and Woman #2 (Hayley Lovegren).

With music by Jimmy Roberts and book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro, the show opens with “Cantata for a First Date” as the four characters get dressed for the date.

The actual date takes place during “Not Tonight, I’m Busy, Busy, Busy” as Pinto and Lovegren decide that a first date is too awkward, so they pretend it’s the second and then the third, when they must decide on sex.

One of the more amusing scenes is “A Stud and a Babe,” in which O’Reilly’s character is actually a nerd and his date, Cardendas, is a frump.

Hayley Lovegren laments that she's "Always a Bridesmaid."

Later, in “Always a Bridesmaid," Lovegren laments that not only is she not getting married, she has to wear ugly dresses.

The way that parenthood changes people is seen in “The Baby Song,” as a married gay couple, Pinto and O’Reilly, who have a new baby, evolve from interesting adults to baby talkers who totally bore a good friend, Cardenas.

Other scenes show a contentious family road trip, two oldsters meeting at a funeral and more.

Each one is funny because it seems so real and because the four actors are so versatile.

Guided by musical director Matthew Mattei, each one also sings well, accompanied by Jon Mattei on a white grand piano and Paula Filseth on violin.

The scenes are divided by quick blackouts when the stage crew, Eric Olson and Adria Olson, moves minimal set pieces (set by Matt Owens with sound and lighting by Ron Ho) in and out, giving the actors time for quick costume changes.

Credit goes to costume designer Ashley Garlick for outfits that are appropriate for the characters.

Suitable for an adult audience only, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” runs a fast-moving two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.

It will continue through May 8 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City. For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411, Ext. 2, or visit

Photos by Mark and Tracy Photography