Wednesday, September 20, 2017

German history inspires 'Cirque Exotique du Monde'

Sarrasine (Lisa Burton) meets anthropologist Dr. Singer (Ronald Feichtmeir ) Photo by Lance Huntley

     Good intentions don’t always make for good theater.

     Case in point: Dragon Theatre’s world premiere production of “Cirque Exotique du Monde” by Peninsula playwright Kathy Boussina.

     Inspired by historical events, most of the action is set in the titular circus in Berlin in 1936. It’s hard-pressed for money and harassed by the Nazis.

     Some financial hope emerges with an eccentric anthropologist who wants to add two of the performers to his creepy collection of oddities like preserved human fetuses and brains.
     Several actors play several roles. Lisa Burton as Sarrasine, owner of the circus, and Charles Monson as Hans the Giant are both fine. However, as directed by Lessa Bouchard and Bora “Max” Koknar, the others overact in many scenes.

     They and their main roles are Ronald Feichtmeir as Dr. Singer, the anthropologist;  Alix Josefski as Picnic, financial manager of the circus; Alika U. Spencer-Koknar as performer Boshka; and Oscar Velarde as Otto, a juggler.

     Anna Yanushkevich, who devised the rigging, has a non-speaking role as an aerialist whose feats are seen twice. However, like much of the rest of the play, these sequences go on too long. Cutting is needed throughout.

     The costumes, some of them ill-fitting, are by Kathleen Qui. The set, lighting and props are by Nathanael Card with sound by Nick Solasteas.

     Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Cirque Exotique du Monde” will continue through Oct. 8 at Dragon Theatre, 2120 Broadway St., Redwood City. For tickets and information, call (650) 493-2006, Ext. 2, or visit

The hits just keep coming in 'Million Dollar Quartet'

 Jaake Margo, Jessica LaFever, Tarif Pappu, Greg Zema and Nick Kenrick join voices. (Joyce Goldschmid photo)

Four of the biggest names in ‘50s music got together on Dec. 4, 1956, and recorded a jam session that became a hit record and now a rollicking musical, “Million Dollar Quartet,” presented by Palo Alto Players.
Gathering in the Sun Records recording studio in Memphis, Tenn., Carl Perkins (Tarif Pappu), Johnny Cash (Greg Zema), Jerry Lee Lewis (Nick Kenrick) and Elvis Presley (Jaake Margo) sang and played some of their biggest hits.
Director Jeffrey Bracco has assembled this multi-talented cast to regale the audience for about 90 minutes without intermission.
And the hits just keep coming. They include “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Memories Are Made of This,” “Down by the Riverside,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Peace in the Valley,” “I Walk the Line,” “I Hear You Knocking,” “Hound Dog,” “See You Later Alligator,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and more.
One of the brightest highlights of this evening of highlights is “Fever,” sung by Jessica LaFever as Dyanne, Elvis’ girlfriend. In her form-fitting red dress, she turns the heat up to incendiary pitch. 
Kenrick channels Jerry Lee’s virtuosic, athletic piano playing, especially in “Great Balls of Fire.”
Completing the cast is Jeremy Ryan as Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records.
Daniel Murguia on bass and Ryan Stohs on drums accompany the guitars and piano. Katie Coleman serves as musical director.
The book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux is fairly thin, focusing mainly on Sam’s hopes to have all four men under contract to Sun in order to keep them away from rival Columbia Records. There’s also Carl’s animosity toward the brash Jerry Lee.
The Southern accents sometimes hinder comprehension of lines, but that’s a minor concern. Music is the centerpiece, and what terrific, uplifting music it is.
“Million Dollar Quartet” will continue through Oct. 1 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Riveting 'Luna Gale' full of emotional mine fields

Social worker Caroline (Jamie Jones) interviews Peter (Davin S. O'Brien) and Karlie (Alix Cuadra). Photo by David Allen
The infant at the center of Rebecca Gilman’s “Luna Gale” is the daughter of meth-addled teenagers who love her but don’t properly care for her.

In the Bay Area premiere presented by Aurora Theatre Company, she comes to the attention of a social worker when she’s so ill that her parents take her to the emergency room in their hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

As they wait, the mother, Karlie (Alix Cuadra) is uptight and fidgety, scarfing Skittles, while the father, Peter (Devin S. O’Brien) is almost comatose. 

That’s when the social worker, Caroline (Jamie Jones), meets them.

Karlie’s divorced mother, Cindy (Laura Jane Bailey), a nursing assistant, wants to care for Luna and seems like a logical choice. However, Caroline is besieged by doubts when Cindy implies that she wants to adopt and indoctrinate the baby in her evangelical Christian beliefs.

Karlie and Peter work toward getting off drugs, but they adamantly oppose Cindy’s effort to take away their parental rights and adopt Luna Gale.

Cindy’s minister, the smarmy Pastor Jay (Kevin Kemp), supports her efforts, as does Caroline’s bureaucratic young boss, Cliff (Joshua Marx).

Caroline does her best to act in Luna Gale’s best interests, but she’s influenced by her own biases and hampered by an overwhelming work load worsened by budget cuts.

Playwright Gilman leavens the first act with some humorous lines, but the second act has some harrowing scenes as more is learned about Caroline’s past and the event that caused Karlie to go astray and despise her mother starting when she was 15.

A subplot involves one of Caroline’s clients, Lourdes (Jennifer Vega), who has aged out of the foster care system at age 18 and goes to college. Things don’t turn out well for her.

There’s more hope for Luna Gale as the play ends.

Director Tom Ross ably steers the actors through their characters’ emotional mine fields, resulting in an absorbing, riveting drama. Jones is especially noteworthy as Caroline reacts to events and revelations that make her job more burdensome.

Kate Boyd’s functional two-level set is complemented by Kurt Landisman’s lighting, Cliff Caruthers’ sound and Callie Floor’s costumes.

Running about two hours with one intermission, the well written “Luna Gale” will continue through Oct. 1 at Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. For tickets and information, call (510) 843-4822 or visit