Sunday, December 9, 2018

Adolescent angst propels thought-provoking 'Dear Evan Hansen'

Ben Levi Ross stars in 'Dear Evan Hansen.' Curran theater photo

Misunderstanding leads to a web of lies with mixed results in the touring production of “Dear Evan Hansen,” presented by the Curran theater in San Francisco.

Winner of six Tony Awards in 2017, including Best Musical, the misunderstanding starts with a letter that high school senior Evan Hansen (Ben Levi Ross) writes to himself. He was advised to do so by the therapist he’s been seeing because he’s socially awkward and has virtually no friends.

A bullying classmate, Connor Murphy (Marrick Smith), finds it and refuses to return it. Another classmate describes Connor as looking like a school shooter.

A few days later, Connor kills himself. Evan’s letter in his pocket is seen as a sign of friendship between them.

Connor’s parents, Larry (Aaron Lazar) and Cynthia (Christiane Noll), ask him to join them at dinner with their daughter, Zoe (Maggie McKenna), the junior on whom the shy Evan has a crush.

His web of lies makes the Murphy family feel good about Connor, believing he wasn’t the total loner they had thought him to be.

Next thing you know, Evan has to deliver a eulogy for Connor that goes viral. 

Classmate Alana Beck (Phoebe Koyabe) buys into the story and wants to set up a memorial fund to restore an abandoned apple orchard that Connor supposedly loved.

Also involved with the fund is what may be Evan’s only friend, the skeptical, wise-cracking Jared Kleinman (Jared Goldsmith). Jared makes up emails that Evan and Connor supposedly exchanged. They, too, go viral.

Except for Evan, everybody’s happy, including his harried single mother, Heidi (Jessica Phillips), who works or goes to school most nights.

Eventually the truth comes out, leading to important bonding.

Much of the story unfolds in the music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and the book by Steven Levenson.

Directed by Michael Greif, the acting is excellent, especially by Ross as Evan. He stutters, he stammers, he folds within himself with anxiety. It’s all he can do to greet others, let along hold a conversation.

All of the songs are sung well, but many of Evan’s solos are belted out, leading to a sameness. Moreover, the sound design by Nevin Steinberg is so loud that many lyrics are distorted. Music director Austin Cook leads the seven-member orchestra from the keyboard. Choreography is by Danny Mefford.

The set by David Korins is relatively simple and fluid, augmented by the social media images in Peter Nigrini’s projections. Character-specific costumes are by Emily Rebholz with lighting by Japhy Weideman.

The opening night audience was dominated by young people who were taking selfies in the lobby and aisles when they weren’t absorbed in their devices. However, when the show started, they responded enthusiastically.

Although the use of social media and the focus on a teenage as the main character hold special appeal to the younger generation, people of all ages can relate to the human dilemmas experienced by all the characters, especially the parents. It’s a thought-provoking, thoroughly entertaining show.

Running about two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, “Dear Evan Hansen” will continue at the Curran, 445 Geary St., San Francisco, through Dec. 30.

For tickets and information, call (415) 358-1220 or visit

Monday, December 3, 2018

Highly entertaining, 'Tuck Everlasting' poses intriguing question

Winnie (Natalie Schroeder) meets Jesse Tuck (Eddie Grey).

What if you could live forever without aging? Would you jump at the chance?

Not so fast, say the never-aging Tuck family members in “Tuck Everlasting,” the musical presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

An 11-year-old girl, Winnie Foster (Natalie Schroeder, alternating with Katie Maupin), learns the secret of the family’s longevity and has that choice in her New Hampshire hometown in 1893.

However, her new friend, 17-year-old Jesse Tuck (Eddie Grey), advises her to wait six years until she’s his age. She waits and makes the right decision.

The book by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle is based on Natalie Babbitt’s popular children’s novel of the same name.

Tuneful music by Chris Miller with lyrics by Nathan Tysen makes this intriguing premise even more enjoyable.

Add in direction by artistic director Robert Kelley and a dynamic cast, and it’s a great way to celebrate the holidays and the inevitable cycle of life.

It begins with a brief scene in 1808 when the Tucks – Jesse, mom Mae (Kristine Reese), dad Angus (Jonathan Rhys Williams) and older son Miles (Travis Leland) – happen to drink from a spring at the base of a huge tree.

When they realize what has happened to them, they try to avoid other people and arousing their curiosity.

Winnie sneaks out of her house where her mother, Betsy (Teressa Foss), and grandmother, Nana (Lucinda Hitchcock Cone), are still mourning the death of her father a year ago.

After she encounters Jesse, she’s forced to his home, but her stubbornness and defiance earn Angus’ admiration. He allows them to sneak off and go to the fair that’s passing through town.

One of the carneys, the scheming Man in the Yellow Suit (Michael Gene Sullivan), finds out about the spring’s magic water. He wants to bottle and sell it, but he needs to know where the spring is.

In the meantime, Winnie’s worried mother asks Constable Joe (Colin Thomson) and
Colin Thomson (bottom) and  David Crane.
his bumbling new assistant, Hugo (David Crane), to look for her.

Of course she does return home.

This is a show filled with memorable scenes, such as the carnival’s arrival through the audience (“Join the Parade”).

The best and most moving scenes come last. No words are spoken as the actors enact the passage of time with weddings, births and deaths during a reprise of “The Wheel (of Life).”

Leading the opening night cast was the dynamic, poised Schroeder as Winnie. Not only does she act and sing well, she dances, too. She’s a triple threat.

Without singling anyone else out, suffice it to say that everyone else in this outstanding cast is praiseworthy, too.

This production is enhanced by Alex Perez’s choreography, Joe Ragey’s set, Pamila Z. Gray’s lighting, Fumiko Bielefeldt’s costumes and Jeff Mockus’s sound. The excellent orchestra is led by musical director William Liberatore from the piano.

Both entertaining and thought-provoking, this holiday treat is suitable for both adults and youngsters. It’s not to be missed.

Running about two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission, “Tuck Everlasting” will continue through Dec. 30 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

For tickets and information, call (650) 463-1960 or visit

Photos by Kevin Berne 

Hillbarn stages musical 'Christmas Carol'

Scrooge (Christopher Reber) sees the Ghose of Christmas Present (Jennifer Martinelli). (Mark and Tracy Photography)

Hillbarn Theatre is celebrating the holiday season with a musical version of Charles Dickens’ beloved “A Christmas Carol.”

With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Ahrens and Mike Ockrent, it’s set in London on Christmas Eve, 1843.

It’s the tale of a curmudgeonly old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Reber), who discovers that money is less important than love for humanity.

After his clerk, Bob Cratchit (James Ambler) is done for the day, Scrooge heads home from his loan (shark) office, spurning pleas for charity with his trademark “bah, humbug.”

Once in bed, he’s confronted by the ghost of his late partner, Jacob Marley (Randy O’Hara). Marley warns that the chains he carries could await Scrooge if he doesn’t change his ways. He adds that three more ghosts will visit that night.

The first, the sprightly Ghost of Christmas Past (Sammi Hildebrandt), shows him what he was like as a lonely boy and a much happier young man.

Next the more mature Ghost of Christmas Present (Jennifer Martinelli) takes him to the Cratchits’ home. Despite their poverty and worries about their youngest, Tiny Tim (Noah Itzkovitz), they’re a happy, loving family.

Finally, the looming Ghost of Christmas Future (three actors) shows what will happen if Scrooge doesn’t change. Lamenting his behavior, he becomes a generous benefactor to his clients and the Cratchits.

Directed by Hillbarn artistic director Dan Demers, the show moves well, aided by his flexible set. Choreography by Jayne Zaban increases the merriment, as do the costumes and wigs by Pamela Lampkin and the lighting by Carson Duper.

Although music director Rick Reynolds’ orchestra plays well, it’s too loud, often drowning out lyrics and getting no help from Ron Ho’s sound design.

Overall, the acting is fine, especially by Ambler as Bob Cratchit and Hildebrandt as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Many actors play several roles.

Singing is a mixed bag with the best coming from Hildebrandt, Ambler and the show’s youngsters.

The first notes of Menken’s score recall “The Phantom of the Opera,” while other songs seem derivative of Stephen Sondheim.

Nevertheless, the show’s message of kindness and charity comes through clearly and was well received by the nearly full house on opening night.

Running about two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission, “A Christmas Carol” will continue through Dec. 16 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

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

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Unusual path to improvement in 'Between Riverside and Crazy'

Circumstances for a bitter ex-cop in dire straits improve through legal as well as nonconventional ways in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “Between Riverside and Crazy,” presented by San Jose Stage Company.

He’s Walter “Pops” Washington (L. Peter Callender), who’s about to lose his rent-controlled apartment on New York City’s Riverside Drive because he’s violating his lease.

He was forced to retire from the NYPD eight years ago after being shot six times by a fellow officer. Instead of accepting the department’s settlement offer, he engaged an attorney to fight it. Since then, his wife has died.

Still, he has opened his apartment to three people he calls guests. One is his son, Junior (Rondrell McCormick), an ex-con who still deals in stolen merchandise.

Another is Junior’s sexy, pleasant but dense girlfriend, Lulu (Tiffany Tenille). Finally there’s another ex-con and recovering alcoholic-drug addict, Oswaldo (Juan Amador).

They all live there rent-free and call their benefactor Dad. They all urge him to accept the settlement.

Also urging him to accept are his former partner, Detective Audrey O’Connor (Allison F. Rich), and her fiancé, the pompous Lt. Caro (George Psarras).

The real turning point, however, arrives via the Church Lady (Damaris Divito), whose visit ends with a highly unusual seduction.

The outcome leads to reconciliation between Walter and Junior and a new life for Walter.

Well directed by Jeffrey Lo, the strong cast is led by the ever-reliable Callender, whose Walter can be both acerbic and humorous. The others also are outstanding.

The set by Christopher Fitzer reflects Walter’s sad situation with a lighted Christmas tree even though it’s several months later.

Costumes by Ashley Garlick, lighting by Michael Johnson and sound by Steve Schoenbeck complement the production.

With its expletives and adult situations, this is not for children. Because the company’s theater is so intimate, it’s also more intense than the noteworthy production by American Conservatory Theater in 2015. Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile for adults.

Running about two hours and 10 minutes with one intermission, “Between Riverside and Crazy” will continue through Dec. 16 at San Jose Stage Company, 490 S. First St., San Jose.

For tickets and information, call (408) 283-7142 or visit

'The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley' premieres in Marin

The Darcys, Fitzwilliam (David Everett
Moore) and Elizabeth (Melissa Ortiz), are the
holiday hosts at Pemberley.

“The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” takes places downstairs in the servants’ work area rather than the opulent main floor in late December 1815.

Presented by Marin Theatre Company, this world premiere play by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon can be seen as a second sequel to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

Also presented by MTC, their first sequel, “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” in 2016, took place upstairs at the same time but with a different focus.

The current play focuses on two relationships, one slowly blossoming, the other quickly failing.

The blossoming relationship is between two servants, Brian (August Browning), the footman; and Cassie (Neiry Rojo), the newly hired housemaid. He’s an inventor who makes a reading stand for her, while she’s an independent sort who wants to make her own way in the world.

On the other hand, the marriage between Lydia Wickham (Madeline Rouverol) and George Wickham (Kenny Toll) is in trouble.

Lydia tries to put on a happy front, but George is despised by her family, the Bennets. 
They include her sister, Elizabeth Darcy (Melissa Ortiz), and Elizabeth’s husband, the wealthy Fitzwilliam Darcy (David Everett Moore), owner of Pemberley.

In fact, George wasn’t invited to the holiday celebration, but one night he drunkenly arrives downstairs after suffering a beating in the local pub.

The turning point comes with an incriminating letter Cassie finds in George’s jacket before she washed it. The letter proves that George is a scoundrel and that he married Lydia only for her money.

Mrs. Reynolds (Jennie Brick) patches up George Wickham (Kenny Toll).
With all the goings-on downstairs as the Darcys and Lydia come there for refuge, the longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds (Jennie Brick), is the glue that holds everything together. She also makes delicious biscuits (cookies).

Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, the entire cast is first-rate with everyone believable in reflecting how upper- and middle-class people spoke and acted at that time. There are many amusing moments, too.

The functional set is by Wilson Chin with lighting by Wen-Ling Liao and sound by Sharath Patel. The costumes, notably the elegant Regency Period dresses for Lydia and Elizabeth, are by Courtney Flores.

Performances were to have begun Nov. 15 but were delayed until after Thanksgiving because smoke from the Butte County fire permeated the theater, causing a health threat. To make up for those lost performances, the show has been extended seven days through Dec. 16. It’s great entertainment.

“The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” runs about two hours and 10 minutes with one intermission at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley.

For tickets and information, call (415) 388-5208 or visit

(Photos by Kevin Berne)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

WWII secrets revealed in 'Everything Is Illuminated'

Jonathan (Jeremy Kahn, right) shows an old photo to Alex  (Adam Burch) as Grandfather (Julian Lópex-Morillas) listens.
Hoping to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis during World War II, a young Jewish man travels from New York City to the Ukraine in “Everything Is Illuminated,” Simon Block’s adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel presented by Aurora Theatre Company.

When Jonathan (Jeremy Kahn) arrives in the late 1990s, he is met by his guide and translator Alex (Adam Burch). They are to be driven by Alex’s semi-blind, curmudgeonly Grandfather (Julian López-Morillas).

The only information Jonathan has is that his grandfather lived in a now obliterated shtetl and that the woman’s name was Augustine. He has a snapshot that he believes shows her.

He never finds her, but along the way he imagines his ancestry going back to the 18th century.

Alex, however, learns much more about Grandfather’s experiences during the war.

Lura Dolas as Woman with Adam Burch.
Act 1 moves slowly with some crude humor from Alex, and it doesn’t get very far except at the very end. That’s when the three men meet the old Woman (Lura Dolas). 
Dressed all in white with long white hair, she’s a ghostly figure.

As Act 2 begins, she’s reluctant to help them, but then she shows them her collected artifacts that were buried in the area. She also leads them to the site of the former Jewish village.

This act is highlighted by two moving monologues. In the first, the Woman tells the gruesome story of how her sisters were brutally killed by Nazi soldiers.
In the second, Grandfather finally tells Alex his painful secret from World War II.

Completing the cast is Marissa Keltie, playing several female characters.

Sensitively and imaginatively directed by Aurora artistic director Tom Ross, the cast is uniformly excellent.

Production values are high, too, with the set by Kate Boyd, lighting by Kurt Landisman, costumes by Callie Floor and sound by Matt Stines.

Ross points out in the program that Foer’s novel is based on an actual trip he took at age 20 after his sophomore year at Princeton.

Although his book about the trip apparently was a success, it doesn’t adapt well to the stage, at least not in Block’s interpretation. It also was a 2005 film that lost money.

Running about two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission, “Everything Is Illuminated” will continue through Dec. 9 at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. For tickets and information, call (510) 843-4822 or visit

Photos by David Allen

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

'Aida' takes the stage in Redwood City

 Amneris (Caitlin McGinty, left), sings with  Aida (Raquel Nicole Jeté) and Radames (Shaun Leslie Thomas).
Presented by Broadway By the Bay, the stage musical “Elton John + Tim Rice’s Aida” was inspired by Verdi’s operatic masterpiece of the same name.

In this case, though, John’s music, with lyrics by Rice, is mostly rock with some echoes of gospel.

Set in Egypt, it tells of the Nubian princess, Aida (Raquel Nicole Jeté), captured by Radames (Shaun Leslie Thomas), an Egyptian general.

He and his troops take her and her countrymen to Egypt to be slaves. The Egyptians don’t know she’s a princess.

Her spirit and her refusal to be intimidated lead him to spare her from the death that the others might face and to give her to his fiancée of nine years, Princess Amneris (Caitlin McGinty).

Despite the difference in their stations, their mutual attraction grows stronger. Soon circumstances demand that she must choose between him and her father. Tragedy ensues.

An interesting aspect of the book by Linda Wolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang is Amneris’s transformation from vanity (“My Strongest Suit”) to compassion (“I Know the Truth”).

The stately McGinty is terrific and believable in this role. She’s also the show’s best singer.

This is not to slight the singing or the regal bearing of Jeté as Aida. Thomas as Radames also does well.

Directed by Jasen Jeffrey, supporting characters are well played, especially by Montel Anthony Nord as Mereb, Radames’ Nubian slave, and Benjamin Ball as Zoser, Radames’ father.

The outstanding choreography, expertly danced by the 10-member ensemble, is by Nicole Helfer. Music director Alicia Jeffrey conducts the orchestra from the keyboard.

The colorful costumes are by Merissa Mann with the set by Mark Mendelson and lighting by Michael Oesch. Overly loud sound by Zak Stamps distorts lyrics.

Otherwise, it’s an enjoyable, well done production.

Running about two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, it will continue through Nov. 18 at the Fox Theater, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City.

For tickets and information, call (650) 579-5565 or visit

Photo by Mark & Tracy Photography

'All the Way' with LBJ in his first year

President Lyndon B. Johnson (Michael Monagle, center) signs the Civil Rights Act on June 19,1964. 
Robert Schenkkan’s “All the Way” goes back 55 years to what happened after that awful day, Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

This docudrama, presented by Palo Alto Players, relates what his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, did in the year between becoming what he called “an accidental president” and seeking election in his own right in 1964.

Played by Michael Monagle, the folksy but wily Texan’s first goal was to see the landmark Civil Rights Act enacted. After succeeding in that endeavor, he then sought the Democratic nomination and election. The play’s title comes from his election slogan, “All the way with LBJ.”

Getting the Civil Rights Act through Congress was an enormous task, given the staunch opposition by Southern Democrats.

It once included a voting rights provision, but he was forced to compromise by dropping it and sticking with just equal rights to employment and public accommodations.

This compromise didn’t sit well with black leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (Fred Pitts), the fiery Stokely Carmichael (William Bryant Jr.) and others. They agreed, though, after Johnson promised he would push for voting rights after the election. The amended bill passed in June 1964.

There were more obstacles along the way, but Johnson managed to succeed.
He did so through flattery, threats, promises and demands for loyalty from his backers as well as those who stood in his way.

The play ends with his landslide victory over Sen. Barry Goldwater.

It has a hint of the Vietnam War to come when Defense Secretary Robert McNamara reports a possible North Vietnamese attack against Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin and requests a military response.

It only touches on Johnson’s planned War on Poverty, a signature accomplishment after his election.

All of this history plays out in a fascinating way for those who lived through those times. It has some painfully familiar parallels to what’s happening today with demonization of immigrants, attempts at voter suppression in the South and some presidential tactics that have less noble goals than Johnson’s.

Sen. Hubert Humphrey (Tom Gough, left) talks with President Johnson (Michael Monagle).

Directed by Peter Allas, many in the 19-member cast play multiple roles. Some of the more memorable characters are Sen. Hubert Humphrey (Tom Gough), who became Johnson’s vice president; Walter Jenkins (Kevin Copps), Johnson’s valued aide who was disgraced after a sexual encounter with a man; and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Andrew Harris), who was himself outed later; among many others.

Although the acting isn’t as polished as in the 2012 world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, this production is still well done and highly fascinating.

It’s facilitated by the sets and projections by Randy Wong-Westbrooke, costumes by R. Dutch Fritz, lighting by Rick Amerson and sound by James Goode.

Running about two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, “All the Way” will continue through Nov. 18 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

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

Photos by Joyce  Goldschmid

Friday, October 26, 2018

'Dancing Lessons' become life-changing for sufferers

Sharon Rietkerk as Senga tries to teach Craig Marker as Ever how to fast dance. (Photo by

Two suffering people find help in unexpected ways in Mark St. Germain’s humorous and touching “Dancing Lessons,” presented by Center Repertory Company.

This two-person romantic comedy features Sharon Rietkerk as Senga Quinn, a talented professional dancer who has a possibly career-ending knee injury; and Craig Marker as Ever Montgomery, a brilliant geosciences professor whose autism means, among other things, that he can’t stand to be touched.

However, he knows he must overcome this phobia because he’s the honoree at an awards dinner dance.

He and Senga hadn’t met, but they live in the same New York City apartment building. Thanks to its super, he knows she’s an injured dancer.

As the play opens, she’s on her couch with her right leg encased in a brace while she pops pills and washes them down with scotch. At first she won’t let him in when he knocks on her door, but he persists. He offers her more than $2,000 for an hour teaching him to dance.

His attempts at a fast dance are awkward but gradually improve. The lesson progresses to shaking hands. Later it goes beyond that.

During the lessons, which take place over several days, they learn more about each other and themselves, their strengths and weaknesses.

Other scenes show Ever characteristically shifting his weight while lecturing about the perils of global warming because of human actions. A pivotal moment comes when a student asks if people can change.

One lesson that both Ever and Senga learn is that change takes courage. That means they have to recognize their problems and try to overcome them.

Director Joy Carlin has fine-tuned this outstanding production and elicited believably human performances from both actors. She and they also mine the script’s ample humor along with facts about autism and global warming.

A video of Rietkerk’s Senga in a captivating dance (choreographed by Jennifer Perry) showcases her great talent.

Design elements enhance the production with set and lighting by Kent Dorsey, costumes by Brooke Jennings, and sound and projections by Teddy Hulsker.

Running about 90 minutes without intermission, “Dancing Lessons” will continue through Nov. 17 at the Lesher Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek.

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

Friday, October 19, 2018

Pain follows tragedy in 'The Resting Place'

James Carpenter as Mitch challenges daughter Annie (Martha Brigham, right) as Angela (Emilie Talbot, second fron left) and Macy (Emily Radosevich) listen. (Photo by Jennifer Reiley)

A family’s pain is raw and visceral in Ashlin Halfnight’s “The Resting Place,” being given its world premiere by Magic Theatre.

Mitch (James Carpenter) and Angela (Emilie Talbot) have been joined in Detroit by their adult daughters, Annie (Martha Brigham), who works for an environmental group in San Francisco, and Macy (Emily Radosevich), who works on political campaigns in New York City.

Their reunion is not happy. Travis, oldest of the siblings, has just committed suicide. 
He was a gay man, teacher and longtime pedophile who victimized local boys.

Annie wants him to have a funeral and burial in the family plot in the Catholic cemetery next to his beloved paternal grandfather. The rest of the family, concerned about the angry uprising over his actions, wants to cremate him and quietly scatter his ashes.

As the play continues, the issues go much deeper, leading to angry shouting matches, blame and feelings of guilt on top of profound grief. Nevertheless, familial love is palpable.

Also involved are Travis’s former partner, Liam (Wiley Naman Strasser), and one of Travis’s victims, Charles (Andrew LeBuhn), now a recent high school graduate.

The final scene is especially wrenching as Annie delivers an eloquent eulogy and reveals her own reason for feeling guilty.

Sensitively directed by Jessica Holt, the six actors carefully navigate the play’s ups and downs.

Carpenter’s Mitch is the voice of reason as conflicts arise, but he has moments of extreme emotion. Talbot’s Angela drinks too much, but she, too, can be both reasonable and highly upset.

The sisters, Brigham as Annie and Radosevich as Macy, sometimes clash, especially when Macy calls the take-charge Annie self-righteous.

Both Strasser as Liam and LeBuhn as Charles are believable in their pain.

Design elements are outstanding with the set by Edward T. Morris, costumes by Shelby-Lio Feeney, lighting by Wen-Ling Liao and sound by Sara Huddleston.

According to artistic director Loretta Greco, the play “investigates what happens to those who are left behind in the wake of unimaginable tragedy.”

Despite the difficult subject matter, it’s a brilliant, absorbing, utterly human play that doesn’t skirt the issues. This profound work of art is worth seeing.

Running about two hours with one intermission, “The Resting Place” will continue through Nov. 4 at Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, third floor, San Francisco.

For tickets and information, call (415) 441-8822 or visit

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Hillbarn Theatre stages Frayn farce, 'Noises Off'

Luisa Sermol (left) is Dotty, Max Tachis is Garry and Michelle Skinner is Brooke. (Mark and Tracy Photography)
As things get worse in the play within a play of Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off,” Hillbarn Theatre’s production gets better.

This farce is set in England, where a third-rate theatrical troupe is rehearsing and then staging the world premiere of “Nothing On.”

As the action begins, Lloyd (David Crane), the director of “Nothing On,” is trying to get Dotty (Luisa Sermol), housekeeper for a country home, to go through a scene answering the phone and returning to the kitchen. She forgets the receiver, the sardines (which figure prominently in the play) and the newspaper.

Subsequent scenes involve the arrival of Garry (Max Tachis) and Brooke (Michelle Skinner), who are there for an affair. As they tour the house, its owners, played by Ross Neuenfeldt and Heather Orth, return unexpectedly.

Also involved in the action are the stage manager, Tim (David Blackburn); assistant stage manager, Poppy (Brigitte Losey); and another actor, the drunken Selsdon (Lawrence-Michael Arias).

During this act, most of the actual actors try too hard, blunting much of the humor.

In Act 2, after the set has rotated to back stage of “Nothing On,” the actors refine their timing, resulting in some frantically funny moments. By this time in the troupe’s tour, it’s a month after the rehearsal, and nerves are frayed.

Finally, in Act 3, after the set has rotated again to become the set for “Nothing On,” everything has unraveled. Nothing goes right, in part because of sabotage by some jealous actors, resulting in more laughs.

Directed by Jeffrey Lo, most of the actors do well, especially in the latter two acts. Sermol’s Dotty is aptly named, while Skinner’s Brooke is blithely dense. So too is Neunenfeldt as one of the home’s owners.

Orth as the other owner is the one who tries to keep everyone under control. Tachis is amazingly athletic as his Garry becomes the victim of most of the sabotage.

Losey and Blackburn as the harried stage managers also do well.

Christopher Fitzer’s two-level set not only rotates but also features multiple doors – a must for farce with its split-second exits and entrances.

The character-specific costumes are by Mae Heagerty-Matos with lighting by Meghan Souther and sound by Jon Covey.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission and a pause, “Noises Off” will continue through Oct. 28 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

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