Thursday, May 10, 2018

Memory plays key role in 'Marjorie Prime" at Marin Theatre Company

Joy Carlin (left) is Marjorie, and Julie Eccles is her daughter, Tess. (Photo by Kevin Berne)

An 85-year-old woman whose memory is fading has a new companion.

It’s a sophisticated hologram, or Prime, representing her late husband, Walter (Tommy Gorrebeeck), when he was 30 years old in Jordan Harrison’s “Marjorie Prime,” presented by Marin Theatre Company.

The woman, Marjorie (Joy Carlin), lives with her daughter, Tess (Julie Eccles), and son-in-law, Jon, (Anthony Fusco). The year is 2062.

The Prime can be programmed with her memories and remind her of them in hopes of retaining those she has and regaining some she may have lost.

But how accurate are those memories? It depends on who’s feeding them to Walter, who in turn feeds them back to her.

Some of them go back to the night Walter proposed and later to Tess’s childhood and the family’s dogs. One memory that goes unsaid is older brother’s suicide when he was 13.

Because of Marjorie’s grief over his death, Tess felt neglected, a feeling that has carried over as anger.

Tess keeps hoping that somehow Marjorie can express love for her, but not so. That is, not until after Marjorie’s death, when she’s seen as a Prime trying to help Tess overcome her grief. Later, Tess herself becomes a Prime.

Although everything currently is in the realm of science fiction, it’s not entirely far-fetched, given the role that artificial intelligence plays in everyday life for many people.

Harrison’s play doesn’t clearly spell everything out, requiring careful attention by the audience. Reading the program notes beforehand is helpful.

So, too, are Ken Rus Schmoll’s direction and a superb Bay Area cast led by Carlin, who seemingly embodies Marjorie’s failing faculties as well as her lively personality in her better moments.

In one scene, for example, Jon plays music for her. Formerly a classical violinist, she immediately recognizes it as “Winter” from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” and describes what the music is saying.

Eccles captures Tess’s brittle qualities and neediness, while Fusco’s Jon serves as a balance and loving peacemaker. The smooth Gorrebeeck makes Walter pleasant and almost human.

The simple set is by Kimie Nishikawa, lighting by Michael Palumbo, sound by Brendan Aames and costumes by Jessie Amoroso.

Running about 80 minutes with no intermission, this intriguing drama will continue through May 27 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley.

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

Hillbarn Theatre goes 'The Full Monty'

Dave (Christopher Reber, left) and Jerry (Andy Cooperfauss, right) try to convince Malcolm (Brian Palac) to join them. 

Losing a good job with no prospect of comparable one can be demoralizing or worse.

In “The Full Monty,” the musical presented by Hillbarn Theatre, that’s the situation faced by some men in Buffalo, N.Y., after its steel plant closed.

One of them, the divorced Jerry Lukowski (Andy Cooperfauss), is behind on his child support payments and fears losing joint custody of his 12-year-old son, Nathan (Jack Barrett), to his ex-wife, Pam (Amy Meyers).

Others are worried about supporting their families and making mortgage payments.
After seeing women willingly pay $50 to see a hunky male stripper, Buddy “Keno” Walsh (Jepoy Ramos), Jerry decides to gather some pals and put on their own show.

His first recruit is his best friend, Dave Bukatinsky (Christopher Reber), whose depression has distanced him from his wife, Georgie (Glenna Murillo). Dave is reluctant to join in the scheme because he’s overweight.

Still, he agrees. They’re soon joined by their former boss, Harold Nichols (Gregory Lynch), who hasn’t told his spendthrift wife, Vicki (Adrienne Herro), that he’s lost his job.

Also coming on board are the suicidal Malcolm MacGregor (Brian Palac), who lives with his invalid mother; the well-endowed Ethan Girard (Bradley Satterwhite); and Noah “Horse” T. Simmons (James Creer), an arthritic black man who still has some good dance moves.

A pianist, Jeanette Burmeister (Linda Piccone), shows up as their accompanist.

Women aren’t interested in seeing amateurs strip until Jerry tells them that unlike Keno, who stripped to shiny briefs, they’ll go totally nude, or the full monty. That works.

The book by Terrence McNally, with pleasant music and lyrics by David Yazbek, keeps one’s interest with humor and likable characters. It’s adapted from a popular movie set in England.

As directed by Dennis Lickteig with choreography by Lee Ann Payne, there are capable performances all around. The singing is generally good except for Cooperfauss, who has trouble with his higher notes.

One standout performance comes from Piccone, whose comic timing makes the salty Jeanette an audience favorite, especially in “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number.”

In a different vein, when Malcolm sings the sweet “You Walk With Me” at his mother’s funeral, he becomes emotional but recovers when Ethan takes his hand. When Dave seems shocked that two men are holding hands, Jerry says, “Good for them.”

Offstage, music director Mark Dietrich directs nine other musicians from the keyboard. However, sound designer Danielle Kisner amplifies it too much.

The simple set is by Kuo-Hao Lo with lighting by Christian Mejia, and costumes, hair and makeup by Valerie Emmie.

Running about two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, “The Full Monty” makes for enjoyable entertainment.

It will continue through May 20 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City. For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit

Photo by Mark and Tracy Photography

Thursday, May 3, 2018

ACT stages powerful drama, 'Father Comes Home From the Wars'

Hero (James Udom, gray jacket) tells his fellow slaves he's going to follow his master to war. (Joan Marcus photo)
Love or freedom?

These are the choices faced by a Civil War slave in Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts I, II, III,” presented by American Conservatory Theater.

But there’s far more to this powerful drama, which is loosely based on Homer’s “The Odyssey.”

The slave, Hero (James Udom), has been promised his freedom by his master, the Colonel (Dan Hiatt), if he will join the Colonel in fighting for the Confederacy. Hero is torn because he wants to stay home with his beloved Penny (Eboni Flowers), and he doesn’t want to support the wrong side.

As the play opens, four slaves -- played by Gregory Wallace, Rotimi Agbabiaka, Britney Frazier (filling in for Safiya Fredericks) and Chivas Michael -- along with two others, Steven Anthony Jones as the Oldest Old Man and Julian Elijah Martinez as Homer, are betting what Hero will decide.

Apparently the prospect of freedom is stronger than the pull of love, so Hero dons a castoff gray Confederate jacket and follows the Colonel.

In the next scene, the Colonel has captured and caged a wounded Yankee soldier, Smith (Tom Pecinka). The drunken Colonel tries to get Smith to guess how much Hero is worth, and then launches into a racist tirade about how glad he is to be white. Hiatt is brilliant as this despicable character.

Finally, Penny, Homer and three runaway slaves (Agbabiaka, Frazier and Michael), along with Hero’s dog, Odyssey (Wallace), await Hero’s return.

This time it’s Penny’s turn to make a choice. Should she stay with Hero, who has married while away, or should she join the runaways and Homer, who loves her, to seek freedom in the North?

Playwright Parks, aided by Liz Diamond’s meticulous direction, relates this tale compellingly and poetically while showing how difficult slaves’ lives could be.

She also brings humor into the picture, mainly with the dog Odyssey, so whimsically played by Wallace. She turns the three runaway slaves into a Greek chorus that becomes a seamless part of the action.

The main characters all are memorable thanks to humanizing performances. Completing the cast is the singing, guitar-playing Martin Luther McCoy as the Musician, who bookends each scene.

Riccardo Hernández designed the stark set with dramatic lighting by Yi Zhao. The patched costumes are by Sarah Nietfeld with sound and music direction by Frederick Kennedy. Parks wrote the music. Choreography is by Randy Duncan.

This co-production with Yale Repertory Theatre is a brilliant, lyrical drama that’s a must-see.

Running about three hours with one intermission, “Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts I, II, III” will continue through May 20 at the Geary Theater. For tickets and information, call (415) 749-2228 or visit

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Brilliant 'Angels in America' opens at Berkeley Rep

The angel (Francesca Faridany) visits Prior Walter . (Photo by Kevin Berne)

Berkeley Repertory Theatre is staging Tony Kushner’s epic masterpiece, “Angels in America.”

Subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” this Tony-winning drama has two parts: “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika.” They’re presented separately, but it’s possible to see both in a marathon. That’s how it opened April 28.

It takes place in New York at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. One of the central characters, Prior Walter (Randy Harrison), discovers the telltale lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma, one of the first manifestations of the disease.

His live-in partner, Louis Ironson (Benjamin T. Ismail), can’t handle the situation and moves out, leaving Prior feeling abandoned.

Another central character is Joseph Porter Pitt (Danny Binstock), or Joe, a devout Mormon who’s married to another Mormon, the unhappy Harper Pitt (Bethany Jillard), who’s hooked on Valium.

Joe has been trying to repress his homosexual feelings for all of his life because they conflict with his religion. However, when he meets Louis, he finally admits that he’s gay.

Another central character is the real-life Roy Cohn (Stephen Spinella). He was an 
attorney notorious for his role in the McCarthy hearings and the trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were convicted and executed for espionage.

He’s a foul-mouthed bully who threatens people to get what he wants. He’s also a closet gay who contracts AIDS but refuses to acknowledge it. He says he has liver cancer.

Finally there are Belize (Caldwell Tidicue), the effeminate gay nurse who tends to Prior and Roy in the hospital, and Hannah Pitt (Carmen Roman), Joe’s mother. She sells her house in Salt Lake City and moves to New York after Joe tells her he’s gay.

The fantasia aspect of the subtitle comes from the visions that Harper, Prior and Roy have. She imagines a travel agent, Mr. Lies (Caldwell Tidicue), who pops out of her sofa and then greets her in Antarctica.

Prior imagines a long line of ancestors also named Prior Walter and an angel (Francesca Faridany), who descends from his ceiling and gives him a book of prophecies. He eventually returns the book and rejects its anti-migratory teachings of staying put. He wants to keep moving.

Roy imagines that Ethel Rosenberg (Roman again) quietly visits his hospital room.

Guilt plays a large role in the play. Louis feels guilty for leaving Prior. Joe feels guilty for being gay and leaving Harper. Roy may or may not feel guilty for Ethel Rosenberg’s execution.

Kushner relates all of these developments in beautifully poetic language interspersed with hilarious lines. And he doesn’t shy away from the ravages of AIDS, which at the time was a sure death sentence.

When the play originated in 1991 at the Eureka Theatre Company, in San Francisco, healthy young men became gaunt skeletons and soon died, especially in San Francisco, where the toll reached hundreds, even thousands.

The first hope was AZT. In the play, it’s still in clinical trials, but Roy uses his clout to get a large stash, but not enough to spare his life.

Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone, who directs this current production, was Eureka’s co-artistic director and commissioned the play. It went on to ACT in San Francisco and elsewhere throughout the nation.

Despite being set in the 1980s, it has implications for today. In his program notes, Taccone stresses the nation’s need for balance between “giving voice to every opinion while maintaining civility and respect for the law.”

He continues, “Led by our president, who seems hell-bent on destroying that balance, expressions of generosity toward our political opponents seem to have all but evaporated.”

Elsewhere in the program, Madeleine Oldman writes, “Today’s press frequently notes that Donald Trump learned most of his bullying, hardball tactics from Cohn, who was his lawyer.”

Politics aside, Kushner weaves a compelling story of people dealing with extreme trials. This production humanizes those people with eight actors, most of whom play several roles.

Except for Faridany, who came late into the production and who has not yet fully realized the angel’s character, it’s a brilliant cast.

The first part, “Millennium Approaches,” has an awe-inspiring ending as Prior’s bedroom wall splits and the angel flies in.

“Perestroika” starts slowly in the first act, but coalesces in the next two, leading to an exceptional theatrical experience.

Although the two parts are supposedly separate, it’s advisable to see “Millennium Approaches” first because “Perestroika” picks up where it leaves off. That’s a big difference from the original Eureka production, when “Perestroika” seemed so unrelated. Kushner has revised it considerably since then.

Contributing to the success of this production are the design elements with sets by Takeshi Kata, costumes by Montana Blanco, lighting by Jennifer Schriever, sound by Jake Rodriguez and Bray Poor, projections by Alexander V. Nichols, music by Andre Pluess and Flying by Foy.

“Millennium Approaches” runs about three and a half hours.“Perestroika” is nearly four hours. Both have two intermissions. For those who opt to see them in one day, there’s a two-and-a-half-hour break for dinner in one of the many nearby restaurants.

“Angels in America” will continue through July 22 in Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St. For tickets and information, including special events, call (510) 647-2949 or visit  

Monday, April 30, 2018

'Rock of Ages' showcases '80s music at Palo Alto Players

Jason Mooney, left, is Drew, Joey McDaniel is Dennis and Sven Schutz is Lonny. (Photo by Joyce Goldschmid)

Rock music from the 1980s highlights “Rock of Ages,” presented by Palo Alto Players.

Songs from groups like Styx, Poison, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister and more are arranged by Ethan Popp to help tell a basic love story of boy meets girl, followed by complications and happily ever after.

In the book by Chris D’Arienzo, the primary setting is the Bourbon Room, a Hollywood bar/club owned by Dennis (Joey McDaniel). His top employee is Lonny (Sven Schutz), who serves as the emcee.

The busboy, Drew (Jason Mooney), wants to be a rock singer. He meets and falls for Sherrie (Jessica LaFever), who’s fresh out of Kansas and who wants to be an actress. 

However, he makes the mistake of telling her they’re just friends.

Feeling rejected, Sherrie has a brief fling with a vain rock star, Stacee Jaxx (Jimmy Mason), thus driving Drew away.

Complicating matters, a German developer, Herta (Barbara Heninger), accompanied by her son, Franz (Stephen Kanaski), wants to redevelop the area, including the club, which she obtains by eminent domain.

There’s much more, but all works out well in the end.

Directed by Janie Scott with musical direction by Lauren Bevilacqua, who leads the onstage band from the keyboard, the 17-member cast exudes high energy and features good singing and dancing.

Choreography is by Zendrex Liado, with a set by Patrick Klein, lighting by Edward Hunter and period costumes by Scarlett Kellum. All serve the show well.

On the other hand, sound by Brandie Larkin is so deafening that ushers pass out earplugs before the show. They’re needed.

Nevertheless, the show is likely to appeal to people who are familiar with the music or who like rock, but it’s tough sledding for those aren’t or don’t. Several people at the reviewed Sunday matinee, which tends to attract an older audience, left at intermission.

Palo Alto Players notes that the show has adult content, so it’s recommended only for ages 15 and up.

Running two and a half hours with one intermission, “Rock of Ages” will continue through May 13 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

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

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Satire, seriousness mix in 'Eureka Day' at Aurora

Suzanne (Lisa Anne Porter, left), Carina (Elizabeth Carter), Don (Rolf Saxon), Eli (Teddy Spencer) and Meiko (Charisse Loriaux) follow online comments about vaccination. (Photo by David Allen)

Political correctness is carried to extremes in Jonathan Spector’s “Eureka Day,” receiving its world premiere at Aurora Theatre Company.

At the private Eureka Day School in the Berkeley hills, its five-member executive committee tries to reach consensus on various issues.

The first, for example, is racial designation. The list of possibilities read by Don (Rolf Saxon), the chairman, seems endless.

Moreover, the school’s production of “Peter Pan” last year caused so many problems because of its depiction of Indians that it was set in outer space.

On a more serious note, Don reads a letter from the Alameda County health director that an outbreak of mumps at the school means that children who have been vaccinated or who have had mumps may continue to attend. All others will be quarantined until the outbreak abates.

This letter causes great consternation among the committee, which includes Meiko (Charisse Loriaux), Suzanne (Lisa Anne Porter), Eli (Teddy Spencer) and newcomer Carina (Elizabeth Carter).

Because they can’t agree on a letter to accompany the health director’s, they have an online, live forum. As Don moderates, parents chime in.

Many of the comments, projected for the audience to see, are so far afield or so ridiculous that the audience is soon laughing so loud and so hard that the dialogue can’t be heard. That’s not important because it’s secondary to the hilarious satire in this first act.

Act 2 turns far more serious. Eli’s son is in intensive care with mumps, which he probably caught from Meiko’s daughter.

This is followed by a debate about vaccination between Suzanne, who opposes it, and Carina, who favors it. Each has deeply felt reasons for her stance, and there’s no common ground.

As directed by Josh Costello, the actors clearly define each character without resorting to stereotypes.

Richard Olmsted’s school room set features a large window with a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay and its surroundings. It’s complemented by Jeff Rowlings’ lighting, Maggie Whitaker’s costumes and Theodore Hulsker’s sound and video.

This play was the first to come from Aurora’s Originate + Generate Play Development Program. Although it’s set in left-leaning, politically correct Berkeley, it should play well elsewhere because it’s so amusing and so tuned in to the ongoing controversy about children’s vaccinations.

Running just under two hours with one intermission, “Eureka Day” will continue through May 13 at Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley.

For tickets and information, call (510) 843-4822 or visit

Monday, April 16, 2018

New version of 'Postman Always Rings Twice' premieres in San Jose

Passion gone awry is part of the fascination of “The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

Originally a 1934 novel by James M. Cain, it has since been adapted into films, an opera, a radio play and three plays. The third one is an adaptation by Jon Jory, being given its world premiere by San Jose Stage Company.

Set in a small town outside Los Angeles in 1934, the story begins with a drifter, Frank (Jonathan Rhys Williams), being given a job as a mechanic by Nick (Robert Sicular). 

The genial Greek owns a filling station and an attached diner.

He’s married to Cora (Allison F. Rich), an alluring woman who immediately catches Frank’s fancy. The attraction is mutual, especially since Cora despises her husband despite the stability he offers.

Frank and Cora soon plot Nick’s death. Their first try doesn’t work out, but the second does, landing them in trouble with the law.

A self-important district attorney (Justin Gordon), a crooked cop (Michael Bellino) and a sleazy attorney (Sicular) play the two against each other, but somehow they manage to go free.

Cora takes over the diner and likes what she’s doing, but Frank is restless. When she leaves to tend to her ailing mother in Iowa, he has a quick fling with a woman (Tanya Marie) but returns to Cora. Poetic justice ensues.

The plot is more convoluted than this basic outline, and one can’t always be sure where it’s going next.

Still, as directed by Kenneth Kelleher, it’s well done with fine acting all around. There are places where the writing could be tighter, but the action generally moves right along.

Giulio Cesare Perrone’s stark, all-black set, employing mostly a few chairs and some film, is in keeping with the novel’s original noir genre.

The sound by Cliff Caruthers and costumes by April Bonasera work well. So does Michael Palumbo’s lighting except when spotlights shine directly into the audience.

As for the title? As dramaturg Morgan C. Goldstein explains in the program notes, there is no postman. Most of the possibilities, she says, are related to bad news. 

Certainly there’s a lot of that for the main characters, giving the play its intrigue.

Running about two hours with one intermission, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” will continue through May 6 at San Jose Stage Company, 490 S. First St., San Jose.

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wife must make hard choice in 'Bridges of Madison County'

Robert (Rob Richardson) and Francesca (Joan Hess) enjoy some brandy. (Kevin Berne photo)

Life changed radically for a young Italian woman when she married an American soldier and moved to his farm in Iowa after World War II.

It changed again in 1965 when she met a handsome National Geographic photographer in “The Bridges of Madison County,” a musical presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

By then Francesca (Joan Hess) and her husband, Bud (Timothy Gulan), had settled into a routine with the farm and their two teenagers to look after.

The change began when Bud and the kids, Carolyn (Jessia Hoffman) and Michael (Matt Herrero), left for the Indiana State Fair, where Carolyn had entered the steer she had raised.

Shortly after their departure, along came the photographer, Robert (Rob Richardson), on assignment to photograph Madison County’s seven covered bridges. He had found six, but not the seventh when he stopped by to ask for directions.

When they were too convoluted to follow, she offered to take him there. When they returned, it was too late for him to have dinner in town, so she invited him to dine with her.

Nothing happened then, but the attraction was apparent. So while he had to stick around a few more days to make sure his editor in New York was happy with his photos, passion and love blossomed.

When it came time for her family to return, Francesca had to choose between staying with them or going with Robert. The choice wasn’t easy.

All of this unfolds in the soaring music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown with a book by Marsha Norman.

It’s not entirely linear as it goes back to Francesca and Bud’s meeting in Italy and ahead at least a decade after the main story.

The plot is based on a 1992 novel by Robert James Waller and was adapted into a 1995 film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep.  In turn it was adapted into this musical that opened on Broadway in 2014.

As directed by Robert Kelley, Hess, Gulan and Richardson are all convincing. The other seven performers create a variety of characters.

Besides Hoffman and Herrero as Bud and Francesca’s children, the most noteworthy ensemble member is Maureen McVerry, seen mainly as Marge, Francesca’s nosy next-door neighbor.

A skilled comic performer, she earns laughs as she focuses her binoculars next door, drools over the man who’s visiting there and tries to elicit a more than so-what response from her taciturn husband, Charlie (Martin Rojas Dietrich).

Most of the singing is excellent, but Hess as Francesca is sometimes difficult to understand, perhaps because of the Italian accent.

Musical director William Liberatore conducts the other nine orchestra members from the piano.

Costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt, lighting by Pamila Z. Gray and sound by Jeff Mockus enhance the production.

The set by Wilson Chin allows for easy transition between scenes, but the abstract backdrop is distracting. Perhaps it’s meant to represent clouds or abstract trees, but it also looks like floating flower petals.

Running about two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission, “The Bridges of Madison County” will continue through April 29 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

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

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Greece changes life for 'Shirley Valentine' at Center Rep

An Englishwoman’s life changes dramatically when she visits Greece in Willy Russell’s 1986, one-woman play, “Shirley Valentine,” presented by Center Repertory Company.

Shirley (Kerri Shawn), whose married name is Shirley Bradshaw, is the frumpy 52-year-old mother of two adult children. Her marriage to Joe has long since lost any sense of romance.

The possibility of change arises when her longtime best friend, Jane, invites her to go along on a two-week trip to a Greek island. Jane will pay for everything.

Shirley’s transition takes place in three scenes. In the first, she talks to her kitchen wall about her life and Jane’s invitation, which she’s not certain she’ll accept. As she talks, she drinks wine and prepares the eggs and chips that she will serve Joe for tea when he gets home.

In the second scene, she has decided to go to Greece and has been secretly preparing for three weeks. Now she’s waiting for Jane to pick her up, but she’s still ambivalent.

These two scenes make up the first act. The third scene takes place in the second act, when Andrea Bechert’s homey kitchen set has been transformed into a sunny beach in front of a Greek taverna.

That’s where Shirley relates her adventures, including an affair with a handsome Greek man, and makes what could be a life-changing decision.

Each scene is divided into smaller segments with descriptions of her childhood experiences, her children, her marriage, her preparations for the trip and subsequent events.

The first act can become repetitious as some segments seem prolonged, but the second is tighter and more effective.

As directed by George Maguire, Shawn’s timing is impeccable as she fully inhabits her character. She believably navigates through both humorous and sad moments.
In the end, Shirley comes to some significant insights about life, or at least her own life: 
“We don’t do what we want to do; we do what we have to do,” she says. Later she says, “Most of us die before we’re dead.” Not Shirley.

It’s not surprising that Maguire and Shawn have worked so well on this production. This is the fourth time the two have done so for Center Rep. The first was in 1998-99, followed by 2001 and 2006.

Besides Bechert’s set, the production is enhanced by Scott Denison’s lighting, Michael A. Berg’s costumes and Jeff Collister’s sound, which includes some Beatles classics in the first act and sounds of the sea in the second.

Running about two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission, “Shirley Valentine” will continue through April 29 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. For tickets and information, call (925) 943-7469 or visit

Friday, March 23, 2018

Unlikely relationship blossoms in "Heisenberg" at ACT

James Carpenter as Alex and Sarah Grace Wilson as Georgie have dinner in "Heisenberg." (Photo by Kevin Berne)

Things aren’t always as they seem in Simon Stephens’ “Heisenberg,” presented by American Conservatory Theater.

In this two-person drama, a 42-year-old single woman, Georgie Burns (Sarah Grace Wilson), ingratiates herself with a 75-year-old single man, Alex Priest (Bay Area treasure James Carpenter), after kissing him on the back on the neck in a London train station.

She says she mistook him for her husband, who had died 18 months ago. 

However, when she unexpectedly visits him in his butcher shop a few days later, she admits that was a lie. In fact, much of what she tells him is a lie.

Nevertheless, he’s intrigued enough to ask her out on a date –- at her request. Before long, they’re in bed together.

It seems that her original intent was to get him to give her money to go to New Jersey to search for her estranged 19-year-old son, who probably isn’t a fabrication.

Despite that ulterior motive, the two of them grow to care about one another. In some ways, their relationship is an attraction of opposites. In addition to the obvious difference in their ages, she’s a nonstop talker, while he’s more taciturn, a solitary man given to thinking before he speaks.

Still, they appear to be good for each other. She helps him to become more spontaneous and open to possibilities, while he becomes a steadying influence for her.

The play’s title, “Heisenberg,” comes from a theory postulated by German physicist Werner Heisenberg in 1927. Although his theory relates to physics, it also relates to human behavior.

According to an article in the “Words on Plays” that accompanies this production, playwright Stephens said, “If you’re carefully watching where somebody is going or what someone is doing, the likelihood is –- you never properly see them.”

This uncertainty theory relates to Georgie and Alex because each is surprised by what the other does next despite watching closely.

As directed by Hal Brooks, Carpenter is superb as Alex undergoes his gradual transformation. Wilson doesn’t do quite as well, perhaps because Georgie is hard to like, especially at first, but she, too, changes gradually.

Alexander V. Nichols, who also designed the lighting, has created a minimalist set where some set pieces rise from below the stage or where two wooden chairs can be connected to form a bench.

Costumes are by Meg Neville with sound by Brendan Aanes.

Running about 90 minutes with no intermission, “Heisenberg” will continue through April 8 at ACT’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. For tickets and information, call (415) 749-2228 or visit 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Dragon stages Mamet's provocative 'Race'

Hannah Mary Keller is Susan and Pat Caulfield is Jack in "Race." (Photo by Lance Huntley)

Accused of raping a young black woman in a hotel room, a wealthy, middle-aged white man says he didn’t do it and seeks legal help.

That’s the premise for David Mamet’s “Race,” presented by Dragon Theatre Company.

The lawyers that Charles Strickland (Martin Gagen) consults are the low-key, white Jack Lawson (Pat Caulfield, the show’s producer) and the more volatile, black Henry Brown (Dorian Lockett).

After talking with him for a while, the two partners decide they don’t want to take the case because they don’t think they can win it. They’re not concerned with guilt or innocence.

However, their young black associate, Susan (Hannah Mary Keller), assuming she’s doing what they want, commits them to the case.

From then on, the two partners try to work the angles to defend him. They often answer his questions as well as Susan’s questions with questions of their own.

Much of the case hinges on the red sequined dress that the victim said Charles ripped off her. In the end, it’s not totally clear what a jury’s verdict would be, but Susan knows what hers is.

In less than two hours, Mamet evokes issues of racism, sexism, ageism and class privilege. The sexism is most apparent as the two law partners keep referring to Susan and the victim as girls.

Director Kimberly Ridgeway paces the action well, but she allows Henry to become so blustery that he seems to verge on violence.

Otherwise, this production is effective with a simple uncredited set, lighting by Jon Gourdine and sound by Lana Palmer.

Unlike earlier, 90-minute productions at American Conservatory Theater and San Jose Stage Company, this one has an intermission.

With its mature themes and language, “Race” is best suited for adults.

It continues through April 8 at Dragon Theatre, 2120 Broadway St., Redwood City. For tickets and information, call (650) 493-2006, Ext. 2, or visit