Tuesday, August 14, 2018

'Saturday Night Fever' recalls disco era

Tony Manero (Nick Bernardi, in white) leads the dancing in 'Saturday Night Fever." (Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin photo)

Broadway By the Bay pays tribute to the disco era with “Saturday Night Fever.”

This stage adaptation of the popular 1977 film starring John Travolta is set in Brooklyn in the 1970s, when disco was all the rage.

The central character is Tony Manero (Nick Bernardi), an aimless 19-year-old paint-store clerk who’s happiest when he’s dancing at the 2001 Odyssey night club.

The show features Bee Gees songs like “Stayin’ Alive,” “More Than a Woman” and “Night Fever,” all performed well by the large cast of principals and chorus.

It also features lots of well executed dancing choreographed by Nicole Helfer.

Despite the production’s strengths of singing, dancing and acting, it can’t overcome the shortcomings of the plot, which is trite and episodic.

It also has some faint echoes of “West Side Story” with the disdain shown by Tony’s Italian buddies and his father (Joe Hudelson) toward minorities like Puerto Ricans.

The show is directed by Joshua Marx aided by music director Alicia Jeffrey, set designer Kelly James Tighe, lighting designer Aaron Spivey, costume designer Tammy Berlin and sound designer Zak Stamps.

Running about two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission, “Saturday Night  Fever” will continue through Aug. 26 at the Fox Theater, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City.

For tickets and information, call (650) 579-5565 or visit www.broadwaybythebay.org.

Monday, August 13, 2018

New works take the stage at TheatreWorks

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley is showcasing potential hits in the making at its 17th annual New Works Festival.
Continuing through Aug. 19 with top Bay Area actors, it features staged readings of four musicals and plays plus other events.
A highlight is Paul Gordon’s musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” which opened to a nearly full house Aug. 11.
Directed by Robert Kelley and accompanied by musical director William Liberatore on piano, the actors read from scripts on a bare bones stage.
Festival director Giovanna Sardelli said this crew had assembled only five days earlier, yet it went smoothly.
Also on tap are two plays, “They Promised Her the Moon” by Laurel Ollstein and “Born in East Berlin” by Rogelio Martinez; another musical, “Once Upon a Rhyme” by Ronvé O’Daniel; and other events.
Everything takes place at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. For tickets and details, call (650) 463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Shakespeare, Gunpowder Plot inspire 'Equivocation'

Shagspeare (Max Tachis, left) reacts to Sir Robert Cecil (Brad Satterwhite).

Sometimes lying is morally better than telling the truth.

That’s one premise of Bill Cain’s “Equivocation,” presented by Dragon Theatre in Redwood City.

This premise is postulated by a Jesuit priest, Father Henry Garnet. He’s accused of being in on the Gunpowder Plot, a 1605 conspiracy by several Catholics to amass about 36 barrels of gunpowder under Parliament and to set it off when King James I and others are there.

They hope to take over England, where the king has criminalized Catholicism, but the plot was foiled.

Cain fictionalizes this historical event by making it about a play that Shakespeare didn’t write.

One of the king’s devious men, Sir Robert Cecil (Brad Satterwhite), commissions playwright William Shagspeare, or Shag (Max Tachis), to write a play about the conspiracy.

Shag and his actor colleagues take the advance money, but they think Cecil’s outline is unworkable because it’s pure fiction.

Nevertheless, Shag questions several conspirators and gains some unexpected insights, especially from Father Garnet (Paul Stout).

Judith (Alika U. Spencer-Koknar) picks up after her father, William Shagspeare (Max Tachis).
These insights allow him to come to terms with his grief over his son’s death and to make amends to his neglected daughter, Judith (Alika U. Spencer-Koknar).

Tachis and Spencer-Koknar are the only actors who play just one character. 

The others -- Satterwhite, Stout, Paul Rosenfield and Michael Welland –- play all of the other characters, easily making speedy transitions.
Shakespeare buffs will enjoy references to his plays as well as scenes from “King Lear” and “Macbeth.”

Although Shag couldn’t write a play about the Gunpowder Plot, he and his colleagues stage the Scottish play (“Macbeth), correctly reasoning that it would please King James I (Rosenfield), who was Scottish.

Director Jenny Hollingworth allows some unnecessary yelling, especially by Rosenfield as Thomas Wintour in the “King Lear” scene, but he’s better as the king.

Except for the yelling, the actors, especially Tachis and Satterwhite, do a good job with this intricate play.

The simple set is by Seafus R. Chatmon-Smith, with lighting by Sean Kramer, costumes by Kathleen Qiu and sound by Jonathan Covey.

Running about two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission, “Equivocation” will continue through Aug. 19 at Dragon Theatre, 2120 Broadway St., Redwood City.

For tickets and information, call (650) 493-2006, Ext. 2, or visit www.dragonproductions.net.  

Photos by Dragon Theatre

Monday, July 30, 2018

Stanford stages double bill of Greek classics

Courtney Walsh, seen with the chorus, plays Hecuba for Stanford Repertory Theater. (Photo by Frank Chen)

Stanford Repertory Theater is marking its 20th summer festival with an ambitious undertaking by presenting two Greek classics of the fifth century, Euripides’ “Hecuba” and “Helen.”

Artistic director Rush Rehm, who also directs, translated and adapted them from the ancient Greek. The program credits Courtney Walsh, who plays both title roles, also as translator and adapter.

The results are somewhat mixed mainly because the level of acting is mixed. Walsh does well in both roles, but, like some of her colleagues, she sometimes over-acted.

Hence, “Hecuba” sometimes comes across as melodramatic.

However, its plot tends to be interesting because of the intrigue. Hecuba and other Trojan women are slaves after the Greeks conquered Troy and killed nearly all of the men in about 1184 B.C.

Hecuba has already lost her husband, King Priam, and some of her children. Now the Greeks want to sacrifice her daughter Polyxena (Lea Claire Zawada), to honor the slain Achilles.

After Polyxena goes willingly to her death, Hecuba learns that her youngest son, Polydorus (Shayan Hooshmand), has been killed by King Polymnestor of Thrace (Joe Estlack) in a grave violation of the laws of hospitality.

Hecuba and her women exact revenge by killing Polymnestor’s two young sons and blinding him.

As this play ends, Walsh transforms herself from the grieving old Hecuba to the glamorous Helen.

In “Helen,” it’s revealed that a phantom, not Helen, was sent to Troy, sparking war with the Greeks. In the meantime, she has taken refuge in Egypt, where she is reunited with her husband, Menelaus (Estlack).

She uses artifice to allow herself and Menelaus to escape from her host, King Theoclymenus (Doug Nolan), who wants to marry her.

Both plays include a chorus of women who sometimes dance (choreography by Aleta Hayes) and sing (music by sound designer Michael Keck) to propel the action.

The set and costumes by Connie Strayer are relatively simple, but they’re enhanced by Nima Deghani’s projections. Lighting is by Michael Ramsaur.

The production takes place in a black box theater that’s part of Roble Gym, which has been recently renovated for use by the performing arts. 

This courtyard is just outside the Roble StudioTheater. (Stanford photo)
It’s an inviting setting next to a rosemary-scented courtyard with a fountain.

After its Stanford run, the production will be presented Sept. 7-9 in Athens, Greece, featuring Walsh with a Greek cast.

Besides the two plays, SRT’s summer festival, dubbed Nevertheless They Persisted, includes a free Monday night film series, an all-day symposium, and an evening course, “Euripides Our Contemporary,” which began in late June.

Running about two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission, “Hecuba/Helen” continues through Aug. 19 in the Roble Studio Theater, 375 Santa Teresa, Stanford.

For tickets and information, call (650) 725-5838 or visit www.stanfordreptheater.com.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Foothill stages timeless 'The Sound of Music'

Maria (Jillian Bader) sets off for her job as a governess for the von Trapp children (Photo by David Allen)

Foothill Music Theatre is staging the timeless and timely “The Sound of Music” and doing a fine job.

Based on the von Trapp family singers, who made their way to the United States from Austria in 1938, the book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse tells a story of love, the pursuit of one’s dreams and the refusal to compromise one’s principles.

To most people, however, it’s a captivating show filled with memorable characters and even more memorable music, thanks to composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.

It’s hard to resist humming along to the title song and classics like “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and “Edelweiss.”

The central character is Maria Rainer (Jillian Bader), a would-be nun who loves to sing. Despite her eagerness for the religious life, the Mother Abbess (Rachel Michelberg) sends Maria to the home of retired navy Captain Georg von Trapp (Scott Solomon), a widower whose seven children need a governess.

She finds a household with lots of military precision and little fun. She soon changes all that, mainly through music and the belief that children should be children, not martinets.

Before long, she also softens Georg’s heart and helps him to see how much the children need a loving father. They’re eventually married, much to the children’s delight.

Their happiness is short-lived because fascist Germany is a growing threat. When local Nazis ask Georg to take command of a German ship, he has little choice even though he despises fascism.

However, a singing contest managed by his friend Max Detweiler (Aaron Hurley) offers a chance for the family to escape across the Alps to Switzerland.

The show is ably directed by Milissa Carey, who does especially well with the youngsters, who are double cast except for Madison Colgate as 16-year-old Liesl, the oldest. Choreography is by Brett and C.J. Blankenship.

Music director William Liberatore leads the excellent orchestra and some outstanding choral singing by the nuns and the von Trapp children.

As Maria, Bader combines charm and a likable stage presence with fine singing.
Acting is good throughout the cast, especially the other principals, including Elizabeth 
Claire Lawrence as Elsa Schraeder, Georg’s former fiancée.

Production values are high with a set by Kuo-Hao Lo, lighting by Michael Ramsaur, sound by Andrew Heller and costumes by Mae Matos and Lisa Rozman.

Extra kudos go to the entire cast for maintaining composure at the first Sunday matinee, when the audience was filled with children, some very young. Hence there were distractions like crying, leaving for the bathroom, talking and fidgeting.

Although seeing a great show like this could benefit children, parents should make sure they know how to behave.

Running about two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, “The Sound of 
Music” will continue through Aug. 5 in Foothill College’s Smithwick Theatre, Interstate 280 and El Monte Road Los Altos Hills.

For tickets and information, including parking restrictions, call (650) 949-7360 or visit www.foothill.edu/theatre.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Brave man defies internment in 'Hold These Truths'

Joel de la Fuente plays Gordon Hirabayashi in 'Hold These Truths.' (Kevin Berne photo)

Gordon Hirabayashi was a young man who ardently believed in the U.S. Constitution.

The consequences of that belief are dramatized in Jeanne Sakata’s “Hold These Truths,” based on a true story and presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

Gordon, a second-generation Japanese American, or Nisei, was a student at the University of Washington in Seattle in December 1941 when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, thus pulling the United States into World War II.

Shortly thereafter, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the executive order that led to a curfew and then internment for all people of Japanese descent on the West Coast. The rationale was that they were a security threat.

Although his family, friends and thousands of others obeyed the orders, Gordon defied the curfew, refused internment and was prosecuted for both. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld his conviction.

His internment conviction was invalidated by a federal district court judge in 1986.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “the judge, Donald S. Voorhees, found that the government withheld from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1943 critical information that might have led the high court to strike down the legal underpinnings of the relocation program, or at least drastically reduce the numbers of citizens of Japanese descent rounded up from their West Coast homes and interned out of a so-called military necessity.”

Gordon was only one of three Japanese Americans to refuse internment. Besides his belief in the Constitution, he was a Quaker who held pacifist beliefs.

Joel de la Fuente gives a tour de force performance as Gordon in this one-man play. He tells Gordon’s story in the first person but gives voice to the many other people in his life.

Director Lisa Rothe skillfully guides de la Fuente through the story’s ups and downs.

She’s aided by designers Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams for the set, Margaret Weedon for the costume, Cat Tate Starmer for the lighting and Daniel Kluger for the sound.

The result is a gripping drama that tells a powerful story leavened by some humorous moments.

Although this story comes from a shameful period in U.S. history, it has relevance to today’s news stories about travel bans and detainment of people crossing the border illegally.

Running 90 minutes without intermission, “Hold These Truths” will continue through Aug. 5 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

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

The website includes parking information because much of the parking lot is closed for construction.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Lowdown on high finance in 'Dry Powder'

Jenny (Emily Jeanne Brown) states her case to Rick (Aldo Billingslea) as Seth (Jeremy Kahn) listens skeptically.

The cutthroat nature of private equity investing comes to the fore in “Dry Powder,” presented by Aurora Theatre Company.

The term “dry powder” refers to a firm’s liquidity available for investments.

In this drama by Sarah Burgess, Rick (Aldo Billingslea), founder and president of a private equity firm in New York City, wants to invest its cash on hand. Seth (Jeremy Kahn), a co-founding director, believes he has found a luggage company that would make a great investment.

Jenny (Emily Jeanne Brown), the other co-founding director, doesn’t agree, saying Seth’s idea wouldn’t work as presented.

Rather than retaining all of the employees and keeping production in Sacramento, as Seth proposes, she would keep only a few top people there and move production overseas where costs are cheaper. Most employees would lose their jobs.

The luggage company’s CEO, Jeff (Kevin Kemp), wants to continue as is or he won’t agree to the acquisition.

Jenny and Seth argue as they state their case, each trying to sway Rick, who has the final say.

Rick is already under intense criticism because he threw a lavish engagement party, complete with an elephant, on the very day that he oversaw mass layoffs at a newly acquired company.

Director Jennifer King keeps the action taut and allows each actor to create a strong character.

Billingslea, already an imposing presence, is blunt and imperious as Rick, demanding obedience by his colleagues. On the other hand, neither Kahn as Seth nor Brown as Jenny is reluctant to speak up.

Jenny (Emily Jeanne Brown) and Seth (Jeremy Kahn) wait uncomfortably.
Moreover, they don’t like each other, often bickering and exchanging insults until Rick intervenes.

While Rick, Seth and Jenny are complex characters whose motives aren’t always pure, Jeff comes across as more determined to do the right thing until presented with an offer he can’t refuse.

Burgess doesn’t paint a pretty picture of high finance, but it seems realistic. In one scene that got laughs from the audience, Rick says he plans to build a school in Bali. 

He wants an impressive building with his name on it (like Trump Tower?).
Tanya Orellana’s streamlined set works well, complemented by Kurt Landisman’s lighting and by James Ard’s sound and music.

The New York characters wear tailored business attire by costume designer Victoria Livingston-Hall, while California-based Jeff is more casual.

An absorbing drama, “Dry Powder” runs about 95 minutes without intermission. It will continue through July 22 at Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St. Berkeley.

For tickets and information, call (510) 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.

(Photos by David Allen)

Saturday, June 23, 2018

'Soft Power' a big hit at the Curran

DHH (Francis Jue, center) talks to his friend Xue Xing (Conrad Ricamora, left) at an elegant 22nd century McDonald's.

Those roars rising from the Curran are reactions to “Soft Power,” the David Henry Hwang play with music and some lyrics (in addition to Hwang’s) by Jeanine Tesori.

Set in Hollywood in this century before advancing to Shanghai about 100 years from now, it’s full of issues that have evoked enormous concern in this country, especially in liberal areas like San Francisco.

It all starts with a writer called DHH (Francis Jue plays this stand-in for Hwang) working with a Chinese studio head, Xue Xing (Conrad Ricamora), on a TV show to be set in China.

Since it’s shortly before the 2016 election, they go to a Hillary Clinton (Alyse Alan Louis) fundraiser at a theater where “The King and I” is playing. Xue meets her on his own, and the two click.

After the election, Xue has a hard time understanding democracy, saying the Chinese system is more efficient.

Then DHH is stabbed near his home in Brooklyn (such an attack actually happened to Hwang), probably by a racist. He goes to the hospital and has a dream about a Chinese musical, “Soft Power,” based on his experiences. Soft power refers to a country’s culture, art and ideas as opposed to the hard power of its military might and economic strength.

This musical is shown in Act 2, which takes place in the 21st century, when it has become a Chinese classic and China has superseded the United States in soft power after being mostly its equal in hard power.

This is where it resonates so strongly with songs like “Good Guy With a Gun,” taking place in the White House and satirizing America’s permissiveness about guns.

It also imagines a relationship between Xue and Hillary and includes a short dance just like the one for Anna and the King of Siam (“Shall We Dance?”) in “The King and I.”

As directed by Leigh Silverman, the show fields a triple-threat cast of mostly Asian Americans who act, sing and dance well (choreography by Sam Pinkleton).

Alyse Alan Louis reappears as Hillary Clinton in a 22nd century musical.
The songs are terrific, too, such as Hillary’s “Song of the Campaign Trail,” which brought the opening night audience to its feet at the end of Act 1.

Music director David O conducts the large orchestra. Chris Fenwick is music supervisor.

The show is full of laughs, many of them emanating from the current political climate.
David Zinn’s set facilitates easy scene changes. One of his more impressive coups is the elaborate McDonald’s, which has become the best restaurant in Los Angeles in the 22nd century.

Costumes by Anita Yavich, lighting by Mark Barton and sound by Kai Harada add to the enjoyment.

This world premiere is co-presented by the Curran and Center Theatre Group, which staged it in Los Angeles in May.

Assuming it goes on to Broadway, it’s sure to be a strong contender for Tony Awards.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Soft Power” will continue through July 8 at the Curran, 445 Geary St., San Francisco.

For tickets and information, call (415) 358-1220 or visit www.sfcurran.com.

(Photos by Craig Schwartz Photography)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Family reunion goes awry in 'Straight White Men'

Brothers Matt (Ryan Tasker, left), Jake (Seann Gallagher) and Drew (Christian Haines) celebrate Christmas Eve.

According to playwright Young Jean Lee, if you were born white and male, you already have an advantage over other people. If you’re straight, you have yet another advantage.

She explores these advantages in “Straight White Men,” presented by Marin Theatre Company.

The men of the title are a widower and his three adult sons who celebrate Christmas in the family home.

Matt (Ryan Tasker), the oldest son, already lives there with their father, Ed (James Carpenter). Despite an impressive resume, Matt holds only temp jobs at humanitarian organizations. He has never been married and has no girlfriend.

Drew (Christian Haines), the youngest, is a teacher and novelist. He has a girlfriend.
In the middle is Jake (Seann Gallagher), a banker who’s divorced from his black wife. They have two children.

At first, the get-together is marked by jokes and horseplay. Christmas Eve dinner is Chinese takeout eaten at the coffee table in the living room.

That’s when things go awry as Matt begins to cry. Over most of the rest of the play, his brothers and father try to figure out what’s wrong.

Because therapy helped him, Drew says Matt should see a therapist. Jake says Matt needs to present himself more positively to get a better job. 

Ed, the father (James Carpenter, left), asks Matt (Ryan Tasker) about student debt.
Ed says Matt is burdened by student loan debt.

They all seem to imply that being straight white men obligates them to meet certain standards.

As for Matt, he doesn’t agree with them, but he can’t be more specific about his goals other than wanting to be useful. He feels he’s doing that with his job and the help he gives Ed around the house. In the end, it’s not clear what he’ll do.

As directed by Morgan Gould, the cast is terrific with each man creating a believable character.

Two other characters, Person in Charge 1 (J Jha) and Person in Charge 2 (Arianna Evans), aren’t so believable. Except for a prologue by Jha, they’re essentially stage hands observing most of the action.

Both dance to the deafening rap music (sound by Sara Huddleston) that assails the audience before the show.

The inviting set is by Luciana Stecconi, lighting by Heather Basarab and costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt.
Despite the inconclusive ending, “Straight White Mem” is enjoyable and thought-

It runs about 90 minutes without intermission and will continue through July 8 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley.

For tickets and information, call (415) 388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org.

Photos by Kevin Berne

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Hilarity reigns in 'The Man Who Came to Dinner'

Mr. and Mrs. Stanley (Todd L. Summers and Jennifer Ellington) complain to their rude, wheelchair-using guest, Sheridan Whiteside. (Photo by Joyce Goldschmid)

Sheridan Whiteside is “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and stayed and stayed, causing major disruptions and leading to laughs galore.

Palo Alto Players is staging a humorous production of this nutty 1939 comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

It’s set in the small town of Mesalia, Ohio, shortly before Christmas in the late ’30s. Sheridan (James Shelby) was to attend a dinner party at the home of Mr. and Mrs. 
Ernest Stanley (Todd L. Summers and Jennifer Ellington). Just as he was going in, however, he slipped on some ice and broke his hip.

Consequently, he’s confined to a wheelchair in the Stanley home, which he has taken over. He constantly insults his hosts as well as his doctor (Tim Farrell) and nurse (Roneet Aliza Rahamim).

Only some household help, his stream of guests and his longtime secretary, Maggie Cutler (Kristen Lo), escape his vicious tongue.

When Maggie falls in love with a local newspaper reporter, Bert Jefferson (Paul Dunlap), and seems likely to leave her boss, he tries to thwart the romance. He summons his friend and notorious vamp, Lorraine Sheldon (Athena Rink), to town to woo Bert away from Maggie.

Whiteside is reportedly based on Alexander Woollcott, a famous theater critic who had his own radio show. In the play, Whiteside is on a first-name basis with Hollywood and Broadway stars as well as world leaders.

Directed by PAP artistic director Patrick Klein, the large cast includes several actors connected to Palo Alto schools, mainly Gunn High, where Shelby is the theater director and teacher.

The acting is uneven, but several performances stand out, including Shelby’s as Whiteside and Lo’s as Maggie. 
Also noteworthy are Brian Flegel as actor Beverly Carolton and Chris Mahle as Banjo, another actor friend. Banjo, who seems based on a Marx brother, has a hilarious scene in which he pretends to fight off an attack by Lorraine’s fur stole.

Complementing the production are the set by Nikolaj Sorensen, lighting by Isaiah Leeper, costumes by Mary Cravens and sound by Danielle Kisner.

Running about two hours and 45 minutes with two intermissions, “The Man Who Came to Dinner’’ will continue through July 1 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

ACT premieres 'A Walk on the Moon'

Guests at the Catskills bungalow colony watch as Neil Armstrong walks on the moon. 

American Conservatory Theater is encapsulating a major turning point in U.S. history with its world premiere of “A Walk on the Moon.”

This musical is set during the summer of 1969. That’s when man first walked on the moon, Woodstock signaled a cultural sea change, Vietnam War resistance was intensifying and feminism was rising.

All of these events affect a 30-something Jewish woman and her family as they spend the summer with other families at a bungalow colony in New York’s Catskill Mountains.

On weekends, Pearl (Katie Brayben); her rebellious teenage daughter, Alison (Brigid O’Brien); her 8-year-old son, Danny (Elijah Cooper); her mother-in-law, Lillian (Kerry O’Malley); and the other women are joined by their menfolk, including Pearl’s husband, Marty, (Jonah Platt), a TV repairman.

Pearl (Katie Brayben) meets Walker (Zak Resnick), the Blouse Man.
Pearl’s world turns upside-down when she meets the handsome Blouse Man, Walker (Zak Resnick), a hippie who’s one of the traveling vendors who visit the colony with their wares.

The attraction between him and Pearl is almost immediate, leading to an affair.

Ross (Nick Sacks) plays and sings for Alison (Brigid O'Brien).
In the meantime, Alison meets the sweet, guitar-playing Ross (Nick Sacks) and soon has her first boyfriend.

Separately, the two couples sneak off to the concerts at Woodstock, precipitating a family crisis.

The book for this musical is by Pamela Gray, who also wrote the book for a film of the same name.

The music and lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman, with additional lyrics by Gray, capture the ’60s rock sound. For example, “World Without Men,” sung by Pearl, Lillian and three other wives, evokes girl groups. “Hey Mr. President,” sung by Ross, brings to mind folk music by the likes of Bob Dylan.

Besides the psychedelic experience at Woodstock, a central event is the moon walk by Neil Armstrong on July 21, 1969. Like others around the world, everyone at the colony celebrates while glued to the communal TV set.

Scenic designer Donyale Werle has captured the ambiance of the woodsy setting. She’s aided by Tal Yarden’s projections of news footage as well as a changing sky.

Costumes by Linda Cho, lighting by Robert Wierzel, sound by Leon Rothenberg and choreography by Josh Prince are effective.

The production is skillfully directed by Sheryl Kaller, who elicits outstanding performances from the entire cast. The singing is outstanding, too, aided by music director Greg Kenna and vocal designer Annmarie Milazzo.

Although some may find the show schmaltzy, it’s still thoroughly enjoyable. And its creators undoubtedly will tweak it before it goes to other stages.

Running and two and a half hours with one intermission, “A Walk on the Moon” will continue through July 1 at ACT’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco.

For tickets and information, call (415) 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.

Photos by Alessandra Mello

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Oregon Shakespeare Festival playing on three stages

Rich girl (Pilar) Esperanza America, left and poor girl Victoria (Ella Saldana North) meet, unaware of the family secret they share in "Destiny of Desire" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. (Photo by Jenny Graham)
After opening four plays in February, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is in full swing with a total of 10 plays slated through late October in three theaters.

Running in the indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre are “Destiny of Desire,” “Othello,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Oklahoma!” “Snow in Midsummer” by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig begins Aug. 2.

Also indoors in the Thomas Theatre are “Henry V” and “Manahatta.” “The Way the Mountain Moved” by Idris Goodwin begins July 10.

The outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre features two by Shakespeare – “Romeo and Juliet” and “Love’s Labor’s Lost’’ – along with “The Book of Will” by Lauren Gunderson.

No matter which shows patrons choose, they can depend on several givens.

One is outstanding design elements, including sets and costumes. Another is a deep, versatile acting corps of longtime favorites and talented newcomers who can play one type of character in one play and an entirely different type in another.

Also good to know is that the shows start right on time, unlike many other theaters.

The theaters are near restaurants, shops and beautiful Lithia Park. Ample lodging choices are available.

For detailed schedule and ticket information, www.osfashland.org or call (800) 219-8161.

Here’s a rundown of six plays, starting with the four in the Bowmer:

“DESTINY OF DESIRE” – Playwright Karen Zacarías was inspired by the telenovela form so popular in Latin America with an added dash of Shakespearean elements.

One such element propels the action when two girls are switched at birth. A sickly one, born to rich parents, is exchanged with the healthy one born to poor parents without their knowledge.

Eighteen years later, the girls’ fates are entwined as numerous revelations show they’re more closely related than initially indicated.

Directed by José Luis Valenzuela, the all-Latin American cast is uniformly excellent, but two standouts are Vilma Silva as the unscrupulous rich mother and Catherine Castellanos as a nun who’s a nurse at the hospital.

Romance, villainy and plot twists are enhanced by singing and dancing. This is one of the best shows seen during a recent visit, but it closes July 12.

Laurey (Royer Bockus, left) delights in the imaginary surrey guided by Curly (Tatiana Wechsler, in white shirt) and created by Will Parker (Jordan Barbour, checked shirt, left), Ado Andy (Jonathan Luke Stevens, checked shirt, right) and the company of "Oklahoma!" (Photo by Jenny Graham)
“OKLAHOMA!” – OSF artistic director Bill Rauch directs this classic musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, but gives it a new twist: same-sex couples.

Thus Laurey and Curly are played by two women, Royer Bockus and Tatiana Wechsler, respectively, while Ado Annie, here called Ado Andy (Jonathan Luke Stevens) is paired with Jordan Barbour as Will Parker.

Some other casting is gender-fluid, but it all works because of the performers’ energy and talent.

Thus they do ample justice to the show’s memorable songs, such as “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” the title song and many more.

Despite the unconventional casting, the show has been a hit and is worth seeing.

“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” – Kate Hamill bases this play on the Jane Austen novel.

Left with limited means after their father’s death, the three Dashwood sisters and their mother move into a cottage owned by a relative.

Efforts to find husbands for the two older daughters, Elinor (Nancy Rodriguez) and Marianne (Emily Ota), run into obstacles, but eventually they’re happily paired.

Although most of the actors are suitably restrained, director Hana S. Sharif allows some to go over the top. The chief offender is the usually reliable K.T. Vogt as mother-in-law to another relative.

Nevertheless, Jane Austen fans will find much to like.

 “OTHELLO” – Although Othello, the Moor, is the title character, this Shakespeare play could more aptly be called “Iago” after the villain who plots Othello’s downfall.

In this production, also directed by Rauch, Danforth Comins is a masterful, manipulative Iago. He leads Othello (Chris Butler) into believing that his wife, 
Desdemona (Alejandra Escalante), is unfaithful and killing her. His machinations lead to other deaths, too.

While Comins’ Iago depends on artifice and subtlety, Butler’s Othello too often lapses into bluster and rage, reaching emotional peaks too soon.

Tribal leader (Steven Flores, second from left) and Mother (Sheila Tousey) think they're signing an agreement for their tribe to trade with the Dutch indefinitely, but Jakob (Danforth Comins, left) and Peter Minuit (Jeffrey King) have other intentions. (Photo by Jenny Graham)
“MANAHATTA” – Perhaps the most fascinating play of the six seen is this world premiere by Mary Kathryn Nagle in the Thomas Theatre.

Director Laurie Woolery and seven actors seamlessly switch the action from Native American land called Manahatta in the 17th century to today’s Manhattan and a small Oklahoma town.

The play shows how Dutch West India Company traders defrauded the Indians of their land. It compares them with investment bankers who foreclosed on homeowners with risky mortgages, causing the economic collapse in 2008.

The mortgage crisis becomes personal for Jane (Tanis Parenteau), an Indian woman working for an investment company in Manhattan. Her mother in Oklahoma has defaulted on her mortgage after the payments became too high. Urged by a church official, she had taken it out without understanding its terms.

“HENRY V’ – Several actors from last year’s “Henry IV” appear here. Chief among them is Daniel José Molina, who played Prince Hal last year and now plays the recently crowned king of England.

Shedding his wayward ways, he has become a strong leader who confronts traitors while leading his troops into battle against the French.

Molina generally does well with the challenging role. He’s ably backed by 11 actors who play multiple roles.

However, director Rosa Joshi overdoes some of the battle scenes and inexplicably has the actors opening the play by rotating the central set piece of stacked boxes.