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