Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Neighbors get territorial in 'Native Gardens'

From left: Pablo (Michael Evans Lopez) , Virginia (Amy Resnick), Tania (Marlene Martinez) and Frank (Jackson Davis) get acquainted in Virginia and Frank's back yard. (Photo by Kevin Berne)

Relationships between new and established neighbors begin cordially in Karen ZacarĂ­as’s “Native Gardens,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

A young couple, Pablo Del Valle (Michael Evans Lopez), an attorney, and his pregnant wife, Tania (Marlene Martinez), who is completing her doctoral dissertation, have just bought a fixer-upper in Washington, D.C.

Living next door are longtime middle-aged residents, Frank Butley (Jackson Davis), a government contractor, and his wife, Virginia (Amy Resnick), a Lockheed Martin engineer.

When the Del Valles tell the Butleys that they want to replace the unsightly low chain-link fence between their back yards with a higher wood one, the Butleys are delighted.

Their reaction changes when the Del Valles discover that their property is 2 feet wider than had been thought. Reclaiming that 2 feet will intrude into the yard that Frank has so carefully created and tended.

This discovery leads to increasing rancor between the couples. Racism, ageism, politics, entitlement, environmentalism (Tania wants only native plants; Frank has non-natives) and other issues fuel the dispute.

After the play’s basic premise is established, much of the action consists of often nasty and sometimes humorous confrontations.

The outcome, however, is summarized by the four characters a year later.

Director Amy Gonzalez keeps the action moving smoothly and elicits fine performances from all four actors.

The set by Andrea Bechert (with lighting by Steven B. Mannshardt) readily shows the differences between the two back yards. Costumes by Noah Marin and sound by Jeff Mockus enhance the show.

Running about 90 minutes with no intermission, “Native Gardens” will continue through Sept. 16 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

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

Cal Shakes condenses 4 history plays into 4 hours

Foreground from left: Aldo Billingslea, Stacy Ross, Joseph Patrick O'Malley and Catherine Luedtke in "The War of the Roses." 

California Shakespeare Theater has launched the ambitious “The War of the Roses,” which combines Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” trilogy with “Richard III.”

Results of this collaboration between artistic director Eric Ting and dramaturg Philippa Kelly are mixed.

Condensing about 12 hours of historic drama into four hours means some characters and nuance are lost. Hence, it’s difficult to care much about most of the characters despite fine acting by some of the cast’s 14 members, who play varied roles.

The plots, especially in the “Henry VI” series, are complicated with numerous political machinations and murders in the power struggle between the red rose House of Lancaster and the white rose House of York.

Therefore, the program helps with a genealogical chart covering several generations plus a detailed plot summary. This information is available online for review beforehand, which is recommended.

Supertitles by sound and media designer Brendan Aanes introduce some settings and characters, helping with clarification.

Anchoring the production are Bay Area acting stalwarts like Stacy Ross (in male and female roles), Lance Gardner, Danny Scheie and Aldo Billingslea.

On the other hand, Aysan Celik as Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s queen, often becomes too shrill, especially during her lamentations in “Richard III.”

Ting’s direction is spot-on at times and off the mark in others. For example, Richard’s opening soliloquy, “Now is the winter of our discontent,” is almost drowned out by the screaming guitar of Josh Pollock, performing compositions by music director Byron Au Yong. The guitar intrudes on other scenes, too.

Danny Scheie takes the throne as Richard III.
In going against type, Ting has cast gifted comic actor Scheie as Richard III. For the most part, Scheie holds his trademark vocal mannerisms in check, but Ting has him unnecessarily using a handheld microphone for most scenes when he’s alone. Nor is there any apparent effort for Scheie to manifest the deformities that the text so vividly describes.

Nina Ball’s set is relatively simple, while Anna R. Oliver’s costumes are a mix of modern and medieval.

Fight director Dave Maier and choreographer Erika Chong Shuch stylize most fight scenes. Lighting by Jiyoun Chang works well except when banks of lights shine directly into the audience’s eyes.

The four-hour production has a five-minute pause during the Henry plays and a 15-minute intermission before “Richard III.”

It continues through Sept. 9 with another show Sept. 15 at Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way (off Highway 24), Orinda.

For tickets and information, call (510) 548-9666 or visit www.calshakes.org.

Photos by Kevin Berne

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 RonvĂ© 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.