Saturday, February 16, 2019

San Jose troupe stages brilliant 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'

Brick (Rob August) tries to ignore his frustrated wife, Maggie (Allison F. Rich).

San Jose Stage Company proves the genius of Tennessee Williams with its brilliant production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

This interplay of family dysfunction shines thanks to the direction of Lee Sankowich and a pitch-perfect cast.

The action takes place in the gallery of a Mississippi Delta plantation home one summer evening in the early 1950s.

As it opens, the title character, Maggie “the cat” (Allison F. Rich), is expressing her frustration with her husband, Brick (Rob August). He drinks too much and no longer sleeps with her.

A former star football player whose career ended several years ago, he injured his ankle while drunkenly jumping hurdles at the high school the night before. Hence he’s using a crutch.

This opening scene belongs to Maggie. Rich is mesmerizing as Maggie primps  before a mirror and complains not only about Brick but also about his five rambunctious nieces and nephews, the “no-neck monsters.”

They’re the children of Brick’s older brother, Gooper (Will Springhorn Jr.), and his pregnant wife, Mae (Tanya Marie).

Big Daddy (Randall King) has a serious talk with his son, Brick.
Just as Maggie owned one scene, Brick’s father, Big Daddy (Randall King), the family patriarch, owns another as he berates Brick for excessive drinking and touches on a sore subject: Brick’s relationship with his late friend, Skipper.

He implies that it was homosexual and OK with him, but Brick vehemently denies any such inference.

In both scenes, Brick’s crutch is taken from him, prompting pleas of “give me my crutch,” just as he sometimes pleads for another drink. Hence the crutch is the symbol of Brick’s leaning on alcohol to escape reality.

Big Daddy and his wife of 40-some years, Big Mama (Judith Miller), are also celebrating the good news that he’s suffering from a spastic colon, not cancer. He feels as if he’s been given a new lease on life and sees no need to write a will just now.

However, the rest of the family knows the truth. Big Daddy has cancer that has spread throughout his body and will soon kill him. Hence Gooper and Mae try to curry his favor and gain control of his considerable estate after his death.

Despite Brick’s many problems, he recognizes one theme in his family: mendacity, the untruthfulness used by everyone for one reason for another.

It’s all quite intense thanks to the quality of Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play and the quality of the acting and direction.

Aiding in the process are the set by Giulio Cesare Perrone, lighting by Michael Johnson, costumes by Ashley Garlick and sound by Steve Schoenbeck.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” will continue through March 3 at The Stage, 490 S. First St., San Jose.

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

Photos from San Jose Stage Company

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Aurora Theatre stages new version of 'Creditors'

Jonathan Rhys Williams (left) is Gustav, and Joseph Patrick O'Malley is Adolph.

What seems like friendliness becomes sinister in August Strindberg’s “Creditors,” presented by Aurora Theatre Company.

In this new version by David Greig, Adolph (Joseph Patrick O’Malley) is telling Gustav (Jonathan Rhys Williams), a stranger who befriended him, about his marriage. 

Adolph, a genial artist, is concerned that his wife, Tekla (Rebecca Dines), a novelist, often goes off without him.

Soon Adolph is revealing deeper feelings, encouraged by Gustav. He tells Gustav that Tekla calls him little brother and herself big sister. That seems a bit off, to say the least.

As their conversation continues, Gustav shows his misogyny. One suspects that he isn’t there just to be friendly.

He tells Adolph, who has some physical problems, that he might have epilepsy and that he should abstain from sex for a year. He eventually tears Adolph down before leaving.

Tekla (Rebecca Dines) gets playful with her husband, Adolph (Joseph Patrick O'Malley).
While Gustav eavesdrops, Tekla returns and senses something is amiss with Adoph. When Adolph leaves, Gustav comes back in. 

As one might have suspected, he's her ex-husband. Although coquettish at first, she resists his advances and his pleas to return to him. She says she loves Adolph.

As might be expected, there’s no happy ending.

Barbara Damashek directs this outstanding cast with great skill, gradually building the tension. Williams as Gustav becomes more sinister.

O’Malley as Adolph tries to put on a happy front, but he soon begins showing the effects of Gustav’s manipulations.

As Tekla, Dines is a complex mix as she holds her own against Gustav.

The play takes place in 1888 in the lounge of a seaside hotel, where Tekla and Adolph are on holiday. The set by Angrette McCloskey, with lighting by Jim Cave, helps to create the ambience.

So does Matt Stines’ sound design with its lapping waves, fog horns and ferry whistles. The handsome period costumes are by Christine Crook.

Running about an hour and 40 minutes without intermission, “Creditors” will continue through Feb. 24 at Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley.

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

Photos by David Allen

Sunday, February 3, 2019

New ACT director makes debut with 'Seascape'

Charlie (James Carpenter) and Nancy (Ellen McLaughlin) are frightened by the appearance of two big lizards, Sarah (Sarah Nina Hayon, center left) and Leslie (Seann Gallagher). (Photo by Kevin Berne)

American Conservatory Theater’s new artistic director, Pam MacKinnon, is making her directorial debut there with Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Seascape.”

It’s set on a beach where a retired married couple, Nancy (Ellen McLaughlin) and Charlie (James Carpenter) have just had a picnic lunch.

Nancy says she’d like to spend the rest of their days going from beach to beach, while Charlie just wants to rest. These differing desires lead into talk about their relationship, which apparently has reached a turning point with their recent retirement.

Their conversation is interrupted by the appearance of two human-size lizards, Leslie (Seann Gallagher), and his mate, Sarah (Sarah Nina Hayon). Nancy and Charlie are understandably frightened, but overcome their fear while remaining wary, especially on Charlie’s part.

Although Leslie and Sarah speak English, they don’t understand many concepts, especially abstract ones like love. They become frustrated with the humans’ inability to explain them.

Like Nancy and Charlie, though, Leslie and Sarah are on the verge of change. They no longer feel comfortable in the sea, yet they’re fearful of land. Nancy and Charlie offer to help them with the evolution.

Much of the first act is talky, a virtual monologue by Nancy. Hence it tends to drag until the lizards show up.

The second act is more interesting with interaction among the characters as they explore their differences.

A fifth character, so to speak, is the impressive set by David Zinn (with lighting by Isabella Byrd). The opening night audience applauded when the curtain rose to reveal a white sand beach in front of a high dune dotted with vegetation. Behind the dune are the unadorned stage walls, catwalks and light banks.

Zinn also designed the costumes, quite a feat for the lizards with their long tails and reptilian limbs. Movement coach Danyon Davis makes their actions realistic.

Also adding to the ambience is the sound design by Brendan Aanes, complete with lapping waves, seagulls and an occasional low-flying jet.

All four actors do well with their roles, which are more complex than they might seem on the surface.

Running about two hours with one intermission, “Seascape” will continue through Feb. 17 at ACT’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco.

For tickets and information, call (415) 749-2228 or visit