Saturday, June 29, 2019

Didion's journey of grief portrayed in 'The Year of Magical Thinking'

Stacy Ross portrays Joan Didion. (Photo by David Allen)

Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking,” presented by Aurora Theatre Company, deals with the writer’s profound grief after the deaths of her husband and their daughter within less than two years of each other.

Sensitively directed by Nancy Carlin, this one-woman play features Stacy Ross as Didion, who speaks in the first person.

Didion describes the day in late December 2003 when her husband and frequent collaborator, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a fatal heart attack while she was preparing dinner in their New York City home.

At the same time, their recently married adopted daughter, Quintana, was in a coma in a nearby hospital after suffering pneumonia that developed into septic shock.

She recovered enough to leave the hospital and speak at her father’s delayed funeral, but she suffered a brain injury in 2004 and died in 2005 of acute pancreatitis.

“Magical thinking,” as Didion interpreted it, meant that if she could maintain control and do things the right way, such as avoiding streets that she and John had driven, his death might be averted and he would return.

She gave away most of his clothes but kept his shoes, thinking he would need them when he came back.

She felt this self-delusional thinking would keep her from falling into the vortex of reality and perhaps going insane.

Over time, however, she began to come to grips with her grief and prepared to confront reality.

It’s a brilliant performance by Ross, who takes the audience through Didion’s difficult emotional journey.

To keep it from becoming merely a monologue, Carlin has Ross moving along the several playing levels on Kent Dorsey’s monochromatic set. Occasionally she goes upstage to sit and read something.

Kurt Landisman’s lighting is generally effective, but sometimes has Ross moving through a shadow on one side. The atmospheric sound by Cliff Caruthers is mostly unobtrusive. Ross’s simple costume is by Valera Coble.

Running about 90 minutes without intermission, “The Year of Magical Thinking” is entirely absorbing and fascinating.

It will continue through July 21 at Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. 

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Oregon Shakespeare Festival in full swing

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland is staging eight plays in its three theaters with three more opening later in the season.

The outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre is showcasing Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and “All’s Well That Ends Well” along with ”Alice in Wonderland,” adapted from the popular children’s story.

If necessary, they will move to the nearby indoor Mountain Avenue Theater July 13-29 because of the possibility of wildfire smoke. 

“From July 30-Sept. 8, … OSF is only selling enough advance tickets to fill the Mountain Avenue venue, which may also be used for some added matinees, if needed,” according to the Seattle Times.

Last year unhealthful air quality from smoke caused the cancellation of more than 20 outdoor performances and a loss of nearly $2 million.

The indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre is offering Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” the musical “Hairspray” and Octavio Solis’s “Mother Road.” Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” begins July 4.

The smaller, indoor Thomas Theatre is featuring Lauren Yee’s “Cambodian Rock Band” and "Between Two Knees” by the 1491s. “La Comedia of Errors,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors,” begins June 29, followed by Christina Anderson’s “How to Catch Creation” on July 23.

This is artistic director Bill Rauch’s final season after 12 years. He will take a similar post with the Perelman Center in New York City. His successor, Nataki Garrett, will begin her duties in August. Rauch has already planned next season.

Over the years he has made a concerted effort to make OSF more inclusive.
This season reflects that commitment with not only the plays but also the company with its mix of racial, ethnic, gender identities and disabilities.

The season runs through Oct. 27. For complete information and tickets call (800) 219-8161 or visit Note that some casting changes during the season.

Following are capsule reviews of the productions seen during a recent visit.

Daniel T. Parker (center) plays Edna Turnblad, mother of Tracy Turnblad (Katy Geraghty, second from right).
“Hairspray: The Broadway Musical” – This story of a Baltimore teenager who wants to dance on a popular TV show goes beyond a girl’s dream. The book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan also tells of her efforts to integrate the show when segregation is still rampant. Blacks were allowed only on “Negro Day.”

The heroine is Tracy Turnblad (Katy Geraghty), a short but plus-size girl who can dance up a storm. Her rival, who’s already on the show, is the snide Amber Von Tussle (Leanne A. Smith), daughter of its producer, Velma Von Tussle (Kate Mulligan).

Also in the mix are Link Larkin (Jonathan Luke Stevens), claimed by Amber and idolized by Tracy; Penny Pingleton (Jenna Bainbridge), Tracy’s best friend; and Seaweed J. Stubbs (Christian Bufford), the black youth who becomes Penny and Tracy’s friend.

Then there are Tracy’s loving, supportive parents: her mother, Edna (Daniel T. Parker in the traditional drag role), and her sweet father, Wilbur (David Kelly).

The music by Marc Shaiman, with lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, features mostly upbeat songs like “Good Morning Baltimore” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”

This winning production is directed by Christopher Liam Moore with music direction by Gregg Coffin and choreography by Jaclyn Miller.

Rosalind (Jessica Ko), disguised as a man, gets Orlando (Román Zaragoza), to pretend he's wooing Rosalind.
“As You Like It” – Directed by Rosa Joshi, this is another winning production featuring Jessica Ko as Rosalind, who disguises herself as a man when retreating to the Forest of Arden to escape the wrath of her uncle, the usurping Duke Frederick (Kevin Kenerly).

She’s joined by her cousin, Celia (Nancy Rodriguez). Also retreating to the Forest of Arden is Orlando de Boys (Román Zaragoza), who’s despised by his elder brother, Oliver (Shaun Taylor-Corbett).

Rosalind and Orlando had fallen in love at first sight at court. Therefore, in the forest, Rosalind, in her male guise, has Orlando pretend that she’s Rosalind and woo her.

As if the play itself doesn’t do enough gender-bending, the casting does too with transgender Rachel Crowl as Duke Senior, the banished duke in the forest and Rosalind’s mother. Will Wilhelm plays Aubrey (Audrey in the original), a nonbinary goatherd.

It’s all quite enchanting from start to finish.

Tony Sancho (left) is Martin Jodes while Mark Murphey is his dying relative, William Joad.
“Mother Road” –This noteworthy world premiere by Octavio Solis can be seen as a sequel to John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

It features Mark Murphey as the dying William Joad, cousin of the late Tom Joad. He’s searching for the family’s only other descendant to inherit his farm in Oklahoma.

He finds that descendant in California, but to his surprise, he’s a Mexican American, Martin Jodes (Tony Sancho).

On their drive back to Oklahoma, they pick up Martin’s friend Mo (Amy Lizardo), an upbeat lesbian who will be the farm’s forewoman; and James (Cedric Lamar), a black man.

Among their experiences, they encounter a motel clerk (Armando Durán), who at first refuses to accommodate them, citing the deportation of his people in the past. 

(According to the OSF publication “Illuminations,” between 500,000 and 2 million Mexicans, the majority of them U.S. citizens, were deported between 1929 and 1936 by President Herbert Hoover, who blamed them for the Great Depression.)

This production is brilliantly directed by Rauch and features an outstanding cast.

“Between Two Knees” – The premise of this world premiere by the five-member 1491s is commendable.

It recalls the slaughter of Lakota Indians by American troops at Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1890 and the American Indian Movement uprising there in 1973.

It features a mostly Native American cast as it follows a family through several generations.

However, its power is diluted because of its silly humor and a too-long opening monologue by Larry (Justin Gauthier). It would be more effective were it more straightforward.

It’s directed by Eric Ting, artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater in Orinda.

“Alice in Wonderland” – Sara Bruner directs this adaptation by Eva Le Gallienne and Florida Friebus from Lewis Carroll’s story and his “Through the Looking-Glass.”

Perhaps the best thing about it is the whimsical costumes by Helen Q. Huang.

Otherwise, it’s a waste of acting talent as it speeds through a mostly confusing, chaotic story.

To its credit, however, youngsters seemed to enjoy it.

Photos by Jenny Graham

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Missing cat returns to wreck three lives in 'Wink'

Sofie (Liz Sklar) goes on a rampage, strewing toys before tackling perches and furniture.

A missing cat leads to the undoing of the three human characters in Jen Silverman’s “Wink,” a world premiere presented by Marin Theatre Company.

The cat, Wink, was loved by Sofie (Liz Sklar) and despised by her husband, Gregor (Seann Gallagher). Both are separately seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Frans (Kevin R. Free), about their troubled marriage.

Gregor (Seann Gallagher) fondles the dead
cat's skin.
Gregor tells Dr. Frans that, unbeknownst to Sofie, he killed the cat by skinning it and burying it in the garden. However, he saved the skin and keeps it in a box.

As advised by Dr. Frans, Sofie numbly does housework until one day, while vacuuming, she goes berserk.

She strews boxes of cat toys onto the floor and upends the cat perches and even the furniture. For the coup de grâce, she pounds holes in the walls.

When Gregor returns from work, she says an attacker made the mess. In her mind, she calls him Roland and attributes all sorts of disasters to him.

Next, Wink (John William Watkins), wearing nothing but a flesh-colored thong and smeared with dirt, vaults onto the wall.

Wink (John William Watkins) tries to ingratiate himself with Dr. Frans (Kevin R. Free).
Soon he moves in on Dr. Frans in a relationship that has homoerotic overtones.

By the play’s end, all three humans are in bad shape, but Wink has departed to go about his cat ways.

As directed by Mike Donahue, the four actors are superb, but special note needs to be made of Watkins’ ability to mimic a cat’s movements even though the character is weird.

The set, which doubles as Sofie and Gregor’s home and as Dr. Frans’ office, is by Dane Laffrey, who also designed the costumes.

Lighting is by Jen Schreiver, sound by Jake Rodriguez and fight choreography by Dave Maier. Daniel Kluger wrote the song that Sofie sings.

Laced with dark humor, “Wink” is preposterous but fascinating.

Running about 75 minutes with no intermission, it will continue through July 7 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley.

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

Photos by Kevin Berne

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A lesson for our times in 'Rhinoceros' at ACT

Berenger (David Breitbarth) resists a rhino in "Rhinoceros."

Going to work, a man tells his colleagues that he and others saw a rhinoceros in the street.

“Fake news,” one of them snorts.

But it isn’t fake news in Eugène Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” staged by American Conservatory Theater.

What the man, Berenger (David Breitbarth), his friend Gene (Matt DeCaro), and others saw was indeed a rhino, and soon there are many more.

A colleague’s wife, Mrs. Boeuf (Trish Mulholland), arrives and says that her husband is ill and won’t be in to work. She doesn't realize that he has become a rhino.

Just then, that rhino rampages downstairs, leaving everyone wondering how to get out and her riding off on his back.

Before long, almost everyone in town has become a rhino, but Berenger resists such mindless conformity.

When Ionesco wrote the play in 1959, he was warning against the dangers of following the masses, as happened with the rise of fascism in Europe.

Skillfully directed by Frank Galati using a translation by Derek Prouse, this is a masterful, well-acted production led by Breitbarth as Berenger.

Gene (Matt DeCaro) begins to morph into a rhino during
visit by Berenger (David Breitbarth).
Especially noteworthy is DeCaro as he maneuvers through Gene’s transformation into a rhino. (Danyon Davis is the movement coach.)

Everyone else in the cast is terrific, too.

Special mention goes to scenic and costume designer Robert Perdziola, especially for the giant rhino ridden by Mrs. Boeuf and the one that Gene becomes.

Sound and music are by Joseph Cerqua and lighting by Chris Lundahl.

With its lessons for our times, “Rhinoceros” runs about 90 minutes with one intermission. 

It continues through June 23 at ACT’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco.

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

Photos by Kevin Berne

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Hilarity reigns in 'One Man, Two Guvnors' at Palo Alto Players

Doug Santana plays Francis Henshall, who must serve two guvnors.

Richard Bean’s “One Man, Two Guvnors,” an updated version of Carlo Goldoni’s “The Servant of Two Masters,” is a hilarious farce in the hands of Palo Alto Players.

It takes place in Brighton, England, in 1963. The one man is Francis Henshall (Doug Santana), who starts with one guvnor, Roscoe Crabbe, who was murdered.

That guvnor’s twin sister, Rachel (Katie O’Bryon Champlin), assumes her brother’s identity to claim the hand (and dowry) of his fiancée, Pauline Clench (Michelle Skinner), who’s about as dumb as they come.

However, Pauline is in love with aspiring actor Alan Dangle (Drew Benjamin Jones), who emotes most of the time.

Inadvertently Francis acquires another guvnor, Stanley Stubbers (Brad Satterwhite).

After that, things get crazier and crazier, especially when Stanley and Roscoe/Rachel have lunch in separate rooms at the same pub.

As Francis prepares to serve them, he must contend with both his own voracious appetite and an aging, tottering waiter, Alfie (Chris Mahle).

Dealing with his two guvnors requires all of Francis’s ingenuity and quick thinking. Santana is more than equal to the task, even when ad libbing.

All becomes clear as Francis (Doug Santana, center) explains everything.
Eventually everything works out. In the meantime, the audience is treated to almost nonstop hilarity thanks to the comic skills of Santana and the other 10 actors under the direction of Patrick Klein, PAP artistic director, and physical comedy director Carla Pantoja.

Adding to the fun in this British farce is the skiffle band, which sings and plays the music of Bean and songs of Grant Olding before each curtain and between scenes. It’s under the tutelage of music director Lauren Bevilacqua.

Director Klein also designed the set. Costumes are by Patricia Tyler, lighting by Ben Hemmen and sound by Grant Huberty.

Running about two hours and a half hours with one intermission, “One Man, Two Guvnors” will continue through June 30 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

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

Photos by Joyce Goldschmid

Sunday, June 16, 2019

It's back to the '50s with 'Grease' from Broadway By the Bay

Sandy Dumbrowski (Kylie Abucay, center) meets the Pink Ladies at lunch.
It’s back to high school in 1959 as Broadway By the Bay presents “Grease,” the long-running Broadway musical that has become a staple for nonprofessional companies like BBB.

The plot is thin. Sweet Sandy Dumbrowski (Kylie Abucay), a newcomer to Rydell High, tries to fit in with the more worldly Pink Ladies by telling them about her summer romance.

In the meantime, the bad-guy Burger Palace Boys are regaled by Danny Zuko’s (Alex Alvarez) stories of scoring in his summer romance.

Therefore, Sandy and Danny are surprised to learn they’re now classmates, but he pretends not to care about her. He’s too busy trying to impress his buddies.

Eventually they get back together after Sandy’s transformation with a new hairstyle, outfit and makeup.

BBB artistic director Alicia Jeffrey helms this energetic but not entirely satisfactory production. The main problem is that most performers are trying too hard. This is especially true of Danny’s crude, too loud buddies.

The Pink Ladies, led by the tough Betty Rizzo (Chelsey Ristaino), seem more comfortable in their roles.

Another notable Pink Lady is Frenchy (Kate Byrd), who drops out to attend beauty school only to flunk out there. Thanks to the Teen Angel (Daniel Lloyd Pias), who sings “Beauty School Dropout” with a fine falsetto, she decides to return to Rydell.

Then there are the good kids, who dress neatly, get good grades, take part in activities and avoid trouble. Chief among them are valedictorian Eugene Florczyk (the inimitable David Blackburn) and cheerleader Patty Simcox (Jessica Sarah Bennett).

Trying to keep everyone in line is English teacher Miss Lynch (Kathryn Han), who seems like a good sport.

The book, music and lyrics by Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs evoke the ’50s rock ’n’ roll, pre-Beatles era. Led by music directors Jon Gallo and Nick Perez, with vocal direction by Pias, the orchestra, choral and solo singing all are good.

Dancing is a big part of the fun.
Choreography by Allison Paraiso and Zoë Swenson-Graham is lively and entertaining.

The set is by Kelly James Tighe with lighting by Marcia Madeira, costumes by Merissa Mann and sound by Jon Hayward.

While the show might evoke nostalgia among some viewers, this production sometimes feels like a dated parody.

Running about two hours with one intermission, “Grease” will continue through June 23 at the Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City.

For tickets and information, call (650) 579-5565 or visit

Photos by Mark and Tracy Photography

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Men who sparked WWI seen in 'Archduke'

Nedeljko (Adam Shonkwiler, left), Gavrilo Princip (Stephen Stocking) and Trifko (Jeremy Kahn) enjoy their train ride.

Four men behind the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo in 1914 are portrayed in Rajiv Joseph’s “Archduke,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

Three of them are hapless young men motivated more by longing for a sandwich and a warm bed than by strong political convictions. The fourth is an older man who longs for Slavic unification and manipulates them into the act that sparked World War I.

The younger men, strangers to one another, meet in a crumbling warehouse, sent there by Doc (unseen) to meet “a guy” who supposedly has a job for them.

First to arrive is Gavrilo Princip (Stephen Stocking), the eventual triggerman. Next is Nedeljko (Adam Shonkwiler), followed by Trifko (Jeremy Kahn). All three are “lungers,” meaning they have tuberculosis, a death sentence then.

Dragutin (Scott Coopwood) lectures on eastern European history for  the young men and Sladjana (Luisa Sermol).
Trifko leads them to the estate of the strutting Dragutin “Apis” Dimitrijevic (Scott Coopwood), who indoctrinates them in eastern European history in front of a giant map.

Meanwhile, they enjoy food prepared and served by the dour Sladjana (Luisa Sermol).

Once convinced of their mission, they board a luxury sleeper car for the seven-hour train trip to Sarajevo. It’s a new experience for them as they revel in touches like curtains, electric lights and, of course, food.

Ably directed by Giovanna Sardelli, TheatreWorks director of new works, the play is well acted and features strong design elements: set by Tim Mackabee, costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt, lighting by Dawn Chiang and sound by Teddy Hulsker. Jonathan Rider directed the fight scenes.

With its serious themes, including the young men’s search for meaning in their lives, the play is billed as a comic drama. However, it’s undermined by stretches of absurdism.

And even though it has been revised since seen in the company’s 2016 New Works Festival, it needs trimming such as in the talky first scene. Dragutin’s speeches could be shortened, too.

Nevertheless, the quality of the direction, acting and designs shows why TheatreWorks received this year’s Regional Tony Award. It’s a fitting tribute to the company and founding artistic director Robert Kelley, who will retire after this 2019-20 season, his 50th.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Archduke” will continue through June 30 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

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

Photos by Kevin Berne

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

'Mamma Mia!' here we go again at SJ Stage

Rosie (Jill Miller, left), Donna  (Adrienne Herro) and Tanya (Allison F. Rich) recall their  trio days. (Photo by Dave Lepori)
Anyone who saw Hillbarn Theatre’s recent production of “Mamma Mia!” had probably just stopped humming its bouncy tunes when along comes San Jose Stage’s production to implant them into their brains again.

As the lyrics to the title song go, “how can I resist ya?” it’s almost impossible to resist the memorable songs from ABBA, the Swedish pop group that started in the 1970s.

They include such toe-tappers as “Honey, Honey,” “Money, Money, Money,” “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and many more, mostly by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

All of them are performed well by SJ Stage’s energetic cast as they form the outline for the book by Catherine Johnson.

The premise is this: Sophie Sheridan (Allison J. Parker) is about to be married to Sky (Sam Faustine). She wants her father to give her away, but she doesn’t know who he is.

Her unmarried mother, Donna (Adrienne Herro), owner of a taverna on a Greek island, refuses to talk about him. However, Sophie reads Donna’s diary entries from about the time she was conceived and finds three candidates.

Assuming she’ll know which one is her dad right away, she invites them to her wedding without telling Donna. They are Harry Bright (Keith Pinto), a British banker; Bill Austin (Jeffrey Brian Adams), an adventure writer; and Sam Carmichael (Noel Anthony), an architect.

Also arriving for the wedding are Donna’s friends, Rosie (Jill Miller) and Tanya (Allison F. Rich). The three had formed a girl group during the disco days.

Besides the music itself, much of the credit for this production’s success goes to Rich, who wears three hats. Besides playing the oft-married Tanya, she’s the show’s director and its vocal director. Associate musical director Martín Rojas Dietrich is part of the five-man, upstage band.

Pinto wears two hats by playing Harry and serving as choreographer. His choreography and Rich’s direction blend seamlessly. 

One ingenious device on their part involves the ensemble, whose members often wear masks as they dance to scenes like the overture and Sophie’s nightmare on the eve of her wedding. They also dance while they whisk set pieces in and out.

Among the standout performers are Parker as Sophie, Herro as Donna, Rich as Tanya, Miller as Rosie and Pinto as Harry.

Bethany Deal designed the costumes, including the disco trio’s spangled outfits. The set and lighting are by Michael Palumbo with sound by Steve Schoenbeck.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Mamma Mia!” will continue through July 7 at San Jose Stage Company, 490 S. First St., San Jose.

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