Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Musical 'Working' honors folks in everyday but essential jobs

Linda Piccone (center), with Mai Abe (left) and a bewigged Ray D'Ambrosio, makes an art of waitressing (Photo by Henry Wilen)

 Palo Alto Players has opened its 91st season with “Working,” a musical adaptation of Studs Terkel’s 1974 book of interviews with American workers from all walks of life.

As managing director Elizabeth Santana pointed out, it’s “a celebration of the essential worker.”

These are the people who wait on tables, clean houses, build buildings, teach children, deliver food, drive trucks, fight fires, rear children and perform other everyday but essential services.

Directed by Patrick Klein, the multi-talented cast of four women and three men tell their characters’ stories through songs by Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz and James Taylor. Schwartz and Nina Faso did the original adaptation.

The characters talk about pride in doing their jobs well along with their hopes and dreams. Their pride is best expressed in the company’s final number, “Something to Point To.” This refers to the construction workers who can point to a building and say they helped build it.

The characters range in age from a Cal freshman (Mai Abe) to a retired man using a walker (Ray D’Ambrosio). Linda Piccone has two solo turns as a veteran teacher who doesn’t know how to deal with today’s kids and as a waitress who makes an art of her work.

Also featured in multiple roles are Izetta Fang Klein (alternating with Stacey Reed), Jomar Martinez, Jason Mooney and Eiko Yamamoto.

The two-level set is by Scott Ludwig with character-specific costumes by R. Dutch Fritz. Choreography is by Stacey Reed with musical direction by Dolores Duran-Cefalu.

The one flaw is Jeff Grafton’s sound design, which is so loud that it distorts most lyrics.

In-person performances continue through Oct. 3 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road. Masks, proof of vaccination or recent COVID test and ID are required.

In addition, a live performance will be streamed at 2 p.m. Sept. 26. A recorded performance will be streamed Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 at scheduled curtain times.

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



Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Black actor learns more than history in ‘Aren’t You…?’

Fred Pitts

 Calling himself a history geek, Fred Pitts undertook a weeklong   journey to see all 21 California missions in 2012.

 The San Francisco actor chronicles his experiences in his one-man   play, “Aren’t You…?” developed in collaboration with David Ford   and presented by Palo Alto Players to conclude its 90th season.

 He provides interesting tidbits about each stop, starting from Mission   San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma and continuing south to Mission   Basilica San Diego in San Diego.

 Built by Spain starting in 1769, each was about 30 miles apart, or a   day’s journey by horseback. 

 Part of the missions’ purpose was to convert Indians to Christianity.   However, as Pitts discovered, they also were places where the Indians  were enslaved and persecuted – a historic form of racism that is little known today.

As a Black man, Pitts encountered another form of racism in the way he was spoken to by people along the way.

In many cases, they mistook him for such Black men as Richard Roundtree, Will Smith, Rafer Johnson, Barry Bonds and even former president Barack Obama. Hence the title, “Aren’t You …?”

The personable actor gives voice to the people he talks about.

Directed by ShawnJ West, Pitts injects much humor as he relates his adventures and harks back to his own religious background.

It started with the Black churches he attended as a young boy and continued with a predominately white Catholic school where he was an object of interest because he was Black.

He performs on a barebones stage adorned only by a table and chair and backed by a large screen where photos of each mission are projected.

Running about 65 minutes without intermission, “Aren’t You …?” is both amusing and enlightening.

Live performances will continue through Aug. 29 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Patrons must provide proof of vaccination against the coronavirus or a negative test within 72 hours prior. Masks are required.

A recorded performance will be streamed on demand from 9 a.m. Aug. 27 through 11:59 p.m. Sept. 5.

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

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Palo Alto Players goes live with 'Tea for Three'

From left: Gwendolyne Wagner as Lady Bird Johnson, Patricia Tyler as Betty Ford, Gabriella Goldstein as Pat Nixon. (Photo by Joyce Goldschmid) 

 Local theater lovers finally can see a fully staged play in person thanks to Palo Alto Players.

Celebrating its 90th season, the company is presenting “Tea for Three, Lady Bird, Pat and Betty” by Eric H. Weinberger and Elaine Bromka.

As the title implies, the play focuses on the first ladies who occupied the White House during the tumultuous period between 1963 and 1977.

It opens with the sound of President Lyndon Johnson announcing in 1968 that he will not seek a second elected term in office. Then his wife, Lady Bird Johnson (Gwendolyne Wagner), begins a 25-minute monologue talking about her life and her relationship with the president.

As vice president, LBJ became president on Nov. 22, 1963, after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She talks about that terrible day and the actions of Jackie Kennedy, who nevertheless gave her a White House tour a few days later.

Now Lady Bird is preparing to give her successor, Pat Nixon (Gabriella Goldstein), a tour.

Pat’s monologue is preceded by Richard Nixon’s resignation speech on Aug. 9, 1974, during his second term following the Watergate scandal, which she thinks was a setup. Like Lady Bird, she discusses her life and relationship with her husband.

She does this while awaiting her successor, Betty Ford (Patricia Tyler), whose husband, Gerald, became vice president after the resignation of Spiro Agnew, and then president after Nixon’s resignation.

Unlike the two women before her, Betty is still in her dressing gown while waiting for Rosalynn Carter, whose husband, Jimmy, defeated Ford in the 1976 election.

And unlike the other two, she drinks and takes pills, which she said she uses for arthritis pain. Although the play doesn’t say so, she founded the Betty Ford Center for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

But like the two before her, she talks about her relationship with her husband and her own life, which included a divorce and a successful battle against breast cancer.

The 75-minute, intermission-less play is ably directed by Patrick Klein, the company’s artistic director with costumes by R. Dutch Fritz.

Although it’s a live performance, it’s far from usual. Because of the coronavirus pandemic that has halted live performances for 14 months, it involves numerous safety protocols.

It’s staged outdoors in the grassy patio of the Lucie Stern Community Center. Attendance is limited to about 50 with patrons seated 6 feet apart singly or in pairs. Masks are required.

Because it’s outdoors, early evenings can be chilly, so dressing in layers is advised.   Airplane noise and sounds from the neighboring Junior Museum & Zoo can be heard, but they don’t interfere with enjoyment of this interesting look at the nation’s recent past.

Live performances will continue through May 23 at 1305 Middlefield Road. Streaming performances will be available from May 19 through May 23.

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