Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Review of Marin Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

In Marin Shakespeare on July 28, 2009 at 5:04 pm

“If music be the food of love, play on.” By the time this famous first line is spoken in the Marin Shakespeare’s hilarious rendition of Twelfth Night, now at Dominican University’s Forest Meadows, the strained relationship between Olivia (Cat Thompson), mourning for her dead brother, and Duke Orsino (William Elsman), who is set to woo her, has already been firmly established.

Music is the main theme of this production.   Lesley Currier has put together references to songs, television shows, and characters from the late 50s, 60s, and 70s.   Twelfth Night is not one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, but I laughed out loud, sang songs to myself and my wife and had a wonderful time. 

The play kicks into high gear with the arrival of the shipwrecked Viola (Alexandra Matthew) who mistakenly believes that brother Sebastian (Alex Curtis) has drowned. To make her way in the world, she disguises herself as a boy named Cesario, and under the Duke’s employ attempts to win Olivia’s affections for Orsino but instead becomes the object of Olivia’s lustful attentions. Add in another would-be suitor, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Camilla Ford), a plot against Olivia’s steward Malvolio (Jack Powell), and Sebastian’s inevitable arrival and you have the ingredients for a hilarious romp.  The acting is enhanced by Mark Robinson’s scenic design.  The addition of a few 70’s symbols to the set transforms the stage into a rock concert hall complete with a suggestion of a light show during intermission.

Matthew as Viola makes for a very cute and passably convincing boy, and costume designer Abra Berman has done a good job in emphasizing her resemblance to Curtis as an earnest and appealing Sebastian. The actress fares best in her more comic scenes, particularly with love struck Olivia.

Ford’s Andrew Aguecheek is pure comic genius particularly when he faints dead away when challenged to a fight. Powell endows Malvolio with an appropriate smugness, and the wonderful cast also includes a sprightly Shanon Veon Kase as Olivia’s maid, Maria; a larger than life Robert Currier as Sir Toby Belch; and a marvelous Lucas McClure as the clown, Feste.

Various members of the cast sing the show’s many songs.  The finale is wonderful, some in the audience were singing along with the cast. Here, music really is the food of love, and this production should leave audiences fully sated.


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Interview with Jessica Holt, Director of Private Fears in Public Places

In Ross Valley Players on July 22, 2009 at 9:14 pm







Director of Private Fears in Public Places

Director of Private Fears in Public Places

1 .How did you become interested in directing?

After college – I attended UCLA – I completed a year-long artistic internship at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto.  Robert Kelley, the Artistic Director, kind of took me under his wing and mentored me, and I assistant directed a couple of shows for him.  At that point, I had acted, stage-managed, dramaturged, produced and written about theater extensively (I was the Theatre and Fine Arts Editor for the UCLA Daily Bruin), but I hadn’t really directed.  I will never forget when he asked me “So…have you ever considered directing?”  And it took me the first hour sitting next to him in rehearsal to realize that directing was THE thing I had been searching for in theater.  Kelley was a great teacher, and I carry the lessons I learned from observing him with me to this day. 

2. What do you like about directing?
I love people so I love all of the intense interpersonal collaborations that theater necessitates.  I adore working with actors – I am endlessly fascinated with acting and the choices that actors make (good and bad!).  I like to really get in there, in the thick of it with an actor, and really try to figure out what makes a character tick.  I also like the early stage of directing – the idea phase, the dream phase.  It’s the place where anything is possible, and your imagination can just roam free.  You imagine everything as you it would be in your perfect world.  Build it boldly and beautifully.  It’s an important time because it’s when you really begin to understand what your vision of the world entails.  Then when there is that inevitable thud to back to earth when your fantasy meets the reality of actually DOING the play in time and space, you still can hold on to some of those pretty ideas and let them inform the reality and creatively solve any problems that might arise.  A strong vision allows for flexibility because you know what does and does not belong in the world.  I love working with designers and syncing up with them in the idea phase.  Theater is such an intensely collaborative art and I learn something new about the play from every other artist involved on the production.  I love the moment during the rehearsal process when everyone in the room sees the play finally take shape and say “It’s a play!”  There’s something so pure and child-like about this moment.  It’s wonderful.

   3. What do you dislike about directing?
A directing mentor of mine, Christopher Herold, told me that sometimes the director is the least favorite person in the room.  You can’t always be everyone’s best friend in the rehearsal room, and that can be difficult for a person like me who wants to please everyone!  But there are times when, as a director, you have to push actors to go places they don’t always want to go in their exploration of the character, or sometimes you have to do some disciplining, and that’s never fun.  I have been called “kind but firm.”  I am very work-focused in the rehearsal room.  For those people who just want to goof off in rehearsal — I have little tolerance for them.   But I try to engender a kind of rehearsal room where everyone is as invested in the material, the process, and the end result, as I am. 





  1. 4. Do you have a favorite director or someone you would aspire to?
    I have several directors that I absolutely adore.  Robert Kelley, who I mentioned before, certainly makes this list.  He started TheatreWorks forty years ago when he was right out of college, and has created a wonderful legacy.  He understands that theater is a visual medium, and that bold and strong staging is everything to creating powerful theatrical experiences.  Mark Jackson, who has directed Macbeth and Faust Part 1 at Shotgun Players and Miss Julie and Salome at the Aurora (and so many brilliant others) is another director who believes this.  Mark’s work is a sensorial feast.  He really knows how to incorporate all of the elements that set theater apart from something like film or television.  I love directors that challenge us to rethink the limits of what we thought was possible on stage.  Mark is one of those directors.  What I love about both of these directors, too, is how incredibly humane and humble they are.  I admire their work and careers so much, and definitely hold them close in my director’s heart as I work.  I also love the work of Rob Melrose (Artistic Director of Cutting Ball in San Francisco) and Kent Nicholson who has flown the Bay Area coop and is taking New York by storm.  At a more national level, I am completely thunderstruck by the work of Tina Landau and Anne Bogart.  Amazing.

       5. Do you have a favorite show to direct?

    Favorites are always hard because there are just so many to choose from!  Whatever I am directing tends to become my favorite at that time.  It has to become your favorite in order for you to generate the kind of fervor and shared interest from everyone else involved necessary to create a piece of art.   So, I think, I will artfully dodge this question and say that every show I direct is my favorite!   6. How did you become interested in drama / theater?
    I have always been interested in the arts. When I was four, I began playing the violin through the Suzuki method.  That’s an ear-based method, and for me, it really got music in my body.  And I was always a bit of a drama queen when I was a kid, and did all the church plays through out elementary school.  I also loved to sing. By the time I was 11 I was begging my parents for voice lessons on top of the violin lessons.  I had just seen a production of Bye Bye Birdie starring Tommy Tune that had blown me away – it was at the Orpheum or the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco on a national tour.  I think it was the maybe 1990. Anyway, I thought – I want to do that!  At that point, I began to move away from the violin and focus on singing, which brought me parts in the school musicals.  That then introduced me to straight plays, which I loved.  I will never forget doing a production of Comedy of Errors in high school and thinking “This is it!”  My parents were great and really encouraged me to explore my interest in the arts, and drama and theater ended up feeling exactly like home.   7. What do you find to be your biggest challenge as a director?
    Hmmm.  That’s a hard question!  My first impulse is go with fear.  Fear that it won’t come out the way you had hoped, fear that no one will understand it, and fear that everything will fail.  So I guess my biggest challenge is to get out of my own way, my own head!  If ever I am feeling afraid, I just have to remind myself that my job is to be a storyteller and to tell the story of the play as faithfully and as fully as I/we are able.  A director wears many hats throughout the process of creating a stage production, and chief among them must be storyteller.  When I remember that, everything becomes much more manageable.   8. What has been your biggest triumph as a director?
    I think Private Fears in Public Places may be my biggest triumph to date.  It has been such an incredible privilege to work on this beautiful, rich material with this talented group of people.  I am so proud of the work of our designers and actors, and feel like the piece really reflects the vision that I originally had for this play with great clarity. 

       9. Is there one play you looking forward to directing?
    There are so many wonderful plays to choose from that it is hard to say.  I know that I have wanted to do a production of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour for some time now.  It’s such a chilling and disturbing play and it fascinates me.  Even though it is historically dated, it still continues to resonate with our social and gender politics today, and I think the rise in prominence of girl culture makes it even more of an interesting story to tell again. Other plays I would love to direct include Naomi Wallace’s Trestle at Pope Lick Creek and anything by Sarah Ruhl or Sheila Callaghan.  I also love the Greeks, and can’t wait to direct Medea.  I have a really fun, spirited concept rumbling around in my mind right now, and just need to find the right theater and group to do it with.

    10. Do you think your generation approaches directing/storytelling differently than say the baby boomer generation?
    Possibly.  I think I straddle a couple of styles of directing, and I not sure if one is more closely aligned with styles that came out of the baby boomer generation than the other. I am simultaneously a negotiator and the captain of the ship.  I am definitely a very strong, assertive presence in the rehearsal room and at production meetings, and while I engage in open and interested creative conversations with all of my collaborators, at the end of the day, I will have the final say over what is decided, how something should or should not be done, what should be included or not.  I think this way of thinking may come from my exposure to directors working in the generation before me.  However, I also think that a good director, no matter what age or generation, must be clear, direct and strong in their ideas, and must be able to impress that upon others.  Directors must lead.  They must direct!  That’s our job.  I think my generation may differ from the baby boomer generation is in the way we have embraced new media in theatrical work.  While I haven’t used it yet, I am very interested in the way digital video is being used as a design element in theater, adding an extra-textual layer in addition to the extra-texts of the sound and lights.  It seems to me that younger directors are more apt to incorporate this new element into their work.  Not sure if I can make any more sweeping statements about different generational approaches, but it is certainly a fascinating question to ponder!

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In Ross Valley Players on July 15, 2009 at 10:17 pm

This tale of the misheard, the unspoken and the sadly misunderstood, marks the West Coast premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s Private Fears in Public Places.

If this magnificently realized bittersweet contemporary comedy, is an example of the work of the estimable Alan Ayckbourn, the production of his plays on the west coast are long overdue.   Furthermore, his works should be seen here annually, at the minimum. A thoroughly engaging sextet of the Ross Valley players has brought us Ayckbourn’s 67th play for an all-too-limited run. While the play concerns six white collar workers whose lives at first appear to be very ordinary and perhaps even inconsequential, the longish one-act (one hour and fifty minutes) not only sails by, but also fascinatingly reveals more and more layers of each small life, scene by scene.  As the revelations come, so do the laughs.

This staging has impeccable timing. The ensemble plays with no concern for star quality, and brilliance in both the writing and design all contribute to an enveloping pleasure that sparkles and satisfies even as it sometimes saddens the heart.

Linnea George plays a complicated, lonely young woman in the Ross Valley Players' current production of Private Fears in Public Places. Photo by Ron Severdia

Linnea George plays a complicated, lonely young woman in the Ross Valley Players' current production of Private Fears in Public Places. Photo by Ron Severdia

Jessica Holt directs with both authority and effectiveness to achieve sharp characterizations and brisk pacing.  She has a knack for bringing out the best in both her cast and her production team, even when the script is purposefully silent as the action continues. While the deliberate pauses in some plays tend to add tension, in Ayckbourn’s they are more likely to reveal personality foibles and produce humor through a richer understanding of character. Ron Krempetz set appropriately would be described as minimalist, but the set contributes a rare fluidity that permits scenes to shift repeatedly from place to place with sharp clarity and hardly a need for moving a thing onstage. An imaginatively clever lighting design by Carrie Mullen enhances this effect.

Ayckbourn’s characters are so natural in their ordinariness that they seem like the people who live down the block or across the hall, folks we may see daily and wonder about but rarely ever get beyond sharing a polite “hello.” All six performers are wonderful in finding dimension and credibility in their characterizations. Especially touching is Stewart (Keith Jefferds) as a desperately lonely real estate agent and Ambrose (Jim Fye) as a secretive hotel bartender who selflessly cares for his elderly invalid parent. Hilariously intriguing are Charlotte(Linnea George) as the real estate agent’s co-worker who adroitly balances biblical solace with raunchy sexual fantasies and Imogen(Lauren Rosi) as Stewart’s spinster sister who ritually hunts for a meaningful assignation that might change her dreary life. Rounding out the group is a mismatched young couple whose relationship is crumbling even as they search in vain for the perfect apartment: Nicola (Dana Zook) is a career-driven yuppie yearning for a meaningful future and Dan (Patrick Barresi) her mate, a military misfit trying to escape life’s demands through liquor. Two of these six lonely but striving individuals wind up on a hilarious blind date in which both disguise their true identities.

Ayckbourn has been described as a Chekhovian working in Britain, and like that Russian master, deliberately blurs tragedy and comedy. While Chekhov’s comic side often suffers in modern interpretations, in this work Ayckbourn’s play never fails to find the uproarious laughter hidden under the sadness.




Thursdays 7:30pm

Friday and Saturday 8:00pm

Sundays; July 26th through August 16 2:00pm


Where: The Barn, Marin Art & Garden Center,

30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Ross, CA


Ticket Prices:

General Admission             $25

Seniors (62+)            $20

Youth(18 or under)  $20

Thursday shows      $15 (No additional discounts)


Box Office 415 456-9555 or

The Importance of Being Earnest by Marin Shakespeare Company’s

In Marin Shakespeare on July 13, 2009 at 4:18 pm

IMG_0230Deep in the second act of the Marin Shakespeare Company’s entertaining production of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” I realized how much the sitcom “Frasier” owes to Oscar Wilde. Jack Worthing, this play’s proper, endearingly puffed-up gentleman, is echoed in Frasier; Jack’s more foppish, droll brother, Algernon Moncrieff, is Niles. And their swift, sardonic repartee in Wilde’s masterpiece ripples through the ages, surfacing with conscious influence or not in the most surprising places.

There is not a trace of anachronism in Marin’s Shakespeare Company’s production to prod such comparisons. Robert Currier has a deep understanding of the text, revealing how contemporary Wilde can seem in this endlessly funny comedy about courtship, hidden identities and social posturing among deliciously superficial people.

The production is rich with actors who do justice to the play’s wit, but none more than Darren Bridgett as Algernon. Thoroughly cynical until he falls in love, Algernon is the character closest to Wilde himself, and Mr. Bridgett delivers some of the playwright’s most quoted lines (“Truth is rarely pure and never simple”) with the blitheness that makes them seem fresh.

William Elsman displays wonderful ease and comic timing as Jack, who is in love with Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolen.  She is the least colorful of the major characters, but Cat Thompson gives her an edge that suggests how much she is an incipient version of her rigid, imperious mother, Lady Bracknell. George Maguire is a different Lady Bracknell, all pompous and proper.  One wonders why Maguire, he made Lady Bracknell very funny.  I am sure this is not the first time a male has played this part.  But one wonders.      

Alexandra Matthew makes Cecily, Jack’s ward and the woman Algernon loves, sweetly innocent without seeming stupid. And Joan Mankin enlivens the role of Miss Prism, the sometimes mystified governess who, so significantly for the play, once left a baby in a handbag at Victoria Station.  Miss Prism’s relationship with Reverend Chasuble, played very effectively by Jack Powell, extracted every laugh possible.

The production, directed by Robert Currier, is a delight.   The set, by Mark Robinson, changes from a London Townhouse to an English Country manor to a garden at the country manor.  The costumes, by Patricia Polen, are rich and period appropriate. Ellen Brooks lights the stage very effectively.   

The delight in this play is hearing Wilde delivered so well, with such evident joy in the depth of his silliness,  

Marin Shakespeare Company’s opening production for the season is a fantastic romp, one in which you as well as the actors, are going to have a wonderful time.


What: The Importance of Being Earnest

When:  runs through August 16

Where: at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, 1475 Grand Ave., Dominican University of California, San Rafael 

Cost: Tickets: $15-$30;

Information:  call the box office at 415/499-4488. Info:

Romeo and Juliet by California Shakespeare Theater

In California Shakespeare on July 10, 2009 at 2:55 am

Romeo and Juliet:Hot-blooded passions permeate the stage in the “Romeo and Juliet” that opened California Shakespeare Theater’s season Saturday. The battles are fierce and surprisingly bloody. The love scenes between Alex Morf’s Romeo and Sarah Nealis’ Juliet are pretty hot even on a bone-chilling evening in Orinda’s Bruns Amphitheater. Pop rock rhythms energize the youth and Russell H. Champa’s lights bathe the stage in red.

It isn’t all youthful impetuosity of the kind that splatters the concrete walls of designer Neil Patel’s Verona with red graffiti – despite all the teen edginess in the street fights that break out between the Montagues and Capulets. The dark, coagulated stain that covers the floor – from Juliet’s solid bed (which we know will become her bier) to a large statue of the Virgin Mary – speaks of a Verona steeped in bloodshed for generations.

From the solid casting of the older roles to the general bustle, Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone delivers a modern-dress “Romeo” as the tragedy of a violence-racked urban environment – like too many cities we all know (and Shakespeare’s London, for that matter). The result is a vivid, engrossing and energetic remounting of the familiar story, but not a particularly affecting one. We end up feeling more empathy for the surviving elders than the dead, young “star-cross’d lovers.”

That’s partly because, breaking with often over-indulged tradition, Moscone doesn’t milk the emotional impact of the title characters’ sweet meeting at the ball, reluctance to part after their one night of love and death scenes in the tomb. Nealis and Morf play these episodes with engaging impetuousness and sincerity, and their balcony scene is a charmer, but their tragedy gets subsumed in the general story.

There’s also an imbalance between the lovers, which gets underlined in the way Moscone cross-cuts between the scenes in which Juliet learns that her new secret husband has slain her favorite cousin, Tybalt, and a despairing Romeo seeks refuge with Dan Hiatt’s conflicted Friar Lawrence. It’s not uncommon to combine the scenes but it makes Romeo appear callow here. While Morf caroms between self-pity and self-loathing, Nealis’ Juliet wrestles with her shock and ingrained family loyalties, rededicates herself to Romeo and grows into womanhood to the point that she convinces even Catherine Castellanos’ fiercely grieving Nurse.

The legacy of generations of violence, evident in the raging-hormone teens, has its creepier side in the young adults they admire. Jud Williford’s Mercutio is a magnetic welter of imbalanced impulses. Craig Marker’s slick Tybalt evinces the cool dispassion of a sociopath. Liam Vincent’s “noble” Paris displays an unsavory lust for the 13-year-old Juliet.

Meanwhile, the seasoned older actors almost imperceptibly take over the play. Hiatt’s concerned, hopeful Lawrence and Julian López-Morillas’ forceful Prince make us feel the depth of their failure to end the ancient feud. Castellanos and Julie Eccles’ Lady Capulet convey the furor over Tybalt’s death and intensity of grief at Juliet’s feigned death. Eccles, James Carpenter’s Capulet and L. Peter Callender’s Montague grow from unreasoning hatred to belated reason at the end. In their hands, a fairly solid “Romeo” becomes a more intriguing tragedy of Verona.

Tradegy. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Jonathan Moscone. With Sarah Nealis, Alex Morf, Dan Hiatt, Catherine Castellanos. (Through June 21. California Shakespeare Theater, 100 Gateway Blvd., Orinda. Two hours, 45 minutes. Tickets: $20-$63. Call (510) 548-9666 or go to

Three Sisters by Porchlight Theatre

In porchlight on July 10, 2009 at 2:13 am

THREE SISTERS In the four major plays he left us, Anton Chekhov didn’t invite us into just one main character’s life or one small story, as most playwrights do, but into an all-encompassing world in which every person — from a baron to a servant — is both significant and ridiculous, capable of momentary insight and damning illusion.

Chekhov is not about story and not about plot.  He takes a panoramic vision of human experience and keeps moving the focus around.

To do Chekhov right, you need a uniformly stellar cast and a director who knows how to manage it, keeping egos in check while drawing moments of splendor from every actor. Done well, Chekhov — and especially “Three Sisters” — is a string of pearls we watch turn ivory with age, darkening into the timeworn beauty that is life.

Director Susannah Martin staging of Chekhov’s world is exactly that. From casting to tempo to costuming and set, this production gleams and deepens over its four acts, taking us from sunlight into candlelight and shadows, where Chekhov’s cruelly candid yet compassionate vision of humanity rests.

On a simple platform with a wonderful moveable structure, Julia McNeal, Thais Harris and Tara Blau do more than shrewdly animate and differentiate the title sisters, for whom a move to Moscow symbolizes the hoped-for return to a more genteel and happier life. Aided only by Rebecca Redmond’s decorous re-creations of period dress and Steve Deckers’ wonderful set, and suggestive lighting shifts, they bring to life the whole doomed estate and provincial town in which the sisters feel marooned.

McNeal disappears so completely into the dutiful and unwed oldest sister, Olga, it would be easy to overlook her subtle, brilliant performance, especially beside Blau’s passionate portrayal of the brooding middle sister, Masha, and Harris’s convincing swings between effervescence and wearied petulance as the youngest, Irina.

The compromise and regret the sisters come to is revealed most clearly in Masha’s blind flirtation with the battery commander Vershinin (Nick Sholley) and her disdain for her husband, Kulygin, a toady schoolteacher she once thought the cleverest of men (played with a delightful mix of misplaced haughtiness and sniveling ingratiation by Ryan O’Donnell). But it is Irina’s descent over time that drives the universal dagger home.

The part of Chekhov’s genius that translator Paul Schmidt understands the best is Chekhov’s use of an ensemble to add shadings to universal truths: the sisters’ dissipated brother, Andrey (Job Wesley Burnett), and his up-from-nothing, queen-bee wife, Natasha (Rebecca Castelli in a marvelously imperious performance); the talented but aimless baron Tusenbach (Craig Neibaur) and his odd, hotheaded friend Solyony (Michael Barr); two servants (Don Wood and Candance Brown); two soldiers (Lowell Weller and Jarrod Quon); and a cynical old doctor (John Mercer).

In the end, in Chekhov’s world, even the dream is a threadbare illusion masking a waning determination to persevere in search of meaning.

Three Sisters

When: 7:00 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays; June 20th through July 11

(No show on July 4th Industry Night Show on Monday July 6th.)


Where: Porchlight Theater, Marin Art & Garden Center,

30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Ross, CA


Tickets: $20