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Review of Premiere! by the Ross Valley Players

In Ross Valley Players on September 13, 2009 at 6:59 pm
Dr. Hawkins inspects a book!

Dr. Hawkins inspects a book!

Dave Fickbohm lives in Marin County and regularly reviews live theater productions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Contact Dave Fickbohm at davefickbohm@gmail.com

The Ross Valley Players kicked off its 2009-2010 Friday night September 11, 2009 with a wonderful production of Premiere! by Dale Wasserman.  This is Ross Valley Players 80th year. Eighty consecutive years of high quality theatre is    quite an accomplishment for a small regional theater company. 

 Premiere! is the last play written by Dale Wasserman.  Unfortunately Mr. Wasserman passed away shortly before the first and only other production of Premiere!.   Mr. Wasserman also wrote Man of La Mancha, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as well as 11 other plays which earned him nine Tony Awards.

 Premiere! is a funny, suspenseful and witty comedy about a playwright who “discovers” a never-before-seen play by William Shakespeare.

 “The only other productions of ‘Premiere!’ were as a developmental staged reading at the York Theatre in NYC in 2007 and a full production at Theatre Works in Peoria, Arizona in January of 2009.  Dale Wasserman lived near Peoria and had been working on the show as the production was being put up, but he died in December of 2008,” said Robert Wilson of Kentfield, Ross Valley Players’ director of Premiere!

 The script performed at the Theatre Works in Peoria and by the Ross Valley Players this fall represents Wasserman’s final draft.

 It is fortunate for anyone attending this show at the Barn on the grounds of the Marin Art and Garden Center that Dale Wasserman’s niece, Abby Wasserman of Mill Valley, choose the Ross Valley Players to put on this play.  An author and journalist, Abby Wasserman is the niece of Dale Wasserman. Her brother, the late John Wasserman, was the entertainment critic and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.

 “I thought of the Ross Valley Players almost immediately,” said Wasserman. “There’s a wonderful quality of professionalism at the Ross Valley Players. Dale’s play Premiere! is a rather old-fashioned play. It’s an intimate, drawing room play which I thought was perfectly suited to the Ross Valley Players’ theater.” 

 Premiere! is marvelously lighter fare for my uncle,” said Wasserman. “It’s about a very successful comedy playwright who yearns to be a writer of serious plays. The story features a husband and wife that really love each other and has playfulness about it.”

 “This play is extremely personal. Dale’s thoughts and feelings about the theater and the theater community are woven throughout this play. It is fun for me to recognize his voice in various parts of the play,” said Wasserman. “Throughout the play he comments and makes fun of academics, authenticity, fakery and producers.”

 Abby Wasserman attended the first Ross Valley Players’ cast rehearsal and shared insights which Mr. Wilson says have been extremely valuable. She also talked to the cast and crew about her uncle and the history of the play.  Ms. Wasserman spoke about the play at the press party and opening night performance on Sept. 11 and plans to return to see other performances with her aunt and Dale’s wife, Martha Wasserman and two Wasserman cousins.

 That Ms. Wasserman chose the Ross Valley Players from all of the theater companies in the Bay Area says a lot about the quality and professionalism of the Ross Valley Players.  It also says that Abby Wasserman knows how to choose a great theater company.   This gave Ross Valley Players the opportunity to present a work by a major figure in theater.  

 To director Robert Wilson’s delight Mr. Wasserman’s wife Martha and his niece Abby brought Dale Wasserman’s notes for the producer and director.  Both women have Mr. Wilson’s deepest gratitude.        

 This is a play presented by top class actors supported by a very professional production staff.  Kudos to Robert Wilson, each play he directs seems to be better than his last.

 Premiere! is a story about perception and reality, throw in Mr. Wasserman’s personal observations about live theater, people in the theater, lots of friends, some foes, his thoughts on life in general, and you have the makings of a wonderful night of entertainment.

 The play happens in the study of Dr. Brand a literary professor who has an extensive book collection.  The set was designed by the wonderful Ron Krempetz, of College of Marin drama department, Mountain Play fame, and as well as other productions around the Bay Area.  He has, as always, done a marvelous job of turning the Barn’s stage into a very appropriate set.   

 Lighting designer Ellen Brooks does a very nice job.  Costumes that look very comfortable and believable were designed by Michael A. Berg.    Stage Manager Suzie Hughes keeps every one in line and on time.

 The play begins with Gil Fryman (Ron Severdia) being congratulated by his wife Rebecca (Molly McGrath) and his wife’s brother Peter Brand (Edward McCloud) for another smash hit on Broadway.

 Gil feels he could write more serious works.  He thinks if he wrote more serious works he would be taken more seriously.  The play keys around how he goes about writing a more serious work.        

 The first act, while funny, does take some time to get everything set up, but the second act is hilarious and well worth the wait.

 The Gil Fryman character is based loosely on Neil Simon.  

 His wife Rebecca wanting her husband happy encourages him to write a more serious work.

 Molly McGrath is a wonderful actress.  In this play we get to see her do some serious acting.   She encourages, challenges, and almost dares her husband.   When he does create this more serious work, she is rather taken aback.  As the play continues we see Rebecca go from scared to feeling threatened to terrified to sure she is going to jail. 

 To create this more serious work, Gil needs the services of Lefty Guggenheim (Buzz Halsing of Mountain Play, and 42nd Street Moon fame) Lefty is an ethical, honest, hilarious forger if there is such a thing.  Halsing’s performance reminds us there are no small parts.  

 Dr. Brand (Wood Lockhart) as Rebecca and Peter’s father is a wonderful portrayal of a laid back, relaxed professor.

 Peter Brand (Edward McCloud) Rebecca’s brother does not understand why his brother-in-law is not happy with being a very successful comedy writer.   He plays this part very well.   We hope Mr. McCloud will return to Ross Valley Players often.

 When Professor Hawkins (Judy Holmes) enters the story the laughs really start to flow. It would be easy to over play this part.  Ms. Holmes comes across as a hilariously funny academic.  Some of her best lines are into a telephone where she has no one to work against.     

 Premiere! is a winner. Do not miss it.

 INFORMATION

What: Dale Wasserman’s “Premiere!”

Who: Ross Valley Players

Where: The Barn Theatre at the Marin Art & Garden Center, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard at Lagunitas Road, Ross

When: Sept. 11 to Oct. 11, 2009

8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays 

7:30 p.m. Thursdays (Sept. 10, 17, 24, Oct 1, 8)

2:00 p.m. Sundays (Sep 20, 27, Oct 4, 11)

 

TICKETS:       Order online; by telephone; at the door.

 COST:                        $15-$25

General admission: $25; Senior citizens (62+): $20; Youth: (18 and under): $20. Thursday shows are $15 (no other discounts apply)

 

Phone Information: 456-9555

WEBSITE: http://www.rossvalleyplayers.com

Rating: Four stars out of five

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Review of Marin Shakespeare Company’s Julius Ceasar by Dave Fickbohm

In Marin Shakespeare on September 4, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Brutus Stabs Caesar

Dave Fickbohm lives in Marin County and regularly reviews live theater productions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Contact Dave Fickbohm at davefickbohm@gmail.com

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is a play that compels the audience to concentrate and take notice. This is not a play where you daydream. No, this is a play where Shakespeare’s language is clear, precise, and very deadly, telling its audience to beware of all men who have power and will not relinquish it. Especially be aware of those who seek to take power through violence, above all be aware of those who do so in the name of freedom and liberty; without telling you it’s a freedom and liberty born out of jealousy, envy, and class.

If that basic premise of Shakespeare’s beautifully written play can be achieved clearly and precisely, in this perilous first decade of the 21st century, then the job is half done. If it can also be done with style, and a terrifying sense of truth born out of superb acting, then you have a memorable and historical piece of theatre on your hands and Robert Currier’s production at the Dominican’s Forest Meadows Amphitheatre is exactly that.

When Jack Powell’s Cassius, and Jay Karnes’s Marcus Brutus, take to the stage, they firmly take control of Shakespeare’s words, and clear intentions, you just know this will be a show to remember, for the simple reason that you are completely taken over by the characters these two gifted actors quietly create.  Unfortunately this quietude slowly, bloodily, and with terrifying emotion, crumbles away to nothing. 

Barry Kraft’s Julius Caesar appears and we see a man who is unsure of himself and a man who has to be reminded of his achievements. What we don’t see is the usual bumbling fool that has often been betrayed in the past, and a bumbling fool that no one cares about or is going to miss. Kraft gives us a Julius Caesar who has had to fight for his position. Who has had to be vicious to hold onto it, yet is still swayed by those who consider themselves better informed, and of a higher social background, than he. Kraft’s Caesar is doomed; you can see it in his eyes and on his face, and in the jokey asides and hand gestures. This Julius Caesar is a masterpiece.

Mark Antony is the glamour in Julius Caesar, the survivor. He is also a great politician and orator although he denies it.  Antony is a man who knows himself well. This Mark Antony knows how power can be achieved without getting your hands dirty. William Elsman’s Mark Antony knows how to be above it all. Elsman understands all of that, and knows how to show us that he knows it. His Mark Antony is a brilliant, carefully constructed piece of art and craft that works at every level. Mark Antony’s ‘honorable man’ speech was well paced, well balanced and meaningful. It was a delight to get some clear understanding of Mark Anthony’s intention here, whereas before most other actors seemed to be happy to leave the irony out. Here Elsman pours it on.

There is not a single sour note in this show, with brilliant performances by everyone, not least Cat Thompson’s Portia, Alexandra Matthew’s Calphurnia, Stephen Klum’s Casca, Lucas McClure’s Cinna and Young Josh Zwick’s Lucius. This young man has a wonderful presence on stage.

Mention must also go to lighting designer, Ellen Brooks, and sound desginer Billie Cox  their storms were wonderful.  This production, like the others this season, has once again shown that Marin Shakespeare Company can get things right, very right. Go see it.

SINGLE TICKETS at the door $30 General, $25 Senior, $15 Youth

 SINGLE TICKETS in advance online, by phone or mail $27.50 General, $22.50 Senior, $15 Youth

 SEASON TICKETS $60 General $50 Senior $30 Youth See all three plays for the price of two. Admission to any performance of each play. (Your best deal: $20 General, $16.67 Senior, $10 Youth) BARD PASS Eight tickets for $176 Eight tickets good for any performance, any show, all summer long. (Maximum flexibility; great low price of just $22 per ticket.)

Julius Ceasar in Rotational Repertory with Twelfth Night August 21 – September 27

Directed by Robert Currier

For information:

  • Management (415) 499-4485 Education (415) 499-4487 Box Office (415) 499-4488 Fax (415) 499-1492
  • Mail Address: Marin Shakespeare Company P.O. Box 4053 San Rafael, CA 94913
  • www.Marinshakespeare.org
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