Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

Review of BOOM by Marin Theater Company by Dave Fickbohm of Theaterkat

In Marin Theater Company on November 20, 2009 at 8:50 am

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

The ability to predict the end of life on Earth is a mixed blessing for Jules (Nicholas Pelczar), a character in Boom, the new play by San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, who was raised in Mill Valley. BOOM opened at Marin Theater Company on Tuesday November 17th. The awkward marine biologist believes he has incontrovertible evidence because the fish he studies seem to sense an impending disaster undetectable by humans. He plans to be prepared to repopulate the planet by placing an ad online to find a suitable mate. The advertisement is answered enthusiastically by Jo(Blythe Foster).

Unfortunately, Jo and Jules are about as compatible as oil and water, and once the disaster actually happens they find themselves trapped in his underground lab with a weird collection of supplies: Clif bars, tampons and disposable diapers. It’s an intriguing premise, but Nachtrieb pushes it even farther.

 The playwright has created a frame for this tale that involves a third character, Barbara (Joan Mankin), who has some strange power over what’s happening to Jo and Jules. It becomes evident in ways that some will find amusing, while others might be annoyed or confused at how the couple’s plight and ultimately Barbara’s plays out.

Nachtrieb has a good ear for contemporary dialogue, and the actors throw themselves into this absurdist tale with manic energy, as directed by Ryan Rilette. There is a message within Boom, one that can be taken in an oddly optimistic way. But to say more would give away some of the humor, so you’ll have to see for yourself.

Boom is cleverly staged (the “cast” includes several fish) and assorted percussion instruments and other sonic dimensions that add to the play’s humor. Nachtrieb is a witty writer, although his skill feels a tad overworked in this show. The scenic design by Erik Flatmo is a very correct and very functional.  The costumes by Callie Floor are very appropriate. Michael Palumbo has designed lighting that adds considerably to the play. The work of Chris Houston is a key part of the production, his sound and music is important to convey the situation the Jo and Jules are in. This play is for mature audiences.

What: Bay Area Premier of ‘BOOM’ Where: Marin Theater Company 397 Miller Ave Mill Valley, CA

Phone: 415 383 5208

When: November 17 through December 6, 2009

 • Tues, Thur, Fri, and Sat at 8:00 p.m.

 • Wed at 7:30 p.m. • Sun at 7:00 p.m.

 • Matinees: Thur 1:00 p.m. | Sat and Sun 2:00 p.m.

PRICE: $20 – 51

 Tues: $31   Wed, Thur, and Sun evenings $34 & $41  Fri: $39 & $46  Sat Evenings: $44 and $51  Thur, Sat, & Sun Matinees: $34 & $41

Discounts  Pay What you Can Tuesdays Students $20 all performances  Rush Tickets $10 (based on availability, ½ hour prior to curtain)


Review of The Possession of Mrs. Jones by David Fickbohm of Theaterkat

In Sixth Street Playhouse on November 18, 2009 at 5:07 pm

The Possession of Mrs. Jones

Dave Fickbohm lives in Marin County and regularly reviews live theater productions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Contact Dave Fickbohm at
The best cult films are happy accidents rather than prefab “niche” products. But onstage there’s a kind of formula for kitschy, fabulous, late night style fun, genre parody, suburban revolt, beehive wigs.

D’Arcy Drollinger’s musical “The Possession of Mrs. Jones” delivers the goods with Day-Glo pertness, suggesting an unholy shotgun wedding of “Bewitched” and “Ruthless” with a few daubs of “Hairspray.”

The heroine (Allison “Sunny” Marcom) is a too-perfect 1950s housewife whose new washing machine has a few design flaws. For one, it’s manufactured by an evil company intent on buying up this world and the next. Oh, and it contains God (Michael Van Why) and Satan (Keith Baker), who tumble out to do a song and dance plea for Mrs. Jones’ help.

It’s a rocky start, but things kick into gear when God and Satan end up replacing, the bodies of the Jones kids and discovering how the other half lives.

When we glimpse Van Why as a frazzled wigged delinquent teenage girl with a hairy chest, we get a hilariously ugly image. We know we are in good hands when we see David Wolf’s wonderfully, workable sets, John Connole’s excellent lighting, Jan Lembke’s sound design, and Pat Fitzgerald’s costumes.

No housewife unhinged narrative would be complete without an uncomprehending husband (Mark Bradbury) and small minded neighbors: an impish mayor (Edward McCloud), and a dizzy Tupperware saleswoman (Laura Downing Lee).

Hilarious characters and performances are presented by Amie Shapiro as Gloria, Tyler Costin as Jimmy, Heather Lane as Judith and Katie Kelley as Richard.

Drollinger’s and Ted Hamer’s pleasantly peppy music is perkily rendered by a Justin Pyne on piano and keyboard, Quinten Cohen on drums, Josh Fossgreen on bass and Timmothy Robbins on guitar.  Director Nancy Prebilich keeps the laughs on track and the irony thick as Velveeta cheese.

What: ‘Possession of Mrs. Jones’

Where: 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa, CA

When:  Thur, Fri, Sat at 8 p.m. Sat & Sun at 2 p.m.

PRICE: Gen $35 Sen(62+) $26 Yth(13-21) $28 Children(5 – 12) $15 Thurs and Sat matinees Gen $25 Sen $20 Yth $20 Children $15    

Phone: (707) 623-4185


Box Office Hours: Tues – Fri 1 – 4 p.m. Sat 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. & one hour before Showtime

Review of The Miracle Worker by Dave Fickbohm of Theaterkat

In Ross Valley Players on November 11, 2009 at 9:58 pm

The Miracle Worker

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

Like Annie Sullivan, the teacher whose stubborn hand guided deaf and blind Helen Keller out of darkness and silence, director Linda Dunn refuses to settle for less than the best. Atop a strong cast in this presentation of the 1959 William Gibson play stand two young women:  Samantha Martin and Sierra Stephens, who deliver hauntingly genuine performances as Keller

It’s a role rife with possibilities for a young actor to go wrong, flailing arms and moaning like a maniac. Instead, Stephens and fifth grader Martin, alternating in the role, show a sharp sense of timing and full understanding of the dignity Gibson gave Keller; actor and author both offer an achingly real little girl trapped in an existential hell of sensory deprivation.

Kudos too to Megan Pryor Lorentz as Sullivan, stern in her disciplined approach to teaching yet terribly troubled by her own haunted past. Among this show’s many stellar production elements is a lighting palette by Ellen Brooks accentuating that angst in Annie’s soul.

By today’s standards, Gibson created something of a clunker. Overly earnest with righteous purpose, The Miracle Worker is riddled with such clumsy devices as having Sullivan hear haunted voices from her own horrible childhood, or read her letters out loud to advance the exposition. Its sense of time and place, looking back to Alabama circa 1887, gives the Keller family’s servants precious little to do, thankfully, Dunn opens these small roles so Mary Jane Baird and Victoria Lee Willaims can do more than merely mug.

The other roles around Helen and Annie are also largely drawn as stick figures, but get fleshed out nicely here: Tom Reilly as autocratic southern gentleman Captain Keller, Lauren Doucette as his loving wife and Karol Strempke as his severe sister, and Brook Robinson as Helen’s put upon older brother.

But all eyes are almost always on Sullivan and Keller, especially in such delights as the hilarious “Battle of the Breakfast Table.” Dunn shapes this and other struggles by the duo into epics of physical coordination; for every sharp thrust that Helen has up her sleeve, Annie’s at the ready with a quick parry, and their exhaustion as characters is not far from what the actors are going through.

Liz Martin keeps her costume choices pleasingly plain, earth-tone linens and the like, as befits a proper Southern family.

Since the script is so busy with bits of business involving furniture and food and cutlery and chaos, Dunn has wisely directed her team to pare everything else down to its roots.  

Michael Cook’s set is a marvel of simple elegance.

Why go to see this play? To learn that there is always hope. Such a trite, over-used message in a world full of trite, over used messages, but true nonetheless. “The Miracle Worker” is not trite, not syrupy, not maudlin, not melodramatic. It is powerful and touching, and genuinely inspiring. You won’t see a better play for a very long time.

When:  November 6 to December 6, 2009

Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m. Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Where: The Barn Theater, Marin Art & Garden Center

30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. at Lagunitas, Ross, CA

Cost: $15 – 25

General admission: $25; Senior (62+): $20; Youth (18 and under): $20;

Thursdays shows are $15 for everyone (no additional discounts apply)

Phone: 415 456 9666


Review of Cinnabar Theater’s LaBoheme by David Fickbohm of Theaterkat

In Cinnabar Theater on November 6, 2009 at 11:42 pm
La Boheme

La Boheme

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

Outside it is a beautiful evening in Petaluma in front of the Cinnabar Theater but within, snow falls on Christmas Eve in 1920 Paris in artistic director Elly Lichenstein’s production of Puccini’s La Boheme.  This production serves as a vehicle for a visually convincing and memorable set of youthful principals. 

 This is an English adaptation by Donald Pippin of Pocket Opera fame.  Pippin’s adaptation brings out the theme of love, which bears a timeless relevance in this story of struggling artists who can celebrate love superbly but whose poverty almost ends a relationship.

 Opera in the intimate Cinnabar Theater is a treat.  Sit anywhere in the audience and you are involved, almost on stage, you see the singers working hard to produce the proper sound.  

 Heading the cast, Leslie Sandefur as Mimì and Will Hart Meyer as her Rodolfo were very impressive and made for a credible, good looking pair of lovebirds.

Sandefur was stellar as Puccini’s frail seamstress. The soprano displayed a radiant, deeply expressive instrument that was precisely focused and well knit throughout. Sandefur built her opening aria beautifully, opening with a pure, virtually colorless sound as if her voice had been chilled by the Paris winter then steadily warmed up her tone, blossoming ecstatically, vividly conveying the longings that Rodolfo has stirred in her character. Her pianissimos in all her arias were beautifully supported and truly poignant.

Meyer provided a compelling depiction of the struggling poet. Although the tenor at first sounded tentative his voice flowered as he progressed with a warm, full tone, which he showcased to great effect through the rest of the proceedings, along with gorgeously sculpted phrases and well-connected high notes.

Baritone Todd Donovan was a simpatico Marcello, with a resplendent, rich voice and deft dramatic skills. Equally successful was the Musetta of Julia Hathaway. The soprano showed flair as a comedienne.  She has a rich voice and was right on pitch.

William O’Neill was a robust Colline. The young bass exhibited a sonorous voice and delivered a first-rate performance. As Schaunard, baritone Eugene Walden sang and acted well. Bass James Pfeiffer dispatched the part of Benoit and Alcindoro with verve.

The choristers as street performers, street vendors, waiters, a seamstress, and girls on the town, adults and children alike, shone in Scene II of Act I.  

In the pit, Nina Shuman led the Opera Orchestra in an ardent performance of Puccini’s colorful score. 

The production is notable for Scott Barringer’s elaborate depiction of Parisian locates and Wayne Hovey and Mark Robinson’s magical lighting. Lisa Eldredge’s costumes were wonderful.

Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, based on the novel Scenes de la vie de Boheme by Henry Murger

Adaptation: Donald Pippin

Music Director: Nina Scuman

Stage Director: Elly Lichenstein

When: October 30 to November 21, 2009

7:30 p.m. Wednesdays (Nov 4, 11,& 18) 8 p.m. Friday’s (Oct 30, Nov 6, 13,20);
8 p.m. Saturdays (Nov 7 & 21); 3 p.m. Sundays (Nov 1 & 15)

Cost: $32 to $38

Presale $35 General, $32 Senior & Student;

At the door $35 to $38

Tickets available online, by phone or at the door.

Reservations recommended.

Where: Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd, North Petaluma, CA

Box Office / Info: 707 763 8920


Review of College of Marin’s Drama Club Hay by David Fickbohm of Theaterkat

In College of Marin on November 5, 2009 at 3:37 am


College of Marin's Drama Club Hay



The college of Marin Drama club opened its season with the production of the play, HAY, written by drama student Jessie Brownstein. 

 The play consists of two scenes in one act with a running time of approximately one hour.  Set in West Texas the play opens with two friends, Dale and Otis, discussing the day, life in West Texas, their relationship, and their relationships with their families.  Jessie Brownstein plays Dale as  an  overly talkative, yet lonely, anxious, trusting Texan very well.    Adam Roy plays Otis, his buddy extremely well.  He uses his voice, facial expressions, and body language to convey feelings.  This person is very conflicted and worried about the relationship between him and his family.

 When a third man, Angelo,  a stranger in town, shows up he causes all manner of confusion, upset, and anger.   This man claims to be several things.  He continually borrows and mooches from the two friends.    David Abrams plays Angelo with confidence and verve.

The second scene moves to Otis’s house.  The stranger, Angelo, is there when Otis arrives to talk to his wife about their relationship.  Angelo claims to have done all manner of horrible acts to Otis’s wife and daughter before Otis arrived.  Otis and Angelo have a very heated discussion about what Angelo has supposedly done.  Otis attackis Angelo when he is convinced that Angelo has harmed his family.   An interesting twist ends the play.

The lighting was very nicely done by Joshua Ferris.  Costumes by Charlene Eldon were very appropriate.   The extremely believeable stage was by David Abrams.   The play was ably directed by Romula Torres Carroll.   Spencer Acton designed the music very effectively used in the play.

Book Review of Ford County by John Grisham by David Fickbohm of Theaterkat

In Uncategorized on November 3, 2009 at 7:57 pm

John Grisham had some story ideas that he didn’t think could sustain full-length novels. So he did what he wanted to do. No publisher was going to argue with that?

Grisham took seven of his unused plot ideas and turned each of them into a sharp, lean tale free of subplots and padding. At an average length of slightly over 40 pages, these narratives are shorter than novel but longer than conventional short stories.

For a fledgling author, me, this format would be a tough sell; for Grisham, it’s a vacation from whatever grueling work goes into the construction of fully rigged best sellers. The change invigorates him in ways that show up on the page.

“Ford County” is Grisham’s only short-story collection. That doesn’t mean he’s put his novelistic instincts aside. The book begins on a light note and ends with a teary one; in between it’s full of suspense that hinges on the bending, breaking and subversion of Mississippi law.

In the hive of criminal creativity that is Ford County many citizens seem poised on the brink of trouble. Yet Grisham often approaches that trouble in wryly humorous fashion, as he does in “Blood Drive,” the book’s opening story. He begins with an emergency: a local named Bailey has been injured in a construction accident in Memphis, and Bailey needs blood donors. Exactly what happened? Nobody’s sure. What work was Bailey doing? Good question. His mother always said he was an assistant foreman, but he turns out to have been a mason’s helper instead.

Soon three stalwarts have been recruited to make a hasty run from Mississippi to Memphis. And it takes remarkably few words for Grisham to sketch them perfectly. “A hero quickly emerged,” Mr. Grisham writes archly of Wayne Agnor, whose ownership of a pickup is his main qualification for the job. The second volunteer is Calvin Marr, conveniently unemployed and eager to see what Memphis is like. The third, the guy nobody wants, is Roger, and his father seems to volunteer Roger for the job just to get rid of him. Would Roger’s drug history make him a good blood donor? “Needles certainly wouldn’t intimidate him,” Grisham writes.

Off they go, assured that Roger has quit drinking until Roger produces his first six-pack of beer. (“I did,” he explains. “I quit all the time. Quittin’s easy.”) This leads to drinking, driving, a high-speed escape from a police car and eventually a visit to a Memphis strip club. By the time the three men get to a hospital — one of 10 in Memphis, and not necessarily the right one — it’s after 3 in the morning. Donating blood isn’t possible. Besides, nobody bothered to find out whether Bailey was the injured man’s first or last name.

As “Blood Drive” begins living up to its title, Grisham leads his group down a slippery slope toward life-changing legal consequences. He also leads them into so much trouble that Bailey is the character who emerges least scathed.

Then it’s on to “Fetching Raymond,” another story about a road trip, this one as mysterious in purpose as the Bailey rescue mission was clear. Three no-account Graneys, Inez and two of her sons (one of whom “still lived with his mother because he’d never lived anywhere else, at least not in the free world”), are headed for an unnamed destination. They are making what is apparently a regular pilgrimage for them all. They’re going to visit a third brother, Raymond, at the prison where he has been spending his family’s scant resources, learning big words (“what the hell is a stipend?” a brother asks), hiring lawyers, firing lawyers and doing some truly terrible writing. Raymond has also insisted on becoming the rare white Delta blues singer on death row. The death row angle is slipped almost casually into what has until then been a fairly upbeat dysfunctional-family tale. But Grisham can give his story an unexpected twist without need of a heavy hand.

His novels sometimes moralize; these short stories don’t need to because they transform their agendas into pure, vigorous plot.

The closing piece, “Funny Boy,” is a poignant account of illness, bigotry and unexpected tenderness, none of it presented as editorializing and all of it incorporated into action. “Fish Files,” like Grisham’s most recent novel, “The Associate,” offers an illuminating, blow-by-blow look at the process whereby legal ethics crumble in the face of temptation. A small-town bankruptcy and divorce lawyer gets a potentially lucrative call from a New York hotshot. This causes the Ford County lawyer to access his inner Jimmy Buffet and start dreaming how he can escape to the tropics. He doesn’t exactly intend to swindle, forge or lie; things just kind of work out that way, as they often do when Grisham pulls the strings. And if the story winds up as less than a full-fledged drama, it also becomes much more than a well-wrought diversion. Grisham knows how to make himself eminently readable.

 In “Ford County” he’s careful to be exacting and informative too. Also in “Ford County”: “Casino,” in which a Ford County entrepreneur finds it convenient to call himself part of the Yazoo Indian Nation for reasons of casino development and winds up reaping the consequences; “Michael’s Room,” the book’s only faint show of preachiess, in which an unscrupulous defense lawyer who has won a courtroom victory for a pharmaceutical company is given a Dickensian look at how he has affected plaintiff lives; and “Quiet Haven,” the book’s sneakiest story. Why would a nice young man seek work at nursing home after nursing home and keep changing jobs so regularly? The answer isn’t hard to guess, but it’s the tactics that matter.