Archive for the ‘Ross Valley Players’ Category

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 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

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.


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


Rating: Four stars out of five

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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