Archive for September, 2012

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I bet the hero’s name is Ralph.

The Pearl Fishers: Excellent opera for Pros and Novices alike!

The villagers celebrate their new king Zurga with a joyous dance. Choreographed by Lise la Cour. Photo by Pat Kirk.

If you are looking for something dressy, exciting and classy to do this weekend, I resoundingly recommend Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers at Opera San Jose.  It’s no secret that while I love attending the opera, I am not qualified to review it at more than a layman’s level.  But this time I was able to bring my friend’s visiting mother, an actual coloratura soprano who has sung opera since she was a child.  So instead of coming back and telling you all, “It was Splendid!! The music was Amazing! The singers were Perfect!!  Perfect-perfect-perfect all around!” I thought maybe I could have some actual criticism to share with you all.

So this is basically what my ringer of a reviewer had to say after the show:  “It was Splendid!! The music was Amazing! The singers were Perfect!!  Perfect-perfect-perfect all around!”

Cast A: Cecilia Violetta López as the mysterious veiled priestess, Leila. Photo by Pat Kirk.

Perhaps I know more about opera than I thought! (HAH!) But I know an enjoyable show when I see one! And The Pearl Fishers is one of those shows.

Having more of a theater and film background, I always appreciate the operas that have a good meaty plot.  The Pearl Fishers has romance, betrayal, danger, a “bro-mance”, not to mention beautiful music, the best singers in San Jose, gorgeous costumes, and an impressive set.  I chose the dancing photo to head up this review because not only were they entertaining and awesome (“Perfect!”) but the dancers made my little group want to dance happily in our seats as well.

There have been operas where I wanted to fall asleep, and there have been operas that had my guest and me in hysterics… or at least wiggling with glee at the fun we were having.  Although I’m not qualified to comment technically on the performances, I feel like it’s my job to convince you all to give opera a try. The Pearl Fishers is one of those shows that will make you love the opera.  Not only that, now I know that the more people you bring with you, the more fun it is!  The three of us women put on our best clothes and jewelry again, did our hair and makeup, had a lovely and relaxing dinner at Il Fornaio, and then had the time of our lives at the opera. We were so excited and had such a good time that we came home, poured glasses of wine, and stayed up til almost 1am talking about the fun.

Don’t miss out on this incredible show and the experience that is opera.  It’s more fun than you think, and you don’t have to know anything about it to enjoy it.

Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers
Opera San Jose
Through September 23
Next up: Die Fledermaus
November 10 – November 25

Death of the Novel: San Jose Repertory

 

Sebastian (Vincent Kartheiser) and Sheba (Vaishnavi Sharma) begin to flirt. Photo by Kevin Berne

The San Jose Repertory  has brought Hollywood to local theater, and you still have a chance to see it.  Fans of Vincent Kartheiser from “Mad Men” (Pete Campbell) can see him live on stage through Saturday evening in a modern day play titled The Death of the Novel.

Kartheiser plays Sebastian, an agoraphobic writer who has decided he won’t ever leave his apartment until his advance runs out.  Sebastian is a bit of an insufferable, skeevy egotist… sort of a present day Pete Campbell.   He has issues, many stemming from the aftermath of 9/11, and others from a series of deaths in his own life.  When he meets beautiful Sheba (played by Vaishnavi Sharma), his life is turned upside down as he struggles to understand who she is, and whether it matters to him.

It’s quite a psychological drama, which seems to focus on the mystery of who Sheba really is.  She has created an intricate family history and background for herself, none of which appears to be true.  We meet the main characters in the first act, and get to know Sebastian well… then learn that we know nothing at all about Sheba.  The second act is a whirlwind of psychological intrigue and drama… an overload of the senses that is almost too much to absorb by the end.  But though it was tough to take our eyes off the beautiful Sheba, I thought the most interesting character was Sebastian.  From what we know of him, he has only one real male friend, Philip (Patrick Kelly Jones), who is Sheba’s original boyfriend.  But he also has three very important women in his life: Perry, his therapist; Claire, his hooker; and Sheba, the woman he wants but may not ever fully have.  It’s a virtual id, ego and superego of females.

In particular, I thought Zarah Mahler as Claire and Amy Pietz as Perry were the best of all the actors in the show.  Vincent Kartheiser also puts in an incredible amount of work in a role that requires him to talk almost non-stop through both acts.

It is not my favorite show that I’ve ever seen at the Rep, but there are several good points about the show and I still recommend it.  I would like to have seen it twice, or went over the script later, so I could absorb it all.  Of course, anyone wanting to see a bit of “Hollywood Stardom” should get themselves down to the Rep immediately before it’s too late.  It’s quite a coup to have gotten Mr. Kartheiser down to our theater, and we definitely appreciate the work that he and everyone else involved put into the show.  Thanks to the San Jose Repertory for an interesting and thought provoking opening to the 2012-2013 season!

The Death of the Novel
San Jose Repertory Theatre
Through September 22
Next up: Freud’s Last Session
October 11 – November 4

The Little Dog Laughed: Great theater in small packages

From left to right: (Mitchell) William Giammona - (Diane) Jennifer Lucas - (Alex) Henry Robert Nolin Photo by James Kasyan

My guest and I had the best time last night at Dragon Productions Theatre Company in Palo Alto.  Yes, even more fun than I had at the opera (review coming next!)!

San Jose and the Bay Area at large have plenty of great theatre, but sometimes it’s the little gems that get lost in the shuffle.  The Pear Avenue Theatre in Mountain View seats only about 45 people, but I saw an incredibly moving production of Death of a Salesman there. The small Renegade Theatre Experiment produced 9 Circles at the Hoover Theater in San Jose and the entire audience was not only moved to tears, but most of us could barely look at the actors on stage, we were so moved by what was going on.  And now I’ve seen the fabulous (and tiny) Dragon Productions Theatre where I had the pleasure of viewing 4 incredible actors put on an hilarious and moving show.

I could not wait to see The Little Dog Laughed because I had heard that the playwright was also the screenwriter for “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar” which, sadly, might be the only drag queen road trip film available on Netflix. What my expectations received was a thought provoking comedy, and an adult show about love and sex and ambition, and all the problems that arise when you combine the three.

Mitchell Green is a small film star who could hit it big with one juicy role. Diane is his lesbian best friend and agent who plays Mitchell’s girlfriend for the public.  Yes, leading man Mitchell is gay, but because the film going public won’t accept an openly gay man in straight romantic roles, he’s forced to hire “rent-a-boys” (young looking but adult prostitutes) and hide his true self. One night in a drunken stupor he makes a call and hires Alex, a good looking “straight” boy who hustles for money.  Alex lives with his best friend and sometimes girlfriend Ellen, who runs her own money-making schemes with older rich men.  Soon it appears that Mitchell and Alex have fallen in love, but that poses problems for everyone involved.

Although the show is a comedy, it also raises many serious questions about living as a gay person in a straight world.  Mitchell laments at one point that we all learn about the American Dream, that anyone can have it all.  But he knew that really only middle class, straight white protestant men have easy access to the American Dream, and if he acted on his feelings towards other men, he could have that option taken away from him.

Dragon Productions plays in a tiny theatre, with a shoe-string budget for set design, yet still managed to find four incredible actors to play these intriguing characters.  William Giammona as Mitchell was both hilarious and heartbreaking as he showed us what a gay actor may have to give up in his personal life to be a success in his professional life.  Jennifer Lucas as Diane played Hollywood to perfection as the fast-talking agent who just wanted her friend (along with herself) to succeed. Maria Giere Marquis held my attention in every scene with her character’s quirky clothes and quirkier personality, but even as a hustler herself Ellen had our sympathy when she got herself into trouble.  And Henry Robert Nolin as young Alex is an incredible actor who you should look out for in the future.

The Little Dog Laughed is an adult show, but probably fit for older teens as well.  There are adult and sexual themes, but nothing too worrisome for anyone who knows the plot to begin with.  Tickets range from $16 (student) to $25 (adult), so it is a fantastic deal for an amazing theater production, and opening night was sold out.

Thanks also to Oren’s Hummus who provided an amazing Opening Night Celebration spread!

The Little Dog Laughed
September 14 – October 7
Dragon Productions Theatre
535 Alma Street, Palo Alto
(parking can be troublesome, so arrive in plenty of time to find a spot)

Zero1 [e]merges

Silicon Valley’s premier art event, the Zero1 biennial, kicked off last night with a street festival dubbed [e]merge.

The festival featured live music and numerous art exhibits including performances and interactive displays.

The biennial’s theme this year is “Seeking Silicon Valley”, and the art on show at the festival last night did show a return to the art/technology blend of the first Zero1 event, in contrast to the 2008 and 2010 biennials where the focus seemed to have broadened into more traditional art media.

The Zero1 biennial continues through October 3 December 8. There will be continuing exhibitions at the Zero1 Garage in South Hall (439 S First St). There will also be ongoing public art displays around town. The Urban Screen will continue to show interactive projection projects tonight (Saturday, Sept 15, at 300 S First St).

September Theater Round-Up and the start of the 2012-2013 Season!

What shows are on your September calendar? That’s right Folks, the 2012-2013 season has just begun, and theater reviewers everywhere have our pencils sharpened and phones set to silent.  There are a lot of exciting shows on the horizon this year!  I will be reviewing three shows this month and am recommending one more which I won’t have a chance to see.

 

Ragtime

Ragtime: The Musical
Hillbarn Theater
August 30 – September 23

Musicals are what Hillbarn does best and with a great show like Ragtime, how can they go wrong?  This is the one I’m sadly going to miss, but I can without hesitation state that you should try to never miss a Hillbarn musical.

Ragtime is a powerful portrait of life in turn-of-the-century America, but a relevant tale for today. Written by an award-winning team, the musical intertwines the stories of three extraordinary families, as they confront history’s timeless contradictions of wealth and poverty, freedom and prejudice, hope and despair, and what it means to live in America. The Tony-winning score is just as diverse as the melting pot of America itself. Featured are such show stopping songs as Getting Ready Rag, Your Daddy’s Son, Wheels of a Dream, Till We Reach That Day, Back To Before,and Make Them Hear You. This thrilling musical is sure to inspire actors and audiences alike!

 

The Death of the Novel

The Death of the Novel
San Jose Repertory Theater
August 30 – September 22

You’re not seriously going to miss this one, right?  “Mad Men”’s own Pete Campbell, Vincent Kartheiser, is starring in this season opener. My friends at the Rep have been buzzing with excitement, and all signs point to an amazing show.

Brilliant young novelist Sebastian Justice claims to be the most well-adjusted, depressed agoraphobic in Manhattan. While he rants about anything from global warming to tennis, his publisher-ordered psychologist (a “writer’s block-whisperer”) tries to get to the bottom of his grief. But when a stunning and mysterious Saudi woman intrudes into his self-contained world his emotional descent takes a sudden turn, for the raving beauty may not be the person she says she is. Will this stranger be the one to help him find his way back, and at what cost? Identities blur in this enthralling and evocative story that takes a look at the modern world through the eyes of a brilliant and tragically wounded artist.

 

Pearl Fishers

Bizet’s Pearl Fishers
Opera San Jose
September 8 – September 23

Watch out, Opera San Jose, because for this show the Opera Novice will have as my guest an actual Coloratura Soprano, and she’s going to help me understand the nuances of the performance.  Instead of my usual “Oh gosh, it sounded PERFECT! It looked PERFECT! Everything is PERFECT!” I might actually know what’s going on…  But I’m pretty sure Opera San Jose is not going to disappoint.

A forbidden love. A friendship tested. Georges Bizet’s exotic romance, The Pearl Fishers comes to life for the first time on the California Theatre stage. Set on the tropical island of ancient Ceylon, two fishermen vow eternal friendship, but the desire for a mysterious woman from their past ignites a jealous rivalry. A mesmerizing tale of love and sacrifice, Bizet’s musical gem overflows with lush melodies, haunting arias, and the beloved duet, Au fond du temple saint.”

 

The Little Dog Laughed

The Little Dog Laughed
Dragon Productions Theater Company
September 14 – October 7

I believe this will be my first show by Dragon Productions, but I practically begged for a chance to see it.  It was written by New York playwright Douglas Carter Beane, the screenwriter for “Too Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar”.  The Little Dog Laughed was nominated for several Tonys, incuding Best Play, and I am really excited to be able to review this for you.

Follow the adventures of Mitchell Green, a movie star who could hit it big if it weren’t for one teensy-weensy problem. His agent, Diane, can’t seem to keep him in the closet. Will there be a happy ending as the final credits roll?

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