Archive for the ‘Peninsula’ Category

TheatreWorks’ Crimes of the Heart: Sweet, Charming, Fantastic

Meg (Sarah Moser), gets a reaction from her sisters Lenny (Therese Plaehn) and Babe (Lizzie O'Hara). Photo: Kevin Berne

Meg (Sarah Moser), gets a reaction from her sisters Lenny (Therese Plaehn) and Babe (Lizzie O’Hara). Photo: Kevin Berne

I saw a show at Theatreworks last night that not only had me laughing, but completely kept my mind off politics for two and a half hours. The show is worth the price of admission just for that.

But aside from that. Crimes of the Heart is playing at the Mountain View Center of Performing Arts, and they have done a stupendous job. This is the story of three adult sisters who must come together at their Southern family home after one has been arrested for shooting her husband. The eldest sister is neurotic Lenny, turning 30 that very day and well on her way to coming an old maid. Middle sister Meg has come in from Hollywood where she claims she’s been making it big as a singer. And then the youngest, pretty Babe, who is insisting she shot her husband purely because she didn’t like “his stinkin’ looks”.

The sisters try to suss out exactly what happened between Babe and her husband with the help of young lawyer Barnette Lloyd (Joshua Marx). Mr. Lloyd has a little crush on Babe and also a lifelong vendetta against her husband. Cousin Chick (Laura Jane Bailey) pops in and out, and she has her own longstanding issues with the sisters. And then there’s Doc Porter (Timothy Redmond) whose heart had been crushed by Meg when they were young.

Crimes of the Heart 5_Kevin Berne

Barnette Lloyd (Joshua Marx) acts as lawyer to Babe Botrelle (Lizzie O’Hara) who is out on bail. Photo: Kevin Berne

The show is sweet and it is charming. It walks up to the line of tragedy and then pulls back and has you in tears from laughing. The sisters are played by three incredible actors: Therese Plaehn (Lenny), Sarah Moser (Meg) and Lizzie O’Hara (Babe). The characters could easily veer into over-the-top portrayals, but these women hold tight and present amazingly real and tender yet hilarious performances. No matter what any sister has done, no matter what happens, you see and believe there is an unbreakable family bond of love between them.

There were a few other unsung stars of this show. Andrea Bechert is the Scenic Designer, and the Mississippi home where the play is set was just incredible in detail, and an unfathomable amount of work was put into it. Cathleen Edwards was the costume designer and did an excellent job of dressing every one of the characters according to the time (1974), place and status of each. And because the entire show was fantastic, much applause must be given to director Giovanna Sardelli.

We all need a break now and then. This weekend I really needed the happy escape from reality that I found at TheatreWorks. If you need a moment to take your mind off world events or life in general, I definitely recommend you see this show, and the amazing women who star in it.

Crimes of the Heart
TheatreWorks
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
Through February 5

 

LEGO Extravaganza

legoThe Annual Holiday LEGO Extravaganza at The Museum of American Heritage has been underway since early December 2016. The last day is upcoming Sunday, January 15, 2017.

LEGO creations include train layouts, Bay Area landmarks, castles, miniature cities, sculptures, portraits, and more.

The exhibit is weekends (11:00 am to 3:45 pm, Friday, Saturday, Sunday).

Admission is $3.00; The Museum of American Heritage members and the Bay Area LEGO User Group members, admission free.

There is street parking, or take Caltrain.

Museum of American Heritage
351 Homer Ave
Palo Alto, 94301

Water By the Spoonful at TheatreWorks

watershowflash

TheatreWorks, one of my very favorite theater companies, has an amazing show now playing through September 14.    Water By the Spoonful is a Pulitzer Prize winning drama by the Tony Award winning playwright of In the Heights, Quiara Alegría Hudes.  It combines drama and comedy as it works through the never ending trials of being an addict, specifically a crack addict.  In one of the two main storylines, we follow a calm, reasonable woman known as “Haikumom” as she runs an internet support group for a group of addicts.  Among the other members of the chatroom are “Orangutan”, a brash and caustic young woman who is lonely for human contact, and “Chutes&Ladders”, a man who has lost everything but is struggling to regain some sort of meaningful life and manage to stay sober with the help of his chatroom friends.

In the other main story apart from the chatroom we have Eliot, a troubled Iraq war veteran who now works at Subway, and his cousin.  A woman in their family has passed away, and they are at the foreground of the stage as they work out the logistics of the funeral.

But what do these stories have in common?  Quite a lot, it is eventually revealed, and every character in the story has their own back story and a future to live as well.  There are many things happening in this play, and the great stage design really helps clarify where each character is at any time without confusing the audience.  The lighting and projections make it clear whether we are in an online or offline world, and we also get to see the hidden situations of each character.  It is an amazing, complicated work, and everyone involved in this show has done an incredible job creating a very touching and thoughtful production.

I found it interesting to discover later that Water By the Spoonful is part of a series called the “Elliot Trilogy”, portraying the coming of age of the young Elliot Ortiz. This explains a lot, as Elliot appeared to be such an important part of this show, yet his story was the least clear of any of the characters.  It is not that his story was incomplete, just that the others were mostly wrapped up (as tidily as a crack addict’s story can be wrapped), but Elliot’s background and future were not as clear to me.  This not only makes me want to see more of Elliot’s story, but necessitated some discussion with my guest after this show as we pondered Elliot.  There were several questions I had about Spoonful after, but in a good way; instead of a review, I wanted to write a literary essay about all the different layers at play here.  I wasn’t satisfied with the end result of every character, and that caused me to think about them after the show.  Any time I am left pondering and wanting to have conversations after a show, that is when you know theater has been done well.  This show captures such a range of emotions, and really enforces the value of family and community.  It also shows how, even if those can’t be had, just a bit of kindness and human contact can save a life.

Water By the Spoonful
TheatreWorks
Through September 14
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts

Theatre Round-Up: Season Openers

Are you as excited as I am for the 2014/2015 theater season openers?  There are so many amazing shows coming up, there is no excuse to not see at least one.  These are the shows we have our eyes on and will be reviewing most of them:

 

watershowflashWater By the Spoonful
TheatreWorks
August 20 – September 14

In this healing, Pulitzer-winning drama, strangers share secrets in a chat room for troubled souls, a safe haven for lives in recovery. A sensitive webmaster moderates this community, but in real life her relationships crumble. As living and virtual worlds weave together, the true meaning of family becomes apparent, proving that no one is above reproach—or beyond redemption. From the Tony Award-winning playwright of In the Heights.

 

2014-15_Rigoletto_524x412Rigoletto
Opera San Jose
September 6 – 21

A tale of innocence lost. A vengeance gone tragically awry. A deformed court jester wants nothing more than to protect his virtuous daughter from a licentious duke who seduces and then abandons her. Giuseppe Verdi’s famous masterwork, Rigoletto, leads us on a chilling whirlwind of revenge that has entranced audiences since its first performance.

 

perishable-posterPerishable, Keep Refrigerated
Renegade Theatre Experiment
September 6 – 27

What would you do if a time portal opened up inside your refrigerator? Would you be excited or scared? Would you tell anyone? Would you go through it? What if people from the late 1800’s came into your kitchen through the portal? What would you do? Find out with the WORLD PREMIERE of PERISHABLE, KEEP REFRIGERATED by Max Tachis and directed by Kathleen Normington.

 

BF-Postcard-v3-662x1024Big Fish
Palo Alto Players
September 12 – 28

In this whimsical fantasy set in the heart of Dixie, the charismatic Edward Bloom tells his son, Will, stories about his life – but these aren’t just any old stories, they’re mythic tales of impossible magic, complete with witches and giants. As Will prepares to become a father, Edward faces the final chapter in his life’s story. Will sets off on an epic journey of his own to uncover the truth about his father, and generations collide as the lines blur between fact and fiction. A feast for the eyes, as well as the heart, BIG FISH is a tender tribute to family and the magic of storytelling.

 

Art2aArt
City Lights
September 18 – October 19

What would you pay for a white painting? An all-white painting? With gut-busting hilarity and biting poignancy, ART tells the story of three men whose years-long friendship is put to the test when one buys an all-white painting by a trendy artist at an exorbitant price. As Serge, Marc, and Ivan square off over the canvas, lines are drawn, sides are taken, and the bonds that tie each man to the others are stretched to the breaking point. Only a pointed act of self-sacrifice can save a friendship from destruction — proving that there is, indeed, a limit to what one might pay for “art.”

 

marcario1Macario
Teatro Visión
October 9 – 19

Often compared to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the parable-like story features three spirits who attempt to persuade a poor working man (Macario) to reflect on his choices when he comes into the fortune of having a full turkey to eat. It is a work steeped in magic and history that has become part of the fabric of Mexican culture. The play is set in old Mexico, but its themes are universal and just as relevant in the United States today — especially in these tough economic times.  MACARIO incorporates culturally vibrant music and dance to create a visually exciting spectacle and celebration of the Day of the Dead.

THE GREAT PRETENDER a Must-See at TheatreWorks

 

Great Pretender4_KevinBerne

Children’s TV host Mr. Felt (Steve Brady) performs with his puppets Carol the Pony and Francis

TheatreWorks is presenting another amazing show as the opener of their 45th season.  This is the world premiere of The Great Pretender, by David West Read, and I have no doubt this original show will be playing many theaters in the future.

Mr. Felt is the host of a televised puppet show for children.  He works with a puppet child named Francis, a puppet pony named Carol and a couple other friends.  In the opening we get to see them put on their puppet show of craft making, which goes on just long enough to make me wonder if the entire play was going to be a child’s puppet show… but soon enough the theme music fades out and we head a few months into the future.  Mr. Felt’s wife, the puppeteer for Francis, has passed away, and someone new is needed to replace her.  We soon meet Carol, the puppeteer for Carol the Pony (and the most terrible human on the planet), another puppeteer Tom, and newbie Jodi, who grew up with the show and wants more than anything to be a part of it.

Mr. Felt (Steve Brady) watches skeptically while Jodi (Sarah Moser) tells Tom (Michael Storm) and Carol (Suzanne Grodner) about the pants she made herself

Mr. Felt (Steve Brady) watches skeptically while Jodi (Sarah Moser) tells Tom (Michael Storm) and Carol (Suzanne Grodner) about the pants she made herself

My friend and I were excited to see this show because PUPPETS, and also the line “Contains Mature Language”, and how can you miss with that combo?? But PEOPLE.  This show made me almost cry.  Well, perhaps I did actually cry a little, or maybe there was just a lot of pollen in the theater.  I certainly wasn’t the only one in the theater with sniffles.  The Great Pretender isn’t just a puppet show, it is about Life, and Death, and Friendships, and realizing who your Family is when you have no one.  It also made me laugh hysterically.  It touched me on so many levels, in a way that many other shows have not.  But what did I expect? This is TheatreWorks, and they have consistently presented the best of the best for the last year I have attended.

The production is not actually for children as there are mature language and situations, and also, the character of Carol should not be anywhere near children, haha.  But teens would be fine, and other than that, everyone should go see this amazing show immediately.  I don’t think we have seen the last of David West Read, and The Great Pretender is absolutely headed for the big time.

The Great Pretender
Through August 3, 2014
TheatreWorks
At Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto

 

“Once On This Island” feeds the soul at TheatreWorks

The cast of TheatreWorks' musical ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. Photo credit: Tracy Martin

The first thing you’ll notice upon entering the Lucie Stern Theater is the beautiful stage decoration.  Even the wall lights have been turned into overflowing fern pots.  You are immediately immersed in a rainbow of rich island colors and no detail is left out.  Sit down and get ready for a joyous 95 minute trip to the Caribbean.

Clockwise, from bottom right: Ti Moune (Salisha Thomas), Agwe, God of Water (Omari Tau), Papa Ge, Demon of Death (Max Kumangai), Asaka, Mother of the Earth (Safiya Fredericks), and Erzulie, Goddess of Love (Adrienne Muller). Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka

Once On This Island tells a story of the people of Haiti, the “jewel of the Antilles.”   After a terrible storm, a little girl is very afraid and the island people tell her a story to cheer her up.  What follows is a magical, mythical fairytale set to bouncing happy music and tremendously invigorating dancing.  It is the story of little orphaned Ti Moune (Salisha Thomas), blessed and cursed by the gods, who struggles to discover her place in the world and the meaning of her life.  We are taken for the ride with her, meeting island gods, learning some of the French history of Haiti, and discovering the magic of music and dance.  It’s a story of racism, classism and humanism.  The cast is made up of beautiful, talented actors whose skin tones range from the darkest chocolate to the brightest cream, and that is integral to the story.  It is a true ensemble cast, with no player more or less important the another, and they each bring something so special, individual and important to the story.

The stage is amazing, and the props, costumes and hair are equally fantastic.  The flood is an aquatic beauty, the rain dance is a visual masterpiece, the set lighting is deep and saturated, and the costumes… well, I need one of those frog hats.  Hair ranges from natural beauty to the most handsome braids, and it’s all very impressive.

Papa Ge, Demon of Death (Max Kumangai) visits Ti Moune (Salisha Thomas). Photo credit: Tracy Martin

But the magic is in the music, singing and dancing.  We are treated to soaring ballads of love and loss, and joyous songs that make you want to jump out of your seat and move. At one point there is a graceful ballet, and then it is replaced by a soulful island dance of life and spirit, and you suddenly realize the island dance is the one you want to perform, every day and every night, for the rest of your life.

It’s a visual treat, it’s medicine for the soul, it makes you happy to be alive.  And it will make you want to go home and dance, and dance, and dance.

.

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND
Through March 30
TheareWorks
Lucie Stern Theatre
Palo Alto

Little Women brings Big Surprises and Holiday Joy

(l-r) Arielle Fishman, Emily Koch, Sharon Rietkerk, and Julia Belanoff star as the March sisters - Amy, Jo, Meg, and Beth. Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka

Little Women the musical, produced by TheatreWorks, is quite simply one of the best shows I’ve seen this year (and this year has been full of some fantastic shows).  One of the best (and rare) parts of reviewing theater is coming across an unexpected gem, and Saturday evening’s Opening Night was the Hope Diamond.

“Little Women”, by Louisa May Alcott, is the story of four sisters who vow to stick together forever when they are young in the 1860s.  Father is off in the war, and while the family is short on money, they have an abundance of love.  Jo March, the second sister, narrates the story and has ambitions of being a writer.  For many young girls who read the book, Jo is the favorite as she insists on living life according to her own terms and not 19th century society’s.

(l-r) Jo (Emily Koch) and Professor Bhaer (Christopher Vettel) imagine a scene from Jo's novel, portrayed by Justin Buchs, Sharon Rietkerk, and Elizabeth Palmer. Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka

I loved the book when I was young, but even so I never imagined a Jo as charismatic and exuberant as the one Emily Koch brings to the stage.  Her joy in narrating her stories to the audience is palpable, and her physical acting makes it clear this character is made for pants, not long and stuffy skirts.  I cannot state enough how much every single actor in this show is perfection, and yet Ms. Koch raises it to a level even beyond that.  Jo is the girl we want to be, and later the woman we look up to as a role model.

I was not so sure how well it would work turning Little Women into a musical, but this show is so perfect, and the actors are such incredible singers, that it becomes one of those shows you don’t even realize is a musical.  The songs fit so well they are just part of the story and the experience.

And what a story for the young women of today, or any day.  This is not merely a story of a girl who refused to put aside her wants and needs in life so she could be someone’s wife, but neither is it a story against marriage.  It is a story of deciding what you want from life and accepting nothing else – and sometimes that means changing your mind.  Sometimes it means getting married.  The right choice is the choice that a woman makes for her own self.  And every character in this story does just that.

It’s a joyful story and a heartwarming one, but of course it also has a couple incredibly sad scenes that left everyone in my row wiping their eyes, and the theater was full of sniffling and shaking shoulders when Marmee sings “Days of Plenty”.

Laurie (Matt Dengler) kisses Jo (Emily Koch). Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka

I had had a very long day holiday decorating with my family, and neither my daughter nor myself were keen on driving to Palo Alto to see a show, but never have we felt more grateful that we had done so.  We were enthralled from the first moment, mesmerized by the balletic beauty of Meg (Sharon Reitkerk), the sweetness of Beth (Julia Belanoff), the spoiled petulance of Amy (Arielle Fishman), and the utter joyfulness of Jo.  We never for a moment wanted to close our eyes or miss one moment.  This show is for everyone, including kids perhaps as young as ten (they should be old enough to deal with a very sad death), and it is a perfect show for the holidays and a cold winter night.  My highest praise, from one who sees a lot of shows:  I would see this show again. And again and again.

Little Women the Musical
TheatreWorks
Extended through January 4
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Holiday Tea Luncheon at the Garden Court Hotel
with matinee this Saturday, December 14

 

Holiday Train 2013


This weekend (December 7 & 8) the Caltrain Holiday Train, a special non-passenger train decorated with more than 60,000 lights, will be making stops at nine different Peninsula Caltrain stations; four on Saturday four other stations on Sunday, and begins at the San Francisco station on both days.

This free, family event gives you a chance to sing along with live holiday music (various chorus and bands) and the kids get a chance to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus along with other holiday favorites; they will get off the train to greet children. Performances at each station begin about 30 minutes before the train’s arrival.

Visitors are encouraged to bring a new toy or book to drop into toy barrels at the stations for the Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program and the Salvation Army’s holiday toy drive.

Visitors are invited to visit the stations and view the Holiday Train show but are not permitted to board or ride on the train.

Always stand well back from the train and behind the yellow line on the platform. Hold onto children’s hands while waiting on the platform. The Holiday Train show will be on the stage car in the middle of the train.

Saturday, December 7 —
San Francisco: 4:00 pm
Burlingame: 5:15 pm
Redwood City: 6:15 pm
Palo Alto (California Ave.): 6:50 pm
Santa Clara: 8:10 pm

Sunday, December 8 —
San Francisco: 4:00 pm
Millbrae: 5:15 pm
San Mateo: 6:20 pm
Menlo Park: 7:45 pm
Sunnyvale: 8:40 pm

This year give the Gift of Theatre

I hope you all aren’t really braving the crowds on this Black Friday, but if so I also hope you’re enjoying the holiday hustle and bustle and excitement.  I’m an internet shopper myself, and won’t visit the mall at any time of year unless forced.  But whether you shop with the masses or shop from your couch, sometimes figuring out WHAT you’re going to buy is the hardest part. Especially when it comes to that someone who has everything.

So why not give the gift of Theatre this year?  Most theaters have tickets on sale now not just for their holiday shows but for the next show in line as well.  Hillbarn Theatre is showing Mame in December, and Grapes of Wrath in January. The Palo Alto Players are selling tickets for all their upcoming shows: The Heiress, Young Frankenstein and The Farnsworth InventionTheatreWorks opens Little Women the Musical in next week. Opera San Jose is gearing up for Madame Butterfly in February and EVERY opera buff will want to attend that show. And of course Ballet San Jose has The Nutcracker.  Tickets to any of these shows would make an amazing and original gift, or you can just plan to take the family as part of the holiday season enjoyment.

At the moment though, there is one show that I am looking forward to the most, and that is The Snow Queen at the San Jose Repertory Theatre.  Here is why:  We have only seen two shows of the 2013-2014 SJ Rep season and I am already blown away.  One Night with Janis was an amazing look at the queen herself and all her inspirations, and the show moved on to Broadway after leaving its extended run in San Jose.  Then they showed Next Fall which was just about the best show I have seen in the Bay Area in the last five years.  It combined issues of religion, age difference in relationships, dealing with death and impending death, and also several issues of gay relationships, and it did all this without preaching that any side is right or wrong – but overall it was a story about any relationship and every relationship.  And it was played by a group of some of the best actors we have available in the Bay Area.  This was two in a row of not just good theatre, but GREAT theatre.  And now we have The Snow Queen.

“With steam punk flair, an alternative rock score and girl heroine, this is not going to be your average Holiday Musical,” states the SJ Rep, and the early audience reviews of the previews are gushing:   “Fantastic.. One of the BEST plays ever.. LOVED every minute” says Joani Krieger Mitchell.  “Absolutely FANTASTIC! Not to be missed. All you fans of English pantomime will rejoice,” from Sally Bookman.  Click here to see a preview of The Snow Queen.

And if you buy your ticket today (Black Friday) you can get 42% savings off regular ticket with promo code “FRIDAY2013”.

I am looking forward to writing a review for the show next week, and I hope you all will join me there.  Something amazing is happening at the SJ Rep this year, and I cannot wait to see what the season brings us.  Happy Holidays!

“Bring me a shrubbery!!” watch out for Killer Rabbits, head toFoster City!

Russell Ward as the French Taunter. Mark and Tracy Photography.

Love Monty Python? Want to see Sir Lancelot and King Arthur dancing and singing their way to Camelot?  Well, what happens in Camelot, stays in Camelot, so pack up the family and head over to Foster City for a rollicking time with SPAMALOT, directed by Dan Demers.  Hillbarn Theatre does it again with a blockbuster production and fun for everyone (though some adult themes and gestures included).  I have always wanted to see SPAMALOT but I had my doubts as to how theatre could replicate Monty Python’s Holy Grail, so I didn’t know what to expect.

But SPAMALOT does it, and Hillbarn did a fantastic job (as usual).  If you are a Monty Python fan, you will LOVE this show!  “I’m not dead yet,” one of my favorite scenes of all time, was early in Act I and had the audience in stitches.  I especially did not anticipate they would be able to pull off the Black Knight scene, but pull it off they did, along with managing to chop off all his extremities (“It’s just a flesh wound!!”).  Other favorite scenes included are the Knights that say Ni, “Bring me a shrubbery!!!!” and the killer rabbits.

Russ Bohard as King Arthur. Mark and Tracy Photography.

I started to get excited for the show when I saw their Facebook posts and photos of them building the set and props.  There is a LOT of work put into the production of this complicated show, and multiple technical props. The set design is a giant castle covering the entire stage which lights up at various times. The Trojan Rabbit was huge and awesome, the killer rabbit was hysterical, there is a big cow tossed, and, while not props, let’s not forget the dancing Laker Girls and Sir Robin’s Minstrels.

Casting was perfect.  Tracy Chiappone as Lady of the Lake was tremendous, Russel Ward was an hilarious Sir Lancelot, and I really loved Paul Araquistain as Patsy, and Ray Mendonca as Sir Robin.  Oh, let us not forget Steven Ennis, who was born for the role of Prince Herbert.

Sir Robin played by Ray Mendonca* (center) and his Minstrels, Jacob Marker (center right), Evelyn Chan (right), Steven Ennis ( left), and Jason Hobart (center left). Mark and Tracy Photography.

The choreography wasn’t as tight as it usually is and there were some technical glitches, HOWEVER, this is a huge production and I have no doubt the show will get better and better after each performance.   I can see there was an enormous amount of work put into the show, and overall it exceeded my expectations. Everyone left the theatre singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”.

I had so much fun.  Opening Night was a sold out show and the audience was ready for some play time in the air conditioned theatre.  Lee Foster, Hillbarn’s Executive Production Director, noted before the start of the show that the people of Foster City should remember that Hillbarn is a great theatre right in their backyard.  I can’t argue with that, I drive 35 miles each way to see their shows and I have never been disappointed.  So head over to Foster City and see a show that is rarely produced nearer to the South Bay than San Francisco!

 

The Cast of Hillbarn Theatre’s Production of Monty Python’s Spamalot!. Mark and Tracy Photography.

SPAMALOT
Through September 22 [extended to September 29!!]
Hillbarn Theatre
1285 East Hillsdale Blvd, Foster City

 

I really look forward to the rest of their season.
Make your plans now!:

Lettuce and Lovage:  October 18 – November 2013
Mame:  December 6 – December 22
The Grapes of Wrath: January 24 – February 9
Lend Me a Tenor: March 14 – March 30
The Color Purple:  May 9 – June 1

 

 

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