Posts Tagged ‘theatre’

Not your grandma’s Shakespeare

The taunting of Malvolio

Anyone who still had their doubts about injecting steampunk into one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies had their fears quelled instantly at the opening night of SJSU‘s Twelfth Night. Excitement started growing as soon as we were let into the University Theatre and saw the grand beach scene with what appeared to be the skeletal remains of a downed zeppelin.  The logic of the steampunk theme became clear when we meet Viola on the beach (and later Sebastian).  Viola and Sebastian clearly come from Shakespeare’s time.  It is the fictional Illyria, where they had been shipwrecked, that was filled with fantastical steampunk characters.  This is a world where women rule their own lives and have (somewhat) control over their men.  It is a world of mischievous antics, sexual innuendos and games, much drink, music and dancing, and, most important, fun.  It’s a land that draws in the audience, and one that we definitely did not want to leave.

Sir Toby plays with Maria

I knew I had been taking a chance in promoting this show before it opened, but I had been intrigued from the moment I had heard “steampunk + Shakespeare”.  However, my own high expectations were so far exceeded that all I can say is this is the must-see production of the year in San Jose.  I had more fun in this show than at any other show I’ve seen in recent memory and plan to see it again.  The audience — packed full of SJSU students, professors of Shakespearian literature, theater fans, and even dressed up characters from the Bay Area Steampunk Association (yes, it’s a real thing) – all had a blast as we danced along with the music, lusted after the corseted women, laughed at Sir Toby and Malvolio, and simply enjoyed Shakespeare the way the Bard himself would have wanted us to.

There was some questioning of the portrayal of Orsino as an emo rock star with “a posse”, but in this imaginative interpretation it still worked – and even the Shakespeare experts in the audience gave the show a thumbs up overall.  My guest at the show had never seen Twelfth Night or even read the play, but he loved it so much he plans to read the play now.  What more can you ask?  The steampunk theme was used partly as a way to bring Shakespeare to a new audience, to show how much fun it can be, and this production passed with flying colors on all counts.  Not only was the audience packed in both Friday and Saturday, but they had the highest grossing opening night in the last four years.

"Cesario" looks over the tortured Orsino

Although the set design, lighting, costumes and excellent choices in music (White Wedding! Dubstep! RAP!) were all outstanding, a drama production always rests on the actors.  With this fantastic group it is very hard to single anyone out, but I would be remiss in not mentioning three specific stand-out roles:

Kayleigh Larner as the sexy Maria was my favorite.  It is quite a feat to be so brilliant in her comedy while simultaneously making hearts pound as she strutted the stage in her corset, playfully whacking Sir Toby with her riding crop.  I could watch a whole show starring only Kayleigh Larner as Maria.

The recipient of those crop swats was the lucky David Scott, and his drunken portrayal of Sir Toby was both fun and slightly creepy.  Drunk through most if not all of the show, Sir Toby was playful, mischievous, and yet in full control of his senses.  Scott took his character right to the limits of bawdy humor but never once went over the top.  It was barely restrained perfection.

And finally, no review of this show will go by without mention of Drew Jones as Malvolio.  This man has been honing his comedic genius in other plays I have seen and is ALWAYS a stand-out and major scene-stealer.  As each scene goes by, the audience wants more and more of Malvolio, and the yellow stockings scene is just something…  that can’t… be missed.

The homoerotic themes of the show were not ignored

Congrats to Director Kathleen Normington for putting together a fantastical and original interpretation of Twelfth Night, and for all the help given the production by Dramaturge Dr. Adrienne Eastwood.   There was an incredible amount of work put into this show by a very large group of set designers, costumers and makeup artists, and every bit of that work shows and is appreciated.

You still have a chance to see this OUTSTANDING production, and I stake my reputation as a drama reviewer that you will not be disappointed.  Whether you are a steampunk fan, a lover of Shakespeare, ordinary theater goer, or just looking for something to do, you will not be disappointed.  You certainly can’t beat the price, and after Thursday’s show there will be a chance to ask questions of the actors, director, and dramaturge.  Don’t miss it!

Twelfth Night
November 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20 7pm
SJSU University Theatre
Fifth and San Fernando next to the San Jose Public Library
Tickets $10 students/seniors; $20 general admission
Tickets Online
Or call 408 924-4555
Wheelchair Admissable

It’s time to start planning your November show nights!

We survived the many great October shows, now we have an even more packed November!  This month I can honestly say I am VERY excited about every one of these shows.  These are the ones we are set to review this month – get your tickets now!

Flying Karamazov Brothers

The Flying Karamazov Brothers
The San Jose Repertory Company
November 10 – 14
Welcome to the zany world of The Flying Karamazov Brothers, where the daring and goofy take center stage. This ground-breaking blend of nouveau cirque, comedy, theatre, music, and, of course, juggling is nothing short of genius. Innovative and unique, they display their juggling prowess in such show stopping numbers as “The Gambler.” In this daring act, the Karamozov champion Dimitri will juggle three items presented to him by audience members. If the champion succeeds he gets a standing ovation. If he fails, he gets a pie in the face! This exuberant and hilarious off-Broadway rave is full of fast-paced virtuosity and fun as the four brothers deliver a stupendously entertaining evening like you’ve never experienced.

As if that wasn’t fun enough: The audience is encouraged to bring zany items to the theater for the Karamazov champion to juggle!

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night
San Jose State University Theatre
November 12 – 20
Theater director Kathleen Normington and English Professor Dr. Adrienne Eastwood are continuing to draw a great deal of attention with their provocative steampunk Shakespeare production.  Director Normington intends to use the steampunk aesthetic to style the production and highlight some of the themes of disguise and gender ambiguity within the play.  Dr. Eastwood, as dramaturge, is helping to guide the marriage of steampunk visuals with Shakespeare’s written words into the creation of a beautiful new version of the play.  This combination is sure to bring Twelfth Night’s message to a wider audience in unexpected ways.  DO NOT MISS this innovative vision that will stay true to its original ideas.


Opera San Jose
November 13 – 28
She’s a superstar: brilliant, beautiful, and spoiled. Yet Floria Tosca, despite her wealth and privilege, cannot save her aristocratic lover without consenting to debase herself. An opera diva as wildly popular in 1800 Rome as any rock or movie icon today, she finds that living for “art, love, and prayer” isn’t enough to protect her in a society run by wicked, powerful men. She is a beauty pursued by a beast determined to have her, and killing her stalker – chief of the secret police, Baron Scarpia – still doesn’t end her suffering. Suicide is her final act of defiance

The Color Purple

The Color Purple
Broadway San Jose
November 23 – 28
A soul-stirring musical based on the classic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker and the moving film by Steven Spielberg. It is the unforgettable and inspiring story of a woman named Celie, who finds her unique voice in the world. Nominated for eleven Tony® Awards, THE COLOR PURPLE is a landmark theatrical event, a celebration of love, and a Broadway phenomenon. With a joyous GRAMMY®-nominated score featuring jazz, gospel and blues, THE COLOR PURPLE is capturing the hearts of young and old, and uniting audiences in a community of joy.

Backwards in High Heels

Backwards in High Heels
The San Jose Repertory Company
November 24 – December 19
The remarkable life of the legendary actress Ginger Rogers comes to life onstage!
This intimate musical dances its way through Ginger’s life with unforgettable music, show-stopping dance numbers and a captivating story that chronicles her journey from hometown to Hollywood and from one love affair to another. Best known as Fred Astaire’s dance partner, Ginger defied her overly-protective mother to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and one of the industry’s first women to demand equal pay. Funny, moving and a visual feast, Backwards In High Heels is a toe-tapping, swirling, gliding account of her ambitious public and private life.

A Wonderful Life (Musical)

A Wonderful Life (MUSICAL)
Hillbarn Theatre
December 2 – 19
Although this show starts in December I want to make sure you are all notified in time.  Hillbarn has been putting on consistently fantastic productions, and has been selling out of many shows.  I’ve had my fill of Wonderful Life over the years, but I am truly excited to see Hillbarn’s new musical version.  I’m sure it will be a Don’t Miss production!

Steampunk + Shakespeare? Just might work!

If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.
Twelfth Night, 3. 4

Fantastic news coming out of the San Jose State University theatre department!  Fans of the steampunk genre and scholars of Shakespeare will unite under one roof when Twelfth Night premieres on November 12.  Director Kathleen Normington, SJSU Theatre faculty since 1999, is bringing a new vision to the play in the hopes of introducing Shakespeare to a wider audience, reaching both students and the population at large.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s most well known and oft produced dramas, focusing on themes of illusion and reality.  Steampunk is a popular sub-genre of science fiction, usually set in an historical time period featuring futuristic technology.  While Shakespeare and steampunk may seem to have nothing in common, the melding of steampunk visuals with Shakespeare’s written words will consummate into a beautiful rendition of the play that might actually help bring across the themes of Twelfth Night in unexpected ways.

The intention is to use the steampunk aesthetic to style the production and to highlight some of the themes of disguise and gender ambiguity within the play.  All signs are pointing to a visually striking production, and Kathleen notes that “especially at a university where our audience is young and fearful of Shakespeare, […] we need to capture them visually and then hope that the language and character will keep them involved.”

But Shakespeare purists have nothing to fear as Dr. Adrienne Eastwood from the SJSU English department has been brought in as dramaturge.  Dr. Eastwood has a Ph.D. from UC San Diego and recently published “Between Wedding and Bedding: The Epithalamic Sub-genre in Shakespeare’s Comedies” in Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies.   She is excited to help in assuring that aside from the exciting visual aspects, the direction of the production will remain true to the themes and messages that Twelfth Night should be sending.  Both current and previous students will agree that this show will only shine with Dr. Eastwood involved.

Having these two great scholars come together to integrate these two fascinating ideas might be one of the most exciting things to happen to the SJSU Theatre Department.  The play will open on November 12, and you should all mark your calendars now as this electrifying play has already been generating a lot of buzz.  You will not want to miss out on your chance to see this unique production!

Twelfth Night
San Jose State University Theatre
November 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20 at 7pm
Students/Seniors $10
General admission $20
Tickets Available Online, or call 408 924-4555.

October show round-up

Metblogs has a very busy month of shows ahead and we hope you will join us!  These are some of the shows we are hoping to review for you this month.  If you’re looking for some fun nights out before the busy holidays arrive, or if Halloween parties just aren’t your thing, take a look at just four of the great shows headed our way this month:

Secret Order

San Jose Repertory Company
Secret Order
Corporate greed and the politics of science collide in this biomedical thriller.
When Dr. Shumway, a relatively obscure and naive cancer researcher, is thrust into the high stakes world of science, the notion of noble “truth-seeking” is dissected with a scalpel’s precision. Shumway is in over his head when he and a young student researcher get swept up in the dangerous world of political maneuvering, corporate loyalty and scientific ethics. But it’s Dr. Brock, the chief administrator at a famous research institute, who will stop at nothing in his pursuit to find a cure for cancer. Responsible science hangs in the balance in the race to be first to trial, first to publish and first to find a cure in this brilliant exploration of the business of science.
October 14 – November 7

Dial M for Murder

Hillbarn Theatre
Dial M for Murder
Tony Wendice has married his wife, Margot, for her money and now plans to murder her for the same reason.  He arranges the perfect murder; he blackmails a scoundrel he used to know into strangling her for a fee of one thousand pounds, and arranges a brilliant alibi for himself.  But who murders whom and does the real villain come to justice?
October 21 – November 7

Giselle protects Albrecht

Ballet San Jose
The tale of a peasant girl named Giselle who falls in love with Albrecht, a nobleman from a neighboring land who disguises himself as a villager to win her heart – and the betrayal that leads to her death.  Driven by his own guilt to mourn at Giselle’s graveside, Albrecht encounters the Wilis – beautiful, but deadly spirits who force men to dance to their deaths.  Only Giselle can protect him… if she can find it in her heart to forgive him.
October 22 – October 24

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Broadway San Jose
Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles
FROM ED SULLIVAN TO ABBEY ROAD! – They look like them and they sound just like them! All the music and vocals are performed totally live! RAIN covers the Fab Four from the earliest beginnings through the psychedelic late 60s and their long-haired hippie, hard-rocking rooftop days. A multi-media, multi-dimensional experience…a fusion of historical footage and hilarious television commercials from the 1960s lights up video screens and live cameras zoom in for close-ups.
October 26 – October 31

Spend a rainy evening with ghost stories at the SJ Rep

Weir JackIf you are looking for a cozy place to keep warm and dry one of these rainy evenings, the San Jose Repertory Theatre can transport you to a beautiful old pub in rural Ireland for two hours every night (except Mondays). Until February 21 you have the opportunity to see The Weir and share in the camaraderie of the pub patrons. This award winning play by Irish playwright Conor McPherson is the perfect way to spend a couple hours out of the rain and in front of the cozy fire in the pub, and it is well worth traveling downtown to do so.

The story revolves around Valerie, who is brought to the pub by Finbar, her real estate agent, and introduced to the bartender and other patrons. The play begins quite comically as everyone starts drinking and talking, but soon things quiet down and get serious as they begin to tell ghost stories by the fire. This is just about the entire plotline of the production; McPherson is recognized as a great narrative dramatist, and it is apparent with this play. There is not a great deal of action, and there are no scene changes; you remain inside the charming, warm pub throughout the two hours. So instead of coming to see a lot of complicated production trickery, you will sit down in front of the pub fire and relax as you listen to these haunted and haunting tales as told by a group of incredible actors. There are confessions of love, loss and loneliness, and half-hidden wounds revealed. It all leads up to Valerie’s most haunting tale of all.

Weir groupThe pub setting really is quite beautiful, and designed so that you feel you are sitting at a pub table yourself.  The actors are absolutely splendid as they draw you in to their stories.  The packed audience at the Rep on opening night loved the show and Metblogs absolutely recommends that you see this show before it ends on February 21.  It really is the perfect show to participate in during one of these dark and dreary, rainy evenings.

The show runs every day except Mondays from now until February 21, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday.  Tickets can be bought online.   Open, easily viewed set allows any seat in the house a great view for this show.

Creative Dramatic Workshop for kids

hamlet1If you have a creative child with a lot of imagination who needs something to do this summer, check out the San Jose Repertory Theatre‘s Creative Dramatics Summer Workshops.

San Jose Repertory Theatre is a great place for children and teens to spend their summer. The Creative Dramatics Summer Workshop is a series of two-week programs that teaches youth improvisational and play-building skills. Sessions are offered for children and teens between the ages of 5-16, starting June 22 through July 20. All workshops are held at San Jose Repertory Theatre’s Fourth Floor Studio Theatre, located at 101 Paseo de San Antonio, in downtown San Jose.

“We’re delighted to offer a summer program for kids and teens that focuses on their ideas and their creativity,” comments Karen Altree Piemme, San Jose Rep’s Director of Outreach. “There are many opportunities out there for kids to perform in a play. At the Rep, we celebrate kids’ imaginations by giving them the opportunity to create their own plays.”

Led by San Jose Repertory Theatre professionals, participants develop their improvisational acting and play-building skills. In each two-week program, the first week focuses on character creation, communication, scene building, storytelling, and the collaborative nature of the improvisational process. During week two, participants use those skills to develop their own short play or improv showcase. At the end of each two-week session there is a final presentation of the participants’ finished works. Families, friends and the community-at-large are invited to view the final presentations.

“The program was originally started to fill a void in the offerings of summer arts programs in the community. There were lots of great programs that allowed kids to perform in plays or musicals that already existed,” Altree Piemme continues. “There wasn’t much available, though, that focused on the creative process. Kids’ natural impulses are to imagine – characters, stories, whole new worlds. We see it in children from a very young age. The Rep’s Creative Dramatics Summer Workshops help kids capitalize on those imaginative impulses and learn to use them in a nurturing, supportive, collaborative environment.”

 Creative Dramatics Summer Workshops Sessions:
 • Session I:   Ages 5-7   June 22-July 3,  9:00am-12:00pm
• Session II:   Ages 11-13   June 22-July 3,  1:30pm-4:30pm
• Session III:   Ages 8-10   July 6-July17,  9:00am-12:00pm
• Session IV:   Ages 14-16   July 6-July 17,  1:30pm-4:30pm
• Session V:   Ages 5-7   July 20-July 31,  9:00am-12:00pm
• Session VI:   Ages 11-13   July 20-July 31,  1:30pm-4:30pm

For more details contact Melissa Locsin at 408-367-7292 or

Do not miss the SJ Rep’s Putnam County Spelling Bee

Putnam County Spelling BeeI attended the Opening Night performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee with open expectations.  I had never heard anything about the show before and did not know what to expect, and I got the same feeling from other audience members in attendance.   Two hours later we filed out of the SJ Rep with euphoric hearts and maybe a tear in an eye or two.  This is a production that draws you in from the moment you step into the theatre, and it continues on with a catharsis of hysterical laughing, hopeful rooting for your favorite speller, and heartbreaking sorrow for the losers.  It is an interactive production like no other and simply put, is not to be missed.

My guest and I stepped into the theatre and gasped with delight when we saw the stage had been turned into an extraordinarily detailed gymnasium.  It was brightly lit even as the audience was finding their seats, and the bright colors and fun details from floor to ceiling really helped make the audience excited before the play even began.  When the play started at 8pm the house was packed full and ready to see what this play was all about.

Every character in this play is the protagonist of their own little story, and we slowly learn about each student as the play goes on.  Four members of the audience are also chosen to participate on stage and are given spelling words until they have been eliminated from the competition.  There is a lot of playful fun-poking and the audience cheered loudly for all the students whether they won or lost. 

There is no fourth wall in this production and the audience is a fully participating part of the play.  Fifteen minutes into the production on Friday the audience was uncontrollable in our laughter and yelling and rooting for each speller.  Halfway through the play the character of Chip Tolentino walks through the aisles with a candy box and slings M&Ms and Kit Bars at the crowd while singing about his “Unfortunate Erection”.  But soon after this we started to quiet down as the student characters in front of us slowly opened up and we saw some of the sadness and hurt and disappointment they held inside.

As the play tells us, “Life isn’t fair,” “Life is pandemonium,” and “the good don’t always win.”  These are hard lessons that we all have to learn in life, and the students in the spelling bee are dealing with extraordinary pressures put upon them from their parents, society and themselves to succeed.  There is only going to be one “winner” at the end of the spelling bee.  But as director Timothy Near tells us, this play shows that “working hard, being creative and making good friends in the process IS winning.”

The actors in this production were incredible.  You never for one moment believe you are looking at adults playing children, you only see six hopeful preteens sitting in the gym waiting for their turn to spell.  Clifton Guterman as Leaf Coneybear and Dani Marcus as Olive Ostrovsky were special standouts who make you fall in love with their characters.  Berwick Hayes as Mitch Mahoney brings comic relief and much love and comfort to the characters and participating audience members.  But every member of this cast was amazing.  I also give high marks to scenic designer Robert Broadfoot, costume designer Shigeru Yaji and musical director Dolores Dura-Cefalu.


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