Thursday, January 31, 2008

This North Coast Weekend

Instead of double-casting roles in one play as they usually do, North Coast Prep students elected to do two different plays. So after one cast did The Crucible last weekend this weekend another cast performs Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Thursday (Jan. 31) through Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Gist Hall Theatre.

Elsewhere: Friday through Sunday at various times, African American storyteller Diane Ferlatte appears at the Arcata Playhouse (822-1575). Dell’Arte students present Quattro Formaggio, an evening of commedia Thursday through Saturday (668-5663). Meanwhile, 12 Angry Men continues at Ferndale Rep and Marat/Sade at North Coast Rep.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Catching Up with Souvenir

Today my reviews of 12 Angry Men at Ferndale Rep (ongoing) and North Coast Prep's The Crucible (last weekend) appear in the print edition of the NC Journal, tomorrow on their online site, and expanded versions here Friday (or so.)

I still have a few local shows and some other news to write about here, so I'll begin catching up with the Humboldt Light Opera's brief run of Souvenir, a two-hander about Florence Foster Jenkins, a self-financed singer notable for being terrible--though her concert and recording career lasted 32 years.

As staged by Jean Bazemore, the play hit some fascinating notes, about the relationship of inner and outer beauty, and the vulnerability of artists with something to express but dependent on others to define them as good, and allow them to express it. This is done partly through the counterpoint of her pianist, Cosme McMoon, who starts out with her while he works at writing songs, but eventually stays with her when nobody wants the songs he's written. And then he faces the irony of finally hearing one of his songs sung at Carnegie Hall--by Florence Foster Jenkins, who of course sings it very badly.

With shades of black and tan, and a glow around silhouetted skyscrapers outside the window, Gerald Beck’s set easily evoked 1940s New York. The lighting was also impressive, particularly in key scenes. Kevin Richards was charming and convincing as the accompanist Cosme McMoon, and Carol Ryder was luminously “bad” as Mrs. Foster Jenkins, who did in fact sing at Carnegie Hall, and died a month later. “Toscanini sent flowers,” McMoon tells us, and though the play goes on for another five minutes, that said it all for me.

I spoke with Carol Ryder at halftime of The Crucible opening night, and asked her about the challenge for a trained and experienced singer of singing badly . She said the difficulty was technical at first--she was straining her voice. But then she studied recordings of Mrs. Jenkins more closely, because after all, she said, Mrs. Jenkins sang long concert programs for all those years, without losing her voice. And by figuring out how she did it, Carol Ryder found her own "bad" voice.

She also mentioned something really poignant about Foster Jenkins that I don't remember being in the play. In the play, FFJ claims she has perfect pitch--when it's evident that she can't keep a tune, and her pitch is way off. Carol Ryder said that in fact she may have actually had perfect pitch as a child, but as a result of an illness she received a series of mercury treatments that damaged her hearing, so she may have lost the ability to hear the pitch she was singing accurately. What a fascinating story.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Marat/Sade at NCRT

Darcy Daughtry, Calder Johnson, Heath Houghton
and Melanie Quillen surround James Read as the
mental patient playing Marat in Marat/Sade now
playing at North Coast Rep.
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Magnificent Marat

Presenting Marat/Sade this season at North Coast Repertory Theatre was an inspired decision. As directed by Peter Brook in 1964, this play by Peter Weiss was an international sensation. I recall listening spellbound in my college campus coffee shop to a young professor’s description of the 1965 Broadway production. But though it was revolutionary and influential, it became a kind of forgotten 1960s period piece. When it was occasionally revived, it seems sometimes to have become an excuse for excess and sensationalism. But Michael Thomas, NCRT’s Executive Director who chose the play, also directs it with both economy and theatricality, perfect for the venue and the North Coast audience.

This production illuminates the play itself, which speaks to us now with amazing vitality. Though its apparent subject is the French Revolution, the political conundrums resonate today: issues of war, torture, change, class, deception and self-deception, power and principle, fraternity and individual liberty.

What we see on stage has some historical basis: Jean-Paul Marat was a major figure in the French Revolution, in later years confined to his bath because of a skin disorder, and assassinated there by a stranger, Charlotte Corday. The Marquis de Sade did in fact stage plays with his fellow inmates at the Charenton insane asylum. Weiss imagines de Sade dramatizing Marat’s last days and death for an “enlightened” audience expecting to see a safe history play performed by the inmates, each with a particular (or perceived) mental disorder, as part of their rehabilitation.

Peter Brook describes the virtues of this play very well (in his introduction to its 1965 edition, expanded in his book, The Shifting Point) as “constant movement that goes back and forth between the social and personal views,” between “the superficial aspects of life and its most secret ones,” between “everyday and heightened language” leading to “the unbroken conflict between impressions and judgments,” illusion and disillusion.

These effects are partly enhanced by its funhouse mirror aspects: we are watching actors in 2008 playing mad people in 1808 (when Napoleon had “saved” the Revolution by becoming its dictator and European conqueror), trying to be actors in a play about 1793. And we are simultaneously part of that 1808 audience, peering through the bars of the asylum, and the “enlightened” 2008 audience.

The play permits these effects through a mix of styles—of comedy and drama, with songs as musical description, character expression and ironic counterpoint. There’s also the tension of madness in the players—will it control them (and the action) or will they control it? (By accounts, this was a particularly lively element in the original production, and is something that this cast can experiment with during the run.)

But those elements are only potential until orchestrated and expressed by a superior production like this one. A simple but mesmerizing set and fine ensemble acting—a credit to the director and the commitment of the actors—lay the groundwork. Individual performances send it soaring: Kimberly Hodel as the narcoleptic patient playing Charlotte Corday, Lonnie Blankenchip as the Marquis and especially James Read in a masterful performance as Marat.

The patients swirl around, now comic, now dangerous, mimicking a confused populace or a bloodthirsty mob. Heath Houghton as a kind of narrator, and the singers Darcy Daughtry, Melanie A. Quillen and Calder Johnson who function sometimes as chorus, sometimes as clowns, keep the action moving forward. The instrumental trio of Candida Wolff-Vodden, Dianne and Pete Zuleger, provide superior accompaniment for the precise singing.

Meanwhile, without moving very much, Blankenchip and Read circle around each other in a dance of ideas, tested by bitter experience. The drama in this play is in the words, and so diction is important, and this cast speaks clearly and expressively, in a dynamic range from shouts to whispers. And there’s plenty of stage business to keep the eye involved.

All of this means that you don’t just think about the ideas in this play after you’ve gone home, but you follow them—you feel them-- moment by moment, back and forth, as the play happens.

Because of the dynamics of this play, this production is likely to be somewhat different from performance to performance, and it could evolve into something even more compelling as it goes along in its run, if cast members are as committed and involved as they seem to be. This is a production to experience, and to remember.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This North Coast Weekend

Bernadette Sabath, Tyler Olsen and Keight Gleason
in Golden State at Dell'Arte.
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North Coast Stages and Auditions

A busy weekend ahead… The show not yet mentioned here is the North Coast Prep production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, which begins tonight (Thursday) at 8 PM in Gist Hall Theatre, continuing Friday and Saturday. Then next weekend, the Prep players present Twelfth Night at the same location.

Now to reinterate: this Saturday, Redwood Curtain presents Zounds!, a staged radio event a la A Prairie Home Companion (at 8), along with drinks and dinner (at 5:30) at the Wharfinger Building. Clink Rebik and James Floss are co-directors. You can also hear it, oddly enough, on the radio—KHUM to be exact.

Dell’Arte is presenting a one weekend reprise of Golden State, their Californicated version of Moliere's The Miser starring Joan Schirle, before it goes to LA for a month. It's in the Carlo Theatre Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8.

Ferndale Rep begins its run of 12 Angry Men with a preview on Thursday and opening night on Friday at 8. North Coast Rep continues Marat/Sade, which I review very favorably in the Journal (and will review here a little more extensively on Friday.) Barry Blake has a less enthusiastic review at the T-S. (This week's Northern Lights doesn't have anything online at the moment, but using the 5 Cookie system I've devised for him, I'd say Barry gave this one 3 Cookies.) Betti Trauth reviews it positively in the Humboldt Beacon.


Auditions will be held at the Ferndale Repertory Theatre on Tuesday Feb. 5th between 6:30 pm and 8pm. Director Gary Franklin will be doing two, half-hour stories performed live on stage and simulcast on KHUM Radio. The first story is an episode of “The Shadow” called “Silent Avenger”, originally broadcast in 1938 and starring Orson Wells. Second will be another famous story, which also starred Wells, called “The Hitchhiker” which first aired in 1946.

Gary is looking for 3-5 women, 20-50 years, and approx. 4-6 men of 20-60 years. We will be reading from script. There will be about 8 rehearsals, with performance on Feb. 7:30P.M. For more information, please call Gary at (707) 786-5483 X 207 or email Gary at

And don't forget the auditions for Ferndale's production of Hair, this weekend.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Peter Brook, possibly around the time he directed
Marat/Sade in the mid 1960s.
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Speaking of famous British director Peter Brook--as I will be in the course of reviewing of the North Coast Rep production of Marat/Sade in the Journal and later here--he makes a number of interesting comments and suggestions about various participants in the theatre process, including critics, in his book, The Empty Space. Here's one:

"The critic is part of the whole and whether he writes his notices fast or slow, short or long, is not really important. Has he an image of how a theatre could be in his community and is he revising this image around each experience he receives? How many critics see their job this way?"

Monday, January 14, 2008

This North Coast Weekend

Posted by PicasaSilas Knight as Duperret,
Kimberly Hodel as Charlotte Corday
and in the background Mary Severdia
as the Nun in Marat/Sade at NCRT
starting Thursday.

Ed Holmes in Subhuman at Arcata Playhouse
this Friday and Saturday.
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North Coast Stages and Auditions

The upcoming weekend is the first busy one of the new year. North Coast Rep opens Marat/Sade on Thursday. This adventuresome musical play from the 60s set in an insane aslyum is directed by Michael Thomas, with musical direction by Dianne Zuleger. Among the performers are Lonnie Blankenchip as the Marquis de Sade, James Read as Jean-Paul Marat, Kimberly Hodel as Charlotte Corday, Silas Knight, Jerry Nusbaum, Heath Houghten, Darcy Daughtry, Melanie Ann Quillen and Calder Johnson. Update: Betti Trauth has a preview at the T-S. And Heidi Walters reviews Jesus Christ Superstar in the Journal.

On Friday and Saturday, the Arcata Playhouse presents Subhuman: True Tales From Beneath the Sea, a one person show performed by "San Francisco funny man" Ed Holmes of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Holmes tells tales of his job as mechanic on a diesel submarine. "Caution: contains salty language and slapstick philosophizing." This show starts at 8 PM, reservations recommended: 822-1575.

Also this weekend, the play Souvenir, a two-hander about Florence Foster Jenkins, a self-financed singer notable for being terrible--the William Hung of her time, though her career lasted 32 years. This play (one of several about her) ran on Broadway in 2005. I've received no information on this production, but a chance encounter with Jean Bazemore in the Wildberries parking lot leads me to believe she's directed it, and it's a North Coast Prep production. [Correction: According to the NCJ listings, it's a Humboldt Light Opera show.] It's at Gist Hall Theatre on the HSU campus, beginning at 7:30 Friday and Saturday, and 2 PM on Sunday. 445-4310.

Coming up the following weekend, besides the aforementioned opening of Ferndale Rep's 12 Angry Men and the Redwood Curtain radio play, Dell' Arte will present a one weekend reprise of their Golden State, their Californicated version of Moliere's The Miser, before it goes to LA for a month. It's in the Carlo Theatre in Blue Lake on Thursday, January 24, Friday and Saturday at 8.

From College of the Redwoods, this audition notice:

Auditions for the College of the Redwoods Spring theater production will be held at 7 p.m., Jan. 28 in the Forum Theater (FM 103) on the main Eureka campus.

The play currently under consideration is the award-winning and outrageously funny “La Bete.” Roles available for five men and four women, ages 18 and over. Technical positions are also available. No preparation is necessary.

Theatre production is offered as part of the CR Drama Program. Those selected to participate will be required to enroll in Drama 26 for two units of credit.
Rehearsals begin Monday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m. Performances run from late March to early April. Please call 707-441-1592 for further information.

Auditions for Little Shop of Horrors. 5-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at North Coast Repertory Theater, 300 5th St., Eureka. Dress for comfortable movement and bring a song to sing with sheet music. 442-NCRT.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

William Hurt in the movie version of Kiss of the
Spider Woman.
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People talk about the magic of theatre and the theatrical profession. I stumbled on this story on a blog I found while doing a photo search, called The Sheila Variations. As incredible as it is, it has the ring of truth to me. It says so many things about theatre and theatre people that I had to pass it on.

I was involved in a production of Clifford Odets' Golden Boy in Chicago. It was a wonderful production, but it did not generate an audience. We had read somewhere that William Hurt was looking for a theatre company to be involved in. He missed the stage. We weren't just a random group of actors happy to have jobs - we were an ensemble, a company - so we sent a note to his agency, inviting him to come see Golden Boy.

Well - he did come - with his assistant - and on the night he showed up to see it, we had NO audience. Not ONE OTHER PERSON showed up. It was so mortifying. But we did the entire 3-act play solely for William Hurt and his assistant - as though there were a full house. It was one of the weirdest theatrical experiences I have ever had. On any other night, we would have CANCELED if only 2 people showed up ... but this was William Hurt! Flown in from Los Angeles!

We were all very embarrassed. We came out for our curtain call, mortified at making him come all that way to see this obvious failure. And he was sitting there, clapping, (an odd lonely sound - 2 people clapping in a big empty theatre) - and he had tears running down his face.

Afterwards, we all sat around in the lobby of the theatre with William Hurt, and talked about theatre, the state of the theatre, and acting - until 3 or 4 in the morning. He needed a ride back to his hotel. Michael, one of the actors in the show, offered him a ride with the rest of us, in his pick-up truck.

So I sat in the back of a rickety pick-up truck with William Hurt, as we drove through the quiet dark streets of Chicago, my hair blowing like crazy, William Hurt was just beaming - and laughing in exhilaration - He looked so happy.

He hugged all of us good-bye, holding on to each one of us so tight - He said that we had made him believe in the possibility of good theatre again in this country. It is a night I will never forget: laughing and screaming "Whoo-hoo!!" into the wind with William Hurt, crouched in the back of a battered pick-up truck.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Ted Neeley resurrected in the touring Jesus Christ
next week at the Van Duzer Theatre.
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North Coast News and Auditions

It's 2008, and North Coast stages are slowly getting filled again.

CenterArts is bringing in another touring musical--or rock opera, as some call it-- to the Van Duzer: Jesus Christ Superstar, on Tuesday and Wednesday, January 8 and 9, at 8 pm. This A.L. Webber and Tim Rice composition stars Ted Neeley, who starred in the film version in 1973, and costars (as Judas) Corey Glover, lead singer of Living Colour, in his stage debut. Tickets are $65, $55 for HSU students. At this point, I am just biting my tongue. Betti Trauth has a preview at the T-S, as well as her bests in theatre for 2007.

Ferndale Repertory Theatre will hold auditions for the anti-war, Summer of Love rock musical HAIR on Sunday, January 27th at 1PM and Monday, January 28th at 6:30PM at the Carson Block building, 517 Third Street, Eureka. Musical Director Tom Phillips and Director Vikki Young are looking for young men and women of all ethnic groups, ages 18-35. Note that some major roles have been pre-cast.

ACTORS should be prepared to sing with their own accompaniment (a CD player will be provided-- a capella accepted but not preferred). Choreographer Linda Maxwell requests that all actors dress comfortably and be prepared to perform several simple dance routines. Scaffolding will be a major part of the set and most actors will be required to perform without physical limitations.
The theatre is also looking for persons interested in the technical and backstage positions. Please call the theatre (707) 786-5483 with your contact information and we will get back to you.

PRODUCTION DATES are April 3 – May 4 for a total of sixteen shows in a five-week run. Rehearsals will start in February. There will be an Actor’s Benefit Night on May 1, 2008. Scripts are available for perusal at the theatre and at the HSU Library Reserve desk. Note that scripts from the theatre and the library may not be taken home. For more information, please call the Ferndale Rep at (707) 786-5483 and ask for Marilyn.

Speaking of Marilyn, maybe I just didn't notice it before, but according to its web site, Ferndale Rep is looking for a new executive director, because Marilyn McCormick is retiring at the end of this season.

Ferndale's next show is the courtroom drama, 12 Angry Men, directed by Gene Cole. It opens Friday, January 25, with a preview the night before.

The week before that, North Coast Repertory Theatre opens Marat/Sade, on Thursday, January 17.

Staged radio shows have become the rage around here suddenly, the next one by Redwood Curtain. Billed as their first show of the 2008 season, it's called Zounds! It's on January 26 at the Wharfinger Building. There's drinks and dinner as well as the show. For more: Redwood Curtain.