Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Shaw Redemption

How Shaw may have saved my sanity, at least for a little while longer, in the post below.


When the plays all start to look the same--the same yo-yoing up and down and see-sawing across the stage to make "pictures", with people in intimate dialogue shouting at each other from opposite ends while dressing a turkey or undressing themselves--and all start to sound the same--the same characters distinguished by little ticks that recur in slightly different form at least twice more to provide the illusion of individuality and meaning--when sitting there becomes a matter of repressed depression followed by repressed screaming---well

it's time for something different. My travel budget (being zero) does not allow for much viewing elsewhere, let alone major stages. New York. London. Even San Francisco. So what's the answer, to escape from this brittle sameness?

Lately it's been a set of DVDs, British television productions of plays by George Bernard Shaw. First, there's Shaw: a playwright seldom done hereabouts, whose plays are more radically different than the supposedly innovative new shows. And for all their reputation as talky, walking ideas, they are well-made in a certain way, and certainly entertaining, besides entertaining ideas.

Then there's the acting. These productions seem mostly from the 1970s and 80s, so they often feature theatrical icons in their prime. Speaking of prime, the first one I saw was Maggie Smith in The Millionairess. Maggie Smith in the early 1970s was not only a skillful actor with that indelible voice, she was beautiful. She photographs very beautifully in this play, which is basically a stage performance with some filmic inserts. And she was beautiful then, as I can attest, since I sat across the table from her at dinner for several hours. Well, she was sort of across and to the left, at the next table. (Yes, I've told this story before here. And I'm telling it again.) It was a theatre restaurant and bar in Boston, and I was accompanying another attractive woman, a TV theatre and film reviewer who later became the head of all PBS, Pat Mitchell. Pat actually had a better view of Maggie, but I was closer. (Later that evening I heard someone playing piano and singing and thought, he sounds like Joel Grey. I turned around to look. It was Joel Grey.)

For an "obscure" Shaw, The Millionairess is a treat. It also features Tom Baker in a pre-Doctor Who role. (This is a different production apparently from the BBC version, also with Maggie Smith, also available on DVD.)

Each of these DVDs actually has two plays. Mrs. Warren's Profession, a play that skewers capitalism more effectively than Michael Moore, is accompanied by You Never Can Tell, a precursor presumably of plays and film comedies with similar sorts of titles, and this one is energetic, both intelligent and happily funny. What a treat. The performances are wonderful.

The Devil's Disciple is not a very good play--the Burt Lancaster film is actually better, though it preserves only one speech, which Laurence Olivier happily delivers as General Burgoyne. But it is interesting, and has a nice pre-Picard performance by Patrick Stewart. Arms and the Man is lively, with probably the best performance I've seen by a bouyant, vibrant Helena Bonham Carter. Next I'm seeing Heartbreak House--I've seen another TV version several times, with Rex Harrison, but this one is with John Gielgud. There's a Pygmalion in the series but alas no Joan or Cleopatra.

These plays give fine actors great words, and they love it, glory in it, and show what they can really do. These plays are about something--issues of class, gender roles, politics, economics, war and peace--that we may need to mentally update and translate to our times, but are often very acute and timeless. And not just issues, but all kind of human concern illuminated by these flashing personalities that Shaw and these actors create.

The first couple of plays sent me to Shaw's prefaces, wonderful in themselves, and I found myself starting to read The Millionairess, hearing Maggie Smith say the lines all over again. I rented these DVDs from La Dolce Video (the new store on G that absorbed a lot of the Video Experience inventory.) But I think I'm going to buy the set. There are nights I need to hear some Shaw, or something. Some of those nights after an evening at the theatre.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This North Coast Weekend

Opening Thursday at the Van Duzer Theatre is the musical comedy City of Angels, produced by the HSU Department of Theatre, Film & Dance and the Department of Music. Photo is of Ethan Heintz and Jamie Banister; other featured performers include Brandy Rose and Chris Hatcher. This fond send-up of Hollywood and the hard-boiled detective pictures of the 40s was written by Larry Gelbart, with music by Cy Coleman. It plays two weekends: Thursdays through Saturdays Oct. 22-24 and Oct. 29-31 at 7:30 PM, with a Sunday matinee at 2 PM on Nov. 1. Much more info (which I created) at HSU Stage and HSU Music.
Flush from the overflow success of its first “Speakeasy” Benefit, the Arcata Playhouse has scheduled another, on Friday, Oct. 23, with music etc. by Jackie Dandeneau and others. Details at
In their final weekend: Inverted Alba at Dell'Arte and Crimes of the Heart at Ferndale Rep. I review Crimes of the Heart this week in the Journal, where I also tell a Larry Gelbart joke that almost nobody has heard before.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This North Coast Weekend

Opening tonight for a brief run is The Historia and Tale of Doctor Faustus by the first and second years at Northcoast Prep. It runs Wednesday through Friday at 7:30 in Gist Hall Theatre on the HSU campus. Since I got no advance information on this production, all I know is what I read in the paper, but it's directed by Gretha Omey Stenger.

Continuing: Inverted Alba at Dell'Arte (which I review in this week's Journal), Crimes of the Heart at Ferndale Rep (which I'll see this weekend): both of these run until October 25. Winding up its run this weekend at North Coast Rep is Guys and Dolls.

Friday, October 9, 2009

This North Coast Weekend

Ferndale Rep opens Beth Henley's family drama, Crimes of the Heart this weekend--Fridays and Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 2 until October 25. Dell'Arte opens Inverted Alba, (above photo) a reimagining of four plays by Lorca, starring Joan Schirle, also for three weekends, Fridays through Sundays at 8 in the Carlo.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Arcata Playhouse Benefit

A benefit to keep the Arcata Playhouse humming happens on Saturday at 8 PM at, oddly enough, the Arcata Playhouse. There Jackie Dandenau and her Speakeasy Trio (Tim Gray, Marla Joy and Time Randles) host an evening of music, comedy and drinks: wine from Moonstone Crossing, beer from Lost Coast Brewery, etc. It's a speakeasy, see?

Along with the 30s speakeasy style jazz, guest performers include Gregg Moore, Barb Culbertson, Jean Stach, Louis Hoilland, Curtis & Julie Thompson. Jackie will perform a new monologue, too. Tickets are $20 for singles and $99 for a table of four, which includes a bottle of Moonstone wine or beverage of choice. Tickets are available at Wildwood Music and The Works and the Playhouse. More info: or (707) 822-1575.

That seems to be pretty much what's happening this weekend, apart from Guys and Dolls continuing at North Coast Rep. But true to recent scheduling madness, two openings next weekend at Dell'Arte and Ferndale Rep.