Friday, May 27, 2011

Muse June Preview and This North Coast Weekend

[Muse was a short-lived monthly insert in the North Coast Journal previewing the next month's arts and entertainment events.  I did stage, and this particular column hints at what else a theatre column could be, were it something more like a full time, full-salary job.]

Jeffrey Hatcher looks eminently professorial in photos these days, and when I met him some years ago he already exhibited an impressive theatrical intelligence. But he also seemed a Noel Coward kind of guy, meant to greet you with a cocktail in hand.

 So it’s not surprising that his version of The Government Inspector, Gogol’s comedy involving greed, corruption and mistaken identity, is noted for its wit. According to an interview in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Hatcher had his eyes on this play since he acted in it in college. He thought: “Good construction. Could be funnier.”

 His approach was to keep the situation in historical period but update the dialogue. “A hundred and forty years ago in Russia, saying ‘That fish has three eyes, my friend’ was hysterical. And now it’s like, ‘What the hell?’”

 Hatcher’s adaptation of The Government Inspector opens at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Eureka on Thursday June 2, and plays weekends through June 25 at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on June 12 and 19. Reservations: 442-NCRT.

 Tinamarie Ivey (seen lunching last week at Chipalas in Old Town with L.A. playwright Ken Gray) is back in town from Oregon with The Logger Project: Bringing to Life Logger Stories of the Pacific Northwest. A combined effort involving Ivey and hubbie Dan Stone’s Sanctuary Stage, the Ink People and Arcata’s Four on the Floor (among others), it’s an Ivey script based on interviews with local loggers and their families as well as historical research, that focuses on the lives and hardships of early loggers and subsequent generations.

 It’s the northern California edition of a planned three-part project, eventually encompassing Oregon and Washington. “This project is not meant to be a platform for political bantering about ethical logging nor the effects of logging on our northern forests,” the press release sternly warns. “It is meant to capture a glimpse of the history, day-to-day lives and experiences of the men and women who call themselves loggers.”

 Following up on the successful collaboration with L.A.’s Cornerstone Theatre in 2009, this production will be outdoors at the Blue Ox Millworks and Historic Park in Eureka, Friday through Sunday, June 3-5. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 or pay-what-you-can. More information at

 The Sugar Bean Sisters by contemporary American playwright Nathan Sanders is described as “an off-beat Southern Gothic comedy of romance, murder and alien abduction.” With a story that starts when Willie Mae loses her prized Eva Gabor wig on Space Mountain at Disney World, it’s down-home Southern humor with pop culture weirdness. This is Sanders first play, a prize-winner that gets produced a lot in regional and community theatres.

 Judging from reviews, it’s a play that you either love or hate. But enough have loved it that Sanders wrote a sequel, called Sugar Witch, which ran last year in San Francisco. The Ferndale Repertory production of The Sugar Bean Sisters opens on Friday, June 10 at 8 p.m. It runs Fridays and Saturday evenings, and Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m. through June 26. Box office: (707) 786-5483 or 1-800-836-3006.

 The Mad River Festival in Blue Lake commences on June 23 with the opening of Dell’Arte’s Mary Jane: The Musical. A certain selfish editor has kept all that information to himself, but apparently it’s available somewhere in this issue.

 Dell’Arte also will confer its 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award on June 25 to the North Coast Lunts, Bob and Lynne Wells (seen dining at the Abruzzi in Arcata, stopping at another table to chat with Dell’Arte’s Michael Fields) for “their exceptional work in theatre for more than four decades.” So say we all.

Meanwhile, This North Coast Weekend:

 The Dell'Arte School graduating class of 2011 presents The Finals--their ultimate small ensemble work, beginning Thursday, May 26 through Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Carlo. Admission is pay what you can. The audience will get the chance to give their own grades for what they see, on a Report Card tucked in the program. But I don't think it goes on anybody's Permanent Record.

 Jeff DeMark is performing his annual reprise of his first show, "Writing My Way Out of Adolescence," at Redwood Yogurt (16th & G) in Arcata on Friday (May 27) at 8 p.m. There is no admission charge, but the room is small so come early. Jeff is working with a band he put together that he really likes, so the music is part of the attraction.

 I might also mention the appearance of North Coast pianist and HSU alum Ryan MacEvoy McCullough at HSU's Fulkerson Recital Hall on Friday at 8 p.m. Among the pieces Ryan will play is a piano sonata by his friend and fellow HSU alum Dante De Silva, subtitled "Arcata." More (of my) info at HSU Music. Proceeds go towards bringing other guest pianists to Humboldt.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

KCACTF Commendations

The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's National Selection Team just announced their individual commendations for participants in the Region 7 festival held here at HSU in February.

Special commendations went to two cast members of Xtigone from California State College East Bay: Chalia La Tour as "Tigs" (the Antigone character: pictured here) and Carlos Martinez as LeRoy.  Other actors similarly honored are Liam Callister of St. Mary's College (Angels in America: Millennium Approaches) and Lanny Langston, Angela Vogel, Phoenix Tage, Brittany Brook, Rachel Rosenfeld, Nicholas Witham and Adrian Crookston of the University of Idaho for Distinguished Ensemble Performance in Up.

Also for Up: Anthony Brinkley for Distinguished Achievement in Scenic Design,Laura Berkompas for Lighting Design, Mike Locke for Sound Design, Adriana Sanchez for Costume Design and Kim Bell for Hair & Makeup Design.

Other awards:  Laura Elaine Ellis (Xtigone) for Distinguished Achievement in Choreography, Matthew White of Ohlone College (The Time Machine) for  Sound Design; Ted Crimy for Sound Design and Robert Broadfoot for Scenic Design--both of St. Mary's (Angels in America.)

In addition there were two awards for a show not seen on the main stage but presented in a reading: Angela Santillo was cited for Distinguished Achievement in Playwriting for the play, Sera, and Rebecca Engle for Distinguished Achievement in Directing for New Play Development.  Both are from St. Mary's College of California.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

This North Coast Weekend

North Coast Prep presents A Russian Promenade at the Bayside Grange, beginning May 11. Director Gretha Omey Stenger uses the framework of Gogol’s play The Government Inspector with characters from two Chekhov plays and a number of his short stories to create a dramatic world that both the actors and audience will literally walk through as they promenade to scenes featuring characters from all walks of 19th century village life. Audience members who prefer to sit still will have the option of watching it all from one location, but those who join the promenade and the shifting audience space might interact with the characters, as they all prepare for the arrival of the government inspector.

A Russian Promenade plays Wednesday May 11 through Saturday May 14 at 7:30 p.m., with an additional 1:30 p.m. matinee on Saturday.

Beginning Thursday May 12, the graduating MFA students at Dell’Arte School present their thesis projects of original work in The Thesis Festival : A Tuesday, a one-act dark comedy in which Death has a speaking part; Master of All Splendor, an adaptation of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth; and Land of Dreams, a two-clown show suggested “for couples who drive each other crazy.” Sounds like date night!  All three of these shows play Thursdays through Sundays May 12-15 and May 19-22 at 8 p.m. in the Carlo.

Continuing: Almost, Maine at Redwood Curtain in Eureka on weekends through May 21, with a special “cheap date” price on Thursdays — and this is another date night play if there ever was one. My review is at the NC Journal.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

McCarthyism in America

The City University of New York has refused to give playwright Tony Kushner a planned honorary degree because a member of its board of trustees objects to Kushner's views on Israel.

Now historian Ellen Schrecker of Yeshiva University is returning her CUNY honorary degree in protest, with a very pointed statement.  According to Salon, her statement reads in part:  "I received my honorary degree from CUNY because of my scholarship on the McCarthy period, when over one hundred professors (including at least fifteen from the New York City municipal colleges) lost their jobs for political reasons," writes Schrecker. "I assume that no one within CUNY’s Board of Trustees or administration wants a repeat of those dark days."

Justification for this response is inherent in the statement made by the objecting board member, who wrote in a New York Times oped that Kushner's "libelous statements against Israel were made by anyone outside the Jewish community, that person would be correctly labeled an anti-Semite."  This is precisely the kind of inflammatory charge that McCarthyism represented.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


"Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art."

Konstantin Stanislavsky

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Almost, Maine

Almost, Maine, now on stage at Redwood Curtain, is a collection of love stories told in ten scenes with two people in each, united only by the time of a winter night and the place, a mythical unincorporated town in rural northern Maine.

 Only a couple of the 19 characters recur in more than one scene (though you do hear some names repeated.) Cumulatively it’s a romantic comedy, perhaps even a sideways small town portrait in a literary line that includes Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.  Though there are suggestions of larger meaning that may stick with you, the play itself doesn’t aim for the depth of those works, especially since its sole focus is love relationships: some over time, some coming together or coming apart in the moment.

 Without giving too much away, it takes a number of figures of speech, familiar metaphors, even cliches, and makes them literal. (So two people literally fall in love.) The comic surprise this stratagem achieves is itself surprising. It adds a kind of magic realism to dialogue with a realistic ring—a repetitive terseness that may owe as much to Mamet (without the vulgarity) as it does to Maine.

 But then as we all know, there is inherent bittersweet wonder to living in a rural town, where the night sky is a presence and a reminder of influential mysteries.

 All 19 characters are played by four actors. Dmitry Tokarsky, Wanda Stapp, Daniel Mariscal and Brittany Williams pretty much nail every moment. The roles are great for actors (it’s no surprise that the playwright, John Cariani, is primarily an actor) and they all make these characters live, with conviction and presence.

 Some scenes are better than others, but the actors make you believe in the innocence and wistfulness, the bursts of anguish and joy. They perform the at times hilarious physical comedy just as well. With focused direction by Gail Holbrook and a simple set by Daniel C. Nyiri, the actors run away with this script. It’s a sweet and poignant theatrical evening.

 This play has a fascinating history. Cariani drew on his background in rural Maine to write his own audition scenes for acting jobs in New York. Assembled as a play, Almost, Maine was named (by the Wall Street Journal and American National Theatre) as one of the best regional productions of 2004-05, and (by Entertainment Weekly) as one of the worst shows of 2006.  After its disastrous New York run, it became an international hit, and replaced A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the most frequently produced play in American high schools.

 Apart from its other virtues, it solves a contemporary production dilemma by the genius of 19 characters that can be played by 19 actors (schools love large cast plays) or just four (almost every other kind of theatre loves small casts, for mostly economic reasons.)

 Michael Burkhart and Meeka Day did the lighting, Karen Kenfield the costumes, John Turney the sound. Almost, Maine plays at Redwood Curtain in Eureka on weekends through May 21st. Redwood Curtain has a special “cheap date” price on Thursdays—and this is a date night play if there ever was one.

Coming Up:

 On Friday (April 29) and continuing Fridays and Saturdays at 7 PM, Sundays at 2 PM, through May 8, Humboldt Light Opera presents a version of Mozart’s comic opera, The Marriage of Figaro, in the Forum Theatre at CR. Director Carol Ryder has condensed the basic love-and-marriage story to an hour of dialogue with all of Mozart’s musical “hits.” “We're not performing it as high opera,” Ryder said. “Instead it's musical theater with fantastic vocalists.” Mozart is paired with a modern take on the same marriage theme: The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown. Both are fully acted productions, with costumes by Kevin Sharkey and lights by Justin Takata. James Gadd, Essie Bertain, Bill Ryder, Katherine Kinley, Sarah Benzinger, Bonnie Cyr, Jim Willits and Mira Weidman are the “Figaro” cast, with  Kevin Richards and Molly Severdia starring in The Last Five Years.

 Dell'Arte's first year students present the self-explanatory Clown Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Carlo. 

Native Stories: Basically Factual by California Native performance artist James Luna (Luisueno) visits for one night only, Friday at 8 p.m. in HSU’s Gist Hall Theater. It's free and doors open at 7:30.