Wednesday, November 28, 2012

This North Coast Weekend

Opening on Thursday November 29 for two weekends, HSU Department of Theatre, Film & Dance presents the magical love story from India, Shakuntala.  Though this epic fairy tale (with gods, demons and heroes) is a cultural icon in India,  it’s seldom seen on stage in the U.S.  Playwright and HSU department chair Margaret Thomas Kelso adapted it for the contemporary American stage. Directed by Rae Robison, it also includes original music by Brian Post. Rose Gutierrez and Mark Teeter head a cast of 20. Brian Post composed the original music.

“This is a family-oriented show,” Kelso said, “so we’ve scheduled it for the holiday season. There’s singing, dancing and masks in an exotic, romantic and fanciful story.” Shakuntala is performed in the Gist Hall Theatre at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays Nov. 29-Dec. 1 and Dec. 6-8, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on Dec. 2 and 9. 826-3928.

Also opening on Thursday, last year's Happy Family returns to the Arcata Playhouse for The Larry Welcome Happy Holiday Extravaganza.  This year another family member appears, Frank Happy’s twin brother, Larry Welcome.  It's their now-traditional combination of comedy, music, mistaken identity and holiday tips (and elves, don’t forget the elves.)

  Lynne and Bob Wells are back, along with Jacqueline Dandeneau, David Ferney, Amy Tetzlaff, Amelia Davide, Cora Dandeneau and Jeremy Santos. Tim Randles, Tim Gray and Marla Joy provide the music, and in another tradition, there are a couple of different special guests for each performance. The Arcata Playhouse holiday show runs two weekends: Thursday-Saturday Nov. 29-December 1, and Friday and Saturday Dec. 7 & 8 at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday December 9. 822-1575.

Meanwhile, the musical Annie continues at Ferndale Rep, and the musical comedy Anything Goes continues at North Coast Rep.  Dell Arte's holiday show, The Fish in My Head, is on the road (see schedule in post below.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

This North Coast Weekend

When Black Friday comes, so will two stage openings. The 1977 musical Annie opens at Ferndale Repertory Theatre on Friday (November 23.)   With a story based on the popular 1930s comic strip, it’s set in the Great Depression, featuring an 11 year-old orphan heroine, a mean orphanage director, a beneficent millionaire and a singing-and-dancing President Franklin D. Roosevelt. And it ends on Christmas.

With music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, Annie was an immediate sensation and has been a theatrical staple ever since. The latest Broadway revival just opened in early November, providing New York critics with opportunities to muse on optimism after the hurricane and the politics of rich and poor. But basically it’s a big, very child-friendly musical that Ferndale produces with a cast of 24, featuring Craig Benson as Daddy Warbucks, Andrea Zvaleko as the evil Miss Hannigan, Kristi Peifer as Daddy’s faithful personal assistant and Jeff Kieser as the comic villain, Rooster. Ariel Vergen and Marina Benson will play Annie. Kate Haley directs, with choreography by Linda Maxwell, scenic design by Calder Johnson, costumes by Taylor Depew, lighting by Greta Stockwell and music direction by Justin Ross, who also conducts the live band.

The NY Times review of the new production there (which led with the audience response to the cute dog) noted the number of little girls in the audience.  Of course, there are a number of little girls in the cast as well, and this play has incubated a number of child stars.  Among those who appeared over the years were Sarah Jessica Parker, Molly Ringwald and Alyssa Milano.

  Annie runs Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons from November 23 through December 16. 1-800-838-3006.

Also opening November 23 is the North Coast traditional Dell’Arte holiday show for all ages, that begins in Blue Lake and travels up and down 101 from Scotia to Cave Junction, Oregon for mostly free shows. This year it’s an original fantasy called The Fish In My Head, created by the ensemble of seven actor/musician/acrobats: Janessa Johnsrude, Ryan Musil, Jacob Trillo, Meridith Ann Baldwin (all seen in last summer’s Mary Jane: The Musical), Rux Cantir, Anson Kalani Smith and Anthony Arnista. Directed and designed by Ronlin Foreman, it’s a fish story about transformations and adventure that starts out in the humdrum but escapes to the bottom of the sea and off to the moon, and back.

Opening weekend performances at the Carlo Theatre in Blue Lake (Friday and Saturday, Nov. 23 & 24 at 7:30 p.m.) are free, though audiences are asked to contribute non-perishable food items to be donated to local food banks. That goes for the touring shows, too, which reach an estimated seven-to-ten thousand people, many of them school children.  Then The Fish in My Head returns to Blue Lake Dec. 13-16, with tickets priced at $10 and $8. Ticket outlets include Wildberries Marketplace, Pierson Building Center and Moore’s Sleep World. Also: 707-668-5663, ext. 20.

Meanwhile, the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes continues at North Coast Rep.  My review is in this week's NC Journal.

Fish in My Head Full Schedule

Nov. 23, 24 Blue Lake, CA DAI’s Carlo Theatre 7:30 PM FREE
Nov. 26 Klamath, CA Yurok Tribal Headquarters 6:00 PM FREE
Nov. 27 McKinleyville, CA McKinleyville High School 7:30 PM FREE
Nov. 28 Arcata, CA Van Duzer at HSU 7:30 PM FREE
Nov. 30 Trinidad, CA Trinidad School 7:00 PM FREE
Dec. 2 Point Arena, CA Arena Theater 4:00 PM $10/8
Dec. 4 Redway, CA Mateel Community Center 6:30 PM $10/5
  Dec. 5 Scotia, CA Winema Theater 7:30 PM FREE
Dec. 6 Orick, CA Orick Community Center 5:00 PM FREE
Dec. 7 Burnt Ranch Burnt Ranch School 12:30PM FREE
Dec. 8 Eureka, CA Eureka Theater 7:30 PM FREE
Dec. 10 Cave Junction, OR Lorna Byrne Middle School 7:00 PM FREE
Dec. 13- 16 Blue Lake, CA DAI’s Carlo Theatre 7:30PM $10/8

Thursday, November 15, 2012

This North Coast Weekend

Tonight (Thursday Nov. 15) North Coast Rep opens the classic Cole Porter musical, Anything Goes.   Like many movies of the period, this 1934 show is an escapist comedy involving love and high jinks among the hilariously wealthy. This time some romantic criminals are added to the mix-ups aboard an ocean liner, with Cole Porter tunes that are simultaneously topical and timeless. Its latest Tony Award-winning Broadway revival was in 2011. Lauren Wieland directs the NCRT production featuring Eric Standifird, Keili Simmons Marble (also the dance director), Clayton Cook, Molly Severdia (also the music director) and David Simms. Anything Goes plays for a solid month of weekends, November 15-December 15. Tickets and information: 442-6278.

This is the last weekend for Dusty and the Big, Bad World at Redwood Curtain.

Monday, November 5, 2012

It's Not Easy ReLiving Bush

I do my best each time in my reviews, though I'm not always crazy about the result.  Some pieces I do particularly like, and this is one of them--it appears in this weeks NC Journal.  I've probably mucked it up with some additions, but it has a proper Election Day theme.  I did bury the lead, however, which is VOTE!

Dusty and the Big Bad World, now on stage at Redwood Curtain, is loosely based on real events: the 2005 decision by PBS not to air a segment of a children’s program (Postcards From Buster) dealing with lesbian parents, under pressure from the Bush administration. Playwright Cusi Cram, who worked for an associated program (Arthur) then, engages in some score-settling, puts words of one actual participant in another’s mouth, and inaccurately impugns the motive of the PBS president at the time (who admittedly is an old acquaintance of mine.) But on the whole, Cram uses the situation to create an independent, thoughtful and lively work of theatre that entertains ideas as well as the audience.

  First we meet 11-year-old Lizzie Goldberg-Jones (played by Alissa Barthel) who talks into her video camera about why she should win the contest to be on the animated PBS children’s show Dusty, along with her family: because her little brother really likes it, and “TV is important.” It might distract him from being teased about their “two dads.”  (The TV is important line turns out to be a major theme--not an unexpected one from a writer who is still involved in television.  Another biographical tell: Cusi Cram was herself a precocious and cute child TV star.)

Next there’s Marianne Fitzgibbons (Dianne Zuleger,) a sunny but formidable presence who tells us at length how much she loves her new job, which turns out to be Secretary of Education. Her cheery demeanor towards her troubled secretary Karen (Carrie Hudson) is edged with menace, but the doubleness of her response to Karen--apparently real feeling along with shrewd coldness--goes a long way towards making the character of Marianne more than caricature.   

Marianne—whose zealous fundamentalism becomes increasingly clear-- already has her sights on the Dusty episode resulting from Lizzie winning the contest. She means to squelch it, and to cancel the series entirely. This puts the show’s producer and self-described paranoid liberal Nathan Friedman (Nathan Emmons) on the bubble, along with the show’s protective creator, Jessica Fields (Tisha Sloan.)

Playwright Cram gives these characters dimension and individuality, and this superb group of actors gives them even more. Dianne Zuleger inhabits her role to a truly scary extent. Nathan Emmons and Tisha Sloan are immediately convincing, and Alissa Barthel provides the not entirely innocent burst of light that redeems the adult-made muddle. But it’s Karen who becomes the moral center of the play (as a troubled child she wore green socks everyday to remind her of Kermit the Frog and his song, It's Not Easy Being Green.)   Carrie Hudson’s compelling performance takes us on that journey.

    How all this is a comedy with a partially happy ending is hard to describe. Some invented aspects of the plot are weak, but the script is witty and emotional, with lots of ideas flashing amidst the politics, confessions and intrigue. The characters are believable and memorable.  Marianne is an especially impressive character, especially as Zuleger plays her.  She's almost archetypal at times, and also very much like some of the political and religious fundamentalists in and around the Bush administration I've met--that combination of ingredients that people like me find unfathomable.

Reliving that Bush atmosphere wasn't easy, even for the length of this play.  But it is well-timed to motivate the one action we can take to prevent its second coming.  (Hint: vote! Save Big Bird!)

This play had its premiere performance in Denver, where the director apparently hyped it up with elements of farce. However,  I felt Redwood Curtain director Jyl Hewston made the right choice of tone—subtle and straightforward, letting the play and the actors carry the evening.

Scenic design is by Daniel Nyiri, lighting by Michael Burkhart, costumes by Laura Rhinehart, sound by Jon Tunney. Dusty and the Big Bad World plays weekends at Redwood Curtain through November 17.

   Dusty and the Big Bad World is one of three plays on North Coast stages this fall based on real events, involving similar issues. Eureka High just closed The Laramie Project, about the 1998 torture and death of a gay student that led to the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009. The third play was 8, about Proposition 8 and marriage equality, presented by HSU Theatre, Film & Dance to a big crowd at the Van Duzer on Thursday.  There was a lengthy discussion afterwards as well. These plays have at least one real world message in common: vote.

Apropos of Dusty and this message, a real world girl very much in the same situation as Lizzie's little brother in the play--bullied by classmates because of her "two dads"-- wrote a letter to President Obama asking what she should do.  This is President Obama's reply ( and recall that he was raised by a single mother along with grandparents):

"In America, no two families look the same. We celebrate this diversity. And we recognize that whether you have two dads or one mom what matters above all is the love we show one another. You are very fortunate to have two parents who care deeply for you. They are lucky to have such an exceptional daughter in you. Our differences unite us. You and I are blessed to live in a country where we are born equal no matter what we look like on the outside, where we grow up, or who our parents are. A good rule is to treat others the way you hope they will treat you. Remind your friends at school about this rule if they say something that hurts your feelings."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

This North Coast Weekend

8, the marriage equality play, gets its one and only North Coast staged reading at HSU tonight, Thursday, November 1.

In a 2010 trial, the federal court judge found that California Proposition 8 (passed in 2008) could not amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages, because it violates provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Though the Supreme Court is yet to weigh in, this case made same-sex marriage a Constitutional right.

That trial is the subject of 8, a play by Dustin Lance Black, whose script for Milk—the movie starring Sean Penn about San Francisco’s Harvey Milk--won the Academy Award. After celebrity-rich readings on Broadway and in Los Angeles, the Foundation for Equal Rights granted permission for staged readings throughout North America (and beyond.) The HSU Department of Theatre, Film & Dance pursued and got the opportunity to produce it for the North Coast. Each local theatre gets the spotlight for one night. In the week just before Arcata’s turn, there were readings scheduled in Des Moines, Baltimore, Anchorage, Austin and Minneapolis.

  As in readings elsewhere, the emphasis is on involving the whole community, beginning with the actors. So at HSU participants include Michael Fields, James Floss, James Hitchcock, Christina Jioras, Susan Abbey, Michael Thomas, JM Wilkerson, Elisa Abelleira, James McHugh, Catherine L. Brown, Sam Machado, Juan Carlos Contreras and Shea King. Clint Rebik directs, with set and lighting by Katie Dawson.

“People need to witness what happened in the Proposition 8 trial,” said playwright Black, “if for no other reason than to see inequality and discrimination unequivocally rejected in a court of law where truth and facts matter.” This staged reading is a benefit for the Foundation for Equal Rights. It’s followed by a panel that will lead audience discussion. 8 is on the Van Duzer Theatre stage at HSU on Thursday, November 1, at 7:30 p.m. Donation is $5. Box Office: 826-3928. More information: HSU Stage and Screen.

Also this weekend, Humboldt Light Opera Company's KidCo opens the musical Once Upon a Mattress on Friday at 7 p.m. in the Forum Theatre at College of the Redwoods.  It's also onstage Saturday.

On Sunday the road company for A Chorus Line comes to the Van Duzer at HSU for two shows, at 3 p.m.. and 8 p.m., through CenterArts. 

Dusty and the Big Bad World continues at Redwood Curtain.  I review it this week in the NC Journal.