Friday, July 27, 2012

This North Coast Weekend

North Coast Rep opens the comedy The Red Velvet Cake War, set in Sweetgum, Texas.  Directed by Gene Cole, it features Jacqui Cain, Toodie SueAnn Boll, Gloria Montgomery, Denise Ryles, Matt Cole, Arnold Waddell and Janet Waddell.

Resuming this weekend (and alternating weekends with the Woody Guthrie show) at Ferndale Rep is the musical Cabaret, set in Berlin in 1929 and 1930, as Germany moved towards Nazi rule. I reviewed this production in the North Coast Journal. It's directed by Ginger Gene, with musical direction by Dianne Zuleger, and choreography by Linda Maxwell, lighting by Liz Uhazy and costumes by Erica Fromdahl. It features Charlie Heinberg, Elena Tessler, Kelsey MacIlvaine, Rae Robison and JM Wilkerson. Cabaret resumes its run at Ferndale Rep Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. July 27-28, and again on Aug. 10-11 and 24-25, with Sunday matinees on July 29, Aug. 12 and 26.

Next weekend at Ferndale Rep, Woody Guthrie's American Song is performed, alternating weekends with Cabaret.  At roughly the same time as Cabaret is set, the Great Depression was taking hold in the U.S. just as an ecological disaster called the Dust Bowl was driving thousands of already poor farmers from Oklahoma and other states, principally to California. An itinerant self-taught musician named Woody Guthrie joined their journey and wrote songs about the experience. Five of those songs, collected on Guthrie’s first commercial album, are among the 19 featured in Woody Guthrie’s American Song.

Woody Guthrie collected folk melodies and chronicled the 1930s and ‘40s, “from California to the New York island” (as his famous song says). Some of his songs (like “This Land is Your Land”) are so ubiquitous that many listeners today probably don’t know he is their author. Those old enough to remember the folk revival of the ‘60s (and the smaller ‘90s revival) are likely to recall songs like “Bound for Glory,” “Pastures of Plenty” and “Hard Travelin’” as done by Peter, Paul and Mary, The Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger or by Woody’s son, Arlo Guthrie, or more recently by Bruce Springsteen.

Guthrie’s songs do reflect America but not in a generic way, and their relevance recurs in our time. Just as Cabaret may remind us that beyond the repugnant noise of politics truly dangerous forces may be on the march, Guthrie’s lyrics reveal the human costs incurred by the rich exploiting the rest, masked by the smiley face of fake patriotism. That songs like “Union Maid” and “Deportee” (both in this show) are again topical in 2012 should be the real shock.

Members of the ensemble performing these songs at Ferndale Rep are Devin Galdieri, Jo Kuzelka, Steve Nobles, Dianne Zuleger, Jeremy Webb, KJ Jusefczyk and Roger Vernon. Pete Zuleger, Val Leone and Larry Hudspeth are the accompanying band. Woody Guthrie’s American Song is directed by Dianne Zuleger, with lighting design and technical direction by Liz Uhazy. It plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.  Aug. 3-4 and 17-18, with Sunday matinees on Aug. 5 and 19.

This is the last weekend for Show People at Redwood Curtain.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

This North Coast Weekend

Parents who enjoy an outdoor show with the family at the Mad River Festival but had doubts about explaining Mary Jane: The Musical to their children can confidently bring the kids to Dell Arte’s The Fish in My Head this coming weekend, July 12-14 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday July 15 at 4 p.m. in the amphitheatre out back. It’s a self-created, circus-style fantasy about “the untold stories that swim around in our dreams,” complete with music, acrobatics, physical comedy, masks and stilt-walking. There are special family-friendly admission prices, too.

The Berserker Residents, an ensemble from Philadelphia, will perform their “burlesque cabaret meets three-ring circus” production of The Jersey Devil at the Arcata Playhouse on Friday and Saturday, July 13th and 14th, at 8 p.m. There’s an opening act at 7:30, too: San Francisco clown Summer Shapiro.

Speaking of cabaret, Ferndale Repertory Theatre opens the famed musical Cabaret on Friday (July 13) at 8 p.m. Though this show set in 1930s Berlin has been revived and revised several times since its 1966 Broadway debut, many probably still know it from the 1972 film version with Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey. However, the stage play is different from the film to an even greater degree than usual.
This production is directed by Ginger Gene and stars Elena Tessler and Kelsey MacIlvaine.  It will run weekends in rotating repertory with Woody Guthrie's American Song.

Meanwhile, the contemporary comedy Show People continues at Redwood Curtain.  My review is in this week's NC Journal.

On Saturday (July 14), North Coast Repertory Theatre holds a fundraiser at the Wharfinger Building in Eureka. It’s the 2012 Pirate Ball, with music by the Delta Nationals and performance by the Ya Habibi Dance Company, among other swashbuckling features. Doors open at 7 p.m.

On Sunday, Jacqueline Dandenau hosts a social get-together for any women with stories about women in local history, in anticipation of a fall production called Women of the Pacific Northwest, which will open at the Arcata Playhouse and tour regionally.  The idea is to swap stories, particularly from "elder womenfolk as well as daughters and granddaughters with family stories from the 1940s and before."  Over snacks, of course.  It's happening at the Arcata Veteran's Hall from 1-4 p.m. (If you've got stories but can't make it this time, a separate time can be arranged.)   Contact Jackie at or at the Playhouse at 822-1575 for more information.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

This North Coast Weekend

With a preview on Friday (and not tonight as usual--the Thursday preview was cancelled due to some noisy event apparently scheduled across the street), Redwood Curtain in Eureka opens its latest contemporary comedy, Show People.  The play by Paul Weitz is about a veteran but currently out of work acting couple who take on a strangely involved non-theatrical performance job.  Directed by Clint Rebik, it stars Bonnie and Ron Halverson, and features Nanette Voss-Herlihy and Nathan Emmons.

Show People opens offficially on Saturday (July 7) at 8 p.m. with gala reception afterwards.  Performances continue Thursdays-Saturdays through July 28, with a 2 pm Sunday matinee on July 22.

Meanwhile out in Blue Lake, Dell'Arte's  Mary Jane: The Musical plays for its final weekend (see review below.)  After the Friday show (at 10:30 or so), the notorious Red Light in Blue Lake cabaret begins in the Carlo.  It features special guests The Bada Bing! Burlesque of Southern Humboldt.

Mary Jane: The Next Generation (A Review)

This is a slightly longer version of the review published in the North Coast Journal on June 28.

A Sharper Focus for Dell’Arte’s Musical Extravaganja

Last summer’s Mary Jane: The Musical was a box office success that many more people wanted to see than could, so bringing it back this summer made sense—especially with recessionary blues still playing in the background. It was also an opportunity to shape a sharper evening, as well as add some new songs and more dancing. So Mary Jane, Queen of the Emerald Ball returns with most of the original cast in a show about the business and culture of cannabis in Humboldt. Mary Jane: The Musical 2012 is now onstage in the outdoor Rooney Amphitheatre at Dell’Arte in Blue Lake.

They’re back: the Humboldt Honeys, the Bollywood finale with Pratik Motwani, Tim Randles’ “Why Is Whiskey Legal and Pot Is Not” and an even sweeter, breathtaking duet by Joan Schirle and David Powell on Lila Nelson’s “Grow Inside.” There are elaborate, acrobatic new dance routines choreographed by Laura Munoz. Joan Schirle (as Mary Jane) is again a better world’s bona fide Broadway star.

But for all the energy and exuberance, the content tips towards a darker assessment. Dell’Arte’s call to the public to contribute ideas for this year’s edition resulted most specifically in a new song, “The Trimmers’ Flamenco” by Tim Randles, about the women employed to trim the outer leaves from the cannabis buds. Other comments, especially relating to Mary Jane’s song about her son, led to major new themes: the effects on children as well as legacies and responsibilities for the future.

There’s not much nostalgia this time. It was pretty much over in the pre-show song set, with Powell’s powerful singing of the John Lennon wordless vocal center of “A Day in the Life,” and its innocent ecstasy and wistful wonder as well as the pain of awe and longing, those foregone possibilities.

Mary Jane replaces reminiscence with reevaluation. While last summer she called the local situation “complicated,” she describes the year since as “one big eco disaster all around. I mean, like the price has hit the floor, the feds are pouring in, the clinics are getting squeezed...” Soon it’s all reminding her of the Gold Rush: “Folks discover something valuable that is just laying around on the ground, everybody rushes in, takes what they can, leaves a wreck behind...”  Last year she introduced old friends who bantered about their common past. This year those friends are moving on and away.

What they leave behind is the devil or the deep blue sea—the black market greed of “The Industry” or the legalized corporate greed of “This Bud’s For You” and the corporations’ intent to “corner the market/legalization’s opened up.” (both songs by Scott Menzies.) “Rasta Tea Party” by Zuzka Sabata opts for the current situation:“We need to keep the black market free/ No need to live in debt slavery.” Either way, it’s the rule of “Green Like Money” ( also by Zuzka Sabata): “I’m false like smoke/I’m empty hope.” But complete withdrawal is also disastrous, leaving nothing but a “Ghost Town”—a song by Joani Rose: “A ghost town, when the pot money stops/A ghost town, when the pot bubble pops.”

When Mary Jane’s estranged son appears and she meets her infant granddaughter, the focus moves to the effects on the next generation, as in Sabata’s new song “Officer and Child” about being taught to lie and hide. “Innocent no more”—a phrase in this song repeated in Randles’ “Nightmare”—might be this year’s subtitle.

    But the voice of experience is not hopeless, and as in many ancient and modern myths, it is the elder who guides to the future. Mary Jane rallies in an eloquent final speech: “I am tired of living in the shadows...I am tired of profit over people...My mantra is—never leave your consciousness at the door.”

The presence of Mary Jane’s son, also a grower, gives a stronger and more personal connection to “The Industry” that was simply implied last year, as the struggle of the second cannabis generation. The introduction of a son and grandchild also cries out for human interaction and emotion (especially in a musical) but I felt a lack of that in the opening night performance, as well the usual spontaneity.

  Otherwise this is a more cohesive, confident, resonant and haunting update, as well as upping the entertainment quotient. Michael Fields skillfully guided the script and staging, Daniel Spencer is scenic designer, Lydia Foreman the costume designer, Michael Foster designed lighting. Musical director Tim Randles joined by players Marla Joy, Mike LaBolle and guitarist Dan Perez comprised the ever-excellent band. Returning members of the dashing cast not yet named are Ryan Musil, Zuzka Sabata, Joyce Hough, Janessa Johnsrude and Meridith Anne Baldwin, joined by Jacob Trillo. Fred Neighbor didn’t return, and he and his character are missed.

    This is the final weekend for Mary Jane: The Musical at the Mad River Festival.