Thursday, July 31, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

photo by Bob Doran
One night, Jeff DeMark had a dream: he and some friends were performing at the Mad River Festival. Though he estimates he’s done about 20 solo shows at Dell’Arte, this summer’s festival wasn’t on his radar. But the dream was compelling and he emailed Dell’ Arte’s Michael Fields to tell him about it. “Good dream,” was Fields’ reply and soon this evening was arranged: Acting on a Dream: Summer Stories, Songs and Wild Left Turns, happens in Blue Lake at the Big Hammer Tent on Thursday July 31 at 7:30 p.m., part of Dell'Arte's Mad River Festival.

Half of Dell’Arte’s motto of “from around the world and down the block” was demonstrated in Elisabeth’s Book last week, with participants from France, Spain, Moldova and the U.S. The other half is somewhat accidentally exemplified in the DeMark show, which features mostly light-hearted summer storytelling by Blue Lakers DeMark, Marvin Samuels and Lizzy Moonbeam, along with Charlie Gilbert. Music is provided by DeMark’s band The Gila Monsters, which features Blue Lake residents Rick Levin (guitar) and Ron Sharp (bass) as well as Jean Browning (keyboards) and Paul DeMark (percussion.) 668-5663,

Opening Friday (August 1) at 7:30 p.m. on the Van Duzer Theatre stage at HSU is the Humboldt Light Opera Company production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, a musical set in New York City during the 1920s.  It's an updated version of the 1967 movie with Julie Andrews.  HLOC shows are always a summer highlight.

Directed by Carol Ryder, it features Melissa Hinz, Gino Bloomberg, Kevin Richards, Linnea Hill, Katherine Johnson, Kathleen Ely, Carl McGahan and Jake Smith.  There's an actual orchestra, conducted by Justin Sousa.  The show runs three weekends (Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sunday matinees on August 10 and 17 at 2 p.m.)  822-1318,

Continuing: The Wedding Singer musical at Ferndale Rep, the melodrama The Poor of New York at North Coast Rep, reviewed below.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

American Melodrama at NCRT

The Poor of New York, now on stage at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Eureka, is a mid-19th century American melodrama, a classic of its kind. The story involves the machinations of an unscrupulous banker (played by David Simms) and his daughter (Brittney Sky Webber), and the effects of their manipulations on a family driven into poverty (Shirley Santino, Tim Donnelly and Kelsey Larson) and on an unfortunate young man from a prominent family (David Moore.)

 The context of a Wall Street crash and what we now decorously call “income inequality” has contemporary resonance. One character’s speech could be spoken today with few alterations: “The poor man is a clerk with a family, forced to maintain a decent suit of clothes, paid for out of the hunger of his children...These needy wretches are poorer than the poor, for they are obliged to conceal their poverty with the false mask of content...”

 Comic relief and opposite ethics come from a family that generously shares its scant resources (Wesley Fuller, Scott Osborn and especially the irrepressible Toodie SueAnn Boll.) With a crucial assist from Jenneveve Hood’s period costumes, the actors convincingly embody their characters. Jim Buschmann as the banker’s co-conspirator is especially strong, as is Kelsey Larson with a performance in a limited role that suggests greater potential. Other parts are played by Randall Larson, Lucas Hylton, Bob Service and Pam Service. Robert Keiber performs period songs.

 It’s no easy task to present a classic melodrama to a contemporary audience. Melodrama was the most popular stage form in Europe and America in the 19th century, though these plays are seldom performed now. Thanks in part to the moustache-twirling villains of the silent cinema and the tear-jerker excesses of soap operas, “melodramatic” has become a term of derision.

 Still, most conventions of the form—larger than life characters, the very good characters victorious over the very evil, with appropriate music—have migrated successfully to movies and television dramas. Today’s audience can buy into the melodrama of NCIS or Star Wars but seemingly can’t accept stage melodrama without irony.

 Irony however is pretty much the opposite of what melodrama offers, which above all is emotion. It’s no coincidence that melodrama prospered when larger-than-life 19th century actors ruled the stage. After generations dominated by naturalistic acting, it’s hard for actors and audiences alike to handle the emotions of melodrama. The opening night NCRT audience responded with genial boos for the villain and oohs and ahs for the love scenes, but as drama historian and critic Eric Bentley affirms, melodrama’s power is in evoking fear and empathy, and causing actual tears of sorrow and joy.

 But for modern actors and productions to fully commit to the emotions of melodrama is risky. It could provoke disbelieving laughter. The NCRT production seems to vacillate—playing it straight but also at times with an ironic wink. Or if not actual irony, a reserved naturalism that seems disproportionately tepid for this play, which allows the audience to see it ironically.   It might be more than interesting to go for stronger and bigger acting that tries to command the heart of the audience.

 Written by Dion (born Dionysus) Boucicault, one of the most prolific and successful playwrights of the time, The Poor of New York defies stereotypes of melodrama by presenting a villain with something of a noble motive, and another character who changes sides. Even surrounded by extraneous sing-alongs that suggest a nostalgic distance, there are scenes that can evoke real feeling, with insight into the America of today.

 Praise is due to Artistic Director Michael Thomas and the NCRT board for seeking out this exemplar of a rarely seen theatrical form, as well as the Greek tragedies earlier this season (along with the blockbuster “Les Miz”) that provided bracing variety to North Coast theatrical offerings. This is a worthy production that’s also intriguing for its potential, and for how it might play to different audiences each time.

 Directed by Alex Service with scenic and lighting design by Calder Johnson and sound by Michael Thomas, The Poor of New York is performed weekends through August 16. 442-6278,

Additional Notes

 In the era of the actor-manager, Dion Boucicault was an actor/playwright/manager of sorts.  He is credited as being the first playwright to demand royalties (rather than a single flat payment), which set the stage for American playwrights ever since.

According to the NCRT Director's Notes by Alex Service, he "lost heavily in the 1857 panic and wrote The Poor of New York in the hope of paying his bills.   It saved the author financially and become one of the era's most popular plays, performed in constant revival across America and Europe for the next 30 years."

Boucicault is also known for writing The Octoroon (1859), one of the first plays seen in New York to tell a story about African Americans. Boucicault wrote between 100 and 150 plays, most of them either melodrama or farce.  The two forms can be seen as extreme simplifications of the major forms of tragedy and comedy.  Both tend to depend on contrivances rather than character.  But the line between tragedy and melodrama is not always so defined: for example some critics suggest that Shakespeare's Richard III is a melodrama.

The excesses of melodrama earned disrepute, but there are those who feel it is still a legitimate form.  But finding a melodrama from its 19th century heyday suitable for today's audiences proved difficult.  NCRT Artistic Director Michael Thomas wrote to me in an email:  "We wanted to do a genuine melodrama so started looking for one about 3 years ago. We gave up doing one last season because I found the scripts to be so racist or irrelevant or difficult to stage for various reasons. So we kept looking and finally Alex Service (Director) found this script and we all liked it. We want to offer a melodrama as a form of theatre we rarely do at NCRT. Turns out Michael Fields works with this script every year with students at Dell’Arte. They were planning on doing a version this summer but changed their minds."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

The Poor of New York, an 1857 melodrama about families victimized by financial corruption, opens at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Eureka with a benefit for cast and crew on Thursday July 24 at 8 p.m. As a classic melodrama, good triumphs over evil. Performances continue through Aug. 16. Directed by Alex Service, it features David Simms, Randall Larson, Shirley Santino, Toodie SueAnn Boll, Scott Osborn, Jim Buschmann and David Moore. 442-6278,  I'll review this for next week.

On Friday, the musical The Wedding Singer opens at Ferndale Repertory Theatre. Take a 95-minute Adam Sandler romantic comedy movie set in 1985 and inject it with an additional hour and a half of musical reminders of the 1980s’ more superficial features, add frenetic energy and period costumes and you’ve got this 2006 Broadway entertainment, which has since toured the world.

I'm not much for 80's nostalgia--having lived through the decade, I can't disentangle it from the lows (Reaganomics, Iran-Contra, privatization, decimation of the NEA, PBS and arts in schools etc.) and highs that don't quite fit the comedy stereotypes (Sting, Peter Gabriel, Mandela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, The Malling of America)--but I gather that it's fashionable now so there's probably a big audience for which this is the perfect summer hoot.

I don't know how funny The Wedding Singer is, but Ben Brantley's review of the Broadway production is hilarious.  A gamut of reactions to the Chicago production can be found in this collection of reviews.

The Wedding Singer was written by Tim Herlihy and Chad Beguelin (also the lyricist) with music by Matthew Sklar. Directed at Ferndale Rep by Brandi Lacy, with musical direction by Molly Severdia and choreography by Danielle Cichon, it features Erik Standifird, Sasha Shay, Tyler Rich, Megan Hensley and Cichon heading a large cast. The Wedding Singer opens Friday July 25, playing Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through August 17. There’s a special Actors Benefit performance on Thursdays Aug. 7 at 8 p.m., preceded by live music from The Attic at 7 p.m. 786-5483,

A limited run of Elisabeth's Book at Dell'Arte begins Wednesday, and is previewed below.

This is the final weekend for the Durang Durang (see, an 80s joke) comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Redwood Curtain.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Elisabeth's Book at Dell'Arte: A Preview

It’s not an ordinary book, with crisp black type on slick snow-white paper.  It consists of stitched rags and metal fragments left from the grenades the women in a Nazi slave labor camp were forced to drill.  It is a book of simple domestic images with personal meaning, small enough to hide from the guards, created secretly by one Hungarian woman for another in the final and most ferocious months of the Holocaust. It is a scrapbook of survival, handmade in hell.

Dell’Arte’s Joan Schirle happened to see an art exhibit in Canada with digital blowups of these images. Both the book and the woman who received it did survive. “I experienced a profound emotional shift when I saw these images of things crudely fashioned yet powerful, that seemed both banal and sacred at the same time,” Schirle wrote later. They inspired a stage piece, Elisabeth’s Book, which previews Wednesday (July 23) and opens Thursday for a weekend run at Dell’Arte in Blue Lake.

There are three scenes in this one-act play, revised from its April “in-progress” version. Created by actors Schirle, Laura Munoz and Ruxandra Cantir and director and designer Alain Schons, Elisabeth’s Book tells the story of three women with music, dance, poetry, projections and live video.

The first scene depicts their ordinary middle class life in Hungary, emphasizing their love of books and music.  The second is set in the Nazi camps and shows the making of the book. The third scene takes place in a little-known period between the European war’s end in 1945 and the massive Marshall Plan aid from the U.S. in 1948, when in Winston Churchill’s words, Europe was “a rubble heap, a charnel house, a breeding ground of pestilence and hate.”  Like many others liberated from the Nazi camps, these stateless and penniless women wandered, sometimes finding themselves in camps again, not as prisoners but as refugees.   

For Schirle, it is a story of survival that applies beyond historical circumstances to ever-present possibilities of today.  “These women wouldn’t have made it without each other, without friendships. Creative acts like Elisabeth’s book or the recipe books they made and the actors and singers in the camps were also vital to their survival.”

“We aren’t trying to encompass the Holocaust,” Schirle said.  “Nothing can.  The danger is always the sentimentalization of the unspeakable.  But these are ordinary women and their stories deserve to be told and remembered.  It’s also important to realize that anyone’s life can be changed in the world we’re living in. There are millions of displaced people in the world right now.”  

Even apart from its physical theatre style, the play is not a documentary (Schirle points out that the character she plays would have been considered too old to work and therefore killed.)  But it is based on real characters and events, especially on Elisabeth Raab and her memoir, And Peace Never Came.  Today Raab lives in Toronto, and her son will attend a performance in Blue Lake. Though (like other Holocaust victims) Raab couldn’t find a way to write about these events until the 1990s, she kept the book made for her at the Lippstadt camp exactly 70 years ago.

Among the projections during the show are images from that book that Schirle first saw in Canada, by artist Thelma Rosner, Elisabeth’s grand-niece.  Here's the link to images from the exhibit posted on the artist's website.

Schirle traveled to Europe to meet with director Schons, who lives and works in France.  They had worked together when Schons was at Dell'Arte.  One of the things she learned was the meaning of a name on a page of Elisabeth's book: "Geraldy."  It is Paul Geraldy (photo left), a French poet who was popular in pre-war Europe.  His name was there because Elisabeth and her friends loved his poetry.  So some of his work is included in the show, as well as lines by poets Emily Dickinson, Robert Denos and others.

Elisabeth's Book is also influenced and informed by other Holocaust memoirs, notably by poet and playwright Charlotte Delbo (photo right).  Here's more information on her.

Original music for Elisabeth's Book was composed by Tim Gray, Gina Leisxman and Schirle.  Lighting is by Michael Foster, costumes by Lydia Foreman and sound design by Tim Gray.  Here's a video excerpt plus Schirle and Schons talking about the piece.

Elisabeth’s Book is performed in the Carlo Theatre at Dell’Arte, July 23-27 at 8 p.m.   668-5663,

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

It's just one of those things.  Three shows open next week but none this weekend.  But in our Thursday-to-Thursday media,  there is Elisabeth's Book opening at Dell'Arte on Wednesday, July 23.  I'll have more on this show this weekend or early next week, and a preview in the NC Journal officially on Thursday but really on the stands Wednesday.

A stage-related event does happen this weekend, part of HLOC's promotion of its early August show, Thoroughly Modern Millie. Here's their release:

Travel back to the Roaring 20s for a Speakeasy evening with Humboldt Light Opera Company, on Friday, July 18 from 7-10 p.m. at the Arcata Playhouse. Learn the Charleston, mingle with celebrities of early American cinema, enter the costume contest, and catch club performances and a sneak preview of Thoroughly Modern Millie! Everyone is invited to come in 1920s attire: awards will be given for best female, male, and couple costumes. Admission is $25 (and includes hors d'oeuvres and one drink ticket), and can be purchased at the Holly Yashi Store in Arcata, or online at The Speakeasy is sponsored by Holly Yashi; all proceeds go to the HLOC Costume Fund. This event is recommended for ages 14 and up. For more info, call 822-1318.

Meanwhile, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike continues at Redwood Curtain in its penultimate weekend.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

This weekend at the Mad River Festival, clown Mooky Cornish presents The Glories of Gloria Revue. Cornish plays an aging performer reviewing her career in a revue that includes puppetry, cabaret song, dancing and magic. Created by Cornish and director Cal McCrystal, it’s in Dell'Arte's Carlo Theatre Thursday (July 10) through Saturday at 8 p.m., with afternoon shows on Saturday at 2 (a one hour version for younger attention spans) and Sunday at 4. 668-5663,

Continuing: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Redwood Curtain.  Review and much more below.

Trouble in Chekhovania: A Review

 Once upon a time there was a man whose parents had named Douglas Fir Tree. His sister was Mary Christmas Tree. Carolyn Clay, long-time drama critic for the Boston Phoenix, told me this. Clay and Tree were engaged. If you made this up, would anyone believe you?

 So given what parents in the so-called real world are willing to do to their children, imagine--as playwright Christopher Durang did—that two American parents who are also college professors name their three children after characters in famous plays by Anton Chekhov. The result for Durang eventually was the 2012 comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, now on stage at Redwood Curtain in Eureka.

 Additional inspiration came when Durang noticed that his home in the eastern Pennsylvania countryside resembled the bucolic settings of several Chekhov plays in which aging characters expressed regrets for wasted lives. Durang, whose first stage hit was Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You in 1981, was himself entering his 60s.

 Durang has written parodies and farces (including an unproduced screenplay with my favorite of his titles: The Nun Who Shot Liberty Valance.) This is different. It riffs on Chekhov but also stands alone as a contemporary take on perennial themes of regret and hope, disappointment and new beginnings, in Durang’s unique off-center comic voice.

 Chekhov thought of his plays as comedies, but he usually neglected to include a happy ending. Durang doesn’t make that mistake. In 2013 Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike became Durang’s first Tony Award winner.

 The plays opens with Vanya and his adopted sister Sonia, both in their 50s, watching for the blue heron that visits the pond outside their farm house in a Philadelphia suburb on a late summer morning. They’ve spent 15 years taking care of their dying parents, and fear their own lives are over.

 Their stasis is stirred first by their prophetic housekeeper Cassandra, whose every sentence seems to begin with “Beware!” Their sister Masha arrives—she is a rich and famous Hollywood actress (Sexy Killer, Sexy Killer 2 etc.)-- accompanied by Spike, her much younger boyfriend and aspiring actor (a finalist for a role in the reality series Entourage 2.)

 Masha organizes them all to attend a costume party (she’ll be Snow White, her siblings will be the dwarfs), and incidentally has decided to sell the house. She’s been paying the mortgage (and to support her siblings), but she’s also aging and her career isn’t what it was.

 Meanwhile Spike finds Nina, an even younger aspiring actor visiting nearby relatives. She is thrilled to meet the immediately jealous Masha, and decides to call Vanya uncle. Though several offstage characters are important in causing what ensues, the focus is on these six as they deal with the consequences of the past, the illusions of the present and the possibilities of the future.

 The Redwood Curtain production is superbly cast. Though there are elements of caricature, these characters become individuals with their own minds and emotions, so the actors are required to inhabit and express their individuality.

 Gloria Montgomery confidently navigates Masha’s alternating flashes of ego and affection, anxiety and awareness. She also credibly works towards one of those sudden moments of emotional practicality that women seem to access while men remain swamped in clueless confusion.

 Christina Jioras creates a believable and sympathetic Sonia as she breaks out of her gloom and doubts, yet can’t believe her luck. Nadia Adame brings a sharp comic energy to the household as the psychic Cassandra, who mixes the exotic and the everyday with a feather duster that doubles as a ritual instrument, and a surprisingly effective voodoo doll.

 In their important supporting roles, Geo Alva plays Spike’s casual narcissism with a California flavor while Mira Eagle embodies Nina’s youthful spirit as she innocently discovers wonders of the past.

 Masha drives the action and Sonia makes the most transformative move, but the soul of the story is Vanya. Raymond Waldo (who has played Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya) performs brilliantly as this gentle man who misses the past and worries about the future.  Vanya’s angry, rambling monologue, accompanied by aimless wandering around the stage, seldom rises above cliche but still comically conveys his heartfelt fear of a dangerously thoughtless present.

 Even with such strong characters, some of the best moments are interactions. Jioras and Montgomery perform an amazingly realistic crying scene that is simultaneously heartrending and hilarious. The last scene strains for a feel-good finish but gets there anyway.

There are lots of laughs along the way. Most of the time Durang is so unpredictable that it seems the play is being written before your eyes.

 Director Jyl Hewston ensures her actors play the human nuances as well as the comic set pieces. Scenic and sound design are by Liz Uhazy, lighting by Telfer Reynolds and costumes by Jenneveve Hood. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is onstage at Redwood Curtain Thursdays-Saturdays through July 26. 443-7688,

More Notes From Chekhovania

These are some additional notes on Durang and the Chekhovania play--but unlike the review, there be SPOILERS here arrrgh!

Speaking of which, Durang quotes a number of other works in this play, sometimes as "quotes," sometimes not.  One of the quotes ("fame, thou glittering bauble") someone attributes to Captain Hook in Peter Pan.  It's funny, especially because it's true--this is where the quote is from.  In the play Masha says "such an interesting thing for a pirate to say."  Gloria Montgomery goes a little further and tries it out pirate style: "Fame, thou glittering bauble, arrrgh!" A funny line which is not in my copy of the script.

Why a quote from Peter Pan?  Who knows, though it's likely that someone of playwright Christopher Durang's generation would know of Peter Pan through the Disney animated movie.  The Disney animated movie of Snow White (and what various generations know about it) becomes a droll plot point.

There's another quote that's given as a quote, though the author is never identified:
"True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment."  Masha thinks maybe she remembers it from some play she's done.  Maybe, but it was originally written by William Penn.  Penn was not only the founder of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but Bucks County--where this play takes place--is one of the three oldest counties in PA, named by Penn.

There are other quotes and partial quotes, especially within the prophetic rambles of Cassandra, housekeeper and psychic, whose namesake in Greek mythology is talked about.  Some of her lines quote the Greeks, but also "The Owl and the Pussycat" by non-Greek Edward Lear.

Chekhov Echoes

Some are obvious, such as Sonia crying “I am a wild turkey!” instead of “I am a seagull!”  Or the debate on whether 11 or 12 cherry trees constitutes a cherry orchard. Or the famous actress watching an experimental play by her son (in The Seagull) or in this play, her brother.  In this play Vanya at least mentions the repeated theme of Uncle Vanya: we must work!  However this Sonia has a more contemporary and probably practical point of view.

 There are many other echoes, some quite elegant. Durang’s Vanya is concerned about climate change, as is a different character in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya--Dr. Astrov who says at one point: "We have destroyed the forest, our rivers run dry, our wildlife is all but extinct, our climate ruined...but I pass by the woods I’ve saved from the ax. I hear the forest sighing...I planted that forest. And I think: perhaps things may be in our power. Perhaps the climate itself is in our control.”

Vanya's Tirade

Nina persuades Vanya to present the play he's written to all the others. Most are attentive but Spike doesn't understand it and grows bored, texting and "multi-tasking."  This sets Vanya off on a tirade about what's been lost in a speedier world where experiences aren't shared in the same way.

But his specific examples are oddly off.  He talks of them--mostly from the 1950s--as his own childhood experiences, but the character is supposed to be 57 in 2012, and a lot of what he talks about came earlier.  The Disney version of Davy Crockett, for example, first aired in 1954.  Vanya wasn't even born until 1955.   These are memories of somebody a decade older.  And some sound wrong.  He says he watched Bishop Sheen on Sunday evenings before Ed Sullivan.  Bishop Sheen was certainly a TV phenomenon, but he was broadcast nationally on Tuesday evenings opposite Milton Berle. This show went off the air in 1957.  He came back with a syndicated version in the 60s-- individual stations picked the air time so it's possible that some stations aired it on Sundays then.

In fact, a lot of the culture clash in this play doesn't make specific sense unless the "present" indicated as the play's time is actually about ten years ago.  But maybe it's worth it just for Vanya's observation on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet": "In retrospect they seemed medicated."

The Tony Award

This play earned Durang the Tony for Best Play on Broadway in 2013, in what I dubbed the "Resurrection Tonys."  Career-wise (not that we care about such things), Durang hadn't been hot since the 80s--say around the time that Cyndi Lauper broke big in the pop charts with "Girls Just Want To Have Fun."  But in 2013 both Durang and Lauper got Tonys--as did the 88 year old Cicely Tyson, whose decade was the 70s.  It's a tribute to hanging in there, doing your work, staying visible, maintaining and expanding your friendly contacts, being open to being asked, and mostly, hanging in there.


This play profits from Durang's experiences since his early success.  He's been one of the most successful teachers of playwriting anywhere, nurturing new talent at the Julliard School.  So he's been in touch with younger people, particularly in the theatre.  Nina in this play may learn towards a cliched innocence--and at first there's a hint of All About Eve in her heroine-worship of Masha--but she winds up as an appealing and important character, even younger than Spike and also with ambition, but with a very different sensibility that is nourished by the best of the past.

When she talks about sensing a decision point in what kind of actor she will be, Nina also has some very droll lines that are (like a lot of Stoppard's in Shakespeare in Love, for example) inside the profession humor but very funny.

Style of the Play

In my review I assert that this is not one of Durang's parodies, and stands on its own.  Here's a different view on that by a critic who reviewed the pre-Broadway New York production.  He calls it a "vaudeville"--a series of sketches more or less--and suggests it is for "educated" audiences who will grasp all the Chekhov mixes and matches (he describes a bunch of them.)

Judging from original cast photos, I suspect it was in fact played more broadly in New York than it is being played in Eureka. ("If you hate exaggeration," playwright David Hare wrote, "New York is never going to be the city for you.")  I think that's probably true of most New York comedies, especially when the characters represent stereotypes or at least familiar types to New York audiences.  Conversely, North Coast productions quite often find the more universal aspects of these plays.  That's partly because the actors generally can't play (or are uncomfortable playing) stereotypes, including variations on ethnic types.  And audiences here are less familiar with the nuances of such approaches.  For example, a recognizably Jewish character may be very funny to a New York (and Jewish) audience, but here, even if it could be done well, maybe not so much.

(Another factor mandating a more fundamental approach here is the necessarily simpler set, lighting scheme, effects etc.  This is taken to an extreme at Redwood Curtain, at least since NCRT performed Les Miz on pretty much the same set as Oedipus.  The Durang play set is really generic. You'd think they could at least have the wicker chairs called for in the script.)

What's interesting about how the play is performed is what it says about the play itself: is it strong enough to entertain, or simply to hold together, when it isn't done so broadly?  The plays that succeed here are.  The ones that aren't become painfully obvious.

There's also the intimacy of Redwood Curtain, where very broad acting may not work so well--especially by those without the skill levels of the best international actors New York can access.  Still, to make it work as a kind of burlesque may requires another level than we have available here.  Durang wrote Masha for Signourney Weaver, who played the role in New York: an aging movie star who arguably short-circuited a stage career to make a series of blood-drenched movies, played by somebody with pretty much that resume.  The interplay of actress and character had to be part of the experience for the audience.

But here the actors played their parts as people North Coast audiences might well recognize from their lives rather than their media consumption.  Geo Alva's portrayal of Spike was stylized but only slightly.  His Spike might not be part of daily life here, but he probably is in certain parts of southern California.  The other rather sly bit of stylization was Raymond Waldo's portrayal of Vanya, but it was to emphasize the Chekhovian qualities, the Uncle Vanya crossed with Konstantin in The Seagull, whose play within that play he attempts to emulate.  That Vanya in this play is gay becomes a slight part of the plot, but like Durang himself, he doesn't draw attention to it, at least thematically.

Characterizations like this make it a different play perhaps, but the play is up to it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a comedy by Christopher Durang has its one and only preview at Redwood Curtain on Thursday (July 3) at 8 p.m. before skipping the fourth and opening on Saturday July 5.

This is information, by the way, that you won't get from the NCJ Calendar.

This 2013 Tony Award winner is a takeoff on Chekhov characters set in contemporary America that rewards but does not require prior knowledge of Chekhov. I’ve been looking forward to this one all year. Directed by Jyl Hewston, it features Christina Jioras, Gloria Montgomery, Mira Eagle, Nadia Adame, Giovanni Alva and Raymond Waldo. It continues Thursdays-Saturdays through July 26. 443-7688,

At Dell'Arte it's the final weekend for Korbel V: The Secret.  After the show on Saturday, the annual Red Light in Blue Lake adult cabaret is performed in the Carlo, starting at about 10:30 p.m.  Bring a designated driver.