Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Two For the Holidays: “A Christmas Carol” and “The 1940’s Radio Hour”

Jacob Marley is dead. Scrooge is alive and well surrounded by friends and well -wishers. Sounds like turnabout is fair play but it took some doing to get to that point. Cygnet Theatre has extended good cheer with its original, heartfelt and foolproof production of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol… The Classic Holiday Musical” now playing at the Theatre in Old Town through Dec. 24th.

Credit artistic director Sean Murray for the adaptation and Billy Thompson, original score and Tom Stephenson’s amazing acting as he weaves his way through the bitter and icy cold persona Ebenezer Scrooge to the smiling (ear to ear) gentle, almost Santa looking picture with Tiny Tim on his lap at show’s end. 

Charles Evans, JR., Melissa Fernandes, Maggie Carney, David McBean, Melinda Gilb and Patrick McBride
Be prepared to expect an already ongoing Carol fest as you enter the theatre. All the fixin’s and soon to be characters are there but getting into the mood is the first order of business with Maggie Carney, Charles Evans, JR., Melissa Fernandes, Melinda Gilb, Patrick McBride and David McBean. Songs and corny jokes are the business at hand before the story (that most know begins to play out).

Dickens tale is just as you remembered. It was like old times once again watching Tom Stephenson(in excellent form) morph back into his past when as a child left alone at boarding schools during the holidays began his descent into his dark outlook on life. From his falling in love with Belle (Melissa Fernandes) to his choosing money over love to his final redemption, the story plays out like a well-oiled machine. “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Clause”.

Cygnet’s production is charming with just the right amount of fright factor. David McBean is terrific as The Ghost of Jacob Marley as well as the undertaker. Well…so much for that.

David McBean and Tom Stephenson
Ms. Fernandes is always a delight as she takes on about seven or eight characters as do the rest of the cast. Melinda Gilb, Maggie Carney and Charles Evans, J. and Patrick McBride change characters with the blink of an eye. I was particularly impressed with the puppets and the way the actors handled them. It gives the show a very different and genuinely warm quality.

Consider Jeanne Reith’s 18th century costumes (based on original design by Shirley Pierson), Andrew Hull’s multi purpose set, Kyle Montgomery’s lighting design (based on original design by R. Craig Wolf), Matt Lescault-Wood’s sound and Michael McKeon, Lynne Jennings and Rachel Hengst wonderful puppets have them merged together with a well seasoned cast and for the season this makes for one very fine holiday choice

Dates: Through Dec. 24th
Organization: Cygnet Theatre
Phone: 619-337-1525
Where: 4040 Twiggs Street in Old Town
Ticket Prices: Start at $37.00
Web: cygnettheatre.com
Venue: Theatre in Old Town
Photo: Ken Jacques


Just North on the 5 in Carlsbad, New Village Arts Theatre is mounting Walton Jones “The 1940’s Radio Hour…Rejuvenated” through Dec. 31st and it’s well worth the trip to Carlsbad. This is the real thing, a radio-play with all the onstage shenanigans happening right before our eyes.  

Dana Case directs another well oiled production set out to entertain, draw you in to the private and personal lives of the radio performers. There are the 20 + songs from the past that hold a dear place in my heart. It’s fun but oft times too many shticks going on and an uneven cast gets a bit distracting. Sad to say there about as many commercials aired on radio as we now see on TV and BOY are they corny. (The one for constipation should be left on the cutting room floor). 

Kelly Derouin, Zackary Scot Wolfe and Marlene Montes
The place is the recording studio of WOV and it is set in 1942, New York during the war. There are references to the war effort; in particular one of the regulars BJ Gibson (Zackary Scot Wolfe), dressed in his Army uniform (Kate Bishop) is part of the ensemble. He’s getting ready to ship overseas so when his “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” solo was finished I was mince- meat, and I don’t even celebrate Christmas.

The show opens with the cast straggling into the studio weathering a huge snow storm outside. By the time everyone gathered, said their hello’s and got warmed up, gave their looks of approval's to each other and confirmed that one of the regulars was not going to show, we kinda sorta knew what to expect. 

There is the big shot star Johnnie Cantone (Eric M. Casalini) who thought he was the last word in leading men. He has the hot’s (for the moment) for Kelly Derouin (Ann “After You’ve Gone” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” Collier) and Marlene Montes (Ginger “Blues In The Night” and “Daddy” Brooks).

Connie Miller (Danielle “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Five O’clock Whistle” Levas) is the one who has captured Gibson’s heart. Levas also choreographs the show. She was my standout star as she and Gibson did a snappy jitterbug that brought the house down. She also came out dressed in red, white and blue spangles and tapped her way into the audience’s hearts.

Trevor Mulvey, Danielle Levas, Zackary Scot Wolfe, AJ Knox, Kelly Derouin Eric M. Casalini and Marlene Montes
Others complementing the show and working together as an ensemble include Kevane La’Marr Coleman (he seemed to be in charge of the station a la Clifton A. Faddington), A.J. Knox, Jake Bradford, Li-Anne Roswell and Jack Missett. Musical director Tony Houck at the keys (he also plays a mean horn) and Trevor Mulvey on bass were sufficient for the musical accompaniment. Both talented in their own right, they also become part of the show.

Danielle Levas, Eric M. Casalini, Kelly Derouin and Marlene Montes
For yours truly the show was a trip down memory lane with numbers like “(I’ve Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo”, Pepsi Cola”, “Daddy”, “I’ll Never Smile Again”, “Strike Up The Band”, “Blue Moon”, and “Love is Here to Stay”.

Kelly Kissinger designed the set with most all of the bells and whistles used as sound affects for these shows. Mounting radio shows seems to be a now thing. They are fun and easy and that’s just what it looked like on the set of “The 194’s Radio Hour”.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Dec. 31st
Organization: New Village Arts Theatre
Phone: 760-433-3245
Production Type: Musical
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad Village.
Ticket Prices: Start at $45.00
Web: newvillagearts.org

Photo: Shaun Hagen

Saturday, December 10, 2016

“Mystery of Love and Sex”, another winner for Diversionary Theatre.

Mike Sears is over six feet tall. So when he’s invited to come to his daughter Charlotte’s (Rachael Van Wormer) stripped down of all necessities college apartment for dinner, one that is served on the coffee table (with a flannel sheet for a table cloth) with pillows arranged on the floor Sears, who plays Howard Charlotte’s dad, goes through some pretty weird gyrations to get his lean, tall body settled in. He has a bad back and that complicates matters. BTW dinner consists of salad, bread and wine. Howard is none too happy!
John W. Wells III, Marci Anne Wuebben, Mike Sears
That’s just one of the funny rituals that pretty much brings the house down in this otherwise thought provoking play. Another is the practice that Lucinda (Marci Anne Wuebben his wife and Charlotte’s mother) goes through every time she craves a smoke of anything she can inhale. She snaps her fingers in some choreographed motions, takes a deep breath and still craves one. She went through hypnosis for her addiction.

So what does all this have to do with Diversionary Theatres Regional premiere of Bathsheba Doran’s comedy/drama “The Mystery of Love and Sex”? Not too much, but it does make for some unexpected fun in this fast moving discussion/production.

Executive director Matt M. Morrow takes us on Doran’s somewhat convoluted and exploratory journey into the why’s and wherefores of what makes our choices of partners, friends and lovers click, don’t click, work, don’t work, last, don’t last or never get started at all.    

The good news in this relatively new (and somewhat long 21/2 hours) play is that the audience has the opportunity to follow the friendship of Charlotte and Jonny (John W. Wells III), her best friend from childhood to roommate to almost lovers to almost married to parental approval to maturity and then some.

Mike Sears and John W. Wells III
More good news is that the relationship between Howard and Charlotte softens and at the end of the day in one of the final Kumbaya moments, “Hallelujah” Leonard Cohen’s musical poem could be heard (Blair Nelson) in the background touching a soft spot in my gut. That’s just me, but father and daughter relationships that are stretched to the limits of parental embrace move me.

On fathers: Howard is a mystery writer of some fame. His life style suggests it and if that were not enough, he let you know. He is also Jewish, homophobic, racist and full of himself as Mr. Right. If you point these traits out to him as is done throughout, he denies them ferociously. The one positive he has going for him is the unconditional love he has for his daughter Charlotte.

As for the mystery… as the title of the play suggests he’s completely in the dark regarding his daughter and the close friendship she and Jonny have for each other. The fun of watching the play unfold is watching their relationship evolve and in turn watching Howard’s thinking develop and change. And the mystery? That's for each of us to work on.  

Rachael VanWormer and John W.Wells III
Sears plays Howard like a Stradivarius. He wears his concern for Charlotte on his sleeve and never wavers in his love for her regardless of her changing attitudes vis-à-vis her own sexuality. On the other hand, he is like a moving target as his attitudes change from situation to situation; and there are many of those.

Not wanting to sound too much like a Jewish observer, but I do have some insight into the makings of Jewish fathers and the way they treat their daughters. Till the time of my Dads death and he was in his nineties, he called me his his Princess. Take that for what it’s worth.

On mothers: Lucinda is a Southern Baptist. She converted, somewhat but still manages to play the Southern Bell card when needed. The fact is that she is more socially open, more Bohemian and accepting to the goings and comings of her daughter than Howard. She has her own secret agenda to reveal as the play digs in.

As for her concern about her daughter’s feelings as they change (from sex interest to sex interest), it appears she blows off more than she holds on to. Loyal to a fault, she doesn’t have the same close relationship with her daughter, as does her husband. She’s more concerned at gotcha moments with Howard and always defiant in the face of adversity. Wububen seems available and believable for this role.

On daughters: Rachael VanWormer is made for the role of daughter Charlotte. She is fidgety, quirky, smart, questioning, possessive, pushy, loving and demanding. She strives attention whether she’s worthy of it or not. She plays the good daughter and friend against the bad daughter and friend with perfection depending on the mood, circumstance or whose she’s with at the time. She knows her father loves her, but backs away in spite of herself. 

John W. Wells III and Rachael VanWormer
She loves Jonny more as a friend but she is attracted to her butch college friend, this bald dude. She will have a serious relationship with her later on. In order to prove she’s not a lesbian, just attracted to another woman she challenges Jonny to have sex with her. This pattern of same sexual attractions unnerves her as it does her parents.

They want to accept her for who she is, but would be happier if she ended up with her African-American best friend Jonny rather tan another woman, whom happens to be (ready for this one) Jewish. They always thought the best friends would get married never imagining each had their own journey to decode into the mystery of sex and love.

On Jonny: John W. Wells III Jonny is the perfect foil as Charlotte tries to seduce him. He’s the right race, gender and close family friend/outsider to bring the real Howard to light when it comes to the truths of racism, sexism and every other ism associated with his mystery novels.

He’s also is the last man standing to admit his own secret trappings. Wells’ timing, body language and standing in the center of this little foursome’s universe completes Doran’s search for our true sexual identities. Wells is charming, beautiful and in the right place at the right time.  

Doran’s play fresh off the pages from successful runs at Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theatre Club and The Taper in Los Angeles is a winner for Diversionary. So far their season has been top notch. Sean Fanning’s set design is southern whimsical, Karin Filijan’s lighting perfect, Elisa Benzoni’s costumes current trendy, and Blair Nelson’s sound, yes!

Rachael VanWormer, Mike Sears, MarciAnne Wuebben and John W. Wells III
See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Dec. 24th
Organization: Diversionary Theatre
Phone: Through Dec. 24th
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where:  4545 Park Blvd. 92116
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$45.00
Web: diversionary.org

Photo: Simpatika

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

InnerMission’s “Seven Spots on The Sun” takes no prisoners.

To the victor, go the spoils.

Ah! But the spoils.

Nothing good here.

No cushy political appointments. No money. No land.

Benefits? None!

Glory? Not so much!

Grief? Enough to go around in Zimmerman’s nameless South American location where the ravages of war have left the town, its people and two couples in complete and devastating ruin.

Martín Zimmerman’s bold and highly disturbing in your face  “Seven Spots on the Sun” is now in an excellent staging at InnerMission Productions. It’s all done under the watchful eye of Carla Nell one of the artistic directors at the tiny blackbox (29 or so seats) space in back of the larger Diversionary Theatre. So Shhhh when you pass by the side of the theatre.

“I quickly make up for eighteen months without radio, eighteen months of daily battle with my darkest thoughts. I dance to shake the pain out of every limb to sweat and sweat, till you’ve purged the war from every pore…” The radio. The voice in the radio is announcing the end of the war and amnesty, pardon, absolution to all who committed autocracies during the fighting. 

Bernardo Mazon and Jennifer Paredes
Not so fast my friends. War can be an elixir to some. It’s a way out of a boring, oft times dangerous job. It can be a travel agency for some, taking soldiers to places they never before though of. It can give them a lucrative pension after a short stint fighting. At least that’s what Luis (Bernardo Mazón) thought.

He was tired of working in the mines, making little to nothing for his wife Monica (Jennifer Paredes) and any family they might want in the future.  So, with an advance for enlisting, he bought her a washing machine (so she wouldn’t have to use a scrubbing board to wash the clothes) and off he went. In the beginning was all-good. Time away from each other intensified their sex life. 

Sandra Ruiz and Jorge Rodrigues
In another town close by Moises (Jorge Rodriguez) and his adoring wife Belen (Sandra Ruiz), who is a nurse run the small medical clinic where drugs were getting harder and harder to come by. The clinic doors have been locked since Belen was dragged away by one of the fighters. Moises refuses to see anyone.

Close by in the mission run by the drinking (to avoid making decisions priest) Eugenio (Miguel Gongora, Jr. stands his ground as the tentative priest) thinks that by keeping the doors to the mission locked shut, things will resolve themselves. When a plague hits their little community everything turns upside down. It seems that the children are breaking out in boils and high fever and dying for lack of medical attention.

When the priest approaches Moises the -you what- hits the fan and Moises returns the favor by ignoring the man of the cloth. But things take a turn and the medic actually becomes the healer as he lays hands on the children.

By some miracle the boils disappear and the children live. But when Monica brings her child to be healed, Moises cannot forgive her husband for snatching his wife away, all in his duty for the war effort. It’s then that both men have come to a come to Jesus moment. (No spoilers here).

Zimmerman’s play, along with a strong and committed cast of actors is willing to put it all on the line in this tiny little space. They sing and dance choreographed by Patrick Mayuyu and Robert Malave in spiritual rituals (the town people) that almost dislodge the seriousness of the story about to be told when we first meet up with a raging Moises who takes a hammer to the radio and leaves the stage.

Miguel Gongora, JR. Bernardo Mazon, Jennifer Paredes and Markuz Rodriguez
It is at this time that we meet Monica who dreamily tells us about her husband Luis. He said, “I was his missing ingredient.” Jennifer Paredes gives performance of a lifetime as she moves from young bride to army wife… “Each time his body comes back to me but…it’s like he’s leaving little bits of himself in the field an earlobe here a pinky toe there so when the war ends…I barely have a husband.”

From there, she moves effortlessly to the pleading mother of a feverish child to the helpless wife begging for her child’s life.  The emotional arc she shows is amazing. The chemistry between the two, Paredes and Mazon is noticeably evident.

Mazon’s Luis moves from cocky miner to arrogant soldier to disillusioned civilian who loses everything he dreamed of and more. Sandra Ruiz is a convincing Belen as she too moves from loving wife to concerned accomplice before she is dragged off by the war torn soldier Luis when Eugenio refuses to give her refuge in the mission. She is never seen again; the clinic goes dark and Moises refuses to see patients for over a year.

Jorge Rodriguez is in rare form as the war torn, tormented and degraded medic Moises who is in mourning for his lover, his wife; the one who lured him with the sweet taste of pineapple. His is a world turned upside down first as a gentle healer to one struggling with his loss turned miracle worker turned accuser. All eyes are on his passionate performance, and it pays off. His performance is heartfelt and emotionally wrenching.

Spoils? You name one. War is hell as the saying goes and between Zimmerman, Nell and the Town’s Greek Chorus of four (Markuz, Danielle Levin, Elizabeth Jimenez and Robert Malave) “Seven Spots” leave more than handprints on the sun; it destroys towns, communities and countries. It ravishes good men with good intentions while giving way to dictatorships for, yes, the spoils.

Shaun Tauzon’s set can be a little confusing but the actors make use of every small musical instrument, box, trunk, and corrugated backdrop to be seen. Natalie Cargill designed the lighting and Robert Malave the appropriate costumes.

Elizabeth Jimenez, Jennifer Paredes, Jorge Rodriguez and Danielle Levin
“Seven Spots” is the theatre’s first show of its second season (It’s 90 minutes) and if this level of excellence is indicative of what’s to come, you made a good call by getting out to see it.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Dec. 10th
Organization: InnerMission Productions
Phone: 619-324-8970
Production Type: War Drama
Where: 4545 Park Blvd.  #101, San Diego, 92116
Ticket Prices: $25.00
Web: innermissionproductions.org
Venue: Diversionary Black Box

Photo: Adriana Zuniga-Williams.