Archive for category Play Reviews

Mark Twain’s River of Song – Play Review


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During every theater season, I select best plays as not-to-miss plays of the theater season. Right up front, I will say this is a must-see, not-to-miss-play of this theater season.  It is running at theatreworks in Mountain View. Mark Twain’s discerning eye and sharp pen is immortalized by master directors, Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman, in this theatrical production.

A musical devoid of any motive, morals or plot has plenty of all that, if you look deep and listen intuitively. Mighty Mississippi is witness to many heartaches, sorrows, and celebrations and there is much to learn. It is indeed America’s good fortune that this masterfully witty storyteller also traveled up and down the country. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, he took on the pseudonym Mark Twain on the banks of Mississippi, a term to mark when the depth of the water is two fathoms, meaning the vessel is on safe water,

For a short period when Twain worked in the river trade on Mississippi, a river that flows from Northern Minnesota all the way south for 2,320 miles, Twain astutely observed. As he explored America’s iconic cultural landscape, winds of change were blowing through the country. In his observations, people working on the river, feeding off of the river, living on the banks of the river, come to life. Stories of the riverboat pilots and brazen gamblers, farm wives who longingly looked back at carefree days as young girls, field hands looking for opportunity to run to freedom somewhere up North, the skillful hardworking lumberjacks and the boatmen all enrich this masterpiece.

In theatreworks musical, Dan Hiatt does a fabulous job as Mark Twain, giving commentary in speech that comes directly from Twain’s many novels, lectures, and essays as well as from actual histories on the lives of lumbermen, farmers, slaves, dock workers and others who stayed and toiled on the banks of the river. Big Kudos to Emily Anderson Wolf and Taylor McQuesten for fabulous stage design and to David Lee Cuthbert for brilliant scenic and media design in this journey on the muddy river. 

Of the mighty river Twain says, “you can hang on to her but you can’t control her” and “The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise….”

Music direction by Dan Wheeetman is brilliant. Songs are entertaining….

Well, I went on the mountain
And I gave my horn a blow
Thought I heard some purty gal say
“Yonder come my beau”
Crow black chicken and crow for a day
Crow black chicken and fly away 
There’s longing and lament in some of the soulful songs

When I was a single girl, dressed in clothes so fine,
Now I am a married girl, go ragged all the time
Wish I was a single girl again
When I was a single girl, had shoes of the very best kind
Now I am a married girl, go barefoot all the time
Wish I was a single girl again

Some songs offer images of incredibly skilled lumberjacks doing infinitely challenging tasks

Now, boys, if you will listen, T will sing to you a song,
It’s all about the shanty-boys, and how they get along;
They are a jovial set of boys, so merry and so fine.
They spend a pleasant Winter, in cutting down the pine.

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And so the musical continues weaving in stories of wild lumberjacks, rovin’ gamblers, and dreamers of the Delta.
There are farmers, and sailors, likewise mechanics, too,
And all sorts of tradesmen, found with a lumber crew;
The choppers and the sawyers, they lay the timber low.
While the swampers and the skidders, they haul it to and fro.

The cast, Valisia LeKae, Tony Marcus, Rondrell McCormick, Chic Street Man, and Dan Wheetman bring to life all the stories of river folks. They entertain and enthrall, educate and elucidate and keep the audience on the edge of their seats, with foot thumping melodies. 

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Indeed America is the land of the free but Twain immortalizes the mighty Mississippi as the waters that carried many slaves to freedom, to the Northern states. 

I’m comin’ Lord, for my heavenly reward
I’m comin’ home to you, can you see me comin’ thru
Thru clouds of persecution, and stumblin’ on my way
I ‘spect I’m only makin’, ’bout a half a mile a day

Masterfully woven into the lyrics below are subtle references to the operatives of the underground railroad and the markings they left on trees and other landmarks to point the way to freedom.

Well the river bank makes a mighty good road
Dead trees will show you the way
Left foot, peg foot, travelin’ on
Follow the drinkin’ gourd
For the old man is waiting to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinkin’ gourd
Well the river ends, between two hills
Follow the drinkin’ gourd
There’s another river on the other side
Follow the drinkin’ gourd
 yearning for more. 

The musical does not have a singular plot, motive, or moral But if you look through Twain’s eyes, you shall find plots within plots and plenty of motives and morals. It is small wonder that in Twain’s iconic novel, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, the river becomes both the setting of the novel and its central theme. And as Huck continues on, charting his own course and defining his own morality, the river carries on, offering both it’s umpteen bounty and it’s menace.

I wants to go back to Helena, the high waters got me bogged.
I wants to go back to Helena, the high waters got me bogged.
I woke up early this mornin’, a water hole in my back yard.
They want me to work on the levee, I have to leave my home.
They want to work on the levee, that I have to leave my home.
I was so scared the levee might break out and I may drown.

Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”. This journey down the Mississippi is an invitation for us to take an honest and also lighthearted look at the world around us. We may learn much and perhaps shed some baggage, if we can travel with Twain for some time, without malice and with genuine curiosity about the world around us.  Mark Twain’s River of Song” will be running at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, till October 27, 2019. Tickets can be obtained at www.theatreworks.org

 

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“The Wolves” – Play Review


A team of young soccer players in Sarah DeLappe’s play “The Wolves” start out with routine banter, typical of young girls, as they do pre-match warm-up sessions. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, the play offers a rich insight into the minds and hearts of young girls. It is inspiring and emotional, funny and sad and juxtaposes the trials and tribulations of growing up as a young girl in a manner that creates a rich tapestry of varying colors of adolescent life. 

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The play is not organized around a singular conventional theme. In fact, the points of tension are dispersed among many situations and issues and randomly emerge in the fast and fragmented girl talk. There is anxiety around being in love, getting recruited to a top college with athletic scholarship, being home schooled and moved around with a parent’s job, going for unsupervised parties with boys and more. Added to all the choices that young girls wade through, there’s the shame, guilt and secrecy around sex and sexuality. 

What emerges is a rich tapestry of adolescent angst, amidst glaring fundamental truths, the many choices that will have long term consequences and many responsibilities that they delicately seek to balance and navigate through, relying on each other, where only they can understand the depth of emotions. Should destiny require them to deal with loss and grief, what adult can fully understand or speak honestly about the emotional anguish that young girls standing on the dawn of adult life experience? But as the play unfolds, every adult is likely reminded of his or her mental turmoil of adolescence and of their young girls they raised, mentored or taught. There is a certain steady building of empathetic investment into the characters that we experience. By the end of the play, we want each of these girls to go to Harvard or Stanford or heck a community college, indeed any vocation of choice; be on a winning team or not play on one if they so choose; find a partner of choice or be happily single; indeed we want them to fulfill their dreams and grow into kind and happy women. DeLappe’s faultless dialogues on a diverse range of topics, makes these girls so real, we love them like our own. 

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Big kudos to the talented cast, Leila Rosa, Carol Amalia ALban, Taylor Sanders, Alex Bokovikova, Alexandra Velasquez, Ariel Aronica, Annika Nori, Erin Southard, Beca Gilbert, and Janine Saunders Evans. Credits go to MacKenzie Blair and Sara Session for excellent staging. Director Kimberly Mohne Hill with assistance by Elena Maddy has done a fabulous job of giving on stage life to Sarah De Lappe’s The Wolves. This is an absolutely not-to-miss-play of this theater season and will be running The City Lights Theater in San Jose, CA until October 20, 2019. For tickets, go to www.cltc.org .

 

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The 39 Steps – Play Review


The 39 Steps is a theatrical spoof on the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock. Authors of the parody, Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon envisioned the theatrical spoof in 1996 and was later rewritten by Patrick Barlow, with four people playing many roles. At Theatreworks, Lance Gardner, Ron Campbell, Cassidy Brown, and Annie Abrams do a fabulous job of quick role changes as the fast paced spoof moves on, drawing the audience into the murder mystery, with a twist. 

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As the story evolves, Richard Hannay, a man with a boring humdrum life meets an exciting woman who confides in him that she is a spy and requests him to take her to his home. Soon she is mysteriously murdered at his home, leaving the bewildered and scared Hannay to go on the run, both from law enforcement and the people who murdered the spy woman. As Hannay expected, he is accused of murder. As he goes on the run in search of the murderers, Hannay has encounters with constables, spies, village farmers, traveling salesmen, inkeepers, newsboys and he crosses streams, assumes false identity, meets a blonde and even dangles from the bridge.  All this makes for lavishly theatrical and hugely hilarious production. 

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The 39 Steps at Theatreworks, mixes an engrossing masterpiece with juicy characters and hilarious role changes with exciting staging by Leslie Martinson, perfect scenic designs by David Lee Cuthbert, and all the excitement unfolds inside a fast paced whodunit murder mystery, brilliantly directed by Leslie Martinson. This play has been extended to run through September, 22 and tickets are available at www.theatreworks.org .

 

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Language Archive – Play Review


“What is death to a language.  There are 6900 languages in the world,  Every two weeks, a language dies. This statistic moves me more than any other.  It is death of imagination”. This dialog from Theatrework’s Tony Award-winning “Language Archive” is a celebration of the power of words. And the play itself is also a heart touching rendition of the limitation of language because after all, love transcends words.

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Above everything else, playwright Julia Cho’s quirky sentimental comedy is a celebration of human spirit, with all its tenacity and vulnerabilities. Superbly directed by Jeffrey Lo, every dialog in the play is Muni-Muni (means makes on think deeply in Philippine language). The play centers around whimsical brilliant linguist George (Jomar Tagatac). George’s affirming love for the spoken word and his deep inner struggle to verbalize his innermost feelings are contradictions that point to a larger conundrum – what is more important and more fully defines humans, words or feelings. Even as George devotedly works to preserve and record dying languages of the world, internally he struggles to communicate his feelings to his beloved wife, Mary (Elena Wright). Mary on the other hand, lives in the world of feelings, wears her heart on her sleeve, composes and leaves littler verses for George to find, and cries at the drop of a hat. She is critical of George’s lack of emotions. When George insists that he feels and feels deeply and that his work is devoted to preserving languages and he also deeply mourns the death of a language, Mary counters, “You mourn ideas, not people”.  Mary, a woman of feelings, speaks some of the most memorable lines, including telling George, “There is a certain language, our language, and if you don’t come back, I can’t speak it any more,” and when George does go back, Mary indeed fails to understand him. Emma (Adrienne Kaori Walters) works with George and she understands George more deeply.  She also secretly loves George and pines for him.

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Alta (Emily Kuroda) and Resten (Francis Jue) are endearing old couple who are amongst the last people to speak their native language. However, they only speak in their tongue when they are speaking with love. When they are fighting or sniping at each other, they choose to do that in English. George and Emma are keen to record their language but end up terribly frustrated as Alta and Resten are fighting and refuse to speak in their native tongue, as they snipe at each other in English.  In many ways, it makes intuitive sense that they speak in their native language only when they are communicating deep innermost feelings. After all, language of love is the language of the heart and it supercedes the language acquired through learning of words. Language of love is acquired in infancy, long before an infant learns words. The play beautifully weaves together the amazing power of love beyond words with the power inherent in words that give human feelings of love, longing, fear and vulnerabilities, meaning and substance and enables people engaged in a deep relationship an ability to create their own language.

This is a not-to-miss play of this theater season in the bay area and will be running till August 4 at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, CA.  Tickets are available at www.theatreworks.org .

Language Archive, Play, Review Julia Cho, Jeffrey Lo, Jomar Tagatac, Elena Wright, Adrienne Kaori Walters, Emily Kuroda, Francis Jue, Lucie Stern Theater, Palo Alto, www.theatreworks.org 

PS: World’s oldest continually operating library where lost languages have been found
archaeology-world.com/this-is-the-wo…

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Ashadh ka ek din (on Kalidasa): Naatak Play Review


Ashadh ka ek din (on Kalidas) : Naatak Play Review – June, 2019

Found on principles of bringing on stage intelligent and entertaining shows pertaining to East Asian literature and arts in San Francisco bay area, Naatak has consistently surpassed expectations from a demanding audience.

In Naatak’s 69th production, writer Mohan Rakesh’s “Ashadh ka ek din”, the focus is on young love, simple and lyrical as a poem, pure and unspoilt as nature, passionate and brimming with hope as the drop of first rain, in the month of ashadh. It depicts the story of Kalidasa, classical Sanskrit writer and poet who is presumed to have created his works in the 4th century, and was a royal poet during the reigns of kings Chandragupta II and Yasodharman. Kudos to Naatak for fantastic staging. How they manage it, despite low ticket prices is a mystery. 

It is as true today as it was then that stupendous achievements often come from heart-wrenching personal sacrifices. Kalidas (Anush Moorthy) was ahead of his times and his talents went unnoticed, in his little village. However the king in Ujjain was impressed by his work and sent him royal invitation to go to the capital, Ujjain and adorn the royal court as a national poet. Kalidas is reluctant to leave his beloved, Mallika (Preeti Bhat) who is the inspiration behind many of his works. But Mallika insists that he should not pass up this opportunity which will help bloom his talent.

Kalidas: nayi bhumi sukhi bhi to ho sakto hai

Mallika: koi bhumi aisi nahi jiske antar me komalta na ho, tumhari pratibha us komalta ka sparsh awashya pa legi.

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At the insistence of Mallika, Kalidas leaves his village, not to return for several years. With the force of royal sponsorship, Kalidas writes many epics like medghdootam, kumarsambhawa and raghuwans, all the while his beloved Mallika continues to be his muse. While Mallika pines for Kalidasa in the village. Mallika’s mother Ambika (Anshu Johri) curses Kalidasa and refuses to be drawn into the flow of emotions that have gripped her young daughter.  

Ambika: “ma ka jivan bhavna nahi, karm hai”.

Behind every successful man, there is a great sacrifice of a woman (of course, in the present times, opposite is also true). Produced by Alka Sippy and directed by brilliant, Manish Sabu, “ashadh ka ek din” is a story of love that is eternal, of time which stops for noone, and of sacrifice from which are born great works of art. One thing the play is not and I would have loved more of is Kalidasa’s work itself. The play does not focus as much on his poetry. Kalidasa had written Rutusamhara before he went to Ujjain. If the play included many lyrics from there which spoke of the beauty of the mountains, clouds and rains that appeared even more beautiful to the poet, in the company of his beloved, then it would have enhanced our joy. Nonetheless, it is a tender love story, with beautiful prose and heart-touching dialogues.

 

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FROSTNIXON – Play Review


Tony and Olivier Award nominated drama, Frost/Nixon is currently playing at www.theatreworks.org in Mountain View, CA. Written by Golden Globe winner Peter Morgan, the play focuses on 1977 television interviews between British journalist, David Frost (Jeremy Webb) and former President Richard Nixon (Allen McCullough).   

Even in 2019, the events surrounding the Presidency and resignation of Richard Nixon, stories of Watergate cover-up and Spiro Agnew’s criminal conduct, still holds the fascination and gets a great deal of attention in the media. At the time Nixon sat down for a series of interviews with David Frost, the Watergate scandal was still fresh in everyone’s minds and public was thirsty to hear from Nixon himself. There was a great deal of curiosity on whether contrition and guilt would find its way in his expression but Nixon continued to remain tight-lipped and when he did speak, he stayed short of admitting guilt.

Image result for frost/nixon, theatreworksTheatreworks production switches between on-camera Nixon, glib and defiant and off-camera Nixon, haunted by his own imagined ghosts, skeptical of everyone, socially inept and obsessed with money. The production also switches rapidly between on-camera Frost, also glib, confident, entertaining and at ease on camera and off-camera Frost, obsessing over the single most crucial and defining event of his life, his series of interviews with the defiant President of America, who had thus far managed to evade taking any responsibility.

Some of the most memorable and poignant moments of Nixon presidency were indeed marked by Television, like him defending himself in he “Checkers” speech, him protesting “I am not a crook”, and his resignation speech, to mention a few. But given his silence, it was hard to get Nixon to admit to the people, how he led and participated in one of the biggest scandals at the uppermost level in the American government. If it seemed reasonable to expect that when the moment come to nail down Nixon on his crimes, it must be a public moment where people may be watching him live on TV, sweating and all, David Frost did not seem to be a reasonable interviewer for such a high profile interview.  David Front won the interview for two simple reasons: He paid Nixon $600,000 from mostly his own money, and he was viewed by Nixon and his advisers as a pushover.

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Although David Frost was witty, insightful, entertaining and brought an informal touch to the interview, Nixon was a formidable adversary who was certain that he could hold his own. Having never testified or stood trial, Nixon was pardoned by Ford, and he never had to admit to or apologize for his deceitful conduct. So will Frost manage to nail Nixon on his favorite media, not Twitter but Television?!!  Frost’s team of producers and impassioned journalists, (Adam Shonkwiler, Patrick Russell, Stephen Muterspaugh) are all on edge, almost certain that Frost will mess it up and Nixon will just get a free pass. And Nixon’s team (Kenny Toll, Craig Marker, Adam J. Saucedo) were ready to bail the boss.

The showdown is imminent between these two men with their own private agenda. The stakes couldn’t be higher when these two ambitious men come face to face on camera, one who tried to undermine America’s democracy and the other trying to use the best weapon available in a democracy. What follows is a game of chess and a contest of wits. Even though many of us have lived through this history, this is a non-to-miss show of this theater season, certain to keep you riveted to the satisfying and portending, very end. Frost/Nixon is running at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts and tickets can be purchased at www.theatreworks.org .

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Mothers and Sons – Play Review


Image result for citylights, mothers and sonsThe play “Mothers and Sons” by playwright, Terrence McNally and directed by Jeffrey Bracco is a funny and poignant tale of loss and love.  When Katharine (Lillian Bogovich), Andre’s mother shows up unexpectedly on the doorstep of Andre’s former boyfriend, Cal (Damian Vega), 20 some years after losing her son to AIDS, she is bitter, angry, hurt and in search of a target. Cal has also gone through deep loss but has found love again, in his husband Will (Max Tachis), and they have a son Bud (Izaiah Gutierrez), they deeply love. Still mourning and reeling from the loss of her son, Katharine sinks deeper into gloom at seeing Cal’s life. She asks, “why did your life got better after Andre and why did mine get worst”?

Image result for citylights, mothers and sonsAs per my observation however, this story is less about mothers and sons and more about one mother and her son. It is Katharine’s nature and temperament that has put her into an indefinite period of gloom and bitterness. She describes herself as “I am not a joiner, I did not like to cook, I am a widow”. Katherine could not cultivate intimacy and closeness with either her husband or her son, Andre.  She recalls Andre being “remote” and observes with some contempt that she was relegated to being a mere chauffeur. Many mothers might have experiences of similar moments but they put aside those moments and find more enduring closeness and love with their children.

While Katharine’s temperament may have precluded her from enjoying a close relationship with her son, this story is also wrapped in time when gays did not find acceptance in society and were subjected to biases and stereotypes. Katharine, found it hard to reconcile her preconceived notions about gays. She says, “I hate that word. It could be something nice, joyful. But we lost that battle too”. Sadly, her life is an endless series of battles she has brought onto herself.  And sadly, reeling in her own misery, she misses completely how an entire young generation of her son’s age was lost to AIDS epidemic, “a living, breathing generation, not a footnote in history”. Image result for citylights, mothers and sonsJust when it seems, there would be no hope for Katharine, then in the midst of sorrow, the characters find moments of compassion and glimmer of hope, and even love.  Mothers and Sons is a heartbreaking, emotionally nuanced story of unending mourning and loss and it is also a tale of human compassion where it is never too late to reconcile with one’s loss, only to stumble onto enduring nature of love. Lillian Bogovich as Katharine is absolutely amazing. This is a must-see play if only to watch the brilliant cast playing out the complex human drama with all the emotional nuances and with deep sensitivity. Mothers and Sons is running at the CityLights Theater in San Jose, till February 17, 2019 and tickets can be obtained at www.cltc.org .

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A Piece of History of WWII at The Marsh, SF – Review


Marsh Theater at 1062 Valencia in San Francisco is a friendly, laid back, 110 seat theater attached to a community art center, and is surrounded by stunning shops, cafes, lovely fusion food places, and avant garde artistic shops. The theater itself  is a lovely place for writers and performers to easily develop no-frill performances.

In a recent performance that I attended, “A History of WWII: The D-Day Invasion to the Fall of Berlin”, multi award-winning actor and playwright, John Fisher took the audience on a whirlwind journey of or the WWII from the period between allied invasion of Normandy to the Fall of Berlin. Much happened during the short time period between June, 1944 and May, 1945 that finally marked the end of Hitler and the fall of Berlin.  

This is a fascinating 85 minutes performance that takes the audience through the final year of the war, when some of the most fateful battles were fought. Fisher is recipient of several awards and in this fast paced solo performance, he does an incredible job of taking the audience through many of the war’s most crucial battles, generals, decisions and throws in information about books and movies that have memorialized these key battles.  I will highly recommend this performance for World War II buffs.

Tickets for this show can be obtained at www.themarsh.org .

I was so fascinated by Fisher’s show that afterwards I went through my notes and learned more details about all the fascinating stories he shared in the show.  I have attempted to summarize some of that history below for anyone wanting a ready reference of the crucial final year of the war.

History of WWI: The D-Day Invasion to the Fall of Berlin

Image result for battle of dunkirkThe Battle of Dunkirk, fought in France, in 1940s had shown that the British had great air force and navy but lacked superior army power to win the war. Fortunately, Hitler’s army halted their advance at the time and it gave the Allies sufficient time to organize the Dunkirk Evacuation where more than 330,000 troops were rescued and it allowed the Allies to build a defensive line. United States was sitting on the side lines. On December 7, 1942, Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. US continued to maintain formal neutrality, mostly supplying ammunition. Japanese forces pursuing territorial expansionism, bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. That woke the sleeping giant. The day after Pearl Harbor, the US Congress officially declared war on Japan, and was followed by Britain. Three days later, Germany declared war on the United States. In the end, the US involvement changed the course of the War.

After referring to the history that led to United States joining the war, Fisher goes on play act scenes from the war, as shown in many war movies. In one of the final battles, the allied forces from US, Britain, Canada and Free French forces (later joined by contingents from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece and the Netherlands joined the ground campaign and landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944 through parachutes, supported by massive air attacks and naval bombardments. Hitler then made a fateful strategic decision. In the aftermath of a failed coup, he recalled General Van Kluge General Kluge feared Hitler’s wrath and killed himself and that was German army’s great loss. Fisher’s description of the failed coup on Hitler, provided much comic relief, in this war story. It is amazing that his dissenting generals made multiple errors in carrying out one of the most impactful acts of their lives.

Image result for Operation market gardenFisher goes on to tell the story of Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful military operation fought in the Netherlands, planned and led by the British Army, with an objective to seize a series of nine key bridges that could provide the Allies with an invasion route into Germany. While the Allies succeeded in the liberation of several bridges, they failed to secure the last bridge, over the Rhine and thus failed to cross the Rhine. This failed attempt is memorialized in the film, “A Bridge Too Far”. Fisher also gives out names of several reference books on the subject. Germans were still losing but they had not lost the will.

Image result for battle of the bulgeLaunched through the densely forested region in Belgium and Luxembourg, The Battle of the Bulge, was the last major German campaign against the Allies. Germans intended to split the Allied lines.  Due to allied overconfidence and negligence of this region, American forces manned by division of 16 and 17 year olds, bore the greatest brunt of the attack and American forces incurred their highest casualties of any operation during the war. This has been memorialized in the book, “The Ghost Front” written by twin brothers who survived the attack. Fortunately for the Allies, the battle also severely depleted Germany’s armored forces. The “Bulge” was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II and the second deadliest battle in American history.

However, until the Battle of the Bulge, America mostly provided resources and fire power. It was Russia that provided the blood, swet, and tears. Stalin was completely oblivious to the suffering and decimation of his troops. Despite significant losses, he continued to provide an inexhaustible supply of troops and ordered Soviet forces to “fight to the last man”, although women also participated in the battle. He also issues, “Not One Step Backward!” rule, which decreed that cowards were to be “liquidated on the spot.” In the end, while America lost slightly more than 400,000 soldiers (killed or missing) and almost no civilians during World War II, the USSR is believed to have lost at least 11,000,000 soldiers (killed and missing) as well as somewhere between 7,000,000 and 20,000,000 million of its civilians. While growing up, Fisher was fascinated by the war and by German generals speaking in interesting accent. But as the story gets closer to the end, the huge cost of war in terms of the lives lost, hangs in the air like a crude reality.Image result for russian army in wwII

Image result for Race to BerlinDespite enormous payout in terms of lives lost, Stalin’s ambitions were not contained and in the final stages of the fall of Berlin, there was a “Race to Berlin”, a sort of competition to enter Berlin between two Soviet marshals who separately commanded their armies to drive their men as fast as they could. Meanwhile American generals Montomery, Patton and even the Brits wanted to continue the advance into Berlin. But Eisenhower made a different choice. He wished to avoid further American casualties which were estimated to be around 100,000 American men, if they were to compete for Berlin. Eisenhower also wished to honor the agreement made with the Soviets at the Yalta Conference and allow Stalin to exert control over Berlin. The Americans leaving Berlin for the Soviets, enabled the Soviets to take the lead, and after the bloody “Battle of Berlin” (where the Soviets engaged in many atrocities and war crimes), the Soviets prevailed.  This forever changed the course of history. Soviets implemented The Iron Curtain, both sides began the race for nuclear arms, and the ensuing Cold War lasted nearly 45 years.

 

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Fun Home – Play Review


It’s remarkably powerful, it’s touching, it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it’s intimate, it’s deeply personal and political at the same time. Based on autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, the play Fun Home focuses on the theme of sexual identity. Through very powerful and familial context of father-daughter relationship, the musical explores the cost of living in the closet and the possibilities that open up, on coming out. Fun Home has won several awards including Lucille Lortel Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Obie, Award, and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and has garnered five Tony Awards including “Best Musical”.Image result for fun home, theatreworks
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While prejudice remains as a dark and ugly presence in the world today, Fun Home helps us see the costs that societies, families and generations bear due to hidden and overt biases. Born in 1930s, a husband and father, Bruce Bechdel
(James Lloyd Reynolds) lives a closeted life.  A caring husband and father, Bruce hides a big secret that diminishes his accomplishments, at least in his own mind. He channels his frustration into an obsession with cleanliness, obsession with dressing his daughter in girlie attire and looking for secret avenues to fulfill his desire. He has built a beautiful family with his wife, Helen Bechdel (Crissy Guerrero), his sons, Christian (Jack Barrett, Dylan Kento Curtis), John (Billy Hutton, Oliver Copaken Yellin), and his daughter Alison. The play mainly centers on his relationship with his daughter, Alison.  Moira Stone (as narrator Alison), Lila Gold (as young Alison), and Erin Kommor (as older Alison) are all super fabulous in their roles and vividly bring out the complex father-daughter dynamics at various stages in the story.  When Alison grows up and goes away to college, she meets Joan (Ayelet Firstenberg) and experiences love’s first stirrings. Terrified and excited, Alison tries to quosh the feelings at first and later explores them and comes out as a lesbian.
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Special kudos to scenic designer, Andrea Bechert, fabulous stage manager, Randall K. Lum and assistant stage manager, Emily Anderson Wolf for beautiful staging and scenes. Robert Kelley is a brilliant director and in Fun Home, the story of impact of prejudice is brilliantly told.

Somewhere between the father who felt compelled to live a lie his whole life, and a daughter who finds the environment and courage to seek fulfillment on her own terms, lie the simple truths about both the suffering and cost of having to hide who you truly are, and the joy of embracing your whole self. Great kudos to Alison Bechdel for embracing her whole self and finding to courage to share the story. It was Lisa Kron who was an early fan of the story and with Bechdel’s blessing, teamed up with composer Jeanine Tesori and adapted the graphic novel for the stage, as a musical. In blending this beautiful human story told through pictures with stirring lyrics, the trio has carved a straight path to the human heart.

This is a not-to-miss play of this theater season. Tickets are available at www.theatreworks.org .

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Native Gardens – Play Review


Playwright Karen Zacaria’s “Native Gardens”, currently playing at The Center for Performing Arts in Mountain View, explores ageism, racism, sexism, classism, republicanism, democratism and more  in the context of an unintended property line conflict among neighbors.

Image result for native gardens, theatreworksTania (Marlene Martinez) and Pablo Del Valle (Michael Evans Lopez) are young, up and coming Latino couple, each with their own past that colors their perceptions. Pablo is from Chile and grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth. He is angling for a partnership at a law firm and is slightly paranoid of how he will be accepted, given his Latino background. Tania is very pregnant, is nearing the completion of her Ph.D. in anthropology, and grew up in much poorer circumstances in New Mexico. She is idealistic, new agee, strongly pro-environment, and into native plants. Tania and Pablo own a property adjoining Virginia (Amy Resnick) and Frank Butley (Jackson Davis). Virginia and Frank are older couple with a prize-worthy English garden and are Republicans.

Image result for native gardens, theatreworksWell intentioned neighbors’ attempts for friendship soon melt away as an unintended property dispute arises. Given that garden is important to both couples, albeit in different ways, “Native Gardens” is a comedy rooted in tulipanin (common allergen toxic to some animals, found in tulips) laced barbs, and tannic acid (residing in acorns and leaves of oak trees that helps guard it from fungi and insects) colored retorts.

Zacarias is a compassionate writer and she treats both couples with a measure of empathy, compassion and understanding. Yet, what is fascinating is how gradually and in a measured way and yet how quickly and not so subtly, the conflict escalates and breaks down relations, as both couples dig deep into their personal treasure trove of isms and even political affiliations, to assume bad intentions of others and find new insults.

Image result for native gardens, theatreworksDirector Amy Gonzalez has done a fabulous job, with the script in showing how easy it is, despite all the wisdom and maturity, for people to get polarized, to buy into the divisive rhetoric in the air that may reflect their own latent biases, prejudices and distrust of one another. Special kudos for incredible staging to Sara Sparks and Amy Smith Goodman.

In the current climate of deepening rifts and many symbols of “us versus them” (border wall, trade barrier, cages, guns, armed guards in schools, red wave, blue wave and more), the play uses yet another powerful symbol of a fence.  If this play is to serve as a microcosm of what is going on in the country, then such physical articulations not only define our distinctions but when combined with divisive rhetoric and incitement of fear, they serve as call to action, to fiercely protect our zones, perimeters, boundaries and borders. However in the play, as if bringing a perfect measure of hope, it highlights how sometimes humanity springs in the most unlikeliest of circumstances, during those times when we need one another. And in those times when we seek help and when we offer help, in times of unity, our gardens bloom.
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This is a not-to-miss play of this theater season. For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .

 

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