Archive for category Play Reviews
Girls have dreams too. Seven year old Jerry Cobb (Sarah Mitchell) was obsessed with flying. But in 1960, a time of great social change in American history, certain dreams were still reserved for men. Laurel Ollstein’s dramatization of the true story of Jerry Cobb and her female peers in Mercury 13 astronaut training program, is currently playing at theatreworks in Palo Alto.
Stories of two aspiring women are intertwined in “They promised her the moon”. Jackie Cochran (Stacy Ross) used her wealth and connections and had already made history as a first woman pilot. Later, financed by her husband, she ran a successful cosmetics company. But for most women, these dreams were out of reach. Jackie Cochran had pushed for women to be allowed to fly for the military, and women did fly during the war. But when WWII ended, women were barred from flying most sophisticated planes.
During that time, as a little girl, Jerry Cobb seemed determined to fly and touch the heavens. Her pilot father, Harvey Cobb (Dan Hiatt) encouraged and inspired her and taught her some basics about airplanes. Jerry began flying at the age of twelve and by her twenties, she was setting world records in flying speeds, distance, and altitude. Inspired by her predecessor, Jackie Cochran who was pushing for female astronauts, Jerry Cobb enrolled in Mercury 13 program training to send astronauts into space. Jerrie Cobb beat most of her male counterparts as she went through strenuous rounds of tests and invasive physical and psychological evaluations.
Meanwhile different politics started getting played into the upper echelons of men, status, wealth and political power. Among the first group of astronauts was John Glenn, the new American hero. Given the culture of the time, Glenn and other men felt that since men flew combat missions, they were more equipped to become astronauts. Cochran was the lone woman in the boys club and sought to leverage her power. Cochran wasn’t happy that her popularity and status as the first woman pilot was getting replaced with a surge in Cobb’s popularity and she perhaps also felt that history would forget her completely if Cobb were to become the first woman astronaut in space.
Jerry Cobb passed away in 2019. Theatreworks’ celebration of Jerry Cobb in “They promised her the moon” reminds us that legacy is not only created with great achievements, but also by those who dare to dream. Entire cast is marvellous and Sarah Mitchell’s performance is truly unforgettable. Huge kudos to director, Giovanna Sardelli for this fabulous and not-to-miss show.
Unfortunately, to mitigate and contain coronavirus pandemic, Theatreworks is canceling all shows right now so please check the website at http://www.theatreworks.org for updates and stay safe.
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Hindi - Bollywood Movie Reviews-- Play Reviews-- NAATAK-- Poems-- Event Reports, Play Reviews on February 23, 2020
I was not expecting a great deal from NAATAK company’s most recent on stage production of Neil Simon’s “Rumors”. After all, farce is one of the most challenging genres to perform. A farce is a comedy in which everything is absolutely absurd and usually involves some kind of deception or miscommunication. People are not forgiving when it comes to laughter and lame comedy tragically falls short in generating laughs. Add to that the challenging part of translating humor into another language and culture. The play is in Hinglish with supertitles in clear English projected on top of the stage.
However, my worry was unfounded. This performance is by NAATAK and in every show NAATAK meets the challenge head-on and delivers the best. In Rumors, five couples invited to celebrate a sixth couple’s anniversary, find that the host has shot himself, hostess is missing, servants are nowhere to be seen and the dinner isn’t prepared. What ensues is a brilliantly interwoven performance of farcical missteps, outlandish lies, and dialogs so hilariously delivered that you will be in stitches, in no time.
First, there is an exceptional cast of actors with Kamala Subramananian, Chaitnya Godsay, Ekta Brahmkshatri, Ritwik Verma, Anjali Bhide, Natraj Kumar, Roshni Datta, Chanpreet Singh, Bruce Blau, and Deanna Shinsky. There are also ubiquitous Chakra and Meera, the host and the hostess who never quite make an appearance but drive the events from the shadows.
The title of this play (given by original playwright) is well suited for Naatak’s performance, adapted to Indian socialites. While on one hand, well meaning friends are driven to protect the scandal of the day (details of it are not yet fully known to them) and on the other hand, there is equally well intentioned and cultural proclivity to share about the scandal (to find and lend support), and to fill holes in the missing details.
The dialogs are nothing short of brilliant. Here’s how it goes between two people at the party,
“She has a thing you know”.
“What sort of a thing”?
“She is doing something with somebody, somewhere”.
There is also sarcasm in hinglish. Here’s one dialog.
“I am melting”.
“So are the planets. But that we can manage.
Aap ki mange
Environment ke aage.”
Kudos to Director and translator of the original script, Naatak’s marvelous, Harish Agastya. Everything comes together brilliantly in “Rumors”, with witty script in Hinglish, plethora of underhand comments, sarcasm, complex storyline, unbelievably nutty sequence of events, ridiculous cover-up and dynamic fabrications, events that unfold in slapstick manner, neurotic cast of characters who successfully deliver ingeniously funny moments, elegant costumes that indicate high socialite status of Silicon Valley’s Indian socialites and exceptional staging, sound and light. This is a not-to-miss play of this theater season for all theatergoers in Silicon Valley. Naatak has 5 more shows and is running till March 1, at the Cubberley Community Theater in Palo Alto. There are few tickets left for some shows. Tickets can be obtained at http://www.naatak.org .
Come on babe
Why don’t we paint the town?
And all that Jazz…
If you’re intending to paint the town there’s no better place than at Chicago, the musical that is currently playing at the stage in San Jose and is the longest running American show on Broadway. The story is based on real events where in roaring twenties Chicago, Roxie Hart (Monique Hafen Adams), a nightclub dancer, lands on murders row. Her role as narcissistic, self absorbed and spoiled wannabe star is poignant and powerful. While she can be locked up forever or hanged for the murder, Roxie is enjoying the stardom, the notoriety has brought her.
The name on everybody’s lips
Is gonna be Roxie
The lady rakin’ in the chips
Is gonna be Roxie
I’m gonna be a celebrity
From just some dumb mechanic’s wife
I’m gonna be Roxie
Who says that murder’s not an art?
And who in case she doesn’t hang
Can say she started with a bang?
Foxy Roxie Hart!
Another famous nightclub star, Velma Kelly (Allison F. Rich) is also going through the legal system, having committed a prior murder. Roxy and Velma compete with each other in spinning their stories, in getting jury’s sympathy and as their notoriety throws them into stardom, they compete to get the best roles in the nightclub shows.
The female driven murderer song and dance is full of energy romp through upcoming “not guilty” plea and “self defense” defense, along with the corruption characteristic of the court and prison system of 1920s..
He had it coming
He had it coming
He only had himself to blame.
If you’d have been there
If you’d have seen it
But you haven’t seen nothing yet, until you meet Mama Morton. Branden Noel Thomas is dazzling and commanding in his role as Mama Morton and….
When you’re good to Mama
Mama’s good to you!
And now ladies and gentlemen –
the Keeper of the keys,
the Countess of the clink,
the mistress of Murderers Row,
Matron Mama Morton!
My most favorite piece is the press briefing. The PR campaign reminiscent of what is currently going on in politics, is complete with word plays, spins and conniving and evil manipulation of the news. It seems media manipulation with an aim to influence public perception with false propaganda through suppression of information and outright deception was almost as devilish in the 20s, as it is today.
Give ’em the old razzle dazzle
Razzle dazzle ’em
How can they hear the truth above the roar?
Throw ’em a fake and a finagle
They’ll never know you’re just a bagel
Give ’em the old three ring circus
Stun and stagger ’em
Daze and dizzy ’em
Show ’em the first rate sorcerer you are
Long as you keep ’em way off balance
How can they spot you got no talents?
Razzle dazzle ’em
This show explodes with energy, wit, and fabulous music and dance numbers. Kudos to Randall King for superb direction. Chicago is a class act. Whatever happened to class? It’s all there in this show.
Why is it everyone now is a pain in the ass?
Whatever happened to class?
Now, no one even says “oops” when they’re
Passing their gas
Whatever happened to class?
Chicago is a not-to-miss show during this theater season and will be playing at the San Jose Stage Theater till March 15, 2020. Tickets can be obtained at www.thestage.org .
As a sole performer of “The Pianist of Willesden Lane”, Mona Golabek tells the story of her mother, Lisa Jura. Ms. Golabek is a concert pianist and in this deeply affecting, heart-rending memoir, adapted and directed by Hershey Felder, she tells tells the story of her mother’s youth, during World War II, in her mother’s voice.
Lisa Jura was 14 in 1938, when Nazi Germany began to populate its concentration camps. The British Jewish Refugee Committee drummed up support in Parliament and extended a helping hand, towards children caught in this tragedy, unfolding across the English Channel. The group began operation of Kindertransport, “children’s trains” leaving from major cities including Berlin, Vienna, and Prague, carrying thousands of children to safer areas, outside the reach of the Third Reich. With the assumption that this was a short lived crisis, the children who reached Britain, were awarded temporary visas and were placed in British homes.
“My name is Lisa Jura and I’m 14 years old. It’s Vienna, 1938, and it’s a Friday afternoon. I’m preparing for the most important hour of my week – my piano lesson”. Thus begins Lisa’s story. But an ordinary piano lesson turns into a foreboding feeling of the cruelty of things to come. Her instructor regretfully tells her he has been forbidden to teach Jewish students and he adds, “I’m not a brave man”. After demeaning experiences and knowing full well that Germany and Austria were becoming unlivable for Jewish citizens, Lisa’s father manages to secure one pass on Kindertransport. Lisa’s parents had to select one of their three daughters, to set out for the safe zone, away from the family in Vienna.
Along with her family, Lisa leaves behind her tumultuous adolescence and her lofty dreams about her place in the adult world. Lisa sets out on her harrowing journey to safety, through Nazi checkpoints and through several countries, going through multiple boat and train rides. Lisa was one of over 10,000 children, ranging in age from infancy to 17 years, who streamed across Europe on the Kindertransport. After arriving in England, she works as a maid before winding up in a busy hostel full of refugee children like her, on Willesden Lane, There she found camaraderie and hope.
Lisa’s mother, who was Lisa’s best friend and inspiration, gave her one last piece of advice, before Lisa left. She said, “You must promise me that you will hold onto your music. It will be the best friend you ever have. I will be with you every step of the way when you’re playing that music”. It is Lisa’s music that turns this deeply tragic story, into a story of hope, romance, love and triumph.
Mona Golabek effortlessly slips into the persona of her mother, the pianist Lisa Jura. Underpinning the entire story, is the fabulous music that she plays on a beautiful black Steinway. She plays the music her mother loved, including Debussy’s Clair de Lune, Chopin’s Nocturne in B-Flat Major, and Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata. When she was little, Golabek’s mother gave her piano lessons and in the midst of these lessons, she would tell Golabek the story of her life. She told Golabek that each piece of music tells a story. Golabek honors that memory and weaves her mother and piano prodigy Lisa Jura’s inspirational story of survival and hope with beautiful music. The Pianist at Willesden Lane will be running at www.theatreworks.org till February 16. 2020.
In “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley”, Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have brought back to life, delightful characters from Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. The show also brings back fond memories of Downton Abby, with most of the action happening below stairs at Pemberley, home of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy (Keenan Flagg and Asha Kelly).
Action is again with George Wickham (Alexander Draa), the profligate, wayward, philanderer husband of Lydia (Barbara Jackson). Younger sister of Elizabeth Darcy and Jane Bingly, Lydia, it seemed, with her silly giggles and girlish exuberance, was incapable of maturity and wisdom that her older sisters displayed, in dealing with matters of the heart, but the show has a surprise for the audience. As the family gathers to celebrate Christmas, Mr. Wickham is expressly not invited to the gathering.
George Wickham arrives nevertheless, uninvited and unwanted, creating a headache for the below stairs residents, the housekeeper, Mrs. Reynols (Deb Anderson) and her assistants, Brian (Kyle Dayrit) and new hire, Cassie (Marlena Westley). Anderson is clearly the star of the show and her natural ease and stage presence is reminiscent of Downton Abby’s Mrs. Carson (Elsie Carson).
Writers Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have moved along the story to fit into the 21st century narrative. Elizabeth Bennet, the dynamic protagonist in Pride and Prejudice, sought actual goodness over superficial goodness, especially when it came to choosing a life partner. That role is assumed by Cassie, and even good men sometimes require women to lead them in accepting role equality. Accordingly, Cassie tells her beau, “Love is about seeing someone and allowing them to be exactly as they are”.
In “The Wickhams”, George Wickham is certainly a flawed character, but can Jane Austen’s heroine remain flawed forever? If your curiosity is piqued, then don’t miss the play. “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” will be playing at Citylights theater in San Jose, till December 22. Tickets can be obtained at www.cltc.org .
The Humans by playwright Stephen Karam, offers a funny, sad and blisteringly realistic portrait of American family drama, at a thanksgiving meal. The Humans was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Play.
Blake family, father Erick (Tim Kniffin), mother Deirdre (Marie Shell), daughter Brigid (Madeline Rouverol), daughter Aimee (Lyndsy Kail), Brigid’s live-in lover, Richard (George Psarras) and Momo, (Jessica Powell) have gathered for the meal at Richard and Brigid’s run down apartment in Manhatten, New York. These are the people we know; they are our neighbors, friends; indeed they are us.
Like many families, the Blakes have strong bonds and deep resentments. At times, they differ and argue over what appears to be inconsequential stuff. There are generational differences. Erick and Deirdre want the best for their two daughters but their best is not the same as what their daughters desire. At times, subtly and at times overtly the parents show their disapproval of Brigid’s choice of apartment and her decision to co-habit with her partner, without a marriage. Blake parents agonize over their daughter Aimee’s apparent anxiety, her major bowel disorder and her apparent losses in life. While Richard tries hard to get approval from Aimee’s family and convey to them that he has cleaned up his life, it is not easy to come by. Jessica Powell’s acting as momo suffering from dementia, is absolutely amazing and realistic.
David Zinn’s fascinating two-tiered set with a spiral staircase connecting the floors enables the family drama and action to move between upstairs and downstairs, just like the ebb and flow of their emotions. Kudos to director Tony Kelly and to the scenic team including Guilio Perrone and Michael Truman Cavanaugh for this insightful show.
This family drama is a penetrating portrayal of psychological unease. And yet, even as imperfect individuals and imperfect families travel through uncertainties and challenges, it’s the same ties that create the discomfort that also give hope for the future.
The Humans will be running at San Jose Stage Theater in San Jose, CA till December 15, 2019. For tickets, contact www.thestage.org .
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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 .