Posts Tagged Emily Anderson Wolf

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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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
Image result for fun home, theatreworks
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.
Image result for fun home, theatreworksImage result for fun home, theatreworksImage result for fun home, theatreworks

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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Crimes of the Heart – Play Review


Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart, set in MaGrath family kitchen, is a story of sisterhood.  Anyone who has lived with sisters would agree that sisterly bonding is strong, it’s sweet, it’s sorrowful, it is sassy, it’s surreal, it’s serene. The play that just opened at Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, takes the audience on the complex journey of sisterhood.

Part of the literary genre known as “Southern Gothic”, the play won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.  Mix of tragedy and dark comedy, the play is set in 1950s, in a small town in Mississippi.  The youngest sister Babe (Lizzie O’Hara) is out on bail, after briefly being jailed for shooting her husband (who is injured in the stomach but survived the shooting).  Middle sister, Meg (Sarah Moser) is just out of the psychiatric facility and has arrived at older sister Lenny’s (Therese Plaehn) home to gather in support of Babe through her court trial.

High Res L-R: Meg (Sarah Moser), gets a reaction from her sisters Lenny (Therese Plaehn) and Babe  (Lizzie O'Hara) in Crimes of the Heart, presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley Jan. 11 - Feb. 4, 2017 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Photo credit: Kevin BerneIt is obvious that all three sisters are having a bad day, perhaps a bad life. Babe is entangled in an abusive relationship, Meg joyfully embraces life only to be challenged at every turn, and Lenny celebrates her 30th birthday alone in the kitchen, trying to blow out her candle on a cookie, making wish after another wish.  The sisters are brutal towards each other one minute and supportive and encouraging, the next.  It all comes together to create a touching tapestry of sisterhood, family, and deep ties that provoke great sorrow and also provide strength when strength is needed to get through life’s biggest challenges.  

High Res L-R: Sisters Lenny (Therese Plaehn), Babe (Lizzie O'Hara),  and Meg (Sarah Moser) share a moment in Crimes of the Heart, presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley Jan. 11 - Feb. 4, 2017  at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Photo credit: Kevin BerneBeautifully directed by Giovanna Sardelli, special mention also goes to Stage Manager, Ashley Taylor Frampton and Assistant Stage Manager, Emily Anderson Wolf, for fabulous stage design.  Major kudos to TheatreWorks’ artistic director, Robert Kelley for bringing a bold and honest story, told from a female perspective, as he says, “in a year that has already focused on America’s women in so many unexpected ways”.  As a million women are set to march in the nation’s capital, and so many more all over the country, in a show of solidarity and strength that emerged from spontaneous rallying cry via social media, to repudiate sexist, racist, misogynystic and divisive rhetoric that has colored current political and social climate in the country, this play focusing on women’s passion, insight, frustration, and bonding, is very timely.  It is also telling how a bunch of loony sisters can overcome and prevail when they bring their passions and bond together, over some sugary desserts :).

“Crimes of the Heart” will be playing in Mountain View till February 5, 2017 and tickets can be purchased at www.theatreworks.org .

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Sweeney Todd – Play Review


“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” opened at Theatreworks, Saturday night, and received a standing ovation from the full house.  The story, based on the book by Hugh Wheeler, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is about the power of evil to infect everything and everyone, in its wake.  And in the words of Theatreworks’ Artistic Director, Robert Kelley, Sweeney Todd is “about our ways of dealing with evil: countering it with virtue, disarming it with humor, crushing it with force, or transforming it into art”.  And what a fine work of art it is in this theatreworks production.

The story of Sweeney Todd is set in London in 1940s, during the time when London was blasted by German bombs. Fifteen years prior, a barber was unjustly convicted and sent to Australian prison and has now returned to extract his revenge from the system.  Specifically, he wants to extract revenge from the evil Judge Turpin (Lee Strawn), and his lackey, a portly, greasy, evil man, Beadle Bamford (Martin Rojas Dietrich).


Kevin Berne/TheatreWorks David Studwell stars as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd.David Studwell, in the role of Sweeney Todd, is devilishly magnificent and the first person he charms and snares into his evil scheme, is Mrs. Lovett (Tory Ross, who is equally magnificent).  While Sweeney Todd has been deeply wronged by the system, is motivated by vengeance, and does the disturbingly gory work with his bare hands, Mrs. Lovett, a pie seller, trying to run a challenging business at a difficult time, is entrepreneurial, charming, and is purely driven by profit motive.  She works with her hands, tenderizing the meat (if we forget for a minute the source of that meat) and baking it into artful, tasty pies.  The force of evil is so powerful, it sucks you right in.  When Mrs. Lovett declares, “we got a nice respectable business now”, it almost makes you want to root for her to rescue Sweeney from his obsession with vengeance and escape with her to a cottage by the ocean.  When smug judge Turpin comes for a shave, to get ready to seduce his ward, Joanna (gorgeous Mindy Lym), who is Sweeney’s daughter, whom he has kidnapped and raised, you almost root again for Sweeney to complete his task and give the judge his due.

When the judge escapes, instead of heaving a sigh of relief, you almost want to tell Sweeney, “what made you wait, you had him”!!  This timeless tale is as much about the demon barber, as it is about the evil lurking in all of us.  If it is not consciously checked, the evil will suck you right in, if not by doing, than by thinking.  Special kudos to fantastic musical direction by William Liberatore and superb staging by Marcy Victoria Reed and Emily Anderson Wolf.  Don’t miss this incredible production by theatreworks.  For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .

I had him!
His throat was there beneath my hand.
I had him!

His throat was there beneath my hand.
No, I had him!
His throat was there and now he’ll never come again.
Mrs. Lovett: Easy now, hush love hush
I keep telling you, Whats your rush?
Todd: When? Why did I wait?
You told me to wait –
Now he’ll never come again.
There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit
And it’s filled with people who are filled with sh*t
And the vermin of the world inhabit it.

But not for long…
They all deserve to die.
Tell you why, Mrs. Lovett, tell you why.
Because in all of the whole human race
Mrs. Lovett, there are two kinds of men and only two
There’s the one staying put in his proper place
And the one with his foot in the other one’s face
Look at me, Mrs Lovett, look at you.

Don’t we all deserve to die?
Even you, Mrs. Lovett, even I.
Because the lives of the wicked should be made brief
For the rest of us death will be a relief
We all deserve to die.

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Wild With Happy — Play Review


Deeply personal, hysterically funny, also sad, full of wit and humor, the play “Wild With Happy”, by nationally acclaimed, OBIE award-winning and Tony award-nominated, actor and playwright, Colman Domingo, opened at TheatreWorks, at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts.  Domingo is a gifted actor and has previously played in various well known productions, including “The Scottsboro Boys” – http://bit.ly/KIBadN .  In “Wild With Happy”, he plays alongside Sharon Washington, who is superb in her duel role, and was nominated for an Outstanding Lead Actress, Lucille Lortel Award, for her performance as “Adelaide/ Aunt Glo.

English: American actor Colman Domingo at the ...

English: American actor Colman Domingo at the premiere of “Dreamgirls” in december 2006 at the Gotham Hall in New York taken by Maurice McRae. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gil (Domingo) in his early forties, has returned from NYC, to his home in Philly, to make arrangements for the funeral of his mother, whom he calls “Adelaide”, to the disapproval of his “Aunt Glo” (both roles played by Washington).  He continues to have conversations with his mother, now dead, as he also remembers the earlier times he spent with her, like the time when she decided to join a church and told him, it was to “get us some Jesus”.  His mother says, “you are just like me, probably more me than me”.  (Isn’t that how it always turns out?)  She wants to call Oprah on his behalf, has dreams for him, and believes in magic and fairy tales.  She advises, he let go of the past and be open to love, even as he insists, he is a middle aged grown man with $80K in student loans that has yet to be paid back, and magic does not happen in real life.

Aunt Glo, mother’s twin, is a feisty, energetic, zany woman, who gulps down pills to manage her blood pressure, and insists that they have a funeral befitting the tradition, even as she is cleaning out her sister’s closet, for her shoes, dresses, scarves and jackets.  Gil prefers a quiet end to mark his mother’s passing away, and questions the need for ceremony.  Aunt Glo insists that “tradition has to be maintained”, “because that is what our people do”, “because we are common people”, and that after the limo, hearse, and procession, there should be a reception, so as to not “get talked about afterwards”.  She stands her ground, insisting that while her sister was nearing the end of her life, she was the one taking care of her “onliest sister”, as Gil who was pursuing his career in theater, was “missing in acting”.

Gil, meanwhile, discusses the funeral arrangements with the funeral director, Terry (superbly played by Richards Prioleau), who tries to sell the best package, while Gil insists that he is looking for “best on a budget”.  To great consternation of his Aunt Glo, Gil settles on cremation, and drives with the urn, with his friend Mo (Duane Boutte), followed in hot pursuit by his Aunt and Terry.  Gil and Mo have some conflict along the way, but finally they all end up in Florida, in Disney’s MagicKingdom, in the Cinderella Suite.  And magic happens as they make peace.  Even as Gil realizes he cannot escape from grief, that “grief becomes part of you that never goes away”, he also understands, “love is a story that never ends”, and he must “shake some fairy dust and keep on believing”.  And acknowledging that love is a journey, Aunt Glo also concedes that “love is not a box of cherries, nor a bowl of chocolates,” but is a “trip down the winding lane”.  Finally, Gil is not running away from, or running towards, not escaping neither chasing, anything.  “I want to just sit”, he says.

Director, Danny Scheie has done a fantastic job.  Great kudos to Scenic Designer, Erik Flatmo, Stage Manger, Karen Szpaller, and Assistant Stage Manager, Emily Anderson Wolf.  Absolutely loved the beautiful set of Cinderella suite that briefly seems to transport the audience to the magicality symbolized by Disney.  Great kudos to Casting Director Leslie Martinson, for excellent casting.  And Costume Designer, Brandin Baron did a splendid job in bringing out the personalities of Adelaide and Aunt Glo, as well as other characters.

The dialogues are funny, they make you laugh; they also made me cry.  I absolutely loved Sharon Washington who plays both distinct roles and a brief Cinderella role, with aplomb.  I highly recommend this brilliant performance and pick it as not-to-miss play of this season, in South Bay Area, CA.  For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .

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