Posts Tagged Jamie D. Mann

The Great Pretender – Play Review

“I feel I have hit bottom and then a trap door opens and I go further down and find another way to be sad”.  Mr. Felt (Steve Brady) is the host of iconic children’s TV program and is struggling with the loss of his wife and longtime puppeteer partner.  He has lost his enthusiasm and is contemplating retirement.  Show’s director, Tom (Michael Storm) has other ideas.  He wants to continue the show and he brings in a new puppeteer Jodi (Sarah Moser) to replace Mr. Felt’s wife, and to work the puppet, Francis.

In addition to being nervous, Jodi could not measure up to the role and fill in the big shoes of the original person.  However, Mr. Felt devotes a weekend to train Jodi in little nuances of puppet show, and Jodi turns out to be a great student.  Mr. Felt also feels rejuvenated, and he develops a close bond with Jodi.  After Jodi’s training, they are ready to share her skills with the Director Tom, and fellow puppeteer, Carol (Suzanne Grodner).  Mr. Felt was not prepared for the reaction from Carol.


moose (Photo credit: Genista)

It becomes apparent that this close knit team had much work to do, when it came to dealing with the loss of the team member, wife, and a close friend.  They could not simply put back the pieces, replace the old team member with a new one, and move on.  They needed to work through their grief, their anger and sadness, feel it, share it, mourn, cry, and rejoice in the happy memories, before letting go and moving on.

The show too must go on.  However, it does not have to go on as it always did in the past, pretending that there wasn’t a major upheaval, a huge crisis, and a deep loss, that the team was dealing with.  Can this moment of crisis be an opportunity to get real with the little members of its fan club, the children?

Great kudos to the Artistic Director, Robert Kelley, for continuing to expand the perspectives of the audience, through the medium of live theater.  Writer, David West Read has written a simple story, that has much depth and combines comedy and tragedy, that mirrors life.  Director, Stephen Brackett has done a fabulous job in helping it come alive, on stage.  As always Stage Manager, Jamie D. Mann has done a superb job in creating TV set, complete with clappy closet and Carol’s (the puppet) barn.

wpid-20140712_222938-1.jpgSpecial credits to the Casting Director, Leslie Martinson, and extremely talented cast, who not only played their roles, but played the roles of the puppets, and/or relating to the puppets, in that it seemed like it was a talented cast of seven, Steve Brady, Suzanne Grodner, Michael Storm, Sarah Moser, Carol, Francis, and Meatball Moose, (eight, counting Mr. Felt’s wife) .  What a treat!!

Do not miss the show; it is good for the laughs and good for the soul.  “The Great Pretender” will be running at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, till August 3, 2014 and tickets can be available at



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Silent Sky – Play Review

NASA's Hubble Finds that Puny Stars Pack a Big...

NASA’s Hubble Finds that Puny Stars Pack a Big Punch (Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video)

Silent Sky is a story about women and science.  Science was once a men’s domain.  This is a story of how one committed scientist unraveled mysteries of the universe and made a contribution so big that that only posterity could fully appreciate it; all because her curiosity could not be contained.  The playwright Lauren Gunderson has done a marvelous job in bringing the story of Henrietta Leavitt whose curiosity and commitment almost matched that of Galileo.  (BTW – here is a link to my review of the book “Galileo’s Daughter” by Dava Sobel –

Elena Wright in her role as Henrietta, displays the tremendous inner resolve and strength that a woman scientist needed to succeed the 1800s. Leavitt solicited her sister’s help in her mission to work at the Harvard College of Observatory, after graduating from Radcliff College, in 1893.  Jennifer Le Blanc is superb in her role as Margaret Leavitt, Henrietta’s sister.  At Harvard, Henrietta yearned to see the great refractor telescope but she was not allowed.  Instead, Henrietta worked as a “computer”, examining photographic plates (collected from observations through the telescope by other scientists) and she computed, measured, recorded and cataloged the brightness of the “variable” stars.  She worked with two older scientists.  Sarah Dacey Charles and Lynne Soffer are fantastic in the roles of Annie Cannon and Willamina Fleming who were participating in the women’s suffrage movement, while working at Harvard.

These are strong women.  Matt Citron plays the role of Peter Shaw, a fellow scientist at Harvard.  Among four strong female characters, Shaw holds his own.  There is a beautiful ying and yang balance.  While the women are strong and try to hide their softer core, the only man in the play is gentle, shy in expressing his feelings of affection to Henrietta and as conflicted about proper way to deal with cultural expectations and with the separation of the domains of men and women, as the women are.

As a computer, Leavitt was widely successful, cataloging greater and greater number of stars and their luminosity, even as she began to question her work. “What is the point of all this work, if it cannot tell us where we are in the universe”, she asks.  But one day, while listening to her sister play the piano and its rhythm, it occurs to Leavitt that brightness of the stars can be closely linked with the distance.  That was the beautiful moment of synergy between math and music.  Indeed, if this was to be true, the universe would be much bigger than had been assumed to be.  Further, there would be other galaxies and universes.  This was a novel idea at the time.  Leavitt noticed that variable stars showed a predictable pattern where brighter ones had longer periods of luminosity.  This period/ luminosity relationship later allowed the scientists to compute distances to faraway galaxies and later from this work Harlow Shapley was able to move our Sun out from the center of the galaxy and Edwin Hubble to move our galaxy out from the center of the universe.

Almost 300 years after Galileo, Leavitt displayed similar courage to follow her passion and quench her curiosity for knowledge, and Like Galileo, Leavitt changed the picture of our universe forever.  This is a play that honors this great scientist and the sacrifices that society demanded of women who sought to play in the men’s world.  The stage as the observatory at Harvard is fantastic and when Henrietta looks at the shimmering stars, it almost transports the audience to what she might be thinking and feeling.  Great kudos to Jamie D. Mann, Stage Manager and Stephanie Schliemann, Assistant Stage Manager, and Scenic Designer, Annie Smart.  Also great kudos to Director, Meredith McDonough and many thanks to Artistic Director, Robert Kelly for continuing to expand our horizons with fabulous shows.  The Silent Sky will be running at till February, 9 and I would not miss it for the world.


Dceph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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“The Loudest Man on Earth” – Play Review

“Sign language requires that, first and foremost, you look the other person in the eye.  The hands you take in through peripheral vision.  There is also a lot of touching involved: to get people’s attention, to make something clear.  Signing creates an extraordinary intimacy between people.  And an honesty.  It is a wonderfully imaginative, pictorial, sensual, humorous language.  It is a language that expresses many layers of meaning and feeling.” From Director’s Notes by Pamela Berlin on play “The Loudest Man on Earth”.

I went to see the play with the expectation of learning a thing or two about what the experience of deafness is like; about the prejudices and biases a deaf person might encounter.  I did learn; a lot.  But I was not prepared to be so entertained, so moved, so deeply engrossed.  This play is so deeply human that everyone can relate to it.  It is a story of two people, Jordan and Haylee who come together in a chance occurance, discover great chemistry and develop tenderness towards one another.  Adrian Blue, an acclaimed director/actor, who is also deaf, plays the role of Jordan, a maverick stage director, and Julie Fitzpatrick plays a curious, creative, and charismatic journalist.  They are absolutely superb, as they navigate many challenges, as their hearing and deaf worlds merge and collide, in their journey together.  Director Pamela Berlin has done an awesome job with multitude of events, none of which seem unrealistic or disjointed.  Special kudos to the stage manager, Jamie D. Mann for quick and creative staging changes to place the events in different times and contexts.  Mia Tagano and Cassidy Brown have played a variety of small roles that represent the hearing world, with such depth and character that it makes it hard to believe they are played by the same two people.

While everyone has done a fantastic job, none of it would have come together so beautifully, without a wonderful script by playwright Catherine Rush.  Rush who is married to director/actor Adrian Blue, who is deaf, has a deep insight into the characters of Jordan and Haylee, and yet the play is not restricted to these characters.  The play explores aspects of Hearing and Deaf culture, with compassion at the core, in addition to exploring the experiences of these two individuals who function simultaneously in three disparate worlds.  Their own little world, if left untouched, is fun, funny, endearing, romantic, and sweet.  Yet their world rattles and shakes up when it collides with the hearing and deaf worlds, outside of their little universe.  When Haylee introduces Jordan to her father, he asks, if Jordan is “Jewish AND deaf-mute”.  When Jordan is angry at Haylee’s friend making fun of the sign language, Haylee is furious at his defensiveness saying that it makes it difficult for them to acquire friends who are both hearing and deaf.  She insists, that it is important for them to acquire hearing friends.  Emphasizing the importance of the connectedness with the majority hearing world,  she says, “it is then that we become real, when we are connected”.

This is a beautiful play where the story is told through English, American Sign Language (ASL), and through Visual Vernacular, a performance process that combines ASL, mime, and film technique.  Some confusion that emerges initially, from Jordan’s brief on-stage solos, for those of us not familiar with sign language, mirrors the challenges of missed connections, slipped opportunities, and relief with feeling of “all well” when meaning becomes clear.  This play is entertaining, tender, very human, and deeply touching.  It is a story about being human, of holding on to one’s preferences, of letting go, of embracing differences, of never fully understanding differences; it is a story of love that is universal in its ability to transcend language.  For tickets, go to .

The Loudest Man on Earth - TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

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