Posts Tagged Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts

Mark Twain’s River of Song – Play Review


Image result for river of song, theatreworks

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.

Image result for river of song, theatreworks

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. 

Image result for theatreworks, river of song

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

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

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.

Image result for frost/nixon, theatreworks Image result for frost/nixon, theatreworks   Image result for frost/nixon, theatreworks
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 .

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: