Posts Tagged Mountain View

Skeleton Crew – Play Review

“Skeleton Crew” by playwright Dominique Morisseau, currently playing at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto is a joint venture between Mountain View’s TheatreWorks Center for Performing Arts and Mill Valley’s Marin Theatre Company. Directed by Jade King Carroll, the play is set in in 2008, in the break room of an auto manufacturing plant in Detroit. By then Detroit had already begun the deep slide into the recession and as the play opens we can sense palpable tension among the employees, surrounding the possible but yet unannounced plant closure.

Image result for skeleton crew, theatreworksWe often hear about the statistics of a major economic downturn, for instance, between 2007 and 2009, Michigan lost over 30,000 auto jobs and lost over 700,000 of its population (due to move and other factors), and between 2003 and 2009, Michigan’s GDP shrunk dramatically and its private sector unemployment declined by over 13%. However, it is not often that we get to reflect on the massive human impact of such dramatic economic downturn, where ordinary people taking pride in their ordinary everyday jobs, experience homelessness, or consider walking around with guns for protection as crime spikes, or are walking around stressed out because of the impending uncertainty.  

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Leslie Martinson deserves great kudos for finest cast of characters, who all happen to be black, reflecting the reality on ground in Detroit.. Faye (Margo Hall) has worked at the plant for 29 years. She ignores her own troubles as she generously goes around fighting on behalf of her coworkers, even as she feels deep empathy for the plant manager. The plant manager Reggie (Lance Gardner) walks a fine line between towing the company line on behalf of the management, while feeling responsible for the impact of ongoing uncertainty on the lives of the employees, with many of whom he has strong bonds. Dez (Christian Thompson) is a volatile young man, suspicious of the motives of the management and afraid of the increase in crime in his neighborhood. Shanita (Tristan Cunningham) is a pregnant young mother who has a cutting sense of humor and takes enormous pride in “building something meaningful”. She just can’t afford to lose the benefits as her baby is due to arrive any day.

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These are people whose lives will likely be wrecked and in the play, we get a window into just that short period when they are trying to ignore the stress of uncertainty, going about doing  their jobs, arguing about who stole the food, jovially pulling each other’s legs and the impending chaos that will soon hurtle them from camaraderie and collegial support into homelessness, sleeping on the couch, and all the related impact of stress on their families.

The management can lessen the human impact by announcing the plant closure earlier to give people opportunities to plan. However, management has their own selfish motives to keep it a secret. The uncertainty erodes trust among the employees and between the employees and the plant manager; also leads to theft by someone presumed to be a disgruntled employee and there are rumors of someone bringing a gun to work. In the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty, people still manage to find strength to survive, to be there for one another, to speak up for each other and ultimately to sacrifice their own comfort and happiness for a colleague they cared for.

Image result for skeleton crew, theatreworksAt its heart, this is a heart-rending human story that is lived again and again; made even more relevant during the current turbulent times when the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is not only widening but with total ignorance of the top tier to listen to their plight and offer real solutions, it is likely to widen even more, and there will likely be more people living through these tragic experiences.  This is a not-to-miss play of this theater season in the  bay area, and will be running till April 1, 2018 at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto. Tickets will be available at .

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2 Pianos 4 Hands – Play Review

wpid-20150117_223023.jpgSemi-autobiographical play, co-written by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, “2 Pianos 4 Hands”, spotlights the agony and the ecstasy, in the pursuit of excellence.  With two grand pianos the stage is set for two superb actors, who are just slightly less superb piano players.  The production directed by Tom Frey, is a work of creative genius.  Darren Dunstan and Christopher Tocco as Dykstra and Greenblat respectively, are funny, smart, and witty and play various other roles with great aplomb.

If you’ve ever pursued a creative activity then there must be times when you wanted to quit and perhaps someone might have told you these exact same words, “If you want to quit, you are free to do so.  I am your father, I will always love you” and you must be quite aware that these words are really not meant as a permission to quit.  On the other hand, when you decided to give your chosen creative activity, all you got, you might have also heard these words, “I am a little concerned you are so cooped up, you don’t have many friends.  You need to get outside more.”  Or perhaps heard this? “You are being obsessive and it isn’t healthy.  The point is your grades are slipping.  You used to be an honors student”.

The keyboard of a Steinway

The keyboard of a Steinway grand piano. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This talented duo performs musical pieces from children’s renditions to adult performances of concert pieces and sonatas, as they take us through the trials and tribulations of pursuing creative excellence.  They seamlessly weave various characters in this funny rendition, where two young pianists pursue big dreams.  As they grow in the talent, they require different teachers, each teacher comes with different styles and different philosophies.  The duo performs, they pass exams, they excel, they fail at some, they get deflated, they pick themselves up and on they go.

In the last part of the second half of the play, they come to the final reality check point.  In the pursuit of creative excellence, there is a major gulf between the best and those who are just slightly less so.  The best perform on the world stage, in concert halls; the slightly less so get to perform in bars.  Greenblat acknowledges, “I feel guilty, when I am not performing, and I feel inadequate, when I do”.  Moments of inadequacy also bring deeper soul searching around meaning of life, “I want to change the world.  How am I going to do it, playing piano”?  In the end, the two piano players give a fabulous world class performance; at least that is what it seems like, to some of us, slightly less discerning musical audience.

It is in the last performance piece that redemption comes.  These two piano players are filled with joy and they give it their best and sometimes pursuit of creative excellence is its own reward, not to mention, sometimes you get to be the “best in the neighborhood” and in this neighborhood of the community theater, the audience revelled in their performance.  The play is running at in Mountain View, CA.


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