Posts Tagged The Stage

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity – Play Review


A play about wrestling?  I almost did not go to see this one.  I would have missed one heck of a play.  Makes one think about what wrestling represents in the minds of many of us.  The playwright Kristoffer Diaz has created an interesting juxtaposition of vastly different communities in this excellent play, masterfully directed by Jonathan Williams.  Stage Manager, Meredith King and Set Designer, Ian Wallace have done an amazing job in recreating the environment suitable for wrestling matches, one of the oldest forms of combative sports.

Wrestling

Wrestling (Photo credit: fotobydave)

“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”, a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist, is not just a play about sports.  It is a play about what it means to have an American dream and how certain sports and wrestling for sure, embody the American dream.  In fact, after Virgil Riley Runnels, Jr., a son of a plumber, won multiple grand wrestling championships and various titles, he was renamed, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.  In this play, Macedonio Guerra, known as Mace, a wrestler of Puerto Rican decent, describes his childhood fascination with the art and the business of wrestling. He talks about what the sport meant for him and his brothers and how it molded his own aspirations.

When he entered the game of professional wrestling however, he hit the glass ceiling, sooner than he had anticipated.  He was rather short and not highly charismatic and was therefore deemed a non-championship material.  Instead, he became a professional “looser”.  He plays his character and is also the narrator, in the play.  Through him, we get a glimpse into the world of professional wrestling, buzzing with racism, jingoism, and xenophobia, not to mention, certain level of ignorance.  And sometimes there are people who  mask their smartness, to fit in.  Mace almost calls on the ignorant and racist remarks of his boss, but then thinks better of it, and says, “I let my boss be right”.  He says, as a professional looser, his job is to “make the winner look good”; to make the winner look as though he defeated the opponent with considerable force and strength.   The pre-determined champion, in a sport where fights are frequently “fixed”, and body slams, mounted punches, backhand swings, and other moves are often rehearsed and faked, is Chad Deity, a charismatic, engaging, tall black man with an easy smile and a powerful voice.

Mace however, sees his big break that could help him inch closer to realizing the American dream, when he finds a charismatic champion hidden under the carefree Indian kid, Vigneshware Paduar.  Mace presents VP to his boss EKO and tells him “I will do the heavy lifting” in prepping VP.  VP fights the bad guy, Billy Heartland and then EKO fascinated by VP’s foreign decent and non traditional stance, starts planning the best way VP can be presented to the fans.  He wants to present him as Muslim terrorist, even though VP is Hindu, building on the notion that sometimes, racial identity may be exploited, in pursuit of the American dream.  EKO presents VP as an evil Muslim, called the Fundamentalist, who with his sleeper cell kick, seemingly poses a threat to the American Dream guy Chad Deity.  All the four wrestlers, Mace (played by Andrew Perez), Chad Deity (played by Donald Paul), Vigneshware Paduar or VP (played by Jaspal Binning), and bad guy Billy Heartland (played by James Long), and the owner of the wrestling team, EKO (Randall King) do an amazingly superb job.  It is worth it to see the play just to see their fabulous wrestling moves and characteristic wrestling boasts.  

This beautiful, satirical, amazingly witty play also blends in tenderness and poetic storytelling.  Towards the end, VP and Mace begin to realize that they are becoming parts of the exploitative machine, by accepting the soundbites, the racially charged epithets, and by readily abandoning the truth.  The satire is not just on the professional sport of wrestling.  The joke is also on theater goers, who may have come to see this sport, with its loud music, bright lights, unusual attires, and rough language, as “lowbrow”.  The fact that underneath the façade and faked exterior are real people, striving for the same things that make the American dream, some respect, recognition, and feeling of “having arrived”, is an eye-opener.

“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” is a not-to-miss play of this season, and it is playing at The Stage in San Jose, until November, 10.  For tickets, please go to http://www.thestage.org.

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Reefer Madness – The Musical —— Play Review


“Creeping like a communist, it’s knocking at our doors
Turning all our children into hooligans and whore”

ReeferMadness 12

ReeferMadness 12 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Originally released as “Tell Your Children”, Reefer Madness is a 1936 anti-cannabis moralistic propaganda film that depicts, through a series of melodramatic events, the effects of cannabis.  It was so over the top and ridiculous that it made a great cult topic for originally unintended subject.  The film became an item of unintentional comedy among advocates of legalizing marijuana and cannabis policy reform.  The musical satire had a challenge to make it even more ridiculous.

The musical, currently playing in San Jose, is based on a book by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, with music by Dan Studney.  Giulio Perrone, Michael Palumbo, Stephen Massott, Lydia Lyons, and Jean Cardinale deserve major kudos for fantastic set, lighting, stage, and costumes design.  And hilarious lyrics by Kevin Murphy, steal the show.

“someone’s got to dare to take a stand
Can’t ignore any more, it could be your son or daughter
With a deadly stick of reefer in their hand!
They’re heading straight for
Reefer Madness! Reefer Madness! Reefer Madness! Reefer Madness!”

As high school students are lured by pushers to try marijuana and one unintentional puff gets them addicted, their lives go on a downward spiral.  It starts with giggles and a pretty woman walks the stage with a board that says “reefer makes you giggle for no good reason.”  But the decent into madness continues, as Mae and Jack  (superbly played by Allison F. Rich and Gabriel Grilli), lure high school students.  Mae however, prefers to sell to customers her own age but is not able to contradict or leave Jack, who is controlling and abusive, because it’s “the stuff” that makes her stay.  Ralph (Will Springhorn Jr. and) and Sally (Jill Miller) help sell cannabis to young students, and they get Jimmy Lane (Barnaby James), a young college student with a sharp mind and in love with a young woman, get hooked on cannabis.  Story of Jimmy’s decent into madness, and later of his girlfriend, Mary (Courtney Hatcher), who comes to the “cannabis headquarters”,  looking for Jimmy, is a tale of manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape, murder, electric chair, and finally redemption, by Jesus himself.

As the ridiculous story unfolds, despite the divine call, “Just say no to the marijuana! (Listen to Jesus, Jimmy!)”, Jimmy refuses to listen.  The warnings are uncanny, from relatively benign to extreme, “reefer gives you potty mouth”; “reefer makes you a pathological liar”; “reefer kills poor old men”; “reefer makes you sell your babies”;” and more.  Finally, destined to go to hell, from his electric chair, Jimmy appeals to Jesus, “if you save me, I will heed the words you gave me” only to be reminded by Jesus (Gabriel Grilli), “You didn’t (Listen to Jesus, Jimmy) It’s too late for absolution, I’m just here to watch the execution”.  But all’s well that ends well and there comes a last minute, Presidential pardon, forgiveness by Jesus, and the play ends with these lyrics.

“Now you’ve learned the truth about the menace dark and dread
Take a stance or there’s a chance that God may strike you dead
For putting up with Reefer madness!  Reefer madness!

This satirical comedy is certain to throw you in uproars of laughter at how far the society can go and whip up the frenzy, in the name of righteousness.  Reefer Madness is currently playing at The Stage in San Jose www.thestage.org .

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Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” – Play Review


Persuasion by Jane Austen – Play Review

Jane Austen's Persuasion

Beginning April 3, San Jose Stage Company is showing Jane Austen’s “Persuasion”, adapted by local Bay Area playwright, Jennifer Le Blanc and directed by Kenneth Kelleher.  In the words of Randall King, Artistic Director of the San Jose Stage Company, “The intimate setting of The Stage venue is the perfect environment to revel in Miss Austen’s characters, who must negotiate a complex code of conduct in order to survive, much less achieve their ends.  The story is indicative of Austen’s great talent, razor sharp, laced with irony and wit, and remarkably phrased.”

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, who allowed herself to be “persuaded” to end her engagement with Captain Wentworth, a man she loved, but one without fortune.  Maryssa Wanlass, in the role of Anne Elliot, is beautiful, calm, cerebral, poised, and graceful.  In the opening scene, she second guesses her earlier decision about Captain Wentworth, and confides to her guardian, Lay Russell, “But I am now persuaded that in spite of the disapproval at home and the anxiety attending his prospects that I… I should have been happier, had I…”  Jane Austen was unhappy about the level of persuasion employed by the society, on young people, particularly young women, regarding their marital choices.  It is ironical that matronly and kind Lady Russell (played by Susan Gundunas), appears to be the only voice of maturity and reason, in the family, while she was in fact the reason Anne had first rejected Captain Wentworth.

As for Anne Elliott’s father, “Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation.”  Paul Myrvold does a superb job in the role of Sir Walter Elliot and later as Admiral Croft.  Mrs. Mary Musgrove, (played by Halsey Varady), Anne Elliot’s younger sister, is nervous, fretful woman, fortunate to marry Charles Musgrove (very well played by William J. Brown III).   While Anne was looking after her sister Mary, Captain Wentworth (superbly played by Will Springhorn Jr.), reenters her life.  Everyone around Anne and Captain Wentworth, including Charles Musgrove, his sisters Louisa and Henrietta (Juliet Heller & Allison F. Rich), and his mother (Donna Federico) are completely unaware of their earlier relationship and the emotional turmoil brewing inside Anne and her love.  While Captain Wentworth is occupied by attentions of Louisa Musgrove, Anne is also pursued by her wicked cousin, Mr. Elliot (played by Paul Stout).

Circumstances have given Anne a second chance to marry for love.  Will Anne now follow her heart?  Austen makes fine arguments about women as “rational creatures”, whose stories would take different turns, but for the fact that the women’s stories are recounted “through history and books, nearly all of which have been produced by men, and many of which castigate women’s inconstancy and fickleness”.  During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for women, marriage was the only ticket out of the class they were born into.  Practicality dictated that they use reason, over emotion.  Despite these constraints, Austen’s heroines demonstrate that they can think rationally, display a fair measure of autonomy, and crave independence.   Jane Austen’s heroines marry for love, not practicality.  And it just happens that guided by love, their chosen path leads them to the man who is worthy of their love, is well regarded in society and very wealthy.  Isn’t it every woman’s dream, even today? Not surprisingly, time does not dim the popularity of Jane Austen.

Persuasion is playing at The Bay Area’s Premiere Off-Broadway Theater, The Stage www.thestage.org , in San Jose, from April 3 to April 28, 2013.

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Red – Play Review


John Logan’s Tony Award-winning play Red, directed by Kenneth Kelleher, gives us a peak into the soul and the genius of artist Mark Rothko, brilliantly played by Randall King.  In conversations with his apprentice, an aspiring painter Ken, amazingly played by Aaron Wilton, Rothko pontificates on those he considers lesser artists like Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, and on the nature of patrons who look at paintings and call them “nice”.   “Conflicted. Nuanced. Troubled. Diseased. Doomed. I am not fine. We are not fine. We are anything but fine,” says Rothko.  He considers his paintings as his eternal companions.  He says, “A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer.  It dies by the same token.  It is therefore risky to send it out into the world.  How often it must be impaired by the eyes of the unfeeling and the cruelty of the impotent.”

Rothko is commissioned by an expensive and exclusive Four Seasons restaurant to paint a group of murals for its magnificent walls. On his first day on the job, Ken arrives as an eager young man in suit, ready to learn and willing to do whatever it takes.  But over time, as Ken listens to Rothko’s put downs, his vainglorious and self-obsessive assertions about his work, Ken increasingly begins to question Rothko’s motives, his art, even his genius.  Rothko is most shaken by the fact that despite his arrogant and self-obsessive bragging, his paintings are up for sale, to be hung in the most consumerist establishment.   The play is also a reflection on the mentor protégée relationship.  The two men go back and forth in the game of power, with grouchy, arrogant, aging Rothko firmly holding on to his assertions and younger naive but determined Ken insisting that reality is changing and Rothko is not in touch with even his own underlying motives.  Gradually, a tug of war ensues with Ken emerging as winning their war of words.

Come and see for yourself what happens when this artist who has spent his life assailing the commercial consumerism of the establishment, now faces the crisis of conscience.  Red is playing at the beautiful theater “The Stage” www.thestage.org , in San Jose.  Stage is set to be the studio of Mark Rothko with hanging murals in rich tapestry of colors that glow with the change in lighting, from shiny and grand to more intimate and human.  Kudos to Cathleen King, the Executive Director, for bringing this bold play, at The Stage.

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