Posts Tagged Theatreworks Silicon Valley

Sense and Sensibility: Theatreworks Play Review

Sense and Sensibility – Play Review

Musical version of Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility, playing at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, through Theatreworks Silicon Valley is a treat for the senses and is sensible for the minds. Incredible lyrics by Paul Gordon, make it a must see musical treasure and is directed by brilliant Robert Kelley. Incredible scenic design by Joe Ragey and costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt place the formidable cast right in the 18th century England where properties were passed to male heirs, and young women were left to find a suitable match or navigate through life in poverty or worse, spinsterhood, in a society where premium is placed on rank and status. 

Sisters Marianne Dashwood (Antoinette Comer) and Elinor Dashwood (Sharon Rietkerk) find themselves at such a pivotal juncture, upon the passing away of their father. Marianne Dashwood is passionate and spontaneous, quick to love and hasty in her laments; she loves change of seasons, random walks and finds joy in nature and poetry in dead leaves; she embraces zest for life and romantic idealism, and loves wholeheartedly, laughs uproariously, and weeps dramatically. Women like her are often the force behind much needed changes in a society. When the property is passed to her brother, she asks her sister, “why? Is it because he is a dutiful son or because he is deserving? For, he is neither”.

Marianne’s sister Elinor Dashwood is subdued in her emotions, slow and thoughtful in expressing her feelings, polite and considerate in her commentary, rational and restrained in her thinking; she speaks of decorum and propriety; and she always tries to see things from others’ perspective, be sensitive to their feelings and say the right things, even when she suffers great hardship in doing so. Women like her, are often the ones who help maintain order in society and prevent chaos not only through their own patience and kindness but also with their counsel to others, as her sister Marianne acknowledges, “my sister hopes to save me from my excesses”.

While either disposition in excess may not serve a person well, it seems Austen clearly favors domination of sense over sensibility. As Elinor says to her sister Marianne, “it is not everyone who has your passion for dead leaves”. From good natured, shy Edward Ferrars (Darrell Morris Jr.) to dashing and temperamental John Willoughby (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka) to dutiful husband, John Dashwood (Nick Nakashima), they all play their roles to perfection. With prevailing sense of the time, Austen navigates her heroines through the plot twists and rewards them with a suitable match, at the end of her novels, as the happy audience departs with a smile.
This is a not-to-miss play of this theater season and a treat to be savored, after the lockdowns of the pandemic. Tickets are available at .

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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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“Being Earnest” Musical – Based on Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”

The new musical, “Being Earnest”, based on Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”,  perhaps one of the wittiest plays in the English language, is presented by Tony Award nominee Paul Gordon and Emmy nominee Jay Gruska, at the nationally acclaimed TheatreWorks.  Musical direction is by William Liberatore.  It is TheatreWorks artistic director, Robert Kelley’s stagings and scenic designer Joe Ragey’s sets, that help transport the story to London’s Carnaby Street and the country estate of Mr. Worthing, and steal the show.   If, “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing”, this play is both sincere to Wilde’s clever critique of the hypocrisies of the society in which Wilde lived and stylish in its presentation.    “Being Earnest” has costumes designed by Fumiko Bielefeldt, lighting by Steven B. Mannshardt and sound design Jeffrey Mockus.  The play is reset to 1965.

The play opens with Algernon Moncrieff receiving his friend, Jack Worthing, superbly (played by Euan Morton and Hayden Tee respectively), at Moncrieff’s London home.  Gordon and Gruska have done a fantastic job in muscalizing the classic, with superb lyrics.  Jack has created an alter-ego, Ernest, to escape the drudgery of his conservative lifestyle, in the country.  He has fun in London, as Ernest, and explains away his frequent absences, to his ward in the country, by saying that he has to visit his wayward brother, Ernest.  In London, Jack falls in love with Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen (played by Mindy Lym) who readily accepts him, claiming, “my ideal has always been to love someone of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence.”  Upon hearing of the secret engagement of her daughter to Jack Worthing, Lady Bracknell (superbly played by Maureen McVerry) interviews Jack and finds him unsuitable when he reveals that he is an orphan and was found in a handbag by a charitable gentleman, who raised him.  Lady Bracknell says, “To be born, or at any rate bred, in a handbag, whether it have handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life”.

At Jack Worthing’s country home, Ms. Prism (played by Diana Torres Koss) is in charge of Jack’s ward Cecily Cardew (played by Riley Krull).  Algernon wishing to pursue Jack’s “beautiful” ward, unbeknownst to Jack, arrives his country home, claiming to be his younger brother, Ernest.  Cecily has always been intrigued by the wickedness of “Ernest”, and when Algernon tries to explain that he is not wicked, she says, “If you are not, then you have certainly been deceiving us all in a very inexcusable manner. I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy”.  Algernon professes his love for her and inquires whether she would still love him, if his name were not Ernest.  She says, “I might respect you, Ernest, I might admire your character, but I fear that I should not be able to give you my undivided attention.”  While the script has been pared down to include the songs, it retains some of the most witty original dialogues.  Now there are two love stricken men looking to get rechristened by the rector, Dr. Chasuble (played by Brian Herndon).  Meanwhile, Lady Bracknell considers the social possibilities of two pending marriages. To Algernon, unconcerned about society, she says, “Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.”

This is a beautiful, must-see rendition of Wilde’s lampooning of the shallow social mores of Victorian society.  It is full of superb lyrics and famous dialogues, gorgeous scenes and amazing acting.  The young lovers, beautifully play the roles of flippant characters, lacking depth, and deliver Wilde’s witty and sparkling lines, with aplomb.  In the end, ironically, Lady Bracknell, most shallow character of all, and keeper of traditions, reflects upon Mr. Worthing’s obsession with the name Ernest, for the sake of his love “My nephew, you seem to be displaying signs of triviality.” “On the contrary, Aunt Augusta,” he replies, “I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of being Earnest.”

If I were to watch only one play this season, I would select this one.  “Being Earnest” is currently playing at TheatreWorks in Mountain View.

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Big River – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn —— Play Review

Alex Goley, playing Huckleberry Finn, a fictional character from Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in “Big River”, written by William Hauptman, is outstanding. The entire big cast, including James Monroe Iglehart, playing runaway slave, Jim and Scott Reardon, playing Tom Sawyer, do an equally superb job, in this TheatreWorks, Silicon Valley Presentation.

In this classic story, set in 1840s, Huck, the son of the town’s vagrant drunkard, “Pap” Finn, is a vagabond who is taken in by the Widow Douglas and her sister, Ms. Watson, after Huck has fallen into some money. They try to civilize Huck, believing it to be their Christian duty as captured in the lyrics, “You better learn to read and you better learn your writin’ Or you’ll never get to heaven cause you won’t know how”. Soon Huck’s father takes him back. However, Huck quickly tires of his father, perennially in a state of hallucinatory drunkenness, and Huck manages to fake his own death and escape from his father to Jackson’s Island. The child is growing up fast and he asserts his identity, “I, Huckleberry, me, Hereby declare myself to be Nothin’ ever other than Exactly what I am, And I’ll never change for no one, No matter what they say”. It is then that Huck coincidentally meets up with Jim who is running away and after a brief struggle with his conscience, Huck decides to help Jim escape slavery, even though he is certain he will go to hell, for being a abolitionist.

The rest of the story is about Huck and Jim’s adventures on the “mighty Mississippi”; “Look out for me oh muddy water your mysteries are deep and wide” and “Hell, there ain’t no way to measure Why I love you more than I did the day before”.   As if, as a warning to the seriousness of their actions, a boat carrying runaway slaves back to their masters passes them in the night. As Jim and Huck try to stay hidden, they hear the defeated slaves singing, “Crossing to the other side I will worry ’bout tomorrow, When tomorrow comes in sight. Until then, Lord, I’m just a pilgrim, Crossing to the other side”. Propelled along on this journey, with unforgettable songs, Jim and Huck pick up two con men who try to swindle the heiress Mary Jane and then sell Jim. During this time, at one point, Huck plays a horrible trick on Jim by assuming the guise of a slave hunter. Jim is not amused and he rebukes Huck for his poor sense of humor, and demands an apology. This is not just a story of friendship but of freedom and human dignity. After some soul searching Huck realizes that Jim, though a black and previously served as a slave, is a human being and deserves an apology. And together, they sing, what rings true even today, “Just like the earth, just like the sun, Two worlds together are better than one. I see the friendship in you eyes, That you see in mine. But we’re worlds apart, worlds apart”. (These are my most favorite lyrics).  Huck makes a plot and resolves to try to free Jim, despite all the odds stacked against him, as he sings, “once again I am waitin’ for the light to shine, I am waitin’ for the light to shine, I have lived in the darkness for so long, I’m waitin’ for the light to shine”.

The adventurous journey of two friends, with their colorful encounters with people along the Mississippi river, is beautifully captured, with lyrics sung by the talented cast, against the backdrop of absolutely superb staging. Kudos to the Stage Manager, Gregg Rehrig, for such an outstanding job. Legendary Roger Miller has delivered the essence of American history, with awesome lyrics, that are brought to life by Musical Director, William Liberatore.  Robert Kelley, the Artistic Director and Phil Santora, the Managing Director have re-created this not to be missed timeless classic that celebrates the prevalence of the human spirit, against all entrenched prejudices.  It is running at the beautiful Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, till December 30, 2012.  For tickets and more information, go to .

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