Posts Tagged www.theatreworks.org

Mark Twain’s River of Song – Play Review


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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.

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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. 

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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

 

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The 39 Steps – Play Review


The 39 Steps is a theatrical spoof on the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock. Authors of the parody, Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon envisioned the theatrical spoof in 1996 and was later rewritten by Patrick Barlow, with four people playing many roles. At Theatreworks, Lance Gardner, Ron Campbell, Cassidy Brown, and Annie Abrams do a fabulous job of quick role changes as the fast paced spoof moves on, drawing the audience into the murder mystery, with a twist. 

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As the story evolves, Richard Hannay, a man with a boring humdrum life meets an exciting woman who confides in him that she is a spy and requests him to take her to his home. Soon she is mysteriously murdered at his home, leaving the bewildered and scared Hannay to go on the run, both from law enforcement and the people who murdered the spy woman. As Hannay expected, he is accused of murder. As he goes on the run in search of the murderers, Hannay has encounters with constables, spies, village farmers, traveling salesmen, inkeepers, newsboys and he crosses streams, assumes false identity, meets a blonde and even dangles from the bridge.  All this makes for lavishly theatrical and hugely hilarious production. 

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The 39 Steps at Theatreworks, mixes an engrossing masterpiece with juicy characters and hilarious role changes with exciting staging by Leslie Martinson, perfect scenic designs by David Lee Cuthbert, and all the excitement unfolds inside a fast paced whodunit murder mystery, brilliantly directed by Leslie Martinson. This play has been extended to run through September, 22 and tickets are available at www.theatreworks.org .

 

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Language Archive – Play Review


“What is death to a language.  There are 6900 languages in the world,  Every two weeks, a language dies. This statistic moves me more than any other.  It is death of imagination”. This dialog from Theatrework’s Tony Award-winning “Language Archive” is a celebration of the power of words. And the play itself is also a heart touching rendition of the limitation of language because after all, love transcends words.

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Above everything else, playwright Julia Cho’s quirky sentimental comedy is a celebration of human spirit, with all its tenacity and vulnerabilities. Superbly directed by Jeffrey Lo, every dialog in the play is Muni-Muni (means makes on think deeply in Philippine language). The play centers around whimsical brilliant linguist George (Jomar Tagatac). George’s affirming love for the spoken word and his deep inner struggle to verbalize his innermost feelings are contradictions that point to a larger conundrum – what is more important and more fully defines humans, words or feelings. Even as George devotedly works to preserve and record dying languages of the world, internally he struggles to communicate his feelings to his beloved wife, Mary (Elena Wright). Mary on the other hand, lives in the world of feelings, wears her heart on her sleeve, composes and leaves littler verses for George to find, and cries at the drop of a hat. She is critical of George’s lack of emotions. When George insists that he feels and feels deeply and that his work is devoted to preserving languages and he also deeply mourns the death of a language, Mary counters, “You mourn ideas, not people”.  Mary, a woman of feelings, speaks some of the most memorable lines, including telling George, “There is a certain language, our language, and if you don’t come back, I can’t speak it any more,” and when George does go back, Mary indeed fails to understand him. Emma (Adrienne Kaori Walters) works with George and she understands George more deeply.  She also secretly loves George and pines for him.

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Alta (Emily Kuroda) and Resten (Francis Jue) are endearing old couple who are amongst the last people to speak their native language. However, they only speak in their tongue when they are speaking with love. When they are fighting or sniping at each other, they choose to do that in English. George and Emma are keen to record their language but end up terribly frustrated as Alta and Resten are fighting and refuse to speak in their native tongue, as they snipe at each other in English.  In many ways, it makes intuitive sense that they speak in their native language only when they are communicating deep innermost feelings. After all, language of love is the language of the heart and it supercedes the language acquired through learning of words. Language of love is acquired in infancy, long before an infant learns words. The play beautifully weaves together the amazing power of love beyond words with the power inherent in words that give human feelings of love, longing, fear and vulnerabilities, meaning and substance and enables people engaged in a deep relationship an ability to create their own language.

This is a not-to-miss play of this theater season in the bay area and will be running till August 4 at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, CA.  Tickets are available at www.theatreworks.org .

Language Archive, Play, Review Julia Cho, Jeffrey Lo, Jomar Tagatac, Elena Wright, Adrienne Kaori Walters, Emily Kuroda, Francis Jue, Lucie Stern Theater, Palo Alto, www.theatreworks.org 

PS: World’s oldest continually operating library where lost languages have been found
archaeology-world.com/this-is-the-wo…

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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.

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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 .

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Native Gardens – Play Review


Playwright Karen Zacaria’s “Native Gardens”, currently playing at The Center for Performing Arts in Mountain View, explores ageism, racism, sexism, classism, republicanism, democratism and more  in the context of an unintended property line conflict among neighbors.

Image result for native gardens, theatreworksTania (Marlene Martinez) and Pablo Del Valle (Michael Evans Lopez) are young, up and coming Latino couple, each with their own past that colors their perceptions. Pablo is from Chile and grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth. He is angling for a partnership at a law firm and is slightly paranoid of how he will be accepted, given his Latino background. Tania is very pregnant, is nearing the completion of her Ph.D. in anthropology, and grew up in much poorer circumstances in New Mexico. She is idealistic, new agee, strongly pro-environment, and into native plants. Tania and Pablo own a property adjoining Virginia (Amy Resnick) and Frank Butley (Jackson Davis). Virginia and Frank are older couple with a prize-worthy English garden and are Republicans.

Image result for native gardens, theatreworksWell intentioned neighbors’ attempts for friendship soon melt away as an unintended property dispute arises. Given that garden is important to both couples, albeit in different ways, “Native Gardens” is a comedy rooted in tulipanin (common allergen toxic to some animals, found in tulips) laced barbs, and tannic acid (residing in acorns and leaves of oak trees that helps guard it from fungi and insects) colored retorts.

Zacarias is a compassionate writer and she treats both couples with a measure of empathy, compassion and understanding. Yet, what is fascinating is how gradually and in a measured way and yet how quickly and not so subtly, the conflict escalates and breaks down relations, as both couples dig deep into their personal treasure trove of isms and even political affiliations, to assume bad intentions of others and find new insults.

Image result for native gardens, theatreworksDirector Amy Gonzalez has done a fabulous job, with the script in showing how easy it is, despite all the wisdom and maturity, for people to get polarized, to buy into the divisive rhetoric in the air that may reflect their own latent biases, prejudices and distrust of one another. Special kudos for incredible staging to Sara Sparks and Amy Smith Goodman.

In the current climate of deepening rifts and many symbols of “us versus them” (border wall, trade barrier, cages, guns, armed guards in schools, red wave, blue wave and more), the play uses yet another powerful symbol of a fence.  If this play is to serve as a microcosm of what is going on in the country, then such physical articulations not only define our distinctions but when combined with divisive rhetoric and incitement of fear, they serve as call to action, to fiercely protect our zones, perimeters, boundaries and borders. However in the play, as if bringing a perfect measure of hope, it highlights how sometimes humanity springs in the most unlikeliest of circumstances, during those times when we need one another. And in those times when we seek help and when we offer help, in times of unity, our gardens bloom.
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This is a not-to-miss play of this theater season. For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .

 

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Hold These Truths – Play Review


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. These awe-inspiring words are among the first words in the Declaration of Independence, in the United States Constitution.  From time to time, people violate established laws that are grounded in these basic truths we accepted to hold and abide by. But it is WHEN the United States Government looks at its own people and sees the enemy, precisely when it is hardest to defend our bedrock principles and democratic values, it is then that the most courageous among us stand up and lead the way.

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In “Hold These Truths,” playwright Jeanne Sakata brings to the forefront, the story of Gordon Hirabayashi (Joel de la Fuente), a young Japanese-American man, who stood up as a one man army to defend the bedrock principles of American democracy, against our very own government’s onslaught on them, after the Pearl Harbor attack, during World War II. When he noticed that amidst unfounded fear and hate towards the Japanese, instead of defending American citizens under attack, the Government issued an executive order demanding mass incarceration of all people of Japanese heritage on the West Coast, he challenged the ruling.

Image result for hold these truths, theatreworksAfter taking an impromptu decision to violate the curfew, Hirabayashi turned himself in and declared his intention to violate the exclusion order, challenging the very constitutionality of government actions. His challenge to the system caused many headaches for the system and was followed with years of court battles and even some soul searching moments on behalf of the vehement defenders of the constitution like ACLU and other organizations. Directed by Lisa Rothe, this is a masterpiece that has come on stage at theatreworks, at this juncture in history, when we most need these lessons in courage. Joel de la Fuente is absolutely awesome, in this solo performance.  Tickets are available at www.theatreworks.org for this not-to-miss performance of this theater season.

Some additional information: In 2012, Hirabayashi was awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom by Mr. Obama.  Other citizens had also defied the order. Among them was Fred Korematsu who had also challenged the executive order for eviction and internment. Justice John Roberts finally gave unequivocal opinion in 2018, repudiating former government action against him and noted in his opinion, “Korematsu was gravely wronged”. The irony is that the same Supreme Court upheld Trump’s travel ban on mostly Muslim-majority countries. Hirabayashi ruling regarding his disobedience of the curfew also continues to serve as legal precedent.  This performance couldn’t be better timed. Many Americans are concerned that currently America is not living up to its ideals and in separating parents seeking asylum from their children, and in instituting travel ban of mostly Muslim countries, American government is violating the spirit of some of the most potent and consequential words noted in the constitution, indeed in American history, about self evident truths and unalienable rights. If history is any guide to the future, it will take immense courage to show up, speak up, and resist, so that we may continue to hold close and be guided by these truths.
Tickets for this not-to-miss performance are available at www.theatreworks.org .

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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 www.theatreworks.org .

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The Four Immigrants – Play Review


Image result for theatreworks four immigrants“We are the four immigrants” thus begins entirely engaging and ravishingly gorgeous musical, at Theatreworks Silicon Valley premiere, at Palo Alto’s Lucie Stern Theatre. Playwright and composer, Min Kahng adapted the theatrical production from a comic book by Henry Kiyama and tells the story of new immigrants from Japan from 52 comic strips, beginning in 1904.

Unlike the European immigrants who landed on the East coast, often fleeing religious persecution, the immigrants from Asia came for new opportunities and to realize the American dream “I’ll break the mold and make my mark”. While the immigrants from Europe encountered discrimination along the lines of poverty, new immigrants from Asia also had to deal with racial prejudice.

Image result for theatreworks four immigrantsThis musical tells a universal tale of people leaving their homeland for any number of reasons and then search to find a life and make a home in the new land. The musical speaks of such adventures of four men, Charlie (Hansel Tan), Fred (Sean Fenton), Frank (Phil Wong), and Henry (James Seol). These are four incredibly talented actors who deliver a stunning performance of riveting dances and engaging lyrics as they talk about their experiences; weaving in significant historical events like devastating San Francisco earthquake, US Government call to join the military in world war II, racial bias and Government denial to grant citizenship, even to war veterans.  These men also have obligations back home and from time to time experience the guilt and shame of not rising up to expectations; for instance, when they fail to send money home in a timely manner.  Search for a life partner often raises questions about areas where immigrants are tied to known customs and traditions and where these collude in their simultaneous quest to embrace the modern ways of new homeland.

Gradually, these young men in Henry Kiyama’s comic strip mature and make a life in their new homeland. They each in their own way, embraces and blends the old and the new. Whilst they began with sweeping floors and making sacrifices, they learn that not only they can enjoy the fruits of their hard work but their new homeland requires them to be engaged members in the community; standing up for and demanding their rights. They sing with satisfaction, “I know I have something remarkable to share with the world”. We also learn that motherland is never forgotten, as we hear them sing with longing, “Kurusato”.

Image result for theatreworks four immigrantsGreat kudos to Leslie Martinson for brilliant directing and casting. Four male actors are joined by Rinabeth Apostol, Kerry K Carnahan, Catherine Gloria and Lindsay Hirata who play a variety of male and female roles with aplomb. Also great kudos for superb use of props and stage to Marcy Victoria Reed and Christina Larson.

As the founding director of Theatreworks, Robert Kelley has announced his retirement after 50 years of dedicated stewardship, we must acknowledge the incredibly bold and perception changing performances that have been brought to stage under his helm.  Such an incredibly warm influence to counter the current cold reality of increasingly anti-global, anti-immigrant, anti-environment, anti-diversity vibes coming from Washington D.C.  True to Theatreworks’ core values, these phenomenal productions are not only fabulously entertaining, they also gently guide us to learn and be better informed, to embrace diversity and to shift our point of view to one that is more global and more inclusive.

For this theater season, I am selecting, “The Four Immigrants” running at www.theatreworks.org till August 6, 2017 a must-watch-play of this theater season. In true spirit of Silicon Valley where the production took shape, it is extremely innovative, highly entertaining, solidly engaging and brilliantly done.

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“Calligraphy” – Play Review


Playwright Velina Hasu Houston’s “Calligraphy”, currently running at www.theatreworks.org  at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, directed by Leslie Martinson, is a complex family drama that tests dynamic family bonds from multiple angles.

Image result for theatreworks, calligraphyFirst, there are two cousins, one American, Hiromi (Mia Tagano), daughter of Japanese mother and African American WWII veteran, Eamon (William Thomas Hodgson) and the other, Sayuri (Elizabeth Pan) are dealing with challenges of caring for their respective aging mothers with physical problems ranging from limb fracture to Alzheimer’s to emotional issues like over-dependance. Second, intermingled with these challenges are cultural issues.  Third, while traditional Japanese culture is steeped in family obligations, and generational rules of etiquette mired in feelings of guilt, there is also an overlay of younger generations growing up with vastly different and sometimes Western values. Hiromi is raised by Japanese mother Noriko (Emily Kuroda) in America, albeit with Japanese values, and considers it her filial duty to take care of her mother in old age.  Meanwhile her cousin Sayuri is raised by her Japanese mother Natsuko (Jeanne Sakata) in Japan. Although Natsuko raises Sayuri with strict Japanese values, colored by external influences, Sayuri rebels and pursues Western attire as well as values of independence and freedom.  And finally, these cultural influences collide in interesting ways with individual personalities and temperament of the colorful characters.

Image result for theatreworks, calligraphyWhen the cousins Hiromi and Sayuri plan to arrange a family reunion of sorts and bring their mothers together after the distance of several  years and different continents, the cultural, generational, relational, and personality collisons occur with a noticeable bang. The two elderly sisters have been bitterly estranged over Noriko’s romance with a black GI and they have not since reconciled. Noriko was a beautiful young woman, married the love of her life, raised a responsible daughter and now afflicted with beginnings of Alzheimer’s, she often imagines the presence of her late husband, Eamon, forgets her whereabouts, but often remembers critical details of her childhood.  Meanwhile Natsuko is as intolerant of her wayward daughter’s choices regarding her filial duty, marriage, sex etc. as she was of her sister’s choice of marriage, years ago. And yet despite the intolerance and the drama, Natsuko too has a certain inner strength and a vision to live life on her own terms.

Within artful strokes of “Calligraphy”, these four beautiful women with their unique version of inner strength, stamp their own signature in their world, with bold strokes of personal choices. Calligraphy is not a play about A significant event but about high emotional stakes of ordinary living and these get amplified with beautiful acting by talented cast. I love Mia Tagano in all the diverse roles I have seen her perform. Kudos to Theatreworks Artistic Director, Robert Kelley for enabling ordinary life issues to take the form of art. Calligraphy will be running till March 29, 2017.  For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .

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Crimes of the Heart – Play Review


Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart, set in MaGrath family kitchen, is a story of sisterhood.  Anyone who has lived with sisters would agree that sisterly bonding is strong, it’s sweet, it’s sorrowful, it is sassy, it’s surreal, it’s serene. The play that just opened at Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, takes the audience on the complex journey of sisterhood.

Part of the literary genre known as “Southern Gothic”, the play won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.  Mix of tragedy and dark comedy, the play is set in 1950s, in a small town in Mississippi.  The youngest sister Babe (Lizzie O’Hara) is out on bail, after briefly being jailed for shooting her husband (who is injured in the stomach but survived the shooting).  Middle sister, Meg (Sarah Moser) is just out of the psychiatric facility and has arrived at older sister Lenny’s (Therese Plaehn) home to gather in support of Babe through her court trial.

High Res L-R: Meg (Sarah Moser), gets a reaction from her sisters Lenny (Therese Plaehn) and Babe  (Lizzie O'Hara) in Crimes of the Heart, presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley Jan. 11 - Feb. 4, 2017 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Photo credit: Kevin BerneIt is obvious that all three sisters are having a bad day, perhaps a bad life. Babe is entangled in an abusive relationship, Meg joyfully embraces life only to be challenged at every turn, and Lenny celebrates her 30th birthday alone in the kitchen, trying to blow out her candle on a cookie, making wish after another wish.  The sisters are brutal towards each other one minute and supportive and encouraging, the next.  It all comes together to create a touching tapestry of sisterhood, family, and deep ties that provoke great sorrow and also provide strength when strength is needed to get through life’s biggest challenges.  

High Res L-R: Sisters Lenny (Therese Plaehn), Babe (Lizzie O'Hara),  and Meg (Sarah Moser) share a moment in Crimes of the Heart, presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley Jan. 11 - Feb. 4, 2017  at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Photo credit: Kevin BerneBeautifully directed by Giovanna Sardelli, special mention also goes to Stage Manager, Ashley Taylor Frampton and Assistant Stage Manager, Emily Anderson Wolf, for fabulous stage design.  Major kudos to TheatreWorks’ artistic director, Robert Kelley for bringing a bold and honest story, told from a female perspective, as he says, “in a year that has already focused on America’s women in so many unexpected ways”.  As a million women are set to march in the nation’s capital, and so many more all over the country, in a show of solidarity and strength that emerged from spontaneous rallying cry via social media, to repudiate sexist, racist, misogynystic and divisive rhetoric that has colored current political and social climate in the country, this play focusing on women’s passion, insight, frustration, and bonding, is very timely.  It is also telling how a bunch of loony sisters can overcome and prevail when they bring their passions and bond together, over some sugary desserts :).

“Crimes of the Heart” will be playing in Mountain View till February 5, 2017 and tickets can be purchased at www.theatreworks.org .

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