Posts Tagged www.theatreworks.org

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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“The Lake Effect” – Play Review


As an immigrant from India, it was a special treat to see “The Lake Effect”, centered around an Indian immigrant family, by Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph, at www.theatreworks.org .  Randall K. Lum has done a fabulous job with staging, where the softly blowing snow outside the window not only gives an idea of the frigid temperature outside, but serves as a prelude to relationships gone frigid with years of grief and animosity.

Snow blowing from a roof in Ottawa, Ontario, C...

Snow blowing from a roof in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Directed by Giovanna Sardelli, “The Lake Effect” captures confused notions around immigrant attitudes towards race and struggles between two generations growing up very differently, but without overly dwelling on these issues.  On the contrary, the primary focus of the play is on human issues broadly applicable; complex sibling relationship between Vijay (Adam Poss) and Priya (Nilanjana Bose) and their mixed and unresolved feelings towards their deceased father and mother.

Vijay and Priya meet after a gap of several years, on a snowy, cold wintery day, after their father, a small restaurant owner in New York, passes away.  I did not find it challenging connecting with their characters.  Under their seemingly shallow characters, there is a deep, lingering pain from unresolved issues, that makes them very real.  The play does not dwell on the grief and the pain enough for the audience to build empathy with them.  The focus instead shifts to Bernard (Jason Bowan), an African-American bookie, who had developed a strong friendship with their father, during the children’s long absence from the scene.  Bernard is a simple man.  Having lost his memory in a freak accident, Bernard has little baggage, literally and figuratively.

Bernard talks to his dead mother, shares his pain and his blessings, carries no animosity towards anyone, and forgives easily.  The beauty of Bernard’s character is that it quenches the audience thirst for deeper understanding of why other characters feel the way they do, how they will find resolution of their unresolved feelings of grief, pain and rivalry.  Bernard’s ease in coming to terms with what life dishes out, makes it feel perfectly ok for any distance to be bridged with a simple hug, even with ambiguities hanging in the air.  After all, grief and ambiguities are part of life and complex to unravel, but forgiveness and resolution can be very simple and happen when someone takes an initiative.

“The Lake Effect” is a beautiful play and will be on at www.theatreworks.org till March, 29.  

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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 Steinwayhttp://www.flickr.co...

The keyboard of a Steinwayhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/lecates/438919948http://www.flickr.com/photos/lecates/438919834 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 www.theatreworks.org in Mountain View, CA.

 

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2014 – Year-end Review ——- Theme: Confront Reality & Get Things Done!


English: Biosafety level 4 hazmat suit: resear...

English: Biosafety level 4 hazmat suit: researcher is working with the Ebola virus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Year 2014 is coming to a close.  As I see it, it has been a year to confront the reality and get things done.  Affordable Care Act became law in January, increasing the accessibility of healthcare, in the US.  TIME declared Ebola as the defining issue of the 20th century. It was no more in remote regions of Africa but in the capitals and it landed in the USA.  The reality is that we are living in a global world.  

And then President Obama reminded us that even though some of our neighbors entered the border illegally, they have made their home here, are working hard, supporting their families and they should have NOT amnesty, but an opportunity to make it right with the law, and live here temporarily, AND pay their share of the taxes, because people can’t live in the shadows, in a global world of visibility and accountability.   Long overdue immigration reform will enable many people to come out of the shadows and add to the national treasury – a win-win – what’s not to like?

The same applies to our gay neighbors.  They should not have to live in the shadows.  Majority of the states this year, legalized same sex marriages and US supreme court refused to hear appeals from states seeking to keep same sex marriage ban in place.  Many states also legalized marijuana.  But what about our veterans living in the shadows?  Department of Veterans Affairs got more resources (as house passed the bill, at the end of the year, averting shutdown), and it now has to get its act together and make it right with those who defend our freedom and values.

And what about skin color?  We are confronting the reality that more than 50 years after Dr. King laid out his vision for color-fair society, people are still being judged on the basis of the color of their skin and paying with their lives.  This does not just happen when young men turn 22 but prejudice hits in childhood  http://bit.ly/15EInJ4 and it splinters society.  We can heal and move ahead, but scars made by history, and distrust can only heal when there are no new wounds, when there is real dialog, when each side gets to even briefly experience the reality that the other lives with, and have compassion.  We are confronting the reality and lot of dialog is happening.  Much work remains to be done but the issue can’t be ignored any longer.

And then the lowest of the low, terrorists and those plotting terror.  How do we deal with them?  Report on CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the post-9/11 era reveals that “CIA detainees were tortured”.  When we lose sight of our values, when the boundaries between moral and immoral gets blurry, then we lose, regardless of what we were seeking to gain.  This is a true moment for national soul searching. (the fact some people may be only suspected of being terrorists is whole other story).

Globally, also we are confronting realities.  World’s largest democracy, India, elected controversial Mr. Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.  Mr. Modi has reached out to leaders across the world and declared campaigns to clean up India.  My birthplace has so much to offer to the world and if it cleans up its act, under the helm of Mr. Modi, I couldn’t be happier.  Our neighbors need to clean up their act too, even as they rightfully blame the US for its insatiable appetite for drugs.  Capture of “El Chapo” Guzman in Mexico was a HUGE victory that got overshadowed later by disappearance and ruthless murder of 43 Mexican college students.  “#YaMeCanse12”!  Abduction of 270 high school girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria #BringBackOurGirls and scores of Yazidi women bought, sold, raped, and murdered, underscores the need to define rape during conflict as a war crime and not a woman’s issue.  By some estimates, more than 7 million (50% are children) are displaced by war in Syria (200,000 are killed) and 100,000+ Yazidis are displaced by ISIS.  Let us continue to keep theses issues in the spotlight.

The year is ending on a rather sad note of the children who lost their lives in #PeshawarSchoolAttack in Pakistan.  Here is my short poem in their memory – http://bit.ly/1wfp47D .  It was heart warming to see India support its neighbor in the hour of grief as #IndiawithPakistan was a popular hashtag on twitter. And also deeply heartwarming to see Pakistan echo the sentiments when #PakistanwithIndia and sepecially #PakistanwithIndiaNoToLakhviBail became trendy topics on twitter as overwhelmingly Pakistani people reacted negatively to their government’s decision to give bail to Mumbai terror mastermind Lakhvi.  May the balanced sentiments always prevail over extremism, because the reality is that we live in a global world and terror can’t be nurtured and targeted because sooner or later it would hit home.  Global world also demands secularism.

As a ray of light and hope, Malala Yousafzai, courageous young lady from Pakistan, spearheading girls’ right to education and Kailash Satyarthi from india, a brave and dedicated activist for children’s rights and against child labor, shared the Nobel Prize, sending strong messages that fight to honor children’s rights will continue.

Personal

wpid-20140920_173123.jpgHard as it is to confront the reality that one’s parents may not be there forever, I was very happy to spend wonderful time with my mother and my aunty (her sister).  I tried to focus on giving them a break from their routines and enable them to have some fun, some unusual experiences.  Isn’t it amazing that when a mother gives, she gives with her heart and soul, but when she receives from her children, she receives with a feeling of enormous debt and gratitude!  Both my children are focused on their careers; wpid-20140805_201145-1.jpgNeil is working with Cisco in IT and Neesha is finishing college this coming year.  Both are my pride and joy :).  It has also been fun hosting my daughter’s friend from UCSD, originally from Palestine, during the holidays, and alternately being “naughty” with the girls, and playing aunty-mom to two daughters :).wpid-20141221_150415.jpg

wpid-20141221_161442.jpgThis year, I also visited Japan (we were hosted by many amazing friends and you can see all details in my travel blogs), an amazingly polite and most efficient culture, with world’s most interesting toilets http://bit.ly/1sYL5qs.  This year I also started travel blogs and you can see my many blogs at www.darshanavnadkarni.wordpress.com.

And finally, here are links to some of the most amazing things that I blogged about, this year.
Best movie – “Last Days in Vietnam” http://bit.ly/1qFIL28
Best play – “Truce” http://bit.ly/1trGhEG and “Andhera Hone Tak” http://bit.ly/1Aij5Rz
Best book – “The Glass Castle” http://bit.ly/1fchcIo
Best biomedical technologies — so many exciting technologies in early to mid stages of development for — treatment of ALS http://bit.ly/1AP2Yd0, for technology for early detection of cervical cancer http://bit.ly/1jalqEz, technology that aims to deliver drugs via inhalation for AFib, point of care solution to minimize prescription filling errors http://bit.ly/1jdfmgr

Wishing my readers, family & friends, and my clients and colleagues, peace and joy in the year 2015.  Best wishes to my many friends in fantastic groups that I am routinely affiliated with (each of them enhance life for many, personally and/or professionally) http://www.bio2devicegroup.org, http://www.eppicglobal.org, http://www.citylights.org, http://www.thestage.org, http://www.theatreworks.org, http://www.naatak.org, http://www.enacte.org, http://www.iwings.org .

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Sweeney Todd – Play Review


“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” opened at Theatreworks, Saturday night, and received a standing ovation from the full house.  The story, based on the book by Hugh Wheeler, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is about the power of evil to infect everything and everyone, in its wake.  And in the words of Theatreworks’ Artistic Director, Robert Kelley, Sweeney Todd is “about our ways of dealing with evil: countering it with virtue, disarming it with humor, crushing it with force, or transforming it into art”.  And what a fine work of art it is in this theatreworks production.

The story of Sweeney Todd is set in London in 1940s, during the time when London was blasted by German bombs. Fifteen years prior, a barber was unjustly convicted and sent to Australian prison and has now returned to extract his revenge from the system.  Specifically, he wants to extract revenge from the evil Judge Turpin (Lee Strawn), and his lackey, a portly, greasy, evil man, Beadle Bamford (Martin Rojas Dietrich).


Kevin Berne/TheatreWorks David Studwell stars as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd.David Studwell, in the role of Sweeney Todd, is devilishly magnificent and the first person he charms and snares into his evil scheme, is Mrs. Lovett (Tory Ross, who is equally magnificent).  While Sweeney Todd has been deeply wronged by the system, is motivated by vengeance, and does the disturbingly gory work with his bare hands, Mrs. Lovett, a pie seller, trying to run a challenging business at a difficult time, is entrepreneurial, charming, and is purely driven by profit motive.  She works with her hands, tenderizing the meat (if we forget for a minute the source of that meat) and baking it into artful, tasty pies.  The force of evil is so powerful, it sucks you right in.  When Mrs. Lovett declares, “we got a nice respectable business now”, it almost makes you want to root for her to rescue Sweeney from his obsession with vengeance and escape with her to a cottage by the ocean.  When smug judge Turpin comes for a shave, to get ready to seduce his ward, Joanna (gorgeous Mindy Lym), who is Sweeney’s daughter, whom he has kidnapped and raised, you almost root again for Sweeney to complete his task and give the judge his due.

When the judge escapes, instead of heaving a sigh of relief, you almost want to tell Sweeney, “what made you wait, you had him”!!  This timeless tale is as much about the demon barber, as it is about the evil lurking in all of us.  If it is not consciously checked, the evil will suck you right in, if not by doing, than by thinking.  Special kudos to fantastic musical direction by William Liberatore and superb staging by Marcy Victoria Reed and Emily Anderson Wolf.  Don’t miss this incredible production by theatreworks.  For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .

I had him!
His throat was there beneath my hand.
I had him!

His throat was there beneath my hand.
No, I had him!
His throat was there and now he’ll never come again.
Mrs. Lovett: Easy now, hush love hush
I keep telling you, Whats your rush?
Todd: When? Why did I wait?
You told me to wait –
Now he’ll never come again.
There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit
And it’s filled with people who are filled with sh*t
And the vermin of the world inhabit it.

But not for long…
They all deserve to die.
Tell you why, Mrs. Lovett, tell you why.
Because in all of the whole human race
Mrs. Lovett, there are two kinds of men and only two
There’s the one staying put in his proper place
And the one with his foot in the other one’s face
Look at me, Mrs Lovett, look at you.

Don’t we all deserve to die?
Even you, Mrs. Lovett, even I.
Because the lives of the wicked should be made brief
For the rest of us death will be a relief
We all deserve to die.

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Once On This Island – Play Review


Theatreworks Artistic Director, Robert Kelley has done a stunningly job in directing the musical, “Once on this Island”, originally from the Tony Award winning creators of Ragtime.  This musical springs from a Caribbean legend about a little orphan girl, Ti Moune (Khalia Davis), whose parents die in a horrible storm that she survives.   She is adopted by the peasant couple, Mama Euralie & Tonton Julian (Dawn L. Troupe & Berwick Haynes) and raised in the village where everyone dances with abandon, sings with everything they’ve got, uses herbs to heal, lives in harmony with nature, and seeks to appease the Gods of death, earth, water, and love (Max Kumangai, Safiya Fredericks, Omari Tau, and Adrienne Muller).  Entire cast is superb and performs beautifully.  I, particularly loved Adrienne Muller.theatreworks 1

Ti Moune grows into a gorgeous and spunky young lady (Salisha Thomas).  She continues to be haunted by the death of her parents and wonders what her purpose in life might be for which the Gods might have meant for her to live.  She rescues a wealthy aristocrat from a near fatal car crash.  She cleans his wounds, applies ointments, and keeps steadfast vigil, for him to recover.  She regards him as the love of her life and comes to believe that the Gods kept her alive, so that she may help him heal and survive.

This timeless tale is filled with joy, romance, adventure, entrenched prejudices, and heartache.  All human feelings find expression in amazing lyrics (by Lynn Ahrens) with heart pulsating, irresistible Caribbean drum beats, (by Stephen Flaherty).  William Liberatore is the Musical Director.  He was also musical director for absolutely fabulous production of “Little Women” http://bit.ly/1cmVLl6 at Theatreworks, in December, 2013.

The credit for making this musical a spell binding on-stage performance, goes to the Stage Manager Randall K Lum, Assistant Stage Manager Jannette Cote, Scenic Designer, Joe Ragey, Costume Designer, Cathleen Edwards, and Lighting Designer, Pamila Z. Gray.  Together they have created magic, on stage.  The scenes come alive with ferocious storm, enchanting jungle with frogs and trees, and beautiful village with little lanterns that contrasts with the life of the aristocrat lover, in the city.  For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org

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Silent Sky – Play Review


NASA's Hubble Finds that Puny Stars Pack a Big...

NASA’s Hubble Finds that Puny Stars Pack a Big Punch (Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video)

Silent Sky is a story about women and science.  Science was once a men’s domain.  This is a story of how one committed scientist unraveled mysteries of the universe and made a contribution so big that that only posterity could fully appreciate it; all because her curiosity could not be contained.  The playwright Lauren Gunderson has done a marvelous job in bringing the story of Henrietta Leavitt whose curiosity and commitment almost matched that of Galileo.  (BTW – here is a link to my review of the book “Galileo’s Daughter” by Dava Sobel – http://bit.ly/zB9bab).

Elena Wright in her role as Henrietta, displays the tremendous inner resolve and strength that a woman scientist needed to succeed the 1800s. Leavitt solicited her sister’s help in her mission to work at the Harvard College of Observatory, after graduating from Radcliff College, in 1893.  Jennifer Le Blanc is superb in her role as Margaret Leavitt, Henrietta’s sister.  At Harvard, Henrietta yearned to see the great refractor telescope but she was not allowed.  Instead, Henrietta worked as a “computer”, examining photographic plates (collected from observations through the telescope by other scientists) and she computed, measured, recorded and cataloged the brightness of the “variable” stars.  She worked with two older scientists.  Sarah Dacey Charles and Lynne Soffer are fantastic in the roles of Annie Cannon and Willamina Fleming who were participating in the women’s suffrage movement, while working at Harvard.

These are strong women.  Matt Citron plays the role of Peter Shaw, a fellow scientist at Harvard.  Among four strong female characters, Shaw holds his own.  There is a beautiful ying and yang balance.  While the women are strong and try to hide their softer core, the only man in the play is gentle, shy in expressing his feelings of affection to Henrietta and as conflicted about proper way to deal with cultural expectations and with the separation of the domains of men and women, as the women are.

As a computer, Leavitt was widely successful, cataloging greater and greater number of stars and their luminosity, even as she began to question her work. “What is the point of all this work, if it cannot tell us where we are in the universe”, she asks.  But one day, while listening to her sister play the piano and its rhythm, it occurs to Leavitt that brightness of the stars can be closely linked with the distance.  That was the beautiful moment of synergy between math and music.  Indeed, if this was to be true, the universe would be much bigger than had been assumed to be.  Further, there would be other galaxies and universes.  This was a novel idea at the time.  Leavitt noticed that variable stars showed a predictable pattern where brighter ones had longer periods of luminosity.  This period/ luminosity relationship later allowed the scientists to compute distances to faraway galaxies and later from this work Harlow Shapley was able to move our Sun out from the center of the galaxy and Edwin Hubble to move our galaxy out from the center of the universe.

Almost 300 years after Galileo, Leavitt displayed similar courage to follow her passion and quench her curiosity for knowledge, and Like Galileo, Leavitt changed the picture of our universe forever.  This is a play that honors this great scientist and the sacrifices that society demanded of women who sought to play in the men’s world.  The stage as the observatory at Harvard is fantastic and when Henrietta looks at the shimmering stars, it almost transports the audience to what she might be thinking and feeling.  Great kudos to Jamie D. Mann, Stage Manager and Stephanie Schliemann, Assistant Stage Manager, and Scenic Designer, Annie Smart.  Also great kudos to Director, Meredith McDonough and many thanks to Artistic Director, Robert Kelly for continuing to expand our horizons with fabulous shows.  The Silent Sky will be running at www.theatreworks.org till February, 9 and I would not miss it for the world.

Dceph

Dceph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Little Women – Play Review


Director Robert Kelley has done it again; a superb job of bringing the classic “Little Women” by Allan Knee, based on the original novel by Louisa May Alcott, on stage at www.theatreworks.org .   This classic tale of four sisters is brought on stage in the form of a musical, with lovely lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and music by Jason Howland, under musical director, William Liberatore.  It is playing in Palo Alto, at Lucie Stern Theater, until January 4, 2014.  The play is set in 1868, during the time of the civil war, in New England.  Costume Design befitting the period is beautiful and the credit goes to Fumiko Bielefeldt and creative scenic design is by Joe Ragey.

Alcott wrote the novel “Little Women”, based on familiar references from her own life.  In the play, the father of four girls (the March sisters), is away, fighting in the war, leaving their mother, Marmee, (beautifully played by Elizabeth Ward Land) to run the household full of four young women.   Emily Koch is absolutely stupendous as Jo the second sister, an aspiring writer, who is feisty, a non conformist, loves books, and spurns traditions.  Jo has a hard time getting her book published and is told to come up with a “better” plot.  The play opens with a musical about her book and she asks “better than what, better than this dazzling plot?”  In an era when women were to do as they were bid, Jo reaches high, and she is confident, she will attain what she is reaching for.

While Jo finds solace in her writing, her younger sister Amy (superbly played by Arielle Fishman) is both jealous of Jo and desirous of what may be within Jo’s reach.  Amy is vivacious and full of life.  When Jo and eldest sister Meg are invited to their first Ball, Amy is so jealous that she burns to ashes, Jo’s half written novel.  Jo sings “I will never fall asleep again” and it falls on Marmee to make peace between the two sisters.  Sharon Rietkerk plays the oldest sister, Meg, who is the family beauty, is simple, sweet and easily falls in love with John Brooke (played by Justin Buchs), and Julia Belanoff does a fabulous job as Beth, the youngest sister who is sweet, sensible, satisfied with her herself and sadly succumbs to an illness.

Little Women is a story of the four sisters, growing up, finding love, rejecting love, supporting one another through life’s trials and tribulations, getting beaten down by life’s struggles, overcoming them, attaining their dreams, and holding the family together by a tie that binds.  Matt Dengler (as Laurie, grandson of the March family’s neighbor), Richard Farrell (as the old and crusty neighbor with a soft heart), Justin Buchs (as Laurie’s tutor), and Christopher Vettel (as Jo’s professor) have played their roles nicely and they add the right touch of yang to the yin of the March women.  I love the cast in this play and Elizabeth Palmer as stern Aunt March is also wonderful.

But it is fantastic Emily Koch as Jo, whose performance makes this a show to remember.  There are many warm, funny, sweet moments in the play that the sisters enjoy.  And yet, in the end, it is the heartbreak that ignites Jo to write a novel that brings her recognition and fame, and it is her writing that helps her overcome the heartbreak, and adapt to the changing family.

This is a beautiful not-to-miss play of the season, to start off the holidays filled with family celebrations.  The opening night performance was completely sold out and the audience gave a standing ovation.  Book your tickets early at http://www.theatreworks.org .

Cover of "Little Women (Pavilion Classics...

Cover of Little Women (Pavilion Classics)

   

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