Posts Tagged www.thestage.org
Chicago – Play Review
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Play Reviews on February 15, 2020
Come on babe
Why don’t we paint the town?
And all that Jazz…
If you’re intending to paint the town there’s no better place than at Chicago, the musical that is currently playing at the stage in San Jose and is the longest running American show on Broadway. The story is based on real events where in roaring twenties Chicago, Roxie Hart (Monique Hafen Adams), a nightclub dancer, lands on murders row. Her role as narcissistic, self absorbed and spoiled wannabe star is poignant and powerful. While she can be locked up forever or hanged for the murder, Roxie is enjoying the stardom, the notoriety has brought her.
The name on everybody’s lips
Is gonna be Roxie
The lady rakin’ in the chips
Is gonna be Roxie
I’m gonna be a celebrity
From just some dumb mechanic’s wife
I’m gonna be Roxie
Who says that murder’s not an art?
And who in case she doesn’t hang
Can say she started with a bang?
Foxy Roxie Hart!
Another famous nightclub star, Velma Kelly (Allison F. Rich) is also going through the legal system, having committed a prior murder. Roxy and Velma compete with each other in spinning their stories, in getting jury’s sympathy and as their notoriety throws them into stardom, they compete to get the best roles in the nightclub shows.
The female driven murderer song and dance is full of energy romp through upcoming “not guilty” plea and “self defense” defense, along with the corruption characteristic of the court and prison system of 1920s..
He had it coming
He had it coming
He only had himself to blame.
If you’d have been there
If you’d have seen it
But you haven’t seen nothing yet, until you meet Mama Morton. Branden Noel Thomas is dazzling and commanding in his role as Mama Morton and….
When you’re good to Mama
Mama’s good to you!
And now ladies and gentlemen –
the Keeper of the keys,
the Countess of the clink,
the mistress of Murderers Row,
Matron Mama Morton!
My most favorite piece is the press briefing. The PR campaign reminiscent of what is currently going on in politics, is complete with word plays, spins and conniving and evil manipulation of the news. It seems media manipulation with an aim to influence public perception with false propaganda through suppression of information and outright deception was almost as devilish in the 20s, as it is today.
Give ’em the old razzle dazzle
Razzle dazzle ’em
How can they hear the truth above the roar?
Throw ’em a fake and a finagle
They’ll never know you’re just a bagel
Give ’em the old three ring circus
Stun and stagger ’em
Daze and dizzy ’em
Show ’em the first rate sorcerer you are
Long as you keep ’em way off balance
How can they spot you got no talents?
Razzle dazzle ’em
This show explodes with energy, wit, and fabulous music and dance numbers. Kudos to Randall King for superb direction. Chicago is a class act. Whatever happened to class? It’s all there in this show.
Why is it everyone now is a pain in the ass?
Whatever happened to class?
Now, no one even says “oops” when they’re
Passing their gas
Whatever happened to class?
Chicago is a not-to-miss show during this theater season and will be playing at the San Jose Stage Theater till March 15, 2020. Tickets can be obtained at www.thestage.org .
The Humans – Play Review
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Play Reviews on December 8, 2019
The Humans by playwright Stephen Karam, offers a funny, sad and blisteringly realistic portrait of American family drama, at a thanksgiving meal. The Humans was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Play.
Blake family, father Erick (Tim Kniffin), mother Deirdre (Marie Shell), daughter Brigid (Madeline Rouverol), daughter Aimee (Lyndsy Kail), Brigid’s live-in lover, Richard (George Psarras) and Momo, (Jessica Powell) have gathered for the meal at Richard and Brigid’s run down apartment in Manhatten, New York. These are the people we know; they are our neighbors, friends; indeed they are us.
Like many families, the Blakes have strong bonds and deep resentments. At times, they differ and argue over what appears to be inconsequential stuff. There are generational differences. Erick and Deirdre want the best for their two daughters but their best is not the same as what their daughters desire. At times, subtly and at times overtly the parents show their disapproval of Brigid’s choice of apartment and her decision to co-habit with her partner, without a marriage. Blake parents agonize over their daughter Aimee’s apparent anxiety, her major bowel disorder and her apparent losses in life. While Richard tries hard to get approval from Aimee’s family and convey to them that he has cleaned up his life, it is not easy to come by. Jessica Powell’s acting as momo suffering from dementia, is absolutely amazing and realistic.
David Zinn’s fascinating two-tiered set with a spiral staircase connecting the floors enables the family drama and action to move between upstairs and downstairs, just like the ebb and flow of their emotions. Kudos to director Tony Kelly and to the scenic team including Guilio Perrone and Michael Truman Cavanaugh for this insightful show.
This family drama is a penetrating portrayal of psychological unease. And yet, even as imperfect individuals and imperfect families travel through uncertainties and challenges, it’s the same ties that create the discomfort that also give hope for the future.
The Humans will be running at San Jose Stage Theater in San Jose, CA till December 15, 2019. For tickets, contact www.thestage.org .
Postman Always Rings Twice – Play Review
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Play Reviews on April 22, 2018
San Jose Stage Company premiered a new stage adaptation by Jon Jory of “Postman Always Rings Twice”, directed by Kenneth Kelleher, as a part of their 35th anniversary season. Adapted from 1934 novel by James M. Cain that was also made into a 1946 classic film with Lana Turner and John Garfield, this is a crime thriller with some twists and turns.
Since its first appearance in 1934, this story captured the minds and gained high popularity. Frank (Jonathan Rhys Williams) is not only morally bankrupt but is a hobo without a sense of purpose or ambition in life. He makes a pit stop at a rural California diner for a meal and is offered a job by Nick Papadakis (Robert Sicular), the Greek owner of the diner. Franks ends up staying and soon begins a passionate affair with Nick’s wife, Cora (Allison F. Rich).
Cora swoons to Frank’s rough and tumble approach to life but is unhappy with her inconvenient husband standing in the way. The first part in the play moves rather slowly and mostly focuses on Frank and Cora plotting to remove the inconvenience out of the way. In part two the story picks up speed as the duo attempts to put into practice their questionable motives and intentions. A murder plot is hatched but gets botched, elopement is planned and then abandoned, even the confession after a crime does not turn out as intended.
Apart from keeping the audience guessing, the play’s many twists and turns inevitably make one wonder (especially give the current monumental political reality), as to how much and how far can lies be stretched without consequences, and if not the law, then would fate catch up to it ultimately? The play is running at The Stage in San Jose till May 6, 2018 and tickets can be obtained at www.thestage.org .
The Toxic Avenger – Play Review
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Play Reviews on June 19, 2017
Musical comedy “The Toxic Avenger” based on Lloyd Kaufman’s film of the same name, originally derived from book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music and lyrics by David Bryan, is currently playing at The stage (www.thestage.org) in San Jose. It is a silly show tackling a serious subject and features a talented cast that performs zillion roles. Addressing the issue of climate change, the show shies away from becoming preachy or depressing. It begins with the lyrics
Global warming’s up ahead
The experts think we’ll all be dead
But they don’t know we’re here to fight
It is a story of heavily polluted New Jersey town where Melvin Ferd III (Will Springhorn Jr.) resolves to get to the bottom of the cause of pollution and is pitted against town’s greedy, power-hungry and seductive mayor Babs (Allison F. Rich) and her gang of thugs. The mayor’s for-profit corporation is the cause of town’s growing pollution but the mayor is entirely focused on growing her bottom line.
Here’s a place between heaven and hell
Don’t need a map, just follow the smell
A place filled with filthy air
A place full of dark despair
A place you have no prayer
A place called New Jersey
Jersey, the Garden State
Ther’s an exit called the thirteen gee
Right off the turnpike where it smells just like pee
An exit no one dares get off:
An exit where the children cough
When the mayor’s thugs and Melvin engage in a fight, Melvin falls into a vat of toxic waste and emerges as a heroic green monster with superior strength. Melvin’s nagging mother (also played by talented Allison F. Rich) does not the express slightest shock and instead reiterates her disappointment with her son. Her lack of shock at the sight of her son is shocking in itself and at the same time her superb acting makes it feel like a natural response of a nagging mother to a child not rising up to his talents. It is all hilarious. Melvin also reconnects with his blind love interest, Sarah (Courtney Hatcher). Sarah does not know that it is Melvin and falls hopelessly in love with who she believes is the superhero who saved her from the town’s thugs.
He’s strong and sweet and lives with his mother,
He saved my life so there is no other.
Such a man and man is he macho
Spicy cool like a bowl of gaspacho
Someday he’s ganna be my big, my big french boyfriend!
But Sarah soon gets an opportunity to touch Melvin’s ugly and scarred face and her love abets with the same speed as it had begun to overflow. When scorned by his sweetheart, broken hearted and depressed Melvin goes from being a town hero and a legend to a town pariah. However, Sarah soon changes her mind after she gets a talking-to by Melvin’s mother who explains “If blind people don’t like ugly people, than who will” and she and Sarah’s friends make a practical point that – after all
All men are freaks
It’s a burden every woman shares as she travels down life’s roads
Superbly directed by Jonathan Rhys Williams, the play is hilariously funny and witty. Cirby Hatano’s set is eye catching wasteland with scattered drums of toxic waste. Video design by Vijay M. Rajan occasionally fills the gap in the narrative and adds fantastically funny comic touches. When the fight ensues between the hero and the thugs, blood is scattered or limbs are severed on the projected screen rather than on the set. The 80s style rock style songs are played by an onstage rock band directed by Brian Allan Hobbs.
The Toxic Avenger is produced at San Jose Stage at a critical time in our history, when depressing developments on the issue of climate change makes us feel both upset and helpless. Toxic Avenger is just the hero we need to transport us for a short while, to a place where we are not entirely helpless, and our righteous commitment enables us to find love and perfect solution for the cause of climate change. The Toxic Avenger will be playing at the Stage in San Jose until July 16, 2017 and tickets are available at www.thestage.org .
“Disgraced” – Play Review
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Play Reviews on February 25, 2017
Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer prize-winning play “Disgraced” playing at San Jose Stage theater, takes the audience on a deep dive into the complexity of identity formation, change and dynamism of identity, and also identity destruction.
The entire drama plays out in a tastefully decorated, beautiful Manhattan apartment, occupied by Pakistan born, Amir Kapoor (Damien Seperi) and his caucasian wife, Emily (Allison F. Rich). Amir is quickly climbing the corporate ladder at his Manhattan law firm and has so wholeheartedly embraced the American dream with its trappings of wealth and success that in order to get a better acceptance, he passes himself off as an immigrant from India, when a partner assumes him to be from India. That is an early peek into the close cousin of identity and the complex arena of stereotypes, where Pakistan generates stereotypes of terrorism and India of engineers and education. If Amir may be embracing fiscally conservative values, his wife Emily is a bleeding heart liberal. While Amir is hiding aspects of his identity and rejects everything Islam, Emily seeks out liberal causes and implores her husband to stand up and fight for what is just and on behalf of those falsely accused of terrorism related activities, in the aftermath of 9/11.
Emily and Amir are hosting a dinner party for their elite, high-powered friends, Jory (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn), a lawyer from Amir’s firm and her husband Isaac (Jonathan Rhys Williams), a curator at the Whitney Museum. Just as Amir denounces everything Islam, Emily constantly contradicts his criticism of faith and insists on finding “beauty and wisdom in Islamic tradition”. Her paintings draw on Islamic art and she insists that the Muslims gave the world a “visual perspective”. She has created an Islamic piece of art and is hoping that she will get her big break through Isaac. Isaac is Jewish but critical of Israel’s military actions in the region. His wife Jory is African-American and is fully aware of the impact of racial profiling.
As the story advances, through various twists and turns, a complex picture and many questions emerge. Do people feel pressured to renounce their “other” cultural identities in order to gain mainstream acceptance and climb the ladder of success in America? Do people suppress rather than erase, sometimes with bitterness, their primary identity, even as they embrace mainstream values? Amir shares the story of growing up Muslim where his mother not only wanted him to embrace his culture and religion but also taught him prejudice against “others”. Albeit he embraced mainstream values but deep inside he felt rage.
The fascinating aspect of this play is that it centers not just around Amir’s story. Jory has her own identity battle, as does Isaac and in fact, Emily has her own identity issues. At an individual level, there are multitude of factors that contribute to a person’s identity, including geographic location where one grows up, one’s religion, one’s peers, parents, teachers, siblings, as well as one’s personality and temperament. However, when others perceive an individual, they tend to simplify and often judge or assume someone’s identity based on one or two factors that matter to the perceiver. At societal level what creates infinitely amazing kaleidoscopic reality is how diverse identities of multitude of people collide and intersect at multiple levels, especially when invited to focus exclusively on identity, as in the current political environment.
And finally, constant and extreme pressure to prove oneself, to suppress one’s innate identity and everything it meant in one’s formative years; real or imagined pressure to renounce one’s faith, religion or culture in order to fit in, to prove oneself, takes an incredible toll on a person. The stress can manifest in diverse ways including depression, addictive behaviors, violence, and irreversible adverse impact on health. At least one or two of these are manifested in this story.
San Jose Stage Theater (www.thestage.org) has always brought bold and relevant productions and participated in raising important questions and promote crucial dialog in our society and this play is immensely pertinent in the current political, cultural environment. Great kudos to the production team, to Ayad Akhtar, to Director William Ontiveros and the entire creative team.
The Night Alive: Play Review
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Play Reviews on November 25, 2016
The Night Alive, written by Conor McPherson and directed by Tony Kelly, is a kind of nativity story focusing on compassion and kindness although the beginning seems like it’s anything but that. The play starts by providing a glimpse into the slice of anguished lives of a few lost souls and faint but clear glimmers of hope appear by the end.
Tommy (Randall King) rents a room in his uncle Maurice’s (Julian Lopez-Morillas) old Edwardian house in Dublin. Uncle Maurice lives upstairs and though critical of Tommy, he also loves him. Tommy’s friend, Doc (Lawrence Radecker) is Tommy’s little sidekick who also frequently sleeps in the room and helps Tommy with odd jobs. They scrape by from day to day work and live amidst junk-filled squalor of the room. As the play begins, one night Tommy rescues a young prostitute, Aimee (Allison F. Rich) and bring her home to get her cleaned up. Aimee has no place to go and she ends up staying, for that night and another and another.
Tommy has been estranged from his wife and kids and does not have anything significant to look forward to in life. But a sort of friendship develops between Tommy and Aimee and it brings a little sunshine into his otherwise dark life. Friendship also sprouts between Aimee and other men. Doc is a little slow and at first he is not quite approving of the loss of his sleeping place and of his friend’s attention. Uncle Maurice is also somewhat disapproving at first. Deadpan humor while all these lost souls are trying to find their bearings in a situation of change and chaos is often heart-breaking but things start to get resolved and just as there is emergence of hope for a kinder gentler life, the story takes a turn.
Aimee’s ex-boyfriend Kenneth (Jonathan Rhys Williams) comes looking for her and completely disrupts their lives. Is that not how life often unfolds for people with lower means and resources, and keeps them imprisoned in a vicious circle where while they continue to live, life in a true sense seems to emerge every now and then but continues to stay out of their reach? For this group, as life unfolds in the moment, as they live without dreams, goals and a future, their little attempts at humor seem like attempts to grab fleeting happiness, whenever they can. Doc once brings a book titled “How to survive life-threatening situations”, and reads from it. As the audience laughs at totally non-helpful suggestions outlined in the book, a question lingers, how does one survive life that has nothing to offer?
If however, the ending is good, rest does not matter. Play ends ambiguously, albeit at a place where a little hint of hope, a faint flash of faith emerges. Sometimes love and kindness may just be enough to open a future of possibilities.
The Night Alive is playing at www.thestage.org in San Jose till December 11, 2016.
Venus in Fur – Play Review
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Play Reviews on February 13, 2015
Dynamics of power are always infinitely interesting. Add to the mix, sexuality, erotica, and pure physical attraction, and you have a volatile mix, perfect for a theatrical production. San Jose Stage had a full house on the opening night of David Ives’ “Venus in Fur”. Tony nominated Best Play (2012), has received multiple awards and has also been made into a Roman Polanski film, which premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Vanda, an aspiring actress arrives late for her audition for a play based on the nineteenth century erotic novel, when Thomas Novacheck, a playwright-director is about to leave. Thomas is condescending, he talks over Vanda, interrupts her, and does not believe she has the capability for the role. To his credit, Vanda seems totally unprepared, unprofessional, is spewing curses, is bursting with energy, even erotic energy, and seems an unlikely candidate for the role. The power dynamics are in favor of Thomas and notwithstanding her many challenges of coming for an audition on a rainy, stormy day, he is about to throw her out, but gets interrupted by a phone call from his fiancee.
Vanda seizes the opportunity and steps into a costume to begin her reading. As they do the reading, Thomas discovers, to his great dismay, that not only has Vanda come prepared with props and costumes for both, but almost seems to have mastered the play, literally and in spirit. A prepared employee can have the boss wrapped around her finger and the power dynamics shift again. The source material for the play comes from 1870 novel, Venus in Furs by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, which also happens to be the origin of the term “masochism”.
As the reading progress, the power dynamics shift again and then again, as Vanda and Thomas step in and out of their roles as Dunayev and Kushemski and step back into character, almost seamlessly but also quite discerningly, if that is possible. Dunayev says, “Why should I forgo any possible pleasure, abstain from any sensual experience? I’’m young, I’m rich, and I’m beautiful and I shall make the most of that. I shall deny myself nothing.” Ahhh the reach of power that comes with it all. But then again who wields the power, one who writes the script or one one who plays along?
As the reading progresses, they share their histories, their kinks, pulled by magnetic attraction towards each other, they fight it when out of character, but fully exploit it, in character. They concede that while people may render themselves explicable, people do not find themselves easily extricable And these stories where people are unable to extricate themselves, make for great theatrical productions in capable hands like Director Kimberly Mohne Hill and actors Johnny Moreno (as Thomas and Kushemski), and Allison F. Rich (as Vanda and Dunayev). Venus in Fur is running at The Stage in San Jose, till March 1. For tickets, please go to www.thestage.org .
2014 – Year-end Review ——- Theme: Confront Reality & Get Things Done!
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Year-End Reviews on December 24, 2014
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.
Hard 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; Neil 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 :).
This 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 .
Iliad – Play Review
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Play Reviews on April 15, 2014
Homer’s Iliad is an ancient Greek epic poem, set during the Trojan war, a long ten year siege on the city of Troy, by Greece. The poem is long and complex and centers more specifically around the short period of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the great warrior Achilles. Setting this poem to a performance on stage, would seem like a challenge of epic proportion. But it is effortlessly done at the current production of the “Iliad” running at www.thestage.org, in San Jose, CA.
Based on Homer’s Iliad, writers Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, created the stage piece, over a period of 5 years, utilizing video, video transcriptions, improvisation, original music and diligent research. It was translated by Robert Fagles. Kenneth Kelleher is a brilliant director who has directed over 20 productions for The Stage, and once again he did a marvelous job, in The Iliad.
Jackson Davis in the role of the poet, gives a spell binding performance. Although the story itself covers only a few weeks in the final year of the war, the Iliad alludes to the preceding events, including the cause of the war, the hundreds of thousands of wounded soldiers who returned home to find their spouses and fashions changed, and those who kept fighting but had forgotten the true cause of the war. Towards the end, it sets the stage for the sequel, the Odyssey, also attributed to Homer. This poem is regarded as more or less a complete narrative of the Trojan War. Davis holds the audience as he tells this complex tale, alternately playing various characters, and using the many props, to set the stage for the next sequence of events.
Paris, a wayward and handsome younger brother of prince Hector of Troy, abducted Helen, the most beautiful woman and wife of the Greek king Menelaus, and brought her to Troy, as his wife, and thus began the Trojan war, that lasted for 9+ years, and took tens of thousands of lives. Towards the end of the war, where the poem begins, Agamemnon, the Greek leader has abducted Chryseis, a daughter of a Trojan priest, and he refuses to give her up, despite being offered wealth and riches by the father. Chryseis prays to Apollo who causes plague on the city. Agamemnon returns Chryseis back but abducts Briseis, Achilles’ captive, as compensation. This angers Achilles and he refuses to support Agamemnon any more in the fight against Troy. This sets the stage for the succeeding epic battle.
Without Achilles, the Greek side is enormously weakened, and is getting slaughtered, prompting his closest and most dear friend Patroclus to beg Achilles, to allow him to don the great Achilles’ armor, and fight in his stead. Soldiers imagine Patroclus to be Achilles, and Patroclus inflicts great casualty, before he is found out, and killed by Hector of Troy. Achilles is mad with grief upon hearing of Patroclus’s death, and in turn not only kills Hector, but drags and dishonors his body. King Priam of Troy comes to Achilles to beg for his son’s body. Achilles is deeply moved, and not only returns Hector’s body, but halts the war for 9 days, allowing Troy to mourn Hector’s death.
Like any war, this is a classic tale, with all critical ingredients, like politics, regret, deep losses, innocent victims, and women taken as captives, against their will. Like any war, time and again, the fighters, winners and loosers alike, appeal to the higher power, for mercy, for compassion, for winning. This is one of the greatest stories ever told and Jackson Davis does a fabulous job of conveying this complex narrative. There is a point when he puts this war into larger perspective and names every single war fought and recorded in history. Wow, wow, wow! Sickened by war and the destruction it inflicts, the poet says, “Every time I sing this song, I hope it’s the last time”.
The Threepenny Opera – Play Review
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Play Reviews on February 14, 2014
Virgil Thomson has called Bertolt Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera” “one of century’s most powerful creations” and Bob Dylan said about the music “I was aroused straightaway by the raw intensity of the songs”. Powerful lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, were originally set to music by composer, Kurt Weill and it was Elisabeth Hauptmann who maintained the raw intensity of the lyrics when originally translating them into English. The translation of the dialogs and lyrics for this production was done by Robert MacDonald and Jeremy Sams. It is absolutely incredible that the musical that was originally produced in Germany, in 1928, as a scathing social and political critique about the clash of the haves and the have-nots, echoes true today.
On the sidewalk, one Sunday mornin’
Lies a body oozin’ life
Someone’s sneaking ’round the corner
Could that someone, perhaps, perchance, be Mack the Knife?
Tattoo covered Jonny Moreno, as Macheath, with the words HUSTLER tattooed on his chest, is the fierce king of the 1930s Berlin’s underbelly, where the women admire him and cops make deals with him. Moreno’s acting is fantastic and his voice commands respect. The bagger king Peachum also runs his little kingdom where he trains the baggers on concocting tales of woes, to generate maximum sympathy from the donors. No one can bag on his turf without prior permission from Mr. and Mrs. Peachum, who get a commission from all bagger earnings. Paul Myrvold and Susan Gundunas last seen together at The Stage, in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, are fabulous as colorful Peachums. With all the respective turfs well defined, there is a functional system that keeps things organized, up to a point. But in the end, Macheath’s undoing happens because of the women. With two wives and his visits to the whore house, his women love him and hate him, in equal measure. Monique Hafen is fabulous in the role of innocent Polly Peachum (the bagger king’s daughter). She marries Macheath, unaware of his prior marriage and other passing interests. Halsey Varady as astute heroin shooting druggie, Jenny Diver, is superb.
Director Kenneth Kelleher, Musical Director Richard Marriott and Vocal Director, Allison F. Rich have done a marvelous job in capturing the underbelly of 1930s city streets of Europe, where alliances shift rapidly and the downtrodden have their own code for survival, where you gotta watch your own back.
This absolutely spell binding performance is undoubtedly “not to miss” play of this quarter. Kudos to Artistic Director, Randall King and Executive Director, Cathleen King for bringing such evocative, edgy, intense productions to San Jose Stage. For tickets, go to http://www.thestage.org.