Monday, February 19, 2018

Globe’s “Uncle Vanya” A New Experience For An Old Classic.

If you are/were expecting a different outcome in The Old Globe’s new and updated translation/revival/reconception of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya”, don’t hold your breath.

It still lumbers along with same characters all in their doomsday mindset, pretty much ending where they started, none the better, none the worse for it. What you will experience is the new journey that will ultimately take you to their predestined end.

The Globe’s commissioned world premiere translation of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” by Richard Nelson, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is currently playing on the Sheryl and Harvey White Stage through March 11th. In the directors chair guiding a most talented cast is Nelson, one of the translators. 

The experience begins even before entering the space. Each guest is handed a pair of headphones with a brief explanation on whether to use or not. Will Pickens' unusual sound design, in the theatre in the round, is evident from the start.

A cluster of microphones is suspended over the stage as close to the actors without distracting. Everything they say, every sound made is filtered through those michrophones into speakers that are picked up through the headsets.

I’ll call it sound sensitive or surround sound. It was a perfect match for my ears. It brought the actors into my world and visa versa. I had a feeling of intimacy and was very easy to follow the sounds and voices, as was Pickens’ expectation.

Chekhov’s ‘Vanya’ unfolds as his characters begin to build their common area or kitchen (Jason Ardizzone-West). It is in this setting that will ultimately become the hub in which all the conversation, or lack thereof take place, meals are served, arguments will begin and eventually end or be continued, and romance will be pushed to the limits but never fulfilled.
L to R Jesse Pennington, Celeste Arias, Yvonne Woods, Jay O. Sanders, Roberta Maxwell
 Chekhov’s characters are all lonely, pathetic souls dying of boredom from the sameness and frustrations trapped by their meager existence, melancholy and frustration. They come and go as they have for years following a routine that will soon shake them to their senses, as change is about to come.

Vanya’s niece Sónya (Yvonne Woods), and his mother, Márya (Roberta Maxwell) live on the country estate run by Vanya (Jay O. Sanders) and Sonya, and owned by Vanya’s brother -in -law Alexander Serebryakov (Jon De Vires) an ageing, ailing, self-centered, professor who lives off the sweat of Vanya and Sonya’s labor.

He and his very young, twenty seven year old wife Eléna (Celeste Arias), who will catch the eyes of both Vanya and Astrov, have come back to the estate after running out of funds to remain living in the city. Everything in the orderly household is turned topsy -turvy to accommodate the old man’s whims and Vanya has about had it.
Celeste Arias and Jon DeVries
Eléna is bored and Sónya is exhausted, Márya still idolizes the professor and Sónya’s nanny and now household servant Marìna (Kate Kearney-Patch) still waits on the family.

Into the mix their old friend and long distance neighbor, local doctor and conservationist Astrov (Jesse Pennington) is at the estate to treat Serebryakov’s gout.

Over the course of many visits he falls goggle- eyed over
Eléna much to the chagrin Sónya who has loved him from afar almost all her adult life, and Vanya who tries to get her attention as well, but it falls on deaf ears.

More than anything Vanya, who supported his brother –in- law while living on meager wages for himself and Sónya now considers Serebryakov a charlatan. He demands to know why the old man has returned to the country estate miles from anywhere.
Jay O. Sanders and Yvonne Wood
When Serebryakov finally announces that he wans to sell the estate and live on the monies, Vanya makes it perfectly clear his idea is out of the question. 

Over the years yours truly has seen more than one production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya”. This memorable production will stand out for several reasons not he least of which is the accessibility of the translation, the impeccable sound design and the clarity and definitive movements and directness of bringing the characters to life.   
Jesse Pennington and Jay O. Sanders
Hovering over the family, Jay O. Sanders is a larger than life Vanya. The strength of his character builds in proportion to the severity of his emotions, all at once frustrated and angry at the notion that Serebryakov is willing to sell the estate and the devil may care, to exploding and sending a half filled glass of water sailing out into the audience and then purring at the sight of Eléna.
Celeste Arias with Jay O. Sanders
Celeste Arias’ Eléna is perfect as the childlike and spoiled wife of a finicky and pernickety old man out of touch with anything outside his own creature comforts. Her boredom shows through with her every day concentration on a small bouquet of flowers she arranges to the sly looks and invitation of Astrov’s yearnings.

Jesse Pennington’s Astrov, another conflicted and brooding eccentric vacillating between his love of nature and the land, and his scorn for the human race (“ I’ve aged! And the life here is boring, stupid, squalid…It sucks you in. You are surrounded by misfits.”) is attractive enough to merit the attentions of both Eléna and Sónya but disappointed with his own emptiness and loss.

Pennington’s Astrov is at once a chameleon; charming and attractive, almost childlike in his collection of maps showing the changing landscapes of the countryside, and on a turn smug in his desires for Eléna.  His arrogance toward Sónya speaks to an ignorance that’s difficult to go unnoticed.
Cast of  Globe's "Uncle Vanya" 
Yvonne Woods’ Sónya is a paradigm in the study of goodness. While Vanya may be the head of the household, quite and gentle Sónya is the force that holds the family together. With soft words, never once addressed to her, her simple, kind and always pleasant approach to all matters controversial and disruptive is to keep the peace.

John DeVries Serebryakov disrupts the peace that once was abundant on his estate. He detests being there and if he’s miserable, why not make the rest of the family so as well? DeVries is more than convincing as the pompous professor without any clothes. 

Roberta Maxwell and Kate Kearney-Patch as Vanya’s mother and Sónya’s nanny bring some semblance and routine to the overall picture. Both are seasoned actors and give the production a certain class above and beyond the sameness of the other’s frailties.

Dressed in Susan Hilferty and Mark Koss’ simple costumes and keeping the lights on full focus, Jennifer Tipton’s lighting design serves the production well. And to reiterate, Pickens’ sound design is one to savor.

Hats off to Nelson and his entire crew. This is one ‘Vanya’ you will not want to miss. Two thumbs up!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through March 11th
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619-234-5623
Production Type: Drama
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo: Jim Cox

Friday, February 16, 2018

Playhouse “The Cake” Has Many Layers In Which To Sink Your Teeth.

One might think that a cake, layered, chocolate, Bundt, yellow (white) decorated for a child, or wedding would be well…just a cake.

But a funny thing happened on the way to ordering a wedding cake for Jen (Aubrey Dollar), a white conservative born and bred in North Carolina with conservative values instilled in her core from childhood, and her partner and soon to be wife, Macy (Miriam A. Hyman) a New Yorker, “black, a woman, tall and queer, agnostic, liberal, and judgmental…in a world not designed for me…”

Jen and Macy find themselves in Jen’s small home -town in North Carolina where most everyone is of the same belief system according to the Bible and there is little room for compromise. If it says so in the Bible, and they can quote it chapter and verse, it’s the word: “Hand to God”. But that doesn’t stop Jen from asking Della to make their wedding cake.
Faith Prince as Della in La Jolla Playhouse's "The Cake"
The owner of the bakery, Jen’s deceased mother’s best friend Della (Faith Prince) learns that Jen’s ‘husband’ is a woman when she asks who the husband is, and oops, she has no time on her books to make a wedding cake for them. Subtle babbling excuses pour out as Macy, waiting in the wings, is doing a slow burn. Jen is more accepting at face value and believes Della’s word.

Della has known Jen all her life, thinks of her as a daughter, is torn between her religion and her friendship with Jen’s mother and so the conflict of ‘let them eat cake’ or not from her bakery spills over to the point of putting Jen and Macy’s relationship in danger of falling apart as well.

This is our new normal with a case pending in Colorado. A male couple was refused service at the “Masterpiece Cake Shop” and the couple sued the owners of the bakery.  The case is now before the Supreme Court,  “Masterpiece Cake Shop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission and should be resolved soon. It didn’t help that Trump already weighed in and favors the bakery owners citing first amendments rights.  

But no matter, the play premiered in 2017 when it was announced the Supreme Court would hear the case.  Such is the state of our union. “The Cake”, demonstrability directed by Casey Stangl, is playing on the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Stage through March 4th.

Playwright Bekah Brunstetter’s “The Cake” is and isn’t based on this particular incident according to an interview with the playwright in the Playbill; rather it’s a combination of her love of baking and something ‘human and universal and not divisive.’

BB: “The idea of writing a play about such controversial and polarizing issue as gay marriage, but under the umbrella of cake, was really exciting to me.” 

Sometimes it’s hard to get out of our own way; it is divisive

Adding to this gay induced conflict, Della is enrolled in the ‘Great American Baking Show”, one of her favorite TV Shows.  In her interviews (as time stands still with lighting designer Elizabeth Harper’s red lights flashing) with George (Jeffrey Howard Ingman), her steadfast insistence on following the rules in baking cakes combined with teachings of the Bible (“you are not to sleep with man as a woman”) invites her subconscious voice into her own conflict to speak her truth. 

 Set designer David S.Weiner’s scrumptious looking cake lined cases (beautiful enough to make my salivary glands work overtime) along with an earnest and convincing cast, dressed by Denitsa Bliznakova, pushed me past the point of my annoyance in the preachy dialogue that allows me to put a plus mark in the oft times funny and oft times humanly possible columns of Brunstetter’s play.

Bouncy and spirited Faith Prince leads the charge with her overly enthusiastic convictions of the right way to bake and frost a cake as she takes us on a tour of her celebrity bakery. Her southern accent is spot on (Eva Barnes).

When called upon to reveal her hidden most secrets she has our undivided attention and when she appeals to her husband describing her loneliness, one’s heart can break.

The playwright’s need to off set that tenderness with two off the wall and kooky (that’s not cookie) actions on Della and Tim’s behalf is an unnecessary diversion.(Think spreading cake frosting on ones body and covering your private parts with mashed potato's.) 

Wayne Duvall’s Tim is as honest a broker as he can be. If Della listens to her husband Tim’s dogma there’s nothing to decide; the answer is “NO”. He doesn’t waver in his unforgiving behaviors that are oft times obnoxious, oft time brutally honest yet having enough of an emotional swing to let his hair down and convince us and Della the why of his keeping her at arms lengths. It’s heartfelt and authentic.
Miriam A. Hyman and Aubrey Dollar 
As one not so interested in the items in the case as she is in the mindset of Della, Miriam A. Hyman’s Macy is on target as the alpha female, over confident and pulling no punches in her assessment of hers and Jens relationship that a trip to North Carolina was fraught with danger on several levels.

Assuming that theirs was a loving and caring relationship in Brooklyn that would be sustained in the south, she went along with Jen’s dream of getting married in her North Carolina surroundings, but with caution. Her intuitions and red flags against this decision proved to be born out as soon as Della checked her date book. 

Aubrey Dollar’s soft spoken with understanding southern charm, Jen is the mystery woman secure in her life up north who, for some reason thought things had changed in her home- town just because she knew everyone. Once there, she came face to face with her old self.

The idea of not sleeping in the same bed or room with Macy, because they were not married yet, and the family they were staying with would know, is simply outrageous. Strange things happen when we revert back to our childhood teachings.

The issue of gay rights has taken on a rather nasty tone with this current administration. Issues that were becoming non- issues have suddenly been taken out of perspective as witnessed in the above- mentioned lawsuit; and there are other sightings.

But from the mouths of babes we will move forward. The following is an essay my nine year old grandson wrote on “Equality” :

See you at the theatre

Dates: Through March 4th
Organization: La Jolla Playhouse
Phone: 858-550-1010
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 2910 La Jolla Village Dr. La Jolla, CA 92037
Ticket Prices: Start at $20.
Venue: Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre
Photo: Jim Carmody

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

From Greek Mythology To North Orange, New Jersey Moxie’s “Bliss” (or Emily Post is Dead) A Must See.

 Raise your hands if you remember Emily Post and her sister Abby van Buren. 

You’ll have to get up early in the morning for this one.

Emily Post and Abby van Buren were sisters whose advice appeared in the newspapers columns (remember them) on a daily basis.

Advice was sought on just about everything from how to cook/bake certain specialty dishes for company, to how to serve them (what sized dishes), to how to stop interfering mother’s in law from wrecking a marriage, to how to stop a marriage from failing, to cheating husbands to disciplining children to how often to have sex.   

Most advice dated back to the dark ages where women belonged in the kitchen and men brought home the bacon. Goodbye Emily, hello #me too. Welcome to the 21st century.  

In 1940 Emily’s syndicated column, “Social Problems” ‘appeared in hundreds of newspapers across the country. At her peak she received more than 5000 letters a week. She died in 1960 but copies of her books on “Etiquette” still line the shelves of bookstores.  

Our play “Bliss” or Emily Post Is Dead is set in 1960.

In Moxie Theatre’s co-production with Moving Arts at Atwater Village Theatre, Los Angeles in their world premiere “Bliss or Emily Post Is Dead” by Jami Brandli, now playing here through Feb.25th, three suburban New Jersey housewives live on every word Emily Post writes. “Dear Mrs. Post”.
Lydia Lea Real, Morgan Carberry, Taylor Linekin and Alexandra Slade
It’s almost their salvation for venting what women are now living through to this day; abuse both physical or emotional by their spouses, living up to expectations, playing second fiddle and being seen but not heard. And that’s just the beginning.

These are not just your everyday humdrum suburban housewives. They, just as the reality television show ‘The Real Housewives Housewife’s of Beverly Hills’ (or the likes of which) are composites. Brandli’s women are reincarnates, more or less of the their Greek counterparts.

The playwright compares them and their plights to the mythical Greek women the likes of Clytemnestra, Media, and Antigone, all tragic figures. Like women of today, some in powerful positions, some not so much, subjugation and abuse of the ‘weaker sex’ is not now, was not then and most likely will not be in the years to come, a new phenomenon. Why not then go back to the Greeks of today and see how they handled their situations in a modern setting?

If you feel the need to brush up on your Greek Mythology go for it. The playwright’s uncanny comparisons are a direct hit but it’s not necessary to know all the history behind each of the characters.
Morgan Carberry and Steve Froehlich
Yours truly was comfortable knowing sketchy details some (few) innuendos and comparisons to Greek Mythology, although in my long ago memory I did study it in College. That said I was thoroughly entertained at face value at this dark comedy cannily directed by founder and former artistic director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg with assist from Hannah Logan.  

Here’s the setup:

Two of the real housewives of North Orange, New Jersey, Clementine (Morgan Carberry) and Maddy, (Lydia Lea Real) are shown in the cutaway pieces of their homes highlighted in subdued sky blues and eye popping chartreuse or lime green, touches of tangerine and sunshine yellow, (Victoria Petrovich) and have husband issues. They are among the oppressed and mentally abused. It’s always the silent treatment or the away factor that give way to suspicion. Both husbands make themselves scarce to their respective families by coming home from 'the office' late or just on business trips. 
(L) Taylor Linekin and Lydia Lea Real
Carberry is sharp, stinging and unforgiving in her portrayal of Clementine the unhappy in life in her housewife role. Her romantic tryst with her widower doctor, Dr. Smith (Steve Froehlich), is only one symptom of her having a little more say so over this relationship than she does in her marriage at home.

Lidia Lea Real’s Maddy/ Medea role is as funny to watch play out as it is tragic in its entirety. Needing to fit in is as much a part of her DNA as baking the perfect crumpet. As a transplant from her native Hawaii she struggles to be more than she is.

Her revenge on her cheating husband turns tragic, and as history will attest, it all comes crashing down when she finally gets her crumpet recipe right.  Real captures her Medea perfectly as the typical June Cleaver (of “Father Knows Best”) of the women and guess how that turned out?

The one and stymieing outlet they all share is writing to Emily Post, whose advice goes back to Victorian days. Their other outlet is the back and forth transport of ‘mother’s little helper pill’ they get from Dr. Smith, Clementine’s par amour. The exchange is done by hiding the pills in the zipper compartment of a Hoover Vacuum that also contains the dust gathered from vacuuming.

Antonia (Taylor Linekin), whose bedroom is also in view, (she’s in pink) is a teenager being held hostage by a domineering, think tyrant, uncle who beats her and chains her to her bed because she wants to go the school prom with a young man who is socially unacceptable (think black).
Taylor Linekin
She’s the only one of the three that’s forward thinking. She wants to march for civil rights; in other words she’s the liberated one. Teenager Antonia battered by her uncle, escapes and follows her dream by marching with the protesters in the deep -south. Taylor Linekin, a senior acting student at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, she’s off to a grand start.

Then there’s Cassandra (Alexandra Slade) the single working girl who arrives in town and is brought to tea at Clementine’s: “Just as Mrs. Post suggests in Chapter 23.”  Maddy: (“Did your uncle hire a maid?”)

It seems Cassandra came with a new business Clementine’s husband recently acquired and ergo  “she is a working, liberated, African American and when not being summoned by Apollo (Steve Froehlich dressed in loin cloth and looking virile, fit and yummy) to love him, tries to give the other’s a chance to change the course of their history. But bummer, they don’t listen or believe.
Alexandra Slade and Morgan Carberry
Slade’s eyes are the key to knowing when Apollo sends for her, they pop open and stare. It’s either bizarre looking or you can feel drawn into them. In any event you know there is a change in the direction the conversation will be going and Slade has it down to a science.

The production and surrounds make some powerful and entertaining statements. Each of the women, strong and committed, are true to their own character as they play out their frustration that will ultimately end in disaster.

Shelly Williams point on costumes also define the personalities of the women: straight lined slim dresses for Clementine, flowing prints for Maddy, black and white saddle shoes, pink bow and assorted 60’s dresses for Antonia and the same 60's attire for Cassandra.
Alexandra Slade
Christina J. Martin’s bright lighting helps rev up the spotlight on each character and Missy Bradstreet’s wigs are 60’s lookers as Matt Lescault-Wood’s period music completes the picture.

Who knows when the next revelation of spousal and or workplace abuse will hit the fans? Just know that it will and no amount of predictions from Cassandra will fix the problem until it’s addressed from the top of our elected officials, to Moral Values groups, to church leaders and of course to believing the victims.

“Bliss” comes with a heavy -duty workload traveling from Olympus to North Orange, New Jersey and loaded with pay dirt. 

Another two thumbs up production.


See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb. 28th
Organization: Moxie Theatre
Phone: 858-598-7620
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Ste. N
Ticket Prices: $33.00
Photo: Kari Cadel Photography