Friday, May 31, 2019

Hamill's “Pride And Prejudice" Tickles The Funny Bone At Cygnet Theatre

If you are on the hunt for a serious discussion of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” you won’t find it at Cygnet Theatre. What you will find is a hilariously funny and new adaptation of her work; a spin, a spoof on her 1813 romantic novel of the same name, with the same characters but tweaked to tickle your funny bone.

Kate Hamill wrote this particular version in 2017, and under Rob Lutfy’s deft direction, Michael Mizerany’s fast and furious choreography in just moving the players around, and a cast molded in the Bennett ‘pride’, prejudice seeps out from every seam; those designed by Shirley Pierson.  
Michelle Marie Trester (Joy Yvonne Jones (background) Jacque Wilke, Kevin Hafso- Koppman and Shana Wride as Mrs. Bennett
Elizabeth Bennett (Oh Shana Wride could you be any funnier?) is blessed with five daughters of marriageable age. Her goal is to marry them off, one by one. But as you know things usually happen in three’s but not necessarily in the order of birth when it comes to the matters of the heart and oft times they happen at the same time.    

Separating the wheat from the chaff one might be helped along by having some knowledge of the plot line and of Austen’s writings that include “Pride and Prejudice”, “Sense and Sensibility”, “Emma”.

Social commentaries all, they deal with the upper class landed gentry folks and on the other side of the coin, those in need to gain that status by marrying off their daughters to eligible bachelors in those families. Hamill hits hard at the heart of title “Pride and Prejudice”, while set designer Sean Fanning has the play mounted in a gold picture frame with the words “Sense and Sensibilities” in neon (Chris Rynne’s lighting design) letters in a turn about that’s fair play.

Mrs. Bennett is one of those convinced that her daughter’s happiness depends on a wealthy suitor/husband. Unfortunately, the Bennett’s have no dowry’s for their girls and are living on borrowed time on property belonging to clergyman Mr. William Collins, (Jake Millgard) a distant cousin to Mr. Bennett (Adrian Alita), who upon the death of Mr. Bennett, can reclaim the land and the house upon which it sits; and then what?
Jacque Wilke and Steven Lone
 The focus of Mrs. Bennett’s attention is Lizzy, (Jacque Wilke) whose obstinacy provokes her mother to the point of distraction. “Smiles! Smiles! Do attempt to look agreeable, Lizzy, this may be your last chance.” Lizzy has other distractions as well in the form of Mr. Darcy (an excellently cast petulant Steven Lone) a wealthy bachelor, about as cynical as she in her beliefs on marriage.

The two of them make up better part of their own pride and prejudice selves when they get together.   D: “All these vulgar country mothers, pushing their daughters at one like choice cows at a meat market! I loathe strange company, I detest dancing, and I have no desire to give a thrill to some awkward, desperate spinster”  
It doesn’t get much better than that until it does, but in the meantime, while the two are bantering and butting up against each other and playing head games while slowly changing their tunes, there’s lots going on in and around the Bennett’s household as other’s are involved in getting- or not- their own selves situated in some kind of wedded bliss.
The story is still there but it’s hidden in the undercurrent of the changing dynamics and changing character’s. Even the music skips to a modern vibe with the likes of  “Material Girl”, “Time After Time” “Jump”, and Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”  Sound designer and award winning Melanie Chen Cole sets that up but don’t tell daughter Mary (Hafso-Koppman), who sits at the piano and looks like she is in fact playing.
(Lto R) Shana Wride, Kevin Hafso-Koppman, Joy Yvonne Jones, Michelle Marie Trester and Jacque Wilke
Oft times one character will show up in another costume another wig (Peter Herman) as another character, or revert back to his/her original and all in plain sight, as set designer Fanning’s open design with shelves stacked with knickknacks, props and an open passageway easy to watch the actors slip in and out of character. It’s is quite a fete as the changes are so rapid. From my vantage point, I was fascinated.   One that is so over the top funny and then serious is Kevin Hafso-Koppman playing the awkward and out of control daughter Mary coughing, wheezing, playful and just plain popping up everywhere and then we see her/him courting Jane as a gentle and most respectful, no, devoted suitor, Mr. Bingley, Darcy’s best friend.   
Lutfy, whose work at Cygnet has his own brand, is to be complimented for having the right instincts with the perfect crew/ensemble molding together the perfect staging of his odd ball spoof in a way that it almost makes sense before our sensibilities are able to kick in.

One might assume Hamill’s contemporary stage adaptation is probably the ire of Austen’s devotees, but from this reviewer’s point of view, I say, “Bring it on.” I had a delightful time watching with a Jane Austen devotee, my daughter, who to my surprise laughed along with me.
(L To R) Joy Yvonne Jones, Kevin Hafso-Koppman, Adrian Alita, Shana Wride and Jacque Wilke
As for the rest of Lutfy’s cast, one has to admire them in their entirety for their fast turnaround/double dipping, cross- dressing and   changes in costume as well as character. Some touched on a dual or triple change. The lovely Joy Yvonne Jones plays the Bennett’s eldest daughter Jane with dignity befitting a well -mannered young woman that Austen would was proud to call present.

Jacque Wilke, Jake Millgard and Adrian Alita 
Michelle Marie Trester is the defiant, strong willed and youngest daughter Lydia who goes off on her own to find her true love who just happens to be Jake Millgard’s George Wickam a military cadet. He also plays Miss Bingley a Darcy admirer and Collins. Trester also takes a turn at being Lady Catherine who has eyes out for her daughter Ann (Joy Yvonne Jones) to wed Darcy.

And coming back to that nod to Shana Wride, (“no one wants to die alone.”) the Bennett cheerleader (“balls, balls balls”! I simply can’t get enough of ‘em!”) Is the object of perfection with comic timing fit to a tee is just plain funny in her role as mother and doomsday wife always nagging the impenetrable and solid Mr. Bennett, whose head is constantly buried in a newspaper (The San Diego Union?)

In a world turned upside down where almost anything goes and women are still marching for their independence and control over their own bodies and reproductive rights, Austen and Hamill give voice to strong women in the male dominated world of the early 19th up to and including present day, and show us that women are capable of making our own decisions on what’s right for us.     
(L to R) Michelle Marie Tester, with Jake Millgard, Jacque Wilke and StevenLone, Kevin Hafso-Koppman and Joy Yvonne Jones
Lizzy: "I have been rethinking - regretting - some... expressions"- and as the Bard says, ‘all’s well that ends well’ until…

Cygnet Theatre is closing out its final show of its sixteenth season. It’s been eclectic and from this reviewers point of view hit and miss, but true to its mission: of being fearlessly committed to the dissection, examination and celebration of the human story through the medium of live theatre. That it is!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through June 16th
Organization: Cygnet Theatre
Phone: 619-337-1525
Production Type: Spoof/Comedy
Where: 4040 Twiggs Street, Old Town
Ticket Prices: Start at $25.00
Venue: Theatre in Old Town
Photo: Karli Cadel Photography

Thursday, May 30, 2019

“Fiddler” Revival Returns To Civic Theatre, Warts And All.

One never wants to miss a production “Fiddler On The Roof” and this latest touring show at San Diego’s Civic Theatre is no exception.

In Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, Joseph Stein’s 1964  “Fiddler On The Roof”, the milkman Tevye asks his wife Golde (Maite Weyn), “Do you love me?” She answers, “Do I love you…for twenty five years I’ve lived with him, Fought with him, starved with him, Twenty-five my bed is his, If that’s not love, what is?” Love comes in all forms, and yours truly, loves a good "Fiddler"

Block’s winning score includes “If I Were a Rich Man”, “Far From the Home I Love”, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”, Chavelah (that one breaks my heart every time I hear it), “Sunrise, Sunset” (another tearjerker), “To Life”, “Miracle of Miracles”, and of course “Tradition”.
Yehezkel Lazarov, With Jonathan Von Mering (center) Celebrating the announcement of his daughters marriage  to Lazer Wolf.

The 2015 revival on Broadway with direction by one of San Diego’s finest (1980’s) Bartlett Sher that won rave reviews is on National Tour once again. The story captures the lives, trials and times of the people in the little village of Anatevka just before and at the beginning of the pogroms in Russia in the early 1900’s and is used as the backdrop for our story.

Yehezkle Lazaroe "If I were a Rich Man"
How Tevye (Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarow) copes with the struggles of feeding his family, to keeping them together in their faith (he talks to God) while adhering to the Jewish traditions of his ancestors in an ever-changing world, challenges the struggling milkman to the point that one more change in his life, one more bending the rules, one more break in tradition would tip the scales and throw that tradition-good or bad- out the window.

Even today as we speak, much of what we see in the backgrounds of every pious Tevye is played out in many homes where religious tradition is still followed to the last detail, up to and including the ultra religious that live in their shtles or communities in areas of New York, and if you happen to ever visit Israel you might want to take a trip back to those days and visit Me’a She’arim.   

From the very first “Tradition” sung by Lazarov (who has a wonderful voice) to the last soulful Anatevka with the entire cast/town including the fiddler, Paul Morland, to leaving their beloved homes by decree of the Czar, to leaving Anatevka with three days notice, Sher’s production has all the ingredients of making this “Fiddler” a memorable one for those having never seen it before. For those “Fiddler” addicts, this one reviewer was somewhat disappointed on a few fronts. More on that later.
Natalie Powers, Mel Weyn and Ruthy Froch
Tevye has five daughters but the story highlights his three eldest, Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava (Mel Weyn, Ruthy Froch and Natalie Powers.) Of their love interests, Motel, the Tailor Motel Cam Zoil (Jessie Weil) excels. (“Miracle of Miracles”) He’s low keyed but engaging and loveable (at least from a mother’s point of view.)

Perchik (Ryne Nardecchia) the radical thinker ends up in a jail cell in Siberia and is followed by his love, Holel (“Far From The Home I Love”). It took a while for me to warm up to Nardecchia's Perchick when he first came on the scene. He doesn’t exactly endear himself to you from the start but comes through in aces.

The rebel in the family that causes Tevye and Golde grief is Chava’s Russian love interest Fyedka the young student sharing books with the liberated Chava. ( Joshua Logan Alexander not fitting the bill is  aloof and badly cast. I would call his performance as phoning in his part.) But nothing can compare to the heartbreaking (“Chavelah”) lament after she and Fyedka elope breaking Tevye’s heart in this last bit of change, in an ever -changing world.
Bottle Dancers
Maite Uzal’s Golda is just what the doctor ordered for this role; always the nagger and doubter and one holding the family together, Uzal gives us a softer and more endearing mother figure while keeping things between Tevye and his offspring at an even temper. 

And then there’s Yente (Carol Beaguard) the matchmaker. She (Yente) always tickles my funny bone as the downtrodden widow making matches (with what material she has in the closed off Anatevka) and sad sack appraisal of her own life. Beauguard fits the character from beginning to end.
Olivia Gjurich, Fruma Sara, Lazer Wolf's first wife come back from the dead.
 In what should be one of the funniest scenes, “The Dream”, Tevye has to convince Golde that their eldest Tzeitel, who was promised to Lazar Wolf, the butcher, (an unconvincing Jonathan Von Mering) is now going to marry Motel, the Tailor.

Under The Canopy
In order to do that Tevye has to convince Golda that in his dream her grandmother Tzeitle came back convinced that her great granddaughter Tzeitel was marrying Motel not Lazer Wolf.  (“A Blessing On Your House, Mazel Tov”). The company pulls that one off assisted with great lighting Donald Holder. 

Jerome Robbins’ choreography recreated by Christopher Evans and enhanced here by Hofesh Schecter brought some new moves at the “Wedding Dance” where we saw The Bottle Dancers (wonderful), and during the announcement of Tzietle’s marriage to Lazer Wolf  “To Life “ in the local drinking establishment, local peasants danced with the Jewish men in hora, and Slovic folk dances. All was festive until it wasn’t.  
The Wedding Scene with Jessie Weil and Mel Weyn as the newly weds.
Ted Sperling conducted with attention to content within the meaning of the songs, softening most of the traditional waltz in “Matchmaker”, and especially the love duet by Golda and Tevye. “Do You Love Me”?

Whatever was costume designer Catherine Zuber thinking when she outfitted all the boys in Tzitzit or small (katan) prayer shawl worn under their clothes with just the fringes showing, hanging almost to their knees and some without the fringes? My theatre buddy thought they were aprons. Not to beat a dying horse but Fyedka’s look, so far from the traditional styles everyone else wore, did not pass muster either.

And on my soapbox for the last time: “Fiddler”, while having some pretty funny moments of dialogue (Joseph Stein), is not a comedy. When Lazarow plays it hamming it up like he is in stand up comedy, with hand and face gestures, it does not enhance but takes away from the mood each of his off -handed movements suggests.
The Cast of Fiddler
Hamming up the role of Tevye (the woman in the row in back of me, as were others, laughed out loud throughout the production at his little shticks) is un-deserving to all the Tevye’s in the world who value family and tradition. Tradition, while seemingly old fashioned and perhaps out of date, is no laughing matter.

Imagine if all those living in all the Anatevka’s around Russia (or you fill in the blanks) now had to leave and come to America today, as many did then, what would have been their fate? Bigotry anti-Semitism, ignorance and hatred for ‘the other’ have no place for decency in the way we treat our fellow human beings.

Cast of Fiddler
For a musical that’s been around fifty-five years and still tugs at the heartstrings, is as current in today as it was in the 1900's and can boast seventeen proven to be recognizable musical numbers, still says volumes.


See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through June 2nd
Organization: Broadway/San Diego
Phone: 619-570-1100
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1100 Third Ave, downtown San Diego, 92101
Ticket Prices: Start at $22.00
Venue: Civic Theatre
Photo: Joan Marcus

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

“The Old Man And The Old Moon” Charms and Delights At Coronado Playhouse.

“The Old Man And The Old Moon” currently on stage at Coronado Playhouse through June 16th is a saga (“Once upon a time.”) that starts off innocently enough with an old man (Jacob Sampson) slowly climbing a ladder to the moon to refill it with liquid light, as there is a leak in the moon. He is the sole caretaker of the moon. If left unattended, well you guessed it darkness falls. When he comes down from his ladder, his wife (Kira Blaskovich) wants some help in the kitchen with dinner.

But the issue for her isn’t just dinner. She wants to go out for a stroll, a change in scenery, anything different. She’s tired of staying home all the time after years of marriage and being tied to the house. Both have forgotten what it was like when they first met and fell in love. That and an old tune that keeps playing in her head, has them curious enough to follow its origins.  
Cast of The Old Man and The Old Moon
When the old man makes excuses not to leave the house, (“he worked all day”) she leaves on her own in a boat no less, to who knew where (?) never telling her husband that she was leaving or where she was going.

The next morning when he awakens and she is nowhere to be found, he panics because he can’t fathom the idea of losing her. He drops everything and starts off on his own epic journey/odyssey around the moon and back to find her. What he encounters on this journey is a stretch of the imagination that touches on loss, memory and renewed faith in human kind. It’s all that and more.
PigPen Theatre Co’s “The Old Man and The Old Moon” tells it all. This is not ‘show and tell’. Nope, this is an epic yarn that seems to not have a beginning (“You see, most stories have a start and an end, so that you can put a hand on either side and carry it with you when it’s done. But this story don’t have a start nor an end, it’s hard to carry.  This is a story that’s endless and once you’ve heard it, you’re all wrapped up in it and its bound to carry you…”) and wanders into a sea of uncertainty; a no man’s island for the sake of a good story. 

The company ‘began creating their own unique brand of theatre, music, and film as freshmen in college, all seven. They studied at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama in 2007’.

Along with the tight and excellent ensemble and all who collaborated on the story and in particular, in this current production, it’s a yarn that has a way of tugging at your heartstrings. This is the second time out for this tall tale having made it’s West Coast Premiere about two years ago at the Old Globe Theatre and well worth seeing again or for the first time.

Jacob Sampson as THe Old Man
Now in a charming, delightful and appealing production and with director Desha Crownover’ at the helm,  “The Old Man And The Old Moon” is situated in a perfect spot in the compact Coronado Playhouse where it is being givin a timeless outing.

With visuals by Jacob Sampson’s scenic design of wooden boxes piled strategically as stairs, a stairway on either side of the stage, wooden planks and wooden platform, handwritten signs to signify places, canvas sheets stretched over wooden planks to allow for a bit of puppetry (Joe Fitzpatrick) a -la shadow screening, a rag mop atop a broomstick with plastic bottles morphs into a dog (shaggy dog?) and a cast of seven dressed in an eclectic collection of coveralls, overalls, wigs, head coverings, (Lisa Samson), we’re off and running.   

 Harrison Lang's live sound mixer, and Chad Oakley’s lighting design, and  actors playing multiple roles and a variety of instruments including guitars, harmonica, bottles, banjo, piano, drums and accordion, enter on to the stage, and the story begins.
Jacob Sampson and Kira Blaskovich
Music director Ian Brandon starts us off with Celtic folklore “Songs From The Stone”, and again when we leave “Old Man and Old Woman’s Theme” with about 15 to 20 musical numbers in between. The sound effects, written into the script emphasize the romance angle and  heighten the color of the mood or foreseeing impeding danger. The music is not necessarily main the focus but with a multi-talented group of musicians, yes, it's important.

The saga does wander a bit but manages to get back to basics and happy endings after all is said and done. Originally staged as a one act 90 -minute journey of self-discovery, there was one15 minute interlude in this particular production.   

On his journey
As the old man, Sampson is on a path that takes him places he never imagined, farther and farther away from his security as the ‘moon man’. He becomes a war hero, a navigator and comes face to face with surprises that test credulity all in an effort to find his wife and hear that melody that started the whole journey.

Sampson is pleasingly mellow, low keyed and consistently in character as the one constant. The rest of the crew/ensemble that take on the rest of the characters, come and go, set up scenes, arrange the sheets for sails, shadow puppets, and or play an instrument. This all happens seamlessly and without notice. They work together like a well -oiled machine.

Overall it might look like a work in progress, with lots of activity going on at the same time, but you shouldn’t be surprised that organized chaos is the best part of the this show. It works.
Heather Barton Tjalma and Dani Balmat
Hats off to musicians Emily Nuthall- Acoustic Guitar, Dani Balmart-Acoustic Guitar and Banjo, Joe Kao-Keyboard, Accordian, Russell Clements, Keyboard-Kira Blashovich and Santiago Valencia- Northrop on Percussion.


See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through June 16th
Organization: Coronado Playhouse
Phone: 619-435-4856
Production Type: Folk Lore
Where: 1835 Strand Way, Coronado, CA 92118
Ticket Prices: Start at $12.50
Venue: Coronado Playhouse
Photo: Ken Jacques