Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Garden Romp “As You Like It” Opens Lowell Davies Festival Season

Boy loves girl, loves boy, loves girl. We're back at the Festival Stage for the beginning of the opening summer production of William Shakespeare’s garden romp “As You Like It”.

Similar to the Bard’s other fluffier almost benign comedies, “All’s Well The Ends Well” and “Much Ado About Nothing”, “As You Like It” will please those looking for an evening of ‘lite’ Shakespeare under the stars.
Mark H. Dold as Jacques, Cornell Womack as Duke Senior, and cast 
Shakespeare is the master of setting up his defense of sibling rivalry, cross- dressing and disguises and riddles, in order to set the ‘stage’ for all of the above. This one alas is no different. Brothers Orlando (Jon Orsini) and Oliver (Aubrey Deeker Hernandez) are at odds with each other. Oliver wants Orlando out of the way so he alone will have what he thinks is rightfully his. Before that there was the same rivalry between brothers Duke Senior and Duke Frederick.

Oliver arranges a wrestling match, as the evening’s entertainment, with the muscular Ramon Burris as the champ, Charles. The idea is to rid his brother as well as amuse the guests, and the hit is on. Looking at the two, with slight of build Orlando and the burley Charles, it would be hard to imagine Orlando coming out on top.

Suffice to say Orlando wins the match (credit flight director Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum for a beautifully choreographed fight) and with that is banished from the court by the sinister Duke Frederick.
Meredith Garretson, Nikki Massoud and Aubrey Deeker Hernandez as Oliver
 Rosalind (beautiful, teasing and charming Meredith Garretson) who defends and cheers Orlando is banished from the very same court that her father, Senior Duke, who received the same treatment by bad seed brother Duke Frederick in an earlier sibling rivalry war of the Dukes, was also banished from his Duchy. As opposites will have it, brother’s Oliver and Orlando and Senior Duke and Duke Frederick, create havoc in the court and discontent in the family.

Rosalind takes the banishment in stride and readies for the long trek to the forest. She might also have ulterior motives to break from the court and become an independent woman but in the process finds Orlando again. Her interest in this attractive young man is more than a passing fancy; she is smitten as in love at first sight.

With the clown Touchstone (Vincent Randanzzo) and coins in tow, Rosalind and her best friend and cousin, daughter of Duke Frederick, Celia (Nikki Massoud) head off in disguise to the forest where love, it seems, is in bloom and “all the world’s a stage” and “all men and women are merely players.”
Meredith Garretsonand Jon Orsini
Here the story plays out in this wonderful Forest of Arden where Orlando is desperately seeking Rosalind who now calls herself Ganymede. She plays cat and mouse with Orlando as she struts about like a man but swoons and faints like a lovesick babe. The dwellers sing, dance and frolic.

Obadiah Evans’ original music (Shakespeare’s lyrics) strummed effectively on her guitar as minstrel Amiens (Summer Broyhill) gives a nice lift and easy air to this production directed with an eye to the lighter side by Jessica Stone who sets the time line in 18th century France where David Israel Reynoso’s period costumes are picture perfect.
Meredith Garretson as Ganymede, Jon Orsini and Nikki Massour
As the refugees from the court show up in numbers schlepping one thing or another all are welcome and accepted, fed, while food is scare, and cared for and friends are easily made and life is a song. It is here that the cynical, melancholy and depressed, Jacques (Mark H. Dold) recites his “all the world’s a stage”, and “seven stages of man” where it is echoed in unison and with delight by the wonderful ensemble of forest dwellers.

In another of the more touching scenes young Orlando carries the near exhausted and worn out Adam (Joseph Kamal), a servant in Orlando’s home, into the colony in his arms like a sick child.
Vincent Randazzo as Touchstone and Yadira Correa as Audrey
Cornell Womack is a calming yet resonant voice in the crowd as Duke Senior, Rosalind’s father who is there in the forest to meet them while the other brother, punitive and treacherous Duke Frederick (played by the same Cornell Womack who creates two different personalities) back at his Estate, is not very happy about the goings on in the garden.   

It’s all very pat, no one doubting the ending of this romantic comedy but getting there, a bit over two hours, brings out some fine acting by the entire cast and some slight of hand scenes with scenic director’s (Tobin Ost’s) giant pastoral picture that takes up a deal of space in the both background and foreground. With lighting by Stephen Strawbridge the pastoral scene becomes a scrim in which we see Frederick in the court with his followers expressing his discontent.  Nice touch! 

Charm and love fill the air with Garretson’s reading of Rosalind, Mossoud’s playful Celia, Dold’s serio/comic, misery laden Jacques, handsome and wanting Orsini’s Orlando, Kamal’s sage Adam, Randazzo’s silly Touchstone, Rosenbaum’s heavy hitting wrestling match and Jessica Stone’s eye for romance and finally, pageantry are all inclusive.   
Meredith Garretson and Nikki Massoud
And as for the women in the audience take heed from Rosalind: like those in the forest who have experienced the enchanted land and learned that the roles played by men and women are interchangeable and when they return to the familiar place they left behind, make it a more caring place. Amen!
Cast of "As You Like It"
See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through July 11th
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619-231-1941
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA
Ticket Price: Start at $30.00
Venue: Lowell Davies Festival Stage
Photo: Jim Cox

Saturday, June 15, 2019

“What You Are”: The Truth On Our Fast Changing World.

In this fast changing world, who you are can be as complex as what you are in the stories told in JC Lee’s newly commissioned play “What You Are” now up and running on the Sheryl and Harvey White Stage through June 30th.

For most of us, as the world turns, we tend to go with the flow. But if it keeps turning in ways that sweep us under the rug and we become invisible, we wake up one morning and find there is no place left to go.
Omoze Idehenre
Don:  “It’s hard to not know what’s alright to say one day isn’t the next, that you’re a bigot because you don’t think transsexuals should go in any bathroom they want, or that the joke you used to tell isn’t okay anymore. It piles up. One thing after another until you’re so goddamned confused and frustrated you feel like your head’s gonna explode.”
If that sounds like something you might have heard recently, imagine how Don (Jonathan Walker) felt when everything he held dear, or thought was true almost all his life, was erased with the swipe of a broad brush stroke when he went to interview for a new job.  
Fifty- something year old Don was raised and grew up on his family farm in a small Nevada town. The farm and the town have gone to seed and by buying up all the unused property, the new kids on the block build algorithms to capture mass markets. Don does odd jobs and deliveries; some work for the new company now occupying space next to where his ranch once was.

The start up already had 365,000 subscribers when Don applied for a job. While trying to learn how to use his cell phone to further enhance his productivity, he learns from his new young boss, Hector (Adrian Anchondo) that so far his ratings are only a four on a scale of five stars. It’s at this juncture that a war of words, misunderstandings and hostility turns into world war three.

Jonathan Walker and Adrian Anchondo
Don and Hector come from opposite ends of the population spectrum; one an old white man who never had to do anything to prove himself because his country catered to white men like himself, the other, a young Latinx who graduated summa cum laude from Stanford and had to prove himself all his life.

Hector sees in his conversations with Don coded words and “racist bullshit” when he thinks Don expects entitlements. “I deserve better than that than to have a math problem tell you what I’m worth. I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve watched you guys turn this place …whatever it is…”

“I’m sorry, Don, the whole point of what I do is to intentionally upend the world run by people like you who think by virtue of their privilege, everything ought to be theirs.”  If he sounds like a prick, well he is, but that’s for later.

When Don returns home after being let go for a number of reasons, not the least being that in a frustrating temper -tantrum, he crashed Hector’s glass desk to smithereens with the one chair in the office, his daughter, Katie (Jasmine Savoy Brown) and wife Sigourney (OmozĂ© Idehenre) are speechless after they hear his story. Both are supportive, but for different reasons.  

The Old Globe commissioned Lee who also writes for TV, theatre and film. In a Playbill interview the playwright commented on how his father’s job was eliminated because of the economy. That, and a speech he heard by then candidate Donald Trump at the Republican Convention when he tried to understand the candidates appeal. Lees father was completely devastated; “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my life now.”

Adrian Anchondo and Jasmin Savoy Brown
To say that Lee’s play touches on every aspect of the economic, racial, political, tribal, age, and patriotism variety would be an understatement. Hector sees Don as a conservative and racially bias old white man without knowing he has been married to Sigourney, an African-American for over thirty years. He has a biracial daughter Katie about the age of Hector. Along the way she proves herself to be a perfect foil against Hector’s own racially and politically charged attitudes. As one who knows, she sees right through him.  

In a series of short scenes we find both Sigourney, who has some back problems, and Katie who put off going to college to care for her mother, going to bat for their husband/father. Sigourney brings beautiful pie as a peace offering and Katie offers a piece of herself and then something else that will help Don and devastate Hector. And so it goes.

Don hooks up with his old time buddy Randy (Mike Sears) who adds to the good old boys chit chat about the changing tides and how his son came out to him and how he keeps referring to a-gay, not quite understanding the whole thing. But it’s the trust and understanding the men have in common that’s missing in today’s world of iPhones, iPads, television ("His TV is bigger than my double bed") and the Alt right radio stations that cement their friendship. Randy is a bit softer and less affected by the change, Mike Sears’s natural way convinces.

Mike Sears and Jonathan Walker
Lee might make Don look like the die was cast for the Trump loyalists, feeling left out of the American dream, but Hector is something else. Lets just say he is not who he shows up to be. As politically correct as he might think he is, he is the complete opposite. He’s arrogant, hateful, revengeful, out of touch, and just plain mean spirited.

On some level both Don and Hector are cut from the same cloth, they just reach for different stars in the heavens to complete their journeys. It’s mind -boggling and incongruent that two opposites can be the same.

Director Patricia McGregor is so damn on spot with all of her actors that it sparked conversations well into the evening. On some level, I was almost sympathetic with Don, as the left behind generation. Silly me. That’s the genius of being an in touch director. She knows her characters well and gives them the latitude to be who they are in every situation.

Leading up to Don’s outburst because of what Don describes as a misunderstanding and Hector sees as racially charged, the lightheartedness and playfulness of Hector’s showing Don how to log into his phone, McGergor has them in reversal mode changing the mood from one of simply ‘this is how you do it’, to I’m calling security if you don’t leave immediately.  Her intent is quite obvious here.

Walker’s Don can come off as sympathetic at first, but as the charges against him by Hector close in on him, he goes on to do some pretty despicable stuff. On the other hand, he does have a soft spot especially for his family that is clearly missing in Hector’s character.

Anchondo’s Hector, is the confidant, up and coming filling the American dream 30 something college grad. When we first meet him he seems right for this new company. He shows up to the minute success in anything electronic. He seems personable at first. At an outside glance he appeard everything you might expect the younger ganeration. 
Omoze Idehenre and Jonathan Walker
But a few nasty reveals puts Hector in the least likely to be loved category. He tells Sigourney, who is collecting disability checks for getting hurt on her last job, to get off her butt and get a job.

He’s bringing Don to court for a simple misunderstanding and he can’t wait to tell Don that he bedded his daughter. His scorn for everything he deems wrong brings out a superiority he doesn’t deserve.  Nope. No stars for that behavior.

Mike Sears is the perfect guy for Don to reminisce with and still be trusted while remaining friends. Jasmin Savoy Brown is a moving target for speaking her liberal thoughts and acting on them. Her performance brought into being a new generation of thinkers not afraid to be who they are. Omozé came in with a soft and warm motherly heart and remained true to herself throughout.

Rachel Myers set is almost bare bones, but doesn’t detract, Sherrice Mojgani lighting and Luqman Brown’s sound leaves unanswered questions at the very end of this one act challenge that you don't want to end. Elisa Benzoni’s costume design fits every age group,

Lee considers ‘what you are’ as a lead off challenge. Is who you show up to be what you are, or is there more to it?

With a strong ensemble and a ready for prime time discussion “What You Are” is an up to date window into a world that’s changing and most are not ready

Two thumbs up!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through June 30th
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619234-5623
Production Type: Drama
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo: Jim Cox

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Moonlight’s Season Opener “The Producers” To Standing Ovation

It’s been 39 years since Moonlight Stage Productions began mounting musicals under the stars in Vista. This year’s season opener is the Mel Brooks Musical “The Producers” staring Broadway veterans Jamie Torcellini as Max Bialystock and director of this production, Larry Raben, his partner in crime Leo Bloom.

Both have stacked up numerous awards in their acting careers, so no doubt, the masters of producing a loser of a show on Broadway, and winning the approval of opening might audiences, reinforces the power of theatre. Only in American fiction can this happen. But listen up!

Brooks wrote the music and lyrics and he collaborated on the book with Thomas Meehan. The staged musical is set in 1959 and is based on the movie version set earlier that was much darker. Brooks’ shticks in the musical are over the top, vulgar, off the wall, outrageous; shameless and you name it. Sorry folks!
Cast (photo KJ)
That said it never stopped audiences from eating it up. In 2002 the Broadway Musical went on to win 12 Tony Awards. Moonlight’s success in all areas of this production has to do with the extraordinary talent and large ensemble of dancers and singers on stage and the fact that Brooks is inherently an oddly funny guy who seems to get away with well... “Springtime For Hitler”.

Think “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein”. He is also an equal opportunity offender; Jews, gays, schtupping ladies old and young alike, you name it.    

“The Producers” is about a down on your luck Broadway producer, Max Bialystok. He has a knack for producing shows that are so bad that he first cons and then fleeces ‘little old ladies’ into financing his failures and then takes off with the profits of the failed shows. Consider his musical version of “Hamlet” which he called  “Funny Boy” that opened and closed in a day.

When his nebbish accountant Leo Bloom (Raben) sees how much money he is losing (in the cooked books) on these flops, Bloom comes up with the idea that by producing the worse shows in history they can legitimately lose money and can write off and still come out ahead. Max jumps at the chance.

Larry Raben and Jamie Torcellini (Photo AZ)
The two form a partnership, Bialystok & Bloom Theatrical Producers. Their first order of business is to produce a sure fire loser. After rummaging through a list of plays from hell, they decide on a disaster called “Springtime for Hitler, a Gay Romp” with Adolph and Eva at Berchtesgaden” written by wacko neo-Nazi pigeon aficionado, Franz Libkind (Luke M. Jacobs). Keep in mind, the bigger the flop the bigger the cash pot.

The sidekicks Raben and Torcellini make a good team together as the straight -laced bookkeeper and the out of control, lady chasing do anything for a profit guy. Torcellini has all the right moves and is funny without being too over the top...well?

His cohort in crime, Raben is played with naivety as the overly nervous accountant with blue blanky to sooth his nerves.  He is just what the doctor ordered as Torcellini is a bigger than life presence foil even though Raben stands a head taller. Both deserve credit for endurance in keeping up a pace made for younger men with resilience to waste. Experience on stage out paces youth.

Josh Adamson and Max Cadillac (photo AZ)
Josh Adamson is a hoot as the queenly director; 'reject Busby Berkley cross dressing, incompetent director' Roger DeBris, to direct “Springtime For Hitler”. Brooks’ signature footprints are all over this production as in the name bending, gender bending game. DeBris (the Yiddish word for circumcision) introduces his co well... wife/assistant Carmen Ghia, a one of a kind German car (played by Max Cadillac if you will. Adamson’s entire entourage and home setting (Robert Wagner, based on the original) is another play by itself.

Luke Harvey Jacobs (photo KJ)
Luke H. Jacobs is a hoot as the demented Neo-Nazi Franz, the pigeon loving, Hitler loving author of “Springtime For Hitler”. The verrry tall Katie Barna is Ulla is the Swedish love/sex interest of both men, neither of who can keep their eyes off her, possibly their hands as well given the chance. She’s an great dancer,  and at her tallest is at least a head over Raben. She’s also a convincing leading lady in the musical within the play.  

Always making headlines in this weird success story of a show the dance numbers with original choreography and direction by Susan Stroman and recreated for this show by Karl Warden give some of the funniest scenes in both acts.
Cast of The Producers (photo KJ)
Tap dancing storm troopers, choruses of dancers dressed as panzer tanks, show- girls a la Las Vegas dressed as a schnitzels, beer steins and every other German symbol swaggering down the stairs and parading in front of the audience, “Little Old Lady Land” a dance number using walkers in “Along Came Bialy”.

Musical director and conductor Lyndon Pugeda creates his usual magic with his large orchestra. There were some sound issues (Jim Zadai) that were corrected early on. Jennifer Edwards lighting worked to the benefit of the company and costumes coordinators Carlotta Malone, Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd based on the original costume designs of William Ivy Long all, especially the show- girl number, are a hoot and period correct.

Jamie Torcellini, Katie Barna abd Larry Raben (photo KJ)
In my heart of hearts, I have ambivalences about Brooks and his humor. 
"The Producers" always brings out those feelings in me. On one hand the show is a slick wild ride bringing out laughs in the places you will find most offensive, on the other hand I cringe at any of the humor about Hitler.

It is not the best show of the season to bring the kiddies to.
"Matilda", coming up next is a sure bet for them.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through June 29th
Organization: Moonlight Stage productions
Phone: 760-724-2110
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1250 Vale terrace Drive, Vista
Ticket Prices: From $17.00-$57
Venue: Kathy Brombacher Stage
Photo: Ken Jacques and Adriana Zuniga