Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Austen’s “Persuasion” Another Winner for Lamb’s Players Theatre.

Right on Jane Austen!

She got it right in every one of her full-length novels from “Sense and Sensibility” in 1811, to “Pride and Prejudice” in 1813, to her last “Persuasion” in 1818. Austen was the eyes and ears of the landed gentry in every sense of the word. Through her romantic novels she called out all the hypocrisies that existed in her world as she saw them. As a footnote, any of her novels could have been written today for all that’s changed!

For the most part several if not all of her works have been adapted to the stage or movies or musicals. Over the years local theatres have taken on the task of producing several: “Emma”, “Pride and Prejudice”,  “Sense and Sensibility” to name a few.

In the case of her last completed novel, “Persuasion”, published 200 years after she died, Harold Taw (book) and Chris Jeffries (music and lyrics) are credited with turning her book into a new musical that is now in its California  premiere at Lambs Players Theatre in Coronado through November 18th, It’s a deliciously tasteful treat under the equally delightful staging by artistic director Robert Smyth.

David S, Humphrey and Allison Spratt Pearce
The love story or potential love story between Anne Elliot (a beautiful and regal, always Allison Spratt Pearce) and Cpt. Wentworth (cutting a handsome and fitting figure David H. Humphrey) in “Persuasion” has all the trappings of Austen’s 1816 England where class, money and social mobility are the keys to any woman’s chance for advancing her status in life. (“The Elliot’s of Kellynch”)

That is true especially if what we refer to today as breaking the ‘glass ceiling’. In those days just a move up by say marriage, more class and social structure allowed more clout. “When You Know Your True Love”.

Our story picks up eight years after Anne was persuaded to turn down a proposal for marriage from the handsome but broke Wentworth on the advise of her pompous and self centered father Sir Walter Elliot (a bumbling and clueless John Rosen), who is now in dyer straights from overspending and has to relocate to a house in Bath, and by her friend and confidant the snooty Lady Russell (Linda Libby). “Anne”.
Linda Libby and John Rosen
Now everyone is scrambling because the good Cpt. Wentworth of the Royal Navy has returned to the Elliot compound, now being occupied by Admiral Croft and his wife, complete with fortune in tow. He still eligible and still carrying a torch for Anne but still mindful of his long ago rejection.

In his world, he is free to do as he pleases; go where he pleases and see whomever he pleases and that includes courting the nasty, vein and cruel Elizabeth Elliot (Lauren King Thompson) Anne’s sister who thinks so much of herself that she convinces herself Wentworth only has eyes for her. “Home Is The Sailor”.

Anne’s younger sister Mary, a hopeless hypochondriac, is married off to Charles Musgrove (Omri Schein) a suitor Anne rejected years ago and the two female Musgrove girls, Louisa and Henrietta (Abigail Allwein and King) taunt her mercilessly. 
Cast of Persuasion
Her best effort is in just showing up and being seen even as humiliating, as it must to be; thus leaving her little to do but put on a stoic face especially around family gatherings with the ever-present Wentworth and humiliating jabs by the rest of her family.   

As in most all of Austen’s novels we see women used as pawns for their wealthy relatives or to be put in their places by their overly zealous father’s or doing battle with sister siblings to win the hand of the most eligible bachelor, or they may become the ridicule of other siblings.

Usually these battles are fought in different locations and with two or three different sets of siblings or elders calling the shots. Austen’s tale is no different as the characters and families fall into place with layers of social backstabbing and who will end up where or with whom. It’s all too wonderful and painful to watch especially when one is rooting for the union of Anne and Wentworth.

Cast of Persuasion
Austen’s stinging observations zero in on the complexities of Anne’s plight by subtly poking fun at the mores, manners and traditions of the world in which she lives yet all the while hanging her out to dry, as one scene seamlessly segues into another sharing a common wisdom that money and position trump everything.

With a splendid cast and crew on hand, Smyth’s job is made to look easy as the characters emerge fully engaged as most of them take on more than one personality with a quick change of costume beautifully built for this production by Jeanne Reith and easily coordinated entrances and exits on Mike Buckley’s versatile set lit by Nathan Pierson and helped along with Patrick Duffy’s sound design and Javier Valasco’s charming choreography.   
David S. Humphrey (background). Allison Spratt Pearce and Jordan Miller 
Chris Jeffries lyrics and music become part of the narrative in moving Austen’s story forward with each and every actor up to the task of holding their own with new music specifically written for this book.

While some of the actors are double cast and all do yeoman’s work, it’s necessary mentioning Omri Schein, a local favorite of late, who offers comic relief especially dressed in drag as Lady Dalrymple and as the Elliot’s attorney looking somewhat like Eddy Munster of the Munster’s TV Show. 
Allison Spratt Pearce (Linda Libby in background) and John Rosen
Linda Libby’s Lady Russell, Mrs. Musgrove and Mrs. Harville (a role Kerry Meads will step into after Oc. 23rd) mince no words especially with her facial expressions as she dominates every scene she’s in.

Jordan Miller (Captain Benwick another eligible bachelor on the scene) is introduced later on as long lost Elliot cousin who is now tapped to inherit the Elliot estate even though his credentials (barely mentioned) find him to be untrustworthy with finances as well.

Both Humphries and Spratt Pearce are at their all time best as the star -crossed lovers, she looking frail but determined and he as handsome as ever in his Naval Officers Uniform. Both equally fine singers who make the score soar.

Special mention goes to Cellist Diana Elledge, now celebrating her 17th production with Lamb’s.

All this and more under the musical direction of Patrick Marion and his talented quartet sitting atop Buckley’s set leaves a shout out for Lamb’s Players Theatre and a two thumbs up for another winning production.

It’s Jane Austen, and if that’s your ‘persuasion', it’s worth a try.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Nov. 18th
Organization: Lambs Players Theatre
Phone: (619) 437-6000
Production Type: Musical Drama
Where: 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado CA 92117
Ticket Prices: $28.00-$78.00
Web: lambsplayers.org
Photo:  Ken Jacques

Thursday, October 11, 2018

“Guadalupe in the Guest Room” Life Imitating Art and Art Imitating Life Through Telenovelas.

There is a place for visiting mothers in law*. It’s just not in another’s guest room for an extended period of time. Reasonable, yes. Unfortunately Guadalupe, of the “Guadalupe in the Guest Room” by Tony Meneses finds herself just there, in the guest room next door to her late daughter and widower son-in-law’s bedroom.  

Her official visit time expired shortly after her Spanish teacher daughter Claudia died of cancer. Guadalupe came to be with her daughter through the painful transition time at the end of her illness. Months have passed and she is still in the house with Claudia’s bereaving husband, Steve. He speaks very little Spanish and she very little English. 

She is on a mission though to translate her late daughter’s illustrated children’s books from English to Spanish. With the help of her late daughter’s middle school teacher friend, Raquel, the job of translating is taking longer than anyone, including Steve had imagined.

Gabriela Nelson as Guadalupe
Far from cleaning and cooking, when not assisting Raquel, she relaxes watching the popular Latin American soap opera that turns out, in time to be the melodramatic version of hers and Steve’s situation in scope mirroring the state both she and Steve find themselves in.

The series, “Love is Never Forgotten” is the catalyst by which the two are able to connect. Despite the fact the play takes 90 minutes to act out the stages of grief and healing between Steve and Guadalupe and given this abbreviated time frame, one gets the picture of the connection early on in vivid and living pictures.

“Guadalupe in the Guest Room” is in its West Coast premiere at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad in conjunction with Teatreo Pueblo Nuevo. Nadia Guevara, in her first directorial role leads with a knowledgeable hand and understanding heart bringing out both the humorous, the sentimental and real tragedy of loss, acceptance and recovery. (“I haven’t said much since the funeral. But, not like we said much before anyway. We’re just a couple of quiet neighbors. Him in his room, me in the one down the hall.”)

Daniel Novoa, Ciarlene Coleman, Tom Steward and Gabriela Nelson
In a series of short vignettes acted out in the living room, and throughout the house,“Guest Room” plays out with Gabriela Alvarez’ Guadalupe steadfast belief that her daughter’s work must be complete before she returns to her native Guadalajara. Steve retreats to his room where his anger mounts because Guadalupe insists on making his bed and he insists she does not.

Surprise is on the horizon when Roberto (Daniel Novoa) shows up at the house claiming to be the gardener Steve hired to clean up the yard, a job Steve never liked doing.

Over time a sweet romance develops between himself and Guadalupe that brings a much needed diversion and takes some tension out of the house when he takes her to a ‘Mexican’ Restaurant, where the two get to know one another breaking down barriers in their short lived romance.

Tom Steward and Gabriela Nelson
On the other hand, in an off guarded moment, Raquel (Ciarlene Coleman) and a stolen kiss between she and Steve widen the gap between mother in law and son in law changing the dynamics all around. (“Traidor/Traitor.”)

Some of the funniest moments come when Raquel and Roberto, act out the TV characters and become another set of living beings, Claudia, Claudia’s twin sister and Aurella and Jose Fernando and Bernardo, changing back and forth as the dramatic story of “Love Never Dies” pushes itself through one set of mishaps after another running parallel to the real life happenings when the TV is off. 

Tom Steward’s Steve comes across as a mystery when we first meet up with him. It’s almost as though he has a walk on role until he finally bursts into an angry rage when he finds his bed made up from the night before. 

It’s difficult to find too much sympathy for him in the beginning, he’s so distant. As he warms up and brings sorted refreshments to share his hour or so long TV time with Guadalupe, one develops some understanding of his emotional state and eventual recovery.

But it’s not until the two show some raw rage one night in his room, so real, so visceral it brought tears to my eyes, knowing that his hurting ran much deeper than we see on the surface.
Ciarlene Coleman and Daniel Novoa
Gabriella Nelson is the epitome of the grieving mother. (“They were married two years. I’m sorry but that does not compare. I know he loved Claudia but it cannot be the same.”) She finds herself in a no win situation until things come full circle and her job of completing her daughter's work coinsides with hers and Steve's finding common ground and, if you will, an unbroken bond.

Ciarlene Coleman is just what the doctor ordered as Claudia’s best friend. In addition to acting out the different character’s, she shows a chameleon like quality changing from over the top to a grounded friend

Carmen Amon’s costumes are fitting. George Ye’s flight design is perfect as the TV personalities act out the various scenes from  multiple places in Tanya Orellana’s cut away set design showing the various rooms. Sound and lighting designs by TJ Fucella and Curtis Miller only reinforce the real from the TV. 

Gabriela Nelson
“Guadalupe in the Guest Room”, a production of both NVA and Teatro Pueblo Nueva program will be accompanied by the integral Teatro Pueblo Nuevo Festival in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage month. The festival will offer a series of free family friendly community events.”

*The last guestroom I stayed in while visiting my family in Israel was also called the bomb shelter.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 28th
Organization: New Village Arts
Phone: 760-433-3245
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad, CA Carlsbad Village
Ticket Prices: Start at $33.00
Web: newvillagearts.org
Photo: Daren Scott

Friday, October 5, 2018

“One Hundred Days: The power Of Love at La Jolla Playhouse

What is it about one hundred days? In politics it’s used as a standard by which to measure the accomplishments a president makes at the beginning of his/her administration? In business it’s a benchmark to measure how well a person might learn a new job. For married couple Shaun and Abigail Bengsons it’s a time for them to cram a lifetime of love and life into their own love affair/ life’s story, or ‘till death do us part’. ("Vows")

It doesn’t come as a surprise though that some limit on their time together comes into the picture given the personalities of the two. Their inauspicious meeting was rocky from the outset until it became quite intense. In a heartbeat, one or both might have walked away. She’s the one with the flamboyant personality and he, the more reserved. 

It’s even apparent in their dress. She in cowboy boots, spangled dress and leather jacket, always moving in and out of musical scenes. He is in Jeans, black tie and plaid shirt, black jacket, glasses, beard and, sandy hair, (costumes Sydney Gallas) and the shy half of this talented duo. 

But that’s not it at all. As the story goes, they met, fell in love and got married in three weeks. An auto accident sent her over the ledge and headed for the back door. 
Abigail and Shaun Bengsom
Before that however Abigail tells us in agonizing and excruciating pain that when she was 15 her family went through some traumatic event (‘some kind of an emotional upending) that haunts her to this day invading her dreams with visions and prophesies including the fact that the love of her life would die after 100 days into their relationship.

“This is not a story about what happened when I was fifteen. Tonight we are going to tell you a story about what happened next.” “The love of my life came to me in a beam of light.” In my world they call that B'Shret, or meant to be. 

Their lives were on the up swing. She moved in with him, broke up with her then boyfriend. They shared stories about each other, (‘How do you like your coffee?’ ‘My father was a Lutheran Pastor’.) catching up on the usual foreplay of when boy meets girl.

He had to tell his best friend Max, who was driving across country to move in with him, that he would have to live somewhere else.  She admired the fact that he was a musician. She thought he was the best musician ever. “Wanna start a band?”

They were headed for a rehearsal for a gig (anti-folk folk punk old time neo soul band) and driver Shaun rear -ended a UPS truck. His prognosis for recovery was not good. 

A friend of mine used to tell me that just when things were going well, life got in the way.

Going back to her childhood trauma put her at loose ends. Should she stay? Should she leave? Sean in the Emergency room, on the examining table, sounds of him hitting the steering wheel, the florescent bulbs, I see him fall. What if the doctor walks in and tells me he has one hundred days to live?
Cast of "Hundred Days"
In her dreams she sees Shaun living one hundred days but they challenge those odds: “We’ll have Halloween in the morning, Christmas in the afternoon, Birthdays at sundown.” “We’ll make the snow in the freezer for winter. We’ll grow geraniums in the tub for spring. We’ll watch the traffic outside our window and call it the Thanksgiving Day Parade.” But the pain of love and loss remains.

In a gut-wrenching “Three Legged Dog” anguish and rage and despair la Joplinesque finds its roots in her voice and captures the essence of what that loss would feel like. I was glued to my seat, mesmerized and unable to move.  

Abigail is one half of the Abigail and Shaun twosome in this relatipnship relationship and the back and forth of it in a performance/story concert that is directed by Anne Kauffman, UCSD Grad. and written by Abigail and Sarah Gancher with music and lyrics by the couple themselves. It is at the La Jolla Playhouse, Mandell Weiss Forum through Oct. 21st.

They are assisted by a most talented quartet of backup singers – musicians- Ashley Baier (drums/percussion), El Beh (a five star cellist), Barrie Lobo McLain, (Vocals/ accordion/ guitar) and Reggie D. White (vocals/keyboards). Shaun plays guitar, accordion and keyboards and Abigail plays guitar and a floor tom. All make easy transitions from one instrument to another and occasionally, lend vocals to the already story.

This is not what one might call a traditional musical; it’s more a concert musical. It is as much story told in song as singing/performing and alternating by telling their story orally. The give and take between husband and wife is playful, somber, loving and informative but aside from the love commitment and the verbal give and take, it was the music that grabbed me.

Cast of "Hundred Days" with Abigail in center and Shawn on stool
“I want/ A hundred days Of bright light/ Hey Hey away/ A hundred Days/ You’re my man/ Of bright light/Away”. “The Years Go By”, “Lift Me”, “The Long Goodbye” and “Bells” the first song they wrote together, are but a few of the dozen or so.

The husband and wife team and their fellow travelers had me glued to my seat. Some of the music is definitely beyond my musical grade level but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

 There was so much more going on around me that shifting from story to music to watching the talented musicianship and different sounds (Nicholas Pope) of the other four on stage to being star struck by the lights, (red, orange, yellow, green purple footlights), two spotlights and can’t tell you how many hanging light bulbs caught my eyes, all created by Co-scenic designer/lighting designer Andrew Hungerford.

In another magical moment, columns of crystalline looking salt/sand came cascading from the ceiling (Salt Palace”) on to Hungerford’s two level set with instruments placed strategically for easy access  with enough room for movement director Sonya Tayeh’s well rehearsed choreography.

Did you ever wonder if you knew what the course of events were going to look like between “I Do” and “Till Death Do Us Part”? If you did, would you do it all over again? Of course you would.
The Bengson’s “Hundred Days” is living proof.
See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 21st
Organization: La Jolla Playhouse
Phone: 858-550-1010
Production Type: Musical Memoir
Where: 2910 La Jolla Village Drive La Jolla, CA 92037
Ticket Prices: $35.00-55.00
Web: lajollaplayhouse.org
Venue: Mandell Weiss Forum
Photo: Jim Carmody