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Judy Richter

Judy Richter

July 1 Test

By Judy Richter

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Travels with Frankie highlight ‘The Voice of the Prairie’

By Judy Richter

A farmer becomes a celebrity by telling stories to early radio audiences in John Oliver’s “The Voice of the Prairie,” presented by Dragon Productions.

Davey Quinn (Robert Sean Campbell), an orphan, apparently inherited his story-telling ability from the 70-year-old Irish relative who looks after him. When the older man dies in 1895, young Davey has only his wits to help him survive.

Taking to the road, he rescues a young blind girl, Frankie (Maria Giere Marquis) from her abusive father. She then becomes his companion, riding the rails and sharing some great adventures for several months before they’re inadvertently separated.

Some years later, Davey has become a farmer who talks to friends about his adventures. A slick New Yorker, Leon Schwab (Tom Gough), overhears him and convinces him to tell his stories on Leon’s pioneering radio station, which he also uses to sell radios.

Davey becomes famous and is reunited with Frankie in 1923 just as Leon is in trouble with the Federal Communications Commission for broadcasting without a license.

The story jumps back and forth as Gough and Marquis portray other characters. Gough carries the heaviest load. In one scene he’s Leon, in another he’s James, the asthmatic Methodist minister who wants to marry Frankie. He’s also seen as Davey’s relative, Frankie’s father, a sheriff and a loutish farmer. He’s terrific in all these roles.

Directed by Dragon’s founder and artistic director, Meredith Hagedorn, this production starts slowly as Davey’s relative, Poppy, tells a story. His narrative is often interrupted by Davey’s high-pitched giggles, which become off-putting because they’re repeated so often.

The pace gradually picks up during the first act, and the second act, which takes place mainly in 1923, becomes more rewarding and satisfying.

Aside from his early scenes with Poppy ,Campbell makes a likable Davey, whose life is forever altered through his adventures with Frankie. For her part, Marquis is convincing as the blind Frankie, making her a strong, resolute character.

This three-actor play is well suited to Dragon’s intimate space. The simple set by Jesse Ploog, lighting by Jeff Swan, costumes by Brooke Jennings and sound by Martyn Jones facilitate the action. Mostly it’s the skill of the playwright and the talent of the actors that fill in the details of time and place.

“The Voice of the Prairie” runs just under two and a half hours with one intermission.

It continues through Sept. 13 at Dragon Theatre, 2120 Broadway St., Redwood City. For tickets and information, call (650) 493-2006 or visit


Cal Shakes has fun with ‘Irma Vep’

By Judy Richter

“The Mystery of Irma Vep,” aka “Irma Vep” and subtitled “A Penny Dreadful,” is the late Charles Ludlam’s spoof of Victorian melodrama, old-time horror movies and more.

California Shakespeare Theater has fun with the show, thanks to direction by Jonathan Moscone and his versatile two-man cast, who play all characters of both genders.

The story takes place in Mandacrest, a spooky country estate owned by Lord Edgar Hillcrest (Liam Vincent), who has remarried after the death of his wife three years earlier. His new wife is Lady Enid (Danny Scheie).

The estate is staffed by Jane Twisden (Vincent), the housekeeper; and Nicodemus Underwood (Scheie), the caretaker.

A portrait of Lord Edgar’s first wife, Irma, looms over the massive stone fireplace. She and their young son were killed by a wolf, or perhaps a werewolf.

For various reasons, Lord Edgar, an Egyptologist, goes to an Egyptian tomb, where he finds a mummy and takes it back to Mandacrest. His guide there is Alcazar (Scheie).

Literary allusions to the likes of James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Henrik Ibsen and William Shakespeare abound in the script, as do cinematic borrowings from “Gaslight,” “Rebecca” and “Wuthering Heights.”

They’re all part of the fun, but the greatest fun comes from the two actors, who often make split-second character changes. It would be interesting to peer backstage and watch as dressers help them with their transformations. Credit to costume designer Katherine Roth for her role here.

Vincent and Scheie are both Cal Shakes favorites. Here, Vincent tends to play all of his parts fairly straight. Scheie, on the other hand, tends to flounce and mug, as he is wont to do.

The detailed set is by Douglas Schmidt with mood lighting by Alex Nichols. The sound by Cliff Caruthers features some scary storms.

This is Moscone”s last hurrah as artistic director of Cal Shakes. During his 16 seasons at its helm, the company has made great strides artistically, upgraded its theater and expanded its community outreach.

He is moving his artistic home across the bay t oSan Francisco’s Yerba Center for the Arts, where he will become chief of civic engagement. His successor has not been named.

He will be greatly missed, but one can hope that he will still be available to direct occasionally.

“Irma Vep” runs about two hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.

It will continue through Sept. 6 at Bruns Memorial Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Way (off Hwy.24), Orinda. For tickets and information, call (510) 548-9666 or visit


‘West Side Story’ remains fresh at Broadway By the Bay

By Judy Richter

The story of “Romeo and Juliet” finds its 20th century counterpart in “West Side Story,” presented by Broadway By the Bay.

With music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents, Shakespeare’s battling Capulets and Montagues in 16th century Italy become the Sharks and Jets, street gangs in New York’s Upper West Side in the mid-’50s

In the BBB production, the star-crossed lovers are played by Nikita Burshteyn as Tony, a member of the white Jets, and Samantha Cardenas as Maria, part of the Puerto Rican Sharks.

Both are noteworthy in songs like “Maria,” “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart.” As the two gangs vie for turf, Tony and Maria become its victims.

They’re well supported by Taylor Iman Jones as Maria’s friend Anita and others in the 40-member cast, ably directed by Amanda Folena.

The 1957 Broadway smash was originally directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Nicole Helfer recreates some of that original choreography and adds some of her own with dynamic results. The outstanding orchestra is conducted by musical director Sean Kana.

Kelly James Tighe’s set of scaffolding, with lighting by Joe D’Emilio, evokes the neighborhood’s grittiness, as does the sound design by Jon Hayward. The ’50s costumes are by Margaret Toomey.

This is Folena’s final show after four years as the company’s artistic director. She “will be pursuing a teaching opportunity,” she says in the program. The company will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Oct. 4 at LV Mar restaurant in downtown Redwood City.

Although “West Side Story” is based on an old story updated to the ’50s,  it’s still timely today as gangs, sects and nations throughout the world fight over territory and innocent people suffer.

It will continue at the Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City, through Aug. 30. It will then move to the Golden State Theatre, Monterey, Sept. 4-12.

For Redwood Citytickets and information, call (650) 579-5565 or visit For Monterey, call (831) 649-1070 or visit


Coward’s songs featured in Stanford show

By Judy Richter

Noël Coward was a man of many talents. Besides writing witty plays like “Private Lives” and “Blithe Spirit,” he was a prolific songwriter.

“Cowardy Custard,” presented by Stanford Repertory Theater, provides a tasty sampling of those songs, performed by four engaging young singers.

In this show devised by Alan Strachan, Gerald Frow and Wendy Toye, the 20 songs are narrative or satirical.  Directed by Brendon Martin, it starts on a snappy note with the foursome marching in singing “Has Anybody Seen Our Ship?”

Among the highlights are “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” sung by student Andre Amarotico and recent graduate Dante Belletti, and “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington,” sung by student Samantha Rose Williams. She and student Ellen Woods are featured in “Mad About You.”

Belletti returns in “Mad About the Boy” as Amarotico seems indifferent. This song is an apparent reference to Coward’s closeted homosexuality, but this production then steers away from that as the two women join in.

Other highlights are “Someday I’ll Find You,” followed by the concluding “I’ll See You Again,” featuring all four.

Woods is a sweet-voiced soprano, while Williams has a more operatic voice with a wide range. Local audiences may recall her as Eliza Doolittle in Broadway by the Bay’s “My Fair Lady.” Both men sing well, too.

All four are multi-talented, executing choreography by Jamie Yuen-Shore.

They’re accompanied by three fine young musicians: Wyatt Smitherman on violin, Christopher Davis on bass and music director Makulumy Alexander-Hills on piano.

The show is presented in the Nitery Theater in Old Union. It’s an intimate space with four rows of theater seats on a riser plus round tables, mostly for four, dispersed through the rest of the space.

The only drawback is that it isn’t air-conditioned, so it can become quite warm even though SRT provides a bottle of water at each seat.

Running about 75 minutes with no intermission, “Cowardy Custard” is the concluding feature of SRT’s Noël Coward Festival. It featured several events, including a topnotch production of “Hay Fever,” with Amarotico in the cast.

“Cowardy Custard” continues through Aug. 23. For tickets and information, call (650) 725-5838 or visit


“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” highlights Ashland offerings

By Judy Richter

Visitors to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland can see up to 10 plays in the festival’s three theaters during the summer. The festival presents a total of 11 plays during its season, which runs from Feb. 20 to Nov.1.

Running in the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre are William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”; the world premiere of “Head Over Heels,” with music and lyrics by the Go-Go’s; and Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

The indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre offers Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”; a Broadway musical, “Guys and Dolls”;  Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat”;  and Stan Lai’s “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land.”

Playing in the intimate Thomas Theatre are Shakespeare’s “Pericles,” Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ “The Happiest Song Plays Last.”

On my recent visit, I saw five shows and was to have seen a sixth. However, “The Count of Monte Cristo” was canceled the night I was scheduled because of unhealthy air quality caused by heavy smoke from a forest fire north ofAshland.

Smoke has been an issue for OSF in recent days, leading to several cancellations for the Elizabethan as well as the popular, free outdoor Green Show that precedes evening performances. A performance of “Head Over Heels” was stopped during the first act because of smoke.

OSF monitors the air quality each day and announces by 6:30 p.m. whether the show will go on. Patrons then have four options for their tickets: exchange, donate, refund or voucher. The latter is good through Oct. 31, 2016.

Although it’s disappointing when a show is canceled, the health of the actors, crew, ushers and patrons is paramount.

To provide the most accurate, timely readings possible, a temporary air quality monitoring station has been installed on a festival building. Otherwise, the closest station is in Medford, several miles north.

Following are overviews of the five reviewed shows:


This is Eugene O’Neill’s most autobiographical play and reportedly the most painful for him to write.

It focuses on the Tyrone family staying in their summer house on the coast of Connecticut in 1912. The patriarch, 65-year-old James (Michael Winters) is an actor who has spent many seasons on the road. His wife, Mary (Judith Marie Bergan), loyally followed him year after year. She has recently returned home after a stint in rehab for her addiction to morphine.

Visiting are their two adult sons, James Jr., called Jamie (Jonathan Haugen), and Edmund (Danforth Comins).

Initial scenes show much love within the family, but major concerns soon are revealed. Edmund is ill with what he learns is consumption, or tuberculosis. Jamie has led a dissolute life of alcohol and whores. James spends his money on shaky real estate deals but is a skinflint otherwise. Mary, who says she has almost always been unhappy and lonely, relapses into her fog of addiction.

Although it runs about three hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, this production is riveting throughout because of O’Neill’s often poetic writing and the cast’s brilliant acting, especially by Bergan. She embodies Mary’s sense of walking on eggshells, poignantly recalls her youth and then descends into her own tragic world. It’s a tour de force.

The three men also are outstanding as each character deals with his own issues and with the family dynamics. Completing the cast is Autumn Buck as Cathleen, a servant.

The actors have the benefit of direction by Christopher Liam Moore, who orchestrates each scene like a maestro and allows occasional moments of humor to come through. The set by Christopher Acebo features a long stairway that figures prominently in the drama.

Music by Andre J. Pluess underscores the mood, as does the sound design by him and Matt Callahan. Also contributing to the ambience are lighting by James F. Ingalls and costumes by Meg Neville.

This production ranks at the top of my list.


Ranking with “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” for overall quality is its polar opposite in mood, “Guys and Dolls.” The book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows is based on the writing of Damon Runyon and is set in New York City.

With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, its song list includes hit after hit, such as “I’ll Know,” “A Bushel and a Peck,” the title song, “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

Populated by gamblers, show girls and street missionaries, it features two love stories. The first involves Nathan Detroit (Rodney Gardiner), who runs “the oldest established floating crap game in New York.” He has been engaged to Miss Adelaide (Robin Goodrin Nordli), the lead singer at the Hot Box nightclub, for 14 years. She wants him to quit gambling and get married.

The other couple is Sky Masterson (Jeremy Peter Johnson), another gambler, who falls in love with Sarah Brown (Kate Hurster), prim leader of the Save a Soul Mission. Their relationship is fueled by bets, some of them unknown to Sarah.

Surrounding them is a host of memorable characters such as Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Daniel T. Parker), Harry the Horse (Tony DeBruno), Benny Southstreet (David Kelley) and Big Julie (Richard Elmore), among the gamblers. All are outstanding.

Also noteworthy is Richard Howard as Arvide Abernathy, Sarah’s kindly grandfather, who sings the touching “More I Cannot Wish You.”

Even though the cast is terrific throughout, the unquestioned star is Goodrin Nordli as Miss Adelaide. A longtime OSF actor who has played widely varied roles, she displays her singing and dancing abilities as well as unsurpassed comic timing. It’s hard to take one’s eyes off her.

Well directed by Mary Zimmerman, the show is enlivened by Daniel Pelzig’s choreography. The set by Daniel Ostling is minimal, allowing for swift scene changes, often using the actors to move set pieces. Musical direction is by Doug Peck. Pianist Matt Goodrich conducts seven other instrumentalists in the orchestra pit.

The colorful costumes are by Mara Blumenfeld with lighting by T.J. Gerckens and sound by Ray Nardelli.

The show runs about two and a half hours with one intermission.


Playwright Lynn Nottage tackles an important national issue in ‘Sweat.’ This world premiere takes place in 2000 and 2008 in Reading, Pa., a factory town that once provided good jobs for its union employees.

In one situation, new owners took over a factory, removed some machines and asked the union to accept major concessions in pay and benefits. When union members rejected the contract, they were locked out.

“Sweat” focuses on the human costs of those moves mostly through two worker families. One is the white Tracey (Terri McMahon) and her young adult son, Jason (Stephen Michael Spencer). The other is the black Cynthia (Kimberly Scott); her young adult son, Chris (Tramell Tillman); and her ex-husband, Brucie (Kevin Kenerly). Tracey and Cynthia are best friends, as are their sons.

Everyone interacts mainly in a local bar presided over by bartender Stan (Jack Willis), a former factory worker who retired on disability after an on-the-job injury. The other bar denizen is Jessie (K.T. Vogt), another factory worker. Stan is assisted by busboy Oscar (Carlo Albán), who wants to work at the factory.

The play opens in 2008 as a parole officer, Evan (Tyrone Wilson), separately interviews Jason and Chris after the two have been imprisoned. Jason is sullenly defiant, while Chris talks of wanting to become a teacher.

Action then reverts to 2000 when all is apparently well. While things worsen at the factory, Cynthia is promoted to a management job. Her friends become resentful, accusing her of abandoning them, but she insists she’s doing all she can on their behalf.

The tension reaches a boiling point when Oscar turns scab and goes to work at the factory. That’s when the audience learns why Jason and Chris went to prison.

Directed by Kate Whoriskey, the production is well-cast, with each actor creating a believable character. Special mention goes to Willis, whose Stan provides a patient, calming voice when the bar patrons drink too much or become too angry.

“Sweat” was co-commissioned by the festival, along with Arena Stage, as part of its American history cycle. It rightly focuses a spotlight on what happens when people lose their jobs. However, it could use some pruning to eliminate some seemingly repetitious scenes, and the rough language, although probably appropriate to the characters, seems overdone.

A revolving set by John Lee Beatty, with lighting by Peter Kaczorowski, allows for easy scene changes. The production also features costumes by Jennifer Moeller, sound by Michael Bodeen and Rob Milburn, and videos by Jeff Sugg.

It runs about two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.


Lileana Blain-Cruz directs a mostly workmanlike production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” with its two pairs of lovers and some schemers. The best known lovers are Beatrice (Christiana Clark) and Benedick (Danforth Comins). Their relationship seems more like enmity as they exchange barbs until other characters gull them into thinking each is in love with the other.

The secondary lovers are the younger Claudio (Carlo Albán) and Hero (Leah Anderson). Hero is the daughter of Leonato (Jack Willis), the governor of Messina, and Beatrice is her cousin.

There are no obstacles to their love until the scheming Don John (Regan Linton) makes Claudio believe that Hero is unchaste. Things get complicated after that, but all turns out well.

Once again Willis provides a solid anchor to the production. The rest of the cast does well, but there’s little chemistry apparent between Albán as Claudio and Anderson as Hero. It’s better between Comins as Benedick and Clark as Beatrice, but it’s still not enough.

Director Blain-Cruz sets the action in the present. Hence she inserts modern touches such as having the malaprop-prone Dogberry (Rex Young), leader of the watch, ride a Segway. She also overdoes some comic scenes, and the party scene is annoying with its strobe lights (lighting by Yi Zhao).

Choreographer Jaclyn Miller and composer-sound designer Chad Raines seem to borrow from “Evita” with the music and soldiers’ entrance for the tomb scene reminiscent of  “Peron’s Latest Flame” in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

It would seem that the director wanted to appeal to young audiences. She apparently succeeds there, judging by the enthusiastic reception from the large group attending the festival’s 12-day Summer Seminar for High School Juniors.

“Much Ado” runs about two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.


The low point among the five reviewed shows is “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land” by Chinese American playwright Stan Lai, who also directs. It would seem that he, too, aimed his direction toward young audiences. The seminar students gave the show a standing ovation, but many adults delivered only polite applause. A few left during intermission of the two-hour, 30-minute performance.

Lai translated his play from the Chinese for this American premiere and, in this case, set it in the festival’s Bowmer Theatre. In it, two theater companies are mistakenly scheduled to rehearse two different plays at the same time.

The first play, “Secret Love,” is set in Shanghai in 1948 and Taipei in the late 1980s. It focuses on the love between Jiang (Cristofer Jean) and Yun (Kate Hurster), who are separated during upheaval in China. During the intervening years, Jiang takes a wife (Vilma Silva). Jiang and Yun meet again many years later when he is gravely ill. It’s a touching story.

The second play is  “In Peach Blossom Land,” set in a fictional Chinese fishing village and an unknown upstream village in the fifth century. In this play, Tao (Eugene Ma) is a fisherman married to Blossom (Leah Anderson), who is having an affair with Master Yuan (Paul Juhn), a fish merchant. When Tao learns of the deception, he goes upstream and discovers the idyllic Peach Blossom Land.

“Secret Love” is the more successful of the two plays within a play because the characters and situation are believable and are played seriously.

On the other hand, “In Peach Blossom Land” overreaches for comic effects, often resorting to silly slapstick and portraying the cuckolded Tao as nothing more than a buffoon.

The set is by Michael Locher with costumes by Helen Q. Huang, lighting by Alexander V. Nichols and sound by Valerie Lawrence.

For tickets and information about the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, call (800) 219-8161 or visit


Funny things happen in Foothill’s ‘Forum’

By Judy Richter

The 1962 Broadway hit “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was the first musical for which Stephen Sondheim wrote both the music and lyrics.

Much of his unique style can be heard as Foothill Music Theatre presents this show, based on farces by an ancient Roman, Plautus (254-184 B.C.).

Because it’s a farce and because it has Sondheim’s music and lyrics, it’s a challenge both dramatically and musically. Thanks to canny direction by Milissa Carey and Michael Ryken, who also choreographed the show, the comedic aspects work well.

Some of the singing isn’t quite as successful, but musical director Katie Coleman has made sure that excellent diction makes the intricate lyrics clear.

The show opens with a great introductory song, “Comedy Tonight,” featuring the central character, Pseudolus (Doug Santana), a Roman slave around 200 B.C.

Pseudolus desires his freedom, but in order to secure it, he must help his master, Hero (Anthony Stephens), win over the beautiful new woman whom he has seen on the balcony of neighbor Marcus Lycus (Ray D’Ambrosio), a keeper of courtesans.

However, the woman, Philia (Jessica Whittemore), has already been sold to a blustering general, Miles Gloriosus (Scotty Shoemaker), who’s due soon in Rome.

Other subplots arise in the book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, several of them due to mistaken identities. All of these complications require Pseudolus to think quickly, which he does.

Santana does an excellent job with this balancing act. Others who contribute to the fun are Todd Wright as Senex, Hero’s would-be philandering father; Jenifer Tice as his mother, Domina; and Mike Meadors as Hysterium, one of their slaves.

Then there are the courtesans, who have the most challenging of Ryken’s choreography. They are Vanessa Alvarez as Tintintabula, Evelyn Chan as Panacea, Sarah Hammer and Cami Jackson as the Geminae and Sara-Grace Kelly as Gymnasia.

Many of Pseudolus’s antics are witnessed by the Proteans: Jason Engelman, Marc Gonzalez and Kevin Reid.

The set is by Kuo-Hao Lo, the lighting by Michael Ramsaur, the outstanding costumes by Robert Horek and sound by Andrew Heller.

Running about two hours with one intermission, it’s an enjoyable show.

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” will continue in Foothill College’s Smithwick Theatre, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos, through Aug. 9. For tickets and information, call (650) 949-7360 or visit


Stanford stages good comedy of bad manners

By Judy Richter

Whether the Bliss family represents that state of minds depends entirely on whether one is an insider or outsider. That’s apparent in Noël Coward’s frothy comedy, “Hay Fever,” presented by Stanford Repertory Theater.

Perhaps a more appropriate name for the family might be the Bickersons because bickering seems to be the favorite sport of all four Blisses. Overdramatizing is another.

These sports come to light one weekend when, unknown to the rest of the family, each Bliss invites someone of the opposite sex to visit the family’s country home.

The bickering begins even before the first guest arrives as young adult siblings Sorel (Kiki Bagger) and Simon (Austin Caldwell) go at it. As the play continues, everyone get in on the act, especially their mother, Judith (Courtney Walsh), a retired actress who still delights in dramatic behavior. Their father, David (Bruce Carlton), a novelist, joins in.

Judith’s guest is young admirer Sandy Tyrell (Andre Amarotico). Simon has invited Myra Arundel (Deb Fink), who is older than he, while David has invited the much younger Jackie Coryton (Kathleen Kelso). Completing the list is Sore’s much older guest, Richard Greatham (Rush Rehm), a diplomat.

As each guest arrives, the family’s maid, Clara (Catherine Luedtke), merely opens the door and walks away, giving the guest a first taste of the bad manners that lie ahead. The guests then find themselves ignored or seduced. Each family member seems properly indignant about such indiscretions.

The play is loaded with some amusing scenes, such as proper Richard’s attempts at conversation with vacant Jackie and an after-dinner game involving behavior in the manner of a particular adverb.

For the most part, director Lynne Soffer’s cast does well with Coward’’s often subtle wit. Bagger and Caldwell as the Bliss siblings got the first act off to a rocky start on opening night with Bagger’s English accent difficult to understand. She improved after that, though.

At other times, various cast members didn’t wait for laughter to subside before their next lines. However, this was the first performance before an audience. The actors hadn’t had the advantage of a preview to refine their performances.

Nevertheless, the show delivered an ample share of laughs from both the over-the-top antics of the Bliss family, especially Walsh as Judith, and the guests’ increasing discomfort.

The production is enriched by Annie Dauber’s set, Connie Strayer’s elegant costumes, Michael Ramsaur’s lighting and Brigitte Wittmer’s sound.

In her program notes, director Soffer gives  “a tip o’ the hat to Nagle Jackson for his inspiration.” Jackson directed the hugely popular American Conservatory Theater production of “Hay Fever” in 1979 and 1980, when ACT had a resident company of actors.

Soffer told me at intermission that she was using a sight gag that had worked so well for ACT in the breakfast scene of Act 3.  It worked again in this Stanford production.

Running just over two hours with one intermission, “Hay Fever” is the centerpiece of SRT’s summer festival, “Noël Coward: Art, Style and Decadence.” It includes a cabaret show, “Cowardy Custard,” a revue of Coward’s songs. Also included are a film series and a community symposium.

“Hay Fever” runs through Aug. 9 in Stanford’s Pigott Theater, Memorial Auditorium (Memorial Way and Galvez). Tickets and information about the play and details about all of the summer festival events are available by visiting www.repertorytheater.Stanford.ed  or calling (650) 725-5838.


Anna Deavere Smith tackles educational system

By Judy Richter, Uncategorized

Playwright-actor-teacher Anna Deavere Smith has created and presented several one-woman shows dealing with important social issues or events.

Her latest is “Notes From the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter,” presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

As she has done in her previous shows, such as “Fires in the Mirror” and “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” she bases this work on hundreds of hours of interviews with people who have varying experience with, in this case, education and the criminal justice system. Directed here by Leah C. Gardiner, she then re-creates these people using their exact words and manner of speaking.

She focuses on the school-to-prison pipeline, in which students failed by the schools are highly likely to land up in jail. Many of them are people of color whose needs aren’t served by their schools and community. Many are treated unfairly by the police, who are subject to frequent criticism in this show.

This aspect of the show is punctuated by cell phone videos of police mistreating young black people. One is a 14-year-old girl in her bathing suit who is thrown to the ground and handcuffed with her hands behind her back. Another is the notorious death of Freddie Gray after he was arrested by Baltimore police earlier this year.

One of the people interviewed by Smith and re-created in this show is the Baltimore deli worker who took a video on his cell phone. Others include a Yurok fisherman with numerous run-ins with police, plus educators, a judge and researchers.

There’s a woman from Philadelphia whose mother was determined to see her rise above poverty and get a good education. When she became the first person in her family to graduate from college, her mother ignored admonitions against applause. Instead, when the woman crossed the stage to get her diploma, her mother jumped up and cried, “Thank you, Jesus.”

The title of each monologue along with the person’s name and position is shown on three screens arrayed around the stage (projections by Alexander V. Nichols). In the set design by John Arnone, various pieces of furniture are moved on and off stage by stagehands. Smith dons various jackets or accessories designed by Ann Hould-Ward.

Each monologue also is accompanied by unobtrusive but effective music composed and performed by bassist Marcus Shelby.

The first act runs about 90 minutes, followed by a break of 25 minutes or so. During this time, the audience gathers in randomly assigned groups throughout the theater and lobby to talk about ways “to help dissolve the school-to-prison pipeline and inequities in the education system,” a press release says. Each group is guided by a facilitator.

Hence, “You are the second act,” Berkeley Rep managing director Susan Medak told the opening night audience before Act 1. It’s “a grand experiment” meant to generate conversation, she said.

The final part of the show, which totals about two and a half hours, is “Coda.” This 10-minute section features Smith again and concludes with words by the late James Baldwin. This is perhaps the only weak spot in what otherwise is a compelling presentation by a gifted, thoughtful performer.

As for the goal of generating conversation, the show apparently achieved just that as people were engaged in lively conversations in the lobby and outside afterward.


TheatreWorks premieres outstanding ‘Triangle’

By Judy Richter

One of the greatest American tragedies of the early 20th century was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 in New York City. The death toll reached 146 people, many of them immigrant women, some in their early teens.

“Triangle,” a musical about this disaster, is being given its world premiere in an outstanding production by TheatreWorks.

With music by Curtis Moore, lyrics by Thomas Mizer and a book by Mizer, Moore and Joshua Scher, “Triangle” takes place in 1910 and 1911 and in 2011. Most of the action is set in the restored 10-story building where the fire occurred.

Adroitly directed by Meredith McDonough, scenes easily shift between the two time periods.

The main character in the 2011 scenes is Brian (Ross Lekites), a doctoral student in chemistry. Lekites is the only member of the six-person cast to play just one character. The others play at least two.

Brian and his friend, Cynthia (Sharon Rietkerk), also a doctoral student, are going into the building as a group of people is gathered nearby to read the names of those who died in the fire. They accidentally meet Ben (Zachary Prince). For various reasons, both Ben and Brian become interested in specific fire victims.

The 1910 and 1911 scenes focus on a Jewish immigrant, Sarah (Megan McGinnis), who has started work supervised by Vincenzo (Prince). Others seen in this time period are Vincenzo’s sister, Theresa (Laura D’Andre); Sarah’s widowed, pregnant sister, Chaya (Rietkerk); and their father (Rolf Saxon).

Although the title refers to the shirtwaist factory, it also alludes to the triangular relationships that develop among various characters. David Zimmerman’s set with its walls set at an angle is a subtle reflection of the triangle theme.

The plot also alludes to 9/11, in which Brian’s beloved older sister died while working in one of the towers. Because he’s still grieving for her, he can’t move on as well as he should.

All of the actors sing well as individuals and in ensembles. Each one also creates a clearly defined character.

In addition to Zimmerman’s set, the shifts between time periods are aided by Cathleen Edwards’ costumes, Paul Toben’s lighting and Brendan Aanes’ sound. Musical director James Sampliner on keyboard conducts the five other instrumentalists.

“Triangle” was first seen locally as part of TheatreWorks’ annual New Works Festival in 2012. It was then workshopped around the country until it was ready for this world premiere, the 66th in TheatreWorks’ 46 seasons.

Running about two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission, it’s outstanding in every respect. Unlike many Broadway musicals nowadays, it doesn’t have big production numbers or dancing. Instead it exerts its emotional power with interesting, complex characters and situations along with noteworthy music.

For those who’d like to preview what might lie ahead, TheatreWorks will present its New Works Festival Aug. 8 to 16 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

“Triangle” continues at the Lucie Stern through Aug. 2. For tickets and information about it or the New Works Festival, call (650) 463-1960 or visit