Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Spamalot, Some Men and Romeo and Juliet
Let's face it, this is a rip off of the Monty Python and the Holy Grail film. Some of the movie dialogue appears verbatim and other scenes from the hilarious film are not included. New characters have been added, like the Lady of the Lake played hilariously by Merle Dandridge. There are many side-splitting scenes, such as the opening with a huge number set in Finland, simply because the cast mis-hears the word "England. " Many comic bits from the film have been second handed, such as the killer rabbit, the wonderful taunting Frenchman played zanily by Matthew Greer with a faux French accent straight out of a Marx Brothers film, clip-clop coconuts as the knights "ride" about the stage, the droll Knights of Ni, and the great "I'm not dead yet" scene.
Even though the first act is full of silliness, the second act is much better. Everything Broadway is up for grabs, like the uproarious number "You Won't Succeed on Broadway" and the gay dancing scene in "His Name is Lancelot," done in a "Copacabana" style. John Du Prez' music and Eric Idle's lyrics make a faux Broadway score that is better then average. There are three great showstoppers: "The Song That Goes Like This," which sounds like it came from a Wildhorn musical; "Find Your Grail"; and "You Won't Succeed on Broadway," which is riotously funny. There is even the upbeat "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" thrown in from Life of Brian, with music and lyrics by Eric Idle.
As King Arthur, John O'Hurley (played the role in Las Vegas production) prances and preens and radiates with effortless authority. One can almost see a John Cleese style in his performance as the monarch. Merle Dandridge (the final Lady of the Lake on Broadway) has a terrific voice and a wonderful sense of comic timing. Her scorching belting of "The Song That Goes Like This" is super and she brings down the house in the second act with "The Diva's Lament."
James Beaman (Off-Broadway When Pigs Fly, Whoop-Dee-Doo!) as Sir Robin shines in the off-the-wall number "You Won't Succeed on Broadway," which has cheeky choreography by Casey Nicholaw. Matthew Greer (Off-Broadway Suddenly Last Summer) who also plays Sir Lancelot has a great song and dance number in the Copacabana number, the gayest scene this side of Castro Street ("in tight pants a lot he likes to dance a lot"). The second tier players who root and sustain the show (Christopher Sutton, Jeff Dumas, Ben Davis, Christopher Gurr, Erik Hayden, Matt Allen and Lenny Daniel) are knockouts.
Spamalot plays at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St. San Francisco through July 5th . For tickets, call 415-512-7770 or visit shnsf.com. Upcoming Best of Broadway events are August: Osage County at the Curran Theatre opening August 11 and running through September 6 and South Pacific opening September 18 and running through October 25 at the Golden Gate Theatre.
Photo: Joan Marcus
Some Men does have a very thin storyline involving the coming out of a businessman/father of two, played with great emotion by Dan Howard, who later meets a lover played vividly by Scott Cox. Later, the audience gets to meet one of the sons who turns out to be gay. He is performed appealingly by Brandon Fitch.
Terrence McNally could have written at least two full-length one-act plays from this frustrating, sporadic comedy drama. Some scenes sparkle while others have no narrative coherence or developed characters. Many of the characters in the early scenes are typical stereotypes that don't think of the outside world. In one scene that takes place in a gay bar in New York, the actors go over the top in characterizations of their love of Broadway musical theatre. These overly fey individuals continue to talk about musical comedy even when there is a riot outside over the Stonewall incident. Patrick Michael Dukeman comes in to save the scene from utter tepidness dressed in drag and sounding like a way-out Tallulah asking "Who do I have to fuck to get a drink here?." He gives a brilliant interpretation of a bitchy drag queen and is sublime singing a tribute to the late Judy Garland.
Terrence McNally shows that he can still write wonderful conversation in the scene where an older couple, played luminously by P.A. Cooley and Patrick Michael Dukeman, sit on a park bench while two gender studies majors (Brandon Finch and Tim Redmond) interview them about how it was before the Stonewall Riots. It is like the young men have found the Dead Sea Scrolls. This could be a complete 70-minute drama with these four excellent actors.
Some Men has a heartrending scene involving a soldier at the funeral of his lover, who has been shot in combat. The lover's father, also in the army, is played amazingly without emotion by P.A Cooley. He laments that his son died without having a wife and child. That sums up the father's measure of life.
Another good segment is a scene set in the 1920s with a wealthy businessman (Tim Redmond) living in East Hampton having a relationship with his Irish chauffeur (Brandon Finch). The class difference between them cannot be out in the open since that would be a social stigma on the rich inhabitant. Both actors give engaging performances; Brandon has a perfect Irish accent in this role.
Some scenes take place in a gay chat room. Their handles are Top Dog, Boy Toy and Buffed in Chelsea and they are looking for quick pick ups. Anyone who has entered these chat rooms will have fun seeing them being repeated on stage. There is a winning scene about a young man, played fetchingly by Scott Cox, who is dying of AIDS in a hospital room. Cox plays the role with a sense of bravery and a sense of humor. There is a great scene that takes place during the Harlem Renaissance of the '20s where George Patrick Scott vibrantly plays Angel Eyes singing a sublime arrangement of "Ten Cents a Dance."
All nine hardworking actors play various parts. Christopher Morell plays roles ranging from a piano man in a gay bar to a busboy with a cute ass in the straight restaurant scene. He is first rate in all of his roles. Matthew Vierling also is great playing many roles, from an army soldier to a real hunk in a gay bar scene.
Ed Decker's skillful direction guides the action through the different times and places. Kuo-Hao-Lo provides a simple lighted set, and John Kelly and Keri Fitch's costumes are authentic to the time period. Special mention should be made of G. Scott Lacy who has great musical cues, such as the Charleston for the '20s and disco musical for the baths.
Some Men plays through July 12 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center , 25 Van Ness at Market, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org.
Photo: Lois Tema
I can't remember how many times I have seen Romeo and Juliet over my 82 years on earth. It must be over 40 times. I have seen great productions, like the Franco Zeffirelli production at the Old Vic starring Judi Dench and John Stride in the 1960s, and The Royal Shakespeare Company 1986 production that was set in modern Verona and the clans fought with switchblades and Romeo killed himself with a hypodermic needle. I have seen good regional productions like the Oregon Shakespeare Production with Kevin Kenerly several years ago and bad productions like the New York Shakespeare Festival production that miscast Cynthia Nixon as Juliet. I even saw an all-male version of the Bard's work at Sussex University in the U.K. that was very serious. I won't even go into the films of the two star-crossed lovers or the Broadway musical West Side Story or the magnificent ballet by Prokofiev.
California Shakespeare recently presented a very innovative modern version of the tragedy. Somehow it did not look like Verona anymore, but could have been any city in these United States. The cast ran around in torn jeans and t-shirts, the girls had mod outfits that made them look like Valley Girls and even the adults looked spiffy in GQ clothes. Yep, this was a hip version of Romeo and Juliet, with music by sound designer Andre Pluess to match.
The show's opening was straight out of West Side Story, without the music of Leonard Bernstein. The Montagues and Capulets fought it out with switchblades and even used skateboards. Down came the Duke (Julian Lopez-Morillas) dressed in a Bill Blass suit looking like Moses descending from a mount to stop this bloody fight. A lot of blood was spilled.
Director Jonathan Moscone came up with a dandy, exciting first act, thanks to the acting of Alex Morf as Romeo, Jud Williford as Mercutio, Craig Marker at Tybalt and Sarah Nealis as Juliet. It all started with the caper between the clans and zipped along with the meeting of Romeo and Juliet at the big disco dance of the Capulets to the end with the bloody fight of Mercutio and Tybalt. Alex Morf (The Rainmaker, Government Inspector at ACT) put his own spin on Romeo. He was an all-American teenager who fell in love very easily. There was no effete manner about him. It was a bright and youthful performance.
Sarah Nealis portrayed Juliet as a Valley Girl with an iPod. She was light and giddy when we first saw her, and the famous balcony scene brought freshness and naturalness to the roles. Ms. Nealis' Juliet matured beautifully as the play progressed. There was a lot of poignant depth in her performance, especially in the second act as a passionate, dutiful wife.
Jud Williford almost stole the first act as the effervescent Mercutio. He swaggered about, showing a lot of street smarts. His dissertation on his dream was a wonderful piece of powerful acting. Thomas Azar as Mercutio's buddy Benvolio was good driving around on a Vespa. James Carpenter gave a fine, blustery portrayal of the father of Juliet, while Julie Eccles was engaging as the mother. Comedy relief came from Catherine Castellanos playing the nurse to Juliet. She was straight out of a Spanish novella, especially in a bedroom scene with Julia. Craig Marker gave a strong performance as Tybalt, walking around like part of a Mafia family. L. Peter Callender as the head of the Montague family, Avery Monsen as the massager Sampson and Liam Vincent gave smart performances. Dances by MaryBeth Cavanaugh in the ballroom scene contained pop and dance tunes and the cast got down and dirty with the choreography.
Romeo and Juliet's second act just can't match the excitement of the fast-paced first act. It becomes over melodramatic with all of the weeping and wailing, especially during the last 20 minutes of the tragedy. Dan Hiatt gave a strong performance as the obliging Friar Lawrence. The bed scene between Romeo and Juliet was poignantly done in a modern style. The final tragedy at the Capulet tomb went on much too long. There was so much sobbing and howling among the characters it became overly exaggerated.
Liam Vincent came into his own playing Paris in the second act. The scene where he met Juliet in Church was chilling as he told her about their wedding night when she will be his (it was like a scene from The Godfather). Later he showed humanity when he realized Juliet was dead. Without saying a word, his face with tears coming down spoke a thousand words of grief.
Director Jonathan Moscone helmed an extremely stimulating production. Lighting by Russell H. Champa was dramatic in many of the scenes, especially in lighting up the real trees in back of the amphitheatre. Costumes by Raquel M. Barreto were dazzling, from the upscale GQ outfits for the upper class, to the torn jeans and t-shirts of the young folks and even Craig Marker's outfit, which was straight out of The Godfather. Bravo to fight director Dave Maier for giving us some exciting realistic fights between the families.
Romeo and Juliet was the first production of the season by Californian Shakespeare Theatre located at the Bruins Amphitheater, 100 Gateway, Orinda. Their second production will be Noel Coward's Private Lives opening on July 8th and running through August 2nd. For tickets call 510-548-9666 or visit www.calshakes.org.
Photo: Kevin Berne