Regional Reviews: San Francisco
The Crowd You're In With, Lovers and Executioners and Oh, Lady! Lady!!
There is tension in the air, particularly for Windsong (Allison Jean White), who is about to have her first baby. Husband Dan (Kevin Rolston), a very boyish and defensive rock critic, is having some doubts about being a father. Jasper (T. Edward Webster) and his wife Melinda (Makela Spielman), who is now off the pill, are in conflict about having a baby. The childless worldly landlords Tom (Charles Shaw Robinson) and Karen (Lorri Holt) don't want to have a child. Later, Dwight (Chris Yule), a single waiter and friend of Jasper and Melinda, comes into the drama to add his two cents worth.
The innocuous backyard party becomes an ideological confrontation about having babies. There are arguments about marriage, property and children. The drama asks whether individual choices are truly personal or shaped by social and commercial expectations. Rebecca Gilman's excellent straightforward dialogue provides the framework of the story; it sparkles with droll remarks about what is just around the corner for these folks.
Director Amy Glazer has assembled seven excellent actors to speak the playwright's uncomplicated dialogue. Their timing in this war of words is dynamic. T. Edward Webster (Long Day's Journey Into Night at San Jose Rep) gives an excellent portrayal of the cautious, worried Jasper. Makela Spielman (New York credits and Silence, Children of a Lesser God) gives a good performance as the wife Melinda. She is especially stimulating in the last scenes of Melinda's quarrel with Jasper.
Charles Shaw Robinson (New York Eurydice) and Lorri Holt (Hilary and Soon-Yi-Shop For Ties, Frozen) are wonderful as the childless landlords. They are the catalyst in the drama with their chic political convictions and sharp cynicism. They don't need a child since they have a deep love for each other. The discussion toward the end of the play on how they met is beautifully portrayed.
Kevin Rolston (Sex Habits of American Women) plays Dan as a man who has yet to become a full fledged adult. He has that hip overgrown juvenile way about him, wearing an old sweatshirt that has seen better days. One wonders if he is prepared for fatherhood. Allison Jean White (Travesties, The Circle, Imaginary Invalid at ACT) gives a galvanized portrayal of Windsong ("her parents were hippies"). She plays the role as delicate person having her first child. Rounding out this group is Chris Yule (The Mystery Plays) as the perennial slacker. His discussion of serving parents and children in restaurants is a real hoot.
Director Amy Glazer keeps the action flowing smoothly. Erik Flatmo has devised a great detailed set of a cramped backyard in Chicago. Lighting by Kurt Landisman is excellent as daylight fades into early evening.
The Crowd You're In With plays through December 22nd at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. For tickets, call 415-441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. Their next production is the world premiere of Betty Shamieh's Territories.
Marin Theatre Company is presenting a delightful new version of the French comedy La femme juge et partie, now called Lovers and Executioners, through December 16. Antoine Jacob de Montfleury is a little known French writer who was a bitter rival of Moliere. His style emanated from Spanish theatrical traditions whereas Moliere's influences were Italian. The play is an adaptation of a 17th century Montfleury work by playwright John Strand, who won the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play in 1999.
Lovers and Executioners is about Bernard (Jackson Davis) thinking his wife Julie (Lisa Anne Porter) has had an affair, and he leaves her on a deserted island to die. The resourceful Julie escapes from the island and comes back to Bernard's town dressed as a man, only to find out that Bernard is courting a new young bride, Constance (Alexandra Creigton). Looking like a dashing cavalier, Julie now becomes Frederic to sabotage her husband's plans. Constance also has another admirer - Spanish Conquistador Don Lope (Lance Gardner), who wants to marry her. Julie/Frederic is appointed magistrate and has Bernard arrested and tried for the "murder" of his wife.
Lovers and Executioners is delightful, right from the moment that Bernard arrives in a cutout ship like a pirate. There are great sword fights, wonderful word games - all of this in the rhymed hexameter verse of Montfleury's play. Much of the play reminds me of Shakespeare's Winter's Tale or Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte. The battle of the sexes was never more witty, romantic fun.
Jackson Davis (Theophilus North, Happy End) is excellent as a noble buffoon who successfully alternates from haughty to fragile. He is ferociously funny when he dresses like a Turkish prince in one scene to woo Constance. Lisa Anne Porter (many roles at Cal Shakes) is splendid in the dual roles of Julie and Frederic.
Lance Gardner (Anna in the Tropics, Intimate Apparel) is hilarious with his over-the-top Spanish accent. As he sword fights with Frederic, he remarks about France to Frenchman Frederic: "there's no hope for a nation raised on cheese."
Alexandra Creighton (performed at Cal Shakes, Theatre Rhino) gives a winsome performance as Constance. She looks and acts like she just stepped out of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Gary Grossman, who looks like Sancho Panza of The Man of La Mancha, gives a good performance. Gwen Loeb (many roles at Center Rep, FoolsFury Company) is first class as Constance's maid Beatrice. She has the best monologues in the play. Liam Vincent (Orson's Shadow, King Lear and Richard III at Cal Shakes) has a small but effective role as Octavius, Frederic's dutiful and thoughtful friend.
Scenic Designer Steve Coleman has a field day with the set. It looks straight out of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Fumiko Bielefeldt's costumes are wonderfully outlandish. Lucas Benjamin Krech's lighting is perfect. Bravo to fight coordinator Dexter Fidler for some great sword fights.
Lovers and Executioners runs through December 16 at their theatre located at 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. For tickets, call 415-388-5200 or visitwww.marintheatre.org. Their next production will be the West Coast premiere of said Said opening on January 31 and running through February 24th.
Oh, Lady! Lady!! premiered at the 299-seat jewel box Princess Theatre in New York in 1919. Princess Theatre musicals set the standard for the way book musicals would be written for eighty years. Their musical comedies depended as much upon plot and the development of characters as the music itself. Every line, funny or serious, was supposed to help the plot move forward. The musicals were small, intimate entertainments in contrast to the big expensive musicals that were appearing on Broadway. Oh, Lady! Lady!! cost $7,500 to produce in this small theatre.
The musical, named for a popular catch phrase of the day, received ecstatic reviews. Dorothy Parker liked the way the action slid casually into song. It ran for a then astonishing 219 performances with a young Vivienne Segal (who appeared later in several Rodgers and Hart musicals) in the title role.
Jerome Kern's classic song "Bill" was first heard in the out of town tryouts of this show. However, it was cut just prior the opening since Mr. Kern thought it was just too slow for the shenanigans that were going on in the musical. ("Bill" was used in the next Princess Production, Zip Goes a Million , but the lyrics were changed to make it a song about a dollar bill. "Bill" of course later became a classic when it was sung by Helen Morgan in Show Boat). Oh, Lady! Lady!! is full of snappy gags and wonderful melodic songs. Wodehouse and Bolton wrote some wild humdingers like, "You are so full of beans there is a famine in Boston" and "I'm as useless as an umbrella in a shower bath."
The plot is like every plot that was popular during the 1920s and '30s. Well-bred Molly Farringdon (Meghann May) is getting married to the dashing but penniless Willoughby Finch (Michael Cassidy), much to consternation of her formidable mother Mrs. Cornelia Farringdon (Darlene Popovic). Willoughby is aided by his best friend Hale Underwood (Bill Fahrner), a Broadway producer who has produced such hits as A Bad Betty Buttercup and Daisy Dell's Dilemma. An old flame of Willoughby's, May Barber (Stephanie Rhoads), comes onto the scene and the nuptials are called off. Thrown into this madcap comedy are Spike Hudgens (Greg MacKellen), a reformed thief/valet, and his kleptomaniac sweetheart Fanny Welch (Leslie Hamilton), also known as Fainting Fanny. Even a British detective Cyril Twombley (Sean Sharp) gets into the act.
Director Kalon Thibodeaux has assembled a zany cast with some very good singers performing Kern's gorgeous melodies. Cynthia Rogers Baggott (The Cabaret Girl), looking and acting a lot like the late British comedian Joyce Grenville, opens the show with a lecture on the social mores of the times. Michael Cassidy (Seven Year Itch) is excellent as the handsome Willoughby Finch. He has a strong voice in his renditions of "Not Yet" and "Before I Met You." Meghann May (Li'l Abner, Merrily We Roll Along at TheatreWorks) is radiant as Molly. Her interpretation of "Bill" is beautifully done.
Stephanie Rhoads (Boys from Syracuse, One Touch of Venus is lovely and sassy as May and she is droll in the duet "Wheatless Days" with Bill Fahrner (Mack and Mabel, Goodtime Charley). Fahrner is a perfect ham as Hale, the best friend of Willoughby. His exaggerated movements as an actor in 1919 are just right. He has great vocal cords in the exquisite number, "Moon Song."
Leslie Hamilton (has appeared in 30 Moon productions) is hilarious as sticky-fingered Fanny. Her voice is a combination of Vivian Blaine and Judy Holliday. She is entertaining singing "Saturday Night" and "Greenwich Village," along with Michael Cassidy and Greg MacKellan, who sports a Brooklyn accent. MacKellan is excellent as the ex-con man who wants to go straight. The song is a forerunner of songs about the village and their "strange citizens."
Kalon Thibodeaux directs a fast-paced two-hour production and gives the actors the great gestures that were the cats pajamas following World War I. Choreographer Tom Segal has devised some nifty dances, and the costumes are provided by Deborah Rush of "Fashions of Yesterday." Dave Dobrusky provides good back-up on the piano and he does a little acting on his own in the second act.
Oh, Lady! Lady!! plays at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco through December 16.
Their next production will be Rick Besoyan's riotously funny The Student Gypsy (or "The Prince of Liederkranz, the follow-up to his operetta spoof Little Mary Sunshine that played several weeks on Broadway. The musical will open on March 27 and run through April 13, 2008
Photo: David Allen