Regional Reviews: San Francisco
The Devil's Disciple, And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens and Stephen Schwartz and Friends
This marks the fourth time I have enjoyed this play, the last being at the National Theatre in London in 1994, starring Daniel Massey as General Burgoyne and Richard Bonneville as the disciple. The 1897 melodrama was the eighth play the Irish playwright wrote and the first to have financial success, thanks to Richard Mansfield's American production. Shaw went on to pen 59 more plays, becoming the greatest playwright in Victorian England. This rare Shavian comedy is his only play to take place in the United States.
The Devil's Disciple is the fictional story of Dick Dudgeon, an American hero during the Revolutionary War in New Hampshire. He is a devil's advocate who despises the religious pretense of those around him in the small town. He becomes courageous one night while visiting the Reverend Anthony Anderson and his wife Judith, and the minister is called away for a religious duty, leaving Dick and Judith alone in the house. The British are determined to hang the reverend as a warning to other colonial rebels. The redcoats arrive at the door of the minister's home and, bravely, Dick is willing go off to as his surrogate. Judith, who hated everything about the lifestyle of Dick Dudgeon, now sees the man in a new light. The second act court marshal of Richard Dudgeon with General Burgoyne, also known as Gentleman Johnny, interrogating the rebel is a masterpiece of Shavian wit and has relevance in today's world ("Have you realized that though you may occupy towns and win battles, you cannot conquer a nation?" asks the defiant rogue).
Barbara Oliver directs the classic as very light hearted without even a hint of schmaltz and no romantic interlude between Dick and Judith. Bernard Shaw would be happy with her direction.
Gabriel Marin (A Streetcar Named Desire, Dead Mother, Bug) fills the role of the dashing Richard Dudgeon splendidly. He has a wonderful amount of Shavian swagger in his portrayal of devil's disciple with a voice that clearly enunciates Shaw's classic words. Warren David Keith (Hysteria, Death Defying Acts, Tis Pity She's a Whore) as the worn out general is wonderfully droll in the second act, with some of the best lines of this classic melodrama ("Martyrdom, sir, is what these people like. It is the only way a man can become famous without ability").
Stacy Ross (Man of Destiny, Hedda Gabler, An Ideal Husband) delightfully portrays the minister's wife Judith. She is an enjoyment as she underplays the role in the scenes between Richard and Judith. Although she has little dialogue, her facial expressions are just perfect for the Aurora's cozy three-sided stage. Soren Oliver (Argonautika) as the clergyman Anthony Anderson gives a powerful performance. He is no pretentious fool but a thinking man who saves the day at the end.
Anthony Nemirovsky (More Stories by Tobias Wolff, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby) is engagingly goofy as Christy Dudgeon, the younger brother of Dick. Michael Ray Wisely (The Birthday Party) in the dual roles of Hawkins the attorney in the first act and the British sergeant in the second act gives satisfying performances in both roles. Allen McKelvey (The Weir) gives first-rate performances as Uncle Titus and Major Swindon. Trish Mulholland (Mrs. Warren Profession) shows the somber piety of the Widow Dudgeon in the first act. The cast is rounded out with Tara Tomicevic (The Trojan Women), who sweetly captures the anxiety of Orphan Essie.
Set Designer John Iacovelli has successfully created four settings to evoke the Dudgeon dwelling, the minister's home, British headquarters and the gallows yard, with a minimum of sets on the small three sided stage. Anna R. Oliver's costumes are authentic period wear, including the British soldier's regulation uniform. Lighting by Jarrod Fischer is a great asset to the plot.
The Devil's Disciple runs through December 7th at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets please call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org. Coming up next is The Coverlettes cover Christmas opening on December 16 and running through December 23.
Photo: David Allen
Eastenders Repertory Company and Theatre Rhinoceros are currently presenting 100 Years of Queer Theatre at Theatre Rhinoceros through November 23rd. Eight short plays are presented in repertory and broken up into three sequential evenings presented on a rotating schedule.
Series A includes the stimulating early Tennessee Williams one-hour play And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens. This is the first known Williams play set in the gay world. It deals overtly with homosexual life which may be the reason why the playwright refused to allow it be performed while he was alive. It is thought to have been written in 1957 and was first produced in 2004.
Death of Queens takes place in the Vieux Carre section of New Orleans where a transvestite gay interior designer, Candy (Drew Todd), lives in a luxurious flat. He is having a midlife crisis after an older lover and "sponsor" has deserted him for a younger lover. Candy is suffering from "the specter of loneliness" and starts to pick up rough trade in the gay bars of the district. He picks up a butch young sailor Karl (Wylie Herman) and offers the hunk anything for companionship. Under Charles E. Polly's shrewdly paced direction, the play follows the development of Karl's charismatic menace and Candy's exploitation.
Drew Todd is excellent as the transvestite, sporting a Southern accent that is between Blanche DuBois and Alma Winemiller. It is a very showy role and he makes the most of it. Wylie Herman is very good as the menacing hustler. Michael Vega is exuberant as next door neighbor Jerry Johnson, an overly fey friend. Alvin Krenning as Jerry's older lover is effective in the brief role. One can see the makings of Williams' later successful triumphs Streetcar Named Desire and Summer and Smoke in this early drama.
On the same program is Djuna Barnes' intriguing short play The Dove written in 1926. Barnes played an important part in the development of 20th century language modernist writing and was one of the key figures in 1920s and 1930s bohemian Paris. The drama is about two sexually frustrated sisters, Amelia (Carolyn Doyle) and Vera Burgson (Amanda Krampf), and a young woman they meet in the park whom they name "The Dove" (Diana Dorel Gutierrez). The sisters, who have a collection of knives and pistols, invite the woman to move in with them, and the short drama reveals their voyeuristic inclinations and obsession with violence and sexuality. The play is full of symbolism and realism.
Director Susan E. Evan has assembled a good cast to portray the sisters and the Dove. All give beguiling performances that depend on sophisticated wit. Susan Kendall delivers the introduction to the play.
Opening the evening of queer theatre is an interesting oddity written by Mikhail Kuzmin in 1907 pre-Revolutionary Russia. He was considered a dandy in Meyerhold's Theatre in Czarist Russia. This little 10-minute fluff with music is called The Dangerous Precaution and has never been performed on stage before. Lyricist John Lowell has composed English lyrics for Kuzmin's music in this all-singing operetta.
The Dangerous Precaution is a fairy tale that attempts to bring in gender transgressions and a concluding affirmation of homosexual love in just 10 minutes. It is played by a large cast of seven actors who do what they can with a piece that would be of interest to theatre historians.
There are two additional series in 100 Years of Queer Theatre that play on the rotation schedule. Go to www.TheRhino.org for more information. For tickets to all three, call 415-861-5079 or visit their website. The theatre is located at 16th and Van Ness in San Francisco.
Broadway by the Bay concludes its 43rd season with a delightful musical experience with composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz and his friends Liz Callaway, Debbie Gravitte and Scott Coulter singing the songs of the award-winning writer for stage and screen.
Stephen Schwartz opens the show at the piano with the lovely "Chanson" from The Baker's Wife and says to the audience, "this is the only French song you will hear tonight." The composer changed the order of the songs when he told the audience he just heard President-elect Barack Obama's press conference that afternoon and sang "Beautiful City" from Godspell. Schwartz then looks at the audience from his piano bench and says writing a musical is not as easy as it seems. He gives a good example of an opening song for Elphaba in Wicked. Originally the song was called "Making Good." However, it just did not sound right and after several revisions it came together as "The Wizard and I" which is one of the show stoppers in the musical.
Stephen Schwartz has an interesting velvet fog type voice. He is one of the few composers I know who can actually carry a tune, although he does have a little difficulty hitting the high notes. He is also a most personable performer who can break down the fourth wall with the audiences. For 20 minutes he entertains the spectators with songs from Children of Eden and Rags.
Schwartz introduces the dynamic Liz Callaway and she goes into a super rendition of "Lion Tamer" from The Magic Show. Later she brings down the house with a marvelous rendition of "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife. Debbie Gravitte, who the Associated Press once said was "one of the best voices on Broadway," rocks the house as Dolores the waitress singing "It's An Art" from Working. Later we learn that she originally sang "Defying Gravity" in concert with Stephen Schwartz before it became popular in Wicked. She does a powerful reading of the song.
Scott Coulter, whom I was hearing for the first time, shows an amazing voice on a combination of "Just Around the Riverbend" from Pocahontas and "Corner of the Sky" from Pippin. I agree with Show Biz Magazine: "He is the golden boy of cabaret." Scott has an amazing technique of reaching those high notes in the songs.
Stephen Schwartz comes back to sing a great arrangement of "Two's Company" from Magic Show supported by Liz Callaway in a wonderful duet. He is also very soulful on "Rewriting History" from the album Uncharted Territories. The four do a selection of songs from Pippin, Godspell, Wicked, Pocahontas and Prince of Egypt to end the production.
Of course, the audience demanded an encore as the artists left the stage. Stephen said to them, "Of course you knew we would come back," and launched into "Forgiveness Embrace" from Uncharted Territories as the whole cast joined him on "Someday" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This was the end of a splendid evening of entertainment.
Stephen Schwartz and Friends played a the San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 400 Delaware, San Mateo for only six performances November 6 through November 9. Broadway by the Bay will open their 44th season with the Gershwins' Crazy for You on April 2, 2009 For more details on their new season, visit www.broadwaybythebay.org.