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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Jack Goes Boating, The Servant of Two Masters
and In the Mood

An Enormously Likeable Production of Jack Goes Boating

Jack Goes Boating
Gabriel Marin and Danny Wolohan
Aurora Theatre is currently presenting the endearing romantic comedy Jack Goes Boating by Bob Glaudini. This smart comedy premiered at the Public Theatre/Martinson Hall in New York in 2007 with Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the role of Jack.

Jack (Danny Wolohan), a lumbering galoot who likes simple living, and his best friend Clyde (Gabriel Marin), a loveable loser, are limo drivers for a Manhattan company. Clyde is a fast talker who could probably sell refrigerators to Eskimos. Jack has an affection for things Rastafarian, which means he smokes a lot of pot and listens to one song over and over on an old-fashioned cassette player. He is just a happy-go-lucky slob who is satisfied with his life in general.

Clyde believes Jack needs female companionship, so he and his wife Lucy (Amanda Duarte) decide to set Jack up with Connie (Beth Wilmurt), an embalming assistant in a funeral home. Lucy does phone sales at the funeral home and is helping Connie to become a telemarketer of "grief seminars" for a hustler who calls himself Dr. Bob.

Jack and Connie had their first conversation in the dead of winter when Connie suggested that she would like to go boating with Jack in the summer. Unfortunately, Jack does not know how to swim. Clyde is great a swimmer and bigheartedly takes charge of Jack's swimming lessons. Not only that, but Jack can't cook, and Clyde plots for Jack to cook a perfect meal for Connie. There are captivating scenes of Jack, who clearly adores the self-assured Clyde.

Jack Goes Boating plays like a movie, with quick, snappish scenes that go from apartment to funeral home, swimming pool, subway, limo and Central Park. Playwright Bob Glaudini is able to present a wonderful comic chronicle of two relationships in the space of one hour and fifty minutes with intermission.

Joy Carlin has assembled four expert actors with wonderful chemistry, along with some superb production values. These are four characters you can care about, despite or because of their flaws. Danny Wolohan (Sex, he Lieutenant of Inishmore) disappears into the role of Jack. He displays the character as a faltering palooka and gives a poignant, multi-layered performance.

Gabriel Marin (2008 BATCC nominee for The Devil's Disciple) is outstanding as Clyde. He is constantly active in movement and speech and has an accent straight out of The Godfather. His speech on how to swim in a scene at a local public swimming pool is a hilarious tour de force of acting. He captures Clyde's sexual envy of his wife's past affairs with an intimidating intensity.

Amanda Duarte (Trying, Old Money at TheatreWorks) gives a superlative performance as Lucy. There is wonderful chemistry between her and Marin in their nerve-racking scenes in the second act. Their marriage is not the typical happy domesticated affair. It's more like Lucy and Ricky.

Beth Wilmurt (Bosoms and Neglect, Salome) as Connie fits right in with the three stellar actors. She plays her role with comic capriciousness and compassion.

Joy Carlin's direction is first rate. She brings out a full measure of humor and moving eccentricities from the four actors. Melpomene Katakalos has designed a suggestive set that includes the wall of a public swimming pool on the second level that is also used for the subway scenes. Jim Cave's lighting design and Chris Houston's sound design improve the entertaining swimming pool scenes.

Jack Goes Boating plays through July 19 at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley . For tickets please call 510-843-4822 on visit www.auroratheatre.org. Their next production will be Clifford Odet's classic Awake and Sing opening on August 21st.

Photo: David Allen


The Servant of Two Masters at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Servant of Two Masters
Mark Bedard
Oregon Shakespeare Festival is presenting the world premiere of a new version of Carlo Goldoni's commedia dell'arte, The Servant of Two Masters. The new adaptation is by Oded Gross and Tracy Young with a literal translation by Beatrice Basso. This fast-paced, hilarious production is one of the big hits of the current season in Ashland. The masterpiece of the Italian style is playing at the New Theatre through November 1.

Carlo Goldoni is considered one of the top three Italian authors, in addition to Machiavelli and Pirandello. This play was re-discovered in 1947 by Giorgio Strehler and presented at the Piccolo Teatro di Milano during that year. It played at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2005.

Director Tracy Young has put a new spin on this 1753 dell'arte comedy. It opens with a troupe of actors on stage bemoaning the bad economic times and the effect on current theatre. The company is reduced to borrowing and recycling props from other OSF plays, past and present. (It would be interesting to see how a regional theatre in this area would present the production). David Kelly, who is to play Pantalone in the production, complains that he doesn't see many budget cuts in the Scottish play that is also playing in festival. Another actor deadpans, "You mean Brigadoon." These are the kind of zingers the audience will be hearing in this active farce.

The cast suddenly realizes that "there are people in the seats"; they panic and quickly get ready to perform the 250-year-old play. Costumes and props are recycled from other current OSF productions, even a trunk from this year's Henry VIII and chucks of stage floors from past productions for the town square. The actors poke fun at the current season productions of Macbeth and The Music Man. There are reminders of current events throughout the madcap comedy, including an actress saying, "I can see Russia from my house." Lines come fast and furious as lovely Smeraldina fends off the philandering Pantalone by telling him, "If you could run faster than a snail on Quaaludes, I might be worried."

The Servant of Two Masters has enough twists to be riotously entertaining. Truffaldino (Mark Bedard) attempts to double his salary by serving two masters at once, juggling his tasks, which complicates things with the incensed fathers, disillusioned lovers, deferred marriages, erroneous identities and misunderstandings. Everything is thrown into this speedily paced piece but the kitchen sink. The actors break the fourth wall by performing in the audience on special built-up platforms. In one scene, actors juggle soup pots, and meatballs are hurled over the heads of the audience.

Under the splendid direction of Tracy Young, all of the actors give highly physical performances with wonderful exaggerated movements. David Kelly as Pantalone and Richard Howard as Dottore define their characters with doddering movements and larger-than-life tics. Kate Mulligan is terrific in male drag playing a disguised sister of Federigo who is one of the masters of Truffaldino. The other master is Florindo, played by Elijah Alexander. He plays the role as a wonderful ham actor who should be in a Shakespearean production. The wonderful Eileen DeSandre gives a super campy performance as the budding psychotic cook Brighella. Juan Rivera LeBron and Elisa Bocanegra are charming as Silvio and Smeraldina.

Mark Bedard is outstanding as the servant. He gives a tour de force of physical and comedic acting. This is a fervid performance that gets belly laughs from the audience. This actor is everywhere, not only on stage but in the audience as well. Rounding out the cast are Todd Bjurstrom, B. Trevor Hill and Samuel D. Dinkowitz as porters. They give harebrained performances in smaller roles.

Christal Weatherly has a field day with clever costumes that are evocative of commedia dell'arte. Richard L. Hay's minimal set on the three-side stage is greatly helped by effective lighting by Lap-Chi-Chu. Sound design by Paul James Prendergast includes some hilarious sound effects, especially when the actors are throwing things in the audience. Tracy Young's direction is exciting, with perfect comic timing on the part of all of the actors.

The Servant of Two Masters plays at the intimate New Theatre through November 1. For tickets please call toll free 800-219-8161 or visit www.osfashland.org.

Photo: Jenny Graham


A Swinging Production of In the Mood

In the Mood
Marjorie Rose Taylor, Danielle Cain, Tyler Costin and Tim Kniffin
6th Street Playhouse is presenting a groovy play with music based on William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. This Bard's play has appeared in many guises over the years, including a pop 1950s production that I saw in the United Kingdom.

The late Patrick Watkins' inspiration was to marry Much Ado About Nothing and big band songs of the 1940s, such as "In the Mood" and "Apple Blossom Time," with John Fitzgerald's adaptation of the play that took place at a captured Italian villa during World War II. Watkins staged his version at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 1997 but died of AIDS before it opened. Since that time Fitzgerald has wanted to resurrect Watkins' musical mixture of Elizabethan text and music of the '40s. It has played in various cities across the nation, including San Diego's Balboa Theatre, and will play the Covina Center for the Performing Arts in August.

In the Mood stays close to Shakespeare's text of Beatrice (Danielle Cain) and Benedick's (Tim Kniffin) love/hate relationship, and Hero (Marjorie Rose Taylor) and Claudio's (Tyler Costin) storybook romance. The play incorporates the swinging music of the great big bands. The cast members come up to a podium with an old fashion microphone to sing the great 1940s standards. The two-hour production starts out with three lovely ladies looking and singing like the Andrews Sisters. Elly Lichenstein, Shannon Rider and Marjorie Rose Taylor do a swinging version of "In the Mood."

The setting is 1944 and Leonora (Elly Lichenstein) runs a wartime retreat in a captured Italian villa for USO singers and dancers. The story is basically the same as the original play with a few minor changes. The bantering between Beatrice and Benedick seems shorter than in the original. However, these are the most side-splitting scenes. The evil plot of Don John (Anthony Abate) is the centerpiece of the comedy-drama, and Dogberry (Chris Murphy) as the head of the watchman has his quirky funny scenes.

The cast is uniformly fine with some outstanding performances by Tim Kniffin as Benedick and Danielle Cain as Beatrice. Kniffin gives a hilarious performance, especially as he attempts to hide behind bushes, doorways and even a large group of balloons to hear what Beatrice "truly" thinks of him. He carries the Bard's cadence flawlessly, singing in great voice Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's "Come Rain or Come Shine." Danielle Cain is the perfect foil in this crazy nonsense. She gives an excellent cold and icy performance.

Marjorie Rose Taylor is enchanting as Hero and has good vocal chops singing George and Ira Gershwin's "Someone to Watch over Me." Tyler Costin gives a good performance as Claudio singing the Gershwins' "Our Love Is Here To Stay" and Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal's "I'll Be Seeing You." Elly Lichenstein has a smooth voice singing Vincent Youmans, Bill Rose and Edward Eliscu's "More Than You Know."

Anthony Abate gives a scowling performance as Don John, and Barton Smith is effective as the accomplice Borachio. Veteran actor Chris Murphy has the difficult role of Dogberry but does well with the blitz of words he must voice. The rest of the large cast looks and acts like USO entertainers during World War II.

David Lear has devised a terrific detailed set of the front of an Italian villa. Costumes by Ruth Bracken and Pat Fitzgerald are authentic soldier outfits with the females in short 1940s dresses. Lighting by John Connole is perfect, and Stephen Dietz' sound is just right for the swinging '40s. Ann Woodhead's staging of the jitterbug numbers is full of vivacity. John Craven's direction gives the production a great flair of extensive physical humor.

In the Mood closed on June 28th at the 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa.

Photo: Eric Chazankin


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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