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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Interesting Production Of
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Also see Richard's review of The Ken and Andy Show

The Ross Valley Players are presenting Jay Presson Allen’s drama The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie through August 18th. The Ross Valley Players are one of the oldest Marin County regional groups, and they present a full series of interesting plays each year. Jean Brodie saw the light of day from Muriel Spark’s best selling novel in 1961. The book was adapted to the London stage with Vanessa Redgrave playing the Scottish school teacher. This was the first time I had seen Ms. Redgrave in a theatrical performance, and she was splendid in the role. Zoe Caldwell played the role in 1967 at the Helen Hayes Theatre where it ran for 379 performances. Maggie Smith won an Oscar for her film portrayal of Jean Brodie. Since that time, the drama has been much neglected because of its “Britishness” and dated conversation.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie takes place at an exclusive school for girls in Scotland in the late '30s. Jean Brodie is a very opinionated person, somewhat on the side of fascism. She is one of the most complex characters ever written in a drama since she ripples with ambiguities and ironies in her life. Her motto is “Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.” She wants to inspire her pupils and not just teach them. She has a special group of young teenage girls who she calls her “crème de la crème.” However, the teacher's ideas on dictators Benito Mussolini and General Franco caus tragic consequences for one of the girls.

Jean Brodie has brought a considerable challenge to this regional theater group since the script is almost like a film with dozens of scene changes and three acts encompassing eight years in the life of the lead character. The story is fairly downbeat and grim, but the dialogue is very witty and there are many entertaining characters.

Esther Mulligan plays the flamboyant, unconventional Jean Brodie. She brings a sensitive rhythm to the character, and her accent is right on the mark. She rises to oratorical fury when she defends her methods. Miss Brodie's nemesis is Miss Mackay, played seamlessly by Anne Ripley who has a wonderful theatrical voice. Ben Colteaux is outstanding as the school’s art teacher who hides behind a mask of superiority at the beginning of the play. Jay Kerzner gives a strong performance as the weak Hordon Lowther, the music teacher who is also romantically close to Jean. He has that wonderful ability of being able to interact with a character without saying a word.

Jennifer Sowden, Sandra Allen, Gail Jones and Lauren Abra Lees are exceptional as the young, loyal followers of Miss Brodie. Ms. Sowden as Sandy progresses from a naïve innocent to a seemingly world-wise adult. You see a growing dislike of her teacher emerge slowly. Marilyn Krieger Hughes as Sister Helena, the story's narrator, is very forceful in the role.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie runs thru August 18 at The Barn, within the Marin Art and Garden Center, Sir Francis Drake Blvd. at Lagunitas in Ross. For tickets call 415-456-9555 or visit www.rossvalleyplayers.org.


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


- Richard Connema



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