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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Playhouse West Opens Season with
a Provocative Production of
Steven Dietz's Force of Nature

Also see Richard's reviews of Dog Act and Couch

Force of Nature
Robert Hamm and
Amy Kay Raymond

Playhouse West opens its 10th Anniversary season with the eloquent and provoking drama Force of Nature by prolific playwright Steven Dietz. The play has been freely adapted from Goethe's Elective Affinities, which had a powerful impact on Europe 200 years ago. Dietz has updated the action to 1908 Germany, and the drama explores the consequences of persons who are unable to control forces of nature. The play explores those unwanted adulterous passions between men and women which can destroy the nature of things.

Force of Nature was first presented by Milwaukee Rep in 1999. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival gave an excellent production during their 2000 season at the Angus Bowmer Theatre with many of the OSF regulars. This production marks the third appearance and California premiere of the articulate play.

Force of Nature's plot centers around an idealist couple, Edward (Hugh O'Gorman) and Charlotte (Amy Kay Raymond). They are happily married, in fact so happily married, you know something is going to happen to get the play moving. Needless to say, clouds soon mar this happy marriage through the arrival of a captain (Robert Hamm). To further stir up the plot, a young, placid orphan girl named Ottilie (Kelli Tager) joins the household. You now have a snobby soap opera with beautiful and delicately phrased words coming from the actors' mouths. There is even a sub plot about the giddy Lucianne who loves to speak French, falling for bashful schoolteacher Nicolas (Derek Lux). There is a lot going on in this two hour production of manners.

Force of Nature discusses many ideas that must have shocked the German public 200 years ago, such as destiny, free will and the fickleness of the heart. There is even a character, Mittler (Gary S. Martinez), who drops in from nowhere to try to straighten all of the proper couples out. As he relates to Charlotte on their first meeting, "you have not only four guests in the house but a fifth guest whose name is 'caprice' ."

You may be struck by some similarities to Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, since this play also involves landscaping. Everyone here tries to struggle against natural similarity in the name of ethics and decorousness. However, it a hard struggle against the forces of nature.

Amy Kay Raymond (Off Broadway actress now living in Los Angeles) is a standout as Charlotte. She gives meaning to the dialogue and is outstanding as the strong-willed wife of Edward, played by Hugh O'Gorman (many Off Broadway productions plus a founding member of the Mint Theatre in New York). He gives a very powerful performance as the man who wants to go against the force of nature.

Kelli Tager (Los Angeles actress) gives a lovely performance as the ethereal Ottilie. Robert Hamm (20-year veteran of SF Bay Theatre and winner of several Dean Goodman awards) is excellent as the captain, while Derek Lux (The Boy Friend, Smoke and Mirrors) has the cadence of the early 20th century up-market speech down perfectly. He is first class in his presentation of the shy teacher. Danielle Levin (Therese Raquin, All My Sons) is very perky as Ottilie. Gary S. Martinez (Joyful Noise, Charley's Aunt) has the dubious honor of being the play's moral conscious, giving out philosophical ideas of the 19th century. However, he handles the part well with his magnificent voice.

Director Lois Grandi does a super job in keeping the intricate action flowing between the many scenes. She gets the best out of the complete ensemble. The Douglas Ham set on the small three-sided stage is minimal with period piece sets and a painted backdrop of three poplars in the background. Costumes by Beverly Merrick are authentic early 20th century wear for the German upper class. A harpist provides background music.

Force of Nature runs through September 25 at the Knights Stage 3 in the Dean Lesher Regional Center in Walnut Creek. For tickets call 925-943-SHOW or visit www.playhousewest.org.


Photo: Charles Jarrett


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


- Richard Connema



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