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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,
Dearly Beloved
and Terre Haute


Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin
The most intense iconic 20th century battle of the sexes is now on display at the Golden Gate Theatre as part of the Best of Broadway series. Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin star as Martha and George in Edward Albee's forceful three-act play running through May 12.

The current production is more comical and less dark than prior productions I have seen.  There is still a sadomasochistic and cruel battle between George (Bill Irwin) and Martha (Kathleen Turner) in front of the two guests who don't know what the hell is going on.  However, the tempestuous love-hate relationship between George and Martha has somehow lost its heart.

The opening act, before the guests arrive, seems to be more Neil Simon than Edward Albee. On opening night the audience was laughing at every zinger in the confrontational conversation between George and Martha. Also, it seemed that both actors were reading the lines with very little emotion or incisive wit. They have been playing this role for several years and look tired.

The second act becomes pure Albee when the fantastic conversation between George and Nick (David Furr) takes place. Bill Irwin brilliantly dominates this act with his razor-sharp sense of humor (one can see why he won a Tony Award for this role). With her husky voice, Kathleen Turner plays Martha like Tallulah Bankhead, especially in the last scene when she talks about the "lost child." She oversells the character's obscenities and meanders through the role as a flossy flirtatious woman.  Only in the last scene does she bring out the human qualities of the role.

David Furr has a firm handle on the character of Nick.  He looks and acts like an athlete and hold his own against the machinations of George and Martha.  Kathleen Early plays Honey as an airhead with an overdone naiveté. She does have good acting chops when Honey realizes Nick has revealed some of her deep, dark secrets.

John Lee Beatty's set design is similar to what I have seen in past productions.  Jane Greenwood's costumes are appropriate for the 1960s New England college town. Anthony Page directs with delicacy and simplicity, with some changes from the original script. 

Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? runs through May 12th at the Golden Gate Theatre, Market at Taylor, San Francisco.  For tickets call 415-512-7770 or visit www.shnsf.com.

Photo: Carol Rosegg


Dearly Beloved

Dearly Beloved
Lorraine Olsen, Darcy Brown-Martin and Diana Boos
The Willows Theatre Company is presenting the West Coast premiere of Dearly Beloved. This is the first in a trilogy of southern fried comedies from the co-authors of Dearly Departed.  The wild and crazy hootenanny is written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooden.  The two-hour fast-paced production is "Hee-Haw" meets "The Andy Griffith Show," with a dash of "The Dukes of Hazard" thrown in for good measure.

Dearly Beloved centers around three sisters who had comprised the gospel singing trio, The Sermonettes. They now reside in the small Texas town of Fayro (which must be somewhere near Greater Tuna). Frankie's daughter is getting married and she has decided on a theme wedding based on Gone with the Wind. This is going to be the biggest event this small town has ever seen.   There will be hog calling, baton twirling and good old-fashioned clog dancing.  There is even going to be a barbeque of 300 pounds of pig (you can actually smell the pig roasting during some of the scenes).

Dearly Beloved would not be a comedy if the wedding plans went smoothly. All kinds of shenanigans tumble and rumble during the fast-moving farcical comedy, including a missing bride and groom, and there are many good ol' country zingers coming from the mouths of the citizens of Fayro, Texas.

Darcy Brown-Martin is the only serious actress with all of the mayhem going around her.  As Frankie, she plays straight woman to sisters Honey Raye and Twink.  Lorraine Olsen is a riot as Honey Raye.  She plays the role like Carol Burnett in one of her television specials. She even looks like Ms. Burnett in a short, red, skin-tight dress.  She looks like she just came from a bordello. Diana Boos is very good as the brassy Twink who "caters" the affair. 

Margaret Taylor is engaging as Geneva Musgrave the wedding organizer.  Caroline Altman could not be more malicious as the groom's mother.  She plays it like Cruella de Vil.

Ryan Tasker is riotous as the UPS driver and minister-in-training who will marry the couple.  Michael Ray Wisely gives an impressive performance as the father of the bride. Nikolai Lokteff gives a good account as the good ol' boy Texas sheriff.  Brian Levy says very few words but is a scream playing dead drunk on booze and pills delightfully.

Jon Wai-keung Lowe's set is an excellent image of small town stores one would see on a main street in Texas. The set opens up to show the interior of The Tabernacle of the Lamp Church.

Dearly Beloved runs through May 13th at the Willows Theatre, 1975 Diamond Boulevard, Concord. For tickets call 925-798-1300 or visit www.willowstheatre.org.   Their next production will be A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine, opening on May 28th and running through July 1st.

Photo: Judy Potter


Terre Haute

Terre Haut
John Hutchinson and Elias Escobedo
The New Conservatory Theatre Center is presenting the world premiere of Edmond White's gripping play Terre Haute through May 6th.  This 80-minute two-person production is one of the most outstandingly performed dramas of the year.  Elias Escobedo and John Hutchinson give compelling performances as prisoner Harrison and interviewer James.

The powerful drama is an imaginary interview between Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and author Gore Vidal.  The names have been changed, but there is no effort to disguise who these characters are modeled after.

James has been granted 20-minute interviews session with Harrison as he awaits his execution at the Indiana maximum security prison. James has flown from Paris since he expressed a great desire to see what makes Harrison tick.  James asks the audience, "Why else would anyone want to visit Terre Haute?"

Both James and Harrison share highly critical views of the United States government in regard to the Bill of Rights. Much is discussed of the 1993 FBI raid on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, where 81 members were killed.  The two men have different values of life, however.  Harrison has no remorse for the lives that were lost in the Oklahoma bombing.  He calls them "collateral damage," necessary when acting on a principal.  His bible has been the controversial "Turner Diaries."

Elias Escobedo is brilliant as the twisting, fanatical Harrison. His outbursts are frightening when the interviewer gets under his skin.  The superb actor remains in a six foot by twelve foot cage dressed in a khaki jumpsuit.  He gives a riveting performance and even shows humanity on the part of the prisoner.  One begins to feel sorry for him toward the end of the drama.

John Hutchison gives a commanding performance as the bi-sexual interviewer.  He uses all of the tricks of the trade, including patronizing, compassionate speeches. He becomes berate and even flirtatious with the prisoner. His talk to the audience between the four 20-minute interviews is splendid.

Bruce Walters has designed an excellent prison set with the large plastic cage in the center of the intimate theatre.  Lighting by John Kelly gives a feeling of a brightly lit prison interview room.  Christopher Jenkins has directed a taut production with no dull moments.

Terre Haute plays through May 6th at the New Conservatory Theatre through May 6th . For tickets please call 415-861-8972 or online at www.nctcsf.org.

Photo: Lois Tema


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

- Richard Connema



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