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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Take Me Out, Jersey Boys and Rabbit Hole


Take Me Out Hits a Home Run

Take Me Out
Patrick Michael Dukeman and
Brian J. Patterson

The New Conservatory Theatre Center's production of Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out hits a home run with a cast of very talented young actors who look and act like baseball players. This is my fourth time in the stands, and this production compares favorably to the productions I have seen in New York and the 2004 touring company at the Golden Gate.  It certainly plays better in this smaller theatre.

Take Me Out is about the popular and well-loved African-American center fielder Darren Lemming (Brian J. Patterson), who has the cocksure stance of an athlete who knows he is the best in his field. He is young, affluent, celebrated, talented, good-looking and so convinced of his popularity that he causally announces he is gay to the public. He just assumes that this news will be gladly accepted by everybody, including his teammates who play for the world champion New York Empires. The repercussions of his revelation drive this provocative play, setting in motion a chain reaction of disruptions among his teammates, fans and friends.  Darren is forced to deal with those on his own team who think he is a "queer."  Only his good friend, shortstop Kippy (Matt Socha), stands by Darren.

Take Me Out is really two plays as there is also a romance in the comedy-drama. Darren's timid accountant Mason Marzac (Patrick Michael Dukeman), who really doesn't know if he is heterosexual or homosexual, discovers the sport of baseball and it becomes his new found obsession.

Director Ed Decker has assembled some excellent actors, putting well-known comic actor Patrick Michael Dukeman (When Pigs Fly, Whoop-Dee-Doo, Crucifixion) in the role of Mason.  Whenever he is on stage, he dominates with self-deprecating asides with a kind of sorrowful hilarity. His lecturing on the game's intricacies is uproarious. Dukeman is brilliant as he goes from being a lonely person that even "the gay community won't accept" to a person who has a new lease on life as a rabid baseball fan.

Brian J.Patterson (Grease plus film credits in Faith and Xenon) gives a confident portrayal of Darren. He personifies the man of color "routinely adulated by people of pallor."  His purposeful aloofness allows the audience to see what his character is blind to, and how his actions affect others.

Jeffrey Cohlman (Fabulous Adventures of Captain Queer), who looks like he just came from the hills of Arkansas or Tennessee, is scary as the bigoted "hillbilly" pitcher Shane Mungitt.  His Arkansas speech is perfect and he gives an arresting performance.

Matt Socha (Farm Boys, Visiting Bertha) gives a winning performance as Kippy, the intelligent member of the team. He lends an efficient and gentle touch to the character as the narrator of the story.

Every member of the team gets a chance to shine in small solo parts.  Donovan Keith (Fabulous Adventures of Captain Queer, What The Butler Saw, Here I Go Boys Wish Me Luck) gives a cheerful performance as the dull-witted catcher.  His attempt to bond with the Japanese pitcher is a side-splitting tour de force of comic acting. Arthur Keng (Emperor Norton, the Musical) is effective as Takeshi Kawabata who speaks only Japanese. Keng gives a fervent performance as Kawabata blows off steam in the second act. Carlos Barrera (After Dark ) and Tom Orr (many productions at 42nd Street Moon musicals) as Martinez and Rodriquez play their roles as rowdy members of the team.  Both are high-spirited, speaking only Spanish to the other members of the team. Tim Redmond (has played in Los Angeles and Chicago) gives a skillful turn as a player out of control thinking about his bareness in the locker room and shower after Darrin has declared his homosexuality. Myers Clark (Murder at the Next Stage, Lower Depths) gives a genuine performance as Darren's best friend Davey Battle, a virtuous player from a rival team. Rounding out the cast is Michael L. Uimari (Party Dazed, Whoop-Dee-Do), who gives effectual performances of several characters.

Bruce Walters' set is an excellent vision of a detailed, brightly colored locker room, with garments and towels in place.  The shower design gives the appearance of the team taking a shower without actual water coming from the shower heads. Costumes by Keri Fitch are authentic baseball outfits and John Kelly's lighting is first rate.  Sound designer Brian Morse gives realistic sounds, including the swish of a ball and knocking of bats in a game. Director Ed Decker's direction is perfect with no dull spots. 

You don't have to know about baseball to enjoy this absorbing play. Take Me Out has been extended through July 15 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness at Market St, San Francisco.  For tickets please call 415-861-8972 or online at www.nctcsf.org.

Coming up next is Wilde Boys at the intimate theatre and Legends at the middle theatre.

Photo: Lois Tema


Jersey Boys Second Cast is Dynamite

Jersey Boys
Steve Gouveia, Jarrod Spector, Drew Gehling and Jeremy Kushnier
A new cast has moved into the Curran Theatre for the Tony-winning musical Jersey Boys.  This entertaining musical is just as good on second look as the original touring production that premiered here in December 2006.

Jarrod Spector (Broadway Les Miserables, national tour of Jersey Boys) portrays Frankie Valli. He has an easy falsetto singing voice and is outstanding in "Fallen Angel." Every time he sings, the audience goes bananas. In the beginning of the production his speaking voice is like an untrained Jerry Lewis.  However, it becomes more adult as the musical progresses.

Jeremy Kushnier (Broadway Footloose plus tours of Rent, Aida, The Who's Tommy) seems more at home as the slapdash, wise guy Tommy DeVito. He looks like one of Tony Soprano's gang and sports a fine Jersey accent.  He also has great vocal chops when singing with the group.

Drew Gehling (productions for Paper Mill Playhouse and The Roundabout Theatre Company) gives a solid performance as the straight arrow Bob Gaudio. He makes a great appearance on stage and has strong singing voice.

Steve Gouvela (Broadway and La Jolla Playhouse Jersey Boys) as Nick Massi, the "Ringo" of the group, underplays his role until the end when he bursts out in sudden talkative frankness.

The supporting cast includes Eddie Driscoll as the high strung Gyp and Jenny Lee Ramos, who is properly spirited as Valli's first wife. Rashad Naylor, who plays various roles, is great in the opening "rap" number and shows a powerful voice in several scenes. The rest of cast, including Mike Erickson, Wade McCollum, Ryan Quinn West, Kevin Russell, Jenny Lee Ramos and Brad Russell, give good performances.

Jersey Boys is an inspired production with some great technologically advanced LED screens, overhead images by set designer Klara Zieglerova and energetic lighting by Howard Binkley.  Steve Canyon Kennedy's sound is perfect for the Curran Theatre.  Director Des McAnuff's direction is fast-paced with only some maudlin moments; however, he has wisely put in major songs throughout the production to relieve those mawkish moments.

Tickets are now on sale until the end of September.  For tickets call ticketmaster or go online at www.shnsf.com.

Photo: Joan Marcus  


An Excellent Slice-of-Life Production of David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole
Stacy Ross, Lynne Soffer and Jessa Watson
San Jose Repertory Theatre is currently playing the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Drama, David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole, a play teeming with humor, sympathy and honesty. This is my second visit to this well written drama (I recently reviewed the play up at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival).

David Lindsay-Abaire has generally written plays with comical characters, such as Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo.  The playwright has now written a bittersweet drama about a family dealing with the loss of their four-year-old son Danny who was killed in an accident eight months earlier.  The playwright has crafted a drama that is an exposure of a poignant examination of grief laced with humor, understanding, sympathy and intense honesty. He has steered the two hour production away from melodrama.

Becca (Stacy Ross) is an acerbic, intelligent woman who is lost in her own pain.  She can find no purpose in her life. She is also very hypercritical and obstinate to her family and friends.  Ross captures the character's sharp sense of loneliness. She is superb in the role and plays the character naturally.  Howie (Andy Murray) the husband copes better with the loss.  He tries vainly to help his wife return to normalcy. Murray gives an excellent portrayal of an easygoing husband. He is able to play the role with sorrow while never making an outward show of it.

Lynne Soffer seems a little too young to be playing Nat, the down to earth mother of Becca. She provides humor in the drama by discussing such mundane topics in the first act as discussing the so called "Kennedy Curse" ("just rich people acting stupid") in an effort to get away from talking about the death of her grandson. It's a great, witty performance that is needed in this drama.

Jessa Watson is very good as Izzy, Becca's kooky sister. She adds glitter to the play as the free-spirited wisecracking character. Her progression from immature wild child to mature adult is brilliantly drawn. James Breedlove, as Jason the guilt-ridden teenager driver who caused Danny's death, portrays the character as a nerdy boy trying to comfort the couple. As he sits on a couch next to Becca, trying to console her, he is heartbreaking.  He has wonderful freshness in portraying the character.

Kate Edmunds' set design of an up scale suburban living area is stunning, especially the kitchen, which is great down to the last detail.  There are several scenes that take place in Danny's bedroom on the second floor.  Rather than add a level to the ground floor set, Edmunds has placed the bedroom center stage and covered it when not in use. The box set is pushed out front when it is needed. The set is discreetly lit by David Lee Cuthbert, and costumes by B. Modern are very good.  Kirsten Brandt helms an excellent smooth-running production.

Rabbit Hole played through June 10th at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose.  For tickets please call 408-367-7255 or on line at www.SJRep.com. Their next production will be Ella, a musical event that captures a legend. It opens on June 23 and runs through July 22.

Photo: Pat Kirk


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

- Richard Connema



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