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San Francisco by Richard Connema

after the quake, The Mousetrap and One Touch of Venus


Great Cast and Staging Gives after the quake a Provocative Production

after the quake
Jennifer Shin and Hanson Tse
Berkeley Repertory Theatre is presenting Haruki Murakami's after the quake, adapted for the stage and directed by two-time Tony Award winner Frank Galati. This poignant new play is about life and love in the wake of a devastating earthquake. The production opened on October 17, the anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

after the quake is a fascinating amalgamation of short stories by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. Frank Galati takes two of the six Murakami's stories - "Super Frog Saves Tokyo" and "Honey Pie" - and has them interlocking to make a mesmerizing 90-minute play. These are stories set in the late 1990s, telling of the aftermath of a major earthquake in the city of Kobe.

One of the stories is of a love triangle between a young novelist, Junpei (Hanson Tse), and his fellow student, Sayoko (Jennifer Shin). He loves her but never declares his feelings. She marries a journalist (Keong Sim) and has his child, Sala (Madison Logan V. Phan). However, she remains friends with Junpei in later life. Young Sala is having nightmares after the big earthquake and Junpei tells her the story of a "Honey Bear."

Junpei segues from his character to the narrator of a framing story about "Super Frog Saves Tokyo." It is about Takasuki (Paul H. Juhn), a lower level bank loan officer who discovers a frog (Keong Sim dressed in an minimalist costume) in his room. The frog has a plan for going underground, defeating a malicious worm and saving the town from an approaching quake.

Director Galati gives a wonderful stylized production that is true to the Japanese writings. This is a fantastic bit of visual theatre with live music provided by Jason McDermott on the cello and Jeff Wichmann on the koto. The set is an austere, simple, bright red frame that surrounds the proscenium stage with a stunning black lacquered floor.

after the quake's five actors have wonderful enunciation when speaking the lines of the famous Japanese author. Hanson Tai (created the role at Steppenwolf Theatre and recreated the role at La Jolla Playhouse) gives an inspired performance as Junpei. His shy manner is infectious as he carries his heart on his sleeve for the lovely Sayoko, played charmingly by Jennifer Shin (The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow).

Paul H. Juhn (The Importance of Being Earnest at La Jolla Playhouse and Mother Courage at Guthrie Theatre) is amazing going from the energetically macho Takasuki in one tale to the frightened clerk Katagiri in the other. Keong Sim (created the role at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and revisited it at La Jolla Playhouse and Long Wharf) is excellent as the superhero Frog who quotes ostentatiously from Dostoevsky, Conrad, Tolstoy and Hemingway. Petite Madison Logan V. Phan (Berkeley Ballet Theatre Nutcracker) is charming as young Sala.

The instrumental accompaniment softens the incongruent tones and imagery on stage. There is a mixture of western classical and traditional Japanese music in this superb production. Director Frank Galati has assembled a simple yet effective piece of theatre.

after the quake is playing at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Trust Stage, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley through December 2.For tickets please call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.

Photo: Kevin Berne


A Smart Production of The Mousetrap

The Moustrap

Center REPertory Company of Walnut Creek has resurrected the old warhorse, Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, with a brilliant cast of Bay Area favorites. Ms. Christie's murder mystery is known for having the longest run of any play in the world with 22800 performances as of August 2007 in the West End of London. Throughout its 55-year run, the actors and actresses who have appeared in the London production number 350, with 187 understudies. The Mousetrap is the classic "whodunit" murder thriller. This is the quintessential English murder mystery and great fun.

I first saw this thriller in 1952 at the Ambassador Theatre in London with Richard Attenborough as Sergeant Trotter, and his wife Sheila Sim as Mollie Ralston. Whenever I was in London through the years I made a habit of revisiting the Monkswell Manor set in the Ambassador Theatre. Only one original cast member survived all of the cast changes since the original opening night: the late Deryck Guyler can still be heard via a recording, reading the radio news bulletin in the play to this present day.

Agatha Christie's melodrama is full of silly coincidences that are fun to watch. There are false clues and some excellent melodramatic acting in this production.

The Mousetrap takes place during a heavy snowstorm at Monkswell Manor in Surrey. Mollie and Giles Ralston (Carrie Paff and Mark Anderson Phillips) have started up a new hotel in the converted manor. They are snowed in with four guests: the overly fey, hyperactive Christopher Wren (Mark Farrell); the oh, so very British Major Metcalf (James Carpenter); the mysterious Miss Casewell (Cassie Beck); and the wet blanket ex-judge Mrs. Boyle (Kerri Shawn). A mystifying stranger with a middle European accent, Paravicini (Michael Butler), soon joins them. Detective Sergeant Trotter (Craig Marker) arrives on skis to inform the group that he believes a murderer is on his way to the hotel, following the death of a Miss Maureen Lyon in London. From there on, it becomes a cat and mouse game among the guests. Most have something in common that is not disclosed until the end of the two-act drama.

The Mousetrap's complete cast is entrancing, and they interact wonderfully with each other with ghoulish amusement. The stylized acting is reminiscent of those 60-minute Edgar Wallace British film mysteries that were so popular in the 1940s and '50s in Britain. Craig Marker gives a topnotch performance as Sergeant Trotter. Mark Anderson Phillips is excellent, with a spot-on British accent as Giles Ralston. Carrie Paff gives a consummate performance as his wife Mollie. Both performances are straight out of a '50s J. Arthur Rank mystery film. Mark Farrell almost steals the show with his manically energetic acting (I was half expecting him to say the stereotype cliché, "tennis anyone?"). He has the strangest bouffant haircut that you are likely to see on any stage. James Carpenter gives a genuine performance as the quiet English Major Metcalf with very few words. Cassie Beck is exceptional as the aloof Miss Casewell. Kerri Shawn gives a brash performance as the irritable ex-Judge, Mrs. Boyle. Michael Butler, who is the artistic director of Center REPertory Company, is splendid as the mysterious middle European Paravicini, who occasionally slips into a Cockney accent.

Kelly Tighe has designed a wonderful detailed set of the living room of a large manor. It reeks of mystery as the play progresses. Chris Houston's sound and Kurt Landisman's lighting are superb. Elizabeth Poindexter's costumes are authentic late '40s outfits. Brava to Dawn-Elin Fraser for giving each actor and actress a marvelous English accent. Timothy Near has directed a taut melodrama mystery that should please the audience.

Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap runs through November 17 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, Margaret Lesher Theatre, Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. For tickets call 925-943-SHOW or go to lesherartscenter.org for more information.


A Melodic Production of One Touch of Venus

One Touch of Venus
Nina Josephs
42nd Street Moon Company's 15th season opens with the Kurt Weill, Ogden Nash and S.J. Perelman musical comedy classic One Touch of Venus. It plays at the Eureka Theatre through November 11th. The company presented this brilliant musical during its first season fifteen years ago and it is a pleasure to see it returning this season. Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash's score is one of the best of the 1940s Broadway musicals. It was most certainly ahead of its time. The musical is rarely presented today since the melodies and lyrics are very intricate for the general audience. The book by Ogden Nash and S.J. Perelman is full of incisive and witty attacks on the culture of the American consumer. It is still as relevant today as it was in 1944.

I first saw One Touch of Venus after completing basic training as a U.S. Army Air Force cameraman at Fort Dix in the late summer of 1944. On a weekend pass I saw this remarkable musical starring Mary Martin, Kenny Baker and Paula Lawrence. (Originally the role of Venus was to be played by Marlene Dietrich. However, she rejected the title role as being too sexy and profane. The role was then offered to Gertrude Lawrence who turned it down on the same principal.) Universal purchased the film for Ava Gardner and Robert Walker. The studio deleted most of the score, leaving only a few songs intact. I also saw the Encores concert version with Melissa Errico playing Venus.

The musical centers on a statue of Venus obtained by art dealer Whitelaw Savory (Peter Budinger). The statue (Nina Josephs) comes to life when barber Rodney Hatch (Anil Margsahayam) puts a ring on the statue's finger. She immediately falls for the timid barber who is engaged to the sharp-tongued Gloria Kramer (Juliet Heller). Venus moves into Rodney's apartment after she has gotten rid of the aggressive Gloria. The loving couple dream of marrying and living in Ozone Heights, where all of the houses are identical. The show has a marvelous ending.

Director Greg MacKellan has assembled a good cast of singers and dancers to perform the intricate score, which demands excellent singers for classic songs such as "Speak Low," "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" (my personal favorite) and "That's Him." Nina Joseph's work on these songs is an absolute joy. She looks good, acts very well and sings superbly. Anil Margsahayam is effectively wimpish as Rodney. He has excellent vocal chops in his renditions of "That's How Much I Love You'" and "Wooden Wedding." His voice is harmonically pleasing in the duet with Nina Joseph, "Speak Low."

Amy Louise Cole is a hoot as the quick-witted Molly Grant, with some of the best zingers in the musical. Chris Macomber does a rousing rendition of "Way Out West in Jersey" with great back up by Grant and Margsahayam. Peter Budinger is efficient in his role as the ultra-snobbish Whitelaw Savory. Juliet Heller is properly bitchy as the antagonistic Gloria Kramer. Tom Orr does a great comedy bit as Taxi Black and is droll in "The Trouble with Women." Tyler Kent, Jarrod Quon and Elise Youssef are well suited playing various parts.

Choreographer Tom Segal has devised some very good dances on this small stage and does a bang-up job on the ballet "Venus in Ozone Heights." Musical Director David Dobrusky, along with Nick DiScala on woodwinds and Chris Macomber on violin, provide great musical support for the performers. Costumes by Louise Jarmilowicz are authentic for the period of the late 1940s. Greg MacKellan's direction is crisp and each scene goes by smoothly.

One Touch of Venus runs through November 11 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-255-8207 on line at www.42ndstmoon.org.

Photo: David Allen


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

- Richard Connema



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