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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Snapshots, The Busy World Is Hushed and
Tuna Does Vegas


A Charming Newly Revised Snapshots

Snapshots
Beth DeVries and Ray Wills)
Stephen Schwartz's appealing Snapshots has been around for a while. In the early 1990s David Stern and Michael Scheman talked to composer Schwartz about a new story that would feature his existing songs. However, Schwartz said he would have to rewrite some of the lyrics to fit the action of the story. Productions were presented in 2007 at the Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio, and the Seaside Music Theatre in Daytona Beach, Florida. The current TheatreWorks production, under the direction Robert Kelley, is a new revision of the story of middle-aged Dan (Ray Wills) and Sue (Beth DeVries) whose marriage is breaking up.  They leaf through a photo album in their attic, where they first fell in love. Molly Bell and Courtney Stokes alternate as the young Sue while Michael Marcotte and Brian Crum become Dan at various stages of his life.

Schwartz's fans will recognize tunes with new lyrics from Wicked, Pippin, Children of Eden, The Baker's Wife, Godspell and The Magic Show. A song cut from Rags, "If We Never Meet Again," takes on a new meaning in this delightful musical.  The circumstances and emotions stir up memories of the past and we see them come alive through the younger members of the six-person cast.

David Stern's book provides a solid structure for the songs, with plenty of pathos and mostly smooth transitions, thanks to musical supervisor and arranger Steve Orich. There are many wonderful musical moments, such as Courtney Stokes singing "Popular" from Wicked and Brian Crum and company singing "New Kid in the Neighborhood." There are lovely moments, such as the whole cast singing "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife or Ray Wills and Michael Marcotte singing "All Good Gifts" from Godspell. Courtney Stokes excels with "Lion Tamer" from The Magic Show. Ms. Stokes sings with great skill and has a voice reminiscent of Kristin Chenoweth. She displays moxie, quiet reflection and a knack for physical comedy as the young Susie. Molly Bell as the young adult Susan gives a polished performance and has great stage presence.  She has a bell clear voice in all of her songs.  Forty-something Sue is portrayed by Beth DeVries. She delivers her material with the calm despondency of a woman nearing the end of a marriage.

Brian Crum is very believable as a young boy, and his "drag" scene at the end of the first act is a real hoot.  Michael Marcotte has fine vocal chops as Dan in many of the scenes.  Ray Wills is excellent as the workaholic older Dan.

The effective set by Joe Ragey is a very detailed A-frame attic cluttered with assorted memories from Sue and Dan's past.  Lighting by Steven M. Mannshardt is quite efficient. Musical director William Liberatore capably leads the cast through some complex vocal arrangements and directs a four-piece orchestra.  The beautiful arrangements and orchestrations are the work of Tony nominee Steve Orich.

Steven Schwartz's Snapshots runs through July 13th at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 400 Castro Street, Mountain View. For tickets call 650-903-6000 or visit www.theatreworks.org

Doubt opens on July 16 and runs through August 10 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto, and Grey Gardens opens on August 20 and runs through September 14 at the Mountain View Center for the Arts.

Photo: David Allen


A Talky Production of The Busy World Is Hushed

Busy World in Hushed
Chad Deverman and Anne Darragh
Aurora Theatre Company is presenting Keith Bunin's new play, The Busy World Is Hushed, through July 20th.  The drama, which garnered a Lucille Lortel Award nomination, premiered at Playwrights Horizons in New York. Since then, several regional companies have presented the talky two-hour play.

The title comes from an Episcopal benediction that views death as "peace at last." I found that the superb acting outdoes the very lugubrious script with lectures about religion that go on much too long.

The plays opens in highly intelligent Episcopal minister Hannah's (Anne Darragh) cozy study. She is interviewing Brandt (Chad Deverman) who apparently is an agnostic. Hannah has discovered a new book, a translation and understanding of a newly discovered Coptic gospel. She needs Brandt to ghostwrite her new book.  Brandt is a young writer who is temporarily blocked on his own work because his beloved father has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Into the drama comes Thomas (James Wagner), Hannah's prodigal son who seems to have drifted across the United States.

All of the characters have their problems.  Hannah was widowed while pregnant when her husband died in a suspicious downing which might have been an accident or suicide. She has both herself and her son with her religious fanaticism. She is a very controlling parent. Brandt is troubled not only about his cancer-stricken father but about his own faith. Thomas's efforts to learn more about his long dead father always seem to come to a dead end. Each has their own private hell, and the struggles between them are cold, terrifying and lonely. Each character speaks as if he or she is writing a theoretical tome about life and faith.

Brandt and Thomas are homosexual and Hannah tries and does succeed with a temporary relationship between them. Their dialogue is sharp and piercing—probably the best confrontations in this two hour drama. Chad Deverman gives a superb performance.  His voice is communicative and by turns it becomes cautious or filled with emotion. His timing is perfect and his body language is easy.

James Wagner, who just graduated from A.C.T. school, is in his first professional acting gig, and he inhabits the rebellious Thomas with charm and believability. The confrontations with both his mother and Brandt are very good.

With Hannah, Anna Darragh has a difficult role to bring life.  She gives a finely tuned performance with a lively mix of brainpower, starchiness and drollness.   It is a lovely, controlled performance. 

Director Robin Stanton makes a valiant effort to bring life to the script but there is just too much preaching for him to overcome.  One could take the Shakespearean line on this drama: It's full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.

The Busy World Is Hushed runs through July 20th at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley.   For tickets cal l 510- 843-4822 or visit www.auroraheatre.org.  Their next production will be Gore Vidal's The Best Man opening on August 22nd and running through September 28th.

Photo: David Allen


Good Old Down Home Humor in Tuna Does Vegas

Those folks from the little town in Texas are back on stage at the Curran Theatre for a very limited run. Tuna is the "third smallest town in Texas" (population 300) where the Lion's Club is too liberal and Pasty Cline never dies. Arles (Jaston Williams) and Thurston (Joe Sears) still broadcast over the airwaves of the 750-watt station, OKKK.

The cast of zanies in this small town have been entertaining folks ever since they first appeared in Austin, Texas, for 26 years. There have been few shows that have sustained the longevity and popularity of the citizens of the most conservative town in Texas.  Greater Tuna, A Tuna Christmas and Red White and Tuna have been seen in schools, colleges, community and professional theatres.

The Tuna cast now takes to road and goes to "sin city." Tuna Does Vegas premiered at the Paramount Theater in Fort Worth last year. Jason Williams and Joe Sears are starting their 21-city tour from our city. The two hour and ten minute two-act production starts out with the two broadcasters announcing that Arles and his wife Bertha (Joe Sears) are going to renew their wedding vows at the "famous" Hula Chateau Resort in south Las Vegas. It seems most of the town's weird and loveable citizens will be going along for the ceremony. Of course, before they leave for Las Vegas, there are folksy zingers like Arles telling his radio audience about "The Russ Lambert Diet" which is "eat only what you can spare," or that the vice president of Smut Snatchers of the New Order, bible-thumbing Vera Carp (Jaston Williams), has just banned the book Black Beauty because of its subliminal nature (she is also thinking about taking the word "pussy " out of animal books in the library).

The two artists leave the confines of the radio station and scenes take place in the local restaurant, the airport and the Las Vegas resort.  Bertha, who is quite robust, worries about putting on a swimsuit at the resort. However, husband Arles has a devious way of getting her to wear the outfit. Pearl (Joe Sears), the richest person in Tuna with a lot of chickens, and Vera the religious nut are at the Lubbock Texas airport waiting for the plane to Las Vegas. The announcer says there will be four stops before they reach sin city. These two are squeezed into adjoining seats and this becomes one of the show's hilarious and rowdiest scenes.

Joe Bob Lipsey, head of Tuna's community theatre, goes to the resort to mount a Vegas revue with Helen Bedd (Jaston Williams) and Inita Goodwin (Joe Sears), Tuna's only restaurant waitresses, as showgirls. Pet protector Petey Fisk liberates an abused peacock in Vegas and Pearl wins a big jackpot at the Las Vegas airport which is probably the only time those machines ever paid off. She gets the big suite at the Hula Chateau with a revolving mirrored ball that you can turn off automatically.

Tuna Does Vegas has four new characters who are a real hoot.  The fabulous Anna Conda (Jaston Williams) is the flaming host and owner of the Hula Chateau. She has been to bed with everyone in Las Vegas, she claims. Dressed in a Carmen Miranda outfit and speaking with a Carol Channing voice, she is hilarious. Her bodyguard/assistant Shot (Joe Sears) was accidentally shot in the butt by Frank Sinatra.  He looks like a real sleazy guy with a paper-thin mustache.

Joe Sears and Jaston Williams also put on outlandish Elvis costumes in one scene to be part of the wedding ceremony of Arles and Bertha.  Their outfits are funnier than the dialogue in this scene.

Tuna Does Vegas still seems like a work in progress and it certainly could be tightened.  At least fifteen to twenty minutes could be taken out of the farce.

Tuna Does Vegas ran through June 28th at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco.  A Chorus Line comes to the Curran on July 8th and runs through July 27th.   For tickets call 415-512-7770 or visit www.shnsf.com for more information.


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

- Richard Connema



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