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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Producers, The Model Apartment and Philistines


A Zany Production of Mel Brooks' The Producers

The Producers
Marcus Klinger and Ryan Drummond
The Diablo Light Opera Company is one of only ten regional theatres in the United States granted the licensing rights for The Producers, and this company does a bang-up production of Mel Brooks' zany musical. This is the most costly show in the company's fifty-year old history—almost a half million dollars, with all of the sets were built from scratch, designed by Andy Scrimger.

Director Ryan Mark Weible has assembled 28 singers and energy-driven dancers and an orchestra of fifteen to present a truly spectacular show. It is equal to any touring show I have seen. The Producers is fresh, inventive, knee-slapping and gut-busting. The "Springtime for Hitler" number is a real showstopper, with some of the most outrageous costumes designed by Melissa Anne Paterson you will ever see.   Jacob Brent's choreography is first rate in this wacky put-on number, and his dance sequence for the little old ladies with walkers is uproarious.

The production has been expertly cast with a collection of smartly impressive comic performances. Marcus Klinger is hilarious as Max Bialystock.   He looks and acts like a madcap Zero Mostel.   He is a master of the single, double and triple take. Ryan Drummond is excellent as Leo Bloom. He is a perfect comic nerd and has a wonderfully warm singing voice on "I Wanna Be a Producer" and "That Face."

Ginny Wehrmeister is very perky as Ulla with a nice Swedish accent. She possesses exceptional comic instincts, especially when saying "Bialystock and Bloom" and rips up the stage with "When You Got It, Flaunt It."   Tim Johnson as the flamboyant "worst director in the world" Roger DeBris is a real hoot and does a wonderful over the top version of the character.   He brings a marvelous Milton Berle-like drag to both Roger and Hitler.

Stephen Foreman is side splittingly funny as Carmen Ghia, Roger's assistant. He plays the role as a grandiose, flighty queen and nails lines like "May I take your hats and coats and swastikas?" when Max and Bloom enter Roger's apartment. That scene alone is worth the price of admission. Danny Cozart as the insane Nazi author of the worst play gives a top notch performance. His "Haben Sie Gehoert Das Deutsche Band" is a showstopper. Emily Trumble does a nice turn as the little old lady Hold Me-Touch Me in the first act. The large cast is full of energetic young persons who give the production a freshness that makes for an entertaining evening.

The Producers runs through March 15 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. For tickets, call 925-943-7469 or visit www.dloc.org.   Their next production will be Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! opening on June 5 and running through June 28th.


A Haunting Production of Donald Margulies' The Model Apartment

Traveling Jewish Theatre is presenting Donald Margulies' poignant The Model Apartment through April 5th.   This famed company is celebrating 30 years of presenting excellent productions to San Francisco audiences.

The Model Apartment has been rarely produced due to its disconcerting subject matter. It was presented at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in 1988 but was not seen in New York until 1995 and then only briefly. It played at the Long Wharf Theatre in 2001.   This is only the fourth time this one-act 90-minute play has been presented.

The Model Apartment is part absurdist, part black comedy and made up of a series of short scenes. It is full of dark wit and tender lyricisms.   The superb acting of Jarion Monroe, Naomi Newman, Amy Resnick and Anthony Williams makes it a powerful piece of provocative theatre.

The setting is 1985 in a model apartment somewhere in Florida. Max (Jarion Monroe) and his wife Lola (Naomi Newman) have left their Brooklyn apartment in hopes of the "promised land." They have purchased a Florida condo but have to stay in a model apartment for "a night or two" until their apartment is finished.   They are fleeing not only their memories of surviving the Holocaust but their overweight, manic, schizoid daughter Debbie (Amy Resnick).

Debbie finds out where her parents are staying and shows up chattering in a ferocious, manic monologue. She is the original demon child who believes she has been in a concentration camp.   She is a horrific mirror of her parents' past where Lola survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and Max lived in the woods during the occupation of Poland. Debbie has also brought along her boyfriend Neil (Anthony Julius Williams) who seems spaced out all the time.   The "promised land" turns out to be a "place in hell." The apartment is anything but homey; plants and ashtrays are glued to the furniture, and the television and refrigerator are nonfunctional props.

Jarion Monroe (Our Town, For Better or Worse at Berkeley Rep and Knights of the Burning Pestle at Marin Shakespeare) and Naomi Newman (co-founder of Traveling Jewish Theatre) are fantastic as the elderly couple. He has a spot-on Brooklyn Jewish accent, and the bickering between them is perfect. She gives a terrific fantasy tour de force piece of acting when telling that she found a diary by Anne Frank in the camp.

Amy Resnick (Splitting Infinity, Third, Clean House) is brilliant as the chattering Debbie. It becomes apparent that she is the depository for the concentration camp memories that her mother has told her endlessly all her life. She also plays the ghost of a beautiful young woman, Deborah, who died in the camp and haunts Max while he sleeps.  Anthony Julius Williams (Angels in America, The Balcony) gives an engaging performance as the "mildly retarded" young black man, Neil.

Amy Glazer's direction is spot on and she has finely tuned the comedy's nervous undertone by having the actors play it straight. Lisa Clark has devised an excellent set that looks like a model apartment somewhere in Florida, and Jim Cave's radiant lighting is perfect. Cassandra Carpenter has designed a wonderful fat suit for the svelte Amy Resnick so she looks like she weighs 200 pounds.

The Model Apartment runs through April 5 at the Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco.   For tickets call 415-292-1233 or visit www.ATJT.com.   Their next production will be Woody Allen's The Floating Light Bulb opening on April 16 and running through May 24.


Maxim Gorky's Philistines Shines in Andrew Upton's New Version

Philistines
Jack Willis and Sharon Lockwood
The American Conservatory Theatre Master of Fine Arts Program recently presented a fresh new version by Andrew Upton of Maxim Gorky's 1902 masterpiece Philistines. This Russian playwright is often overshadowed by Chekhov. Gorky's play lacks the rhythm mastery of Chekhov plays, but the revolutionary playwright is brilliant when presenting the collapse of one Russian petit-bourgeois family in 1902. Czarist censors were not very happy when this drama was presented at the Moscow Art Theater, since it hinted at the vast political upheavals that were to come in 1917. Gorky confronts and shocks the audience about the break up of this family.

Andrew Upton, co-artistic director (with his wife Cate Blanchett) of the Sydney Theatre Company, has succeeded in breaking up the dialogue with constant interruptions, delivered by a very talented cast of actors.   He successfully presents the older generation of the family, who are very conservative and happy with then current conditions in Russia while the younger members want a change of the old ways. He uses sparkling colloquialisms in this new version.

Patriarch Vassilly (Jack Willis) is a hounding bigot who dominates his family as heartlessly as he does his tenants and lodgers.   His daughter Tanya (Natalie Hegg) is a depressive teacher who is suffering the pain of insufferable love. His son Pyotr (Patrick Russell) is a morose student-lawyer who has been suspended from the University for socialistic political activism. There are tenants and lodgers who are brow-beaten by the loud mouthed bigot.   Gorky is showing us that this family, like Russian society, is falling apart due to upcoming changes in the country.

Stage veteran Jack Willis (A.C.T. core member) is commanding as Vassilly, using his magnificent voice to dominate the family. Natalie Hegg (A.C.T. Rock 'n' Roll, A Christmas Carol) is sympathetic as the lovelorn daughter. Patrick Russell (formerly with the Killing My Lobster comedy troupe and many productions at the A.C.T.M.F.A. productions) gives an impressive performance as the rebellious brother Pyotr.

Sharon Lockwood (A.C.T. Tis Pity She's a Whore, The Inspector General), in the small role of Vassilly's mousey wife, gives an appealing performance.   Robert Ernest (A.C.T. Time of Your Life, member of the Seattle Rep Company) is very good in several roles. Great performances come from Philip Martinson (many of the M.F.A productions) and Liz Sklar (A.C.T. A Christmas Carol) as two of the lodgers. Master of Fine Arts actors Mfoniso Udofia,   Weston Wilson, Rondrell McCormick and Britannie Bond are outstanding in various roles.

Melpomene Katakalos has designed a handsome set with icon and portrait bedecking a wire grid set while Callie Floor's costumes are authentic for the time period.   Director Richard E.T. White evokes the generational clash perfectly.

Philistines closed on February 28 th at the Zeum Theatre, Fourth and Howard Street, San Francisco.   The current production of the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts and Young Conservatory program is Rob Ackerman's Volleygirls at the Zeum through March 28th . For tickets, call 415-749-2ACT or visit www.act-sf.org.

Photo: David Wilson


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

- Richard Connema



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