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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Crime and Punishment, La Cage aux Folles
and Pure Shock Value


A Powerful Production of Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment
Tyler Pierce and J.R. Horne
Berkeley Repertory Company is presenting a compelling production of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment through March 29th. One would wonder how anyone could put a 90-minute production of Dostoevsky's massive book onto a stage. However, Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus have successfully adapted this enormous book with a tight script which condenses the author's language into unadulterated poetry.

Actors Tyler Pierce, J.R. Horne and Delia MacDougall are brilliant in the retelling of Raskolnikov's murdering two women. This is a wonderful cat and mouse game between Raskolnikov (Tyler Pierce) and police investigator Porfiry (J.R. Horn) following the violent deaths of a female pawnbroker and her sister. The play reels between Raskolnikov's past and present, guilt and horror, and how, in a long monologue, he tries to rationalize the murder to the audience.

Tyler Pierce (many Off-Broadway productions and Legends tour) plays Raskolnikov with great compassion and an awesome dramatic range. He creates an enormously complex character, giving unremitting power to the role. It's a tour de force of acting.

J.R. Horne (Our Leading Lady in New York and a number of films) as the sly inspector Porfiry, who plays an intriguing bad cop and good cop game with Raskolnikov, is dynamic in the role. Horne has a crystal clear powerful voice that is striking. One minute he calls Raskolnikov "dear boy" and the next he is asking the most leading questions. He is also outstanding as the drunken father of Sonia, almost like a character from a Charles Dickens novel.

Delia MacDougall (Pentecost, The Rivals, Hydriotaphia) is wonderful playing Sonia, the sympathetic and self-sacrificing prostitute; Alyona Ivanova, the old crony moneylender; Lizaveta, her kindly sister and the murderer's understanding mother. She is able to make each character memorable in this intense dramatic presentation.

Director Sharon Ott and set designer Christopher Barreca bring a terrific claustrophobic feeling to the thrust stage of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The set is four tiers of blue-gray wooden doors rising above a spartan metal cot and table. It gives the audience a sense that everything that is happening is in the murderer's mind. Cliff Caruthers creates fearsome sounds as doors open and shut during the production. Stephen Strawbridge's lighting is spectacular, especially when he casts long shadows against the doors to further deepen the drama. Lydia Tanji's costumes excellently represent 19th century St. Petersburg.

Crime and Punishment runs through March 29th at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets call 510-647-2949 or 888-4-BRT-tix (toll free) or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. Their next production will be The Lieutenant of Inishmore opening on April 17 and running through May 17th.

Photo: kevinberne.com


La Cage aux Folles in Santa Rosa

La Cage aux Folles
Michael Van Why
The 6th Street Playhouse of Santa Rosa, noted for their good drama and comedy productions using most local North Bay talents, is presenting the glitzy Jerry Herman musical La Cage aux Folles.

I saw the original production of La Cage at the Palace Theatre in 1983. It was risky to produce this upbeat musical in the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Jerry Herman's tuneful production was meant to overt the homophobia that was starting to surface in many quarters. The show was a success, running 1,761 performances, and the touring company had sold out crowds in many cities.

Over the years I have seen many actors take the roles of Albin and Georges, including Dennis Quilley as Albin in the West End production in 1986. This marks the first time I have seen a community theatre company attempt to do the lavish musical. It took a lot of chutzpah to mount such an extravagant production, thanks to Director Joe Higgins. On the whole, he has produced an audience-friendly production using only actors and singers from the North Bay, even for the Cagelles drags. The guys in drag outfits remind me of Kit Kat Girls in Cabaret. They are a gutsy brunch of dancers and singers having a great time parading all over the stage and front runway. The choreography by Nancy Prebilich and Ann Woodhead is simple but effective.

Local favorite Michael Van Why plays the flashy Albin. He has good vocal chops singing "I Am What I Am" and he rings out the upbeat song "The Best of Times" with a lively back-up by the chorus. Dwayne Stincelli is good as Albin's butch partner Georges. Both create a charmingly enjoyable portrait of faithful partners.

Tyler Costin, who just completed a six-month run in Insignificant Others in San Francisco, seemed to hold back his character of Jean-Michel on opening night. However, he got into the character in the second act scene where Albin and Georges are entertaining the parents of Jean-Michel's fiancée. Unfortunately, the six-piece orchestra drowned out his voice on several numbers. One particularly loud flute passage is unnecessary in one of the numbers.

Keith Baker is wonderful as the dominatrix Hanna, one of the Cagelles. He looks like Brunnhilde in Wagner's Die Walkure. Bruce Carlton is properly blustery as Dindon, the extreme right-wing politician, in the second act. Rose Roberts as Ann, Jean-Michel's fiancée, and Vicki Roberts as Marie Dindon, the politician's wife, are credible in their roles.

Pat Fitzgerald's costumes are lavish for the Cagelles, and the outfits for Albin are very chic. Set Design by David Wright makes good use of the turntable stage with good, quick scenes. The change from the sensual apartment of Albin and Georges to a religious motif when entertaining the conservative parents in the second act is well done. Lighting by John Connole is first rate, especially in the follies numbers.

La Cage aux Folles plays through March 29th at the 6th Street Playhouse located in the Railroad section of Santa Rosa. For tickets, call 707-523-4185 or visit www.6thstreetplayhouse.com.

Photo: Eric Chazankin


Pure Shock Value is a Great Black Comedy About Three Losers Trying to Make the Hollywood Scene

Shocked Value
Erin Carter and Justin Lamb
Killing My Lobster Company, one of San Francisco's top comedy groups, recently presented the uproarious black comedy Pure Shock Value at the Exit Theatre. This is a fast-paced, over-the-top Hollywood satire that keeps the audience in stitches. It is is not for children or your maiden aunt, since there are some very shocking scenes. Matt Palfrey's script is astonishingly witty with riotous situations that happen to three young people hustling their latest project to producers in the movie industry.

Pure Shock Value shows the current day Hollywood that no longer has a studio system; in today's cinema market, it is dog eat dog to get ahead. This is the story of three losers—an up and coming director, a screenwriter and a producer—trying to pitch a project through one ugly night that involves a down and out famous but homeless director who was once one of Hollywood's golden boys. He had been the idol of the three delusional persons. What happens that night shouldn't happen to a dog.

What happens in the farce includes acts of pedophilia and necrophilia. Viagra is also featured predominately while movie references are splattered about in this parody of young persons waiting for their break in a town full of spotlight-hogging phonies. It's about fame, its pratfalls, and the bizarre lengths to which people will go to to be recognized as talented film folks.

Justin Lamb is side-splitting as the screenplay writer, Tex. He plays the role as a manic who is constantly and rapidly talking in movie terms. He is full of overexcited energy as he bounces about the stage quoting sentences from past movies and throwing in a lot of movie celebrity names, past and present, for good measure. He probably could sell refrigerators to an Eskimo.

Chris Yule is the starchy would-be director Ethan, Tex's older brother. Yule is excellent as a director who has directed eight shorts that no one has ever seen. The first scene, which includes a lonesome solo sex act, is a real hoot.

Erin Carter marvelously portrays Gabby, Ethan's lover and would-be producer of Ethan's short flick called Barking Spiders (the cost of making the film was $10,000). Her telling of meeting a producer who wants sex in a restaurant to push the film for distribution is very funny (it turns out the producer is a 16-year-old high school student interested in making films). Calum Grant plays a scruffy, semiconscious body that has been dragged from the backyard. He gives the production a hilarious kick in the ass, playing a parody of Quentin Tarantino who is idolized by these three losers.

Pure Shock Value played at the Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy Street, San Francisco through March 22.

Photo: Ryan Montgomery


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

- Richard Connema



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