Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Fallaci and Jersey Boys

Also see Richard's reviews of Dead Metaphor and The Mountaintop

A Fascinating Production of Fallaci


Concetta Tomei and Marjan Neshat
Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com
Oriana Fallaci was a fearless Italian reporter who made journalism the most exciting job on earth. Her childhood courage resisting the Nazis fueled her work as a war correspondent with an anti-authoritarian zeal that perfectly matched the 1960s and '70s. She gained fame by grilling Kissinger, Castro, Khomeini, Qadaffi and other public figures who squirmed under her ferocious questioning.

Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright, renowned for his work for The New Yorker and a bestselling author, wrote this fictional play about the last days of legendary journalist Oriana Fallaci. The 90-minute drama is a good format for exploring Fallaci's personal life and, through her preconceptions, the playwright avoids the snare of letting the dialogue lapse into a list of her greatest interviews.

The time is 2000 and Fallaci is secluded in her Manhattan brownstone, battling cancer and working on a another book. The famed journalist is interrupted by Maryam, a 25-year-old Iranian-American writer for the New York Times. It comes out during this interview that the young reporter was assigned to prepare an advance obituary if and when Fallaci died. The interview turns out to be a cat and mouse confrontation that is terrific, thanks to the brilliant acting of Concetta Tomei and Marjan Neshat as Fallaci and Maryam, respectively, in this Berkely Rep production.

The final scene takes place post-9/11 and Maryam has become a war correspondent with a bestselling book on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Fallaci also has a bestselling book that is distinctly anti-Islamic, written after 9/11. Maryam is offended by the book and there is showdown between the two that is remarkable.

Concetta Tomei (Broadway Cyrano de Bergerac, Noises Off, The Clean House, The Normal Heart) is outstanding as the gutsy Oriana Fallaci. She nails that regal air of pluck and privilege as the no-nonsense journalist. She has the voice of Melina Mercouri and even the manner of the famous Greek actress.

Marjan Neshat (Scorched at ACT plus many film and television appearances) gives a polished performance as Maryam. She beautifully underplays the role of the young reporter. She especially comes into her own in the last scenes during Maryam's spirited confrontation with Fallaci.

Robin Wagner has created a beautiful, detailed book-crammed set for Fallaci's brownstone home, and Jess Goldstein's costumes work well, especially Maryam's outfits that show a growing self-assurance and effectiveness. Oskar Eustis' direction is taut.

Fallaci plays at the Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley, through April 21. For tickets call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. Their next production will be Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre opening on April 21 and running through May 26.


Jersey Boys Comes Roaring Back to San Francisco

The touting production of Jersey Boys has returned to the Curran Theatre and it is better than ever. This marks the third time I have seen this captivating musical. Four amazing singers cast a spell over the audience with their accurate movements and thematic resonance.

Jersey Boys, with music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, tells the story of how The Four Seasons started in the mid-1950s and about their meteoric rise to become one of the most popular quartets of the 1960s. Many biographical musicals have clunky books, but Brickman and Elice's book is excellent. There is a gritty realism in the structure of a toxic-looking skyline that looms over the stage and walls of chain-link fence towering above the screen. There is also Lichtenstein-style pop art flashing about the stage. It is there that Tommy DeVito (John Gardiner), a hooligan turned guitarist, and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), a bassist with a harmonic streak, begin forming the band. Add to all of this the heavenly voice of Frankie Valli (Nick Cosgrove) and the songwriting gifts of Bob Gaudio (Tommaso Antico). Soon this fantastic group is selling records like the Beatles. As Tommy DeVito says, "We put Jersey on the map."

The four blue collar Italian boys boys were no saints, as they tell the audience. Tommy has problems with loan sharks, Frankie has a wobbly first marriage, and Nick hates the road. There are difficulties and disagreements on their road to fame. However, the real source of the show's power is the songs, especially with the wailing falsetto voice of Nick Cosgrove as Frankie Valli. His voice has a powerful effect on the ballads "My Eyes Adored You" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." He is energetic and dedicated and he handles the demands of the show excitingly.

John Gardiner as Tommy DeVito dominates the first act with a great Jersey accent. He plays the brash wise-guy to perfection. Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi, who defines himself as the "Ringo" of the band, is excellent. Tommaso Antico gives an outstanding portrayal of Bob Gaudio, the writer of some of The Four Seasons' greatest hits.

Director Des McAnuff's direction is sharp and straightforward. Ron Melrose's vigorous music direction and great orchestrations by Steve Orich flows throughout the musical under the direction of conductor Jonathan Smith and the fine orchestra.

Jersey Boys runs through April 28 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Ave, San Francisco. For tickets please call 888-746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com. For more information on the tour, visit www.jerseyboysinfo.com/tour/.


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

- Richard Connema


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