Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival Continues Its Eclectic Season - Part Three

Also see Part One, Part Two and Part Four of Richard's reviews of this year's OSF

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival 70th season of classic productions is continuing to enhance theatregoers from all over this nation with plays ranging from the world premiere of an Octavio Solis drama, a Restoration play that has not been produced by a major company in one hundred years, a lavish production of a Marlow play, and a superb play of greed by a famous Italian playwright. We have already reviewed August Wilson's masterpiece Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the wild and hilarious Room Service by John Murray and Allen Boretz, the dramatic Robert Schenkkan's two-character By the Waters of Babylon, George Bernard Shaw's fascinating The Philanderer, and a thrilling production of Shakespeare's Richard III.

OSF's current productions on the outside Elizabethan Stage are all worthy of the New York stage with outstanding acting, scenic design and direction. The next set of reviews will include Hannah Cowley's rare Restoration farce The Belle's Stratagem and William Shakespeare's Love's Labor Lost.

Napoli Milionaria! (Naples Millionaires!)

Richard Elmore (center), Juan Rivera LeBron and Heather Robison
Photo: Jenny Graham
Eduardo De Filippo wrote this comedy drama in 1945; it was the first of his plays to reach a wide audience. The playwright himself played the lead Gennaro in the San Carlos Theatre in Naples in May 1945. The serious comedy drama was made into a film in 1950 and played the art house circuit in this country. De Filippo collaborated with composer Nino Rota to present an opera based on the play at the Spoleto Festival in 1977. The Royal National Theatre did a wonderful production in with Sir Ian McKellen playing Gennaro. The most recent production was by the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre featuring many of OSF cast.

Napoli Milionaria! centers around an Italian family involved in black marketing during World War II in Naples. The first act takes place in 1942 while the city is being occupied by the Germans. Gennaro (Richard Elmore), head of the family, has been laid off as a tram conductor since due to the Allied bombing in the city. His wife Amalia (Linda Alper) has become the bread winner of the family by trading contraband items like coffee, sugar and pasta for money. Gennaro is a proud man and not happy with this arrangement. It is a moral dilemma.

De Filippo's play is mostly comic in the first act with a hilarious scene of Gennaro playing a corpse and the family praying and crying to fool an Italian police inspector. The second act becomes more dramatic when the Americans are in control of the city in 1945. We learn that Gennaro has been imprisoned by the Germans for over a year and he has returned home to a prosperous family due to Amalia still running a lucrative black market operation. She now has a partner, Ciappa (Tony DeBruno), who has romantic ideas about the strong woman. Gennaro tries to tell the family of the horrors he has seen during the past year but they are don't want to hear such tales. They are happy with their greed and prosperity. Gennaro becomes a prophet crying in the wilderness.

Richard Elmore is superb in the role of Gennaro. He gives considerable pathos to the portrayal. Linda Alper, who also directed the production, gives an outstanding performance as Amalia. She portrays the woman as a fighter with a heart of steel. Tony De Bruno gives a crisp and winning performance as Ciappa . The whole cast is uniformly excellent.

Michael Dempsey's set is a work of naturalistic art. The interior set on the large stage of the Angus Bowmer stage consists of rows and rows of dilapidated buildings while the front of the set is the apartment of the family. The full-blown air raid at the end of the first act with Gennaro faking a corpse is realistically overpowering with smoke and lights.

Linda Alper has directed a fast paced and curt production of the drama. It runs at the Angus Bowmer Theatre through October 30th.

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus

Catherine Lynn Davis and Jonathan Haugen
Photo: Jenny Graham
Christopher Marlow wrote this moralistic play sometimes between 1588 and 1592, and it was based on the German Faustbook, which had its first English translation at that time. Marlow could have been one of the great playwrights of the Elizabethan area but he was murdered on May 30, 1593 at the age of 29. He was a notorious rouser who loved to drink and cause fights.

The play is supposedly based on the facts, legends and myths surrounding the life of Johan Faust, a scholar-magician and necromancer who was born around 1480 and educated in Heidelberg. It was surmised that he sold his soul to the devil so he could gain all the knowledge of the world in twenty-four years of living the good life.

James Edmondson is helming a lavish three-hour production of Doctor Faustus (Jonathan Haugen) and his pact with Mephostophilis (Ray Porter). The scholarly teacher summons the ghastly Mephostophilis and strikes a lethal bargain with the devil for twenty-four years of divine knowledge and power in exchange for his immortal soul. The devil wears a Franciscan priest outfit that the Elizabethan Protestants would have appreciated in those times when the Pope was the hated enemy of the English church. The doctor also plays tricks on Pope Adrian (Josiah Phillips). Faustus meets the Seven Deadly Sins and he conjures up Alexander the Great and Helen of Troy for the great German Emperor.

Jonathan Haugen gives a sharp performance as Faustus. He portrays the doctor as a determined man who wants all of the knowledge in the world but he ultimately becomes a most sympathetic man. The action is sporadic and the scenes go by quickly, one could say almost too quickly. Marlowe's dialogue is not on the par of Shakespeare's vigorous speech. Sometimes it appears that Faustus is delivering a monologue that becomes a diatribe. His argument with the devil on where is hell is intellectually stimulating.

Marlowe has incorporated some comic relief in this version, with the antics of Faustus' servants Wagner and Robin (played by Shad Willingham and Juan Rivera LeBron). They try a little black magic, but like Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, it turns disastrous.

Julia Pace Mitchell and Catherine Lynn Davis are very good in their roles of the bad and good angels. Their outfits are three-dimensional icons, haloed, winged and golden in niches. Brent Harris plays Lucifer looking a little like a Las Vegas casino singer in a big production number. Ray Porter is dead on as the devil. He has that solid vision of calm and a certain menace about him. There is fire and brimstone throughout the production, and the last scene, when Dr. Faustus descends into hell, is amazing as the back of the stage floor opens up with bright orange and red lights and smoke coming up.

The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus plays at the large Elizabethan Amphitheatre through October 7th.


René Millán and Vilma Silva
Photo: David Cooper
San Francisco playwright Octavio Solis' new 85-minute play Gibraltar is having its world premiere in the intimate three-sided New Theatre. There was a reading of this drama at the New Dramatist in New York in May 2004. The play could stand some restructuring to firm up the beginning and end of the drama.

Octavio Solis has formed this play in the folk tradition of Spain with a "duen de casa" or house spirit. In Spanish tradition, a duende is a demonic earth spirit who arouses our deepest passions or irrational longings, our fear of life and death. In Gibraltar this spirit invades a young woman's home in San Francisco. Amy (Vilma Silva) has stopped painting since the mysterious death of her husband who fell overboard from his boat in San Francisco Bay. Was it suicide or an accident? She lies around her condo in San Francisco's Marina district unable to create a work of art. She moans and groans and appears to be lifeless.

Palo (Rene Millan), an enigmatic person searching for his woman Lila, somehow gets into Amy's apartment. He listens to her innermost thoughts that appear to be irreverent and menacing. He tells her three stories of the past which are acted by a brilliant ensemble of actors. The first story is about Steven (Kevin Kenerly), a ship worker from Alabama whose father killed himself when he was jilted by an older woman Francesca (Dee Maaske) when Steven was a boy. Steven becomes a model and meets the woman who has become a noted artist. The question is should Steven kill Francesca for the pain he has suffered as a boy?

The second story involves a policeman named Taylor (U. Jonathan Toppo) and his soon-to-be ex-wife Sharon (Julie Oda). The divorce is going badly and the courts have put up a restraining order against the husband. However, he wants his wife back no matter what. The question is should he kill her or himself since he can't live without her?

The last story involves Jackson (Bill Geisslinger) and Dot (Judith-Marie Bergan), and this is closer to home. It appears that Amy was having an affair with Jackson since his wife Dot was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. There was even a talk between Jackson and Amy about "accidentally" killing the sick wife so they could continue with the affair. It appears that Amy told her husband about the affair the night before he decided to sail on the Bay.

Rene Millan and Vilma Silva are first rate in their performances as Palo and Amy, and Kevin Kenerly once again shows his amazing acting talents the husky ship worker Steven. Bill Geisslinger gives a marvelous performance as a cop who does not know which way to turn after losing his wife. Judith Marie Bergan gives a good performance as a woman with Alzheimer's.

Richard L. Hay's set design is interesting, with a large bay window at the back wall showing the lights of Tiburon and Sausalito.

Gibraltar will be at the New Theatre until October 30 Tickets for all of the above can be obtain by calling the box office at 541-482-4331 or you can obtain tickets by going to for all shows.

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

- Richard Connema

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