Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Man and Superman, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and 2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter's Night
Jonathan Moscone has trimmed acts one, two and four to include the play within the play, Don Juan in Hell. The comedy-drama runs approximately three and a half hours with just one intermission. Even with the cold and fog descending on the open air stage, it was well worth the time. There is wonderful interaction of metamorphosis, theoretical and sexual politics in this battle of the sexes comedy. Thanks to the magnetism of the director's dramatization, the ability of the actors and the wit of George Bernard Shaw, this is a brilliant production.
This marks the third time I have seen the classic, not including the Paul Gregory production where the producer only presented a "concert" version of Don Juan in Hell with Charles Boyer and Charles Laughton. There has been so much written about Man and Superman and one wonders if it is a play in the light of today's theatrical genre. It is very popular with persons who love the flow of words with Shavian wit coming from the characters. Shaw is one of the great wordsmiths of the 20th century. He can take ideals and place them side by side with the realism of ordinary life.
In Man and Superman, the characters give long speeches on their thoughts on capitalism, social reform, and male and female roles in courtship. The speeches resemble operatic arias and, indeed, Jonathan Moscone uses arias from Mozart's Don Giovanni to cover the scene changes. The actors lip-sync snippets of the opera. The comedy is basically a light-hearted Victorian parlor play where the playwright's idea of the Life Force drives women to chase a mate in order to produce a Superman. The first act centers on Jack Tanner (Elijah Alexander), a revolutionary young man who has written a book in which he propagates views that are foreign to Victorian society. He is a celibate philosopher of sexual freedom and is actually talking about Shaw's philosophy regarding the mores of the era. Tanner's words are full of wit, such as, "There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it," "There is no love sincerer than the love of food" and "Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity."
Ann Whitefield (Susannah Livingston) is Jack's loves nemesis and she is out to snare him. She is the eternal hunter pursuing her predestined prey and she safely secures her misogynist philanderer despite all his wriggling. They are the Beatrice and Benedict of the Victorian age. There are delightful subplots involving Hector Malone Jr. (T. Edward Webster), son of industrious American Irishman, Hector Malone Sr. (Steve Irish); and Violet Robinson (Delia McDougall).
The second act opens in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Spain where Mendoza (Andy Murray), the "president" of the brigands, captures Jack and Ann along with their liberal intelligent chauffeur, Straker (Dan Hiatt). That scene suddenly morphs into Shaw's version of hell where Andy Murray plays a very swinging devil dressed like Hugh Hefner. There is a scene in which a nun wonders why she is in hell, where people drink Tab and Heineken among illuminated rocks. This scene contains brilliant discussions of philosophical views of morality. There is a highly structured excursion into Nietzschean philosophy that can be described as much more than a very witty and exhilarating piece of topsy-turvy comedy. The hell scene ends with a disco party. The last act is a typical Victorian comedy scene (that will appeal to Oscar Wilde fans) involving the marriage of Hector and Violet.
Jonathan Moscone has assembled a sterling cast of actors who should receive nothing less than warm praise for their performances. Elijah Alexander is superb as a person who is impetuous, perceptive and comically naïve. His long dissertations on the progression of more exceptional humans are witty and stimulating with pleasure.
Susannah Livingston gives a strong performance as the sparring partner of Jack. He is no match for her resolutely focused Ann. Andy Murray is outstanding, matching wits with Jack and Don Juan in wonderful critiques of self-satisfaction and repugnance at human cruelty. Dan Hiatt is very droll as Jack's liberal speaking chauffeur Straker. Steve Irish is properly pompous as the nouveau riche father of Hector Malone. T. Edward Webster is charming as the son who does not care about his father's money. L. Peter Callender is a splendid Roebuck Ramsden, a pillar of society and a blue nose character. Delia MacDougall is imposing as Violet Robinson. Ben Livingston is excellent as the disingenuous Octavius Robinson.
Annie Smart provides well-designed, simple sets with a pair of curlicues providing a sort of a proscenium. The trees and hills are fully visible and lit beautifully by Russell H. Champa when it grows dark. The lighting designer also gives a great vision of hell with red lights flooding the amphitheatre.
Man and Superman plays through July 29th at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda. For tickets please 510-548-9666 or visit www.calshakes.org. The next production will be Pierre Marivaux's 18th century French comedy The Triumph of Love, which opens on August 8 and run through September 2nd.
Photo: Kevin Berne
These three zanies present an irreverent interpretation of the Bard's 37 plays. There is the wonderful schoolboy-like sidekick (Darren Bridgett) who goes completely off the wall in many of the scenes. He draws the line at performing Coriolanus ("come on now," he tells the other two, "are you really interested in a play with an anus in its title?"). Darren the is goofiest looking drag that you will ever see on any stage. His take on Ophelia in Hamlet is hysterical. He is also droll when giving out the biography of The Bard that somehow gets into Rudolph Hess in World War II.
Jarion Monroe as the professor who thinks he knows all about the plays of William Shakespeare is priceless in many of the skits. His ribald humor is outstanding in the fast-paced scenes. His Scottish portrayal of one of the characters in the "Scottish Play" (Macbeth) is uproarious. Covered with blood as a chef in a cooking show, he is ludicrous in the scene from Titus Andronicus. The character is cooking the man who raped and mutilated his daughter. Darren comes out onto the stage wearing an outlandish drag outfit straight from Goodwill with bloody stumps for hands. Jarion tells the audience the food is "finger licking good" and goes to the first row with a pan of the vittles, saying " I wantcha to try this."
A newcomer to the Bay Area, Ryan Schmidt is wonderful in the opening dialogue in the style of Robin Williams. His take on Hamlet is mirthful (he comes into the opening scene of Hamlet saying "It is I, Omelet the Cheese Danish"). His take on "To Be or Not To Be" is jovial.
The hilarious three do a rap version of Othello ("Here's the story of a brother by the name of Othello. He liked white women and he liked ... green ... Jell-O"). The killing scene of Julius Caesar is done in campy style as the Soothsayer saysm "Beware the Ides of March" to which Caesar replies, "What the hell is the Ides of March" and the sayer says, "It is the fifteenth of March" and Caesar replies, "Why, that's today."
All of the histories of the Bard are done as a football game with the British Crown as the football. There is a lot of audience participation in this fast-paced farce. The three throw in a lot of recent jokes on Hilton Paris, George Bush and other topical items. Rebecca Redmond has found costumes from a second hand garment store that add to the merriment. There are great props by Joel Eis that include "white hard beans" that Darren uses to vomit into the first three rows. Robert S. Currier helms this off-the-wall farce, and many of the zingers are improved between the three.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) runs through August 12 at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University of California, Grand Ave, San Rafael. For tickets call 415-499-4488 or go on line at www.marinshakespeare.org. Their next production is Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2 playing on separate dates with several marathon days on which one can catch Part 1 in the afternoon and Part 2 in the evening.
Photo: Ron Severdia
2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter's Night takes place around 5 a.m. during the winter of 1987 in a threadbare apartment in Chelsea. The two guys have met in a pick-up bar and just had a wild night of sex. The hunky boys have a psychological joust with each other after the sex acts are over. There is much discussion in real time of their first sex acts when they were young. We find that Peter (Paul Lekakis) is a wild and crazy guy who just loves sex for the moment. Daryl (Scott Douglas Cunningham) is looking for a life partner. You get the impression "this ain't gonna happen" with these two guys. Yes, the old saying opposites attract opposites does not go with Peter and Daryl.
Both Scott Douglas Cunningham and Paul Lekakis are believable in their performances. Since they are in the buff a lot of the time, we can see that both have good bodies for 30-somethings. Lekakis brings a lot of charm to his role while Cunningham is excellent as a person looking for true love. His character does have a dark side that I won't divulge. The shock ending is not all that shocking since it involves AIDS which was prevalent with plays taking place in the '80s.
Director David Drake keeps the play moving along swiftly. He also makes use of the emotional comic moments in the text. One should state that heterosexuals will find it interesting since they have also experienced one night stands, especially here in San Francisco or Los Angeles. It's a good provocative drama to see on a foggy cold summer night in San Francisco.
2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter's Night plays at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter Street, San Francisco through July 29th. For tickets call 866-468-3399 or go to www.lorrainehansberrytheatre.com for more information and tickets.
Photo: Holly McDade