Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Coronado, Fences and Shadowlands

Strong Acting in Dennis Lehane's Mystifying Coronado

Rebecca Schweitzer and
Chad Deverman

SF Playhouse is currently presenting the West Coast premiere of Dennis Lehane's Coronado, running through April 26th. This baffling play is a lot like the ancient Chinese Tangram puzzle where you connect all of the pieces to a complete a whole structure. The audience might figure it out by the end of the first act or at least the start of the second act when the playwright starts revealing the heart of the play.

Based on the playwright's short story "Until Gwen," Coronado is a series of scenes about losers in a nameless bar somewhere in rural America wanting to start over in their lives. There are lovers Gina (Kate Del Castillo) and Will (Will Springhorn Jr.) in a booth, plotting the murder of her husband. At another booth are a psychiatrist (Louis Parnell) and an extremely high strung patient (Stacy Ross), discussing her murderous past life. The center booth story is about a belligerent, amoral father (Bill English) browbeating his son Bobby (Chad Deverman) who is just out of prison after serving forty-seven months for stealing an expensive diamond from a nursing home. Bobby, who was shot twice during the arrest, can't remember where he hid the diamond but he remembers a 19-year-old girl named Gwen (Rebecca Schweitzer) who was his accomplice in the robbery. He wants to know what happened to her, and all the father can say is, "Like I told you three years back, that girl got gone."

This offbeat drama has scenes that are baffling, with detailed flashbacks, vexing fantasy sequences, ambiguous meaning and inflammable confrontations between the characters. The playwright gives meticulous time, place and situation in act one. However, in act two, which takes place at a deserted fairground, he turns the whole drama topsy-turvy, forcing the audience to rethink each character.

The nine-member cast under the able direction of Susi Damilano give knock-out performances. Stacy Ross as the patient and Chad Deverman as Bobby are dynamic in their roles. Their hard gut acting with terse dialogue is terrific. Bill English as the father gives a top notch performance with some flowery language that borders on the film noir flicks of the 1950s. Louis Parnell gives a first rate performance as the psychiatrist, while Will Springhorn Jr. with a "Bakersfield" accent is excellent as Will. Kate Del Castillo gives a striking performance as the pregnant Gina. Rebecca Schweitzer is very good as Gwen. Lorraine Olsen as the waitress and Phillip K. Torretto as Hal are effective in their smaller roles.

Bill English's arresting set with bare trees and spectacular lighting by Cy Eaton looks like mountains through clouds, an important asset to the plot in the second act.

Coronado plays at the SF Playhouse, 588 Sutter Street, San Francisco through April 26th. Tickets can be obtain by calling 415-677-9596 or visiting or or the TIX box office on Union Square. Their next production is Bug opening on May 10th.

Photo: Zabrina Tipton

A Rhythmical and Powerful Production of August Wilson's Fences

Alex Morris, Elizabeth Carter and
Vernon Medearis

Lorraine Hansberry Theatre is currently presenting August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences as the last production in their home of twenty years on Sutter Street, San Francisco. The commanding production runs through April 20th. This is probably the playwright's most commercially successful piece from his ten play cycle. In fact, Carole Shorenstein Hays is planning to bring a rival to New York next season.

There is no American playwright like the late August Wilson, who could create a stunning portrait of fatherhood that compares with King Lear or even James Tyrone in O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. Troy Maxson (Alex Morris) is really a respectable, devoted family man who does sporadic, unwarrantable things. The African-American was once a talented Negro League slugger and is now a garbage man trying to be a good man to his wife Rose (Elizabeth Carter) and son Cory (Alex Alvin Jr.). Cory is a promising high school football player being scouted by colleges in racist 1957 America.

Troy wants to be a garbage truck driver but believes the union will never allow a black person to drive a truck. He also believes that college scouts won't allow his son to play a major role on any college football team. The World War II veteran is finding his mundane life too difficult to bear. He works hard five days a week, gives his paycheck to his wife and tries to guide his teenaged son toward learning a trade like automobile repair so he can make money to support a family. An unfinished fence that Troy's wife wants completed so she can keep her family close to her becomes a metaphor of his life.

August Wilson's language is poetic, and Troy uses baseball terms throughout his moving monologues (death "ain't nothing more than a fastball on the outside corner").

Alex Morris (Ovation Award winner Jitney, and many television roles) gives a flawless performance in the role of Troy Maxson. He is superb in the poetical scene of Troy trying to shout down the devil (Death) when he was playing baseball. Elizabeth Carter (Stardust and Empty Wagons at the Brava) gives a beautiful performance as Rose. She puts emphasis on strength over self-pity, and open antagonism over festering bitterness.

Alex Alvin Jr. (New York Violent Delights, Julius Caesar) gives a first rate performance as Cory. The son's confrontations with his father are spellbinding, especially in the second act. The physical altercation is frightening, thanks to fight director Durand Garcia. Vernon D. Medearis (The Bluest Eye) is subtle and delightful in the role of Troy's best friend Jim Bono. Hosea Simmons Sr. (Spunk) gives a poignant performance as the horn-playing, brain-damaged Uncle Gabriel. Kieleil Deleon (Ragtime, Aida, Les Blancs) gives a fine performance as the very different son, Troy. Sarah Jordan is a pure delight as Troy's young daughter.

Stanley E. Williams' direction is first rate. He brings out the lyricism of August Wilson's dialogue as spoken by this remarkable cast. The production's physicality is significantly evocative, thanks to director Williams. Set Designer Robert Broadfoot has designed a detailed house surrounded by the dirty brick walls of the neighborhood. Jacob Petrie's delicate lighting and David Hines' sound design suggest the outside world beyond the unfinished fence.

Fences plays through April 20th at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-474-8800 or visit The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre will continue in other locations for their 2008-2009 season, to be announced at a later date.

Photo: Paul Garber

Motivating Production of William Nicholson Shadowlands

Chuck Isen and Jennifer Reimer
Ross Valley Players are presenting an interesting production of William Nicholson's Shadowlands at the The Barn playhouse in Ross through April 20. Shadowlands started out as a television play with Joss Ackland as C.S. Lewis and Claire Bloom as Joy. I saw the first stage version at the Queens Theatre in 1989 with Nigel Hawthorn and Jane Lapotaire in the lead roles. Later I saw Nigel Hawthorn in 1990 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre with Jane Alexander as Joy. Price Entertainment did an excellent film version in 1993 with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. A revival recently played in London at the Novello Theatre with Charles Dance and Janie Dee.

Shadowlands purports to tell the true story of author C.S. Lewis, best known as the creator of the "Chronicles of Narnia" series and for his tragic love affair with American poet Joy Gresham. When Lewis (Chuck Isen), a professor of medieval studies at the Magdalen College in Cambridge, meets Gresham (Jennifer Reimer), it is like the meeting of opposites, since she is an outspoken Jewish Manhattanite. The confirmed bachelor befriends her and her 11-year-old son Douglas (Philip Bohlman), and the couple eventually marries. In the second act Joy develops bone cancer and the story deals with Lewis' struggle and personal pain and grief. Having preached that one should endure suffering with patience, he finds that simple answers no long apply.

Chuck Isen (Our Town) as C.S. Lewis has a very good up-market British accent and the cool demeanor of a college professor. In the second act he shows compelling emotion when it is learned that Joy has terminal cancer. Jennifer Reimer (nominated for a BATCC award for Our Town) has problems getting into the role during the first act. Her inflections as a Jewish Manhattan woman are more like staccato delivery of crisp, short speeches. However, by the second act as the Joy is dying of cancer, she gets into the character.

Alex Ross (25 shows for the company and a BATCC nomination for The Winslow Boy) is outstanding in the role of Warnie, C.S. Lewis' brother. His precise British speech is perfect and he dominates every scene in which he appears. Wood Lockhart (A Few Good Men, Our Town) as Riley gives a consummate performance as the curmudgeonly professor. Philip Bohlman (7th grader at Marin Primary and Middle School) gives a nice performance as the young son Douglas.

Hugh Campion (Our Town) as Harrington and Matt Farrell (A Christmas Carol) as Gregg are effective in their roles. Oak Dowling (The Marriage of Bette and Boo) and Anne Ripley (BATCC nomination for My Fair Lady) efficiently play small roles.

Director Linda Dunn does a smooth job of moving things from scene to scene. Patrick Kroboth's stage design is a little cumbersome, with noisy wooden doors sliding back and forth to present different scenes. There is also a large wooden wardrobe in the center of the stage for a fantasy scene involving the young boy. Michael A. Berg's costumes look authentic for the period.

Shadowlands runs through April 20th at The Barn, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Ross. For tickets please call 415-456-9555 or on line at

Photo: Kim Taylor

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

- Richard Connema

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