Friday, October 31, 2008

Emerging playwright in El Dorado Hills?

Have we discovered a "mute inglorious Milton"--or Shakespeare--in El Dorado Hills? On November 1, we have an opportunity to see an original musical, created by local businessman Tom Farmer, for the youthful performers of El Dorado Musical Theatre.

Performances will take place at Golden Hills School, 1060 Suncast Lane in El Dorado Hills. Tickets are $5. For more information call Jeanette Caruso, EDMT executive producer, at (916) 933-3023.

For the complete story, as published in the EDH newspaper Village Life on October 29, click the title of this post.

SARTA schedules Season Acting Audtions

Sacramento Area Regional Theatre Alliance (SARTA) has scheduled fall General Auditions on Saturday, November 8, from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at Garbeau's Dinner Theatre, 12401 Folsom Blvd. in Rancho Cordova. Directors from SARTA member theatres are invited to attend this open audition call to cast for their upcoming season.

General Auditions are FREE but you must reserve your time-slot in advance. Auditions are scheduled every 5 minutes. Be prepared to perform two (2) contrasting monologues or one monologue and one song. An accompanist is provided. No a capella singing or CD’s please.

You will have three (3) minutes total time to audition. Also, please bring 20 copies of your headshot and resume stapled back to back. Call the SARTA office at 916-443-8229 for more information or to make a reservation. Reservations can also be made via email: Please include three time selections.

For full details click title of this message.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Musical anatomy of American Assassins

When we think of Stephen Sondheim we're more likely to think "Bring in the Clowns," not "Bring in the Assassins." But in his bittersweet 1990 musical "Assassins" he strips the mask off the American dream by tracing its perversions. In his opening and closing number, "Everybody's Got the Right," he captures a serious misconception: that you not only have the right to dream but also "the right to expect that you'll have an effect."

In doing so Sondheim and John Weidman, who provided the book, echo, unconsciously or not, Alexis de Tocqueville's wry observation about American democracy: that every boy learns that he has a chance to be president of the United States, with the consequence that most of them will be disappointed at their failure.

The setting is a surreal shooting gallery where passersby are invited by the proprietor (Martin Lehman) to shoot a president. In the current production by Sacramento's Artistic Differences Theatre Company, the gallery is represented by a wide booth with two sets of lights jutting up on either side. One lights up when a shot is fired; the other, when somebody wins. The first win is scored by John Wilkes Booth (Craig Howard) with the murder of Lincoln.

Like most of the assassins who follow him, he foresees a future where he'll be admired as a hero and Lincoln will be recognized as a tyrant. But his ghost, who continues through the play as chorus, learns better. In the end he champions the idea that assassination is the path to immortality for a nobody in life.

Also milling around on stage are a collection of the major presidential assassins, both successful and unsuccessful. In subsequent scenes we become acquainted with nine presidential or would-be presidential assassins. Among the more famous today are John Hinckley (Joshua Brown), who aimed at Reagan to impress Jodie Foster, although she didn't even know Hinckley; Samuel Byck (Michael McElroy), who aimed for Nixon; Lynette "Squaky" Fromme (Tygar Lynn Hicks) and Sara Jane Moore (Martha Omiyo Kight), both of whom gunned for Gerald Ford; and of course Lee Harvey Oswald (Thomas Smith, also playing Balladeer).

Under tight direction by Keith Riedell, a thoroughly professional cast moves crisply through 18 scenes, presenting an array of historical figures, many of them scarcely familiar to a modern audience. How many of us remember much about presidents like McKinley and Garfield--or for that matter assassins like Leon Czolgosz (Joshua James), who did in McKinley, and Charles Guiteau, who offed Garfield? What's more, the action doesn't follow chronological order, with characters rubbing elbows with others yet to be born.

Many scenes are surprisingly funny for a subject so grim. In Scene Six Fromme and Moore meet on a park bench, share a joint, extol the virtues of mass-murderer Charles Manson and wind up shooting a bucket of Colonel Sanders Fried chicken. And there's a particularly touching moment in Scene Five, where Colgosz persues the idolized anarchist Emma Goldman (Joelle Wirth) to declare his love. Tenderly she reminds him that she has no time for romance and gives him a sweet kiss. She refuses to let him carry her bag, but relents as he follows her joyfully off the stage.

The 16 actors/singers/dancers perform with authority, though some have trouble projecting lines and story-telling lyrics, even with microphones, in the acoustically challenged Eagle Theatre in Old Sacramento. They're strongly accompanied, though, by a five-piece orchestra conducted by Graham Sobelman, who is also on keyboard.

Incidentally, the stage is not raised high above the audience and the floor is level. So short people are well advised to arrive early and sit up front. You also may want to think about not bringing children. Although the violence is discussed more than shown, some of the language is raw. Still, a very young Devon Hayakawa, playing Billie and in the ensemble, seems to be emerging unscathed.

“Assassins” continues through November 9 at 925 Front Street. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18 general, $15 for students and seniors (65+). Call 916-708-3449 or click the title to this post.

Monday, October 27, 2008

EDMT Auditions for Young Performers

Target audience: El Dorado Hills, Folsom, Cameron Park, Shingle Springs,
Placerville, Orangevale, Rancho Cordova, Roseville, and
Sacramento area families, students, retirement and leisure communities

Contact: Sue Mackin, Show Producer
(916) 939-7130 home office
(916) 847-5499 cell

EDMT AUDITIONS FOR “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”
November 10

El Dorado Musical Theatre (EDMT) will hold auditions for its upcoming Encore production, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" on Monday, November 10 at 7:00 pm, at its rehearsal facility located at 5011 Golden Foothill Parkway in El Dorado Hills.

The Biblical saga of Joseph and his coat of many colors comes to vibrant life in this delightful musical parable. Joseph, his father’s favorite son, is a boy blessed with prophetic dreams. When he is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and taken to Egypt, Joseph endures a series of adventures in which his spirit and humanity are continually challenged.

He is purchased by Potiphar where thwarting advances from Potiphar’s wife land him in jail. When news of Joseph’s gift for interpreting dreams reaches the Pharaoh, Joseph is well on his way to becoming second in command. Eventually his brothers, having suffered greatly, unknowingly find themselves groveling at the feet of the brother they betrayed but no longer recognize. After testing their integrity, Joseph reveals himself leading to a heartfelt reconciliation of the sons of Israel. Set to an engaging cornucopia of musical styles, from country western and calypso to bubble-gum pop and rock-n-roll, this Old Testament tale emerges both timely and timeless.

Unlike all other shows in EDMT’s season which are cast with all who audition, the once-a-year Encore show is cast through a competitive audition process with teens and young adults up to age 22. Because only a limited number of cast members will be accepted, all roles are expected to be highly contended.

Auditionees should prepare to sing a one-minute song and dress comfortably for dancing. An accompanist will be provided for those with sheet music, however auditionees may also use an instrumental background CD or tape, or sing acapella.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will perform February 13-22nd at the Oak Ridge High School Theater in El Dorado Hills. Rehearsals will be held at EDMT on Sundays from 2:00 to 6:00 pm, and Mondays and Thursdays from 3:30 to 6:00 pm beginning December 1.

EDMT Founder and Artistic Director Debbie Wilson will direct and choreograph.

For registration materials and information about characters, roles, musical numbers, and fees, please visit or call 916-941-SING.

Those interested in auditioning may also want to check out EDMT’s current production of “Annie”, performing November 21-30th at the Jill Solberg Theater at Folsom High School. Purchase tickets online now at or by calling the box office at 916-914-SING.

EDMT was founded in 2001 and is a 501c(3) non-profit corporation providing
instruction and performance opportunities.

Hamlet Sees Favorite Ghost in Grass Valley

“Hamlet” may not be the most difficult of Shakespeare’s plays to perform—“King Lear” and “Titus Andronicus” make it look like a Sunday morning stroll. But it’s among the easiest to mess up. As soon as an actor says, “To be or not to be,” it’s hard to suppress a giggle. “Hamlet” is also the most baffling of the lot, having generated what John Gielgud described as “the ‘Hamlet’ industry,” which produces that avalanche of literary criticism aimed at defining what Shakespeare was driving at. Is Hamlet mad or just faking madness? What should he have done, how and when?

So it’s a joy to see Nevada City’s Foothill Theatre Company taking on this daunting play. During summers this highly professional company has been offering a Shakespeare Festival in Grass Valley. Three years ago I reviewed a particularly effective production there of “Macbeth,” which superstitious actors call “The Scottish Play,” in the belief that it’s jinxed. This “Macbeth” obviously escaped the spell.

The current production of “Hamlet” should also be memorable. Directed by Scott W. Gilbert, it features veteran Gary Wright as Hamlet, with five seasoned professionals, including Eric Wheeler in supporting roles. (See picture.)

“Hamlet” continues through November 23 at the Off Center Stage, The Center for the Arts, 315 Richardson Street, Grass Valley. Performances are Thursday 7:00 pm, Friday & Saturday 8:00 pm, and Sunday 2 p.m. Tickets are $28-$31, with discounts available. Call the box office at (530) 265-8587. For orders on line and more information, click the title of this post.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Assassins": just in time for an election

There’s a corny old saying about life imitating art. Suppose that now, just before a presidential election, somebody wanted to stage a musical comedy about historic presidential assassinations, including failed attempts. What would a producer say? “Are you out of your mind? Who needs another ‘Springtime for Hitler’?”

The fact is, though, that life is doing just that—imitating art. Artistic Differences Theatre Company is now offering “Assassins,” by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman. The setting is a carnival where people shoot at dummy ex-presidents in a shooting gallery.
Still, the premise revises an uncomfortable memory of a real incident that occurred at the Democratic convention in Denver. The authorities there frustrated a trio of assassins out to get Barack Obama.
The thrust of the current and the original versions of the show is to explore the motives and circumstances that lead to such desperate behavior. What’s more, I have it on reliable authority that the show is actually funny!

The original off-Broadway production ran from 1990 to 1993 to packed houses, but the projected Broadway effort, scheduled for 2001, was held back until 2004 in light of September 11. It earned six Tony nominations with five wins. According to Keith Riedell, director of the current production, the show “gives voice to the disenfranchised and the misfits of society – those for whom the American Dream is just that…a dream. Sondheim and Weidman have written an uniquely American, abeit twisted, patriotic show.”

“Assassins” runs through November 9 at the historic Eagle Theatre at 925 Front Street. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. (There’s no performance on Saturday, October 25.) Tickets are $18 general, $15 for students and seniors (65+). Call 916-708-3449 or click the title to this post.

Orson Welles at Capital Stage

Capital Stage celebrates Halloween on Wednesday, October 29, with its traditional presentation of Orson Welles' famous but unintended hoax, a radio drama based on H.G. Wells' yarn about a Martian invasion of earth. Those tuning in late went into a panic, thinking that Martians were really invading. For details click the title of this post.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Halloween at Stage Nine

Announcement from Stage Nine
Title links to web site


The fun begins at noon with a Craft Fair on Sutter Street and trick or treating at participating merchants in Historic Folsom.

Then at 3:30 the Stage Nine Theatre will present a special performance of the chilling tale of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Following "Sleepy Hollow" will be a Costume Contest in our theatre with prizes for all, and then all participants will have Pizza and Beverages at our Stage Nine Entertainment Store followed by Ghost Stories in our specially decorated Halloween Room. And that's not all, included is a free ride on Larry Scholl's Ghost Train.

All of this for only $25 per person.

Don't miss out on the spooky fun. Call (916) 353-1001 to make reservations.

Stage Nine Theatre
717 Sutter Street
Historic Folsom
(916) 353-1001

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New Release from B Street

New Release from B Street Theatre, Sacramento

(Title links to web site)

The B Street Theatre is pleased to present the world premiere of HEAR THE GRASS GROW, written and directed by Producing Artistic Director Buck Busfield. This touching contemporary comedy is the fourth show in the B Street Theatre's seven-show, 2008-2009 mainstage season.

When gubernatorial candidate Ernie Putalik is challenged by a personal loss, he seeks solace in the strangest of places with the strangest of friends. Busfield has worked for the B Street Theatre since its creation in 1986. In his over twenty-year tenure, he has directed more than 100 productions and has penned over two dozen original scripts.

HEAR THE GRASS GROW continues the B Street Theatre's tradition of producing an original, new play for the holidays each year. Busfield's previous original holiday scripts include AND TO ALL A GOODNIGHT, MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY and THROWING PARTIES.

HEAR THE GRASS GROW features David Pierini as Ernie Putalik, along with fellow B Street Theatre Acting Company members Elisabeth Nunziato, Stephanie McVay and Ed Claudio.

Performances begin with previews Saturday, November 15th at 5:00pm and Sunday, November 16th at 2:00pm. The gala opening and press night will be held on Sunday, November 16th at 7:00pm. The show runs through Sunday, January 4th, 2009. Ticket prices are $12.00 for previews, $25.00 for Tuesday through Thursday performances, $30.00 for Friday through Sunday performances. Senior and student discounts are available for all shows.

The B Street Theatre is located at the corner of 27th & B Street in midtown Sacramento behind Stanford Park Baseball Field at 27th & C Streets.

Box Office: (916) 443-5300

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lanford Wilson Classic Comes to Folsom

Photo: Michelle Murphy and Nick Galbraith
Folsom Lake College Department of Theatre Arts
Assistant Professor David Harris – Director
10 College Parkway
Folsom CA 95630


Folsom CA October 17, 2008

‘Lanford Wilson’s The Rimers of Eldritch is an understated symphony, a piece for a chamber orchestra performing in a haunting, minor key.”

Folsom Lake College Department of Theatre tackles classic American dramatist Lanford Wilson’s compelling and lyrical drama in the second production of its nascent performance series. Named after the mascot of the now five-year-old college, The Falcon’s Eye is the producing arm of the Theatre Arts Department directed by Assistant Professor David Harris. Wilson’s probing of the American experience through the eyes of the citizens of a dying Midwestern coal town continues The Falcon’s Eye’s artistic investigation of topics that will resonate with area theatre patrons.

THE RIMERS OF ELDRITCH opens on Friday, November 7, 2008 and will continue until Sunday, November 23. Showtimes will be at 8:00pm on Friday and Saturday nights and at 2:00pm on Sunday afternoons. Tickets are $15.00 General Admission, $10.00 Students and Seniors. The Falcon’s Eye box office can accept reservations at any time by calling 916-608-6800. The Falcon’s Eye is currently performing at the new studio theatre at Vista del Lago High School, 1970 Broadstone Parkway, Folsom, CA 95630.

Folsom Lake College Assistant Professor David Harris (director of last spring’s Reckless at the Falcon’s Eye Theatre, and director of Proof and actor in Dirty Story for Capital Stage in Sacramento) directs the cast of experienced community artists and college students, and features Rod Breton (Picasso at the Lapin Agile at Sacramento Theatre Company and David Mamet's Uncle Vanya at San Jose Stage), Adrienne Sher (Misery and The Memory of Water at Capital Stage), Maggie Upton (On Golden Pond and directed Mousetrap both for Stage Nine Folsom), Michelle Murphy (Les Liaison Dangereuses and Boy Gets Girl at Capital Stage), and Zhani Lopes (Reckless at The Falcon’s Eye and Oklahoma! at Magic Circle).

EVA: Do you fly? Do you dream you fly?
ROBERT: I guess. I haven’t thought about it....
EVA: I’m way over the tree tops, just brushing against the tree tops... And when the sun comes ---
ROBERT: Right.
EVA: It’ll blind you! ...It’s so bright it blinds you. I want to fly like that, all over town, right over everybody. It’s beautiful.

A small Midwestern town is forced to face the consequences of two shocking crimes in this eerie drama. The lives of the citizens of Eldritch are exposed during a draining murder trial, as the story shifts between past and present events until the puzzle is complete.

''The Rimers of Eldritch'' is a dark, brooding contemplation of a small ghostly town frozen in time and place, the mid-century in the Middle West. Lanford Wilson looks behind the ''Spoon River Anthology'' exterior in order to expose the warring frustrations in these thwarted lives and, in so doing, he prefigures the movie ''Blue Velvet.''

Director: David Harris
Producer: The Falcon’s Eye Theatre at Folsom Lake College
Location: The Studio Theatre at Vista del Lago High School
1970 Broadstone Parkway
Folsom CA 95630

Scene and Lighting Design: Jonathan Williams
Costume Design: Rebecca Redmond
Sound Design: David Harris
Stage Manager:

Cast: Maggie Adair Upton, Robin Albee-Kesich, Rod Breton, Matt Canty, Lori Ann Delappe, Delaney Eldridge-Dunn, Nick Galbraith, Elyse Hockensmith, James Holden, Laura Kaya, Zhani Lopes, Cheantell Munn, Michelle Murphy, James Roberts, Lew Rooker, Adrienne Sher, and James VanHouten


Performance Times/Prices
Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 pm/$15 gen admin, $10 students and seniors
Sunday afternoons at 2:00 pm/$15 gen admin, $10 students and seniors

About us:
The mission of the Department of Theatre Arts at Folsom Lake College is to provide the people of the region with theatre that speaks to their lives and experiences and that challenges their expectations. We strive to enrich the community by providing performing arts opportunities for the people of the region as actors, designers, and technicians in a fully-supported educational environment. It is also our goal to provide a theatrical learning experience that gives students of the art a strong background in American classics, as well as both the classics of Europe and the works of modern authors writing today.

In 2010, Folsom Lake College expects to complete construction of a multi-million dollar, three-theatre performing arts complex. This facility is set to be the jewel of the region and will be poised on a prominent hilltop overlooking Folsom. It will house the college’s Music and Fine Arts program, but most importantly it will be the home of The Falcon’s Eye Theatre at Folsom Lake College. We look forward to the community joining us in this exciting venue in the future!

Media Contact:
David Harris
Assistant Professor – Director

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"No Parole": Captivating Comedy from STC

Sacramento Theatre Company’s intimate Pollock Stage (formerly Second Stage) lends itself to offbeat productions that bring audience and performers closer together, making us feel as if we’re part of the action. Artistic Director Peggy Shannon often uses it as a window that lets us peek into the lives of American subcultures, especially those we rarely know much about.

Such seems to be the case with “No Parole,” a story about Latinos who don’t happen to be from Mexico. In fact the tiny and dysfunctional family from Peru is isolated from any compatriots as it struggles ingeniously, and often unlawfully, for survival. It’s really more about family than ethnicity. The subtitle (which doesn’t appear in the playbill) is “Family is a Life Sentence,” from which “you don’t get parole.”

It traces the painful autobiography of its playwright and lone actor, Carlo d’Amore, and his love-hate relationship with his sociopathic mother. Although some commentators claim that the story is partially fiction, d’Amore assures me that every bit of the story is factual.

A remarkable actor, d’Amore plays all the characters, first appearing as his own mother, in a dress with no padding, no wig and no special makeup as he fires machine-gun Spanish at the audience. His graceful feminine gestures make us wonder who this woman is and what happened to Carlo. Suddenly she realizes that we don’t speak Spanish and lapses into accented English. Then, stripping off the dress, D’Amore becomes—himself.

Thus begins his life story. He has a younger brother, Luigi, named after Carlos’ supposed father, an Italian. But later we find that the elder Luigi is not the father of the boys, whose biological father has left their mother. The rapid-fire monolog is hard to follow, but we learn that the mother has a passion for larceny, forcing her to leave the country and travel north until she and Carlos reach the United States.

As a disillusioned adult, and with both Luigis apparently out of the picture, he puts her up in a spare room in his New York slum apartment, enduring her escapades that land her in prison for eight years. (A mesh of bars on Myke Kunkel’s spare set is suggestive.) Desperate to bring in money he acquires a special oven for baking empanadas, which he sells on the street.

Toward the end she suffers a stroke, which D’Amore projects through a crooked mouth and slurred speech, never quite letting him free himself. Yet the grim story is punctuated with humor. He describes, for instance, a massive purse she uses to shoplift as he details the increasingly size of what she puts into it. He also portrays her holding him as a baby on her lap while she delicately extracts a tapeworm from his anus.

Though d’Amore has been a success as an actor, appearing on Broadway as well as in film and on television, “No Parole” seems to be his opening shot as a playwright. It does have some sharp insights and vivid characterization, yet the jumble of Spanish and English makes it hard to follow. It also suffers as undigested autobiography. After all, larcenous mothers can appear in any culture and embarrass their offspring.

The production owes much to director Margarett Perry and her staff for its quick pace as they pick up cues from D’Amore. Photos are by Rudy Meyers.

“No Parole” continues at the Wells Fargo Complex, 1419 H Street, through November 9. Performances are Wednesday at 12:30 and 6:30 p.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Buy tickets, $15-$44, at the Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office, by phone at (916) 443-6722 or 1-888-4-STC-TIX, or online at

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Oustanding "Forever Plaid" at Cosmo Cafe

As my wife, Pat, and I headed for our car after seeing the latest production of “Forever Plaid,” I couldn’t help wishing that we were both young and single again. Then I could take her to see this show on what would have been the greatest date of her life. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve seen “Plaid”–along with “Plaid Tidings,” its holiday sequel. It used to be the signature favorite of Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre in Folsom/Rancho Cordova. So we were not especially excited by the prospect of another repetition.

Yet we were surprised and thrilled by the production, as if it were an entirely new experience. Hands down it was the best version of “Plaid” we’d every seen. Gary Stroman, a member of the original New York cast, directed a foursome as dazzling as any you’re likely to see in a musical, equally top flight for their voices, comic timing and versatility.

“Plaid’s” curious premise is that a quartet of modestly successful high school chums gets wiped out in an auto accident in 1964, on the way to the gig of their lives. En route to pick up their custom-made plaid tuxedos, they’re killed instantly when a bus—filled with parochial school teens—crushes their car. Through some rigmarole about harmony and the ozone layer, a divine power revives the four so they can give their scheduled performance before they’re absorbed into the eternal beyond.

“Plaid,” which premiered in 1990, bridges the gap between early, down-home male quartets and the rock revolution that gave us Elvis and the Beatles, a period celebrated by the Ed Sullivan show that ran from 1948 to 1971. (Personal note: I remember the night when Sullivan introduced America to the Beatles. As I listened, I shook my head, saying, “I don’t know what they’re singing but it ain’t music!” My prejudice continued until I caught myself humming their tunes.)

In the current production Chris Couch is Sparky, the Plaid’s cut-up baritone; J.D. Daw is Jinx, the high tenor and Sparky’s younger brother; Sean Hopkins is Smudge, the bespectacled bass; Justin Packard is Frankie, the caring leader; and Mark Turner, “the fifth plaid,” is the able understudy who can step into any of the roles. Each of them has played in other productions of “Plaid” in other parts of the country.

As they await the climactic arrival of their plaid jackets, they wear white jackets with plaid cummerbunds. A tradition of the Scottish highlands, plaid represents the comfort of home and hearth, each pattern signaling the social identity of the wearer. Among the show’s thirty numbers is “Scotland the Brave,” and true to form our quartet has to pretend to goof it up, with one member wearing his plaid sash on backwards and struggling to right it.

The running gag through the show, in fact, is having the quartet perform with the precision of circus acrobats, all the while pretending to be a collection of klutzes. They can do just about anything that showmanship demands, including fire eating, yet they fake onstage disasters, including chronic nosebleeds. Much of the fun of the show comes from admiring how well they succeed in playing “badly.”

The many old favorites we enjoy are from the thirties to the sixties, popularized by singers like Perry Como and Harry Belafonte. In fact the quartet encounters Como himself (who’s offstage, of course) during the show and serenades him with “Sing to me, Mr. C.” Among other numbers are the memorable “Catch a Falling Star,” “Heart and Soul,” “Lady of Spain,” “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” “Perfidia,” “Sixteen Tons,” and “Three Coins in the Fountain.” Included are a splash of Calypso and other Jamaican numbers like “Day-O,” “Jamaica Farewell,” and “Matilda,” performed in exotic costumes and with spectacular choreography by Stroman. “Matilda” also includes enthusiastic audience participation in the refrain.

The show, without intermission, takes about an hour and a half. Produced by the non-profit California Musical Theatre, it’s onstage as the first offering at CMT’s new Cosmopolitan CafĂ©, in downtown Sacramento. This classy combination of restaurant and theater offers food and drink at surprisingly moderate prices and is an ideal venue for cabaret entertainment, with a choice of tables or tiered seating with beverage counters. Performances run from Tuesday through Sunday, with ticket prices from $32 to $57. For more details call (916) 557-1198 or click or

Friday, October 17, 2008

Win a New House!

Interested in winning a new house for a worthy cause? $100 could move you in. Click the heading for details.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

An Enchanted Island at STC

Success of a play almost always depends on a compelling story and fascinating characters. Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic “Treasure Island” adds another ingredient to the mix: atmosphere. The plot may read like a tale told by an idiot, but on stage it captures something deep in the human psyche, something that reveals itself in dreams or fairy tales.

Even the title has atmosphere. At the story level “Treasure” refers to hidden wealth fought over by pirates, yet on the atmospheric level the island itself is a treasure—the treasure of beauty and wonder.

Sacramento Theatre Company and Peggy Shannon, its artistic director and the play’s director, have a way with fantasy that enchants the very young as well as the young at heart. Before the action begins the mood is set by Mark Standriff, managing director. Along with the usual information about exits and cell phones, he previews the yarn with a mixture of chuckles and “aarghs,” implying that we not take anything we see seriously.

And what we see is a world full of innocent mayhem. Stevenson created the world’s folklore of pirates, monsters who can be bested by little boys and fairies. Ordinarily we shy away from exposing children to murderous violence, but the fantasy pirate world is much like a children’s game, ringing with shouts of “I shot you! You’re dead!” But we know that the kids are innocent of any concept of death.

Arthur Rotch’s fluid stage draws our eyes to a giant map of the island, taking up the whole back wall. Before it is a low wall that can double as the side of a ship, over which victims can be tossed to sharks. Mid-stage and off center are a pair of huge wooden columns, like four-sided ladders, allowing actors to climb them as imaginary masts. Added to all is a mobile door, which can be tucked out of the way when nobody is coming or going in or out of imaginary rooms.

And Todd Rochrman’s wildly colorful costumes so disguise the actors that some of the region’s most popular actors—from STC, B Street and Capital Stage—appear and disappear in multiple roles, yet are almost totally unrecognizable. Among them are Matt K. Miller, David Campfield, and Michael R.J. Campbell. Taking the proverbial cake is Michael Stevenson as Long John Silver stomping around on a wooden leg, his missing leg stuck up behind him so that he resembles a miniature giraffe.

The story is a memory play told by a 14-year-old Jim Hawkins (Anna Miles/Will Block, with understudy Alyssa Middleton taking over on October 16 and 17). It starts with Jim as a young man confronting Captain Flint (Patrick Murphy), who we learn later was dead at the time. Never mind. The precocious boy has lost his father and struggles to help his mother in a dangerous world.

Dodging pirates and enlisting with Captain Smollet (Matt K. Miller), a starchy British officer, Jim arrives on Treasure Island, where he encounters castaway Ben Gunn (Jonathan Rhys Williams), who longs for cheese and gives Jim a map showing where a treasure is buried. The rest of the play is consumed with bloody struggles to gain possession of the map.

If you see the play don’t try to think about it too much, especially when coping with the thick, often impenetrable English dialect—which sometimes baffled me, though I spent lengthy stays in England. Just enjoy the fun. It will probably be irresistible anyway. On opening night the play drew a standing ovation from young and old alike.

“Treasure Island” runs through November 2 in the Wells Fargo Complex, 1419 H Street. Performances are Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., Thursday at 12:30 and 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15-$40. Call the box office at (916) 443-6722 or call (888) 4-STC-TIX. See also http:// and

Monday, October 13, 2008

B Street Special Event

On November 8, B Street Theatre is holding a special event to benefit the Theatre School Tour, with restaurant and bar crawl following. Check the link or call
(916) 443-5300.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Toying with Death at Capital Stage

Tommy Damotta (Cole Alexander Smith) and Kerry Davis (Sam Misner) relish creating a violent video game.

“First Person Shooter,” at Capital Stage, is all about playing the blame game in today’s violent American culture. Inspired by Columbine, and its aftermath of homegrown suicide bombers, it focuses on a murder inspired by a violent video game. It asks the question: “Who’s responsible for violence by young people imitating what they see on a computer screen?”

In the end we still don’t know. Current research is inconclusive.

Berkeley playwright Aaron Loeb, who’s active in the video-game industry, shows us an authentic picture of a small company that generates such games. We see Kerry Davis (Sam Misner), the main creative geek at JetPack Games, as he takes delight in his latest technological triumph. He explains to his cohorts, Tommy (Cole Alexander Smith) and Tamar (Megan Pearl Smith), how he can simulate what actually happens to a leg when a bullet breaks through its bone.

But a shock upsets the creative delight when JetPack is sued by the family of an African-American boy shot to death in a rural Illinois town. His white assassins were inspired by Megaton, the company’s most popular game. The crime takes on racist overtones when we learn that the attackers wore costumes labeled “the Clan.”

The change of “Klan” to “Clan” is one of the cute devices of the game. What’s more, the victim closely resembled a black bad guy in the scenario.

Among the three JetPack members, Tamar, who is Jewish, is the most torn by the dilemma–whether to accept or reject responsibility–at least at first. The suit could bankrupt the company–yet was the game solely responsible? What about the stupid boys who acted out the story? Tommy, the self-serving pragmatist, is not conflicted; he zeroes in on winning.

Kerry is scheduled for a TV interview and Tommy coaches him, offering a creepy prediction of what we saw in this year’s presidential debates. He advises Kerry to “answer the question you wished they’d ask.”

Kerry is the most deeply troubled. He recognizes that the plot of his game, and its African-American villain, were inspired by a horrible catastrophe in his own life.

In the second act we also share the poignant grief of the victim’s father, Daniel Jamison (Adrian Roberts), plus the agony of his white second wife, Rose (Karyn Casl). At first she feels that his grief is more than she can bear, but she can’t leave and instead expresses her love for him, cradling his head in her arms.

Much credit for a powerful production goes not only to a fine cast, including Ed Lee in multiple roles, but also to Molly Aaronson-Gelb, the director, who has worked extensively with Loeb before. Credit also goes to Jonathan Williams and Steve Decker, respectively, for striking set and lighting designs, where large dark blocks transform into backlit projections of what appear to be the inner workings of the characters’ minds.

“First Person Shooter” continues through November 2 aboard the Delta King at 1000 Front Street in Old Sacramento. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 through $30, depending on performance date. Dinner and show combinations are also available. Call (916) 995-5464. See also

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Is "Waiting for Lefty" an Omen?

When I think of Waiting for Lefty, Clifford Odets’ Depression-era classic, my first thought is a question: Was Samuel Beckett alluding to the title when he wrote Waiting for Godot? In both we have people waiting for a savior, a messiah. The theme is ancient, universal—and fervently alive in the current River Stage production.

Depending on your religious faith, or lack thereof, the theme is built into the human brain according to God, Darwin, Freud or Jung. It may even occupy a corner of an animal’s brain. An abandoned dog will await the return of its master.

In the late forties Beckett saw an absurd universe, where a pair of tramps struggled “to hold the terrible silence at bay.” And in Odet’s highly moral world, Lefty also in the end never comes. Instead it’s up to the impoverished and exploited workers of 1935 to liberate themselves, dependent on neither Lefty nor Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom many in the play nonetheless admire. Some workers embrace Communism but most despise it.

The action takes place in New York, focusing on a recent strike by taxi drivers, members of the Transit Workers Union. While raging against their exploitation by their employers, who oversupply cabs to a penny-pinching public, they also rage against each other. In Odet’s forthright style, the action begins and continues dramatically. There’s no real plot, but we view a succession of vignettes: families torn apart, racism, seductive offers by corrupt employers, battles between brothers.

Among many telling scenes is a painful confrontation between a husband and wife, Joe and Edna (Dan Featherston and Jessica Fairbairn), where she mocks him and stalks out because he can’t support his family. In another scene a young couple in love, Florrie and Sid (Andie Saenz and Spencer Tregilgas) are torn apart by her family because he can’t support her.

In still another, Miller (Johnathan Christian), a black man, resists a tempting offer from an employer (John Hopkins) to participate in experiments aimed at perfecting poison gas for the next world war. In still another, a patient dies because Dr. Barnes (Michael Beckett) dismisses his physician, Dr. Benjamin (Earl Victorine), who unfortunately happens to be a Jew.

The River Stage production eerily (if accidentally) foretold the recent Wall Street meltdown and provides a cautionary tale giving us a taste of what we might be in for next if we don’t act wisely. On the stage, bare except for chairs, we see a background screen with aged film clips from the era portrayed.

The background theme is the mournful 1931 “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” (music by Jay Gorney, lyrics by Yip Harburg):
They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

The song captures an essential difference between unionism then and now. Then unionism was a fight for dignity and equity, in a time when employers hired thugs to beat strikers and pickets. It was a period when the police shot and killed strikers, as on San Francisco’s “Bloody Thursday,” about a year before the play opened. Ironically, with organized labor’s ultimate victory, unions became part of the establishment. And for many of those old timers it had lost its heart, selling its soul for money and benefits.

But audience reactions during a discussion after the play, especially from older members, show that the old brave defiance is still alive and strong. It can emerge again if the current crisis deteriorates into another Great Depression.

Under Frank Condon’s firm and well-paced direction, an inspired cast deliver passionate and skilled portrayals in a production, though barely skirting the borders of melodrama, comes over as very real and very relevant to our own time, despite its seeming strangeness.

“Waiting for Lefty” is a must see for everyone who respects history and cares about the future of our civilization.

Performances run through October 26 on the Cosumnes River College campus, 8401 Center Parkway in Sacramento. “Waiting for Lefty” continues Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 general, $16 for students, seniors and Los Rios employees. Sunday performances are at 2 p.m., with all tickets $16. Call (916) 691-7364, and for more information go to

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Quirky Pair invade Imprint Theatre

If you're interested in bold, challenging theater, don't miss Morris Panych's "Lawrence and Holloman" at Folsom's Imprint Theatre. A dark comedy that starts off like an attenuated Vaudeville act, it follows Lawrence (Stephen Miller), an arrogant narcissist, and his wimpy sidekick Holloman (James Gilbreath) as the play's surprising trajectory slowly transforms both into the opposites of what they were.

Though the action tends to drag, the intensity and the production values are worth your concentration--and there are some gut-busting laughs along the way. Kudos go to the two actors for incisive performances and to director Kelly Archer and her crew for a memorable production.

The play concludes tomorrow (Saturday), with two performances at 1100 Blue Ravine Road, one at 2 p.m. and one at 8 p.m. For reservations and details, call (916) 627-6533 or see

Thursday, October 9, 2008

NEWS: Garbeau's and Imprint

  • LAST CALL: Imprint Theatre in Folsom closes Canadian playwright Morris Panych's Lawrence and Holloman this weekend. Final shows are October 10 at 8 p.m. and October 11 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. See
  • IN RESPONSE to our economic downturn, Garbeau's Dinner Theatre ( is making some generous offers. According to CEO Mark Ferreira, "Apart from significantly increasing free ticket donations to many non-profit organizations, effective October 10th, Garbeau’s will lower general ticket prices, offer new prices for students ($15) and children ($12), and continue a menu that includes multiple salads and 'small plate' options at lower cost."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Why This Blog

Over the last ten years we’ve seen a magical transformation of the Sacramento region. From a state capitol nestled among tree-shaded suburbs it’s grown into a cultural Mecca. On a Second-Saturday Art Walk we fight for parking in what looks like Greenwich Village.

Along with the explosion in art and music, we’ve become a center for live theater, ranging from A Christmas Carol to West Coast premieres of daring plays by today’s most challenging playwrights. What’s more there’s no shortage of professional actors and directors from around the country as well as here at home.

Even if our print media weren’t experiencing an economic crisis that limits how much they can tell us about theater activity, it couldn’t offer the scope and timeliness to cover all that the theater community, and its audiences, might benefit from learning. But a blog can come miles closer.

Besides the usual background material about productions–the reviews, the feature stories about performers and theater companies–here are some additional possibilities:

  • Sections on all aspects of the theater experience, acting, directing, playwriting, music, choreography, set design, lighting and design, comparisons of schools and training centers, etc

  • Videos of key scenes, as on YouTube,

  • Important events, such as auditions, fund raisers, tours, etc.

  • Discussion groups about productions, plays and people. How about, for instance, debates among reviewers, performers, audience members, etc. on specific productions, plays and playwrights, current trends, etc.?

During a chat about this project, the venerable Ed Claudio, student of Stella Adler and co-founder of the Actor’s Workshop of Sacramento, suggested think pieces with more depth than the ordinary review. To take a shot at that target, I devoted a first post (Shadow of Doubt) that traced a connection between three recent plays here in our neighborhood. I’d be grateful for your reactions.

But where we go depends on you as much as me. Right now this is a bare-bones experiment. Depending on its reception we can graduate to the most extravagant and popular gadgets and artistry. We’ll keep you posted frequently and await your thoughts.

David Jacobson
Maestro (or whatever)

Shadow of Doubt

While watching David Davalos’ Wittenberg last month at B Street Theatre, I experienced something like an electric shock toward the end of this witty and challenging drama. Set in the sixteenth century, the story pits Martin Luther (Greg Alexander) against the historical yet legendary Johann Faustus (David Pierini) [picture], with Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Jason Kuykendall), then a student, in the middle.

Until the end, when his “theses” are published, Luther is the champion of unquestioning faith, while Faustus embraces free thought. Dressed in a devil’s costume, Faustus declares that “if the Church is wrong about Purgatory, couldn’t it also be wrong about Hell—about our souls, about everything?”

Then came the clincher, the line that made me feel as if I’d poked a finger into a live electric socket. “No,” he says, “You’ve got to put your faith in doubt!” The line has a wonderful ambiguity: Should you doubt your faith or have faith in the virtue of doubt itself?

But the ambiguity was not what caused the shock. What got to me was coincidence—or was it fate? This was the third time this year that I had seen a play sanctifying doubt itself. In February-March B Street had staged the Pulitzer Prize-winning Doubt, subtitled “A Parable,” by John Patrick Shanley, whose stunning Dirty Story had kicked off the previous season at Capital Stage in Old Sacramento.

Set in a Bronx parochial school, Doubt revolves around a potential scandal when the school’s stiffly correct principal, Sister Aloysius (Catherine MacNeal) suspects Father Flynn (Kurt Johnson) of corrupting a black male student. What distinguishes the play is that the issue is never resolved. It’s like a courtroom drama where the accused is released because the evidence is insufficient, though we still suspect his guilt.

But that’s not the point. Ordinarily we demand resolution, closure, before the curtain comes down. And yet we do have closure as Shanley defies dramatic gravity by elevating uncertainty to a virtue.

Early on, Flynn delivers a sermon through a parable about a sailor lost at sea, trying to find his way to shore through guesswork. “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty,” the priest declares. “When you are lost you are not alone.” Though he survives Sister Aloysius’ inquisition, he secures a transfer from the school to escape the suspicion hanging over him.

Yet there is a resolution, the triumph of doubt as a virtue. To quote myself in the review I wrote for Life Newspapers, I praised the cast, who “gave a finely nuanced performance, letting uncertainty hover like a ball on an air stream.”

The similarity between Shanley and Davalos, author of Wittenburg, could be dismissed as coincidence, except for another eerie coincidence. A few days before seeing Wittenberg, my wife, Pat, and I happened to catch The Divine Court-Martial of Field Marshall William Keitel, by local playwright Charles McIntosh, at Tom Kelly’s iconoclastic Thistle Dew Dessert Theatre, now dedicated to giving a showcase to local playwrights.

Taking a traditional approach to the same theme, the play posits a trial in the “celestial court” of Jehovah after Keital was hanged in 1946 for rubber stamping Hitler’s orders authorizing atrocities. Like many others who were also condemned during their earthly trials, he pleaded that he was merely following orders, like a good soldier.

Except for Beelzemar (Stephen Kauffman), a devil who acts as prosecutor, and Azura (Susannah Nelson), an angel who defends Keitel (Keith Letl), all the rest are spirits of the earthly dead, including the judges and the jury. While McIntosh displays an impressive grasp of Nazi history, as well as events from Joan of Arc to the Holocaust, the play almost bogs down in hair-splitting debates about moral and legal questions.

Still, its ingenuity holds our attention as we await the verdict, which comes as a surprise. Ultimately Keitel is condemned, not for blindly following orders, as he was condemned in life, but rather for failing to doubt. And Jehovah, who never appears, does come up with some hopeful surprises at the end.

So how come I saw three plays this year that praise doubt as a moral virtue, superior to firm conviction, even faith? Are we seeing a sort of twenty-first century philosophical revolution? Should we revise the U.S. Constitution to say that “all men may or may not be created equal” and “are endowed by their creator (whoever or whatever he or she is) with some not quite inalienable rights?”

On the other hand, if we are all taught to question authority, wouldn’t we see an end to suicide bombers?

Or, after all, maybe seeing these three plays in such a short space of time isn’t really a big coincidence. Maybe the virtue of challenging authority came to us with the Renaissance. Or again, maybe it’s been lurking backstage since the worship of reason in ancient Athens. There, in the fifth century B.C., the philosopher Protagoras boldly declared, “I know not whether the gods exist or do not exist. I know only that man is the measure of all things.” Today we’d have to add “woman.”