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“peerless” Peeks at High School Maniacs, at Marin Theatre Co., Mill Valley

“peerless” Peeks at High School Maniacs, at Marin Theatre Co., Mill Valley

Jiehae Park Makes Murder Fun in Macbeth Mash-Up

by Barry David Horwitz

Every detail in Jiehae Park’s “peerless” goes way Over the Top. The Barbie-Doll dressed Chinese American twin sisters, M. and L., choose a high school in a remote midwestern suburb to increase their chances of early admission to “The College.” They are riveting and hilarious as they bombard us with speeded-up micro-conversations. Director Margot Bordelon has brilliantly created a funny speed-dream of h.s. terrors.

The twins, have over-planned their academic journey from high school to college, and woe to anyone who gets in their way!  They even lie to get into separate years, to avoid competing with each other. Their idealization of “The College” reveals a common elitist fantasy, these days.

Tiffany Villarin (M) and Rinabeth Apostol (L) in “peerless.” Photo: Kevin Berne

M. (an anxiety-ridden Tiffany Villarin) must be a high school stand-in for Macbeth because she hesitates, and is shy.  Meanwhile, L. (an amped-up Rinabeth Apostol) must be Lady Macbeth because she is the bold, brash brains of the scheme. L. and M. are conspiring at their strategically selected high school, planning to move on to the best college, the best early admission, and with the best grades. Who can possibly stop them?

Well, first of all—they dress identically, with yellow and red backpacks or bright blue short prom dresses, and they speak at a breakneck super-speed, like poets at a Slam. They are awkwardly self-conscious about their macabre plans and they address the audience, directly.  “peerless” is a brilliant, speedy cartoon with rapid fire, comic speech, and sketch-skit styling. The fired up, young cast delivers superb comic performances and movements: A technical wonder that flies by, with lots of loud guffaws, at 82 minutes.

Rosie Hallett and Tiffany Villarin in “peerless.” Photo: Kevin Berne

Adding to the controlled mayhem, three large door-panels swing up to reveal farcical scenes at the high school, in a friend’s home, or in the gym. The scenes are like cartoon panels where ridiculous plots pop up and spin out of control. It’s a living cartoon where the bright colors, loud noises, and special effects define the characters.

Chief among their enemies is Dirty Girl (a dreadlocked Rosie Hallett) who swings all over the stage in her dirty duds. As a delightful teen-aged witch out of Macbeth, D.G. sees through the Machiavellean sisters and utters dire prophecies. She hates them and their intellect and their scheming. She is alt, and they are geeks.

On the other hand, a sweet geeky formerly fat boy loves them—he is D (a spot-on Jeremy Kahn), a noble King Duncan who tries to make sense of the capitalist competition laid down by M and L. Kahn runs us through D’s troubled adolescence, his former fat fingers, and other anxieties to pretty much send the show through the roof. He leaps, he apologizes, he dances, he sings, he tries to date at least one of the sisters—he really can tell them apart. He is a delight to watch, as he becomes their Number One Victim—because he won the early admission slot to The College! He has displaced M. and L.—a dangerous game.

Tiffany Villarin and Rinabeth Apostol in “peerless.” Photo: Kevin Berne

Well, there’s the BF (a puzzled and charming Cameron Matthews) based on Banquo/Fleance, and there’s D’s brother (a hooded Jeremy Kahn, again), and a Preppy Girl (a spiffy Rosie Hallett, again)—all of which gives us the snarky structure of a typical U.S. high school. Add a whiff of egotism, narcissism, entitlement, and murder—and you get a peerless look at U.S. cross-culture envy of the Other.

The play could profit from filled out minor characters, a fuller climax, and more of those eloquent speeches that define the characters and put down their peers. Every kid thinks he’s peerless, but L. and M. really are without peers. It’s a cultural mash-up—between immigrants trying to fit in and a closed culture that pulls down those who strive as much as it welcomes them.

Rinabeth Apostol and Tiffany Villarin in “peerless.” Photo: Kevin Berne

“peerless” portrays the quixotic claims of equality and opportunity that U.S. culture seems to offer, but then pulls the rug out. In fact, the so-called elite schools Rule.  Private colleges rule by the power of the pocket book and by our own anti-education elitism. Jiehae Park exposes the hollow claims to fair treatment in a system that dotes on “private” colleges—wheich do not even deliver what they claim.

What happened to the FREE University of California, for example, that we had before Reagan? No one even remembers that the Constitution of the State of California STILL STATES that the Universities in California are legally “FREE.”

Playwright Jiehae Park and Director Margo Bordelon leave no doubt that “the game is rigged.” Sound familiar? You will laugh out loud and then cry out against the lost potential in the rigged anti-educational system on stage and off.

 

“peerless” by Jiehae Park, directed by Margot Bordelon, at Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley, California, through Sunday, April 2, 2017. Info: marintheatre.org

Cast: Rosie Hallett, Rinabeth Apostol, Tiffany Villarin, Cameron Matthews, and Jeremy Kahn.

 

For more plays, check Theatrius: Now Playing.

Also check our Recent Shows.

“Well”: How to Cure Family & Racism, at CCCT, El Cerrito

“Well”: How to Cure Family & Racism, at CCCT, El Cerrito

Lisa Kron Makes Healing Comedy of Herself, Mom, and Allergies

by Barry David Horwitz

When Lisa Kron, the writer of “Well,” uses herself a character called Lisa in her own play, the stakes are already pretty high. “Lisa” struggles to make a play out of her painful feelings about her mother–in a sprightly comedy that breaks all the rules of theater. Meanwhile, her mother suffers from a life-long “family illness.”

“Lisa” talks right to us, in the audience—breaking down that fourth wall right from the get-go. The role was originally played by the writer herself, when it opened off-Broadway in 2004, before it went on to Broadway in 2006. Lisa Kron also wrote the script for the Tony Award-winning “Fun Home.”

The character Lisa (a witty, anxious Kate Dunlop Tomatis) starts by nervously telling us that this play is not about her and not about her mother Ann (the endearing, bubbly Marlene Walker). No, Lisa explains that her play is about illness and getting well. Director Susan E. Evans runs a tightly knit show, using Kuo-Hao Lo’s whimsically messy set for Mom’s collections in the homey living room.

Marlene Walker and Kate Dunlop Tomatis

Of course, we never believe Lisa because “the lady doth protest too much.” The wonderful joke is that the play really is about Lisa and her mom, Ann Kron who is napping center stage in her Lazy-Boy lounger right in front of us. You will never find a more opposite mom and daughter, ever. One is a do-er and the other a tortured artist.

In fact, the play is mainly set in her Mom’s living room, where Ann naps, gets alarmed, speaks for herself, helps out her whole community, and generally nurtures and tends to the needs of everyone.  Oh, and she also cures that New York suburb of racism in the 50s, too. Not a bad job for a supposedly chronically ill and severely allergic mom.

Kate Dunlop Tomatis, Ben Knoll, and Pam Drummer-Williams

Of course, the character of Lisa never understands her mother, who engages people and issues directly and joyously—like Betty White on steroids. Mom tackles personal and political issues with equal parts grace and charity. A hard act to follow.

Lisa is all over the stage, nervous, anxious, self-deprecating, and self-analyzing, wildly.  Meanwhile, Mom is napping, curing, politicking, and serving cake to the whole Ensemble.  Although playwright Kron calls “Well” a “solo show with other people in it,” we slowly realize that the character “Lisa” has her own narrow perspective on their mother-daughter bond. We revel in Lisa’s unconscious self-exposure and laugh out loud at her funny rationalizations.

Kate Dunlop Tomatis, Beth Chastain, Reg Clay, and Ben Knoll.

The Ensemble plays several roles—first as patients in a self-congratulatory Allergy Hospital. Beth Chastain plays a humorously depressed patient who can never be pleased. And Pam Drummer-Williams plays an irrepressible upbeat patient who sounds like Chatty Cathy—both hilarious in devotion to their “allergies.”

Ben Knoll does a great high octane, hypocritical nurse; while Reg Clay plays an amusing drunken neighbor. But Mom steals the show, as she is meant to do—healing the neighborhood, figuring how to get people together—black and white, left and right—creating and organizing the neighborhood until they ease her out.  Mom takes it all in stride, serving more cake and assuaging her chronic pains.  Everyone loves Mom.

Marlene Walker, Reg Clay, Beth Chastain, and Pam Drummer-Williams

Lisa has problems which evolve in quirky ways, as she confides in us—letting us know that her play is about illness and wellness and how it happens. We see Lisa getting better, slowly curing herself—of allergies, of anti-Momism, of being alone. The process lets us laugh out loud, and let out some of those toxins that keep us from getting well.  Enjoy!

“Well” is a brilliant and focused play, that even has an intermission, which gives us time to think about the progress of healing and cure. During the play, we wonder if, like Mom and Lisa, we can cure ourselves–or at least those around us. We can, if we can care enough, like Mom. It’s hard to be upstaged by your own mother. But wit heals all in CCCT’s exuberant “Well.”

Pam Drummer-Williams, Kate Dunlop Tomatis, Beth Chastain, and Reg Clay

“Well” by Lisa Kron, directed by Susan E. Evans, by Contra Costa Civic Theatre, El Cerrito, through Sunday, March 12, 2017. Info: ccct.org

Cast: Kate Dunlop Tomatis and Marlene Walker.

Ensemble: Beth Chastain, Pam Drummer-Williams, Reg Clay, and Ben Knoll.

For more plays, check Theatrius: Now Playing.

Also check our Recent Shows.

 

 

“Years in the Hundreds” Amazes with Old-Young Love, at Central Works, Berkeley

“Years in the Hundreds” Amazes with Old-Young Love, at Central Works, Berkeley

Potterveld Challenges Us with Sex, Guilt, and Twins

by Barry David Horwitz

Around the four sided playing area, in a lovely Victorian living room in the Berkeley City Club, Central Works presents their World Premiere #54, cryptically called “Years in the Hundreds.”  Jesse Potterveld’s new play from Director Gary Graves’ prolific Writers Workshop turns out to be a psycho-sexual thriller that trades in mystery, seduction, murder, and cross-generational love. But this time, two older ladies who are twins, lead on an eager young suitor.

Anne Hallinan and Tamar Cohn. Photo by Jim Norrena.

If you are intrigued by a story that features elderly twins, Jessie and Inez (Tamar Cohn and Anne Hallinan) and their love affair, seduction and torture of a handsome young book-dealer called Marcus (Adam Roy), then this is the play for you. We get to enjoy Inez’s tying down the stripped young buck in his skivvies to a sofa, as he squirms and shouts. If you can feature a lavish dose of voyeurism, exhibition, and sadism, this is definitely your play. The broad-shouldered, sexy Marcus falls victim to Inez’s jealousy of Jessie’s young boyfriend. He is trapped between the two sisters, one seeking love and the other vengeance.

Adam Roy. Photo by Jim Norrena.

The performances, all three, are perfectly calibrated to draw us into the story of the shadowy, elegant, well-dressed elderly twin ladies, who are hiding out in their apartment—much like the Berkeley City Club parlor. They are attacking and alarming each other; they know each other’s secrets and vulnerabilities from thirty years of co-habitation.

There’s a mystery to unfold here as the regal Jesse plots and schemes her escape with the studly delivery guy.  As played by the hypnotic Tamar Cohn, you want to watch Jesse as she conspires to leave her sister and take off to Mendocino with the honest and desirable Marcus—who is in love with her—yes, he is. And, clearly, they are having a hot time, too. A police detective kind of love is in the air—it’s a thriller.

Adam Roy and Anne Hallinan. Photo by Jim Norrena.

The twins dress identically, as the always elegant Inez tells us—the better to escape detection. But detection from what? From whom? There’s a mystery here, and bad blood between the trapped twin sisters, too. You have to spend some brain time to figure out what’s going on between the sisters—who can only venture out one at a time—and……..well, you have to find out why, it’s too fascinating…

Adam Roy. Photo by Jim Norrena.

Of course, the forceful and feisty entrance of the book boy begins to unravel their carefully constructed Chinese Box mystery. He learns to tell them apart—he knows something’s going on, and he wants to run off with his beloved Jessie. Inez is the enemy—and she’s the one who ties him to the sofa in his tighty-whities.  It’s hilarious, sensual, tantalizing, and well, full of mysteries.

I don’t know if we ever can figure out this dilemma—it’s a psycho-sexual thriller wrapped inside a Rubik’s cube. The play flies by in 75 minutes, leaving us breathless. With a witty, funny, and relentless script by Potterveld, and perfectly paced direction by Gary Graves, “Years in the Hundreds” is a jewel. I have to see it again to pick up more of the subtle jokes and eloquent staging. Worth a second ride.

Adam Roy. Photo by Jim Norrena.

“Years in the Hundreds” by Jesse Potterveld, directed by Gary Graves, by Central Works: The New Play Theater, at the Berkeley City Club, Berkeley, California, through Sunday, March 19, 2017. Info: centralworks.org

Cast: Tamar Cohn, Anne Hallinan, and Adam Roy.

For more plays, check Theatrius: Now Playing.

Also check our Recent Shows.

“Isaac’s Eye” Changes the World, at Custom Made Theatre, S.F.

“Isaac’s Eye” Changes the World, at Custom Made Theatre, S.F.

Lucas Hnath Strikes Again, Melding Mind and Body

by Barry David Horwitz

“Isaac’s Eye” by Lucas Hnath is a wonder. You have to admire and love the Narrator/Actor (a sly Adam Niemann) who draws us into  Newton’s life story. As Narrator, Niemann writes only the true facts of Newton’s life and work on the whiteboards that surround three sides of the stage—all through the show—making it a Brechtean historical spectacle. The Narrator explains what is not true in the story, directly—breaking the fourth wall and making humor out of Newton’s pain.

As presented by Custom Made Theatre and directed by Oren Stevens, Hnath presents Issac Newton as a young man (an intense and focused Gabriel A. Ross), struggling with his experiments and his isolation in the countryside.  In the first act, Newton is adrift, brilliant but uneducated, trying to make a connection with the Royal Society. Hnath, Stevens, and Ross make Newton’s life and his work immediate to a modern audience, bringing up questions of science, notoriety, and love. And with great wit and humor, too.

Robin Gabrielli, Adam Niemann, Jeunee Simon, and Gabriel A. Ross

Here’s a play about the discovery of the laws of optics that actually keeps us on the edge of our seats all the way through. I wanted to get right back in, after the intermission.

“Isaac’s Eye” truly has two acts. The second act introduces a new chapter, a reversal in the fortunes of young Isaac and his nemesis from the Royal Society, Robert Hooke (a scheming and witty Robin Gabrielli).

The brilliant cast makes both science and scientist accessible, Ross’s hair-trigger delivery expresses Newton’s tenacity and terror. Ross makes Newton as real as a feisty Cal undergrad, and even more brilliant. Through the Narrator we find out that the great Issac Newton, discoverer of gravity, was a very small, petite man, who had white hair by the age of 25.  Hnath enlightens us with Newton’s Enlightenment story.

Robin Gabrielli and Adam Niemann

Newton baits, cajoles, and battles with a much older and far more distinguished scientist from the Royal Society, in the character of Robert Hooke. Ross and Gabrielli, in modern dress and in modern American slang, go after one another like an errant son and an authoritarian father—they act like Steven Colbert versus the Trumpster. They bring down the house. And they set the foundations for modern science in the 1600s in England.

This feisty Newton has a supposed girl-friend, Catherine (the no-nonsense Jeunee Simon), who offers him love and home-life—but he is so much the scientist that he cannot make that choice. We wonder what is actually holding him back: His abandonment by his mother? His rebellious nature? His disbelief in all institutions—like Steve Jobs?

Rebelling against all forms of order and authority—he goddamn still wants to get into that Royal Society! And Robert Hooke could be his pathway to legitimacy. But you know it won’t work. They get into a colossal tussle, debating back and forth. Lying and trickery and trumpery break loose. Their egos run amuck.

Adam Niemann, Gabriel A. Ross, and Robin Gabrielli

But you have to love the Newton that Ross creates, and you have to hate the scheming Hooke. You have to love the lovely young woman who tries to help Newton—after all, they do their homework together.

Don’t forget that Isaac Newton claimed to do an experiment with light using his own eyeball—that creates a painfully squeamish scene onstage. Although we may have to turn away, we realize the depths of Newton’s devotion to his science and art. And we leave the theater asking, “Would we sacrifice love for a science or art?”

I have to see it again! Bravo to Brian Katz and Leah Abrams at Custom Made for another hit!

Gabriel A. Ross, Adam Niemann, and Jeunee Simon

“Isaac’s Eye” by Lucas Hnath, directed by Oren Stevens, at Custom Made Theatre, San Francisco, through Saturday, March 11, 2017. Info: custommade.org

Cast: Adam Niemann, Gabriel A. Ross, Jeunee Simon, and Robin Gabrielli.