Another year of local theater in intimate settings has come and gone and the panel had a  generous amount of awesome to choose from. Despite some sad headlines and major changes to the larger, local cultural landscape, the fantastic news is; there are a lot of small theater companies that are still providing a wide variety of theatrical experiences to a wide variety of audiences. There are a lot of organizations still standing and in many cases thriving here and we should own and be proud of that fact. While few like to think of something so lovely as theatre as a business, it is. And, just like any business,  they are slave to trends and cycles, for better and for worse. So many of the companies below are excellent examples of creatively and intelligently weathering the storms and riding the waves of change. These groups demonstrate that old dogs can (and must) learn new tricks, but that doesn’t mean they have to abandon their own unique missions in the process.

The list below also proves that even when the storm seems darkest there is always a silver lining and a ray of light ready to shine just behind the clouds. The opportunity to start fresh, begin anew and take on a seemingly impossible task is in fact, QUITE possible. Knowing who you are, who your audience and potential audience is, what your strengths are and playing to all of them is easier said than done, but there are groups finding and solidifying their niche more and more every time the panel meets and this is exciting to see. From invention to reinvention there is so much this region is offering in the form of live, small venue theater.

Represented below are 17 theater companies, 9 actors/artists and 1 special event that the panel felt stood out amongst a vibrant sea of art in the last 12 months. Guidelines for the selection process for the Silicon Valley Small Venue Theatre Awards can be found HERE.

The 2013-2014 HONOREES ARE …(in no particular order):

Standout Musical Production

1776 – The Tabard Theatre Company
Little Shop of Horrors – Foothill College
The Last 5 Years –  i.e. Presents

Standout Classical Production

– The Pear Avenue Theatre
A Streetcar Named Desire – Northside Theater Company
The Three Penny Opera – San Jose Stage Company

Standout Dramatic Production

The Whipping Man – Renegade Theatre Experiment
Fool for Love – The Pear Avenue Theater
Amadeus – City Lights Theatre Company

Standout Comedy Production

RX – Dragon Productions Theatre Company
Lend Me a Tenor – Hillbarn Theatre
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – South Bay Musical Theatre

Standout Adult Contemporary Productions

Take Me Out – Dragon Productions Theatre Company
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity – San Jose Stage Company
Last of the Red Hot Lovers – Broadway West

Standout New Works

She Kills Monsters – Renegade Theatre Experiment (West Coast Premiere)
King’s Legacy – Pear Avenue Theatre (World Premiere)
Animals Out of Paper – City Lights Theater Company (South Bay Premiere)

Standout Kids and/or Family-Friendly Production

Bah Humbug – Stage Kids California
Crazy for You – West Valley Light Opera
Coney Island Christmas – City Lights Theater Company

Technical Standout Production

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity San Jose Stage  (Set, Video and Fight Choreography)
Moby Dick Rehearsed – Stanford Repertory Theater (Lighting, Sound and Musical Direction)
An Ideal Husband – Douglass Morrisson Theatre (Costumes and Set)
The 39 Steps – California Theatre Center (Props and Costumes)

Actors/Artists/Theaters to Watch for Next Season: Drew Benjamin Jones, Brandon Jackson, Ruth E. Stein (Acting and Prop Design), Jocelyn Pickett, Sarah Thermond, Kalon Thibodeaux, Catherine Brady, Danraj Rajasansi, and Morgan Dayley.

Special Recognition:  For the D-Cups, Divas and Dudes concert cabaret event at the Theater on San Pedro Square to raise funds for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Recognition goes not only to the performers who entertained a sold out crowd, but to the venue making itself available for local talent at its very best and continually (year round)  supporting charitable causes important to the community. The panel was unanimous in its praise for this event from concept through execution and acknowledges all the work that went into a truly spectacular, uplifting evening.

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REVIEW – Moby Dick Rehearsed – Stanford Repertory Theater

I’m not wowed easily when it comes to the stage. I approach each show with positive hope that I’ll be witness to a new story or new way of telling a story, but I don’t bank on it. I don’t mean to sound jaded or cynical at all, I’m still extremely passionate about live theater, but I just don’t expect to be enthralled each time I take my seat. I’ve seen a lot of plays. A lot of devices and effects. I’ve seen my share of great actors and performances as well as a variety of stage craft and ingenuity. I’ve been wooed by the creative use of minimal set, as well as the complexity and spectacle of big budget magic, many times. In my 35 years (since the age of 4) of doing theatre and from studying, researching, directing, acting, writing, stage managing, technical designing, physically building, critically reviewing and watching shows, the new and/or exciting is a somewhat rare commodity. But, I love being surprised and Stanford Repertory Theater has done just that, with their wickedly gorgeous and richly layered production of…of all things…Moby Dick Rehearsed.

You have to forgive me for that bit of digital eye-roll and the tongue in cheek presentation of the show title, it’s just that as an English and Drama major, between the book and the implied “process” with “rehearsed” I was set up in my mind for a kind of collegiate purgatory. Bias!? Me? I know, but the fact is, I don’t ever see myself being enchanted by the source material and agreeing to its classic status. I don’t find the story compelling or the prose to be pretty. I don’t identify with the characters or remotely like the themes, and I’m generally nauseated when I think about whaling. I have zero personal, human connection to the story (okay, many a teeny-tiny-itsy-bitsy part of the whale I get) but somehow this crew conjured up a telling of it that captured my interest and pulled me in. While I didn’t care WHAT they were saying at my core, I was totally moved by how they said it. Every precise vocal and physical choice, each accent, echo, choreographed and carefully staged pose and picture, every resonating chord, all of it, like an artistic harpoon grabbing my imagination into this transcendent creative space and not letting me go until there was nothing left to experience. Until depth itself had been exhausted. Until there were no more layers, tricks or through-lines to expose. The result was indeed, unexpected, fascinating, suspenseful, detailed and undeniably quite admirable.

While the first 10 minutes of set up felt gimmicky, meta and very staged to me (intentionally I presume and a necessary “evil” in order to build and contrast) it did provide a wonderful vessel for the rest of the play to move about, grow and flow in. Perhaps, too many days playing “games” and trying to get out of group warm ups in my early theatre training life, tainted my enjoyment of the “rehearsed” part of this show, but the rest of the adventure made up for it tenfold.

The use of the space and set, vertical, horizontal, the back of the house, the wings…it’s the kind of 3 or maybe even 4 or 5 dimensional directing I really want to see more of. The physical requirements of each actor to navigate the set were symbolic and practical. The simple, raw scaffolding a blank canvas and the actors the paint, moving about creating frame after frame of compelling images. To say its immersive theatre might sound inconceivably cliché, but this production did an exceptional job of making you feel you were traveling with the Pequod as a member of the crew and as an observer too; A voyager AND a voyeur, simultaneously. Audiences sometimes want to be one or the other, limbo can be uncomfortable and being in and out has been known to be more disruptive than affective. Are you there to escape reality or made to be reminded of it? I don’t know exactly how, but I really think this ensemble was able to pull off this difficult and unique relationship with its audience impeccably.

I was unprepared for the beautiful and completely organic, live musical component of this piece. The presence of and performance of acoustic sea shanties, live violin, and hauntingly ambient harmonies were very nearly goose-bump inducing and so natural it made me think I might have actually enjoyed the book if this had been my reading soundtrack. Transformative, delightful and strategic in its use, the music added so much richness to the piece overall.  Super-duper, mega like for the music. You may all come to my cube and sing me through my workday anytime. <- Seriously, anytime.

One of the most impactful components was the best lighting and sound design combination I’ve seen in probably… well, in forever. Seriously, the design and execution (light and sound ops get a huge thumbs up from me) was just short of mind-blowing. The precise hues of blue, the movement to not just emulate water but the specific condition of the ocean at any given moment, the play in the shadows that took place behind the immediate action, the reflection of the moon on the skin of a white whale somehow totally believable and by the way visible even when it wasn’t there…I could wax on about this for a very long, long time. The actor generated sound effects, the metaphorical quality of acoustics in the theatre, along with a gentle mix of manufactured yet authentic, ambient sound scoring the ship’s expedition was really cool. I can’t come up with a better word. Just, so cool. Mime which is used quite a bit in this piece could have been a ridiculously jarring element, but used in combination with clever lighting, focused synchronicity, solid sound and the music, it came together masterfully. I genuinely feel that the tech made the actors even more real and the actors made the tech even better. A completely symbiotic marriage between all the parts and a great example of the collaborative nature live performance can and really should be. Quite a feat, just so exquisitely done.

I’m of the opinion that the standing ovation is ridiculously overused in theater these days. I see far too many people automatically stand at the end of a play with no real thought behind it and even less feeling. I commonly observe it being used the same way one would just applaud and an equal number of people reluctantly stand up out of politeness, peer pressure, sight obstruction, or just getting ready to leave. Not to invalidate anyone who is actually moved to their feet by a performance of any kind, but a standing O often times runs the risk of being forced, trite and meaningless. On Saturday I saw something that I have never seen in theater specifically before. I saw an audience that clapped strongly, appreciatively and sincerely, unwavering for a good 2 minutes, from the last brilliant beat of the show, through the curtain call and on and on until the cast (who I think was a tad flabbergasted as they obviously did not have an encore prepared) came out again for another bow. Sure, at that point a few people stood up, but it was as if the audience wanted to applaud not just the cast, but the designers, the space, the production as a whole and make up for all those beautiful pictures, sounds and complete moments that there hadn’t been opportunity to specifically honor with applause during the journey. It felt genuine, appropriate, deserved and very special just like the production.

The bottom line is, this team of artists (in every true sense of the word) has managed to cast a spell over me and I think just about everyone that sat in the audience last Saturday. 4 ½ jewels in the review tiara out of 5 for this astoundingly sound, visually and vocally remarkable, 90 minute tour de force (okay, minus that first 10 minutes). Sit toward the back center if you can to take in the big picture in all its superbly crafted glory. Moby Dick Rehearsed plays through August 10th at the Pigott theater on the Stanford Campus.

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REVIEW- Jersey Boys – Broadway San Jose

If we could somehow harness the power and allure of the “boy band,” I feel certain we’d be able to achieve nothing short of world peace. What is it about a few guys on stage (in this case a well replicated Four Seasons, brought to us by Broadway San Jose through the sensational musical, Jersey Boys) executing some simple moves in synch and flashing well-timed, choreographed smiles, that make women (those with even the utmost respect for decorum) lose their freaking minds. How is it possible that matching outfits and harmony can stir a crowd into an absolute frenzy. Where is the logic in a “hit” song that can have the masses gasping in excitement at the immediate recognition of it upon hearing just the down beat. What exactly is this magnetic pull, this formula, that has an audience laying claims to and practically making wedding plans to their favorite (Nick, totally) during intermission. Explain to me how the right music, sung by the right combination of young men, can make one feel they are part of a giant yet exclusive club and simultaneously the only girl on the planet. Explain that and you have the world on a string.

What strikes me most about this show is how polished it is and how rapidly it moves. No one appeared to miss a single beat and there were about 6 billion of them that made up the show, giving the cast and crew ample opportunity for disaster throughout the night. Although you might not notice it as a result of it being so SMOOTH, this is probably one of the most technically advanced shows to come through the CPA  in a while and it went off tremendously well. It takes superior advantage of the three-dimensional set up with excellent use of levels, video, numerous tracks seamlessly sliding items in and out, and lighting to cleverly mask, distract and highlight. Use of cast members bringing in set pieces, which usually bugs me, was slick too. All so impressively executed. What the entire ensemble is doing is enormously difficult and they all do it admirably. Sing…beat…talk…sing…move into your special light…quick change…play…move…sing…talk…emote…drama…sing some more… all in sync, all in time,  all go-go-go, all done without ever being out of breath or sharp or flat.  It’s really quite amazing from the technical standpoint, cleverly crafted and superbly executed, not to mention the entire cast of characters being über likable and marvelously talented.

Beyond the songs and the big budget tech-wow, Jersey Boys is deeper than your average Jukebox musical.  Themes of fame, youth, poverty, friendship, loyalty, love, loss, music and the very different business of making music, permeate the piece.  With an often humorous vehicle for the stories about the band, these different perspectives, personalities and voices really explore harmony in every sense of the word, without losing sight of the core music that brought these boys together and ultimately tore them apart.

With no particular attachment to the era or the Four Seasons personally, I was still unable to resist the influence of this gathering of young male talent. It probably didn’t help/hurt either that I’m a total sucker for a New Jersey accent, that classic accompanying confidence/attitude and the prolific but precisely and never too gratuitous placement of f-bombs. It’s a toe tapping, leave while humming show for sure. My three-legged wonder (and sometimes theater critic) cats can certainly attest to my enjoyment of the show, but not for my own musical talent (or lack thereof). They were seriously nonplussed about my Frankie Valli impersonation which apparently went on via private concert for them, well after the conclusion of the real show.

If you can swing it, your  sweet spot for seating with regard to sound for this show is probably rows 5-15. higher than 15 and you do get a bit of the Balcony overhang “muting” despite their being speakers aimed at the section. Visually I don’t think you can go wrong anywhere, they do a great job of keeping the action front and center so side seats aren’t obstructed nearly as much as some other shows. The theatre was warm for sure, so bring layers just in case if you are prone to getting over heated in the “bad” way.

Every now and then I’m genuinely surprised that I enjoy a show as much as the 20 million people to see it before me. This is a prime example.  4 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for a masterfully staged, fun, informative, insight into the lives of an extremely influential part of Rock and Roll history. A really pleasant way to spend 2 1/2 hours and to experience some serious art. Jersey Boys plays through Sunday July, 20th at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.

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REVIEW- The Farnsworth Invention – Palo Alto Players

For one so curious a creature as myself, I find it interesting and a bit sad even that I wasn’t familiar with who invented the television prior to seeing the Farnsworth Invention at Palo Alto Players. I don’t think that question so much as even crossed my mind somehow until that moment in the theater. And, maybe that is precisely why Aaron Sorkin in part took on this topic. To take for granted this invention, those that struggled and raced to invent it, and then finally the global impact that followed as a result, is a bit of a tragedy in my book. Suffice to say, through a fantastic play and production, now the question has not only crossed my mind but invited itself into it, had a few shots of hard liquor with it and given it an unexpectedly lusty goodnight kiss.

This play has so much…just so MUCH! It’s a history lesson, a crash course in the stock market, a prime example of how capitalism works, a detailed account of the dependency of scientific progress on marketability and thus profitability and a love letter to the pursuit of exploration and the trust of scientific/human instinct. And it’s all wrapped up in a smart, intense, riveting, poetic, wonderfully staged, performed and produced play. I’m still thinking about all it did, all it covered, encompassed, embraced, encouraged, debated and educated. Its rhythm. Its heart. Its wit. Its warning. Its hope.

Such a clever structure, such a metaphorical vehicle for all the themes, themes I identified with, enjoyed and was entertained by. This play desperately made me wish I’d been born before that space shuttle left for the moon. To live in a time before technology’s last 60 years of rapid advancement. To experience the largest of those leaps into the future of our making. Such huge strides in such short amounts of time and yet, having been born in 1975 in Palo Alto, the center of the “revolution”, I’ll likely never experience that same kind of awe and wonder that those who watched a rocket to the moon for the first time felt. While it still blows my mind daily that computers are essentially made of sand and we have a rover transmitting pictures from Mars…this play really made me think about human nature, our evolution, the capabilities our brains have, our capacities for healing and for greed. And, all presented so balanced. Like a dance, like a court hearing, two forces, two perspectives, two stories, blending, overlapping, the muddling of facts by virtue of perspective. Just, fascinating.

First and foremost, I know I rag on the use of video as a trend that is mostly unnecessary and often experiences a sub par execution in theater these days, but this production proved a perfect example of when and how it should be used. A really well thought out artistic vision for the video components and a technically fantastic result both enhanced and complimented the piece, while also providing vital practical services. Super high-five for all those video bits from curtain speech and post intermission treat to the closing credit which punctuated even further the soul of Farnsworth himself.

This is an enthralling piece that appeals to my personal quest for knowledge (also known as the I-wonder-how-that-oh-hey-let-me-look-that-up gene). It hit me intellectually, but the production itself spoke artistically to me too. There were elements of “choreography” that at first seemed very off, forced and even silly, but as the story progressed it very quickly became completely justified AND not just that, but a really fun and powerful detail.

The actors were GREAT. Leads and ensemble alike, very well cast, and thank goodness for the decision makers who opted to let the raw reality of this piece shine sans body mics! While there were moments when actors were speaking upstage that got a bit too soft to hear from the center of the audience, I much preferred that with a natural tone to the difficulties and artificial ambiance that mics so often cast. Especially with the variety of heated and tender moments, that flexibility to let the actors be “normal” and not have to adjust to a mic, really helped the drama feel authentic and resonate on its own merit.

My cheeks hurt from smiling so much, anticipating the next clever step, relishing those asides to the audience that let me know it was okay if I wasn’t catching it all, they were going to help me along… rooting for the underdog, applauding the motivations and ambition of two very different men. Feeling that clock ticking as time runs out and sanity is at the breaking point, searching for answers that are “just engineering”… this play just undeniably captured my brain and then it dug down deep and got me in the gut.

Line stumbles and ironically enough some “light problems” were distracting, but by and large will likely not be present for future audiences, and it is a cold theater and a heavy load with regard to taking in everything thrown at you, but it’s well worth the venture. WELL WORTH IT.

I’m going with a 5 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for an original, sharp, challenging theater piece taken by a group that understood, respected and revered the material and presented it in an equally original, sharp and challenging way. The Farnsworth Invention plays through June 29th at the Lucie Stern Center Theater in Palo Alto.

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REVIEW- Bonnie & Clyde – San Jose Stage

When seeing a musical, one of the questions I always try to ask myself is “Is this story told better by being a musical?” In the case of Bonnie and Clyde at San Jose Stage, I think I was wooed by the content, visuals and actually enjoyed the music enough on its own, to completely forget to ask myself this question. It’s like asking if that “bad boy” is really a good match for you…it just doesn’t occur to you to even ask the question until much later/entirely too late. What’s done is done and you have fun while it lasted. While I think my inner critic might have been seduced a tad by some of the parts, when I look at the whole, there are a few, significant…holes.

While I don’t claim to be sophisticated at all when it comes to music (or when it comes to anything really for that matter) or even a fan of the traditional musical, the music is a bit unexpected in this show and I rather enjoyed that aspect. With an eclectic mix of 20’s and 30’s speakeasy jazz, some rockabilly, gospel and sweet ballads, the soulful old-timey feel had me tapping my toes and humming for days afterward, but I fully acknowledge I might be in the minority there. Was the music moving? A couple of numbers, sure, but on the whole if I had a gun to my head…I’d be forced to admit it’s probably neither terribly complex, nor original, nor essential to tell this story. Still, banjos, piano, fiddles…it must be buried somewhere deep in my DNA that these instruments and the occasional twang, automatically put a smile on my face.

Adding to the visual eye candy of this show were the costumes. Costuming was quite wonderful (as in send all of those dresses and pretty silk unmentionables to my closet, stat.) The use of projections and actual film section was non-disruptive for the most part (a trend that’s making the rounds in theaters that I’m not usually a fan of, but it was mostly inoffensive to me here). The set and lighting sufficiently set an appropriate rustic mood. A seriously impressive collection of guns, solid fight choreography and just the right about of blood and flash/bang helped tell the violent part of the story without being fake or excessive.

The most disappointing part of the whole night though had to be the sound and I felt like I was taking a bullet in some places it was so painful. While the band was tight, balance issues, vocal reverb and general volume issues hung a huge cloud over what I think could have been significantly more enjoyable had that been handled better. The good news is, it’s fixable so I’ve no doubt the potential of this show will shine through after some more technical tweaking. Speaking of potential…

Our Clyde is angry, crazy, lusty, bitter, misguided and has a twisted little sweet side that comes out mostly via ukulele. His vocals are fantastic and I think the audience unanimously enjoyed his performance. It also cannot be ignored that his physical presence certainly seemed to have a large segment of the female audience (plus a portion of the male audience) a tad hot and bothered. No one blamed Bonnie for falling…not in the least.

Bonnie looked the part too and felt the part as well with solid emotional layers, but the sound issues plagued her worst of all and it was a struggle in places we’ve seen her reign victorious vocally before. Their chemistry was steamy and played totally authentic, which was an essential component to engaging an audience and moving the story forward. A surprising amount of humor throughout played well between sweet moments and the dramatic shoot-em-up bits we’d expect from this epic historic tale.

The two young actors who played young Bonnie and Clyde are used in video only and they were both bloody fantastic. I would have loved to see them live onstage instead of on video to be perfectly honest, but that can be a challenge with a longer show running 5 nights a week. The other supporting roles and ensemble were all respectable and brought some new talent to the stage. I’m the first to admit I’d love to see a mix of even more new talent on that stage instead of the artistic ensemble all the time. The core actors are all very good, but IF you see all the shows, it starts to feel like they are all connected instead of standing on their own. I simply find it hard to divorce standout performances from just a few weeks prior and see them fresh in new roles so soon. Lots of theaters are “growing their core talent,” it’s not an uncommon practice, but for me, my pleasure is greatly increased when I see “new” talent on stage or talent I don’t even recognize, because they transform so completely in each different role.

So in the end, 3 ½ jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a sexy show with a lot more potential if the sound issues get worked out. Bonnie & Clyde plays through July, 27th at the San Jose Stage in Downtown San Jose.

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Mini Reviews – The Language Archive and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – City Lights and SBMT

Time is short, but these shows are worth short shout outs…without further delay…mini reviews!

The Language Archive – City Lights Theater Company
 Through June 29th at the City Lights Theater in San Jose.

It may seem overly obvious that a play about language would speak to the inner poet, but the way in which this quiet, tender, contemporary piece whispers its own inspired truths and draws one’s own poems out from the covers of the subconscious, is surprising beautiful. Layered with heartbreaking, weighty themes and such clever, complex phrasing it still somehow manages to permeate a light and surprisingly upbeat surface ambiance. Each of the characters are equally flawed, but humanly so; genuinely and sweetly, resulting in a bond with them from the start. We love and root for all of them. The performances are touching, funny and even the final piece of music leaves you contented in just the most unexpected way. A different show worth the experience. 4 ½ jewels out of 5 in the review tiara!

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels South Bay Musical Theater
Through June 14th at the Saratoga Civic Theater.

A huge fan of the movie I was dubious how it would translate. As it turns out, this show is so very bizarre, but decidedly, in the good way. So much of the humor and songs really feel random to me. Bawdy and yes, downright dirty in places, I wasn’t sure what this show wanted to be or was. What I do know though is, as random as it is, the individual performances are very good and once I gave up trying to figure it out I was able to just roll with it. Some extremely good triple threats deliver on the production dance numbers, singing and especially the comic delivery. Aside from cumbersome and frequent scene changes (which I don’t know how’d you’d avoid with all the locations and short scenes) and some unnecessarily excessive lighting, I liked this show. I think. Yeah. Weird, yes. Entertaining, absolutely. A refreshing deviation from this group’s normal theatrical offering also worth trying on for size. 4 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara!

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REVIEW – Educating Rita – California Theatre Center Summer Rep

I took in Educating Rita (the first play in California Theatre Center’s Summer Rep season) last week and found it mentally compatible and exceedingly amiable. The play which focuses on the evolution of a relationship between a British college student and her reluctant tutor was for me (as a double English/Drama major and “critic” on the side) nostalgic and mightily relatable.

At the core of the story (though there are a number interesting simultaneous subplots occurring) is the fundamental conundrum of being in the position to analyze and critique writing without allowing any personal, emotional, sentimental judgment to seep into that analysis. How to keep it Academic, if you will. It should shock no one that this concept was during school and let’s face it, may always be, a sizeable challenge for me. It is a fresh and ongoing argument I seem to have weekly, even if only with myself. Art should make you feel, should it not? Poetry should move, right? How is it you can comment on art and not let emotions play a part in that? Why not create art from art? When you learn to ignore or sequester that voice for the sake of pure criticism are you ever able to get it back? Such is one of the main through lines of this two person play and I loved the way it was explored through choice phrasing, literary references and overall high production values.

The shifts in passion and the articulation of that passion is intelligently structured in the writing as well as realistically performed by our cast of two. A single set, a warmly detailed office, overcomes the risk of being limiting, by the presence of such likeable, skilled performers and clever stage direction.

Our female lead is quite infectious and we don’t want to take our eyes off of her. We hang on her every word and aren’t even bothered by only partial costume changes (used to indicate time passage) she is so enjoyable. She is spunky, driven, engaging, funny and we GET her from the start. It’s easy to feel her kinetic energy all the way in the back of the house and she plays off her counterpart’s demeanor in lovely contrast. To be honest, I was a bit scared for some reason that we wouldn’t see much of an arch to the story or the characters. Their relationship seemed too quickly established, emotional cards placed on the table in scene one, but I was pleasantly surprised at all the levels that were ultimately touched upon when 2 ½ hours (with intermission) was all said and done.

The actor playing the male lead is one of the reasons I look forward to the CTC summer rep every year. He is pleasurable to watch in just about everything he does and is a talented storyteller. This is a particularly good role for him and I think over time, this is a show that will settle into an even better groove. The chemistry is quite nice now, but I wager it will get even tighter and more nuanced as the run goes on.

This is a charming and sweet play with some victorious intellectual meat to it and a lot of keep-you-on-your-toes fluctuation in mood and pacing. While you need to pay attention (accents and concepts at rapid fire require an alert approach to viewing) the show has copious humor, moments of gentle poignancy and serves up both entertainment and plenty post-show thought. 4 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a delightful and pensive piece which plays well to the strengths of this company. Educating Rita play in rep with The 39 Steps and The Tempest, through July 20th at the Sunnyvale Community Theater

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