Word for Word – “Perfection!”; Stoppard’s ‘Rock and Roll’; Footlight Parade

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on September 19, 2008

WORD FOR WORD: Richly Human Work of Art

Gore Vidal said, “You hear all this whining going on, ‘Where are our great writers?’ The thing I might feel doleful about is: Where are the readers?” That’s a good point, and a good reason to see “More Stories” by Tobias Wolff on the Magic Stage. Even if you have read these three short stories – you will find that the stage version really pops out the characters from Wolff’s stories. It’s almost like reading those books when you were a kid, where the cutouts would pop up every time you turn a page.

Wolff has received numerous awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award, The Los Angeles Times Book Prize among many others. In this stage presentation, we get to peek into the lives of every day people in three different short stories … “Sanity”, “Down to Bone” and “Firelight”.

“Sanity” is about a Mother and her Stepdaughter, who don’t seem to really connect on an emotional level. They have just left a hospital after the younger girls father is being treated after a breakdown. He is in a mental hospital. It was that kind of breakdown. As they walk away from the hospital to a bus stop they make conversation about the father and then talk about other things like love, sex and feeling abandoned.

Claire, (Stephanie Hunt) the mother is impeccably dressed and carries herself well. The daughter April (Michelle Pava Mills) is in that awkward stage of life. But, little things can sometimes change a mood quickly – like stumbling across a Used Car Lot with a really cool Convertible, and a sexy used car salesman (Paul Finocchiaro).

Then there is a pause. Not enough time to leave the theater, but just enough time to move some of the sets around.

“Down to the Bone” gets even a little more racy. There is Michelle Pava Mills as a young mother. Also there is a red Miata, which we don’t actually see, but it is mentioned and Mills brings it to life in a mini, sexy red vinyl dress. This time Stefanie Hunt plays the older mother. Even Freud (Anthony Nemirovsky) makes an appearance. The son, who comes to visit the dying mother, has trouble with his grief.

“Firelight” is the final story. It is about a son and his mother. They don’t have much money, but like to go shopping, for clothes, and other things that are out of their reach. They are looking for a new place to live too. It seems like they will always be looking – because whatever they see they don’t seem to rent it. In the Real Estate biz – they would be called lookie-loos.

These are personal stories that reveal the emotions that every day people deal with. Needless to say the writing is Keen, and cuts to the bone.

The Direction by Joel Mullennix is exciting and brilliant.

The actors appear in various roles. Michelle Pave Mills gave us three engaging characters. Stephanie Hunt is mesmerizing, as she goes from high-end glamour to an older woman. She’s terrific. Paul Finocchhiaro is a Father, Car salesman and a Son and does a fantastic job. Anthony Nemirovkky (Stuart, Darsh, Doctor Freud) is really something to see. He’s a man for all seasons. And Jeri Lynn Cohen (Maid: Nurse: Mother) is hugely impressive.

Everything in the stories, really are WORD FOR WORD. Even including — “and he said” “and she said”. Just like in the book.

“More Stories” is imaginative with a dynamite cast. You’ll regret it, if you don’t see it!”

AT THE MAGIC THEATRE

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Arts segment on PBS KQED)))


Jud Williford and Manoel Felciano in “Rock and Roll.” Photo: Kevin Berne.

ROCK AND ROLL ROCKS – BUT DOESN’T ROLL

Maybe this is a nostalgia story that Tom Stoppard has written about the now gone Czech Republic. Was he the young journalist that yearned to return to his country after studying in England? And was he the same young man who fell in love with American Rock groups? I don’t know, but there may be some autobiographical stuff going on here.

Rock music becomes a symbol of freedom to a young writer. When he moves back to the Czech Republic he brings his Rock Albums along. Not a good idea. They become a danger to him in his hometown. The authorities look upon this kind of music as anarchy. So, they continue to harass the Rock and Roll lover, and eventually smash his record collection.

The music breaks up the rather lengthy dialogue with bursts of rock music. We get to hear snippets from the Stones, Pink Floyd and the Velvet Underground and others. The story itself is one that is oft told. We have seen it in movies, in other plays and read about it in numerous books. And quite frankly some of those stories were more engaging about those times.

Stoppard, on the other hand has chosen to make this play personal, and homey. Much of the action takes place in England on a swell looking patio at the home of a Professor from Cambridge. This is the Professor who schooled the young man in writing. And this is a professor that is staunchly Communist, right up into the 1990’s.

Stoppard has some good ideas in his plays, but frequently they don’t deliver throughout the play. Also, this production, although gorgeous, needs a sharper pace.

There are several amusing moments, and some really endearing scenes in the play, but all in all it is a let down. Frankly, I expected more. The play covers from the 60’s to the 90’s. That’s a lot of territory to cover well in two and a half hours.

Probably the most interesting character is the Student Jan (Manoel Felciano) who conveys to us a great mixture of emotions. He seems vulnerable and tender as he deals with an oppressive society. You know that he is a good person – and you care for him.

Jack Willis plays the Professor. He is a complex person. One minute he is sweet and kind – and the next he turns into a vile, mean old bastard. Sort of like “Big Daddy” – in Tennessee William’s “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.” His wife, the wonderful Rene Augesen learns to grapple with illness and her husband’s erratic behavior – especially his ranting fits of communist promotion. She is perfection in this role.

James Carpenter who is a Czech government official gives off just the right degree of the interrogator. Not a fun guy. Anthony Fusco plays another government official – who tries to win over the student with sneaky friendliness. He asks the student about his “socially negative record collection.” Summer Serafin (the Professor’s daughter) is the love interest of Jan, the student. She is the perfect picture of the Love Child in the late 60’s. She even thinks that she sees ‘Pan’ playing a flute on top of the wall above her parent’s patio. She also smokes pot and later joins a commune and becomes a hippie.

Jan’s good friend in Czech is Jud Williford. He tries to get Jan to sign a petition, which of course, could lead to more trouble for Jan. But, the loyal friend never gives up. Williford gives an unforgettable believable performance. He really shines in the role.

The most remarkable thing on this stage, along with the acting is the Big Stage that allows for massive sets. In some scenes the stage is practically bare with a white light at the very back. This allows for some really interesting elements. Stunning was when, on this bare stage all the Rock and Roll records that Jan had collected come crashing down from above. They are in pieces. And his emotions overflow, as he tries to piece them back together. It was a brutal experience. And served as a monument to oppression. It is a haunting and amazing effect.

In spite of all the good things about this production, it is the play that lets us down. It’s just not as bold as I think it could be. I think that A.C.T. did try to freshly imagine the play, but then they are stuck with the script.

Carey Perloff did a yeoman’s job with a difficult play. The lighting is superb and the costumes and wigs were a marvel. The wigs and hairstyles were changed to keep up with the passing years, and they looked great. I still recommend it because of the masterful acting, and the dramatic and effective sets.

AT THE AMERICAN CONSERVATORY THEATRE (Geary)

RATING: THREE GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!
–trademarked—


“WICKED” PHOTO FROM ARCHIVES. Courtesy of SHN.

FOOTLIGHT PARADE

BAY AREA VOCALIST MAKES INTERNATIONAL DEBUT WITH HER BAND ‘TWIST’ IN BANKOK. Hader moves from stage to cabaret to jazz club with ease. The native New Yorker Hader has been a performer all her life. She will appear at the Bangkok 10th International Festival of Dance & Music. Sorry, Lua, I don’t fly – but we do have readers there and I’m sure they will tell Buzzin all about it.

BELIEVE IT! MOBY DICK! THE MUSICAL OPENS THIS WEEKEND AT THEATRE RHINOCEROS. Gosh, Buzzin can’t wait to see this one. I can’t wait to find out if there is a double meaning to the “Dick” part.

CUTTING BALL THEATRE opens a new season with the rarely-performed absurdist gem “Victims of Duty” at the Exit Theatre. “This begins the company’s residency at the Exit Theater on Taylor”, said Artistic Director rob Melrose. “I’ve wanted to direct “Victims of Duty” for 15 years”, he revealed. Info: cuttingball.com. Dates…Oct. 24 – Nov. 23.

Buzzin’ just got in the mail a suspicious looking package. It had no return address, so I was reluctant to open it. Afraid, is more like it. I finally got up the courage to see what was in it. Why, Toto, it was the Green Glasses that the Green Witch wears in “Wicked”. The show returns to SF soon. Tix go on sale on Friday, Sept. 26. In conjunction with tickets going on sale, a very special free fan appreciation homecoming party will take place on Friday, and Jessica Aguirre from NBC TV, will be on hand, as well at feature performances from the show. The special Homecoming party to welcome “WICKED” runs from 10:30 am to 1:00 PM. In Union Square and features singing contests, magical makeovers, and video from the show. Look for Buzzin’ with my new ‘Witch’ Green Glasses with Green Lenses. I know what you’re thinking! No, I don’t have the broom.

TALK OF THE TOWN: Overheard at Intermission at the Geary Theater at the Opening of “Rock and Roll”. – “There’s always one at every Theatre. A seven foot giant that blocks the aisle, so that no one can get out to get to the bathroom.”

(send your Talk of the Town observations) to buzzblogpost@yahoo.com.

The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour. www.lafterhall.com.

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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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