The MAN THAT GOT AWAY, IRA WITHOUT GEORGE, LYRICS OF IRA GERSHWIN New Conservatory Theatre Center production of "Laramie Project:Ten Years Later" Shotgun Players production of Tom Stoppard's "The Coast of Utopia" Voyage"

Rex Reed brought his production “The Man That Got Away: Ira After George” into the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on April 13 and 14th along with Broadway singers Linda Purl, Gregory Harrison, Tony nominated Sally Mayes and jazz specialist Kurt Reichenbach before an appreciative crowd of Rex Reed fans.

Rex Reed gave a lot of insights into the life of lyricist Ira Gershwin including his working with such composers as Vernon Duke, Kurt Weill, E.Y. Harburg, Arthur Schwartz and Harold Arlen after the untimely death of his brother George.

The show was originally produced by the 92nd Street Y in New York City in July 2010 where it sold out for five performances. Rex Reed decided to tour the country with the show. There were 25 songs sung by the talented singers. Some were standard and other I had not heard before such as “Fun to Be Fooled” with music by Harold Arlen from “Life Begins at 8:40” sung with pizazz by Sally Hayes or “Goodbye to All That” with music by Arthur Schwartz from the failed Broadway musical “Park Ave” sung by Kurt Reichenbach.

Linda Purl was outstanding singing such songs as “Spring Again” and “Words without Music”. Sally Mayes belted out such numbers as “Island in the West Indies” and “Long Ago and Far Away” from the Columbia Picture production “Cover Girl”. Gregory Harrison who I saw on Broadway in “Steel Pier” has some vocal difficulties with “Sunny Disposish” from the 1926 production of “Americana” however he did a good rendition of “A Rhyme for Angela” from “Firebrand of Florence” with music by Kurt Weill. Both he and Linda harmonized on “Cheerful Little Earful” the Billy Rose review “Sweet and Low”. Kurt Reichenbach did a nice reading of “Let’s Take a Walk Around the Block”.

The four talented singers did songs from my favorite musical of all time “Lady in the Dark” with music by Kurt Weill. Sally was sublime singing my favorite song “My Ship” from the 1941 musical. There were also songs from the 1947 Fox Film “”The Shocking Miss Pilgrim” which was the only post-mortem musical since George had passed away in 1937. (Ira had found various sheets of music that George had written for musicals that were not produced during his life. He put them together for the score of the film that stared Betty Grable.)

The evening ended with the splendid score of the Warners Brothers’s film “A Star is Born” starring the legendary Judy Garland. (I worked on the film as an ass’t cameraman). The highlight of the evening was Linda Purl singing “The Man That Got Away” with a terrific score by Harold Arlen. (E.Y. Harburg was supposed to write the score but this was during the time of the Joseph McCarthy “witch hunt” and the composer had been “outed” as a “red sympathizer” by the Wisconsin senator. Jack Warner said “I won’t have that “pinko” working on the Warner lot”)
Ten years ago Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie Wyoming and it was a homophobic crime in this what some people called a “red neck” community. Tectonic Theatre Company did a splendid documentary stage drama called “The Laramie Project” soon after the killing. Tens of millions of people in countless professional and school productions have seen the drama since it opened in 2000.

Moise Kaufman and the New York based Tectonic Theatre Project returned to the town ten years later that has become famous for a tragedy many of its citizens would like to forget. This is stark and often-moving production is now playing at the New Conservatory Theatre under the direction of Sara Staley with a superb cast of actors playing various roles in this intriguing two hour drama.

The group had found that Laramie had to face its ugliest hours once again. The citizens blame outsiders with their special agenda for stirring up bad memories for preventing the town from putting its pain behind them. They blame HBO for a movie about the murder that made the city world infamous. Many believe it was not a homophobic murder but a drug deal gone badly, a view reinforced by ABC “20/20” special in 2004. However Reggie Fluty (Natasha Noel) the now retired police officer who was the first cop on the brutal scene, remains haunted by what she saw and frustrated at the slow pace of progress on gay issues.

What has emerge in the penetrating and detailed performances of the eight members of the ensemble who all play multiple roles is a sense of misperception and sorrow, tempered with civic pride in the incremental changes that have occurred. One resident point out the city now has “Drag queen bingo AIDS benefit and an AIDS walk once a year.

The earnestness of the cast lets the material speak for itself that portray the authors and those they interview. Alex Hero who plays many parts is excellent as killer Russell Henderson who gives a poignant performance describing his mother’s death under similar circumstances. (His mother was brutally raped and murdered in Laramie).

Sal Matto’s performance as the other hard edged killer Greg Pierotti gives a frightening performance in an interview. This Nazi sympathizer in his interview he all but admits it was hate crime. (He is more upset that the prison T.V. only gets ten channels).

Sal Mattos and Timothy Beagley are potent as the officers who probed the murder have no kind words for the ABC “20/20” documentary. The show’s malevolent effects pervade the mass denials encountered by many of the citizens played by Diana Brown, Patrick Barresi and Chris Quintos. Heidi Wolff gives a poignant performance as the mother of slain Matthew Shepard. She also conveys the triumph of Catherine Connelly, elected as Wyoming’s first openly gay state legislator who along with a conservative Republican defeats the homophobic Defense of Marriage Act in Wyoming.

“Laramie Project:Ten Years Later” provides a powerful cautionary tale that rises to the occasion. Even though Laramie still has denial it has change the town forever and the nation as a whole.

Tectonic and New Conservatory Theatre Center triumph is to try to dig some good out of unfathomable evil. They deserve kudos for speaking so much truth to hate.

“Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” plays through April 29 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave. San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or on line at Follow this the NCTC’s Pride on Tour will take the LGBT-themed shows to rural communities such as Grass Valley, Fairfield, Modesto and Fresno in June.
The Shotgun Players aspiring production of Tom Stoppard’s masterwork “The Coast of Utopia: Voyage” . Is a heroically ambitious production with a large cast of 21 actors and a time sprawling epic of 11 years. This is the first stage of Shotgun’s three year trip through the trilogy. The second part will be presented in 2013 and culminating in 2014 with marathon staging of all three plays.

“Voyage” contains passages of breathtaking beauty and surprising ordinariness. At its heart it contains a fascinating lesson about the nature of drama. The play deals with 19th Century Russian revolutionaries. The first act looks like something out of a Chekov play and it reminds me of a combination of “Sea Gull” and “Three Sisters”.

The center of “Voyage” set is from 1833 to 1844 about the land wealthy, serf-holding Bakunin family which is dominated by the patriarchal Alexander (John Mercer) and his iconoclastic son Michael (Joseph Salazar) who is idolized by his four marriageable sisters. As the play starts the family is at dinner with Baron Renne, a cavalry officer engaged to the eldest daughter Liubov. The family is gathered for the arrival of Michael the pampered son returning home after five years in the Artillery School. The prodigal son tells the family he blowing off his military career with good reason since he is excited with great ideas from Schelling through Hegel in spurts of epiphanies. Michael is also is the catalyst for making his sisters dissatisfied with their suitors. All of the scenes in the first act occur at the family estate which begins in 1833 and moves forward to 1841 by end of the first act.

The first act explores the tensions present in Russia at the time and many are expressed within the personal relationships of the family. One of the most important persons is visitor Vissarion Belinsky an enthusiastic, obdurate revolutionary literary critic who wants to change Russia The current views of Russia infuriates the future radical . Act 2 takes place in Moscow and St. Petersburg and it rewinds the action back to 1833. The political desertions we heard in Act 1 we now witness for ourselves in Act 2.

“Voyage” is full of big ideas especially when Michael is imparting the likes of Fichte, Schelling, Kant and Hegel. Premukhino is a place of contemplation and abstraction as one character says it allows you “to believe in the possibility of escape, of transcendence” whereas Moscow is the reality where theory meets practice and crashes. Not much happens in “Voyage” little more than in Chekov plays. People fall tentatively and passionately in love, with one another and with theories. The characters just talk about the cultural backwardness of Russia, the shape of history, the nature of reality.

Patrick Dooley has assembled a large cast of excellent actors to portray the philosophers, revolutionaries and members of the Bakunin family. Nick Medina gives an electrifying performance as the awkward revolutionary Vissarion Belinksy especially in the first act when he dramatizes the capacity for change as the feverish radical who begins by arguing in the 1830s that Russia has no literature and ends by claiming that it carriers too many burdens in the exhilarating speech “What’s Wrong with Russia”. Patrick Jones gives a rock-solid, passionate performance as Herzen. Joseph Salazar is charismatic as the future anarchist Michael while Richard Reinholdt gives a consummate performance as Peter a philosopher and writer.

Kevin Clarke plays a triple role as Baron Renne, Polevoy and slinks around as a “ginger cat” in the second cat. He gives first rate performances in all three roles. John Mercer gives a grand performance with his very distinguish theatrical voice as the patriarchal of the Bakunin family. Zehra Berkman is wonderful as the serf-battering mother of the daughters played with charming grace by Casi Maggio, Caityln Louchard and Christy Crowley. Anne Hallinan, Britney Frazier and Alex Shafer capably represent the world of serfs and dispossessed. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s is excellent as the bright, idealistic Turgenev. Adrian Anchondo, Matt Lai, Sam Tillis and Ben Landmesser are effective in their small roles.

Director Patrick Dooley is given sterling support by the rich designs of Alexae Visel (costumes), Ray Oppenheimer (Lighting) and a superb set by Nina Ball. “ The Coast of Utopia: Voyage” runs through April 29 on the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. Berkeley. For tickets 510-841-6500 or on line at