"TICKET TO THE MOON' by the 42nd Street Moon Company World Premiere of Kenn Rabin's "Reunion" A Outstanding Production of Terrence McNally's "Lip Together, Teeth Apart" "SLIPPING" AT THE NEW CONSERVATORY THEATRE CENTER The Shotgun Players Production of Adam Chanzit's "The Great Divide'

June 18th was a grand night of singing when fifteen “monies” sang gorgeous songs from Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Sigmund Romberg, Arthur Schwartz, George and Ira Gershwin,  Rodgers and Hammerstein just to name a few.  All this occurred at the Alcazar Theatre is a review called “Ticket to the Moon”. 42nd Street Moon was kicking off their 20th anniversary season with a spectacular evening celebrating their past, present and future.  This invaluable  company is the only professional theatre company that features unknown musicals or seldom seen musicals to the San Francisco Bay Area audiences.

Greg MacKellan, co-artistic director announced to the audience at the beginning of the show that there would be grouped songs from musicals that they have presented in the past, musical that they have produced recently and musicals on their short list that they will present in the future.  He also announced the opening of the show would be the Finale Utimo from Strouse and Adams’s <i>Superman</i> that was  sung with great vibrato by the whole cast.   There were songs from Cole Porter’s “Jubilee”, “Can-Can”,’ Red Hot and Blue”,  Rodgers and Hart’s “I Married an Angel”, “A Connecticut Yankee” plus over 40 songs from various composers including songs from shows that I never even heard of.  This was one of the smoothest reviews I have seen in long time and it could run for weeks as a regular series on the Moon schedule.

Every one of the artist on stage had a place to shine in many of the numbers too numerous to mention all. Stephanie Rhoads, co-artistic director of the company, had beautiful vocal cords singing “Why Was I Born?” from Kern and Hammerstein “Sweet Adeline” and did a great rendition of “Home Sweet Heaven” from Martin and Grey’s “High Spirits”.   Bill Fahrner with his vibrant voice sang “Spring is Here” from Rodgers and Hart’s “I Married an Angel” and “Never Will I Marry” from Frank Loesser “Greenwillows”.  (I invested in this musical and received nothing back, however this was my most favorite song from the failed musical.)  Bill also joined Juliet Heller in the campy “Ting a Line Dearie” from Besoyan “The Student Gypsy” which was a great camp musical.

Steve Rhyne with pitch perfect resonance sang “It’s Delovely” from Cole Porter’s “Red, Hot and Blue” and joined Caroline Altman, Juliet Heller in “Cherry Pies Ought to Be You” from Cole Porter’s “Out of this World”.  He especially shined in a little know song from a very little musical from Harold Rome called “Plaza 6-9423” the story of a male escort. (Don’t ring the number; it is no longer in existence)

Darlene Popovic acting like an inebriating woman was a hoot singing “When I’m Drunk I’m Beautiful” from Styne and Merill’s “Pettybelle) and belted out “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love” from Cole Porters’ “Leave it to Me”.  Rena Wilson was perky singing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Styne and Robin’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blonds” and joined with Juliet Heller in a countrified  version of “We Make a Beautiful Pair” from Geld and Udell “Shenandoah”.  Michael Patrick Gaffney was mellifluous singing “Me and Marie” with Caroline Altman and “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here” from Lerner and Lowe’s “On the Clear Day”. Caroline Altman scored with “Is it Really Me?” from Jones and Schmidt”s “110 in the Shade”.  Noel Anthony with powerful singing chops sang “The Desert Song” from Romberg and Hammerstein’s “The Desert Song” and did a fine rendition of Irving Berlin’s “You’re Just in Love” from “Call Me Madam” with Dyan  McBride.  She came into her own singing  “Whene the Tall Man Talks” from a show I invested in called “Whoop-up”.  Debbie DeCoudreaux was sublime singing “C’Est Manginfique” from Cole Porter’s “Can-Can” and later the lovely “A Sleepin Bee” from Arlen and Capote’s “House of Flowers”.   Sprightly Annie Donahey belted out “A Wonderful Day Like Today” from Bricusse and Newley “The Roar of the Greasepaint” “Poor Sweet Baby” from Grossman and Hackady’s “Snoopy”.

Alexandra Kaprielian did a perfect reading of “Do I Hear a Waltz” from Rodgers and Sondheim “Do I Hear a Waltz?”  Brandon Adams who accompanied some of the singers on piano came into his own singing “You Don’t Know Paree” from Cole Porter’s “Fifty Million Frenchman”.  Co Artistic Director call shined singing “I Don’t Want to Be President” from Akst and Brown “Calling All Stars”   The end of the first act ended with the Overture of Lerner and Loewe’s “Paint Your Wagon” with the whole chorus of Moonies singing snippets of this famous score. (.  The whole company also joined in the final “Of Thee I Sing” which will be presented in their fall season.  Once again pianist and Musical Director David Dobrusky was a great asset accompanied the singers.

Trust SF Playhouse to present intriguing dramas in their Sandbox Series.  This time the company is presenting a world premiere drama of “consensual” sex between an adult and a minor.  Kenn Rabin’s interesting two hour drama “Reunion” a co-production of  PlayGround is now at the intimate second theatre of the company.   This is the story of two women who had sexual relationships with their high school drama teacher 13 years earlier.  The two have crossed paths again and they are now uncovering their past together all the while, anticipating the teachers release from a psychiatric institution.

Julie (Lauren English) is obsessed with the prospect of clearing the teacher’s name and hopes to get Val (Alexandra Creighton) to confess that their long affair when she was 17 was by mutual consent.  As fate would have it, Val has just arrived in Berkeley where Julie has a flat.  Val is looking for an inexpensive place to live and moves into the flat.  The drama is played on two levels of the intimate theatre and the action unfolds, sometimes concurrently.  On the stage we see the well-furnished hypothetical apartment of UC Berkeley Assistant Professor Julie. On the floor of the theatre just a few feet from the audience we see a less realize prison interview room where the teacher Tom Gillette (Marvin Greene) is being tested and screened by a prison psychiatrist (Emily Rosenthal) in preparation for his release.

“Reunion” seems to be a work in progress as the women in the first act are not fully drawn out.  Much of the first scenes gets bogged down.  However the acting of the four actors and director Louis Parnell rise above the script to make this a fascinating play. Marvin Green is outstanding in the role of Tom.   He is extremely charismatic as the teacher and instinctively engaging that could be exasperating but yet winning at the same time.  He skillfully peels away his character to reveal skillful elusion, self-love and nervousness.

Lauren English gives a perfect performance as a person who is meritoriously frazzled and withdrawn without it becoming a character. It’s a great performance of a woman who is awkward, inhibited and preoccupied.  Alexandria Creighton is very sensuous as Val. She is compelling in a scene showing the lasting damage Tom did in their “romantic” affair.  Rita Baird is first rate as the prison interviewer.  She portrays the character businesses like and very unapproachable. Steve Bologna has little to do playing the prison attendant and a cowboy that Val has picked up as a one night stand. Director Louis Parnell succeeds in creating dramatic tension between the characters.

“Reunion” plays through June 30th at the SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-677-9596 or on line at www.sfplayhouse.org  Coming up next in the main theatre is the reinvented musical “My Fair Lady” opening on July 14th

The New Conservatory Theatre Center is presenting a terrific production of Terrence McNally’s 1991 dark comedy “Lips Together, Teeth Apart” enhanced by a splendid cast of four characters and sharp direction by Dennis Lickteig. This marks the third time I have seen this play since it opened in New York in 1991 with Nathan Lane.  The second time was in Los Angeles in 1993 with Nathan Lane repeating the role of Sam.

“Lips Together, Teeth Apart” takes place on Fire Island during the dawn of the age of AIDS, where a hum of apocalyptic gaiety hangs overhead like a mist.  In the midst of a community of gay men is a heterosexual island with unseen gay men on each side of te superb beach front set by Kuo-Hao Lo. The brother of Sally Truman has died of AIDS, leaving his beachside home to her.  Sally (Marie O’Donnell) arrives on the Fourth of July weekend to inspect the property with her husband, Sam(Michael Sally) along with his sister Chloe Haddock (Sarah Mitchell) and her husband John.(Cameron Weston)  As the weekend unfolds, the couples explore and in part resolves their relationships.

Speaking of odd couples these are the epitome of the term.  John is a reserved New England preppy who believes he is intellectually superior to the group.  His wife Chloe who does community theatre acting chatters nonstop sometimes spouting fractured French. Sam and Sally is even a stranger pair.  He is a gruff unsophisticated, beer drinking owner homophobic of a New Jersey construction company.  Sally is the exact opposite since she has a wraithlike, delicate presence about her. She loves to paint landscapes but she struggles over her incapability to capture the essence of the universe in her paintings. 

The four persons have secrets, which they reveal to the audience in freezes as the lights dimmed and a lone spot light appears on them.  Dennis Lickteig commends these effects with excellent lighting on the part of Christian Mejia with great seriousness which could have been silly.

“Lips Together, Teeth Apart” is like a time capsule of the not too distance past where AIDS was prevalent where the audience watches these four characters struggle with what to say to each other and how to deal with the limited time they have left with each other over the fourth of July weekend.  Unseen gay men dance and play opera music and disco on each of them and men disappear like the unseen naked swimmer who Sally sees dive into the ocean in the early morning sun and never return in this life.

Dennis Lickteig direction and cast hits all of the shifts in tonality since it an extremely difficult task to say one thing to a character while meaning another and then instantly jump into an aside revealing some dreadful personal flaw to the audience and then snap into the scene.

The showiest, most comic character is the impetuous Chloe played wonderfully by Sarah Mitchell. She talks non-stop while she passes out an endless series of drinks, hors d’oeuvres and unwelcome advice.   She has a great sense of timing and she finds every ounce of humor in the playwright’s sparking dialogue.

Marie O’Donnell (she won a 2010 BATCC Award for “Anita Bryant Died for Our Sins’) who is an actor of considerable range brings her character to life and her breakdown late in the play making her character’s shrillness understandable.  Cameron Weston nails John’s arrogance however when he faces the audience in those freeze moments he shows the sympathetic side of the character.  His confrontations with Michael Sally as Sam are outstanding.

 Michael Sally gives a splendid performance as the ingenuous neurotic contractor Sam.  His take on watching and listening to the unseen gay men on their property shows homophobic nature of this “macho” man. He successfully shows this side as if he is watching exotic zoo animals and has no trouble muttering “fruits” and “faggots” to the rest of the group.  He even shows the anti-negro side of him when Sally is describing his brother’s lover who helps him during the last days of his life and Sam says “did you know (the lover” was black?”)

Adding to the sense of emotional claustrophobia is the handsome set by Kuo-Hao Lo and under the direction of Dennis Lickteig, the actors frequently walk to the edges of the set and stage, as if to accentuate the sense of being hemmed in by their gay neighbors whose unseen decks are on each side of the stage. The set designer has created the exterior of an authentically weathered northern beach house and the beginnings of a swimming pool thanks to the lighting of Christian Mejia who also provides a Fourth of July fireworks display by inventive lighting.  Stephen Abtis sound design and Jorge Hernandez costumes add to the great look of this impressive production.

“Lips Together, Teeth Apart” runs through July 1st at the Decker Theatre, New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave at Market Street, San Francisco.  For tickets call 415-861-8972 or online at www.nctcsf.org
“Slipping” at the New Conservatory Theatre Center.

Daniel Ralbott’s new play “Slipping” is making its West Coast appearance at the New Conservatory Theatre Center running through July 1. The playwright says about the one act drama “a play about loss, hope and possibility and the things that crack us open and force us to reach out and become more of who we truly are”.  This is a lot for a play that last only 85 minutes and unfortunately his statement is not fully realized. 

“Slipping” is a story of 17 year old Eli (Evan Johnson) who has been transplanted from San Francisco to a small town in Iowa  where he has a deep down secret. His father has been killed in a car accident and the mother (Stacy Thunes) who is really not maternal has accepted a new teaching job in the Iowa town and so he must travel to this corn-fed town. (It sort of reminds me of the town I was raised in Western Ohio in the 30’s and early 40’s). Eli sports a turquoise Mohawk, has tattoos and a proclivity for photography rather than sports or video games. He is one trouble kid.  He is really struggling big time to cope with his new surroundings. Eli is grappling with the feeling of being an outsider—being queer, in both the traditional and contemporary sense of the word.

 Eli is the odd man out at the high school, yet is befriended by fellow student and a straight, almost impossibly affable star athletic Jake(Benjamin T. Ismail). (JAKE: Why do you dye your hair that color?/Eli: Because I like to/JAKE: I mean, it doesn’t look dumb. I was just wondering…Do you play sports?/ELI: Do I look like I play sports?) As their relationship warms up to something sexual Eli is still haunted by the memory of Chris (Fernando Navales), his brooding closeted ex in California.
“Slipping” is written in many separate scenes going back and forth with his unsatisfied life with the brutal Chris in San Francisco and becoming more like a heartless Chris with his life with Jake. This works well on film but it is slightly distracting onstage. Director Andrew Nance manages to keep the action moving through all of the quick changes of locale with the help of projections by Ron Gasparinetti.  One does get the impression of an autobiographical portrait written by an author who doesn’t quite understand his dark side.
Evan Johnson’s overly belligerent portrayal of Eli is creditable especially in his scenes with Benjamin T. Ismail. He seems a mite too old for a 17 year boy even though he says he feels like a 49 year old hooker in the body of a 17 year old boy. Benjamin T.Ismail gives a wonderful performance as Jake. He successfully portrays an endearingly awkward teenager experiencing his first gay involvement.

Fernando Navales  gives an interesting performance as the homophobia Chris although on the night we saw it he was not projecting in some scenes.  However in several scenes he is excellent when constantly belittling and threatening his lover Eli “Every time I see you a school I want to just rip you apart” he tells Eli in one of the play’s most agonizing encounters. Stacy Thunes in a smaller role of Eli’ mother gives a thought-provoking performance.
“Slipping</i> scenes between Eli and Jake are beautifully accomplished while one could wish to see more of these scenes than the scenes between Eli and Chris.  The drama features a little nudity and a little bit of blood (fake) and on the whole seems more like a TV movie than a play.  “Slipping” runs at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness off Market, San Francisco through July 1.  For tickets call 415-861-8972.

What happens to an economical depressed small town when a natural gas boom gives the citizens of the community much needed financial help.  What happens when this financial help comes with making the waters of the town contaminated? Adam Chanzit’s “The Great Divide” attempts to tell this story in this interesting two hour docu-drama now playing on the Ashby State through June 24 thanks to a large cast from The Shotgun Players.

“The Great Divide” is a classic social critique based on Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People”.  It brings this thought provoking drama into a modern context.  It possess the important question “Is bust better than boom” as one character says since there has been an outbreak of illness caused by the hydraulic fracturing in the propagation of fractures in a rock layer beneath the town. This allows natural gas to escape through a pipeline and contaminate the water supply of the town.

“The Great Divide” and director Mina Morita have spent two years putting this play together and even during the previews there were changes made.  At present it still looks like a play in progress and there needs to be tightening of the first act.  The second act does come together.

Dr. Stockmann an unenthusiastic medical activist has returned to her old family homestead with her husband and two children.  She wants to retire from the time she spent fighting human rights battles in South America.  There will be no rest here in the Colorado town since an oil company is drilling for underground gas. She has also discovered that the drinking water is being contaminated by the drilling.

Hovstad a writer for the local paper has been working on an uncovering of the possible relationship between the increasing numbers of residents who is becoming ill. However most of the town agrees with the doctor’s elder brother Peter who is excruciatingly aware of this despite his position as mayor. He is being dominated by his younger brother as the head of the oil wheeler-dealer.  Most of the town is on his side since they are now working and making money to feed their families.

Some of the elements of this bio-economic conflict are less developed then others while the court scene in the second act is skillfully accomplished.  Also scenes of oil rigging crews are excellently portrayed.

 Mora Morita direction is rapid pace for a large 14 member cast.  Her action scenes are effective on Martin Flynn’s spear multi-level wooden stage to allow her to keep the action solid.  There is a lot of good information overcrowded into this two hour production but somehow it seemed more of a TV movie of the week.

Ryan Tasker gives a solid performance as the newspaper editor Hovstad  He successfully portrays as a conscientious investigative reporter about uncovering the truth in the first act and then getting second thoughts  when he becomes disheartened since his report cause great monetary hardships on the town’s citizens.

Heather Robison is commanding in her role as the intense and nervous Dr. Stockmann.  Edward McCloud as husband Tom, Luisa Frasconi as her college age daughter Petra and Samuel Berston as their young son Morten are effective in their small roles.

Michaela Greeley gives a concise performance as the hawkish, mysterious grandmother who sharply becomes important in the second act but is barely written into the play before that outstanding scene. Rebecca Pingree, Carl Holvick-Thomas, Sarita Ocon, Hugo E Carbajal, Paul Loomis,Sabrina De Mio and Scott Phillips all gives thought-provoking performances and each seems well suited for his or her part.

“The Great Divide” plays through June 24th on the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. Berkeley.   For tickets call 510-841-6500 or on line at www.shotgunplayers.org