Marc Huestis and Thrillpeddlers are presenting an intrepid new staging of Peter Brook’s 1964 Tony winning “Marat/Sade” at the Brava Theatre through July 29th. I remember seeing the original production in New York in 1964 where it created quite a sensation. This has the luridness of Artaud “theatre of cruelty” and the cool, estrangement devices of Brecht that creates a theatrical revolution in a deeply frightening way about the failure of the French revolution.

We are in France in 1808 and the revolution is not only over but it has been decisively reversed since the rich are back on top, the poor back in their hovels and Napoleon Bonaparte is deep into his campaign to rule the world. The pornographic genius, the Marquis de Sade, has been incarcerated in an insane asylum that prides itself on its progressive policies. The head of the asylum in the spirit of advancement has allowed the Marquis to present a play here has written about the 1793 assassination of revolutionary firebrand Jean-Paul Marat using fellow patients as actors. A paranoid plays Marat, a narcoleptic the assassin and so on. Of course toward the end of this play within a play all hell broke loose to present a wild and sexual scene of “depravity”.

This is a powerful production, staged with imagination by Russell Blackwood and performed by strongly cohesive ensemble with some outstanding individual roles. Every inch of the large stage becomes part of the Charenton asylum. The large cast commit to the physicality and power of their characters. Central to the production is the impudent portrayal of the Marquis de Sade by Jeff Garrett. It’s an enthralling and very-changing creation and he is always winning and believable.

I also enjoyed the bold interpretation of the Herald by Carlos Barrera who has a striking theatrical voice. Bonni Suval who plays a patient suffering from melancholia and narcolepsy gives a moving performance as Charlotte Corday while Aaron Malberg is excellent as the moralizing Jean-Paul Marat.
Brian Tryborn gives a very understated and moving performance as the head of the asylum Coulmier as does Lisa Appleyard and Carina Lastimosa as his family. Noel Haydon who is a shy patient at the beginning of the drama suddenly burst out coming back on stage in drag. He gives an unflinching performance of an early Joan Crawford in her “jazz baby” days. (By the way he has beautiful legs) David Moore is a real hoot who can’t keep his hands off of Charlotte Corday.

Tom Orr, Connie Champagne, Christopher Nelson and Jamie Harkin perform Brechtian choral numbers which particularizes the story for our own historical moment. Occasionally the sweet voice of Michael Mohammed dressed in a nun’s habit joins in.
“Marat/Sade” plays through July 29th at the Brava Theatre, 2781 York Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-863-0611 or on line at www.thrillpeddlers.org
Since “ Sweeney Todd” premiere in 1979, I have seen this Stephen Sondheim’s dark masterpiece everywhere from New York to London’s Covent Garden to the National Touring Company in Los Angeles. I even saw a full scale production at the Portland Opera Company starring Karen Moore as Mrs. Lovett.

This marks the first time I have seen “Sweeney Todd” by a smaller semiprofessional company. It took a lot of moxie for the Ray of Light to present Sondheim’s masterwork. On the whole this company does justice to one of my most favorite musicals (opera???) of all time. However director Ben Randle decided not to mike the singers and sometimes the orchestra overpowered some of singers. Eureka Theatre which is a former movie house is not the best theatre in this area for acoustics and it would have been better if some of the singers were mike. I can’t fault the singers since they all had good voices but it was the lack of a good sound system in this theatre that is the problem. However production values were excellent including the “factory like” set and great choral work from the large cast.
The performances are as bold and striking as the concept. Adam Scott Campbell as the anti-hero Sweeney Todd with his commanding voice creates compassion and revulsion and his singing range has range and touching beauty.

Shelley Crowley going by the stage name Miss Sheldra as the doting accomplice, Mrs. Lovett has a beautiful voice who she reminds me of a young Angela Lansbury both in voice and acting. Instead of a ferocious comic caricature of a rapacious shopkeeper, she is more conventional, self-deluded woman with a streak of genuine sensitivity. Matthew Provencal and Jessica Smith as the lyrical sailor Anthony Hope and Sweeney’s imprisoned daughter Johanna have fine voices in “Johanna” and “Ah, Miss”. Both have fine voices but their stage encounters are awkward and rushed.

Michelle Jasso as the Beggar Woman is outstanding and her powerhouse voice is seriously executed. Kevin Singer does a wholehearted portrayal of Tobias and he particularly shines in the song “Not While I’m Around”. Ken Brill as Judge Turpin imbues the role with just the right air of unethical self-righteousness. Both he and Adam Scott Campbell are harmoniously energizing singing “Pretty Women”. J. Conrad Frank puts a completely different spin as Beadle as a more elegant police officer than a crude person with no class. He is charming sings the old English song about the bells of churches. Terrence Mclaughlin voice rings out as Pirelli in “The Contest”.

The complete chorus which includes Gina Di Rado, Mia F.Gimenez, Charles Woodson Parker and Velvet Piini have great thematic resonance singing the Prologue, The Ballet of Sweeney Todd, City on Fire and “The Letter”.

Director Ben Randle has five members of the orchestra with Sean Forte conduction on the piano, Robert Moreno on keys and percussion, Lucas Gayda on violin, Bill Aron on reeds and Zach Taylor on bass are spread about the stage. The orchestra heightens the ferocious shifts of tone in Sondheim’s masterly music. This ability constantly unnerve the audience throughout the evening from Sweeney’s chilling Epiphany to the cheerfully waltz tune of “A Little Priest”. Maya Linke’s factory like set creates a vivid sense of urban deficiency and deterioration. Cathie Anderson’s lighting adds to spookiness of the musical. (every time Sweeney commits a killing the stage lights turn red) Miriam Lewis costumes are authentic for the period.

Sweeney Todd runs through August 18th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Gateway, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-690-7658 or on line at www.roltheatre.com
Shotgun Players and Playground Production of  “Truffaldino Says No”  currently playing at the Ashby Stage skyrockets into a tale of a young man’s voyage with terrific swiftness and wonderful proposes.  M.Graham Smith has combined aspects of Commedia dell’Arte and a 60’s beach film reminiscent of Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in the 1965 film of “Beach Blanket Bingo”.  Playwright’s Ken Slattery’s comedy originated as a 10 minute short written as part of the assigned topic of “Arlecchino” Playground writers ‘pool.  Shotgun Player commissioned the playwright for a full-length version.

The first 10 minutes is pure Commedia dell’Arte when in we see a typical comedy with Arlecchino ( Stephen Buescher) (“arlecchino” in an Italian word for harlequin the most popular comic servant character from the Italian Commedia dell’Arte) his son Truffaldino (William Thomas Hodgson) and Colombina (Gwen Loeb).  There is the typical clowning around but Truffaldino says “Scopare la mia vita (Fuck my life) several times since he is condemned to spend his entire live in Venice, serving as a court harlequin and his infatuation with the routine dismissive young debutante, Isabella (Ally Johnson).  This clown wants to get the hell out of Venice and experience the world beyond.

Truffaldino arrives in the America and he gets a position as an innkeeper at (wait for it) Venice Beach, California.  Suddenly the stage is filled with these Commedia dell’Arte characters now acting in a brightly colored American International beach film that would star Funicello and Avalon.  Of course the money-grubbing Pantalone (Brian Herndon) the unstoppable fountain of information of Il Dottore of the old world now appears as pink-suited Frank who has a distrustful attitude toward everything that is going on at Venice Beach.  Poet, playwright and somewhat effeminate Flavio (Michael Phillis) who declares love for Il Capitano (Andy Alabran) in old Venice suddenly becomes a real hep Frankie Avalon’s style life guard Mike in somewhat in love with Kate (Gwen Loeb) who was Colombina in the old world.  (He actually is more in love with himself and the pool).  All this sound confusing well  director M. Graham Smith  successfully mashes the employments into a tornado  spin with actors going to the edge of the stage before doing a 180 to re-enter their old world/new world opposites thanks to an outstanding cast of actors in this fast pace two hour 25 minute farce.

 The acting is magnificently broad. First rate physical comic Stephen Buescher (he is head of Physical Theatre at ACT) in the role of the archetypical zany Arlecchino is sidesplitting in the role. Even when he tries to think of some way to kill himself while idly playing with a rope is a comedic tour-de-force.  William Thomas Hodgson does a wonderful job of emulating Buescher’s acrobatic dance routines in the earlier scenes.  Gorgeous Ally Johnson as Isabella and Debbie (the Funicello in the Beach film) is entertaining playing a fibbertigibbete with outstanding dramatic poses and an outrageous Italian accent as Isabella.  Malleable Michael Phillis demonstrates charming contracts in technique but Phillis as the surfer life guard is a scene stealer.  Gwen Loeb is delightfully sensual uses great timing in her roles of Colombina and Kate. Andy Alabran as the Il Capitano in act one Old World successfully reincarnates Prewitt a local border guard searching for illegal immigrants. Brian Herndon as the old man Pantalone is hilarious as her makes the old man’s miserly calculations and lust for Colombina’s bosoms very amusing scenes.  Joe Lucas as Il Dottore gets his share of laughs in the Old World and is excellent as scruffy, abrasive know it all  Wiseman in the New World.

Martin Flynn’s low tech set is excellent and light designer Heataher Basarab transforms a Venetian village into a modern beachfront just by brightening the stage.  Maggie Whitaker’s genre-appropriate costumes are perfect for both acts with the bright commedia garb for the Old World and the gaudy’s 60’s setups for California.

“Truffaldino Says No” plays through July 29th at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. Berkeley.  For tickets call  510-841-6500 or on line at www.shotgunplayers.org  Coming up next is Madeline George’s “Precious Little” opening on August 18 and running through September. 9
An Intriguing Production of “FWD: Life Goes Viral” at the Marsh San Francisco

Sometime in the future we might have little unarmed drones the shape of flies that can appear on the wall unobserved to spy on private conversations.  In this one hour and 45 minute comedy these little critters do just that as they spy on what their exes are up to. <i>FDW:Life Goes Viral</i> takes place in the immediate future when YouTube is a the way of life. (isn’t it this way now, you might ask).  The fast pace comedy-drama  is a wonderful collaboration between three veteran Bay Area talents Charles Varon, David Ford and Jeri Lynn Cohen that is now playing at The Marsh in San Francisco.

“FDM:Life Goes Viral” skewers the brave new world of the internet. Charles Varon and Jeri Lynn Cohen perform in all of the roles in this comdey.  They play oncologist, patients, ex-spouses and even two expert commentators. Adam (Charles Varon) thought he was dying of cancer but it turns out that his doctor (Jeri Lynn Cohen) had the films mixed up and so he is not going to the great beyond.  However when he thought he was dying he took comfort in a YouTube video that expressed that dying is a bold journey of illumination.  The video was made by the good doctor’s ex-husband (also Charles Varon) who is a two-timing two-faced schmuck.  The video goes viral getting over a million and half hits and he has become the guru of the YouTube. The people are now demanding more on this interesting person’s life.

Jeri Lynn Cohen is excellent  in all of her roles especially as Dr. Lillian Steinberg, a clever, sharp physician who is confused and infuriated that her husband’s video has gone viral. She is also great as the slapdash, harsh and blatantly Jewish Ellen, Adams’s wife. Charles Vardon with sharp definition is perfect as Adam, a student of philosophy and as Zizo Slavek, a medical researcher who explains “Human beings crave sugar, so we invented Coca-Cola. Human beings crave fat so we invented Crisco, Human beings crave attention, so we invented YouTube. And now, we have diabetes and heart disease and soon we’ll have diseases of overexposure”. Both even play tiny unarmed electronic spy drones to resemble the proverbial fly on the wall.
<i>FWD:Life Goes Viral</i> is for intelligence audience who are able to keep pace with the comedic brilliance unfurling before them at a furious pace.  It plays at the The Marsh, 1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco through July 22nd  For tickets call 415-282-3055 or on line at www.themarsh.org
San Jose Repertory Theatre is currently presenting a bio-drama, a true tale about the alcoholic New York stock broker, Bill Wilson and the alcoholic Akron surgeon, Dr. Bob Smith, who founded Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s and pioneered its 12-step treatment for alcoholism.  “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” is a docu-drama wherein it persuades the merits of AA are that alcoholism is a disease.  That it is a preoccupation of the mind united with an allergy of the body.

 These docu-dramas with a message are hard to produce on stage. However under the direction of Richard Sheer and a splendid cast they have made drama very touching, serious and even funny.  You don’t have to be an alcoholic to enjoy this play.  As Bill Wilson says in the play “the only person who can help a drunk is another drunk.

   The play opens with Bill W. (Ray Chambers) and Dr. Bob (Robert Sicular) in two separate pools of light, talking about themselves, one at a time, as if at an AA meeting.   The story unfolds onstage on how these two men whose relationship and attempts at keeping each other ignited the beginning of AA. This is a well-crafted drama and it sticks to history as correctly and carefully as possible.  There is humor in the play and it used generously.

 Much of the first act is about setting the initial meeting between the two men in Akron.  Both deny they have a problem with booze and keep telling their wives and friends they are off the bottle and then fall back into the bottle.  Bill is the first one to break free becoming clean and sober after an epiphany while in the hospital recovering from a drunken night.  He is clean for five months, when he faces temptation at a bar in Akron on the business trip.  He needs to talk to another alcoholic and after many telephone calls he ends up meeting Dr. Bob. The rest of the play is about how they set up the AA, their developing interactions with their wives and their big breakthrough when they are able to reach other alcoholics.

 Ray Chambers delivers an effervescent performance as Bill Wilson and as a vibrant salesman or as a man who could sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo. Robert Sicular as Dr. Bob is excellent keeping his drunken scenes from becoming too broad a humor.     Carrie Paff and Kandis Chapll give strong performances as the long suffering wives of the Bill and Bob. Cindy Goldfield and Mike Ryan play a variety of small characters with clarity and ease.

  Under the astute direction of Richard Seer the play flies at breakneck speed with precise and purposeful movement with quick and seamless set changes against a wall consisting of hundreds of liquor thanks to set designer Robin Sanford Roberts. Lighting by Trevor Norton and costumes by Cathleen Edwards add to dramatic effects of the docu-drama.

 “Bill W. and Dr. Bob is a textured, truthful telling of the AA’s story and it humanizes the world of addiction honestly. The drama plays through July 15th at San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose.   For tickets call 408.367.7255 or on line at www.SJRep.com   
 Threatre Rhinocerous production of Kate Fodor’s “100 Saints You Should Know</i> was an interesting drama given weight by the author’s apparently attempt to deal utterly with the nature of faith. It was an engrossing, deeply moving drama with flawless acting on the five actors.

The drama had five potentially fascinating characters.  Matthew (Wyle Herman), a priest who is on leave from the church for an indiscreetness revolving some homoerotic but totally artful George Platt Lynn photographs found in his possession; his mother, Colleen (Tamar Cohn), who sticks closely to her Catholic teachings and Therese (Ann Lawler), who formerly was a “Deadhead” and now a working class mom who cleans the toilets at Matthew’s rectory.  She tries to find some kind of faith even through television evangelist. There is her daughter Abby (Kim Stephenson), a teenager rebel and Garrett (Michael Rosin), a 16 year old neighborhood delivery boy who fears about his own homosexuality since he likes to see sex acts performed by males on his computer.

“100 Saints You Should Know” drama was filled with many of life’s biggest questions such has why bad things happen, the awareness of good and evil in people. There is the acknowledgement that every person has the capacity for doing good things and bad that these two are both aspects of us.  The whole play was structured around the relationships of mothers and their children in the family of the priest and that of Theresa and her rebellious daughter.  You can see that intimacy of any kind is impossible with these characters.   Matthew expresses himself almost monosyllabically from his overbearing mother.  You also sense that the priest is experience a deep crisis of faith and the deep isolation of the calibrate life.   Abby is viciously verbal in her assaults again her mother and has a total denunciation of the parent.

All five give impeccable performances. Wylie Herman gives a sharp and sensitive performance as the priest who tends to hide behind his books while Tamar Cohn is stunning as the domineering mother hiding behind games of Scrabble.  Michael Rosen brings a winning simplicity to the role of Garrett while Kim Stephenson  is glowing as the rebel daughter. Ann Lawler is vivid and sensual as the needy Theresa.  Director John Fisher deftly minds the rich comedy provided by Fodor’s quirky character and elicits lovely performances from all his actors.  Jon Wai-keung Lowe two story set is excellent for the small intimate theatre.  He also provided for photographs flashed on a screen about the nude male bodies of George Platt Lynn.  “100 Saints You Should Know “closed on Sunday at the Thick House in San Francisco.