Give a hand for Hedda

Brooke Aiello leads a consummate cast in a memorable production of Ibsen’s classic “Hedda Gabler”

THEATER REVIEW

“Let me go,” Hedda Gabler says softly, almost imperceptibly.

You might in this moment think of a cranky child trying to escape the clutches of a doting elderly relative. The truth isn’t far: In this early scene in Ibsen’s famed play, Hedda’s new aunt by marriage has dropped in unannounced on the new couple the morning after Hedda and her husband return from a six-month honeymoon. So much for a bit of time and space for Hedda to get used to her new marital digs: Here’s selfless Aunt Julia, the titaness of social respectability, wrapped up in a great swath of a formal dress and wearing a brand-new hat, barging in to make sure everyone in the household knows of her smotheringly good intentions. In a moment of forced intimacy, Aunt Julia has grabbed Hedda’s hands without permission. In Hedda’s world, that’s a no-no. And it captures, early on, a sense of the entrapment that she feels as she begins this new marriage.

DSCF0589
Bearing arms: Brooke Aiello is outstanding as the title character in “Hedda Gabler.” Photo / The New Ensemble

Is it any wonder that the title character in “Hedda Gabler” has a snippy side?

Continue reading “Give a hand for Hedda”

‘Park’ it right here in Sonora

After years of listening to the cast album, I make the trek to Sierra Repertory Theatre for “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”

THEATER ROAD TRIP

SONORA — Sometimes I wait for years to see a show. Example: I bought the cast album of a sweet and tuneful off-Broadway offering called “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” probably close to a decade ago. I loved it. And whenever I listened, I’d idly think that at some point I’d finally get to experience an actual production.

RWM_6018 copy
This side of the tracks: The cast of “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.” Photo / Rich Miller, Sierra Repertory Theatre

Which is why I’m at Sierra Repertory Theatre at a Saturday matinee in the cozy East Sonora Theatre, all pumped up to — finally! — see “Trailer Park” the way it was meant to be.

Live.

Continue reading “‘Park’ it right here in Sonora”

Revenge on the menu

An intense and cerebral “Titus Andronicus” at Woodward Shakespeare Festival skips most of the gore, to mixed results

THEATER REVIEW

How important is it for a stage production of “Titus Andronicus” to be gory?

Descriptions of recent high-profile productions in England of Shakespeare’s arguably most violent play — at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Globe Theatre — make it sound as if explicit brutality is the expected theatrical order of the day. These productions offered severed hands served up on silver dishes and prisoners hung upside-down with throats slit, the dripping blood collected in bowls. If you stage “Titus” without at least a few of your patrons fainting, it seems, you aren’t doing your job.

titus1
The end is near: Joshua Taber, left, Jay Parks, Jessica Reedy and Daniel Serrano in “Titus Andronicus.”  Photo / Victor DesRoches

Director Greg Taber takes a different approach in the more restrained and introspective Woodward Shakespeare Festival production.

Continue reading “Revenge on the menu”

When your prom goes wrong

Selma Arts Center’s local premiere of “Carrie: The Musical” bristles with menace and power, but some aspects of the production are fumbled

THEATER REVIEW

The Selma Arts Center production of “Carrie: The Musical” can feel volatile and unsettled, like the charged air in an electrical storm. In many ways that’s a good thing. When your narrative is dominated by a mercilessly teased girl whose nascent telekinetic powers are sparked by rage, the last thing you want is a production that comes across as tidy and restrained.

carrie1
Mommie dearest: Carly Oliver offers a viscerally charged performance as Margaret White in “Carrie: The Musical.” Photo / Selma Arts Center

A big part of this dynamic is Abigail Halpern, the 16-year-old Buchanan High School student who plays Carrie White. Her voice is wonderfully strong and rattling in its intensity, but it can also be less than fully controlled. From the moment Halpern belts out her first long, sustained solo note, I felt I was in the presence of someone who doesn’t realize her own power, which seems perfect for the role.

The show’s direction and creative design also demonstrate many of the same unsettled tendencies. Unfortunately, this isn’t as positive a quality. At the opening night performance I attended, some of the basics were fumbled: sloppy and far too lengthy transitions between scenes; inopportune choices in lighting design; a few awkwardly blocked scenes; some clunky moments in which characters seem directionless.

Continue reading “When your prom goes wrong”

A mostly sure-footed ‘Fiddler’ remains solidly on the roof

CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” includes a stellar leading performance and top-notch scenic and lighting design

THEATER REVIEW

Tevye is the sun at the center of the “Fiddler on the Roof” solar system. If he doesn’t flood you with light, gravity and nurturing, all-encompassing warmth, you might as well forget it.

That’s a major reason why CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre’s production works as well as it does. Darren Tharp, a seasoned community-theater actor making his debut as Tevye, often shines in a booming, well crafted performance as theater history’s most famous dairyman.

20226306_10212004390642797_1600747631_o
To Life: A scene from CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Photo / Kyle Lowe

His “If I Were a Rich Man” is a delightful exercise in crisp comic timing. The nostalgic “Sunrise, Sunset” is heartfelt and achingly sung. Director Scott Hancock coaxes emotion and depth from this strong and nuanced actor.

I’m still not convinced that Tharp, who recently turned 40, is quite old enough to dig into Tevye as deeply as he might in the years to come, and he finds it a little harder in the second act to command the stage like he does in the first. But it’s still a notable outing.

Continue reading “A mostly sure-footed ‘Fiddler’ remains solidly on the roof”

A handsome and soaring ‘Hunchback’

Children’s Musical Theaterworks offers a sophisticated and inspired take of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” that feels closer to the Victor Hugo novel than the Disney movie

Abigail Paxton, director of the impressive new Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” gives us some great highs and memorable lows. She and her hard-working cast members — a talented bunch ages 14 to 20 — take us on a sweeping theatrical journey from the dizzying heights of the world’s most famous cathedral to the somber depths of human despair. (It plays for only four more performances through Sunday, July 23.)

IMG_5205

I make it a practice not to do standard reviews of CMT shows — at least in terms of offering negative critiques of individual performances — because these young performers are still in a learning environment. But I want to share 10 significant thoughts on “Hunchback.”

1.

It’s got great bones. By that I mean the overall structure and resonance of the show. This Disney adaptation can trace its lineage directly from the animated 1996 movie, but the revamped stage version dispenses with a kiddie sensibility. Paxton commits wholeheartedly to the melancholy tone of the material without making it too grim. (All that youthful energy helps.) And I’m impressed by how every person on stage, from the solo-belting principal characters to the background ensemble members, seems invested in the concept as well.

Continue reading “A handsome and soaring ‘Hunchback’”

Shakespearean gender bender

Woodward Shakespeare Festival’s “Twelfth Night” is a fun romp, even though the play’s fluid themes of sexuality and gender can seem a little muddy

THEATER REVIEW

Music might be the “food of love,” as Shakespeare so eloquently puts it in “Twelfth Night,” but cross-dressing seems to rank up there on the list of effective aphrodisiacs, too.

Would Lady Olivia, the noblewoman who falls head over heels for Cesario, the pretty-girl-disguised-as-pretty-boy, be quite so smitten if instead of more masculine footwear “his” heels were high? Does same-sex attraction play a part? Directors and actors have toyed with the play’s fluid themes of gender, sexuality and outward appearance for centuries now.

embrace212thtrejo
Work crush: Renee Newlove, left, as Viola disguised as Cesario; and Russell Noland as the Duke in Woodward Shakespeare Festival’s “Twelfth Night.” Photo / Victor Trejo

I’m not sure that Jacob Sherwood, who directs a fun and often accomplished production of “Twelfth Night” for Woodward Shakespeare Festival, has a strong point of view on the mixed-up-sexes approach of the play, other than to just sort of toss everyone into the pool and create a lot of good-natured splashing. Viola (the heroine’s real name) disguising herself as a man is written into the play, of course. (And in Shakespeare’s time, with boys playing women roles, there would already have been a sense of gender-bending for the audience.)

Then Sherwood adds a couple of more jaunty twists: Sebastian, who is Viola’s twin brother, is played by a woman in this production. And so is Antonio, Sebastian’s male friend, though the pronouns in the text referring to the character are switched to “she.” (The homoerotic underpinnings of Sebastian and Antonio’s relationship have been thoroughly examined by scholars.) Is casting two women in these roles supposed to be gender-blind casting that the audience simply absorbs and then ignores, or is it a commentary on the cross-dressing shenanigans Shakespeare wrote into the play? It’s a bit much to keep track of, and I’m not convinced it’s worthwhile trying. My head started to hurt.

Continue reading “Shakespearean gender bender”