Sex With Strangers

Matthew Kropschot as Ethan, Allison F. Rich as Olivia. All photos by Dave Lepori.

Some years ago, when the partisan, caustic, and confrontational Bill O’Reilly was Fox Television’s most highly rated commentator, he was interviewed by a correspondent from another network.  During the exchange, he averred that his real personality, known to friends and neighbors, was much different than his celebrity persona.  He proudly claimed to be a mild-mannered, accommodating friend and family man.  What amounts to his plea for respect raises two questions.  Which is the real character, or do both realizations deserve recognition as life forces?  Also, what is the relative importance of the purported private personage who influences tens of people to the public personage who influences millions?

Laura Eason’s “Sex With Strangers” explores the concept of public versus private behavior and much more.  At first, it seems that this may simply be an amusing story, but the longer it plays, the deeper it gets, exposing many sometimes provocative layers, peppered with humor and conflict.  San Jose Stage presents a sensationally acted and directed production of this powerhouse two hander.

How many English teachers are frustrated authors hoping to write the great American novel?  Olivia aspires to just that, and in fact, she’s taken one step in the right direction having published a novel that received many positive reviews, but paltry sales revenues.  One winter break, she sequesters herself alone in a cottage rented out by a friend.  Unexpectedly, another guest arrives during a snowstorm.  It turns out that the younger Ethan is not only a writer as well, but surprisingly, he has read her book.  Shortly, she finds that his joining her in this isolation was no accident.

Allison F. Rich exquisitely captures the archetype that Olivia represents.  She subsumes her urges beneath a mantle of intellectual superiority, cocooning herself with tomes from the likes of Tolstoy and Marguerite Duras while sipping a glass of wine.  But as she minces about pigeon-toed, her reserve and seeming serenity belie deep-seated insecurities about fear of failure.  Having lost at love and unable to endure the occasional negative reviews that her book received, she has withdrawn into a satisficing, defensive existence.

Ethan blasts into her scene like a blue norther, and Matthew Kropschot perfectly explodes into Ethan’s uninhibited and fearless personality.  He is chalk to Olivia’s cheese.  He meets her curtness, suspicion, and protectiveness with audaciousness, soon asking her for a glass of wine and later sex.  His swaggering effusiveness towers over her, and he represents virtually the opposite of everything that she values, breaking all rules of propriety from the outset.

Although he contrived this rendezvous because he respected her writing, it was his books that spent several years on the New York Times best seller list.  The hitch is that they were books about his sexual conquests with virtual strangers, which like his personality, repels Olivia.  But she realizes that he is intelligent.  Upon his establishing some credibility, he gives her encouragement and admiringly quotes from her book.  Olivia’s social and sexual repression break loose.  She soon finds herself attracted to the side of him that she experiences, but still wonders about the callous, misogynistic person in the exploits of his books.

As their relationship evolves, the question of Ethan’s motivation arises as well.  Here is a man in his late 20s with a massive libido and an impressive history of variety seeking in bedding partners.  Why, all of a sudden, is he so interested in an older woman more comfortable in a library than a bar?  Is he really so taken with her intellect and her writing that he can quiet his hormonal hunt?  Can he be using her, and if so, for what?  Although he is starting an app to help less-known authors reach their audience, how big a prize catch would a virtual unknown, part-time writer with one book published represent?  Does he see romance with Olivia as a step toward respectability?

The play covers quite a bit of territory, built in part around the impact of the Internet.  At a generic level, it alludes to changes wrought in personal behavior and privacy.  More specifically, we see the effect on the publishing industry of electronic media, which has decimated the print world.  Ever the resistant traditionalist, Olivia loves the look and feel and even the smell of a real book.  Ethan is an unsentimental man of the moment.

Ultimately, clashes will occur.  Olivia, who is strongly guided by moral principles, will be asked to compromise and reciprocate for benefits that she receives.  But what makes her situation particularly prickly is that there are numerous ways that a debt can be repaid, and the payback expected is in a currency most dear to her.

The characters face numerous conundrums and must deal with significant questions.  Who are we – really?  Do we always apply the same moral rules to ourselves that we place on others?  Are we all willing to compromise our principles, but it’s only a matter of price?  How significantly can or do peoples’ personalities really change?  Can many ethical missteps from youth simply be ascribed to growing up?

“Sex With Strangers” deals with these issues and more.  The playwright confronts these matters in a riveting narrative that totally engages.  It is hard to imagine two actors providing more dazzling performances than Allison F. Rich and Matthew Kropschot, and Director Johnny Moreno deserves recognition for maintaining the pace throughout.   In case it’s not clear, this reviewer liked the play – a lot.


“Sex With Strangers” is written by Laura Eason, produced by San Jose Stage, and plays in its theater at 490 South First Street, San Jose, CA through October 30, 2022.

The Music of Mothers

Kim Donovan as Ethyl, Chelsea Bearce as May.

Don’t they understand that what they characterize as color-blindness simply perpetuates white privilege?  Why won’t they admit that even though they make exceptions for select members of the minority community that they adhere to white supremacy?  Why don’t they see that every news outlet that disagrees with the right-wing media is not left-wing media, but often just reporting events as objectively as they can?  Why don’t his supporters realize that even though his detractors hate him, that everything is not about him?

As May often proclaims, she and Ethyl were best friends from the time they were in-vitro.  They grew up as Generation Xers on the poor side of El Paso, living next door to one another their whole lives in a neighborhood that was mostly black.  They married, and even had their only offspring, both boys, around the same time.  The boys would grow up as classmates and best friends.  May is black.  Ethyl is white.

Chelsea Bearce as May, Elijah Waller as her son R.J.

Victoria Evans Erville has crafted a thoughtful rendering about a roller coaster of friendship and motherhood that touches many bases, intensified by dimensions of race and sexual identity.  We meet the young women in 1996 when May is about to give birth.  They reveal lightheartedness and a bonding that has over two decades of history as juveniles.

They now see life as adults, and a sharp divide occurs when discussing May’s husband Randal’s deployment to the Middle East.  Ethyl’s perspective focuses on Randal’s pride in soldiering and his helping to make America safe by fighting a war far from home.  But May resents that because of being a black man, his options are limited.  The military was his only way out, and he risks his life for a cause that she questions.

For the remainder of the play, the women, and later their sons, will meet in their yards.  History will march on and political and social events will color their lives, especially the Obama and Trump presidencies.  Although they continue to share moments, episodes will increasingly reflect their divergence.  May becomes protective of and fearful for her son because of the constant threats faced by young black men.  Increasingly, Ethyl buys into the narratives posited by Fox News.  She also suffers from denial about her son’s being gay and resents that he favors May over her.

Dylan O’Shea as Troy, Ethyl’s son; Kim Donovan as Ethyl.

The two lead actors give masterful performances.  Chelsea Bearce portrays May deftly, capturing her fierce determination that she can better herself and that her son should have a better life than his father.  The conviction of her beliefs born of painful experience is convincing.

Kim Donovan embodies an archetype most feared by political liberals.  She conveys charm and friendliness that belie deep-seated biases.  Like many of her ilk, the privilege afforded her is ingrained.  She succumbs to fallacious arguments about the liberal press and fake news and is impervious to facts, so that converting her with truth is difficult.  She turns vignettes about individuals who are outside of her tribe into generalizations about whole communities but fails to apply the same principles to her own people.  Further, she diminishes the pain of other groups by equating that “we all have our crosses to bear,” not appreciating that blackness, unlike gayness or political beliefs, can’t be hidden or modified.

In a final episode, the women are confronted with an unexpected challenge.  May has criticized Ethyl for lacking empathy, and when prodding her to do the right thing, May levels what should be a haymaker to any professed Christian – “What would Jesus do?”  Regrettably, many who claim to follow Christ would not act in accordance with his teachings.  What will Ethyl do?

The playwright, who also directs, dispatches a dizzying number of important social messages and does so in an entertaining and involving manner.  The central theme considers the effects of politics on the two lifelong friends, and while May remains consistent throughout, Ethyl offers more interest as a character because she evolves, and not always in one direction or with consistency, which makes for a more intriguing person and reflects realism.

Kim Donovan as Ethyl, Chelsea Bearce as May.

Another thread concerns family relationships.  Though both women love their sons, even true familial love doesn’t always run smooth.  The grabber to the title of the play, which is “Mothering is a political act,” also makes a commentary on modern life and why people have children.  In past times, procreation was largely automatic with comparatively little thought of consequences.  Now it has become a more conscious decision that reflects beliefs and expectations.

Many new plays undergo revision even after their premieres, and some aspects of “The Music of Mothers” might deserve reconsideration.  The plot contains endless issues, but it could use more intense dramatic conflict to support them.  With all of the fear raised because of one boy being black and the other gay, they don’t experience physically damaging incidents to validate the concerns.  Also, the matter of the white son being gay and the mother’s denial recurs often, but some references seem repetitive.

Kudos for simple but effective staging – Seafus Chatmon for scenic, Stephanie Johnson for lighting, and Dave Ragaza for sound design.

A final comment is that in the world of the Bay Area, this play is preaching to the choir.  For it to have legs and persuade the unwashed, May might need to have more flaws, even if she should undeniably be the better person.  Meanwhile, it is for our crowd to enjoy.

“The Music of Mothers” is a world premiere written by Victoria Evans Erville, produced by TheatreF1rst, and performed at Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA through October 23, 2022.

The Elixir of Love

Christopher Bozeka as Nemorino, Elena Galván as Adina, Samuel J. Weiser as Dr. Dulcamara, Alba Franco-Cancél as Giannetta, Andrew W. Potter as Belcore. All photos by Barbara Mallon.

Opera can be the most weighty and severe of the performing arts.  Thus, when a frothy and fun piece comes along, it may seem like a guilty pleasure.  So it is with “The Elixir of Love” (L’elisir d’amore). But make no mistake, it flows from the same pen that gave us distinguished works like the dark “Lucia di Lammermoor” and the trifecta of Tudor-period operas, as well as other great operas buffa like “Don Pasquale” and “Daughter of the Regiment.”

Although Donizetti concocted this superficially light-hearted confection, “Elixir” is a serious delight from curtain to curtain, both as an entertainment and as a great work of composition.  As we have come to expect, Livermore Valley Opera once again punches above its weight with a totally appealing production that hits all the right notes, literally and figuratively.  This rather small-scale production works well in a smaller house, and the performing artists do a magnificent job with singing, comic acting, and playing.

Christopher Bozeka as Nemorino, Elena Galván as Adina.

“Elixir” tells the story of peasant Nemorino who is in love with landowner Adina, a woman above his station.  Of course, Adina shows no interest in Nemorino.  Itinerant “medicine man” “Dr.” Dulcamara will provide the elixir of the title that he promises will make the consumer irresistible.  Complications follow, and happily, the ending meets expectations.

Appropriate to our California home, Adina is portrayed not just as any landowner, but as the owner of the vineyard, where the opera is set.  The charming stage is comprised largely of features like grapevines and the winery depicted cartoon-like in two-dimensions.  Even Dulcamara’s medicine wagon appears on a flat, moveable panel, but this artistic contrivance pleases.

Andrew W. Potter as Belcore, Christopher Bozeka as Nemorino.

Melody abounds in “Elixir,” and even the recitatives, which seem infrequent, sound unusually melodious.  From Nemorino’s opening aria, ‘Quanto è bella!’ about how gorgeous he finds Adina, we sense how beautiful the music will be.  As importantly to this production, we know from his very first phrase that Christopher Bozeka as Nemorino will regale us with a wonderful tenor instrument possessing an emotion-filled Italianate lilt with a big tremolo that suits this work so well.  In addition, his fine comic acting makes Nemorino a funny and sympathetic character.

In answer, Elena Galván, who has graced Bay Area opera stages in several productions, equally captivates as Adina.   From her first arias about an elixir that she has read about, ‘Della crudele Isotta,’ and about her fickleness as a lover in ‘Chiedi all’aura lusinghiera’ she displays not only a commanding middle range but some spinto characteristics. She possesses an extremely powerful yet seemingly effortless top end and a facility for rapid patter – a skill required of male roles on several occasions as well.  Toward the end of the evening, Galván reveals her versatility with an astounding array of vocal gymnastics.

Cast.

It’s not enough that Adina has rejected Nemorino, but she falls instead for Belcore, a sergeant in the visiting army regiment.  That part is played by the towering figure of Andrew W. Potter, who diminishes Nemorino physically and with a dominating, confident swagger as well.  Belcore’s role is written for a baritone, and Potter handles that range quite smoothly and mellifluously.  However, he is actually a lyric bass, and there is one passage for which he deftly descends into an almost basso profundo mode.  It is so far out of baritone range that it presumably was written in as an alternative for a deeper voice.

Into the fray comes the snake oil salesman, Dulcamara, who has no interest but making a quick buck and a quicker getaway.  Although the character perpetuates fraud, he is played in a jovial manner by baritone-bass Samuel J. Weiser with little edge and a fair bit of charm.  He sings with great verve, though his timing with the orchestra is not always on.  Dulcamara facilitates the merriment and confusion by plying Nemorino with a supposed elixir that gives him a shot of courage to take on his challenges.

Christopher Bozeka as Nemorino.

Can any review of “The Elixir of Love” fail to mention its signature aria, ‘Una furtiva lagrima’?  The mournful air, accentuated by the interplay of the tenor’s voice with the haunting bassoon, makes it one of opera’s memorable pieces.  As with all of his singing, Bozeka delivers the goods with a passion-charged rendition of this beautiful piece that received a well-deserved extended applause with bravos from the audience on opening night.

The composer has also created a number of attractive ensemble pieces, which are as well executed as designed.  A final mention goes to the Alexander Katsman conducted orchestra and the chorus.  For their size, they create a very full and rich sound that enhances the overall production and contributes to a memorable experience.

Elena Galván as Adina.

“The Elixir of Love” (L’elisir d’amore), composed by Gaetano Donizetti with libretto by Felice Romani after Eugène Scribe’s text based on Daniel Auber’s opera “Le Philtre,” is produced by Livermore Valley Opera, and plays at Bankhead Theater, 2400 First Street, Livermore, CA through October 9, 2022.

Indecent

Cast. All photos by Jessica Palopoli.

The bare, blackened, back stage and proscenium arch represent the tabula rasa upon which theater brings joy and sorrow.  But what of its only props – several suitcases?  Do they signify the travel of the play and its artists from place to place?  Do they signal a search for a safe haven?  Or do they hold the meager possessions that its owners would be allowed to carry with them to concentration camps and probable extermination?

Decorated playwright and professor Paula Vogel wrote several successful plays and mentored fellow Pulitzer Prize winners Lynn Nottage, Nilo Cruz, and Quiara Alegria Hudes as well as Sarah Ruhl and others.  But only in 2017 did her own work finally reach Broadway with “Indecent,” which would become a Tony Award winner.  San Francisco Playhouse and Yiddish Theatre Ensemble offer an immensely powerful production of this equally powerful play, a metatheatrical treatise of the highest order.  It makes for thoughtful and compelling drama that should not be missed.

Billy Cohen, Dean Linnard.

The genesis of “Indecent” begins in Warsaw in 1906.  Young author Sholem Asch has written a Yiddish play called “God of Vengeance,” which acts as a play-within-a-play in “Indecent,”  as scenes from the former appear throughout the latter.  Portrayed passionately and with grand gestures by Billy Cohen, Asch entreats other writers to participate in a table reading.  After the reading, I. L. Peretz, Warsaw’s most distinguished Yiddish author, tells Asch to burn the play.  Despite contentiousness and only a modicum of support, a Yiddish language company produces the play.

Over the next several years, “God of Vengeance” would be translated into various languages and travel to the major theater centers of Europe.  The contemporary play depicts highlights of issues faced by the earlier one as it spread to foreign locales.   Early on, it was presented in Yiddish in lower Manhattan, but it wasn’t until 1923 that a production of an English translation appeared “uptown.”

Rachel Bochan, Victor Talmadge, Malka Wallick.

Vogel takes us on a riveting journey through that historical evolution of “God of Vengeance” from launch to acclaim to disrepute and beyond.  Through “Indecent,” we learn of the essence of “God of Vengeance” – of the artists involved and of the times; of its connection through the Holocaust; and to Asch’s being called before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee.

Although many in turn-of-the-century Europe, particularly Jews, considered the earlier play blasphemous, only when its forbidden love was seen by gentiles in the United States was it broadly deemed as indecent.  Legal actions were triggered, albeit, initiated by an assimilated rabbi.  Because it was withdrawn by the playwright around World War II, it hibernated for decades and was nearly forgotten before the welcomed revival of this culturally significant work.

Cast.

Asch’s play was incredibly daring for its time, especially given its originally intended audience.  First, an observant Jew runs a brothel in the basement of his home.  Then, his daughter falls in love with one of his prostitutes, which results in lesbian action and narrative.  Along the way, a Torah scroll is desecrated.  Many Jews found these plotlines not only scandalous and sacrilegious but anti-Semitic. 

“Indecent,” Vogel’s love letter to Jewish culture and to theater possesses many moving parts, and Director Susi Damilano mixes them with great skill and nary a false move.  Without a distinguishing set, other artistic elements establish the vitally important tone of the play.  Perhaps the period music most imbues the feel of narrative.  A klezmer trio often shares the stage with actors, playing the mostly sad and occasionally fast paced music of Eastern European Jewish stetls.  The instruments are sometimes accompanied by voice and often by the Nicole Helfer choreographed folk dances of the place and time.  Costumery gives an authentic look to the cast, and Wen-Ling Liao’s high contrast lighting adds drama.

Ted Zoldan, Billy Cohen.

An exemplary cast of seven fine actors deliver the goods.  Each plays multiple roles in the play and the play-within-a-play, often requiring different accents and languages.  Apart from Cohen, Dean Linnard stands out in his main role as Lemml, who provides comic relief as he mangles various languages.  A nebbish who was an early supporter of Asch, he finds his footing as the stage manager of the traveling “God of Vengeance.”  Ultimately, he becomes demonstrative and demanding and challenges Asch’s integrity with great determination when the play is watered down to accommodate the marketplace without the playwright’s protest.  The theme of censorship, and how it reflects political and social weakness rather than strength, especially resonates in today’s increasingly intolerant and divisive environment.

Cast.

“Indecent” is comprised of many vignettes that build the drama.  Some evidence pathos, especially those of the Holocaust and Asch’s emotional withdrawal after witnessing pogroms in Lithuania.  At least one offers joy and release, the rain scene between the brothel owner’s daughter Rivkele and the prostitute Manke from “God of Vengeance.”  It may be considered in content and significance as a lesbian corollary to the balcony scene in “Romeo and Juliet.”  It reminds us that love of every kind brings goodness to the world.

Rivka Borek, Malka Wallick.

“Indecent,” written by Paula Vogel, is produced by San Francisco Playhouse and co-produced with Yiddish Theatre Ensemble, and plays at SF Playhouse’s stage, 450 Post Street, San Francisco, CA through November 5, 2022.

Eugene Onegin

(center) Evgenia Muraveva as Tatyana, Gordon Bintner as Eugene Onegin. All photos by Cory Weaver.

Russian opera supplies a rich trove to plumb the depth of its people’s souls.   Pyotr Tchaikovsky is perhaps Russia’s greatest music composer, and his operas are among some of his country’s most beloved.  Many Russian operas delve into the country’s special characteristics, such as its history and mysticism, but Tchaikovsky may have been the most cosmopolitan composer among his peers.  With a storyline of love and loss, class differences, and honor, the adaptation of “Eugene Onegin” from Pushkin’s novel could fit well in most European countries in the mid-19th century.

But, oh, that music.  Those haunting melodies and the euphonic lilt of the language produce a signature Russian experience.  It should be no surprise that this is currently the world’s most produced Slavic opera, given its many attractions.  Happily, it remains in the repertory of San Francisco Opera, which offers a striking and highly enjoyable rendition.

Evgenia Muraveva as Tatyana.

The title character represents the entitlements of the monied class and attracts little sympathy.  As Onegin, baritone Gordon Bintner cuts a dashing figure, and we understandTatyana’s infatuation with this aristocratic visitor to her small town from St. Petersburg.  But Onegin considers the villagers to be rustic rubes, and he conveys his arrogance and contemptuousness in numerous ways.

Evgenia Muraveva portrays Tatyana, who sends a letter to Onegin disclosing her love for him.  Although he tries to be diplomatic in repelling Tatyana’s advances by saying that he isn’t planning to marry, his patronizing manner which belittles her situation is chilling.  But when he encounters a very different Tatyana years later, he is the moth and she the flame.

Gordon Bintner as Eugene Onegin, Evan LeRoy Johnson as Lensky.

Onegin’s one redeeming quality seems to be his friendship with the poet Lensky, who had invited him to the village.  Lensky is engaged to Tatyana’s sister, Olga, performed by Aigul Akhmetshina, whose dark, honeyed voice suggests why she is in demand for lead mezzo roles.   While he considers Olga too simple for Lensky, Onegin flirts with her.  The insulted Lensky challenges Onegin to a duel, and tragically, Onegin kills Lensky.  Through this sequence, whatever goodwill Onegin possessed evaporates. 

Tchaikovsky imbues “Eugene Onegin” with luxuriant, romantic music.  Passion drives the arias, and the orchestral score is a thing of beauty independent of the libretto.  Highlights abound, but certainly, Tatyana’s solitary letter scene ranks as one of the great soliloquies in opera, as she pours her heart out from dusk until dawn over her love for Onegin. Sympathy for Tatyana grows throughout this scene.  Muraveva shows fine vocal and emotional tone in her lengthy aria, but War Memorial is a big house, and her volume didn’t meet its demands.  By the final act, her voice seemed stronger, as was the case with warm-toned Bintner as well.

Aigul Akhmetshina as Olga.

Tchaikovsky uses a call-and-response, or orchestral chasing device, in the letter scene and elsewhere, in which brief solo phrases are handed off from woodwinds to metal woodwinds to horns in rapid succession and with affecting quality.  Vassilis Christopoulos conducts the orchestra with great precision through these and many other potentially perilous passages.  In leitmotif fashion, the composer repeats many lengthy phrases that might seem like lazy repetition except that they are so pleasing to the ear that one is happy to hear them again.  The conductor also captures the dynamics of the score with strong contrasts in volume.

Evan LeRoy Johnson as Lensky sings the other signature aria.  His beautifully plaintive tenor voice with bright timbre is the perfect fit for this sad reflection as he awaits his duel with Onegin, fearing that his golden days of spring will come no more and hoping that Olga will honor him in death.

(foreground) Evan LeRoy Johnson as Lensky, Gordon Bintner as Eugene Onegin.

One would be remiss not to mention the portrayal of Prince Gremin by Ferrucio Furlanetto.  This cameo role fits perfectly for a mature bass, and the legendary and still resonant and commanding artist celebrates nearly half a century performing on the professional opera stage. In recognition of his contributions to the art and particularly to the company, he received the San Francisco Opera Medal on opening night.

What gives particular significance to this realization of the opera is that it reprises Robert Carsen’s noted production, with production design by Michael Levine.  The three closed sides of the stage are comprised of unadorned white walls.  Its minimalism looks sterile at times, but it does offer a blank canvas for expression.  Colored light casts against the walls to give differing effect – golden-orange for the autumn, with colorful leaves covering the stage; dark blue for the night of the letter scene; gray for Onegin’s rejection of Tatyana.  Most striking is the silhouetting used in the dueling scene to darken the mood.

With few competing patterns from scenery, Levine’s beautiful costumes visually pop, particularly those worn by the chorus.  And the chorus is exemplary at doing what they do best, which is singing.  They frolic as well, though interestingly, the famous Polonaise which is traditionally danced, plays during the removal of Lensky’s body from the duel and as Onegin is dressed by attendants for the ball.

Gordon Bintner as Eugene Onegin, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Prince Gremin.

These days, it’s hard to witness a performance involving Russian culture without comment.  San Francisco Opera has expressed its solidarity with Ukraine and against Russia’s villainous invasion in many ways.  It is hard to imagine that Tchaikovsky would have supported his country’s lawless act, and it is important to remember that all people don’t support the evil deeds of their own governments.  This interpretation of “Eugene Onegin” deserves to be seen.

“Eugene Onegin,” composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky with libretto by the composer and Konstantin Shilovsky is based on the novel of the same name by Alexander Pushkin, produced by San Francisco Opera, and plays at War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA through October 14, 2021.

Lear

James A. Williams as Lear. All photos by Kevin Berne.

In one of Jack Nicholson’s lesser-known films, “About Schmidt,” he plays a retiring white-collar worker.  At his retirement party, his successor says that he will be in touch to call upon Schmidt’s expertise.  Of course, the call never comes.  Extending the treatise on transition of power, I had several friends and competitors during my international banking career who jumped from prime banks to lesser ones, drawn by bigger salaries.  They were surprised that their prestige declined and fewer invitations were on offer, even from business “friends.”  They didn’t realize the power of what is said on the business cards we carry. 

So it is with King Lear.  Although rigid and demanding undivided loyalty (sound familiar?), he plans his succession by transferring his properties to his daughters before his dotage, while retaining his title.  What he is oblivious to is that his properties were the primary source of the loyalty he received and the control he exercised.  His descent and conflict with his heirs and subjects commence.

Esteemed Black playwright Marcus Gardley received a grant to fashion a new translation of Shakespeare’s great tragedy “King Lear.”  In doing so, he largely retained the characters, plotline, and Elizabethan language form while updating archaic vocabulary and references.

Critically, Gardley moved the action from England to San Francisco’s largely Black Fillmore District in 1969, where jazz was king, and The Fillmore was known as “The Harlem of the West.”  It was a time of great social conflict and transition that included counterculturalism, the Vietnam War, the Black Panthers, civil rights clashes and advances.  The result of the Cal Shakes produced, Eric Ting and Dawn Monique Williams directed work is stunning – a compelling version that retains all of the gravity of the original while embellishing it with touches that enhance its modern relevance.

Lear is an imposing figure with gruff mannerisms, knee-jerk emotions, and a passion for vengeance.  James A. Williams portrays the king with consummate skill.  As Lear, Williams displays unflinching absolute authority as he divides up his estates.  At his urging, the king’s two older, married daughters, Goneril and Regan, obsequiously avow their unconditional love for their father to ensure their inheritance.  But when the youngest, the earnest Cordelia, says she can profess no additional love above that which she’s given all her life, Williams scowls and howls and his character dispossesses her from any inheritance or dowry.

Lear foisted the condition on his heirs that he spend 50 days in each of their households, but as they impose discomforting restrictions on his stay, he realizes his error in judgment.  The sycophants were dishonest, and the emperor has no clothes.  Here, Williams deftly displays incredulity with both plaintiveness and indignant rage.

Civil war will erupt, and Lear will realize, too late, that Cordelia, now married to the good Duke of New Orleans, was truly honest and loving.  Throughout the story, this theme of perception versus reality recurs, revealing how flawed our decisions can be when we fail to scratch beneath the surface to find the elusive reality.

Transposing a work to a new time and locale is a tricky exercise.  At one extreme, the goal is to overlay new visuals without disrupting the original narrative at all.  At the other, the viewer is totally transported to a new environ to the extent that the connection between the new and old work is merely symbolic (e.g., is “West Side Story” really just a remake of “Romeo and Juliet.”?).

Cast.

The author takes a somewhat challenging middle ground.  While preserving names and the bulk of the text, he adds framing devices including narration, extra characters, and musicians to imbue the piece with local color and Black experience.  Racially-charged incidents, like The Fool’s story about the Ku Klux Klan, are referenced.  As a result, the viewer may suffer ambiguity, sometimes processing the central action as in Middle Ages England, but then being mentally yanked into perceiving 20th century United States.  That said, this overlay produces stirring effects.

The action plays against Tanya Orellana’s appropriately functional two-story structure, while highlights are brought into focus by Scott Bolman’s striking lighting design.  As sheer entertainment, period music adds a delightful dimension.  Some songs are specifically relevant and delivered as stand alones, like “It’s a Family Affair” and “Stormy Weather.”  At other times, music accompanies dialog.

The delivery systems for almost all of the music are fascinating.  A luminous and talented Velina Brown provides much of the singing.  Designated as Black Queen, she appears like an apparition in a full-length, white, formal gown, serving various functions from narration to the dance of death.  One assumes that the crazy idea to combine a trombone and a standing bass as the two instruments to provide musical background came from the composer of the incidentals, Marcus Shelby.  What genius!  The twosome are spectacular in producing a jazzy Fillmore feel.

Political commentary in the narrative appropriately focuses on the Geary Expressway, which was built in the “60s as an urban renewal project with virtually no consideration of the wants of the affected people.  Its stated non-transportation goal was to eliminate blighted and crime-ridden areas.  However, it destroyed much of the vital Fillmore District; split what remained; and caused a diaspora of the Black community from the place they loved.

Regrettably, the author uses a little misleading shorthand in his narrative, blaming “the mayor” for the debacle.  Most viewers will be unfamiliar with the particulars. Joseph Alioto was mayor in 1969, but the project took place under the previous administration of George Alexander, who happened to have a fine civil rights record.  If there is a true villain with perhaps questionable motives, one might look into the history of Justin Hermann, then head of the San Francisco Development Agency.

In any event, Marcus Gardley’s “Lear” is phenomenal in conception and breathtaking in execution.

“Lear,” a world premiere written by Marcus Gardley and adapted from William Shakespeare’s play “King Lear” is produced by Cal Shakes in partnership with Oakland Theater Project & Play On Shakespeare and appears at Bruns Amphitheatre, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orindo, CA through October 2, 2022.

Antony and Cleopatra

Amina Edris as Cleopatra, Gerald Finley as Mark Antony. All photos by Cory Weaver.

How many people’s knowledge of ancient Rome is substantially defined by Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” possibly through reading it in high school or seeing the play or a film version?  Less famous, but more complex thematically, is what in modern parlance would be called Shakespeare’s sequel to that play.  In addition to the love story and political alliance of the title characters, “Antony and Cleopatra” continues the internecine political intrigues and battles, supplanting the Roman Empire’s First Triumvirate from the first play with the Second Triumvirate. 

Hadleigh Adams as Agrippa, Paul Appleby as Octavius Caesar, Elizabeth DeShong as Octavia, Gerald Finley as Mark Antony, Philip Skinner as Lepidus.

San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of John Adams’ “Antony and Cleopatra,” a worthy achievement full of rapture for the eyes and ears from America’s most accomplished living opera composer.  Considerable dramatic tension arises with many escalating moments and painful conflicts in both intimate and grand contexts.  The interaction of the fractured psyches of powerful people playing on the world stage is a regrettably recurring one that lives today in a number of political environs.  Yet, several issues potentially detract from the new opera’s appeal, depending on one’s preferences and perspective.

The composer has been drawn to a wide array of histories as the basis for his librettos – “Nixon in China,” “Doctor Atomic,” and “The Death of Klinghoffer,” the last being notorious for what many consider its anti-Semitic tropes and its laxness toward terrorism.  No such controversy will accompany “Antony and Cleopatra,” but the subject is an interesting choice.

Amina Edris as Cleopatra (in orange).

An opera with the same title and source was composed by Samuel Barber with libretto by Franco Zeffirelli for the Metropolitan Opera House opening in 1966.  It was a spectacular flop, driven by bloated production values.  Though the music of these two operas is clearly unrelated, the significant similarity is that both preserve the Bard’s plotline and language as much as possible.  However, Adams wisely avoided experiencing Barber’s version to maintain complete artistic integrity.

The staging of this production deserves special note.  Mimi Lien’s set design under Elkhanah Pulitzer’s direction seems that it might be a little spare at first, because so little of the stage’s capacity is availed.  Only the front portion of the stage is used until an hour into the production, yet powerful images are created in a stunning setting.  As a primary motif, living dioramas are revealed through a seamed black wall that partly opens and closes as a camera lens aperture but with a square rather than round opening (though this effect is not well shown in production photos).  With David Finn’s stark lighting, characters visually pop for a compelling look.  Throughout, the angularity and contrast of the visual stage elements and the boldness of large group scenes create a darkly volatile sense befitting the narrative.

Paul Appleby as Octavius Caesar, chorus.

A major artistic story accompanies the opera’s premiere.  The role of Cleopatra was written for Julia Bullock, who had to withdraw due to pregnancy.  Amina Edris stepped in, and with this performance she has solidified her ascent to the largest opera stages in the world.  Although she possesses and displays warm lyric characteristics in her voice, this role demands dramatic quality, which she delivers commandingly as she conveys conditions from courage to cowardice.

Cleopatra’s consort, the weary Mark Antony, has reached the shared pinnacle of power as a triumvir with Octavius Caesar and Lepidus, but Shakespeare’s Antony reveals feet of clay unexpected from an august personage.  In private, his lassitude and devotion to love life suggest a constitution psychologically unfit for the rigors of the highest leadership.  His judgment fails several times when confronting major decisions.  In response to a challenge, he disastrously agrees to battle Octavius Caesar at sea where Caesar holds an advantage, rather than on land.  The accomplished and versatile Gerald Finlay portrays the conflicted Antony with great emotional precision.  Vocally, he accomplishes what is required, but regrettably, the music and libretto don’t lend more opportunity for vocal bravura of which he is capable.

Alfred Walker as Enobarbus, Amina Edris (lounging and projected)

The action is supported by Adams’ score, which is written in modern fashion, with little interest in traditional melodic lines.  One exception is Cleopatra’s lament, in which a simple but touching tune can be heard played in single notes by one instrument.  However, Adams is a master of orchestration, and here, the score excels.  Often, multitudinous rhythms and phrases come from different instrument groups in quick succession, resulting in complex and driving patterns of sound in the background.  Eun Sun Kim conducts with conviction, maintaining orchestral precision through frequent tempo changes and demanding sequences.

Three consequences result from the composer’s trying to replicate the Bard’s intention in the libretto.  Even with surtitles, Elizabethan English can be difficult to digest, especially when it passes by quickly, so it is easy to miss some of the nuance of the story.  Further, despite its psychological and reflective elements, the text is virtually all conversational, leaving little opportunity for arias and less for ensembles which create more vivid music.  Finally, in Adams’ nod to thoroughness, the opera clocks in at almost 3 1/12 hours, which tests the limits for a modern opera.  What’s more, the action in the last half of Act 2 could be comfortably summarized in a couple of sentences, but it goes on considerably at the very time that fast pacing would be most appreciated by the audience.

Amina Edris as Cleopatra, Gerald Finley as Mark Antony.

One final issue is that the opera is set in the 1930s, offering shades of the Hollywood glamor and fascist depravity of that time.  This conceit does allow for the visual appeal of period newsreels projections and a more varied look in Constance Hoffman’s appealing and fashionable costumery, but the conceptual rationale is unclear.  Notwithstanding these subjective concerns, the work is an interesting addition to American opera and John Adams’ catalog.

“Antony and Cleopatra” with music by John Adams and libretto by John Adams from William Shakespeare and consultation by Elkhanah Pulitzer and Lucia Scheckner, is produced by San Francisco Opera and plays at War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA through October 5, 2022.

The Marriage of Figaro

Maria Natale as Countess Almaviva, Deepa Johnny as Cherubino, Maya Kherani as Susanna. All photos by David Allen.

From the opening Indian folk dance involving courtship ritual, it is clear that this won’t be your father’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”  Indeed, the proceedings are transported to colonial India, which lends itself to another dimension of social interpretation of the text.  Shifting the time and place of operas from their originally defined setting is common, as new vistas unfold on old trails, provoking fresh thought.   Not all of these transfers work well, but Opera San José’s thoughtful transmogrification feels as natural and organic as if it were intended to be there.  It doesn’t hurt that the production exudes charm and entertains from beginning to end.

This 1786 opera was the first of three collaborations by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte, as fine a composer and librettist team as has ever created opera – their other works being “Don Giovanni” and “Cosi Fan Tutte.”  Perhaps more than any other, “Marriage” is considered to be the finest comic opera ever written, if not the finest opera altogether.  Not only are Mozart’s musical powers at their peak, but da Ponte’s distillation of the book produces genuine comedy of many ilks – manners, sight, physical, verbal, mistaken identity, and more.  Further, he creates characters that we care about, and their foibles are well presented in a constantly moving narrative driven by thoughtful lyrics.

Zhengyi Bai as Don Basilio, Matthew Anchel as Dr. Bartolo, Tahanee Aluwihare as Marcellina, Eugene Brancoveanu as Count Almaviva.

The story line is somewhat complicated to summarize as convoluted subplots abound, but the dominant thread is the profound influence of hormones on humanity.  At its center is the droit de seigneur, the right of feudal lords to have sex with their female servants on their wedding night.  Figaro, the valet to Count Almaviva, is engaged to Susanna, the maidservant to the Countess.  Although the Count had previously renounced his right, he is quite taken by Susanna and has decided to re-enact it before she marries.  This causes consternation among many, especially the betrothed and the Countess.  Intrigue and hilarious machinations ensue.  Identities are swapped; refuge is taken in closets and behind skirts; and escape is taken by jumping out of a second-floor window.

One might wonder why Figaro is the title character of the work.  “Marriage” contains five major principals who are important to the plot and share significant air time and highlights.  Efrain Solis is a fine Figaro.  Generally cheerful, he is naïve about the motives of the Count, having no wariness as to why the Count would want the newlyweds to have a bedroom next to his.  Solis’ warm baritone and disposition suit the role well.  He renders Figaro’s arias, such as “Non più andrai,” with conviction but could use more power at the bottom of his range.

(Front) Efrain Solis as Figaro, Eugene Brancoveanu as Count Almaviva, (Left) Jesus Vicente Murillo as Antonio, Melissa Sondhi as Barbarina, Deepa Johnny as Cherubino.

Overmatching Figaro, Susanna possesses smarts and quick thinking, which comes in handy when having to outmaneuver the Count.  The delightful lyric soprano Maya Kherani plays Susanna.  While her tone was good throughout opening night, it seemed that she needed warmup time before her volume hit full stride.  By Act 3, her ethereal duet with Maria Natale as the Countess, “Sull’aria…che soave zeffiretto,” was sublime.   But despite the heavenly sound of the harmony, the countess was proposing a conspiracy to trap the Count in an indiscretion.

Natale displays easy power and a beautiful sound with her instrument.  She also excels in the tender aria “Dove sono” about the sorrow that the Count’s inconstancy has brought her.  Here and elsewhere, the comedy is set aside, and we feel sympathy for the plight of very humanized characters.

Maya Kherani as Susanna, Maria Natale as Countess Almaviva, Deepa Johnny as Cherubino.

The center of attention is the lascivious Count Almaviva.  Eugene Broncoveanu offers an imposing presence in the part, and he has the comic chops to show the silly side of the Count.  But what this artist brings to every role he plays is a house-filling baritone voice that always seems as if it’s produced effortlessly.

The fifth wheel in the opera is the also lustful Cherubino, one of the great trousers roles in opera.  Deepa Johnny is up to the challenge.  While Cherubino acts as a sidekick, he has some of the funniest situations, which Johnny handles with great aplomb.  What’s more, he (Cherubino)/she (Johnny) has two great vocal highlights, the rapid patter “Non so più cosa son” and the ever popular “Voi che sapete.”  Johnny is up to the vocal demands as well with a warm vibrato and big sound.

Maya Kherani as Susanna, Efran Solis as Figaro.

Apart from the fine cast, the other aspects that make the production work exquisitely are its attractiveness and cultural representation.  These successes are at least partially attributable to the fact that OSJ had many cultural resources to call upon, both creative designers and cast.  Set designs reflect the style of Indian interiors with scalloped arches and classic Indian decorative motifs.  Characters are bedecked in colorful saris and shalwar chemises.  And the cherry on top is a lively, colorful, stage-filling Bollywood-style dance as a closing number.

“The Marriage of Figaro” conceived by its creators reveals class differences and their consequences in a Spanish, but rather generic European, setting.  So, why colonial India?  By depicting the Count and Countess as British, new subtexts emerge – relationships between Imperialists and subjects, which in this case also corresponds to white versus brown.

Cast.

An alternative treatment could have been to make the nobles Indian.  Indian royalty did exist, and the social distinctions among Indian castes were profound.  However, Silicon Valley is home to many of South Asian heritage.  They come from different religions and origins (as do the cast and the creative team).  Launching a production sensitive to all of the potential intraregional issues probably would have been a greater challenge than going with the colonial angle.  In any case, this production engages and delights even more than this reviewer’s previous experiences with this great opera.

“The Marriage of Figaro,” with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte is based on the play “La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro” by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais; is produced by Opera San Jose; and plays at the California Theatre, 123 South 1st Street, San José, CA through September 25, 2022.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Austin Durant and cast. All photos by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.

To witness an audience so totally primed and pumped at a city’s very first performance of a live musical is quite remarkable.  After all, “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is not (yet) a cult classic like “Rocky Horror Show.”  And it wasn’t just the din of howling at the first familiar uplifting rock-and-roll song, or the first stirring can-can dance.  Even the shower from a confetti wand and hippy (i.e., the body joint, not the counterculturist) posturing produced paroxysms of enthusiasm from the youth dominated crowd.

And then there was the curmudgeon among the assembled.  Sometimes a theater goer attends a performance expecting to grit his teeth and suffer through mindless eye and ear candy that is a bad fit for his interests.  Indeed, the old guy resisted the first assaults on the senses.  But it wasn’t long before he appreciated why this work won 10 Tony Awards.  Its production values are top flight; the mix of music has broad appeal; the story engages, despite its stock elements; and all categories of performance in this touring show are first rate.  In a word, it sizzles.

Conor Ryan, Courtney Reed.

The appeal of the show draws on the naughty titillation of the fin de siècle cabarets that emerged in the steamy Montmartre district of Paris, where the working set, bohemians, and the demi-monde (the upper class who go slumming), sat side-by-side.  The Moulin Rouge marked the spiritual epicenter, where the can-can was originated and danced by courtesans.  The great artist from that period, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, patronized the scene, and his paintings promoted its seamy but seductive attraction.

With that backdrop, this story tells of a young, penniless songwriting American, Christian, who falls in love with Satine, the star of the show – no surprise there.  Conflict derives from the financial distress that the Moulin Rouge suffers.  Its savior is a rich Duke, but there is an extra price to pay.  He insists that his personal relationship with Satine be part of the package of saving the nightclub.

The entertainment in the show comes from many sources other than the plot.  As a jukebox musical, songs play a vital and nostalgic role.  Sixty or more appear, and they constitute the songbook of our lives, drawing from many decades and many genres including rock, pop, r & b, jazz, and even opera.

Conor Ryan, Gabe Martinez, Andre Ward, Austin Durant.

Some songs are pretty much full renditions and may recur, such as the thematic “Lady Marmalade” (Voulez vous coucher avec moi?), “Your Song,” and “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”.  Others are in medleys, and some are amusingly sampled in quick succession with phrases from songs serving as dialog.  But what makes the music work so well is that the arrangements are appealing and delivered by fantastic voices and a fine orchestra.

Some of the performers are outstanding stylists as well, especially Conor Ryan, as Christian, who rode every emotion convincingly.  Although it was by no means his most significant contribution, he even made a snippet from the super treacly “Sound of Music” have character.  And speaking of characters, his straggly hair deserves special mention as it added heft to his acting by draping down his forehead and being flung back into place in tormented moments.  His love interest, Courtney Reed’s Satine, doesn’t have quite the range of demands placed on her, but she sings in a traditionally beautiful voice.

Cast.

Two other actors stand out.  Austin Durant is the owner of the cabaret, Harold Zidler, outfitted like a ringmaster at a circus.  He plays the flamboyant majordomo with élan but also displays a fine baritone voice as well.  The crippled, bittersweet Toulous-Lautrec is portrayed by André Ward, and it is a shame that we don’t get to hear more of his smoky-mellow bass-baritone voice.

What makes the musical lively, however, is its overall ambiance.  Of course, the club itself is bedecked in cathouse red, highlighted by heart-shaped neon lights with additional dramatic lighting when called for.   It creates a lively staging for the flashing flair of the colorful can-can skirts and other striking costumes.  Other sets offer backdrops for diversity, from the promenades by the fashionable set on the Champs-Élysée to the performance preparations in the dark, monochromatic rehearsal space.

Courtney Reed, David Harris.

And then there’s the dancing.  Movement fills the stage and creates excitement, and there’s plenty of excellent choreography and execution, both in period and modern styles.  It all adds up to contribute to an evening of fine Broadway-style entertainment.

“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” with book by John Logan; based on the movie “Moulin Rouge” written by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce; and with music and lyrics by various composers, is presented by BroadwaySF and plays at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco, CA through November 6, 2022.

this much i know

Anna Ishida, Rajesh Bose. All photos by Kevin Berne.

Some eras are dominated by particular motifs that seem to wash over everything.  So it is that some observers of Jonathan Spector’s brilliant new play on cognitive illusion will unconsciously tap into the allegory of the persistence of Trumpism.  Spector draws on the research of esteemed psychologist Daniel Kahneman who notes how difficult it is for people to process information that doesn’t conform to existing biases, i.e., even though we know that we embrace falsehoods, we reject the truths that are right in front of us.  “this much i know” addresses cognitive illusion along with issues concerning how we make decisions; how we change our minds; and what we are responsible for in a riveting, fast-paced narrative that entertains and provokes to the fullest.

The playwright has cobbled together three seemingly unrelated stories and interlinked them to elucidate his rhapsody on cognitive illusion and responsibility.  Two have factual situations as the kernel of their narratives.  The third may or may not relate to a specific incident known to the playwright, but in any case, it is an exemplar for bad things happening to good people.

Kenny Toll, Anna Ishida.

In one vignette, Harold, a doctoral student in psychology, seeks a dissertation advisor for his proposed research concerning H. G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” in which he has ideas about Wells’ motivation for creating the races of the Eloi and the Morlocks.  Problem is, Harold has been shunned by other faculty as he carries the baggage of having been raised by a prominent white supremacist.  What’s more, this professor, Lukesh, is Indian.

In another sub-plot, Lukesh is married to Natalya.  One day, she suffers a tragedy, and like most men would, Lukesh tries to comfort her the best he knows how.  However, his best misses the mark from Natalya’s perspective, and his behaviors fit a pattern that she resents.  Her reaction creates a barrier in their relationship.

The final component focuses on Svetlana Stalina, Joseph Stalin’s daughter, who defected to the United States during the Cold War.  Natalya’s Russian grandmother, who had been a childhood friend of Svetlana, had died under questionable circumstances during Stalin’s rule.  Natalya wants to find out why someone closely linked to the dictator’s daughter would die suspiciously.

Rajesh Bose, Kenny Toll.

Rather than presenting the stories sequentially, they are artfully interwoven into 60 scenes of everchanging venues.  Tanya Orellana’s clever scenery to represent this variety is abstract – a wall of white squares with compartments that open to reveal everything from tea service to paintings.  The wall also serves as a fine canvas for other visual elements. Cubes, whose designs echo the wall, pass as various furnishings.

Three outstanding actors comprise the cast.  Each plays a central role along with a number of smaller parts.  Rajesh Bose is Lukesh.  He embodies the professor he plays, as he often pontificates to the audience as a self-satisfied and entertaining lecturer to his class.

In his didactic mode, Lukesh illuminates the underlying psychology behind the characters’ thoughts and actions, which brings clarity to the subtext in an organic fashion.  For example, he avows that people are predisposed to accept whatever they hear as truth (which is why falsehoods are so often peddled by unscrupulous politicians who know how sticky lies are).   He also teaches that all persuasion is self-persuasion, and that when one’s beliefs are directly confronted, the normal response is to become defensive rather than receptive. 

Rajesh Bose.

Anna Ishida represents the quietly suffering Natalya, overshadowed and underappreciated, with understated intensity.  She also portrays Svetlana, trampled as well, but in different ways.  Trained by her father to be demonstrative, she is privileged because of her birth, but she feels more like property than a person.  She seeks the independence to speak her own thoughts.

Finally, Kenny Toll conveys the internal conflict that Harold faces with controlled animation.  He also plays several, often smiling and ebullient Russian men with thick accents as counterparts to the women.  As Harold, he bears resentment that the sins of his father devolve upon him, as he begins to question the beliefs that he was raised with.  It is mostly through this character that the playwright raises the issues of complicity, agency, and change.

The crux is this. To what extent or until what point in life can a person be held responsible for beliefs and actions that may later be repudiated?  For those who were raised in an enlightened environment, there may not be sufficient appreciation of the consternation one faces when abandoning the accepted wisdom and social network of their upbringing. 

Anna Ishida.

Kudos to Director Josh Costello for the masterful orchestration of the many moving parts of this complex production.  It is remarkable that a world premiere night could go off so smoothly with such a multitude of ways it could go wrong.  Appreciation also goes to the whole creative team, including Lighting Designer Jeff Rowlings, Sound Designer James Ard, and Projection Designer Maxx Kurzunski.  The latter’s videos of picture portraits of characters who speak like drop-chin marionettes add a little extra levity to the proceedings.  Of course, the ultimate admiration is for Jonathan Spector’s script which is a commanding amalgam of intense instruction and captivating entertainment.

“this much i know,” a world premiere written by Jonathan Spector, is produced by Aurora Theatre Company and plays on their stage at 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA through October 2, 2022.