Ragtime, Valentine and Comedy time – Three superb shows!

This week’s reviews provide you with three superb shows to wet your entertainment appetite. Center Repertory Company in Walnut Creek has brought back the highly popular one- woman show, “Shirley Valentine”, starring Kerri Shawn. California Shakespeare Theatre in Orinda proves that something old can provide great griss for something new with their World Premier of Amy Freed’s outrageously funny and brilliantly written “Restoration Comedy”. Last, but not least, the exciting Woodminster Summer Musical series opens its 40th season with a splendid turn of the century musical and historical journey stirring with racial conflict, with their production of “Ragtime, The Musical”.

Shirley Valentine - Where are you? Center Repertory Company knows the answer!

Kerri Shawn is “Double-Fab and Mega-Brill” in her portrayal of Shirley Bradshaw, a suppressed Manchester housewife, reborn on the Mediterranean sands of Corfu, as Shirley Valentine, a woman in love with the “idea of living”. What is life without living? Why is it that marriage starts off with so much promise and often degenerates into just so much strife and domestic ritual, boring and unfulfilling? Shirley married Joe and they settled down into a typical working-class lifestyle in their little Manchester home. As the years have passed, the children have grown and life and living has slipped quietly past. As the show opens we meet Shirley (now in her early 50’s) as she begins to prepare her husband’s ritualistic Thursday dinner of chips and steak. Only this Thursday will be different, as the chips and steak has become chips and eggs, due to Shirley’s rebellion and a vegetarian dog.

The audience becomes the “walls” of Shirley’s home that have become Shirley’s daily conversation companion, the “friend” that Shirley tells her troubles and fears and frustrations to. “Marriage is like the Middle East - - There’s no solution there - -“, she confides. Why is it that her life has become a daily routine that she dare not alter, not so much as substituting eggs for steak in her husband’s dinner, for fear of suffering the wrath and indignation of her once loving husband. The entire show is rich with comic satire and social commentary as Shirley comments on life in the slow lane. “Sex is like the discount store - - just a lot of pushing and shoving and you come out with very little in the end - -“, she confides with her friend, “The Wall”. She tells us about her life as Shirley Valentine, before she became Mrs. Joe Bradley, and she tells us about her life since the “horizontal acquisition”. She asks the wall (and the audience, of course), “Where did Shirley Valentine go, when did it happen, when did Shirley Valentine become just another name on the “missing person’s list”?

At the same time, we learn that a “feminist” girl friend has invited Shirley to join her on a two week (fortnight) journey to a Greek Island, and has even bought Shirley’s tickets. Will Shirley be willing to risk the potential of imprisonment in a perpetual purgatory brought on by her husband’s wrath if she agrees to go? “Can she, will she”, and if she does, what will happen on the sands of Corfu, what will happen in the little house in Manchester?

This is without a doubt one of the funniest, most uplifting and at the same time, poignant plays that you will encounter. Kerri Shawn is a superb actress who has portrayed many characters, but never better than in this portrayal of the “soon to be liberated woman, Shirley Valentine”.
Shirley Valentine plays Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Sunday, July 16th and Tuesday July 25th, a Sunday evening performance at 7:30 p.m. on July 23rd, closing on Saturday, July 29th.

The Center Repertory Company production will be performed in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. Call the ticket office at 943-SHOW (7469) for ticket information and reservations, or you can visit their web-site at www.dlrca.org for additional information.

Vice and Virtue collide in California Shakespeare Theatre's Brilliantly written and produced "Restoration Comedy"

Director Sharon Ott has returned to the Bay Area to direct something old and something new in Amy Freed’s delightful new work, “Restoration Comedy”, in California Shakespeare Theater’s beautiful outdoor amphitheater in the Orinda hills. Ott, the former artistic director of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre Company for 13 years and artistic director of the Seattle Repertory Theatre more recently, struck up a personal friendship and working relationship with Stanford instructor, Amy Freed, while working in Seattle. California Shakespeare Theatre has ventured into new territory by producing their first ever premier of a brand new play, an event that I believe will be a total success.

Amy Freed has borrowed from “restoration period” playwrights John Vanbrugh and Colley Cibber in creating this lustful look at (as Freed explains it) “the Restoration Era’s unsentimental willingness to take on human nature and its appetites.”

“Restoration Comedy” is an “adult” play about the lascivious propensity of men and women and the changing nature and even the artifice of “virtue”. Typical of plays written during the Restoration Era (a theatrical restoration period following the rejection of the puritanical government and ideals by England’s Oliver Cromwell), this play explores one man’s insatiable appetite for sexual diversity and his wife’s ardent pursuit of “the virtuous relationship”.

The names of the characters practically define their characters, with Mr. Loveless (played by Elijah Alexander) as the errant husband; Amanda (Caralyn Kozlowski), as the wronged wife; Mr. Worthy (Kaleo Griffith) as an interested male friend of Mr. Loveless, who falls in love with the married woman (Amanda); Narcissa and Fistula, respectively, the empty headed stereotypical blond “nit” and the country maid in bondage to a chastity belt (played outrageously by Bhama Roget), as four of the leading characters. In addition, the supporting roles of Sir Novelty Fashion and Lord Foppington (by Danny Scheie); Hilaria and the Nurse (by Sharon Lockwood); a plethora of other supporting characters, far too many to name, were played brilliantly by Ron Campbell; another lovely lady of interest to Mr. Loveless, Berinthia (played by Marcia Pizzo); the younger brother of Sir Novelty Fashion, Young Fashion, is played by Alex Alioto; and supported by his servant, Lory, played by Rowan Brooks.

You will enjoy discovering how Amanda Loveless remains loveless no longer, how Mr. Loveless’ cad “come-uppance” takes on new meaning, and how “fashion” was created by its author, Sir Novelty Fashion. You will find pulchritude and impropriety and lasciviousness aplenty in this delightful “Restoration Comedy”.

The casting is simply perfect, a stellar cast that bring together an experience unique, exciting and richly rewarding in every detail. I cannot begin to fully describe the superlative acting delivered by this cast as there just is not enough space to do each actor justice. The simplistic set and exquisite costumes by Hugh Landwehr and Anna R. Oliver, respectively, bring a superbly perceived production to exotic fruition. Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone has taken a big risk and has come away with a winning hand.

“Restoration Comedy” plays Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 4 p.m. (with one performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 29th), and closing on July 30th. All performances are held in the Bruns Amphitheatre, at 100 Gateway Blvd.. just East of the Caldecott Tunnel on highway 24, West of the Orinda offramp. There is free shuttle service from the Orinda Bart station and free parking adjacent to the theater. Bring something to eat and drink before the show as there is a beautiful park and picnic setting in which the theatre facility is located. Call (510) 549-9666 for tickets and reservations or visit the web-site at www.calshakes.org for additional information. Be sure to bring warm wraps in case it gets chilly!

Woodminster Theatre's "Ragtime, the Musical" opens their 40th season!

The Oakland hills are alive with the sound of exciting music as the beautiful Woodminster Amphitheater in Joaquin Miller Park is presenting the epic tale of life and strife in America at the turn of the Century for white middle and upper class, Negro, and emigrant societies, in “Ragtime, the Musical”.

Director Joel Schlader has crafted a heartwarming and thought-provoking experience with an outstanding cast of artists, both singing and dancing talents, in Terrence McNally, Lynn Aherns and Stepehn Flaherty’s coherent tale of social evolution in America at the beginning of the 20th Century.

This epic story evolves around the seemingly dissimilar lives of three families and ultimate connectivity through their ambitions, diversities and social divisions all taking place in New York City. An upper-class, Caucasian family, take a young black woman, Sarah, and her illegitimate child into their home and an emotional and social evolution is set in motion as circumstances take control of their lives. The father of the child, Colehouse Walker, a black professional piano player from Harlem, seeks to find and marry Sarah and become a true father to their child, but becomes entangled in a fight for his moral and ethical rights against racial bigots and becomes a national figurehead for black justice.

A Jewish emigrant, Tateh, becomes an ancillary part of the co-mingling of this diverse ethnic group as his child and the child of the upper-class white family become friends. His story of finding and creating for himself the American dream becomes part and parcel of the American tale that is the fiber of this musical, historical event.

The show is definitely about differences, race, religion, love, politics, compassion, loneliness and hate. Some characters are stereotypes, and the show has a tendency to take itself a shade too seriously, but it has great dignity and a most wonderful score, for which Stephen Flaherty is responsible and deserves huge applause.

The poetic simplicity of the music, especially the “Ragtime” melodies, are very rewarding. The voices of the lead singers, Lawrence Beamen (as Coalhouse Walker), Joni DeGagriele (Mother), Noel Anthony (the Brother), Robert Morehead (the Father) and Angela Dean-Baham (Sarah) are truly exquisite. Stu Klitsner is terrific as the Grandfather and Henry Ford, as is Todd Schlader as the racial bigot, Willie Conklin! Michale Kostroff is very, very good as the Jewish emigrant turned successful American Entrepreneur. There are 61 actors in this production, the largest ever for this company!

“Ragtime, the Musical” plays only one more week with performances at 8 p.m. on this coming Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, closing on the 16th. Call (510) 531-9597 for tickets and reservation or visit their web-site at www.woodminster.com for more information. This is the 40th anniversary of the Woodminster Theatre, located at 3300 Joaquine Miller Road in the Oakland Hills. The theatre can be come very cool in the evening so be sure to bring warm wraps in case the fog moves in. Parking in the park is very reasonable at $4 per vehicle.