Three great shows, from Alameda to Walnut Creek

Three completely delightful plays are available for your enjoyment this week, with two one act plays being presented by the Act Now! Theatre in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek and a world class comedy in Alameda’s Alterena Theatre, with “The Foreigner”, beckoning for your full attention.

“Prisoners of Love”, Compelling and Captivating in Walnut Creek!

Local actor and playwright Joel Roster entered Contra Costa Times Theatre Columnist Pat Craig’s playwriting contest last year and was selected by Pat Craig as its winner. This production is an absolutely first rate professional level production and an excellent, thought-provoking play. “Prisoners of Love” seems a little misleading until you experience the full import of the play as it is not just about “being in love”, but about the consequences to an entire family of those falling into and out of love, and/or never finding that elusive experience.

The story takes place over one day in the life of seven family members, and provides a very believable scenario that moves very quickly and is bound to connect very personally with a lot of people. I don’t want to spoil the effect of this brilliantly written play by telling you what to expect. That would be a travesty. More over, it would be a travesty if you do not go and see it, because it is a real gem. I find it hard to believe that a new play can come across and resonate so well, a play that I found extremely mature for a young, new playwright.

The direction and acting is superlative. Director Lynne Elizondo has gathered a cast of professional and semi-professional actors that bring the full range of emotions to this play that it deserves. Sally Hogarty and Wayne McRice portray family patriarchs Midge and Frank; Dennis Markham and Emily Garcia portray a romantically involved couple, Hal and Lisa; Adam Winship plays the grandson; Ann Kendrick plays the grandmother and Jeanne Perasso plays the unmarried daughter (Gail) and Midge’s sister.

Joel Roster is a local actor upon whom I have showered accolades on several occasions. This is a young man who is worthy of your support and interest. I feel we have a definite rising star here and I want you to experience his work while it is still local, because I believe he is definitely going places in the entertainment business and you will be glad you can say “I knew him – when!”

Having a bad dream? No - - - just an “Actor’s Nightmare”

The second one act play is a comedic nightmare written by Christopher Durang, entitled “The Actor’s Nightmare”, and that is exactly what it is about. Many of us have had dreams that stay with us when we wake up and we find ourselves asking how did our minds ever conjure up this or that “Dream Scenario”.

This is a delightful and absolutely wacko dream of an actor who arrives at a theatre that he is not familiar with, being told that the lead actor is suddenly unable to go on in this evening’s performance and the “dream” actor has been told he is the understudy and is shoved on stage. To make matters worse, he has no idea what play he is performing in until he gets onstage and discovers he is playing George in Noel Coward’s Private Lives, but he is dressed as Hamlet. To make matters worse, he has never been in this play before, he has never rehearsed his respective lines and he has no idea what he is doing in this play. As in a real dream, nothing makes sense, actors come and go, some lines make absolutely no sense (while some do) and the bewildered actor cries for “line” after “line” and assistance from a household maid who delivers an occasional line to him in the Coward play. Then, just as suddenly as he found himself thrust in the middle of “Private Lives, he finds the actors changing and now he is on the same stage playing the character of Hamlet, crying out nonsensical lines with an occasional “Alas poor yorick! - -“ while trying to grasp some sense of who he really is, what play he is in and why they are plays that he has never been a part of. It is truly “The Actor’s Nightmare” and it is outrageously funny.

The excellent cast includes Julie Kennedy as Meg; Beth Chastain as Sarah; Heidi Appe as Dame Ellen Terry, and Dean Creighton as Henry Irving. The lead character, the confused actor, George Spelvin, is played in absolutely excellent fashion by Ryan Terry. He is pluperfect, absolutely superb in his animated and confused performance. Director Eddie Peabody has done a good job bringing this comedy to full fruition.

Both of these plays, Prisoners of Love and The Actor’s Nightmare, play Fridays and Saturdays at 8:15 p.m., and at 2:15 p.m., on Sunday afternoons, now through September 30th in the Knight’s Stage III theater, on the ground floor of the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. Call 943-7469 (SHOW) for ticket and reservation information of visit their website at www.ACTNowTheatre.Org for more information on upcoming show.

“The Foreigner” - - Outrageous and terrific comedy in Alameda!

If you have never seen the play, “The Foreigner”, and you enjoy outstanding comedy, brilliantly conceived and written and portrayed, then now is the time to jump in the jalopy and make the short drive to Alameda, to the longest active theatre in the Bay Area, the venerable Altarena Playhouse, to see what I feel is the best production of this play that I have ever seen! I have enjoyed this play at least three or more times over the past 20 years and I have always loved it. It is a simple concept that tackles some really big issues involving prejudice as respects foreigners combined with using one’s love to promote one’s self interests above and beyond that love relationship. Author Larry Shue also wrote “The Nerd” which has become another frequently done and much loved comedy to a host of his followers. Shue died at a very young age, so what we’ve got now from him is all we are ever going to get. I love good comedy that makes me think and takes life’s anomalies and makes us really examine our own conscience through the medium of comedy.

The Foreigner is a very funny story about a British soldier, “Froggy” LeSueur, (a specialist in his field of pyrotechnics and explosives) who comes to America each year as a guest speaker at a military training forum. On this occasion, he has brought a buddy by the name of Charlie Baker with him from England, as his technical assistant or something like that. The real reason is to get Charlie out of England and away from a bad relationship back home that has left him very depressed. Froggy always stays at Betty Meek’s fishing lodge in Tilghman County, Georgia. He has become good friends with the proprietor, the widow Meeks, and feels he can leave his friend Charlie in her care to rest and relax while he is off doing his military duty. Unfortunately, Charlie is so nervous and so distraught, he doesn’t feel secure in having to talk with, or deal with any of the guests of the lodge or anyone that he doesn’t know. In order to defuse the situation, “Froggy” tells Charlie that he will “fix it” so that Charlie will not have to talk with anyone. “Froggy” accomplishes this by telling the widow that his friend is a foreigner who doesn’t speak or understand English, then leaves the lodge for several days, leaving his friend to fend for himself.

A delightful series of events take place while Charlie pretends to be “the fly on the wall” with guests who don’t believe he understands a word they are saying. He becomes privy to a lot of very personal information and deceitful activities that he has fun with, but at the same time scares the daylights out of him.

Charlie is played to perfection by one of my favorite actors, Tim Beagley, who is accompanied by a cast that is so good, they are almost beyond my poor vocabulary to describe. This outstanding cast includes Johathan Ferro; Laura Fanning; Robin Dunn; Laura Pedersen-Schultz: Jamie Olsen, and last but not least a high school student by the name of Will Irons, who plays the “not too bright” Ellard Simms with a perfection, a passion, and a purpose that sets him apart!

Director Richard Robert Bunker has delivered the very best in a fast moving and fun-filled, terrific play. If I could give five stars out of five stars for good theater, this show would get it.
The costumes, lighting, and set design are definitely worth kudos for outstanding concept and follow through, by Janice Stephenson, Frederick Chacon, Charlie Wilton and Michelle Silva, to mention a few of the excellent crew.

I do not want to give away any more of the plot’s details, just enough to peak your interest. I’m sure that if you go and see this show, you are going to love it and be glad you made the little drive to Alameda. The tickets are very reasonable at $12 to $15 each. Take the freeway West into Oakland, south on 880 (the Nimitz Freeway) to the High Street off ramp, and follow High Street West to 1409 High Street. There is plenty of parking on the nearby residential streets (in a very safe neighborhood in Alameda). Call (510) 523-1553 for reservations and additional information. You may also visit their web-site at for additional information.
The Foreigner plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm with Sunday performances at 2 p.m. in the Alterena Playhouse, now through October 1st.