Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, every where we look!

From some dirty rotten rip-off-artists in American Musical Theater’s delightfully funny musical comedy, entitled, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, to some provocative assumptions in ACT’s current production of the controversial and thought-provoking drama, Blackbird, this week’s theatrical prospects will keep you riveted to your seat, whichever you choose.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels alive and well, but on a short leash in San Jose!

San Jose plays host to some truly terrific professional touring shows and this fun-filled musical has to be one of the best evenings of pure fun and entertainment since Abba’s Momma Mia. The American Musical Theatre’s beautiful entertainment venue in the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts is a true South Bay jewel. It only takes about 40 to 50 minutes to drive there from Walnut Creek and there is plenty of great parking nearby. I think it is actually easier and less expensive to drive to San Jose than it is driving into San Francisco to see live theatre.

The musical was spawned by a couple of movies, first the David Niven and Marlon Brando version released as “Bedtime Story” in 1963. Then, in 1988, Steve Martin and Michael Caine reintroduced the “scoundrels” from the “Bedtime Story” as a pair of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, one the cool British Caine, and the other a crass American, Martin, both engaging in a marathon fleecing of women on the French Riviera.

Then in 2005, along came the modern musical version utilizing Jeffrey Lane’s book, with musical adaptation by composer-lyricist David Yazbek, directed by Jack O’Brien and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell and a new hit rolled down the “Great White Way” starring the marvelous talents of John Lithgow (a Monty Python founder) as Lawrence and Norbert Leo Butz as Freddy. The show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and came away with one, for lead actor, Norbert Leo Butz as Freddy.

This touring production may be slightly less showy than the Broadway version, but several people that I spoke with, who saw the opening production in January of 2005 at the Imperial Theatre on East 45th in New York, said that they could hardly tell the difference.

Tom Hewitt plays the debonair French con man, Lawrence Jameson and D.B. Bonds plays his less-than-eloquent, incredulously crass counterpart, Freddy Benson.

The small-time crook named Benson swindles women by waking their compassion with fabricated stories about his grandmother's failing health. Jameson on the other hand is suave and sophisticated, a con artist who also makes his living by sweet-talking rich ladies out of their money to support his princely and patriotic projects, on a much grander scale.

After a fateful meeting on a train, the two con-men unsuccessfully attempt to work together, discovering that the small French town in which the con takes place, just isn't big enough for the two of them. Rather than work together, they make a bet with each other , to determine who is the better con-man, to decide which (because of his cunning and resourcefulness) deserves to continue his entrepreneurial scams in this territory. The first one to extract $50,000 from a young and beautiful heiress, Christine Colegate (played by Laura Marie Duncan), an apparently naïve female target, wins the bet, and the other must leave town! A hilarious battle of wits and cons ensues, bringing out the best and worst in each man, along with a brilliantly conceived and totally unexpected twist that will keep audiences laughing and guessing to the end!

Caught up in this whirling, swirling, money extracting whirligig of scams, we encounter a number of delightful characters, some, like Muriel Eubanks (played by Hollis Resnik), a naïve and sublime believer in very shallow characters. Another outrageous character, Jolene Oaks (played by Paige Pardy), is perfectly content to simply hog-tie her man and have him drug back to her Daddy’s little ranch in Texas. Pull into the mix a policeman on the take, Andre Thibault (Drew McVety), and you find that there are truly a lot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in the world, who will provide you with some good clean fun.

This intense, upbeat, and delightfully infectious comedy is rich in clever and memorable music and outstanding choreography. This is one musical I can highly recommend, one I will certainly go back to see again and again.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has a very short San Jose run and plays Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., with Saturday performances at both 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday performances at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., closing on Sunday, May 13th! Call American Musical Theatre at (888) 455-SHOW (7469) or call (408) 453-7108, for tickets and reservations or visit their website at www.amtsj.org for more information. Ticket prices range between $13.75 and $73 each. The Theatre is located at 255 Almaden Boulevard in San Jose.

Scott’s Seafood Restaurant is practically across the street at 185 Park Avenue (a great place to have dinner before the show) and their adjacent garage is particularly convenient and very reasonable.

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night – take these sunken eyes and learn to see, all your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free, blackbird fly, blackbird fly - - -!”

American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco is currently presenting David Harrower’s Blackbird, a riveting play that allows us to witness the very private and gut-wrenching attempt by two individuals to confront head-on and make sense out of a criminal event that occurred more than a dozen years earlier. Because of the controversial, mature, graphic, and sexual nature of the material explored in this play, it is strongly suggested that admission be restricted to those 16 years of age and older.

A no-holds barred confrontation takes place in the lunch room of an industrial warehouse as a young woman and a mature man, face, for the first time in over a dozen years, the sexual events that took place between them years earlier. She was a precocious12 year old and he was a man nearly three times her age. This event sent the man to prison and the plunged the girl into a dark abyss of rejection and self-incrimination. Was it lust, or love, or something far more sinister? Will this confrontation ferret out the truth or will it reinforce the lies, distortions, and recriminations? Will it bring resolution or redemption or will it rekindle the anger, frustration, and agonies of events that took place on that fateful night?

The play asks many questions, such as why we are so determined to “get at the truth”, when the truth is always so elusive. Will our examination of this story allow us to be more open minded and understanding and willing to hear both sides of similar events with less prejudice?

Ray (Steven Culp) has struggled over the years to leave the events of that night behind him. He has changed his name, moved to a different area far away from where the event occurred, and established new relationships.

Una (Jessi Campbell) has moved on as well, but the passage of time has not been so kind to her. Forced by her parents to continue to live in the same area, Una has endured ridicule and recrimination and has continued to define her rage and frustration in an ever-darkening prison, an ever-expanding rebellion that has led her into deeper self-destructive behavior.

When she accidentally discovers the current employment location of the man, that she as a child had sex with, she comes to his place of employment to confront him, to get some long festering questions answered. She needs to vent her anger, to ask him face to face why he left her, to hear from his own lips what events actually transpired that reshaped the events of that evening. She must determine in her own mind if he was a man who truly had loved her, as he said he did, or was he, as so many have chided her, simply a pedophile who selected her as a target.

When the play is over, the play is not over, not in our own minds. For days following the production, I am still asking myself about it, about the nature of truth, the ability of people to distort the truth and to mold it to their own purpose. How sad it is that there is no magic truth serum that one can employ at will to elicit the “whole truth and nothing but the truth”, when one desperately needs “the truth.”

The acting is superb, the production is “riveting”, to say the least. There is one more actress, Portia Juliette, a young lady who makes a brief but stunning appearance.

Blackbird continues Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m, now through Sunday, May 27th. Tickets range in price between $17.50 and $81.50 each. To purchase tickets, call or visit ACT Ticket Services at 405 Geary Street (at Mason) or call (415) 749-2228 or purchase tickets on line at www.act-sf.org . The American Conservatory Theatre is located at 415 Geary Street in San Francisco. My wife and I generally take Bay Area Rapid Transit into the Powell Street Station and walk to the theatre.