Playhouse West back, Christenings a potentially excellent comedy, Moliere's Imaginary Invalid is beyond therapy at ACT

Lois Grandi and Playhouse West celebrate new venue in Walnut Creek!

Lois Grandi’s Playhouse West is back in Walnut Creek celebrating its return with a limited engagement revival of key musical numbers from the many musicals the company has produced over the past 10 years in “Our Musical Legacy”, playing through this coming weekend.

In an effort to introduce audiences to a newly re-invented theatrical venue at 1345 Locust Street, between Cypress and Mt. Diablo Boulevard., Lois Grandi has invited everybody to come to this fun-filled upbeat musical revival and get acquainted with the very comfortable, totally reconfigured studio/theatre.

When Grandi was forced to cut short her previous season at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, she vowed she would be back, as soon as she could find a space that would work for patrons, in a price range that she could afford. It turned out that Jan Zimmerman, her set designer, had a few ideas about re-configuring the original studio where Grandi began her teaching academy and presented her first public theatrical productions. The ideas were put to paper, the renewal project was soon launched and completed, and many of Grandi’s loyal followers joined her last week at the official Gala Opening of the New Playhouse West.

Acclaimed New York Director/Producer, Adam Fitzgerald, joins Playhouse West Team

With a new Managing Artistic Director, Adam Fitzgerald by her side, the Grandi team delivered a thoroughly delightful show to the rousing applause of audience members and theatre critics alike. Former cast members Pamela Khoury, Douglas Giorgis, Laurie Kinsella, Morgan Mackay, Roland Schrivner, Joy Sherratt, and even Lois Grandi herself, returned to perform in numbers from previous award winning shows. Many memories were rekindled with songs such as “I’m Going To Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair”, “Surrey with a Fringe on Top”, “Getting Married Today”, “Send in the Clowns”, and “It’s Never Too Late” to name a few, providing a richly rewarding mix of music that ranges from outrageous mirth to heart-felt melancholy.

This highly entertaining show delivers truly outstanding choreography by Lois Grandi, outstanding accompaniment and musical direction by Brandon Adams, and a cast of performers that are all perfectionists, giving what has to be much more than 100% in each and every effort.

New Managing Artistic Director, Adam Fitzgerald (a New York producing director, recently transplanted to Walnut Creek by Lois Grandi), announced the new season, beginning with “The Brute and Other Farces” by Anton Chekhov, “Defiance”, by John Patrick; “In This House” by Sarah Schlesinger, Mike Reid and Jonathan Bernstein and “The Girl in the Goldfish Bowl” by Morris Panych which will bring their 2007-2008 season to a close.

This show plays this coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8p.m., with the closing performance on Sunday at 2 p.m. on the 24th. Tickets are a very reasonable $35 each and you may call for tickets (925) 942-0300 or purchase tickets at the door prior to the performance. The Theatre is located at 1345 Locust Street, next door to Peet’s Coffee.

Galatean Players Ensemble launches an entertaining new comedy with great promise but decidedly in need of a little trimming here and there!

Also, locally, Galatean Players Ensemble Theatre is presenting “Christenings”, a new play and the third in the Trilogy of Life Rituals series, by Laura Means-Berchdorf, in the Schoolhouse Cultural Center in Pleasant Hill.

In 2004, Eulogy, the first play in this trilogy by Means-Berchdorf, brought rave reviews and a Shelly Award nomination for its combined serious and comedic explorations of the experiences that we all have had, or will have, when a friend or loved one departs this world, and when friends and family gather to celebrate that occasion.

The second play in the trilogy, Vows, allowed us to see and examine again in one play, vignettes of the many life affirming values and variables attested to when people make commitments in life - - formal!

The third in this series, Christenings, pokes a little fun at the playfulness, pageantry and poetry involved in the process of becoming parents and the challenges encountered in “Primal Parenting 101”, that short course about becoming a parent and surviving parenting that everybody must have signed up for - - right?

Once again in an eclectic series of scenes from everyday life, couples share with us the experiences of that first moment when our partner shares with us the “life altering” announcement that “ - - we are pregnant!” I’m sure that most of us have been there at one time or another in our lives and the experience was very personal, very special, and/or very frightening to us when it happened.

“Christenings” goes on to share what happens in the next series of scenes in life, from announcement, to the baby shower, to the natural birthing class, to the delivery, to the name selection process, to some of life’s more poignant, shattering moments and experiences. There is no plot, or specific story line, just a compilation of life’s precious and not so precious moments, evolving from pregnancy and birth.

Over all, this play is another “work in process”, full of clever ideas and fun-filled stories, crafted by an articulate and inspired writer. It is much too long however, and in many scenes the actors need to articulate more clearly as some of the thought-provoking lines were muffled, lost, or dropped in translation. The lines we “got” were very funny, but the lines we missed, oh well, who knows. Some things just didn’t translate very well to me, some things I didn’t really appreciate, but for the most part, it is a very enjoyable show.

The cast of 20 actors provides a lot of opportunities for a lot of different characters to emerge to share these little stories. This theatre company has been long on providing opportunities for new writers, actors and directors to experience life upon the “wicked” stage. This production’s selection of highly experienced, somewhat experienced and newly emerging acting talents is very good. This is a fun evening of community theatre entertainment that is well worth the trip to Pleasant Hill.

“Christenings” plays Thursdays at 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., and on Sundays at 2:30 p.m., now through Saturday, June 30th in the Schoolhouse Cultural Center (also known as the Onstage Theatrea) at 2030 Oak Park Boulevard (at Pleasant Hill Road) in Pleasant Hill. You may call (925) 676-5705 for ticket and reservation information or visit the Galatean Players website at . Tickets range between $12 (seniors and students) and $15 dollars, except on Bargain Priced Thursdays, when all tickets cost $7.

“The Imaginary Invalid” is a comic triumph by ACT in San Francisco.

American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco is presenting a very well crafted, very funny interpretation of Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid” which opened this past week. Adapted by Constance Congdon and directed by Ron Lagomarchino, this tightly constructed version is very focused, articulate and funny.

This was the last of Moliere’s (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) plays, an almost autobiographical tale of Moliere’s disdain for practitioners of the medical profession (such as it was in the 17th century) at that time. Moliere is widely considered the greatest of all French comedy writers.

His mother died when he was only 10 years old (she had six children in six and one half years) . He had five siblings, a father who became an upholsterer to the King, and a grandfather who took him to the theatre a great deal. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1641. In 1643 he renounced the staid lifestyle of a barrister, took up the stage name of Moliere and joined nine other actors to form the Illustre-Theatre.

Three of the members of this new company were former members of the famous, well established Bejart theatrical family. In 1658 Moliere’s troupe presented a program for the King which included his comedy, Le Docteur Amoureux (The Amorous Doctor) which won the king’s favor and eventually, his sponsorship. From that point on, he wrote success after success, all poking fun at the wealthy and the aristocracy, and the professions of the day. His plays are in great demand, playing constantly all over the world, plays such as Tartuffe, The Miser, The Misanthrope, The Doctor in Spite of Himself, and The Learned Ladies, to mention a but a few.

On February 17, 1673 at age 51, Moliere collapsed backstage while performing in the lead role of Argan in The Imaginary Invalid. He was dealing with a persistent cough caused by advanced tuberculosis, which he had cleverly worked into this production, when the strain on his health killed him. He had refused to take any medication prescribed by a doctor.

This delightfully funny farce is about a very wealthy hypochondriac, Argan (John Apicella), who is so obsessed with his perceived ill health that he “lives” to take prescriptions and endure enemas ordered by his doctor.

He gets tired of constantly paying for physicians and pharmacists services and decides that he should marry his beautiful daughter, Angilique (Allison Jean White), to a young man who is about to be initiated as a doctor, Claude de Aria (rhymes with diarrhea), who is the son of Argan’s own doctor, Doctor Purgeon (Steven Anthony Jones). At the same time, Angilique has fallen hopelessly in love with Cleante (Jud Williford) whom she had recently met at the theater.

Argan is resolute that his daughter should marry the young soon-to-be doctor, de Aria, so that he would always have free medical advice in the family. Argan’s young, beautiful and devious second wife, Beline (Rene Augesen), is plotting ways to get her husband’s fortune while making eyes and romantic overtures to a notary, Monsieure Bonnefoi (Anthony Fusco), who will help her prepare the necessary documents to take control over her husband’s wealth. The key character is the servant-maid, Toinette (Nancy Dussault) who is bound and determined to match up the daughter with the man she loves, and at the same time, expose and foil the bad guys.

“The Imaginary Invalid” is Moliere at his best, a very funny show, an incredible farce, and an evening of theatre that will be long remembered. All of the acting is terrific, delivering a very funny comedy in great fashion.

The off-kilter set, designed by Erik Flatmo is perfectly in tune with the off-kilter characters in this tale. The lighting, especially that which introduces the evil Beline upon her every entry, is absolutely perfect. The costumes are equally important to the success of this production as well.

The story takes place in 17th century Paris. This is simply a very, very excellent production, well worthy of your trip into San Francisco to the ACT theatre at 415 Geary Street, between Mason and Taylor Streets.

Call (415) 749-2228 or visit online at to purchase tickets or garner more information. “The Imaginary Invalid” plays Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., closing on July 8th. Tickets range between $17.50 and $81.50, depending upon the performance.