DAE does superb musical review at Que in Concord, Berkeley Rep does Argonautika!

“A Little Help From Our Friends”, a short run, but a lot of fun!

Music sooths the angry beast, music sets the mood for feasts and music sets our leisure time to something mellow and quite sublime. First in my entertainment reviews this week, I encourage you to take a little trip to downtown Concord to a little cabaret theatre called “Que”, to listen to a delightful evening of musical review.

Back in the late 70’s, I happened across a theatrical production company in the Baldwin Park, in a little 89 seat theatre called Parkside Playhouse. It was there that I first heard the name, Scott Fryer. I don’t remember now what show I saw, I only remember that I enjoyed the remarkable little theatre company and the fact that they could put on such a great show in this little tiny venue. That company was called the Diablo Actor’s Ensemble.

In time, that company’s name disappeared as its artistic guiding light, Scott Fryer, moved on to direct productions at the Willows Theatre, the Stage II, The Center Repertory Theatre Company, Contra Costa Musical Theatre, The Town Hall Theatre Company, The Crossroads Theatre Company, and many, many more.

Scott decided that it was time to reform the Diablo Actors Ensemble (DAE) and once again, an old voice is heard anew with the emergence this past week of a musical review entitled, “A Little Help From Our Friends”. And what a grand group of friends Scott has gathered to give you, his audience, a superb evening of musical memories, including eight superb professional level talents. I’m sure you will recognize the following singing talents who I have reviewed and praised many times in my tour of duty: Randy Anger, Tielle Baker Hough (the Hough surname is new!), Alan Cameron, Terry Darcy D’Emidio, Jessica Fisher, John and Marcia Hetzler, and Nephi Speer.

This delightful review includes a lot of memorable tunes, old and new, upbeat and blue, such as on “A Wonderful Day Like Today”, “As Long As He Needs Me”, “Mountain Greenery”, “Man of La Mancha”, “Send In The Clowns”, “I Could Have Danced All Night”, and many, many more. Fun songs, poignant songs, songs from long ago and songs penned in recent years, but all songs that will send you home upbeat and happy that you dropped by! Musical Director Karl Pister is an absolutely remarkable piano accompanist. His exquisite phrasing and emotional sensitivity add real class to the artistic efforts of each vocalist.

This theatrical venue, Que Productions, located at 1835 Colfax Street in Concord, is somewhat new to my readers as I have only reviewed a couple of plays by Jon Butterfield’s “Butterfield Eight” Theatrical Company in this facility.

This is a cabaret style theatre that generally has little café tables and chairs, but the tables have been replace in this instance by stack chairs to accommodate larger crowds. The theatre has a beer and wine license which means you can imbibe a niece glass of wine or a beer or two, while sitting back and taking in the dulcet tones of some pretty fantastic singers. “A Little Help From Our Friends” continues Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through November 17th, this coming Saturday. The theatre is located just about a block east of Todos Santos Park in downtown Concord where there are some great little restaurants, cantinas and coffee shops. For more information or ticket reservations, call 482-5110 or visit their web site at http://www.diabloactors.com/ . Great Music, Great Fun! Tickets are a very reasonable $25 each. The seats seemed to be a bit hard, so I would suggest that you bring a tush cushion for greater enjoyment, if your derriere is a bit spare, like mine.

Jason and the Argonauts rise to the occasion in Berkeley Rep's “Argonautika”

Meanwhile, over the hill in Berkeley, the Berkeley Repertory Theatrical Company has pulled a tongue-in-cheek “look at history” out of their theatrical hat with Mary Zimmerman’s brilliantly off-beat Greek peek at Jason and his Argonaut’s heroic quest for the Golden fleece, in “Argonautika”. This modern day interpretation of an old Greek myth or historical tale turned fairy tale, utilizes comedy, passion, sexuality and music to make this epic journey palatable for an evening’s adventure. Even though I studied Latin in school, Greek mythology was not my favorite subject. he story of Jason and the Argonaut’s search for the golden fleece has been told many times and in many ways, both in movies and on stage.

The Greek tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece has in fact been told for at least 3,000 years. It's a classic hero's quest tale - a sort of ancient Greek mission impossible - in which the hero embarks on a sea voyage into an unknown land, with a great task to achieve. He is in search of a magical ram's fleece, which he has to find in order to reclaim his father's kingdom of Iolkos from the usurper King Pelias. According to the legend, Jason was deprived of his expectation of the throne of Iolkos by his uncle, King Pelias, who usurped the throne. Jason was taken from his parents, and was brought up on Mount Pelion, in Thessaly, by a centaur named Cheiron. Meantime, his uncle lived in dread of an oracle's prophecy, which said he should fear the “man with one shoe”.

At the age of 20, Jason set off to return to Iolkos and in the course of his journey he lost a sandal in the river while helping Hera, Queen of the Gods, who was in disguise as an old woman. On arriving before King Pelias, Jason revealed who he was and made a claim to the kingdom. The king replied, “If I am to give you the kingdom, first you must bring me the Fleece of the Golden Ram”.

And this was the hero's quest. His task would take him on a long boat called the Argo, beyond the known world to acquire the fleece of a magical ram that once belonged to Zeus, the king of the gods. Jason's ancestor Phrixus had flown east from Greece to the land of Cochlis on the back of this ram. King Aietes, son of Helios the sun god, had then sacrificed the ram and hung its fleece in a sacred grove guarded by a dragon. An oracle foretold that Aietes would lose his kingdom if he lost the fleece, and it was from Aietes that Jason had to retrieve it.

In the myth, once in Colchis, Jason asks King Aietes to return the Golden Fleece. Aietes agrees to do so if Jason can perform a series of superhuman tasks. He has to yoke fire-breathing bulls, plough and sow a field with dragons' teeth, and overcome phantom warriors. In the meantime Aphrodite (the goddess of love) makes Medea, daughter of King Aietes, fall in love with Jason. Medea offers to help Jason with his tasks if he marries her in return. He agrees, and is enabled to complete the tasks. There are more impossible challenges than I am describing in this article, but with the excellent direction by Mary Zimmerman, this crazy cartoon of action, music and madness meld perfectly.

This production has to be one of the goofiest, most inventive and yet fully engaging productions of this tale that I have ever seen. I thoroughly enjoyed it, after I quickly figured out that this was not a “serious” typical Greek love story and tragedy. This production includes some really wonderful and unusual puppets by Michael Montenegro to create the feeling and impression of the many monsters that Jason was supposed to encounter and subdue on his journey.

The actors include Jake Suffian (as Jason), Christa Scott-Reed (as goddess Hera), Sofia Jean Gomez (as Athena), and Andy Murray (as Meleager), just to name a couple of the 14 actors you might be familiar with. Medea (played by Atley Loughridge) is the medicine woman who makes it possible for Jason to obtain the golden fleece, but she is also the love interest who is deflowered on the fleece, and later abandoned by Jason in his pursuit of a crown, and therein lies the heart of this Greek tragedy.

The set designed by Daniel Ostling is both simple visually and yet extremely clever, like a marvelous puzzle, and the costumes by Ana Kuzmanic are very well done. There is a chanting oration that sets a mood that is both haunting and thrilling.

This truly unique piece of theatre continues in the Roda Theatre on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday night performances at 7 p.m., and matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, now through December 16th.

The Berkeley Repertory Theatre is located at 2015 Addison Street in Berkeley. Call (510) 647-2848 for ticket and reservation information. Tickets range between $33 and $69, depending on seating and evening of performance.

I would suggest that you keep your eye open for tickets on the opening night productions of Berkeley Rep’s shows as they usually have some pretty tasty “after-the-show” gala gourmet confections, epicurean foods and/or savory wine offerings.

This week’s opening was catered by Todd Kniess’ Liaison Restaurant. I have raved about Todd’s remarkable food faire on more than one occasion. This opening included a perfectly prepared sliced roast steamship round of beef, in addition to an unparallel quenelle soufflé (a salmon scallop mouse in a shrimp and cognac cream sauce) and macaroni gratin with black truffle and porcini essence. I am not versed in the French language, but I know great French cuisine when I taste it and Liaison in Berkeley is love at first bite!The restaurant is located at 1849 Shattuck Avenue, just a couple of blocks north of University. Call (510) 849-2155 if you wish to make reservations or visit their web site at http://www.liaison@bigplanet.com/ for more information.