“Sex” is terrific, “Kooza” thrilling, and “Miracle on 34th Street” satisfying!

This week’s reviews will provide you with a wide variety of entertainment opportunities. First of all, the Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette is presenting a most enjoyable Christmas flavored theatrical event with their highly enjoyable production of “Miracle on 34th Street”. This classic story originated in the novel of the same name by Valentine Davies, confirming the importance of Santa Claus to parents and children alike in perpetuating good will and hope in the holiday season. Next, the Cirque Du Soleil Company has created another masterpiece of old fashioned circus entertainment, focusing on the fine art of acrobatics and clowning in their new production of “Kooza”, which opened this past week in the big blue and gold tent near AT&T park in San Francisco. Finally, I will save for last, my review of Mae West’s delightfully funny and very articulate play, “Sex”, penned and produced on Broadway in 1926 about a prostitute attempting to leave her sordid life behind. The Aurora Theatre in Berkeley is currently presenting this delightful play.

“Miracle on 34th Street”

Director Eric Neiman has pulled together a very well balanced, talented and entertaining cast for this outstanding piece of Christmas season theatre, with the Town Hall Theatre Company’s production of “Miracle on 34th Street”.

I never seem to get enough of this wonderful, heart-warming story of love, faith and Santa Claus. "Miracle On 34th Street" is many things: a celebration of the Christmas spirit, a heartfelt plea against the "over-commercialism" (even in 1947) of Christmas, and an examination of faith itself . . . just to name a few.

I was suitably moved to tears before it was over. The story evolves around Doris Walker, a young lady who is an employee of Macy’s Department store in New York, who was charged with producing Macy’s famous Thanksgiving Day Parade. The story evolves as a gentleman by the name of Kris Kringle joins the crowds gathered for the Parade, when he observes the Macy’s Santa Claus, drunk and acting poorly just before the parade begins. Miss Walker (Allison Appell Ward) is forced to fire Santa Clause leaving her without a last minute replacement just as the Parade is about to begin. An assistant tells her of a kindly looking older gentleman in the crowd standing nearby, who looks remarkably like our best imagined substitute for Santa Claus, with bald head, full white beard and plenty of natural padding. This gentleman is brought to Miss Walker, who implores him to take the one-time job “for the sake of the children” as well as the success of the parade. After all, what would a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade be without the usual appearance of Santa Claus?

Following the parade, Kris Kringle (Arthur Atlas) is approached by Macy’s to be their store “Santa Claus” for the Christmas season and he, after some hesitation, agrees to take the job. Kris, who in reality is the true Santa Claus, takes on the short time job with real gusto. When children ask for a particular gift that Macy’s doesn’t sell, he tells the parents where they can find that particular gift. His benevolence is shocking to Macy’s store employees and they are about to fire him, when the story of Macy’s unique “good will attitude ambassador”, Santa Claus, comes to their attention. He is now an asset instead of a liability!

Doris Walker is a “realistic” mother who doesn’t believe in filling her child’s head with fairy tale stories, and tells her daughter there is no such thing as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or Easter Bunny, instead, telling her they are “not real life”. The little girl, Susan Walker (Olivia Hytha), is jaded and negative. A concerned neighbor and acquaintance of her mother, a young attorney by the name of Fred Gailey (played by Henry Perkins), tries to convince the young girl and her mother that there is nothing wrong with incorporating these little fairy tales and the enjoyment they foster into their lives. The mother rebukes Fred and re-iterates her belief that “reality” is the best policy!

Fred comes to loggerheads with Doris when he takes Susan to the store’s Santa Claus, the same Kris Kringle, convincing her to “go ahead and ask Santa Claus to bring you the gift that you want most in the world” as proof that Santa Claus is real. When she does, what she asks Santa for is quite beyond what anyone could expect such a young girl would ask for, of such magnitude, that even the “real Santa Claus” has doubts that he can pull it off. “If you're really Santa Claus, you can get it for me. And if you can't, you're only a nice man with a white beard like mother says”, Susan chides him.

As the story progresses, Kris’s admission that he is in fact the real Santa Claus leads to his being committed by a Macy’s store employee to a state home for the mentally ill. Fred Gailey comes to his rescue and through a very clever and unique turn of events, is able to prove in court that this man, this Kris Kringle, is perfectly sane and correct in his belief that he is in fact the real Santa Claus.

This wonderful tale is broadly told by a cast that is for the most part, quite excellent. This is a very large cast of many actors ranging in training and experience from neophyte to quite experienced. There are some places that criticism is deserved, but the overall production is quite excellent, and the enthusiasm and whole-hearted gift delivered to the audience is more than worthy of my overall praise and support.

There are some really superb individual performances, in particular those of Arthur Atlas (Kris Kringle), Olivia Hytha (Susan Walker, the daughter), Gary Mutz (the very disagreeable Mr. Sawyer), Katie Pelensky (Miss Adams), Henry Perkins (Fred Gailey) and Allison Appell Ward (Doris Walker). I recommend that if you “are among the young at heart”, then take a friend, a child or grandchild to the Town Hall Theatre to see this terrific show to brighten up your holiday season. The set (by Kevin Morales and Colin Babcock), and the period perfect costumes by Melissa Paterson, superlative beyond appropriate description in my vocabulary!

“Miracle on 34th Street” plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and with Sunday evening performances at 7 p.m., now through Saturday, December 29th. Tickets are bargain and range between $23 and $32 each. Call (925) 283-1557 for ticket information and reservations. The theatre is located at 3535 School Street in Lafayette, at the corner of Moraga Road and Schools street.

Kooza excels in San Francisco!

In San Francisco, the Cirque Du Soleil company is presenting a thrilling and brilliantly crafted circus theatrical event with another marvelous work entitled, Kooza .

Cirque Du Soleil has created show after show, that take the art of circus entertainment to another dimension, to another wonderful world of acrobatics, choreography and clown comedy that has to be seen to be appreciated. Words alone, cannot begin to describe the death-defying skills, the high-wire wizardry and wonder of this new circus concept. Never before Cirque Du Soleil has the world of circus been able to imagine and project such art and beauty combined with the skills of juggling, teeterboard acrobatics, highwire gymnastics and trapeze physical mastery.

Again, through Kooza , Cirque Du Soleil has found yet another way to thrill and infatuate audiences through spell-binding entertainment. There are three young ladies (Julie Bergez, Natasha Patterson and Dasha Sovik) who exhibit contortionism to such an artful extreme, that what they do seems impossible and unbelievable, had I not seen such with my own eyes. The Wheels of Death, an act involving two young men running, balancing, flying through the air, running in and out of and upon twin revolving wheel-like devices high above the stage, provided absolutely heart-stopping thrills. In addition, there were many acrobats juggling rings, balancing on stacks of chairs, cavorting on unicycles on the ground, and riding bicycles while balancing on high wires.

The clown King (Gordon White) and his courtiers Christian Fitzharris and Joshua Zehner kept the crowd in stitches. Add to this, the remarkable antics of master pick-pocket Michael Halvarson who extracted well-known, Bay Area news broadcaster Don Sanchez from the audience. He then managed to extract many items from Don’s person and clothing, even though Don proved to be a very knowledgeable participant.

The costumes by Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt are exotic and wonderful, as is the incredible, filmy and ethereal set by Stephane Roy. The magic and experience is enhanced by the outstanding musical and vocal accompaniment. This is a show of shows, an experience that thrilling, chilling, exciting and continuously inviting. Once you have seen a production by Cirque Du Soleil, you will be hooked, compelled to return for each new production.

Kooza continues Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Fridays and Saturdays at 4 p.m., and again on Sundays at 5 p.m., now through the 20th of January. The big blue and yellow tent (or Grand Chapiteau as it is called in French) is located at third and Terry A. Francois Boulevard in San Francisco. There is parking available for a fee adjacent to the tent. My wife and I took BART into the City, disembarked at Montgomery station and took the Muni to AT&T park and walked the short distance (two long blocks) to the big blue tent. Call 1-800-361-4595 or visit their web site ( www.cirquedusoleil.com ) for tickets and additional information. I highly recommend this show for the whole family!

Finally, “Sex” is next, and I have to say that I whole-heartedly recommend it! - - the show that is - - at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley.

I have seen the sultry sex queen Mae West in many old movies, starring with WC Fields, Gilbert Roland, Noah Berry Sr., and Cary Grant, but until I saw this play, written by May West in the middle twenties, I did not have any idea that she was really a very excellent writer, as well as highly revered actress.

Mae West, who made a name for herself in vaudeville where she began performing at age 12, began writing her own routines and eventually her risqué plays which include, Sex (1926), The Wicked Age (1927), Diamond Lil (1928), Frisco Kate (1930), Catherine Was Great (1944), Come On Over (1946) and the last one, Sextette (1952). I was surprised by the quality and maturity of the play writing. “Sex” is a perfect example of a really well written play.

Director Tom Ross has provided us with a superb opportunity to look back at plays that had been overshadowed and scorned by blue nosed censors when audiences were flocking to see them performed (women often outnumbered men in the audience by three to one). This play was performed on Broadway for one full year and was receiving outstanding reviews until a group of religious censors got New York politicians to have her and her entire show production company arrested. The company spent a week in jail. When they were released, Mae West got front page headlines when she responded to questions about her early release, by stating something to the effect, ”I was released early for good behavior - - that’s something I’ve never been accused of before!”

I’m sure you can remember many of her more famous quotes such as “So many men, so little time”, “Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly”, and “When I’m good, I’m good, When I’m bad, I’m very good!” She was an actress and writer who was ahead of her time and now is the time for a refresher course on “Sex”.

The story evolves around a prostitute by the name of Margy (played brilliantly by Delia MacDougall) who is tired of the business and wants desperately to get out and start a new life. The first act encompasses her relationships with the people of her world and her confession to a ship’s captain, Lt. Gregg (Steve Irish), of her frustration with her pimp and the business in general. In the second act, the ship’s captain has taken her with him to Trinadad, where she meets a very wealthy young man, Jimmy (Robert Brewer), who falls in love with her, asks her to marry him and takes her home to family.

Her past continues to haunt her, but in a clever turn of events, all’s well that ends well! This clever play has a superb cast and continues with performances on Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., now through December 9th. The Aurora Theatre is located at 2081 Addison Street in Berkeley. Call (510) 843-4822 or visit their web site at www.auroratheatre.org for more information. There is plenty of parking across the street from the theatre in a public garage. “Sex” is great! Don’t miss out on it!