"In This House" : "acting is absolutely superb, delivering an exciting and emotion-filled story that keeps you engaged from beginning to end!"

Playhouse West unveiled the West Coast Premiere of a touching and thought provoking narrative musical by Sarah Schlesinger, Jonathan Bernstein and Mike Reed entitled, “In This House”, this past week in Walnut Creek.

Director Lois Grandi was indeed fortunate to be introduced to Sarah Schlesinger and Mike Reid in June of 2006 through a mutual friend, George Lee Andrews, one of the impresarios whose long term association with Phantom of Opera is legendary. George had been doing readings of this new musical and thought that Lois Grandi’s Playhouse West might be the perfect venue for the show’s west coast premiere. Lois jumped at the opportunity to work with the show’s creators, realizing that this show was insightfully written, with a score and lyrics that were more than likely to soon become a highly sought after award winning production.

“In This House” provides the audience with an opportunity to share a New Year’s Eve chance encounter between two families; a young couple who have only been married for three years and an older couple who have spent many, many years together. While both couples are a world apart in their lifestyles, preferences and expectations, they share one very important commonality, the life altering consequences of failing to be completely forthright. Each couple gains a understanding of the importance of honesty through their observation of how dishonesty has affected the other couple.

Johnny D’Amato (played by Darrin Glesser) is a third generation cop and his wife, Annie (played by Lynda DiVito), is a disaster recovery worker who travels around the world helping to save and restore families following natural disasters. Annie has just returned home after completing a recovery mission somewhere else in the world and is planning to spend some private time on this New Year’s evening with her husband, after he picks her up at the airport. Her husband, Johnny, has (unbeknownst to his wife) made plans for a big surprise party at his parent’s house on this New Year’s evening. At this party he plans to reveal to his wife a major decision that he and his father have made, that will alter the couple’s life in many ways. This will be an event in which Annie has had little or no input, and no consultation with her husband in the decision making process, a decision that may have deep consequences to their relationship.

On their way home in a wicked snow storm, the D’Amato car leaves the road and crashes into a rock wall in front of an old home in an isolated area. The couple who live in the house, Henry (Michael Harrington) and Luisa (Gretchen Grant), invite this young couple to come in out of the cold and offer them shelter for the evening as they have no telephone or way to get assistance this late in the day. The meeting starts off with a cordial offer of “join us for New Year’s Eve and a toast for a promising new year”. Very shortly, the “event” Johnny had planned to reveal later that evening at his folk’s home, is now revealed to his wife, taking the evening on a downward spiral.

This musical is presented in operatic fashion with the entire story being told in musical verse. The lyrics are exceptionally well written and the story is certainly intriguing. The acting is absolutely superb, delivering an exciting and emotion-filled story that keeps you engaged from beginning to end.

The music is very good for the most part but a bit repetitive. It is a musical story that has great promise, but leaves me wanting a little bit more, a little more clarity and development in the resolution of the couple’s problems. There is nothing in the dialogue at the end that indicates that the younger couple really “gets it”, or that they are going to resolve their problems! Even with my slight hesitation, feeling that this is still a work in progress, I highly recommend “In This House” as a very thought-provoking and entertaining show. Director Lois Grandi has brought out the very best in this new work, making it a memorable production.

The set, designed by Jan Zimmerman, is truly remarkable and artfully crafted, providing all the necessary elements that worked very well on this postage stamp sized stage. Costumes by Krista Nelson are in perfect keeping with the story and the characters, executed with careful, thoughtful design.

“In This House” plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., now through March 2nd. The Playhouse West Theatre is located at 1345 Locust Street, Walnut Creek with municipal parking across the street and within walking distance from BART (approximately 6 blocks away). Tickets range in price between $26 and $30 each, very reasonable for professional entertainment. Call (925) 942-0300 for reservations and additional information and please visit their website at www.playhousewest.org.

Tranced keeps you in suspense!

San Jose Repertory Theatre is currently presenting Robert Clyman’s spell-binding tale evolving around political secrets and subterfuge, suppressed memory, hypnosis and genocide in his new play, “Tranced”, continuing now through February 24th. A clinical psychiatrist, Robert Clyman, mines his deep understanding and insight of the human psychosis and condition to deliver a political thriller that examines many faces of journalism, political cynicism and motivation, especially as it relates to displacement and genocide of populations for profit.

In this play, a highly accredited teaching psychologist, Philip (played by Thom Rivera), who specializes in a deep form of hypnosis called “trancing” to assist patients in revealing and recovering suppressed memories, is approached by a young woman of African descent, who may have witnessed a political event in her native Africa that is deeply disturbing her current life. She is having great difficulty in sleeping, and her schoolwork and study for her school examinations is suffering.

The African student, Asmera (Kenya Brome), tells the doctor that she is concerned that there is something subliminal that is going on in her mind and feels that only someone with his expertise will be able to get to the bottom of it. In that process of examination and discovery, through this process of “trancing”, the doctor believes he has discovered an incident of genocide that this student has witnessed and has suppressed in her memory. If the doctor fully uncovers certain immoral and illegal events participated in by a certain African nation, that revelation, if validated and made public, may have major repercussions for the political and financial plans between her African country and the United States. The United States and its political interests are a major backer of loans to be made to that African government for a multi-billion dollar dam project, a project that may be at the foot of this genocide.

The doctor contacts journalistic reporter, Beth (Stacy Ross), who is very connected and astute and has written a great deal about the politics of the United States and Africa, seeking her advice and assistance in revealing these genocidal acts to our government’s representatives at the highest level. The Under-secretary of African Affairs, Logan (James Carpenter), is positive that this information is incorrect, but is willing to explore the information he is receiving from reporter Beth and doctor Philip. He knows however that it must be communicated in a carefully articulated manner with the leader of this African nation, to find out if there is any truth to this report. He also wants to protect the United States the embarrassment of finding itself in bed with a genocidal government. What are the morals and motivations of all concerned, and wherein lies the truth? You will have to see this brilliantly written play to find out.

This is without a doubt one of the most suspenseful dramas I have witnessed in quite a while, a true thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The acting is outstanding, as it the innovative set design by Kris Stone, the lighting design by Daniel Ordower, and the sound design, by Jeff Mockus. Director Barbara Damashek has once again proven her skill as a mover and maker of outstanding theatrical productions.

“Tranced” plays Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., with Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m., with Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. and Sunday matinee performances at 2 p.m., now through February 24th. Ticket prices range between $15 and $59 each. The San Jose Repertory Company Theatre is located at 101 Paseo de San Antonio, between 2nd and 3rd Streets, one block north of East San Carlos Street. Call (408) 367-7255 for reservations or visit their website online at www.sjrep.com for more information.