Moonlight & Magnolias in Lafayette and Man of La Mancha in Walnut Creek! Nixon's Nixon leaves 'em laughing!

Moonlight and Magnolias currently in production in the Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette is this week’s must see production, for many, many reasons which all add up to one of the most entertaining productions created to date by this ambitious and hardworking production company, that has turned Town Hall Theatre into a far more professional venue.

Director, Kevin Morales has a special reason for making this production a success, a reason which might well lay hidden deep in his genes. He is related to one of the main characters in the play. Famed director, Victor Fleming, is his great, great, great uncle.

Kevin tells us in the program that in 2005, the dramaturge (literary advisor) for the original production of Moonlight and Magnolias called Kevin while doing some research on the real-life characters in the play for the director. He had found an article in the San Francisco Chronicle which mentioned that Victor Fleming was Kevin Morales’ great-great-great uncle. He further noted that Kevin’s oldest child had been named Victoria (being named for Fleming) and wanted to know if there were any personal anecdotes or family stories that Kevin was aware of that would help to illuminate this very private man. Kevin knew very little about the man, as Fleming died in 1949. Never-the-less, this casual acquaintance eventually led to Mr. Morales being given special permission to produce this play by its author, Ron Hutchinson.

Fleming, you may remember, directed many great movies, including The Wizard of Oz, Joan of Arc, and Gone With The Wind. Moonlight and Magnolias takes a moment in history, when movie making mogul, David O. Selznick, found himself in deep trouble two weeks into the filming of “Gone With The Wind”. Selznick had just fired then director, George Cukor, after discovering that the current draft of the movie script was totally unworkable, especially under Cukor’s lengthy, time-consuming, cost-escalating vision. The entire production had been shut down and the cast and crew were being paid somewhere between $10,000 and $50,000 per day (depending upon which story you read).

Selznick brought director Victor Fleming (who was currently wrapping up The Wizard of Oz), and screen writer Ben Hecht, into his office to see if they could rescue a plummeting production from disaster. The problem was, Hecht had not even read the book version of Gone With The Wind, that had sold millions when he was asked to do an emergency re-write of the movie script. Hecht listened to Selznick’s synopsis and honestly believed there were so many problems with the story, the racial overtones, the character of the main characters themselves, that he felt any script was bound to failure. After first turning down the opportunity, Hecht was offered a lot of money to pull a miracle out of his literary hat and he agreed to review the earlier drafts to see what he could do.

Author Ron Hutchinson takes great liberty with the truth of the situation and the sequence of events, but takes a little bit of truth, adds a lot of imaginative scenario and creates a brilliant comedic farce that makes Hollywood even more magical than imaginable.

In Hutchinson’s version of the story, Selznick locks himself, Hecht, and Fleming in his office with peanuts and bananas as their only manna of sustenance and they knock out a workable screenplay by the end of the week.

What transpires in that office, in the hands of some extremely skilled actors, is a work of pure insanity, directed with great skill by Kevin Morales. This production of Moonlight and Magnolias has to be one of the best you will see anywhere. The actors are all professional, with Patrick Edwards playing Victor Fleming, Elias Escobedo as Ben Hecht, and Michael Patrick Gaffney as David O. Selznick. Meghann May is a thorough delight as the very attractive assistant to Mr. Selznick.

The set, designed by Colin Babcock, the costumes by Melissa Paterson, and the lighting by Brandon Davis all contribute immeasurably to this production’s overall excellence.
Even more important than the outstanding comedy incorporated in this story, is the question of Hollywood’s role in perpetuating stereotypes and modifying historic events to appeal to various interests, be it monetary, social or political.

Moonlight and Magnolias plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. and Sunday evening performances at 7 p.m., now through March 15th. The Town Hall Theatre is located at 3535 School Street at the corner of Moraga Road, in Lafayette. Call (925) 283-1557 for information or reservations or visit the company’s website at Don’t miss this one!

Diablo Light Opera launches the Man of La Mancha in Walnut Creek!

Meanwhile, The Diablo Light Opera Company is currently presenting a very grand production of Man of La Mancha in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. Under the direction of Keith Barlow, this classic musical is retelling the dreams and demonstrating the acting skills of prisoner Miquel de Cervantes while he awaits his hearing before a Spanish Inquisition tribunal. The story recreates the misery and desperate nature of humanity caught in this process.

The prisoners immediately rummage through Cervantes possessions when he is thrown into the prison dungeon, stealing anything they perceive as valuable for themselves. One of the items stolen is a manuscript of great value to Cervantes (played by Paul Myrvold), and when he demands its return, he is seized by his fellow inmates. His loyal servant, Sancho Panza (Robert Ponce), battles the inmates in vain attempting to assist his master in the return of the manuscript, which is the uncompleted manuscript of a novel called "Don Quixote."

The inmates subject Cervantes to a mock trial in order to determine whether the manuscript should be returned. Cervantes' defense is in the form of a play, in which Cervantes takes the role of one Alonso Quijana, an old gentleman who has lost his mind and now believes that he should go forth as a knight-errant. Quijana renames himself Don Quixote de La Mancha, and sets out to find adventures with his "squire", Sancho Panza. Miguel de Cervantes is an aging utter failure in his varied careers as playwright, poet and tax collector for the government. He has been thrown into a dungeon in Seville to await trial by the Inquisition for an offense against the Church, the crime (as the Church sees it) of attempting to put a lien on Church property for tax evasion.

The "court" accedes to Cervantes presentation of a play (as his defense), and before their eyes, donning makeup and costume, Cervantes and his faithful manservant transform themselves into Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. They proceed to play out the story with the participation of the prisoners as other characters

MAN OF LA MANCHA is a remarkable show and one of the great theatre successes of our time. This is a play-within-a-play, based on Cervantes' "Don Quixote." We have a poignant story of a dying old man whose impossible dream takes over his mind. Songs such as “It's All the Same”, “Dulcinea”, “I'm Only Thinking of Him”, “The Impossible Dream”, “I Really Like Him” and “Little Bird”, should remain in your thoughts long after you see the show. Cervantes’ dream is everyman's dream and his tilting at windmills is everyman’s daily conflict with the trials and tribulations of life. Somehow, time is encapsulated and the "Man of La Mancha" speaks for humankind caught in the eddy of life’s tumult.

One of the principal characters is a local waitress, Aldonza (played brilliantly by Melinda Meeng), who works in the inn (celebrated in Don Quixote’s mind as a castle), and is a hard, street savvy wench who trades in sex to make life possible for a near destitute woman without a man or property. While there are a number of fine actors in this production, Melinda is perhaps the most exciting, the most memorable in the entire cast. She has the voice of an angel, the attractive allure of a mythical sex symbol, and the acting skill of a professional.

Cervantes’ servant, Sancho (played by Robert Ponce), is perhaps the next best thing in this production. He is delightfully entertaining and engaging, especially in his delivery of “I Really Like Him”.

Lead actor, Paul Myrvold (as Cervantes and Don Quixote) is an excellent, actor with an extensive history in this production as well as many others, but leaves me unfulfilled in this production. He has a pleasant voice, great stage presence, but something was missing, perhaps not just with this actor, but with the show as a whole. For some reason, I came away unexcited, unmoved, somewhat disenchanted with the production, which offers a great deal, but somehow seemed somewhat flat.

The set created by John C. Stark is quite remarkable, the lighting design by Michael Polumbo is very effective and the costumes by Carol Edlinger are outstanding. The orchestra under the direction of Cheryl Yee Glass was very good. So why didn’t the show work for me? Perhaps it was some very little things. Myrvold has a very nice voice, but not with the delivery or brilliance that I imagined it should bring for such great songs as Dulcinea or Little Bird. The choreography was spotty, the muleteers were at times exceptionally good, but the fight scene between the gypsies and Don Quixote was too contrived, too artificial, too poorly executed.

Man of La Mancha continues at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., now through March 16th, in the Hofmann Theatre, in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. Call (925) 943-SHOW (7469) for ticket and reservation information. There will be two special performances in the El Campanil Theatre in Antioch, on March 29th and 30th. Call (925) 757-9500 for reservations for the Antioch show or visit the El Campanil website at
Nixon’s Nixon leaves ‘em laughing at the Lesher Center as Nixon and Kissinger are center stage once again!

Close to home, in Walnut Creek, the Center REPertory Company under the direction of Michael Butler, is bringing to local audiences an outrageously funny satire about the discussion that might have transpired (but probably didn’t) in the Lincoln sitting room of the White House late in the evening of August 8, 1974 between President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. This was the night before Nixon resigned the presidency.

Many volumes have been written over the years hoping to shed light on the unique relationship between “Tricky Dick” Nixon, his staff and his artful political associate, Henry Kissinger. “All The President’s Men” and “The Final Days” by Bob Woodard and Carl Bernstein, and “Kissinger”, by Walter Isaacson, delve skillfully into the many events leading up to and through the self-destruction of a presidency.

As you probably remember, Richard Nixon faced impeachment by the House of Representatives for crimes committed by Nixon and his staff over a period of several years, and in his attempted cover-up of his knowledge and complicity in the Watergate break-in and “bugging” of the Democratic Party offices.

What if you could have been a fly on the wall, listening to the fateful discussions that took place in that room, as Nixon and Kissinger discussed the fate of Nixon’s presidency and his legacy? Faced with certain ouster, was Nixon more willing to fight the charges than to admit defeat in becoming the first and only President to resign his office? Well, this play’s author Russell Lees has taken a lot of liberties with the president’s character, personality and dead-pan humor, to bring us a jaundiced jolt in the juggler vein of comic journalism, in this decidedly adult off-color comedy (interspersed with a lot of crude language).

Director Michael Butler has chosen his two man team of actors with great care. Andrew Hurteau portrays Nixon very well and Steve Irish, plays Kissinger with equal finesse and perspicacity. Nixon is played as a man somewhat out of step with reality and Kissinger, a carefully calculating politician, determined to find solidarity with the replacement administration, headed by Vice President, Gerald Ford. It is a well balanced bashing, touching on Nixon’s accomplishments, his sadness, his tenacity and at the same time, his final resignation to the reality of the situation.

The trip is a delightful trip down memory lane, at the same time it is an evening of comedy and high entertainment. References abound to Nixon’s dealings with Communist Party Chairman Leonid Brezhnev, Peoples Communist Party of China Chairman Mao Zedong, Chancellor of West Germany Willy Brandt and White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig.

The acting is really quite superb! Even a small opening role of a Marine (played by Mike Taylor) who brings a projection screen out on the stage and with a grand flourish, similar to a drill instructors rifle demonstration, twirls the projector.

There are many elements that make this play a real winner, but one of the most apropos elements, is the grandly off-kilter set, emphasizing the off-kilter nature of the story. Set designer Scott Weldin has excelled in the set design. The costume designer, B. Modern and the Lighting Designer, Kurt Landisman have contributed significantly to this memorable production as well.

Nixon’s Nixon plays Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., with performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m., now through March 1st. Call (925) 943-SHOW (7469) for ticket and reservation information or visit their website at for more information. Tickets are also available at the Barnes and Noble book store ticket counter in Walnut Creek, The Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts is located at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. The public parking next door is very reasonable and often very busy, so come to the theatre a little early, for easier parking.