A little comedy, a little dance, a little larceny, a little religion, a little romance : “The School for Scandal” and “The Alter Boys”

"If the world were like the movies
we would never make mistakes
we'd correct our little blunders
and select our better takes"
From: ”My Favorite Year” 1982 Movie

This week’s reviews, “The School For Scandal” and “The Alter Boys”. are a mixed bag of entertainment pluses and minuses. While each show has a lot going for it, each has a way to go or grow, depending on how you look at it!

"Treachery 101, lots of fun in The School For Scandal"

The Role Players Ensemble Theatre in Danville is currently presenting a brilliantly clever restoration comedy, “The School for Scandal”, by the very articulate author, renowned orator and British parliamentarian, Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

First produced on the 8th of May, 1777, Sheridan’s marvelous play affectionately satirizes the fashionable society of the wealthy class, with its overt materialism, gossip, and hypocrisy. His story evolves within an elitist social circle whose member’s favorite pastime seems to favor finding someone to defame, ridicule or malign through carefully constructed falsehoods and/ or innuendo. These individuals focus their primary interests into devising secret, cunning, and complicated schemes, all to achieve a particular goal or to cause harm to others, often for their own personal gain or pure entertainment. These egregious character-slayers comprise many layers in Sheridan’s “School for Scandal”!

This is a very complicated play and certainly a very ambitious play for community theatre.

There are 15 diversely comic and intriguing characters in this farcical story about sibling rivalry, love, lust, fidelity, infidelity, and artificial relationships. The characters are given names which in some small way describe some aspect of their character, such Snake, Lady Sneerwell, Sir Benjamin Backbite, Mrs. Candor, Mr. Crabtree, Sir Peter Teazle and Lady Teazle, Moses, and the Surface brothers. Author Sheridan is very blunt in his plot. Practically everyone has something to glean by mischievous and treacherous means.

Director Sue Trigg has done an excellent job of selecting cast members capable of providing full meaning to their characters. This is an outrageous farce, a grand comedy and for the most part, it is carried off very well. The language is very “stately English”, and at times is difficult to capture, for lack of familiarity. It was not until I went on line to review the actual script, that I fully grasped some of the relationships. The play opens with two of the lesser support characters plotting to spoil Charles Surface’s character. It is here where we begin to grasp that there is a circle of socializers who gather routinely to pander in slander, to gossip and trade “delicious” tales out of context, fabrications and fornications of the truth.

Lady Sneerwell wants to damage a budding relationship between Charles Surface and Sir Peter Teazle’s ward, Maria, because she had at one time been in a relationship with Charles and doesn’t want him to marry this beautiful younger woman. Sir Peter Teazle has a much younger wife, who has romantic aspirations toward Charles’ brother, Joseph. While Joseph pretends to have similar inclinations toward Lady Teazle, he does so in order to get back at his brother, Charles, because he also lusts after the attractive young Maria. Intrigue after intrigue compound the relationships, especially that of a wealthy uncle of the brothers, Sir Oliver Surface. He arrives on the scene incognito to determine the true character of his nephews, to help him decide who is the most worthy to inherit his estate when he dies.

Sir Oliver Surface is played by Chris Chapman. Lady Teazle is played by Kathryne Davidson, Maria by Xanadu Bruggers, Mrs. Candor by Melynda Kiring, Mr. Crabtree by Candy Campbell (a lady who plays an older man very well), Moses by Elias D. Protopsaltis, Rowley by Michael Green, Careless by Jill Davidson, Snake and Sir Benjamin Backbite by Paul Plain and the stalwart servant by Joel Stefani.

Sir Peter Teazle (John Blytt) acknowledges his uneven and contradictory friendship with his deceased friend’s sons, the brothers Joseph Surface (played by Michael Sally), and Charles Surface (Craig Eychner). He believes Joseph to be the epitome of virtue and honor, while he believes Charles to be the opposite in character, the epitome of personal corruption and deplorable financial carelessness. He wishes that his young ward, Maria, would find Joseph an acceptable suitor for her hand in marriage, over her obviously romantic admiration for the more colorful and more handsome Charles Surface.

As the play develops we quickly discover that brother Joseph Surface is a two faced individual. Lady Snearwell, describes him thus, “I have found him out a long time since. I know him to be artful, selfish, and malicious—in short, a sentimental knave; (but) while with Sir Peter, and indeed with all his (general) acquaintance, he passes for a youthful miracle of prudence, good sense, and benevolence.”

I enjoyed the play very much and laughed at times. I did find fault with some aspects but not enough to belabor any specific points. It was obvious that the play fell shallow on some ears. This is a very long play, too long without a full professional cast. The first act was hard to sit through, but the second act moved much better. On the whole, the production never quite came together!

While every member of the cast contributed significantly to this production, the following actors deserve “outstanding” kudos for their efforts: Michael Sally, Melynda Kiring and Craig Eychner.

This humorous 1770’s restoration comedy plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., now through Saturday, May 10th in the Community Center Theatre at 420 Front Street in Danville. Tickets may be purchased by calling (925) 314-3400 or (925) 314-3463, or on line at www.villagetheatreshows.com , or in person at the Community Center, 420 Front Street, in Danville. Tickets are a very reasonable $22 to $25 each, and only $15 each for students with ID or in groups of 10 or more.

"Alter Boys" hope to "Alter" your state of mind!

The Willows “Cabaret” Theatre in Martinez is carrying forward the little theater’s Theatre of Catholicism, with another musical that will be appreciated by anyone with a personal history closely aligned with Catholic experiences, in their current production of the Off-Broadway musical, “Alter Boys”. This theater is a “Cabaret Style” venue where the audience sits at small tables where they can order drinks and snacks to enjoy during the show.

This upbeat, modern religious rock musical professes no one specific religious point of view. It must have been penned by someone with a great knowledge of Catholic ritual and rhetoric.

“Alter Boys” tells the inspiring, upbeat story of 5 guys from small-town USA who are drawn together in their quest to “save souls”. They form a singing, dancing company which travels town to town, like a comic revival show, seeking to inspire, cajole, convert and re-commit a sagging religious following among the young; to seek out and embrace Jesus as their savior. They make fun of religion but in a not too offensive way.

With songs such as “Jesus Called Me on My Cell Phone” and “Girl You Make Me Wan To Wait”, the verbal message is loud and clear, but their sinfully terrific dancing, suggestive body language, and straight streetalk is modern and in touch with today’s hip overtures. It is youthful, exuberant and exciting, tuning the audience into their party-exhilaration wavelength before the evening is over.

The songs include the terrific Rhythm In Me, Church Rulez, Something About You, Everybody Fits, La Vida Eternal and I Believe, to mention a few. The songs relate to issues in the boy’s lives as well as issues that many audience members must have found relative as well. The audience was enthusiastic and appreciative. The lyrics are very clever and fun!

Director and Choreographer Mickey Nugent has brought together five unique young men that include Kenneth Scott as Matthew, Bobby Bryce as Mark, Michael Scott Wells as Luke, Rod Voltaire Edora as Juan and Herbie Raad as Abraham. The musical director, Carl Pantle, provided great accompaniment.

What didn’t work for me was the sound was too loud to be comfortable and many lines were walked over or just not delivered clearly. Rod Voltaire Edora who portrayed Juan had such a thick accent, that I missed many of his lines entirely. They are all outstanding talented performers, but if you cannot understand them, the show looses much of its punch!

The other problem I have is that the theatre seating is just too crowded for comfort. Other guests expressed the same feeling to me. This is a great show, a very attractive little venue, but how often does one want to be so crowded that when the young ladies who serve drinks and snacks (at a fairly hefty price) have to shove their way past you so that they can reach other patrons. If you sit near the isle, you continually have to move your chair even closer to an already uncomfortably small table and other guests, so much so that it disturbed my enjoyment of the show and its hardworking performers. NOT GOOD! One reason I don’t often go back to this theatre to review shows is that the experience of the theatre itself is basically the same, and that’s a shame! The whole concept is a great idea, if they just didn’t try to squeeze so many people in!

Alter Boys continues Wednesdays at 3:30 and 7:30, Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 3 p.m., now through May 11th. The Willows Cabaret “Campbell” Theatre is located at 636 Ward Street in Downtown Martinez, one block east of Main Street at the corner of Estudillo Street. Call (925) 798-1300 for tickets or visit the Willows Website at www.willowstheatre.org. Tickets range between $20 and $30 each with discounts for students (6 to 18) and seniors (65+).