The Mystery Plays and "Tis a Pitty She's a Whore", who could ask for anything more!

If you enjoy a good mystery, then have I got a great show for you! Act Now! Theatre Company is currently presenting The Mystery Plays, a really terrific pair of one act plays that are very reminiscent of the highly suspenseful Twilight Zone series. These are clever mysteries directed with great skill by John Allred and delivered in perfect fashion by a very articulate cast. The Act Now! Theatre Company presents its work in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, in the Knights Stage III theatre.

The first mystery, entitled The Filmmaker’s Mystery, is a story crafted to keep perched you on the edge of your seat. The narrator, a character called Mister Mystery, sets the scene and the tone of the play you are about to experience.

The Filmmaker’s Mystery introduces us to Joe Manning (played by Sean Bryan), a young playwright and director, who has just boarded a train returning to his home in Newport News, Virginia. Shortly after Manning takes his seat, another gentleman, unknown to him before this encounter, asks if he might take the vacant seat next to him. They strike up a conversation and in so doing, Joe discloses that he is a young filmmaker celebrating his first real success with a new mystery movie. When he mentions the name of his movie to his new acquaintance, Nathan (John Hale), Nathan professes to be familiar with the movie. In fact, Nathan seems to be quite familiar with this genre of mystery stories. In what appears to be a budding friendship, they exchange cell phone numbers and addresses. They share commonalities and within a short time Joe offers to buy Nathan a cold beer. As Joe pays for and takes his beer from the porter, suddenly, as if in a dream, he finds himself standing on the platform outside the train with two cold beer bottles in hand. Confused and shocked, he suddenly realizes that the train is leaving the station without him. He attempts to re-board the train, but to no avail.

Joe calls his new found friend on his cell phone describing the mysterious situation in which he has just found himself, no longer on board the train. Nathan confirms that he has Joe’s personal belongings sitting next to him and agrees that he will take charge of them and they will plan to meet the next day so that Joe can retrieve his personal articles. After a short delay, Joe boards the next train to Newport, continuing his strangely interrupted journey. Within a relatively short time the second train is brought to a halt, short of its destination. When Joe asks a conductor passing through his car what is happening, the conductor will not say much, not more than, “- - we are waiting for a clear track to continue- - - “. Joes queries him again, “why are we waiting for a clear track?” Once again the mystery begins to deepen ominously.

The next day, Joe finds out that the first train on which he began his journey has been involved in a terrible, explosive accident, an accident in which there are apparently no survivors, none other than himself.

The next day, he is visited by the ghost of Nathan, a ghost who will not go willingly to his appropriate destination following death. Nathan tries to enlist Joe in a strange mission, a mission to re-route the souls of certain people aboard the death train, a mission that can only be accomplished by a “Sin-Eater!”

The second tale is a murder-mystery story based upon a murder that actually occurred in Oregon a number of years ago. This murder tale reveals the details of a ghastly murder that sent a young man to jail for the bludgeoning death of his father, mother and little sister.

This convoluted tale revolves around the young man’s sister, who is asked by her brother’s new defense team to assist them in mounting a new trial many years after the young man was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. A new defense team believes that there is another side of the story, details that were never revealed in the original trial due to the fact that the son had confessed to the murders. They plead with his sister to attend an appeal hearing and to elaborate on their parent’s cruelty towards them, believing that if the full details of the family abuses are revealed, a judge may order a new trial. If provided with a new trial, her brother may have the original basis for the conviction overturned, and a new verdict might lessen the sentence her brother received in his original conviction. She refuses, caught up in a dark secret to which she holds the key.

The actors each play a number of different characters and they deliver some of their best performances that I have seen to date, in this production. In addition to those actors already mentioned, Beth Bemis, Ryan Terry and Lynne Elizondo are quite superb as well. This production proves that it doesn’t take fancy sets and expensive costumes to deliver a stellar production. Everything works well in these two one acts, from music, to lighting, to projected visuals, to timing and heartfelt emotion. Don’t miss this simple but highly entertaining production.

I will not divulge any more of these cleverly crafted tales, but I can assure you that they will captivate you, suspending your sense of reality in a suspense filled evening of great entertainment. Congratulations to Director John Allred, for a job well done!

This production by Act Now! Is performing in the Knight’s Stage III Theatre, in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek and performs Fridays and Saturdays at 8:15 p.m., and again on Saturday afternoons at 2:15 p.m., now through July 5th. There will be no performance on July 4th. Call (925) 943-7469 or visit the Lesher Center website at for ticket reservations and purchase can also be made in the theater’s box office. Tickets range between $28 for general admission, $23 for Seniors and $12.50 for those 17 years of age or younger. The theatre is located at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek.

John Ford's tragic play examines forbidden love, in "Tis a Pity She's a Whore"

I am often asked it is really worth it for us to travel all the way into San Francisco, find parking, and pay the big bucks to see theatre in the theatrical center of the big city. I have to say that some levels of professional theatre are just not financially possible or available in the regional theatrical centers.

This week’s review of ACT’s bold new production is just such an example.
Most of us are familiar in one way or another with William Shakespeare’s writings, which ranged between the early 1590’s through 1613 (he died in 1616). And many of us may be familiar with the writings of Johnson, Marlowe, Kidd, Greene and Webster, but not many of us have heard of John Ford, who wrote plays and directed during that same Jacobean period (during the reign of King James the First, 1603 -1625), a period during which Shakespeare wrote some of his most powerful work. Ford was considered by Shakespeare and many others in this time as a melancholy writer. His reputation rests chiefly upon three tragedies that examined the consequences of forbidden love, “Tis a Pity She’s a Whore”, “The Broken Heart” and “Loves Sacrifice”.

It is the first of these powerful plays that ACT brings to us in their brilliantly created and exquisitely directed production of “Tis a Pity She’s a Whore” , a story of a brother’s and sister’s unbridled love for each other and that love’s terrible consequences, as incest was one of the greatest taboos in Elizabethan and Jacobean times.

In what can best be described as poetic, romantic, passionate, lustful, cacophonic, vitriolic, vengeful and violent, this very powerful play is re-created with luxurious and grand artistic architecture. From the wild and imaginative sets, to the splendid costumes to the outrageous musical accompaniment, to the employment of some of the Bay Area’s most outstanding actors, this production is definitely a brilliant work of art.

Giovanni and Annabella Florio, the only children of Senior Florio seem to be perfect children to their father, but they have hidden a secret lust for and liaison between each other from their family and friends for months. Florio professes to the father of one would-be-suitor for his daughter’s hand in marriage that he will not force his daughter to marry someone she does not truly love, that is, until he discovers that there is an opportunity for her to marry into nobility. Of course, his own personal place in society would be enhanced by such a union, so he quickly changes his mind and forces his daughter to marry Soranzo, a nobleman. He does not realize that his son and daughter have been engaging in sexually charged secret meetings for months, while he has been trying to arrange an appropriate marriage contract.

Soranzo discovers on his wedding night that his new wife is already pregnant and threatens to kill her. His principal servant, Vasques, a character somewhat similar to Shakespeare’s famous bad guy, Iago, overhears the pitched battle and dissuades Soranzo from taking immediate revenge upon his deceitful wife. Then, through some clever investigative work, Vasquez discovers that Annabella’s liaison has been with her own brother. This sets in motion a plan to publicly embarrass the Florio family and at the same time to extract sweet revenge, on Annabella and Giovanni, her brother. The act of revenge however becomes far more disastrous than either Soranzo or his servant could ever imagine.

In terms of violence, I would call this play a visceral and emotional cross between a “Romeo and Juliet meet the bloody Dane, Hamlet”.

The acting is absolutely superb with a huge cast, consisting in part of Steven Anthony Jones (a friar), Michael Hayden (Giovanni), Anthony Fusco (Vasques), Robert Sicular (Florio), Michael Earle Fajardo (Soranzo), Rene Augesen (Annabella), Gregory Wallace (Bergetto, a suitor), Stephen Barker Turner (Poggio, his servant), Sharon Lockwood (Putana, A nnabella’s hand maiden), and Jack Willis (as the disreputable Cardinal).

A remarkable singer and cellist, Bonfire Madigan Shive, has created music specifically for this production that adds a very edgy, shrill and cacophonic background that works perfectly, completely complimentary to the madness and moody nature of this work. If blood makes you queasy, you will have to gird up you loins, as this play ends in a sanguinary climax.

This exceptional production plays Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., now through July 6th in the ACT Theater located at 415 Geary Street, in central San Francisco just a few blocks from the Union Garage. Karen and I take BART and walk the few blocks uphill from the Powell Station, finding this our best bet with no parking fees, that is, if you don’t mind a little walk. Call (415) 749-2228 for ticket information and reservations, or go online to or visit the ticket outlet at 405 Geary Street.