The Best Man, The Foreigner and Berkeley High's "YellowJackets" bring audiences to their feet!

San Jose Rep giives Larry Shue his due!

Have you ever traveled to a foreign country and felt the absolute isolation of the language barrier, almost a - - “a stranger in a strange land” (to borrow Robert A. Heinlein’s famous phrase)? What if you were an introvert, shy, insecure and found great difficulty and anxiety with the social pressure of knowing you eventually were going to be called upon to communicate, but had no idea what to say or how to contribute, dreading that moment in time. If you have ever experienced the fear and trepidation of this type of situation or perhaps known someone who has found themselves in a similar predicament, then you will greatly appreciate the brilliant upbeat and outrageously funny comedy by Larry Shue, entitled, “The Foreigner”.

San Jose Repertory Theatre has just delivered a luxuriously appointed and richly rewarding comedy that will absolutely turn whatever kind of day you had, into a grand evening of entertainment with this old chestnut. Karen and I have seen this play numerous times, and it has to be one of our favorite comedies. Fortunately, it has generally been staged with a superb mix of talented actors, so we have rarely been disappointed.

Director Andrew Barnicle has employed some very talented and professional actors to bring the audience the diversity of characterization needed to make this exceptionally funny play work the way it should. A great deal depends not only upon the spoken word, but the body language, the facial expressions and perfect timing to properly give Shue his due.

Charlie Baker (Louis Lotorto) accompanies his friend “Froggie” LeSueur (Steve Irish) (a British Army bomb-handling expert and military adviser to the US Army) from England to a fishing lodge in Georgia. “Froggie” comes to the US annually to conduct military training classes at the request of the American government and elects to bring his friend along with him (claiming Charlie is a much needed assistant). Charlie considers himself the “world’s dullest man” and is a pathological misfit due to his extreme shyness. “Froggie” has been very concerned about his good friend’s state of mind and wants to get Charlie out of his normal routine, to hopefully help him shake off his depression and low self-esteem.

When they arrive at the fishing lodge where “Froggie” always stays in the US while on his training missions, Charlie panics when he realizes that this is a “public lodge” and that there will be other guests that he might have to talk with. Charlie wants to immediately return to England. To get Charlie to stay at the Lodge while “Froggie” is off doing his training mission, “Froggie” cooks up a story for the landlady, Betty Meeks (Phoebe Elinor Moyer), that “Char-o-lee” is a “top secret” foreigner who cannot speak English and must not be spoken to.

Charlie agrees to stay provided he is insulated from the other guests by this ruse (everybody believing that Charlie cannot understand English). Almost as soon as “Froggie” leaves, Charlie overhears private conversations from other guests that makes him very uncomfortable and he begins to regret his decision to stay on as a phony foreigner. But in very quick succession, he also overhears a plot to defraud the sweet elder landlady out of her fishing lodge. He decides to actively take part in a grand charade in which he quickly begins to learn “English” and turns the tables on the bad guys. The bad guys include an opportunity seeking minister, Rev. David Lee (Craig Marker) and Owen Musser (James Asher), a county building safety inspector who is also a Klu Klux Klan operative. Charlie attempts to come to the rescue of recently orphaned and now very wealthy Catherine Simms (Anna Bullard) and her brother Ellard (Aaron Wilton), who have become targets of the irreverent minister Lee, and who wants to marry Miss Simms for her money.

Ellard Simms is somewhat mentally retarded and it is up to his sister to determine if and when Ellard is to receive his half of the family inheritance. The minister tries to make the poor young man seem even more retarded and misfit than he is, so that when the minister marries Catherine, he will have access to the much larger combined fortune, if Ellard’s sister deems Ellard incompetent to receive his portion of the inheritance. When Charlie utilizes the exuberance of the retarded and overly helpful Ellard as his English instructor, the outrageous English lessons become an absolute riot (that’s pronounced “Rii – ott” with a southern twang)!

The set, designed by Kent Dorsey is beyond great, it is truly grand! The costumes designed by B. Modern (yep, that’s her name!) are outstanding! I was impressed with the lighting design by Paulie Jenkins. While all of the acting is excellent, Louis Lotorto and Phoebe Moyer were truly superb!

This terrific comedy provides an evening of uplifting comic entertainment that is really worthy of the 45 minute drive to San Jose. “The Foreigner” 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 September 28th. Ticket prices range between $15 and $59 each with Seniors (65 and over) at $6 less per ticket. 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 for more information.

The City of Berkeley is once again demonstrating its highly intelligent and marvelous management insight by restricting parking in the theatre and dining center of Berkeley on nights when the Cal Bears have home games, and you, the theatre patrons need to be aware of this anomaly. This is a shame because there are at least two outstanding theatrical venues on Addison Street, the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Aurora Theatre, which now find themselves with handy street parking in a tow away zone when the Bears play at home!

Karen and I went to the Aurora Theatre two weeks ago, on Saturday, August 30th to attend the Aurora’s production of Gore Vidal’s outstanding play about politics, “The Best Man”. Naturally, the theatrical production starts at 8 pm (sounds typical doesn’t it), but starting at 8:30 p.m. and lasting until 11 p.m., parking spaces directly in front of the theatre become tow-away zones on the nights when the Cal Bears play at home. We came out of the theatre at intermission, and discovered to our dismay, that our car had been towed away. Mind you, I recognize that it is totally my fault for not reading the parking sign which indicated this rather unusual towing situation. Not that one would normally expect to be towed 11 blocks away from the Bears Memorial Stadium, in the middle of the downtown area. By the way, the towing operators do not take checks, only cash or credit cards for their $160 fee. The City of Berkeley seems happy to get their $39 violation fee any way they can get it. The theatre staff was not even aware of this parking restriction, but I can assure you, they are now! The question I have is, to what purpose does Berkeley do this? No one else seems to have used any of these street parking spaces for football parking as the street was totally bare until after the shows were over. All I know is that a lot of vehicles were towed and a lot of restaurant and theatre patrons were very unhappy. I can imagine what Gore Vidal would have said and probably does say about the political realities that reign incoherent and inconsistent in Berkeley, California. It appears that both the Marines and theatre patrons are not welcome there!

Gore Vidal says it all!

We returned to the Aurora this past weekend, parked in the public garage across the street, and in the same block as the theater and once again attended the production of “The Best Man”. Gore Vidal is certainly one of America’s great writers with historical and political insight gained while rubbing shoulders with America’s great and not so great politicians. This play is a brilliant, if not idealistic, expose of the political nature of our elective process.

This is the story of fictitious politicians during the 1960 presidential campaign convention, at the time China was threatening to invade Taiwan (Formosa) and was rattling their political long knives over the National Chinese by shelling the islands of Quemoy and Matsu off the China coast. I know because I was there. In this play, former Secretary of State, William Russell, is running for job of president and this story takes place during a major party’s national convention. Russell (Charles Shaw Robinson) and his wife, Alice (Emilie Talbot), who have been pretty much secretly estranged for several years due to Russell’s dalliances, have re-united for appearance sake to make Russell’s run for the presidency a possibility. His principal opposition within his own party is a right wing wild-man, Senator Joseph Cantwell (Tim Kniffin), who is accompanied to the convention by his conniving wife, Mabel (Deb Fink).

Former president Arthur Hockstader (Charles Dean), a good ol’ boy, “the last of the great hicks”, whose nomination endorsement is highly sought by both candidates, respects Russell’s skills as a politician, but is weary of his indecisiveness and lack of political expediency. On the other hand, Hockstader dislikes Cantwell, but trusts that he will make the better politician because he is unafraid of making decisions, regardless of whom he stabs or double crosses to get the job done.

The play examines the good, the bad, the left, the right and the rancorous nature of the political process. It strips bare the garments of respectability in which our politicians and their parties cloth attempt to obscure their true characters. It is an exceptional play, that plays exceptionally well, especially at this time in our own political events. If you are not familiar with Gore Vidal’s writings, this is a perfect vehicle for you to encounter his writing talents!

Director Tom Ross has gathered a superlative cast of actors, many who play several parts so well, that I had to go back and re-read my program to make sure I knew that this actor or that actor was actually the same actor I saw in an earlier vignette or characterization.
“The Best Man” plays Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 2 p.m. and 7p.m., now through September 28th in the Aurora Theatre at 2081 Addison street in Berkeley, two blocks from Bart and 11 blocks from the Bear’s Memorial Stadium, and next door to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Call (510) 843-4822 or visit their website at for more information and reservations.

Learning and leaning Left at Berkeley High!

Right next door to Aurora, the Berkeley Repertory Theatre is presenting a very ambitious play from a new young author, Itamar Moses (a Berkeley Native) , who writes about his own experiences, at Berkeley High, with Berkeley’s political activism and leftist leanings, its political heritage, racial diversity, and how that heritage has affected the very core of education in Berkeley itself. “Yellowjackets” is a story about the life and times of Berkeley High in the 1990’s. It is the story of the school newspaper, The Yellowjacket, and its staff, a group of intellectually and racially diverse students trying to put out a school news paper that reflects fairly the stories and events that affect the students’ lives. But, as is typical with any school news paper, the freedom of speech is not always free!

The first act of the play is like a student maelstrom, the outermost winds of a hurricane swirling and whirling around the chaotic nature of growing up a teenager in these times. The threats of beatings, bullying, the winds of political change, radicalism, class tracking and closed campus environments create an extreme difficulty in coming away with any education, even if you wanted it. The second act comes around to the principal of how one’s environment establishes one’s perspective of what the freedom of expression really means. It was at this time that the play finally began to resonate with me.

All of the actors play multiple characters. The acting is as good as it gets. The cast includes Shoresh Alaudini, Jahmela Biggs, Alex Curtis, Ben Freeman, Lance Gardner, Amaya Alonso Hallifax, Kevin Hseih, Adrienne Papp, Craig Piaget, Brian Rivera and Erika Salazar. Director Tony Taccone has pulled together a remarkable cast with an important story to tell.
By the end of the play, I came away thoroughly engaged, excited, and glad for the experience, as this is an eye opening play. Through this play, I can see that the administrative gulag that overtly controlled the strings of the newspapers publication has also influenced the political direction in Berkeley. The pervasive leftists leanings of the school administration has undoubtedly left its mark on the City of Berkeley, and its political direction today, as those students have grown up and now participate in its administration.

This is a very unique production, a unique story, just as unique as the microcosm that Berkeley represents within our society today. “Yellowjackets” plays Tuesdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Wednesdays at 7 p.m., Thursdays and Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., now through October 12th. Call (510) 6457-2949 or visit their website at The Berkeley Repertory Thrust Stage Theatre is located at 2025 Addison Street, in downtown Berkeley. Tickets range in price between $33 and $71 each with $10 discounts available to Seniors, one hour before curtain, and half price tickets are available to anyone under 30 years of age.