Cal Shakes' delivers an Exotic & Bizarre & Brilliant "12th NIght", Town Hall delivers "The Graduate" & Center Rep Jives Alive with "Ain't Misbehavin"!

All three of the shows I am reviewing this week integrate music into their fabric, with everything from a saucy syncopated tribute to the African-American musical genius of Fats Waller in Center Reperory Company’s “Ain’t Misbehaven”; to the lyrical folk songs of Simon and Garfunkle setting their unique time stamp on Town Hall’s production of “The Graduate”; to a really weird collaboration of lyrical madness accentuating the insanity and beauty of California Shakespeare Theater’s wild and wacky production of William Shakespeare’s “12th Night”.

"The Graduate" delivers a powerful, thought-provoking and comic evening of outstanding entertainment!

1967 was a very good year, at least in the movie industry and for a young man named Dustin Hoffman. This is the year the movie, “The Graduate”, premiered. This story of an unfocused college graduate’s liaison with his father’s law partner’s wife, Mrs. Robinson, became one of America’s hottest films. The film also gave birth to one of the most popular Simon and Garfunkle folksongs, Mrs. Robinson.

Marilyn Monroe was originally slated to star as Mrs. Robinson in 1962 when the book by Charles Webb was being adapted for the movie (Marilyn died that same year), but following a succession of actresses later considered for the part, including Doris Day, Natalie Wood and Sally Field, Anne Bancroft eventually nailed the part and the rest is history!

The first stage adaptation which ran successfully in London and on Broadway was produced in 2000. The play often receives media attention due to a sequence that requires the actress playing Mrs. Robinson to disrobe and act a scene in the nude.

Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, under the astute direction of Joel Roster, is tackling this comic and thought provoking play with their current production of “The Graduate”. This is not an easy play to stage in that there are many, many scene and set changes. Joel has artfully camouflaged this continuity disturbing aspect, by providing a young guitar playing folksinger, who plays and sings appropriate Simon and Garfunkle folksongs of the period, and who temporarily becomes the focus of attention during a scene blackout, while the stage crew is changing the sets.

The story revolves around a young college student, Benjamin Braddock, who has just graduated from an Eastern College with honors. His financially secure Pasadena based parents, Mr. and Mrs. Braddock, are throwing a welcome home party to congratulate his successful college stint. Mr. Braddock’s law partner, Mr. Robinson, is romantically distanced from his alcoholic wife, but while they are attending the homecoming party, she attempts to seduce the young college student. Much to his embarrassment, he fends her off, but after several days with nothing much better to do, he decides to take her up on her offer. He begins a novice, but under her tutelage, he becomes more secure in his sexuality and manhood. Benjamin’s parents and Mr. Robinson encourage him to date the Robinson’s daughter, which portends many potential conflicts unforeseen by the parents. He resists for a while, but under constant prodding, he acquiesces, and before long, new chapter in stormy family relationships begins.

Director Joel Roster has carefully selected an excellent cast who make this an evening you should long remember. The college graduate, Benjamin, is played very believably by Dennis Markham, and Melissa Myers plays well the deceitful seductress, Mrs. Robinson (even without disrobing). Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine, who eventually becomes the real love interest of young Benjamin, is played equally well by Xanadu Bruggers. The real scene stealers are Jerry Motta and Sally Hogarty, who play Ben’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Braddock. In fact, they are so great, I would recommend your seeing the play just to experience there stellar performances! This is a very powerful, funny and thought provoking play.

“The Graduate” plays Thursdays, Fridays, Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees on September 21st and 28th at 2 p.m., with one Sunday evening show on October 5th at 7 p.m., closing on October 11th. Ticket prices range between $25 and $32 and needless to say, this is not a story for children under 12. The Town Hall Theatre is located at 3535 School Street at the corner of Moraga Road, in Lafayette. Call the theater box office for reservations at 283-1557 or visit their website at

Fats Waller tribute, “Ain’t Misbehavin”, is an electricrifyin' evening that pure Jumpin-N- Jivin'!

The Center Repertory Company in Walnut Creek is currently presenting, “Ain’t Misbehavin”, an outstanding musical review of the great African-American musicians of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, focusing on the “Jump-Jive” music of Fats Waller. Artistic Director Michael Butler has engaged the very talented Thaddeus Pinkston and Robert Barry Flemming to direct and choreograph this fun-filled up-beat evening of raucous review of “Jump-Jivin” songs and musical numbers from our early great rhythms that were the precursors of American Rock and Roll.

The cast consists of five sterling African-American performers, Anika Bobb, Marcie Henderson, Anise F. Ritchie, Clinton Derricks-Carroll and Tereek Lee Holmes. Wow! The joint was really jumpin’, to put it mildly, as the audience joined in with heart-felt hand-clapping accompaniment, on several occasions. These entertainers are absolutely terrific, great voices, great dancing, and attractive entertainers who deliver a superb show!

This inspired production includes such great numbers as “Ain’t Misbehavin”, “T’aint Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do”, “The Jitterbug Waltz”, “Your Feet’s Too Big”, “Two Sleepy People”, but to name just a few of the memory joggin’ songs and numbers that keep everybody on an upbeat musical journey all evening long.

When I was a student disc jockey on radio station KFJI in Klamath Falls, Oregon, back in the late 50’s, these were the songs that set the tone for the new Black performers of Rock and Roll that had began to deluge the airwaves at that time. Fats Domino, Little Richard, BB King, and a plethora of others soon began to take the place of the great jazz entertainers that had blazed the way on the earlier American radio airwaves.

“Ain’t Misbehavin” plays Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m., with two special dual performances in October, on Saturday the 4th and 11th, at both 2:30 and 8 p.m., closing on October 11th. The production is performed in the Margaret Lesher Theatre in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts at 1610 Civic Drive in downtown Walnut Creek. Call 943-7469 or visit their website at for more information or reservations.

A modern twist turns Shakespeare's "12th Night" into a bizarre delight!

Meanwhile, high in the Orinda Hills, in the Bruns Memorial Amphitheatre, The California Shakespeare Theatre is presenting one of the wildest and most outrageous interpretations of a William Shakespeare play I have ever seen, with their current production of “12th Night”.

I have been wondering how I would begin to describe this bizarre and beautiful production to give you a more visual and verbal interpretation of what Karen and I experienced. Searching for graphic concepts, I came upon this thought to describe this mixture of madness and mayhem and brilliant acting. Well- - it reminds me of an eclectic merging of latex and leather costumery born in San Francisco’s Polk Gulch, combined with the insanity of an Andy Warhol envisioned Erotic, Exotic Ball party. Wow, Wow, Wow and more Wow!

If you are not familiar with Shakespeare’s clever play about a brother and sister separated by a ship wreck at sea, their trials and tribulations during their separation and belief that their sibling had died in the raging storm, and their final, joyful resurrection and re-unification, this may not be the show you want to see to introduce you to this story. It is much too confusing with too much distracting tom-foolery (visual and verbal) going on that will, I’m sure, make the underlying story very difficult to ferret out. If however, you have seen the play or read the play before, by all means, do not miss this production as it puts a comic edge on Shakespeare that would be hard put to equal. The costumes, the antics of the actors, the incredible and edgy set design, all bring new life to an old tale.

Naturally, California Shakespeare Theatre always gathers the very best of professional actors to deliver the goods, and again they have done the same, or perhaps even raised the bar with this production.

In this production, one actor plays both the brother and sister, Sebastian and Viola. At first, I could not easily understand how Alex Morf was going to be able to accomplish this feat. When Alex , in the role of Viola, the sister, came out of the sea, having just been rescued, and appearing wet and bedraggled, Viola’s costume and makeup made for one of the homeliest sisters every created, certainly looking more like a seaweed coutured creature from the “Black Lagoon” than a young lady, just extracted from the sea.

However, the tale moved forward and Viola took on the guise of Cesario, a man hoping to seek employment and protection in the court of Count Orsino (Stephen Barker Turner), the male actor, pretending to be a female, pretending to be a male, began to work very well.

When Alex emerged as the brother, Sebastian, his character subtly changed, allowing the audience to really envision and believe that he was both a twin brother and sister. As the play moved forward, his characterization became more and more believable, and finally, somewhat incredible, as in the final scene, he moved about the stage, quietly shifting between the two characters, with great genius and skill.

There are many very interesting characters in this play, many stories within this story. Count Orsino is madly in love with the beautiful widowed Olivia (Dana Green) and he sends his favorite servant, Cesario (who by now is disguised as a servant, and has fallen in love with Orsino), to plead for Olivia’s hand in marriage.

There are far too many characters than I have space to write about in this article, but one in particular, Malvolio, the steward to Countess Olivia, is a narcissistic, puritanical, self-serving servant, who is also in love with his employer, Olivia. Played by Sharon Lockwood, this character takes on a depth and pervasiveness and comic absurdity that is so magnificent, it is hard to describe. If you see this show, you would have to come away with a new appreciation for an actress who has reached yet another great plateau in her acting accomplishments.

While this is truly a bizarre production, it is truly brilliant, almost beyond description. If you are familiar with this play, “Twelfth Night”, then I strongly recommend that you do not miss this outstanding production. Director Mark Rucker has certainly created an unrivaled interpretation of this great Shakespearean work.

This remarkable production plays Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances a 4 p.m., and one afternoon matinee at 2 p.m., on September 20th , closing on October 5th. The Cal Shakes Theater is located in the Brun’s Memorial Amphitheater at 100 Gateway Blvd. in Orinda, located by exiting the freeway westbound at the last exit on the east side of the Caldecott Tunnel. Tickets start at $35 and generally range between $35 and $62 each (except for previews). Call (510) 548-9666 or visit their website at for more information. Be sure and dress in layers as it can get downright cold when the fog comes over the Oakland hills and drop down into the amphitheatre area. Last Saturday evening it turned out to be rather chilly and I had to wrap a blanket around my shoulders.