Rosie the Riveter celebrated on SS Red Oak Victory in Richmond and The Best Man thrives in Danville!

Galatean Theatre celebrates the power of the American women workers known as Rosie the Riveter on board the SS Red Oak Victory in the old Richmond Kaiser shipyards !

Once again you can see and enjoy, “Rivets”, the relatively new musical celebration of “Rosie the Riveter” and of America’s amazing and near miraculous effort to rebuild a navy capable of turning the tide of war on the Axis of Evil. Now you can see this remarkable and inspired musical production, created by Kathy McCarty (book and Lyrics) and Mitchell Covington (music) and her Galatean Players Ensemble Theatre, staged onboard the SS Red Oak Victory, one of the last surviving Victory Ships anchored in the old Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond. This musical is about the men and women who moved to the Bay Area in 1942 to provide the labor force that empowered the shipbuilding industry to crank out a ship a day in America’s great war effort.

On September 9th, 1944, the keel was laid for the 455-ft Kaiser-built SS Red Oak Victory in the Richmond Shipyards. This Navy cargo carrier was designed to supply materials and supplies to the fleet of America’s battleships, cruisers, destroyers and other Navy vessels in the Pacific War zone. In just 87 days, this rugged example of American ingenuity, engineering expertise and industrial foresight, broke free from its chocks and slid down the ways into the San Francisco Bay at the Richmond shipyard. During the Richmond Kaiser Shipyard’s peak production period in 1943, it employed over 93,000 unskilled laborers. This became one of the largest and most diverse workforces ever assembled, with women comprising an unprecedented 27% of the entire workforce, most of whom had moved their homes, their children and their lives to Richmond, California.

The stage for this musical has been set up in one of the huge re-conditioned cargo holds on this ship. You will be able to sit back and enjoy this heart-warming, inspired and upbeat musical that tells us of the trials and tribulations of the nearly 100,000 workers brought from all corners of America to build these Victory Ships!

While “Rivets” focuses on the true stories of the women who actually worked in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards here in California, it really documents the evolution of a maturing working-women workforce around the world. It champions the women who were called upon when their men enlisted in the war effort and they, the women, were needed to get the jobs done at home. These gutsy, patriotic and driven women stepped up and fought prejudice on every level to do their physical and mental best to help this nation defeat the Axis forces.

It was the first time that many of these women were faced with the problems of being working parents, having to find daycare and housing. Both women and minorities entered the workforce in areas previously denied to them. However, they did have to face unequal pay, extreme hazards and were shunted off into "auxiliary" unions. They had to deal with day-to-day prejudice, sexual innuendos, abuse and inequities. During the war, there were labor strikes and sit-down work stoppages that eventually led to better working conditions for all employees. These severe prejudices handicapped the entire workforce comprised of black and white and Hispanic workers.

Author Kathy McCarty told me that she began working on this story over four years ago when an elderly friend she met in a convalescent care facility began relating to Kathy the personal stories of what it was like to be a female worker in the shipyards, what it was like to be a “Wendy the Welder” or “Rosie the Riveter”, just like the image that became a rallying poster for women workers in the 1940’s. Alert to this opportunity, Kathy began writing down and collecting the stories that are fast fading from these worker’s collective memories. In time, Kathy began carving out a story, in musical form, that would preserve this incredible tale of personal sacrifice and hardship! “Rivets” is a story of many different people and how this work process changed their lives and our world.

While attending the show on board the SS Red Oak Victory this past week, I had the good fortune and honor to meet Mrs. Lois (Smith) Barry, who was brought to the “Rivets” production by her daughters. Proud that their mother had been one of these selfless, hard-working American women, they decided to celebrate their pride in her and her hard working counterparts, by bringing her to see this show. At that time in her life, Ms. Smith was an Irish girl who lived in San Francisco. She went to work in the Bechtel Shipyards in Marin as a welder.
I have praised this musical on both of the two previous times I have reviewed it for this newspaper and I can tell you that the musical itself is constantly being worked on by Kathy McCarty, as it continues to evolve and become a more meaningful work.

If you saw the show while it was staged in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the arts last May, many of the cast members were the same then as they are now. There have been several changes necessary to adapt the show to the theatrical environment. Trying to produce a show in the cargo hold of an old ship is a real challenge for the theatrical company. Just finding the ship (having to drive down a very poorly marked road to the pier in Richmond) and getting onboard the ship, in itself, is a challenge. The gangway is definitely not designed for high heel shoes! It is very rudimentary. Dress very casually and comfortably, in layers, because it can get very chilly in Port Richmond at night. You have to be able to step over and through water-tight doors and climb up and down steep stairs, so dress accordingly. The seating is not as comfortable, nor is the audience able to see the show as well, because the seating is not terraced and there is no raised stage. After reading these negative statements, you might ask, “why are you even recommending that we encounter these trials just to see a musical about “Rosie the Riveter?” Because, you are actually in the ship itself where you can begin to more fully appreciate the stories of these great Americans, stories you will experience right within the bowels of one of those actual ships, where the workers encountered the prejudices and hardships tied to this experience. It is the shipboard ambiance that adds so much to this musical experience.

The cast consists of a broad range of talented people, experienced professional-level actors, accomplished amateurs and even neophytes, crafting their trade. What is unmistakable is their passion to give you a great production, the best they can possibly provide.

Shawn Creighton, Molly Rose Lewis and Monica Lenk engage you as the loving Mitchell sisters, each in her own way, climbing her own mountains. Randall Nott is once again, Mr. Biondi, the heart-warming widower, who finds love and friendship onboard a Victory Ship. Katrina Krasser conveys the frustration and the prejudice created by having to work with minorities. Millee Holliday plays the tough and loving mother, while Angel Reyes plays the daughter caught in a web of music, romance and racial barriers. This young lady is a very accomplished song stylist. In addition to many other talented singers, Leah Tandberg delivers dulcet melodies with her marvelous voice and Will Southard plays the voice of a KGO radio newscaster that reverberated across the landscape and mindscape of the Bay Area during war time. There are many more very talented people but I just do not have the space to fully praise them. This is an experience that is well worth the special effort it will take to see this sweeping tale of Americans growing great in tough and turbulent times!

Tickets range from $20 for general admission down to $15 for seniors and students. Call 676-5705 to reserve tickets or to obtain additional information. If you have access to the internet, connect to the Galatean Players Ensemble Theatre’s website at for more detailed information and a link to the site maintained by the Richmond Museum about the SS Red Oak Victory for detailed directions and a printable map. The ship is located at Berth 6A at the end of 1337Canal Blvd., in Richmond. You can take highway 80 North from Berkeley, and then take 580 west until you come to the Canal Blvd. off-ramp. The proceed south on Canal Blvd., meandering through the old Kaiser Ship yards until you come to Berth 6A. Watch for the small white signs pointing the way to the SS Red Oak Victory. Former “Rosie the Riveters”, Kaiser Shipyard Workers, WW II Vets and Uniformed Military will be welcomed with complimentary admission. This show continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., now through October 26th. “Rivets” is a great experience!
Tours of the SS Red Oak Victory are available before all Sunday performances. Visiting hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. A five dollar donation is greatly appreciated.

Gore Vidal says it all in The Best Man!

Lord Bryce once said, “Perhaps no form of government needs great leaders as much as democracy."

Democracy is not self-executing. It takes leadership to bring democracy to life. Great democratic leaders are visionaries. They have an instinct for their nation's future, a course to steer, a port to seek. Through their capacity for persuasion, they win the consent of their people and call forth democracy's inner resources. It takes great men or women to make a great democracy and hopefully the best man or woman is proffered up by his or her political party, , capable and suited to the task.

Meanwhile, locally, The Role player’s Ensemble Theatre in Danville is presenting their production of “The Best Man”, an inside look at the underbelly of politics. The Best Man is a story designed to elicit examination of the election process. In this play, which is set in the 60’s, former Secretary of State, William Russell, is running for job of president. We meet this play’s characters in their respective hotel rooms during a major party’s national convention. Russell (Richard Aiello) and his wife, Alice (Beth Chastain), have re-united for appearance sake to make Russell’s run for the presidency a possibility. Their personal relationship has been carefully hidden from the public for years, due primarily to Russell’s dalliances with other women. His principal opposition within his own party is a right wing evangelistic wild-man, Senator Joseph Cantwell (Jim Janisch), who is accompanied to the convention by his opportunistic wife, Mabel (Kristie Maloney).

Former president Arthur Hockstader (Dean Creighton), describes himself as a good ol’ boy, “the last of the great hicks”, a powerful politician whose nomination endorsement is highly sought by both candidates. Hockstader 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 because of his often outrageous headline grabbing tactics and underhanded political maneuvers, but trusts that he will make the better president because he is unafraid of making decisions.

If this article sounds familiar, I reviewed this same play for the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley, last month. This is a play that is really a perfect choice for the tenor of our times and this local production is exceptionally well done.

Director Sue Trigg has gathered together a quite excellent cast who give you the best of Gore Vidal. Aiello is very believable as a presidential candidate with what seems to be more scruples than the average politician, even if his personal morals are not above question. This play points out the fact that some of our greatest presidents performed very well in their jobs, but very poorly in their personal lives. Jim Janisch is quite excellent as the religious zealot willing to compromise anything to get the power and prestige of the presidency! The entire cast performed very well.

This 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 obscure their true characters and agendas. It is an exceptional play that plays exceptionally well. Gore Vidal says that he was made nervous by certain Presidential candidates, and that he wrote the play because he “wanted to examine the sort of men who are drawn to power in our society.” If you are not familiar with Gore Vidal’s writings, this is a perfect vehicle for you to encounter his writing talents! This is an engaging and very well done show, certain to get your thought processes working!

The Best Man continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Sundays at 2 p.m., now through November 1st. The Village Theatre is located at 233 Front Street in Danville. You may call (925) 314-3400 for ticket information or reservations or visit their website at or or call (925) 314-3463 for more information if you do not have access to the internet.