Enchanted April purely enchanting - The Kite Runner -captivating and Town Hall Theatre suffers April Fool's day disaster!

Three theatrical events are featured in this week’s “column”, ranging from the terrific productions waiting to engage you and a recap of the tragic water damage at the Town Hall theatre in Lafayette and the company’s heroic efforts to overcome their adversity to continue to deliver their show, despite their difficulties.

First up, my current reviews of the outstanding productions featured this week, “The Kite Runner”, recently extended for San Jose Repertory Theatre and Center Repertory Company’s “Enchanted April”, which opened this past week at the Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

The time is the early 1920’s and four women living lives of quiet discontentment in a dreary rain-soaked London, are drawn together through advertisements posted in a London newspaper, an offer to escape to sunny Italy for a month of reflection, relaxation and rejuvenation.

These women suffer from similar chronic malaise, boredom with their lives, marital discontent and less than satisfying relationships in general.
Lotty Wilton (Lizzy Calogero), a young housewife, reads an advertisement in a local newspaper about a small Mediterranean Castle in Northern Italy that is available for rent for the month of April. When she encounters the phrase, well suited “to those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine”, she becomes mesmerized with the exciting and pleasant thoughts of a holiday away from the incessant rain and dreary grey days of life in London at the height of the rainy season. Lotty is a font of babbling bubbling energy, described by her husband as having a mind that is reminiscent of a hummingbird, “one seldom sees it land”. At home, Lotty is constantly being brow-beaten by her overbearing husband; typical of upper middle class men, self-centered and used to being catered to by their “lowly” wives. She wants and needs a change in her life, or she will surely go mad!

Unable to afford the rental fee by herself, she approaches fellow lady club member, Rose Arnott (Suzanne Irving), hoping to find a sympathetic soul similarly searching for the relief and release promised by a month in a sunny Italian castle environment. Rose is equally depressed and despondent, but not quite so enthusiastically enchanted by the prospects of a brief respite in a “wisteria covered castle” as is the overzealous Lotty. Eventually, Lotty wins Rose over to the idea and they place an advertisement of their own, soliciting two more women of like mind to help share the expense and experience.

In short order, they receive inquiries from an elderly Mrs. Graves (Wanda McCaddon), who is seeking serenity to provide a place to simply read and reflect on life, and from socialite Caroline Bramble (Maryssa Wanless), who needs a break from her mother’s constant cacophony and whirlwind of parties and engagements and fawning admirers.

Women of this period had little income or financial independence, but Lottie and Rose were reluctantly “allowed” by their husbands to join with “friends” under the pretense that they were being invited to attend this holiday as “guests” of friends who owned this castle.

Following all of the women’s arrival at the castle, all is not perfect. The castle has plumbing problems and individual conflicts and individual expectations provide some frustrations and obstacles as well, but the constant upbeat personality and unending engagement of the vivacious Lotty, levels the playing field and wins over the ladies into a lasting friendship. Lotty decides she needs to bring her husband, Mellerish (Alex Moggridge), to the castle so that she can face her fears and forge new marital directions. She convinces Rose that she should invite her husband also. Rose’s husband, Fredrick (Steve Irish), does arrive, but sooner than expected, and not because he received a telegram from his wife. We discover that he had other ulterior motives for doing so. A delightfully comedic and soul searching situation brings all of these unique individuals into what can only be described as an “Enchanted April”!

This is like a modern adult fairy tale, light hearted, leaving you with an evening of engaging entertainment that will not be soon forgotten. This is a truly delightful experience!

In addition to the six main characters delivering superb portrayals, Kerry Shawn, is absolutely wonderful as Costanza, the Italian castle’s chief cook and bottle washer. The owner of the castle is a young Brit by the name of Joseph (played in superb fashion by Antony Wilding), who inherited the castle from his family. He visits the castle while attending a gathering of artists in Italy, at the same time as his guests are sub-letting his castle. Joseph, along with Lotty, is a major catalyst for change among all the visitors.

The set, designed by Kelly Tighe, is terrific, more like an Italian villa than what I would imagine as a small castle, but it was beautiful and worked perfectly. Director Michale Butler has again shown his artful and romantic side with this sweetly comic story of love going astray, but returning one day, a harbinger of hope for the future, especially if there is any grey in your day.

I highly recommend this show as a super way to spend an evening enjoying great theater. Enchanted April plays Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., now through April 2nd in the Margaret Lesher Theatre in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. You can purchase tickets at the box office at 1601 Civic Drive, or the ticket office outlet at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Walnut Creek, or purchase them on line at www.CenterREP.org or you may call (925) 943-7469 for additional information.

San Jose Repertory Theatre has mounted the world premiere of “The Kite Runner”, a play adapted by San Jose State University Assistant Professor of Communications and Performance Studies, Matthew Spangler, of the award winning novel of the same name by Afghan native, Dr. Khaled Hosseini. Author Hosseini, was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in March of 1965. His father was worked for the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and history. His personal knowledge of life in both Iran and Iraq before his family sought political asylum in the United States following the Soviet invasion of Iraq, provided him with the basis for his critically acclaimed book published in 2004, entitled, “The Kite Runner”. While the book is a fictional story of the friendship of two boys, its pages echo the reality of life as it was and as it is today in modern Afghanistan. Made into an Oscar nominated movie in 2007, the story resonates with all of us, as it tells the tale of two boy’s trials and tribulations profoundly tested by the turmoil in their land. It is a moving story of loyalty, family tradition, fear, devastating mistakes and unrelenting love.

Two boys, both motherless, one, Amir, the son of a moderately wealthy and successful merchant, the other, Hassan, the son of that same merchant’s servant and principal slave, born on the same soil, breast fed by the same nanny, growing up in the pre-soviet invasion republic of Afghanistan, became brothers of the soul and brothers of the soil. Amir’s family was of Peshtun tribal ethnicity and the other, Hassan’s family, was Shiite, of the Hazara tribal ethnicity.

In Afghanistan, a land of little grass, while soccer was the national pastime, kite-flying and kite-fighting became a principle recreational activity. This story chronicles the events that followed the relatively peaceful period until the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan took control of the government, followed in 1979 by the Soviet invasion and occupation that continued until their withdrawal in 1989. When the Pashtun supremacists, the Taliban, took control of Kabul, they at first were welcomed as saviors, until their true nature became evident. In short order, they began to systematically eradicate the Shiites, including the Hazara people.

Young Amir (played by Craig Piaget) was a quiet, intelligent and non-aggressive boy, preferring to spend his time reading to his friend Hassan (Lowell Abellon) and playing cowboys and Indians, emulated from characters seen in American western movies popular in the local movie theaters. Amir’s father couldn’t understand why his son was not into soccer and treated him with great disdain, could hardly believe that “had I not seen him come out of his mother’s belly”, that he could really be his own son. On one great competitive kite-flying day, the son, Amir, with the help of his friend Hassan, won the kite battle, cutting down the last competitor’s kite, and was regaled by his father and family as a hero. But a tragic event that happened to his young friend, Hassan, and Amir’s fear and inability to stand up and be counted, began to create a distance between the boys, due in large part to Amir’s great shame. That shame grew into a hatred that caused Amir to commit a great disservice and disloyalty to his friend and his friend’s family, a disservice that caused them, especially the boys, to part company, forever.

Amir’s family escaped during the Russian occupation and like author Hosseini’s family, sought asylum in America, in fact, in the Fremont area. Twenty years later, after Amir (as the adult Amir, brilliantly played by Barzin Akhavan) had grown up in America, received his college degree and married, he learned that his friend Hassan had eventually married and he and his wife had a son. He also learned that both Hassam and his wife were murdered by the Taliban, basically just because they were Shiites. The child survived and Amir returns to Kabul to attempt to redeem himself for his disservice and dishonor to his friend, Hassan, and to attempt to find and provide refuge for Hassan’s son.

The story is completely captivating. I found myself emotionally involved, torn by the heart rending situations, the story and the incredible acting. I am at this moment contemplating renting the movie because I want to visit this powerful story again.

Director Ira Goldstein has indeed captured the power and beauty of this mesmerizing tale. His selection of actors will undoubtedly bring great praise from the theatrical community. I don’t really have space this week to fully credit the articulate actors for their portrayals. I can only suggest that this production is well worth the 45 minute drive to San Jose Repertory Theatre to see this truly stunning adaptation of the epic novel. The response has been so demanding that this show has just been extended through April 27th. The Kite Runner continues now Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 2 p.m., now through Sunday, April 27th. . Ticket prices range between $25 and $62 each. 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 www.sjrep.com for more information.

Meanwhile, back at the Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, on the Night of April 1st, the day my wife and I were celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary, the Town Hall became the victim of a terrible April Fool’s day disaster, a sprinkler head in the upstairs seating area of the theatre failed and flooded the theatre with over 800 gallons of water.

My wife and I met at Town Hall somewhere around 1984 and this theatre has very a special place in our life ever since. It is a special place in many people’s lives as great theatre and entertainment and education has taken place here for a long time. My wife’s mother, Nancy Quenzel, tells me that the first time she came to the Town Hall to participate in activities there, the ground floor was merely a dirt floor. Nancy directed and participated in plays in this theatre and her husband, Edwin, built sets and made repairs on this building. A lot has happened there over the years, a lot of improvements have taken place. The Dramateurs and LaFrantics (both of which I was proud member) as well as the current Town Hall Theatre group have entertained thousands in that building.

In recent years a lot of great things have happened there and a lovely and dedicated young lady by the name of Janice Peacock joined the current theatre to assist in the teaching programs made available to local youth, but perhaps even more importantly she has spearheaded major improvements that have re-invigorated the patrons and performers alike. Unfortunately, most of the thousands of dollars of improvements and upgrades to the building that she solicited from outstanding local businesses and contributors were completely destroyed by the events of April 1st. Insurance will replace and restore much of the destroyed building and improvements, but now, more than ever the theatre needs the communities support, morally and financially. Many improvements really need to be made at this time, just because it makes sense to do so, and those improvements will cost the theatre money it doesn’t really have. Your help to restore properly this historical edifice and community jewel will be greatly appreciated, especially in this time of great financial uncertainty.

With the downstairs area completely inundated by water, ruining the walls, ceilings, box office and lobby area, many things that became greatly appreciated, will be temporarily less than what the theatre and its patrons would prefer.

The upstairs theatre area is almost fully intact with only the back row being unusable. The front inside stairs are currently unusable. The front lobby area is open but not very attractive. Patrons may arrive early and purchase tickets at the theatre, but due to the problems with their computers and ticket issuing equipment being damaged it would be best if you can purchase tickets on line. It is important to note that while the inside stairs are closed, the outside stairs are usable and the elevator is fully operable. The downstairs toilets are re-opened and functioning. The walls, carpets, ceiling, furniture and lighting downstairs have been destroyed and it is estimated that it may take up to two months to get the theatre back fully functioning as before. If you call the theatre (925-283-1557) for information or tickets there is no one at the site to answer the phones and your message will be forwarded to a voicemail phone recording system where people will gather messages and call you back as soon as possible. If possible, please order tickets on line at www.townhalltheatre.com .

The Town Hall’s current production of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple – female version” is a truly terrific production, one of their best in recent history and is getting standing ovations. I strongly recommend that even with a little inconvenience in obtaining the tickets, the show and the people are just as great as ever! In addition, if you know any businesses or individuals who can find a way to financially assist the Town Hall right now, please contact Janice Peacock at the theatre, leave a message and she will call you back.