This week we have two journeys to the dark side of life with "Cabaret" and "Spider's Web!"

Two shows examine the dark side of life in “Caberet”, Kander and Ebb’s classic love story that takes place in the heat of war during the rise of Nazi Germany, and Agatha Christie’s delightful murder-mystery comedy, “Spider’s Web”.

Agatha Christie suprises many with a comic murder mystery, in her 1953 tale, entitled "Spider's Web".

The Orinda Starlight Village Players have been providing a delightful mix of comedy, mystery and pathos in a park in Orinda for many years and once again, they are leaving their audiences laughing with another Agatha Christie mystery, the seldom attempted, “Spider’s Web”.

In 1953, Mary Margaret Lockwood, a very popular actress known on British stage and screen between 1934 and the 1960’s had her agent contact the very successful Agatha Christie and request that she write a comic-murder-mystery play specifically for Miss Lockwood. Lockwood had become quite famous for her villainous roles and wanted something lighthearted to break the demand for her heavy handed character parts. Christie was riding a popularity wave in London, following her grand success with The Hollow and The Mousetrap, and thought this would be an ideal opportunity for her own popularity, by creating a light-hearted murder-mystery, starring the very popular Miss Lockwood.

Unfortunately, audiences were confused by this new role by Lockwood, who played the lead character, Clarissa Hailsham-Brown , and some rather blasé reviews by major critics, sentenced the production to a less than glamorous turnout with a run of 774 performances.

This current production is really quite delightful, a perfect fit for community theatre actors and audiences. Under the direction of Geotty Chapple, combined with the stalwart support and energy of all hands in bringing it together, Karen and I found it to be a most enjoyable evening of very reasonably priced entertainment.

The plot revolves around a family whose last name is Brown. Clarissa Hailsham-Brown (played very well by Laura Martin-Chapin) and her husband, Henry Hailsha-Brown (John Chapin), who have rented a very lovely cottage in Kent, England. A group of family friends have gathered for a game of Bridge before the evening goes awry. Sir Rowland Delahaye (Al Guaraglia), Hugo Birch (Barry Hunau) and Jeremy Warrender (Ken Sollazzo) have made plans to have dinner at the golf club adjacent to the Brown cottage, due to the fact that this particular evening is the servant’s night off.

They bid Clarissa adieu as they leave for the club and Clarissa sets off for the kitchen to prepare some sandwiches for her foreign office diplomat husband, Henry, who is expected home shortly. An unwelcome guest arrives within minutes and is admitted by the butler just prior to him and his wife exiting for an evening at the local movies. The unwelcome guest, Oliver Costello, is the conniving newly-wed husband of Henry’s ex-wife. Oliver (played by Malcolm Cowler) is a rather despicable underhanded ex-con (drug-dealer) who is now attempting to extort money from the Browns, claiming that his wife wants more custodial rights of the young daughter sired by Henry and his first wife, who is now residing with Henry and Clarissa.

Before the evening is over, Oliver is mysteriously murdered and Clarissa becomes the prime suspect. The plot is rather weak and confusing but the acting brings it all together. The young daughter, Pippa Hailsham-Brown (played very well by 9 year old Natalie Chapin), is delightfully captivating. The gardener, Mildred Peake (played by Marian Simson), is a minor but very important part as she secretly holds the key to the mysterious plot. Mildred is quite excellent and very, almost outrageously, entertaining. Shawn Bonnington plays the at times insightful and at times bungling, Inspector Lord, who arrives to investigate the murder. His assistant, a constable is played by Jim Fritz. Henry Hailsham-Brown is played by John Chapin and the family servant/butler, Elgin, is played by Tom Westlake.

The Orinda Starlight Theatre is located in a park amphitheatre adjacent to the Orinda Community Center Park at 26 Orinda Way, adjacent to the library. Tickets are a very reasonable $15 but seniors and students pay only $7.50 each. Tickets may be ordered by mail (or at the box office at the amphitheatre just prior to show time) by calling (925) 253-1191 or (925) 255- 3295 after 7p.m., or by writing the theatre care off their Post Office Box 204, Orinda, CA 94563-0204. “Spider’s Web” plays Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., now through June 25th. Be sure and dress very warmly, in layers, and bring a folding picnic chair or cushions as the rock seating in the amphitheatre can get very hard. This is a delightful show and an even more delightful price!

Cabaret earns a well deserved standing ovation for a dynamic, superb production at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts.

The Center Repertory Theatre in Walnut Creek has once again brought premier, first class entertainment to the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, with their brilliant production of Kander and Ebb’s “Cabaret”. From their remarkable set (designed by Robert Broadfoot), to the captivating costumes (designed by Victoria Livingston-Hall), to the superb choreography (created by Joe Bowerman), to the brilliant cast selected by director Mindy Cooper, this outstanding production will remain in my memory for a very long time!

The story opens with a young American writer Clifford Bradshaw (played by Jeffrey Draper) arriving in Berlin in 1929, hoping to find the impetus for creating his signature, first great novel. Decadent and outrageously in your face, the night life in Berlin immediately captures his imagination, especially, in the person of a nightclub dancer, entertainer and song stylist, Miss Sally Bowles (Kate Del Castillo). Times are hard as inflation is creating financial chaos and political unrest is fermenting everywhere as the communists, socialists and democratic societies are battling each other for political power.

Sally is fired from the Kit-Kat-Klub and with very little money in her pocket and very few clothes on her back, she lands in Bradshaw’s apartment, begging for his assistance. Bradshaw is practically as financially destitute as Sally, but with a little luck and a lot of persuasion, the landlady, Fraulein Schneider (Melissa Carey) acquiesces and the couple takes root in her very small boarding house.

Most of you probably know the story about the house-frau, Schneider, and the Jewish grocer, Herr Schultz (Jarion Monroe), and how their plans to wed are thwarted by the Nazi influence in their lives. Sally becomes pregnant and she and Clifford become a “couple”, fighting to stay alive financially. Bradshaw, because he is an American, can travel somewhat seamlessly, unquestioned or unimpeded, by rail police between Germany and France and he earns extra money transporting illegal political communiqués to and from France for a friend, Ernst Ludwig (John-Elliot Kirk). Bradshaw does not know that Ludwig is a member of the Nazi party. The Kit-Kat-Klub Cabaret, its provocative lady performers, it’s band, and its emcee, become the melodic and exhilarating backdrop wherein the troubles of the times are projected and reflected.

The music and the voices are pure sterling silver in this production. Everyone cast provides superior performance in every respect. The emcee (Nick Gabriel), plays his characterization quite differently than Joel Grey, and it is uniquely his own. He is quite sterling in his own right. The entire cast (far more than I have space to credit appropriately) contribute substantially to the overall production.

The set (designed by Broadfoot) is more than suitable, with suit-cases and the revolving stage, setting the tone for the mobility required by those volatile times and a rapidly paced show.

This has to be one of Artistic Director, Michael Butler’s, best productions to date. This outstanding evening of entertainment continues Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and with Sunday evening performances at 7:30 p.m., plus matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., now through Saturday, June 26th. This Center Repertory Theatre productin will be found in the Margaret Lesher Theatre in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. You may visit their website at or by visiting the box office in the Walnut Creek Barnes and Noble book store or in the Box office at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the arts. You may call them at (925) 943-7469 (SHOW) for more information and reservation availability. Tickets range between $37 and $41, and many shows are sold out so call and secure your tickets now!