"Curtains" delights all in Walnut Creek and "Arcadia" opens in Concord to standing applause!

Peter McArthur tells Maureen Theresa- Williams that the solution to a 356 year old mystery in mathematics appears to be solved!

Photo by Becky Potter

This week the curtain rises in Walnut Creek on a very funny, very silly superficial spoof of mystery theater and musical theatre combined in Kander and Ebb’s wild and wacky 2007 Broadway success, “Curtains”. Then, down the road in Concord, the Butterfield 8 Theatre Company is exploring Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia”, a marvelously complex and comic tale of a mystery in mathematical evolution being debated and solved by allowing us to step back into time, to see the real tale unfold, while modern day Sherlocks dig deep and initially come up shallow!

First, for those who seek little intellectual challenge in their theatrical entertainment, Diablo Theatre Company’s production of “Curtains” has risen this past week in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, and is guaranteed to be pure entertainment, requiring little effort on your part, other than to just kick back and enjoy!

“Curtains” reveals to the audience a production in progress in the Colonial Theater in Boston; a Broadway-intended musical that is built around a modern western (in fact, a very bad adaptation of the original “Robin Hood” story). As a valiant and upbeat cast proclaims their undying devotion to the” wide open spaces of K-A-N-S-A-S”, the leading lady, a movie star by the name of Jessica Cranshaw (Julie Wall), is seen crashing and burning on a funeral pyre of ineptitude. It quickly becomes obvious in this closing scene of this woeful western, that Ms. Cranshaw cannot perform live, and what’s more, she cannot sing, dance, act or remember her lines and blocking! She is a stage disaster of Titanic proportions, a miscast galactic sized ice glacier crushing down this company’s theatrical landscape, plunging this production right into the Boston Bay - - - taking everyone and everything with it in her “wake”. Not only is Ms. Cranshaw killing the production, but as she makes her curtain call, she, herself, collapses on the stage apron, bringing the curtain down on an ill-fated show.
In the next scene, members of the company’s production team are seen pacing the darkened stage scouring the morning editions of the local Boston newspapers, looking for affirmation and positive reviews, but unfortunately, they read more like obituaries such as the following review in the Boston Globe which says, “if you loved Oklahoma, - - stay there - - as long as Robin Hood is running in Boston!” This fun-filled number addresses the power of the proverbial “critic” on the success or failure of an opening production and the entire cast sings a down and dirty “dirge” to celebrate how much the theatre community typically loves and worships the wit and wisdom of the theater reviewer! “Who’d make a living by killing other people’s dreams - - I mean, what kind of man would take a job like this?” The lyrics are simply too funny, and the best lines are much too acrid and adult to put in print!

In short order, as the actors are packing their physical and intellectual baggage, hoping to forget that this most disastrous episode ever happened in their lives, word comes from the Boston General Hospital that Miss Crenshaw has croaked. To those in the production team, this is seen as a positive turn of events. Perhaps with a new lead and a new production effort, the show can be re-born. The entire cast is coerced into an impromptu memorial celebration by the director, who asks the cast whether they should “ - - observe a minute of silence to match the audience’s response to Jessica’s first number - - oh well – all right, Jessica was a member of our company and now we part company - -”. As they sing their song commemorating her departure, homicide detective Frank Cioffi (Tom Reardon) enters through a rear stage door and announces to the assembled cast, that he has arrived to investigate Jessica’s murder. It becomes abundantly apparent as soon as Cioffi opens his mouth, that he holds professional actors in great esteem, and while revealing his great love of musical theater, he announces that the entire cast must be sequestered within the theater, while he conducts his investigation.

The list of suspects include the “hard-as-nails” female producer, Carmen Bernstein (Jessica Fisher); her philandering husband, Sidney (Tim Johnson); the divorced song-writing team of Aaron Fox (Derrick Silva) and Georgia Hendricks (Amy Nielson); stage manager Johnny Harmon (Jody Black); director Christopher Belling (Paul Plain); ingénue Nikki Harris (Sharon Rietkerk); choreographer Bobby Pepper (Andrew Willis-Woodward) and the overly ambitious chorus line performer, Bambi Bernét (Renee DeWeese).

While the investigation goes on, the company tries to rectify the show’s weak points, re-write the script and re-design some key numbers. Lieutenant Cioffi becomes enamored with the very lovely and not overly bright Nikki Harris and she, as well, with him. More murders occur, just to keep the show interesting and to provide background for more of the fun-filled songs and the really silly plot!

The big question is can Cioffi and Harris fall in love, solve the mystery, save the musical and sell the audience this totally implausible plot before the curtain rises on the re-written show? Well, the only way you will know is to buy your tickets and go!

"Curtains", typical of a Kander and Ebb production, is lots of fun with a couple of really memorable numbers (“Show People”, “What Kind of Man”, “Tough Act To Follow”, “The Woman is Dead”. “He Did It” and “Thinking of Him”) thrown in for good measure. Director Daren A.C. Carollo has brought together a brilliant evening of outrageous entertainment. Choreographer Gia Solari has done a superb job and musical director Chad Runyon not only directs the orchestra with his usual panache, but he even adds his splendid voice to the show in the character of Sacha Iljinsky. Even if there is absolutely nothing that ails ya, this show is bound to make you feel better! “Go see it, and that’s an order!”

“Curtains” only continues through February 28th in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts at 1601 Civic Drive in downtown Walnut Creek. Call 943-7469 for reservations or visit their online website at http://www.lesherartcenter.org/. More information and photographs can be found on the company’s website, http://www.diablotheatre.org/. Tickets range between $29 and $42 each!

You can't always judge a book by its cover, and the notes hidden away inside, may not the "whole truth" provide! Tom Stoppard's cleverly written, award winning play, "Arcadia", opened in Concord this past week.

Butterfield 8, the innovative local theatrical production company based in Concord, has hit another home run with their wickedly outrageous production of Tom Stoppard’s thought-provoking examination of historical revelation, in “Arcadia”. I have to warn you that not only is Arcadia a powerful and exciting production in the hands of artistic director John Butterfield, but I found myself on the internet examining the “story within the story” and the “mystery behind the mystery” for nearly two additional hours after seeing the show. Stoppard is considered one of the truly great playwrights and critics have extolled this particular play as “unique” and “near genius” in its construction and evolution. Even though I have seen it previously, I still eagerly await each new director’s interpretation. I was definitely not disappointed in this heart-felt production.

Arcadia is set in Sidley Park, in a grand English country estate in Derbyshire, England, by juxtaposing two time periods (1809-1812 and 1993) and events that occurred during those time periods on top of each other. Two modern scholars are in residency in the mansion in the 1993 time period along with the home’s current residents, searching for clues as to the truth of events that took place in the mansion nearly 180 years earlier. Hanna Jarvis (Maureen-Theresa Williams), an author (researching an elusive story of a hermit who lived on the estate), and Bernard Nightingale (Donald L. Hardy), a professor of literature (and avid fan of Lord Byron), explore and research two different aspects of two different mysteries that apparently occurred during the same time period on the same property.

Thomasina Coverly (Becky Potter), the 16 year old daughter of the house, is an enthusiastic and precocious teenager as well as an avid student and child protégé of mathematics, who is under the tutelage of Septimus Hodge (Edwin Peabody). Far beyond her years, Thomasina’s inquisitive mind is constantly asking questions of her tutor that he finds hard to answer and in a moment of frustration, while he is engrossed in attempting to read an erotic poem by Ezra Chater (David Hardie, another house guest), he throws down a mathematical challenge to the young Thomasina. He suggests that her next assignment is to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem (an elusive number theory proposed by the French mathematician, Pierre Fermat in 1637), the answer to which has been sought by mathematicians for nearly 200 years. At the same time, Hodge is somewhat of a rogue and sexual adventurer. In addition, he is a personal friend of Lord Byron (a frequent but unseen guest in the house during this time period). While employed as a tutor, it becomes apparent that the handsome tutor’s sexual proclivity has come into question. Poet Ezra Chater becomes enraged when a rumor circulates that his wife has explored “a perpendicular poke in the gazebo” at the hands of tutor Hodge. Threats of a duel and disappointments, abound, as the Lady and Mistress of the House, Lady Croom, has also been engaging in lessons of copulation with the titillating tutor.
Notes found stashed away, hidden in the pages of various old books in the family library, seem to point to some liaisons and lessons and duels and disappearances of principal characters. Professor Nightengale, in his search for a missing piece of history relating to Lord Byron and the conditions under which he mysteriously fled to France for a two year period, developes a theory following the discovery of those intriguing notes. Bits and pieces of information lead the learned professor to assume that Byron, like his buddy Hodge, has been dipping his pen in an illicit ink well, which in turn has led to the disappearance and death of Ezra Chater, brought about during a duel, or so he assumes, by an accused Byron defending his honor.

Hanna Jarvis’s discoveries lead her to believe that the eventual occupant of the hermitage was none other than the tutor, Septimus Hodge, nearly driven mad by the discovery that his own student, Thomasina, may have been on the verge of providing the "proof" of the “Fermat Theorem”.

As the author and the professor’s investigations unfold, they are helped immensely by descendent Valentine Coverly (a resident of the estate in modern times and a post-graduate student in mathematical biology), and the truth about what happened in 1809 is gradually revealed and the mystery is solved.
The modern day time frame is not without its romances and liaisons as well. Chloe Coverly (Julia Scharlach), a modern day descendant, is infatuated with Professor Nightingale and hangs on his every word and gesticulation. Julia fairly exudes sex and sexual promiscuity and is truly delightful in her portrayal. Director John Butterfield has extracted every ounce of energy and enthusiasm his actors could possibly deliver and each character does deliver a near perfect performance. Donald Hardy is brilliant as the persuasive professor. Eddy Peabody is really quite excellent in his portrayal of the evasive and intellectual tutor. Becky Potter is absolutely excellent as the sharp tongued, thought-provoking and precocious teenager, Thomasina. Maureen-Theresa Williams is understated and quite excellent as well in her portrayal of the no nonsense author in search of truth, eschewing fame and notoriety for validity. Valentine Coverly is played well by Peter McArthur. Unfortunately, there are more actors than I have time or space to adequately cover or to praise in this article, so I can only encourage you to call and make reservations now.

The Butterfield 8 Theatre Company performs in the Cue Productions Live Theater located at 1835 Colfax Avenue in downtown Concord, a block east of Todos Santos Park, near Willow Pass Road. Tickets are only $12 for seniors and $18 for general admission. Tickets may be purchased at the door and there is usually plenty of parking on the streets nearby. You may call 708-5074 or (510) 282-6174 for additional information. I usually bring a tush-cushion as the seating has not been very comfortable for my old derriere, but following my recent comment about the hard seats, lo and behold, Butterfield 8 is now providing the extra padding for you, for no additional cost! Arcadia is absorbing and powerful theatre, delivered in an intimate venue with a surprisingly high level of professional polish! Absorbing, powerful and polished, what more can I say!