Celebrate the dark side of entertainment with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Hedda Gabler and Sleuth, all easily accessable to East Bay residents!

This week’s reviews provides you with three suspense-filled shows that are reasonably priced, easily accessible to East Bay residents and provide very good to excellent entertainment for your theater dollar. First and foremost, the chilling story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has just opened in the Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, to resounding applause and stellar audience reviews. A few miles down the road in Martinez, the Willows Theater is presenting the famous British mystery thriller, “Sleuth” and in San Francisco, the Off Broadway West Theater Company has just delivered a very powerful modern version of “Hedda Gabler”, Henrik Ibsen’s 1890’s shocker.

In addition, there are two other productions that I won’t have time to review before they open, but I want you to be aware that they are out there, to give you a few more options. “Always- - - Patsy Cline” will be opening this coming Friday in the beautiful El Campanil Theater in Antioch and beginning TONIGHT, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and friends will be making an short term appearance in the Oracle Arena in Oakland as Disney on Ice brings their wonderful “Mickey & Minnie’s Magical Journey” back to the Bay Area again!

Let’s expound on the two shows just previously mentioned. First, opening this evening at the Oracle Arena, “Mickey & Minnie’s Magical Journey” once again brings the magic of so many wonderful Disney characters to life for the kids of all ages. Mickey and Minnie will be joined by Goofy and they will be taking children on a magical, make-believe journey to visit some of their favorite friends and characters, including The Little Mermaid, the Lion King, Lilo and Stitch and even Peter Pan. This spectacular evening in the Arena will dazzle the audience as Disney’s brilliant award winning figure skating actors bring their colorful, musical world on ice to life. Also, on opening nights, and that means tonight, all tickets (except VIP and front row) are only $15, and there are almost always some seats available, even at the last moment. During the remaining performances, tickets will range between $16, $25, $45(VIP) and $75 for front row seats. The Oracle Arena is located at 7000 Coliseum Way in Oakland. Tonight, Thursday and Friday evening’s shows will begin at 7:30 p.m., with matinees on Friday (at 10:30 am) and on Saturday (at 11 am and 3 pm and 7 pm), with Sunday performances at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. The Oracle Arena Show closes on Sunday and moves to San Jose’s HP Pavillion beginning on the following Wednesday and continuing through the following Sunday, with a similar appearance schedule. Call Ticketmaster at (1-800) 745-3000 or visit online at www.ticketmaster.com. To learn more about Disney on Ice, visit www.disneyonice.com for more information. I took my granddaughter to see this show the last time the company came through the Bay Area and she absolutely loved it.

Opening this Friday, in the beautifully restored El Campanil Theater in Antioch, the Vagabond Players will be opening their production of “Always - - - Patsy Cline”. Ted Swindley’ quasi-biographical yet fictional musical is a heartwarming story about the love and respect legendary singer Patsy Cline had for her fans and her remarkable ability to touch the heart and lives of just about everyone she met. This story is an adaptation of a very real and personal relationship that developed between Patsy Cline and Louise Seger, a fan that she met after a show in a Houston Texas Honky-tonk Night spot.

Vagabond Players features the very attractive professional singing artist Ella Wolfe as she plays the lady introduced often by Johnny Cash as “the one and only - Patsy Cline”, as this unique record breaking singing star eventually became known. Ella has been performing professionally for over 20 years and has even been nominated for three Shellie awards for best Actress and Best Actress in a Musical. I had the pleasure of watching her perform in a show last May called the Fabulous Follies in the same El Campanil Theater and found her performance to be spellbinding. Patsy Cline’s Houston fan, Louise Seger, will be played by the also very lovely and talented Rhonda Taylor.

No musical about Patsy Cline would be complete without delivering such unforgettable tunes as “Crazy” (written by Willy Nelson), “Anytime”, “Walkin’ After Midnight”, “I Fall to Pieces”, “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, and “Blue Moon of Kentucky”. I love her music and if it wasn’t for a guy by the name of Arthur Godfrey, she might never have been the huge success she became.

Patsy Cline auditioned for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in New York City and was accepted to sing on his CBS television show on January 21st, 1957. She had planned to sing “A Poor Man’s Roses (Or a Rich Man’s Gold) for the television show, but Godfrey’s producers insisted she sing a song she had recorded a few months earlier (one that she really didn’t like) entitled "Walkin' After Midnight", and written by Don Hecht and Alan Block. She blew the applause meter off its blocks and the rest is history. Also, it was Arthur Godfrey that insisted she wear a cocktail dress for that performance instead of her mother’s hand-sewn hand-crafted cowgirl outfit, helping to her to make the important crossover between country and pop music. It really was Mr. Godfrey who got her national notice and was largely responsible for making her a star.

This should be a very powerful and heartwarming show and whether you like country music or not, this is one you should take a little drive out to 602 West 2nd street in Antioch, and visit the El Campanil Theater to see. I know a lot of people will not drive out to Antioch, so there is a big plus in store for you, as Artistic Director Sharon Redman will be bringing the show back to the Lesher Center in December on the 3rd, 4th and 5th. I will be going out to Antioch this Saturday to see this show, perhaps I will see you there.

For tickets and more information you may visit the company’s web site at www.VagabondPlayersInc.com for the El Campanil Theater web site at www.elcampaniltheatre.com or call 757-9500. General admission is $20 and the curtain rises at 8 p.m. on any of these nights. Tickets are only $18 for seniors (62 +) or $10 for youth under 17.

Now for the shows I actually did see, in Lafayette, The Town Hall Theater is presenting the very dark, disturbing and at the same time revealing re-examination and adaptation of the old Robert Lewis Stevenson novella, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.” Now, simply titled, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, this new adaptation uses multiple versions of Mr. Hyde through a variety of actors, both male and female, to reveal his multiple-personalities and bring his many different psychological and psychotic facets to life on the stage.

In the Victorian time-frame when Stevenson’s novella was first written, we knew far less then, than we know today of the workings of the human mind. Stevenson and his counterparts only crudely understood that man’s psyche was revealed primarily as either “good” or “evil”. We new little of split or multiple personalities and understood even less of the many levels of identity capable within the complex algorithmic capacity of the brain. Dr. Jekyll, through his tinctures finds a chemistry that unlocks the pathway to various levels of evil, he experiences these manifestations in the personage of a distorted human being, which is he, himself, in an altered mental and physical state. Dr. Jekyll’s search for understanding is as deep as is this adaptation by Hatcher. It is very complex and at times somewhat confusing, but eventually it sorts itself out and you find yourself suddenly saying, “Ah, so - - I get it”. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is powerful and thought provoking, even a bit scary!

Director Clive Worsley has sought out powerful and talented actors to play very diverse characters, in many different incarnations and his search has produced a select crop of talent to populate this perverse and brooding play. Central to this clash of characters is a housekeeping employee of a boarding house that Mr. Hyde shows rare affection and concern for, Elizabeth Jelkes, and who in turn falls in love with him. Jelkes is played perfectly by Ginny Wehrmeister. Kathryn Zolan is also excellent in her portrayal of Jekyll’s housekeeper, Poole, in addition to several other characters.
Ryan O’Donnell plays the key role of Dr. Henry Jekyll. Chris Parnell-Hayes becomes chief surgeon Sir Danvers Carew, Richard Enfield and takes his turn as one side of Hyde. Dennis Markham portrays another side of Hyde, and Jekyll’s solicitor, Gabriel Utterson. Phil Ristaino plays yet another intriguing side of Hyde and Mr. H.K.Layton.

This production is brilliantly directed by Mr. Clive Worsley and brings this exciting and challenging work to another level, one that is worthy of your entertainment expenditure. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees at 2 pm on the remaining Sunday performances, October 17th, and 24th. The show closes with their 7 p.m., presentation on Sunday, October 31st. Call 283-1557 for ticket and reservation information. The Town Hall Theater is located at 3535 School Street, at the corner of Moraga Road and School Streets in downtown Lafayete. Tickets range in price between $22.50 for seniors and youth (13 – 17) and $26.50 for general admission. Special niche pricing of $22.50 is available to all patrons under 40 on Fridays only.

The Willows Theater Company is currently presenting the very clever and suspenseful 1970 British play, “Sleuth” which was a huge success in London’s St. Martins’ Theater for many years (ran for 4,000 performances) and even won a Tony Award in the Broadway production a few years later.

If you saw this play previously, it was probably in the 1972 movie version starring Sir Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine. The story is a grand exercise in game playing that was partially inspired by a friend of Anthony Shaffer’s, Stephen Sondheim, who was intensely interested in game-playing. In fact the principal character Andrew Wyke, in many ways mirrors Sondheim in the play. The story revolves around a mystery writer, Andrew Wyke, who has invited his wife’s extramarital partner, Milo Tindle, to his home to discuss their affair. Andrew suggests to Tindle that he is in fact in favor of Tindle and his wife getting married and leaving him alone to pursue his playwriting and his own personal extramarital affairs. He tells Tindle that Mrs Wyke is a much more expensive trophy to maintain than Tindle has been led to believe. Once out of his life, he professes that he does not want her to return. He has a plan that will rid himself of his wife and provide her and her paramour with more than adequate “stay away” financial security. He has a great deal of money tied up in jewelry, jewelry that is fully insured and that should be easily marketable. He suggests that Tindle burglarize his home this very evening, implementing a very complex plan that the mystery writer has scripted, a plan that he proclaims would leave Tindle completely in the clear. Wyke would then be made whole again by the insurance company. Tindle cautiously agrees to the plan, not knowing what Wyke fully has in store for him.

I cannot divulge the who-dun-what-and why and why not of the many convoluted twists and turns in this labyrinth of game playing mystery, but I can assure you that it is very clever and for the most part, well done. The two principal performers, Shaun Carroll and Eric Inman, deliver a very solid performance.

“Sleuth” continues Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and matinees on Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m., Thursdays at 2 p.m., and on Saturdays at 3 p.m., now through November 4th. The Campbell Theater is located at 626 Ward Street in downtown Martinez. Tickets range in price between $22 and $32 with discount for seniors. Call 798-1300 for more information or visit their website at www.willowstheatre.org.

Now on to San Francisco and the current production of “Hedda Gabler” being staged by Off Broadway West Theater in the Phoenix Theater, one of my favorite little black box professional theaters. Director Richard Harder has taken one of the more modern approaches to this famous work by Henrik Ibsen. Also, Rossmoor resident Maureen Williams plays a key character in Hedda Gabler.

Considered by many as the female dramatic version of Hamlet, the heroine or villain of this story, Hedda, depending on how the story is portrayed, this character stirred a great deal of anger when it was first produced in Germany in 1891. The play has gone on over the years to be considered one of the first plays written for a woman who is seeking freedom from the societal norms and expectations of the Victorian period in which it was written. I have seen the play played in several fashions, in which the same lines by her character are directed with different direction and intent, plays have been interpreted entirely differently. In his play, Hedda Gabbler, feels to me like a modern selfish, bored housewife as portrayed today in modern dramas, self-serving and cutthroat.

Don’t misunderstand me, it is a very powerful portrayal, with superb acting, just not delivering me with a character I have any sympathy for, in any fashion, with little redeeming quality. Sometimes, great acting delivers characterizations that make you hate the character, and that is exactly what happened here. This is an excellent production with superb acting!

The action takes place in a villa in Kristiania. Hedda (Gabler) Tessman is the spoiled daughter of an aristocratic military officer, General Gabler. As the play opens, she and her husband have just returned home following their extended honeymoon. It becomes obvious very quickly that the Miss Tessman (Cecilia Palmtag) has no love for her husband and that he was merely the “best catch” available to her at the time he asked her. Her husband George Tessman (Adam Simpson) is madly in love with her and cannot see her rudeness and selfishness for what it is. He makes excuses for her actions to his aunt Julia (Rossmoor resident Maureen Williams) and others, including his potential employment benefactor, Judge Brack (Peter Abraham) and his housekeeper, Bertha (Alison Sacha Ross).

George Tessman has promised his wife a great deal financially, a gorgeous home that is well appointed, a grand riding horse, a role in local society, but most of the promises he made were based on his anticipation of a teaching job that had been offered to him before they married, but as of yet, unsecured and tenuous. In a shocking turn of events, an old friend and academic rival, Ejlert Lovborg (Paul Bair), has done an about face, shed a life of alcoholic abuse and somewhat restored his place in their community during the Tessman’s 6 month matrimonial absence. Suddenly, Lovborg may have become his rival for the professorship Tesman so desperately needs. Part of Lovborg’s reestablished popularity and success is based on a promising new book recently completed by him, now suddenly a best seller on the local scene.

Lovborg’s alcoholic recovery has come in large part from the guidance, book editing and dictation assistance provided by the wife of his employer, Mrs. Thea Elvstead (Jocelyn Stringer), while he tutored their children on their farm. Mrs. Elvstead has now followed Ejlert to Kristiania, hoping that their working relationship will turn into a love relationship. We also discover that Mrs. Tesman and Mr. Lovborg had engaged in a very intense romantic relationship and now we find she is extremely jealous of the relationship between Thea and Ejlert. This plus the realization that if Lovborg does get the teaching job instead of her husband, their luxurious lifestyle will abruptly end, Hedda sets in motion a diabolical plan to discredit and destroy Lovborg’s credibility. Her misguided plan goes even further awry than originally conceived.

“Hedda Gabler” continues in the Phoenix Theater with performances on Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., now through November 13th. Call (800) 838-3006 or (510) 835-4205 or visit their website at www.offbroadwaywest.org for more information. Karen and I normally take BART into the Powell Street Station and then walk up Mason Street to the Phoenix theater, which is located in suite 601 at 414 Mason Street, between Geary and Post Street, next door to the Ruby Skye nightclub. Tickets cost $35 with senior discounts available. This powerful production is well worth the journey to San Francisco!