Grasses have turned brown and the leaves a blood red as we enter the fall theatrical season which brings us Dracula,12 Angry Men & Becoming Britiney!

12 Angry Men - "Coffee break anyone?" - - left to right - - Dean Creighton (in rear), Tim Biglow, Jerry Motta, Eddie Peabody, Neil McChesney (behind Peabody) Photographer: Tim Beagley

The week of Halloween was the perfect time for Center Repertory Company’s “Dracula” to open in the Margaret Lesher Theater, only to be followed by another snarkey musical screamer, “Becoming Britney”, opening downstairs in the Knights Stage 3 venue in that same week. Included in this week’s offerings you will find anger and passion in the confrontation of 12 jurors in Diablo Actor’s Ensemble’s production of the gem of jurisprudence gone right, “Twelve Angry Men” in their Locust Street Theater.

12 Angry Men rises to a new level of excellence!

I am sure that many of my readers remember the widely acclaimed Academy Award nominated 1957 film adaptation by Sidney Lumet of Reginald Rose’s remarkable teleplay, “12 Angry Men”, starring Henry Fonda, a landmark movie that included such notable actors as E. G. Marshall, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, Jack Klugman and Ed Begley, among others. It is also possible that you might even remember the original 1954 television play produced by CBS for the Westinghouse Studio One, from which the play and the movie were adapted. The television production won created great acclaim for actor Robert Cummings as juror #8, the one lone juror who held out, forcing the jury to reconsider their nearly unanimous decision of guilty that would have sent a young man to prison to be executed. The movie role did the same for Henry Fonda, who as juror # 8, dissented and artfully articulated his reason to abstain, as having “reasonable doubts”.
This locally staged version is probably one of the most powerful productions in my memory and I have seen this play several times over the years. Director Vince Faso has gathered 12 superb acting talents to make up the complex gathering of men, jurors with wide ranging personalities and personal agendas.

The drama depicts a jury that has just gathered in the jury room following the presentation of closing arguments in a murder case, a murder case in which a young man (from the wrong side of the tracks) has been accused by the prosecution of murdering his father following an intense argument. The jury has been instructed by the judge that they must reach a unanimous decision of guilty or not guilty. If they agree that the boy killed his father, the guilty verdict will result in a mandatory death sentence.

The jurors have been moved from the courtroom, and are now gathered in a muggy, hot, cramped jury room around a large table where they will deliberate the boy’s fate. The trial included statements by two key witnesses who said unequivocally that they were positive the young man killed his father. The accused young man maintains that he was in a movie house at the time of his father’s murder. As the deliberation begins, the jurors cast their first vote and 11 of the 12 jurors vote guilty, but one juror, number 8 (played superbly by Will Southard) holds out. While he is not sure the young man is innocent, he is sure that it is the jury’s sworn obligation to carefully weigh the evidence and not to simply accept everything as it was presented in court as fact. He tells the other jurors that there were several questions he would have liked to have asked of the prosecution, questions that he was surprised that the boy’s court appointed attorney didn’t ask. He presents to his fellow jurors a couple of these questions that he has about the reliability of the key witnesses.

Some jurors are so sure the boy is guilty that they become incensed that someone would even question the veracity of an “eye witness”. It is during these intense deliberations that we (the audience) begin to see how easily our peers are influenced by a multitude of underlying personal experiences, experiences pertaining to racial discrimination, acrimonious encounters with others (“those types”), social and ethnic differences, and juror number 7’s obvious frustration at the inconvenience he is having to endure by serving on this jury. After all, if the jury does not come to a quick decision, juror number 7 might not be able to attend what he considers an important baseball game that starts in a couple of hours. Two of the jurors, number 10 (played by Bill Clemente), portrays a racist, and number 3 (played by Jerry Motta), is deeply prejudiced because of his own troubled relationship between him and his son, providing a realism and intensity that is pure gold! Juror number 10 stops us cold and chills run down our spine when he pounds on the table and expounds “Dey is like animals - - Deese people are multiplying like crazy - - dey hate us - - dey are animals - - and I don’t give a good god dam about their kind!”

This powerfully written play, at times raw with acrimonious conflict, explores the process of consensus-building, especially the complexity and difficulty of bringing a group of people to one accord, even when the outcome of their resolution can save or take another’s life! If you are not familiar with the play, then I do not want to give away the subtle bit of information brought out by this analysis and an inadvertent little discovery that finally turns the tide of consensus, but it is artful direction and powerful drama that brings this thought-provoking production to a stunning and moving close.

I don’t have space to adequately describe the sterling performances by each actor, but let me simply state that each actor’s character is uniquely carved in stone and brilliantly portrayed. The cast includes Paul Newby (court guard), Scott Fryer (jury foreman), Andrew Talbot (juror #2), Tony Rizzo (juror #4), Eddie Peabody (juror #5), Tim Biglow (juror #6), Bill Dietz (juror #7), Peter Richmond (juror # 9), Dean Creighton (juror #11 ) and Neil McChesney (juror #12). The voice of the unseen judge is delivered by Mark Bernfield.

This highly recommended dramatic masterpiece, "12 Angry Men" continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays now through October 29th, with performances at 8 p.m., except on Sundays were the matinees at 2 p.m. in the Diablo Actor’s Ensemble Theatre, which is located at 1345 Locust Street in Walnut Creek, next door to Peet’s Coffee. Call (866) 811-4111 for tickets and reservations or order on line at . Tickets range between $22 (seniors and students) and $25 (general admission), with tickets only $10 on Thursday evenings. There is a public parking garage across the street that stays open until 3 a.m. on the weekends. There is a large public parking complex directly across the street.

After 80 years, this story of Transylvanian Terror is resurrected once again and this new resurrection is one of the best in the Bay Area!

Now, a little further north on Locust Street at the corner of Civic Drive, Director Michael Butler unveils an exquisitely dramatic, artfully staged and brilliantly choreographed adaptation of Brian Stokers chilling novel, “Dracula”, as envisioned in play form by John Balderston and Hamilton Deane in 1924 and again in 1927. Once again, adjectives are hard to find that adequately describe this outstanding production, outstanding in every single aspect!

The Center Repertory Company, under the overall artistic direction of Michael Butler, has become a virtual powerhouse of excellence in professional regional theatrical production and this superbly crafted production is another example of Mr. Butler’s excellent stewardship. Dracula is of course a perfect choice to be opening at the end of October, at the time of the year when the earth is settling into its more deathly pallor. Grasses have turned brown and the leaves a blood red as we enter the fall theatrical season. Dracula, a chilling mystery thriller, has intrigued directors and audiences alike, generation after generation, for over 80 years, with a story that never dies, only slumbers awaiting another director’s resurrection.

The subject matter of countless films and plays, Count Dracula once again journeys from his ancestral home in

Transylvania to London in 1897, courtesy of information gathered and real estate acquired for him by way of a young solicitor, Jonathan Harker. Dracula’s undisclosed purpose in moving to the metropolitan capital of England apparently lies chiefly in his finding an unlimited source of victims and their life-sustaining blood. While still visiting the count in Transylvania, Jonathan Harker becomes a virtual prisoner in Dracula’s castle and is nearly driven insane by the happenings while there, in a region adjacent to Romania. He manages to escape and returns to London months later in poor but recovering health.

While in London, Lucy Westenra, whose father is the doctor in charge of an English sanitarium, has become a victim of a mysterious illness. This illness demonstrates itself as a gradually deteriorating state of health, accompanied by a terrible lethargy, a pale complexion and two mysterious red centered puncture wounds on her neck.

Her father contacts Dr. Van Helsing, his old professor in Amsterdam, a specialist in unique illnesses and it is Dr. Van Helsing’s opinion that Lucy is the victim of a vampire. Lucy’s best friend is Mina Murray, fiancé of Jonathan Harker. Mina eventually becomes an unwitting pawn in Dracula’s plans to destroy Dr. Van Helsing and Dr. Seward. One of the patients in the hospital, a mad man by the name of Renfield, becomes a confidant of Dracula, whom Dracula grooms to become a future vampire. The story is full of bloodletting and terrifying experiences for all concerned, characters in the story and the audience as well. Will they corner and finally contain this Carpathian monster? You will have to see the play, if you do not know its outcome.

Director Baldwin has managed to elicit the talents of Eugene Brancoveanu (who was born in Romania and has been a major opera singer and actor for over 15 years), to play the role of Dracula. Brancoveanu is superlative in his multidimensional role as the old Count Dracula in Transylvania, the newly reconstituted Dracula in London and the Vampire who can scale walls to reach his intended victims. Add to this the excellent talent of Madeline H.D. Brown as Lucy Westenra; Kendra Lee Oberhauser as Mina Murray; Thomas Gorrebeeck as Jonathan Harker; Michael Wiles as Dr. Seward and Robert Sicular as Professor Van Helsing, and you have a stellar cast who deliver this Dracula in high dramatic and persuasive form. Lauren Doucette plays house maid Miss Swales. Michael Barrett Austin is outstanding in his portrayal of Renfield. Taylor Jones, Kate Jopson and Emma Goldin play the alluring wives of Dracula, titled Vampire Vixens in this production. The dramatic set designed by Kim A. Tolman adds measurably to the sinister setting of this drama as does the lighting by Kurt Landisman. The costumes designed by Victoria Livingston-Hall are awe-inspiring in their beauty and imagination.

“Dracula” continues on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m., running through the middle of November, closing on Saturday , November 20th. The Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts is located at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. Call 943-7469 for reservations or additional information of visit their web site at . Tickets range in price between $36 and $42 each. The parking garage next door provides evening parking for the flat charge of $5 per vehicle.

Britney goes Bonkers in Walnut Creek!

Downstairs in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, the Center Repertory Company of Walnut Creek is presenting a rather unique musical, entitled “Becoming Britney” that trades on the fame and lifestyle of a modern MTV pop-music icon, Britney Spears, in a parody about the music, glamour and personality cultism that is rampant in this grossly overindulgent lifestyle centered around music, drugs and self-destructive pursuits.

In reality, Britney Spears has sold over 100 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists in the world. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), she is the eighth top-selling female artist in the United States, with 32 million certified albums. Spears is also recognized as the best-selling female artist of the first decade of the 21st century, as well as the fifth overall. She has been highly successful financially but a huge controversy by conservative elements in our society that feel she has proven to be a very poor role model to young women in America.

This musical begins at a point in Britney Spears life two years after she has split with her second husband Kevin Federline, when her erratic behavior (including shaving off all of the hair on her head) and drug related hospitalizations caused her to be placed in a conservatorship by her father. This tongue-in-cheek comedic parody places her in the “Promises” rehab center in Southern California where she placed herself hoping to deter her husband’s actions in attempting to gain custody of their two children. It takes us on a journey through events and places in her life, her growth as a child star and her mother’s promotional efforts to push her into the spotlight of fame. Most of the journey takes place in her mind and other enrollees in the rehab center double as friends, support team members and other characters in her rollercoaster ride to fame and drug rehabilitation.

Not having been a follower of Britney Spears, nor a reader of the supermarket tabloids, I found the story in this musical confusing, pointless and mind-dulling. I wouldn’t even call the lyric aspect of the music inspiring or well written. I thought the dance music was excellent and the choreography and dancing to be extremely well done. The cast consists of some highly talented dancers and singers, Tielle Baker, Molly Bell, Brittany Ogle, Adam Barry, Amanda Folena and Keith Pinto. I loved these talented people and they did a great job, but the story just didn’t do anything for me. The keyboardist and musical director, Greg Zema, put on a great show as well.

The talent of the performers is top notch, but the story itself was a bizarre disappointment. I didn’t come away with any feeling that this journey was worth the trip. Sure the upbeat theatrics were entertaining, but to me it was like a beautifully decorated piñata, once opened up, devoid of any substantive content. Described as a Snarky Musical, I would have to agree that this musical is definitely sarcastically critical and mocking of this type of lifestyle and perhaps of Britney Spears as well.

Maybe I am too many generations removed from this type of musical content, but I am not sure this is something that my Rossmoor readers will really appreciate. “Becoming Britney” continues in the Knights Stage 3 Theater on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:15 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2:15 p.m., running through the middle of November, closing on Sunday, November 14th. The Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts is located at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. Call 943-7469 for reservations or additional information of visit their web site at . Tickets cost $25 each.