Strap yourself in as "Boeing-Boeing" takes off at Center Rep while a pluperfect "The Dresser" prevails in San Jose Rep's production! The Lion in Winter is a bit wobbly in San Ramon and Clybourne Park is an absolute brilliant production in San Francisco!

Robert (Alex Moggridge) and Gretchen (Jennifer Erdmann) connect while Gabriella (Jessica Lynn Carroll) waits for her lover! Photos by Kevin Berne

The Center Repertory Company is currently presenting “Boeing - Boeing”, a delightfully funny, totally insane and madcap 1960’s French comedy by Marc Camoletti, with a British adaptation by playwright, Beverly Cross, in the Margaret Lesher Theater in the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. At the same time, the San Jose Repertory Theater Company is presenting a moving and poignant case study of misplaced and overwrought loyalty in Ronald Harwood’s play entitled, “the Dresser”. The story is actually based in large part on Harwood’s experience as a “Dresser” to the Shakespearean actor, Sir Donald Wolfit, during the nightly turmoil of air raids and exploding bombs in the war years. These are both outstanding productions and I can hardly wait to tell you about them.

“Boeing-Boeing” is a comedy based on a man living in a bigamist or polygamist type of relationship with several women at the same time. The story is not new, just different in that the man in this play is portrayed a stereotypical American playboy, Bernard (Liam Vincent), who is living a superbly orchestrated erogenous adventure with three beautiful women in his Paris flat. He has proposed to each of them and is enjoying a very intimate relationship with each of these lovely women, a Texas American by the name of Gloria (Kelsey Venter), a dark haired, dark eyed Italian, Gabriella (Jessica Lynn Carroll), and a tall blond German, Gretchen (Jennifer Erdmann). He perpetuates this deception under the guise of soon becoming their husband. Bernard just never quite finds the time (as he is so over worked and stressed out from his busy schedule) to find time for the actual marriage to take place. Not only is he engaged to three very sexy women, but they, all three of them, are airline stewardesses. Each woman believes in her heart that Bernard is the perfectly devoted fiancé, a man who not only massages their egos and wines and dines them while they are together, but who remains completely loyal to her while she is off flying the friendly skies for her employer. Bernard believes that as long as he can carefully monitor each hostess’s flight schedules, knowing exactly how and when they will return to their French airfields and his flat, that he can keep his rewarding deception going and keep his bed warm at the same time.

Bernard also employs a full time housekeeper, Bertha (Lynda DiVito) who is paid to change and re-arrange certain personal things, such as decorations and photographs of each girlfriend prominently displayed in Bernard’s apartment, in accordance with each woman’s personal tastes. Bertha, like Bernard, lives by the flight schedules of each flight hostess, re-arranging the apartment’s artifacts as one woman leaves, in preparation for the next ones arrival.

All appears copasetic, his deceptions running like a well oiled machine, when his former college classmate, Robert (Alex Moggridge), unexpectedly shows up at Bernard’s apartment for a friendly school chum visit. Bernard invites a wide-eyed and disbelieving Robert into his confidence and shares with him, knowledge of his ongoing relationships with the three ladies. An astonished Robert plays along with the escapade while he is invited to stay on with Bernard in his apartment.
This show becomes a riot fest very quickly, almost in the first 15 minutes. The United Airlines hostess, a beautiful southern belle, Gloria (who is in making a mid-day stopover in Paris), is introduced to Robert, who has been raised as a very conservative gentleman and doesn’t understand why or how, one man can juggle three relationships all at one time.

Concurrent with Robert’s arrival, Bernard is advised that the ladies are soon to be upgraded in their jobs and allowed to serve on the more powerful Boeing super jumbo jets that their companies have recently purchased. These new aircraft are bigger, better and FASTER! Meaning, they are possibly going o be able to cover greater ground sooner, and return home with less time in transit. Again, Bernard does not seem to be particularly alarmed or concerned, so long as he can still correctly juggle their travel routes and times, as dictated by their company’s time tables. Just when Bernard is confident that absolutely nothing will go wrong, everything does begin to go wrong - - - go wrong - - - go wrong! Bad weather causes delays and stopovers in Paris, and the normal flying schedules become much more complicated and more tightly overlapping. Things may be going wrong for Bernard, but for his friend Robert and those of us who enjoy great comedy, everything is about to go right, or should I say, go great!

This tightly wrapped comedy is, outrageously funny, physically demanding and overtly sexual. Director Michael Butler has scored another high mark in regional theatrical direction with this master piece of just plain dumb fun! The acting is simply superlative in all characters, but I have to say that Alex Moggridge and Jennifer Erdmann, are unique in their characterizations, absolute gems. The 1960’s set designed by Erik Flatmo is pluperfect and contributes significantly to the overall production! The perfect period costumes by Victoria Livingston-Hall are equally pleasing.
This type of high energy slam bang boisterous comedy may not be the choice of everyone, but wife and I loved every minute of it, in fact, if I had the time, I would definitely go back and see it again. It is a mad-cap merry-go-round that revolves so rapidly, it is almost impossible to grasp the brass ring. It is reminiscent of many similar British comedies that we have seen over the years that have lots of doors opening, closing, slamming and banging, clothes coming on and going off, keeping you on the precarious edge of your seat, waiting for the next clever surprise.

Boeing-Boeing continues Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek through Saturday, February 26th. One can purchase tickets by calling the box office at 943-SHOW (7469) or by visiting the in house box office or by visiting their website at or the Barnes and Noble book store ticket desk in their Walnut Creek store. Tickets range in price between $36 and $42 each.

In what has become one of our favorite theaters in the entire bay area, the San Jose Repertory Theater has once again delivered one of the most powerful productions we have seen in recent months with their production of Ronald Harwood’s engaging play, “The Dresser”.

Ronald Harwood moved from South Africa in 1951 to England, where he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He was an actor for seven years and he began to write plays for the stage in 1960. He as written numerous plays for the stage and the screen plays for his Academy Award winning movie, “The Dresser” and another Academy Award winning war time movie that was a favorite of mine, “The Pianist”, directed by Roman Polanski.

“The Dresser” examines the lives of two men, one a lead actor in his sunset years and the other, the man who has dedicated a major portion of his life in theater as the person who organizes and prepares the personal articles used by that actor in his performance, and in essence becoming the personal attendant before and after every production the actor performs in. The dresser has many duties that pertain to the actor’s preparation to appear on stage in each and every performance. He could and would assist in many duties, especially during the war years in England, when the theaters were working on a shoestring basis, barely able to compensate their professional actors. Those valet duties included assisting in the application of makeup, cleaning, ironing and preparing his costumes, attaching wigs, beards and other tonsorial duties.

This sad but poignant story introduces us to a Shakespearean Actor known simply as “Sir”, who has passed his prime and in the time frame of this play, during the bombing of London in the 40’s, is the lead actor in a small, decidedly poor theatrical company. “Sir” and his retinue of actors perform nightly hoping to keep live theater available to the distressed masses, willing to accept the trials and tribulations of their underfunded but greatly appreciated craft alive.

“Sir” (performed by Ken Ruta) is superb in his portrayal of this once great actor, who now performs as the shadow of his former self. “Sir” is occasionally spot on in his characterizations, but as is dictated by his increasing age and overshadowing dementia, increasingly becoming more befuddled, often frustrated and less than perfect in his performances

His dedicated and adoring personal dresser, Norman (James Carpenter), clings to his belief that each lapse in memory or values judgment is temporary and will be short-lived, with him remaining steadfast and loyal, refusing to see any end in sight for his duties to his employer as a “dresser”. “Sir” is on the verge of total mental and physical collapse, greatly in need of retirement from the theater all together. In fact, as the play opened, Norman has just returned to the dressing room in their little theater following “Sir’s” admission to the general hospital following an “incident” in which the actor had been found wandering in the streets, totally bewildered.

“Sir’s” leading lady is also his significant other, although not married. “Her Ladyship” (Rachel Harker) understands “Sir’s” increasing bewilderment and declining health and tries her best to cajole him into taking the money they have saved and to retire from this work. She pleads with him to retire, hoping to extend his years with her, years she is deeply concerned will be lost for every if he does not yield to her protestations and urgings.

Norman seems to have no other interests in life than his dedication to this aging actor and lives his life vicariously through his charge. His entire existence seems to be centered on this relationship and his work as the “dresser” to this employer. Norman continues to extol and exaggerate each nightly performance of his master, telling him fabricated stories of how much “Sir” has moved individual audience members to tears by “Sir’s” performance. They, the dresser and the actor, are each highly dependent on the other, far more than they realize.

Other actors include Madge (Lynne Soffer) the company’s stage manager, who questions seriously “Sir’s” ability to go on stage for his upcoming 277th performance of King Lear. Irene (Blythe Foster) is a young and very attractive aspiring actress who hopes to use her sexuality to persuade “Sir” to give her a more significant part in future productions. Other actors, who play the roles of other cast members in their Lear performance, include Blake Ellis, Julian Lopez-Morillas, Drew Benjamine Jones, Jason Kapoor, Shane Rhoades and Adam Sessa.

In 1983, the movie “The Dresser” received five nominations for the screenwriting and individual performances of Michael Finney as the aging Shakespearean actor and Tom Courtenay as the dresser. This production should also win awards as a spellbinding production, perfectly executed with superb acting all around, a great set and outstanding costumes. Director Rick Lombado has pulled together a superb cast and excellent support artisans, especially scenic designer, Kent Dorsey and costumer Cathleen Edwards. The dressing room set, with all of its World War II posters, gas masks and other paraphernalia is incredible. Perhaps brilliant is a word I use too much, but I cannot think of anything else that comes close to this production.

“The Dresser” continues with performances on Tuesdays at 7:30, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Saturdays at 3p.m. and at 2 p.m. on Sundays, now through February 20th. Tickets range in price between $35 and $74 with a $6 discount for all senior tickets. Call (408) 367-7255 to reserve tickets or visit their online website at The San Jose Repertory Theatre is a beautiful facility, easy to reach and always rewarding. 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 in San Jose. There is multi-storied public parking structure at the corner of East San Carlos Street, between 2nd and 3rd streets.
The Role Players Theatre in Danville is currently producing “The Lion in Winter” and the ACT Theatre in San Francisco just opened this past week with a stellar production of “Clybourne Park”. Both plays are very powerful, emotional plays with thought provoking stories and roles that actors ardently seek to add to their resumes. I will begin with the local play (“The Lion in Winter”) first as is my general tradition.

This is the story of an aging King Henry II (played by Mark Jordan) and his dysfunctional family who have gathered together at Christmas in the year 1183, purportedly so that Henry can declare the successor to his throne. His wife of 15 years, Eleanor of Aquitaine (played by Sylvia Burboeck), has been imprisoned for the past 10 years for her insubordination to her husband and to keep her out of the way as he played his games of infidelity. Eleanor (at age 61), is older than the King (at 50 years of age), and is a brilliant player of politics and chess, clever, conniving and a survivor. She is joined by her three duplicitous and dueling sons in the Kings Castle.

The oldest son is Richard (also known as Richard the Lionhearted, the crusader), is played by Cin Seperi. He is the most mature son (at age 26), who is a clever, fierce, seasoned warrior and potentially, a dangerous enemy. Richard comes across as a brutal and powerful son, but he also keeps carefully hidden a restrained tenderness and even a secret weakness for his same sex.

Geoffrey, played by Chris Dewey, is the middle son, who at age 25 is a manipulative, treacherous and deceitful young man, an orchestrator who plays his younger brother, John, as if he were an instrument in his hands. Geoffrey is perfectly willing to sell his parents down the river of “No Return”, in exchange for the opportunity to rule his father’s kingdom. John is the weak and vacillating, immature and impossibly spoiled youngest son, who, at 17 years of age, is his father’s favorite son but certainly appears to be the worst possible choice for the head of England. All three sons are hoping to be named as his successor, but what would be the price they would have to pay? In reality, the only two sons he could turn the kingdom over to would be Geoffrey or Richard, but he really dislikes them as they resist his authority.

In addition, at this Christmas gathering, the King is joined by his 23 year old mistress, Princess Alais ( played by Deyki Ronge), whom he longs to marry, if he can only get the Pope to annul his marriage to Eleanor. Henry II feels he is still young enough to father new sons with Princess Alais (the sister to Phillip, the current King of France), sons who might be better progenies to assume the stature of the English Crown in the future, and perhaps more willing than his current sons to bend to his will. Alais’s younger brother, Phillip II, King of France (played by Percival Arcibal), is also in attendance at the gathering, seeking reparations from King Henry for his failed land transfer promises. His sister, Alais, was originally betrothed to the eldest son, Richard, when she was only 8 years old, and has lived in the court for many years, during which time, King Henry, has taken her as one of his many mistresses.

The role of Eleanor is perhaps the most vibrant character in the play. She gets the best lines and in this production, actress Sylvia Burboeck is in complete command of her character. She, like Katherine Hepburn, who starred with Peter O’Toole in the famous 1968 movie version, steals the show! Mark Jordan’s portrayal of Richard II was very shaky and wooden in the first act. These two finally connected in the second act and for the most part the show greatly improved as their power plays unfolded and they played off each other.

I was bothered by what I perceived as Mark’s inability to move with the kingly bearing and command of what I perceived a man of his power and station should demonstrate. He seemed to have difficulty moving up and down the many steps required on the simple but rapidly evolving set. It was not until after the show that I met with him and found out that he has had major surgery to one of his legs and it was nearly impossible for him to easily traverse the challenging physical attributes of the set design, an element that should have been taken in consideration in the set design for an actor with his impediment.

While the other actors were quite acceptable in their performances, there was another element that cast a somewhat negative feeling to this story about these kings, queens and princes; the costumes. Some were ill fitting and just plain did not enhance their actor’s character. Such little things as the light colored boots worn by King Richard II were extremely distracting. Anytime somebody’s shoes are so distinctive that you cannot take your eyes off them for the entire performance, something is drastically wrong, as shoes should not garner more attention than the actor’s performance. Such little distractions can take one’s mind off the message of the play.

The evening started off on the wrong foot, just in the ticket distribution process! When people arrive to pick up or to purchase tickets for the show and there is a major problem in their accessing them, the adverse experience is bound to carry over into their experience of the theater.

There was only one person selling tickets and no one set up to distribute the “will call” tickets, tickets that were already paid for. My wife and I stood in line for fifteen to twenty minutes until we complained to some of the company’s volunteers about the delay in this process. Shortly thereafter, one of these volunteers went in the ticket office and retrieved “will-call” tickets for many of us who were waiting in the same line with people who were there to purchase their tickets. There were plenty of people behind us, clear out trough the entrance doors who were getting very upset about the ridiculous delay. I got the feeling in my questioning of the volunteers that the ticket distribution process is strictly under the control of the City. If the City wants this theater to be successful, they must take a hard look at their role in this ticketing process.

I have seen this play, “The Lion in Winter”, produced by a number of theater companies over the past 20+ years and have memories of several that were better. To me the greatest joy in this play is the brilliant writing and the clever maneuvering these people will go through to accomplish their ends. For the most part, the acting in this production is very good and opening night is not always the best night to judge a community theatre production. Director Eric Fraisher Hayes selected some very talented actors, but the chemistry and individual performances on opening night just did not deliver the full measure of this well written work.

“The Lion in Winter” plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, now through February 12th in the Village Theater at 233 Front Street in Danville. Call (925) 820-1278 for tickets or reservations of visit their website at for more information. Tickets range in price between $15 and $25 each.

“Clybourne Park” reexamines the consequences of racial migrations and their affects on home ownership and real estate values as first examined in Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 play, "Raisen in the Sun".

A real gem of historical significance is currently playing at A.C. T. in San Francisco, in their production of Bruce Norris’s play, “Clybourne Park”. It is a play that addresses the emotions and financial consequences of racial integration from urban neighborhoods to suburban neighborhoods, in retrospect and in current times.

The housing community, “Clybourne Park”, does not really exist in Chicago, where it is portrayed, but it is representative of this suburban racial exclusion scenario that played out again and again, all over our country, through-out the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. The first act takes place in a home on Clybourne Avenue in 1959, which opens with Russ and Bev in the midst of packing up their belonging as they prepare to move to a new home, closer to Russ’s office. Beverly (played by René Augesen) has a black housekeeper, Francine (Omozé Idehenre), who has assisted her for years in keeping up their home and she is present, as well, assisting Bev in her packing of dishes and bric-a-brac. Russ (played by Anthony Fusco) is listening to his tube radio, taking a break and indulging in some ice cream while the packing goes on around him. A local minister, Jim (played by Manoel Felciano), stops by the house and attempts to engage Russ in a conversation about his decision to move and to sell their home to a black family, followed by local realtor and Rotary member, Karl (Richard Thieriot) and his deaf wife, Betsy (Emily Kitchens). It is obvious that there is some seriously negative history between Russ and these men as the tries politely at first, and then not so politely, to usher them out of his home. He is angry that they are butting into his business and tells them that the deal is done, get out and leave them alone. Bev tries to placate them by telling them that this new family, even if they are “colored”, may be a great family and an asset to the community, but they will hear none of this. The fear of impending financial disaster is pervasive to the outsiders.

Francine is trying to get out of the home to attend a prior commitment, but Bev continues to engage her in conversation and in the packing process. Francine’s black husband, Albert (Gregory Wallace), stops by to pick her up for their appointment and before long he too, is drawn into the fray, and what a fray it becomes! The characterization of the 1950’s inhabitants is written much as if this were a television script from same time period, like the characters from “Father Knows Best” or “Leave It to Beaver”, somewhat cartoonish but delightfully humorous as well as poignant.

The second act takes place 40 years later in the same home’s interior, a home which was once a gorgeous craftsman style interior, with lots of oak detailing, that now appears as a vandalized, vacant and broadly deteriorated setting. The same actors now gather as new characters with a white family, Lindsey (Emily Kitchens) and Steve (Richard Thieriot) who have bought the home and are attempting to refurbish and remodel that home in a neighborhood that has been predominantly Black for the past 30 to 40 years. They, with their realtor, Kathy (René Augesen) are engaged with members of a local homeowner’s association Kevin (Gregory Wallace) and Lena (Omozé Idehenre), their lawyer Tom (Manoel Felciano), with whom they are discussing the plans for remodeling the old house. Due to current association design rules they must seek approval from the association members and their local building council. As they are discussing the legalities of their proposed changes with the lawyer and the association members, construction worker Dan (Anthony Fusco) appears periodically, asking for guidance and direction from the home owners on the project he is working on.

Now the reverse situation is apparent, a community that has made the transition in ethnicity now screens its current interlopers and the fears and frustrations once again manifest themselves through this process of gentrification.
I personally found this a brilliant piece of significant writing, a relevant look at the way we deal with and have dealt with racial change in our communities. It is a new and clever spin on the events in the celebrated 1959 Lorraine Hansberry play, “Raisin in the Sun”. I loved the outstanding acting by everyone in the cast. These are all seasoned professionals. I also loved the superb direction by Jonathan Moscone (the longtime artistic director of California Shakespeare Company). The set design by Ralph Funicello, the costumes by Katherine Roth, the lighting by Alexander Nichols and the sound design by Jeff Mockus were absolutely perfect.

“Clybourne Park” continues Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., now though February 20th. Tickets ($22 to $88) may be secured by calling the A.C. T. box office at (415) 749-2228 or visiting the website at . The beautiful theater is located at 415 Geary Street in San Francisco. I strongly recommend this as a superb production in every respect!