Funny, bloody, and bloody well perceptive, are words that fairly well describe this week's three show collection!

(Bottom photo) Lady Windermere stares in disbelievement as the gossipy Dutchess of Berwick himts that the Lady's husband has been investing a lot of time and money in the notorious and mysterious Mrs. Erlynne!

(middle photo)Young Windermere sits in bewilderment following the news that her husband is suspected of being unfaithful!

(Top photo) Lord Lorton looks aghast at the demands being thrust on him by the infamous and mysterious Mrs. Erlynne.

All photos by Judy Potter

I have suggested to my readers many times that they expand their entertainment options by trying little “black box” type theaters that may not be very well known or well advertised or the most conveniently situated. Two of my reviews this week will be shows at theaters that everyone who enjoys live theater will be quite familiar with, and one, in my first review, will attempt to re-acquaint you with a little theater that is being frequented more and more by my Rossmoor readers, the Butterfield 8 Theater in downtown Concord.

Jon Butterfield’s little theater is growing in stature, recognition and quality, and as the company’s reputation grows, so does its ability to draw more seasoned actors and more knowledgeable and demanding audiences. Struggling financially and for respectability for the past 5 years, Butterfield 8 is finally beginning to turn the corner as its audience base finds many repeat customers. This current production of “Lady Windermere’s Fan” by Oscar Wilde has to be its most ambitious and successful to date. Granted, this company is still a training ground for neophyte and emerging actors, but it is starting to draw actors with many years of stage experience to its roster to raise your experience to even higher levels of enjoyment.

Oscar Wilde has long been one of my favorite Irish writers, along with O’Neil and George Bernard Shaw. His unfettered tongue, clever wit and astute powers of observation has both pegged him as a perceptive chronicler of social issues, and at the same time, made him a social firebrand. Similar to Shaw and Ibsen, Wilde tackled traditional social issues, practices, and established narrow minded mores, that in great part, held women to subservient and often degrading societal roles and treated them less favorably than men in the same set of circumstances. “Lady Windermere’s Fan”, aka “A Play About a Good Woman”, is a case in point. This play, first published in 1892, deftly satirizes the morals of the Victorian society.

The story concerns one Lady Windermere (Becky Potter), who at the play’s opening is preparing for her 21st birthday gathering and social dance party. An overly friendly acquaintance, Lord Darlington (Edwin Peabody), who is perpetually showering her with affectionate affirmations to the point of total embarrassment, engages her in conversation about the good and bad people in society and asks her if she thinks society rules or laws should apply to men and women equally? She responds “certainly”. He in turn responds, “I think life is too complex a thing to be settled by these hard and fast rules!” Later in a conversation with the gossipy Duchess of Berwick (Beth Chastain) before the party begins, it is hinted to Lady Windermere that her husband, Lord Windermere (Matthew Gardiner) is having an affair with Mrs. Erlynne (Kerry Gudjohnsen), a notorious woman of mysterious position, wealth and income! When Windermere’s husband comes home a short time later, before the birthday party, and insists that his wife formally invite the ill-famed Mrs. Erlynne to her birthday party to ostensibly help Mrs. Erlynne regain a position of respectability in society, Lady Windermere is shocked, assuming the recently divulged gossip must be true. Before the party is over, the marriage very nearly is also, until the woman of ill repute proves to be a white knight, late at night.

While Wilde pokes fun at the upper society into which he was born and bred, he sews the seeds of social revolution! It is a brilliant play, one of his best, delightfully funny, light hearted and at the same time profound and thought provoking. The play resonates again and again with Wilde’s wonderful witticisms and what have been described as profoundly accurate criticisms:

“If a woman wants to hold a man, she has merely to appeal to the worst in him.”
“Men become old, but they never become good.”
“A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing”
“If a woman really repents, she has to go to a bad dressmaker, otherwise no one believes in her.”

Director John Butterfield has selected a superb cast for this production, far more outstanding talent than I have space to properly applaud in this article. Young Becky Potter has certainly matured as an actress and exhibits a very skilled understanding of timing and emotional control in this role. It is a pleasure to see Kerry Gudjohnsen in the role of Mrs. Erlynne and Beth Chastain as the Dutchess of Berwick as they both bring their mature professional level skills to play in very important parts, delivering performances that add measurably to this production. Edwin Peabody, Matthew Gardner and Alan Cameron, perform equally well in their assigned roles bringing a profound grasp of their masculine characters. In addition, the costumes produced for this production by Liz Martin (Pink Depford Design Studio) are brilliantly conceived and executed. You would not expect to see this quality and workmanship at this level of Community Theater. This is a show well worth a little drive to downtown Concord, to Cue Productions.

These fun filled performances are very reasonably priced community theater productions at $12 for seniors and students and $18 for adults, delivered for the most part with casts consisting of both amateur and near professional level actors. “Lady Windermere’s Fan” continues Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 3 p.m., now through June 26th. The Butterfield 8 Theater Company uses the Cue Productions Live performance space at 1835 Colfax Street in Concord, only one and a half blocks East of Todos Santos square in downtown Concord. Tickets may be selected and purchased by calling Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006 or by purchasing tickets at the door. You can also gather more information by going online to and click on “Events” for more information about the company and the show. This is a very informal theater with casual seating in a cabaret type of venue. I always bring a tush cushion for my bony derriere. On street parking can be tight on Friday and Saturday nights due to a number of restaurants and clubs nearby, so come a little early. Seating is open, so come first and be first seated!

“Titus Adronicus”, which just opened in the Bruin Amphitheater in Orinda, is a blood bath, a remarkabl example of the Victorian's infatuation with murder and mayhem!

“Titus Adronicus” is perhaps one of Shakespeare’s’ most sanguinary stories of revenge upon revenge, revenge on steroids, revenge gone rampant! It was his first tragedy, penned between 1590 and 1591. It was in this powerful and bloody play that this novice playwright laid the groundwork for many of his following works of tragic consequence. Titus, himself, much like Coriolanus; Aaron, the evil Moor, can be compared to Iago in Othello and perhaps even the devil incarnate; the ruthless Queen of the Goths, Tamora, perhaps a forerunner to Lady Macbeth, and similarly we find a stage frequently littered with blood and bodies, even more so than Hamlet.

The emperor of Rome has just died and his two sons, Saturninus (Rob Campbell) and Bassianus (Liam Vincent), vie for the right to succeed him. As they appeal to the Tribunes and the Senate, chiding each other in bitter terms. Titus (James Carpenter), a conquering Roman warrior hero who has served Rome for 40+ years, returns home from the Goth Wars with booty and captives, including Tamora (Stacy Ross), Queen of the Goths and her three sons. Titus’ first act, publicly, as he is welcomed by the Roman citizens, is to sentence the eldest son of the captive Queen to death, over her pleadings and protestations, as a religious sacrifice and tribute to the shadows of death. Thus the revenge cycle begins.

Titus is offered the position of Emperor of Rome as a reward for his many years of military expertise by the Tribunes and a popular vote, but he declines the offer, declaring that he has fought long and hard for the Empire and now simply wants to settle down. He nominates the eldest son, Saturninus, to bear the role, much to the dismay of younger brother Bassianus. True to the predictions of the younger brother, as soon as Saturninus is confirmed Emperor, his evil nature and lack of wisdom become blatantly obvious with his first act as Emperor, as he first attempts to steal his brother’s betrothed bride, Lavinia (Anna Bullard), away from him by declaration (the emperor cannot be denied). An uproar follows by Titus’ family and everyone else politically minded. Saturninus recants when he sees how beautiful the captive Queen of Goth is, and instead, takes her for is wife. By this foolish declaration, the captive queen is instantly elevated from prisoner, a possession of the state, into the powerful position of Emperor’s wife. This instant role change automatically spares her uncertain future as well as protects her two remaining sons, Demetrius and Chiron, from just about any consequences they might incur for any evil they might engage in hereafter. Within days, Demetrius and Chiron follow their mother’s vengeful urgings and kill Bassianus, the emperor’s brother, and cleverly set the blame on two of Titus’s sons for the elder statesman’s murder. They then rape and torture and disfigure Lavinia (Titus’s daughter), the only witness to their murderous and duplicitous adventure, abandoning her in the woods to die.

Titus’s brother, Marcus (Dan Hiatt), finds Lavinia and takes her home to her father’s house. When this horrificdeed is revealed to him, Titus vows to revenge his daughter’s rape. Before he can even find out who did it and set a plan in motion, he is once again deceived, this time by Aaron (Shawn Hamilton), the moor, the black body guard and aid to Saturninus (and unbeknownst to all, Aaron is the illicit and secret lover of Tamora, the emperor’s wife). Aaron delivers a message to Titus that if Titus will surrender something of great value to Saturninus, the Emperor will free Titus’s two imprisoned sons. After promising to return them to Titus, alive, in exchange for a particular ransom, this second horrific deception tears Titus apart. As you can see, the evil and deceit just keeps compounding the quest for revenge, the hatred grows, the anger goes on and on, and this is just the first half, with much more to come!

Other than the overwhelming and foreboding aura of evil hanging over the entire theater, the play, the acting the direction, the set design, the incredible costumes and masks, are all part and parcel of one of William Shakespeare’s early works of genius. If you think back to the time in which this play was written, this is what audiences were clamoring for. Plays ran for hours, stories became historical chronicles. Joel Sass has designed a tightly wound, superbly produced show on a very difficult subject, certainly very difficult in that it is so sanguinary!

I personally loved the acting and the artful subliminal moments of humor mercifully interjected throughout to provide a balance and a few lighter moments in all the darkness. This is the first time ever, in the entire history of California Shakespeare Theater Company, that they have mounted this seldom done tragedy! I would certainly go and see “Titus Adronicus” again and I urge you, if you are a fan of this great playwright, to find a way to see this, his first tragedy ever written.

The Set Design by Emily Greene is simple and powerful and the lighting by Russell H. Champa works wonders with the simple set and staging. The costumes are contemporary enough to veil any specific time period but evocative and frightening, especially the Goth Warriors costumes and makeup. There were a series of cleverly designed masks to make certain servants anonymous and it all worked very well. Tickets vary in price depending on dates and seating location, they range between $35 and $66 with discounts available for seniors, students, persons age 30 and under by going on line at or by visiting the box office at 701 Heinz Avenue in Berkeley, CA. You may call (510) 548-9666 for more information. The Bruins Amphitheater is located at 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way (formerly 100 Gateway Blvd.) just off highway 23 at the California Shakespeare Theater Way/Wilder Road, one mile east of the Caldecott Tunnel. There is a complementary shuttle from the Orinda Bart Station beginning 90 minutes prior to opening curtain and there is complementary parking on the premises.

Anna Deavere Smith tackles health care issues through her theatrical microscope in "Let Me Down Easy!"

Miss Smith, the barefoot orator, entranced audience members this past week in the Berkeley Repertory “Roda” Theater as she parlayed insights and impressions extracted from her personal interviews with hundreds of survivors, victims, family and friends into a staged production, intent on creating a platform for open discussion on healthcare issues and social change in our country. The title of this production is called “Let Me Down Easy”. Smith conducted 320 interviews on three continents over a 10+ year period, traveling to the affluent areas, to the shanty shadows and back roads and to hospital rooms, mining the collective consciousness and wisdom garnered from a national and international health care experience, to gather impressions, thoughts and feelings for our edification and stimulation. What is right, what is wrong, what do we need and want, what she gleaned from some pretty heroic personal stories of vulnerability, resilience of spirit and the multifaceted price of care.

Miss Smith has transformed her interviews into lifelike actual dialogue, taking on the mannerisms, the verbal patterns, the actual opinions and heartfelt ruminations of a broad base of affected individuals. She introduces you to Michael Bentt, a heavy weight champion boxer: Lauren Hutton, a supermodel; Brent Williams, a beer drinking rodeo bull rider; Eve Ensler- writer and playwright; Lance Armstrong, bicyclist; Ann Richards, the late Governor of Texas; Physician Kiersta Kurtze Burke with Charity Hospital in New Orleans, and many others.

Anna Deavere Smith is an incredible actress and story teller, bringing each interviewee’s personality, hopes, wishes and dreams to life. With a few simple props and some minor costume changes, Smith steps into each character’s shoes. She tells their story in their words, all while she moves seamlessly from character to character, story to story, from the painful, frightening non-evacuated poor in a hospital in New Orleans (seemingly forgotten by the establishment during Katrina) to a lighter moment with George Burns still smoking and working his act on a stage in Las Vegas.

This very human theatrical experience is well worth the trip to the Berkeley Repertory Theater at 2015 Addison Street in Berkeley, California. Tickets for “Let Me Down Easy” range between $34 and $73 each, depending on the performance date, time of day and location of seating. There are discounts for seniors and students and any one under 30 years of age. Call (510) 647-2949 for more information or you may order tickets on line by going to or by calling toll free to (888) 4 BRT-Tix. This remarkable production runs Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Wednesdays at 7p.m., with matinees on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sunday at 2 p.m., and the show has been extended due to popular demand until July 10th.