From Will Shakespeare, 12th Night something delightful and light, and from Armistead Maupin :Wrong and Right, is not Black or White!"

Shakespeares' 12th Night revelers: Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Justin DuPuis) and Sir Toby Belch (Paul Plain)

Photo by: Jay Yamada

Shakespeare has and always been the “test” of regional theaters to prove their professionalism and ability to engage and draw return audiences, at least audiences who are passionate about the highest level of entertainment through the mastery of the greatest in theatrical skill. William Shakespeare was a master of this process of clever word play and many of his aficionados relish his imagery and his little literary gems. For example, from Henry VIII, this phrase, “Men's evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water.” In other words, the things men do wrong are long remembered, as if they were written in brass, but their virtues and good deeds, are less permanent in our memories. Then, in another often done play by Shakespeare, “Twelfth Night”, Malvolio reads a phony letter of admiration and responds “In my stars I am above thee (a man in love with himself); but (he tells himself) be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.” Later in the same play, Viola asks the Fool (or Clown), Feste, if he is not Lady Olivia’s “fool” and he responds wisely, “No, indeed Sir (thinking Viola is a he): the Lady Olivia has not folly: She will keep no fool till she be married; and fools are as like husbands - - as like Pilchards (fish) are to herrings (same type of fish); (but) the husband’s are the bigger (fools): I am indeed not her fool, but her corrupter of words.” Indeed, Shakespeare had a way with words, perhaps more difficult to understand than similar phrases in modern English, but never-the-less a marvelous way with words.

This past week, a truly superb production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night opened in Lafayette, in the historic Town Hall Theatre, a production that I strongly encourage you to attend. Director Soren Oliver has gathered together an outstanding cast for this production that made it a most memorable occasion for me.

Two fraternal twins born into privilege, Viola and Sebastian, are aboard a ship when it is overtaken by a terrific storm. Their ship breaks apart and they are dumped into the sea. Viola and the ship’s captain cling to a piece of the ship’s wreckage until they find themselves washed ashore on the coast of “Illyria”. Viola (Kate Jopson) comes to believe her brother has been lost at sea and she asks the sea captain (who was born and raised on this part of the coast) to assist her to find a job. Women were not employable, so she takes on the guise of a young man, Cesario by name), and through the sea captain’s assistance, becomes employed by the single and handsome Duke Orsino. Viola is well educated, speaks intelligently and has the gift of romantic verse in communicating skills. The Duke (Dennis Markham) thinks he is in love with the very beautiful Lady Olivia (Kendra Lee Oberhausen), and employs Viola (in her guise as a young man) as his arbiter of love, his messenger in his pursuit of Lady Olivia. Unfortunately, Lady Olivia has lost both father and brother in recent deaths and is not interested in romance of any kind as the play unfolds. While Viola faithfully discharges her duty to her employer, she discovers that she is falling in love with the Duke, herself, making her job very difficult, if not impossible.

At the same time, her brother Sebastian (Daniel Petzold), was not claimed by the sea, but had been rescued by a fisherman, Antonio (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), and they became fast friends. Sebastian comes to believe that his missing sister must have been claimed by the sea and he and Antionio set out for the Duke’s fiefdom. Sebastian believes that Duke Orsino knew his father and will help him to return to his homeland. Unbeknownst to each other, the twins end up in the same community at the same time, creating case after case of mistaken identity situations and crisis. Viola’s efforts to woo Olivia for her master, the Duke, backfires when Olivia falls in love with the very handsome young messenger (Cesario/Viola), thinking that he is a very intelligent young man of good breeding, not realizing he is a she. When the various characters encounter each of the twins at different times and in different places, not realizing that there are twins in their territory, all kinds of hilarious and not so hilarious situations come to pass.

As with all Shakespearean plays, there are plots within plots, within plots and the most important is the subplot is where-in Olivia’s poor Uncle, Sir Toby Belch (played by Paul Plain), has recruited another suitor for his niece, Olivia, in the person of a simple minded country gentleman by the name of Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Justin DuPuis). Sir Andrew fancies marrying the wealthy Lady Olivia and seeks to get some inside help from Sir Toby, who happens to be his drinking buddy. Sir Toby, a poor relative of minor royalty, likes to drink a great deal, but finds living off a wealthy niece, who does not want to support his drinking habit, a very bitter pill to chew. Sir Toby is thus eager to keep his friend, Sir Andrew, hopefully engaged in a profitable but hopeless romantic endeavor. Lady Olivia also has a steward, Malvolio (David Abad),who is a self-centered, self-serving, puritanical and hard hearted individual that nobody seems to like very much, especially Lady Olivia’s personal assistant, Maria (Alexandra Creighton). In another sub-plot, Maria, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew set out to get even with Malvolio, which proves to be delightfully funny. Lady Olivia’s licensed comedian, her clown Feste (Clive Worsley) provides words of wisdom and light comedy throughout the play.

The set design and scenic artist Sarah Spero, has done an excellent job with the design and stage illustration and Ann R. Oliver has outdone herself in costume design. The costumes cover a unique compilation of cultures in the mysterious land of Illyria, but they are fun and definitely unique!

The acting is definitely professional level, first rate and exciting, providing a fun-filled evening that passed much too quickly on the night that I was there. Many of the actors are newer acquaintances to me but several, Dennis Markham and Clive Worsley are long time favorites. This is the first time I have seen Paul Plain performing in a Shakespearean role, and from his sterling performance, he should have attempted this long ago. I wish to complement all of the actors here for their excellent work, and I highly recommend that you should attend “Twelfth Night”. The show continues Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinee performances at 2p.m., now through June 25th. Tickets range in price between $15 and $32 each. Call 283-1557 for ticket sales or information or visit their website at or pickup tickets at the ticket booth in the theater at 3535 School Street, which is at the corner of School Street and Moraga Avenue in Lafayette.

Wrong and right, is not black or white!

Shifting gears now from dramatic comedy to musical drama with ACT’s highly acclaimed new musical visiting the haunts and history of San Francisco in the 70’s, I will now take you on a little guided tour of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City”. Spectacular! Exciting! Mesmerizing! Adjective after adjective in review after review, for the most part, everyone seems to agree that this great new musical was born in San Francisco but is now bound for Broadway!

Armistead Maupin came to San Francisco in 1971, a writer in search of himself, his real self, in search of a place where he could be himself, his real self. You see, Armistead knew he was gay and knew he wasn’t comfortable in his own skin. Even though he didn’t understand or comprehend what his life might be like in San Francisco, he was drawn by the undercurrent, the whisperings of a place where men like himself could find freedom to express themselves in their need for love and sexual freedom. His secret had been closely guarded and the topics had been carefully avoided. While in Charleston, North Carolina, where Maupin attended the College of North Carolina, someone told him that there were at least “50 gay bars in San Francisco” and he righteously declared that he would never go into “one of those”. And where did he go on his first night is San Francisco? You are correct, a gay bar called The Rendezvous on Sutter Street. It was all new, it was scary, but it was exciting. Could it be true, a place where he could share his reality with other people who had lived most of their lives with the same secrets and the same fears? During the day he was a straight freelance writer struggling and juggling between writing and fighting for financial survival, but at night the neon lights followed him through the blur of bathhouses and backstreet bars.

Following a short stint of writing a column called “The Serial”, that gave birth to fictitious characters Mary Ann and Connie, who met at the “social Safeway”, the Marina Safeway, Chronicle columnist Charles McCabe found “The Serial” refreshing and declared that it belonged under the Chronicle banner. In short order, “Can you produce five columns a week”? Charles Thieriot, the Chronicle’s publisher asked.a “Five columns a week, well, a - - sure, - - sure, I can do that - -“. Maupin recalls the frightening prospect of the publishers incredible request. NOBODY writes 5 columns a week he thought, but he had a job, not much of a life because of the work and creation demands, but he had a job! On May 24th, 1976, the first column appeared under the title, “Tales of the City”. As the weeks passed he found himself inundated with stories, characters, and plots supplied and volunteered by a growing army of readers, friends and associates. And there it began, “The Tales of the City”, the newspaper column read by millions of Bay Area readers. Now it is reaching out again, reborn as a wonderful, believable, heartwarming and funny musical narrative of the people and lives that made San Francisco the marvelous and unique place that it is today.

Inexorably intertwined; gay, straight and all the world in between the South San Francisco area and the Golden Gate Bridge became a new Mecca, a new tapestry for a new pallet of rainbow colors. The characters were all made up, inventions of Maupin’s mind. Now through the magic of theater, you too, can meet the maddeningly unconventional and mysterious landlady, Anna Madrigal (Judy Kaye), of the Barbary Lane apartment building. Now you can connect with the mother hen who opened up her coop to all those who were willing to become her extended family in and upon this strange landscape. The apartment building provided a launching pad for many different social experimental rockets destined to defy gravity. In this space, people found their space and grew, even if some grew great and some grew less than great.

Like a multi-level freeway interchange, people from all walks of life, all social and economic paths crossed there; drugs, sex, love, larceny, like a mini-metropolis, a city within a city. Yes, like many living now in the Bay Area, I too moved into the East Bay in the early 70’s. Likewise, I tasted some of the wild and wicked fruits of this new utopia, the EST and Actualization self-improvement workshops, the free and more open lifestyles, even the artist houseboat community hot tubs in Sausalito. Yes, as science fiction author Robert Rimmer (The Harrad Experiment author) and Marin sex talk radio show therapist Stan Dale once declared, ”everyone taking part in this evolution were indeed, Strangers in a Strange Land.”

The stories, the characters, the music, the stunning and powerful voices and the positive exhilaration is all there, and you don’t even need a joint or magic brownies to fully enjoy it. The music is created and directed by the same genius team Jeff Whitty and Jason Moore, (the Tony award winning creators of “Avenue Q”), and Jake Shears and John Garden (the musical minds behind the Scissor Sisters, the Glam Rock group.

The simple but brilliantly creative set design, visuals and costumes turned this musical theater experience into a super spectacular experience. Principle actors, Betsy Wolfe, Mary Birdsong, Wesley Taylor, Brian Hawkins, Richard Poe, Josh Breckenridge, Andrew Samonsky and the ever vivacious Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone were spellbinding as actors and singers. As they brought the show to a close, the audience rose to their feet in a standing ovation just as if someone had come on stage and yelled out “Attention”, popping us up out of our chairs in one fell swoop. Wow, what a show! Even though it is a fairly long show, I was so enthralled by the upbeat extravaganza, I didn’t even notice that it was after 11 pm when I entered the Powell Street BART station to return home.

“Tales of the City” has just been extended by unprecedented demand for tickets, through July 24th. The American Conservatory Theater (ACT) is located at 415 Geary Street in downtown San Francisco. There are 8 p.m. performances Tuesdays through Sundays with 2 p.m. matinees on selected dates. Consult the website at or by calling the box office at (415) 749-2228 for more information.