Totem is totally awesome! Rosenkrantz & Gildenstern is NOT Dead and Rita Moreno is in a master class all her own!

Rita Moreno responds to questions by actors during an after the show discussion of the Town Hall Theater's Production of "The Odd Couple, Female Version" in April of 2009 (Photo by Charles F. Jarrett)

This week’s broadly diverse theatrical adventures will allow you to focus on three highly entertaining opportunities here in the Bay Area this coming week. First, I will open with a look at an existential comedy in San Ramon written by Tom Stoppard’s, called “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”. Next I will offer you a chance to re-imagine and intermingle a panoply of creation stories in Cirque du Soleil’s brilliantly conceived circus extraordinaire, “Totem”. Lastly, I will offer an opportunity for you to travel along on life’s great and challenging adventure with renowned actress, Rita Moreno in her fun-filled and engaging life’s story, “Rita Moreno, Life Without Makeup” at Berkeley Repertory Theater.

Dispite the rumors, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are absolutely NOT Dead”, there is a lot of life left in this play yet!

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” is currently in production by the Role Players Ensemble in the Village Theater in Danville. It was Stoppard's first major play to gain resounding acclaim. This play is more or less the story of Hamlet, as it might have been witnessed by a fly on the backstage wall of a theater, yet it is first and foremost the story of two minor characters in the Hamlet play, two childhood friends of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The story is unveiled from their perspective, divulged as if this episode of their life is being lived by them as it happened, in the moment. The audience quickly recognizes that these two characters are not overly bright, unable to see the handwriting on the wall, as to how their lives will be affected by the realities of their ongoing involvement as they become agents of a corrupt king and queen. It is as if these two characters are a Laurel and Hardy mixture of modern, yet Elizabethan intellect, comedy and personalities. At times they express verbose existential themes and word play far beyond their perceived intellect and philosophical concept realities.

The play begins with the title characters, Rosencrantz (Damien Seperi) and Guildenstern (Charles Woodson Parker) traveling towards the town of Elsinore, having been summoned by the King and Queen for some unknown reason, to an audience with them. While they walk along the road, they idly engage in a game of coin toss, sequentially calling out their perceived lucky choice, be it heads or tails, with Rosencrantz winning an unlikely and impossible 85 times in a row. Guildenstern dwells on this highly unusual course of events, remarking how unrealistic and foreboding this turn of bad luck is. Rosencrantz sees nothing amiss; after all, he is winning! They are unsure where they are going or why, much like Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. The realities of their situation are beyond their comprehension. Because Hamlet is acting so strange and antagonistic before the Danish court, the King and Queen (Hamlet’s mother and stepfather) have sent for these two former childhood friend of Hamlet, hoping to engage them as spiess to determine what Hamlet is up to. Again, these two gentlemen are not very bright, nor are they adept at carrying out their intended goals. Much like accidents going somewhere to happen, they are the bound to be winners of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A great deal of the time, the play dwells on the impossibility of certainty, fate and free will and is a foil for the author, Stoppard, to exercise every opportunity to embellish nothingness with clever words and language! While the primary actors, Parker, Seperi, and Murray are very very good, I may not be clever enough to become enraptured in its subtleties and laborious language. There are many bright moments of very clever thought-provoking interchanges, humorous insights and verbal engagements. The audience was more appreciative than I and they really seemed to enjoy the show and laughed repeatedly at the subtle comedy. Director Chris Ayles is a very seasoned professional and my sense is that he has done the best he could with the resources at his disposal. Consequently, my review calls this a worthy production for Community Theater, and certainly a very good value monetarily. Dispite the rumors, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are absolutely NOT Dead”, there is a lot of life left in this play yet!

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” will continue Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 2 p.m. in the Village Theater at 233 Front Street, in Danville. Call 314-3400 or visit the website at or pickup your tickets at the Community Center, located at 420 Front Street in Danville. Tickets are only $15 to $26 each, which is very reasonable for local theater.

Totem is totally awesome!

You have seen the advertisements eliciting your interest in Cirque du Soleil’s newest show, “Totem”, for weeks now and it finally opened this past week in San Francisco, under the big Blue and Yellow tents adjacent to AT& T Park. “Totem” is certainly equal to the advertising hype, maybe even better.

Due in large part to the long standing history of spectacular theater created by this unique company, I have been eagerly awaiting this production. I know that some of the productions have seemed very similar in that they are all about elevating the aerial performance aspects, andthe theatrical and musical aspects. This show is remarkably understated and yet brilliantly clever and beautiful in every aspect. While some shows have been very grand, almost gargantuan in size, this show is more intimate and resonates, in my mind, on a very different, very personal level.

For writer & director Robert LePage, Totem is his second theatrical endeavor with Cirque du Soleil. His first production with them was the highly successful operatic and oriental themed “Ka” which opened in 2004 and continues to soar in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Hotel.

The multidisciplinary artist Robert Lepage, who is equally talented as a high tech theatre director, playwright, actor and film director, now finds himself reaching back into time to explore the myths and mysticism surrounding world cultures, creation beliefs. The fact that so many cultures share a belief in the slow moving turtle as a symbol for the underlying strength and ageless infinite progression into and through the universe, has led Lepage to tie this production to a turtle-like framework. One of the main elements of this production’s scenic design is a huge 2,700 pound turtle-shell shaped structure that provides a launching platform for the evolution of “Totem’s” protean landscape. It is from within this central mythical landscape that Totem’s acrobatic marsh creatures emerge, first scaling their earthbound platform, then launching skyward. At the same time, an outer worldly, crystalline bedazzled alien descends from the heavens, down and into the mother turtle shell to meld major theories of creation. LePage says that "inspired by the foundation narratives of the first peoples, TOTEM explores the birth and evolution of the world, the relentless curiosity of human beings and their constant desire to excel,” he says. “The word totem suggests that human beings carry in their bodies the full potential of all living species, even the Thunderbird’s desire to fly to the top of the totem.”

Now in this marvelous and wondrous evolutionary show, you can explore the richness of ancient beauty and beliefs, while frog like amphibian creatures cavort with man’s ape-like predecessors emerging from a collection of colorful marsh based fronds and grasses, across the volcanic landscapes to the barren terra firma, and even up into the starry heavenly nights above. It is in this wonderful landscape that quirky comedians, a ball juggling scientist, acrobats, a clowning fishermen, an American Indian, trapeze artists, foot jugglers, surfer dudes, hoop dancers, roller-skating acrobats, romantic aerialists, unicyclists, and others emerge and play for us in this imaginative ecosystem. Each act is in its own way unique and spectacular!
The set design and special elements, especially the mirrored 10,000 pound scorpion bridge between the mainland and the marshland is a moving structure that brings the diverse elements together in a fashion that is truly indescribable. You have to see this to believe it! The multi-media projections of water and lava flows provided an almost three dimensional depth and realism, beyond any multimedia projections I have ever seen or experienced before. The costuming created by Kim Barrett is exquisite and sets each scene appropriately. The musical innovation designed by composers, arrangers and orchestrators Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard,(also known as Bob and Bill) set the many moods in pluperfect musical fashion.

Director LePage is reported to have proposed that “somewhere between science and legend, “TOTEM” explores the ties that bind Man to other species, his dreams and his infinite potential.” I agree, wholeheartedly! I cannot recommend highly enough that you find a way to bring those you love to see this incredible show!

While the show is scheduled to run in this location outside of AT & T Park at least through December 11th, it may well be extended, at least until they are scheduled to break camp and move to a parking lot near San Jose’s Taylor Street Bridge on March 2nd. Tickets range in price between $38.50 and $360 each. Call (800) 450-1480 or visit their website at While my wife and I have personally seen 10 of the 22 shows that are currently in production around the world, we never get tired of going again, and again, and again - - - - C'est Magnifique!

Rita Moreno is just as stellar as ever and her show in Berkeley is bringing audiences to their feet every night as she steps on that Berkeley Repertory stage.

Meanwhile, if you have not seen the terrific show in the Roda Theater at the Berkeley Repertory Theater facility in Berkeley, featuring the multitalented Rita Moreno, in “Rita Moreno, Life Without Makeup”, where have you been? This show has been getting rave reviews and has just been extended again, through November 12th, for either the second or third time, I’ve lost count. My wife and I saw the show when it first opened and loved it!

Miss Moreno had her first Broadway role — as "Angelina" in Skydrift — by the time she was 13, which caught the attention of Hollywood talent scouts. She appeared in small roles in The Toast of New Orleans and Singin' in the Rain, in which she played Zelda Zanners.

In March 1954, Moreno was featured on the cover of Life Magazine with a caption “Rita Moreno: An Actresses' Catalog of Sex and Innocence” and that one event really opened the door to her American dream. In 1956, she had a supporting role in the film version of The King and I as Tuptim, but disliked most of her other work during this period. Then, in 1961, Moreno landed the role of “Anita” in Robert Wise’s and Jerome Robbins’ film adaptation of Leonard Bernstein’s and Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking Broadway musical, West Side Story. Moreno won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for that role.

She has played many tough women, many very strong roles, from Anita previously mentioned to Maria Callas in Master Class. She has had to be a very tough woman in her own life’s trials and tribulations and yet has emerged as a very loving, giving, caring, down to earth local resident of whom we can all be very appreciative and proud.

The Town Hall Theater in Lafayette suffered a $100,000+ water damage loss three years ago, when a faulty fire sprinkler unit accidentally discharged and flooded the theater. On April 4th, 2009, the theater held a fundraiser along with producing the female version of the “Odd Couple”, a theatrical production in which Rita had starred on Broadway a few years earlier. Guess who voluntarily showed up to help with the fund raising effort? You’re correct, a very special lady who loves and supports local theaters, Rita Moreno!

This show is terrific, one you should not miss. Miss Moreno is still the consummate performer. She can still sing, act and dance your socks off! “Rita Moreno, Life Without Makeup”, continues Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday performances at 7 p.m. with matinees on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., closing on November 12. Evening performances replace matinees on 11/3 and 11/6. Call (510) 647-2949 or visit their website at or call the toll free number at (888) BRT-Tix. The Roda Theater is located at 2015 Addison Street in Berkeley (near Shattuck)