Category Archives: marin county

Life in Marin County, CA

Two Ann(e)s stay onstage

I keep tabs on news and events in my former homeland of Marin County, California (never far from my heart though that’s for another post) and was pleased to see two theatre friends with the same name (sort of) spotlighted in the local news during August.

On August 7th, Anne Darragh was interviewed about her theatre work, which most notably includes originating a role in Angels in America, in the Marin Independent Journal as advance publicity for Marin Theatre Company’s current production of Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire.

Later on August 17th, Ann Brebner’s 90th birthday celebration received coverage also in the Marin Independent Journal. The party sounded like a had to be there event held in the storied surroundings of Skywalker Ranch – I certainly would have liked to be there. But no transporter beams yet.

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Contextual Theatre

In my recently posted “Best of 2011” blog entry, which was quite enjoyable to compile and explore, I notice that nearly every play on the list benefited from my knowing some additional context or background information about the production. In those cases, it could have been (was) related to the reputation of the producing theatre, newness of the company, intent of the artistic director or some production team member, and in one bittersweet case, the impending closure of the theatre company.

I know that my impressions of all of those shows would have been modestly to strongly different if I had not known additional context about the material or company itself. This realization led me to wonder – how much does context play into impressions of the play for the average theatregoer? I’m sure that studies have been done on this issue in some form or another, but the process could be different or unique depending on the geography, location or association of the theatre itself.

11 Plays I’ll Remember from 2011

I’m closing out 2011 having seen 55 theatrical productions, traveled at least 7,000 miles, completed a masters degree, moved back to the East Coast, and with a multitude of additional memories to associate with the year. For this entry I’ll focus on those theatrical memories.

I made a top 10 list for the year several weeks ago, expecting that it might be modified before December 31 arrived. As it turned out, that list has remained mostly the same. I also compiled an accompanying Bottom 5 list, but decided not to share that publicly. However, making a list like that reminds me of one of my most interesting theatrical discussions of the year – whether someone receives feedback or not on a performance, and how that process is approached. Perhaps that’s a topic for a future entry.

Ultimately I decided that this would be a “top 11” list, in chronological order, highlighting the standout productions I saw in 2011 across the country. Without further ado…

Sonia Flew at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre in Bloomfield, Michigan – January
While this show actually opened and ran in 2010, I didn’t see it until its final performance on January 2, 2011, and thus will count it in the tally for this year. A powerful story about cross-generational family ties lingers in my mind alongside a historical issue I’d not been familiar with. I felt that the culmination energy of the closing performance added to the intensity and meaning of my seeing the show, alongside the pleasure of cheering on a friend featured in the cast and meeting the other cast members through him.

Clybourne Park at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, California – January
A breath of fresh air for the normally quite static ACT, this show burst out of left field to become a New Year’s hit. I was captivated by the topicality and breexiness of the script, which knowingly looked at hot-button racial issues without taking itself too seriously. On a related level, the actors and director all worked in a seemingly relaxed manner, letting down some of the artifice or distance between them and the audience to create a lasting theatrical impression.

Cyrano at the Sonoma County Repertory Theater in Sebastopol, California – February
The final production at “The Rep”, which closed its doors immediately following this show’s run, was elegiac with integrity. I’m sure that my knowledge of the theatre’s real life situation added to my impressions of the drama. At the same time, I recall a certain timeless quality to the production, as if the characters were stepping out of time to give us a moment of their time, and then proceeding to move on to another world, dimension or era.

Born and Raised at the Berkeley Playhouse in Berkeley, California – May
This new work took a look at another hot-button issue (gay marriage) and humanized the experience. Prolific Bay Area director Jon Tracy helmed a locally rooted story about marriage equality, and added creative touches in musical numbers and a balanced, large cast to make the narrative involving and emotionally satisfying. The spirit of new plays, where anything can happen and story elements are in flux, was visible in the creative process and risk taking demonstrated by the cast.

Tiny Alice at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, California – June
In writing up this show, I referred to it as an “elaborate jigsaw puzzle” and while that impression still stands, six months later (now) I recall the heightened artistry of this production: the best use of MTC’s stage that I had ever seen, with the set opening on itself twice, the exaggerated yet sharp characterizations – especially Mark Anderson Phillips as the Butler, and the utter dedication of the five person cast. Director Jasson Minnidakis had clearly wanted to work on this play for a long while, and I hope he looks back on it with a sense of fulfillment.

Let Me Down Easy at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, California – June
Renowned actress and storyteller Anna Deavere Smith returned to the Bay Area to tell this story as part of a national tour. Despite (or no matter of) these wide ranging roots, the show had an urgency and topicality that would put it at the top of my top 10 list – if I chose to organize this list that way. Smith made me forget all about her as she embodied a series of subjects/interviewees and recounted their experiences with health care. A show like this ought to have been mandatory viewing when the universal health care question engulfed the USA.

Care of Trees at the Shotgun Players in Berkeley, California – June
A striking, haunting story was given additional depth by director Susannah Martin and the talented two-hander team of Patrick Russell and Liz Sklar. Themes of supernaturalism and unpredictability ran through the piece, but (more strikingly) ran right alongside emotional realism, seen in Russell’s increasingly urgent, vibrant portrayal of the male lead and a series of videos and audio clips that furthered the character’s relationships – and audience understanding.

The Verona Project at the California Shakespeare Theatre in Orinda, California – July
Another breath of fresh air in the height of the summer, mixed now (in hindsight) with the Culmination/Crescendo of my Bay Area life that came to a close 10 days after seeing this show. The creators took a novel concept – turning the words of the Bard into a rock musical – and added unexpected humanity and honesty to the tale. An equal accomplishment was creating several tuneful, memorable songs that I wish were available on a soundtrack album!

Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning, Juliet at The Penny Seats in Ann Arbor, Michigan – August
Buoyant creativity and gleeful mirth sailed through this premiere production from The Penny Seats. This was another example of outside knowledge (being in attendance on Opening Night of the troupe’s Premiere Production) played in to my audience experience. That awareness was matched by a crackerjack acting and production team game for anything – even a rainstorm on the second night that did NOT deter the performance – and a tongue in cheek script mixing notable drama and cheerful irreverence in such a way that allowed The Penny Seats to make a memorable debut.

Little Foxes at the University of Delaware Resident Ensemble Players in Newark, Delaware – October
I’ll dare to say this show was a Revelatory debut experience for the UD/PTTP troupe. I went in expecting to be like “wow” at the end of the show, and I left feeling like “WOAH.” This production was the most skillfully dramatic of the year, as I recall feeling a mix of intensity and gleefulness from getting so involved in the dramatic storyline. The production team also pulled off the coup of making an older storyline seem fresh, which is not always successful. The production notes seemed to imply that the title had been a last-minute choice for production, but the professionalism and integrity of the product belied no evidence of any backstage debates.

A Little Night Music at the City Theater Company in Wilmington, Delaware – December
In a similar manner to the PTTP debut, this production was impressive and deceptively simple. I recall my mom’s comment following the show: “I would have easily driven to Philadelphia for a show like that” and know that I agree with her, where the skillful cast approached Sondheim’s story and score with focus and determination. Several performances from younger professionals showed much promise for future roles, while the veteran performers took a nuanced approach to their work and seemed to intuitively know why they were there and how they’d best fit into the tapestry of the story.

———————–

On a slightly melancholic note, I could not have anticipated how departing the Bay Area would result in such a steep drop in my theatregoing: 45 shows up until the end of July (leaving the Bay Area), and only 10 shows during the rest of the year. I sincerely hope that the new year will bring the return of more consistency to my theatre-going, now based in the Mid Atlantic Region… and an accompanying production gig would be the icing on the cake.

A note of accomplishment: I’m very grateful to have maintained this blog as a theatrical chronicle for this year, and know that I want to continue, and possibly enhance, this process in the future. It’s clear to me that keeping a record of all the shows has helped solidify and enhance my theatre studies and pursuits, changing the memory from “oh, what was that show?” to “YES, THAT WAS A MEMORABLE SHOW IN A MEMORABLE YEAR!

Alphabet Soup, revisited

Okay, I said I would do this, and I want to do it, so I will indeed do it. Belatedly.

Will this all be a SUMMARY, SYNOPSIS or actual RUMINATION? Let’s find out.

Let’s recap:
ALMOST, MAINE
BY THE BOG OF CATS
CABARET

DEAR LIAR

ALMOST, MAINE – seen at the College of Marin just over a year ago, December 4, 2010. My good friend Molly Noble guided 19 (mostly) student actors to an impressively rounded ensemble. A Pacific Sun review glowed with praise. For me, this show was an interesting example of personal and professional lives coming together in the theatre, where I knew the director and several cast members, but tried to remain objective in my opinion of the show.

So what was that list, again? I’m not sure if I truly want to write comments about 26 shows in the past, but I do want to make a note of when I saw them and where.

Almost, Maine
College of Marin, Kentfield, CA, December 4, 2010
By the Bog of Cats
Wyndham’s Theatre, London, England, November 27, 2004
Cabaret
1) Hampshire College Tavern, Amherst, MA, March 6, 2004
2) Lyric Theatre, London, England, April 19 (?), 2007
3) PCPA Theaterfest, Santa Maria, CA, May 15, 2008

Dear Liar
Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA, October, 2007 – I served as an ASM
Equivocation
1) Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR, August 11, 2009
2) Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley, CA, April 20, 2010

False Servant
Cottesloe, National Theatre, London, England, September 13, 2004
Grand Hotel
Donmar Warehouse, London, England, November 19, 2004
Horses
AlterTheater, San Rafael, CA, October 22, 2009
Is He Dead?
Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma, CA, April, 2010
John Gabriel Borkman
Donmar Warehouse, London, England, April, 2007
King Lear
The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, March 29. 2007
Leading Ladies
6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa, CA, July 6, 2008
Murderous Instincts
Savoy Theatre, London, England, September 29, 2004
Night of the Iguana
Lyric Theatre, London, England, December, 2005
Of The Earth (The Salt Plays: Part 1)
John Hinckel Park, Berkeley, CA, September 26, 2010
P
(Fat Pig?)
Aurora Theatre, Berkeley, CA, December, 2009
Q
(Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party?)
San Francisco Playhouse, San Francisco, CA, January, 2009
Ragtime
PCPA Theaterfest, Santa Maria, CA, July 10, 2008
Speaking in Tongues
Theatre 503, London, England, March, 2007
Tintin
Barbican Theatre, London, England, December, 2005
Under Milk Wood
Porchlight Theatre, Ross, CA, July 7, 2008
Verona Project
California Shakespeare Theatre, Orinda, CA, July 14, 2011
War Horse
Oliver, National Theatre, London, England, December, 2005
X
?????
You Never Can Tell
Garrick Theatre, London, England, December, 2005
Z
???????

That’s more of what I wanted to do, pulling those titles out of the memory banks. Time will tell if it leads to further commentary. Well, there are a few I would like to write in more detail about:

By the Bog of Cats
Equivocation
False Servant
Grand Hotel
King Lear
Murderous Instincts
(Fat Pig?)
(Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party?)
Tintin
Under Milk Wood
Verona Project
War Horse

… so it will be a challenge to do just that.

The Youthful Chorus Line

A few nights ago I attended show #43, A Chorus Line, at the San Rafael Albert Park Community Center.

I’m again writing this here as a placeholder, and hope to write a more detailed synopsis and impression soon.

An open letter to Golden Gate Transit

I went on a random Yelp-reviewing binge earlier this evening, and stopped by the Golden Gate Transit page. My “review” became quite long, almost too long for the character box, but it did post. It took on more of the form of an open letter, so I thought I would post it here too to chronicle, and as a change of pace.

________

I’m coming to the end of 2 1/2 years of relying on GGT for a regular Marin to SF commute and returning home back over the bridge.

If you commute on a typical 9-5, Monday-Friday, schedule, GGT has your number. Very efficient and frequent service, especially on routes 4, 24, and 54, from various North Bay locations. As noted with the 4, they seem to have a soft spot for Mill Valley commuters, and I’m not exactly sure why that is. In the afternoons, I’ve often seen back to back 4s where one is very crowded and the next one not at all. Lack of information as to the next bus at SF stops can be irritating, although I have heard that they are working to update this in the near future. Last fall, they introduced a new fleet of ultra-modern larger buses that seem to be in service mostly on the Sonoma County routes.

They also offer service to the East Bay on routes 40 (express) and 42 (local). I have taken those buses a few times and find them to be mostly efficient. It’s nice to not have to pay the Richmond Bridge toll. A discount when going on to BART would be appreciated.

On the other hand, late night and weekend buses are another story. The 101 semi-express bus (which was surprisingly only introduced in 2009) stops running after 8pm, leaving the only options as the 70 to Novato or 80 to Santa Rosa, which alternate on the half hour up to 10pm and ONLY run once per hour following that time until 1am. Also after 10pm, the buses will make Every. Single. Stop. along Route 101, including an awkwardly long initial jaunt through Sausalito and awkward stop-over in Marin City, as they proceed north. (The buses do seem to have done away recently with the long layovers in Marin City, although the northbound 22 – a local route – still halts for no apparent reason in San Anselmo.) As you might imagine, this long journey home can be excruciating when you either just want to get home or don’t have anything to read or write on the bus. Those same “basic” routes (so named by GGT) are often populated by a considerably more diverse cast of characters than the typically business suited commute bus rider.

It’s no secret that Clipper (formerly TransLink) cards will give you a discounted fare on GGT, but I am surprised how many people seem to still not know that. GGT seems to be aware of where their income comes from, as they claim that Clipper can not be used for the popular AT&T Park ferry, when it most certainly could if you tag in and out at Larkspur.

On the ferry, the service is also reliable and comfortable. The early morning departures and 5:00 hour returns from/to Larkspur are filled with strong representation from the financial district. It’s always amusing to notice how the ferry becomes a tourist line between 10am and 3pm or so, and then thins out drastically for the last few runs back to Marin after 7pm. But why does it not run later than 9:30pm??? (More on that later…) Meanwhile, weekend ferries never run on time and seem to be populated with a large number of passengers who have either never been on the boat(s) before, treat it as a party boat complete with beers or other beverages, or are only there every few months.

As you can tell, GGT is well organized and mostly supportive of its riders and clientele. They even have “advisory committees” for bus and ferry passengers to participate in.

But as a frequent and loyal rider – admittedly with no other public transportation option – I have a few persistent questions:

1) Why continue with the constant raising of your fares? I moved to Marin in early 2009; San Rafael – San Francisco was $7.28 roundtrip on TransLink cards. Now it is $8.40. Not everyone can afford the constant rising in costs, and I don’t believe the haughty statement that it “keeps pace with inflation” – having some stability or consistency with these costs would be welcomed.

2) Don’t assume that everyone who is on GGT goes to SF for business. It’s clear that the schedulers may think that, based on the ratio of commute to general bus service.

3) Give us more options to get home to Marin at night. As stated above, the 70 or 80 can be excruciatingly long or an unappealing prospect. What about one or two buses around 11pm that go direct to San Rafael? Or Santa Rosa? Marin residents deserve more options. Not everyone here has a car or the luxury of being able to drive across the bridge as they please. I read somewhere that there was once a late night Friday and Saturday ferry to Larkspur. Why not bring that back?

4) You’ve bought two brand new ferries to add to the fleet within the past two years. Why not use them on the weekends and permanently retire the older Spaulding vessels?

5) Be more transparent about yourself, GGT. It would be great to see exactly how much of this fare money actually goes to maintenance, not paying someone’s salary or subsidizing something that shouldn’t be supported.

I’ve enjoyed my time with you, GGT. I know you can be better. I look forward to seeing you mature.

Self Revelatory Teaser

A video preview or teaser for my SELF REV that is coming up this Sunday night.

A Shout Out for TBA

I spent the afternoon at a Theatre Bay Area sponsored event, and wanted to express my appreciation for their endless efforts in coordinating and supporting ALL aspects of Bay Area Theatre.

Thanks, TBA!!!!

Theatrical Time Management

Last Sunday I decided to go to the matinee of Company on the big screen, thinking that would be the last chance to see it. I was therefore moderately annoyed when I discovered there will be another round of screenings this weekend. If I’d known that on Sunday, I wouldn’t have gone that day – and probably would not have encountered the screening mishap at the end of the show.

This does remind me of the choices that the arts patron must make, especially in the theatre world where runs are not constant and ultimately finite. I’m making similar decisions with my time this weekend and intending to see two plays that close on Sunday.

Theatre Diluted, but still Impressive

I visited my favorite cinema in Marin County today (the Sequoia Theatre in Mill Valley) for their screening of COMPANY by Stephen Sondheim. This production premiered for a strictly limited engagement in NYC this April, and was filmed (and since edited) for the cinema broadcast. So for me it is show #35.

A starry cast (Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone, Stephen Colbert, and others…) led gravitas to Sondheim’s loose narrative. I was not familiar with the show as I should be, and appreciated the energy of the performances – especially for such a short run.

Being rooted in the theatre, I noticed more acutely the differences in the LIVE experience of seeing this in a darkened cinema. I’m all for the expansion of theatrical media through these very en vogue live broadcasts. However, I missed the shared reaction of seeing the live performance. In this case, there was minimal clapping, some modest audience reaction, and most obviously yet sharply, the performer was not there in the flesh in front of us. This actually came to a head near the end of the screening, when the visuals failed on the final 10 minutes of the show, and the performance became a listening concert, to many audience members displeasure. (I was annoyed as well, but chose not to complain about it.)

I would have liked to have been there for the actual performances in April. A slight to modest Broadway aesthetic was visible to me, with many actors playing to the audience rather than to each other on the stage. The staging itself was innovative with a series of modular furniture units moving around the downstage. Upstage was contained with the New York Phillarmonic orchestra, and Harris almost broke the fourth wall with a very funny reference to the conductor being onstage. Not sure if that was in the original script.

Watching this show here in California made me aware of a few geographically specific references for which I seemed to be the only one that “got” them in Mill Valley. A moment where one character says they are “moving back to Cape Cod” comes to mind, but I know there were at least a few more.

They even made a theatrical trailer which I am embedding in this entry.