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Curtain calls: Role Players’ over-the-top ‘Ruddigore’
by Sally Hogarty
San Jose Mercury News
Ruddigore 5Actors have been known to do some pretty crazy things in preparation for a role. I remember hanging out at the Lafayette Cemetery myself, but Lindsay Levin seems to have found a more pleasurable way to prepare.
As a professional bridesmaid in Role Player Ensemble’s production of “Ruddigore,” she attended six weddings.
The way-over-the-top Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera features a trio of professional bridesmaids who follow Rose Maybud (gorgeously voiced by the lovely Sarah Sloan), hoping she will choose a husband so they can get out of those dresses. But Robin, whom Rose fancies, is painfully shy and with a diabolical secret to boot. It seems Robin (a stellar performance by Charles Parker) is really Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd. To escape a witch’s curse, he has faked his own death and assumed another identity, forcing his younger brother (well played by David Auerbach) to take over as the accursed baronet.
Lots of crazy characters keep the action lively, especially Richard Dauntless (a wonderfully athletic James Koponen in an outrageous sailor uniform) and the forlorn Mad Margaret (an exuberant Megan Stetson). A highlight of the performance takes place when the ancestral portraits come off the wall to teach their wayward progeny a lesson.
Adding modern touches to the 1887 spoof, director Eric Fraisher Hayes keeps the pacing tight, while music director Marianna Wolff does an admirable job with her eight talented musicians. Hayes also put together a clever design team to support the action — Tom Segal (choreography), Bo Golden (scenic design), David Lam (lighting), Joshua Hardwick (sound), and Lisa Danz (inspired period costumes).
“Ruddigore” runs through May 10 at Danville’s Village Theatre. Call 925-314-3400 or go to www.roleplayersensemble.com.
Sherrie Klein, Member since 2007
“‘Ruddigore’ is a delight and I know it well having been in several productions but even I had a hard time understanding the libretto when placed in the hands of an unashamedly American cast. The joy and wit of W.S. Gilbert was often inaudible and I got the impression that most of the audience were bewildered by the goings on. The problems were only highlighted by the crystal clear diction of Dame Hannah, kudos to her for showing everyone how it should be done!”
Member since 2010
“Some WONDERFUL performances – Megan Stetson, Sarah Sloan and Charles Woodson Parker – saved this play. The topical references were funny and appreciated – I would have enjoyed a few more of them. What didn’t work was the orchestra/acoustics making it hard to hear the words, especially of the female singers. The Goldstar description “Gilbert and Sullivan meets Edward Gorey” created an expectation of more Gorey-ness, that was not fulfilled. So that also ended up being a disappointment – though not the fault of the show, cast, or director. I would (and will) see other shows by this ensemble. This one, sadly, didn’t really work for me.”
“This production is a hoot! A wonderful interpretation that’s entertaining and amusing. The actors were all wonderful and most of the singers perfectly sublime. There is a lot of engaging choreography that’s suits this witty piece to a “T.” The only confusing thing was, why wasn’t this sold out? We attended a Sunday matinée and it was not full. Had this been staged in Walnut Creek, the much larger Lesher would have been full. Shame on Danville-ites for not doing a better job of supporting their wonderful local theater!”
“Play was excellent. Very enjoyable, especially the sailor’s dance! The singing was outstanding. As good as any Broadway play I’ve seen.”
“Great musical production. The performers were excellent, the staging, the singing and dancing so enjoyable. Theater is comfortable, and has live orchestra.”
By Charles Jarrett
Role Players Present Fun Satire, “The Matchmaker”
The Matchmaker How many times have we been asked about our favorite musicals and we have most certainly included in that group the 1969 movie “Hello, Dolly!” starring the much-admired Barbra Streisand? The other incarnation of “Hello, Dolly!” is a 1964 stage musical with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, which was based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce “The Merchant of Yonkers,” which Wilder revised and retitled in 1955 as “The Matchmaker.”
I have seen “The Matchmaker” a number of times over the years and have always enjoyed the dated humor and clever manipulations of matchmaker Dolly Levi. She is an opportunist if there ever was one. Love is in the air? Well, if not, Miss Dolly is bound to shake the tree of life enough to create a wind of promise, even if there is nary a breeze to be seen.
This week there is a marvelous opportunity to see a locally produced fun-filled satire on the institution of matchmaking, so delightfully characterized in Wilder’s “The Matchmaker.” The Role Players Theater in Danville is currently presenting an outrageously madcap version of Wilder’s play, but, at the same time, one of the most serious and professional portrayals of Dolly Levi that I have ever seen in community theater.
Matchmaker 3If for no other reason, go see this production just to see Melynda Kiring tackle the complicated, funny and poignant role of a matchmaker in need of her own matrimonial engineering. Kiring has absolutely nailed this character, which she general does in any role she tackles. If she were a union member, she would certainly have become a regular participant in union contracted professional theatrical companies’ productions.
The story revolves around matchmaker Dolly Levi and wealthy Yonkers shop owner Horace Vandergelder, played well by John Blytt, with whom she in engaged in finding him an acceptable second wife. At the same time, a second romance involves his daughter, Ermengarde, who is infatuated with a handsome young artist named Ambrose Kemper. Mix in the romantic adventures of Vandergelder’s two employees, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, which is met with equal enthusiasm by hat shop owner, Irene Molloy and her assistant, Minnie Fay, played well by Laura Melton and Lindsey Marie Schmeltzer.
While outrageous silliness is almost inherent in the basic concept of the story, the story almost blows up due in large part to the vaudevillian-style slapstick overreactions of two characters in particular. Obviously, their overwrought tragedian emotions had to be designed by the director, because the actors appear to be doing exactly what they have been instructed to do. While they create some funny moments, my gut feeling is that the play would have worked better for me if director, Eric Frashier Hayes, had somewhat toned down the overly melodramatic interplay of lovers Monica Ammerman (as Vandergelder’s daughter) and Ben Day (as her artist lover).
There are many fine actors in this story, far too many to name and to address appropriate kudos to in the space that I have. The audience seemed to thoroughly and completely embrace this outrageous and overblown comedy.
The Matchmaker continues through Feb. 8 in the Village Theater, 233 Front Street in downtown Danville. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, with Sunday performances at 2. Tickets can be purchased online at www.RolePlayersEnsemble.com or by calling 314-3400.
Valley Journal Entertainment
by Pat Craig
– in Danville, Role Players Ensemble Theatre is producing some really exciting work under Artistic Director Eric Fraisher Hayes, who is serving up “The Matchmaker,” in the current outing which ends Feb. 8 in the small Village Theatre at 233 Front St.
Hayes has made a practice of presenting big shows on the small stage at the Village, giving great rewards to the audiences who can see the shows close-up. This time, the show is led by Melynda Kiring as Dolly Levi in the title role and John Blytt as Horace Vandergelder, the object of Dolly’s affections and efforts.
The company has also presented Shakespeare and Gilbert and Sullivan shows, as well as annual Eugene O’Neill offerings as part of the Eugene O’Neill Festival. This year, the company mounted a production of “Chris Christophersen,” in the barn at Tao House, O’Neill’s estate in Danville, and its rewrite, “Anna Christie,” at the Village Theatre.
Tickets to “The Matchmaker,” which plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, cost $28 and may be reserved for $28 at 925-314-3400 or www.roleplayersensemble. com.
Danville, Pleasanton offer ‘Matchmaker,’ ‘Chorus Line’
Valley theater fans will have plenty to do over the next couple of weekends, with four major shows opening between Friday night (“The Matchmaker” at Role Players Ensemble in Danville) and Jan. 24 (“A Chorus Line” in Pleasanton’s Firehouse Arts Center.
In between, on Saturday, Tri-Valley Repertory is opening “The Drowsy Chaperone” in Livermore’s Bankhead Theater.
And, if that’s not enough, you can go interactive with Role Players’ “Matchmaker” Jan. 25, when the company brings in a real matchmaker to spice up things for audience members looking for a match with another theater fan. Professional matchmaker Anni Powers, will be at the performance where those interested in being matched will fill out surveys before the 8 p.m.
Show, and matches will be made at the intermission.
After the show, a reception will be hosted by the theater at nearby Faz restaurant for those who want to continue their evening. But even without live matchmaking, “The Matchmaker” — which plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m.
Sundays through Feb. 8 in the Village Theatre at 233 Front St. in Danville — offers an evening full of fun.
The play is probably most familiar as the musical “Hello Dolly,” which was adapted from “The Matchmaker,” which, while lacking music, has a bit more development of character and plot — particularly that of Horace, and with a slightly different impression of Dolly. But the show still contains the delightful small-town humor of the musical and the delightful characters of Barnaby and Cornelius, who fall beneath the spell of romance and decide to have their own adventure in the Big City at the same time that Dolly and Horace are getting together.
Thornton Wilder’s 1955 play is a rewritten version of his play, “The Merchant of Yonkers,” which opened the same year of his masterpiece, “Our Town,” which won a Pulitzer Prize for 1938. While “Merchant of Yonkers failed on Broadway, “Matchmaker” won Wilder his third Pulitzer (the first was for his novel, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”). Tickets to “Matchmaker, at $20 to $28, can be reserved at 925-312-3400 orwww.RolePlayersEnsemble. com.
By Pat Craig
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Bay Area News Group
As we have all probably learned over the years, the truth isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.
By Peter Shaffer. Runs October 18 - November 9That lesson is better taught, and a whole lot funnier, in Peter Shaffer’s wildly successful 1987 comedy, “Lettice and Lovage,” which set records in England before coming to the United States in 1990. Now, it’s onstage at Danville’s Village Theatre, where Role Players Ensemble presents a beautifully mounted and hilarious production of the show.
Miss Lettice Douffet (Sylvia Burboeck), an expert is Elizabethan cuisine and an enthusiastic fan of the era, is saddled with the job of being a docent and tour guide for Fustian House in Wiltshire, England, considered the dullest historical attraction in the entire country.
So Douffet, who was raised by a flamboyant actress mother, decides to do the only reasonable thing: give tours of the house the old razzle-dazzle or, for those unfamiliar with the showbusiness practice, lie, fabricate and make stuff up. For example, she tells visitors, a brief visit by the virgin queen to the estate would have been a fatal disaster had the master of the house not leaped up a flight of stairs to catch her when she tripped (not true).
But since the public trust that operates the old home has this fusty policy about being truthful with visitors, Miss Charlotte Schoen (Beth Chastain), Douffet’s boss, takes in one of the presentations and immediately invites the truth-challenged tour guide to London and dismisses her.
A few weeks later, concerned with how her former employee is doing, Schoen pays a visit to Douffet’s home. There, she finds Douffet in period costume, her entire home decorated with period trappings, petting her cat and being slightly befuddled by most technology developed after the 15th century.
Letticeproductioon 5 smallerDouffet invites Schoen into her appealingly crazy world. And after a flagon or two of Douffet’s Elizabethan booze, Schoen begins to see the magic in the former employee’s world.
The rest of the story is better seen than heard (or read about), starting with Robert Bo Golden’s magnificent sets, which include a masterwork creation of Douffet’s “dungeon” apartment, along with the historic house and Schoen’s office. Also setting the tone are the costumes, by Lisa Danz, who goes delightfully over the top with Lettice’s period togs.
Phoebe Moyer, a familiar Bay Area director and performer, beautifully creates the slightly skewed world of Douffet and has her characters move through it in an enticing way. She also places some of her characters in the audience, adding humor and intimacy to the piece.
And Chastain and Burboeck are simply wonderful as the odd couple, deftly playing the show and its daftness for all it’s worth. Supporting performers are equally strong, adding touches of additional craziness to the show as Elinor Bell (Miss Framer), Schoen’s all-fearing clerk, and John Blytt (Mr. Bardolph), the somewhat dense and single-minded public defender who gets involved later in the show.
Contact Pat Craig at email@example.com.
Curtain Calls: Let us now praise ‘Lettice’
By Sally Hogarty, Columnist
Lettice and LovagePeter Shaffer’s fanciful tale of an eccentric tour guide and her propensity for embellishing the truth receives an impressive production in the hands of director Phoebe Moyer and her delightful cast.
Presented by Role Players Ensemble, “Lettice and Lovage” runs through Nov. 9 at Danville’s Village Theatre, 233 Front St.
It is a pleasure to watch Sylvia Burboeck as Lettice, an eccentric Elizabethan enthusiast who loves to spice up dull historical fact. Burboeck gracefully switches accents and physical characteristics as she easily portrays the various historical characters who live in Lettice’s vivid imagination.
Beth Chastain as Charlotte Schoen has the unenviable task of firing Lettice when her wild historical embellishments as a tour guide become too much. Chastain manages to find a lovely depth and humanity beneath Schoen’s businesslike exterior as her friendship with Lettice grows.
In a much-too-small role, Elinor Bell shines as Schoen’s secretary, making one wish she would return to the stage. Also creating a memorable character is John Blytt as Lettice’s defense attorney. His pivotal scene with Lettice and Schoen practically steals the show.
Set designner Robert “Bo” Golden has once again shown his artistry in the creation of three distinct sets, highlighted by Lettice’s highly theatrical basement apartment. Costume designer Lisa Danz must have had a ball finding/building Lettice’s colorful outfits contrasted by the business attire of the other characters.
For tickets to this highly entertaining piece of theater, call 925-312-3400 or go to www.roleplayersensemble.com.
By Pat Craig
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Bay Area News Group
by Susan Steinberg
Danville’s celebrated Eugene O’Neill festival is off to a great start at the Village Theatre where Role Players Ensemble has just debuted “Anna Christie”. O’Neill’s first Pulitzer Prize-winning play, it became a Hollywood hit as well in the movie version starring legendary Greta Garbo.
A hard-hitting drama, one of the first gritty realistic plays in America after years of theatrical melodramas, it is also the first major expression here of a “liberated woman.” Having been virtually abandoned and neglected by her seaman father, mistreated by her Minnesota farm-relatives, and degraded into prostitution, Swedish-born Anna delivers a cry from the heart to be listened to, respected, and treated like an independent human being.
It is a startling moment for everyone in the theater even today, and must have been completely shocking to a 1922 audience. At that time, the vast difference between “good girls” and “bad girls” cast the latter into the fires of Hell, with no consideration of extenuating circumstances. O’Neill, as a young seaman and self-described “waterfront bum”, had certainly experienced the usual parade of shady dockside ladies in his life. How amazing that he was able to discern the heartbreaking misery behind such a “fallen woman”, and express it so memorably that it still resonates with modern listeners.
With his sailing days still fresh in his heart, O’Neill wrote a notable series of “Sea Plays”, including RPE’s recent “The Hairy Ape”. In this drama, he still evokes the irresistible lure of “going to sea”, and the audience is soon immersed in the sights and sounds of life on the water, thanks to a compelling combination of scenic and sound design by Robert Bo Golden, and lighting by David Lam. From the drifting fog and the mournful sounds of foghorns, ship’s bells, and splashing water, theater-goers feel the sense of isolation, drifting, and psychological ambivalence that underlies the story.
Chris Christopherson, a crusty old Swedish sailor, has hated the sea all his life, yet never escaped it. He calls it “the old devil”, blaming it for his loneliness and misfortunes: his father, brothers, and sons drowning, his wife’s death alone while he was away, and the 15-year separation from his daughter Anna, whom he left “inland” on his brother’s farm in Minnesota. Believing that “land life” would be best for her, (but also not willing to care for her himself), he cannot understand her anger.
Basically a simple decent man under his gruff demeanor and coarse habits, he is inhabited so instinctively by veteran actor John Hale that he evokes sympathy even in his most blustery alcoholic rants. The naked wonderment on his face when he first sees his grown daughter is a marvel of silent acting, carried over enough time to let the audience appreciate his unspoken emotions. His clumsy attempts to establish an affectionate relationship, and his bewildered astonishment at her bitter invective are heart-rending, as is his complete despair and fury when he learns of her sordid past. Demolished in spirit, he seems to sink into a small huddle of misery at the news, trying to absorb the impact of his neglect on her life.
His polar opposite is the smooth-talking young Irish sailor Matt Burke, so full of blarney that it spills out of him even as he’s rescued, half drowned, from a terrible shipwreck. Almost too weak to stand, he is still able to sound romantic with his blithering come-ons to Anna, whom he supposes to be an available tart. Learning that she’s a “decent woman”, he apologizes abjectly for his rude comments, but still continues his sweet-talking with such earnestness that his outrageousness seems believable and even charming. RPE newcomer Josh Schell is an amazing actor, verbally and physically, as he morphs into a serious suitor for Anna’s hand, a hair-trigger brawler facing her angry father, and a broken crazyman at Anna’s revelations.
With both men screaming curses at her for shattering their illusions, Anna, a fiery Eden Neuendorf, revolts against their traditional macho scorn, and explodes in righteous anger, pointing out that loose behavior they excoriate in her is exactly what both men themselves have been indulging in during their years as sailors. Never before had the infuriating “double standard” been so clearly denounced in the American theater. Anna’s accusation that all men are alike and she “hates ‘em” is a revolutionary call to arms as she rebels against being judged and controlled by either her father or the man she loves.
Neuendorf, the memorable Lavina of RPE’s “Mourning Becomes Electra” rings the changes on her character with admirable finesse. Starting as a nervous unsure newcomer down on her luck and hoping for a respite with her father, she becomes bitterly resentful to find out he lied about working in an apartment house and expects her to live on his dirty coal barge. But soon, responding to the beauty of the sea, she feels refreshed and reinvigorated, as if she has “cast off” her past, now cleansed of her former sins and ready to enjoy some innocent happiness with a proper suitor. Forced by conscience to confess her life story, she is horrified by Matt’s curses and her father’s rejection.
Prepared to walk out on both “masters” like Nora in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”, she hesitates, hoping for a less desolate future than a return to her “trade”. Unbelievably, O’Neill comes through for all the aching hearts on stage and in the audience, but not without the wrenching confrontation of a desperate Matt, who gives a bravura performance as an out-of-control conflicted Irish drunk. Unbelievably, this intense scene also contains some of the funniest bits of humor, as Director George Maguire, himself an Irishman, deftly stages both the naive wounded innocence and the ludicrous religious superstition of Matt’s character.
Chris too must come to terms in his own grudging way with the realities of his daughter’s past and her plans for the future. His fumbling attempts at reconciliation seem painfully real to any parent who has experienced such a moment, and John Hale digs deep for the honesty of his portrayal. His constant cleaning and polishing is also a great touch, as if Chris is trying to clean up a life cluttered with mistakes and regrets.
RAW-WB: 0.764179 1 0.337731Amazingly, his deeply authentic Swedish accent and its characteristic lilt never falter, a tribute to immensely hard work under the tutelage of dialect coach Robin Taylor. Schell’s incredibly true Irish brogue and mannerisms, such as his reflex crossing himself, also testify to intensive training over many weeks. RPE is immensely fortunate to have the special talents of Robin Taylor available for such magical transformations.
Many familiar RPE faces appear briefly in the first act, from Craig Eychner and James Svatko to Tom Reilly and Joe Fitzgerald. Impressive newcomer Sally Hogarty plays the earthy character of Marthy Owens, Chris’ long-time bedfellow. What a mastery of emotion she betrays beneath her casual reaction to being ousted from his life – BRAVA!
The entire show demonstrates once more the excellence of RPE productions under the sensitive leadership of Eric Fraisher Hayes. In a bold stroke of programming, he will direct the same cast in an earlier version of this play titled “Chris Christopherson”, to be performed at O’Neill’s own Tao House as the closing event of the 14th O’Neill Festival on September 27, 28, and 29. “Anna Christie” will continue at the Village Theatre through September 21, with performances at 8PM Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 PM Sunday matinees. Tickets are available at http://www.roleplayersensemble.com/ or weekdays at 925-314-3466.
A panel of distinguished guests, moderated by KQED’s Michael Krasny, will discuss both dramas at 2 PM on September 22 at Tao House. Reservations for the discussion and “Chris Christopherson” are available at http://www.eugeneoneill.org/
Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Anna Christie’ gets worthy production in Danville
By Pat Craig, Correspondent
Posted: 09/13/2013 12:50:15 PM PDT | Updated: 3 days ago Mercury News
If, for some reason, Eugene O’Neill had sold his script for “Anna Christie” to a soap opera in 1922, the show would still be on the air, probably at the beginning of Act III.
But while soap operas have always tended to stretch out their story lines, “Anna,” now playing at Danville’s Village Theatre as part of the annual Eugene O’Neill festival, doesn’t need to. There is more meat in this drama than you’d find in a trainload of prime rib.
And with “Anna” marking one of O’Neill’s first ventures into theatrical realism, it was a trailblazer for 20th century drama. The work includes a lot of what O’Neill had on his mind, from the nature of the sort of man who goes to sea to feminism to psychological dysfunction.
At the end of the Role Players’ production of “Anna Christie,” you are pleasantly exhausted and eager to talk about the show you just saw.
Director George Maguire and his strong cast of actors hit all the emotional high notes and nuances, as well as the humor (surprisingly, there’s lots of it) that emerges from the beginning in Johnny the Priest’s New York waterfront saloon, to the end, in Chris Christophersen’s coal barge docked in Boston.
The play begins at the bar, where Chris (John Hale), is drinking and talking with his girlfriend, the bedraggled and pipe-smoking Marthy Owens (Sally Hogarty), about the arrival of Chris’ daughter, the supposedly pure and spotless Anna Christophersen (Eden Neuendorf), who grew up on a farm surrounded by innocence and a pastoral setting rather than in the filth and violence of a life with a man who goes to sea.
But when Chris has gone out for a moment, Anna, now going by the name Annie Christie, shows up and soon lets Marthy know her life isn’t exactly what her pop thinks it is.
Turns out she has a practical knowledge of booze, men, scraping by, and has worked in a house of ill-repute. She hated the farm life, where she was abused by cousins, among others in the family, and wishes she had lived instead in even the seamiest of wharf-side locals.
Eventually, she heads back to the coal barge where Chris lives, and father and daughter turn the vessel into home sweet home. That lasts until Anna rescues a stranded Irish sailor, Mat Burke (Josh Schell), and brings him to the below-deck home. This does not sit well with her father, a hard-line Swede who hates the Irish and anything that comes from the sea.
Anna finds herself falling in love with Mat and even thinks she might want to marry him, until Mat lays out his plans for her when they get married, which is for her to become a well-loved scullery slave, who obeys, without question, his every whim.
You can see O’Neill has taken some feminist bits from George Bernard Shaw’s playbook. But much of what O’Neill has written remains quite relevant today, as do the bits of scenes that venture lightly into the psychology of guilt.
Hale does an excellent job as Chris, the raging papa who now has little control over what he loves. Neuendorf shines as Annie, a challenging role that requires her to be both sweet and sour to the point of acid. In fact she is most effective when she rages against the masculine machine. Schell is a fine actor who employs a number of talents to create a convincing character in Mat. And Hogarty shows a whole new side of her acting ability as Marthy, a Tugboat Annie type, who drinks like a striped bass and smokes a pipe. She is delightfully funny.