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offers strong 2018-19 season
holidays show and the return of 'SantaLand Diaries'
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley has announced its lineup for its 2018-19 season, with Founder and Artistic Director Robert Kelley on stage Monday at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, announcing the plays like a parent handing out presents to an adoring family of fans.
The lineup includes musicals, comedies and dramas that fulfill TheatreWorks' ongoing commitment to not only entertain, but to provide thought-provoking, socially relevant works.
Hershey Felder — TheatreWorks most popular performer ever — will be back with a world premiere, "A Paris Love Story," featuring the music of Claude Debussy. It promises to be a transcendent time in the theater.
A brief look at what's what, in order of their run dates:
Sakata is known to TheatreWorks audiences from her fine performance in Velina Hasu Houston's "Calligraphy," in March and April 2017. As a playwright, Sakata has been working on this play, under a different title, since 2007. It is a fascinating, true story, and has been moderately well received at other theater companies around the nation in its current construction.
During World War II, when the United States government shamefully decided to intern everybody of even a small amount of Japanese heritage, Gordon Hirabayashi, born in Seattle, Washington, resisted. A religious pacificist, he fought against internment, and refused induction into the military. He kept fighting on the issue, losing at the Supreme Court, but eventually receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom. His story is amazing in many regards; what parts of it Sakata put in the play I don't know, but one of my favorites is that after Hirabayashi turned himself into the FBI, and was convicted of a curfew violation and given a short prison sentence, the government wouldn't pay his way to prison, and he actually hitchhiked to Arizona from Washington state to do his time. After the war, he built a distinguished career as a sociologist and supporter of human rights.
"I read it under its old title ("Dawn's Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi"), said Kelley, during a phone interview Wednesday. "It's been on our finalists list for years. But there were other competing shows. This year, I felt strongly that there had been talk about relocation camps again, on conservative radio, and by various people in the public eye, and I felt it's not a time to be waiting — it's time to put the show on."
The show, Kelley said, is "powerful funny, intriguing. It's a view of our history that not everyone knows about."
Culture, taste, class, and privilege are all explored in this comedy from Karen Zacarias, who received her B.A. at Stanford before getting a master's at Boston University.
A Latino lawyer and his wife — a pregnant Ph.D. candidate — buy a house in Washington, D.C., with a dilapidated, fixer-upper backyard. Their well-established nextdoor neighbors have a beautiful garden, but trouble erupts when an old fence is found to not be on the real property line. From that fertile ground grow a number of issues for Zacarias to explore. The play has been well received in Chicago and on the East Coast.
Based on Alison Bechdel's own story, this is the tale of a graphic novelist's exploration of her own sexuality, against the background of her loving but dysfunctional family that has its own share of sexual secrets. The play has won all kinds of theater awards, including five Tonys (Best Musical and others). It had a good run off-Broadway, was on Broadway for more than a year and a half, and is well respected for its score.
This is for TheatreWorks' yearly gift to families at the holidays. Another regional premiere, it is the story of Winnie Foster, a girl in the 1890s who meets the Tuck family, who know the secret to an everlasting life — a secret spring of water. While Winnie is not allowed to drink from the spring, it continues to play a part in her life. On hand is the man in the yellow suit, who wants to make money from the spring. Conflicts ensue. Variety said "Despite its existentialism-lite sweep, this is an intimate family story of love, loss and the purpose and power of storytelling in the American folk tradition of Twain and Wilder." It didn't do all that well on Broadway, but director Robert Kelley has a way of finding the gems and polishing them into great shows at TheatreWorks.
"I got to see it on Broadway," Kelley said. "I felt instantly it would be a great show for us. .... it's kind of perfect for audiences of all ages" Kelley said that it probably didn't do all that well on Broadway because it was staged at the wrong time of year. He noted that the New York Times gave it a "wonderful" review.
Charles Isherwood called it, as compared to Broadway's usual flashy, family friendly musicals, "a warm-spirited and piercingly touching musical that has nothing flashy or splashy about it. The nearest this small-scale production comes to the kind of spectacle we associate with kiddie bait is a toad hopping across the stage."
This show is a repeat of the show that played in December — same play, same actor (Max Tachis is excellent), same director and even the same set, which is sitting in a warehouse, just waiting to be polished up again. It started in 2017 as an effort by TheatreWorks to provide something "for a young, hip audience, plus, for the fans of Sedaris," said Kelley. The show will run concurrently with the family show, "Tuck Everlasting."
"The SantaLand Diaries" has been done in various places, and Kelley said that he's heard of productions that were "bitter, or even nasty." But the TheatreWorks production, while quite funny, is "heartwarming, in its own secret way," as Kelley put it."
Read Tony Lacy-Thompson's review of the 2017 production.
Kelley also claimed bragging rights for adding another city to TheatreWorks' performance venues.
"We have two theaters for mainstage, in different cities" (Mountain View and Palo Alto), "which is unusual in theater. We ought to be able to brag about adding a third (Lohman Theatre in Los Altos Hills). "It's exciting … different looks, different spaces."
This British play plows familiar, highly dramatic ground for those of a certain age, who remember the complicated package that was the 37th president of the United States, and even remember when he was interviewed by a cancelled British talk-show host.
The press release: "Richard Nixon has resigned. David Frost has been canceled. With America caught in the riptides of Watergate and Vietnam, the former leader of the free world and the lightweight British talk-show host clash in a legendary series of TV interviews that will determine the President's legacy forever. In a riveting political prizefight unseen again until today, the cameras roll, the truth spins, and it becomes clear that he who controls the medium controls the message."
This will be the West Coast premiere of the completed play, but "Marie and Rosetta" actually received its first public reading at TheatreWorks' http://regardingarts.com/theater/tw_newworks2015.html New Works Festival in 2015.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a powerful musician whose influence on gospel, blues and rock 'n' roll was nothing short of miraculous, although after a period of popularity in the 1930s and 1940s, she was largely forgotten by pop audiences. Happily, in recent years, more people have become aware of her, and she's going into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame this year. She was a terrific performer and singer, but it was her guitar-playing that was a huge influence on blues music and rock 'n' roll. She was very important in the development of how to use distortion with electric guitars. The line from her to Albert King to Jimi Hendrix is pretty easy to follow.
Playwright George Brant has chosen a certain period from her life for his play, when she was working with gospel singer Marie Knight. The play has a lot of great music in it, and lots of powerful history of what it was like to be black and a touring musician back in the day.
Where the play has been performed elsewhere, an actress has mimed playing guitar while an actual guitarist did the real playing. Could TheatreWorks find a black woman of the right age to act, sing and play guitar like Sister Rosetta?
"I'm not sure there is anybody like that at the moment," said Kelley, and he's probably right. Recently, Palo Alto Players lucked into Nick Kenrick, who was completely brilliant as Jerry Lee Lewis in "Million Dollar Quartet," but to find someone who could do what Sister Rosetta could do would be very tough. Even though there are some fabulous black women guitarists out there, such as Pat Wilder, could they act? Could they do what Sister Rosetta did? Would they be available for the grind of seven or eight shows a week?
Kelley said, "We had a huge audience for ‘Nothing But the Blues' (2009), and I hope they will come see this show. … a lot of people think she showed how rock 'n' roll could work."
At his Hershey Felder Great American Songbook Sing-Along on January 29, 2018, Felder told his adoring audience at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts that the next topic of his Great Composer Series would be Claude Debussy. Composer of "La mer," "L'après-midi d'un faune," "Clair de lune," and more.
Word is, Debussy will be the last in that excellent series, with which Felder has thrilled audiences nationwide — and set ticket-sales records at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley and elsewhere. The shows are magnificent, as Felder, alone on sets he designs himself, introduces us to the composers and their lives. He plays piano, he delivers dialogue in polished accents, he thrills audiences. He is a great story teller.
In email to me on Thursday, Felder explained more about his choice of Debussy, and why Debussy's music has deep personal meaning for him:
"I ‘met' Debussy when I was a little boy (six or seven) and my mother, at the time, 28 years old, was diagnosed with terminal cancer ... Debussy was the escape, a world, where I could dream that things weren't as horrible as they really were. A world where the color of sound could take me to places where the pain of everyday, as a child, quite literally watching someone die, was lessened, by those brief moments of escape. My mother died, miraculously — I say miraculously — because she was given six months by doctors — miraculously, six years later, when I was thirteen ... Debussy taught me how to create a world of dreams and beauty and comfort when the real world around was so devastatingly bad ... how he did it, and what I learned, is the basis of the show — as investigated through his music. It's a very personal tale of survival. Poor Debussy himself died young of a terrible cancer ... the world he himself created wasn't enough ..."
Knowing what we know of Felder and his excellent shows, this should be a very moving, beautiful time in the theater. It will be the world premiere.
Prolific playwright Rajiv Joseph and director Giovanna Sardelli have had a long and good relationship, with Sardelli acting as first director for many of his plays. Sardelli is also the director of TheatreWorks New Works Festival, where "Archduke" was given a reading in 2016.
"Archduke," was commissioned by Center Theatre Group, and received its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, in 2017.
According to a press release, Joseph "explores the present by focusing on the past: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, 1914 — the flash that ignited World War I. On a darkly comic quest for immortality, three hapless insurgents prove that little has changed from then to now."
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