Produced by: TheatreWorks
Directed by: Robert Kelley
Featuring: Lianne Marie Dobbs as Miss Emma Woodhouse, Alison Ewing as Mrs. Weston, Richard Farrell as Mr. Woodhouse, Shannon Stoeke as Mr. Knightly, Brian Herndon as Mr. Elton, Richard Frederick as Mr. Weston, Suzanne Grodner as Miss Bates, Dani Marcus as Miss Harriet Smith, Nick Nakashima as Mr. Robert Martin, Tim Homsley as Mr. Churchill, Danielle Levin as Mrs. Elton and Mrs Bates, and Mindy Lym as Miss Jane Fairfax
When: November 8, 2014
Where: Sofitel, Redwood Shores, Redwood City, California
A lot of impressive things happened at the TheatreWorks 45th Anniversary Celebration on November 8 at the Sofitel in Redwood City, but what touched me the deepest was when Lona King told the crowd about her son, Ammon, 9, who has been helped by the TheatreWorks Theatre Camps for Children.
Ammon is autistic, Ms. King told the crowd of TheatreWorks and Stanford supporters, and has more than once, in tears, asked his mother why he has to be different.
But Ammon, who despite his autism is bright and creative, has found joy and means of expression in the theater camps, and as Ms. King explained, through her own tears, "There is nothing better to a mother than to see your child happy."
And that is why she was there, to thank TheatreWorks supporters for making such things as its education programs possible. By doing so, she reminded them that their money means something in this world.
Lona King works at TheatreWorks, she noted when she began, but way backstage, in the bookkeeping department. She obviously was not comfortable on stage, as are most TheatreWorks workers, and started crying fairly early on, but fought through her crying to tell her story.
It was moving, and far, far away, in the darkest corner where they hide the press, who didn't wear tuxedos to the black-tie gala, or pay for the $500 seats they inhabited, I, too, had tears in my eyes as Ms. King spoke.
It was an evening that had a great deal to do with education, and with Stanford. For one thing, one of the honorees was Robert Kelley, Stanford class of 1968, who founded what has become a major American theatrical company.
Kelley reminded all of the first, shoestring-budgeted musical he produced, "Popcorn," and how his cast, 45 years earlier, rewarded him by stuffing his car with food. "It takes a unique community to make it through 45 years," he said. "Who knew then that this would become 'Silicon Valley,' and TheatreWorks would become the largest arts organization in Silicon Valley, and reach 35,000 kids a year through our educational programs?"
The other honoree was Donald Kennedy, president emeritus at Stanford, who is very involved with TheatreWorks, via The Donald Kennedy Fund for Education at TheatreWorks, which connects with those more than 35,000 students a year in eight San Francisco Bay Area counties, with classroom visits, camps, touring shows and student matinees of TheatreWorks plays.
Here's how big a deal the gala committee made of honoring Kennedy: They brought in someone to introduce the person who would introduce Kennedy.
And the person they brought in to introduce the second introducer was a member of Congress.
U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo, of California's 18th Congressional District, which includes San Jose, Redwood City, Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto, took the dais to introduce U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who would, in turn, introduce Kennedy.
Eshoo, who is hugely popular in her district and who regularly slaps down those who would run against her in elections, noted some of Booker's accomplishments, including his two degrees from Stanford, his degree from Oxford, his degree from Yale, and, notably, getting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to donate $100 million to the Newark school system, and developing a million and a half followers on his Twitter account.
She quoted from something he wrote in 1992 for the Stanford Daily: "God, I know how fortunate I am. One in five kids grow up below the poverty line. One in two black kids grow up below the poverty line. I have been blessed with the opportunity to make change."
"And we're all better for his choice," said the congresswoman.
Eshoo, who says the word "uh" way too much for someone as accomplished as she is, urges us to "avail" ourselves of the chance to see the documentary "Street Fight," about Booker's 2002 mayoral campaign in Newark.
Booker is an impressive fellow. He will probably be back in the San Francisco Bay Area some day, talking to many of the same people, to ask for money and support for a presidential campaign.
But he was there Saturday to talk about TheatreWorks and about Donald Kennedy.
About TheatreWorks, he said, "America needs more poets. We have the obligation to see ourselves in light of what's possible. That is what art does. This arts organization is extraordinary and I want to give my gratitude."
To talk about Kennedy, he started by quoting the Torah, noting Kennedy's Abrahamic qualities ("He opened all four sides of his tent"), and noting his devotion to his students, and his generosity. Booker played football for Stanford, and after graduating with a political science degree, stayed for another year to get a master's degree in sociology, and happened to mention to Kennedy that he wasn't sure where he'd be living for that fifth year.
Kennedy invited him into his house. Booker was astounded that the Stanford president would invite a football player to share his house. And his refrigerator. Kennedy is a man, Booker said, "Who believes in goodness and kindness."
It was a better speech than I represent here.
After Kennedy spoke, praising TheatreWorks's educational programs, especially, and offering congratulations for its 45 years of success, the competitive part of the evening began, which is to say, the auction.
For me, strictly a spectator sport. I don't have the necessary to bid for, say, three nights in a boutique hotel in the New York theater district, including seats at the Tony Awards. Or a chef's dinner for eight at the Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto. Or three days and two night in a luxury wine country B&B, a trip that includes dining at the country home of a TheatreWorks board member and her husband.
But it's fun to watch wealthy people play with their money, in a friendly but competitive way, while helping a good cause: TheatreWorks and its educational programs.
After the auction, something quite special: The performance of a one-act version of Paul Gordon's charming musical, "Emma," based on the book by Jane Austen. The full version remains the most popular production in the history of TheatreWorks. It first ran in the 2006 New Works Festival, then debuted at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts in 2007.
Kelley directed the excellent case of 12 players, including several from the 2007 production, and William Liberatore conducted himself and oboe/English horn player Peter Lemberg, syynthesizer player Michael Touchi and cellist Kris Yenney.
I don't see a credit for sound direction, but the sound was great! I've sat closer to TheatreWorks productions at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto and at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, and not heard as well as I did in that Sofitel banquet room. Impressive.
That cast was excellent, delivering Gordon's beautiful melody lines and harmonies in gorgeous tones. Lianne Marie Dobbs as Miss Emma Woodhouse, Alison Ewing as Mrs. Weston, Richard Farrell as Mr. Woodhouse, Shannon Stoeke as Mr. Knightly, Brian Herndon as Mr. Elton, Richard Frederick as Mr. Weston, Suzanne Grodner as Miss Bates, Dani Marcus as Miss Harriet Smith, Nick Nakashima as Mr. Robert Martin, Tim Homsley as Mr. Churchill, Danielle Levin as Mrs. Elton and Mrs Bates, and Mindy Lym as Miss Jane Fairfax were all in excellent voice (Dobbs is amazing), and brought the show to life, even while holding scripts in hand.
All in all, a good evening.
By the way, just weeks before this event, there was an outbreak of norovirus at the Sofitel, which had many attendees at an NAACP event vomiting in the lobby. Many paramedics were called, people were transported to hospitals it was a nightmare for everyone involved.
But before the TheatreWorks event, said TheatreWorks Executive Director Phil Santora, the entire hotel was scrubbed and disinfected twice.
"We asked them to do it a third time," said Santora, "And they did."
Dinner was tasty, and produced no untoward reactions in anyone that I know of. A good salad, presented in its own "bowl" made of a thin slice of cucumber, followed by a medallion of filet mignon slightly larger than a McDonald's chicken McNugget, with a nice sauce, some shrimp, and some asparagus. Delicious chocolate mousse for dessert, presented in a hard chocolate "bowl." And excellent coffee. Yum.
Email John Orr at email@example.com