ForAllEvents - Lee Hartgrave reviews

February 5, 2010

LEE HARTGRAVE = THE COLUMNIST "First Day of School" is Hilarious!"

 THE CAST OF "THE FIRST GRADE" Photo David Allen 


LEE HARTGRAVE = THE COLUMNIST

AROUND TOWN AND BEYOND
THE FIRST GRADE AT THE AURORA THEATRE IS FIRST RATE

Here’s a woman in her 50’s. She’s teaching First Grade. And she has a sharp tongue. Some of it may go over the student’s head, but I think some get the sarcasm. You know how kids are today

This play is utterly hilarious. Julia Brother’s character is smart alecky and quick witted. But, of course as good as the acting is in this play is - and, it is very, very good – nothing would work if it were not for the immensely quick witted dialogue that playwright Joel Drake Johnson has brought to the Aurora. The direction by Tom Ross is so good that he should be directing some of Hollywood’s movie comedies.

In this play – everyone talks a lot, but no one actually listens to what the other person says.  Brothers has been quoted as saying, that “she considers this the best role she has had to date.”  And no one could do it better.

Brothers, who is tormented by a lot of demons in her mind says in the play: “I go to sleep in a fools paradise – but wake up in Dante’s inferno!”

When they have an unexpected person come by the house, she and her husband are having a discussion about his thoughts that he might be gay. When the person outside knocks on the door – the husband doesn’t want to let the guest in. His wife (Brothers) sez: “If you were a true Gay Man you would welcome her in!” Another hysterical line: Brothers says to her husband. “Where’s your little phone?” He says: “Oh, you mean my Blackberry?” Brothers is quick on the uptake: “I knew it was a fruit!”

The entire family is F#%*d up. The daughter is going to have a baby that she doesn’t want. Brothers therapist turns out to be dangerous, her husband has identity problems. And those are only the good days were talking about.

With “The First Grade” the Berkeley Theatre District has never been brighter. This is a dynamic production with vigorous sparring throughout. It’s really effortlessly funny, tart, sweet and perfect!  Believe me – it’s easy to love this play.

THE SUBERB CAST: TINA SANCHEZ, JULIA BROTHER, WARREN DAVID KEITH, REBECCA SCHWEITZER, ADRIAN ANCHONDO, AND PAUL SANTIAGO. ÅLL IRRESISTIBLE!

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked- 

COMING UP! FEB. 8 AT THE MARINES MEMORIAL WILL BE ANOTHER SUPER-STARDOM ARRAY OF TALENT

YOU WANT TO SEE STARS? Well, here is the place to be at the Marines Memorial Theatre on Feb. 8. Here is a sample of what you see: Rita Moreno, Comic Leslie Jordan, Singer Maureen McGovern, Star Sharon Gless, Maria Muldaur, Singing sensation La Toya London, Nick Lazzarini, David Burnham, Teal Wicks (Wicked), Tim Hockenberry, Kim Nalley, Carly Ozard, Jeanie Tracy.

More have just been added. Ken Henderson just let me know that these have just confirmed also. Ishaara Dance Troup who created a sensation of “America’s Got Talent” last season as well as Terrance Spencer & Grey Haney, two dancers for the cast of “Wicked”. Ken says: This is going to be one of our biggest and most amazing shows ever. The Beneficiaries of this year’s concert are “Stop Aids Project, and Aguilas. More info and tix: http://www.helpisontheway.org/.  or call: 415-273-1620.

AT BERKELEY REP – COMING HOME. Athol Fugard’s play in Two Acts at the Rep is, at time’s enchanting. Especially the first act. The story about a mother and her son who return home (South Africa) is touching with some really strong acting. The second act is another matter. As the Mother gets sicker with a dreadful virus – the play also gets infected. The ending is one of those plays where it just drifts away. You expect more than planting some pieces of words in a Garden. Well, that is the ending. I guess Fugard just ran out of ideas.  Really Sensational are Roslyn Ruff, Thomas Silcott and Kohle T. Bolton.

RATING: THREE GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!! –trademarked-

http://www.berkeleyrep.org/

AT THEATRE WORKS – “DADDY LONG LEGS”. O.K, maybe I’m missing something here. This musical take of the often-told “Daddy Long Legs” (it’s started as a novella, then a movie, then an English musical and now a new musical at Theatre Works) – the story is sweet and touching.  It takes place in the 1900’s in New England. The story is about an Orphan who someone thinks is talented. She is discovered by an anonymous benefactor (who is a trustee at the College). The benefactor’s only request is that she writes him monthly letters. She writes – he finds them witty, and amusing. She thinks that he is an old man, but he is not – as she finds out later. It all ends up being all fuzzy and cozy and leads to marriage.

The story is not the problem. It’s charming. But, the music leaves a lot to be desired. This is a one-tune musical. Every song sounds just like the one before it. It is Recitative style (also known by its Italian name ‘Recitativo’) – a style of delivery that is used in operas, oratorios, and cantatas. It is “sing-speak.”  First of all, the girl has a weak voice. Not strong enough for a musical. The Benefactor has a much better voice – but for some reason he is not allowed to really belt out anything like you would expect from time to time in a musical. That’s it. There are two people in the cast. When it was a musical in England with real musical numbers they had a full cast. You did not have to imagine everyone. The set was great looking and the director did what he could with little. There was not much to direct. The Cast: Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock. But, don’t take my word for it. See it for yourself – if you think I’m wrong – let me know. You have plenty of time to see it. The musical has been extended until Feb. 21. At The Mountain View Performing Arts Center.

http://www.theatreworks.org/

"A NUMBER" AT THE LESHER CENTER IN WALNUT CREEK

THIS NUMBER IS A MYSTERY. The story is fascinating and the cast of two: James Carpenter and Gabe Marin, who are two of the most sought after actors in town give it there all. Who needs electric cars with these two guys on the stage? You don’t even have to plug them in. They are self-propelled.

As the play unwinds – it tells the tale of a father (Carpenter) who has had his son cloned. Not only did he have one clone made, but also he used the genetic material of his first son, who died to create many clones. What a scary thought. Would you want several dozen of yourself running around?

You have to pay a lot of attention to what is going on. Marin, for instance plays at least 3 different clones. So, the play can be a little confusing. I have seen this play a few times. And have enjoyed it. At the Lesher smaller Theatre (more of a Cabaret type setting) – I didn’t get the full impact of the drama. A play like this really doesn’t work as well in the round as it does on a regular stage.

But still, Caryl Churchill’s play is fascinating. Even if at times you might need a fortuneteller to sit next to you to tell you what is going on.

Summing up: Great Acting! See it! It’s only about an hour long.

RATING: THREE GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!! –trademarked- 


(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook section and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

FOLLOW LEE: www.twitter.com/famereporter.
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