[Metroactive Stage]

[ Stage Index | Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

Photograph by David Allen

Bound for America: Tateh (Paul Araquistan) shows his daughter (Lauren Hart) their new home in Foothill College's production of 'Ragtime.'

Staging Zone

Local theater companies take chances on premieres--and a few old favorites as well

By Marianne Messina

CUTTING NEW GROUND, walking the edge--theater around Silicon Valley this summer is going to be an adrenaline rush at the very least. That there are five upcoming world premieres means that theater companies have done some serious scouting or negotiating and invested a lot of time in the development of unfinished, much less unknown, entities.

"Normally, when I'm in the situation of describing a world premiere," says Robert Kelley, artistic director of TheatreWorks, "you're coming from a place that, let's say, the boundaries are primarily made of hope and dreams." Kelley feels a lot more certain about the musical he's premiering at the end of August, A Little Princess, which follows a mid-June production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and Red by Chay Yew in mid-July. This latest musical derived from a Frances Hodgson Burnett book tells the story of an adolescent girl raised in South Africa who faces culture shock at a London finishing school. When Kelley secured the script and its richly syncretic musical score, he got three Broadway production designers into the bargain.

As acquisitions, both A Little Princess and San Jose Stage Company's new musical, Ug: A Stone-Age Musical Comedy (June 2-27), represent coups for each company, involving dogged persistence, strokes of miraculous timing and many well-placed friends. "The [works] that show promise, those are the ones you really have to fight over," says Rick Singleton, who will be directing Ug. Even Singleton admits that the idea of a musical about a Stone Age tribe doesn't sound, on the face of it, like something to don the boxing gloves over.

But "it ain't no Flintstones," Singleton quips. "This one has more of a take on that primordial ooze where all the ideas come from. Everyone's sort of bubbling with ideas." And an upbeat musical score that spans the genres turns the sitcom-honed writing of Jim Geoghan into a celebration of multifarious human ingenuity. As Singleton points out, a musical like Ug adds casting to the list of tough challenges. "We have to have a group of triple threats--actor/singer/dancers."

Imagine the difficulties, then, of theater director Jay Manley at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, who is mounting a huge musical production of Ragtime (July 23-Aug. 15) with more than 60 roles to cast. Based on E.L. Doctorow's story of swirling ethnic interactions (under another level of interaction between fictional and historical characters), Ragtime will be one of the biggest productions in the valley this summer. Manley says he has the college environment, with its readily available volunteer artisans, to thank for that. "I think that we're about the only company around that can do the show with that large a cast," he adds.

The valley's fringe companies, like Mountain View's Pear Avenue Theatre and San Jose's Renegade Theatre Experiment, are getting their gambler's high this summer through the sometimes harrowing process of cultivating new works.

"When you're involved with a premiere work, changes are always going on," Kelley says, reporting that A Little Princess went through about a 25 percent rewrite coming into the most recent reading. "It's not uncommon, even in the final week as you approach the opening, and sometimes after that, that they're still tinkering with the piece."

Summer 2004 Guide
Concert Highlights
Concert List

Renegade Theatre Experiment will probably be this summer's exemplar of Kelley's prophecy as it cuts its project-development teeth on an eerie but comedic play, Conserving Melissa (July 29-Aug. 14 at Bellermine Preparatory College's Benson Theater). "Since about October, we've been working with him [playwright Tom Jacobson] and offering suggestions," says Sean Murphy, the Renegade's artistic director. "And he's done about four rewrites of the script so far."

In the story, a museum conservator takes on the restoration of a mummy, and the project gradually begins to produce unsettling manifestations in her life. RTE has been working with the Rosicrucian Museum to create a mummy that is historically faithful.

Pear Avenue Theatre, which has a lively in-house workshop program as well as easy access to local playwright Ian Walker, should have fewer surprises in store as it works up to the premiere of A Beautiful Home for the Incurable (June 25-July 11). It's a "sweet comedy," according to director Jeanie Forte, about four friends with various chronic conditions who support each other by gathering weekly at the home of the agoraphobic Bunny. Even on first reading, Forte fell in love with the character of Bunny. "He's intelligent, but not too, and he's this, you know, kind of vulnerable guy who's stuck in his apartment [four years and counting]. And all the other characters adore Bunny, for good reason."

Photograph by Tim Fuller

Garment District: Jarion Monroe keeps his distance in San Jose Rep's 'Underpants.'

Not all theaters will be shaking comedy on its head. San Jose Repertory Theatre will provide some ballast with Underpants, a comfortably funny domestic comedy about a woman who attracts admiring male borders into her home after her drawers accidentally drop in public (June 19-July 18). In adapting Carl Sternheim's Kaiser Wilhelm-era German text Die Hose (1910), comedian-turned-writer Steve Martin has put his more mature (somewhat milder or "less vicious," as Martin says) comedic stamp on the play.

Many theaters not taking on the challenge of premieres seem to be hazarding the opposite challenge: the old favorites. While American Musical Theatre of San Jose brings in Mel Brooks' The Producers (July 6-25), one of the all-time hottest musicals (a zillion Tony Awards, etc.), California Theatre Center emerges from a winter doing children's theater to attack that paragon of theatrical ubiquity: Shakespeare. CTC's production of The Tempest (July 1-25 at the Sunnyvale Community Center Theater) will be set in the swashbuckling 17th century, and Will Huddleston, who's playing Prospero, intends to revamp the traditional "Prospero as the twilight of Shakespeare's career " interpretation. "I'm going to try to find something less rueful and resigned about my Prospero," Huddleston says. "I'm going to do a Prospero that's not in conclusion; I want to try to find a way to do a Prospero that's in transition."

Even Shakespeare Santa Cruz (July 21-Aug. 29) is taking on one of the most often produced Shakespearean plays, The Taming of the Shrew. But artistic director Paul Whitworth is boldly pairing it with a rare gem from 1611, John Fletcher's The Tamer Tamed. In Fletcher's contemporary rebuttal of Shakespeare's play, Petruchio gets his just deserts. And the Santa Cruz program lets you see the two plays back to back (so you don't have to go home with that jaunty, gloating Petruchio stuck in your craw).

Also unafraid to tackle the Bard, Northside Theatre Company presents its version of Romeo and Juliet (June 10-July 3) at the Olinder Theater in San Jose.

To keep the adrenaline running high, City Lights is mounting The Assassins, the controversial Sondheim/Weidman musical about political violence from John Wilkes Booth to Squeaky Fromme (see story on Assassins).

On that note, it looks like the South Bay's summer theater lineup is not just musical, comical, thoughtful, soulful, experimental, classical theater; it's an adventure.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

[ Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

From the May 19-25, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate