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Phone Home: Jane Carr cuts up a Dotty Otley in San Jose Rep's 'Noises Off.'


Fall 2003 Arts Guide:
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San Jose Repertory Theatre

SAN JOSE REP artistic director Timothy Near understands the horror of the headlines. "Every morning, we read about the worst side of human nature in the newspapers," she says. "It gets worse and worse." As a corrective to that daily shock of the real, Near has chosen a "season that highlights the gentler and generous and delightful part of human nature." The audience, she believes, "is in great need of catharsis, and has a great need to have their spirits to be uplifted."

To that end, she has picked plays that lean to the comic, but although that means "a lighthearted season, it doesn't mean a lightweight one."

Rep begins the fall with Michael Frayn's farce Noises Off, about a third-rate bunch of actors attempting to stage a second-rate comedy, which is seen from both onstage and backstage perspectives. It is, Near explains, "a perfect example in terms of, How bad can things get? It's going to be playing in September and part of October, right in middle of the race for governor and the recall, when we're all asking, How bad can it get? The answer is, It can get worse." And yet, "The show must go on. People continue to try."

Next up is Mary's Wedding, a Canadian stage hit that San Jose Rep is presenting in its U.S. premiere. This World War I-era romance features "war, love, horses and loss." The horses make their appearance during a twilight horseback ride in a thunderstorm, which gives a whole new meaning to the old stage term "hoofers."

For December, Near promises "an adult alternative to holiday fare." Wintertime jumbles up elements of "French farce, Greek drama, opera and the avant-garde and vaudeville" in a look at the "sustainability of love and desire."

In a major coup, Near has finally, after 10 years of persuasion and conflicting commitments, convinced renowned director Anne Bogart to bring her Siti Company to San Jose for a radically rethought version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream done with only eight actors. Bogart will relocate Shakespeare's fairies, lovers and commoners to Grapes of Wrath country, to a land of drought and poverty. Near frames the production as a question: "What do people dream when they have nothing?" Instead of taking the magic for granted, Bogart believes that "the enchantment should happen via the imagination of people who have nothing to share but their hopes and dreams." Such severe manipulations of Shakespeare can be both jarring and bracing, proving the resiliency of the playwright's genius. This adaptation fits in with what Near outlines as a subplot of the Rep's season: "How do we live our lives when the landscape changes? When we face economic depression, or if we face changing of morality if we face a series of desperate situations. Or if we face loss."

The season concludes with a trio of comedies: Richard Dresser's Rounding Third, about a pair of competitive Little League coaches; S.N. Behrman's 1930s favorite No Time for Comedy, about a playwright who wants to try his hand at dramas; and Steve Martin's update of Carl Sternheim's early-1900s frothy slapstick The Underpants.

Exhibiting some hard-won optimism (helped along by the success of the just-concluding musical revue Cookin' at the Cookery), Near has added a seventh play to the Rep's usual half-dozen offerings. "It's the first time we've done this," she says. "It has always been our dream to run the Rep all year round. It's silly to pay all the building expenses and not be bringing in income and people." Near also figures there is a fallout effect to an extended season that enhances the vitality of downtown San Jose in more than just aesthetics. "We're contributing to the economic health of the area. We are also contributing to the safety of the area, with people on the streets. It is the city experience to have people downtown."

Michael S. Gant

Where: San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose.
When: Wednesdays-Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 and 8pm, Sundays at 2 and 7pm, some Wednesday matinees
How Much: $28-$52
Info: 408.367.7255; www.sjrep.com
Tip: Shows have several preview dates with lower ticket prices: $18-$30

Sept. 10-Oct. 5: Noises Off
Oct. 18-Nov. 16: Mary's Wedding
Nov. 29-Jan. 4: Wintertime
Jan. 24-Feb. 22: A Midsummer Night's Dream
March 20-April 18: Rounding Third
May 8-June 6: No Time for Comedy
June 19-July 18: The Underpants

City Lights

THERE'S NOTHING like a hit to brighten one's outlook. City Lights' recent production of Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show, the stage version of the famed midnight cult movie, packed City Lights throughout an extended run, leaving the company with a nice cushion to start the new year. As a matter of fact, bucking the generally doleful live arts scene, all of City Lights' plays last year showed increases over the previous season. "We had quite a boost in our attendance, ... some [plays] as much as almost double," notes the company's artistic director, Tom Gough. That trend definitely helps, because, as Gough adds, "Our private funding and granting are down a little bit."

For its five-play season, City Lights is emphasizing the comic side of life, because comedies "have a proven track record," Gough explains. The fall kicks off with the South Bay premiere of Don Juan in Chicago, by David Ives, whom Gough praises for his "wit" and the way "he cleverly manipulates and uses language." The comedy follows the misadventures of the famous rake, who has made a pact with the devil to guarantee immortality. The catch is that Don Juan must seduce a new woman every day before midnight--an erotic game plan that eventually turns wearying. After a period-piece beginning, the action moves to modern-day Chicago, where the hero confronts his one true love.

For the holidays, the Reduced Shakespeare Company returns with The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged). The antic three-man show features some fractured parables, a strong dose of irreverence and a raft of improvised song. Gough assures me, "You don't have to be familiar with every story in the Bible; the play teaches you on the way."

Shifting moods, A Shayna Maidel (Yiddish for "pretty maiden") wrestles with guilt and drama in a story about two Polish sisters--one who escaped to New York and one who went to the camps--reuniting after World War II, a terrific little heartwarming drama about two sisters who are separated before World War II.

Gough calls David Lindsey-Abaire's Wonder of the World "the most outrageous choice of the season." After stumbling across her husband's "obscure, dirty little secret" a wife sets out to fulfill her long list of thwarted life goals. Along the way, she bumps emotions with a variety of eccentric fellow travelers. "The characters," Gough says, "are exaggerations of people's neuroses."

The highlight of the season comes with a staging of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, a musical about the odd clique of misfits who have taken aim (sometimes successful) at American presidents. Gough notes that the company "has come to the realization that we want to do one small musical each season." Assassins should test that resolve; it's a strange, complex creation that hasn't always sat well with audiences used to a little more light and fewer shadows in its stories. Gough remembers American Musical Theatre of San Jose's (when it was still the Civic Light Opera) production in the late-'90s, which he thought was too much of a "massive spectacle." He plans a more intimate version, on a much smaller scale, using just a small combo for musical accompaniment rather than a full orchestra. "That's one of the more appealing facets to it, "Gough says. "Audiences will be no more than 20 feet from the action."

Michael S. Gant

Where: City Lights Theater, 529 S. Second St., San Jose
When: Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm
How Much: $12-$28
Info: 408.295.4200; www.cltc.org

Sept. 18-Oct. 18: Don Juan in Chicago
Nov. 20-Dec. 27: The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged)
Jan. 22-Feb. 21: A Shayna Maidel
March 11-April 10: Wonder of the World
May 20-June 26: Assassins

San Jose Stage Company

SAN JOSE STAGE co-founder and artistic director Randall King says midsize theaters like the Stage are currently catering to what he calls "a Depression-era motif"--people want to escape. He can pinpoint when this realization first hit home. He was performing in last season's Ghosts, by Ibsen, when, in the intimate space, he could actually sense the audience being overwhelmed by the heaviness. "As an actor and as a producer, I felt like I really gave these people a lot to chew over when they've already got a mouthful."

As a result, San Jose Stage's 2003-04 season will be lighter. It includes a comedy of midlife angst, Charles Busch's The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, and it will also be the first San Jose Stage season to feature two musical productions, the currently running (and recently extended by demand) Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story and the world premiere of Jim Geoghan's Ug: A Stone-Age Musical Comedy.

Though a 20-year legacy of successful theater comes with demanding overhead, it also has advantages, like a well-established reputation as a leading West Coast theater for Americana. This rep made San Jose Stage a logical choice for Ug, with its song list culled from all corners of Americana.

It also helps that in two decades as artistic director, King has established and maintained an impressive network. For example, the story of Ug began when Geoghan heard about the San Jose Stage production of his play Light Sensitive. The next year, Geoghan brought out King of City Island to San Jose Stage, and from conversations between Geoghan and King following that production, Geoghan offered Ug: A Stone-Age Musical Comedy to the company as well. Steeped in Geoghan's wit, which was honed writing for successful TV sitcoms, Ug promises to be just what the new Depression ordered.

San Jose Stage is also premiering The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the first professional adaptation of B. Traven's book since the 1948 screenplay. King had tried for years to get permission to write an adaptation of the book. When he finally gave up, Herb Robins' completely written theatrical version surfaced. "An ex-San Jose cop who turned actor on us walked in one day out of uniform," King remembers, "and dropped this script on my desk. And I said, 'Look, I've been looking for this title for 18 years.'" King immediately struck up a correspondence with playwright Robins, and after a few adjustments, they got a green light from Traven's estate to do the play.

In bit of a departure from levity, San Jose Stage will be mounting Misery, a Stephen King story made into the 1990 film starring Kathy Bates. "It's not a story that's going to make you socially conscious," admits King. "It's a thriller, and it's going to reach out and grab you like a hairy hand." The script calls for macabre special effects, which King wants to render as realistically as possible. He was able to reach into his bag of artistic connections and pull out a solution. "I've got a special-effects man who I just did a film with who's really top-notch, coming out to do the show with us," King reports. In exercising the company's resourcefulness and requiring new approaches, the lighter fare of the upcoming season promises only to expand the already versatile troupe's scope.

Marianne Messina

Where: The Stage, 490 S. First St., San Jose
When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm
How Much: Previews $16-$24; regular shows $24-$42
Info: 408.283.7142; www.sanjose-stage.com

Through Sept. 28: Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story
Nov. 26-Dec. 21: The Tale of the Allergist's Wife
Feb. 18-March 14: Misery
April 14-May 9: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
June 2-27: Ug--A Stone-Age Musical Comedy


THEATREWORKS is coming off what managing director Randy Adams cites as "the most attended season in our history," and the company has already hit the ground running for its 34th season. Two shows into the year-round, June-May timetable, the company's productions of Proof and Bat Boy, "did exceedingly well," according to Adams.

Adams promises the upcoming season will likewise be "a broad canvas of new plays and old plays," ranging from the 1973 Tony Award-winning A Little Night Music, by TheatreWorks staple Stephen Sondheim, to the contemporary musical about living life at minimum wage, Nickel and Dimed (currently playing at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts). The season is also diverse in tone and subject matter. "Bat Boy is way out there," says Adams, "and you put that with Arthur Miller, and people will say 'Somebody did those two plays in one season?'"

All My Sons is set, topically, in the shadow of war and poses tough questions about individual responsibility. Between that ponderousness and the iconoclasm of Bat Boy, TheatreWorks has situated the subtler flavor of satire in a multilayered, politically charged satire by A.R. Gurney, The Fourth Wall.

At the same time, TheatreWorks maintains an aggressive commitment to developing and producing new works. And this season the two-year-old New Works Initiative, headed by Kent Nicholson, is responsible for two offerings in the season's lineup, Memphis (a rock & roll musical) and My Ántonia (a play with music). "They're both pieces we did development on," says Nicholson, "We moved them through workshop to production."

In terms of regional theaters, this New Works program is one of a very few in the country that will workshop something as elaborate and potentially expensive as a musical. And though TheatreWorks remains committed to local writers, its workshop festival attracts many New York-based writers. This, according to Nicholson, is because 3,000 miles away from Broadway, there's a lot less pressure inhibiting the creative process. "Every show in New York from the smallest theater on down has that kind of pressure to it," says Nicholson. "This is what the artists from New York told me."

Put that together with the fact that TheatreWorks remains firm in allocating financial resources to the program, in spite of hard times, and it's apparent how Nicholson can approach writers at the top of the national list, like Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) and say, "We believe in your work; what are you working on?" And DiPietro will show up at the workshop with Memphis, his piece about the visionary, controversial Memphis DJ who first mixed black music with white on radio. My Ántonia, based on the Willa Cather novel, has no less celebrated writers behind it in the father-son collaboration of Stephen Schwartz (music) and his son, Scott Schwartz (text).

Marianne Messina

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Castro and Mercy streets, Mountain View; the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
How Much: $20-$48
Info: 650.903.6000; www.theatreworks.org

Through Sept. 28: Nickel and Dimed (Mountain View)
Oct. 8-Nov. 2: A Little Night Music (Mountain View)
Dec. 3-28: The Fourth Wall (Palo Alto)
Jan. 21-Feb. 15: Memphis (Mountain View)
March 3-28: All My Sons (Palo Alto)
March 31-April 25: My Ántonia (Mountain View)

Pear Avenue Theatre

JUST INTO its second season, the Pear Avenue Theatre is more ambitious than ever. Having mounted five productions its first season, the company is coming back this year with seven. "I think we got the confidence because we did a series of five good productions," says artistic director Diane Tasca. "We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish with inexpensive sets, creative use of our materials and just continuing to attract talented actors--and that worked."

Last year at this time, Tasca and the other theater professionals who make up the Pear's company were hanging insulation. This year, they're rehearsing Chekhov's The Seagull for their opening production. The upcoming season reaches high in content as well as quantity. The Pear will mount its first musical at Christmas time: And the World Goes Round, which contains a good many familiar songs, thanks to the success of composer John Kander's Chicago.

The Pear does not, like many companies, constrain itself by the mantra "audience draw." Pulling no punches, its season includes A Fair Country, Jon Robin Baitz's hard-hitting political play about an American family in South Africa before the end of apartheid. "It's the most interesting, charged play," Tasca says. "I like it because of the political angle."

The Pear runs a regular playwriting workshop and is strongly committed to fostering new playwrights and presenting new plays. The upcoming season's March offering, A Festival of Short Plays, will feature plays written in the workshop. In addition, Pear will continue the tradition of an original play as the final production of the season. Not only did last season's original play, Vehicle (about a mother suffering from Alzheimer's disease), see some of the largest audiences of the season, but after members of a private family foundation came to see the play, they sent the Pear a sizeable grant. "They didn't explain why we got the grant," Tasca says. "I guess they just thought what we were doing was worthy."

This season's A Package for Max, a comedy set in Silicon Valley by John Angell Grant, was rewritten in conjunction with the Pear's director, Jeanie Forte. "John rewrote the play after having conversations with Jeanie about things that could be improved," Tasca reports, "and the people who had already been interested in Chicago loved the new version. It's having its premiere currently in Chicago. So they get the world premiere, but we get the West Coast premiere."

Marianne Messina

Where: 1220 Pear Ave., Mountain View
When: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 2 or 7pm
How Much: $10/$15
Info: 650.254.1148; www.thepear.org

Sept. 19-Oct. 12: The Seagull
Nov. 21-Dec. 14: And The World Goes Round
Jan. 23-Feb. 8: A Fair Country
March 19-28: Short-Play Festival
April 23-May 9: Approaching Zanzibar
May 28-June 6: A Package for Max
June 25-July 11: New original play. A premiere of a new play by a local writer, as part of a search by the company.

Teatro Visíon

The San Jose-based Chicano/Latino theater troupe features two premieres this season: Chilean Holiday and Boxcar.

Where: Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose
Info: 408.928.5587; www.teatrovision.org

Oct. 9-26: Chilean Holiday. A drama about two families in Chile on the second anniversary of the Pinochet coup.
March 11-April 4 (2004): Boxcar. Silvia Gonzalez's play about seven men attempting to cross the border into the United States.


American Musical Theatre of San Jose

With an emphasis on big-name hits, AMTSJ brings Broadway shows out West. The production that should catch the most attention comes last: Mel Brooks' fantastically successful stage version of his movie comedy The Producers, which cornered the market on Tony Awards. The season kicks off with an old favorite, Funny Girl, the biography of musical theater star Fanny Brice, who worked her way up from the Ziegfeld chorus line (thus providing lots of opportunities for showy costumes) to multimedia stardom (film, radio and eventually TV) in the 1930s. The production stars Rachel Ulanet, a rising off-Broadway star in her own right. Playing her gambler husband Nick is Kevin Gray, who received strong notices as the engineer in AMTSJ's staging of Miss Saigon.

Where: San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose
When: Tuesdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 1 and 6:30pm, with some Saturday and Wednesday matinees
How Much: $44.50-$75.50
Info: 1.888.455.SHOW, www.amtsj.org

Sept. 12-28: Funny Girl
Oct. 31-Nov. 16: On the 20th Century. A musical version of the '30s screwball comedy. The period setting provides plenty of chances for art deco dazzle in the sets.
Jan. 9-25: Dreamgirls. A Motown-themed musical about a girl group modeled on the Supremes.
Feb. 10-29: Starlight Express. Or Excess, as the case may be. Andrew Lloyd Webber sets roller-skating to music and special effects.
April 13-May 2: Thoroughly Modern Millie. Another musical based on a movie (remember when the process worked in reverse?). Last year's Broadway hit sweetened the two Julie Andrews movie songs with 15 new numbers and some memorable tunes from the 1920s.
July 6-25: The Producers

Broadway by the Bay

The long-running musical-theater group (known for many years as the Peninsula Civic Light Opera) presents the Leonard Bernstein classic West Side Story for its fall production.

Where: San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 N. Delaware St., San Mateo
How Much: $15-$27
Info: 650.579.5568; Ticketweb; www.broadwaybythebay.org

Sept. 26-Oct. 12: West Side Story

Broadway Returns to the South Bay

A regular series of touring shows in short runs presented by JAM Theatricals.

Where: Flint Center, 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino
When: 8pm mostly, with Sunday matinees at 2pm
How Much: $21-$61
Info: 408.998.8497; www.flintcenter.com

Oct. 28: Seussical, The Musical
Nov. 21-23: Grease
Dec. 5-7: Kiss Me, Kate
March 26-28: Stomp
May 7-9: Saturday Night Fever

Saratoga Drama Group

Talk about civic theater, back in the 1960s, the Saratoga Drama Group once performed in the Saratoga City Council chambers, eventually taking over the space as the Saratoga Civic Theatre (if only we could do that with Congress). The group presents a three-musical season.

Where: Saratoga Civic Theatre, 13777 Fruitvale Ave., Saratoga
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2:30pm
How Much: $16-$20
Info: 408.882.5099; www.saratogadramagroup.com

Sept. 13-Oct. 11: The King and I
January/February: Gypsy
May/June: Annie

West Valley Light Opera

Where: Saratoga Civic Theater, 13777 Fruitvale Ave., Saratoga
How Much: $20-$24
Info: 408.268.3777

Nov. 8-Dec. 6: Hello, Dolly!
March 6-April 3: A Chorus Line

Dance Fever: The Flamenco Society brings an evening of high-energy dance to the San Jose Performing Arts Series, Oct. 3.

San Jose Performing Arts Series

A RICH CORE SAMPLE of San Jose's multicultural performing arts scene can be taken in October with the crowded Performing Arts Series, sponsored by the city's Office of Cultural Affairs. All of the participants are nonprofit arts groups that fall into a midrange somewhere between permanent large companies like San Jose Rep and smaller community troupes. The performances represent the culmination of six months' worth of grant-funded preparation for the selected companies. (Full disclosure: Metro is one of the media sponsors of the series.)

Where: Montgomery Theater, Market and San Carlos streets, San Jose
How Much: From $12 all the way to $50 for VIP passes to special shows
Info: www.passinfo.com

Oct. 3: El Color Del Flamenco. An evening of authentic dance, with vocal and guitar accompaniment, presented by the Flamenco Society. 7:30pm.
Oct. 4: Fiesta Mexicana. The Aztlán Academy presents an overview of Mexican music and dance styles. 8pm.
Oct. 5: A Killing in Choctaw. The African American Oriki Theater stages a drama about a young black man's journey to come to terms with the murder of his father in Jim Crow days. The play is by San Jose actor Carl Ray. 4pm.
Oct. 10: Asian American Comedy Night. Hosted by Contemporary Asian Theatre Scene, with Kevin Camia, Amy Anderson and Oliver Saria. 8pm.
Oct. 11: Mystique. Presented by Habib Khan Saraswati Temple. A concert devoted to world music, with Indian, Western and Japanese instruments. The program climaxes with a solo sitar turn by Pandit Habib Khan, accompanied by Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri on tabla. 7pm.
Oct. 17-18: Samo't Sari (Potpourri). The Filipino dance company Kaisahan celebrates its 21st anniversary with two evenings of island dancers, singers and comedians. 8pm.
Oct. 19: Great Wall II Concert. Bridging two cultures, the Firebird Youth Chinese orchestra presents a Western guitar piece, a southern Chinese folk selection for flute and a concerto that mixes Chinese and Western instruments. 3:30pm.
Oct. 24-25: He Said, She Said. A story told through jazz dance and contemporary pop choreography by the Visual Rhythm Dance Company. 8pm.
Oct. 26: Homage to the Deity. A program of diverse dance styles from Taiwan, with guest performers from the Taipei Folk Dance Theatre. 3pm.

Palo Alto Players

BOASTING OF its remarkable longevity (73 years without a break), the peninsula company opens with a musical favorite that seems almost as old and just as resilient: The Fantasticks.

Where: Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
When: Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2:30pm
How Much: $17-$27
Info: 650.329.0891; www.paplayers.org

Sept. 13-28: The Fantasticks
Nov. 1-16: The Beauty Queen of Leenane
Jan. 17-Feb. 1: Born Yesterday
April 24-May 9: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
June 12-27: The Complete Works of Wm. Shakespeare. (Abridged) with Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield

Bus Barn Theater

THE LOS ALTOS company mixes a bit of Shakespeare (The Winter's Tale) with a chestnut (Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl) and tosses in an intriguing wild card: a new comedy, from a French play, about Pierre and Madame Curie, who give "onstage chemistry" a whole new meaning.

Where: 97 Hillview Ave., Los Altos
When: Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm
How Much: $18-$28
Info: 650.941.0551; www.busbarn.org

Sept. 11-Oct. 18: Dinner With Friends
Nov. 20-Dec. 20: Inspecting Carol
Jan. 15-Feb. 14: The Winter's Tale
March 18-April 17: The Goodbye Girl
May 20-June 19: Pierre and Marie
July 8-Aug. 7: Are We Almost There?

Northside Theater Company

Where: Olinder Theatre, 848 E. William St., San Jose
How Much: $10/$12; $15 for A Christmas Carol
Info: 408.288.7820

Oct. 9-Nov. 2: Bus Stop
Dec. 10-28: A Christmas Carol
Feb. 19-March 7: The Mousetrap
April 15-May 2: The Nerd

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