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Fall 2004 Arts Guide:
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Photograph by Joan Marcus

Rent Raiser: Tallin Brinson stars in American Musical Theater's presentation of 'Rent,' starting Sept. 21.

The Ghosts of Elections Past

South Bay theater sparks election-season dialogue

By Marianne Messina

JUDGING FROM the fall lineup at Bay Area theaters, this is an election year like no other. "I chose the season with the fact that we're about to go into an election, in my mind," says San Jose Repertory Theatre's artistic director Timothy Near. "It's caused me to certainly have my mind on who we are as Americans, what are our values, how do we want to be seen. ... And all of these questions are very specifically dealt with in [George Bernard] Shaw with Major Barbara"—the Rep's first fall production. Using Shaw's rich language, a munitions mogul, Andrew Undershaft, and his daughter, the Salvation Army's Major Barbara, find themselves at ethical loggerheads.

The Rep is not alone in starting the season with the election in mind. For its September opening, City Lights Theater Company has chosen to premiere a Charles Evered play, Clouds Hill. The subject matter "is so topical," according to City Lights' new managing artistic director Lisa Mallette, "that we're also partnering with Rock the Vote and making the entire run of the show an official voter-registration stop." In Clouds Hill, the specter of terrorism looms over the ivory towers of two college professors. "They have reason to suspect there's a student possibly into some weird chemistry stuff," says Evered, who traveled from the East Coast to direct his play's first production. "And one of the professors starts to suspect [the student] might have links to Al Qaeda."

With its heavy demand for volunteers, the voter registration tie-in is almost as big an undertaking as the play itself, especially since Mallette, who is also performing in Clouds Hill, has taken on the responsibility of making sure voter-registration forms get to Sacramento on time. In spite of those kinds of challenges, Near is hoping to organize a similar voter registration effort at the Rep.

In Mountain View, the Pear Avenue Theatre will open its season with Veracruz, a new play set in the middle of the oil-driven U.S. intervention in Mexico in 1914, story that has obvious resonance with the war in Iraq. "That's one of the reasons that we decided to do this piece now rather than ... putting it into the usual new play slot in the spring," says the play's director Jeanie Forte, "because we wanted to mount it before the election."

Mallette admits that mounting new plays so early in the season is risky (and City Lights is actually presenting a second new play, Heroes, right after Clouds Hill). But both City Lights and the Pear thought it worth the risk. And all three theaters wanted to offer productions that could be part of what they consider an important national dialogue. As catalysts for dialogue, the three topical plays generate more questions than answers.

In Major Barbara, "Every character presents some side of this very complex picture that Shaw is painting about our world," says Near, who's directing the play. Clouds Hill also refuses to take sides. Now a professor at Emerson College, Evered was on active Navy duty filing a report on ground zero days after 9/11. "It was still on fire," Evered remembers. "So I had a real visceral connection with the idea that we were under attack."

Evered sees the progressive, intellectual approach and the visceral, defensive approach as two aspects of our national consciousness that need to be talked through. But not all the fall fare is caught up in the political climate. On the one hand, American Musical Theatre starts out loud and strong with Rent, the musical that's credited by some for single-handedly reviving Broadway in the '90s with its driving rock music and contemporary themes. And in a one-two punch, Rent is followed by the beloved and fantastical Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby in her final performance.

On the other hand, San Jose Stage takes on good old-fashioned guilt in the classic Tennessee Williams play, The Glass Menagerie. Director James Reese intends to redress the unsatisfactory elements he's found in most productions of the play. For one thing, the Amanda character, the matriarch of the broken family, rarely rings true for him. "To me, I always saw Amanda more as kind of a Vivien Leigh character in Gone With the Wind, if her life had gone completely wrong and she met the wrong guy and he dumped her and she was stuck with the kids," Reese explains. "A selfish woman in a way." And Reese has always thought the son, Tom, looks back on the story from a much older perspective than most companies play him. Reese has cast company artistic director Randall King as Tom.

Looking at family tensions from a much lighter, contemporary perspective, TheatreWorks (currently running A Little Princess) will move into the fall season with Lisa Loomer's Living Out. The play focuses on the different choices a woman and her Latina nanny make as both try to juggle the demands of career and family. "I think the comedy is kind of mind-boggling," says TheatreWorks artistic director Robert Kelley. Behind the scenes, Kelley has worked hard to secure the rights to Loomer's play, which will have its West Coast premiere at TheatreWorks.

Other artistic directors in the area have done the same. Mallette worked on William Morris for two months to get the rights to Clouds Hill. San Jose Stage had to scramble their lineup to get The Glass Menagerie in before the rights run out (for mysterious reasons) at year's end. And Kevin Hauge, at the Children's Musical Theater, proudly obtained the rights to do the Alan Menken musical version of A Christmas Carol. "It's sort of a coup because it is still a restricted property," says Hauge, "but we've been granted the rights ... so we'll be the West Coast premiere of this particular production."

San Jose Stage is planning a horrific ghost story for the holiday month, Woman in Black. "It's a very Victorian England tradition to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve," says Stage producer Rick Singleton. Apart from that, the holiday season promises great levity, starting with CMT's A Christmas Carol. "It's wall-to-wall Menken music," says Hauge. "It's just music, music, music."

TheatreWorks will match that with a musical called Striking 12, which stars the rock-flavored band GrooveLily both performing and acting. Since there is only one GrooveLily, Kelley quips, "This is one piece that doesn't have multiple performances around the country at the same time." The Pear Theatre will be presenting a winterized version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, a twist invented by Pear artistic director Diane Tasca.

At San Jose Repertory Theatre, comedy comes for Christmas in Sugar Plum Fairy, a one-woman show by the popular Sandra Tsing Loh in which she reminisces about her childhood attempts at dancing The Nutcracker. And City Lights' play Heroes follows two underachieving guys "watching television and drinking beer and hanging out," Mallette explains, "and one of them all of a sudden decides, 'Let's be superheroes.'"

It's likely that after the heavy issues and emotional tensions of this fall's election, levity and errant superheroes will be just the holiday follow-up we need.


American Musical Theatre Of San Jose
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts; season subscriptions available; 888.455.SHOW.
Rent—Sept. 21-26
Peter Pan, with Cathy Rigby proving that there is life after gymnastics—Oct. 27-Nov. 1
2005 Highlight: Chicago—Jan. 12-23

Broadway by the Bay
Presented by the Peninsula Civic Light Opera. San Mateo Performing Arts Center; $15-$32; 650.579.5568.
Cabaret—Sept. 24-Oct. 10

Bus Barn Stage Company
Bus Barn Theatre, Los Altos; $18-$28; 650.941.0551.
WIT—Sept. 9-Oct. 9
A Jacob Marley Christmas—Nov. 18-Dec. 18
2005 Highlight: Picasso at the Lapin Agile—March 18-April 16

City Lights Theater Company Of San Jose
City Lights Theater, San Jose; $15-$30; 408.295.4200.
Clouds Hill—Sept. 16-Oct. 16
Heroes, a premiere of a comedy by Jonathan Brady—Nov. 8-Dec. 19
2005 Highlight: The Waiting Room by Lisa Loomer—Jan. 27-Feb. 26

Hillbarn Theatre
1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City; $17-$28; 650.349.6411.
Anastasia—Sept. 23-Oct. 24

Lyric Theatre
Devoted to Gilbert & Sullivan. Mayer Theatre, Santa Clara University; $20-$26; 408.986.1455.
The Gondoliers—Oct. 2-10

Northside Theatre Company
Olinder Theatre, San Jose; $12/$15; 408.288.7820.
The Last Night of Ballyhoo—Oct. 14-Nov. 7
A Christmas Carol—Dec. 8-24

Palo Alto Players
Lucie Stern Theater, Palo Alto; $18-$29; 650.329.0891.
The White House Murder Case, a political comedy by Jules Feiffer—Sept. 11-26
Picnic—Nov. 6-21
2005 Highlight: Zombie Room, a '50s musical—April 30-May 15

The Pear Avenue Theatre
The Pear Avenue Theatre, Mountain View; $10-$25; 650.254.1148.
Veracruz—Sept. 17-Oct. 10
A Midsummer Night's Dream—Dec. 3-19
2005 Highlight: The Psychic Life of Savages—May 6-22

San Jose Repertory Theatre
The Rep; 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose; various series packages available; 408.367.7255.
Major Barbara by Shaw—through Oct. 3.
Tuesdays With Morrie—Oct. 16-Nov. 14
Sugar Plum Fairy by Sandra Tsing Loh—Nov. 27-Jan. 2
2005 Highlight: Making Tracks, a rock musical about Asian immigrants in America—March 19-April 17

San Jose Stage Company
The Stage, 490 S. First St., San Jose; $20-$28; 408.283.7142.
The Glass Menagerie—Sept. 29-Oct. 24
The Woman in Black—Nov. 24-Dec. 29
2005 Highlight: The Lonesome West—Feb. 9-March 6

Saratoga Drama Group
Saratoga Civic Theater, Fruitvale and Allendale avenues, Saratoga; 408.264.3110.
Annie Get Your Gun—Sept. 18-Oct. 16
2005 Highlight: South Pacific—Jan. 29-Feb. 19

South Valley Civic Theatre
Morgan Hill Community Playhouse; $12/$15; 408.842.SHOW.
Moon Over Buffalo—Through Sept. 11
Once Upon a Mattress—Oct. 29-Nov. 20
Tabard Theatre Company
Family-oriented troupe moves to a new home for three-play season. Joint Venture, 6581 Camden Ave., San Jose; season subscriptions $21-$45; 408.979.0231.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, based on C.S. Lewis' book—Nov. 5-20
2005 Highlight: The Taffetas, a musical set in the 1960s—Jan. 28-Feb. 13

Teatro Visión
Mexican Heritage Plaza, San Jose; $8-$17; 408.272.9926.
Real Women Have Curves —Oct. 7-31
4 Guys Named José ... and Una Mujer Named María, a musical comedy—Dec. 2-18
2005 Highlight: Santos & Santos, a drama by Octavio Solis—May 19-June 5

Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts and the Lucie Stern Theater, Palo Alto; $20-$50; 650.463.1960.
A Little Princess—through Sept. 19 at Mountain View
Living Out by Lisa Loomer—Oct. 6-31 at Mountain View
Striking 12—Dec. 1-Jan. 2 at Palo Alto
2005 Highlight: Shakespeare in Hollywood— Jan. 19-Feb. 13 at Mountain View

West Valley Light Opera
Saratoga Civic Theater; $20-$24; 408.268.3777.
Big River—Nov. 6-Dec. 4

Western Stage
Hartnell Performing Arts Center, Salinas; $16-$25; 831.755.6816
Sweeney Todd—Oct. 9-30
Tartuffe—Oct. 22-Nov. 20
Into the Woods—Dec. 4-18

Willows Theatre Company
Willows Theater, 1975 Diamond Blvd., Concord; $20-$35; 925.798.1300.
The Night of the Hunter—Sept. 24-Oct. 24
Annie—Nov. 8-Dec. 31


California Theatre Center
Sunnyvale Community Center Theatre and Mayer Theatre, Santa Clara; $11/$12; 408.245.2978.
Brave Irene—Oct. 2 and 9
The Elves and the Shoemaker—Dec. 3-4
A Little Princess—Dec. 11, 17-18

Children's Musical Theater Of San Jose
Montgomery Theater, San Jose; $13/$20; 408.288.5437.
A Christmas Carol, a musical version of the story developed by Radio City Music Hall—Dec. 3-12

Peninsula Youth Theatre
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts; $14/$17; 650.903.6000.
Seussical the Musical—Nov. 19-21 at Mountain View.


Bayside Performing Arts Center
2025 Kehoe Ave., San Mateo

Bus Barn Theatre
97 Hillview Ave., Los Altos

California Theatre
345 S. First St., San Jose

City Lights
529 S. Second St., San Jose

Cubberley Theatre
4000 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto

First United Methodist Church
625 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto

Flint Center
21250 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino

Foothill College
Smithwick Theatre
12345 El Monte Rd., Los Altos Hills

Hartnell Performing Arts Center
156 Homestead Ave., Salinas

Hillbarn Theatre
1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City

Le Petit Trianon
72 N. Fifth St., San Jose

Lucie Stern Theater
1305 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto

Mexican Heritage Plaza
1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose

Montgomery Theater
Market and San Carlos streets, San Jose

Morgan Hill Community Playhouse
17090 Monterey St., Morgan Hill

Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro St., Mountain View

Olinder Theatre
848 E. William St., San Jose

Palo Alto Art Center Auditorium
1313 Newell Rd., Palo Alto

Pear Avenue Theater
1220 Pear Ave., Mountain View

The Rep
101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose

San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose

San Mateo Performing Arts Center
600 N. Delaware Ave., San Mateo

Santa Clara University
Louis B. Mayer Theatre Mission Church and Fess Parker Studio Theatre
500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara

Saratoga Civic Theater
13777 Fruitvale Ave., Saratoga

The Stage
490 S. First St., San Jose

Sunnyvale Community Center Theatre
550 Remington Dr., Sunnyvale

Villa Montalvo
1540 Montalvo Rd., Saratoga

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission St., San Francisco

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From the September 8-14, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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