Review: Everyone Loves ‘Laura’
By Susan Steinberg
Wow! A murder mystery so deviously convoluted that even fanatical CSI-watchers were baffled. At intermission, some audience members were actually considering a “WHODUNNIT” betting pool. And we were all dead-wrong.
This fascinating play is “Laura,” subject of the famous 1944 Otto Preminger film, and many stage revivals, including a 2000 Hollywood version starring Linda Hamilton. In Danville Role Players’ current presentation, the show is as gripping and thrilling as any this reviewer has seen in a long time.
A uniformly top-drawer cast invests each role with amazing authenticity, from Eden Neuendorf’s irresistibly charismatic femme fatale to Khary Moye’s cagey gumshoe, a veteran skeptic with a weakness for beautiful women. Craig Eychner as the deceased lady’s philandering fiance’ is spot-on as a Southern gentleman of polite charm and no morals, and Loralee Windsor is Bessie, the quintessentially earthy Irish cook. Janice Fuller Leone, wonderful as usual in a character role, inhabited the skin of Mrs. Dorgan, the garrulous janitress with a hidden grudge.
Giving another splendid performance is Ben Oldham, as Mrs. Dorgan’s son, hopelessly smitten by Laura. A junior at Oakland’s High School of the Arts, he has already been nominated for a “Shellie” award in recognition of his acting in RP’s recent “The Foreigner”.
Personally, I fell for Tom Reilly as Waldo Lydecker, the pretentious writer of flowery prose, like an aged Oscar Wilde (and some NYC theater critics of memory). Laura’s mentor from young ingenue to glamorous woman, he is as proud of her as a parent (or platonic lover). She is like one of the rare antique vases he collects, but also is a cherished acolyte at the altar of his limitless egotistical vanity.
His language is over-ripe, his vocabulary precious, his classical quotations precise, his grammatical corrections finicky, and his tastes ostentatiously refined. In short, he’s an irresistible character, or better yet, a caricature of the perfect “effete snob.” And the audience, along with this reviewer, was charmed.
Bringing “film noir” to a stage production is no easy assignment. The genre was a product of low-budget studios and a strong public appetite for hard-boiled detective novels by the likes of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Directing many of these movies were immigrant European film-makers fleeing the Nazis, and bringing their traditions of Expressionism to American theaters. The stark lighting, shadow effects, and weird camera angles used in these films are difficult to replicate on a stage, but Director Eric Fraisher Hayes has deftly masterminded an impressively atmospheric and menacing show.
His talented production team includes designers Diane McRice (Sets), Chris Guptill (Lighting), Lisa Danz (Costumes), Rob Evans (Sound), and Stephanie Stratman (Props). In a period mood piece like “Laura”, every element is a vital part of a credible whole, and these creative artists contribute hugely to its success. So does vocal coach Robin Taylor, whose professional training has perfected memorable dialects in so many of RP’s recent productions.
The plot’s twists and turns are enough to keep audiences on the edge of their seats, and elicit small gasps as each new clue is revealed. Red herrings and obviously clumsy alibis abound, along with many motives for murder. As one intent listener commented, “a play like this really keeps your wits sharp.” It also provides a thrilling evening’s entertainment, with crackling dialogue and a pitch-perfect ensemble.
Catch this popular performance weekends through Feb. 4 at Danville’s Village Theatre, 233 Front Street, Danville, just a few blocks from Highway 680. (take the Diablo Road exit).
For tickets, call Danville City Hall at (925) 314-3400 (weekdays only) or go to www.villagetheatreshows.com
Review: Role Players Ensemble gives ‘Laura’ eerie, noirish ride
By Pat Craig, Bay Area News Group
If you like to collect clues when you see a whodunit, you might find yourself frustrated by “Laura.” This tale, currently in production at the Village Theatre in Danville, has more red herrings than a fish market.
You’re better off if you just sit back and enjoy the homicidal fun in this delightfully creaky old mystery-melodrama that is given a stylish film-noir ride in the Role Players Ensemble production. It’s a show that has you doubting everything you hear and see.
Here’s what we know:
Here’s what we find out:
Next to nothing.
For example, someone may or may not have died. We’re led to believe that it’s Laura who bought the farm, but maybe not. A group of suitors may be the logical suspects, but they all seem to have alibis. And, to make things more complicated, the detective on the job, Mark McPherson (Khary Moye), finds himself falling hard for the image of the beautiful blonde who may or may not be the corpse.
Yes, everything falls into place at the end, but the fun is hacking your way through the jungle of clues and characters that move in and out of the upscale New York apartment where Laura lived (or lives?).
There is Shelby (Craig Eychner), Laura’s suitor from the South, with an accent so far past the Mason-Dixon Line it would automatically sweeten tea. He is every bit the gentleman, with a fondness for the finer things in life and good manners. He also really likes guns.
There’s Waldo Lydecker (Tom Reilly), a plumy, urbane sort, who makes his living as a writer. Reminiscent of the late Alexander Woollcott in personality, Lydecker pouts when he doesn’t get his way and occasionally breaks things he loves. Perhaps someone could annoy him to the point of murder. Perhaps not.
Reilly, Eychner and Moye are the critical triangle of this mystery mashup, with the cop assigning guilt to one or the other, as the noir-style lighting casts ominous horizontal shadows across the characters’ faces like jail bars.
It was director Eric Fraisher Hayes’ idea to give the show (also adapted into a classic ’40s movie) the noir treatment, beautifully executed by set designer Diane McRice and lighting designer Chris Guptill. The high point of the effect comes during a fight, when a toppled floor lamp casts enormous shadows of the combatants across the stage
CURTAIN CALLS: Shedding some light on film-noir ‘Laura’
By Sally Hogarty , Contra Costa Times
Laurawithgun2Diane McRice’s classy set in rich, warm tones, Chris Guptill’s creative use of shadows and light, Rob Evans’ jazzy music and Lisa Danz’s luscious 1930s costumes turn Danville’s Village Theatre into a film noir haven for Role Players Ensemble’s production of “Laura.”
Written by Vera Caspary in 1943, “Laura” opens with homicide detective Mark McPherson investigating the murder of femme fatale Laura Hunt. Suspects abound; there’s the unfaithful fiance, the possessive older man and the jealous mother whose young son is enamored with Laura. It seems the beautiful Laura had a way of making men fall in love with her, and the more McPherson delves into her life, the more he comes under her spell.
Known for her skillfully crafted and psychologically complex murder mysteries, Caspary had a penchant for merging women’s quests for identity and love with murder plots with great success. Many of her plays were made into movies, including “Laura,” under Otto Preminger’s direction. Starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, and Clifton Webb, it became a film noir classic.
The Role Players’ production gives local audiences a chance to enjoy this intriguing play and, this past Sunday, the film as well. Several concerts featuring the 1920s and ’30s music highlighted in the play are also planned.
The actors seem to savor creating their larger-than-life roles. Khary Moye (McPherson), Craig Eychner (the fiance) and Loralee Windsor (Laura’s loyal housekeeper) were especially effective, with Tom Reilly (the arrogant best friend) and Eden Neuendorf (Laura) almost there. Neuendorf certainly looks the part and has the acting skills but seemed a bit uncomfortable with the more stylized, sensual movements of her character.
‘Laura’ – Theater review
by Elizabeth Warnimont Special to The Benicia Herald
The Role Players Ensemble of Danville continues its 2011-12 season this month with “Laura,” the classic 1940s story of a career woman/femme fatale who winds up being the prime suspect in her own murder. Vera Caspary conceived Laura as a play long before it evolved into the 1944 hit movie starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Vincent Price. It wasn’t until after the film’s phenomenal success, though, that Caspary collaborated with fellow playwright George Sklar on the final stage version, which was published in 1946.
Recognizing the continued popularity of the film, Role Players artistic director Eric Fraisher Hayes directs the play with a mind to carry the film noir style from the movie back to the stage. The expressionism found in film noir (originally) borrowed from the expressionism found in theater, he explains. With this stage production, we attempt to collect on its interest.
Eden Neuendorf is Laura, the subject of a portrait hanging over the mantle in her living room in the opening scene, as Detective McPherson (Khary Moye) ponders the facts surrounding her gruesome murder. Laura’s housekeeper Bessie had been the first to discover the body, its face partially obliterated by an apparent shotgun blast.
As McPherson sits contemplating in the dark, a young man sneaks into the room, obviously unaware of the detective’s presence. McPherson switches on the lamp, and the first of a string of Laura’s admirers attempts to explain away any possible connection to the crime.
Craig Eychner is Laura’s fiancé Shelby. Shelby’s character appears rather flat and slow to develop, as do the others in the first act, which is exactly how the play is scripted. Critics of the 1940s film liked the way the characters were initially cast as being relatively dull, making the revelations down the road all the more surprising. The first plot twist occurs when Det. McPherson realizes that the victim bears a suspicious resemblance to a model who may have been staying at Laura’s place while she was out of town. From there, of course, the plot only gets thicker.
Shelby is found to be something of a philanderer. The landlady’s son had a serious crush on Laura and was infuriated that she wouldn’t take him seriously. The man who appeared to be Laura’s mentor is revealed to be her former lover, who was dismayed at Laura’s decision to marry a man he deemed far less worthy than himself.
Neuendorf does a beautiful job portraying the multi-faceted Laura. She is, in turn, convincingly coy, broken, incensed and endearing. Eychner is equally strong as Shelby, appropriately dull at the outset but developing a subtle depth as more and more hidden truths come to light. Tom Reilly commands the appearance of the arrogant, aristocratic gentleman friend, though his calm manner seems somewhat forced, his movements and speech practiced but plodding.
Moye appears confident in the role of the detective. He masters the cool demeanor and quiet, even mannerisms of a seasoned cop. He may be playing it a bit too cool, though, when it comes to his supposed obsession with the victim, that element doesn’t really come across.
Supporting cast member Ben Oldham, a high school junior at Oakland School for the Arts, is promising as Danny, the young man with a crush; and Loralee Windsor is delightful to watch as Bessie, a kind and hardworking soul with just a touch of fussiness, fitting to the role of the aging housekeeper. The actors all play off each other well, conveying a sense of natural interaction overall.
Strengths in the Role Players production are abundant. The set is thoughtfully and exactingly constructed. The sound is perfect, the actors’ voices come across beautifully, apparently without the aid of personal mics.
If there was one general weakness on opening night last Friday, it was one that is perhaps typical of any opening night: the actors didn’t seem quite at ease in their roles. Considering the near-sellout crowd, it seems a safe bet that confidence will build, and subsequent performances should flow more smoothly.
“Laura” the play is not a reincarnation of the movie. Come expecting something fresh, and you won’t be disappointed. For anyone who loves a good mystery, this play might be just the thing.
Elizabeth Warnimont holds a BA in Germanic language and literature from the University of California-Santa Barbara. She is currently a substitute teacher for the Benicia Unified School District.
5 Stars: “The actor playing MacPherson was a standout in an otherwise strong cast! The adaptation from film to stage was flawless and engaging. The set was beautiful, the costumes appropriate for the era, and the effects worked well. If you love film noir, you’ve got to see this show!” Joan Lopate
4 stars: “This was a great evening of theatre! We had a terrific time with the “whodunnit” since we couldn’t remember from years past. The acting was strong on all counts. It’s a good old fashioned play and fine entertainment. GO!” Mary Lembk.
“This was one of the best I have seen at Village Theater. Try to see it if possible.”
EXCITING O’NEILL RARITY DEBUTS IN DANVILLE
by Susan Steinberg, The Independent
MourningChristine and Lavinia2Fasten your seatbelts! It’s a wild and exciting ride at Danville’s Village Theatre as Role Players Ensemble presents Eugene O’Neill’s electrifying drama, “Mourning Becomes Electra”.
The featured work of this year’s Eugene O’Neill Festival, now in its 12th year, the production celebrates the 75th anniversary of the playwright’s Nobel Prize for Literature Award, an honor bestowed on no other American dramatist.
It was this play, coming after many early works based on his experiences as a merchant seaman, and his experimental expressionist dramas, such as “The Hairy Ape” and “The Emperor Jones,” that earned the attention of the Nobel Committee and the world in 1936.
In a brilliantly daring concept, O’Neill decided to adapt the ancient Greek myth of the Oresteia to the tumultuous post-Civil War years in America. The many generations of crime and punishment, sin and vengeance, visited on the storied House of Atreus took on new life in an old New England family burdened by guilty secrets and psychological terrors.
Created as a trilogy mirroring the great classical masterpiece by Aeschylus, O’Neill’s three plays represented an enormous challenge to produce, and have had few public airings over the years. For example, it has not been in the theater-loving Bay Area since 1981 — 30 years ago. Artistic Director Eric Fraisher Hayes, in a bold move, has combined all three segments into a seamless whole, compressing the action and emotional impact to hair-raising intensity.
Modernizing the Greek concept of the gods manipulating the fates of mortals, O’Neill seized on the increasingly popular analytical theories of Sigmund Freud. Our destinies, O’Neill posited, are not driven by external forces, but by the newly-discovered inner forces of our own psyches, familial heritage, and childhood traumas.
In O’Neill’s modern interpretation, the implacable Furies of vengeance no longer need to pursue the guilty, but can let each individual human conscience inflict the same inescapable unbearable pain. And the passing of that pain from generation to generation seemed as “predestined” by psychology as the passing of a family curse in ancient times.
Watching such a curse work its way through time, enmeshing every member of an “upright, respectable” clan, is as involving as a finely-crafted murder mystery, and every bit as thrilling. All the characters are modern, understandable in their desires and passions, yet echoing the grim figures playing out the old Greek tragedy.
General Ezra Mannon, like Greek King Agamemnon, returns from a long war expecting to reconcile with his emotionally-estranged wife Christine who, like embittered Greek Queen Clytemnestra, has taken a lover during his absence. Fate plays an ominous hand, as her lover is in fact the vengeance-seeking descendant of a wronged older branch of the King’s family.
Two children figure in the next generation of suffering. Daughter Lavinia (based on Greek Princess Electra) has been rejected from birth by her mother, as an objectified symbol of Christine’s brutal wedding night and honeymoon experiences. Seeking parental love, Lavinia has fastened all her allegiance and adoration on her father. Suspecting her mother of infidelity, she seethes with self-righteous anger and coldly plots revenge. Brother Orin, Christine’s cossetted darling baby, returns from the war wounded in body and soul, to find Electra urging him to join her in vengeance.
The stage is set for tragedy upon tragedy, as bloody as “Macbeth”, and as unnatural as “Titus Andronicus”, but very little different from the horrifying family crimes featured in the daily news. What sets O’Neill’s characters apart is their symbolic stature and the insights into their souls that he provides. We can sympathize with their pain, understand their motivations, and so find it difficult to condemn their actions, however terrible.
No one is completely guilty, O’Neill is saying, but no one is completely innocent. We are products of what went before us, and cannot change the inherited pattern of consequences.
If the message seems grim, the medium is brilliantly illuminated by O’Neill’s poetic lines, and the magnificent cast assembled for the play. Sylvia Burboeck, a Shellie-nominated leading actress for her role as Queen Eleanor in Role Players’ “Lion in Winter”, burns with dramatic intensity as Christine, silently nursing a long hatred for her cold controlling husband, and longing for the passion she has discovered in an ardent young lover.
Wary as a wildcat of her spiteful daughter, she has the claws and fangs to strike back and is willing to stop at nothing to achieve her freedom. Trying desperately to maintain a calm, genteel facade for Ezra’s return, she is a barely-controlled hysteric, hoping to quiet her daughter, pacify her suspicious husband, and fondle her son back into helpless emotional dependence, to support her against Lavinia.
Cold, hard, and immovable as a rock in a stormy sea, Eden Neuendorf’s Lavinia is every steely inch her mother’s match, an intensely-focused Nemesis. Dressed in sober black, rigidly composed, with jaw clenched tight against any weakness, she literally spits her words in bitter contempt as the two women battle for supremacy. Immobile and threatening as a tightly-coiled snake, she is just waiting to strike a deadly blow “when the men come home”.
Mourning gun smallerIn this nest of vipers, father and son have no chance of survival, and so the deadly chain of events plays out, as it must, to the bitter end. Orin, especially vulnerable after a head wound, and weeks of “brain fever”, becomes the focus of the female power struggle. In a triumph of “natural acting” he is brought painfully to life by experienced Shakespearean actor William J. Brown III.
Echoes of Hamlet’s madness (he’s played the role twice), raving soliloquies that make deep sense, and desperate truths flung off with casual irony, seem like the spontaneous outpourings from a mind haunted by the experience of war’s carnage and the emotional battles within his own family.
In fact, many of Orin’s lines could come from today’s veterans, trying to reconcile horrible memories with normal civilian life. Urged to forget the war because it’s over, he retorts, “Not inside us who killed… I don’t understand peace.” Remembering the women waving their soldiers off to become heroes, he muses, “Sometime, in some war, they ought to make the women take the men’s place…Give them a taste of murder! Let them batter each other’s brains out with rifle butts and rip up each other’s guts with bayonets. After that maybe they’d stop waving their handkerchiefs and gabbing about heroes.”
A thin-faced, hollow-eyed young man, Brown is riveting as a tortured soul seeking relief from haunting memories and pangs of guilt. Like Greek Prince Orestes, having avenged his father’s death, he can find no peace of mind. Despite Lavinia’s desperate efforts to soothe him with a long sea voyage, he must face his ghosts upon returning home. Unable to control his conscience, he sinks into a credible madness as his only possible escape his inner torment.
Sweetly-loving neighbor Hazel, played by Mahal Montoya, cannot comfort him back to sanity and her brother Peter’s loyalty is equally inadequate to give Lavinia her last hope for a normal life. Len Shaffer as the faithful suitor unable to understand her strange new personality, and is finally driven away as Lavinia realizes she can never break away from the family curse. It is too much a part of her.
In an inspired directorial vision all the Mannon dead slowly return to the ancestral mansion, waiting for Lavinia, last of their line, to enter, close the door behind her, and live out the end of her haunted life alone with them. O’Neill would have loved it!
So did this reviewer, along with the wildly enthusiastic opening night audience. Bows were taken by the “townspeople” whose commentary served the narrative role of the Greek chorus, provided some comic relief and added verisimilitude to the New England setting, as did Joseph Fitzgerald, playing Seth, the old family retainer.
A versatile Michael Fay, the short-lived Ezra Mannon, miraculously returned as the local doctor (discussing the General’s sudden death) and then as a drunken reveler, amazingly transformed for each role. Similarly, Craig Eycher, Christine’s virile lover Captain Adam Brant, also played the sanctimonious town minister at her funeral, and a terrified dare-taker in the last act. Multi-talented Charles Woodson Parker also stood out as a sodden Irish shantyman with a real “whiskey tenor” between turns as a gossiping local.
An impressive revolving set by Bo Golden and Ryan Terry facilitated the many scene changes as did the period songs by Mia Freyvecind and Megan Miller. Great period costumes by Lisa Danz and special lighting effects by Chris Guptill also enhanced the production’s sense of place and time.
Greatest praise must go to director Eric Fraisher Hayes for deftly trimming the lengthy script into a single compelling presentation of increasing power. By giving his talented actors the freedom to push boundaries and take emotional risks, each developed a sure sense of character and commitment, resulting in a phenomenally exciting evening of psycho-drama well ahead of its time.
Role Players Ensemble does justice to Eugene O’Neill’s riveting ‘Mourning Becomes Electra.’
by Pat Craig, Contra Costa Times
Greek tragedy moves to New England, just as the Civil War is ending, in Eugene O’Neill’s 1931 tragedy “Mourning Becomes Electra.”
He follows the rules of Greek tragedy in this shortened (from the original six hours, and a recent revival’s four, to a more manageable three) Role Players Ensemble production playing at the Village Theatre in Danville through Saturday as part of the annual Eugene O’Neill festival.
In the original story, in the years Before Christ and cable television, humans acted at the whim of the gods, who seemed to take great delights in their suffering. The O’Neill play has replaced these whims with fear and murderous insanity, and a few drops of Freud.
The result is a multi-generational curse that has fallen upon the Mannon family of New England. Even the Kodak moments in the family’s life, like the family patriarch, Brig. Gen. Ezra Mannon (Michael Fay) returning home from the war, turns bitter and filled with death. On the very day Ezra returns to the bosom of his family, we learn his wife, Christine (Sylvia Burboeck), hates him, and his daughter Lavinia (Eden Neuendorf) has what we in polite society call “daddy issues.” The good soldier dies shortly after Christine makes love with him, then poisons him.
Mom has other secrets, like a little action on the side with a black-sheep relative, Capt. Adam Brant (Craig Eychner), and a somewhat unusual relationship with her son, Orin, who has, um, “mommy issues.”
And on it goes, through three acts and 13 scenes, where we discover the fictional Mannon family has more serious problems and fatal flaws than the autobiographical family O’Neill wrote about later in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
But “Mourning” should not be dismissed as a flatulent melodrama. It was O’Neill’s mid-career master work designed to place an ancient Greek tragedy (the Oresteia myth) into a more contemporary setting.
It succeeds in this production as a ripsnorting yarn that captivates from beginning to end, not only from the script, but also the skill of the actors and the efforts of director Eric Fraisher Hayes, Role Players Ensemble artistic director.
The show unfolds effectively on a revolving set (the inside and outside of the Mannon home) by Bo Golden and Ryan Terry.
Members of the immediate Mannon family — Fay, Burboeck, Neuendorf and Brown — get the most stage time and present a captivating picture of creeping insanity.
Fay, who dies in the first act, actually returns in a few other roles and cuts an impressive, stentorian character throughout.
But he pretty much sets the stakes for the taut drama that takes place between the mother and her children — the pitched battle between mother and daughter, the son’s realization his mom may not be the most wonderful person in the world, and mom’s slow discovery that she can’t force her reality on the rest of the family forever.
The three of them play beautifully as characters that would seem at home in a Tennessee Williams drama.
It’s a short run, but you still have a rare opportunity to see “Mourning,” which hasn’t been staged in the Bay Area for nearly 30 years.
by Sally Hogarty, Contra Costa Times
Danville’s Role Players Ensemble has taken on Eugene O’Neill’s challenging epic “Mourning Becomes Electra.” Set in Boston at the end of the Civil War, it is modeled on the Greek myth “Oresteia.”
Artistic director Eric Fraisher Hayes has adapted O’Neill’s five-hour drama into a more palatable length — slightly over three hours.
Portraying the dysfunctional members of the Mannon family in O’Neill’s overly dramatic style is not an easy task for actors. But Hayes’ talented cast achieves this end for the most part, with Sylvia Burboeck marvelous as the unfaithful wife Christine. Eden Neuendorf, as her daughter Lavinia, certainly does a fine job as the revenge-obsessed young woman. I especially liked her in Act III, in which her character ventures into emotions other than anger and violence. It did take a while for me to see beyond the forced, Katherine Hepburn-like voice she evidently was directed to use to appreciate her acting skills.
A nice touch was having the ensemble (which acts as a sort of Greek chorus) sing in beautiful harmony during the set changes. Designed by Bo Golden and Ryan Terry, the well-conceived set q uickly changes from the imposing exterior of the Mannon’s home to various interior scenes, as well as a boat. Evocatively lit by lighting designer Chris Guptill, the set also provided a marvelous backdrop for Lisa Danz’s gorgeous period costumes.
“Eugene O’ Neill, a name that says a lot about how some humans behave. The players delivered his lines as strongly as only he could have written. They did a superb high-energy job!!! The stage hands were quick to change the scenery on the revolving stage. The actors were dressed during the civil war time period. Irish singing balanced the drama quite well. If you appreciate heavy drama and the wonderful words of O’Neill don’t miss this! It’s over 3 hours long with 2-10 minute intermissions. It was engaging the entire time!”
“The actors were great. its a long play (over 3 hrs) with 2 intermissions but we were never bored. The lady who played Vinnie was superb as were all the cast”
“I read this play in college but never saw it produced. I can see why since each scene has a different setting, which makes for a lot of set changes, the only downside to this excellent production. But the cast is first rate, some of them handling three different roles with aplomb. Keep an eye out for Charles Woodson Parker as the drunken Irish chantyman–a real treat! Costumes and incidental music are all excellent at evoking post-Civil War New England. It’s an admittedly long, but very satisfying evening of theater”
“My first time experiencing this O’Neill piece and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The cast was quite strong – especially the leading players”
“The plot of this Eugene O’Neill play is full of gloom and doom of a Greek tragedy. It has the sinister mayhem of adultery, murder, incest, revenge and madness. Mourning came out glowing electra in this Eric Fraisher Hayes, directed play due to: l. The great acting abilities and believability from each and everyone of the talented actors. 2. The lavish authentic reproduction of 1865 era costumes. 3. The outstanding awesome dynamic design of the sets. 4. The terrific lighting effects. 5. One fantastic sound system. 6. The music and vocals that accompany the acts throughout the show was very effective and timely to the acts. For me, it was 2 hr. and 40 min. of pure unadulterated first class flawless live theatre at it’s best.”
“The play ran over 3 hours and had 2 short intermissions, which was fine with us. It was an interesting story and the 2 women who portrayed the mother and daughter were outstanding. I felt as if I were watching an old 1935 Bette Davis movie (which I love)”
“Good acting, good costumes and good set. Although the play is long, it didn’t feel long as you become engrossed in the play.”
Players Ensemble’s ‘The Foreigner’ translates into big laughs.
By Pat Craig Correspondent, Contra Costa Times
The ForeignerThe play is pushing 30 and filled with topics that make sensitive 21st-century souls squirm, yet “The Foreigner” holds up like gangbusters in a new Role Players Ensemble production.
It works because it is presented as a good farce should be, without any added goo or stabs at heavy-handed social commentary. This is essentially a brilliantly written piece of fluff, one that won two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards. It doesn’t need gravitas; not when you have Klansmen, a conniving minister and other silly ne’er-do-wells running around.
The message is clear, and right there in the script — be funny. And director Chris Ayles and his excellent cast concentrate on presenting what the late Larry Shue (he died in a plane crash at 39, not long after the play’s off-Broadway opening) wrote so well.
“The Foreigner” is the story of Charlie Baker (Jerry Motta), a proofreader who is painfully shy, a towering social maladroit, who just wants to be left alone. Somehow, Charlie lets his soldier pal, Froggy (Fred Sharkey) talk him into accompanying him on a trip deep into rural Georgia. The plan is to have Charlie stay at a remote fishing lodge for a few days while Froggy completes his military business.
Charlie panics at the thought of being left alone and having people try to converse with him. So in a flash of brilliance, Froggy tells Charlie he simply will pretend to be a foreigner who can’t speak English and everyone will leave him alone.
This makes sort of off-kilter sense until Charlie begins hearing people’s secrets. Folks at the lodge use him as a silent sounding board simply because he supposedly doesn’t understand a thing. But he hears lots of things — plans for a Ku Klux Klan takeover of Betty’s (Janice Fuller Leone) lodge, the pregnancy of a guest who plans to marry in several months, a minister with ulterior motives and a boy who may not be as slow as everyone thinks.
That’s the setup for this charmingly crazy tale that gives Motta a wonderful opportunity for performing physical comedy, which he does brilliantly before “learning” English from Ellard (Ben Oldham), the slow boy who claims Charlie has mastered the mother tongue in less than three days. Before doing so, Charlie gets by with mugging and speaking in a sort of gibberish that sounds vaguely Eastern European. Both Motta and Oldham are both wildly in these deceptively challenging roles.
The two women in the show, Leone and Sylvia Burboeck, create wonderfully warm and memorable characters. Vince Faso as the minister and Kyle Green as Owen, who hates foreigners, Catholics, Jews and a whole dance card of people whose absence from America would make it purer, are not warm, but they do turn in memorable performances. Finally, Sharkey, who appears mainly at the beginning and end of the show, is a well-performed sly, charming character.
“The Foreigner” is played on an attractive, two-level set by Ryan Terry.
CURTAIN CALLS: ‘Foreigner’ pleases on many levels
By Sally Hogarty, Bay Area News Group
The Foreigner RPE ProductionEvery once in a while, you attend a play that seems made for the lead actor. Such is the case with Role Players Ensemble’s production of “The Foreigner.”
A wonderful physical actor with a great expressive face, Jerry Motta easily slips into the skin of Charlie, a very boring, troubled proofreader on a respite at a Georgia fishing lodge. To keep from talking to the other guests, he pretends to be a foreigner who doesn’t understand English.
In his disguise, Charlie becomes the confidant of the beautiful Catherine (Sylvia Burboeck) and finds out about a plot to take the lodge away from the kindly Betty (Janice Fuller Leone) and to make the young Ellard (Ben Oldham) seem such a simpleton that he won’t be able to receive his inheritance. Charlie blossoms with the attention and love he receives — finally developing the personality he always wanted. The plot also includes a budding romance, a two-timing wife and a visit from the Ku Klux Klan.
It’s nonstop fun with a tight ensemble that also includes Vince Faso, Kyle Green and Fred Sharkey. Some of the most hilarious scenes are between very talented teen Ben Oldham and Motta. Chris Ayles directs, and Ryan Terry shows his set designer skills with the creation of the multilevel hunting lodge, well lit by Aaron Scherbarth.
“The Foreigner” in Danville is Witty, Funny, Entertaining
By Charles Jarrett
The Role Players Ensemble Theatre in Danville just opened a delightfully funny, perfectly delivered comedy by Larry Shue titled “The Foreigner.” Under the expert direction of British actor and director, Chris Ayles, the popular, outrageously witty play has been reborn locally at the Village Theatre, 233 Front Street in Danville.
foreigner4 smallerI have seen this play at least four times and found it absolutely entertaining each time. The story revolves around two Brits, “Froggy” LaSeur, a military bomb-squad tactical advisor from Her Majesty’s finest, on loan to the U.S. Army for a joint military operations seminar in Georgia, and Charlie Baker, a self-declared boring, milque toast science-fiction proofreader who is immersed in marital problems.
Froggy (Fred Sharkey) has managed to get Charlie (Jerry Motta) free transportation to the seminar, arguing with his superiors that Charlie is his research assistant. Froggy and Charlie are old friends and Froggy is deeply concerned about Charlie’s increasing depression, hoping that getting him out of England and away from his cheating wife will serve him well.
Charlie’s hypochondriac wife, Mary, is currently in a London hospital seeking assistance for another illness or perhaps another opportunity to find another lover. Nevertheless, Charlie is uncertain about his wife’s condition and feels guilty for leaving her, even though it was at her urging.
Charlie is pathologically shy and Froggy’s plan to leave him at a hunting lodge in rural Georgia is about to backfire when Charlie finds out that he will have to remain at the lodge by himself for a week while Froggy attends the seminar. Unable to face the prospect of being around a group of strangers in a strange land, Charlie is about to fly back to the UK. Froggy tells the hunting lodge proprietress, Betty Meeks (Janice Fuller Leone) that Charlie is a foreigner who is with him on a secret assignment, and he speaks little or no English.
He persuades Betty to accommodate Charlie’s need for silence, telling her that if anyone speaks to him and he cannot answer, it may embarrass him, which would not be good for our country’s political relationship with Charlie’s undisclosed country. Betty, thrilled to meet a foreigner for the first time and to have him staying at her lodge, agrees wholeheartedly.
Charlie overhears conversations from people who believe he cannot understand them, conversations that take a nefarious twist.
This is a laugh-out-loud, hold-your-sides-until-they-hurt comedy, and a great relief from whatever ails ya. The success of this production, in large part, comes from the seasoned experience of professional actor/director Chris Ayles. His skill brings this diverse cast and the rich writing of Larry Schue together in such a fine collaboration.
The cast selection and professional level acting is quite remarkable. Motta is the consummate professional who contributes to everyone working with him. Through their close-knit investment, this show is nothing less than superb, with first-rate acting by each and every member, with no exceptions. Even the young aspiring neophyte actor, Ben Oldham, delivers a performance far beyond his years.
“Very well done! This play is a very amusing send-off of the social and polticial climate in the deep south. I look forward to the Role Players’ next season.”
“Great Play. Especially enjoyed the acting of Jerry Motta in the lead role.”
“This is definitely a laugh-out-loud play. We loved the heavy accents and thought the “over acting” was quite natural for the setting…”Check out their website for this and future shows – you won’t be disappointed.”
“The Foreigner is very funny! The star is a gentleman that I have seen in another play. His face is one of a kind, and the expressions are priceless! Everyone did an outstanding job! Bravo!!!”
“This play was great! Very entertaining and funny. Had me in stitches a few times.”
“We loved this play. It was hilarious! It was well directed and acted and lots of fun.”
‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’ gets hilarious turn
at Role Players Ensemble
Pat Craig, Bay Area News Group
rosencrantzensemble2The brilliant silliness of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” had just started to unfold the other night in Danville’s Village Theatre when I wondered what it must have been like to see this show when it debuted in 1967, before anyone realized who this Stoppard fellow was destined to be.
An odd duck, maybe, with a brilliant imagination; perhaps a guy from whom we would be hearing a lot, and who just might turn theater on its head.
I do recall reading about “Rosencrantz,” the sharp, bright and funny look at Shakespeare’s Hamlet through the eyes of two of the play’s minor characters. The story was in Time, and I, a younger and thinner college student majoring in theater, had two thoughts: I’ve got to see that show, and Why didn’t I think of that?
The brilliance endures
Forty-some years later, I haven’t written anything remotely close to that, but I have seen the play a number of times. But I hadn’t seen it for years until taking in the Role Players’ production. I was reminded of how brilliant the show is and how engaging it can be when done by a cast that knows its alas from its alack. That’s the kind of cast it has here with Charles Woodson Parker (Guildenstern) and Damien Seperi (Rosencrantz) leading the troupe across a landscape of verbal acrobatics, sword-fighting, the occasional sea battle and all sorts of tales in bits and pieces.
At its heart, the story deals with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern taking Hamlet (Eli Wirtschafter) from Denmark to England, where he can be double-crossed and hanged.
But that’s not really what’s important — like the old train advertisements used to brag, getting there is half the fun. But in this delightful production, directed by Chris Ayles and choreographed by Robin Taylor, it’s close to being almost all the fun.
A foggy Hamlet
The acting is well done throughout, with some particularly good work by Parker and Seperi who make the title characters both interesting and fun to watch. Lindsey Murray is engaging as the leader of the band of players, and Wirtschafter creates a wonderfully confused kid in Hamlet, which, when you think about it, is just the way the prince is supposed to be.
The show is played on a simple, but extremely effective set by Bo Golden, with the players wearing nicely evocative costumes by Lisa Danz.
“Well done! You need to know the whole story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet before seeing this, but there is a neat and clearly written synopsis in the program. If you like Shakespeare and theater inside jokes you will enjoy this production.”
“Very entertaining and very funny. Great acting by Seperi”
“I’m not a big fan of the play, but I thought the cast was superb! Everyone was wonderful, but I was especially impressed by the work of Damien Seperi as Rosencrantz, Charles Woodson Parker as Guildenstern, and Lindsey Murray as the Player. These actors were outstanding”
“Lovely evening. It is so wonderful to find and support good quality local theatre for myself and my children.”
“Another excellent show from Role Players Ensemble. Cast and director really got Stoppard and made his complex wordplay clear and understandable, not to mention funny! On a less verbal note, I particularly liked the way the tragediennes handled the dumb show.”
“Definitely worth the trip to Danville”
“Clever twist on Hamlet; glad a synopsis of Hamlet was included in program. Actors gave their best”
“The Village Theatre in Danville is a class act theatre. They have one of the best sound systems in the Bay Area. Every seat is not only comfortable but is also a good viewing seat.”
“The actors all did an outstanding job with the play. I personally didn’t care for Tom Stoppard’s, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.” There wasn’t much of a plot. I felt that more or less the title of the play was the whole story. The characters were just repetitiously going into deep philosophical discussions with a lot of nonsensical – at times comical ramblings back and forth amongst each other.”
Dispite the rumors, “Rosencrantz and Guidlenstern” Are absolutely NOT Dead – there is a lot of life left in this play yet.
by Charles Jarrett, Rossmoor News.
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” is currently in production by the Role Players Ensemble in the Village Theater in Danville. It was Stoppard’s first major play to gain resounding acclaim. This play is more or less the story of Hamlet, as it might have been witnessed by a fly on the backstage wall of a theater, yet it is first and foremost the story of two minor characters in the Hamlet play, two childhood friends of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The story is unveiled from their perspective, divulged as if this episode of their life is being lived by them as it happened, in the moment. The audience quickly recognizes that these two characters are not overly bright, unable to see the handwriting on the wall, as to how their lives will be affected by the realities of their ongoing involvement as they become agents of a corrupt king and queen. It is as if these two characters are a Laurel and Hardy mixture of modern, yet Elizabethan intellect, comedy and personalities. At times they express verbose existential themes and word play far beyond their perceived intellect and philosophical concept realities.
The play begins with the title characters, Rosencrantz (Damien Seperi) and Guildenstern (Charles Woodson Parker) traveling towards the town of Elsinore, having been summoned by the King and Queen for some unknown reason, to an audience with them. While they walk along the road, they idly engage in a game of coin toss, sequentially calling out their perceived lucky choice, be it heads or tails, with Rosencrantz winning an unlikely and impossible 85 times in a row. Guildenstern dwells on this highly unusual course of events, remarking how unrealistic and foreboding this turn of bad luck is. Rosencrantz sees nothing amiss; after all, he is winning! They are unsure where they are going or why, much like Beckett’s , Waiting for Godot.. The realities of their situation are beyond their comprehension. Because Hamlet is acting so strange and antagonistic before the Danish court, the King and Queen (Hamlet’s mother and stepfather) have sent for these two former childhood friends of Hamlet, hoping to engage them as spies to determine what Hamlet is up to. Again, these two gentlemen are not very bright, nor are they adept at carrying out their intended goals. Much like accidents going somewhere to happen, they are the bound to be winners of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A great deal of the time, the play dwells on the impossibility of certainty, fate and free will and is a foil for the author, Stoppard, to exercise every opportunity to embellish nothingness with clever words and language! While the primary actors, Parker, Seperi, and Murray are very very good, I may not be clever enough to become enraptured in its subtleties and laborious language. There are many bright moments of very clever thought-provoking interchanges, humorous insights and verbal engagements. The audience was more appreciative than I and they really seemed to enjoy the show and laughed repeatedly at the subtle comedy. Director Chris Ayles is a very seasoned professional and my sense is that he has done the best he could with the resources at his disposal. Consequently, my review calls this a worthy production for Community Theater, and certainly a very good value monetarily. Despite the rumors, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are absolutely NOT Dead, there is a lot of life left in this play yet!