Auditions are now open for RPE's 2018 Fund Raiser: They're Playing My Song. We'll be saluting Broadway's Favorite Composers. March 17, 2018 at The Village Theatre in Danville. Positions open for male and female singers/movers. Stipend paid. Rehearsals in Danville, to be scheduled. Ed Goldfarb on the piano!  Contact Sharon Sprecher at .">. or call 916-768-9785 for details.
 

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 Laura

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:

Nothing.

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.

Goldstar Reviews:

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.”

Mourning Becomes Electra

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.

Curtain Calls

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.

Goldstar
Reviews

5 STARS:

“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.”

4 STARS:

“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.”

The Foreigner

Review: Role
 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.

Goldstar Reviews

5 STARS:

“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

‘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.

GOLDSTAR REVIEWS

5 STAR

“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.”

4 STAR

“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”

3 Star

“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!

 

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