Monday, September 27, 2010

It Takes A Woman

No one would ever accuse Horace Vandergelder of being a feminist. One of Thornton Wilder's most famous characters, Vandergelder proudly describes himself as "rich, friendless, and mean -- which in Yonkers is about as far as you can go."  This is how the old coot explains his philosophy shortly after coming onstage in "The Matchmaker":
"Ninety-nine percent of the people in the world are fools and the rest of us are in great danger of contagion. But I wasn't always free of foolishness as I am now. I was young once, which was foolish. I fell in love, which was foolish. And I got married, which was foolish. And for a while I was poor, which was more foolish than all the other things put together. Then my wife died, which was foolish of her. I grew older, which was sensible of me. Then I became a rich man, which is as sensible as it is rare.
Since you see I'm a man of sense, I guess you were surprised to hear that I'm planning to get married again. Well, I've two reasons for it. In the first place, I like my house run with order, comfort, and economy. That's a woman's work. But even a woman can't do it well if she's merely being paid for it. In order to run a house well, a woman must have the feeling that she owns it. Marriage is a bribe to make a housekeeper think she's a householder."
I can't help but wonder how Horace Vandergelder would have reacted to some of the women I saw onstage last week!

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When one looks at the evolution of La Cage aux Folles following the premiere of the original stage version by Jean Poiret, one can't help but be impressed by the rapidity with which it morphed into other versions.
Alex Acevedo as Phaedra  (Photo by: Mark Kitaoka)

Broadway By The Bay recently staged La Cage aux Folles using a production that featured a Hello, Dolly! style runway around the orchestra pit. Directed by Mark Jacobs and choreographed by Robyn Tribuzi, the production underscored Jerry Herman's influence in shaping La Cage as an old-fashioned musical at a time when shows written by Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber were taking audiences for musicals in a very different direction.

While Herman's score has fewer songs than his previous shows (Milk and Honey, Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Dear World and Mack and Mabel), his talent for crafting a rousing production number for the Act I curtain is unmatched. "I Am What I Am" quickly became an anthem for many people in the gay rights movement (the original production made its Broadway debut at a time when homophobia was reaching peak levels as the AIDS crisis worsened). The show's other big number, "The Best of Times" has become a popular standard although I personally prefer the poignant solo for Georges entitled "Look Over There."

Georges (Curt Denham) and Albin (Ray Mendonca) in
La Cage aux Folles (Photo by: Mark Kitaoka)

The strength of Broadway By The Bay's production rested primarily with its two leads (Curt Denham as Georges and  Ray Mendonca as Albin). This production also marked a rare instance in which the role of Georges was cast with an actor who has a solid set of pipes.

Others in the cast included George P. Scott as Jacob (the flamboyant black maid), Justin Basl as the gay couple's son, Elise Marie Kennedy as Jacqueline, Steve Schwartz as the conservative politician, Eduoard Didon, and Donna Cima as Mme. Dindon. Among the Cagelles, Alex Acevedo blossomed as Phaedra, Michael Escamilla doubled as Dermah and Hercule, Christo Romasanto was Lo Singh, and Justin Buchs stood out as a fiercely dominant Hanna.

Justin Buchs as Hanna (Photo by: Mark Kitaoka)

Performances of La Cage aux Folles continue through October 3 at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center. You can order tickets here.

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Nothing could be further removed from Albin's drag sensitivity and ideas about maternal love than the Crowded Fire Theatre Company's production of The Secretaries, the hilarious and bloodthirsty farce written by  The Five Lesbian Brothers. As directed by Marissa Wolf, this estrogen-infused stage farce focuses on five deeply conflicted women sharing an office in Big Bone, Oregon.

A tear-away day calendar dominates Nick A. Olivero's unit set for an office in which five women have managed to coordinate their menstrual flows to stunning effect. Fight Club may have given male office workers an outlet for their aggression, but every 28 days brings a new "kill night" for the women running Cooney's Lumber Mill. Lumberjacks with industry-appropriate names like Chip, Dusty, Woody, and Buzz all seem to disappear days before one of the secretaries shows up wearing their warm winter clothing.

Susan (Leticia Duarte) and her new Patty (Elissa Beth Stebbins)
in The Secretaries (Photo by: Timothy Faust)

Enter Patty (Elissa Beth Stebbins), the top graduate in her secretarial class and the kind of naive young woman who takes a while to catch on to office politics. Although she is awe of her powerful boss, Susan (Leticia Duarte), and eager to befriend the office brown-noser, Ashley (Khamara Pettus), Patty doesn't quite know how to handle some of her other co-workers.
  • Peaches (Eleanor Mason Reinholdt) wants Patty to slap her each time she catches Peaches eating anything other than a Slim-Fast meal.
  • Dawn (Marilee Talkington) is an aggressive lipstick lesbian who is eager to make Patty her new best friend forever.
  • Buzz (also played by Talkington) is the sweet lumberjack who has been boning Patty on their lunch breaks.

Buzz (Marilee Talkington) and Patty (Elissa Beth Stebbins) take
a break from work in The Secretaries (Photo by: Timothy Faust)

While there are lots of laughs to be found between the office pool's heavy flow days, what makes this production remarkable is the performance of Marilee Talkington, who doubles as Dawn and Buzz. Talkington's phenomenal skill as a physical comedian is made all the more remarkable by the fact that this actor is legally blind. She deserves some kind of award for her performance in this production.

The Secretaries runs through October 9 (order tickets here). In the meantime, enjoy the following trailer:

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