UNDER JONATHAN MOSCONE'S able leadership, California Shakespeare Theater has added some rather eclectic (Moscone's own description) programming to the companys offerings since his arrival.
Who could forget his 2003 production of George Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man," or his massive adaptation of Dickens' "Nicholas Nickleby" in 2005, which took two nights to view? But this season, Moscone has raised the bar even higher with his production of "Happy Days" by Samuel Beckett.
Here is a look at a very different world, one in which the characters are severely restricted physically. The eternally optimistic Winnie is buried almost to her chest in dirt, while her inarticulate husband Willie crawls in and out of the hole behind her. It's a desolate world in which Winnie manages to find delight in the various items in her purse and in her husband's voice on the rare occasions that he does speak.
As Act II opens and we find Winnie now buried up to her neck, it is obvious that things are going from bad to worse. Whether their plight is the result of some cataclysmic event or merely the blending of one day into another while we busy ourselves with routine (as Moscone suggests in his directors notes), Beckett has certainly created a thought-provoking play full of rich language, humor and witty dialogue.
Moscone has been especially creative with this fascinating piece of theater — beginning with Todd Rosenthals set comprised of tons of dirt with hidden objects and a sky of blue, slightly tarnished around the edges. Sitting in the middle of this dung-heap of a world is Winnie— clad in an attractive evening dress and proper hat. An extremely challenging role, Winnie requires the actress to talk almost nonstop with little or no movement. Fortunately, Moscone found an actress who seems born to the role. Patty Gallagher, a professor at UC Santa Cruz with impressive acting credentials, also has substantial training in clown traditions. This background surely helped her achieve the rich variety she conveyed in her expressive face and hand gestures. Dan Hiatt plays Willie with an understated elegance.
"Happy Days" may not be for everyone. I, however, am certainly glad that Moscone included it in this season. It is such a pleasure to see a work of this caliber so beautifully done.
"Happy Days" plays through Sept. 6. Call 510-548-9666 or go online to www.calshakes.org.
Another truly marvelous production that opened last week is Tracy Letts' "August: Osage County," starring Estelle Parsons at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. While the three-plus-hour saga of the Westin family at first gave me pause, I must say the time flew by. Never has a dysfunctional family been so entertaining.
Although as the program notes aptly states, dysfunctional would be a step up for this Oklahoma clan. It's a complicated story of an older couple where the poet father drinks too much and his demanding wife takes pills of every variety. Add three very different daughters with problems of their own and a calming young housekeeper who holds everything together, and you have a thoroughly gripping story of an American family. All of the acting is riveting. Directed by Anna Shapiro, "August: Osage County" continues through Sept. 6. Call 415-551-2000 or go to www.shnsf.com.
Those delightful kids are back, including the spunky overachiever, the ultra-pressured only child, the outcast, and more as the Willows theater presents "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at its Campbell Cabaret in Martinez.
Michael Ray Wisely stars as Vice Principal Panch and Cal Shakes' Marilyn Langbehn directs. The show runs through Sept. 13. Call 925-798-1300.
A very different group of kids will be appearing at the Willows main stage in Concord when the rock musical "Hair" brings the children of the 60s back together. Running Aug. 24 Sept. 27, Hair first set the musical theater world on its head in 1968 with such songs as "The Age of Aquarius" and more. Call 925-798-1300 or go online to www.willowstheatre.org.
Some real kids get into the act as Tielle Baker Houghs Music Box Theatre presents "All That Jazz." The new children's theater company, ranging in age from 10-16, performs the musical romp through 70 years of musical theater Aug. 20-22 at Diablo Actors Ensemble in Walnut Creek. Go to www.musicboxsong.com. or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/73821.
Reach Sally Hogarty at firstname.lastname@example.org