Review: `Evie’s Waltz’


The cast of the Magic Theatre’s Evie’s Waltz includes, from left, Marielle Heller, Darren Bridgett and Julia Brothers. The Carter W. Lewis play continues through Dec. 7. Photos by


Tension mounts in Lewis’ modern `Waltz’
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Carter W. Lewis’ Evie’s Waltz, now at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, is a tense, frightening thriller that dredges up provocative issues about life in 21st-century America.

The fact that the 90-minute play is so uncomfortable – I can’t remember sweating so much during a play, and it wasn’t the unseasonably warm weather – is a testament to how well the show is produced.

Magic artistic director Loretta Greco, in her first directorial outing since joining the theater, has cast the show brilliantly and guides her trio of actors through Lewis’ taut, fraught examination of guns, teens and the detonation of the nuclear family.

Erik Flatmo created the patio set on which the play takes place, and from what we can see, this is a gorgeous suburban home surrounded by woods and upper-middle-class affluence. We can only peek into the house itself, but we can tell it is well appointed in every way, as are its inhabitants, Clay (Darren Bridgett) and Gloria (Julia Brothers), who dress nicely even for an informal early autumn barbecue on the deck (costumes are by Fumiko Bielefeldt).

York Kennedy’s lighting design takes on extra importance in Lewis’ story. The warm, inviting early evening light gives way to looming night in the real time of the play, and the darkness is significant in many ways. Kennedy’s lighting design (with assistance from Sara Huddleston’s Strauss-infused sound design) also has some chilling, highly theatrical surprises that remind us just what’s at stake here.

What begins as another white suburban angst drama – Clay and Gloria’s 16-year-old son, Danny, was suspended that morning for bringing a gun to school – turns into a mystery and then an outright thriller.

Clay emerges as the bleeding heart of the family. As he skewers vegetables and brushes them with his soy-citrus marinade, he defends Danny, while Gloria, sipping from her gin and tonic, declares that the boy upstairs in his room is no longer her son. “I want to smother him in his sleep,” she declares.

Then Evie (Marielle Heller), daughter of a hard-drinking single mother in the neighborhood and Danny’s girlfriend, arrives. “Mom’s drunk, so I came instead,” Evie says, just before Gloria and Clay notice the blood on her shoulder.

The tension ratchets up from there as deceptions and plans are revealed, and ghosts of Columbine and random acts of teen violence flood the stage.

Who’s to blame for teen violence? Is it the parents or the parents of the parents? And can a parent really stop loving a child? Lewis doesn’t have any answers, but he creates interesting questions. He shades his female characters beautifully – both Gloria and Evie are far more complex than they first seem – but he doesn’t let Clay develop much beyond the big-hearted, caretaker he appears to be.

That said, the performances are outstanding. Brothers brings incredible depth to Gloria, a smart, mean woman whose plan to be an incredible mother didn’t quite pan out. There’s bitterness and tenderness in her, and it’s an extraordinary thing to watch her succumb to the power of the teenagers she loathes.

Bridgett takes Clay to a powerful emotional level even as the character attempts to put a positive spin on a situation that couldn’t possibly end well. His capacity for denial is immense, but so is his need to be a good father.

Heller has the hardest of the three roles because playing a loose canon 16-year-old and making the audience care about her is a tall order. Heller does it but never without letting us forget that, even with her considerable brains and bruised humanity, Evie is someone we need to fear.

I have rarely been so uncomfortable watching a play as I was during Evie’s Waltz. Fully recognizing how extraordinarily well produced, written and acted it was, I honestly couldn’t wait for it to be over.


Evie’s Waltz continues through Dec. 21 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $40-$45 ($15 for students). Call 415-441-8822 or visit

Director/sound designer stages `The Redeemer’ between your ears

Norman Kern’s soothing voice tells you what to do: “Sit back, let your ears become your eyes and enjoy our play.”

So begins celebrated Bay Area sound designer Kern’s latest project: the audio play The Redeemer, now available as a two-disc set, the first release from Kern’s Crazy Dream Sound Productions.

The Martinez-based Kern, who grew up in Livermore, has spent 30-some years doing sound work for theaters all around the Bay Area as well as serving as a recording engineer, a filmmaker and a director.

About 15 years ago, while working on I Hate Hamlet with the Town Hall Theatre Company in Lafayette, it suddenly struck him that Paul Rudnick’s comedy would make a great audio play.

“I started thinking seriously about audio plays,” Kern says over lunch. “I knew it would be costly because I wanted to use Union actors, but I have my own recording studio, and the more I thought about it, the more serious I got.”

Kern made a bold move and approached Rudnick and his people about making I Hate Hamlet his first audio play project.

“They turned me down cold,” he says.

So Kern turned to Playscripts, Inc. ( and started looking for plays. He came upon Cybele May’s
The Redeemer, which he describes as a “gem.” The two-person play is set on a mountain near Shamokin, Penn., a rural coal-mining community. Connie Aisling is a troubled young woman who keeps to herself on the mountainside. She has psychic visions and has used her tortuous gift to help police in the past. When Detective Stewart Grant arrives at her door, he’s seeking information about a missing boy.

Connie’s visions reveal horrors to come for the boy if the police don’t act quickly, but those same visions also reveal troubling information about the detective’s dark past.

It’s a tense, hour-long play that lends itself perfectly to Kern’s expert audio treatment.

When Kern approached Cybele, who has worked for CBS television as a script reader and now writes novels and blogs about candy at Candyblog ( , she was enthusiastic.

“She jumped all over it,” Kern says.

After a week of rehearsal with Bay Area actors Anna Bullard and Darren Bridgett, Kern recorded the play in a day.

“We recorded two full run-throughs, and then just recorded bits and pieces,” Kern explains.

The finished product, in its certified “green” eco-friendly case, includes a bonus disc with Kern interviewing playwright May and the actors. The $24.95 package is available through Kern’s Web site and through Facebook. This distribution method, Kern admits, is “grass roots.” But efforts are being made to make the audio play available on the big sites such as and at Barnes and Noble.

But don’t ask Kern about iTunes.

“The compromise in sound quality is too much,” the sound expert says.

He also implores his listening audience to listen to The Redeemer at home and not in the car. That way you can better appreciate how beautifully engineered the play is. Every last bird chirp, owl hoot, gravely footstep or cricket peep is artfully placed, and it would be a shame to miss any of the incredible soundscape.

Kern’s hard work has paid off handsomely. It is easy to get lost in the tense, spooky, occasionally bloody world of The Redeemer. Bullard and Bridgett are superb in their roles such that it’s hard to imagine them being any better on stage because the intimacy of the recording captures every nuance of emotion.

May’s play itself is gripping – dark and violent – and it’s no surprise to learn the play is part of a trilogy based loosely on Sophocles’ The Theban Plays. There’s something quite juicy about the notion of a tortured psychic and the brooding detective that makes their connection seem fated, and the tense story of a child in jeopardy makes it impossible to turn your attention away while you’re listening.

“The idea is like old-fashioned radio,” Kern says. “You want to sit down and just listen. The act of listening is an act of creativity. We work a part of our brains that don’t usually get worked in our busy days. The sound design for this was more difficult than anything I’ve ever done for stage or film.”

If all goes well with The Redeemer, Kern and his Crazy Dream Sound Productions hope to release up to six audio plays a year.

“I’d like to use all local actors,” Kern says. “We have such an amazing talent pool here.”


You can listen to a sample of The Redeemer and order a copy at or on Face book at