Good People is good theater at Marin Theatre Co.

Aug 28

<i>Good People</i> is good theater at Marin Theatre Co.

There's something to be said for a play that is simply good. Not earth shattering or even profound. It may not take the form of drama in new and exciting directions or reinvent the notion of entertainment, but a good play does indeed entertain.

David Lindsay-Abaire is a smart, funny, compassionate writer who makes good plays (and happens to have a Pulitzer Prize on his shelf for the play Rabbit Hole). They have depth and feeling and almost always a good laugh or two (or three). His most recent arrival in the Bay Area is Good People, a slice-of-life comedy/drama receiving its local premiere as the season-opener for Marin Theatre Company.

And here's what's really interesting: not only is the play about something – choices, luck and the American class system – but also manages to be heartfelt, thoroughly entertaining and, at times, even a little unsettling.

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Something Fuddy going on here

Apr 06

Something <i>Fuddy</i> going on here

The world of David Lindsay-Abaire is askew. From his earliest wacky comedies to his later, more serious award-winning work, Lindsay-Abaire’s “askewniverse” (to borrow a word from Kevin Smith’s oeuvre) is filled with people on the outside of perceived normal life, people who are, for whatever reason, struggling just to make themselves understood.

In Shrek the Musical it’s a green ogre who takes a while to figure out that even though he’s not a handsome prince, he’s actually a hero. In the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole it’s a mother numbed by grief slowly rebuilding a life and marriage after the death of her young son.

And in Fuddy Meers, Lindsay-Abaire’s first produced play (written while he was still in grad school at Juilliard), it’s an exceedingly cheerful woman named Claire who suffers from psychogenic amnesia.

Marin Theatre Company’s production of Fuddy Meers has the great advantage of having Mollie Stickney in the role of Claire. In the play’s nearly two hours, Claire’s blank slate becomes surprisingly full, and every revelation, recovered memory, moment of joy or pain registers on Stickney’s wonderfully expressive face.

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Freaks, ogres and lowered expectations

Dec 02

Freaks, ogres and lowered expectations

I wanted to love Shrek The Musical because it’s an unlikely underdog. I didn't love it.

Here you have a big Hollywood studio, DreamWorks, with a hit movie franchise (that, by the way, they pretty much ran into the ground) making its first foray onto Broadway – hoping for the success Disney had with The Lion King and Mary Poppins or that Universal had with Wicked.

So DreamWorks did what any big Hollywood studio would do in this situation: they threw money at some of the most talented people on Broadway and said, “Make us a hit.” One of the first people at whom they hurled money was Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty), who then hurled money at Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole).

At this point, Shrek appears to be the opposite of an underdog: a highly capitalized movie studio willing to spend whatever it takes to play with the lions and the witches on Broadway.

But money and talent don’t always add up to success. Shrek The Musical began previews at The Broadway Theatre in November of 2008 and closed a little more than a year later.

The Shrek now on display at the Orpehum Theatre as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway series is an underdog because, aside from the (very happy) kids in the audience, no one expects much from this show. And with those lowered expectations, Shrek is enjoyable.

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The greening of Shrek’s Eric Petersen

Nov 29

The greening of <i>Shrek’s</i> Eric Petersen

Kermit the Frog said it best: it’s not easy being green. It wasn’t easy for Elphaba the witch of Wicked. It wasn’t easy for the Grinch (of stealing Christmas fame). And it certainly isn’t easy for Shrek, the good-hearted ogre from the swamp.

As difficult as it is for Shrek, that’s nothing compared to the challenges facing Eric Petersen (above), the actor playing him on tour in Shrek The Musical, which opens this week at the Orpheum Theatre as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway season.

The method of converting the amiable Petersen, who was the standby for Shrek on Broadway, into a singing ogre takes about 90 minutes. It takes a village, as they say, and the finished Shrek is the work of Tim Hatley (Tony Award-winning costume and set designer), Naomi Donne (make-up design) and Michael Marino (prosthetic make-up design).

“It’s not so bad,” Petersen says on the phone from Denver. “I can go to a Zen place while it’s being done. Sometimes I can even sleep through half of the process.”

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An ogre sings: the creation of Shrek

Nov 14

An ogre sings: the creation of <i>Shrek</i>

In today's San Francisco Chronicle, I write about how Shrek, the hit series of animated films, became a Broadway musical and how that musical has actually improved – according to the creative team – in its transition to a touring show. Read the story here. There wasn't room in the story for all the fantastic quotes from all the key players involved, so here are, in essence the "DVD extras."

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