Theater Dogs Hot list: `War Music,’ Lamott, Wesla, `Coco’

Looking for quality entertainment this weekend? Never a difficult task in the Bay Area. In fact, there’s often too much from which to choose.

Here are some tips:

American Conservatory Theater’s First look Festival continues Friday and Saturday (April 25 and 26) with Lillian Groag’s War Music, a theatrical adaptation of poet Christopher Logue’s retelling of Homer’s Iliad. The play, revised since its Los Angeles run, will receive a full production during ACT’s 2008-09 season. Groag (right) directs. The script-in-hand workshop is at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $10.50 general, $7.50 for students, seniors and ACT subscribers. Call 415-749-2228 or visit

– For the very first time, the work of Marin writer Anne Lamott (left) is being adapted for the stage. San Rafael’s AlterTheater presents the world premiere of Lamott’s first novel, Hard Laughter adapted for the stage Anne Brebner, a longtime friend of Lamott’s, and Laurel Graver. The show opens Friday, April 25 at The Wooden Duck, a store specializing in furniture made from recycled wood (which, not coincidentally, will comprise much of the play’s set). Jayne Wenger directs Lamott’s tale of a free-thinking NorCal bohemian family as they struggle with issues of mortality, sexual freedom and addiction. The cast includes Lindsay Benner, Jeffrey Bihr, Rio Codda, Zac Jaffe, Hannah Rose Kornfeld, Laura Lowry and Frances Lee McCain. The show runs through May 18, and the Wooden Duck is at 1848 Fourth St (at H Street), San Rafael. Tickets are $20-$25. Call 415-454-2787 or visit

– Only one of the greatest singers ever (in the Bay Area or anywhere), Wesla Whitfield (right) appears Saturday, April 26 with the Peninsula Symphony as well as with her husband/arranger Mike Greensill and his trio. Whitfield and Greensill will do what they do best: sing gorgeous tunes from the Great American Songbook, only this time, they’ll be accompanied by more than 20 members of the symphony. The evening will include songs by Gershwin, Ellington, Rodgers and Hammerstein with new arrangements by Greensill (something of a genius when it comes to arrangements). Maestro Mitchell Sardou Klein leads the string orchestra and the Peninsula Symphony French Horn Quartet led by William Klingelhoffer. The show is at 8 p.m. at the Fox Theater in downtown Redwood City. Tickets are $34 general, $29 for seniors and students. Call 650-941-5291 or visit

42nd Street Moon, the San Francisco company that dusts off lost or forgotten musicals and gives them spiffy concert productions, performs that rarity of rarities: a Katharine Hepburn musical. The company is reviving Alan J. Lerner and Andre Previn’s 1970 Coco, which starred Hepburn as the croaking Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel. For the concert production, 42nd Street Moon has the gorgeous Andrea Marcovicci (left) to play the title role. The show previews Friday, April 25 and opens Saturday, April 26 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. The show continues through May 11. Tickets are $22-$38. Call 415-255-8207 or visit

Review: ‘The Shaker Chair’

Dramatic Shaker Chair unseats expectations
three stars Stirring

Marion loves her new chair. It’s a beautiful wood straight back with woven seats. It’s a copy of a Shaker chair, and though she finds it beautiful, Marion admits that the chair isn’t very comfortable.

“The Shakers didn’t believe in sitting around,” she tells us. “There was no procrastination…I should get up and do something.”

That simple call to arms — “get up and do something” — kicks off Adam Bock’s The Shaker Chair, a co-production of Berkeley’s Shotgun Players and San Francisco’s Encore Theatre Company now at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley.

Bock had hit shows with both companies (Swimming in the Shallows with Shotgun, Five Flights with Encore) when he was living and working in the Bay Area. He’s a hot-shot New York playwright now. His The Thugs won an Obie earlier this year, and his current show, The Receptionist, is an off-Broadway hit.

The Shaker Chair is an older work that had its premiere in 2005 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays, and of Bock’s work we’ve seen here, it’s the least developed.
Bock is a wonderful, intriguing writer, and all his strengths are evident in Shaker, but the the play never quite fulfills its initial promise.

Marion (Frances Lee McCain), the new chair owner, is, effectively, asleep. She, like so many of us, enjoys a certain complacency in her comfortable life. Drama happens around her, not to her.

Her sister, Dolly (Nancy Shelby, below), is an emotional mess as a result of marital strife with her husband, Frank (a smiling, menacing Will Marchetti, below with Shelby), and turns to Marion for solace.

Marion’s best friend, Jean (Scarlett Hepworth), is an activist unafraid to commit crimes or resort to violence in the name of her good cause. Jean’s current fixation is a sewage-spewing pig farm polluting the nearby countryside and mistreating its pigs.

“There’s no reverence!” Jean shouts. “In the powerful, without reverence, there’s nothing to protect the weak.”

Perhaps stirred by her Shaker chair and the Shaker believe that “if your life is shaken you will be awakened,” Marion joins forces with Jean and her young activist-terrorists (Andrew Calabrese and Marissa Keltie) for a pig farm mission in the wee hours of the night.

Exhilaration, uncertainty and horror follow as Marion is forced to decide just how awake — just how shaken — she wants to be in the name of doing the right thing and working outside the system.

Bock writes in a hyper-natural style with short clipped fragments of sentences that approximate and exaggerate human speech. Director Tracy Ward has her actors _ all of whom are superb _ talking over each other through much of the show’s brisk 70 minutes.

A key piece of action shifts the play into its final moments, and that’s when The Shaker Chair wobbles. Bock’s attempt at Pinteresque unease fused with his own sense of hope doesn’t have the impact it should.

The Frank-Dolly subplot, ostensibly meant to represent those of us with little regard for anything outside our own jumbled lives, diffuses the clean line of Marion’s story. We need more time with this interesting woman — so beautifully limned by McCain — who has, in later life, stumbled into the courage to make radical change.

The Shaker Chair continues through Jan. 27 at The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley (directly across from the Ashby BART station). Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20-$30. Call 510-841-6500 or visit or