Marin reveals crystaline Glass Menagerie

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Craig Marker is the Gentleman Caller and Anna Bullard is Laura Wingfield in the Marin Theatre Company production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Below: Nicholas Pelczar is Tom Wingfield and Sherman Fracher is his mother, Amanda. Photos by Alessandra Mello

Tennessee Williams’ first brilliant move was to let everyone off the hook – himself included. By alerting the audience that The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, he removes it from reality (or not) and lets the creative team and the audience make their own accommodations as to what is memory, what is fact and what is flight of artistic fancy. In other words, you can try to get away with just about anything because it’s all a memory, right?

Marin Theatre Company’s production of Menagerie doesn’t stray too far from tradition, but director Jasson Minadakis definitely puts his own spin on the 1944 classic and gets some marvelous performances from his cast.

Minadakis’ boldest move is the inclusion of a trumpet player (Andrew Wilke) who hovers and plays above the play for the duration of its two-plus hours. The music, composed by Chris Houston, is gorgeous – aching and winsome – but to have the musician also represent the family’s absent father (the phone company worker who fell in love with long distances) is a bit of a stretch. It’s also tough to rationalize the occasional use of props (a glass unicorn, matches) mixed with pantomime (phones, food at the dinner table, dandelion wine, cigarettes) because the actors have extra work making sense of some real items and others imagined.

The fragmented aspect of memory finds physical form in the staircase/scaffolding/fire escape set by Kat Conley. If M.C. Escher designed St. Louis apartment buildings in the 1930s, this might be the result.

At the center of this angled tangle of construction is the Wingfield family: matriarch Laura (Sherman Fracher), son Tom (Nicholas Pelczar) and daughter Laura (Anna Bullard). Here is where the beauty and loving insanity of Williams’ memory play lies. This is also where Minadakis brings out some exquisite depth from most of his actors.

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Pelczar brings a very real sense of Williams himself to the role, which seems appropriate given that this production is partly in honor of Williams’ centennial this year. Tom, as a character, is something of a cypher, but Pelczar is at once warm and personable and tightly coiled. There’s a sense of personality bubbling just under the surface of this restless young man who is trying so hard to be a good son and brother but is destined to fail as he becomes his own man.

The showy role of Amanda, a faded Southern belle who lives as much in memory as she does in the economic and emotional privations of her present, can send even the greatest actresses into fluttery flights of dramatic fancy. But Fracher, in her Marin Theatre Company debut, puts on a wonderful (and fiercely funny) show but somehow remains intensely focused and very real. It’s a testament to how much we like and understand her that when she shows up in a ridiculous old gown (the bright yellow monstrosity is the deft creation of Jacqueline Firkins) we find it as sad as it is funny.

Bullard in the challenging role of Laura, whose limp and other physical ills have left her an emotional shell, is still searching for her character. Her accent, which flutters from the South to the outer burroughs of New York, is problematic, but it’s one of only several unfocused aspects of her performance. When Craig Marker shows up as Jim O’Connor, aka the Gentleman Caller, he brings exactly the kind of internal light to the stage that Williams suggest made the character such a star in high school.

Marker works wonders on Bullard’s Laura – suddenly the character begins connecting, not just with him but also with the audience – and it’s easy to see why. Marker is such a dynamic presence that he’s impossible to resist. Like Laura, Jim is somewhat damaged himself. He peaked in high school and has struggled to find his way as an adult. He still retains enough big-man-on-campus charisma left to make Laura feel special just for basking in his faded glow, and that makes both of them (temporarily) happy.

The long scene between Jim and Laura does exactly what it’s supposed to do in that it pulls the audience into an incredibly intimate exchange that happens mostly in the dark (Ben Wilhelm’s lights are practically poetry in their own right). It’s a scene full of hope and affection and second chances and discovery and, ultimately, heartbreak.

The Glass Menagerie is the kind of play that reveals more of itself each time you see it. This time around it was all about how the gentleman caller breezes in and absolutely changes the Wingfield family forever. We know, essentially, what happens to Tom, but this production made me want to linger in that sad apartment and watch what happens between mother and daughter.

[bonus video]
Watch the trailer for MTC’s The Glass Menagerie.

Trailer: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at MTC from Marin Theatre Company on Vimeo.

Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie continues through Dec. 18 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $34-$50. Call 415-388-5208 or visit

Tiny but terrifying: Go ask Alice

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Rod Gnapp and Carrie Paff work out some kinks in their relationship in the Marin Theatre Company production of Edward Albee’s Tiny Alice. Below: Andrew Hurteau as Brother Julian. Photos by Kevin Berne

The legend of Tiny Alice looms large. Edward Albee’s notorious 1964 follow-up to his monster Broadway smash Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf baffled critics and continued to cause kerfuffles for years to come (especially when William Ball, in the early days of American Conservatory Theater played fast and loose with the script).

This is not one of Albee’s frequently produced scripts, and after seeing Marin Theatre Company’s riveting production, it’s easy to see why. This play is a monster. It’s not like Albee hasn’t created monsters before (he loves to rile the beasts in many ways), but this one is especially weighty.

Notions of God, faith, corruption and the supernatural all bear down for three acts and three solid hours, which means a serious evening of theater. It’s not that there aren’t laughs – how could there not be, the Catholic Church is involved (cheap shot, sorry)? – Albee is such a sharp writer and this cast is so astute that chuckles and outright laughs are frequent (and that can make the difference between endurance and enjoyment).

But this is a challenging play to say the least. Act 1 is familiar territory as Albee introduces his players, his zest for zingers and a juicy central mystery. In Act 2, the ground begins to wobble, and by Act 3, the ground has given way altogether. The monster, perhaps literally speaking, is loose.

Directing this play has been a decades-long obsession for MTC Artistic Director Jasson Minadakis, and his production clearly demonstrates the guiding hand of someone to whom the play’s mysteries are, if not clear, at least illuminated.

Minadakis has said he couldn’t do the play until he had just the right actors, and it’s good thing he waited as long as he did. The quintet at work on stage here is doing some mighty powerful work.

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Andrew Hurteau is the emotionally and spiritually conflicted center of the play as Brother Julian, a lay brother whose crisis of faith – seemingly in his past but powerful enough to institutionalize him for a number of years – makes him especially vulnerable to the machinations of those whose motives may not be pure.

The motives of the Cardinal (Richard Farrell) are quite clear. The Church has been promised $20 billion dollars from the estate of a young woman who, working through her lawyer, wants to spend time with a representative of the Church. That turns out to be Brother Julian. If Alice takes a shine to him, the Cardinal is a hero, and the Church is billions of dollars richer.
From their first, bizarre meeting, Julian and Alice create a bond. It would be hard not to be intrigued by Alice, especially as played by the beguiling Carrie Paff (looking gorgeous in elegant costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt).

The power dynamic between Paff and Hurteau, sometimes charged with sadistic thrill (Alice) and sometimes with wrenching heartbreak (Julian), never ceases to fascinate.

Alice also works a strange dynamic with her lawyer, played with aggressive intelligence and chilling malice by Rod Gnapp. They have a sexual relationship, but they’re in each other’s heads to a dangerous degree.

Alice’s trusty butler is always on hand to provide a quirky line or a bit of comfort – and Mark Anderson Phillips is a comfort indeed. He makes Butler (yes, that’s the butler’s name) as fascinating as everyone else, even though he functions on the periphery of the action. He, like Julian, seems a little more human than the devils conspiring to win the lay brother’s soul for reasons they won’t divulge until it’s too late (for Julian).

J.B. Wilson’s set (lit beautifully by Kurt Landisman actually becomes another character in the show. As Julian becomes more and more immersed in Alice’s world, he gets to know her mansion and the miniature replica of it that dominates the main drawing room.

I won’t say I understand where Albee is going with Tiny Alice, but I will say I enjoyed the ride. Asking questions about the nature of God and man’s relationship to spirituality is fascinating, especially in the hands of a compelling writer. Brother Julian, so fiercely and compassionately played by the astonishing Hurteau, has a tenuous relationship with God at best. The world of hallucination and reality are not comfortably defined for him, nor are they for us.


Edward Albee’s Tiny Alice continues through June 26 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $32-$53. Call 415-388-5208 or visit for information.

Marin’s Seagull: a Chekhovian reverie

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The cast of Marin Theatre Company’s Seagull, including (from left) Peter Ruocco, Christine Albright, Michael Ray Wisely and Tess Malis Kincaid, star in the world premiere of a new version by Libby Appel. Below: Craig Marker is Trigorin and Christine Albright is Nina. Photos by

[warning: many long Russian names ahead – think of them as caviar on toast]

As long as we live in a world where celebrity and art continually clash, Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull will feel extraordinarily timely. And as long as people are restless, stingy and full of dreams, Chekhov will continue to offer extraordinary insight to his audiences.

It’s amazing that a flop play from 1896 has become such a resonant classic. From our perspective, Chekhov had the disadvantage of writing in Russian, which means his work has to be filtered through a translator/adaptor – and there have been some big names attached to that duty. Tennessee Williams did it with his “free adaptation” The Notebook of Trigorin. Playwrights Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard and Christopher Hampton have all done it as well.

Now former Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Libby Appel (working from a literal translation by Allison Horsley) brings us her version (a commission of OSF) in a world-premiere production at Marin Theatre Company under the direction of Jasson Minadakis.

This version adds in material that was cut from the original production, either by director Constantin Stanislavski or by government censors. MTC promotional materials maintain these cut scenes and lines have never been performed, so it’s practically a new Chekhov.

Except it’s not. This is Seagull (Marin cuts off the The) is what we’ve always known – artists in the country fighting and loving amongst themselves and their troubled hearts. But there’s a little extra, especially for the character of Polina, who is married to one man and openly in love with another.

This material can actually be quite repetitive, but this production has the great advantage of Polina being played by Julia Brothers, who makes what could be a whiny, annoying woman quite a compassionate soul.

Otherwise, Appel’s adaptation feels contemporary without straining and allows some of the emotional subtext to brim over into passionate language.

From the opening moments, when we see a black-clad Marya Ilyinichna (Liz Sklar) grieving for her sad life, a fog of rueful melancholy hangs over the bright green grass of Robert Mark Morgan’s lakeside set (which gets a little heavy on the penitentiary-like birch trees by play’s end). And that’s probably how Chekhov would have liked it – as long as there were also laughs, which there are.

Seagull 1Four wonderful actors vividly inhabit the central quartet of this rural drama. I wasn’t at all sure of Tess Malis Kincaid as famous actress Irina Nikolayevna Arkadina when she entered in the first act to watch her son’s al fresco play. She didn’t seem to have the weight or the bigger-than-life charm of an actress who is always starring in her own four-star drama.

But by the time she’s desperately trying to keep her love, the celebrated writer Boris Alekseyevich Trigorin (a masterful Craig Marker) from the arms of a younger, prettier woman, her desperation and insecurity poured from the stage.

Marker’s scenes with Christine Albright as Nina, the sweet local girl and aspiring actress, are the play’s best and most emotionally acute. They are two beautiful people caught up in the madness of their art. She’s consumed by dreams of greatness, and he’s caught up in his own cloud of celebrity, acclaim and the requisite self-doubt. Of course they’re going to dazzle each other with their most telling attributes – her beauty and innocence, his rock star/literati charisma – until it wears off and the people they really are emerge.

As Irina’s son, Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplyov, Tufts is the effective fourth member of the quartet. He’s a mama’s boy in the extreme, so the presence of Trigorin is an immediate threat. He’s also in love with Nina, so her obvious crush on the writer is in fact crushing to Konstantin, who also fancies himself a writer, but of the new-and-improved, not-stuffy-like-Trigorin variety.

Chekhov is the master of creating a seemingly normal, everyday portrait of life while filling his characters with every kind of emotional experience imaginable. In this assortment you have the ravages of old age represented by Pyotr Nikolayevich Sorin (Richard Farrell), mid-life jealousy (Brothers’ Polina), unrequited love (Sklar’s Masha), relative professional and emotional contentment (Howard Swain as Dr. Dorn) and nerdy devotion (Peter Ruocco as devoted husband and father Semyon Semoyonovich Medvedenko).

It’s a captivating collection of human misery at various levels of intensity and self-delusion. Minadakis’ production does what you want a Chekhov show to do: it envelops you in its recognizable world and makes you feel what these people are feeling, whether you want to share their little miseries and joys or not.


Marin Theatre Company’s Seagull continues through Feb. 20 at 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley. Tickets are $35-$53. Call 415-388-5208 or visit

Happy Now? Well no, not really.

Mark Anderson Phillips (left), Rosemary Garrison (center) and Alex Moggridge contemplate the void of harried modern lives in Lucinda Coxon’s Happy Now? at Marin Theatre Company. Below: (from left) Moggridge, Mollie Stickney, Phillips, Kevin Rolson and Garrison. Photos by Ed Smith

The smiling cartoon woman on the poster – the one juggling the trappings of modern life such as a cell phone, a brief case, a lap top, a glass of wine and a baby – is a comic figure. She’s about to slip on a skateboard, but she’ll go down being what society wants her to be: a productive super gal.

The poster says comedy, but in actuality, Lucinda Coxon’s Happy Now? Is something of a modern tragedy. The 2008 drama had its premiere at the National Theatre in London and is only just receiving its West Coast premiere from Marin Theatre Company.

Directed by Artistic Director Jasson Minadakis, the production is sharp where it should be as well as hard and cynical for most of its nearly 2 ½ hours. The cast, though beset with fluctuating British accents, creates vivid, highly recognizable characters who are easy to relate to and who make us cringe frequently.

There are a few laughs along the way as we watch two households unravel or come dangerously close to it, but this is serious stuff. There’s a whole lot of misery, anger and stress pouring off the stage, and to be honest, it’s not pleasant.

The fact that the play is well directed, well acted and well designed (Melpomene Katakalos created the appealingly abstract kitchen/living room set, Kurt Landisman designed the lights and Wesley Cabral hits the photo realism hard with the video projections) only heightens the realism and thus increases the discomfort.

What we have here are a lot of privileged white people whining. When they exhibit a sense of humor, it’s usually tinged with acid, and their affection for one another, when it’s visible, is strained at best. The main character, Kitty (Rosemary Garrison), has one vital relationship, and that’s with her gay lawyer best friend, Carl (a good-natured Kevin Rolston). But even that relationship seems more of a comfortable convenience than a necessity.

Kitty works for a company searching for a cure for cancer. She has two children (whom we hear but never meet) and a husband, Johnny (Alex Moggridge), who has forsaken the business world to teach in public schools. On the topic of his work, Johnny tends to turn into a righteous ninny, especially when friends dare to mention Catholic school.


Kitty and Johnny’s closest friends (with close still being a far distance here) are Miles (Mark Anderson Phillips) and Bea (Mollie Stickney). He’s an acerbic ass who sees the world this way: “Three things keep people going: drinking, fucking and telling lies.” She’s been beaten down by his negativity and doesn’t exhibit much personality until the marriage finally crumbles.

The play only really sparks to something resembling life when Kitty encounters Michael (Andrew Hurteau), a dumpy philanderer who propositions her at a conference. He’s a player because he has to be, but he’s astute. The mere fact that he pays attention to Kitty’s emotional being makes her putty in his hands – eventually.

The dinner party scenes have genial rhythms, but nobody actually seems to be having a good time. And there’s a reason for that. These are uninteresting, passionless people. They’re in life but not of it. Nobody talks about the arts or athletic activities. Politics is barely addressed. And forget about spirituality.

That’s probably the most depressing aspect of the play. Not one of these characters seems to have even the most remote spiritual inclination – not religious, not New Age self-help, not anything. They’re wallowing in a void, scrambling to grab hold of one another but shocked when the other hollow shells are unable to save them. So they turn to alcohol and reruns of American sitcoms.

None of this is new, but Coxon gives it a sheen of existential exhaustion that makes it seem freshly dispiriting.

The play’s title, Happy Now?, is, of course, ironic. We seem to be happy. We pretend to be happy. But if we’re to believe these characters, we’re really anything but happy and have few tools to extract ourselves from the modern-day muck and mire.


Lucinda Coxon’s Happy Now? Continues through Dec. 5 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $33-$53. Call 415 388-5208 or visit for information.

No equivocating: this is good theater

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The cast of Marin Theatre Company’s Equivocation includes, from left, Andrew Hurteau, Craig Marker and Lance Gardner. Photos by Kevin Berne.

Now heading into the final weekend of a well-deserved extended run, Marin Theatre Company’s Equivocation is enormously enjoyable theater.

I liked Bill Cain’s play last summer when I saw it at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and I still like its muscular, hugely entertaining theatricality. The Marin production, directed by Artistic Director Jasson Minadakis, is more intimate but just as rewarding.

The cast boasts some of the Bay Area’s finest – Anna Bullard (the lone woman in the cast), Lance Gardner, Andrew Hurteau, Craig Marker, Andy Murray, and Charles Shaw Robinson – as they crawl around J.B. Wilson’s scaffolding set that reminds of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Where else would you want to set a story of William Shakespeare, or Shagspeare as he’s called in the play?

As Cain’s play imagines Will attempting to write a piece of propaganda theater for bonny King James (and his henchman, Sir Robert Cecil) and discovering that what he writes has to be the truth or nothing, something very interesting happens. Cain’s immense knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays and British history coalesce into a drama that feels recognizably human yet epic in its scope and more than just a little bit contemporary.

It’s so easy to forget that Shakespeare’s plays came from a human being, albeit a phenomenally talented human being (and for the sake of argument, let’s deny the Shakespeare deniers). Like Tom Stoppard did in Shakespeare in Love, Cain wants to remind us that Will Shakespeare was a son, a husband, a philanderer, a father and a successful artist. Whereas Stoppard’s movie was comic and romantic, Cain’s play is more intellectual and of the theater. But both makes us care anew about Shakespeare and stop to consider what it might have been like for him to actually create plays like Macbeth or King Lear. Something similar happened with Amadeus – we were asked to consider that Mozart was a brilliant composer and flawed human being and that his work wasn’t always “classical music.” At a certain point, it was fresh and new and surprising. We’ve turned his music into an institution, just as we have Shakespeare’s plays, and it’s refreshing when artists like Bill Cain come along to toy with our notions of why something great is actually great.
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In Equivocation, Shakespeare is commissioned by the king to create a play about the Gunpowder Plot, a thwarted attempt to blow up the king and Parliament. But Will can’t muster any enthusiasm for the “powder plot” because, in dramatic terms, there’s no plot. The more he investigates, the more he discovers about a royal cover-up and dastardly deeds done by the overly ambitious Cecil.

Robinson (seen at right with Hurteau) is Will, an earnest if ego-conflicted playwright and mediocre father two his two daughters (we only meet Judith, an underwritten role played with aplomb by Bullard). He and Cecil (a brilliant Hurteau) loathe each other, but Will has a theater troupe to feed, so he accepts the king’s commission to write a play about current events. Will’s research leads him to the prison cells of the accused traitors, the most fascinating of which is Father Henry Garnet (Murray), whose theory about equivocation is that it allows you to tell the truth under difficult circumstances. You don’t have to compromise your morals if you learn to answer the answer really being asked of you – the question under the question.

And this is where Cain’s play gets really interesting – what’s the play under the play? Could it be about U.S. politics? Of course it could. But it’s also so wonderfully theatrical that, at its best, this play crackles with energy. Like most of the actors, Marker plays a member of Shakespeare’s troupe and several other roles – traitors, royals or whatever’s necessary. This role shifting provides some stellar moments for the actors, as when Marker gets to be an actor in a play and the king watching the play at the same time.

Theater about theater can come across as so much navel gazing in a spotlight, but Equivocation gazes into all the right places, questioning everything and putting on a hell of a good show.


Equivocation closes May 2 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $34-$54. Call 415 388-5208 or visit for information.

Theater review: `Lydia’

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The cast of Marin Theatre Company’s Lydia includes, from left, Gloria Garayua as Ceci, Adriana Gavria as Lydia, David Pintado as Misha and Elias Escobedo as Alvaro. Photos by Ed Smith

Power, passion course through Solis’ startling `Lydia’
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There’s a reason critics across the country have compared San Francisco playwright Octavio Solis’ Lydia to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Both are vivisections of distinctly American families. For Miller, the Lomans suffered mid-century secrets and pressures within their family unit. For Solis, the Flores family picks up some 20 years later in a different place and time with secrets and pressures both similar and distinctly their own.

Solis is such an exciting writer that the Miller comparison is not lightly made. Miller had American tales to tell, and so does Solis. With Lydia, Solis takes a leap with the kind of family drama so rich, so surprising that it redefines what you think family dramas can do. Just when you think you’ve seen every variation with, mom, pop, the kids, their troubles and a sofa in the middle of the set, along comes Solis to shake it up and think again.

Receiving its local premiere at Marin Theater Company in a production helmed by artistic director Jason Minadakis, Lydia is an evening that will linger in the memory for a long time.

Solis is unafraid to throw a whole lot into the mix here: sexuality, faith, violence, betrayal, romance, hope, death and poetry. It might be too much, but the only time you feel the weight of the playwright trying to balance too heavy a load is in Act 2 when the play seems to end multiple times before landing on a final scene that is bold, shocking and exactly what it needs to be.

You might say that Lydia is a riff on Mary Poppins – a caretaker arrives, shakes things up, inexorably alters the family then moves on. But then again, Ms. Poppins wasn’t dealing with immigration officers, a brain-damaged teenager, domestic violence or soul-damaging secrets.

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The Flores family — short-order cook dad Claudio (Luis Saguar), mom Rosa (Wilma Bonet) returning to the workforce, high school student Misha (David Pintado), rebel older son Rene (Lakin Valdez) and severely injured daughter Ceci (Gloria Garayua above right) – is staking its claim on the American dream. Claudio and Rosa crossed the border from Mexico to create a life and a family in El Paso. That things didn’t turn out so great in the land of promise weighs heavily on Claudio, who works nights, sleeps days and spends most of his free time drinking beer and listening to his headphones from the Barcalounger.

The night two years before that Ceci was brain damaged in a car accident is one of the play’s motivating mysteries. It was just a few days before her quincenera, and whatever happened in the Pontiac only the people who were there know: Ceci, who is now unable to speak, her brother Rene and their cousin Alvaro (Elias Escobedo, below right with Garayua).

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The play’s poetic soul belongs to Ceci, who rouses from her stupor to share her internal monologues with the audience. Even in her mostly vegetative state, she’s like the family sponge, absorbing all of their pain and unable to do anything about it. If asked, family members would say Ceci’s injury is the source of much of that pain, but in truth – and Ceci prefers the truth – that pain was already there.

When Rosa decides to go back to work, she hires a newly arrived Mexican immigrant to be the family maid and caretaker to Ceci. Lydia (Adriana Gaviria, above with Garayua) is sensitive the way Ceci is sensitive. The two young woman find a way to communicate beyond language, and soon Lydia begins unlocking those painful secrets and forcing the family out of its habitual denial.

Some of the play’s surprises aren’t all that surprising, but what connects in Solis’ play and in Minadakis’ production is the walloping emotion that pours from character to character. What could have been stock melodrama is instead invested with genuine feeling and lots of it. Garayua as Ceci is extraordinary, both as the vital, lovesick teenager who pours her heart out to us and as the twitching, moaning woman on the mattress in the middle of the living room floor (the slightly surreal ranch house set is by Robert Mark Morgan and lit with a fondness for moonlight by Kurt Landisman).

Pintado makes for a believable high schooler with a big crush on the new family maid, and Gaviria as Lydia is practically perfect in every way, which is to say she has an electric presence that convincingly leaves change in its wake.

The entire cast rises to the challenge of Solis’ outstanding script, which makes you rethink the term “family entertainment” as something as dark and dangerous as it is deeply felt.


Marin Theatre Company’s Lydia continues through April 12 at 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $20-$51. Call 415-388-5208 or visit for information.