ACT casts `Rock ‘n’ Roll,’ partners up for `Phedre’

Manoel Felciano, a San Francisco native who used to work at Recycled Records on Haight Street, plays Jan, the central character in Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, an ACT production. Photo by Ashley Forrette Photography

With all this buzz about, there must be a new theater season about to start.

First up is news from American Conservatory Theater. Casting is complete for its season-opener, the West Coast premiere of Tom Stoppard’s Tony Award-winning Rock ‘n’ Roll, which begins performances Sept. 11 and continues through Oct. 12.

Artistic director Carey Perloff, something of a Stoppard expert, is directing a cast that includes San Francisco native Manoel Felciano (Toby in the recent revival of Sweeney Todd on Broadway) makes his Bay Area professional debut as Jan, the rock ‘n’ roll-obsessed Czech graduate student at the center of the play. The cast also includes ACT company members Rene Augesen, Anthony Fusco, Jud Williford and Jack Willis. The cast is rounded out by James Carpenter, Delia MacDougall, Marcia Pizzo, Summer Serafin and ACT MFA third-year students Nicholas Pelczar and Natalie Hegg.

Previews begin Sept. 11 and opening night is Sept. 17. Tickets are $17-$62 for previews, $20-$73 for regular performances. Call 415-749-2228or visit for information.

In other ACT news, the company will partner for the first time with Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Perloff will direct Racine’s Phèdre in a new translation by Timberlake Wertenbaker, who previously provided scripts for Perloff’s Hecuba and Antigone.

The production, which will bow in the 2009-10 season, will star 17-year Stratford veteran Seana McKenna in the title role.

“We are thrilled to be producing Racine for the first time in ACT’s history,” Perloff said in a statement. “Timberlake’s extraordinary and fresh translation pays homage to the gorgeous poetry of the original while sustaining this play’s explosive heat and visceral sexuality. I have admired Stratford’s work for many years an am excited to work at the theater, where Heather Kitchen, my partner at ACT, started her career.”




Review: `’Tis Pity She’s a Whore’

Opened June 11, 2008 at American Conservatory Theater


Michael Hayden and René Augesen play a brother and sister with more than familial affection for one another in ACT’s production of ”Tis Pity She’s a Whore.‘ Photos by Kevin Berne

ACT slices into harsh, bloody revenge play
«« ½ ‘Tis pity it’s so harsh

You don’t want to be a woman in John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, the 1630 barnstormer in which women are murdered and tortured – some by their own mischief, some at the hand of their supposed loved one, some just for gossiping – or at the very least, sent into a nunnery after seeing your lover killed in your arms. As one man says: “‘Tis as common to err in frailty as to be a woman.” And don’t forget that snappy title, which also happens to be the last line of the play. Substitute the word “woman” for “whore” and you get the idea.

The men don’t fair much better—they’re mean, violent, corrupt, greedy and stupid — but at least they have all the money and power.

Welcome to the world of the Jacobean revenge drama. Nobody has much fun, including the audience.

You can feel American Conservatory Theater artistic director Carey Perloff trying to locate the beauty and the power in her production of ‘Tis Pity. The vast stage of the ACT theater has been transformed, by set designer Walt Spangler, into a vast array of staircases and platforms adorned with strings of glass beads and candles (or what appear to be candles in Robert Wierzel’s colorful lighting design). The overall effect is both ornate and rough. In fact, the stage looks a little like an Urban Outfitters.

The most interesting feature of the stage contains one of the most interesting elements of the production. Housed in what looks like a giant, upside down organ is cellist/vocalist Bonfire Madigan Shive, who provides live accompaniment for the nearly three-hour production, and it’s a mercy she’s there to lend beauty (and a little screaming outrage) and passion and tenderness to an otherwise unforgiving evening. It’s no wonder she’s costumed (by Candice Donnelly) to appear somewhat angel-like. She confers a certain grace to something truly ugly.

You can’t help but feel the playwright attempting to shock his audience by having a brother (Michael Hayden) and sister (René Augesen) declaring their love for each other, smooching up a storm in their sinful sheets and then suffering the consequences of their forbidden union. To Ford’s credit (and to Hayden and Augesen’s), we do have some sympathy for these lovers, though their quick acceptance of incest as the best possible route seems haphazard to be sure. The brother ends up like a moody, swoony riff on Hamlet, only his Ophelia happens to be a blood relative.

With the audience rooting for the infidels, it’s hard to muster up much concern for the passel of rivals (Jud Williford, Michael Earle Fajardo, Anthony Fusco, Warren David Keith) all vying in one way or another for the sister’s hand in marriage. There are rousing swordfights (fight directed by Dave Maier) and any number of subplots involving betrayal and revenge, but it all feels like it’s heading in one direction and one direction only: the bloody denouement quickly followed by a sharp poke at the Catholic church. An early line of foreboding in the play warns: “Death waits on thy lust,” and boy does it ever.

Death, mayhem, blood and gore – it’s all there. Even the silliest character (an imbecilic fop played by Gregory Wallace) meets an untimely end, and so does the bawdy nurse (Sharon Lockwood), who lustily encouraged the brother-sister union because a brother is just another man, after all. And what does it all amount to? At the end of Hamlet, though the stage is strewn with bodies, you feel something profound has happened that speaks to the core of man’s weakness. At the end of ‘Tis Pity, you’re reminded a) not to sleep with your relatives and b) to be grateful that button-pushing Jacobean revenge dramas are in short supply.

Or maybe they’ve just changed form and are now more readily available in video game versions. That seems about right.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore continues through July 6 at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $17-$82. Call 415-749-2228 or visit Also visit

High schoolers win big `Beach Blanket’ bucks

After San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom took his foot out of his mouth (he made an inappropriate comment about gay marriage), and after former SF Mayor Willie Brown introduced a film clip, and after the Beach Blanket Babylon cast throttled a song from Wicked, the Beach Blanket Babylon Scholarship for the Arts competition got under way and did what it has been doing for six years: giving high school seniors money to pursue their passion for the arts.

Monday night’s judging panel, picking a winner from three finalists in each of three categories (dance, acting and singing), included Tracy Chapman, Harry Denton, Gordon Getty, David Gockley, Chuy Gomez, Rita Moreno, Jonathan Moscone, Carey Perloff, Don Sanchez, Tony Taccone, Jan Wahl and Brenda Way. Don Bleu served as master of ceremonies with assists from Silver’s widow, Jo Schuman Silver.

And this year’s winners are, each receiving a $10,000 scholarship, are:

In the dancing category:
CHELSEA McLAUGHLIN – Eastside College Preparatory, East Palo Alto
Chelsea, who danced to Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind,” said she plans to study dance at Fordham University at the Ailey School.

In the acting category:
SHAYLIN HOYE – Novato High School, Novato
Shaylin, who performed a monologue from Peter Shaffer’s Eqqus, said she will attend Concordia University in Irvine. “And will you pursue acting?” Bleu asked. “I might now,” she answered.

In the singing category:
SARA LEMESH – Terra Linda High School, San Rafael
Sara, who sang an aria from A Masked Ball, plans to attend Rice University and said she has been singing opera since she was 12.

Congratulations and well done!

`Beach Blanket’ selects finalists

Every year, the Steve Silver Foundation and Beach Blanket Babylon present $10,000 scholarships to three talented high school seniors from the Bay Area.

Jo Schuman Silver, producer of BBB, announced the nine finalists today, who will then go on to perform at Club Fugazi on Monday, June 9. The winners will be selected that night.

Finalists in the acting category are:
SAIRUS GRAHAM-THILLE – San Francisco School of the Arts, San Francisco
SHAYLIN HOYE – Novato High School, Novato
KEELIN WOODELL – St. Ignatius College Prep, San Francisco

In the dancing category:
CHELSEA McLAUGHLIN – Eastside College Preparatory, East Palo Alto
TAL OPPENHEIMER – Lick-Wilmerding High School, San Francisco
ERIN STAHMER – Homestead High School, Cupertino

In the singing category:
ALEXANDRA AKIN – School of the Arts, San Francisco
SARA LEMESH – Terra Linda High School, San Rafael
ERIN SUTH – Redwood Christian Junior/Senior High School, San Lorenzo

Schuman Silver said in a statement: “I’m really impressed by the quality of the performances that we’ve received and the dedication of the students to their craft. It wasn’t an easy task to narrow down the field to just nine finalists.”

The June 9 master of ceremonies for the evening is Star 101.3’s Don Bleu. The celebrity panel of judges scheduled to appear includes: San Francisco’s Mr. Nightlife Harry Denton, Composer Gordon Getty, San Francisco Opera’s General Director David Gockley, KMEL’s Chuy Gomez, Alice Radio’s Hooman, Actress Rita Moreno, California Shakespeare Theater’s Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone, American Conservatory Theater’s Artistic Director Carey Perloff, ABC7’s Don Sanchez, Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Artistic Director Tony Taccone, KRON4/KCBS Radio’s Jan Wahl and ODC/Dance’s Artistic & Executive Dance Director Brenda Way.

For information visit

Review: `The Government Inspector’

Opened March 26, 2008 at American Conservatory Theater

The town’s mayor (Graham Beckel, seated) succumbs to a sneezing fit while accepting the congratulations of the town council (from left: Delia MacDougall, Andrew Hurteau, Dan Hiatt, and Rod Gnapp) on the engagement of his daughter to Khlestakov.
Photos by Kevin Berne

Fantastic cast makes Gogol’s Government worth inspecting

Let me just say that I did not really enjoy American Conservatory Theater’s production of The Government Inspector, a Nikolai Gogol farce in a 2005 adaptation by Alistair Beaton.

The play itself does not have the farcical flair of Feydeau, nor does it have the satiric bite or vivacity of Moliere. At 2 hours and 45 minutes, this desperately unfunny play is long and in need of heavy-duty editing.

But I will say that where director Carey Perloff’s production stumbles in its attempts at exaggerated slapstick buffoonery, it excels in personality.

The ACT stage is virtually crammed with local talent, and these great actors all find ways to rise above the clunkiness of the play, which is about a remote Russian town filled with the usual pettiness and corruption. When word goes out that a government inspector has arrived, everyone panics, fearing their corruptness and pettiness will be discovered. No one, not even Russian peasants, it seems, wants the jig to be up.

Assuming that a gentleman at the inn — who is unable to pay his bill — is the inspector, everyone goes straight into ass-kissing mode, even though the broke man is really just a broke, wanna-be aristocrat trapped in a dingy inn with an unpaid bill, no food and his man servant.

That’s really about it for plot — mistaken identity, pettiness and corruption stretched into nearly three hours of so-called comedy that feels forced most of the time.

Here’s what I enjoyed in the play:

Amanda Sykes (above left) as the mayor’s daughter and Sharon Lockwood (above right) as the mayor’s wife. The two women are nasty and catty with each other and practically knock each other over to win the attention of the so-called inspector. Like so much of the production, the actors push too hard, but Sykes and Lockwood are a good team, and they have some great moments.

Another dynamic duo is Gregory Wallace (above left), who plays the man mistaken for the inspector, and Jud Williford (above right), the man servant who seems to be the only reasonably sane person in the play. Wallace is at his very best — desperate, snooty and more funny than annoying, which is no small feat in a production this manic.

The production itself is visually interesting, though the dreariness of the play works against it. Erik Flatmo’s set — barely standing facades, peeling wallpaper, general mayhem amid snow flurries — features a central performing platform that raises and lowers at center stage, and a great deal of over-crowded action takes place in this small space. The ever-reliable Beaver Bauer contributes costumes reminiscent of Russian toys, all whirling and nesting and full of rich textures and cartoonish poverty.

At a certain point in the show, watching such local laugh masters as Dan Hiatt (as the magistrate), Delia MacDougall (as the director of education), Anthony Fusco (as the drunk postmaster) and Joan Mankin and Geoff Hoyle (as the ginger-haired duo Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky respectively), I couldn’t help wishing they’d stop doing the Gogol and start doing something that would let them unleash their comic genius.

The Government Inspector continues through April 20 at American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $17-$82. Call 415-749-2228 or visit