Curtain Calls: ‘Sensibility’ actors shine in Lafayette


Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette is presenting a delightful version of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” Written by Kate Hamill and based on Austen’s novel, the show has a bounty of clever dialogue delivered in rapid-fire succession by the talented cast.

Faithful to Austen’s story, Hamill’s version contains lots of fun devices suited to a contemporary audience’s sensibilities. In this version, eight actors play multiple parts, including dogs, horses and inanimate objects as the story of the Dashwood family’s woes unfolds.

Two marvelous actresses play only Elinor and Dianne Dashwood, but in a crazy act of whimsy, director Susan Evans asked these actresses — Heather Buck and Alisha Ehrlich — to learn both sister’s parts and alternate roles each weekend. While I’ve only seen the show once, I’m hoping to go back again and see Buck and Ehrlich reverse roles.

On opening weekend, Buck played the more responsible, sensible older sister, Elinor, with Ehrlich as the slightly mischievous, energetic and more emotional Marianne. These accomplished performers each captured the sisters perfectly.

All of the other performers did a marvelous job playing a multitude of characters, especially Dennis Markam, whose change in body language alone from John Dashwood to Sir Middleton is worth the price of admission. The other seven talented thespians are Megan Briggs, Alan Coyne, Michael Craigen, Nathan Emley, Heather Kellogg, Sarah Ruby and Ginny Wehrmeister. All eight multi-role performers also take on the hilarious “gossips” with their touches of green costuming and silly antics.

Brian Watson has designed the set of large French doors, enhanced with Heather Basarab’s lighting, perfect for fast changes of locale and allowing several scenes to take place at once. Hope Birdwell had the enormous task of costuming the performers in all their varied roles in lovely period costumes. “Sense and Sensibility” continues through June 23 at Town Hall Theatre, 3535 School St. in Lafayette.

Concord: B8 Theatre recently opened a fascinating adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” Adapted by Annie Potter, the story and language remain true to Ibsen, but the time and locale have been changed from 1879 Norway to 1924 Columbus, Ohio.

Aside from the costumes, wonderfully done by Liz Martin, the changes don’t seem to make much of an addition to the piece. That is until you read the director’s notes, where JanLee Marshall explains that Columbus had legalized interracial marriage in 1887. And there you have what does make quite an addition to Ibsen’s work.

Marshall has cast African American women in all the female roles and Caucasian men in the male roles. Given that the play itself is a woman’s striving to become her own person rather than a “doll” for her husband to play with, this creative casting adds another layer.

Miia Ashley as Nora finds a nice balance between her frenzied enthusiasm as she tries to please her husband and the stress around her dark secret that she barely conceals. Matthew Gardner as her husband, Torvald, certainly captures the pompous importance of his character, but he really comes into his own in Act II as his world collapses around him.

Mikah Kavita and Rolanda Bell each give nicely nuanced performances as Nora’s childhood friend and former nursemaid, respectively. Rounding out the cast nicely are Vince Faso as the lovable Dr. Rank and Nathan Bogner as the cad Nils Krogstad.

One of my favorite things about “A Doll’s House” is that none of the characters are all good or bad. Ibsen allows you to see the multiple layers that make up a human being, and, fortunately for local audiences, Marshall has found a cast capable of pulling this off.

“A Doll’s House” continues through June 23 at 2292 Concord Blvd., in Concord. For tickets, call 925-890-8877 or go to www.b8theatre.org.

courtesy of Julieta CervantesRichard Thomas, from left, Therese Plaehn, Pamela Reed, Lauren Klein, Daisy Eagan and Luis Vega star in "The Humans" through June 17 at through June 17 at SHN's Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco.
Richard Thomas, from left, Therese Plaehn, Pamela Reed, Lauren Klein, Daisy Eagan and Luis Vega star in “The Humans” through June 17 at through June 17 at SHN’s Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. (courtesy of Julieta Cervantes) 

San Francisco: You may remember him as John-boy on “The Waltons,” but Richard Thomas is playing a very different role as Erik Blake in the 2016 Tony Award Winner for Best Play “The Humans,” running through June 17 at SHN’s Orpheum Theatre.

The funny, hopeful yet heartbreaking play takes place over the course of a family’s Thanksgiving dinner at the ramshackle lower Manhattan abound of youngest daughter (Daisy Eagan) and her boyfriend (Luis Vega). Erik and his wife Deirdre, (Pamela Reed), bring along Erik’s mother (Lauren Klein), who suffers from dementia. Their eldest daughter, Aimee (Therese Plaehn), completes the family gathering.

Everyone who has ever attended a family holiday dinner can relate to the funny reminiscences, tensions and secrets that seem to always be a part of these affairs. But despite the various strains, there is also so much love and understanding in this well-crafted work by Stephen Karam.

Joe Mantello astutely directs his marvelous cast through the foibles that make us all human. David Zinn has crafted a rather charming, dilapidated two-level apartment in New York’s Chinatown, complete with failing electricity and lots of things that go bump in the night. For tickets, call 888-746-1799 or go to www.shnsf.com.

Martinez: You can still catch the Vagabond Players’ “The Boys Next Door,” which closes June 16 at the Martinez Campbell Theater, 636 Ward St. General admission is $19, $16 for seniors. Playwright Tom Griffin treats his characters with compassion and respect, and a fair measure of comedy, as he tells of four men living together in a care home in New England.

Two are mentally disabled, one is a brilliant schizophrenic who fantasizes himself as a golf pro, and the ringleader is a hyperactive, compulsive chatterer. The Campbell Theater will also host Act II Improv on June 22 at 7:30 p.m. and a talent show on June 23 at 8 p.m. For tickets, to any of the shows at the Campbell, call 925-350-9770 or go to www.campbelltheater.com.

Antioch: And for those younger theater-goers, Stage Right Conservatory Theatre Inc. is presenting “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” from June 22 through July 1 at the Nick Rodriguez Community Center, 213 F St. in Antioch. For more information, call 925-216-4613 or go to www.srctgrp.org.

Sally Hogarty can be reached at sallyhogarty@gmail.com. Search for “Curtain Calls” by Sally Hogarty at eastbaytimes.com to read more of her reviews online.



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