Sunday, July 31, 2016


SCS reinvents Hamlet in solid new production

It's not like a woman has never played Hamlet before.

Sarah Bernhardt famously played the great Dane onstage in 1899, captured for posterity in this poster by Alphonse Mucha.

Classical Danish actress Asta Nielsen essayed the role in a 1921 silent film.

(Although, it seems like Shakespeare without spoken words is sort of missing the point).

What's wild about Nielsen's version is that this Hamlet was supposedly born female, but her parents brought her up disguised as a boy to preserve the lineage.

That this Hamlet has lived all her life in male drag complicates relationships in the drama: she sort of jollies along old Polonius' attempts to match her up with his daughter, Ophelia, but she secretly pines for friend and schoolfellow, Horatio.

Here's a highlight reel of the film via You Tube, with includes a link to the entire two-hour film.

What's fresh about the new Santa Cruz Shakespeare interpretation is that Kate Eastwood Norris plays the character of Hamlet as a woman.

Nothing is changed in the script, except references to "son" are switched to "daughter," and the prevailing form of address becomes "my Lady," instead of "my Lord."

The rest of the play is still intact, including Hamlet's love affair with Ophelia.

Everyone knows they've always been drawn to each other; when Hamlet feigns madness, in hopes of sussing out the truth of her father's untimely demise, everyone assumes she's out of her mind with love for Ophelia.

Dueling Hamlets: Eastwood Norris
And here's the deal: nobody thinks anything of it. Casting Hamlet as a woman doesn't turn it into a "lesbian love story." The Hamlet-Ophelia subplot is about young love, in all its recklessness, passion, and confusion — just as it always has been.

Meanwhile, the rest of Shakespeare's tragedy marches on in this bare-bones, yet powerful production. The metal monkey-bar towers from Midsummer are wrapped in bunting to stand in for interior castle columns.

And without atmospheric sets, it's up to the writing and the acting to deliver the goods. Happily, both Shakespeare, and this excellent cast, are up to the task.

Norris doesn't miss a note of the character's complexity; her Hamlet is dashing, introspective, and witty, by turns. Torn as she is between inaction and confident resolution, she also makes the most of every wry aside — especially concerning the marriage of her mother, the queen, to her uncle, after the sudden demise of her father, the king.

Dueling Hamlets: Bernhardt

When she cries,, "Frailty, thy name is woman!" this female Hamlet sounds both astonished and self-deprecating.

Bernard K. Addison (so boisterously funny as Bottom in Midsummer) is both fierce and stately as the Ghost of Hamlet's murdered father, as well as his own murderous brother, Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, all too speedily wed to her mother, Queen Gertrude (Carol Halstead).

In this version, Patty Gallagher plays a female Polonius as a sort of dotty matchmaker, egging on her daughter, Ophelia (Mia Ellis), to encourage and comply with the increasingly distracted Hamlet in hopes of arranging a royal union.

Mike Ryan makes a stalwart Horatio. And Larry Paulsen is absolutely terrific in voice and manner as the Player King.

This is where this season's costume budget went, with B. Modern designing a fabulous lace-covered gown for Queen Gertrude, and a magnificent, ivory-hued robe for the Ghost — who makes an eerie circuit around the back of the seating area before joining the action onstage.

(However, the backpacks and plaid skirts for the female Rosencrantz and Guildenstern make them seem more like Catholic schoolgirls than university students. But it's a nice touch that Hamlet wears her skirt rakishly over pants, and her vest unbuttoned.)

The play is definitely the thing in this streamlined, highly effective production.

Addison, Norris, Halstead: that's Princess of Denmark.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Robust: Adam Campbell as Tevye
Soaring performances, production, fuel Cabrillo Stage's 'Fiddler on the Roof'

Back in 2012, the Cabrillo Stage summer musical series mounted one of its most successful productions, Anything Goes. It was a frothy 1930s period piece built around vintage Cole Porter songs, and featuring what may be the single most electrifying production number in CS history, a massive syncopated tap extravaganza to the title tune, in which everyone but the orchestra was onstage dancing.

That show was directed and choreographed by Kikau Alvaro, making his CS debut. And now Alvaro is back in the same capacity for the second production of the company's current season, Fiddler On the Roof.

True, there are few opportunities for ensemble tap dancing in this enduring tale about the denizens of a poor Jewish shtetl in a remote area of Russia toward the end of Tsarist rule. But Alvaro still delivers a wonderful production of this classic musical, vividly imagined in the design and dance departments, and blessed by a knockout centerpiece performance by Adam Campbell in the central role of Tevye, the dairyman.

The original 1964 production was directed and choreographed by the great dance maestro, Jerome Robbins (whose choreography Alvaro reproduces here, according to the credits). And while the dancing is terrific, this is not a show that depends on dancing; rather, it's a moving tale of life, love, family, and, of course, tradition, in an era of changing values.

Tevye is the engine that makes this show go. Campbell's great singing voice can be big and expressive, or soft and sweet, and his wry demeanor is irresistible, whether conversing with God, or in his robust rendition of Tevye's signature song, "If I Were a Rich Man."

Upholding "Tradition"
 A poor dairyman whose assets amount to one milk cow and a lame horse, Teyve and his wife, Golde (Marianne Thompson, another fine singer) have five daughters to see settled, with the help of village matchmaker, Yente (Alice Hughes). A staunch upholder of "Tradition" (as laid out in the rousing opening number), Tevye's worldview is challenged as, one by one, his three eldest daughters choose their own husbands for love, rather than submitting to arranged matches.

In terms of production and performance, this Fiddler is rich indeed. (Read more)

Monday, July 25, 2016


Dysfunctional duo ages disgracefully in 'Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie'

The new Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is not for the uninitiated. If you're not already a fan of the cultish '90s TV series, chances are you'll have no clue what's supposed to be funny about two clownish women of a certain age in ridiculous clothing attempting to stave off the ravages of time with gallons of champagne, while clinging desperately by their ferociously manicured claws to the ragged fringes of trendy pop culture.

But those who already have a soft spot in their hearts for the ribald and outrageous TV series will find much to chuckle at in the big screen adventures of sad-sack Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and coolly caustic Patsy (Joanna Lumley).

Scripted by series creator Saunders for director Mandie Fletcher (veteran of many of the TV episodes), the movie falls prey to the usual pitfalls of TV-to-film adaptations: it's tough to maintain a coherent storyline and keep delivering the laughs over 90 minutes (instead of 30).

Still, despite the slower passages, the brio with which Eddie and Pats pursue their absurd agenda, in the face of common sense, common decency, and reality, remains oddly cheer-worthy.

La Dolce Vita: In their dreams.

And beneath the frantic facade lurks a sharp satire of our celebrity-obsessed society, along with, at times, a surprisingly poignant look at how women who have the bad judgment to age are treated by the popular culture that finds them so instantly disposable. (Read more in this week's Good Times)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Stage trees vs. the real thing
Stark, but fun Dream launches new SCS space

It's fitting that Santa Cruz Shakespeare chooses A Midsummer Night's Dream as the inaugural production for its spanking new venue at DeLaveaga Park. That they even got the stage erected in time for opening day is no less a feat of magic than anything devised by Puck and his fleet of fairies.

The set and costumes may be minimalist, but a wonderful cast performing Shakespeare's beloved comedy, and a sense of adventure on both sides of the stage, keep patrons engaged.

First the facts: the Festival Glen at UCSC is no more, at least as a performance space for this company. Ousted by the university (which retained the original name, Shakespeare Santa Cruz), the company has risen phoenix-like, rebranded itself as Santa Cruz Shakespeare, and found a new home in DeLaveaga Park.

City Council approval to build the new space was granted in February of this year, meaning SCS has had a scant five months to complete construction.

Addison + Ellis: love potion goes awry
The stage nestles in a grove of pine and eucalyptus, with an open space for picnicking in front of tiered rows of permanent benches and chairs. Sightlines are good, and the box office, restrooms, and parking lot are all immediately adjacent to the performance space (so you no longer need hiking boots and GPS to navigate to the stage area). Named in honor of the company's intrepid co-founder, and tireless supporter, the space is called Audrey Stanley Grove.

Director Terri McMahon's production begins with youthful fairies in baby blue dragging pillows onstage and falling asleep, as the four plots kick in. An extravagant wedding ceremony is about to be held for Duke Theseus of Athens (Cody Nickell) and the Amazon Queen Hippolyta (Mia Ellis).

But first, a noblewoman complains to the Duke that her daughter, Hermia (Katherine Ko — appropriately little and fierce, also funny), refuses to marry the suitor her mom has picked out for her, Demetrius (Brian Smolin, so hilarious in last season's The Liar), Demetrius was formerly engaged to Helena (Mary Cavett), who still pines for him.

But Hermia loves Lysander (Kyle Hester), so that night, they run away—followed by Demetrius, who is followed by Helena. All are soon lost in the forest, where Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the fairies, (also played by the commanding Nickell, and the warm, regal Ellis) are having a tiff.

Meanwhile, some tradesmen of the town, are rehearsing a play to perform for the Duke's nuptials. Most enthusiastic of her crew is Nick Bottom, all too eager to take on every part in their show, played with endearing comic bombast by Bernard K. Addison. When a fairy love potion goes awry, the fairy queen falls in love with Bottom, who has acquired the head (and other characteristics) of an ass.

All's well that ends well: lovers correctly matched at last
Christina Dinkel's costumes are simple and effective. (It's funny that she dresses Obron's fairy sidekick Puck (Larry Paulsen) like Smee in Peter Pan, with piratical striped stockings and headscarf.)

Collette Pollard's smart, stark forest set features towers of metal bars, through which we see the actual trees beyond, while the random chairs they sprout are used as fairy perches, or piled up to make thrones.

It may not be as ornate as some versions of Dream, but the  cleverness of this minimalist production makes us eager to see what SCS does next. (Read more)

Friday, July 15, 2016


What a great way to start off a foggy Friday!

Found this today on my Alias Hook page, over at the Republic of Goodreads. James Hook's voyage of conquest continues!

Saturday, July 9, 2016


It's Happy Dance time!

Yesterday, I received the email that every author longs to hear from her editor:

"Lisa!!! I think this is perfection! Truly! I have no further tweaks to suggest."

This came after one week (not counting the 3-day holiday) of wrangling between Editor Kaylan, from Candlewick, and moi over the Author's Note, to go in the back of the Beast book. 

We went five rounds in four days, cutting, pasting, snipping, and shaping. But it's good that we're both so detail-oriented, because the result is — well, perfection!

So, yay! We're done!

The final ms has been copyedited, accepted, and approved. The Author's Note and jacket copy are finalized, and the cover design is almost done. Oh, and we now have a new title:

How I spent my July 4 weekend.
Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge

This title, and the scrupulously-edited Author's Note, are meant to signify to readers that my book is NOT the Disney version of the tale — no more than Alias Hook was the Disney version of Peter Pan.

But you all knew that, right?

(Speaking of which, the live-action adaptation of Disney's Beauty and the Beast is coming to a movie theatre near you in March, 2017, right around the time my Beast is hitting the bookshelves. Looks like it's going to be a Beastly spring!)

Anyway, my rough Beast's hour has come round at last, as he slouches now toward Candlewick to be born!

Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 3, 2016


Beguiling doc 'Music of Strangers' celebrates diversity, humanity

Some people talk about building a wall. (Okay, one fool in particular.) The perfect antidote to that mentality is The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.

This beguiling and bittersweet documentary chronicles the efforts of the renowned cellist to found a performing group of international musicians from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, whose entire existence is dedicated to both cultural diversity, and common humanity.

Filmmaker Morgan Neville won an Oscar for the fabulous 20 Feet From Stardom, giving backup singers — the unsung heroines of rock 'n' roll — their well-deserved moment in the spotlight.

He knows a great music doc needs to feature not only wonderful music, but dynamic personalities to perform it, and The Music of Strangers is incredibly rich in both.

Kayhan Kalhor, Yo-Yo Ma: soulful

In 2000, Yo-Yo Ma got the idea to search the world for masters of traditional instruments for a workshop and performance he wanted to stage at the prestigious Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts.

Born in Paris of Chinese parents, and raised in the US, Yo-Yo embodies the spirit of internationalism.

His idea was to follow the ancient "Silk Road" trade route, from Venice to China, scouring the world for master musicians.

Cristina Pato: rock star

And what an ensemble he came up with: Kinan Azmeh, is a clarinetist from Damascus.

Wu Man survived Mao's Cultural Revolution in China by her skill on the lute-like pipa.

Iranian Kayhan Kalhor is soulful master of another stringed instrument, the Kurdish kamancheh.

Spaniard Cristina Pato plays Galician bagpipes like a born rock star.

The musicians (and the other dozen or so Ensemble members) are fascinating in the ways their various instruments, and their playing, as well as their diverse personalities, mesh.

And the music is often thrilling.
(Read more in this week's Good Times)