Shocking news hit the theater community this week with the apparent closure of the Willows Theatre — both its Campbell Cabaret in Martinez and its main stage at the Willows Shopping Center in Concord. This week's final performances of "A Doll's House" were canceled, as well.
Speaking via email from Amsterdam, artistic director Eric Inman says he and managing director David Faustina were very upset and saddened by the board's action. According to Inman, Faustino had been laid off at the end of July, and he received his lay off notice just as they were leaving for Europe.
"I had high hopes that the season would be completed as that was specifically discussed at the board meeting at the end of July," says Inman. I guess hope is in short supply these days.
(Editor's Note: Reached at home Tuesday evening, Willows board President Dennis Woodard confirmed to the Times that the board canceled the remaining performances of the play due to "financial issues." But Woodard declined to say whether the company is closing permanently, if it plans to file for bankruptcy or whether ticket holders will receive refunds. Woodard also said the board was set to meet Wednesday night, and announce its plans after that, likely Thursday, Aug. 16)
California Shakespeare Theater continues its summer season with a very un-Shakespearian tale -- Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit."
The toast of London's middle classes, Coward managed to add laughter to the lives of many following World War I and during World War II with his lighthearted plays about shamelessly vain people. Such is the case with "Blithe Spirit," written in 1941. War correspondent Noël Coward completed the play in just five days, giving the citizens of London a respite from the constant air raids, rationing and curfews. His clever story follows writer Charles Condomine (astutely performed by Anthony Fusco), who organizes a seance as research for a new book. His wife Ruth (the role intelligently executed by Rene Augesen) and friends Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (well portrayed by Kevin Rolston and Melissa Smith) attend as the eccentric Madame Arcati (a thoroughly delightful Domenique Lozano) inadvertently conjures up Charles' first wife Elvira (deliciously portrayed by Jessica Kitchens). A newly hired, slightly inept maid (the very funny Rebekah Brockman) keeps all in food and drink.
Needless to say, the appearance of Elvira throws the Condomine's marriage into chaos and allows Coward to use his considerable wit to comment on the matrimonial state, life after death and more.
Rucker's production astutely allows the playwright's clever dialogue to take center stage, with his actors giving more nuanced performances. Annie Smart's strikingly elegant, tasteful set -- enhanced by York Kennedy's lighting design -- captures the charm of a well-ordered, comfortable country home. Katherine Roth's costumes add to the ambience with stylish period creations including a more modest, sensible outfit for Madame Arcati, who is often outrageously costumed.
It is only during her "trances" that Arcati dons a more flamboyant persona. Of course, this is a comedy about people coming back from the great beyond, so the appearance of tranquillity and decorum erupts with Elvira's return. Kudos to Smart and the tech crew for a thoroughly enjoyable series of special effects as the spirit world collides with the more mundane real world.
For tickets, call 510-548-9666 or go to www.calshakes.org.
Tielle Baker, artistic director of The Music Box Theatre Company, and her talented young cast will perform "Urinetown: the Musical" on Aug. 17-18 at 7 p.m. and Aug. 19 at 2 p.m. at Danville's Village Theatre. A talented teen cast brings their own unique perspective to this musical about greed and corruption amid an environmental meltdown in this insane comedy. For tickets, call 925-314-3466 or go to www.villagetheatreshows.com.
Emmy award-winning actress Sally Struthers (of "All in the Family" fame) presents an intimate evening of song and stories from her life and career on Broadway, film and television on April 18 at 8 p.m. at Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave. in Pleasanton. Call 925-931-4848 or go to www.firehousearts.org
Local favorites Stu Klitsner and Jesse Caldwell opened in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" at Woodminster Amphitheatre, on Joaquin Miller Road in Oakland, last weekend. Klitsner endeared himself to the audience and occasioned many a laugh as Erronius, an elderly gentlemen in search of his children lost to pirates many years before, while Caldwell portrays Senex, a lascivious father with flair.
The Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart farce features some wonderful Stephen Sondheim tunes and a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor. Located in Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland, the venue also offers breathtaking views.
"Forum" takes place in ancient Rome, and tells of young Hero (nicely done by Tyler Costin) who falls in love with Philia (the lovely Megan Gallup) a virginal courtesan. He enlists the help of his servant Pseudolus (a wonderfully infectious Trente Morant), offering Pseudolus his freedom if he can help Philia escape from her house before the celebrated Captain Gloriosus (well portrayed by Calvin Smith) comes to claim her as his bride.
It's mayhem from start to finish, with lots of physical comedy and bad jokes that never fail to entertain. Joel Schlader directs a fine cast including John Tichenor as the appropriately named Hysterium and Kelly Houston, who imbues Marcus Lycus with a powerful bass voice. Musical director Richard Vetterli conducts the 13-member orchestra with style.
"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" continues through Sunday, Aug 19; call 510-531-9597 or go to www.woodminster.com
Contact Sally Hogarty at firstname.lastname@example.org.