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‘Shrew,’ ‘Alice’ are productions worth seeing

A turning toward autumn

On a recent early morning my friend, blogger Stephanie Sugars, alerted me to the slight chill in the air, a turning toward autumn. She expresses it as the “arc into autumn,” and suggests we “look up at the sky and stand close to a plant.”

Just then, in our yard I noticed beyond the towering oak, above the encircling hedge, a leggy cherry plum tree already turning a fiery red. Later that evening, driving down Arnold, south toward Sonoma, the setting summer sun emblazoned the adjacent oak-covered hillside of the regional park with a golden light.

Yes, the turn is ahead, and yet there is still time to revel … in summer’s passing, in autumn’s turning and in the bountiful beauty that life and art have to offer.

In that realm, I have two suggestions for your August enjoyment. Both of my favorite local theater companies are presenting shows that you won’t want to miss. The inventive and revolutionary modern theatre group Narrow Way Stage Company features the original play “Alice: The Rebellion of Wonderland,” written by Tony Ginesi and directed by Nick Christenson at the Sonoma Community Center this month. And just down the road at Boisset’s beautiful Buena Vista Winery, the zany and lively Avalon Players perform a “circus, gypsy, modern” version of Shakespeare’s most popular play, “The Taming of the Shrew.” Kate Kennedy, a master director remains true to the Bard’s very word but always take her shows to the edge, keeping a modern audience, young and old alike, entertained.

In fact both shows are great for all ages, though most appropriately fourth grade through grandparents.

Wild ride through Wonderland

Let’s start with Narrow Way’s “Alice.” It’s a raucous, wild ride that takes you back to a Wonderland peopled by mad men and women who gather at tea parties to talk politics. It’s not a tea party unlike those pesky vociferous conservatives of today, but with radical leanings in other directions, including up, down, sideways and none at all. Political jokes abound, and fly out so fast that you’ll never catch them all.

The play is energetic and fast-moving. In fact, in one scene as Alice and her crazy cohorts raced out through the audience they sent a whole row of chairs skidding across the floor. Luckily, that was first night and no patrons sat therein.

It is that very liveliness that gives force and energy to this show. Local Sonoman Tony Ginesi wrote the script including puns, riddles, quips and gags of all kinds. Tony is also the master of sound, set and light. This time he outdid himself. The unique and magical lighting at the beginning leads you right into an alternate universe (and delivers you home again at the end), while the complicated and layered stage is a true delight. “Alice” provides a masterpiece in the realm of staging, directing too. It’s a gem.

Yet, for all its wild crazy, comic action, the play has a poignant and thoughtful side, where Alice seeks to save Wonderland and finds herself, through the power of imagination and dreams. Nick, Tony and their entire cast and crew have outdone themselves in a show that creates life and sparks a desire for traveling through your own imagination.

A youthful perspective

But, don’t just take my word for it. My young friend, soon to be a seventh-grader at Presentation, Natalie Sandoval, accompanied me to the opening night show. Here’s Natalie’s capsule review of “Alice.”

“… Everyone knows the story of Alice in Wonderland, but ‘Alice: The Revolution of Wonderland’ puts a twist on the classic story. Alice is dropped into a world of mad hatters, crazy queens, and commanding crows. She and a rag-tag team of revolutionaries go on adventures through Wonderland trying to restore the once peaceful land back to its original state. They reach the palace only to have Alice taken captive by a crow that works for the queen. He then reveals (a secret) to Alice. This play is mainly about imagination, and maintaining a child-like demeanor even when difficulties arise. I also enjoyed the amazing costumes, and lighting.”

Where I’ve inserted “a secret” into Natalie’s text, she revealed the actual secret. Natalie and I agree, we’ll leave that for you to discover when you attend this terrific show.

How to tame a shrew

Equally entertaining, and entirely different is our Sonoma Treasure Kate Kennedy’s newest version of Shakespeare’s oft-misunderstood comedy, “The Taming of the Shrew.” Given Kate’s name, she’s offered this “Kiss Me Kate” original numerous times. I never tire of Kate’s multiple and changing versions of the show. For years, when young, our boys believed that “our” Kate was the only Katherine and Bob Smith the only possible Petruchio. Alas, that is not so.

Now Kate’s beautiful and hilarious, talented Avalon actor Kathryn Del Chiaro has graduated from a Bianca role to become the beautiful Katherine, stubborn, willful and yet, and yes, ever-so-charming. Wooing her is the incomparable Prince ArThor playing the part of Petruchio. They rock. The couple creates the chemistry of love at first sight, while playing out their appointed roles of bickering, quarrelsome, mis-matched pursuer and pursued.

Prince ArThor (no doubt the dear gent’s stage name) presented such a fierce and frightening character in Avalon Players’ early summer show, “Midsummer” in Cazadero, that I actually feared his ugly force in this role. But not to worry, ArThor has calmed his theatrical rage and appears as much the victim as does his betrothed.

In this show beautiful Kyrie Dawson and handsome Aaron Bremmer play the younger lovers. They are awesome. The couple last appeared on Kate’s stage as Juliet and her Romeo. Here, they’ve honed those skills to perfection and we applaud their happy union. This is truly a production of “Shrew” where you’ll be happy that all these lovers are united.

The cast is rounded out by Kate’s troupe of talented actors, young and old. It is especially the younger folks who will thrill the audience: charming and adept (at roles that could have been awarded much older actors) these experienced kids add a heartfelt sweetness to the show.

Kyrie Dawson is our own Glen Ellen gal, grown into a talented actor. She’ll soon head off to college at Lewis & Clark and her good-bye role, opposite Aaron (also headed back to college, at Merced State University) is memorable. We loved watching both of them.

For me, the big surprise in this show was seeing accomplished actor Brian Noyes back on our local stage.

He’s another Glen Ellen kid, now a handsome young man, Brian showed his acting ability early and he’s honed it to perfection now. His physical acting in portraying Grumio is riveting. Brian’s every movement drew my eyes. I was truly thrilled to see this talented gentleman back on stage and hope he continues with Avalon Players. I say see this play just to watch two of our local Glen Ellen “kids,” Kyrie and Brian show off their very grown-up talents.

Hippie regalia revived

But more than just the amazing script (easy to claim about the Bard), the amazing site (which beautiful Buena Vista is) and the talented troupe, it is Kate’s choice of wild costumes that makes this show. At one point, I heard Kate quip to an astonished audience member, “Yep, most of those clothes are from my own wardrobe.” I don’t believe that for a minute … or could it be? The costumes are the most wild and psychedelic array of eccentric, quirky clothes I’ve ever seen on stage. The costuming alone makes for a lively show, brilliant and bizarre. I promise you will be entertained. If you think that seeing the pictures of the costumes on posters and in the paper gives you the sense of them, think again.

On stage, they glitter and glow like the summer of love come alive. Though set at an elegant winery, Kate’s show would be a winner in Haight’s Panhandle park, where one would experience a momentous flashback. This “Shrew” thoroughly captures the scene of the ’60s. Huzzah!

And, for those folks who prefer their Shakespeare in traditional form … Kate captures that entirely by teaching her talented actors to use that lovely language in a way that everybody can understand it.

I truly thank both Avalon Players and Narrow Way for providing summer’s end entertainment of the highest quality. Yep, it’s worth it to get out of Glen Ellen from time to time and see the best that Sonoma has to offer.

Check with the Sonoma Community Center’s website and ditto for Buena Vista Winery’s site to find the times and dates of these outstanding shows.

Look for me in the audience.

• • •

The Folks in Glen Ellen column also appears online. Look for it at www.sonomanews.com/category/lifestyle-history. Or look for my name, way at the bottom on the home page at sonomanews.com. Want to see your own name in the news? Share your stories with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me at Creekbottom@earthlink.net. Glen Ellen chatter rarely requires timeliness; however, if your news does, please be sure to contact me at least two weeks before your desired publication date.