Food for Thought: Blithe Spirit Rehearsal Blog July 18

The following was written by Director of Marketing and Communications Janet Magleby, after sitting in on rehearsals this week. Stay tuned for weekly dispatches from the room!

Anthony Fusco as Charles, Jessica Kitchens as Elvira, and René Augesen as Ruth; photo by Kevin Berne.

Anthony Fusco as Charles, Jessica Kitchens as Elvira, and René Augesen as Ruth; photo by Kevin Berne.

As the Blithe Spirit rehearsal picks up after a ten-minute break in the Cal Shakes rehearsal hall, Stage Manager Corrie Bennett announces, “and we’re back.” Rebekah Brockman, playing Edith the maid, practices walking and balancing a silver tea set on a tray. “Let’s start with page 77 and the doorbell,” says Director Mark Rucker.  Composer/Sound Designer Will McCandless presses the magic button and the doorbell announces Madam Arcati (Domenique Lozano). She has come to visit Ruth Condomine*, at her request. René Augesen (Ruth) answers the door, invites her in, and instantly offers her some tea.

Ruth: “Would you like some tea, Madame Arcati?”

Madame Aracti: “Chinese or Indian? I never touch Indian—it upsets my vibrations.”

Ruth confirms it’s Chinese.

Madame Arcati:”What is in these sandwiches?”

Ruth: “Cucumber.”

Madame Arcati: “Couldn’t be better!” (She helps herself to one.)

This is when I knew that I’d better eat at the café at the Bruns before I sit down to enjoy this production … all this talk about food is definitely going to make me hungry!

Ruth then begins to describe what has happened to her husband and her home since the recent séance. Madame Arcati is thrilled when she realizes that she has accomplished something extraordinary, but apologizes to Ruth and asks how she can help.

Ruth: By zipping her (Elvira) back to wherever she came from!”

Blithe Spirit Aug 8-Sep 2, 2012

Blithe Spirit runs Aug 8-Sep 2, 2012 at Cal Shakes.

When Ruth insists that she go into a trance or “something” and take care of the ghostly issue at hand, Madame Arcati says it takes several days to prepare and she even has to watch what she eats. She then says, “I had Pigeon Pie yesterday.”

Q: What is Pigeon Pie?
A: Recipe here.

After Ruth infuriates and insults Madame Arcati, the medium she leaves in a huff, exclaiming, “You can stew in your own juice!” (For those of you playing at home, that’s food/drink reference number four.) Then, Elvira (Jessica Kitchens—yes, I realize the coincidence here) and Charles (Anthony Fusco) enter. Elvira announces that she’d like a cucumber sandwich, too … alas, she can’t eat in her ethereal state.

Scene Three

Ruth is visiting with Mrs. Bradman. Ruth offers Mrs. Bradman a cocktail: “Sherry, perhaps?” Dr. Bradman enters and Ruth offers him Sherry, too. Director Rucker makes several blocking adjustments to assure that they are bringing the action downstage. But for the most part he lets the scene run completely through, without stopping. I am stunned at how well the actors already know their lines and places. The emotion that René employs in playing Ruth is astounding.

A Few Glossary Words from Scene Three:
Fortnight: 14 nights or two weeks
Dotty: mentally unbalanced, crazy

Corrie announces we’re going back to page 92. Elvira and Charles start again with the line…”Oh, let her go, Charles,” referring to Ruth storming out of the room announcing she’ll have “dinner on a tray.” Anthony wonders how his character will pick up his cocktail with his injured arm.

Then a slight interruption as Cal Shakes’ Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone, who has just returned from Italy, unexpectedly drops in. Instant hugs and kisses all around. He is thrilled with the look of the furniture and wondered where we got it. Jon starts noshing on some of the snacks on the actors’ table (he knows the importance of a nice snack) and then is was off as quick as he came.

Everyone goes back to work … page 100. I’m headin’ to dinner.

Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit, directed by Mark Rucker, plays Aug 8-Sep 2, 2012 at Cal Shakes’ stunning outdoor Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, CA. Get your tickets today!

*Dialect Coach Lynn Soffer has decided that the Condomines’ last name will be pronounced “Condo Mean.”

 

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Ask Philippa: CANDIDA Edition

Candida

Top to bottom: Anthony Fusco, Julie Eccles, and Nick Gabriel in CANDIDA; photo by Kevin Berne.

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts and answers your questions on our 2011 productions.

Written early in Shaw’s dramatic career, when he was about 38 (he would not stop writing till his death in his mid-90s!), Candida belongs to the time of his life when he idealized women as Madonna figures. Not the Raphaelite figures whom he described as dumbly bovine, but the “Shavian” Madonnas, beautiful, quick-witted and hardworking, unafraid to clean sinks and carpets. On a lovely sunny October morning, Shaw presents Candida (his Madonna) with an unexpected choice that comes seemingly from nowhere, and yet which forces her to reflect on her marriage and, indeed, on her whole life.

Are you going to see our production of Candida? Do you have questions or comments about the production’s themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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Belated Notes from the CANDIDA “Meet and Greet” Event

By Publications Manager Stefanie Kalem

Candida art

This has taken me a while to get around to writing, which is really too bad, as the first-rehearsal “Meet and Greet” event, on July 13, for George Bernard Shaw’s Candida was inspiring, enlightening, and just plain hilarious. Ain’t no production like a Jonathan Moscone production: Our fearless leader explained, cajoled, and delved his way deep into this romantic comedy within minutes.
Below are a few observations with which I walked away.

The Play: Moscone finds Candida more complex and dissonant than Mrs. Warren’s Profession in some ways, even though this is classified as one of Shaw’s “Pleasant Plays.” This play, said Moscone, “could be explosive if it was untied; it could be an opera. It should vibrate energy just under the surface of this content world.”

Julie Eccles

Actor Julie Eccles, who portrays Candida.

The title is ironic, Moscone opined, in that the character of Candida rarely gets to speak for herself. Yet both Candida and her husband, Rev. James Morell, are either loved or hated by everyone else in the play. No one is ambivalent about this seemingly perfect pair—everyone is fanatical over them, and all the characters maneuver around the two, positioning themselves to their best advantage. Appropriately, Moscone called the set “a very complex little chessboard.”

Sets: Moscone’s frequent co-conspirator, Annie Smart, has returned. She designed his productions of The Pastures of Heaven, Man and Superman, and An Ideal Husband (as well as the Berkeley Rep and Broadway productions of In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play) so she knew of whence she spoke when she said that, though Candida is written as a classic Victorian drawing room play, a small handful of people on the Bruns stage can be hard to watch if they’re all staying in one place most of the time. So she and Moscone settle on a “room without walls” for this production, similar in theory to Smart’s 2009 Private Lives set. She opened it up, so the audience can see people coming and going.

Candida set

Set model and photo by Annie Smart.

A major source of inspiration for the Candida set is British interior designer William Morris, who was also an activist. His rooms and houses were what we call Mission or Arts & Crafts in the U.S.—very human, handmade, welcoming, which is parallel to Rev. Morell’s character, how his ideas for Christianity and mankind fit together in a utilitarian way. This room is a working room, too, so it will appear to be a very busy office that, at one point, was a parlor, but now is in service to a very busy, in-demand man.

With no walls to decorate, Moscone and Smart decided on a yellowed, parchment-paper backdrop behind a hand-stained, floral-pattered window, imbuing the whole set with the feel of a photo.

Proserpine Garnett

Miss Proserpine Garnett costume sketch by Anna Oliver. Click for more costume sketches!

Costumes: Costume designer Anna Oliver, who designed Nicholas Nickleby andRestoration Comedy for us, explained the creative team’s decision, early on in the planning process, to move the date of the action forward by a decade. The women’s silhouette in the mid-1890s was very aggressive, she said, with big sleeves, tiny waists, and severe hair. In looking for a softer, more sensual shape—in an effort to to “speak the character, not shout it out”—they landed in the early years of the 20th century.

The costumes of Proserpine Garnett (played by Alexandra Henrikson) are of particular interest, in that being a typist was one of the first non-domestic-service jobs widely held by women. Garnett wears slightly masculine dress, with a slightly silly hat to demonstrate that she’s got her own money to spend.

Candida begins previews Wednesday, August 10; opens Saturday, August 13; and closes Sunday, September 4. Get your tickets now!

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A little corn before your turkey, breaders?

First off, “breaders” is a term coined (we hope) by Cal Shakes Associate Artist Nancy Carlin when she was writing a production blog for the 2007 season production of Man and Superman; it’s shorthand for “blog readers.” And of course, it’s appropriate for today, the day before most of the nation stuffs themselves with starches of many stripes.

Stuffing’s my favorite.
But before I talk more about the succulent, slovenlicious joy of carbohydrates (and before I explain this entry’s opening photo) I’d like to ladle out some corn; I want to give thanks to the great actors who were onstage during my first season at Cal Shakes by showing you some stuff they’re doing right now.
Here’s Lorri Holt (Queen Elizabeth in our Richard III) and T. Edward “T. Headdy” Webster (Hastings in Richard III and Hector Malone in Man and Superman) in The Magic Theatre’s current production of The Crowd You’re in With. That photo to the left is from the SF Chronicle, whose Robert Hurwitt gave an enthusiastic review to the show earlier this week, calling Holt “invaluable” and opinig that Webster “slowly, cannily emerges as the emotional and intellectual focus of the fissures gaping ever wider beneath these characters.”
And to the left you’ll see, front and center and wielding a shield (and some serious gams), our very own Associate Artist Andy Murray in Berkeley Rep’s current prodocution of Argonautika. Andy’s a pretty old-fashioned guy, in his own way–when I was gathering updated cast and crew bios for the Man and Superman program some months ago, Andy never responded to my emails, instead calling my phone and leaving a delightfully succinct, two-sentence bio on my voicemail. So he’s especially suited for what a member of the Bullpen crew called his “star turn” in the Argonautika. I’m not sure yet what that means, but I’m going to see the play the first week of December, so I’ll let you know. I’m pretty psyched, though. The Contra Costa Times said that the “experience of seeing the show really is like going on an adventure into some uncharted theatrical territory, and returning with memories to treasure for a long time.”
Meanwhile, over at A.C.T., The Rainmaker–which, according to the San Francisco Examiner, “rocks”–is not only directed by Mark Rucker (who helmed Romeo and Juliet for us in 2001, Richard III in 2007, and will close out Cal Shakes’ 2008 season with Twelfth Night) but it features Cal Shakes Associate Artists Anthony Fusco (The Fool in King Lear) and Stephen Barker Turner (second from left in the picture to the left, and most recently seen at the Bruns in As You Like It and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby) plus, as understudies, Jud Williford (who portrayed Agis in 2007’s The Triumph of Love) and Marcia Pizzo (Berinthia in 2006’s smash hit Restoration Comedy).
OK, so we’ve got Cal Shakes actors delving into modern, character-driven new works, and other ones doing fantastic flights of fancy costumery or classic American romance … what’s left? How about a new take on a sentimental favorite? One starring a Cal Shakes MVP? (I’ll let you in on a little secret–the entire Bullpen squealed about this one earlier today, in unison. You can tell it’s finally the holidays.)
I present to you… Dan Hiatt in This Wonderful Life.
Yep, 2007 season MVP Dan Hiatt–who portrayed Buckingham in Richard III, Straker in Man and Superman, and Hermocrates in The Triumph of Love–will be starring in the one-man adaptation of It’s a Wonderful life at San Jose Rep, opening this very Saturday. Take note, mother of our resident dramaturg Laura Hope (who was famously outed as having a crush on Dan in her daughter’s Man and Superman blog): The Man with the Best Hair at Cal Shakes will be playing George Bailey, Mr. Potter, Clarence, and even, one would assume, even Mary and little Zuzu.
This, of course, prompted Paul and I to do a resounding rendition of the old Dudley Do-Right “I can’t pay the rent! You MUST pay the rent!” skit. I have a feeling Dan will embody the multiple characters far better.
Another holiday classic opens Dec. 5 at A.C.T., this time relatively straight-up (although there is some mention of “gang this” and “gang that” in the cast): A Christmas Carol as directed by Cal Shakes Associate Artist Domenique Lozano, last seen on our stage as Leontine in The Triumph of Love. The cast is studded with Cal Shakes lights, most notably fellow Associate Artist (and devoted, prolific blogger) James Carpenter as the old crankypants himself, Ebeneezer Scrooge.
I’m sure I could find more–Cal Shakes actors are as tireless as they are peerless. Thank you to all of you, for snoozing in the Green Room, reading my old magazines, making me laugh and gasp and think all summer long.
Oh, and about those carbs–thanks to our neighbors at Metropolis Baking, too, who gifted us with bags and bags and BAGS of bread earlier this afternoon. I snagged some sourdough for sandwiches and durum brushed with olive oil and sea salt for tomorrow’s feast. It wasn’t easy, as you can see that the competition (Jessica, Beth, and Liz in the picture at the top of this post) was tough.
Thanks everyone!! Have a great holiday.
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