Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

The 6th Street Playhouse of Santa Rosa has always been full of surprises although nothing in recent memory could possibly prepare the average theatre aficionado for their current opus: CABARET.

The show is based on the script by Joe Materoff and contains many memorable hits by lyricist Fred Ebb and composer John Kander, but such origins are only the launching pad, the chrysalis, the springboard, for this stunning production.

Fasten your seatbelt and press your occipital bone into the headrest, you are about to be accelerated back to the complacently decadent days of Berlin in the 1930s where fatalism, political apathy and resignation were repackaged as joie de vivre.

Director David Lear has skimmed the cream de la cream of theatrical talent from every stage west of the Petaluma River: this show reveals an unflagging attention to detail from Klieg lights to Casting and on to Costuming.

And speaking costumes, unless you are a regular at the O’Farrell Theatre, you are not likely to have seen the fashion line-up that Tracy Hinman Sigrist has in store for you: gentlemen, fasten your chin-straps, your jaw is about to drop.

Scenic designer John Connole has you smelling the bratwurst and tasting the Veuve Clicquot before the house manager reminds you—in a thick Prussian accent—to turn off your cell phone and unwrap your candy.

Connole’s set design seems to optimize every square centimeter of the Sixth Street Stage; he boldly experiments with what photographers call depth of field: his set seems to recede back to the firewall upstage and to cantilever into the audience downstage; unless you’re wearing 3-D glasses, you are never going to see a set design push the limits of Euclidean Geometry like this.

Connole has embellished the set with murals—done in sepia tones that reflect the time and madness of a rising Third Reich; the murals are astonishing: they should be auctioned at Sotheby’s after the show closes.

Mood swings are everything in this show: half the characters are bi-polar, the rest are manic; Lighting Designer Theo Bridant cleverly works his subtle craft to the max: subliminally changing the emotional climate with daring bursts of color suddenly flooding the stage and suffusing the actors with torrents of red and blue.

Just as the insouciance of the cabaret is contrived, a buffer from the truth of the rising Nazi tide, Theo Bridant’s lighting, seemingly heavy handed at times, symbolizes how hard the patrons are working to ignore the omens.

Choreographer Tony Gianchetta should be commended first and foremost for his courage: thanks to Bob Fosse, CABARET is possibly best known for its impeccable choreographic standards: an audience has been preconditioned to expect nothing less and Tony delivers in spades: from the synchronous chorus lines, to the bawdy ménage a trios and on to the superlative solo performances of Marjorie Rose Taylor: this show is buffed and brilliantly polished.

Expectation and past experience inevitably place tremendous pressures on the performers in CABARET: the movie CABARET earned Fosse four nominations for Oscars: it was flawless.

Any actress that has the chutzpah to take on Sally Bowles knows she is up against Liza Minelli, the definitive Sally, who won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her unforgettable role in CABARET.

Marjorie Rose Taylor more than measured up to what is arguably the most challenging role in show business: she was absolutely dazzling.

When Miss Taylor performs the title song—reaffirming her decision to remain with the cabaret and to leave the straight life behind—the audience is rocked: this reviewer had chills, rushes and the hairs on the back of his neck standing like a cockatoo’s feathers.

If this show were an Olympic event Miss Taylor would get a 10 in acting, a 10 in singing and a 10 in dancing.

Rarely is this much talent ensconced in one up-and-coming actress; what is truly noteworthy is that Miss Taylor is clearly prepared to augment her prodigious natural talent with tons of hard work; paradoxically her stage presence and dazzling finished product seem nearly effortless.

The show is nothing short of smashing; it will pry you loose from Bill Fosse and Liza Minelli; henceforth you will remember Tony Gianchetta and Marjorie Rose Taylor.

For tickets, call 707-523-4185.
LEGACY OF LIGHT Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle The San Jose Rep, now into its 30th anniversary season, is presently staging LEGACY OF LIGHT written by Karen Zacarias and deftly directed by Kirsten Brandt. Robert Yacko, as Voltaire and Rachel Harker, as Emilie Du Chatelet are the dazzling dynamic dipole about which this delightfully sophisticated and witty play revolves. The script is nearly encyclopedic: crammed with bits of math, physics, science, astronomy and biographical details on history’s most brilliant man: Voltaire—whose I.Q. is estimated to have been 190 (just a few points shy of what Marilyn Vos Savant claims hers to be) and one of the preeminent scientists and mathematicians of the French Enlightenment: Emilie Du Chatelet: the woman who successfully challenged the false hypotheses erroneously laid down by Isaac Newton himself. Karen Zacarias has clearly researched and fact checked her script, the math and physics expressed in the play are consonant with Newtonian physics. As described by Voltaire in a letter to a friend, "Everything about Emilie is noble, her countenance, her tastes, the style of her letters, her discourses, her politeness. … her conversation is agreeable and interesting," Rachel Harker is an excellent match for bigger than life Emilie. In her day, Emilie rightfully earned the accolade or sobriquet: blue stocking; she was light years ahead of her times: she mused on the possibility of dark matter: a glue which held the universe together. Einstein himself would not postulate dark matter until 1917—then too, Einstein later mistakenly recanted the theory. In addition to the sterling performances of Harker and Yacko, there are the magnificent period costumes of Brandin Baron and a set design by William Bloodgood that works equally well in both the 18th and the 21st centuries. This is top quality theatre: it is erudite entertainment that is both charming and edifying: it should not be missed. For tickets call the box office at 408-367-7255 or email info@sjrep.com.
WIRE HEAD Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle WIRE HEAD, currently at the SF Playhouse, is a not-to-be-missed hyperbolic comedy think piece written by Matthew Benjamin and Logan Brown and superbly directed by Susi Damilano. WIRE HEAD serves as a lens, a mirror, a sounding board and a litmus test to examine the moral and ethical gray zones created when superior intelligence is juxtaposed or collides with mediocre intelligence. As human beings it is hard to conceive of another species, aside from gods, demi-gods, (not to be confused with demagogues) and dolphins that are collectively or individually smarter than we. What thoughts; what truths; what knowledge would such a species apprehend that we could not? We may condescendingly indulge the dolphin, pat him or her on the slippery head, and acknowledge that his or her larger brain represents more cognitive potential than our own brain, but the truth is that we are not threatened by the dolphin. Perhaps we are not threatened because the dolphin seems to be perpetually smiling: we implicitly trust them and, we never have to compete head on against a dolphin at work, at sea, at chess, in a poker game or in a singles bar. Imagine a superior entity that looked at your feeble intelligence the same way that you look at the intelligence of a Chimpanzee, a Labrador Retriever or your Uncle Cusper. There is a Star Trek episode wherein a non-essential crewmember is stuck by cosmic lightning—whatever that is. Rather than fry and die, the crewmember recovers; immediately his intelligence begins to show exponential growth; he devours every book in the Starship Enterprise Carnegie Library. The crewmember goes on to absorb the ship’s data base and is studying the Enterprises’ owner’s manual when Spock learns that the crew member completely understands the collected works of Spinoza, enjoyed the movie INCEPTION and can beat Spock at three dimensional chess. Spock urgently recommends marooning the new super genius on a planet that is so primitive that its inhabitants eat without silverware, have no cable television, cannot distinguish between a Merlot and a Cabernet and have barely scratched the surface of Paleolithic culture. As the usually rational Spock warns Captain Kurk, “Jim, we have got to get him off this ship: in a few days, he will be looking at us as if we were lab rats.” The panicky assumption is that the new genius will NOT be a moral genius and his cognitive powers will be inimical to the Enterprise mission and its crew. Strange that as a species we not only intimidated by, but are mistrustful of and threatened by, other peoples’ superior intelligences. Such is the grist and gist of WIRE HEAD. In WIRE HEAD, a Chinese firm begins marketing cranial implants, nano-hard drives and chips designed to augment human intelligence. Given that there is little demand, or need, for these devices in China, they sell them to Americans who were not raised by an Asian Tiger Mom or Amy Chua and who regularly attended sleep-overs. When Hammy (played by Cole Alexander Smith), an indulged trust fund baby, has an implant installed, he is suddenly infinitely smarter than his mediocre cohorts Adams (played by Craig Marker) and Destry (played by Gabriel Marker). Recalling how an advanced culture—the Europeans—enslaved and decimated a primitive indigenous culture—the American Indians—Adams and Destry declare war on cranial chips, nano-hard drives and the wire heads who have them. If it morally permissible to kill a species designated less intelligent than humans, is it also permissible to kill an artificially created species that has far greater intelligence than humans? After all, as Protagorus said, “Man is the measure of all things.” WIRE HEAD should be seen with a group of friends: it will inspire a philosophical discussion that will continue into the evening long after the last glass of wine and bottle of beer have been consumed. WIRE HEAD is a parable, metaphor and augur for our times. As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Superb directing and judicious casting have taken a brilliant script and elevated it to inspirational art. For an evening of hilarious, thought provoking fun and laughter, call the box office at 415-677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org.