THE GREAT DIVIDE Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle The Shotgun Players of Berkeley are presently performing THE GREAT DIVIDE. Brilliantly directed by Mina Morita, the play uses Ibsen’s AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE as a template. Adam Chanzit has moved the setting from a Norwegian town just downstream from the fetid mill town of Molletal, to a sintered town in Colorado which has the fortune, or misfortune, to be perched on top of a flatulent vein of Marcellus shale. Although the geography or geology may be a little off, Chanzit has correctly depicted the dubious benefits of extracting natural gas from shale via fracturing. As human nature would have it, the indigent townspeople of this Colorado hamlet are slavering over the possibility of real jobs, royalty checks, cheap energy, bigger houses, glitzier cars, better cuts of meat and cable service with 500 channels. A decent shot at the American Dream has everyone poised for moral compromise, spring loaded to the environment be damned position and willing to sacrifice the common good for the sake of the common good. While the local economy has never been so robust, it is a pity the same cannot be said for its withering denizens; the townspeople and, more sadly, the innocent goats are stricken by all the ancillary side effects of drinking shots of benzene with their well water. Hovstad, an earnest whelp of a journalist (duplicitously played Ryan Tasker) is taking notes for his Pulitzer Prize entry, while Doctor Katherine Stockmann is taking water samples and offering bottled water and evacuation as an antidote to the malaise. Just as the town is beginning to smell the benzene tainted lucre, Doctor Stockmann (played righteously by Heather Robison) succeeds in temporarily driving off the drilling and fracking company; the people are not happy, you can almost hear their plaintive yelps, “Shane, Come Back” to the spoilers. Needless to say, Doctor Stockman does not become a viable candidate for the town council or mayor, nor is she elected to the state assembly; if the town had a Shirley Jackson style Lottery Doctor Stockman would have won it hands down. The Shotgun Players are the obvious choice to spot light this timely issue of environment and ground water versus cheap energy prices and avarice; the Shotgun Players occupy the moral high ground; they are possibly the greenest and most environmentally friendly theater in the country; their photovoltaic array not only powers their Klieg Lights, it produces a surplus of electrons that are force fed to PG & E. Sure this is an election year, but if you are thinking of political or social activism, you might want to witness what happens to the Stockmann family when Citizen Katherine sticks her head into the powder keg. THE GREAT DIVIDE will not only entertain you, it will challenge you intellectually and might even get you to trade the 12 mpg SUV for a bicycle and swap those archaic incandescent bulbs in for LEDs. As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Don’t miss THE GREAT DIVIDE; it runs now through June 24; call the box office at 510-841-6500 or surf over to
THE PRODUCERS Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Are you looking for serious comedy in the Bay Area? Have you not had a decent laugh since the networks cancelled GILLIGAN’S ISLAND? Is your IRA gathering less interest than you do at a clothing optional beach? Would even a hydraulic jack fail to lift your spirits? Is your home so far underwater that the realtor lists it as a four bedroom cistern or waterfront property, and uses a glass bottom boat to show it to potential buyers? If you answered “yes” to two or more of the preceding questions, you need the medicine of laughter; the antidote to fretting and strutting, you have to see THE PRODUCERS at the Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City. Award winning director Bill Starr has crafted Mel Brooks’ zany comedy into a major riot; you will laugh until you re-open your liposuction scars. Bill has assembled a dream cast; watching the show, one would assume that this production is into its second year; it clicks like the bullet train that California has been waiting on for the last decade. Dan Demers (Max Bialystock) and Luke Chapman (Leo Bloom) are a comedy team right up there with Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Demers and Chapman are more than stage chemistry, we are talking nuclear fusion. Dan Demers is miraculous find; where, west of the Jersey shore, can you find an actor who can play a Manhattan Producer as well as the originals, Nathan Lane or Tony Danza, or even better than a Manhattan Producer? Luke Chapman, absolutely blooms on stage—the pun is both applicable and intentional; Chapman enters as a bumbling, mousey accountant and by the final curtain he is a roaring champion and an alpha male. Kate Paul, as the svelte Swede with the sesquipedalian moniker videlicet: Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson, is more than any married director could dream of: more height, more legs and more song and dance talent than you can squeeze under the stage lights. When Kate, as Ulla, performs "When You've Got It, Flaunt It," as her sizzling audition number for Max and Leo, every man in the house is subvocalizing, “Hire her, hire her, hire her.” Choreographer Gary Stanford violates all the Postulates of Euclidean Geometry; he does dance extravaganzas on the Hillbarn stage, with props, that some choreographers would not attempt on a football field. The outrageous creativity of Costume Designers Mae Heagerty-Matos and Shannon Maxham rivals anything you are going to see at BEACH BLANKET BABYLON or this year’s Bay-to-Breakers Race. THE PRODUCERS at the Hillbarn is major house entertainment quality at community theater prices and intimacy—when Ulla flaunts it, you don’t want to be in the balcony trying to focus your steamed up opera glasses. For an exuberant evening of laughter, call the box office at 650-349-6411 or surf on over to; you may have missed Sally Rand at the Music Box, you don’t want to miss Ulla at the Hillbarn.