These commentaries are primarily focused on the production, direction, and technical aspects of theater and performing arts.
When the noted British actor Edmund Kean (allegedly) uttered, “Dying is easy…comedy is hard,” he was probably talking about farce. For as difficult as farce is for an actor to do even moderately well, it’s even harder to mount a production that knocks the genre out of the park, but that’s what director Carl Jordan and his band of actors and designers have achieved at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse.
Based on Carlo Goldoni's commedia dell'arte classic The Servant of Two Masters and given a thorough dipping in all things British by playwright Richard Bean, the production is an homage to every pratfall, shtick, not-so-subtle sexual innuendo, kick-in-the-crotch, sight gag, and joke from groaner to giggler. That said, the play—which enjoyed successful runs on Broadway and in the West End—takes a while to really get into gear. While not all of the jokes are of Mark Twain Award quality, from act 1, scene 4 on, the show really cooks.
The play revolves around Francis Henshall (Craig A. Miller) and his shambling attempts to serve two masters, get paid from both his employers, placate his ravenous appetite, and woo Dolly (Melissa Claire), a 1963 feminist-before-her-time complete with a costumer-enhanced rack that could rival a Cadillac of the same vintage.
There are a mere handful of stage directors in the San Francisco Bay area—and beyond—who could approach, much less top, Jordan’s deft hand at casting, stage traffic management, and script dissection.
Steve Piechocki’s scenic design is intriguing: the two doors that anchor the set remain in place while the rest of the set rotates on a turntable. The choice of paint creates a highly stylized set that is visually somewhat reminiscent of 1970s-era cartoons by DePatie-Freleng. (Score: 8/10)
The set was well served by an intriguing combination of solid door flats—necessary to survive all the door-slamming typical in a farce)—and lightweight materials in the actual wall structures that enabled the whole set to better move on the turntable. (Score: 8/10)
A four-piece live band played clever and appropriate music to cover the overly long scene changes. Some entrances were a beat or two tardy, but considering the numbers of actors moving in and out of the play’s many scenes, overall stage management by Sylvia Jones was solid, as was prop management and location. (See Props below) (Score: 7/10)
Craig Miller’s sound design was effective and unobtrusive, a skill surprisingly rare at the community and regional theater levels. (Score: 8/10)
In a show as prop-laden as this, the true artistry is in making the multitude of props blend-in organically with the action and not bolted-on or placed onstage just to…well, place them onstage. Ben Harper and Meghan Hakes deserve kudos for this properties selection. (Score: 9/10).
Hair, Makeup, and Costumes
The show is set in 1963. Pamela Johnson’s hair, makeup, and costumes were consistently good-to-excellent. (Makeup Score: 8/10), (Costume Score: 9/10), (Hair Score: 7/10)
Carl Jordan is the finest theater director in the North Bay, bar none. He deserves to be working in venues such as Marin Theater Company, SF Playhouse, Custom Made Theater, Shotgun Theater, and similar, more visible venues—and said venues would be fortunate to have his services. (Score: 9/10)
April George’s lighting design was almost flawless. The color choices and general light plot were well executed and better than almost any production I’ve seen in the past six months---except for a noticeable dim spot downstage center. Every time an actor stepped into that location there was a noticeable, and irritating, loss of illumination. (Score: 7/10)
Carl Jordan’s casting was solid. I have yet to see one actor in the North Bay who could play the role of Francis Henshall as well as 6th Street’s artistic director Craig A. Miller. His performance alone is a thesis on multiple aspects of stage comedy. (Score: 8/10)
Overall, this production is superior to 90 percent of North Bay stagings in general, and 98 percent of North Bay comedies. There were a few night-after-opening-night jitters in the performance I saw, but such is live theater, especially following opening night. This production will just get tighter—and by extension, even funnier—as the run continues. (Score: 9/10)
Go see it. Twice! (Score: 9/10)
Overall Theater Tech Score: (106/130) Outstanding work.
One Man Two Guvnors by Richard Bean
Directed by Carl Jordan
Through Feb 7, 2016
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa, CA
Tickets available online at http://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
Run time: 2.5 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Kris Neely is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics’ Circle and an award-winning stage director. In 2013 Neely earned an SFBATCC Best Director award for Lend Me a Tenor (Ross Valley Players) and his direction of Leading Ladies for Novato Theater Company was listed as one of the 10 Best Plays of 2014 in the North Bay by the Marin Independent Journal newspaper. He was also nominated for a 2013 Outstanding Production Shellie Award for directing A Case of Libel for the Pittsburg Community Theater.
Mr. Neely’s blogs on theater and performing arts are found online at For All Events (www.forallevents.com), Marin Onstage (http://backstage.marinonstage.org), and OnStage (www.onstageblog.com).