Theater Tech: First Time for Second Time Around
These commentaries are primarily focused on the production, direction, and technical aspects of theater and performing arts.
A high school student is interviewing a ninety-two-year-young man on videotape. The elder’s tales of life, love, innocence lost, and wisdom found are told to his teenaged counterpart accompanied by the soulful melodies of a cello.
The Rocky Horror Show, this is not. Second Time Around, written and performed by Charlie Varon and accompanied by cellist Joan Jeanrenaud on The Marsh’s San Francisco stage, is touted as a “duet for cello and storyteller.” The premise is refreshing and would have been more impactful had both artists brought bring their A-games. While I felt the storytelling didn’t match the cello playing, the result was still an interesting theater experience.
Presented on a bare stage—save seats and music stands—there is no scenic design to speak of. However, the spare setting does succeed in drawing the audience’s focus into the story and music. While there was no need to spend the time or money on an unneeded set, a slide show backdrop might have added a certain visual interest to the otherwise static tableau of storyteller and cellist. (Score: N/A)
Per above, no score. (Score: N/A)
In that no one made an entrance or exit except to start and end the performance, and there were no noticeable light cues other than lights-up and lights-down, the stage management was perfunctory. (Score: 5/10)
The performers were dressed in street attire. (Score: N/A)
Kelly Witters ran the soundboard for this show. (Score: 5/10)
There were no props for the show. (Score: N/A.)
According to a comment made by Mr. Varon, he and director David Ford have worked together on various shows for more than 20 years. Their familiarity may not have helped this show. Mr. Ford’s directing choices felt too safe, too predictable. As a result, Mr. Varon’s performance was muted, failing to capitalize on the dramatic and comedic possibilities of the material, eliminating any opportunity to elicit an emotional reaction through intense beats or quietude. This was somewhat surprising considering Mr. Varon wrote the dialog. (Score: 5/10)
Kelly Witters also operated the light board and as previously noted there was little for her beyond lights-up and lights-down. The low score here should in no way reflect on Ms. Witters. Rather, I believe the director should have/could have used subtle lighting changes to help add emotional and visual impact—not to mention interest—to this production. (Score: 2/10)
Ms. Jeanrenaud, who wrote the original cello score for the production, is a cellist of world-renown. Her playing and intonation were superb, inspired, and breathtaking in range. In fact, her execution and use of dynamic and sonic range was so profound as to cast Mr. Varon’s performance into a dimmer light, making any comparison come across as damning with faint praise. That is always the risk in putting a very good talent on stage next to a world-class talent. (Score Mr. Varon: 6/10. Score: Ms. Jeanrenaud: 9/10)
The concept of Second Time Around is solid. The storyline is interesting if somewhat slow to start. The music is superb, so the production should not be missed if for no other reason than to hear Ms. Jeanrenaud play in the intimate environment of The Marsh San Francisco.
As noted, the direction by Mr. Ford and the acting by Mr. Varon, while professional and capable, were workmanlike and uninspired. (Score: 6/10)
Overall Theater Tech Score: Just okay, except for the playing of Ms. Jeanrenaud, which was exceptional. (38/70)
Second Time Around by Charlie Varon
Directed by David Ford
The Marsh, San Francisco, CA
Tickets for The Marsh available online at themarsh.org
Run time: 1 hour 15 minutes with no 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 Aisle Seat Reviews https://aisleseatreview.wordpress.com/, For All Events (www.forallevents.com), Marin Onstage (http://backstage.marinonstage.org), and nationally at OnStage (www.onstageblog.com).