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Classics Shine Contemporary Light Through The Past

Photo courtesy of Falson's Eye Theatre
The "hippie life" for good -- and ill -- is explored in "Hair," by Falcon's Eye Theatre of Folsom.

Two classic plays – one from the 1890s and one from the 1960s – are on local theater stages, and each is excellent. Neither is frequently performed, so this offers a rare opportunity for theatergoers. The plays are Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” and the musical “Hair” by Gerome Ragni and James Rado (book and lyrics) and Galt MacDermot (music).

War, Love and “Hair”

It seemed totally appropriate that Falcon’s Eye Theatre should open its production of “Hair” last Friday (April 13) on the same day the United States bombed strategic weapons sites in Syria. It looked to many like another unnecessary incursion into a sovereign state – and one without widespread approval or initial consultation with Congress. It differs from the Vietnam War, which is the center of protest in “Hair,” in several ways, including the limited number of American soldiers involved and the fact that there is no longer a draft.

“Hair,” subtitled an American Tribal Love Rock Musical, celebrates the youth movement of the ‘60s that was far less carefree and reckless than sometimes portrayed as simply “the age of the hippie” or the beginning of the free-love movement. But, while pursuing a life of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, The Tribe – Claude, Berger, Woof and Hud, plus Sheila, Crissy, Jeannie, Ronny and others – also dealt with such very real problems as unemployment, disaffection of families, unintended pregnancy, crises of conscience and, of course, a government intent on sending young men to die in a foreign land for an insupportable cause.

Many current personalities and events – Betsy DeVos as education head, Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Pollution, er, Protection Agency and the Parkland school shooting – are factors implicit in the current production. On stage through April 21 at the Harris Center in Folsom, “Hair” is a marvel of youthful energy and talent as well as outstanding stagecraft (there’s an actual bus on stage). Designed and constructed by theater students at Folsom Lake College and directed by theater professor David Harris and choreographed by adjunct professor Sunny Mitchell, “Hair” carries an inspirational message that activism works – if we are willing to pay the price.

Outstanding musical performances abound, including but not limited to, “Easy To Be Hard,” sung by Nicolette Latini as Sheila; “Frank Mills,” by Evelyn Olsen as Chrissy; “Where Do I Go,” performed by Dalton Johnson as Claude; and “What a Piece of Work Is Man,” sung by Tanika Shevaun Baptiste and Evan Martorana as Ronny and Walter, respectively. Solid musical accompaniment is provided by musical director and pianist Graham Sobelman and a six-piece orchestra including trumpet and trombone.

“Hair” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday (April 19, 20 and 21). Tickets are $25 general and $15 for students and seniors. Stage One at the Harris Center for the Arts is at 10 College Parkway on the Folsom Lake College campus, Folsom.

For tickets or for more information, call (916) 608-6888 or go to HarrisCenter.net.

Cry “Uncle”

There is no depression like Russian depression – the kind of emotional numbness that makes life itself a chore. In Anton Chekhov’s 1898 drama, there’s little to brighten anyone’s existence – unless you count a failed murder attempt!

“Uncle Vanya” was first produced in 1899 by the Moscow Art Theatre with the legendary Konstantin Stanislavski directing and starring as Astrov. The current Actor’s Theatre of Sacramento production, on stage through May 6, is directed by Ed Claudio, who plays not Dr. Astrov, but Serebryakov, a.k.a. “the Professor.”

The plot involves the visit of the elderly professor and his enticing (and much younger) wife, Yelena (Jenny Cox) to the country estate that provides the funds for their life in the city. He intends to sell the estate and invest the money to provide a higher income for himself and Yelena. Trouble is, Vanya (Sean Williams), brother of the professor’s first wife, and Sonya (Cattaryna Tekin), the professor’s daughter by his first wife, live on and manage the estate. They keep it going in order to support themselves and the professor.

Complicating matters here is that both Vanya and Dr. Astrov (Darryl DeHart) have the hots for Yelena, who clearly didn’t marry the professor for love; and Sonya suffers an unrequited love for the good doctor.

Solid performances abound here, led by the consummate actor Claudio, who has masterfully cast himself as the imperial, impervious professor. He is willfully ignorant of anything not of the mind. Williams, as Vanya, brings a more modern sensibility to his role, while Tekin’s Sonya is submerged in her character’s sadness and disappointment. Cox’s Yelena is aloof and alone.

Christopher Amick, Cindy Ferreri, John Goodin, and Christine Lovetter and Adriana Marmo (who are double cast as the Nanny) round out the nine character cast.

“Uncle Vanya” is performed at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through May 6. Tickets are $20 general and $18 for students and seniors. The Three Penny Theatre is in the R25 complex at 1721 25th St. For tickets or for more information, call (916) 501-6108 or go to ActinSac.com.


About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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