Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Steve Froelich, Dee Maaske, Elaine Rivkin and
Greg North star in North Coast Rep's "Marjorie Prime"

The power that are in words are the keys to understanding​;​ ​w​ith clarity comes hope, and a great many more feelings, all merging into a larger​,​ life-affirming force ​that becomes the tools of writers, playwrights, actors, technicians, and the creative artisans who move us to feel human.

When we’re in their thrall, these creative artists motivate us to be more introspective​,​ to sooth​e​ and comfort those grieving souls around us​,​ and to assist those less fortunate. They heighten our memories that are so essential to life. These are but a few of the gifts that the live theatre experience celebrates. Here’s another… we’re the only species that has the ability to smile, which then leads to laughter​,​ a staple of most theatrical experiences.

North Coast Repertory Theatre’s San Diego Premiere production of “Marjorie Prime” by playwright Jordan Harrison is deftly directed by Matthew Wiener. The drama incorporates all of the necessary components that ‘words and technology’ can muster and then transforms the totality into a superb, satisfying futuristic look at the technologically robotic​-​driven world of tomorrow that is actually here today.

The story playwright Harrison presents is a tale set in the not-to​o​-distant future in which artificial intelligence is used to treat dementia and depression in the forms of “primes”- ‘humanoid’ lifelike robots that speak with patients in the form of lost loved ones and provide companionship for the lonely. They are basically programmed as memory machines to sell to the elderly as a way of easing the frustration of elderly people fighting the effects of dementia. Marjorie’s prime is modeled to look and talk like her dead husband Walter, at age thirty. I know, but the idea is not as disquieting as it sounds. It’s actually fascinating when seen on a stage.

Marjorie, who is 85 in the play, is winningly played by Dee Maaske, who brings the ​perfect ​quality of a bored, tough, old woman who still has issues to discuss with her daughter Tess (played by Elaine Rivkin). Marjorie’s decided she’s not quite ready to join her husband Walter just yet.  It’s a wonderfully focused performance by Ms. Maaske.

Dee Maaske and Elaine Rivkin play mother and daughter
in North Coast Rep's "Marjorie Prime"
Ms. Rivkin’s Tess is a bit of a Freudian delight when it comes to the love-hate, mother-daughter relationship.  At times, Tess feels guilty, yet irritated​;​ then she’s concerned and caring ​about Marjorie​'​s ​condition​. ​S​he feels her husband Jon​,​ (nicely portrayed by Greg North) as the peacemaker​,​ always seems to side with Marjorie. Ms. Rivkin turns in a nicely nuanced performance.

Jon is the glue that keeps the entire family together. He’s the son-in-law that delights every mother.  He’s kind, caring, understanding, and he really listens to both his wife and his mother-in-law. Mr. North has stage presence, and although a big man, he brings a warm quality with energy to his character​. I​t too is a winning performance.

Dee Maaske and Steve Froelich in North
Coast Rep's "Marjorie Prime"
Walter the Prime, as played by Steve Froelich, is a study in discipline and stamina.  He portrays Walter at age 30. He must be always be engaged with the onstage action but must be presented to the audience, not as a robotic, monotone voiced machine, but a warm, smiling, pleasant, engaging memory of Walter.  He sits, he stands and walks like a perfect facsimile of Walter. Like his fellow actors​,​ Mr. Froelich also delivers a fine performance.

Greg North, Steve Froelich, Elaine Rivkin and
Dee Maaske in North Coast Rep's "Marjorie Prime"
The real beauty of this highly skilled production lies in the fabulous ensemble performances of the cast.

In the technical department​,​ led by director Wiener, Set Designer Marty Burnett has created a slick-looking, futuristic set with cleans lines and a muted color palette. The projection designs on each side of the set give the scene changes an ethereal look and is an inspired touch. Matt Novotny’s light design compliments the set and the costumes of Elisa Benzoni. Melanie Chen’s sound design and Andrea Gutierrez’s props and Peter Herman’s Wig designs complete the technical team.

North Coast Repertory Theatre has another triumph on its hands with its sublime production of “Marjorie Prime”.  The stellar production runs through February 5, 2017.
-- Jack Lyons


Jessica John Gerke and Richard Baird star as the
sexual gameplayers in "Les Liaisons Dangereuses"
at San Diego Rep. All photos by Daren Scott. 

Academy Award-winning screenwriter and playwright Christopher Hampton struck gold with his cleverly re-imagined 1988 movie (based on his hugely successful 1985 play) sex-fueled adaptation of the 1782 novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, It’s been a popular and a favorite play for regional and community theatres ever since.

“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” which opened last Friday, January 13th, at San Diego Rep Theatre’s Lyceum Space stage, is the third production from the young New Fortune Theatre Company co-founded by Richard Baird and Amanda Schaar.

It’s a gorgeously costumed, engaging romp in sexual intrigues that caused scandals when performed in 18th and 19th century France and raised eyebrows in randy Restoration England as well.

The play centers around two ex-lovers: Le Vicomte de Valmont (Richard Baird) and La Marquise de Merteuil (Jessica John Gerke) who scheme to ruin the reputation of an innocent young aristocrat Cecile de Volanges (Gentry Roth). The Marquise is seeking revenge for a betrayal by a former lover. Valmont, king of the libertines, goes along with the scheme because he’s in love with himself as a stud and lives to bed any and all attractive woman within his reach.

Gentry Roth and Richard Baird in
"Les Liaisons Dangereuses"
Together they devise a series of seductions and manipulations but soon realize that their intricate plan for each to seduce a victim is more than they bargained for, and this latest game plan and their targets may be their most dangerous by far. There are twists and turns by all of the players in this game of passion, emotion and consequences, which in Act One, “almost plays like a Restoration comedy”, according to director/actor Baird. In Act Two, however, the dangerous game of love gets more serious.

Conor Sullivan and Jessica John Gerke in
"Les Liaisons Dangereuses"
Mr. Baird scores in a wonderfully nuanced performance balancing Valmont’s predatory tendencies while at same time bringing a lightness and a debonair approach of supreme confidence that is entertaining and less off-putting. Ms. Gerke as the Marquise Merteuil has the stunning polished look of a woman who understands the power of her beauty and experience, and knows how use it to dazzle and lure men to her bed. Both Valmont and the Marquise are formidable players in the game of seduction.

Richard Baird and Amanda Schaar in
"Les Liaisons Dangereuses"
Amanda Schaar as Madame de Tourvel delivers a finely judged performance that begins as a pawn in the seduction scheme, but becomes the true love of Valmont at the play’s end. Their scenes together are both sexy and poignant, underscoring the redemptive power of true love.

The supporting cast is a director’s dream, a true ensemble cast who stay in the moment and who are fully engaged include Connor Sullivan as Le Chevalier Danceny, the young boy toy of the Marquise, Gentry Roth as Cecile de Volanges, the young and virginal daughter of the clueless Madame Volanges, played by Terril Miller. Dagmar Fields as Valmont’s Aunt, Taylor Henderson as Emilie, Justin Lang as Azolan, Valmont’s valet, and Neil McDonald as the Major Domo. Crystal Brandan and Christopher Torborg complete the cast.

Dagmar Fields, Jessica John Gerke and
Richard Baird in "Les Liaisons Dangereuses"
“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” is a splendid production chock full of terrific performances, where smart and clever directorial touches abounded at the opening preview that I attended.

The cast members who are charged with striking of the set pieces and props at each performance accomplish it in a measured manner to the accompaniment of French drawing room music; a nice touch that has the creative fingerprints of co-directors Kaitlin O’Neal and Richard Baird all over it.

Richard Baird and Conor Sullivan in
"Les Liaisons Dangereuses"
The gorgeous costume designs of Howard Schmitt sparkle in the lighting design of A.J. Paulin. The clever Set Design by Guillo Perrone is not only functional for the actors, it allows for the large expanse required for the dueling scene in Act Two. Thanks to Fight Choreographer J. Tyler Jones, a believable tense sequence of the duelists is nicely accomplished.

The New Fortune Theatre has a first rate, stellar production on its hands that you won’t want to miss. For reservations and ticket information call Lyceum Events at 619-544-1000, or go online for tickets at www.lyceumevents.org.

“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” runs through January 28, 2017.

-- Jack Lyons