The Hills are alive with the Sound of Music at CCCT

photo by Joe Metheny as Rolf and Grace Lilette Lorenzana as Liesl in CCCT’s production of "The Sound of Music," directed by Marilyn Langbehn.
photo by
Joe Metheny as Rolf and Grace Lilette Lorenzana as Liesl in CCCT’’s
production of “The Sound of Music,” directed by Marilyn Langbehn.

I used to be a regular audience member at Contra Costa Civic Theatre productions back when I taught in El Cerrito and lived in Richmond. But I’d sort of forgotten about it since moving to Berkeley ten years ago. It was always a charming production with a range of talents, which is de rigeur for community theater.

But last night I was treated to a professionalism that I didn’t quite recognize. CCCT’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music was top notch, featuring talented actors and singers. Except for the fact that the two elderly and hard-of-hearing ladies seated next to me talked fairly frequently throughout the show, I felt like I was attending a professional theater production in a major city. And heck, I’ve heard similar conversations at the Aurora, which is far from community theater.

The opening number sung by the nun chorus was breathtaking and set the tone for the rest of the show. Leading them was the Mother Abbess, Marie Plette, who actually had a long career in the opera and is still hitting notes with gusto. Interesting side note: the last time she performed in musical theater was when she was in high school playing none other than the Mother Abbess.

nun chorusBut the rest of the ladies in wimples were no slouches. Notable among them was Berkeley Broadway Singer Mary Coleston, who has also been in her fair share of productions. I had never seen this play on stage, but I probably watched the film twenty times, and I remember wanting to get through the nun parts to get to what I thought was the good stuff with the Von Trapp children. But I could have listened to the nun chorus all night!

Sarah Sloane made her CCCT debut as the show’s star, the headstrong and will o’ the wisp Maria, and she carried her scenes with great poise and sparkle.

Of the twenty-seven roles played (quite an ambitious feat in itself), all but four were making their CCCT debut, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of performing experience. In  fact, arrive early for the show if you want to be able to read their extensive bios before curtain time. The cast represents a well of singing and acting talent.

Of course the children were adorable. In community theater, one doesn’t necessarily expect to get such young performers who can also sing, dance, and act, but this cast did a wonderful job and never relied solely on being cute. Liesl was not played by a teenager but by Grace Lilette Lorenzana, a junior high school teacher with a lovely voice who played sixteen quite convincingly. I freely admit that my eyes teared up in sheer joy during “So Long, Farewell,” which was my favorite tune from this musical when I listened to the record as a child.

All the children remembered their lines, sang beautifully, and kept up with their adult cast mates, but I was particularly charmed by the luminous sixth-grader Maya Marinez-Krams, who played Brigitta.

I was surprised to discover that the play is not the same as the film and had three songs I’d never heard before. And I learned only after the show that the music was live, accompanied by two pianists hidden in the eaves.

If you’re a fan of this moving and popular musical, you must go see this production. It’s playing through July 19. For more info, go to or call at 510.524.9132.

Mortified mines those embarrassing teen years

mortified logo

Mortified founder David Nadelberg had a stroke of genius, and we are the lucky recipients.

Twice now I’ve gone to the New Parish in Oakland to see people get on stage and reveal intimate details of their younger selves. And it is hysterical. It’s called “Mortified,” and you can see it either in San Francisco or Oakland every month. It’s also periodically in Chicago, L.A., and other cities, but we have two opportunities to see it here in the Bay Area.

I first heard an excerpt of the show on “This American Life” some years ago, but I didn’t realize it was something I could see live right in my own backyard. It’s been going for eight years and seems to be picking up steam.

According to the program, “All excerpts shared on stage are 100% real.” However these are not just people reading straight from their high school diaries without any focus or practice. The Mortified crew works with the brave souls ahead of time to mine the best stuff. And they do a good job. Both nights that I saw the show, the readers represented a nice variety of teen angst, from the young boy who had no friends and loved the TV character Mr. Belvedere to the girl who recounted her early sexual experiences.

mortified bookTo add to the hilarity, a clever comedic improv band picks up on the funniest parts and turns them into songs on the spot.

Apparently there is also a book, a documentary, and a podcast, so there are many ways to be Mortified.

I highly recommend this unique form of entertainment. I just wish I’d thought it up.

Sometimes things don’t go from bad to worse…

phone walletI’d gone to see a sad movie by myself downtown and opted for the handy garage next to the theater. Afterward I walked my red-rimmed-eyed self down to the garage and drove to the exit where I searched for my phone/wallet combo to produce the credit card that would allow me to go home. It was not in my little backpack of a purse. It was not in my pocket. I frantically searched the passenger seat and the floor, thinking it must have fallen out of my purse. There was a car patiently waiting behind me who couldn’t exit with me in the way. I turned and yelled out my window in what I thought was an apologetic way that I couldn’t find my wallet and would have to back up. Rather than being annoyed, the driver of the car behind me offered to let me go through with him, dashing through the gate before it went down. I declined, but I thought it was a kind gesture.

I re-parked and made a more thorough search. It was not anywhere in my car or on my body. I did not panic. Instead I reasoned that it must be at the movie theater, so I trundled off to look for it there. The lights were up, and I went back to my seat. It was wedged between the seat and the armrest. A few bystanders congratulated me on finding it, and one of them even suggested I buy a lottery ticket (I assume because finding my phone constituted the kind of minor miracle that suggests further opportunities). But I figured I’d used up all my good luck, and I was happy to stop while I was ahead.

All in all, it was only a slight setback, and I encountered positive, friendly, helpful people along the way. I consider how my evening might have gone, and I am grateful. I lost my phone, but I found it again. Things didn’t go terribly wrong. Murphy’s law got a reprieve. I will try to remember this small victory when life doesn’t proceed so smoothly…

My name is Tanya, and I’m a foster fail…

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Several weeks ago I was extolling the benefits of fostering dogs. After all, it’s noble to house poor homeless creatures while they await adoption; and it’s fun getting to know lots of different types of dogs. It’s a win-win, right?

Many friends asked how I could invest time and love into puppies when I knew they would be going to live with other families. I simply smiled and said I was lucky because I got to enjoy their company for the time they were with us and I knew that because they were all going to loving homes, I didn’t mind giving them up. That worked well for Chappie, Fitz, and Lola.

But then I cast my eyes on Ruby, and all that was thrown out the window.

I picked up this tiny furball at Hopalong in Oakland and placed her in the carrier for the ride home. You wouldn’t believe how much sound can be produced from such a tiny creature. All the  way to Berkeley, it sounded like parrots being strangled. I was frankly surprised that she was actually in one piece when I let her out. Immediately upon release, she romped around with no apparent memory of the screeching horror of the previous half hour.

Ruby wasn’t always Ruby. She came to us as Frida, probably because of her tell-tale Rottweiler eyebrows that suggested Frida Kahlo. But after a week of living with her, she never felt like a Frida to me. After week two, her pictures were going up on the Hopalong site to introduce her to the world. I had no doubt that hordes of people would see those eyes and want to take her home with them, so I knew she’d be placed quickly.

So that wasn’t the reason we decided to keep her.

Because she was the youngest foster we’d cared for, she was the most work. Not yet housebroken, Ruby has peed and pooped in every room of our house except the downstairs bathroom. She’s also chewed up the bill of Dave’s favorite cap. And our skin is covered with teeny bite marks where we have become her personal chew toys.

So we didn’t decide to keep her because she was the easiest pet to care for.

Our old hound dog Rufus is less than thrilled that we brought a slobbering pooping machine into his territory, especially when she tries to play with him or share his food. And as chill as our cat Cartwheel is, he was not exactly welcoming of this new addition to the family.

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Ruby at rest

So our decision to keep Ruby had nothing to do with her potential as a companion for our other pets.

So why did we keep Ruby? Well, one reason for me is that I never got to see any of our other dogs as young puppies, and I always wished we had. Because we got Ruby when she was only 8 weeks old–and pups aren’t adopted out until they’re at least three months old–we would have had her for at least a month before we’d have to give her away. That’s a lot of time to get attached. And to tell the truth, it doesn’t take any time at all to get attached to Ruby.

The other reason? We fell in love. And who can explain why we fall in love?  So we are now officially among those dubbed as “foster fails.” There are worse things we could be…

GCR’s Much Ado is really something!

gcr logo

My friend William knows I’m a theater buff and had heard about Gritty City Rep’s production of Much Ado about Nothing, so while my hubby was cycling down the coast of California, I accompanied William to the Flight Deck to check out this enterprising youth group’s take on the Bard.

It was the best production of Much Ado I’ve ever seen! The young cast was stellar, the set was inspired, and the direction brought out aspects of the script in fresh ways. This production is set in the soulful 70s, and the  clothes and hairstyles were authentically vintage. The array of musical selections had me moving with the beat and wanting to dance. When is the last time you could say that of a Shakespeare performance?

I’ve always considered this comedy rather dark in its slut-shaming wedding scene, but the melodramatic tears from both mother and daughter made it easier to laugh, especially when the last laugh was on those who maligned innocent Hero. A particularly funny scene involved the comically cast small female as the chief of police, who is able to capture Don John’s evil minions in a slapstick fight scene that drew guffaws from the crowd. But one of my favorite scenes is when the whole cast breaks out into the Hustle, a dance move that was popular long before any of the actors was born.

I wish the show had a longer run so that I could recommend it to everyone, but sadly, tonight is its last showing, after which they’re having a disco dance party before they have to strike the set tomorrow.

But I await with enthusiasm productions from Gritty City Rep in the future.


Oakland Book Fest Does It Right!

Oakland City Hall in Frank Ogawa Plaza
Oakland City Hall in Frank Ogawa Plaza

I wasn’t sure what to expect at the inaugural Oakland Book Festival. Situated downtown at City Hall and Frank Ogawa Plaza, just steps away from the 12th Street BART station, it was billed as “One Day, Seven Hours, 90 Writers, 40 Events.”

It was my daughter Kylie’s last day home on her short visit from Baltimore, which has claimed her heart as no other city has (though Oakland is probably a close second). I wanted to spend my precious last minutes with her how she wanted to spend them, but I made the suggestion that we check out the book event. To my delight, she was game. And she was even more excited when she discovered who was speaking.

Two people she’d read about in school and admired were among the panelists: former Black Panther leader Elaine Brown and scholar and writer, Frank Wilderson. Since their panels were later, we wandered around Laurel Books in its new digs on Broadway and perused the booksellers’ booths in the plaza. I managed to buy only one book, Bad Indian, which had been recommended by the professor of a recent course I took on Native American Literature, History,  and Politics.

We splurged on frozen custard cookie sandwiches as we listened to a self-professed nerd rap on stage at the amphitheater. Since this was a very public place, all kinds of people were among the crowd, including a woman wearing a wire hat shaped into a spider who told all of us to follow Jesus, and if we didn’t, we’d arrive at judgment day to find that Jesus would not only keep us out, but according to this woman, he would tell us, “Fuck you!” At least she offended Christians and atheists alike…

When we arrived for the first panel we’d chosen, Question Everything, we were turned away because the room where it was meeting was at capacity. Disappointed but not broken, we improvised. Because Kylie wanted to ensure she’d get a seat for the panel called Radical Cities, Radical Lives, where Brown and Wilderson would be speaking, she sat at the head of a line for an hour and a half, where she made friends with two women while they  waited together and talked about racial politics.

I decided to catch the end of a panel on famous Oakland writers that included an expert on California’s first poet laureate Ina Coolbrith, who was also the librarian for the city of Oakland over a hundred years ago. And in the same room afterward I enjoyed readings by Ayelet Waldman and Akhil Sharma, who were quite entertaining.

oakland book festWhile Kylie nabbed a front-row seat watching two of her idols, I dashed across the plaza to Laurel Books to watch a late addition to the program sponsored by Mother Jones magazine on the state of police and their portrayal in media. The presenters were knowledgeable and well spoken, and a lively Q&A session made for interesting conversation.

I applaud the people who put together this amazing program centered around books. Perhaps the most incredible aspect of the festival is that it’s completely free and open to the public. I hope this becomes an annual event because I could easily make this a tradition…