Last Chance to See Homefront

Thursday, August 17, 2017

By Taylor Steinbeck

Only four performances remain of the Young Conservatory’s evocative musical, Homefront. Playing at The Strand Theater until Saturday, August 19, Homefront tells the story of three siblings who flee from Germany during World War I to find new opportunities in America. Directed by Domenique Lozano, with a book by Craig Slaight and music and lyrics from Creighton Irons, the play sheds light on war’s damaging effects and the difficulties immigrants face.

The cast of A.C.T.'s production of Homefront. Photo by Jay Yamada.
The musical wrestles with weighty themes requiring maturity to perform, and the YC students have risen to the occasion. Made up of two casts with the lead actors rotating roles, Homefront has given the 26 students involved a chance to learn about a dark side of American history. Stage manager Joelle Hagen is especially impressed by how the youthful cast has taken on these complex, yet relevant issues. “It’s amazing to see the next generation of theater artists bringing us back to what storytelling is all about: education and communication,” she says.

Audience members have also been moved by Homefront. A patron said of the show, “My friend and I enjoyed all the performances, and I’d like to go again to see the other cast.”

The Kolemeir siblings (L to R): Else (Lyle Belger), Horst (Alex Cook),
and Emma (Ayra Demirovich). Photo by Jay Yamada.
Though Homefront is performed entirely by young people, Hagen believes that it will affect audiences of any demographic. “This is an incredibly timely piece, reflecting our country’s past on the current situation,” she says. “It’s an important conversation to be having with people of all ages.”

Homefront runs until August 19 at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco. Click here to purchase tickets. To learn more about the YC Program, click here.

Director Carey Perloff Takes on "The Hardest Play in the World"

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

By Taylor Steinbeck

Something may be rotten in the state of Denmark, but the air in 30 Grant Avenue is alive with anticipation for A.C.T.’s 2017–18 season opener, Hamlet. Monday’s first rehearsal gathered the cast, crew, A.C.T. staff, and donors for a presentation on what A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff calls “the hardest play in the world.”

A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff at the first rehearsal for Hamlet. Photo by Brad Amorosino.
Having thought about Hamlet much throughout her education and many years of theater-making, Perloff is prepared and excited to dive deep into the consciousness of this notoriously complex play. “This is play about someone who’s thrust by circumstance into making an impossible choice” she says. “If he kills the murderer of his father, he immediately becomes a murderer himself. If he doesn’t, then he is forever the son who permitted this toxic crime to stand. There is no right answer.”

The production’s set design mirrors the murkiness of Hamlet’s ethics. Perloff and scenic and costume designer David Reynoso have envisioned a space where the political environment has literally been contaminated. “We want the atmosphere to feel dangerous and rife with weird toxic possibilities,” says Perloff. “The play is full of images of pollution. There’s this sense that everything looks good from the surface because the pollution has been paved over, but there are cracks and something rank underneath.”

Though there are ostensible parallels between the political upheaval of Hamlet’s world and our own, Perloff isn't interested in making easy equivalencies (in other words, Steven Anthony Jones’s Claudius will not be donning a blonde toupée). Instead, she hopes to capture that familiar feeling of unsettledness and let it permeate Hamlet’s climate. “We know emotionally what it feels like to live in a landscape where we’re not even clear why a leader was elected and what will happen subsequently,” Perloff says.

Actor John Douglas Thompson at the first rehearsal for Hamlet. Photo by Brad Amorosino.
In telling such a multifaceted narrative, it helps to have a world-class Shakespearean actor like John Douglas Thompson at its helm. “John has been such a beacon of excellence and commitment in the face of all odds,” says Perloff. “The chance to see this actor tackle this role is one that I just couldn’t say no to.”

Hamlet runs at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater from September 20 to October 15. Click here to purchase tickets. To see the rest of our 2017–18 season, click here.

A Farewell to Musical Theater Treasure and A.C.T. Performer Barbara Cook

Thursday, August 10, 2017

By Taylor Steinbeck

Tony Award­–winning songstress, Barbara Cook, died at 89 on Tuesday. Lauded for her crystalline lyrical soprano voice and emotional storytelling, Cook was Broadway’s star ingénue in the 1950s. From the mid-1970s, her solo shows and concert performances cemented her status as one of the leading interpreters of musical theater standards, with the New York Times naming her “the Mother Earth of the American songbook.”

Barbara Cook in 2009. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Cook appeared at A.C.T. in 2000 when her Tony Award–nominated cabaret act, Mostly Sondheim, was presented as a special New Year’s engagement. Playing at The Geary Theater for three nights, Mostly Sondheim showcased Cook’s rich vocals as she shared Stephen Sondheim’s classics with San Francisco audiences. Some of the numbers featured included “Not a Day Goes By,” “Happiness,” and “Losing My Mind.” In 2002, Sondheim told the Washington Post, “No one sings theater songs with more feeling for the music or more understanding of the lyrics than Barbara.” 

Cook’s prolific theater career spanned several decades, with her first gracing the Broadway stage for 1951’s Flahooley. She went on to win the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Marian the Librarian in the 1957 hit The Music Man. Other notable credits were Candide (1956), The King and I (1960), and She Loves Me (1963). After a 39-year absence, she returned to the Great White Way for Sondheim on Sondheim (2010). The veteran Broadway actress was honored as a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2011.

Yesterday night, Broadway dimmed its marquee lights for one minute in Cook’s memory.
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