‘Delightfully humorous Charlotte’s Web comes to Campbell Theater

This week’s reviews take us to Orinda and Martinez where we can find two delightfully humorous and engaging theatrical performances at a very reasonable price. I’m going to encourage you to go to the Campbell Theater where you will see a wonderful children’s story by author E. B. White, “Charlotte’s Web”. This delightful story was first brought to life in book form in 1952 and ultimately released as a film in 2006.

This is a charming and thought-provoking story about a little farm girl named Fern Arable (Lina Bergstrom) who convinces her father, John (Jim Hale), not to destroy a weak, newborn piglet who was the runt of the litter and not considered worth the effort to save. When the piglet is a month old, he is sold and transferred to Fern’s uncle Homer’s farm, where he is just a short distance down the road, where Fern is assigned the duty of caring for and raising the little pig. At this point, the pig who has been named Wilbur (Kyla Menconi), seeks companionship with the other barnyard animals, but is snubbed by them because he is so small. Wilbur is ultimately befriended by a barn spider named Charlotte, whose web hangs majestically over Wilbur’s enclosure. To Wilbur’s dismay, when he reaches maturity, he discovers that his purpose in life is to eventually become a food product. Fern, who loves to visit with the animals and often sits on a little stool in the barn where she can overhear and understand the animals’ conversations, is also concerned about the fate of Wilber as well as the other pigs on the family farm who are destined to go to the county fair and be sold off. Charlotte (Lillian Quinn Sneddker), the spider, ponders the question of how she can help to save Wilbur and comes up with an idea that she thinks just might work!

There are 15 delightful adult and child actors in this carefully choreographed play, purposefully directed into a thoroughly enjoyable evening of entertainment by Rusty DeLucia. There are far too many actors for me to specifically praise them individually in the space that I have, but let me emphasize that every member of this cast became a delightful jewel in this heartwarming, engaging, and fun-filled show. In closing, the costumes created by coproducer Gwendolyn S. Brown are very clever!

“Charlotte’s Web” is produced by Women of Words Productions, based in Fairfield, California (since 2013), with the co-ordination and support of the Onstage Theater Company. Teresa A. Deed and Gwen Samson Brown, are two women who sincerely love community theater and harness that desire by bringing quality theatrical productions to our area. This production continues with Saturday shows at 6:30 PM and Sunday matinees at 2:30 PM, now through August 11. Tickets are very reasonable at $20 each with tickets discounted for seniors (62+), students and groups of 10 or more, at only $15 each. They may be purchased at the Martinez Campbell Theater, located at 636 Ward St. in downtown Martinez, or over the Internet at www.womenofwords.brownpapertickets.com .

The Orinda starlight Village players production in Orinda is currently presenting the “Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” written by John Bishop and directed by Edwin Peabody. This is just about one of the wackiest musical comedies that you can go and see today. If you saw the 1939, movie/play entitled, The Cat and the Canary (a horror comedy), starring Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, and John Beal, then the “Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” I am sure it will come across as similarly stupid and outrageously funny! This too is a horror comedy play. While it has a totally different plot form the movie, it is amazingly similar in scenes which involve hidden doorways in a parlor, secret passageways hidden in the walls, bodies falling into and out of these hidden spaces, and is about as nutty in concept as the plot of The Cat and the Canary.

The basic plot of “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” (MCM), is about a group of actors who had previously performed in a Broadway musical flop (Manhattan Holiday) a couple of years earlier, and have now been invited to a Mansion in Chappaqua, New York, to audition for the new financial backer in the hope of rejuvenating and relaunching a new production of that same musical. The previous production had failed due in large part to the murder of three chorus girls by an unknown “Stage Door Slasher” while the show was on tour. As MCM opens, almost immediately, a masked, darkly clad figure kills the mansion’s maid, Helsa (Jena Peters-Ring). The owner of the mansion, Elsa Von Grossenknueten (Siobhan O’Brien), meeting with police officer Michael Kelly (Bill Chessman). Other guests start to arrive to take part in the audition tryout, including the theater director, Ken De La Maize (Remington Stone), an attractive youthful singer/dancer named Nikki Crandall (Alia Rose), and an out-of-work comedian, Eddie McCuen (Keiran Cross). Next we are introduced to the new shows producer, Marjorie Baverstock (Kelly Hansen), writers Roger Hopewell (Joseph Hirsh), and Bernice Roth (Monica Bonnington), plus another actor, Patrick O’Reilly (David Suhl), who appears to audition for the show as well.

As in the previously afore mentioned movie chaos rules, with murders setting the scene, bookshelves mysteriously opening and revealing hidden passageways behind walls – – which then swallow and reject the various characters in staccato fashion. Characters change personalities and professions, and yet some do not change their personality enough to clarify that they are actually a new person taking the place of their prior character. A lot of weapons are brandished and threats of violence take place with very little exhibition of sincere fear by anyone. And of course, telephone service to the mansion fails just before predictable power outages happen that provide the opportunity for murders to occur. The Grossenknueten mansion has now become an edifice of madcap mystery!

The key to a successful comedy is generally based on timing, talent, and great direction, all of which were inconsistent in this show. Some of the acting is very good and some of the acting is not quite so good. For the most part, the audience generally responded very favorably and people that I spoke to in the parking lot following the show told me that they thought it was a great deal of fun and had no complaints. It seems as though the theater critic was the only one who expressed some real concerns.

The show continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 PM through August 10 with a Thursday production on August 8 at 8 PM and a Sunday performance on August 4 at 4 PM. Tickets may be purchased at the box office at the theater which is located in the Orinda community Center, next to the park, at number 28 Orinda Way, across the street from the Right Aid drugstore. Please go to their webpage at www.orsvp.org or call 925-528-9225 to order tickets or gather more information. Regular tickets are $20 each, and seniors and children’s tickets are available at $10 each.

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