By CHARLIE JARRETT
Martinez News-Gazette Columnist
Two great shows this week; one primarily for children or the young at heart the California theater in Pittsburgh, and the other entirely for adults located at the Strand theater on Market St. in San Francisco, directly across the street from Civic Center Bart station. In Pittsburg, universal hope springs eternal in the favorite, Annie, and the other, in San Francisco, a rough and raucous World Premier of TestMATCH, Kate Attwell’s time-travel bio-play about cricket and the people who played it, then and now!
In the exquisitely restored California Theater in Old-Town Pittsburg, you will find the heart-warming tale of a gutsy orphan girl, Annie, who has survived for 11 years in a mid-town Manhattan orphanage where her parents left her many years ago. Annie desires only two things – – to escape the misery of the orphanage and the tyrant overseer Miss Agatha Hannigan. When billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Kevin Burns) entertaines the idea of inviting an orphan to celebrate Christmas in his home, he sends his secretary, Grace Farrell (Shauna Shoptaw), to find such a child. I’m sure you know the rest of the story from there. However you may not know how the story came to be.
Annie, the play, had its best-known origin as a widely read American comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, created by Harold Gray in 1924, that became so popular that it continued on through the 30s & 40s. However, the young girl Annie, is believed to have first emerged as a poem written by James Whitcomb Riley in 1885.When lyricist-director, Martin Charnin, received a delightful book of Little Orphan Annie comic strips as a gift for Christmas in1941, he soon found himself enamored with the idea of creating a musical comedy based upon Annie, the lead character in the comic strip. Two friends and companions, Charles Strouse and Thomas Meehan, upon learning Charnin’s concept, likewise became enamored with the idea, and within 14 months the show was written. Due to lack of interest by producers, the story did not make it to the stage until 1976 when it finally opened at the Goodspeed opera house in East Hadddam, Connecticut. A year later it moved to the Alvin theater on Broadway (now known as the Neil Simon theater). Following its astonishing initial run of 2377 performances (nearly 6 years), it soon emerged as a musical movie in 1982. Regardless of the fact that this story has had so many transitions, it has survived for many years and has been so well received at any level that it may be considered timeless.
This production is an exciting and fun-filled community theater production in which near professional adult actors work well with younger aspiring performers to present a very enjoyable experience that you and your children are bound to enjoy. Annie is played very well and in beautiful voice by Athena Brama-Pleasants, President Franklin Roosevelt is played by Chris Ciabattoni; the conniving Daniel “Rooster” Hannigan by Lou Esposito II, and his equally conniving companion Lily St. Regis by Jennifer Jackson. I especially enjoyed the manner in which Kevin Burns portrays billionaire “Daddy” Warbucks, with a kinder, warmer side than the typically bombastic, abrasive portrayal generally given. It makes him a much more loving potential father to little Annie. Great Job by all the actors and dancers! The choreography by Anjee Norgaard -Gallia, costumes by Christina Boothman, music direction by Josie Esposito and the dramatic direction provided by G. A. Klein are most effective in making this production a true community success.
Annie continues with one Friday performance remaining on November 22, and on Saturdays at 8 pm, with Sunday performances at 8 pm and matinees at 2 pm on November 16th, 17th and the 24th. The California Theater is located at 351 Railroad Ave, Pittsburg, CA 94565, directly across the street from the near legendary New Mecca Restaurant. Tickets are a very reasonable $22 for children and seniors and $27 for adults. Tickets may be secured by calling (925) 757-9500 or by going to www.elcampaniltheatre.com , or purchasing at the ticket box office adjacent to the theater
The play at the Strand Market Street Theater (one of ACT’s excellent theatrical venues), TestMATCH, is in two time-traveling parts focusing on cricket. The first part is a very serious scene, in which a heavy confrontation between two teams of female cricket players, one British and the other East Indian, occurs. The players are in the midst of their three-day Test Match game, which has been placed on timeout to see if the current rain storm will abate so that the game can continue. In a locker room several members of both teams are waiting and are having she was tea together. The conversations become very corrosive as the British players and the Indian players trade barbs. The British team declares that their team should be better than the other team, due to the fact that their historical predecessors conceived and introduced the game to their far eastern competitors, in the first place. The players at first engage only in verbal fisticuffs, which in short order become more and more insulting and aggressive and severe as tensions rise. In the second part, the same female actors humorously take on the role of male characters and take the audience back in time to India in the mid 1800’s, where a British Viceroy and his senior staff are debating the establishment of “proper” rules for the game of cricket. They are so involved in their own personal pleasures that they ignore the fact that the general population, including those right outside the palace gates, are dropping dead on a daily basis from starvation.
The storyline in this two-part play invites us to look at the popular British phrase, “it’s just not cricket”, both currently and historically. Certain events occur in both parts of this play that illuminate how poorly we humans often treated each other, throughout our entire history.
Under the excellent direction of Pat MacKinnon, the acting in this production clearly demonstrates that these actors are absolutely superlative in their interpretation and presentation of the show. The actors include Arwen Anderson, Milllie Brooks, Neera Rohit Kumbhani, Lipca Shah, Avanthika Srinivasan and Madelilne Wise. Costumes designed by Beaver Bauer appropriately set the scene for both time periods. Ticket Prices range between $15 and $110 each and more information may be obtained by searching the internet site at www.act-sf.org or by calling (415) 749-2228. Performance nights and hours of performances are Tuesdays -Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesday and Saturday matinees are at 2 pm, with Sunday performances at 2 pm. The theater is located at 1127 Market Street in San Francisco, directly across the street from the Civic Center BART station.