Review: Mashuq Mushtaq Deen’s FLOOD at KC Rep

KCRep long-awaited debut at Copaken runs through February 19th.

Darren (Matt DeCaro) and Edith (Laura T. Fisher)

Friday night saw the debut at the Copaken theatre of Mashuq Mushtaq Deen‘s Flood, an absurdist tragicomedy making its first appearance on stage courtesy of the KC Rep. This reviewer has always been a fan of absurdist theatre, so it was with considerable excitement that she attended the evening’s performance, eager to see a premiere that has come a mere 3 years after its workshop reading in 2019 (thanks again, covid). Happily, this reviewer can safely say she was not disappointed.

Playwright, Mashuq Mushtaq Deen

Flood takes place in a cozy, midcentury modern apartment on the 19th floor where Darren (Matt DeCaro) and Edith (Laura T. Fisher) live in quiet retirement, a pair of boomer empty-nesters marking time. The names, by the way, are no coincidence: the relentlessly cheery domestic sitcoms of the 50’s and 60’s are an ongoing motif in the play. It is very much the world that the couple has created for themselves: clean, domestic, and isolated from the not-so-niceties of the outside.

During the play, Darren (wearing what one might call his “Father Knows Best” mask) labors away at his “great work”, a baffling construction of toothpicks and glue. Edith, ever the pleasant and patient hausfrau, hovers by his side, waiting for the moment that the work is done, when at last they shall have tea, enjoy their Very Nice View, and all questions will be answered. So far, so Beckett. But the story really takes an extra dimension when the pair’s grown children, Darren Jr. and Edith Jr. (Darrington Clark and Jamie Morrow, respectively) enter the picture. The two children, having moved down to the lower floors of the same building with families of their own, try desperately to raise the alarm: the building is flooding, the water is rising, and they are scared for themselves and their families.

Their protestations are less than successful: the elders, having grown up in a world where such things Do Not Happen, are unable to comprehend what they are being told. Darren Sr., in particular, refuses even to speak directly to them, too wrapped up in his “magnum opus”. But as the waters rise, and the view outside becomes less and less familiar, even they have to eventually reckon with the world.

The production is a clever one, very well staged in a way that lets the world gradually intrude itself into the main characters’ lives. The view outside the windows slowly transitions until there is nothing but blue, blue, blue. The books of unanswerable questions (which Edith has been carefully writing down for the glorious day when the work is done) grow and accumulate around the couple until it seems a wave is about to come crashing down on them. Mr. Deen’s script is witty and skillful, taking us step by step through the story and keeping a good balance of humor and tension. There were no weak spots in the cast, though special mention must be made of Ms. Fisher who ably carries the great bulk of the play.

Overall, Flood is a splendid work, a truly contemporary take on absurdist theatre written with sharp and fresh relevance. It is first and foremost a story of generations: of the ones that were raised in one world and imparted the values of that world to a generation that finds itself in a very different one. Those of the protagonists’ generation will recognize the bafflement of finding themselves in a time where the old rules seemingly no longer apply. To the younger viewers, the frustration of the children trying to make their progenitors understand will no doubt ring all too familiar. And to the very pleasant older lady in the elevator on the way out who loudly asked if anyone could tell her “what all that was about”, the answer, dear lady, is that it is about time that you looked out the goddamn window.

Tickets available HERE at KC Rep, performances through Feb. 19, 2023

Review by Kelly Luck for Broadway World

Want to gift a book? Let the best of Philly writers help featuring Jacqueline Goldfinger

Airea D. Matthews, Emma Copley Eisenberg, Nikil Saval, Warren C. Longmire, Jacqueline Goldfinger, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, and Greg Pizzoli come through with book recs this holiday season.

by Julia Shipley, For The Inquirer

Dec 19, 2022

We caught up with a few Philadelphia authors who chipped in to make your seasonal book gifting a lot easier. Here are their recommendations.

Philadelphia is packed with literary talent. We chased after some of the city’s finest to ask what projects they’re working on, and got them to suggest what books (and tickets!) to gift this holiday season.

Author Jacqueline Goldfinger is a Philadelphia-based playwright and author of "Playwriting with Purpose and Writing Adaptations and Translations for the Stage" (co-written with Allison Horsley).

Author Jacqueline Goldfinger is a Philadelphia-based playwright and author of “Playwriting with Purpose” and “Writing Adaptations and Translations for the Stage” (co-written with Allison Horsley).

For your loved one who wants words that leap off the page … and onto the stage

Who: Jacqueline Goldfinger is a Philadelphia-based playwright and author of Playwriting with Purpose and Writing Adaptations and Translations for the Stage (cowritten with Allison Horsley), published by Routledge. They are also the cofounder and director of creative affairs at Tripwire Harlot Press.

Currently working on: Goldfinger’s opera, Alice Tierney, will premiere at the Oberlin Opera Company in January. The libretto, written in collaboration with Philadelphia-based composer Melissa Dunphy, is based on an infamous true murder story from the days of colonial Philadelphia and features Penn archaeology students who excavate Tierney’s home to figure out what really happened to her. Goldfinger is also premiering a new choral work, A Bright Morning Dawns with Philadelphia conductor and composer Dominick DiOrio of the Mendelssohn Chorus. And their new play, Backwards Forwards Back, will premiere in 2023.

Holiday season rec: Three Plays by Christina Anderson, Rarities and Wonders by Phillip Howze, and Doodles from the Margins: Three Plays by Hansol Jung. Fans of Anderson’s play, How to Catch Creation, (produced at Philadelphia Theatre Company), and fans of Jung’s plays, Wolf Play and Among the Dead — both performed at Theatre Exile — will enjoy the latest works from these powerful playwrights. Goldfinger says these books include visual art alongside the text, “They’re mini-performances on the page.”

Silicon Valley TheatreWorks’ ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ Directed by Jeffrey Lo, is a kick in the plants

Audrey II (voiced by Katrina Lauren McGraw, puppeteered by Brandon Leland, puppet by Matthew McAvene Creations) demands food from Seymour (Phil Wong) in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s “Little Shop of Horrors.” (photo: Kevin Berne)

Forget the poinsettias and celebrate this holiday season with an Audrey II. Perennial stage favorite “Little Shop of Horrors” is blooming in the Bay Area for a second time this year (Another production was mounted at the Berkeley Playhouse in the spring) at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley), and for good reason.

With its pop-culture savvy book and lyrics by the late gay writer Howard Ashman, a zippy 1950s pastiche score by Alan Menken and an off-kilter monster movie-meets-“Sesame Street” scenario adapted from Roger Corman’s grindhouse classic, “Little Shop” offers family-friendly entertainment (Let’s say for ages 10 and up) with a full stratum of funny subterranean dirt for adults to dig while the kids remain oblivious.

Chief among the musical’s adult pleasures is the sadistic dentist, Orin Scrivello, played here to puffed up perfection by Nick Nakashima. Under the wise direction of Jeffrey Lo, he combines the looming but cartoonish physical presence of a parade float with an endlessly elastic repertoire of facial expressions to simultaneously portray and undermine his potentially problematic character. (Orin physically and psychologically abuses shop girl Audrey, played by Sumi Yu, who effectively conveys a growing confidence as the show progresses).

Late in the second act, Nakashima nearly steals the show altogether, unexpectedly popping up in three smaller roles —one of which is female— in rapid succession. But complete larceny is impossible given the wealth of talent on stage here.

In addition to Yu, whose comic sweetness feels entirely natural, Phil Wong turns in a deliciously self-conscious Seymour, keeping you on his side even when his dorkyness turns to darkness; and the Motown Greek chorus of Ronette, Chiffon and Crystal (Lucca Troutman, Alia Hodge and Naima Alakham) aces their giggle-inducing blend of choreographic slinkiness and editorial side-eye.

Audrey (Sumi Yu), Seymour (Phil Wong), and Mr. Mushnik (Lawrence-Michael C. Arias) investigate an unusual plant (puppet by Matthew McAvene Creations) in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s “Little Shop of Horrors.” (photo: Kevin Berne)  

If Ashman and Menken, who also wrote the lyrics and music for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid,” are role models for teamwork, their standard is lived up to by this production’s puppetry crew. Matthew McAvenue Creations’ design, Brandon Leland’s remarkably expressive manipulation and Katrina Lauren McGraw’s disco diva vocals combine to give Audrey II, the man-eating plant, an alluring vegetal vavoom.

As Mr. Mushnik, Seymour and Audrey’s boss, Lawrence-Michael C. Arias’ turns in another yet another laugh-out-loud performance. He takes a character usually played with the exaggerated shtetl schmaltz of a downtown Tevye and instead pushes the caricature full-on Filipino, complete with thick accent (Think: “Ip I were a rich man!”).

Director Lo’s decision to make this switch from “Oy!” to Pinoy, trading one comic stereotype for another, feels clever given Arias’ background, and inoffensive given the show’s broad brush humor (The character’s name remains Mushnik; Wong’s Chinese-American Seymour’s similarly semitic surname is “Krelborn”).

Unfortunately, in marketing this otherwise top-notch production, Lo and TheatreWorks have effortfully stressed the fact that they’ve set their “Little Shop” in San Francisco’s Chinatown and cast mainly AAPI actors. It’s great to see representation, but other than a bit of set-dressing —a tail-wagging cat clock, a mural of Bruce Lee, Chinese characters on store signage— the shift feels largely irrelevant otherwise.

There’s a little rainbow flag by the cash register and a photo of Harvey Milk (next to a headshot of former SF Giants’ Tim Lincecum) pinned to the flower shop wall; a nice little bit of queer and local representation on stage, yes. But is there any deep meaning? Might Mushnik be growing pansies? I noticed these clever details without a press release extolling their virtues.

“Little Shop” is a smart, silly comedy. TheaterWorks’ noise about its version subtly addressing issues including Chinatown gentrification and domestic violence in the Asian-American community feels overstated and unattractively opportunistic. There’s a theater marketing strategist who deserves a meeting with Audrey II.

‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ through Dec. 24. $30-$100. Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. (877) 662-8978

Article by Jim Gladstone for The Bay Area Reporter

It’s finally Oakland director Dawn Monique Williams’ moment, and it’s about time

At a recent “Two Trains Running” rehearsal at Marin Theatre Company, director Dawn Monique Williams led with conspiratorial joy.

Dawn Monique Williams shows off her Shakespeare quote tattoo before a rehearsal of “Two Trains Running” at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Oakland theater director Dawn Monique Williams has two tattoos taken from Shakespeare. One is the beloved “Twelfth Night” opening line: “If music be the food of love, play on.” Another is the motto from Shakespeare’s family crest, which translates to “Not without right.”

It took Shakespeare’s family a long time to get a crest, which elevated its status, Williams told The Chronicle earlier this year, during rehearsals for Aurora Theatre Company’s “The Incrementalist.” She speculates that, to Shakespeare, the motto meant, “I have the dignity, the standing, the wealth, everything that a gentleman should have to bear a coat of arms.”

Playwright Cleavon Smith and director Dawn Monique Williams ahead of a rehearsal for Smith’s play “The Incrementalist” at Aurora Theater Company in Berkeley. Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Williams then reinterpreted the motto for herself: “Everything that we say the Western theater is, everything within the English-speaking world, is my inheritance. As somebody who is a descendant of enslaved Africans in this country, I have a right to every single thing that we would say is American.” She extends that claim to Western civilization more broadly, and then more particularly: “I have a right to Shakespeare.”

The world is starting to recognize that right. This year, Williams’ schedule is crammed with projects, including co-directing Marcus Gardley’s “Lear” at California Shakespeare Theater, and now directing August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running,” which runs Nov. 25-Dec. 18 at Marin Theatre Company.

Co-director Dawn Monique Williams (center) works with Cathleen Riddley (left) and Leontyne Mbele-Mbong during rehearsal for California Shakespeare Theater’s “Lear” at Bruns Memorial Amphitheater in Orinda. Photo: Salgu Wissmath / The Chronicle

She has a few theories about why her career has taken off. One is simply that she works hard, makes good theater and earns collaborators’ respect and affection. “I will actually just give a little credit to myself,” Williams, 44, said. The other theory involves the racial reckoning of 2020. The document “We See You, White American Theater” demanding changes in theater had come out, “and people had to start getting their binders full of X, Y and Z together,” she said. “I happen to be a queer Black woman, so I think I help tick some boxes for people that are looking to tick boxes.”

If she sounds resigned and pragmatic, she wasn’t always that way.

In 2011, after she’d completed two theater master’s degrees, first from San Francisco State University, then from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, she assumed that theater leaders simply didn’t know that artists of color wanted to direct classics.

“I just have to let them know that I’m out here,” she recalls thinking at the time. “Then I had a moment where I was like, no, they don’t care. They know that we’re here, and they don’t want us.”

Dawn Monique Williams outside the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

So as she’s finally gotten more work, she’s made her peace with the reasons why, since she knows she’s always deserved it.

“It’d be different if I thought I was faking it,” she said. “Shame on them for being asleep so long.”

At a recent “Two Trains” rehearsal at Marin Theatre Company, it’s clear that her rehearsal room is not hierarchical. She led her cast, not with a raised voice or with an implicit demand for deference, but with an almost conspiratorial sense of joy. She might break into a little song to make fun of herself. Or she and actor Sam Jackson, who’s in her third Williams production this year, might break into cartoon voices at the end of a director’s note, riffing on a character’s absurdities.

“She is the biggest fan of the actor,” Jackson said. “She can take that step back from micromanaging characters to allowing the actors she’s cast to form bonds themselves and create the world that they want to see.”

Dawn Monique Williams (left) directs during a rehearsal of “Two Trains Running” at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

In “Two Trains,” which is part of Wilson’s epic Century Cycle of 10 plays, one for each decade of Black life in the 20th century, it’s 1969, and a restaurateur owner named Memphis (Lamont Thompson) knows city officials in Pittsburgh want to buy his property and demolish his building. “I ain’t taking a penny less than $25,000,” he repeatedly says.

Williams is drawn to Wilson for his poetry, the way his realism is supernatural while still being real, the way his plays assert, as she put it, that “the Black experience contains multitudes.”

“I’ve heard a native storyteller say that the best way to do a land acknowledgment is to tell the story of the land you’re on,” Williams went on. For her, that’s precisely what Wilson did with his native Hill District in Pittsburgh, where almost all his plays are set.

Williams calls “Two Trains” the “pivot play” in the Century Cycle.

“If you look at the canon up to ‘Fences,’ (Wilson) is really looking at a successful Black community,” she said. “There’s Black wealth. There’s Black middle class. Then ‘Two Trains’ is when he really pivots to this idea of urban renewal, of disenfranchisement, of what it means for these steel mill jobs to shut down, or what racial tensions look like on the street in terms of protest.”

Dawn Monique Williams (center) directs Lamont Thompson (left) and Michael J. Asberry during rehearsal of “Two Trains Running.” Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

When Memphis talks about his minimum price, the dramatic irony is almost physically painful. We have “2022 eyes,” Williams said. “We know where this is headed. We know because we’re living in the results of what happens.

“It’s the whole running thesis of the American drama: Don’t give up the land,” she added. “Clearly, as Americans, we are really wrestling with our relationship to land and land ownership.”

Williams feels that impetus now in her own life. During the pandemic, she and her three adult siblings all moved back into their childhood East Oakland home with their mom.

“We hold on to to this house in a neighborhood that doesn’t always feel safe and there’s high crime, because this is all we have,” Williams said. “Sometimes my mom’s like, ‘Maybe we should sell and buy somewhere else.’ And I’m like, ‘If you do, you’ll never get it back.’”

It’s the same message she wants to tell Memphis: “It doesn’t matter what they offer you to sell. Don’t sell.”

“Two Trains Running”: Written by August Wilson. Directed by Dawn Monique Williams. Nov. 25-Dec. 18. $25-$65. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. 415-388-5208.

Full article by Lily Janiak for The San Francisco Chronicle available here.