ENTHUSIASTIC TEEN ACTORS ARE EXCELLENT IN A NEW PLAY
THAT STILL NEEDS SOME WORK
Teen suicide is a national tragedy it always has been. A BEAUTIFUL GLASS is a new play with music that brings the topic to the table. Now on stage at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina Blvd., San Francisco, CA. and Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts through June 25th. I usually do not cover youth or teen productions. Mainly it is difficult for me to criticize student actors, since every student should have an opportunity to act or perform whether they have the talent or not. Yet this talented company of enthusiastic teen actors are all full of promise and spirit. This new work deserves a mention. A THEATRE NEAR U is based out in the SF Peninsula Palo Alto area were teen suicide has increased over the years.
Producer/Director Tanna Herr says, "In light of the devastation that is hitting the youth in our community, this year we decided to tackle the problem of suicide head-on in our newest original work. Keeping with our tradition of introducing daring ideas to Youth Theatre, we have created an uplifting love story while not shying away from this very real issue. It’s been exhilarating to work again with our immensely talented troupe to bring A Beautiful Glass to the stage. We look forward to sharing this exciting piece of theatre with our audiences.”
The critically acclaimed youth theatre company, A THEATRE NEAR U, brings to the stage a World Premiere of an original play with music designed to provoke and inspire in response to the spate of recent teen suicides. **It's a loaded subject on the Peninsula, where, according to a report in The Atlantic "The 10-year suicide rate for the two high schools (Gunn and Palo Alto) is between four and five times the national average." “Glass” is written for the young cast by Tony Kienitz with additional lyrics by Andrew Lu and Annabel Marks. The company is comprised of 18 actors who play a group of teens dealing with their peers loss.
The story deals with Justin Capp, played by the excellent and sensitive Atticus Shaindlin. Justin who is recovering from not only his mother's suicide, but his friends at his high school. His friendship with Georgianna is random as he meets her at the site of his mom’s death. The very enthusiastic and talented Emily Liberator brings her heart and soul to “George” as she calls herself who is on a quest to find the next supernova. Justin’s quest is to find a cure for for suicide by bringing back each teen to discover their issues with depression, bullying, and physc med side effects.
Shaindlin and Liberatore are impressive throughout the three hour production. The night I saw GLASS the script was still three hours long, and one reason why I will not totally recommend this project. I have learned that it has been shortened a bit, but the second act drifts to unneeded monologues and storytelling. The first act is poignant about the topic of suicide, but the second act is lost and is a mosh of Shakespeare's characters that have committed the deadly act. Since this is a student project, I do understand the writer creating all these extra pages to feature the talent of his students, but the play loses its power by the final number. Inviting a wider audience to see this troop’s work would probably mean having to leave out some of the actors and their moment on stage.
The 18 member company play multiple characters and it is impressive to see all the budding talent like choreographer an actor Ali Arian Molaei, who has a exceptional dance solo and brings back to life a teen who suffered a few lighting hits. The cast sings, dances and all play multiple roles including the high energy 13 year old Quincy Shaindlin who is memorable as the younger Justin (Atticus's actual younger brother). Shayan Hooshmand, who just returned from the Broadway production of SCHOOL OF ROCK, is accomplished and an amazing singer, he played a number of roles but most memorable is Simon, of the lost teens. Elizabeth McCole plays Justin's mom and she is elegant in the role showing passion and perfect on stage timing. The musical numbers are well done and choreographed by the young Molaei, who's work reminded me of Steven Hoggett’s moves for American Idiot.
The company is featured in the opening number “The Town” the ensemble have a full sound and music director, Pierce Peter Brandt, focuses his best talent up front. “Good Luck with That” Shaindlin featured song and he has a professional voice. Liberatore’s solo song is “Star Song” and she connects with her role as a star catcher. The title song “It’s a Beautiful Glass” featuring Molaei and Atticus, as Justin sings with his grandfather, it is a passionate song and a perfect way to close the first act. Jackson Wylder is another cast member to look for, I can tell his career will be strong, he plays a number of parts but the highlight is his role as Georgianna's pal who is killed in Iraq by a suicide bomber. The bomber played by the talented 14 year old Hooshmand sings “Count What They Bless”, a powerful statement about the turn of a suicide.
The second Act loses its edge as Kienitz’ script goes off topic to discover the seventeen suicides in Shakespeare’s plays. Ali Arian Molaei’s choreography is street hip and jazzy and he kept the cast always moving. The set is centered around a tree stump where George can easily hide to watch Justin explore his cure for suicide. The production is kept simple since this a touring show of sorts - staging both at The Magic Theatre in San Francisco and Stage 2 at the Mt View Center for the Arts. Drew Bedal and Mia Nicolacoudis’ lighting design at times is created by the cast with hand held flashlights that is very effective. Props were created by Gail Hildebrand and include the many items a modern teen would carry, but in the second act the swords come out. The costumes are not credited yet producer director, Tanna Herr. keeps the look simple and contemporary. I was delighted to see that teens now use their hoodie tops as feeder ports. The second act Shakespeare classic look is well done with simple robes and single piece skirts that all the guys complete the tradition with swords and bare feet. “The History of Womankind” was well staged with a haunting dance, but brings not much to the main theme of the story. The sound by Griffin Willard was natural with some nice sound effects, and the band includes four piece ensemble of impressive musicians: Leanne Miron, Jer Samos, Peter Willits and Shayan Hooshmand.
Justin and Georgianna carry the lost second act by giving their peers an opportunity to show off their acting skills, I am just not sure we needed to be there. If Kienitz plans to restage this, it needs to be tightened to 90 minutes and it will surely be a powerful statement about Teen Suicide. With a predictable, positive ending, Justin faces facts with a nice reprise of “It’s a Beautiful Glass” by the entire company.
A THEATRE NEAR U does present some excellent talent that I am sure will do well on professional stages sooner than I would guess. The dapper Atticus is on his way to the prestigious Carnegie Mellon, that some say is a direct red carpet to Broadway. Emily has also been accepted to a prestigious arts university. The actor of many hats, Ali Arian Molaei, is off to Boston University School of the Arts, and the terrific Shayan Hooshmand will surely soon return to Broadway. The stunning gifted cast also includes: Alexandra Dinu, Lauren Emo, Anna Feenstra, Monica Hobbs, Cara Parker Alyssa Rojas, Zoe Stanton-Savitz, Mia Trubelja, Robert Vetter, Gil Weissman, and Derek Zhou.
A THEATRE NEAR U PRESENTS
The World Premiere of
A Beautiful Glass
Composed by Jeremy Erman, Andrew Lu, Annabelle Marks,
Leanne Miron, Jeremy Samos & Peter Willitis
Book & Lyrics by Tony Kienitz (additional lyrics by Annabelle Marks)
Produced by Tanna Herr
Directed by Tanna Herr & Tony Kienitz
Vocal Direction by Pierce Peter Brandt
Choreographed by Ali Arian Molaei
Magic Theatre at Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
June 15 - 17th
Mt View Center for the Arts 500 Castro Street, Mt View Ca
June 18, 19, 23 - 25th
Tickets http://atheatrenearu.org/home/ and www.mvcpa.com
**Interview courtesy of Anna Medina / Palo Alto Weekly