Monthly Archive for: ‘June, 2017’

Comic splendor found onstage in San Rafael

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★☆

Ellen Brooks is comically brilliant in “The Public Eye.”

And wistfully touching, too.

Hande Gokbas is comically brilliant in “Ludlow Fair.”

And wistfully touching, too.

Together, I’m convinced, they make the two-hour Marin Onstage production of “Suddenly It’s Springtime: One Acts with Heart” at the Belrose Theatre in San Rafael worth witnessing.

Brooks, in her gender-bending role as Julian Cristoforou — a gumshoe hired by pompous accountant Charles Sidley (played impressively by Mitch Field) to follow Belinda (Emily Ludlow), his young wife whom he suspects of cheating — is perfection personified.

Especially amusing when silently channeling Charlie Chaplin in several theatrical bits involving bits of food.

And especially radiant when she deadpans laugh eliciting lines like “How many more people would stay married if they’d just shut up?” and “It’s extremely difficult for a private eye to witness copulation.”

Ellen Brooks (left) and Mitch Field star in “The Public Eye” at the Belrose Theatre. Photo by Gary Gonser.

My friend Field, I believe, becomes the ideal straight man and foil to Brooks’ pipsqueak shamus.

In contrast, Gokbas, a hefty human, uses her jiggling body, rubbery expressions and communicative eyes (whether doing the twist or primping in front of a mirror) to hilarious advantage in the emotionally layered role of Agnes in “Ludlow.”

Billie Cox, who directs “Eye” (after cutting it “to the bone”), told me during intermission that she likes “to get out of the way of the actors.”

I’d say her instincts are impeccable: Each of her three charges excelled.

Renee Mandel-Sher, who directs “Ludlow” (and once starred in it), also wheedled the best from her actors’ portrayal of short-term roommates long on understanding each other.

Both directors pull out all the comic stops, accentuating the physical possibilities, then top it off with tasteful doses of poignancy.

“The Public Eye” was written by British playwright Peter Shaffer, who — in addition to “Lettuce and Lovage,” a lighthearted piece about a pair of middle-aged women bonded by their dislike of modern architecture — also penned the humorless dramas “Equus” and “Amadeus.”

“Eye” usually is paired with Shaffer’s “The Private Ear,” about a romantic triangle and an obsession for classical music, but here it’s coupled with American playwright Wilson’s “Ludlow Fair.”

Which makes for a bittersweet combo that showcases insecure adults coping with love.

While “Eye” evolves into an offbeat re-kindling of a marriage spark, “Ludow,” written by a guy who also penned “The Hot l Baltimore” and “Talley’s Folly,” focuses on Rachel (Keara Reardon), a promiscuous, neurotic drama queen who regrets snitching on her boyfriend after he’d pilfered money from her and Agnes, her kooky, peanut-brittle devouring but sensitive roommate.

Gary Gonser, the company’s producer, deserves extra credit for designing the sets, both of which instantly placed me where they were intended to — in a London office and a Brooklyn apartment.


In “Eye,” Belinda keeps tugging at her too short shirt, drawing my attention away from the plot. And the act bogs down a tad midway through.

In “Ludlow,” Rachel’s angst sometimes feels so over the top it disallowed me to suspend disbelief.

The common timeframe for both plays, not incidentally, is the 1960s — an era I look back on with pleasure but one whose innocence and hopefulness no longer seems to exist.

“Suddenly It’s Springtime: One Acts with Heart” will play at the Belrose Theatre, 1415 5th Ave., San Rafael, through June 10. Night performances, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets: $12 to $24. Information: 415-448-5162 or

Contact Woody Weingarten at or

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