Heroines at Sonoma State University’s Evert B Person Theater, Rohnert Park CA

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Photos by David Papas

Death to the Invaders!

World Premiere of Intriguing, Uneven Heroines

Presented in its world premiere by the Sonoma State University Departments of Music, Theatre Arts and Dance, Heroines was conceived by instructors Lynn Morrow, who is the show’s Music Director, and Jane Erwin Hammett, who wrote the original script and provides new lyrics, stage direction and choreography. It features 20 selected pieces from classic operettas of the late 1800s and early 1900s that highlight the eternal battle of the sexes and the steady evolution of the role of women, perceived or real, in society.

Jenny, a character taken from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, who as a prostitute has been abused countless times by men, serves as the pivot around which the other performers revolve. Some fictional, some mythical, some legendary (but none actual), these ladies are all seeking a way to empower themselves as individuals. The program draws heavily on numbers from Threepenny Opera, the likes of Gilbert and Sullivan, and Noel Coward.

Sarah Maxon as Mad Margaret

There are moments of brilliance courtesy of Sarah Maxon as Margaret, a mezzo-soprano with magnetic stage presence and light operatic skills, and soprano Allison Spencer as Eurydice, with amazing vocal control and range, possibly the best voice in the entire cast of 14. Both display formidable acting chops to boot. Also noteworthy is Nora Griffin in the role of Anna and Rodrigo Castillo as Man 1, with great voices and stage presence, talents that deserve to be nurtured. Anna Leach as Jenny delivers a sturdy performance but seems too restrained in her movements given the shady-lady character she’s playing.

SSU has a truly wonderful music program, and students make up the professional-caliber 11-piece orchestra. What gives the show credence is the music department’s efforts. The musicians are right on key, better than much of the music at other local theaters.

At times you want to dance in the aisles and clap your hands, especially during the rousing closing number “Women! Women! Women!” from The Merry Widow, sporting jaunty new lyrics by Hammett. The use of supertitles projected above the stage really helps in understanding the lyrics, but the storytelling is unfocused, and the choice of songs, while in places very entertaining, is not entirely effective. Perhaps some real-life heroines from times past and present could have been worked in somehow?

The overall idea is promising, but there are times when it lacks in presentation. The bare-boned sets, choreography and staging are serviceable but uninspiring. The ensemble, when collected onstage, can often lack a certain energy. Too frequently the cast is standing around stiffly with nothing to do (with the exception of Maxon’s Mad Margaret).

Allison Spencer as Eurydice

We have to be the heroines of our own stories. And madness can be a form of survival. These are powerful messages that Heroines seeks to convey. All in all, a premise that has been mined from such rich material and has such potential only goes part of the way on its journey.

When: Now through February 15, 2015

7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays

2:00 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $10 to $17, free to SSU students

Location: Evert B. Person Theatre at Sonoma State University

1801 E. Cotati Ave.
Rohnert Park, CA 94928

Website: www.sonoma.edu/theatreanddance/productions/heroines.html