SHOPPING ! THE MUSICAL….too good to miss
Whoever said money can't buy happiness
simply didn't know where to go shopping.
Bo Derek

Morris Bobrow has a way of exposing human realities we do not like to admit and the amazing thing is that the weapon he uses to rip through our politically correct facades is music. You cannot attend any of his deliciously funny musical productions without wondering, “How did he know we do it that way?” And no wonder. Bobrow is the recipient of four San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle Awards for outstanding music and lyrics, the Back Stage Bistro Award for outstanding cabaret revue in New York, and two DramaLogue Critic's Awards. He obviously knows how to write and direct a show.

SHOPPING! is a stellar example of his talent. Bobrow has assembled an amazing cast to sing 24 songs and a reprise about that favorite of all American sports: buying stuff. The acting and singing are top notch, the energy and pace is choice and the 90 minute show seems like one gloriously funny moment of truth. Lydia Wirth and Andre Cravens created choreography for singers who are not dancers and Angela Dyer keeps the music going like a breathless romp.

This is an ensemble piece and although each singer has his moment, it is their enthusiastic working together that captivates the audience. When David Goodwin sings that his dreams to become a concert pianist have diminished into a job playing piano at Nordstrom’s, we all know the feeling. When he stands in line while his ice cream melts into soup behind an earnest Deborah Russo counting change and hassling clerk Kim Larsen, we remember when it happened to us. The musical runs the gamut of the shopping experience from street fairs to the delight of buying those useless tchotchkes at the five and ten cent store. Bobrow takes a few uncomfortable jabs at addictive computer shopping and the mystery of what the handling charge is all about. There is a wonderfully awkward moment when Kim Larsen sings “What Am I Doing Here?” buying lingerie for his wife. And who hasn’t worried just like Sara Hauter when she tries to find jeans that really fit. “It’s all about the butt,” she sings …and you know? She’s right.

Each number rings a familiar bell. We have all bought that, wanted that and wondered why we continue to spend so much time and money accumulating things we really don’t need. The husband’s agony when he shops with is wife and the search for sales resistance none of us manage to have….who has escaped it? The last song is the last straw. What happens when we bring our purchases home? Well you know as well as they do: it doesn’t fit; it doesn’t work; it isn’t what we thought it was…and yet when a new day dawns and our optimism is refreshed, what do we all do? You guessed it. We go SHOPPING!

Reality can be a bitter pill unless it is sugar coated in glorious melody and adorable dance. Treat yourself to this bon-bon that rings all too true and cannot fail to delight even as we squirm remembering when that very thing happened to us.

I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist.
Tammy Faye Bakker

SHOPPING! The Musical continues Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. at The Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. Tickets: 800 838 3006 or
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Marin Theatre Company presents…..FUDDY MEERS by David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Ryan Rilette
Starring Mollie Stickney, Andrew Hurteau, Sam Leichter and Tim True

The most important things are the hardest to say,
because words diminish them.
Stephen King

FUDDY MEERS seems like a comedy; the lines and situations are very funny. However, when you ponder the action on stage, you realize that this is far more than a series of laughs. It is actually a profound treatise on what happens when we cannot communicate who we really are to those who mean the most to us. I fell in love with this play when I saw it eleven years ago in Ashland. It struck me as a poignant drama about a woman (Claire, played with heart and soul by Molly Stickney) whose reality was so horrifying, she has to erase it to continue her life, in contrast to her mother (Gertie, played by Joan Mankin) who remembers everything but cannot express it because she has had a stroke.

The key to making Fuddy Meers (Gertie’s way of describing the funny mirrors in the fun house) a dramatic success is for each character to believe the reality of the situation they are in. Claire’s trauma is so appalling she cannot face it. Andrew Hurteau is Richard, her new husband, who met her in the hospital and now must remind her of who she is every morning before she gets out of bed. As the play develops, we realize that Richard has overcome hurdles of his own: drugs, anger issues, dysfunction…but he has come to terms with them all because his raison d’être has become seeing his wife through her day before loses it to sleep. He has created a scrapbook of the events in her life she needs to recall so she can function for the next 16 hours comfortably and he reviews it with her every morning after he brings in her morning coffee. Hurteau strikes just the perfect note in his portrayal of a man in love; frustrated by the repetitive routine he must perform to launch the day. He is determined to stick to his resolve to kick his habits and become a new man. He refuses to internalize the insults and vicious antagonism of Claire’s son Kenny (San Leichter) because he knows (and the audience knows he understand this) that the boy is suffering his own brand of trauma. Indeed, Hurteau gives us a wonderfully realized character, one that touches our hearts. He forces us to really feel his internal struggle and care about who is trying to beIt is a treat to see him on that stage.

For me, the show stealer is Molly Stickney. Imagine waking up every morning having no idea who you are, what you did, whom to trust and what you love. You are suffused in wonder at a dawn you cannot remember, the presence of a man you do not know, a son who is a stranger, clothes you had no idea were yours. To internalize that persona takes a psychologist, a sociologist and a true student of the vagaries of the human condition. Stickney breathes veracity into Claire and paints a whimsical and touching picture of a woman who greets every event she encounters as brand new. She captures the surprise, the delight, the puzzlement and the excitement of a novel world. “I feel Fuddy Meers has much more depth and heart than one would think at first glance,” she observed. “The play is a challenging piece. The shifts in tone are very swift, much like a tilt-a-whirl carnival ride, with Claire in the center of that whirl. She is a character who is very much alive in the present moment because--with her amnesia--that is all she has. Playing each moment as it happens is where one wants to be ideally as an actor. But with Claire, she is defined by each moment, each moment and every word informs who and where she is...she is truly a unique character to portray. I had to throw out all my usual techniques and pre-conceived notions about acting in my approach to her and become a "blank slate" myself, which was absolutely terrifying; but I felt it was imperative to fall, to take that risk, and let the playwright and my director catch me.”

And she succeeds. She carries this play. If this production makes your heart break at the fragile foundations that dreams come from or thrill at the hope life gives us all, it is thanks to Molly Stickney’s Claire.

Each character has his choice moment and this reviewer was particularly taken with Dena Martinez, the ex-con pseudo-policewoman. She is needy, combative, and desperate all at the same time. Her comedic timing is right on beat. Joan Mankin gives us the frustration of a stroke victim who knows what she needs to say, but simply cannot say it. Sam Leighter is Kenny, the son who saw it all and cannot come to terms with the cruelty and injustice of a world that would allow his father to do what he did to his family.

The tone of the play is just a bit off and I can only attribute it to the scenes where the actors tried to play up the comedy instead of the characters. Jasson Minadakis, Marin Theatre’s gifted and amazing artistic director summarizes the sense we all should get as the plot unravels. “”So what makes this play so special?” he asks. “It is what David (Lindsay-Abaire) brings to all of his plays: a deep and nurturing sympathy and love for each of the characters he’s created.”

Stickney and Hurteau never sacrifice the beauty of their characters to the punch lines and it is they who make this production memorable. To experience them in action is worth twice the cost of admission. Fuddy Meers is an important drama and Marin theatre does it well.. Reality can be a nightmare. What would all of us give to escape it? Lindsay-Abaire shows us that very experience in this touching, dramatic work, How we can not identify with his characters? They are so very human…so us.

Fuddy Meers continues through April 24, 2011 at The Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley, Ca.
Tickets are $32-$53 with discounts for seniors and rush tickets available 30 minutes before each performance
Contact 415 388 5200 or e mail