Dateline South Lake Tahoe: Laughter is the Action at the Improv Dateline South Lake Tahoe: Bethany Owen Masters 1001 Voices "Teatro ZinZanni" a San Francisco Treat that Won't Last "How to Write a New Book for the Bible" Touching, Powerful, Cathartic "The Last Romance" Soars with Hope Classic "Master Harold and the Boys" is Poignant and Intense

Amidst the beauty and outdoor activities of this laid-back town, one finds towering casinos clustered at the California/Nevada state line.  It's here that locals and visitors alike converge for gaming and entertainment when the sun goes down.  The crowd that loves to laugh gravitates to The Improv at Harvey's, where first-rate stand-up comedians deliver 90 minutes of pure entertainment.

The show is hosted and "warmed up" by 10-year veteran emcee Howie Nave, a Bay Area guy who now calls Tahoe his home.  Nave delivers hilarious stories about his stint entertaining US troops in Iraq, in an alcohol-deprived, 126-degree location where his military audience "packed guns, and big ones too. Talk about performance pressure!"  His fantasy about opening a Muslim bar there, complete with "wet veil night" where patrons shout "C'mon Baby, show us your face!" cracked up the crowd.  Nave's routine is local, high energy, and very real.  He describes his stint as a toll-taker on the Bay Bridge, when drunks placed cheeseburger orders and Nave would tell them to pick up their order at the end of the bridge.  The audience roared with laughter when Nave acknowledges Tahoe's effective solution to the homeless problem..."It's called SNOW!" 

Nave's performance is a knock-out with the crowd, and the fun continues as he introduces two guest comedians. This week's opener is Doug Sparks, a comedy show headliner, film actor, and mimic whose musical impressions and substitute lyrics are spot-on.  Nave calls Sparks "A cross between Eddie Murphy and Johnny Mathis."  Sparks's versatile voice has been part of a "Rat Pack" tribute show in Vegas where Sparks channeled Sammy Davis, Jr.  Sparks, a Vegas resident, includes a hilarious monologue as part of his act.  He bemoans the misery of aging, the heat in Vegas, small dogs, and arguing with females.  Sparks wins over his audience with a quick wit and scathing social observations, including good-natured barbs occasionally shot into the appreciative and laughing crowd.    

The coveted headliner spot this week goes to Tom Cotter, a multi-award winner and Comedy Central regular with so much funny material that many audience members come back for a second show.  Cotter points to humor in our traditions:  "Why do guys ask for a gal's hand in marriage?"  Cotter asks.  "Guys know we already have our own hands.  And it's not her hand that we want anyway."  His take on marriage "I got married 'cause I got tired of finishing my own sentences" and family "We're childproofing our house, but they keep getting in anyway" is priceless. 

Cotter also engages a rapid-fire comedy style known as misdirection, where statements are turned on their heads by the addition of an unexpected follow-up word.  This witty and incisive method requires perfect timing, something Cotter has in abundance.  He takes the audience on a wild ride through airport security, Irish partying, campus dudes, and the Amish visiting Circuit City.  He brings his childhood as the youngest of six children to the stage, noting that he grew up with Saturday morning water balloon fights in the neighborhood.  Of course, Cotter admits that the only way he could win was by freezing his water balloons Friday night.  

Show host Nave confides "I've been trying to get this guy up here for 10 years."  Kudos go to Nave for working so diligently to get Cotter, a superbly gifted comic, to the Harvey's stage...definitely worth the wait.  

The Improv features various comedians at Harvey's Lake Tahoe Resort Wednesday through Sunday, with shows at 9 PM and Saturday at 8 and 10 PM.  Tickets around $30 at (775) 586-6266.


South Lake Tahoe is a small and close-knit community, laid back and tourist-oriented.  It's a scenic 3 ½ hour drive from the Bay Area - as long as the roads are clear - but it's worlds apart.  Here you'll find a pine-rimmed majestic mountain lake, snow-capped Sierras for ski buffs, and high-rise casinos in a cluster at the Nevada state line.  Come inside these glitzy palaces, where, in the small lounges and intimate showrooms, you'll find hard-working and high-energy entertainers devoted to their craft.  These performers are fueled by the applause, the stage and the show's spotlight.  This is more than a career to them; it's a calling.

Bethany Owen with her "One Voice" headliner show is an example of a dedicated crowd-pleaser.  Owen has been earning her stripes for decades as a singer, dancer, and comedienne; she now demonstrates her formidable skills as an impressionist into a 90-minute nonstop show.  Owen does hilarious songbird interpretations of top female entertainers from the jazz age to today, with several non-singing icons thrown in for fun.  She masterfully mimics gestures, facial tics, hair, and vocal flexibility, giving her a resume of 1001 voices and faces.   

Director and Producer Jim Whirlow knows how to create audience buzz in this 90-minute nonstop package of entertainment.  The laser light show and surround sound music keep the showroom energy high while Owen does quick costume changes right onstage.  From Marilyn Monroe to Cher, Owen manipulates the crowd, snagging audience members to participate in her act with loads of laughter.  Owen delivers enthusiasm and an over-the-top measure of fun, no matter how many seats are filled - the hallmark of a true professional.   

There's no other act quite like Owen, combining comedy, song, and character changes.  Her Judy Garland "little hobo" finale, against a clever montage of old film clips, makes you grin as she is joined onstage by Robert, the house maître D.   It's music, it's laughter, and it's pure entertainment for all ages.  Playing at the intimate 150-seat Golden Cabaret Showroom at Horizons Casino Resort on Fridays through Tuesdays at 8 PM.  Call 800-683-8266 for reservations and schedule.  Tickets $17 to $34. 

Immerse yourself in crazy entertainment - with a delicious dinner served by outrageously costumed performers - at Teatro ZinZanni's newest show "On the Air".  The Teatro ZinZanni concept is simple:  Combine singers, dancers, acrobats, aerialists, musicians, comedians, jugglers, divas, and other assorted crazy performers into one location, throw in a special headliner, and deliver a multi-course dinner throughout the performance.  Grab a few audience members to don costumes and play a part, too, if they are willing.  It's outrageous and brilliant, making the show a long-running favorite of locals and tourists who can't believe what they're watching.  Oh the stories they'll tell when they get back to Ohio!

After a few disappointing attempts in past months to weave the semblance of a plot into the show, Teatro ZinZanni has wisely gone back to their roots of simply showcasing vaudeville, circus, and pure entertainment.  The current show, "On the Air", introduces acts via an old-time radio station broadcast, and it works. 

Norm Langill directs (if that's the right word to use) this zany collection of talent.  One of the most versatile headliners in this latest production is Geoff Hoyle, a violin-toting Jack Benny look alike who delivers classic one liners as the audience guffaws.  The senior citizens have heard 'em all before, but don't remember the punch lines, while Gen X & Y just roar at the "new" jokes.  Hoyle shows up later in a Scottish marm's guise, scooting through the audience and cracking up the crowd.

The show continues as blues chanteuse Duffy Bishop packs a punch with her sweet and spicy voice; the perfect contemporary interlude.  There are comedy acts where Andrea Conway (love her squeaky voice!) manages to get entrapped in a chandelier, and a hold-your-breath act where juggler Bernard Hazens balances on a never-ending tower of cylinders.  Christopher Phi is a powerful gymnast whose body seems to have no bones, just muscles, and sexy aerialist Elena Gatilova is suspended on a ring above the audience's tables.  Lots of mischief abounds as talented Manuela Horn, Mat Plendl, Wayne Doba, and Kristin Clayton take the stage for their varied and crazy acts.  All in all, it's smart move for Teatro ZinZanni to keep the amusing performances coming, and coming fast.  The audience loves it!      

Sadly, the ornate and majestic 100-year-old "Spiegletent" which has housed the zany performances of "Teatro Zinzanni" for more than 11 years will be taken down to allow revamping of Pier 29 on the Embarcadero for the 2012 Americas Cup events.  This lush red velvet tent, a Belgian treasure, survived destruction during the world war by being buried underground for decades.  Once Teatro ZinZanni finalizes a new location, the plans are to relocate and re-install this mirrored arena, if local building ordinances and current code will allow.  If you want to make sure to marvel at this true treasure, go see Teatro ZinZanni's last scheduled show now.  Their final show at this location will be New Years Eve 2011. 

For tickets, which include dinner (not service charge or drinks) go to or call 415-438-2668.  The food is excellent, and the entire costumed wait staff is friendly and absolutely eager to please, even if you find yourself a bit overwhelmed by the chaotic surroundings.

Berkeley Rep, a recipient of the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, has excelled again with their presentation of Bill Cain's newest play.  Cain, a favorite playwright nationally and among Bay Area locals with such award-winners as "Nine Circles" and "Equivocation", puts parental aging, denial, and gentle passages into gut-wrenching focus in his latest play.  

In "How to Write a New Book for the Bible" Cain pays homage, admitting "I have a huge sense of the blessing my parents passed to the next generation."  This play does not shirk from what lies ahead as children care for a deteriorating parent.  Although many find the disability, doctors, and inevitable outcomes too painful to watch, the playwright intends the audience to "walk away with a great sense of joy...carrying less fear about how life ends."  He succeeds.

Kent Nicholson ably directs four accomplished actors portraying differing times of their lives, tied together by one son's recollection.  The plot revolves around the mother, beautifully played with wit, wisdom, and a touch of wildness by Linda Gehringer.  Her narrator son, a conscientious writer enacted by Tyler Pierce, is the caregiving anchor and beneficiary of many family memories.  This autobiographical role immediately draws us in as he lovingly shares his family with the audience.  His older brother, Aaron Blakely, is equally solicitous and devoted to his mother, although he lives in another state and has a "real" job that binds him.  Flashbacks also reveal the father, who has passed away years ago.  This role, as well as other supporting characters, is convincingly and adeptly handled by Leo Marks. 

"How to Write a New Book for the Bible" urges the audience to consider one's own family chapters as a progression, a celebration, and a perspective to handle whatever life delivers.  The play's events and characters weave in and out of the present, touching raw emotional edges in some reminiscences and sparking hearty laughter in others.  With a total performance time of 2 hours and 20 minutes and an ample supply of narrative, the play could benefit by some editing.

The emotional catharsis offered by this play is comforting; we need not fear even though our own long journey lies ahead.  Whether you reach for a tissue, or laugh aloud, this is a play not to be seen, but to be experienced.

Playing now through November 20th at Berkeley Rep's Thrust Stage (the slightly smaller one) at 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley.  Ticket prices with various discounts are offered through or 510-647-2949.  

Once in a great while, a beautifully crafted play sweeps you up in its arms and makes you wish it would never end.  "The Last Romance" is that type of performance.  The plot sounds so simple:  two lonely seniors who have lost their spouses meet accidentally at a park.  Can this be wondrous fate?  Boyishly enthusiastic octogenarian Ralph (Will Marchetti) falls in love at first sight with septuagenarian Carol (Kitty Winn), who is coolly aloof and proper.  The complications abound and the intrigue twists and turns with laughter that comes from the heart, and is not the least contrived.  Can they make the leap to romance?  Just when it might happen, Ralph's demanding and controlling sister Rose (Sharon Lockwood) manifests her disapproval of any dalliance lest it interfere with their orderly yet passionless world.  Sadly, Ralph's sister cannot allow herself happiness as her heart is filled with bitterness at her own husband's abandonment long ago.    

The couple's tentative friendship grows amidst flashbacks of when Ralph was young and auditioning as an opera singer.  "The Last Romance" is enhanced by interlacing portions of various arias sung with superb power by Joshua Jeremiah.  This talented tenor fills the auditorium with mesmerizing Italian lyrics, prompting the audience to spontaneously burst into applause.

All in all, Joe DePietro's loving script is a tribute to age, to youth, to taking risks, and to the chances that life offers.  The motif of this sweet and tender glimpse of life questions which path might be taken; the choices provoke the emotions and intellect of the audience.  How will this all come out?  The heart soars with hope and the spirit holds on for the bumpy ride. 

Kudos go to Casting Director Bruce Elsperger for his inspired selection of actors, and to Director Laird Williamson for bringing the subtleties and strength of these extraordinary characters to the stage.  And what a lovely stage it is!  The park bench, the falling leaves, the overgrown plantings and the revolving apartment interior are all the work of Michael Ganio. 

"The Last Romance" truly is an evening's entertainment worth the drive to this first-rate venue.  Playing now through November 6 at San Jose Repertory Theater at or by calling (408) 367-7255.     

San Francisco's Off Broadway West Theatre Company presents a play which speaks to all the emotions...excitement, frustration, indignation, sadness, joy, anger, and love.  The plot takes place on an afternoon of reflections and questions among a spoiled young white man and his two black Afrikan servants in 1950's South Africa.   The intensity of their interaction, the razor-sharp dialog, and the absolute purity of the actors' portrayals, is astounding.  It's a treat to be up close and personal in this 50-seat comfortable theater. 

The setting is a tea room, with two of the staff busy at their tasks.  Sam is a middle-aged black man during Apartheid, under the social and political policy of racial segregation and discrimination.  He has enjoyed a comfortable relationship with young Master Harold, the boss's son, for many years.  As the caring and surrogate father figure, Sam challenges the youngster to greater wisdom.  With time and the young man's changing moods, it becomes clear that Sam cannot overcome the bias and superior entitlement of his charge.  Willie, a younger black African staff servant, is witness to the emotional interchange.  He keeps a low profile, and wisely so.

The trio of actors are magnificently cast.  Adam Simpson enacts the sourness, the cruelty, and the weakness of Master Harold without overacting his role.  LaMont Ridgell as Sam is a standout with his movements, facial expressions, and gestures that run from soft to explosive.  It is a real compliment that Ridgell seems not to be acting at all, despite the copious dialogue his role contains.  Anthony Rollins-Mullens (Willie) is equally up to his role as the younger servant, although he must spend most of his onstage time wiping the floor on his knees.  That can't be easy, but he does it with a smile.  Ridgell and Rollins-Mullens do get to show off a few smooth dance moves, proving their extensive backgrounds in musical theater.   Kudos to Director Richard Harder for assembling such a finely-tuned ensemble cast.

Now playing at the Phoenix Theatre's 6th floor playhouse (414 Mason Street, SF) through November 19th on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 PM.  For tickets for to or call (800) 838-3006.  It's a rare chance to see this timeless play by Athol Fugard.