‘The seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places.”
That, according to the opening lines of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s Little Shop of Horrors, is where certain stories often take place. Fittingly, two noteworthy plays are currently being staged in unlikely, out-of-the-way places.
Little Shop, presented by Narrow Way Stage Company (part of the Sonoma Theatre Alliance), unfolds at the Sonoma Community Center, not that out-of-the-way if you happen to live in Sonoma, but for those living in Petaluma or San Rafael, it can seem like a bit of a drive. First, it’s not that long of a drive; and second, in this case the drive is worth it.
Directed by Chris Ginesi, with musical direction by Justin Pyne, the deliriously macabre musical features catchy songs, a wacky Grand Guignol story line and an enormous talking plant that occasionally eats cast members.
Seymour Krelborn (an excellent Matlock Zumsteg) is a hapless flower-shop worker, helplessly in love with the sweet but depressed Audrey (Nora Summers, exuding an aura of crushed dreams). The shop’s owner, Mr. Mushnik (Harry Duke, hilarious) is about to shut the failing business for good when Seymour unveils a plant he’s named the Audrey II, a “strange and interesting” curiosity that soon proves to be a major draw to the store.
Only Seymour knows that the plant’s favorite food is human blood, and as it grows (and eventually starts talking, with voice by Butch Engle), the stage is set for a calamitous series of events, which prove to be as touching and heart-warming as they are horrific and hilarious.
Concurrently, Marin Onstage is presenting Eugene O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten in another “innocent and unlikely” place: the cafeteria at St. Vincent’s School for Boys in San Rafael. Director Ron Nash has cleverly turned the space into an intimate black-box environment, perfect for O’Neill’s bittersweet love story.
Somewhat dated now, but still moving, the tale of ill-timed love on a desolate ranch absolutely soars on the brilliant performance of Caitlin Walraven as Josie. Secretly in love with the landlord (John Nahigian) of the farm she works on with her crusty father (Michael Walraven), Josie is a spectacular creation. In bringing her to life, Walraven delivers one of the most charming and heartbreaking performances of the year.
Rating for each (out of 5): ★★★½