Curtain Calls: ‘To Master the Art’ finds recipe for success in El Cerrito


I’ve often heard from directors that the most important part of their job is selecting the right actors. Marilyn Langbehn has done that and more with her impeccable casting and tight direction of “To Master the Art,” currently playing through May 21 at Contra Costa Civic Theatre, 951 Pomona Ave., El Cerrito.

The upbeat story of Julia Child’s first forays into cooking features a strong cast of accomplished actors who create dynamic, interesting characters.

Maria Mikheyenko captures the positive energy of Julia along with her vulnerability and determination in a compelling well-rounded portrayal.

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Michael Sally as her husband Paul embodies the love and attraction between the two while also pursuing his own career in the U.S. Foreign Service and introducing his wife to French cooking during his posting in Paris.

The rest of the multi-talented cast (Harrison Alter, Jeremy Cole, Laszlo Horner, Anne Yumi Kobori, Kelly Rinehart and Trish Tillman) plays anywhere from two to four different characters, each one well-defined and a pleasure to watch.

William Brown and Doug Frew’s play gives insights into Julia Child that many might not know. For instance, did you realize Julia worked for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, and her first forays into cooking involved experimenting with various concoctions as a repellent to keep sharks from accidentally setting off OSS explosives targeting German U-boats? It is still used today. Julia went on to receive the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service for her work in China, where she was praised for her “drive and inherent cheerfulness.”

Courtney Carson’s set, Madeline Berger’s 1950’s costumes and Calli Carvajal’s wigs add to the effectiveness of CCCT’s production. Special kudos to the very efficient stage crew that manages not only quick set changes but lots and lots of food items!

For tickets to this delightful production, call 510-524-9012 or go to ccct.org.

Brentwood: Murder mysteries w/dinner can be such fun. There was a time when several companies presented these delicious entertainment treats, but not so anymore. Caught in the Act Theater, however, continues to present the popular audience-involved crime dramas.

The company’s Roaring Twenties-themed “Funeral for a Gangster” plays Saturday at Summerset Palms in Brentwood with dinner and dessert provided by La Veranda Restaurant. Hopefully, there will be additional productions in the future, and I can give people more notice.

For more information on upcoming dinner theater productions, email caughtintheacttheater@gmail.com.

Berkeley: The West Coast premiere of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s “Yerma” takes place May 20-June 18 at Berkeley’s Shotgun Players, 1901 Ashby Ave.

Director Katja Rivera has set the play in a Mexican American rural community in Southern California circa 1930s in homage to the San Fernando Valley where her father spent his youth. According to Rivera, the play explores the ways in which one’s greatest desire can become an all-consuming passion.

For more information, go to shotgunplayers.org.

Antioch: El Campanil Theatre’s Lobby Concert Series continues with vocalist Sony Holland and her husband/guitarist Jerry Holland May 24 at 7:30 p.m. The duo will perform classics from Linda Ronstadt, Dusty Springfield and more.

For tickets, call 925-757-9500 or go to elcampaniltheatre.com.

Lafayette: Town Hall Theatre has partnered with SonoMusette to present “Edith Piaf: Beyond Paris Skies” May 20 at 8 p.m.

Here’s a chance to visit Paris (well, almost!) through the stylings of native Parisian singer Mimi Pirard and the other accomplished musicians of SonoMusette. The group will present stories and songs illustrating the talent and international range of Piaf, known as the voice of French music.

For tickets, call 925-283-1557 or go to townhalltheater.com.

S.F.: Across the Bay, the San Francisco Playhouse presents David Henry Hwang’s fast-paced comedy “Chinglish.” Culture and customs collide in Hwang’s crazy comedy as a naïve American sign manufacturer travels to China in search of a lucrative contract. Along the way, he discovers some things aren’t so easily translated. Jeffry Lo directs with Michael Barrett Austin playing the inexperienced foreign traveler.

“Chinglish” runs through June 10 with opening night slated for May 10. For tickets, call 415-677-9596 or go to sfplayhouse.org.

Also in S.F.: “Into the Woods” plays a one-week engagement June 20-24 at the Curran Theatre. Dedicated to the memory of composer Stephen Sondheim, the production features many of the Broadway cast including Montego Glover (The Witch), Stephanie J. Block (The Baker’s Wife), Sebastian Arcelus (The Baker) and Gavin Creek (Cinderella’s Prince/Wolf).

For tickets, go to broadwaysf.com.

Summer of Legacy: Santa Cruz Shakespeare plans a festive summer season to mark the company’s 10th anniversary of outdoor theater. It’s also the 400th anniversary of the first printed collection of Shakespeare’s works – the First Folio.

To mark these two auspicious occasions, the company will perform “The Taming of the Shrew,” “King Lear” and Lauren Gunderson’s “Book of Will.” Productions play in repertory July 8-Aug. 27 under the trees in The Audrey Stanley Grove at Santa Cruz’s DeLaveaga Park.

For complete information on, go to santacruzshakespeare.org.

Sally Hogarty can be reached at sallyhogarty@gmail.com. Read more of her reviews online at eastbaytimes.com/author/sally-hogarty.

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