By A.R. Gurney
St. Helena Star
Whatever your plans are in the next two weekends, forget them. Clear your calendar. Go see UpStage Napa Valley’s presentation of “Sylvia.” It’s that good, and if you miss it, you’ll be sorry.
“Sylvia,” directed by Sharie Renault, is a comedy written by A. R. Gurney. It’s about a couple in Manhattan, living in a small apartment. They have raised their family and it’s time for wife Kate (Megan Whyte) to start her career, of teaching English to inner-city kids.
One day, husband Greg (Fred Ireland) comes home from the park with a delightful dog, named Sylvia, portrayed admirably by Alexis Forni. The two are inseparable. And as Greg’s midlife crisis continues, he decides to take more and more afternoons off from work, to spend time with Sylvia in the park.
It’s not all sunshine and bliss, though, because Kate can’t abide Sylvia, despite the dog’s best efforts to win her affection.
Greg and Kate reach a compromise … they will keep Sylvia on a trial basis for a couple of days, which, inevitably stretches to a couple of months. And, therein, lies the drama and the heart of this play, which leads to a lot of laughs.
By Theresa Rebeck
"Last weekend I had the pleasure of viewing UpStage Napa Valley’s production of "Mauritius," a play by Theresa Rebeck under the direction of Sharie Renault. She stages this unique mystery with a small, engaging cast of locals you may recognize.
There is plenty of dry humor and it is easy to overlook the play’s sometimes strong language for the even stronger performances by the talented actors: Danielle Devitt (Jackie), Kelly Berryman (Mary), Bruce Miroglio (Sterling), Gabriel Frey (Dennis), and David Foushee (Philip). All do an excellent job!
Many thanks to UpStage Napa Valley for continuing to bring us unusual and thought-provoking theater."
Ada & Stan Press
"We Loved the show! Accolades to you all for such a wonderful job — and a full audience! Our group went out for supper together after the play, and we enjoyed continuing a lively conversation about "Mauritius"……Way to Go!"
Michele Mills and Bob Driver
"We're just writing to say how VERY much we enjoyed ourselves seeing our first play with Upstage Napa Valley. We were engaged the entire time with the performances, stage sets and intention in all of it. We especially enjoyed Gabriel Frey's offering - so dynamic and extremely subtle at times. Great stuff. Please pass our sincere "thank you" along to him. We look forward to attending more plays in the future - and the cast discussion afterwards continued to flesh out the whole evening. Very satisfying."
By Joe DiPietro
Freelance Writer, Former Staff Writer for the St. Helena Star
"UpStage Napa Valley is presenting its final performances this week of a fascinating and challenging play by Joe DiPietro called “Creating Claire” at St. Helena’s Grace Episcopal Church. It’s a production that brings into focus the conflict between religious faith and scientific theory, and it’s a real gem.
Directed by Sharie Renault, this production brings the artistry of four exceedingly talented Napa Valley actors to the missing link between faith and science. It’s both an entertaining and philosophically deep consideration of how an individual’s evolving faith can suddenly change the dynamics of relationships between family and friends.
Nancy Brandl gives a warm and nuanced performance as the central character of Claire, who is a docent at a natural history museum, tasked with the job of publicly explaining Darwin’s theory of evolution to museum visitors. But, quite unexpectedly, as she is giving her museum talk, she begins to wonder about the possibility that a “designer” might be the source of the harmony found in the natural world. This growing personal belief in “intelligent design” challenges both her official relationship with the museum and the emotional dynamics of her family.
For Claire’s teenage autistic daughter Abigail – played to near perfection by Marina Maia – the sudden spiritual revelations of her mother seem so alien that Abigail’s world view is thrown into turmoil. Over and over, Abigail verbally attempts to bring clarity to the changes she sees in her mother. But her autism prevents her from accepting those changes, and she becomes increasingly distraught. At the same time, she’s struggling with her own teenage identity as a person with autism in a world that views her as a “retard.”
Likewise, Claire’s atheist husband Reggie – generously performed by Fred Ireland -- concludes that Claire’s evolving beliefs threaten the fabric of their marriage. He can’t square Claire’s newfound faith with his image of the person that he married. At the center of his concern is what their daughter Abigail is being taught by Claire.
Ultimately Claire’s supervisor at the museum, Victoria – wonderfully played by Carlet Langford -- is forced to take disciplinary action and the resulting commotion drives a tragic wedge between them all.
How these conflicts are to be resolved becomes the underlying hope of DePietro’s play. It’s a story that poignantly reflects the human desire for certainty and truth within the confines of two seemingly different worldviews. But most importantly, this production offers four performances by a masterful theater troupe, exquisitely directed and well worth the price of admission."
"With shifting social tides, it takes courage to put one’s stable life on the line and up for public scrutiny. It takes guts to test commitments to marriage, family, friends and work. We come to relationships as one person, then given time and life experience we are changed. Do people allow us this change or do they resist our ~ ‘becoming’? Does our ‘becoming’ threaten their concept of the ‘we’ and how we fit together?
Upstage Napa Valley’s talented artistic director, Sharie Renault, says, in her Directors Statement, the company brings… “contemporary plays to life that we may stimulate personal and societal awareness.” This 90-minute production of 'Creating Claire' does that. Same sex marriage, autism, religious/scientific/philosophical polarity, cyber bullying, marital turbulence, child rearing ~ It’s all in the mix.
While no expert on Autism it seems to me autistic individuals have a way of cutting through the crap and delivering their hit on life in straight forward, unencumbered bits and pieces and we, the not so ‘free,’ can either like it or lump it. Autistics will not be talked out of their interpretation of what they see and feel. But still, we try to mold them into our sense of what they should be and how they should act. So often, our motivation is a deep love and desire to have them fit in. But fit into what? Make Abigail (the young daughter in the play) better? What’s better? What is it, exactly, we have to offer as an alternative? If the autistic person feels the world as a form of madness that makes them uncomfortable ~ who is to say it is not they who have clarity and we the ‘normal’ people are disillusioned. Then throw God into the mix. Oh! My! God! Did we evolve? Or were we created? Why, if there is a God, would this God situate anybody in a life of misery, pain, and suffering? During the talk-back following the production, a woman in the audience, mother of an autistic son said, “The portrayal of an autistic teenager was perfect. 'Abigail', said and did things just like my autistic son, and I was very moved by it and, how the parents tried to cope ~ also accurate.“
When our mate, or others, are unable to ‘hear us’ where do we go from there? Adhere to science, for example? Or do we develop and take refuge in a relationship that asks us to surrender our critical thinking, if you will, in favor of blind faith. Then, when people we have always considered friends oppose our attempt to redefine our beliefs can we work that through, or must we just… walk away? What is it we are asking of others in order to stay true to ourselves?
There are WOW moments in this play which runs through October 28. On line: UpStageNapaValley.org."
St. Helena Star
"'Creating Claire' is the latest Upstage Napa Valley production showing now -- Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the next two weekends at Grace Church. Director Sharie Renault has once again found a play and a group of talented people to bring a thought-provoking production to our community.
While the setting is simple and clever with almost no props, the script is not simple at all."
Clever Little Lies
By Joe DiPietro
St. Helena Star
"Upstage Napa Valley’s ‘Clever Little Lies’, currently showing in St. Helena, is a fascinating comedy about the corrosive effects of lying. But despite the seriousness of the topic, this is a truly hilarious and pleasurable comedy – a kind of moral romp through hysterical family drama."
By John Kolvenbach
Letter to the Editor, St. Helena Star
"I attended Goldfish last week at the St. Helena Presbyterian Church. This remarkable play was presented by the Upstage Napa Valley Theatre Company directed by Shari Renault. I was so moved by the production and by the company's focus on picking plays that address urgent community issues. This play, Goldfish, told the story of college students and their financial and emotional challenges. This led me to contact the Santa Rosa Community College student resource center which is dealing with the current explosive food and housing needs of its student population . The recent fires have only exacerbated the situation. Thank you upstage for bringing this important awareness to your audiences."
By John Patrick Shanley
St. Helena Star
"Not only do these actors reinterpret the depth and force of the play’s memorable characters: they also reinvigorate the context of John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize winning play in ways that neither the movie actors nor the playwright/director could have fully envisioned.
Handle with Care
By Jason Odell Williams
"Under the expert direction of Sharie Renault, you will be captivated from the first moment to the last. The acting is FLAWLESS. Each character will touch your heart in different ways. The play is funny and tender (plus there is beautiful snow! thank you for that) Sometimes I don't think we realize how something like that as well as the music, lighting and sound enhances our theater experience and helps to set the mood. This is acting, directing and tech at its best."
By A.R. Gurney
Kate & Greg Brown
"We saw Black Tie, a play by A.R.Gurney, this past week-end and thoroughly enjoyed the production, performed by the Calistoga Theater Company at St. Helena Presbyterian Church, 1428 Spring Street, St. Helena. Black Tie is a comedy where a clash of cultures threatens tradition at a destination wedding and certainly is very timely in our current environment. All the actors did a fine job and we found ourselves laughing heartily at many of the lines, drawing comparisons with our own lives and experiences. Sharie Renault always seems to select interesting, provocative plays and this was no exception. The community is fortunate to have Sharie spearheading these plays so we can all enjoy her talent."
The Other Place
By Sharr White
The Weekly Calistogan
"As the narrator of this fast-paced 75-minute play, Jennings masterfully pulls us through the flashbacks, the conflicts, and the unanswered mystery of the disappearance of Smithton’s daughter. No sooner are we focused on one scene than we are quickly pushed into the next, like the PowerPoint slides in Smithton’s presentations. We are both the audience for the play, and the audience of Smithton’s presentations."
Editor, St. Helena Star
"It is clear that director Sharie Renault gathered a great ensemble cast for this production and staged a great play, because “The Other Place” was engaging and thought-provoking and even days after seeing it, I doubt if I can answer all the questions that arise."
The Language Archive
By Julia Cho
Napa Valley Register
"Last weekend, I saw (and loved) a play called “The Language Archive” at the Presbyterian Church in St. Helena. I believe the production was bumped from Calistoga during the fire, but they have done a marvelous job of putting together the venue and arranging a fine production. The acting is superb throughout, and it made me wonder what else I might have missed by this acting group.
I had a great time, and have been thinking about the questions it raised since the final curtain."
"Sharie and her team always select innovative and thought-provoking plays. They have outdone themselves this time. The play makes us ponder how we communicate with each other every time we speak.
It is touching, quirky, passionate … and humorous. A first-class performance by the ensemble cast -- DON'T MISS IT."
By Amy Herzog
Letter to the Editor, Calistoga Tribune
"Having recently moved here from New York City, I was transported back last night when I attended the production of Amy Herzog's "4000 Miles" both in the play's content as well as the staging. I have attended many on and off Broadway shows and this was outstanding. The actors, director and stage production was wonderful. How fortunate we are that we don't have to travel 4000 miles to see a Broadway play. Run don't walk to see this play"