A Theatre Near U
Review by Richard Connema
and Atticus Shaindlin
Photo by Rob Wilen
A Theater Near U is presenting the world premiere of A Beautiful Glass with book and lyrics Tony Kienitz and additional lyric by Andrew Lu and Annabel Marks, and music by many Jeremy Erman, Tony Kienitz, Andrew Lu, Annabel Marks, Jeremy Samos and Peter Willitis. Company founders Tony Kienitz and his wife, producer Tanna Herr, are producing an original musical with an 18-member cast ranging in age from 13 to 19.
A Beautiful Glass is about teen suicide, a loaded subject on the Peninsula where, according to a report in The Atlantic for December 2015, the 10-year suicide rate for the two high schools on the Peninsula Gunn and Palo Alto was four to five times the national average. A Theater Near U helped to shape the material, including the prose, the music, the movement, and the staging, all of which combine to form an outstanding production. Co-directors Tony Kienitz and Tanna Herr helm this cast of extraordinary talented young actors.
This is the story of young Justin Capps (Atticus Shaindlin) who is trying to cope with suicides in his circle of friends. He is greatly seeking a “cure.” Also, the tale is about stargazing Georgianna (Emily Liberatore), a student who is fascinating by supernovas and has a telescope setup in a remote location near Justin, who loves to sleep outside under the stars. She becomes interested in his mission and starts helping him. The first act is a serious matter, with various young students coming stage forward to tell about their suicides.
The second act features members of the teenage cast offering a unique, inside view of suicides by portraying such historical notables as Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Vincent Van Gogh, and Lady Macbeth. This is portrayed in an entertaining manner. As one of the cast members states, “it’s kind of a comedy and kind of wacky.”
The play runs almost three hours with intermission and it could be cut down a bit, especially the first act. It has a lot going for it, especially when the company bursts forth with the song “Good Luck with That” which satirizes the medical practice to cure any aliment. Justin is the doctor and he treats everyone’s ills, but when his younger self (Quincy Shaindlin, Atticus’ younger brother) asks for help, he cannot help him.
The production contains many wonderful performances, such as Grandpa played by 18-year-old Ali Arian Molaei in the number “It’s a Beautiful Glass.” He rises from his wheelchair and dances a solo with great flexibility and imagination looking like a Martha Graham dancer, while Atticus Shaindlin with great vocal chops sings the song. Ali Arian Molaei also performs a terrific solo about Grandpa’s encounter with a bear.
Atticus Shaindlin is marvelous as Justin. He makes him human and very congenial, despite his few social oddities. Emily Liberatore gives an attention-grabbing performance and her character’s cleverness comes through. The scenes between Shaindlin and Liberatore are very poignant and droll, especially those dealing with very serious topics.
Mia Trubelja skillfully portrays Cleopatra in the second act and Jackson Wylder is pitch perfect as Vincent Van Gogh with his lively voice. Fourteen-year-old Shayan Hooshmand has thematic resonance when singing “Count What They Bless.”
The songs consisting of new contemporary, discordant alternative rock and jazz standards are intertwined into the story and the lyrics drive the plot forward. Ali Arian Molaei’s energy-driven choreography punctuates the cast’s words with strident, stylized movements.
Despite the weighty tropics of mental illness and suicide, the play with music is peppered with moments of lightheartedness and wit. This is the intention of the co-directors, since both believed that humor was important in portraying the characters as fully recognized persons.
A Beautiful Glass played at the Magic Theatre June 15-17 and will play in Mountain View at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Second Stage, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, now through June 25, 2016. For tickets call 650-902-6000 or visit atheatrenearu.org.