Take a farcical romp back to high school

By Ande Jacobson

A Theatre Near U is presenting another Tony Kienitz world premiere, this time taking a farcical trip down memory lane back to the all-important crises of high school. His latest work, Like, Like, Like?, presents a unique view of high school to which audience members of all ages can relate. For those whose high school years are viewed from a distance through the rear-view mirror of their life, this presentation will likely trigger a bit of nostalgia. For those in the midst of their high school years, these young actors may embody a view of their friends with a level of familiarity. And for those eagerly awaiting to start high school, the characterizations may show them that they have nothing to fear and plenty to savor. Continue reading

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Hershey Felder conjures an incredible portrait of ‘Beethoven’ at TheatreWorks

By Ande Jacobson

We have all heard his music. Ludwig van Beethoven, famous for his nine symphonies along with his ubiquitous piano compositions and other chamber works, is more than just the sum of his music. Hershey Felder is back on the TheatreWorks stage telling the fascinating story of Beethoven’s life from the perspectives of both Gerhard von Breuning and the maestro himself. Hershey Felder, Beethoven, with text by Hershey Felder, is based on Dr. Gerhard von Breuning’s personal recollections published in 1874 in “Aus dem Schwarzspanierhaus.” Felder’s presentation, punctuated by his piano virtuosity, is absolutely stunning. Continue reading

Follow-on thoughts about ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ – Part 1: Common Myths

By Ande Jacobson

In the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Harari discusses several thought-provoking aspects of human history. One of the most fascinating and far reaching developments is what he describes as “common myths.” He gives the following introductory description of this concept in his discussion of key developments from the Cognitive Revolution:

“Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination. Churches are rooted in common religious myths. … States are rooted in common national myths. … Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. ….

“Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”

Based on his description, all of the vagaries and debates that philosophers have waged since the Cognitive Revolution occurred can be chalked up to fiction. In the modern world beyond the list above, organizational constructs such as corporations would also qualify as common myths that are accepted by our collective imaginations. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ – a story of where we came from and where we might be going

By Ande Jacobson

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, was first published in the U.S. in 2015, and it took the country by storm. It quickly became a New York Times best seller and is used in numerous history courses around the country. Great Britain saw its English language release a year earlier in 2014, but the author’s countrymen saw it first published in his native Hebrew a few years before that in 2011. Beyond that, the book has been translated into over thirty languages worldwide, and at least the American English version is credited as being translated by Harari, with help from John Purcell and Haim Watzman. Why did Sapiens:… make such a splash around the world? It tells a fascinating story. Harari is an Israeli born historian and a tenured history professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a passion for how every human endeavor affects history and the world. Continue reading

It’s time for ‘Pear Slices 2017’

By Ande Jacobson

For the 14th time, the Pear lovingly offers up eight new slices of theatre in the form of short, one-act plays (in reality more akin to a series of single scenes) that provide a full evening (or afternoon) of entertainment. What started as an experiment has become an annual event showcasing somewhere between six and nine new works, written by members of the Pear Playwrights Guild, and performed by a select troupe of actors assuming multiple roles throughout the presentation. This year’s Slices includes:

  • For Art’s Sake by Elyce Melmon
  • Stella Wind by Bridgette Dutta Portman
  • Mirror to Face by Leah Halper
  • Anasazi Breakdown by Douglas Rees
  • Deuce Cooper: The Bloomfield Case by Paul Braverman
  • Aboriginal by Susan Jackson
  • Meantime in Between Time by Leah Halper
  • Proposal by Max Gutmann

Continue reading

‘Rags’ seeks the virtues of Lady Liberty at TheatreWorks

By Ande Jacobson

Lady Liberty has long been the symbol of America, offering the promise of freedom and opportunity to all who pass by her in their journey toward a better life. Rags, currently in production at TheatreWorks, takes a look at a community of Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (circa 1910) trying mightily to overcome the challenges that face them. It was a difficult time, and these eager immigrants fled desperate conditions and persecution in Mother Russia to build new lives for themselves and their families. From the start, hucksters and thugs are never far away, lying in wait to prey upon the naïve newcomers. Although a period piece, many of the issues in the story are just as relevant in today’s socio-political climate. Continue reading

“Shrek” – an ogre’s fairytale at SCP (opens 24 February)

shrek-bannerBy Ande Jacobson

Sunnyvale Community Players’ junior production this year is Shrek the Musical. This is the full stage-version based on the 2001 DreamWorks animated film and the 1990 book by William Steig. There have been some subtle (and a few not-so-subtle) changes since the show’s initial Broadway release, but the story is still intact, and it’s a slightly twisted magical prince/princess kind of story with a happy ending and a rockin’ score. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ adds a thrilling eighth chapter to the series

cursed-child-dust-jacket-edBy Ande Jacobson

J.K. Rowling discovered gold when her first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (renamed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone outside of the U.K.), hit the presses in 1997. Intended as the first installment of a seven-part children’s book series, it fortuitously (though unexpectedly) appealed to readers of all ages. Rowling released the subsequent books over the next decade with the final installment reaching the shelves in July 2007 with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The reception was phenomenal. Not only did readers clamber for each new book, the movie industry embraced the stories and released blockbuster adaptations of each one, the last taking two films to fully explore.

In 2015, a new story synopsis in the Harry Potter oeuvre surfaced. The story was written by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne, and Thorne went on to put this story into the form of a play. The full rehearsal script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was released on 31 July 2016, one day after the maiden voyage of the play opened in London. This review discusses only the script as a book, not as commentary on any performance of the material. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘The Hidden Brain’ – how much do we really know about what we think?

the-hidden-brain-coverBy Ande Jacobson

The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives was published in 2010, but it has retained its relevancy in these increasingly tumultuous times. Written by Shankar Vedantam, the book sheds some needed light on the increasingly complex situations being observed in society today by drawing on research efforts in human behavior and the social sciences to explain numerous seemingly conflicting phenomena. As an added bonus, the book’s notes section provides a comprehensive reference list to the studies cited. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Einstein’s Beach House’ takes a sharp, yet witty view of life

einsteins-beach-house-coverBy Ande Jacobson

Jacob M. Appel is an interesting author. He’s passionate about his writing while also pursuing parallel careers in medicine and the law. In the writing realm, he’s not only published numerous short story collections, novels, journal articles, and essays in the press, he gives back in the form of writing webinars and seminars to help aspiring authors hone their craft. While he’s written all manner of forms, the short story is one of his favorites, and his short story collection entitled Einstein’s Beach House doesn’t disappoint. Drawing from his vast education, professional experience, and vivid imagination, he expertly weaves stories that grab the reader’s interest at the outset, and rarely slow down. Continue reading