Friday, July 13, 2018

Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” at San Francisco Playhouse through September 8

The cast helps recreate Georges Seurat's painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," (1884) on stage at the San Francisco Playhouse. Photos: Ken Levin

Stephen Sondheim's endearing musical, "Sunday in the Park with George," follows the days leading up to the completion of one of French painter Georges Seurat's greatest works, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." (1884)

The San Francisco Playhouse production features John Bambery as Seurat, a Parisian artist who founded Neo-Impression—a technique using minute brushstrokes of divergent colors to convey light—eventually known as Pointillism. It also stars Nanci Zoppi as Dot, the artist's lover and model.

With "Sunday in the Park with George," director Bill English, musical director Dave Dobrusky, choreographer Kimberly Richards and the cast create a visual feast on stage.

-Stephanie Wright Hession

Seurat (John Bambery) sketching Dot (Nanci Zoppi) in the park.

Best friends Celeste 1 (Emily Radosevich) and Celeste 2 (Corrie Farbstein) on the Ile de la Grande Jatte watching George (Bambery) and Dot (Zoppi).

Xander Ritchey portrays the Boatman depicted in Seurat's work.

(L-R) Louise (Gwen Herndon) and Yvonne (Abby Haug) posing for George's painting.
"Sunday in the Park with George." Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim with book by James Lapine. Through September 8. $20-$125. San Francisco Playhouse, Second floor of the Kensington Park Hotel, 450 Post St., S.F. For tickets: 415-677-9596 or

Friday, October 13, 2017

"The Song of the Nightingale: A Musical Fairy Tale," at Town Hall Theatre, Lafayette through October 21

Playwright Min Kahng's,"The Song of the Nightingale: A Musical Fairy Tale" at the Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette. Based upon a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, it's powerful, beautiful and deeply poignant.

Foreground from left: Lisa Woo as Madame Wu, Pauli Amornkul as the Nightingale and Ted V. Bigornia as Bing Wen joined by the ensemble cast in "The Song of the Nightingale: A Musical Fairy Tale."

From left: DC Scarpelli as the Emperor, Pauli Amornkul as the Nightingale and Isabel To as Mei Lin in "The Song of the Nightingale: A Musical Fairy Tale."

Foreground from left: DC Scarpelli as the Emperor, Lisa Woo as Madame Wu and Ted V. Bigornia as Bing Wen in "The Song of the Nightingale: A Musical Fairy Tale." Photos: Jay Yamada. Courtesy of the Town Hall Theatre Company

The Song of the Nightingale: A Musical Fairy Tale: Written and composed by Min Kahng. Directed and choreographed by Michael Mohammed. Through Oct. 21. $20-$30. Town Hall Theatre Company, 3535 School St., Lafayette. (925) 283-1557,

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Enchanting weekend getaway to Sonoma County

I wrote my story on Glen Ellen last summer. Currently, the North Bay is battling several horrible wild fires. My thoughts are with all of the people, animals, first responders, volunteers and everyone helping with this heartbreaking situation.

Story and photographs by Stephanie Wright Hession

Turning off Highway 12 at the Quarryhill property in Glen Ellen, we rambled down a paved road flanked by vineyards, where a rafter of wild turkeys appeared and goldfinches chattered in the fields.
Just up ahead, we spied the guest cottage perched on a knoll. Next to its rustic front steps, gentle trickling sounds emitted from a small pond dotted with water lilies on its surface. Inside the living room, windows afforded views of oak trees draped with gauzy, lace lichen, hilltop vineyards, fields and woodland.
Vintage and antique objects adorned shelves throughout the airy space, which features a living room, kitchen with a window seat, dining room, two bedrooms and a bathroom with a bathtub. There's also a laundry room with a washer and dryer. 
In the midst of this haven you'll find Quarryhill Botanical Garden, a lush, 25-acre Asian woodland. The flowering plants and trees grown here began as wild-sourced seeds collected during more than 20 annual expeditions to East Asia. 
Among the walking paths, waterfalls and ponds you’ll find dogwoods, magnolias, lilies, roses, maples and much more. Open to the public, Quarryhill Botanical Garden offers self-guided tours or docent-led tours by advance reservation. It encourages visitors to meander, explore and enjoy lunch brought from home at one of the picnic tables in this peaceful, tranquil place.
The focus of the garden is upon conservation and education. The staff works with the California Academy of Sciences, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and other research organizations to preserve exotic and endangered Asian plant species threatened by rapid development and climate changeIt conducts tours for local fourth and fifth grade students and tours, workshops and lectures for adult
Founded in 1987 by the late Jane Davenport Jansen on part of her land, which she purchased in 1968 to escape the chilly, San Francisco summers, this breathtaking garden continues to flourish under the care of Bill McNamara, its main plant hunter, executive director and president, staff, volunteers and members. 
In the late afternoon, we headed over to Jack London State Historic Park to see the Transcendence Theatre Company’s production of  “Fascinating Rhythm,” part of its annual “Broadway Under the Stars” outdoor summer concert series. The sun cast a golden glow over the Beauty Ranch meadow as we listened to pre-show music and munched on tasty picnic fare from The Girl and the Fig.

The high-energy cast sang and danced through Broadway numbers and songs including “Arthur in the Afternoon,” “Greased Lightnin’” Andra Day's “Rise Up” and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” If you missed this concert, you can still attend the company's gala celebration, September 8-10, which promises more dynamic performances, community tributes, etc.

The next day we drove  to downtown Sonoma for brunch at The Girl and the Fig.

 At this beloved restaurant, proprietor Sondra Bernstein and executive chef/business partner John Toulze continue to serve up delectable, French-inspired fare in an inviting and unpretentious atmosphere. Guests savor an unhurried meal from a seasonal menu featuring locally-sourced ingredients and receive attentive service by a knowledgeable, amicable staff.
In the main dining room, we sipped fig royale aperitifs created with a house-made fig liqueur and French sparkling wine. 

The cheese and mano formate cured meat platter featured the server's superb choices: Bleating Heart's Death & Taxes, a creamy, pasteurized cheese made with organic Jersey cow milk; St. George, a tangy, semi-hard cheese made with raw cow's milk and a silky, sheep's milk cheese from the Central Coast Creamery Ewenique. 
We rounded out the meal with hearty entrees. The first, a ham hash, made with roasted onions, bell peppers and crispy potatoes tucked beneath two fried eggs along with a swipe of harissa aioli. The second, a croissant sandwich, stuffed with fluffy scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese and thick strips of house-cured bacon, accompanied by a side of crunchy potatoes.
All in all, an enchanting weekend.

Quarryhill Botanical Garden, 12847 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen. (707) 996-3166,

Transcendence Theatre Company’s “Broadway Under the Stars,” Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen. (877) 424-1414,

The girl & the fig, 110 West Spain St., Sonoma (707) 938-3634,

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Works by women artists who helped build the Abstract Expressionist movement on display at Foster-Gwin, San Francisco

Works by women artists who helped build the Abstract Expressionist artists including Jay DeFeo, Emiko Nakano and Nell Sinton are currently on display at Foster-Gwin art & antiques in San Francisco.

-Stephanie Wright Hession

“February Painting,” (1960), oil on paper, by Emiko Nakano. Courtesy of Foster-Gwin.

“Summer Landscape, Dusk,” (1982), oil on paper, by Jay DeFeo. Courtesy of Foster-Gwin.

“Untitled,” (1990), oil on canvas, signed and dated verso, canvas, by Kazuko Inoue. Courtesy of Foster-Gwin.

“Untitled,” (1995), acrylic on linen, by Kazuko Inoue.
Courtesy of Foster-Gwin.

“Untitled #13,” (1950), oil on canvas, by Ruth Wall. Courtesy of Foster-Gwin.

“Untitled,” (1960), oil on paperboard, by Nell Sinton. Courtesy of Foster-Gwin.

“Still Life with Poster,” (1959), oil on canvas, by Nell Sinton. Courtesy of Foster-Gwin.

Foster-Gwin, 38 Hotaling Place, San Francisco 415.397.4986,

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Transcendence Theatre Company's "Broadway Under the Stars" concert series at Jack London State Historic Park, August 4-20 and September 8-10, 2017

Enjoy a picnic and an evening of al fresco theatre durin"Broadway Under the Stars,” a series of concerts intermingling Broadway numbers and dance. Produced by the Transcendence Theatre Company, it all takes place in an idyllic, summer setting, amidst the remnants of the 150-year old Kohler and Frohling Winery at Jack London State Historic Park in the Sonoma County village of Glen Ellen.

The evening begins in the Beauty Ranch meadow with pre-show music, boxed picnic fare and platters containing epicurean delights from the girl & the fig, an array of gourmet offerings from food trucks, picnics brought from home and a variety of pourings by local wineries.

Photos by Rebecca Call

The concerts feature performing artists from Broadway productions, who travel from Los Angeles and New York. The series also benefits the park, which receives $5 of each ticket sold for “Broadway Under the Stars” performances.

The current summer season of “Broadway Under the Stars” 2017 runs through September 10 as follows:

“Fascinating Rhythm,” August 4-6, 11-13 and 17-20

A celebration of the variety of rhythm and life, “Fascinating Rhythm” includes Broadway numbers and contemporary songs by Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Billy Joel, John Kander and Fred Ebb and Stephen Sondheim. Through performances of iconic music, the cast tells stories of the different paths people take in life. Performers include Amy Miller, Alexander “AJ” Ackleson, Brook Morrison, Brad Surosky, Colin Campbell McAdoo, Jessica Lee Coffman and more.

Pre-show picnicking begins at 5 p.m. and show time is at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $45 to $149. Group tickets for all shows are available at a special discount for individuals and organizations. To purchase tickets, inquire about group sales or for more information call the box office at (877) 424-1414 or go to

Gala celebration, September 8-10

Transcendence wraps up its summer season with a gala celebration. It’s another evening of high-energy performances, along with community tributes and more.

Pre-show picnicking begins at 5 p.m. and show time is at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $45 to $150. To purchase tickets or for more information call the box office at (877) 424-1414 or go to

VIP tickets include VIP parking, a VIP lounge, two glasses of wine and more. (See the "Buy Tickets" web pages for a complete list of VIP perks.)

A nonprofit organization with professional performing artists, who have worked on Broadway, in film and on television, the Transcendence Theatre Company has contributed more than $267,000 from its “Broadway Under the Stars” ticket sales to the Jack London State Historic Park.

It has partnered with the Boys & Girls Club, the Mentoring Alliance, Willmar Grief and Healing (SAY), Teen Services Sonoma and other free projects for young people. Transcendence produced more than 20 CONNECTS projects for people living with Alzheimer’s, autism, hospital needs and underprivileged conditions. 

It also contributed more than $107,000 in free tickets to youth, nonprofit organizations, cause-related fundraisers and given free performances for more than 40 partnering, nonprofit events.

-Stephanie Wright Hession

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband” at the Town Hall Theatre, Lafayette through June 24

Intrigue and humor abound in this clever comedy. Although written by Wilde in 1893, its themes of politics, infidelity and the corruption often intertwined with wealth and power remain relevant today.

Set in 19th century London, the story surrounds politician Robert Chiltern and what transpires after an unknown woman comes forward with a letter about a transgression from the past. It also takes a humorous look at marriage and whether an ideal union of this kind can actually exist.

Stephanie Wright Hession

Left to right: Dana Lewenthal, Emily Garcia, Heather Kellogg and Nathaniel Rothrock in the Town Hall Theatre’s production of “An Ideal Husband” by Oscar Wilde

Left to right: Dana Lewenthal and DC Scarpelli in the Town Hall Theatre’s production of “An Ideal Husband” by Oscar Wilde

Left to right: Heather Kellogg and Dennis Markam in the Town Hall Theatre’s production of “An Ideal Husband” by Oscar Wilde

Left to right: DC Scarpelli and Amanda Leigh n the Town Hall Theatre’s production of “An Ideal Husband” by Oscar Wilde

Photos by Jay Yamada

The Town Hall Theatre Company’s production of “An Ideal Husband” is directed by Susan Hovey.

Special events:
7 p.m., Saturday, June 17: “A Wilde Night at Town Hall,” featuring local authors. Costumes are encouraged.
8 p.m., Friday, June 23: Theatre Club, A post-show talk

Through June 24. “An Ideal Husband,” Town Hall Theatre, 3535 School St., Lafayette. Tickets $25-$32. Discounted tickets available for seniors and youths. (925) 283-1557,