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The Quality of Life

Written by Jane Anderson
Directed by Taylor Korobow


$25 in advance / $30 at the door  General Admission
$15 / $20 at the door  Youth 21 and Under
$9 (advance sales only)  Jr and High school students (Oct 14 only)
 
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Please note: this show contains strong language and deals with issues of grief and the right to die. Best appreciated by ages 14 and older.

From award-winning writer Jane Anderson (The Baby Dance, Looking for Normal) comes this “magnetic work of theater” (The San Francisco Chronicle) filled with compassion, honesty and humor. Dinah and Bill, a devout, church-going couple from the Midwest are struggling to keep their lives intact after the loss of their daughter. Dinah is compelled to reconnect with her left-leaning cousins in Northern California who are going through their own trials. Jeannette and Neil have lost their home to a wildfire and Neil has cancer. However, they seem to have accepted their situation with astounding good humor, living in a yurt on their burn site and celebrating life with hits of pot and glasses of good red wine. Bill and Dinah are both moved and perplexed by their cousins’ remarkable equanimity. But their sympathy turns to rage when they find out that Jeannette is planning to take her own life to avoid a life of grief without her beloved Neil.

Major Funding provided by Joseph Kent in honor of Jennifer Momet, with Sponsor Circle Member Frank Schomer, and Buffington Clay-Miller

Cast

Dinah

Susan Gundunas*

Bill

Richard Pallaziol

Neil

James Pelican

Jeannette

Elly Lichenstein

Creative Team

Director

Taylor Korobow

Stage Manager

Ross Tiffany-Brown

Scenic Design

Nina Ball

Costume Coordination

Skipper Skeoch

Lighting Design

Jon Tracy

Sound Design

Wayne Hovey

* Appears courtesy of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional stage actors and stage managers in the United States

Nina Ball (Scenic Design) Nina is an award winning scenic and costume designer whose designs have been seen at American Conservatory Theater, California Shakespeare Theater, San Jose Repertory Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, Shotgun Players, San Francisco Playhouse, Aurora Theatre Company, Center Repertory Theatre, San Francisco Mime Troupe, Z Space, Marin Shakes, Napa Valley Conservatory, Word for Word, TheatreFIRST, Berkeley Playhouse, The Jewish Theatre, Musical Theatre Works, Town Hall Theatre, Solano College, Willows Theatre Company, St Mary’s College and San Francisco State. She is also a proud company member at Shotgun Players. Recent awards include SFBATCC awards for her designs of My Fair Lady at San Francisco Playhouse and Metamorphosis at the Aurora; a Broadway World San Francisco Award for Care of Trees at Shotgun Players and an Arty Awards for her design of Eurydice at Solano College Theatre.
In addition to theatre, Nina has worked on numerous film, TV and commerical productions locally and in LA. She holds a bachelors degree in both marine biology (UC Santa Cruz) and fine art (FIT, NYC) and received her masters degree in scenic design with a costume design secondary from San Francisco State University.

GundunasSusan Gundunas (Dinah) Susan began singing, dancing, and acting on the stage of her parents’ Greek restaurant in Los Altos, California as a child. After graduating from Santa Clara University with a degree in Theatre Arts, she began her acting career with San Jose Repertory Theatre and has since performed over 50 theatre, musical theatre, and opera roles throughout the country and abroad.  Consistently praised for her consummate vocal talent and stage presence, she has performed notable roles including Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera (Germany), Mrs. Peachum in A Three Penny Opera, Lady Russell in Persuasion (San Jose Stage Company), Esther in MeshugaNutcracker and Helen Hart in the critically acclaimed Game Show, Show (Retro Dome), and the role of Ellen in the world premiere of Nosferatu, recorded for Albany Records.

Korobow

Taylor Korobow (Director) A director, producer, educator and media coach, Taylor has produced and directed countless projects, including theatre productions, commercials, computer games, corporate videos, etc. Taylor is co-founder of Groundswell: The International Theatre Intensive, which she facilitates with Jon Tracy. She is also co-founder of Stray Dog Presents, a theatre production company in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where she resides part-time. Taylor founded and directed The Voice Factory, an acting and voiceover school with four Bay Area campuses for over fifteen years. She has appeared on several television reality shows and has taken part in many panels and thinktanks regarding the art and profession of acting.

Lichenstein Elly Lichenstein (Jeannette) Elly joined Cinnabar in 1975 after a short career as a cellist in Belgium. Studying voice with Cinnabar’s founder Marvin Klebe, drama with Fred Curchack and Richard Blake, and movement with Ann Woodhead, she sang at least 50 roles with the company until retiring from the stage in 1999. A passionate proponent of intimate theater and opera, she serves as Cinnabar’s artistic director, directs opera (including last season’s The Magic Flute) and musicals, and occasionally appears on the stage. Her most recent appearance was as Golde in Fiddler on the Roof. This season she directed The Most Happy Fella and will direct Pagliacci. Elly feels privileged to act occasionally for Mainstage West in Sebastopol, and to guest teach opera scenes at local colleges.

Pallaziol Richard Pallaziol (Bill) Richard studied theatre at CSU Long Beach and the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. This is his second appearance at Cinnabar, having performed in last year’s The Creature. He has acted in many California theatres, including Marin Shakespeare Festival, the Herbst Theatre, Grove Shakespeare, Napa Valley Conservatory Theatre, Shakespeare Napa Valley, and for the Napa Valley Shakespeare Festival, where he also directed. Richard has been a professional stage fight choreographer for the past thirty-five years.

Pelican1James Pelican (Neil) James is always happy to be back working at Cinnabar, which he considers his home theater.  He was most recently seen in their production of the one-man clown show Balloonacy, and before that as Jacob in La Cage Aux Folles.  His clown troupe, Clowns On A Stick, brought their most recent full length show, Tasty Bites, to Cinnabar in the fall of 2015, which met with a packed-to-the-rafters laugh fest. Clowns On A Stick is also on tap to present a “first act” for Cinnabar’s spring production of the opera Pagliacci.  James is the producer of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center’s Chautauqua Revue, a vaudeville show now in its fourteenth year.  Other productions of note: Tramp in The Siege (Sandbox/SF), Trinculo in The Tempest (Main Stage West), Pockets in Hand-To-Mouth (First Look Sonoma), Eddy in Born Yesterday (Cinnabar), Neal in 1940’s Radio Hour (6th Street Playhouse), and Don Quixote in Don Q (Theater of Yugen/SF).

Skipper Skeoch (Costumes) is very excited to be designing at Cinnabar. Previous designs at Cinnabar were The Creature and Bad Dates. Skipper has been the resident costume designer and shop manager for Napa Valley College  Her design credit at the college include Sweeney Todd, Much Ado About Nothing, Taming of the Shrew, Lydia and Guys and Dolls In addition Skipper had the pleasure of designing the last three of Reduced Shakespeare’s premiere productions: Christmas Abridged, Comedy Abridged and most recently Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play Abridged. Other credits include work with the Magic Theater, South Coast Repertory, Sonoma County Repertory, Sacramento Theater Company, and Summer Repertory Theater in Santa Rosa.

Jon Tracy (Light Design) is a Director, Playwright, Designer, Educator and Associate with many Bay Area theaters including Shotgun Players (Company Member), SF Playhouse, Magic Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, American Conservatory Theatre, Aurora Theatre, Darkroom Productions (Founder, Former Artistic Director) Willows, TheatreFIRST, Berkeley Playhouse and a Company Member and Resident Director for PlayGround. A graduate of Solano College Theatre’s Actor Training Program, he is also the recipient of the Kennedy Center Meritorious Achievement Award, fifteen North Bay Arty Awards, a Sacramento Elly Award, Bay Area Critics Circle Award and is a grant recipient from Theatre Bay Area and the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the Co-Artistic Director of Groundswell: The International Theatre Intensive, Executive Director of The Lights Up Project, a proud member of Theatre Bay Area’s Gender Parity Commission and of SDC, the union for stage directors and choreographers.

FROM THE AUDIENCE

“Absolutely wonderful show…acted beautifully by all…loved it…! Cried and laughed…go see it!” – Diana K


“…a brilliantly written and acted play. I can safely say it was the best play I have ever seen. The quality of the script was exceptional…a flow of words and thoughts that envelope the audience like a song. The four actors…owned their characters so completely. I was in awe as I watched them live the story on stage. It was so satisfying and for those who live in the city (like me), this play is well worth the trip to Cinnabar.” – Stephen W


“Your show was very moving.  I left the auditorium so stunned that I forgot my knitting bag… The audience was totally engaged …What I loved was how genuine the show felt…an amazing script… direction was right on — nothing called attention to itself and it all felt so organic. The set was so amazing…and I also loved the sound design…this was not only a beautiful production, it was a healing experience.” – Mary W


“Saw Quality of Life last night at Cinnabar Theater. Moving performances, nuanced direction and beautiful design. If you are in the North Bay, don’t miss this deeply affecting work.” – Jennifer K


“Such a wonderful play. A must see on several levels.” – Mike K


“…an amazing theater experience. We were sitting in the front row and we all agreed that we became part of the performance. We were witness to extraordinary performances and brilliant direction and set.” – Bonnie B


“We laughed and cried through the whole thing!  Thank you for sharing your gifts with us and giving us an outlet and catharsis for our emotions. I wish we could see it again!” – Krista W (with Joe M)


“What a fabulous production! Probably the best play we have seen in this area since moving here two years ago. Fine directing and creative and effective set design as well. I was deeply moved by both the content of the show was well as its quality.” – Elsa C


“For us it was an emotional journey ….that the cast did so brilliantly…a gift. The set was amazing…and perfectly honored the spirit of the play.” Sandy and Dick B


“I just wanted to tell you again how stirred I was by “The Quality of Life,” and grateful to you for having put on this must-see play. As [we] were driving home, [my wife] kept saying how you should keep the run going, or even find a way to bring it to a larger audience.” – Gene W


“Powerful! And so heart-rending……because..so beautifully acted.” – Donna S

 

 

 

 

 

FROM THE CRITICS

“Most stories that appear to be about death and dying prove to be all about life and living. They just use the inevitability of death to cast comparative light and shadow on the many joys and pitfalls of being alive.
In Jane Anderson’s deliciously rich drama The Quality of Life, playing at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater, four superb performances anchor a beautifully crafted series of alternately heavy and lighthearted discussions about death and life, culminating in a two-part climax that is at once breathtaking in its poetic simplicity and stunning in its clear-eyed wisdom.
Dinah and Bill (Susan Gundunas and Richard Pallaziol), conservative Christians from the Midwest, are struggling in different ways with the brutal death of their daughter. When Dinah learns that her cousin Jeannette (Elly Lichenstein) has lost her Northern California home to a wildfire, and that her husband, Neil (James Pelican), is in the final stages of cancer, the straight-laced Midwesterners decide to visit their hippy-dippy in-laws. Stunned to find the Californians living blissfully in a yurt aside the skeletal remains of their house, Dinah and Bill are in for another surprise when they learn that Neil plans to take his own life in a few weeks—after one last party.
What perhaps sounds depressing and heavy is anything but in Anderson’s humor-filled script. The level of intellectual debate among the characters is at times exhilarating, as this mismatched foursome power through a fiery list of hot-button topics, from medical marijuana and right-to-die issues to the question of whether God truly has a plan for our lives.
The unusual set, by Nina Ball, is truly impressive—all blackened timber at crazy angles on a patch of dirt complete with campfire. The lighting by Jon Tracy effectively gives a sense of time, from early morning to late evening.
Taylor Korobow’s sensitive direction is unfussy and clean, focusing on building intensity through the ever-shifting relationships of the all-too-human characters. An unnecessary opening sequence set to Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” mainly serves to delay the action.
Once in gear, though, Korobow and her excellent cast deliver a gripping, moving, funny and life-affirming examination of the ways that death, ironically enough, has ways to remind us that life, for all its shocks and snares and unhappy twists, really is worth living, and savoring, right to the end. – David Templeton, The Bohemian
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★½


“In the darkness of the Cinnabar Theater, as Bob Dylan’s haunting “Not Dark Yet” plays in the background (“it’s not dark yet … but it’s getting there”), Neil (James Pelican) slowly wanders through the burned-out remains of what was once his home, pointing a melted Nikon as though documenting what was already recorded in ash and cinders. In Jane Anderson’s Quality of Life, it’s a haunting prelude to an equally haunting story of loss and the lengths to which we humans will go to maintain a connection with what we no longer have.
Soon, after lights come up (on Nina Ball’s beautifully ravaged yet lovely set), we meet Bill (Richard Pallaziol) and Dinah (Susan Gundunas), sitting quietly at home in Ohio. Bill and Dinah, we will discover, are mourning their own loss, that of their only daughter. Dinah, ever the resilient, upbeat Midwesterner suggests a trip to Oakland to visit her cousin Jeannette (Elly Lichtenstein), who is Neil’s wife. The house they lost was one of hundreds consumed by the Tunnel Fire that ravaged the Oakland hills in 1991, and the couple are living on the charred property in a yurt.
Fire is not the only tragedy that has befallen the couple, for Neil has also been scorched by months of chemotherapy, which was unsuccessful. “I’m growing some prizewinning tumors in here,” he says at one point. “I think I’ll enter them in the State Fair!” Pelican is physically perfect in the role. He is rail thin and carries himself with a halting sensitivity that only heightens the emaciation; we feel his pain with every tender step he takes.
When Bill and Dinah show up in Oakland, it doesn’t take long for the tension between their two lifestyles to bubble to the surface. Bill and Dinah are born-again “Christers” (in Jeannette’s terminology) and Jeannette and Neil have a more new age, spiritual but not religious worldview. When Bill references a guilty pleasure, Jeannette asks, “Why would pleasure make you feel guilty?” Bill has to leave the scene when Neil partakes in some medical cannabis, and is easily—and understandably—provoked when he feels any comparison is drawn between his tragedy and that of the California cousins.
The cast is wonderful, especially Elly Lichenstein. She exhibits the same maternal warmth that was so wonderful in her performance as Golde in Cinnabar’s outstanding Fiddler on the Roof, but adds a wonderfully tart soupçon of self-absorption that is so subtle it almost slips past unnoticed. Pallaziol is slow to warm in the role of Bill. He’s disconnected and distant. This makes a certain amount of sense, given the stoic and emotion-denying nature of the character, but in the first act we don’t get a sense of the anger and rage we know must be simmering inside a father whose little girl was taken from him. Once he can express that rage in act two, his performance feels much more genuine and less actor-ly. As Dinah, Susan Gundunas delivers a solid, tender performance that feels truly honest and heartfelt. Both her character’s warmth and disappointment come shining through.
While the story is chockablock with tragic elements (a conflagration, cancer, a dead child and a missing cat?), by the time the curtain falls, playwright Anderson has somehow found a way to bring her characters to a place of peace and acceptance that helps uplift those of us in the audience—and perhaps make our more workaday tragedies feel a little more manageable. – Patrick Thomas, Talkin’ Broadway


 

 

The Quality of Life

James Pelican (Neil), Elly Lichenstein (Jeannette), Susan Gundunas (Dinah) and Richard Pallaziol (Bill)

The Quality of Life

Susan Gundunas, Elly Lichenstein and James Pelican

The Quality of Life

Elly Lichenstein and James Pelican

The Quality of Life

Susan Gundunas

The Quality of Life

Richard Pallaziol

The Quality of Life

Elly Lichenstein

The Quality of Life

James Pelican

Photos by Eric Chazankin