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Sonoma County Gazette
Bob (Matt Farrell) and Ida (Heather Gibeson) comfort each other against the growing tide of antisemitism.

Review – ‘Surprise Party’
with Raven Players in Healdsburg


Mar 19, 2019
by Alexa Chipman


Think about the people you often interact with—grocery clerks, neighbors, and friends from the gym. Imagine if they suddenly turned against you out of misplaced terror.

The sleepy mountain resort town in ‘Surprise Party’ demonstrates what happens when a close-knit community is devastated by senseless prejudice. The residents who prided themselves on being a melting pot of cultures quickly cast aside their attitude of acceptance when faced with personal tragedy. Their anger and loss is directed at innocent members of the community, because it is easier to place blame, rather than come to terms with the reality of war.

Set in 1943, the conflict has been dragging on for years, ripping apart families. Wildly inaccurate, pernicious propaganda has begun to circulate that Jews were responsible for inflaming World War II. The play begins as chaos erupts in town when a group of “patriotic” citizens threaten violence if the Jewish population does not leave.

Local playwright Ron Nash has created a chilling work that questions how America can be a land of the free, if the basic right to exist as human beings is attacked. The enraging level of casual racism is eerily accurate to what we see today on Social Media or recently at Charlottesville.

Director Athena Gundlach suggests “Who knew that the issues raised in an article in a small local newspaper in 1943 would resonate today?” Her work with Jeremy Boucher (Will) andTim Shippey (Marty) offers nuanced insight into how indoctrination can twist good people, when they do not set aside fear to seek the truth.

The ensemble of ‘Surprise Party’

Trish DeBaun as the sarcastic, courageous bar owner Rose is outstanding. She is straightforward without being cruel, and refuses to listen when Will and Marty pester her with their rancid ideology. Matt Farrell (Bob) portrays the brash reporter with earnest enthusiasm, particularly in the final act during fight choreography by Steven David Martin. Farrell is fully invested in the role, and his interactions with DeBaun are compelling.

‘Surprise Party’ is an intense story, which would benefit from a more experienced cast. Moments that could have been gripping and powerful slipped by, and some of Nash’s witty humor was lost by the wayside.

The intimate barrel room stage and soft lighting by Dan Spears adds to the production’s ambience. Because the action takes place surrounding the Christmas season, twinkly lights and Bing Crosby songs add a surreal backdrop to the horrifying content.

While it did not achieve its full potential, this world premiere of ‘Surprise Party’ is a creative, thoughtful commentary on racial tensions and how they directly impact relationships.

Surprise Party

Presented by Raven Players through March 23, 2019
Thur/Fri/Sat at 8:00pm
Tickets: $25 general, $20 senior, $10 student
Thursday Tickets: $15 general, $10 student

Hudson Street Wineries
428 Hudson Street, Healdsburg, 95448
(707) 433-6335

Photos courtesy of Ray Mabry Photography.

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Alexa Chipman Live Theater reviews


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