What the critics are saying:

Women in Jeopardy is dangerously funny in Walnut Creek

By Sam Hurwitt, Correspondent

Posted: 02/02/17 9:00:00 AM PDT

Jo (played by Jamie Jones, left) and Mary (Lynda DiVito) get spooked in the woods while investigating their friend's new beau in "Women in Jeopardy?" Photo by www.kevinberne.com

It’s bad enough when a close-knit trio of middle-aged divorcees doesn’t get to hang out much anymore because one of them is spending all her time with a new boyfriend. But it’s a whole lot worse when that new boyfriend might just be a serial killer.

Just ask the women of “Women in Jeopardy!,” the roaringly funny 2015 play by Wendy MacLeod (of “The House of Yes” fame) that Center Repertory Company is now performing at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts.

Liz (effusive Elisabeth Nunziato) is practically giddy about her new love affair and how revitalized it makes her feel. “There has been a renaissance of my nether parts,” she gushes. But her boyfriend Jackson, a dentist (funereal voiced Jason Kuykendall), is terribly creepy, with a knack for making inappropriately gruesome jokes. Worse still, his dental hygienist has recently disappeared, with foul play suspected.

Liz’s dear friends Mary (comically fretful Lynda DiVito) and Jo (a sour and sardonic Jamie Jones) are practically beside themselves with worry that Liz or her somewhat dim and superficial teenage daughter Amanda (amusingly nasal and eye-rolling Sarah Brazier) might be next. So convinced are they that they enlist a reticent police sergeant who just happens to look exactly like the dentist (Kuykendall again, pricelessly awkward in his flirtations with Mary) and Amanda’s slow-witted snowboarder ex (a spaced-out Eric Carlson), who somehow gets it into his head that Mary is coming on to him.

It’s a hilarious script packed with uproarious zingers. (“He really wants to be around people tonight,” Liz says of her beau after his employee’s disappearance. “Why,” says Jo, “does he need an alibi?”) On opening night, some women in the audience were squirming with audible “aaugh”s at some of the off-putting things Jackson says.

With a strong cast, the Center Rep production helmed by artistic director Michael Butler handles the comedy deftly. Scene changes of Richard Olmsted’s shifting, multifaceted set are filled in by hysterical dance sequences to a well-chosen mix of pop songs, choreographed by Jennifer Perry.

The play suffers a little from a half-baked ending that cops out on the whole murder mystery angle, but by then we’ve had so much fun getting there that it’s easy to let it slide. Ultimately it’s a play about friendship, after all, and what’s a little murder between friends?



Women in Jeopardy - Comic Thriller at Center REP, Walnut Creek

Wendy McLeod's "Much Ado about Nothing"

By Kim Waldron

Posted: 02/06/17

If you are a woman, man, or any citizen who feels in jeopardy from the new presidential administration, the escapist farce “Women in Jeopardy!” at Center Rep offers a two hour break from current reality. Part mystery, part romance, it offers broad laughs while making no demands. The humor is delivered in a tight, fast paced, brightly colored production with fine performances all round.

Wendy McLeod’s comedy, which premiered in 2015, focuses on three divorcees of a certain age in modern day Salt Lake City. The women may not really be in any real jeopardy, unless, of course, the new boyfriend of one really is a serial killer.

Liz (Elisabeth Nunziato), a bit of a drama queen, is gaga over her new love Jackson, and unexpectedly brings him to meet her two old friends: the practical, helpful librarian Mary (Lynda DiVito) and the cynical, sensible-shoed publicist Jo (Jamie Jones). We meet upbeat Mary and dour Jo in Mary’s kitchen, where they have slipped away to discuss what they know of Jackson, a dentist no less. Liz joins them and begins excitedly sharing too much information about her sexual re-awakening. Love-struck Liz also explains that Jackson is off-balance because he has just been questioned by the police. He is the last person known to have seen his dental assistant alive: she has disappeared.

When Jackson (Jason Kuykendall) enters, we are treated to his appalling jokes, his vulgar flirting, and his non-existent social graces. Everything about this man is creepy! He is so deliciously creepy you find it hard to take your eyes off him. Pretty soon Mary and Jo are convinced they need to intervene to save Liz from this serial killer, or at least stop her from sending her teenaged daughter on a weekend camping trip alone with him. Liz is too blindly self-absorbed to see any cause for concern.

This is a true farce—the local police sergeant just happens to look exactly like Jackson, someone gets shoved into a pantry to hide when there is a knock at the door, and one character is forever and wrongly convinced another is deeply attracted to him.

Two younger characters round out the cast: Liz’s teen-aged daughter Amanda (Sarah Brazier) and her sometime boyfriend Trenner (Eric Carlson). Based on my eavesdropping at intermission, anyone who raised a teen age daughter will recognize the over-dramatizing Amanda. Her boyfriend Trenner is sweet but not the brightest porch light on the block. Their ups and downs are silly, but come across as charming. Brazier and Carlson put their hearts into their roles, making us care about typical teenagers.

Liz and Mary and Jo represent modern day, middle-class everywomen for whom age has made it very, very hard to find appropriate sexual partners. The teenage couple embody new love finding its confused way. The laughs come less from the action than the one liners and repartee. And there are great ones that strike hard and true: “Women don’t kill strangers, they kill husbands.” (That has to be the title of someone’s master’s thesis in sociology.) When Trenner plaintively howls at Amanda: “When all we want to do is love you, why do you make us hate you so much?” we want to laugh and cry at the same time.

In addition to Mary’s Salt Lake City kitchen, we visit a police station, a ski shop and a mountain campsite. While the sets are changing in blackouts behind them, the actors manically dance and sing to pop tunes. My seatmate assured me that anyone who does Zumba will be familiar with all the songs. At the first dance sequence I was taken aback, but before long I was looking forward to enjoying each crazy arrangement. All the actors do a credible job dancing to Jennifer Perry’s choreography—Sarah Brazier stands out. Set Designer Richard Olmsted creates colorful, modern settings and Costume Designer Bethany Deal captures mountain west casual expertly.

Playwright McLeod tells a story familiar to "women of a certain age." We all can recall, with a wince, a gushing infatuation in our past. All of us can remember having to bite our tongues when a friend begins a love affair that we can see is doomed. We will never forget that first compliment with the addition: "for your age."

Three meaty roles for women over 40 in one play soothes the jeopardy. The audience had a fine time; we all had plenty of laughs. Director Michael Butler gets high points for the precise and finely tuned timing of this busy farce. Take a break from the news. Enjoy an evening of silliness and laughs with friends.

Women in Jeopardy and a Glass of Wine, is a Laugh Out Loud Comedy, The Housewives of this Humorous New Comedy

By Vince Mediaa

Posted: 02/01/17


Witty housewives of a certain age are drinking wine and are hilarious this winter at CenterReps production of WOMEN IN JEOPARDY. Writer Wendy MacLeod’s (The House of Yes) clever take on some mad housewives is unexpected fun and is now on stage at the Margaret Lesher Stage in Walnut Creek Ca. through Feb25th. Directed by the adventurous Michael Butler, he always brings the best to the Dean Lesher Center of the Arts. The laughs are nonstop in MacLeod’s play that is celebrating its Northern California premiere. It first opened at the Geva Theatre in Rochester, N.Y.in 2015 and was a hit. The story comes at us fast and furious, and never lets up as it references many Hollywood films including “Silence of The Lambs” and “Thelma and Louise”.

It opens with longtime friends Jo played by the wonderful Jamie Jones and Mary played by the hilarious award winning Lynda DiVito gossiping about the new neighborhood boy friend. Set in an Utah upscale home,their friend Liz played by the sharp Elisabeth Nunziato dashes into to join in on a bottle of wine and gossip. The topic is Liz’s new boyfriend who’s so smitten with the dentist, Jackson, played by the keen Jason Kuykendall that she is blind to his eccentric ways. Divorcees Mary and Jo are suspicious of the dentist boyfriend, he's not just a bit creepy but he may be a serial killer. The two housewives put aside their wine glasses and turn to their suburban detective skills. Two perfect millennials join the story Sarah Brazier and Eric Carlson as Liz’s sexy daughter, Amanda, and the local snowboard boy, Trenner. The two have perfect comic timing. The first act also teams Carlson with DiVito as Tanner falls for a cougar.

The film references in the script bring back the classic noir film “Jeopardy” with Barbara Stanwyck, and Jodie Foster confronting Hannibal Lecter. But the women in this comedy are aware that they are not heroes or femme fatales in distress. Yet their attempts to rescue each other makes this romp full of laughs and the sold out opening night audience was hysterical the whole two hours. Director Butler along with choreographer, Jennifer Perry, designed some show stopping scene change lip sync dance transitions that are a treat to watch. As the fast paced lines shoot out of MacLeod’s script “I have a porn body” so do the clever scene changes dance and hip hop jams get us to the next scene as cast members show off their dance and lip sync skills. Perry’s clever dance transitions for each blackout and scene change are a highlight of this production.

This is a comedy about women of a certain age, and MacLeod has written three brilliant roles for actors over 40. The humor is not predictable jokes, as the script makes fun of domestic suburbian life. “We’re the divorced women doing fun runs and book clubs!” She’s also written two great millennial characters for contrast to the women, and they are very funny. Carlson fits into Bethany Deal’s costumes well in his slacker wear and authentic wigs. Deal’s costumes are excellent on Brazier, as she highlights Amanda’s curves and bust in wonderful winter wear. But Jo’s look on stage is plush with scarves and layers; she is elegant even in her camping look.

The plot launches from the imaginations of two of the women, they begin to believe that Jackson is a serial killer. Between rounds of good old-fashioned grumbling, the two amateur sleuths, add the perfect MacLeod writing with their comic, superb, wisecracking housewives. Jackson has been questioned by the police, and Mary and Jo go into full rescue mode. Liz wants her 19-year-old daughter, Amanda, to bond with Jackson, so they’re headed to the woods for a weekend camping trip. With the possible murderer alone with the trusting Amanda, Jo and Mary go to the cops where they present their “evidence” to detective Kirk also played by Kuykendall. The double casting is a great sight gag that works well and Kuykendall’s excellent body language for both men is super.

It is all great, fast, silly fun directed with precise comic timing by Butler and his creative team. DiVito as Mary is a dynamo onstage for nearly all the two hours of action, she’s a awe inspiring physical comic who keeps the audience giggling. The wisecracks, insults and finger pointing in Mary’s kitchen and at the campsite are all on point, keeping the witty lines and sight gags all funny and side-splitting.

Richard Olmsted’s sets and David Leonard’s lighting design are both standouts and the set pieces move on and off stage with ease. Leonard’s lights include a skyscape of lights that open up the night skies for the camping scenes. Sound Designer Jeff Mockus had the challenge of creating some intense off stage sound effects and a great music mix for the unforgettable scene changes. This cast is ideal and Wendy MacLeod’s script is one of the funniest new works I have seen the past couple of seasons. Brighten up your winter with this new quirky company of hilarious, adventurous cougars and perfect right on millennials and a lovable creepy dentist. Bring your own wine glasses and prepare for some nonstop laughter and fun.

Delicious Farce

By George Heymont

Posted: 02/03/17 1:57:00 PM PDT

In his welcoming speech to the opening night audience for Women in Jeopardy! (which premiered in February 2015 at the Geva Theatre in Rochester, New York), Center REP’s artistic director, Michael Butler, stressed that, in addition to how proud he was to present a new play by a female playwright, he was especially happy that most of the new plays presented by Center REP in recent years had been written by women. Set in and around Salt Lake City (as well as at a campsite in Carmel Canyon, Utah), Women in Jeopardy! is billed as “Thelma and Louise meets The First Wives Club.”

The plot for this delicious farce is simple. Three middle-aged women have become close-knit friends after becoming single again. One is a divorcee, another discovered that her husband was gay. The third, Liz (Elisabeth Nunziato), has a voluptuous 19-year-old daughter named Amanda (Sarah Brazier), who has a major chip on her shoulder, is spoiled rotten, and has a big mouth to prove it.

In recent weeks, Mary (Lynda DiVito) and Jo (Jamie Jones) have become concerned because Liz has been acting a bit strange. As the play opens, they are gathered at Mary’s house where Liz has brought her new beau, Jackson (Jason Kuykendall), a creepy dentist with a fetish for vintage dental instruments, the behavior of a smarmy lecher, and a tendency to fill his conversations with double entendres dripping with lust.

Not only are Mary and Jo afraid that Liz is so infatuated with Jackson (whose dental hygienist suspiciously disappeared as she was walking from Jackson’s office to her car), they are absolutely frantic at the news that Liz is letting her new boyfriend take Amanda on a camping trip to Carmel Canyon (where there is no reception for cell phones).

When Liz’s friends lure Amanda over to Mary’s house for some of her favorite Bundt cake, the idea of Jackson getting his hands on Amanda’s nubile body sends them into a frenzy. The fact that the body of Jackson’s hygienist has been found in a tree and the police think Jackson may be a suspect, convinces them that he could be a serial killer. Desperate for a way to protect Amanda when her mother is too giddy with lust to act like a parent, they embark on a double-pronged plan of attack.

First, they visit the local police station, where the handsome Officer Kirk (who looks like he could be Jackson coyly avoids giving out any information which could be confidential. Tensions flare as Mary (who is extremely horny) starts flirting with Kirk while the homely Jo is completely ignored by the handsome policeman.

Second,  Mary enlists the help of Amanda’s recent boyfriend, Trenner (Eric Carlson), who fancies himself a catch for older women although he’s a bit of lunkhead. The fact that Mary has known Trenner since he was in diapers doesn’t diminish his sexual fantasies but, as Trenner talks about his broken relationship with Amanda, it becomes obvious that he’s easily manipulated by women and pacified with food.

When Jackson backs out of his date with Amanda so he can go camping with her mother, Trenner convinces Amanda to go hiking with him. Needless to say, Mary and Jo are also headed toward Carmel Canyon.

With scenery designed by Richard Olmstead, costumes by David Leonard, and choreography by Jennifer Perry, Michael Butler has directed Women in Jeopardy! in a style that highlights Wendy MacLeod’s;skill at crafting a frothy mixture of bitchy sarcasm, intergenerational insults, and an ingenious plot. Forget Thelma and Louise. Forget The First Wives Club. The audience wholeheartedly embraced MacLeod’s rollicking farce as if it were the love child of Frasier and Noises Off.

To its credit, Center Rep had an ace up its sleeve for this production. Those who have always enjoyed the deadpan delivery of Bea Arthur will fall head over heels for Jamie Jones’s biting portrayal of the frustrated and slightly over the hill Jo. Witnessing her deliver one gag line after another is like watching a baseball slugger hit one ball after another during practice. Although Women in Jeopardy! may require a more frenzied delivery than such characters as Vera Charles, Maude Findlay or Dorothy Zbornak, this is a chance to watch a master comic at work. Jones receives strong support from the rest of the cast (who are obviously having a blast onstage), but her artistic skills are hard to match.

If you’re having trouble coping with the lies and ineptitude of the Trump administration, I can’t think of a better >tonic than treating yourself to a performance of Women in Jeopardy! It’s one of the funniest plays I’ve seen in quite some time and (considering the current political environment) well worth a visit if you want to hold onto your sanity.  As many a physician will tell you, laughter is often the best medicine.


Women in Jeopardy is a well-tuned farcical comedy

By Jan Miller

Posted: 02/03/17

How is it that the party always seems to end up in the kitchen? Well, this is the main setting for three longtime friends, Liz, Mary, and Jo, all divorcees in their mid-40s who are discussing the latest gossip -- a hygienist who went missing near their neighborhood -- and the primary suspect is none other than the dentist for whom she works, who just happens to be Liz's boyfriend! Apparently he was the last person to see her alive, which makes him the primary culprit. This is the plotline of Center Repertory Company’s “Women in Jeopardy,” a highly entertaining mystery-comedy currently playing through February 25 at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, CA.

Mary (the vivacious Lynda DiVito) and Jo (Jamie Jones) are two divorcees who briefly escape the room under the pretense of refilling their wine glasses. Quickly, the two turn to private chatter: Their friend Liz (Elisabeth Nunziato) has brought over her sketchy new boyfriend, Jackson (Jason Kuykendall), the very dentist in question. Supposedly, he's depressed and "in need of company," says Liz, who then joins Mary and Jo in the kitchen. She explains that Jackson's dental hygienist has recently disappeared under suspicious circumstances and, worse, the cops suspect Jackson was involved.

It's a brilliant set-up. When Jackson enters the kitchen, the audience doesn't see a remorseful, scared man, as one might imagine. Instead, Jackson shoots through the doors with a swagger, barking and howling somewhat inappropriately, as he makes gruesome jokes about his disappeared assistant, and in the process, he raises red flags for the audience to ponder about his actual involvement in all of this. Mary and Jo are in a bind: How do they break it to Liz – who is completely enamored with her new beau -- that this guy may well be a serial killer? Worse, how will they keep Liz's oblivious 19 year-old daughter Amanda (artfully played by Sarah Brazier) from spending time alone with Jackson on an impending camping excursion? 

From there the comedy takes a hilarious life of its own. At times the plot and mystery of whether or not Jackson is a serial killer takes a back seat to the slapstick comedy lines. 

It seems that the point of each scene is to set up jokes – which is not a bad thing. Mary, Jo, and Liz's scheming offers an abundance of aging-women one-liners: "Women don't kill strangers, they kill husbands;" "I'm experiencing a renaissance of my nether-regions"; "I think, maybe, I need some more wine." There are even Bundt cake jabs and quips about New Balance sneakers. 

The laughter then elevates when Mary entangles the dim-witted Trenner (Eric Carlson), a snowboarding dude who happens to be Amanda’s ex-boyfriend, to help keep a protective eye on Amanda on this camping trip. However, he interprets Mary’s scheme as a flirtatious advancement and is totally on board with it. Because of their age difference, among other things, the audience has no choice but to laugh.


Through it all, it's the stellar cast that brings the hilarious dialogue to life. Under the direction of Michael Butler, this very talented ensemble is so impressive as it pulls off one improbable scene after another and seemingly is having an absolute blast while doing it. Lynda DiVito, as Mary, is a true powerhouse in how she delivers her lines, while Jamie Jones adds true wit to the mix, capitalizing on Jackson’s strange behavior. Elisabeth Nunziato, in her CenterREP debut, is wonderful in her role of the mesmerized, giddy Liz. However, the pivotal character to the entire plot is Jason Kuykendall, who performs a dual role as Jackson and a look-alike police officer. At times he steals the scenes. Not to be overlooked, Eric Carlson, as Trenner, is convincing as Amanda’s oversexed and seemingly clueless ex-boyfriend who believes Mary is a cougar on the prowl for him. Also, the very talented young Sarah Brazier, as Amanda, plays her teenie-bopper role to a tee! Like, yah!

The ending of “Women in Jeopardy” reveals what the audience undoubtedly already knew at the outset -- that older so very often equals wiser. Case in point: Mary’s sage advice to Trenner: “Never, ever tell a woman they still look good for their age.” Now that’s good advice!

CenterREP’s production of “Women in Jeopardy!” is both refreshing and original, and the laughter comes easy. At its heart, "Women in Jeopardy!" is comedy gold.


From winos to gumshoes at Center REP

By Lily Janiak, San Francisco Chronicle

Posted: 01/31/17 11:43 AM PDT

Elisabeth Nunziato, Lynda DiVito, Jamie Jones: "Women in Jeopardy!" Photo by mellophoto.com

The zingers start early in Wendy MacLeod’s “Women in Jeopardy!,” which is now in a Center Rep production.

How do wino divorcees Jo (Jamie Jones), Liz (Elisabeth Nunziato) and Mary (Lynda DiVito) know that a mysterious killer in Salt Lake City, their hometown, is male? “Women don’t kill strangers,” Jo says. “They kill husbands.”

Or here’s Liz, trying to convince the other two that her new boyfriend, Jackson (Jason Kuykendall), isn’t a quiet and creepy dentist, but a fun one: “You should have seen him at the Western Regional Dental Convention. He was dancing with a giant inflatable floss stick!”

You might have already surmised the central question of this wacky caper, which Michael Butler directs: Is Liz’s new boyfriend not just creepy, but murderous? Jo and Mary might have to put their wineglasses down in order to find out.