Browsed by
Category: Theater

‘TREASURE ISLAND:’ SLAM-BANG PIRACY, MUTINY, GOLD

‘TREASURE ISLAND:’ SLAM-BANG PIRACY, MUTINY, GOLD

Berkeley Rep and Zimmerman Do It Again

BERKELEY — Having the Berkeley Repertory Theatre (BRT) nearby is opportune indeed. This is one of the premiere theaters in the nation, and thanks to Founder Michael Leibert and current Artistic Director Tony Taccone, we have some of the best plays coming our way.

Currently they are producing “Treasure Island”, adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman who has had 7 other shows at the BRT. Besides being a winner of the 1998 MacArthur Fellowship, she has staged works all over the country, in London as well as the Metropolitan Opera of New York. She is quite a force in the theater world and Taccone knows to engage her in his theater often.

“Treasure Island” is taken from the famous novel by Robert Louis Stevenson about a boy, Jim Hawkins (John Babbo), who witnesses all kinds of chaotic activity related to a hidden treasure. The action starts in Bristol at the inn of Jim’s mother (Kasey Foster.) An obstreperous, bedraggled, drunken Billy Bones (Christopher Donahue) comes looking for Captain Blackdog (Steven Pickering) and more importantly a chest. There is much chaos in the inn with the comings and goings of various characters and soon they are aboard the Hispaniola ship where Jim has been taken on as cabin boy. They are sailing to Treasure Island, which they ultimately reach.

The action is punctuated by Andre Pleuss’ original music, spelled with a classical violin sonata when the scene changes to an 18th century drawing room. The musicians double in stage roles when needed. They are the very accomplished Greg Hirte, L.J. Savin and Matthew C. Yee and Kasey Foster (who plays the mother). The crew and principals sing to the music performed on violin, guitar, mandolin piccolo and flute.

John Babbo’s Jim is excellent in all aspects, particularly his accent, his diction and his credibility as the naive young man excited about adventure but always a boy on the edge of danger. Christopher Donahue is also outstanding as he plays both Billy Bones and Redruth, the snooty servant to the Squire. Alex Moggridge plays a convincing Dr. Livesey. The parrot is cleverly manipulated on a pole, as done in Japanese Bunraku style.

But the greatest actor of the show is Steven Epp who is the sly and slippery con man Long John Silver. Epp performed Tartuffe last year at the rep. and his commedia dell’arte style is perfect for this show.

The set is incredible with its ship’s deck cantilevered from the ceiling and on an apparatus so that it can replicate the ship’s movement at sea as it swings back and forth. The deck also serves as the inn and the island. The imagination does not have to work hard to create these settings as scenic designer Todd Rosenthal has done it for us. Ana Kusmanic’s costumes are likewise fine, especially her 18th century fancy dress of Squire Trelawney (Matt DeCaro) who plays the perfect gentleman buffoon.

Stevenson’s novel is one of the most famous adventure tales ever written—not only for children, but for adults with wanderlust. People of all ages can enjoy this production.
“Treasure Island” was first produced by Lookingglass Theatre Company of Chicago where Zimmerman is a principal member. It comes right before the BRT’s production of a totally reconceived “Peter Pan” starting May 20 that was conceived by another famous name in the contemporary American theater Sarah Ruhl. The pairing of these classical works with contemporary theater concepts by famous director/writers is very clever on Taccone’s part. The Captain Hook of “Peter Pan” logically follows a story like “Treasure Island”.

“Treasure Island” at the BRT has already been extended to June 19. For info: (510) 647 2949 or go online.
#

© Carol Benet 2016
Carol Benet is a regular theater reviewer for artssf.com.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly)focus on theater, dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into recordings by local artists, and a few departures into books (by authors of the region)as well.
#

SCIENTISTS CROSS SWORDS

SCIENTISTS CROSS SWORDS

Theories & Generations Clash in Treem Play

BERKELEY — “The How and the Why” at the Aurora Theatre is a terrific two-woman play by the noted playwright Sarah Treem. It is intense and profound with an ending that leaves the audience questioning the scientific theories of the characters.

Treem has written and produced the series “”The Affair”, “In Treatment” and “House and Cards”, among others . She has won awards for many of them, including a Golden Globe. She is a creative and skillful writer.

“The How and the Why” reads like one of those series in places. However, unlike those, there are two acts (with one intermission) with sustained and not episodic plots. But the flashbacks and descriptions of the lives and work of the two women is a bit like those in the series where stories can wander.

A younger Rachel (Martha Brigham), a graduate student at N.Y.U. in evolutionary biology, comes to the office of the older Zelda (Nancy Carlin), a renowned scientist in the same field who is at a prestigious university. Rachel is very nervous and confrontational it first seems because her revolutionary paper was not accepted at the conference about to begin for which Zelda is the principal organizer. But that is not the entire reason.

If correct Rachel’s theory is ground breaking. She proposes that according to Darwinian evolution, menstruation evolved to eliminate pathogens introduced by the penis during coitis. There are other particularities of her thesis discussed. Zelda’s older theory, for which she has become famous, contradicts this.

Rachel’s theories, in fact, are those of a real biologist Margaret J. Profet, about whom author of the play Treem read in articles by Natalie Angie, a science writer for the New York Times. So Treem’s science dialogues are accurate. But there are other levels of the story and these become the soap opera. Who is Rachel? What about Zelda’s past? I would be a spoiler if I revealed more, but they are a bit too coincidental to be believable in a play that depends on the ability of the audience to consider the reliability of evolutionary theories under discussion.

The production is brilliant. Placed in the second and smaller theatre at the Aurora, the audience sits around almost three sides of the stage. The theater accommodates about 50 so it is similar to the original Aurora Theatre at the Berkeley Women’s Club when it first started. This intimacy engenders a very special atmosphere.

The master Bay Area set and lighting designer Kent Dorsey has made Zelda’s office befitting of its Ivy League location with a large gothic window, diplomas from Harvard on the wall, papers strewn all over desks and benches and filling storage boxes from Office Depot. The requisite oriental rug is on the floor and the comfortable swivel desk chair a place for Zelda’s meditation at times. The second act takes place in a local college pub complete with hockey sticks and Boston Bruins posters on the wall and a popcorn machine in the corner.

Nancy Carlin’s Zelda is admirable. Now that Carlin is no longer the ingenue, a part that she continually played in her younger years — not always to much success — she has matured into a formidable actress. She has gained stature in size and confidence for a part such as the world-famous academic that she portrays.

Brigham’s younger scientist is nervous, emotional and insecure. As hard as she tries to be professional, she breaks down at times. The personal story that comes out in the second act is just too much to take for her.

“The How and the Why” is the perfect play for the Aurora Theatre. It is compact and does not depend on several actors and multiple set changes. Joy Carlin’s (Nancy Carlin’s mother) has done a superb job directing this play. She is a former actress whose attention to small detail I always enjoyed watching. Zelda’s wiping off a sticky table at the bar, her moments of repose, the brief silences are some of these details. She has also allowed that actresses have their own quirks and little stage movements. The interaction between the two is heart-felt and real.

“The How and the Why” at the Aurora Theatre, Berkeley, runs through May 22, 2016. For info: 510 843 4822 or go online.
#
© Carol Benet 2016
Carol Benet is a regular theater reviewer for artssf.com.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly)focus on theater, dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into recordings by local artists, and a few departures into books (by authors of the region)as well.
#

PRIZE-WINNING PLAY ABOUT THE OFFICE SCENE

PRIZE-WINNING PLAY ABOUT THE OFFICE SCENE

Playwright Rachel Bond’s “Swimmers” is a play about small and personal subjects set in an office. Large subjects would include the rest of the world out of the office where these dissatisfied workers are stuck. This play underwent two weeks of previews to straighten out some of the kinks, but could use a few more weeks of the fine tuning that it will undoubtedly get if it moves on to other theaters.

Is it just a coincidence that two works with almost the same name open the same week in the Bay Area? The San Francisco Ballet’s ”The Swimmer” choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and based on a famous short story by John Cheever is a lively tribute to the 60s.

At the Marin Theatre Company, “Swimmers” just opened. Bond’s is a world premiere made possible because Bond won the Rella Lossy Award with the honors of $10,000 plus a full production.

Bond’s “Swimmers” offers 11 office workers interacting, sometimes peacefully and sometimes not. They are cooped up in a claustrophobic space well designed by Dane Laffrey who also created the workday costumes. Their company is placed in an industrial park where there aren’t even stores or restaurants to buy lunch. The action takes place on three levels from the basement to the main floor to the roof. All characters move simple furniture around to set the next scene when they enter or leave the stage, quite ingeniously.

The first character is Tom (Aaron Roman Weiner) who is sequestered in his rolling chair in the basement. The janitor Walter (L. Peter Callender) comes to get things from the storage lockers and is surprised by him being there. There is something wrong with Tom as he is depressed and troubled, but we don’t find out why until the end. He just can’t stand being on the main floor with all the pressure. To add to his gloom on the way to work he saw a sign saying that the end of the world is coming. He seems somewhat to believe in it.

Next we see Charlene (Sara Nina Hayon), Vivian’s boss. Vivian (Kristin Villanueva) is a temp worker who asks which documents she should shred and that is her job now, shredding documents all day long. She is an insecure, immature and naive young lady who is all ears to Charlene’s advice and stories. Charlene spills out her own self interested history but masquerades their telling as a question, “Tell me what is going on in your young life.” Have you ever noticed people pretending they are interested in you but then go on to blab about themselves?

The next scene has one of the workers, Randy (Max Rosenak), saying that they are not bringing in enough new clients. Farrah (Jessica Bates), in the desk next to him, has seen the same billboard about the end of the world. She asks the third co-worker, the Russian Yuri (Brian Herndon), what is on his list to do before he dies. He says he wants to learn to swim (the title) and a conversation about swimming ensues. As far a other meanings for the title, I’m sure they are there and they are deep, but Bond does not deliver a clear explanation. Maybe she suggests that they are all swimming in the same stew.

Prija (Jolly Abraham), Bill (Ryan Vincent Anderson), Dennis (Adam Andrianopolos) and George (Charles Shaw Robinson) all have stories, some more engaging then the rest, some not.

“Swimmers” needs a bit of rewriting. It lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes without an intermission and could do with fewer characters and fewer stories. It seems best suited to a T.V. series where the tales could be embellished and continued for a season or more.

Playwright Bond has other plays either produced or developed in some of the best theaters in the country. Her play is under the fine direction of Mike Donahue.

The actors make you ask, where do they find so many talented actors in the Bay Area? Robinson is the only one I’ve seen before. He and the rest are seasoned and terrific,with many credits to their names.

Kudos to the Marin Theatre Company for hosting such an important endeavor, a new play contest with a full production to its winner. The award is in the memory of Rella Lossy, a devoted theater personality in the Bay Area. It was created and endowed by her husband Dr. Frank Lossy and is administered by the San Francisco Foundation.

“Swimmers” runs at the Marin Theatre Company through March 27, 2016. The theater is located at 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley CA. Tickets from 415 388 5208 or online.

#
© Carol Benet 2016

Carol Benet is a regular theater reviewer for artssf.com.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly)focus on theater, dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into recordings by local artists, and a few departures into books (by authors of the region)as well.
#

‘THE NETHER:’ IN AND OUT OF A VIRTUAL WORLD

‘THE NETHER:’ IN AND OUT OF A VIRTUAL WORLD

Image that you live part time in real time, and part time in virtual reality time. Image that all your wishes from one could turn into fait accompli in the other. Of your fantasies, which are morally right? Can anything go?

This is the main question posed by Jennifer Haley in her drama “The Nether” now playing at the San Francisco Playhouse. It has played in Los Angeles and New York as well as internationally. It raises the moral questions about the Internet that Google and other big names do not want to face—What to do about child pornography being the big question.

With a cast of five terrific actors, the play is about a process taking place where Sims (Warren David Keith) faces Morris, (Ruibo Qian) a tough, woman interrogator in a claustrophobic office. She questions his life, his activities, and his proclivities in The Nether, a virtual world made possible by the Internet.

He answers her standard questions: married, children, etc.? He answers, “Yes to the first one and no to the second.” No children? That sets off a round of further questions for apparently Sims is called Pappa and has a family living in a beautiful Victorian house unlike the plain one he describes as his real house.

Sims has created a world in this lovely house, the hide-away, with an engaging prepubescent Iris (Carmen Steele) where he lives an alternate virtual life as Pappa. Morris also questions Doyle (Louis Parness), a retired teacher of physics, for he knows about Sims’ business, a virtual realty Internet game.

The Victorian House is a masterful stroke of scene design by Nina Ball. Here is an Alice in Wonderland world with a girl’s bedroom looking like it came out Pottery Barn Kids with its warmth of a pink walls and bedspread dotted with stuffed animals and other girly stuff well lit by Michael Oesch. Nina Ball’s design has made the room small and out of scale so that Iris appears larger and the men that visit her very large.

In a flouncy old-fashion dress like Alice (costumes by Brooke Jenningsj), Iris charms her male visitor Woodnut (Josh ShellI) and they play games that Iris teaches him. I won’t tell you who Woodnut is as that is one of the “secrets” that are floated in the play to be discovered by the actors as well as the audience.

There are so many twists and turns in the plot, so many mysterious connections and happenings, that you will feel you are spinning at times as you go from the real stage world to the virtual.

Carmen Steele as Iris shares her part with Matilda Holtz on alternate performances. In real life Steele is in the 6th grade and Holtz 8th grade. Wow! Hollywood and Broadway stars move over.

Bill English as director and his daughter Lauren as casting director deserve a bow, for each of these five actors fitting hand-in-glove into varied roles and their interpretations.

Expect lots of surprises, stay wide awake and enjoy this terse and tense 80-minute play without an intermission. You’ll have lots to talk about on your ride home.

“The Nether” by Jennifer Haley runs through March 5 at SF Playhouse, 450 Post Street, 2nd floor of The Kensington Hotel, S.F. 415 677 9596 or go online.
#
© Carol Benet 2016
Carol Benet is a regular theater reviewer for artssf.com.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly)focus on theater, dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into recordings by local artists, and a few departures into books (by authors of the region)as well.
#