Irwin and Shiner: Old Hats are the best hats

Sep 18

Irwin and Shiner: <i>Old Hats</i> are the best hats

I will be the first to admit that clowns have never been a favorite of mine. Not circus clowns, not hobo clowns, not mimes, not even a lot of commedia dell'arte rigamarole. Occasionally, however, I get it – I get the comedy, I get the poignancy, I get the masterful balance of comedy and tragedy in the pursuit of laughs. And by far my favorite clowns – the ones who do it better than just about anybody – are Bill Irwin and David Shiner.

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Berkeley Rep’s Meow Meow: It’s all feline and dandy

Sep 13

Berkeley Rep’s <i>Meow Meow</i>: It’s all feline and dandy

You get the impression, watching An Audience with Meow Meow that the star, a self-styled international singing sensation, and director Emma Rice would like nothing better than to destroy the theater and finish the show from the rubble. While audience members wipe blood from their faces and grapple with their broken bones, Meow Meow will persist in singing, making jokes and lamenting the state of the world. Stripped of all theatrical artifice, artist and audience will become one, and art will have saved the world.

That doesn't happen – well, not exactly. But Meow Meow and Rice do what they can to deconstruct a nightclub act and turn it into a substantial piece of theater.

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Battle cocks ruffle feathers in Impact’s rowdy Rooster

Sep 12

Battle cocks ruffle feathers in Impact’s rowdy <i>Rooster</i>

For Gil Pepper, the world as he sees it is a "big fuck-you machine." He lives with his aging mother in a crumbling Oklahoma house his late father built. He has a go-nowhere job as a McDonald's cashier, where his name tag is misspelled "Girl." And though his prospects are bleak, there is a sliver of light: cock fighting.

This ancient sport, Gil tells us, goes all the way back to the Greeks, so there's nobility in allowing feathered beasts to do horrible things to each other in the ring. Gil wants to be a winner at something in life, and this just might be his ticket.

What's so interesting about Eric Dufault's Year of the Rooster, the season opener from Berkeley's Impact Theatre.

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Cal Shakes ends season with a vibrant Dream

Sep 07

Cal Shakes ends season with a vibrant <i>Dream</i>

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a landmark play for California Shakespeare Theater. When the company really became the company, then known as Berkeley Shakespeare Company, the first show produced at John Hinkel Park was Midsummer. Since then, the play has been performed seven more times, and now Cal Shakes concludes its 40th anniversary season with a version of the play that feels unlike any other production of it I've seen.

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Porn, feminism and laughs in Aurora’s Rapture

Sep 05

Porn, feminism and laughs in Aurora’s <i>Rapture</i>

There's an observation about Internet porn in Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn now at Berkeley's Aurora Theatre Company that is at once hilarious and trenchant. A college woman encapsulates the ease of access to porn this way: "Once you get directions from Google Maps, it seems such a hassle to unfold an actual map."

Generational differences and technology come into play a lot in Rapture, a crackling season opener for the Aurora. Gionfriddo is a smart, feisty writer who knows her way around a joke that always contains more than a laugh. She tackles the gargantuan issue of feminism and its evolution into the 21st century and comes through with a stage full of surprising, complicated characters having passionate, always intriguing discussions.

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When Muhammad Ali met Stepin Fetchit

Aug 22

When Muhammad Ali met Stepin Fetchit

Playwright (and former San Franciscan) Will Power knows a potent match-up when he sees it. In this corner we have young, preening world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali who, in the last year of his life, has shed his former identity as Cassisus Clay to become a member of the Nation of Islam with a new name and a new wife. And in this corner we have actor Lincoln Perry, better known as his show business alter ego, Stepin Fetchit, a lazy comic character that became a polarizing force in the realm of African-American stereotypes.

This pairing seems to good to be true, the invention of a clever dramatist, but no. It's true.

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Verklempt with laughter: Urie shines in Buyer & Cellar

Aug 21

Verklempt with laughter: Urie shines in <i>Buyer & Cellar</i>

Michael Urie is so freaking charming it's outrageous. The erstwhile scene-stealer from "Ugly Betty" landed in a one-man off-Broadway hit more than a year ago, and he's had the good sense to take this show – the perfect showcase for his prodigious talents – on the road, just like the big stars of yesteryear used to do.

The play is Buyer & Cellar by Jonathan Tolins, a fantasia on Barbra Streisand, which is to say an examination of fame, wealth, creativity and loneliness, among other things. It's a fascinating play with deep wells of compassion for the rich and famous and for the poor and ignored.<.p>

But perhaps above all else, it's funny. Really funny.

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