Hébert’s moving Tree explores family’s tangled roots

Jan 26

Hébert’s moving <i>Tree</i> explores family’s tangled roots

I reviewed Julie Hébert's drama Tree at the San Francisco Playhouse for the San Francisco Chronicle. Here's a sample: "Director Jon Tracy’s powerful and poignant production feels grounded in reality of the siblings and their fraught, fractious attempts at a relationship, but in the realm of the parents, there’s a lyrical quality filled with love and sadness that elevates the play from kitchen-sink drama to something more."

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Love and loathing in Berkeley Rep’s football drama

Jan 24

Love and loathing in Berkeley Rep’s football drama

A critic's personal feelings or attachment to a subject are often irrelevant when it comes to writing about a particular play. But in the case of Berkeley Repertory Theatre's world premiere of X'x and O's (A Football Love Story), I feel I have to disclose a strong personal bias. I loathe football. LOATHE it, and have all my life. That's my dad and my brother's territory. I'll be in my room canoodling with stereotypes and listening to Broadway cast albums. Sports in general have never interested me much, but no other sporting activity do I actively detest and strenuously ignore as much as loud, violent, overblown football.

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Sir Noël’s been Lansburied. Lucky Sir Noël.

Jan 22

Sir Noël’s been Lansburied. Lucky Sir Noël.

Is anyone in the theater world more spirited than Angela Lansbury? She has been giving great performances on stages and screens of various sizes for 70 years. She has every right to rest on her laurels and be adored as the legend she is. But not right now. She has work to do.

At 89 (you'd never know it by watching her on stage), Lansbury is taking a victory lap, a final North American tour in Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit. She is playing oddball spiritualist Madame Arcati in director Michael Blakemore's production (part of the SHN season). It's a role that earned her a fifth Tony Award in 2009. To be clear, this is as sturdy a production of Coward's 1941 comedy as you're likely to see, performed with wit, sophistication and, perhaps surprisingly, heart. The cast is excellent, the design just right and the sound (in the cavernous Golden Gate Theatre) startlingly clear. But you come to this production first and foremost for Lansbury, and she is every bit the warm and wonderful genius you want her to be.

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Wilder’s genius shines in Shotgun’s Our Town

Jan 04

Wilder’s genius shines in Shotgun’s <i>Our Town</i>

When it comes to the rituals of the New Year – making and abandoning resolutions, vowing to live more fully and with intention, trying not to let time slip away so quickly by living more fully in the present – the most powerful thing you could do for yourself is head over to the Ashby Stage in Berkeley and see Shotgun Players' excellent production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town.

This 1938 masterpiece has long been my favorite American play, and aside from its structural genius, its Expressionistic (and still unmatched) theatricality balanced with genuine emotion, Our Town is the self-help book embedded in our nation's consciousness. I've seen the play dozens of times in straightforward productions (like Shotgun's) and over-produced and over-thought re-imaginings, in musical and film versions, in schools and on the professional stage, and every time I come away with something new. More than any other, I feel Our Town in other works when they succeed in connecting audience to play or when they tap into simple truths that need constant reiteration about what the hell we're even doing on this planet.

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A hitch in the getalong: Looking back at 2014′s best

Dec 22

A hitch in the getalong: Looking back at 2014′s best

Reviewing the shows I reviewed this year, I was struck by two things: first, and as usual, there’s an abundance of talented people doing great work at all levels of Bay Area theater; second, this was a lesser year in Bay Area theater. Perhaps the reason for the later has to do with the changes in the Bay Area itself – artists are fleeing outrageous rents,...

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