Joy, power of stories in Cal Shakes black odyssey

Aug 13

Joy, power of stories in Cal Shakes <i>black odyssey</i>

Just when it seems the news can't get any worse, it gets worse. This weekend in Virginia we saw some of the worst of humanity, with terror, death, hatred and ignorance all on full display. At such times, it can be hard not to give in to that helpless, hopeless feeling of things ever getting better, of our species ever giving over to our better natures rather than constantly reveling our worst.

Then there's art. In a quirk of timing for which I will be forever grateful, California Shakespeare Theater opened a new production Saturday night at the Bruns Amphitheater amid the full chilly summer glory of the Orinda Hills. It wasn't just any production, but one so suited to our troubled times that it seems we should find some way to broadcast it nationally over and over.

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Cal Shakes closes with apocalyptic King Lear

Sep 20

Cal Shakes closes with apocalyptic <i>King Lear</i>

When California Shakespeare Theater ended the 2007 season with a heavy, industrial-looking King Lear, opening night was a cold one in the Bruns Amphitheater (read my review here). Eight years later, Cal Shakes once again ends the season with another heavy, industrial-looking Lear, but opening night was one of the rare ones when you could have worn short sleeves throughout (most of) the 2 1/2-hour tragedy. There's just something delicious about...

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TheatreWorks delights with devilish Angels

Jun 08

TheatreWorks delights with devilish <i>Angels</i>

Boredom, desire and champagne make for a potent cocktail in Noël Coward's 1925 comedy Fallen Angels, now receiving a lively production from TheatreWorks at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.

Director Robert Kelley delivers an elegant outing for this zesty comedy that keeps its focus on two live wire ladies – Jane and Julia, best friends since grammar school.

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Cal Shakes’ lukewarm take on Winter’s Tale

Oct 03

Cal Shakes’ lukewarm take on <i>Winter’s Tale</i>

On a refreshingly brisk autumn night, California Shakespeare Theater's A Winter's Tale aimed to tell a sad story with a happy ending. "A sad story is best for winter," or so we're told by a young boy not long for this earth.

Even by Shakespearean standards, this is a strange play, with its jarring shifts in tone, unexplained fits of jealousy, interference by the gods and living statuary. In other words, it's a director's dream – here's a wacky play that needs lots of interpretation and massaging to make it work for a modern audience.

Cal Shakes previously closed the season with A Winter's Tale in 2002 with a massive production in which the audience moved around to accommodate the shift in action from Sicilia to Bohemia. Director Lisa Peterson hauled out screaming teenagers, a school bus and an all-out rave before audience members headed back into the theater proper for the moving, if fantastical, finale.

This time around, we get a wildly different Tale directed by Patricia McGregor, who returns after the triumph of last season's Spunk.

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Looking at the stars: Cal Shakes fans flames of Wilde’s Winderemere

Aug 18

Looking at the stars: Cal Shakes fans flames of Wilde’s <i>Winderemere</i>

If you want, as Oscar Wilde did, to make cogent and funny points about men and women, husbands and wives and the notion of good people vs. bad people, what better way to do that than by putting Danny Scheie in a dress and letting him unleash his inner Dame Maggie Smith?

Scheie's performance as the Duchess of Berwick in the California Shakespeare Theater's production Lady Windermere's Fan, Wilde's first major theatrical it, is one of many pleasures in director Christopher Liam Moore's beguiling production.

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Gettin’ to the git in Cal Shakes’ glorious Spunk

Jul 14

Gettin’ to the git in Cal Shakes’ glorious <i>Spunk</i>

Zora Neale Hurston writes with zest and zeal. She can move from joy to anguish in a second and still find her way back to hope. All of this is readily apparent in California Shakespeare Company's production of Spunk at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda. Sharp and spirited and brimming with talent, these three Hurston stories, adapted for the stage by George C. Wolfe, are poetry and drama and jubilation and as much stirring music as you're likely to hear in 90 minutes in the foggy Orinda Hills.

Wolfe honors Hurston by making sure the audience knows these are short stories – not plays – being brought to life so that we, as a group, can appreciate Hurston's rich, beautiful and musical language. Each of the three stories includes narration of some kind, so the evening never strays from its literary roots. But this is no storytime theater. This is theater that moves. And sings. Boy, does it sing.

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