ACT’s epic Orphan dusts off ancient tale

Jun 12

ACT’s epic <i>Orphan</i> dusts off ancient tale

American Conservatory Theater concludes its season with The Orphan of Zhao an epic tale of revenge that some scholars think stretches back to the fourth century BCE. It's a tale as old as time, and the first act of this 2 1/2-hour show feels like a millennia itself. But once the revenge gears really start grinding, there's an interesting story here. I reviewed the production for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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Simplicity, beauty woven into ACT’s Suit

May 01

Simplicity, beauty woven into ACT’s <i>Suit</i>

Simplicity translates into great beauty in The Suit, a skillfully wrought tale that originated as a story by South African writer Can Themba and has been directed for the stage by the legendary Peter Brook who adapted the story with Marie-Hélène Estienne and Franck Krawczyk.

The Suit, adapted from a previous stage version by Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney Simon, is offered as a contemporary fairy tale in the Grimm style. A charming narrator (Jordan Barbour) tells us that this is the kind of story that could only come out of oppression (such as apartheid), but while that feels heavy and ominous (and for good reason), Brook and his team demonstrate such a light touch that we're charmed as the trio of musicians emerges.

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Va-va-va Venus! ACT’s Fur flies

Mar 27

Va-va-va <i>Venus</i>! ACT’s <i>Fur</i> flies

Is it just me, or is it hot in this theater?

Live theater is not usually a hotbed of eroticism – so often attempts at sexiness inspire laughs more than they do accelerated heart rates – but the Bay Area of late has been home to some theatrical sexy time. First we got hot and heavy with polyamory in Carson Kreitzer's Lasso of Truth at Marin Theatre Company (read my review here), which featured Wonder Woman's creator happily submitting to the many strengths of his wife and his girlfriend (who also generated their own heat independent of the man).

And now we have David Ives' scintillating (for lots of reasons) Venus in Fur, in which dog collars, leather bustiers, thigh-high black leather boots and degradation play significant parts.

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Greed not so good in ACT’s Napoli!

Feb 20

Greed not so good in ACT’s <i>Napoli!</i>

Scuzza me, but you see back in old Napoli that's...

In the play Napoli!, it's not so much "amore" as it is "controlling the market." American Conservatory Theater's new translation of Eduardo De Filippo's 1945 play eschews the Italian title, Napoli milionaria!, in favor of translators Linda Alper and Beatrice Basso's choice, Napoli!. The exclamation point might suggest a musical (Hello, Mussolini!), but it's probably meant more ironically. Naples during World War II, especially before the allies arrived, was a pretty dismal, bombed-out, typhus-infested place with no shortage of shortages.

Neither a chest-beating drama nor an uproarious comedy, Napoli! resides in an in-between zone...

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The might that is right and Shaw’s Major Barbara

Jan 16

The might that is right and Shaw’s <i>Major Barbara</i>

Might, they say, makes right, but whose might and whose right? Muddled human notions of charity, salvation, integrity and power receive a full-bore workout in George Bernard Shaw's 1905 comedy/drama/call for revolution, Major Barbara. In the American Conservatory Theater production that opened Wednesday (in association with Theatre Calgary), Shaw – especially his rather extraordinary brain – is the star attraction.

The grand and glorious space that is the Geary Theater sometimes gets the better of director Dennis Garnhum (the artistic director of Theatre Calgary), who can't always find ...

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Sam Shepard feels a Holy song coming on

Jan 12

Sam Shepard feels a <i>Holy</i> song coming on

The new year begins with an intriguing, nearly under-the-radar collaboration. American Conservatory Theater and Campo Santo have jumped into the ring formed by Magic Theatre and dubbed Sheparding America, a far-ranging celebration of Sam Shepard that promises to flare for years to come.

Co-directed by Campo Santo's Sean San José and ACT's Mark Rucker and performed in the near-round at ACT's Costume Shop, Holy Crime: Rock 'n' Roll Sam Shepard is an amalgam of Shepard texts with an infusion of live music. The prologue and epilogue come from 1969's Holy Ghostly and the big chunk in the middle comes from 1972 Tooth of Crime (which Shepard revised in 1997).

The best part of the 85-minute show is...

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