Cal Shakes sculpts a vital, vivacious Pygmalion

Aug 06

Cal Shakes sculpts a vital, vivacious <i>Pygmalion</i>

When real life comes in and smacks Prof. Henry Higgins across the face, it's a wonderful thing to see this brilliant yet stunted man consider, perhaps for the first time in his life, that kindness may have worth akin to genius.

The force representing the real world – a world of messiness and emotion and connection – takes the form of Eliza Doolittle, an extraordinary young woman who is the intellectual if not social equal of Higgins and his superior when it comes to living life as most of humanity experiences it.

One of the great things about the California Shakespeare Theater production of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion is how balanced it is.

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In praise of Anthony and Sharon and Lorri and Spike

Sep 26

In praise of Anthony and Sharon and Lorri and <i>Spike</i>

If you spend any time at all going to theater in the San Francisco Bay Area, you soon see that we have some extraordinary homegrown talent populating our local stages. That's not empty boosterism – rah, Bay Area! – but something nearing actual fact – rah, working Bay Area actors in it for the long haul! In just the last month or so, Marin Theatre Company, TheatreWorks, Aurora Theatre Company, American Conservatory Theater and Magic Theatre have opened their seasons with at least one dazzling, shake-your-head-in-wonder performance by a Bay Area actor.

Now Berkeley Repertory Theatre gives a triple scoop of local actor goodness in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the local premiere of Christopher Durang's Tony Award-winning comedy.

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ACT’s Metaphor: a bright balloon that pops

Mar 07

ACT’s <i>Metaphor</i>: a bright balloon that pops

It seems there are two plays battling it out in American Conservatory Theater's world premiere of Dead Metaphor by Canadian plawyright George F. Walker. Three of the characters are broadly comic – one foot in the real world, the other in a dark comedy of extremes. And the other three characters are just plain folks, getting by as best they can with anger, fear and desperation causing storms on a daily basis.

Both of those plays are pretty interesting, at least in Act 1. The comedy is especially biting as the three exaggerations – a politician running for reelection (the marvelous René Augesen getting to show of a real flair for biting comedy), her increasingly agitated husband (a grimly funny Anthony FuscoTom Bloom) acting erratically because of fatal tumor bearing down on his brain.

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The power you’re supplyin’, it’s Elektra-fyin’!

Nov 01

The power you’re supplyin’, it’s <i>Elektra</i>-fyin’!

Suddenly, we're awash in Greeks. Must have something to do with the upcoming election. Everyone's feeling deeply and internationally tragic. We have An Iliad over at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and now at American Conservatory Theater, we have Sophocles' Elektra in a muscular and potent translation/adaptation by Timberlake Wertenbaker.

As it is, this Carey Perloff-directed Elektra has some gripping moments, most courtesy of core company member René Augesen in the title role. I lost track, but I don't think there was one moment in this 90-minute production when her face wasn't shiny with tears.

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High on Cal Shakes’ spiffy Spirit

Aug 16

High on Cal Shakes’ spiffy <i>Spirit</i>

Noël Coward was a man of his time in many ways and maybe even ahead of his time in others. For instance, in the delightful 1941 play Blithe Spirit, now gracing the Orinda Hills in a handsome and well-tuned production from California Shakespeare Theater, Coward was way ahead of the ghastly Twilight curve.

No, he wasn't dealing with pale but attractive vampires and shirtless werewolves, but he did understand a little something about mixing mortality and romance. In the play, the ghost of a dead wife returns to haunt her husband and his new wife, but her real aim is to get her beloved to join her on the other side, and she's not above trying to kill him herself to accomplish that goal. To love someone enough to want to spend eternity with them is an intriguing concept, and thankfully Coward played it for laughs, with only a trace of the shadows poking through the peaked meringue of his comedy.

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David Mamet stages a Race to obfuscation

Oct 28

David Mamet stages a <i>Race</i> to obfuscation

David Mamet never fails to fog me up.

He's never been one of my favorite playwrights because, although he's a wizard of compelling dialogue and unquestionable intelligence, his view of the world is just too bleak for me. Finding kindness and compassion and spirituality in his work is never as easy as finding brutality, ugliness and the absolute worst in mankind. I'm not saying he's wrong in his assessment, it's just that he makes me feel like Pollyanna in comparison. I don't need a steady stream of sunshine, flowers and unicorns.

Mamet's Race is making its West Coast debut in a compelling production from American Conservatory Theater. Director Irene Lewis isn't messing around.

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