Anne Boleyn seems to be heading in right direction

Apr 21

<i>Anne Boleyn</i> seems to be heading in right direction

The relationship between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn – adulterous, adventurous and tragic (for Anne) – has long captivated the public imagination. Their story has been told on the page, on the stage and on screens large and small. There's been a shift in thinking about Anne, not as a vixen, home wrecker or overzealous climber but as a smart cookie who was more of a power player behind Henry's throne than we might have thought.

One such exploration can now bee seen on stage at Marin Theatre Company in Anne Boleyn, a 2010 play by Howard Brenton.

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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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Odds are in favor of SF Playhouse’s 77%

Nov 08

Odds are in favor of SF Playhouse’s <i>77%</i>

The title of Rinne Groff's new play 77% may seem cold and statistical, but it's actually wonderfully charming. You have to see the play to get it, but here's something to know: if you can achieve that percentage with a romantic partner of some kind, you're doing a really good job.

A play about marriage, among other things, 77% receives its world premiere as part of San Francisco Playhouse's Sandbox Series for new plays. It's a remarkable play, in part, because it seems so unremarkable.

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Orinda hills, young lovers captivate in Cal Shakes’ Romeo and Juliet

Jul 07

Orinda hills, young lovers captivate in Cal Shakes’ <i>Romeo and Juliet</i>

What's immediately striking about California Shakespeare Theater's Romeo and Juliet, the second show of the season, is the apparent absence of a set. When the company last dipped into this romantic Shakespearean tragedy (in 2009 – read the review here), director Jonathan Moscone erected an enormous, cement-looking wall scrawled with graffiti to evoke the mean streets of Verona. For this production, director Shana Cooper and designer Daniel Ostling have opted for minimalism to glorious effect.

Ostling has built no walls, only platforms of rough wood, leaving the full beauty of the gold and green Orinda hills to dominate the sightline until the sun sets and Lap Chi Chu's lights help give the open space on stage some architectural form (the columns of light stretching into the sky to convey a tomb are especially, eerily effective). With so much space to fill, you'd think this cast – also minimalist with only seven actors playing all the roles – might have trouble filling it, but that turns out not to be the case. Somehow the epic feel of the landscape only trains more attention on the flawed, flailing, ferociously romantic people at the heart of this oft-told tale.

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Great stories, theater and heart in Word for Word’s Men

Feb 03

Great stories, theater and heart in Word for Word’s <i>Men</i>

Sometimes it's too easy to forget we're a nation at war, and that's not at all a good thing to be able to say. But it's true, especially here in the Bay Area bubble, where the war seems especially far away. For that reason, among many others, Word for Word's You Know When the Men Are Gone is a powerful and important piece of theater. Not to mention a moving and beautiful one.

It's nice to see Word for Word, the extraordinary company that turns short fiction into fully staged works of theater without changing the original text, working in such a contemporary mode.

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Annie Baker’s brilliant, reflective Circle Mirror

Aug 08

Annie Baker’s brilliant, reflective <i>Circle Mirror</i>

At once the antithesis of drama (nothing's happening!) and a complete exposure of the theater's guts and bones, Annie Baker's has a particular genius for creating simplicity of the most complex variety.

Earlier this year, the Aurora Theatre Company got the unofficial Annie Baker Bay Area Festival off to a strong start with her Body Awareness about sexual politics in the small university town of Shirley, Vermont. Then SF Playhouse dazzled with the low-key but brilliant The Aliens, also set in the fictional Shirley, about three unlikely friends, music, death and growing up.

Now Marin Theatre Company in a co-production with Encore Theatre Company conclude the Bay-ker Area Fest with what has become her most popular play, Circle Mirror Transformation. Even more than the previous two Baker plays we've seen so far, this one feels even less like a play and more like an actual experience – something carefully captured in the real world and observed within the artful frame of a proscenium stage.

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