2013: The year’s best Bay Area theater

Dec 23

2013: The year’s best Bay Area theater

If you’re looking for the year’s best, you can shorten your search by heading directly to Word for Word, that ever-amazing group that turns short works of fiction into some of the most captivating theater we see around here. This year, we were graced with two outstanding Word for Word productions. You Know When the Men Are Gone – Word for...

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Campo Santo, Cal Shakes do some Califas dreaming

Nov 04

Campo Santo, Cal Shakes do some Califas dreaming

There's something extraordinary happening at Intersection for the Arts, and only part of it has to do with theater. Intersection, along with Campo Santo and California Shakespeare Theater have been partners for years, but their current collaboration is kind of staggering.

It began back last April with a production of Richard Montoya's The River directed by Campo Santo's Sean San José (read my review here) and continued with Cal Shakes' season opener, Montoya's American Night: The Ballad of Juan José in June starring San José and directed by Jonathan Moscone (read my review here).

Now we have the culmination of the collaboration in the Califas Festival, a multimedia exploration of what it means to be a Californian.

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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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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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A Night to remember as Cal Shakes opens season

Jun 02

A <i>Night</i> to remember as Cal Shakes opens season

Spring and early summer 2013 may well be remembered as the Great Montoya Surge.

In April, Richard Montoya – one third of the legendary San Francisco-born comedy trio Culture Clash – premiered a play with Campo Santo called The River (read the review here), and it was funny and brash and heartfelt and messy and pretty wonderful. It had to do with, among other things, death and immigration, and it made you crave more Montoya work.

We didn't have to wait long. Montoya's American Night: The Ballad of Juan José opened the California Shakespeare Theater season Saturday on a night so warm and beautiful under the stars in Orinda you wonder why every play can't be done outdoors (how quickly we forget those freezing cold, windy, foggy nights when nary a star is visible).

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