Crowded Fire’s Invasion!, or Abulkasem on my mind

Sep 09

Crowded Fire’s <i>Invasion!</i>, or Abulkasem on my mind

The thing to know about Crowded Fire's Invasion! is that it's best not to know too much. There's comedy, mystery, surprises and sinister darkness all lurking about director Evren Odcikin's sharp, crisply performed production. And if you have no idea what's really going on or what could possibly happen next, well, that's all for the better.

Even though the play is only about 80 minutes, it feels substantial – not heavy but not frivolous either. Playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri wants to explore the power of language and how that power is fueled by ego, fear, racism and the speed at which words enter and exit the lexicon.

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Crowded Fire delivers the goods with Good Goods

Jun 03

Crowded Fire delivers the goods with <i>Good Goods</i>

A little bit weird (in the most wonderful way) and a whole lot good, Christina Anderson's Good Goods is a captivating drama that becomes a highly satisfying love story – or love stories to be exact. Crowded Fire Theater is producing the West Coast premiere, with artistic director Marissa Wolf firmly at the helm.

What's so appealing about this two-act play is that it's old-fashioned and fresh at the same time, mysterious and yet straightforward enough to be almost instantly engaging. You get a sense of community and real human connection intermingled with the supernatural as in an August Wilson play and abundant romance, betrayal and pining, as in a Tennessee Williams play. But this is not to say that Anderson is being derivative.

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2011 in the rearview mirror: the best of Bay Area stages

Dec 29

2011 in the rearview mirror: the best of Bay Area stages

Let's just get right to it. 2011 was another year full of fantastic local theater (and some nice imports). Somehow, most of our theater companies has managed thus far to weather the bruising economy. May the new year find audiences clamoring for more great theater.

1. How to Write a New Book for the Bible by Bill Cain
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Directed by Kent Nicholson

Only a few days ago I was telling someone about this play – my favorite new play of 2011 and the most moving theatrical experience I've had in a long time – and it happened again. I got choked up. That happens every time I try to describe Cain's deeply beautiful ode to his family and to the spirituality that family creates (or maybe that's vice-versa). Nicholson's production, from the excellent actors to the simple, elegant design, let the play emerge in all its glory.

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Time gets Sticky in experimental show

Nov 04

Time gets <i>Sticky</i> in experimental show

I was enthralled by the form and baffled by the content. That, in a nutshell, is my reaction to the world premiere of Sticky Time, an experimental new work from writer/director Marilee Talkington. A co-production of Crowded Fire Theater Company and Talkington's own Vanguardian Productions, Sticky Time is a wild hour of theater.

I will not begin to pretend that I understood any of it. In plain fact, I did not. When I got home, I read the program, and the thoughts of dramaturg Laura Brueckner and science advisor Andrew Meisel were very interesting – all about the nature of time, which is an interesting blend of science and philosophy – but in the moment of the show, I strained to understand but failed.

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Country-fried Bear offers finger-lickin’-good comedy

Aug 22

Country-fried <i>Bear</i> offers finger-lickin’-good comedy

Falling in love with a playwright whose work you're experiencing for the first time feels like Christmas morning at age 6 – giddy excitement, new toys, wonder and sugar high all wrapped up in a nice holiday package. That's what it felt like the other night at the Boxcar Playhouse watching Crowded Fire Theater Company's production of Exit, Pursued by a Bear, a new play by Lauren Gunderson, a Georgia native who now lives and works in San Francisco.

Taking her cue from the most famous stage direction in all of Shakespeare (The Winter's Tale, Act III, scene iii), Gunderson returns to the hills of Northern Georgia for a crispy revenge drama served up with salty laughs and the kind of clever attention to detail that signals the arrival of a writer to whom you should pay attention. When writers say they're going to tackle a serious subject from a comic angle, they're really just marketing a heavy drama that maybe has a laugh or two but really it just makes you want to kill yourself.

Gunderson really does just that.

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Young Jean Lee’s fire-breathing Dragons

Mar 27

Young Jean Lee’s fire-breathing <i>Dragons</i>

Race shmace. Let's do plays about explosions – exploding race, exploding narrative, exploding audience brains.

That's sort of what Young Jean Lee's Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven is like. This co-production of Asian American Theater Company and Crowded Fire Theater Company is filled with intelligence, talent and 70 minutes of utterly compelling theater. But the whole effect is somewhat like being too near an explosion. Afterward, you ears ring, your head pounds and your equilibrium's a little off.

But that's a good thing, right?

Playwright Lee, who dropped out of UC Berkeley's English PhD program after six years, said something really interesting in an interview with American Theatre magazine last fall. "It's a destructive impulse – I want to destroy the show: make it so bad that it just eats itself, eating away at its own clichés until it becomes complicated and fraught enough to resemble truth."

By the end of Dragons, I couldn't tell you exactly what it was about or even what it was I had just seen. But I would say it was original, outrageous and absolutely honest in its intention to entertain and eviscerate.

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