2012 flasback: 10 to remember

Dec 21

2012 flasback: 10 to remember

One of the things I love about Bay Area theater is that picking a Top 10 list is usually a breeze. My surefire test of a great show is one I can remember without having to look at anything to remind me about it. The entire list below was composed in about five minutes, then I had to go look through my reviews to make sure they were all really this year. They were, and it was a really good year.

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Haunting Ghost Sonata kicks off Strindberg cycle

Oct 21

Haunting <i>Ghost Sonata</i> kicks off Strindberg cycle

Watching August Strindberg's The Ghost Sonata at Cutting Ball Theater, it becomes clear that without Strindberg, we probably would not have the wonderfully weird worlds of Samuel Beckett or Harold Pinter or Edward Albee or, in the film world, David Lynch or Spike Jonze. Strindberg, though famous for the naturalism of his Miss Julie, pushed into expressionism later in his career and helped redefine modern theater.

During this, the 100th anniversary year of Strindberg's death, Cutting Ball has launched an ambitious celebration of one of Sweden's greatest pre-Abba exports. The Strindberg Cycle collects all five of the chamber plays Strindberg wrote in 1907 that were performed in The Intimate Theater, which had about 150 seats, not unlike the EXIT on Taylor, where Cutting Ball is in residence. This cycle marks the first time all five of these plays have been performed together in an any language.

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Rough neighborhood, extraordinary theater

May 05

Rough neighborhood, extraordinary theater

You may think you know the Tenderloin – drugs, poverty, violence, crime – and certainly those impressions are valid, but Cutting Ball theater's world-premiere Tenderloin challenges audiences to think more deeply about the neighborhood, its history, its significance and even its beauty. Director and head writer Annie Elias and her team of actor-journalists – Tristan Cunningham, Siobhan Doherty, Rebecca Frank, Michael Kelly, Leigh Shaw, David Sinaiko and David Westley Skillman (who is not in the show) – spent more than a year collecting interviews, conducting workshops and shaping a theater piece out of the real life happening on the other side of the theater walls.

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Music soars in Cutting Ball’s Tontlawald

Feb 24

Music soars in Cutting Ball’s <i>Tontlawald</i>

Darkness. Voices. Chanting. Then drumming and clapping.

The opening of Cutting Ball Theater's Tontlawald is electrifying. The sheer power of joined voices, unamplified, is undeniable and extraordinarily beautiful.

In John Bischoff's stunning arrangements, the vocal music in this world-premiere production emerges as the star of the show. Performed by the seven-member ensemble, the music, which ranges from Sarah Hopkins' "Aboriginal Song" to a delicious slice of Mozart's The Magic Flute to doo-wop and barbershop quartet sounds, is reason enough to see this fitfully engaging, ultimately disappointing exercise in experimental storytelling.

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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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Where there’s a Will…

Apr 04

Where there’s a Will…

Recently I had the pleasure of conducting an email interview with playwright Will Eno, whose Lady Grey (in ever lower light) and other plays closes this weekend at Cutting Ball Theater.

Read the interview in the San Francisco Chronicle here.

There was more interview than there was room in the newspaper, so please enjoy the rest of Mr. Eno's responses.

Q: Dogs tend to pop up in your work, or more specifically, the deaths of dogs. Does this mean you’re a dog lover or the opposite?

A: I am solidly and proudly a dog lover. I even sometimes think of this as an enlightened position, a paradoxically humane approach to the world. Other times, though, I worry that I love dogs because I love to imagine a world in which there are only about three total feelings and three total needs, and it never gets more complicated than that. “Yes, I want to go for a walk. Yes, I’m hungry. Yes, thank you, I would like to climb up on your leg. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go around in circles and then fall asleep until I wake up barking and run over to the door.” The great dogs in my life have made me feel like I’m a good and trustworthy person. They allow you to live on or near an essential level that is just fairly basic and stable needs, and once those are taken care of, it’s all cats and shiny hubcaps and tennis balls.

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