ACT crowns a glorious King Charles III

Sep 22

ACT crowns a glorious <i>King Charles III</i>

What will happen when Queen Elizabeth, Great Britain's longest reigning queen, leaves the throne? In a hefty helping of royal speculation, playwright Mike Bartlett takes on that question, but does so by way of Shakespeare with a soupçon of Notting Hill.

The result is King Charles III a new history play that traffics in family drama, parliamentary procedure, the liberties of the fourth estate and everything we think we know about Charles, Camilla, William, Kate and Harry. There's sensation and substance, comedy and some genuine emotion mixed in with provocative observations on the relevance of the monarchy in the 21st century.

Read More

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...

Read More

ACT’s epic Orphan dusts off ancient tale

Jun 12

ACT’s epic <i>Orphan</i> dusts off ancient tale

American Conservatory Theater concludes its season with The Orphan of Zhao an epic tale of revenge that some scholars think stretches back to the fourth century BCE. It's a tale as old as time, and the first act of this 2 1/2-hour show feels like a millennia itself. But once the revenge gears really start grinding, there's an interesting story here. I reviewed the production for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Read More

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.

Read More

Story lifts ACT’s Elevator to great heights

Apr 17

Story lifts ACT’s <i>Elevator</i> to great heights

It's hard to imagine a better production of Stuck Elevator than the one now on view at American Conservatory Theater's Geary Theater. Production values and performance levels are superlative, and the show makes a forceful impression.

This world premiere by Bryon Au Yong (music) and Aaron Jafferis scores major points for originality. In telling the story of immigrants in America, they take their inspiration from the real-life tale of a Chinese restaurant delivery man, Kuang Chen, who was trapped for 81 hours in a stuck elevator in a Bronx highrise.

Read More

Berkeley Rep’s White Snake: ‘sssssss wonderful

Nov 15

Berkeley Rep’s <i>White Snake</i>: ‘sssssss wonderful

Even ophidiophobe Indiana Jones would fall in love with the stunning serpents at the heart of Mary Zimmerman's The White Snake, a poignant, colorful tale from ancient China that arrives at Berkeley Repertory Theatre like a giant holiday gift just waiting to be savored by audiences.

This is Zimmerman's seventh show at Berkeley Rep, following in the wake of such stunners as Metamorphoses, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci and, most recently, The Arabian Nights. Like these previous outings, The White Snake is theatrical storytelling at its very best, a fusion of stunning imagery, captivating music and, best of all, characters whose stories cut straight to the heart.

Read More