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.

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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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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.

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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.

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Laughs of a Lifetime in ACT’s season opener

Sep 29

Laughs of a <i>Lifetime</i> in ACT’s season opener

American Conservatory Theater opens the season with a play that only American Conservatory Theater could do. And I mean really do – the way it should be done.

The play is George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s Once in a Lifetime, a 1930 comedy that seems oh so very jaded about the new Gold Rush represented by the advent of talking pictures. What’s funny is that all the trashing of Hollywood types – dimwitted performers, egomaniacal studio heads, apoplectic directors, long-suffering writers – is so disdainful. But at the time of the play’s premiere on Broadway, The Jazz Singer, the first big hit movie with sound, was only three years old!

What’s more, all those stereotypes feel strangely current, as if absolutely nothing in the Hollywood world had changed, but instead of the frenzy over sound, we have frenzy over CGI and gazillion-dollar budgets and opening weekend grosses. Turns out has been a laughingstock, especially to legit stagefolk, for more than 80 years.

Once in a Lifetime is full of old-fashioned pleasures, and by old-fashioned I don’t mean quaint or sentimental.

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Marvelous Much Ado closes Cal Shakes season

Sep 26

Marvelous <i>Much Ado</i> closes Cal Shakes season

Much Ado About Nothing can be one of Shakespeare’s trickier romantic comedies. It’s full of sparring lovers, great lines and thoroughly entertaining comic bits. But it also contains some harsh drama, faked death and edgy mischief making. Capturing just the right tone can help ease the audience through all those shifts, and that’s what eludes so many directors of the play.

Thankfully, California Shakespeare Theater Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone finds fresh ways to meld all of Shakespeare’s fragments into a seamless and captivating whole.

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