Shadows fall on suburbia in Yockey’s beguiling Bellwether

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A strange disappearance: Parents of a missing child (Gabriel Marin and Arwen Anderson on couch) meet with police detectives (Danny Wolohan and Patrick Jones, far left and far right) under the watchful eye of a nosy neighbor (Rachel Harker) in Steve Yockey’s Bellwether at Marin Theatre Company. Below: Anderson meets Kathryn Zdan in the suburban underworld. Photos by

Audacious, entertaining and chilling, Steve Yockey’s world-premiere Bellwether at Marin Theatre Company goes where few plays dare to tread.

What starts out as a satiric look at suburban living – Bellwether is a nice neighborhood, we’re told over and over again, a gated community commuter distance from an unnamed big city – quickly becomes a potent family drama. A husband and wife (Gabriel Marin and Arwen Anderson) have hit some rocky ground as they and their about-to-turn-7-year-old daughter try adjusting to suburban living.

The show becomes a crime thriller when little Amy disappears from her bed while her mom was downstairs with a neighbor and a bottle of wine. And then it turns into something Stephen King might dream up in a novel or short story. Yockey delves into the underworld of suburbia, a dark, dangerous place that balances the shiny, happy existence up top.

That Yockey – MTC’s playwright in residence for the 2009-10 season – anchors the fantastical aspects of the story with his exploration of family life in the suburbs does him credit. He and director Ryan Rilette manage something very tricky here with a tone that shifts from satirical comedy to high drama to horror.

Much of the success of these tonal shifts come from the utterly believable performances at the center of the story. Marin’s intensity and near hysteria powerfully convey the desperation of a father whose child has slipped away from him, and Anderson, though not as intense, displays guilt and determination in equal measure.

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Rachel Harker as a needy, nosy neighbor is extraordinary. She’s like a sitcom character at first but goes through several iterations, all of which she fills with depth and frightening accuracy.

At less than two hours, Bellwether grabs your attention immediately and only tightens its grip as it zips along. I would say that Yockey spends too much time in the underworld – where there is fine work by Jessica Lynn Carroll and Kathryn Zdan. We get a sketchy explanation about how this world works, but it could be swifter and more enigmatic. We don’t want too much time to linger and think about this situation because implausibilities start popping up alongside questions that don’t get answered.

Back on the strangely quiet streets of Bellwether, Yockey and Rilette whip up an increasingly wild mob of neighbors (including Danny Wolohan, Liz Sklar, Marissa Keltie, Mollie Stickney and Patrick Jones) and a trio of inane (naturally) and vampiric TV news reporters.

Bellwether packs quite a punch, from the striking performances to the sumptuous two-level suburban home set by Giulio Cesare Perrone and sinister lighting by York Kennedy.

When the play ends, and it’s hard to know what to think exactly because your head is spinning. Was it funny? Scary? Moving? Yes. Bellwether is, in short, fantastic. In every sense of the word.

Steve Yockey’s Bellwether continues through Oct. 30 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $34-$55 ($15 rush tickets available one hour prior to show, based on availability; under 30: $20, all performances). Call 415-388-5208 or visit

Beth Wilmurt goes `Boating’ in Berkeley

You’ve heard about monsters being unleashed and wreaking havoc in New York? Well, Beth Wilmurt was just such a monster.

The San Francisco-based actor played a ferocious dragon in the final scenes of Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage, the Shotgun Players/Banana Bag & Bodice musical that headed to New York after its award-winning birth in Berkeley.

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Wilmurt replaced Cameron Galloway, who plays a starchy academic for most of the play then, at the end, turns into a dragon for one final battle scene with the warrior Beowulf. This was Wilmurt’s first New York performance experience, and she describes it as “a super-positive experience.”

“It felt like the best possible circumstances to be in New York,” she says. “I was there for about five weeks with one thing to concentrate on, this wonderful artistic experience. I had my days free during the run of the show, and during rehearsal I could go out at night and see shows. I saw a ton of theater and ran into a lot of people missing the Bay Area.”

Once she got home, Wilmurt didn’t have much time to dawdle before she was back in the rehearsal room, this time for the Bay Area premiere of Bob Glaudini’s Jack Goes Boating, a four-person romantic comedy that begins performances this week at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company. The play, directed by Joy Carlin, is about two couples, one more established, played by Amanda Duarte and Gabriel Marin, and one just forming, played by Wilmurt and Danny Wolohan.

The 2007 play was originally part of the LAByrinth Theater Company season starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, who will direct the upcoming film version.

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Wilmurt describes her character, Connie, as somewhat troubled. “I think she might even have some sort of diagnosed problem, though it’s never specified,” she says. “She’s dealing with issues, and Danny’s character, Jack, clearly has some, too. Here are two people in their late 30s/early 40s, and they’re facing a long-term relationship for the first time. Why hasn’t that happened thus far? There isn’t a lot of plot in the play, but there are obstacles. The obstacles are simple seeming, but they represent bigger obstacles for the individual.”

The role of Connie is somewhat similar to a role Wilmurt played in a previous Aurora outing, John Guare’s Bosoms and Neglect (seen above, with Wilmurt and Cassidy Brown), which Carlin also directed.

“Joy is an amazing actor, right? So it’s no surprise that she’s a really good director when it comes to getting inside a moment,” Wilmurt says. “She senses when a moment isn’t fully embodied and senses what the rhythm should be. She can get inside these micro-moments and help figure out the timing and depth of them. She can speak from the outside in, and she’s a great comedic actress.”

Wilmurt is no slouch herself. The Bay Area native grew up in Dublin (in the Tri-Valley area, not Ireland) and began her performing career at the Willows Theatre in Concord and has worked consistently since doing musicals, musical revues, plays and productions of her own creation.

With her partner, Mark Jackson, she founded Art Street Theatre in 1995, which produced a show a year for about 10 years. Ask Wilmurt about her favorite theatrical memories –her time in Germany studying, creating and performing in theater and dance gets a shout out, but Art Street is at the top of the list.

“I have a ridiculous amount of great memories from Art Street,” she says. “We worked with a lot of the same people, and everyone had such amazing energy and enthusiasm. I certainly loved doing Io, Princess of Argos. I had an idea and started talking to Mark about combining Greek mythology and cabaret. We got Marcy Karr involved and just started writing it. We wrote the show and 15 songs in about four months. We didn’t preview it or workshop it. We just did it, whatever, flaws and all. Art Street was like our own little school because we were just moving forward and not worrying how things were received.”

Though completely immersed in Jack Goes Boating (and anticipating her next Shotgun show, Marcus Gardley and Molly Holm’s a cappella musical This World in a Woman’s Hands in the fall), Wilmurt is feeling that old Art Street itch to create new works.

“I’m really attracted to brand-new work,” she says. “I like the problem-solving aspect, the figuring out how it’s all going to work. I’ve worked with so many great companies and choreographers and directors, and I like all kinds of performance—musicals, plays, fringe, cabaret, dance – and I’m getting these ideas for plays. Should I be in them? Should I pitch them? Direct them? It’s that Art Street energy: gotta create a show!”


Bob Glaudini’s Jack Goes Boating performs June 12-July 19 at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $28-$42. Call 510-843-4822 or visit for information.

Theater review: `The Lieutenant of Inishmore’

Opened April 22, 2009 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, EXTENDED THROUGH MAY 24!

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Padraic (Blake Ellis, front center) finds himself in a spot of trouble when he’s set upon by fellow terrorists from his Irish splinter group (from left) Brendan (Rowan Brooks), Christy (Danny Wolohan) and Joey (Michael Barrett Austin) in Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre. Photos by


Blood, cats and body parts: Just another night at Berkeley Rep
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The sweetly homespun fiddle and squeezebox music that starts the play, not to mention the wry “Home Sweet Home” needlepoint hung on the wall of the set, are but jokey contrasts to the carnage in store for audiences at The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Part of the “limited season” at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, Inishmore is playwright Martin McDonagh at his McTarantino best. British by birth but born to Irish parents, McDonagh is hyper-Irish. If you’ve seen the other two McDonagh plays produced at Berkeley Rep, The Beauty Queen of Leenane in 1999 or The Pillowman in 2007, you know that he’s a darkly funny, violent, surprising and potent writer. He’s a sensational writer in every sense of the word, but the sensation usually hovers over something substantial.

Though McDonagh has been sucked into the Hollywood machine – he won an Academy Award for his short film “Six Shooter” and got another Oscar nod for best screenplay for his debut feature In Bruges – he should continue writing for the theater. Nobody combines humor, heft and horror in quite the same way.

Berkeley Rep associate artistic director Les Waters helmed the irresistible and deeply creepy The Pillowman, and apparently that dip into the choppy McDonagh waters wasn’t enough. Waters returns in fine form for Inishmore, which is best described as a theatrical gut buster of the highest order.

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Part of his Aran Islands Trilogy, which also includes The Cripple of Inishmaan and the unpublished The Banshees of Inisheer, The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a comically violent play about the stupidity of violence. A rogue terrorist named Padraic (Blake Ellis) was deemed “too mad” for the IRA, so he joined something called the Irish National Liberation Army. But he turned out to be too wacko even for them, especially when he started doing horrible things to drug dealers who were channeling funds to underwrite INLA activities.

In the middle of torturing a pot dealer (Daniel Kruger, whose admirable performance is delivered almost entirely with him strung by his feet and bleeding), Padriac receives a call from his dad with bad news: Padraic’s beloved black cat, Wee Thomas, has taken ill. The terrorist immediately sets to weeping for his feline friend, forgoes the nipple removal of his victim and makes a beeline for home in Inishmore.

Trouble is, Padraic’s cat isn’t ill. It’s dead. In the play’s gory opening moments, we’ve seen the cat’s brains ooze from cranium to table, much to the dismay of Padraic’s dad, Donny (James Carpenter), and a long-haired neighbor boy, Davey (Adam Farabee), who is accused of running over the cat on his mom’s frilly pink bicycle.

Taking a page from the terrorist’s handbook that says something like the surest way to a mad man’s heart is through his pet, some of Padraic’s old terrorist buddies, headed by the one-eyed Christy (Danny Wolohan in charming, slightly terrifying performance), seize upon the cat situation to deal with their personnel issues.

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Throw in a combustible love story involving Padraic and 16-year-old Inishmore native Mairead (Molly Camp, who couldn’t be fiercer if she were a tank, seen above with Farabee) along with enough firearms, knives, axes and saws to topple a large nation and you’ve got a recipe that’s sure to result in mayhem.

Speaking of mayhem, a huge amount of the play’s success is due to special effects artist Stephen Tolin of TolinFX. Tolin has a talent for blood effects, and the Roda is fairly dripping with the gooey red stuff. There’s so much of it that the effect is surprisingly comic, though many of the effects are real enough to make you cringe before you crack a smile. Without saying too much or lessening the impact of the crimson explosion, the clean-up crew, especially on two-show days, has its work cut out for it here as they mop up Antje Ellerman’s quaint Irish cottage set.

Director Waters has a real facility for disciplined, finely tuned comic performances. It would be easy for Carpenter and Farabee to become the Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee of the play, but instead, they just keep getting more interesting as the violence escalates, with their characters trapped right in the middle of it all. Ellis, with his blond good looks, certainly doesn’t look the part of a mad terrorist, but nothing about Padraic is usual, and that’s what makes him so fascinating, terrifying and hilarious.

Wolohan and his henchmen, Rowan Brooks and Michael Barrett Austin, have a terrific scene full of camaraderie, hostility and delicious word play. And Camp’s Mairead, a terrorist in training, is the character you most want to follow into a sequel. But there may not be enough stage blood for such an undertaking.

With the actors slipping and sliding through pools of blood, The Lieutenant of Inishmore may actually be as dangerous as it pretends to be, but has a blood bath ever been so funny?

Says one observant Irishman to another: “It’s incidents like this does put tourists off Ireland.”


Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore continues an extended run through May 24 at the Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $33-$71. Call 510-647-2949 or visit for information. Half-price discounts are available for patrons younger than 30. $10 tickets for students and seniors available one hour before curtain.

To read a story I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle about the blood, cats and special effects of The Lieutenant of Inishmore, click here.

Review: `TRAGEDY: a tragedy’

Opened March 19, 2008, Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage

Thomas Jay Ryan, Marguerite Stimpson and Danny Wolohan. Photos by Kevin Berne

Laughing through the tragic darkness
three stars Our top story tonight

Reportedly, during a preview performance of Will Eno’s TRAGEDY: a tragedy at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, an audience member rose up mid-show and, on her way out of the theater, muttered loud enough for other audience members to hear: “Oh, for Christ’s sake.”

Seems a perfectly reasonable response to Eno’s offbeat, highly original, thoroughly captivating play, which is most certainly not for every taste. Eno has been called a “Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation,” and boy is that description apt.

TRAGEDY, now on Berkeley Rep’s Thrust Stage, is a brief, bracing piece of theater that doesn’t play by the usual rules. It’s only about 70 minutes long, but it feels longer because it’s dense and weird — obtuse, to be succinct.

This absurdist foray into a dark, dark night is also full of laughs (most at the expense of the already-absurd notion of TV news). But then again, there’s also despair, disconnection and the inescapable fact of eventual death.

Eno sets the play up as a newscast. Frank, the anchorman (David Cromwell, below), is the distinguished, John Chancellor-like figure in the TV studio. He throws the broadcast variously to John (Thomas Jay Ryan), literally out in a field, Constance (Marguerite Stimpson) stationed at an empty home and Michael (Max Gordon Moore) the legal expert on the steps of the state capital.

Director Les Waters’ challenge is to keep the show moving even though there’s hardly any movement at all. The reporters stand there, holding their microphones and reporting into invisible cameras, and Frank sits at his anchor’s desk, often ignoring what the reporters are reporting.

Thankfully, there’s no video used in the show — this is a fully theatrical evening, imagination required. The actors all use what you might call “TV voices,” which is to say, overly enunciated, overly emphatic language as they report on a massive event that has swept the entire country.

That event, as we come to learn, is the fall of night. Yes, it got dark, and the Channel 3 news team is there to cover the tragedy of it all, even when there’s nothing to report.

“This, of course, as the hours grow more and more late out here, and we, it seems, learn less and less,” John says from the field.

The literalness of the newscast begins to melt away as the night deepens, and the news folk, even solid Frank in the studio, all succumb to nervous breakdowns of varying kinds. They ramble about their childhood, about lost pets, about parental figures, about their deepest misery. During one report, Michael (Moore, below) recalls an uncle who gave him a dictionary, which he “mistook as the long, sad, confusing story of everything.” Later he adds from “the missteps of my life”: “They should have never let me use the alphabet.”

Humor helps make all this flow, but occasionally, Eno slips in some actual human tragedy. We now go to Frank in the studio: “The flashlight is dead and we are left darkling — as we used to say in my youth, which is also gone, with no remains.”

TRAGEDY goes from funny and odd straight to sad. When all the on-air bounce has been drained from the reporters, a slight shred of hope emerges in the form a witness, a “man who happened to be standing right near or somewhere around the horizon as night fell tonight at nightfall.” As played by the pitch-perfect Danny Wolohan, the witness wraps things up with a warm dose of spirituality, some comfort and a little storytelling. It’s not anything like a happy ending, but it’s not bleak either.

Director Waters lets Eno’s words be the play’s action, and that’s a good thing. The actors stand in their locations, suggested by the four zones of Antje Ellermann’s set, and Matt Frey’s lights help provide TV focus in a theater.

This is definitely Beckett land. In one part of the world, you can imagine two sad clowns waiting for the elusive Godot, while in our part of the world, night falls and inspires a tormented newscast.

But Beckett’s Godot allowed characters to actually interact. Eno is only able to connect his characters via cameras and microphones, and that leads to unavoidable detachment. There’s much to admire in the play, and there are emotional moments (especially from Cromwell’s Frank), but there’s also a chill that even the humor can’t banish.

TRAGEDY: a tragedy requires an open mind, a willingness to take the ride without promise of a destination. There are rewards aplenty, but go with someone whose hand you can hold on the way home.

TRAGEDY: a tragedy continues through April 13 on Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets start at $27. Call 510-647-2949 or visit for information.

Wolohan out!

One of my favorite Bay Area actors, Danny Wolohan, is moving on.

Wolohan was voted by American Theatre magazine as one of the country’s seven actors “worth traveling to see,” and I wholeheartedly agree.

I first met Wolohan when I interviewed him during his stint in the Aurora Theatre Company’s Tough! That was in 2000, and since then, Wolohan has continued to create indelible performances, many for Campo Santo, the San Francisco troupe headed by Sean San Jose that is responsible for some of the most interesting new work in the country.

Wolohan is currently making his Berkeley Repertory Theatre debut in Will Eno’s extraordinary TRAGEDY: a tragedy, which begins previews this weekend and opens next Wednesday on the Thrust Stage.

When Wolohan finishes his run with Berkeley Rep, the San Francisco actor (and die-hard Giants fan, die-hard) is moving to Los Angeles.

“I am going to spend a year there,” Wolohan says. “People have been saying for years I should come down and make some money. I turned 35, and I’m busier than ever, but financially it’s a miracle that actors can make their lives happen doing what we love to do. I’m going to spend a year there and plan to be back in May of ’09 for another Aurora show.”

Wolohan had to turn down theater jobs so he could make the move, and though he admits that, especially in baseball terms, he’s heading into “enemy territory,” he can’t say no to the prospect of gainful, possibly financially lucrative work.

“One of the most difficult things I’ve ever done is walk away from all the good things that are happening here and aim for financial security,” he says. “But I’m coming back no matter what. If it goes really well down there, I’ll use whatever success to help Campo Santo and help it grow. The work is so special there. To my mind, not enough people know about it, and I’d like to affect that.”

For his last hurrah — for now — Wolohan is playing the key role of the Witness in TRAGEDY, a bizarre, funny, chilling one-act play about a TV newscast covering a mysterious, possibly cataclysmic event.

It’s a challenging role if for no other reason than Wolohan only has a few sentences early in the play then a meaty monologue late in the play. But he, like his fellow cast members, remains onstage the entire time, not moving much.

“I’ve done construction off and on for 16 years, so it’s silly for me to complain, but it’s hard to be still that much,” Wolohan says. “But I’m soldiering on through my hardships.”

Describing the play is difficult, even for Wolohan, who has been immersed in it for weeks.

“I think the play succeeds best when its indefinable,” Wolohan says. “One moment it’s the funniest thing ever, the next, it’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. Will pulls you in and opens you up with this relentless humor. Once you’re open, he sneaks in these things that are real bombs — all this stuff about the hard-to-handle aspects of being alive, about dying and losing everything but also about how we have to keep going and how hard that is. That’s where the compassion is in the play — in acknowledging how hard it is for us to do that.”

Working with director Les Waters, who is something of wonder with new plays, has been a pleasure, Wolohan says.

“He creates a great atmosphere. Everyone feels safe,” he says. “He lets us make mistakes and continue to be creative. It’s always impressive when someone has talent and good manners and respect for everybody. At a certain level of success, you can get away with not having those qualities. But he’s a real gentleman, and for me, that makes going to work great.”

Remember when you see Wolohan on screens large or small that he’s coming back to the stage. Let’s hold him to that, shall we?

TRAGEDY: a tragedy continues through April 13 on Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $33 to $69. Call 510- or visit for information.