Shavian wit still dwells in Aurora’s Houses

Feb 04

Shavian wit still dwells in Aurora’s <i>Houses</i>

George Bernard Shaw's Widowers' Houses last played Berkeley's Aurora Theatre Company more than 20 years ago, and though the theater company has come up on the world (bigger, spiffier theater), the satirical world of Shaw's play still reflects badly on our own lack of evolution where greed, poverty and decency are concerned.

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Anne Boleyn seems to be heading in right direction

Apr 21

<i>Anne Boleyn</i> seems to be heading in right direction

The relationship between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn – adulterous, adventurous and tragic (for Anne) – has long captivated the public imagination. Their story has been told on the page, on the stage and on screens large and small. There's been a shift in thinking about Anne, not as a vixen, home wrecker or overzealous climber but as a smart cookie who was more of a power player behind Henry's throne than we might have thought.

One such exploration can now bee seen on stage at Marin Theatre Company in Anne Boleyn, a 2010 play by Howard Brenton.

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Sublime stories from Word for Word and Alice Munro

Mar 08

Sublime stories from Word for Word and Alice Munro

Any celebration of Alice Munro merits attention, but when that celebration comes from Word for Word, the ever-astonishing local company that transforms short fiction into brilliant theater with complete fidelity to the original text, attention must not only be paid but also reveled in and savored.

Word for Word brought a Munro story to life in 1999 ("Friend of My Youth"), and the intervening years have brought more acclaim for the Canadian writer and a Nobel Prize for literature. Now that she is rightly revered for her masterful prose, Munro is given a full Word for Word evening in Stories by Alice Munro: "The Office" & "Dolly," a sort of career bookend.

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TheatreWorks offers Variations on a scheme

Oct 07

TheatreWorks offers <i>Variations</i> on a scheme

When Moisés Kaufman gets to the point in his play 33 Variations, there's resonance, beauty and purpose in it. For nearly 2 ½hours we've been tracking parallel stories: one in the present as a terminally ill musicologist delves into the mystery of why Beethoven wrote 33 variations on a waltz theme by music publisher Anton Diabelli. And the other in the early 19th century as we watch Beethoven, his health and hearing failing him, tackle major late-career works (his Mass, his Ninth Symphony) all while succumbing to an obsession with the Diabelli variations. The two stories do fuse in an interesting way eventually as issues of time, mortality and attention to detail bridge past and present while offering a spark of inspiration and insight into the nature of obsession.

Kafuman's 2007 drama, produced by TheatreWorks and directed by Artistic Director Robert Kelley, takes its time getting to the point. Kelley's production is thoroughly enjoyable and features some sharp performances, but the play itself doesn't cut very deep, and the whole past/present cohabiting the stage thing doesn't really work. In the crudest of terms, the play is an uneasy mash-up of Wit and Amadeus.

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Four hot bodies heat up Aurora’s Body Awareness

Feb 03

Four hot bodies heat up Aurora’s <i>Body Awareness</i>

Drama in the small college town of Shirley, Vermont, is much like it is anywhere: small, intimate and, for the people involved, earth shattering.

Playwright Annie Baker, one of the theater world's most acclaimed and buzzed-about writers, has a particular skill in writing about the lives of ordinary people. She's acutely aware of the comic absurdity and the fissures of sadness and anger that clash continually and cause tremors, both minor and majorly damaging.

Baker is a humane and very funny writer, and the Bay Area is finally getting a taste of her talent in the Aurora Theatre Company's utterly delightful production of her Body Awareness. In true Aurora form, the production gives us a meaty play and performances by a quartet of Bay Area actors that defy you to find a false moment in this up-close and intimate space.

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TheatreWorks’ slam-dunkin’ Donuts

Oct 11

TheatreWorks’ slam-dunkin’ <i>Donuts</i>

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Leslie Martinson, director of Superior Donuts, should bring together such good actors. Martinson is also the company's casting director and has been with TheatreWorks for 26 years. Some directors say that casting is more than 50 percent of directing, and that's probably true for Martinson, though she's clearly a solid director (I loved her Theophilus North three years ago).

Howard Swain stars as donut shop owner Arthur Przybyszewski, an aging hippie who can't really be bothered by life, which he describes as "a derailment." He runs his shabby donut shop and doesn't much care that the new Starbucks across the street is killing his business. For him, the business has been dead for years. Swain conveys Arthur's detachment while making us care about him. Arthur has made some rough decisions in his life, and his troubled relationship with his now-dead father complicate his emotional life as well as his relationships with his own fractured family.

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