A Night to remember as Cal Shakes opens season

Jun 02

A <i>Night</i> to remember as Cal Shakes opens season

Spring and early summer 2013 may well be remembered as the Great Montoya Surge.

In April, Richard Montoya – one third of the legendary San Francisco-born comedy trio Culture Clash – premiered a play with Campo Santo called The River (read the review here), and it was funny and brash and heartfelt and messy and pretty wonderful. It had to do with, among other things, death and immigration, and it made you crave more Montoya work.

We didn't have to wait long. Montoya's American Night: The Ballad of Juan José opened the California Shakespeare Theater season Saturday on a night so warm and beautiful under the stars in Orinda you wonder why every play can't be done outdoors (how quickly we forget those freezing cold, windy, foggy nights when nary a star is visible).

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Life, death and a ’70s groove in Magic’s Happy Ones

Apr 04

Life, death and a ’70s groove in Magic’s <i>Happy Ones</i>

At first the music is loud and fun. Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" seems like the perfect audio accompaniment to a grown-up birthday party scene set in a Garden Grove, Califorina, suburban home, where the swimming pool gleams and the neighbors all swing with martinis well in hand.

Then there's silence. Tragedy strikes, and the SoCal dream life has no fitting accompaniment...until it does, and that sound comes from another part of the planet – Vietnam to be exact. There's a smattering of Creedence, of Paul Simon and Randy Newman. And when the good-time music returns, in the form of Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime," but the "living the dream" moment has passed, and it's time for new songs and new chapters.

That's the story of The Happy Ones, an achingly beautiful play by Julie Marie Myatt now at Magic Theatre.

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Moscone, Taccone illuminate history in Ghost Light

Jan 12

Moscone, Taccone illuminate history in <i>Ghost Light</i>

Jonathan Moscone and Tony Taccone have found the courage to stay out of what they call "the suck drawer."

The phrase comes from Ghost Light, the play Moscone and Taccone conceived together and that Taccone wrote and Moscone directed and it has to do with the life of an artist – the life of anyone, really – and the effort to create work and, ultimately, a life that is true and uniquely individual.

I expected Ghost Light, a co-production of Berkeley Repertory Theatre (where Taccone is artistic director) and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where the play had the first leg of its world premiere last summer, to be about grief and the complicated relationship between fathers and sons. It is about those things. How could it not be, seeing as how it deals primarily with the effect of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone's assassination in 1978, when his son Jon was 14 years old.

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Smile, you’re on Candida camera

Aug 17

Smile, you’re on <i>Candida</i> camera

A beautiful night at the Bruns Amphitheater is made even more so by something marvelous on stage.

That would be George Bernard Shaw’s Candida, a sharp early play (1894) that is concise, funny and, in this incisive production directed by California Shakespeare Theater Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone, surprisingly moving.

Moscone’s six actors inhabit the levels of Shaw’s play with dexterity. The broad, satirical comedy generates some hearty laughs as we delve into the emotional heart of London parsonage, home of the Rev. James Morell and his wife, Candida.

Shaw has everyone, from the main characters to the lively supporting crew of assistants and family members, tripping over their attitudes toward one another and the world at large.

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Clybourne Park is amazing. But this is not a review.

Jan 27

<i>Clybourne Park</i> is amazing. But this is not a review.

Because I interviewed playwright Bruce Norris for the San Francisco Chronicle (read the interview here), I will not be reviewing his Clybourne Park at American Conservatory Theater.

Mr. Norris requests that journalists who interview him not review his work. I'm happy to respect that request, but know that it will be extremely difficult not to tell you how extraordinary this play is or that it's the first absolutely-must-see show of 2011.

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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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