Faith, choices, colonialism collide in Marin’s gutsy Convert

Feb 25

Faith, choices, colonialism collide in Marin’s gutsy <i>Convert</i>

p>For someone who kills zombies in her day job, Danai Gurira sure knows her way around a compelling drama. Best known as the kick-ass, Katana-wielding Michonne on AMC's "The Walking Dead," Gurira is also a playwright, an impressive one as it turns out based on her Bay Area debut with The Convert now at Marin Theatre Company.

This is a good, old-fashioned historical drama – three acts and nearly three hours – about the soul-crushing damage of colonialism and missionary zeal. What's interesting is that The Convert is the second play to open in the Bay Area recently specifically addressing the colonizing of Africa by Europeans.

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Just Theater presents a wildly provocative Presentation

Feb 16

Just Theater presents a wildly provocative <i>Presentation</i>

In some ways, the less you know about Just Theater's latest show, the better. Here's what you need to know and then you can read the rest after you've seen it: this is a very modern show in that it deconstructs and wrestles to the ground ideas of traditional theater. It deals with heavy subject matter (genocide) but does so with intelligence, humor and a wildly energetic style that moves well beyond the usual, polite play-audience interaction and more into the visceral punch-in-the-gut territory that leaves you slightly dazed in its aftermath.

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Aurora’s Lyons subdues its roar

Feb 08

Aurora’s <i>Lyons</i> subdues its roar

There are breathtaking moments – literally, your capacity to process oxygen is shut down – in Nicky Silver's script of The Lyons now at the Aurora Theatre. Silver takes an average situation – a patriarch in the final days of an illness is tended to by his wife and two adult children – and makes it painfully funny by exposing every sharp edge he can find and slicing through anything in his way. Those breathtaking moments usually involve some sort of truth telling at the expense of someone else's fragile or carefully crafted sense of self, but the inability to breathe is often followed by a huge laugh.

Or at least it feels like there should be a big laugh. Director Barbara Damashek's production is dialed to 6 while Silver's script seems to call for at least double that.

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Hébert’s moving Tree explores family’s tangled roots

Jan 26

Hébert’s moving <i>Tree</i> explores family’s tangled roots

I reviewed Julie Hébert's drama Tree at the San Francisco Playhouse for the San Francisco Chronicle. Here's a sample: "Director Jon Tracy’s powerful and poignant production feels grounded in reality of the siblings and their fraught, fractious attempts at a relationship, but in the realm of the parents, there’s a lyrical quality filled with love and sadness that elevates the play from kitchen-sink drama to something more."

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Wilder’s genius shines in Shotgun’s Our Town

Jan 04

Wilder’s genius shines in Shotgun’s <i>Our Town</i>

When it comes to the rituals of the New Year – making and abandoning resolutions, vowing to live more fully and with intention, trying not to let time slip away so quickly by living more fully in the present – the most powerful thing you could do for yourself is head over to the Ashby Stage in Berkeley and see Shotgun Players' excellent production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town.

This 1938 masterpiece has long been my favorite American play, and aside from its structural genius, its Expressionistic (and still unmatched) theatricality balanced with genuine emotion, Our Town is the self-help book embedded in our nation's consciousness. I've seen the play dozens of times in straightforward productions (like Shotgun's) and over-produced and over-thought re-imaginings, in musical and film versions, in schools and on the professional stage, and every time I come away with something new. More than any other, I feel Our Town in other works when they succeed in connecting audience to play or when they tap into simple truths that need constant reiteration about what the hell we're even doing on this planet.

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Threats of totalitarianism have never been so fun

Dec 08

Threats of totalitarianism have never been so fun

Our sorry political state may be sending the country down the toilet, but it sure is inspiring some grand entertainment. Veep and House of Cards offer two distinct points of view on the absurdity of Beltway power mongering. Lauren Gunderson's The Taming was a comic highlight of last year's local theater scene (review here) in its exploration of political game playing.

Now we have Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's The Totalitarians, a Z Space production in association with Encore Theatre Company and the National New Play Network.

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