2012 flasback: 10 to remember

Dec 21

2012 flasback: 10 to remember

One of the things I love about Bay Area theater is that picking a Top 10 list is usually a breeze. My surefire test of a great show is one I can remember without having to look at anything to remind me about it. The entire list below was composed in about five minutes, then I had to go look through my reviews to make sure they were all really this year. They were, and it was a really good year.

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Magic camps it up with Another Way Home

Nov 17

Magic camps it up with <i>Another Way Home</i>

Director Meredith McDonough's production of Another Way Home, a world-premiere play by Anna Ziegler, at the Magic Theatre, is so sharp, so expertly performed and executed it may take a while to realize that the play itself is a fragment that doesn't amount to much or really even make much sense. There's a play in there I'd like to see, but it's not the one that Ziegler has delivered.

Like John Guare did in Six Degrees of Separation, Ziegler has a well-heeled Manhattan couple address the audience directly as if whatever story they're about to relate has had little effect on them beyond another story from the "anecdote jukebox." They're speaking from the other side of the events that comprise the action of the play, and that distance is a chasm that the drama only occasionally bridges in the play's short, 75-minute running time.

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Magic between a tricky spot and The Other Place

Sep 22

Magic between a tricky spot and <i>The Other Place</i>

There's a slippery quality to Sharr White's The Other Place, the drama opening the Magic Theatre season. The first half of this 80-minute one-act is especially slick as we try to gain our bearings, but White and director Loretta Greco keep tilting the playing field. Just when we think we know what's really going on in the story of a brilliant scientist's life, along comes new information or a trip to the past that reconfigures what we thought we knew.

Memory is a tricky, tricky thing. How accurate or trustworthy are our memories? That's a question that Juliana Smithton should be asking herself, but she's not, because she doesn't know anything's wrong.

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Magic time, or what’s all the Bruja-ha?

Jun 20

Magic time, or what’s all the <i>Bruja</i>-ha?

Sometimes names are facts. Like now – there's magic at the Magic Theatre.

The play is Luis Alfaro's world-premiere Bruja, and it's extraordinarily powerful. Even better, it has one foot very firmly grounded in the real world, and the other somewhere else that's hard to describe, but rather than being some twinkly netherworld, this supernatural zone can be dangerous. And deadly.

Being an adaptation of Euripides' Medea, you know this experience wont' end happily. But what you might not know is that Alfaro, who scored at the Magic two years ago with his award-winning Oedipus el Rey, is going to make you care and he'll freak you out a little, maybe a lot.

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Extraordinary Day dawns at the Magic

Apr 12

Extraordinary <i>Day</i> dawns at the Magic

Linda McLean's Any Given Day, now having its American premiere at the Magic Theatre, is theater for grown-ups. There's nothing fanciful or sensational about. It's basically duet conversations in two acts and less than 90 minutes. But the richness of McLean's language, seemingly so simple yet so precise in defining the characters and their relationships to each other and to the world.

The pain and sadness is palpable in these people, yet so are the passing moments of joy and kindness and good humor. McLean's world is full of the kind of emotional upheaval you only get to see when you spend time with people and see what's really happening with them under their reasonably calm, reasonably functional exterior selves. To catch glimpses of the real turmoil underneath is an astonishing achievement, and that's what McLean and this powerful production manage to accomplish.

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2011 in the rearview mirror: the best of Bay Area stages

Dec 29

2011 in the rearview mirror: the best of Bay Area stages

Let's just get right to it. 2011 was another year full of fantastic local theater (and some nice imports). Somehow, most of our theater companies has managed thus far to weather the bruising economy. May the new year find audiences clamoring for more great theater.

1. How to Write a New Book for the Bible by Bill Cain
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Directed by Kent Nicholson

Only a few days ago I was telling someone about this play – my favorite new play of 2011 and the most moving theatrical experience I've had in a long time – and it happened again. I got choked up. That happens every time I try to describe Cain's deeply beautiful ode to his family and to the spirituality that family creates (or maybe that's vice-versa). Nicholson's production, from the excellent actors to the simple, elegant design, let the play emerge in all its glory.

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