Joy, power of stories in Cal Shakes black odyssey

Aug 13

Joy, power of stories in Cal Shakes <i>black odyssey</i>

Just when it seems the news can't get any worse, it gets worse. This weekend in Virginia we saw some of the worst of humanity, with terror, death, hatred and ignorance all on full display. At such times, it can be hard not to give in to that helpless, hopeless feeling of things ever getting better, of our species ever giving over to our better natures rather than constantly reveling our worst.

Then there's art. In a quirk of timing for which I will be forever grateful, California Shakespeare Theater opened a new production Saturday night at the Bruns Amphitheater amid the full chilly summer glory of the Orinda Hills. It wasn't just any production, but one so suited to our troubled times that it seems we should find some way to broadcast it nationally over and over.

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Sad, hopeful elegy in Shotgun’s brownsville song

Jun 23

Sad, hopeful elegy in Shotgun’s <i>brownsville song</i>

Playwright Kimber Lee's brownsville song (b-side for tray) offers a poignant reminder that our grim news feeds are built of lives, not just of victims and perpetrators and garbage politicians but also of the lives connected to those lives and the ripples that overlap with ripples that overlap with ripples.

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Wonderful women in Word for Word’s Aunt Hagar

Nov 20

Wonderful women in Word for Word’s <i>Aunt Hagar</i>

What you remember from Word for Word's production of All Aunt Hagar's Children, a full theatrical adaptation of the short story by Edward P. Jones, are the women. Such women. They make an impression on the audience the way they make an impression the story's narrator, a nameless young man who returned to his native Washington, D.C., nine months ago after serving in the Korean War.

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Racism, history and drama in SF Playhouse’s plush Velvet

May 25

Racism, history and drama in SF Playhouse’s plush <i>Velvet</i>

In its West Coast premiere production at San Francisco Playhouse, Red Velvet provides a plum starring role for the great Carl Lumbly, who tackles the role of Ira Aldridge with depth and gravity. This is a serious actor playing a serious actor whose concern is more for getting the role right than playing into the bile being spewed in his general direction for daring to be a black man playing a black man in the ultra-white world of the theater.

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Trekking gently through O’Neill’s nostalgic Wilderness

Oct 22

Trekking gently through O’Neill’s nostalgic <i>Wilderness</i>

Can we agree that Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! is warm and wonderful...and weird? The sepia-tinted 1933 play is a rare light work from tragedian O'Neill, though its fantasy elements – the family O'Neill wished he had growing up rather than the more nightmarish version he depicted in Long Day's Journey Into Night – lend it a rather sad underpinning.

It's almost as if O'Neill strayed into Kaufman and Hart territory long enough to write the four-act play about...

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Women rock the Night at Cal Shakes season opener

May 31

Women rock the <i>Night</i> at Cal Shakes season opener

Last year, California Shakespeare Theater offered an off-season touring production of Twelfth Night that featured an all-women cast and made stops in prisons, homeless shelters, senior communities and the like. It was a stripped-down, wonderful production, and apparently its impact was strong enough that outgoing artistic director Jonathan Moscone (he bids adieu in August after he directs The Mystery of Irma Vep) decided to pull the play into the company's 41st season.

With a different director (Christopher Liam Moore), this is a very different Twelfth Night but with two key returning players and one overriding concept.

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