Take it on faith: see Marin’s Whipping Man

Apr 03

Take it on faith: see Marin’s <i>Whipping Man</i>

If Matthew Lopez were a miner, he could brag that he uncovered a rich mineral vein of enormous wealth, both cultural and commercial. But Lopez isn't a miner. He's a playwright, and though there are similarities to be sure, what Lopez brings to the surface in his fascinating play The Whipping Man is a mostly untold chapter of American history with deep spiritual resonance.

Lopez, whom Bay Area audiences met earlier this year when his play Somewhere ran at TheatreWorks, is a young playwright of note. The Whipping Man is the play that first brought him notice, and it receives its Bay Area premiere courtesy of Marin Theatre Company and co-producer Virginia Stage Company and in association with San Francisco's Lorraine Hansberry Theatre.

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Cal Shakes ends season with a moody Hamlet

Sep 23

Cal Shakes ends season with a moody <i>Hamlet</i>

On exactly the kind of temperate night for which they invented outdoor theater, California Shakespeare Theater opened the final show of the summer season. Hamlet, directed by Liesl Tommy (best known for her direction of Ruined at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in spring of last year) clocks in at about 3 hours and 10 minutes, and there are some glorious things in it. But on the whole, this Hamlet left me curiously unmoved.

But first here's what's good. Leroy McClain as Hamlet delivers a fascinating performance, pouring his heart and mind into the torrent of words that continuously pours out of the moody Dane's mouth. You don't have much of a Hamlet if you're not riveted by the title character, and McClain certainly puts on a good show.

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Othello: not a fan but a grudging admirer

Apr 06

<i>Othello</i>: not a fan but a grudging admirer

When faced with the prospect of seeing another production of Othello, I usually gird my loins, wipe my nose with a strawberry-embroidered hanky and settle in for a show I know I'm not going to like much. As a theater critic, I suppose I'm not supposed to have a bias for or against certain plays, but that's really nonsensical when you think about it, especially plays you've seen over and over and over again. I've been doing the theatrical criticism thing for almost 20 years now, and I've seen Desdemona choked (and choked and choked again) a number of times, in good productions and bad. And I've never really been moved by the play. Certain performances made an impact, but more on an intellectual than emotional level.

Perhaps I should have skipped the latest Othello at Marin Theatre Company, but the prospect of seeing two actors I admire greatly, Aldo Billingslea and Craig Marker as Othello and Iago respectively, was too much to resist. I have to say I'm glad I saw the production because these two formidable local talents do not disappoint.

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TheatreWorks’ Pitmen paints poignant arts ed picture

Jan 29

TheatreWorks’ <i>Pitmen</i> paints poignant arts ed picture

Seeing some of the Bay Area's best actors collected on one stage is a pleasure in and of itself. But Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters has other things to recommend it like its unapologetic championing of the arts as an essential part of being a fully formed human being.

Bringing this true story to life are James Carpenter, Dan Hiatt, Jackson Davis, Nicholas Pelczar and, in perhaps the most revealing performance, Patrick Jones. They're all wonderful actors, and to see them interacting and playing off of one another is worth the ticket price alone.

I reviewed the production for the Palo Alto Weekly.

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Marin reveals crystaline Glass Menagerie

Nov 30

Marin reveals crystaline <i>Glass Menagerie</i>

Tennessee Williams' first brilliant move was to let everyone off the hook – himself included. By alerting the audience that The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, he removes it from reality (or not) and lets the creative team and the audience make their own accommodations as to what is memory, what is fact and what is flight of artistic fancy. In other words, you can try to get away with just about anything because it's all a memory, right?

Marin Theatre Company's production of Menagerie doesn't stray too far from tradition, but director Jasson Minadakis definitely puts his own spin on the 1944 classic and gets some marvelous performances from his cast.

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Cal Shakes’ Shrew anything but tame

Sep 25

Cal Shakes’ <i>Shrew</i> anything but tame

If you think you've seen The Taming of the Shrew, you might want to think again. Director Shana Cooper's production – the season-closer for the California Shakespeare Theater – is fresh, feisty and full of insight. Many a Shrew can make you cringe, but very few, like this one, can actually make you lose yourself in the comedy, the provocation and the genuine emotion underneath it all.

Cooper brings a sense of contemporary flash and fun to the production, from the bright yellow accents in Scott Dougan's double-decker set (backed by a colorful billboard-like ad for a product called "Tame") to the zippy song mash-ups in the sound design by Jake Rodriguez. The music is especially fun. You can hear strains of Madonna's "Material Girl" followed by a flash of the "Wonder Woman" theme song one minute and revel in almost an entire number ("Tom, Dick or Harry") from Kiss Me Kate, the next.

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