Grief, puppets collide in TheatreWorks’ great Pretender

Jul 13

Grief, puppets collide in TheatreWorks’ great <i>Pretender</i>

You don't often think of puppets and drama together, but playwright David West Read makes a strong case for the combination in the world premiere of his The Great Pretender, the first show of TheatreWorks' 45th season.

Original, funny and genuinely moving, Pretender is set in a very specific world – a "Captain Kangaroo"-like children's television program with a mild-mannered host interacting with spunky puppets – and discovers universal strains of grief, comfort and emotional evolution.

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Double good, double fun in Cal Shakes’ Comedy

Jun 29

Double good, double fun in Cal Shakes’ <i>Comedy</i>

A visiting stranger makes a keen observation: "Your town is troubled with unruly boys." The trouble is, he ends up being one of the unruly boys, and that's the fun of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, a masterfully chaotic comedy now at California Shakespeare Theater's Bruns Amphitheater.

As farces go, this Comedy requires us to believe that two sets of not-so-bright twins with the same names – the upper-class set is called Antipholus, the slave set is called Dromio – cause confusion, consternation and furious frustration when roaming the streets of Ephesus of the same day. Once over that hump (and Shakespeare makes it pretty easy), the farce clicks along like a finely tuned laugh machine until brothers are reunited, a father's search is fulfilled and a courtesan gets her diamond ring back.

Director Aaron Posner strikes the right tone from the start...

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Mamet with heart (and humor) at Aurora

Jun 21

Mamet with heart (and humor) at Aurora

Berkeley's Aurora Theatre Company concludes its season with David Mamet's American Buffalo, an early (1975) Mamet play that has all the telltale Mamet qualities (staccato dialogue sprayed in four-letter directions, life among conmen and criminals, pointed criticism of the "great American way," etc.), but unlike some of the later, more intentionally provocative and disturbing work, this one has a core of compassion and human connection.

Part of that is Mamet's play and part of it is director Barbara Damashek's production headed by two Bay Area greats: James Carpenter and Paul Vincent O'Connor. Watching them spar is theatrical bliss.

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ACT’s epic Orphan dusts off ancient tale

Jun 12

ACT’s epic <i>Orphan</i> dusts off ancient tale

American Conservatory Theater concludes its season with The Orphan of Zhao an epic tale of revenge that some scholars think stretches back to the fourth century BCE. It's a tale as old as time, and the first act of this 2 1/2-hour show feels like a millennia itself. But once the revenge gears really start grinding, there's an interesting story here. I reviewed the production for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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MTC’s Failure blends death, music and whimsy

Jun 11

MTC’s <i>Failure</i> blends death, music and whimsy

Philip Dawkins writes about the inevitable ending of all our stories in Failure: A Love Story, but his version of death is pretty darn upbeat. His beguiling play, now having its West Coast premiere at Marin Theatre Company

, is technically a "play with music," but there's a LOT of music, and it's charmingly played and sung by the five-person cast. I reviewed the play for the San Francisco Chronicle:

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Hansberry’s Sun blazes brightly in Cal Shakes opener

Jun 07

Hansberry’s <i>Sun</i> blazes brightly in Cal Shakes opener

If you can't make it to Broadway to see the latest star-studded version of Lorraine Hansberry's classic American drama A Raisin in the Sun, you'll probably do just as well to head out to Orinda and catch California Shakespeare Theater's season-opening production.

Director Patricia McGregor's production offers a superb cast and makes a case for Hansberry's play to be in the pantheon of American dream plays alongside Miller, Williams and O'Neill.

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