Crowded Fire’s Edith hits the target

Mar 03

Crowded Fire’s <i>Edith</i> hits the target

Think of A. Rey Pamatmat's Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them as sort of a '90s "Peanuts" strip come to life. Sixteen-year-old Kenny is like Charlie Brown. Twelve-year-old Edith is Kenny's younger sister, so that makes her Sally (and so does her sass). And Kenny's classmate Benji is Linus (with a little Schroeder mixed in). There's even a giant stuffed frog named Fergie that could be considered Snoopy-esque. Only in this comic strip, Charlie and Sally Brown have essentially been abandoned by their parents to fend for themselves on a farm, and Charlie Brown and Linus are in love.

The "Peanuts" comparison is apt here if only to convey the tone of Edith, which has mature actors playing tweens and teens. There's a very grown-up feel to this tale, and that's partly because Kenny and Edith are being forced to grow up much faster than normal.

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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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Sir Noël’s been Lansburied. Lucky Sir Noël.

Jan 22

Sir Noël’s been Lansburied. Lucky Sir Noël.

Is anyone in the theater world more spirited than Angela Lansbury? She has been giving great performances on stages and screens of various sizes for 70 years. She has every right to rest on her laurels and be adored as the legend she is. But not right now. She has work to do.

At 89 (you'd never know it by watching her on stage), Lansbury is taking a victory lap, a final North American tour in Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit. She is playing oddball spiritualist Madame Arcati in director Michael Blakemore's production (part of the SHN season). It's a role that earned her a fifth Tony Award in 2009. To be clear, this is as sturdy a production of Coward's 1941 comedy as you're likely to see, performed with wit, sophistication and, perhaps surprisingly, heart. The cast is excellent, the design just right and the sound (in the cavernous Golden Gate Theatre) startlingly clear. But you come to this production first and foremost for Lansbury, and she is every bit the warm and wonderful genius you want her to be.

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