Marin offers a real beauty of a Queen

May 29

Marin offers a real beauty of a <i>Queen</i>

Watching Joy Carlin work her magic Mag Folan in Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane is the epitome of theatrical delight. Here you have one of the great Bay Area actors offering a sly, darkly humorous, even compassionate portrayal of a woman who could easily be described as a nightmare. Carlin, like the character she's playing, appears to be a lovely older woman. But perhaps unlike Carlin, Mag is something of a sociopath. And that's a trait she's passed along to the youngest of her three daughters, Maureen, played with sinewy gusto by Beth Wilmurt.

That mother-daughter relationship is the crux of Beauty Queen, and the source of its humor, its drama and its horror. Director Mark Jackson's production for Marin Theatre Company etches that relationship with realism and a savory dash of melodrama.

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Magic’s Se Llama Cristina or What’s in a name?

Jan 31

Magic’s <i>Se Llama Cristina</i> or What’s in a name?

There are moments when Octavio Solis' darkly poetic writing leaves me breathless. Take this passage from his world-premiere play Se Llama Cristina as two lovers are driving down a lonely highway. The driver looks at his sleeping passenger and says: "And your head is leanin' against the window and the passing cars light up your face like a Hollywood starlet. Famous, then not. Famous, then not."

Truth be told, there are also moments when Solis' writing leaves me befuddled, and that happens, too, in Se Llama Cristina. But confusion and mystery is part of the foundation – albeit rocky a rocky one – on which this intriguing drama is built.

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Aurora scores a smackdown with Chad Deity

Aug 31

Aurora scores a smackdown with <i>Chad Deity</i>

In professional wrestling, we're told, you can't kick a guy's ass without the help of the guy whose ass you're kicking. Talk about a democracy! Perhaps there's more to learn from the gaudy world of professional wrestling than we thought.

Playwright Kristoffer Diaz, a self-confessed fan of the fake-out body slams and outsize characters of the pro-wrestling world, seems to think there's an allegorical relationship between that world and the United States, especially when it comes to racism and the exploitation of labor in the name of almighty capitalism. His play The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity opens the Aurora Theatre Company's 21st season.

There's certainly truth in advertising with this play – it's incredibly elaborate, and director Jon Tracy's production is enormous.

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Be-handle with care: lost in Spokane

May 20

Be-handle with care: lost in <i>Spokane</i>

What did Spokane, Washington ever do to Martin McDonagh? The London-born, Ireland-identified playwright famously wrote six plays, including The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of Inishmaan, in a year and then moved on to film. His short film, Six Shooter, won an Oscar, and he was nominated again for his screenplay to In Bruges (which he also directed).

Then the fiercely talented McDonagh returned to the stage with his first play set in America. A Behanding in Spokane, which ran on Broadway in 2010, is clearly a McDonagh play, what with the desperation, the black comedy and the flying body parts. But this is minor McDonagh, and, in fact, Behanding is a pretty lousy play.

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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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Tiny but terrifying: Go ask Alice

Jun 08

Tiny but terrifying: Go ask <i>Alice</i>

The legend of Tiny Alice looms large. Edward Albee’s notorious 1964 follow-up to his monster Broadway smash Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf baffled critics and continued to cause kerfuffles for years to come (especially when William Ball, in the early days of American Conservatory Theater played fast and loose with the script).

This is not one of Albee’s frequently produced scripts, and after seeing Marin Theatre Company’s riveting production, it’s easy to see why. This play is a monster. It’s not like Albee hasn’t created monsters before (he loves to rile the beasts in many ways), but this one is especially weighty.

But this is a challenging play to say the least. Act 1 is familiar territory as Albee introduces his players, his zest for zingers and a juicy central mystery. In Act 2, the ground begins to wobble, and by Act 3, the ground has given way altogether. The monster, perhaps literally speaking, is loose.

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