A hitch in the getalong: Looking back at 2014’s best


Reviewing the shows I reviewed this year, I was struck by two things: first, and as usual, there’s an abundance of talented people doing great work at all levels of Bay Area theater; second, this was a lesser year in Bay Area theater. Perhaps the reason for the later has to do with the changes in the Bay Area itself – artists are fleeing outrageous rents, companies are downsizing or disappearing altogether. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that I don’t see as much theater as I used to and to find the really interesting stuff, you have vary the routine and expand the reach a little more.

That said, there was still plenty of terrific theater in 2014. Herewith some thoughts on an assortment of favorites.


1. Lost in A Maze-ment – Just Theater’s A Maze originally appeared in the summer of 2013, and I missed it. Luckily for me (and all audiences), the company brought it back with the help of Shotgun Players. Rob Handel’s play surprises at every turn and resists easy classification. The cast was extraordinary, and coming to the end of the play only made you want to watch it again immediately. Read my review here.

2. Choosing Tribes – Families were the thing at Berkeley Rep last spring. Issues of communication, familial and otherwise, were at the heart of director Jonathan Moscone’s powerful production of Nina Raine’s Tribes. Dramatic, comic, frustrating and completely grounded in real life, this is a play (and a production) that lingers. Read my review here.

3. Tony Kushner’s Intelligent – There’s no one like Tony Kushner, and when he decides to go full on Arthur Miller, it’s worth nothing. Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures at Berkeley Rep was a master class in the art of dialogue and family dynamics. Read my review here.

4. Adopt a Mutt – San Francisco playwright Christopher Chen’s Mutt at Impact Theater (co-produced with Ferocious Lotus Theater Company) was hilarious. Thinking about Patricia Austin’s physical comedy still makes me laugh. Sharp, edgy and consistently funny, this was my favorite new play of the year. Read my review here.

5. Blazing RaisinCalifornia Shakespeare Theater’s 40th anniversary season got off to a powerhouse start with A Raisin in the Sun, which worked surprisingly well outdoors in director Patricia McGregor’s beguiling production. Read my review here.

6. Party on – The UNIVERSES’ Party People was probably the most exciting show of the year … and the most educational. An original musical about the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, this Party, directed by Liesl Tommy, was thrilling, revolutionary, incendiary and a powerful example of what theater can do. Read my review here.

7. Counting the DaysThe Bengsons, husband-and-wife duo Shaun and Abigail Bengson, proved that a rock musical can have heart and great music and intrigue in Hundred Days. This world premiere had some structural problems (goodbye, ghost people), but with a glorious performer like Abigail Bengson on stage, all is forgiven. Pure enjoyment that, with any luck, will return as it continues to evolve. Read my review here.

8. Fire-breathing DragonsJenny Connell Davis’ The Dragon Play at Impact Theatre was a strange and wondrous thing. Director Tracy Ward found nuance and deep wells of feeling in one of Impact’s best-ever productions. Read my review here.

9. Barbra’s basement – Michael Urie was the only actor on stage in Jonathan Tolins’ marvelous play Buyer and Cellar, part of the SHN season, but he was more incisive and entertaining than many a giant ensemble cast. This tale of working in the “shops” in Barbra Streisand’s basement was screamingly funny but with more. Urie was a marvel of charm and versatility. Read my review here.

10. Thoughts on Ideation – It might seem unfair that Bay Area scribe Aaron Loeb’s Ideation should appear on the year’s best list two years in a row, but the play is just that good. Last year, San Francisco Playhouse presented the world premiere of the play in its Sandbox Series. That premiere resulted in awards and a re-staging with the same cast and director on the SF Playhouse mains stage. More brilliant and entertaining than ever, Loeb’s play is an outright gem.


Best hop from screen to stage – The Broadway touring company of Once, which arrived as part of the SHN season, is a superb example of how deft adaptation can further reveal a work of art’s depth and beauty. Rather than just stick the movie on stage (hello, Elf or any number of recent ho-hummers), director John Tiffany and choreographer Steven Hoggett make the cinematic theatrical and bring the audience directly into the heart of the story. Read my review here.

Dramatic duo – The year’s most electric pairing turned out to be Stacy Ross and Jamie Jones in the Aurora Theatre Company production of Gidion’s Knot. Intense barely begins to describe the taut interaction between a parent and a fifth-grade teacher reacting to crisis and death. These two fine actors (under the direction of Jon Tracy were phenomenal. Read my review here.

Bucky’s back – Among the most welcome returns of the year was D.W. Jacobs’ R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe starring original Bucky Ron Campbell. Before, sadly, succumbing to financial hardship, the late San Jose Repertory Theatre brought Bucky back, and everything the man says seems smart and/or funny and/or relevant to our own lives. Read my review here.

Simply Chita! – For sheer pleasure, nothing this year beat the evening spent with octogenarian legend Chita Rivera in Chita: A Legendary Celebration as part of the Bay Area Cabaret season. Chita was a wow in every way. Read my review here.

MVP 1 – Nicholas Pelczar started off the year practically stealing the show in ACT’s Major Barbara as Adolphus “Dolly” Cusins (review here). Later in the year he was the show in Marin Theatre Company’s The Whale (review here). Confined in a fat suit, Pelczar was a marvel of compassion and complication. He also happened to be adorable in Cal Shakes’ Pygmalion and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Pelczar has entered the ranks of the Bay Area’s best.

MVP 2 – Simply put, without Emily Skinner in the lead role, there would have been little reason to see 42nd Street Moon’s production of Do I Hear a Waltz?. Tony nominee Skinner was a revelation as a tightly wound American tourist in Venice. Her voice was spectacular, but her entire performance was even more so. Read my review here.

MVP 3 – Jeffrey Brian Adams deserves some sort of theatrical purple heart medal. His performance as Chuck Baxter in the San Francisco Playhouse production of Promises, Promises is heartfelt, multi-dimensional and entirely likable – in other words, he is everything the production itself is not. In this giant misstep by the usually reliable Playhouse, Adams shone and presented himself as someone to watch from here on out.

No thanks – Not every show can be a winner. Among the shows I could have done without this year: Accidental Death of an Anarchist at Berkeley Rep; Promises, Promises at San Francisco Playhouse; Forbidden Broadway at Feinstein’s at the Nikko; SHN’s I Love Lucy Live on Stage.

Thank you, more please – If these shows didn’t make my best-of list, they came very close: Lasso of Truth at Marin Theatre Company; HIR at Magic Theatre; 42nd Street Moon’s original musical Painting the Clouds with Sunshine; California Shakespeare Theater’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Aurora Theatre Company’s Rapture, Blister, Burn; SHN’s Pippin; Impact Theatre’s Year of the Rooster.

Bucky’s back and better than ever

R Buckminster Fuller 2
Ron Campbell reprises his role as inventor, architect, philosopher and futurist “Bucky” Fuller in D.W. Jacobs’ “R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe” at San Jose Repertory Theatre through Feb. 23. Photo by Kevin Berne

I’ve probably seen D.W. Jacobs’ R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe five times now, and I get something new out of it every time. I saw the one-man show starring the extraordinary Ron Campbell about 14 years ago when it opened in San Francisco at Theatre Artaud. That production ran for over a year, went on tour, then came back about a year later. I thought I might get weary of Bucky and his fascinations, but that was never the case.

Now History/Mystery is back, this time at San Jose Repertory Theatre and the show still has so much to say it’s almost impossible to absorb it all in one sitting. Campbell is just as good if not better, the new production features beefed-up video projections.

I reviewed the show for the San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s a sample. The link to the entire review is below.

It takes a certain kind of genius to make genius entertaining, and that’s what Ron Campbell does in D.W. Jacobs’ “R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe” for nearly 2 1/2

Fuller as played by Campbell is still getting excited over icosahedrons and vector equilibrium and “ephemeralization” (doing more and more with less and less), much the way he did when we first encountered him in this beguiling solo drama 14 years ago in San Francisco. Now the show is at San Jose Repertory Theatre in the heart of Silicon Valley to preach Fuller’s gospel of saving his “Spaceship Earth.”

Read the full review here.

D.W. Jacobs’ R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe continues through Feb. 23 at San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $29-$74. Call 408-367-7255 or visit www.sjrep.com.

Scheie shines in SJ Rep’s poignant Next Fall

Danny Scheie (left) is Adam and Adam Shonkwiler is Luke in San Jose Repertory Theatre’s production of Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts. Below: James Carpenter (left front) is Butch, Scheie (right, kneeling) is Adam, Lindsey Gates (left rear) is Holly and Rachel Harker is Arlene in a tense momentin a hospital waiting room. Photo by Kevin BernePhotos by Kevin Berne

As an actor and director, there is seemingly nothing Danny Scheie cannot do. Over the summer, he dazzled in several drag roles in California Shakespeare Theater’s Lady Windermere’s Fan (read my review here), and now he’s doing a serious about face in the drama Next Fall with San Jose Repertory Theatre.

Geoffrey Nauffts’ play is formulaic to a degree, but it’s a sturdy formula, and Scheie – not to mention the rest of the excellent cast – bring out the best in this play about faith, love and family.

In the aftermath of a traffic accident, friends and family gather in a New York hospital waiting room, and playwright Nauffts flashes back over the last five years to bring us up to speed on who all these people are to each other and to the man in a coma and why there’s so much tension between some of them.

The central couple is Adam (Scheie) and Luke (Adam Shonkwiler). They met at a party on a rooftop where Adam was having a meltdown. A once-aspiring writer, he has spent the last six years selling candles in his friend Holly’s shop, and he realizes he has to make a change in his life. He insists he’s 40, but in deference to his mini-breakdown, he has likely shaved off a decade or so. The caretaker in this mid-life moment is 20something Luke, an adorable cater-watier/actor, who falls for Adam the moment he jokes that his “soul is fat.”


It was the mention of “soul” that likely piqued Luke’s attention. As a practicing Christian and guilt-plagued gay man, Luke has the surety of faith and the darkness of a sinner. He fully believes that when the Rapture comes, he and the other believers will ascend to heaven, while fully 2/3 of the world’s population, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and atheists like Adam, will have seven years to contemplate their fate and make better spiritual choices before being condemned to hell. While this sounds looney-tunes to Adam, for Luke it’s a spiritual and emotional truth, and there’s going to be no convincing either man otherwise.

Therein lies the spiritual conflict at the heart of Next Fall, and Nauffts is never preachy, though he is often funny (perhaps even funnier with Scheie bringing every ounce of his comic genius to Adam’s love of/frustration with Luke).

Another complication is that Luke is not out to his divorced parents, Butch (the masterful James Carpenter) and Arlene (Rachel Harker as sort of a modern spin on Blanche DuBois). There’s a great flashback scene when Butch pays a surprise visit to New York. Luke has tried to hurriedly de-gay the apartment, but Butch, though he uses the Bible as a crutch (according to his ex-wife), is also a smart man. When he finds himself alone drinking tea with Adam, he calls the cups “dainty” and the jig is up, but it isn’t. Butch doesn’t say anything, and by the time he and Adam see one another again, Butch can’t even remember where they met. Lots of denial happening there.

Also in that hospital waiting room are friends Holly (Lindsey Gates), a spiritual seeker who meditates, does yoga and still can’t quite find anything to replace the comfort of her Catholic upbringing, and Brandon (Ryan Tasker), a successful businessman and fundamentalist Christian friend of Luke’s who disapproves of Luke and Adam’s relationship because, though sex is sometimes necessary, love between men is not, nor is it acceptable.

Scheie and Shonkwiler make a fascinating couple with a believable bond between them in spite of all the complications. Scheie is the emotional heart of the play, and the ease with which he inhabits Adam’s quirks, manias and passions is extraordinary.

As the nearly 2 1/2-hour play winds down, Scheie and Carpenter really pull out the emotional stops (without overdoing it) and make Next Fall the moving experience it aims to be, even though Nauffts nearly topples his ending by co-opting Thornton Wilder’s Our Town to underscore the brevity of life and the mostly unconscious way we live it.

Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall continues through Nov. 10 at San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $29-$74 (subject to change). Call 408-367-7255 or visit www.sjrep.org.

2011 in the rearview mirror: the best of Bay Area stages


Let’s just get right to it. 2011 was another year full of fantastic local theater (and some nice imports). Somehow, most of our theater companies has managed thus far to weather the bruising economy. May the new year find audiences clamoring for more great theater. (Click on the play titles to see my original reviews.)

1. How to Write a New Book for the Bible by Bill Cain
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Directed by Kent Nicholson

Only a few days ago I was telling someone about this play – my favorite new play of 2011 and the most moving theatrical experience I’ve had in a long time – and it happened again. I got choked up. That happens every time I try to describe Cain’s deeply beautiful ode to his family and to the spirituality that family creates (or maybe that’s vice-versa). Nicholson’s production, from the excellent actors to the simple, elegant design, let the play emerge in all its glory.

2. Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris
American Conservatory Theater

Directed by Jonathan Moscone

Because I interviewed Norris for the San Francisco Chronicle, I wasn’t allowed, at the playwright’s request, to review the production. Well, to heck with you Mr. Pulitzer Prize-winning Norris. This was a genius production. A great play (with some wobbly bits in the second act) that found a humane director and a cast that dipped into the darkness and sadness under the laughs (Rene Augesen in particular). How do we talk about race in this country? We don’t. We just get uncomfortable with it. This is drama that positively crackles – you can’t take your eyes off the stage and find there are moments when you’re actually holding your breath.

3. Bellwether by Steve Yockey
Marin Theatre Company
Directed by Ryan Rilette

Horror is hard in a theater, but Yockey came close to scaring the pants off his audience in this chilling, utterly compelling world-premiere drama about children disappearing from a suburban neighborhood. And the paranormal aspects weren’t even the scariest things – it was the humans being disgustingly human to each other in times of stress that really worked the nerves.

4. The Lily’s Revenge by Taylor Mac
Magic Theatre
Directed by Meredith McDonough, Marissa Wolf, Erika Chong Shuch, Erin Gilley, Jessica Holt and Jessica Heidt

The sheer scope, ambition and feel-good communal aspect of this massive undertaking makes it one of the year’s most disarming experiences. The charms of Mac, who also starred as Lily, cannot be underestimated. Kudos to the Magic for staging what amounted to the best theatrical open house in many a season.

5. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
California Shakespeare Theater
Directed by Shana Cooper

I debated which Cal Shakes show I should include on this – it was down to Moscone’s Candida, which featured a luminous Julie Ecclesin the title role. But I opted for this high-octane production of a really difficult play. Leads Erica Sullivan and Slate Holmgren brought not only humor to this thorny comedy but also a depth of emotion I hadn’t ever experienced with this play. Director Cooper worked wonders with this Shrew, making it feel new and relevant.

6.The Companion Piece by Beth Wilmurt
Z Space @ Theatre Artaud
Directed by Mark Jackson

The combination of Wilmurt and Jackson is irresistible (Shameless plug! Read my San Francisco Chronicle interview with Jackson and Wilmurt here). Always has been and probably will be as long as they want to keep creating theater together. This vaudevillian spin featured laughs and songs and the most exquisite dance involving wheeled staircases you can imagine. That dance was easily one of the most beautiful things on a Bay Area stage this year.

7. Exit, Pursued by a Bear by Lauren Gunderson
Crowded Fire Theater Company
Directed by Desdemona Chiang

Fresh and funny, Gunderson’s spitfire of a play introduced us to a playwright we need to be hearing from on a regular basis.

8. Phaedra by Adam Bock
Shotgun Players
Directed by Rose Riordan

Every time Bock comes back to the Bay Area he shows us yet another facet of his extraordinary talent. This spin on a classic allowed Shotgun to wow us with an eye-popping set and a central performance by Catherine Castellanos that echoed for months afterward.

9.Lady Grey (in ever lower light) by Will Eno
Cutting Ball Theatre
Directed by Rob Melrose

I can’t get enough Will Eno. Whether he’s the Brecht of our generation or an absurdist spin on Thornton Wilder, I find him completely original and funny in ways that are heartbreaking. This trilogy of plays from Cutting Ball was uber-theatrical and highly enjoyable. As was Eno’s brilliant Middletown, which I saw at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company directed by Les Waters (Berkeley Rep’s soon-to-be-former associate artistic director who’s heading to Kentucky to head the Actors Theatre of Louisville).

10. Strike Up the Band by George S. Kaufman (book) and George and Ira Gershwin (score)
42nd Street Moon
Directed by Zack Thomas Wilde

42nd Street Moon shows have delighted me for years, but I can’t remember having this much fun at the Eureka in a long, long time. The laughs were big and genuine, and the score was sublime. The whole package was so appealing it’s a shame the production couldn’t move to another venue and keep the band marching on.


The Wild Bride by Emma Rice and Kneehigh
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Directed by Emma Rice

This extraordinary show would have been at the top of my Top 10 list had it originated in this region or even in this country first. But as it’s a British import by a genius theater company, it can be content to live in the honorable mention category. The really good news is that Berkeley Rep has extended the show through Jan. 22. Start your new year right and go see this amazing piece of theater.

Of Dice and Men by Cameron McNary
Impact Theatre
Directed by Melissa Hillman

Nerds are people, too. This sharp, savvy and very funny show takes a very specific world – Dungeons and Dragons gamers – and makes it instantly recognizable because it’s so very human.

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Mark Jackson

The physicality of this production is what lingers in memory, specifically Alexander Crowther’s transformation into a spider-like creature crawling over the wonderfully askew set. Director Jackson does wondrous things with actors and stages.

Spring Awakening by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik
San Jose Repertory Theatre

Directed by Rick Lombardo

This is not an easy musical to pull off, not only because the original Broadway production was so fresh and distinct. It’s tricky material performed by young material who have to act and rock convincingly. Lombardo’s production didn’t erase memories of the original, but it staked its own claim, and the young cast was bursting with talent.

A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee
Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Tom Ross

Being so close to Albee’s drama in the intimate Aurora proved to be an electrifying experience as we began to feel the tension, the fear and the barely concealed sneers of the upper middle class. Kimberly King’s central performance was wondrous.


Nicest unscripted moment: Hugh Jackman ripping his pants and changing into new ones in full view of the audience on opening night of Hugh Jackman in Performance at the Curran Theatre. He’s a boxer brief guy. And a true showman.

Biggest disappointment: Kevin Spacey hamming it up so uncontrollably in the Bridge Project’s fitfully interesting Richard III. Spacey is a fascinating stage presence, but he’s so predictably Kevin Spacey. His Richard III offered no surprises and, sadly, no depth. If Richard was really the kind of guy who would do Groucho Marx impressions, he probably wouldn’t be the Richard III Shakespeare wrote.

Second biggest disappointment: ACT’s Tales of the City musical. Upon reflection, it just seems all wrong. Good idea to turn Armistead Maupin’s books into a musical. But the creative team was simply too reverent, too outside the time and place.

A mighty Spring awakens at San Jose Rep

Spring 1

Jason Hite is Melchior Gabor in the stunning production of Spring Awakening at San Jose Repertory Theatre, with direction by Rick Lombardo and choreography by Sonya Tayeh. Below: Hite is surrounded by Miguel Cervantes as Moritz and Eryn Murman as Wendla. Photos courtesy of San Jose Repertory Theatre

The original production of Spring Awakening, the musical based on the 1891 play by Frank Wedekind, was so vivid, so powerful and so widely seen throughout the Bay Area, it’s rather astonishing that San Jose Repertory Theatre has the cheek to produce the show’s first regional production. Ah, but what cheek. Director Rick Lombardo, also San Jose Rep’s artistic director, choreographer Sonya Tayeh (a guest judge and choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance) and musical director Dolores Duran-Cefalu have done such original work that they make the show their own.

They haven’t reinvented it exactly, but they eschew a major component of Broadway director Michael Mayer’s production – the kids here don’t whip out microphones for every number – and Tayeh’s choreography, while muscular and energetic like Bill T. Jones’ original, is much more emotional and evocative.

For fans of Spring Awakening, and I definitely count myself a fan, this production is a revelation if only because it allows you to see the show afresh and fall in love with it all over again. The fact is that Wedekind wrote a provocative play about society’s dangerous repression of teenage minds and bodies. Then composer Duncan Sheik and book writer/lyricist Steven Sater wrote an equally provocative and ultimately more astonishing musical adaptation of it. This is a beautifully written show, and as the play now begins to make its way through theaters large and small around the country, it will be fascinating to see how it filters through a wide variety of theater artists.

Spring 2

In San Jose, Lombardo and his team delivers a production that pulses with youthful energy and talent. The impressive cast boasts young professionals as well as students from nearby San Jose State (part of a new partnership between the two organizations), and they all attack the challenging material with gusto.

The cast is headed by Jason Hite as Melchior, the teen heartthrob of the provincial German town where the story is set. Hite, so brilliant in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Girlfriend two seasons ago, imbues Melchior with the necessary arrogance and intelligence but also finds deep wells of passion and emotion in the character. His scenes with Eryn Murman (a swing in the original Broadway production) as Wendla – most notably the famous switch scene followed by the hayloft seduction – are charged with innocence and sensuality. As the resident heartthrob, Hite’s Melchior brandishes an acoustic guitar in several numbers (looking not unlike a young Elvis) and rocks his way through a rabid “Totally Fucked” and a tender “Those You’ve Known.”

As Mortiz, Melchior’s shaky best friend, Miguel Cervantes (from the cast of American Idiot) displays a powerful voice on “And Then There Were None” and duets memorably with Zarah Mahler as Ilse on “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind.” Because he’s the anti-hero, Moritz plays an electric guitar (a very nice touch).

Representing all the (mostly oafish) adults are Cindy Goldfield and Todd Alan Johnson, both of whom seem relish the comedy of the horribly snotty teachers. Goldfield is especially funny/touching as Wendla’s mother, who cannot bring herself to have “the talk” with her curious teenage daughter.

Duran-Cefalu’s seven-piece onstage band plays expertly, switching effectively from tender, string-laced ballads to raging rockers. The one real drawback to this excellent production is the sound design, which renders everything with a muffled tone, obscuring some lyrics and other musical details and dampening some of the show’s energy.

John Iacovelli’s effective set is essentially a large hall – a gymnasium perhaps? – with chairs and a large table that is used to represent a schoolroom, a coffin and a hayloft, among other things. The most active piece of the set is lighting and media designer David Lee Cuthbert’s projections through the large windows that ring the top of the set. From the opening number, “Mama Who Bore Me,” the projections are busy with fine art images of mother and child. It’s too much projection too soon and distracts from Murman’s performance of the song.

Throughout the play’s 2 1/2 hours, the projections are either gorgeous or too much. There are moments when the video is perfectly integrated, as when a father wonders what his son is doing making all that noise in his room. A giant keyhole appears on screen, and then a giant eyeball peeking through. Other times, the projections compete too much with the performers, especially when they’re executing Tayeh’s dynamic, beautifully detailed choreography, which really deserves our undivided attention.

In the end, San Jose Rep’s Spring Awakening captures the show’s humor, its passion and its bursting need to express beauty and pain in equal measure.


Spring Awakening continues through Sept. 25 at San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $12.50-$79. Call 408-367-7255 or visit www.sjrep.com.

`Summer Blockbusters’ at San Jose Rep

Many theater companies take a break during the summer months and send audiences into the great outdoors for some Shakespeare or Mime Troupe action.

But San Jose Repertory Theatre is launching what it calls a “Summer Blockbuster Series.”

The two-show series opens July 7 with Forbidden Broadway — 25th Anniversary Tour. Gerard Allessandrini’s legendary revue that lampoons Broadway includes spoofs of Avenue Q, Wicked, Mamma Mia, La Cage aux Folles and many more. The show runs July 7 through 12.

Next in the series is another legendary show, Chicago’s The Second City, which runs July 14-19. Founded in 1959 Second City has been a training ground for a who’s who of American comedy. The roster of alumni includes Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Joan Rivers, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, John Belushi, Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Tickets are $40-$60 and shows are at San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Call 408-367-7236 or visit www.sjrep.com for information.

Carrie Fisher strikes back, `Spelling Bee’ extends

We already knew that Carrie Fisher’s autobiographical solo show, Wishful Drinking, was headed to Broadway. What we didn’t know was that Fisher will be Drinking at Berkeley Repertory Theatre before heading for New York.

Wishful Drinking, a humorous re-telling of Fisher’s celebrity upbringing as the spawn of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher as well her life as a space princess and acclaimed novelist and bipolar human, runs July 9-23 at Berkeley Rep in association with Jonathan Reinis, Jamie Cesa and Eva Price. Tickets go on sale May 24.

Visit www.berkeleyrep.org or call 510-647-2949 for information.

Can you spell H-I-T?

San Jose Repertory Theatre’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has found the correct answer: produce a charming musical with a charming cast and crowds will come. The show has been extended through June 14.

The cast includes Molly Bell, Marc de la Cruz, Alison Ewing, Mark Ferrell, Clifton Guterman, James Monroe Igelhart, Steve Irish, Dani Marcus and Sophie Oda. Timothy Near, former SJ Rep artistic director, is in the director’s chair.

“We are delighted by the overwhelming public response to this production that has prompted us to extend its run,” said new artistic director Rick Lombardo in a statement.  “Coming on the heels of the extended run of The Kite Runner, it’s clear the Rep has some incredible momentum right now, and that our community is responding very positively to the work on our stage this season.  I’ve also been especially pleased to see so many young people attending the Bee and having a great theatre experience, and this extension will allow even more families and young people to share this experience.”

For information visit www.sjrep.com or call 408-367-7236.



Delighted by `Ruined,’ Nottage nabs Pulitzer

Lynn Nottage
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. Photo by the LA Times

Lynn Nottage’s play Ruined, inspired by Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

The play, about a Congolese brothel run by a woman named Mama Nadi, is about a country torn apart by civil war and about a woman who is either protecting women or profiting from them. The play began at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre last year and is now off Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York.

The 44-year-old Nottage told the Associated Press: “I wanted to tell the story of these women and the war in the Congo and I couldn’t find anything about them in the newspapers or in the library, so I felt I had to get on a plane and go to Africa and find the story myself. I felt there was a complete absence in the media of their narrative. It’s very different now, but when I went in 2004 that was definitely the case.”

Nottage’s best known work, Intimate Apparel, had a successful run in the Bay Area with a 2005 production from Mountain View’s TheatreWorks. That same year, San Francisco’s Lorraine Hansberry Theatre produced Nottage’s Crumbs from the Table of Joy.

Less successful was a 2002 production of Nottage’s Las Meninas at San Jose Repertory Theatre.

Nottage holds degrees from Brown University and the Yale School of Drama. She also is an alumna of New Dramatists. She is currently a visiting lecturer at the Yale School of Drama and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, filmmaker Tony Gerber, and daughter Ruby.

The Pulitzer finalists were:
Becky Shaw by Gina Gionfriddo, a jarring comedy that examines family and romantic relationships with a lacerating wit while eschewing easy answers and pat resolutions.
In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes, a robust musical about struggling Latino immigrants in New York City today that celebrates the virtues of sacrifice, family solidarity and gritty optimism.

And this year’s jury comprised Dominic Papatola, theater critic, St. Paul Pioneer Press (chair); John M. Clum, chair, department of theater studies, Duke University; Jim Hebert, theater critic, San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune; David Henry Hwang, playwright, Brooklyn, NY; and Linda Winer, theater critic, Newsday.

Visit www.pulitzer.org for a complete list of this year’s winners.

Here’s Nottage doing a radio show on the topic of Ruined, with Saidah Arrika Ekulona, who plays Mama Nadi:

San Jose Rep announces new artistic director

San Jose Repertory Theatre announced today that Rick Lombardo of Boston’s New Repertory Theatre will be the company’s next artistic director, succeeding the Rep’s long-time director, Timothy Near.

According to a press release, the six-month nationwide search landed on Lombardo for “his combination of artistic excellence, programming savvy and leadership abilities.”

“In Rick Lombardo we have found a proven leader who will complement the current team and help take San Jose Rep to an exciting new level in the community as well as on stage,” said Stan Anders, chair of the search committee and incoming board president. “We look forward to his energy and insight as we launch a new era for the theatre.”

For ten of his twelve years as artistic director at the New Repertory Theatre (NRT), Lombardo oversaw all artistic and administrative operations and presided over a quadrupling of the theatre’s budget, a successful capital campaign, a doubling of attendance from 2002-to 2007 and a 500 percent increase in contributed revenue. An award-winning director, Lombardo produced four world premieres at NRT and directed a wide range of plays including Ragtime, Sweeney Todd, King Lear, A Streetcar Named Desire, Waiting for Godot, Tartuffe, The Scarlet Letter and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Lombardo also was artistic director of The Players Guild in Canton, Ohio and was founding artistic director of the Stillwaters Theatre Company off-Broadway in New York. A National Merit Scholar and graduate of Georgetown, he received his MFA in directing from Boston University School for the Arts. He has taught at Fordham University and Farleigh Dickinson University. He has a strong commitment to diversity and developing education and outreach programs such as the successful “New Rep on Tour,” a school touring program funded by the NEA.

“I am honored to be named the next Artistic Director of San Jose Rep and to continue the high artistic tradition the Rep has established under the leadership of Timothy Near,” said Lombardo. “My work has always been to find the plays, stories and voices that have a powerful and lasting impact on an audience, and to use these plays as a way to begin a real engagement between community and artists around the important questions and ideas of our times. I’m very excited to begin planning my first season for Silicon Valley, and I’ll be spending as much time as I can at the Rep this fall to get the feel for my new home.”

Lombardo will begin the transition into his new position in the fall of 2008.

For information about the San Jose Rep season, visit www.sjrep.com

Carrie Fisher hits the road

The force is most certainly with her.

Carrie Fisher, fresh from her hit Berkeley Repertory Theatre show Wishful Drinking, a one-woman autobiographical play, is taking the show on the road. And no wonder: in 9 1/2 weeks, the show took in $1.3 million.

Producer Jonathan Reinis is sending Wishful across the country. The first stop isn’t so far away, just down south a little at San Jose Repertory Theatre in July 23-Aug. 2. The next stop is across the country at the Arena Stage at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C. Sept. 5-28.

The rest of the tour is sort of a regional theater hopscotch: Lensic Theatre in Santa Fe, N.M. (June 18-22); Hartford Stage in Connecticut (Aug. 6-17); and Huntington Theatre Company in Boston (Oct. 14-26).

Wishful Drinking, a delightful evening of Fisher sipping Coke Zeros and telling tales from her Hollywood life, is directed by Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone, who recently has been specializing in solo shows. He directed Sarah Jones’ Bridge and Tunnel all the way to Broadway and a special Tony Award.

No one would be at all surprised to see Fisher end up on the Great White Way. In other good Fisher news, word is she’s adapting her most recent wonderful novel, The Best Awful (sort of a sequel to Postcards from the Edge) for HBO.

Since leaving Theatre on the Square (now the Post Street Theatre) in San Francisco, the Berkeley-based Reinis has been a busy man. He’s also touring Jane Anderson’s The Quality of Life starring JoBeth Williams and Laurie Metcalf. That tour opens in October at American Conservatory Theater.

Could this be the future of touring theater — bypassing the commercial stage and taking advantage of the regional theaters’ nonprofit status and subscription audiences?