Aurora’s Leni asks: Great artist, Nazi sympathizer or both?

Mar 17

Aurora’s <i>Leni</i> asks: Great artist, Nazi sympathizer or both?

As a dramatic work, Sarah Greenman's Leni about the German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, has to juggle history, artistry and, now, discomfiting parallels to our own time. Was Riefenstahl the right artist at the wrong time? Was her extraordinary talent as a filmmaker overshadowed by Hitler and the Nazi party? Or was she a Nazi sympathizer and, consequently, as the show puts it, "a willing architect of Nazi mythology and, worse, an accomplice to genocide?

There aren't any easy answers in this 85-minute one-act play now at the intimate Harry's UpStage space at the Aurora Theatre Company.

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ACT attempts to solve Stoppard’s Hard Problem

Oct 27

ACT attempts to solve Stoppard’s <i>Hard Problem</i>

All through American Conservatory Theater's production of The Hard Problem you can feel playwright Tom Stoppard making an effort to be accessible. With a play about the very nature of consciousness – the "hard problem" about not just the knowing about what's at our human core but the knowing about the knowing – there's a danger of a) boring a lay audience with intricate lectures on neuroscience or b) becoming so involved in the intellectual pursuits of the play that actual drama. Stoppard slips a little into both camps during his play's one hour and 40 minutes, but it's hard to fault a playwright for being too smart or too passionate about the subject he's exploring.

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Crazy about Guirgis’ Riverside at ACT

Sep 10

Crazy about Guirgis’ <i>Riverside</i> at ACT

There's a crackling vitality on stage the Geary Theater as American Conservatory Theater opens its 49th season with Stephen Adly Guirgis' Between Riverside and Crazy. The play is this year's Pulitzer Prize winner, which doesn't necessarily guarantee it will be an interesting play, but if you've seen any of Guirgis' previous work – produced locally by San Francisco Playhouse and Custom Made Theatre Company – you know that this is a muscular, compassionate and deeply interesting writer.

If Riverside isn't as gritty as some of his other work, it more than makes up for that with its fresh approach to the classic American dream-type play.

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Women rock the Night at Cal Shakes season opener

May 31

Women rock the <i>Night</i> at Cal Shakes season opener

Last year, California Shakespeare Theater offered an off-season touring production of Twelfth Night that featured an all-women cast and made stops in prisons, homeless shelters, senior communities and the like. It was a stripped-down, wonderful production, and apparently its impact was strong enough that outgoing artistic director Jonathan Moscone (he bids adieu in August after he directs The Mystery of Irma Vep) decided to pull the play into the company's 41st season.

With a different director (Christopher Liam Moore), this is a very different Twelfth Night but with two key returning players and one overriding concept.

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

Dec 22

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,...

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Realistic portrait of the abstract artist in SF Playhouse’s Bauer

Mar 23

Realistic portrait of the abstract artist in SF Playhouse’s <i>Bauer</i>

A mysterious chapter in modern art history receives some theatrical exploration in the world premiere of Lauren Gunderson's Bauer at San Francisco Playhouse. If you've never heard of the abstract painter Rudolf Bauer, whom some considered a genius beyond contemporaries like Kandinsky and Klee, that may have something to do with the fact that the Guggenheim Museum in New York, which was built to display his work, kept them instead in the basement out of public view.

That's one of the issues addressed in Bauer, a three-person drama by Gunderson, San Francisco's most prolific and produced playwright.

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