Thornton, a Wilder and crazy (wonderful) guy

Nov 09

Thornton, a <i>Wilder</i> and crazy (wonderful) guy

Of the four short Thornton Wilder plays that comprise Aurora Theatre Company's Wilder Times, one is grating, one is darkly funny, one is poignant and one is so brilliant, so moving it almost erases the memory of the other three.

To begin with, these four one-acts were not written to be performed together, but director Barbara Oliver and her Aurora crew saw links between the first two, "Infancy" and "Childhood," written in 1962, and "The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden" and "The Long Christmas Dinner," both written in 1931. Together, they form a sort of piquant portrait of human lives, beginning to end, with special attention given to family dynamics. It's interesting that the plays more concerned with death and time were written first, and the plays dealing with our most formative years were written 30 years later.

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God of Carnage or Why the end of the world is A-OK

May 29

<i>God of Carnage</i> or Why the end of the world is A-OK

Watching four people try to practice "the art of coexistence," as the playwright puts it, is entertaining but ultimately depressing in Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage at Marin Theatre Company. One of the hottest plays in recent memory, Carnage is the perfect storm of contemporary drama. It has one set, four actors and that perfect blend of satirically repulsive comedy and apparent moral heft. Oh, and it has impressive vomit special effects and that most satisfying of dramatic dénouements, the destruction of a mobile phone.

What it doesn't have – not even in this brilliantly produced MTC version – is a satisfying reason for being.

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Extraordinary Day dawns at the Magic

Apr 12

Extraordinary <i>Day</i> dawns at the Magic

Linda McLean's Any Given Day, now having its American premiere at the Magic Theatre, is theater for grown-ups. There's nothing fanciful or sensational about. It's basically duet conversations in two acts and less than 90 minutes. But the richness of McLean's language, seemingly so simple yet so precise in defining the characters and their relationships to each other and to the world.

The pain and sadness is palpable in these people, yet so are the passing moments of joy and kindness and good humor. McLean's world is full of the kind of emotional upheaval you only get to see when you spend time with people and see what's really happening with them under their reasonably calm, reasonably functional exterior selves. To catch glimpses of the real turmoil underneath is an astonishing achievement, and that's what McLean and this powerful production manage to accomplish.

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TheatreWorks designs with Sense and Sensibility

Aug 25

TheatreWorks designs with <i>Sense</i> and <i>Sensibility</i>

In today's San Francisco Chronicle, I talk with TheatreWorks Artistic Director Robert Kelley, set designer Joe Ragey and costume designer Fumiko Bielefeldt about their work on bringing Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility to the stage.

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Titus serves up revenge, blood rare and steaming hot

Jun 09

<i>Titus</i> serves up revenge, blood rare and steaming hot

Director Joel Sass has such a strong, infectious sense of storytelling that he even makes Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, proclaimed to be the Bard’s bloodiest play, enjoyable.

It’s not that the play, which has a single issue on its gory mind – the futility and waste of revenge – isn’t interesting. It’s compelling and hideous at the same time.

But what Sass does for the California Shakespeare Theater’s season-opening production of Titus – the first in Cal Shakes’ 37-year history – is heighten the theatricality of the tale, elevate it to grand and glorious storytelling rather than an endlessly horrific parade of one bloody special effect after another.

This is a muscular production of a tough play, mean in spirit and humor. If Shakespeare’s goal is to illuminate the way ego-driven revenge turns life into a cesspit for everyone involved, he certainly succeeds.

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Musical Coraline is creepy, kooky, altogether ooky

Nov 21

Musical <i>Coraline</i> is creepy, kooky, altogether ooky

A door presents itself. You enter. Suddenly you're immersed in a warped version of reality.

That's what happens to 9-year-old Coraline ,the heroine of Neil Gaiman's novel of the same name when she unlocks a door in her creaky new house. And that's what happens to audiences that venture into Coraline the musical by David Greenspan (book) and Stephin Merritt (music and lyrics) now at SF Playhouse.

This looks like a children's musical, but there's a twist. Things are pretty creepy in this twisted world. And it sort of sounds like a musical, though this is about as far away from Rodgers and Hammerstein as you can get and still be in a theater.

SF Playhouse's Coraline looks just right. The black-and-white set (by director Bill English and Matt Vuolo) looks like a storybook haunted house, and when Coraline slips through that locked door and enters an alternate reality, Michael Osch's lights kick into blacklight gear, with fluorescent colors cracking the darkness. The same is true of Valera Coble's costumes – shades of black, white and gray give way to crispy fluorescents once Coraline encounters the mirror-image "others" on the other side of the door. Oh, and the others also come equipped with button eyes – a truly creepy feature.

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