Looking at the stars: Cal Shakes fans flames of Wilde’s Winderemere

Aug 18

Looking at the stars: Cal Shakes fans flames of Wilde’s <i>Winderemere</i>

If you want, as Oscar Wilde did, to make cogent and funny points about men and women, husbands and wives and the notion of good people vs. bad people, what better way to do that than by putting Danny Scheie in a dress and letting him unleash his inner Dame Maggie Smith?

Scheie's performance as the Duchess of Berwick in the California Shakespeare Theater's production Lady Windermere's Fan, Wilde's first major theatrical it, is one of many pleasures in director Christopher Liam Moore's beguiling production.

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Magic reaches a dark, rhythmic Terminus

May 31

Magic reaches a dark, rhythmic <i>Terminus</i>

Safe to say you're not going to see anything like Mark O'Rowe's Terminus, the aptly named conclusion to Magic Theatre's 46th season. If you saw O'Rowe's last show at the Magic, the extraordinary Howie the Rookie 13 years ago, you'll know to expect vivid, visceral language delivered in monologues. That seems to be O'Rowe's specialty, along with depicting the rougher edges of Dublin with a strange sort of compassion and a gift for elemental storytelling that grabs hold and won't let go.

While Howie operated in a familiar street thug/crime world setting, Terminus is something altogether different. Like one of his three characters in the play, O'Rowe pushes himself out on a precarious limb and leaps. There's a distinct criminal element here as well, along with descriptions of violence that are somehow more vivid and horrific than if we were actually seeing them, but there's also a supernatural, even spiritual, aspect to the play that is remarkably moving.

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2012 flasback: 10 to remember

Dec 21

2012 flasback: 10 to remember

One of the things I love about Bay Area theater is that picking a Top 10 list is usually a breeze. My surefire test of a great show is one I can remember without having to look at anything to remind me about it. The entire list below was composed in about five minutes, then I had to go look through my reviews to make sure they were all really this year. They were, and it was a really good year.

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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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