Hébert’s moving Tree explores family’s tangled roots

Jan 26

Hébert’s moving <i>Tree</i> explores family’s tangled roots

I reviewed Julie Hébert's drama Tree at the San Francisco Playhouse for the San Francisco Chronicle. Here's a sample: "Director Jon Tracy’s powerful and poignant production feels grounded in reality of the siblings and their fraught, fractious attempts at a relationship, but in the realm of the parents, there’s a lyrical quality filled with love and sadness that elevates the play from kitchen-sink drama to something more."

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Sir Noël’s been Lansburied. Lucky Sir Noël.

Jan 22

Sir Noël’s been Lansburied. Lucky Sir Noël.

Is anyone in the theater world more spirited than Angela Lansbury? She has been giving great performances on stages and screens of various sizes for 70 years. She has every right to rest on her laurels and be adored as the legend she is. But not right now. She has work to do.

At 89 (you'd never know it by watching her on stage), Lansbury is taking a victory lap, a final North American tour in Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit. She is playing oddball spiritualist Madame Arcati in director Michael Blakemore's production (part of the SHN season). It's a role that earned her a fifth Tony Award in 2009. To be clear, this is as sturdy a production of Coward's 1941 comedy as you're likely to see, performed with wit, sophistication and, perhaps surprisingly, heart. The cast is excellent, the design just right and the sound (in the cavernous Golden Gate Theatre) startlingly clear. But you come to this production first and foremost for Lansbury, and she is every bit the warm and wonderful genius you want her to be.

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Wilder’s genius shines in Shotgun’s Our Town

Jan 04

Wilder’s genius shines in Shotgun’s <i>Our Town</i>

When it comes to the rituals of the New Year – making and abandoning resolutions, vowing to live more fully and with intention, trying not to let time slip away so quickly by living more fully in the present – the most powerful thing you could do for yourself is head over to the Ashby Stage in Berkeley and see Shotgun Players' excellent production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town.

This 1938 masterpiece has long been my favorite American play, and aside from its structural genius, its Expressionistic (and still unmatched) theatricality balanced with genuine emotion, Our Town is the self-help book embedded in our nation's consciousness. I've seen the play dozens of times in straightforward productions (like Shotgun's) and over-produced and over-thought re-imaginings, in musical and film versions, in schools and on the professional stage, and every time I come away with something new. More than any other, I feel Our Town in other works when they succeed in connecting audience to play or when they tap into simple truths that need constant reiteration about what the hell we're even doing on this planet.

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Threats of totalitarianism have never been so fun

Dec 08

Threats of totalitarianism have never been so fun

Our sorry political state may be sending the country down the toilet, but it sure is inspiring some grand entertainment. Veep and House of Cards offer two distinct points of view on the absurdity of Beltway power mongering. Lauren Gunderson's The Taming was a comic highlight of last year's local theater scene (review here) in its exploration of political game playing.

Now we have Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's The Totalitarians, a Z Space production in association with Encore Theatre Company and the National New Play Network.

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A Kinky kick in the pants

Dec 04

A <i>Kinky</i> kick in the pants

Kinky Boots is the kind of musical comedy that leaves no unpleasant aftertaste. There's no guilt in enjoying its pleasures, and though it's not exactly an emotional feast, neither is it empty calories. This is a well-crafted, tuneful show whose only aim is to entertain and uplift. It succeeds on both counts.

A huge hit on Broadway, where it racked up six Tony Awards and is well into its second year, Kinky Boots is based on the 2005 film of the same name, one of those distinctly British underdog feel-good movies they do so well over there. Harvey Fierstein, adapted the movie, Cyndi Lauper made her Broadway composing debut with the score, and Jerry Mitchell (last seen in these parts with the Broadway-bound Legally Blondereview here) directs and choreographs in his typically efficient, ebullient manner.

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Kathleen Turner kicks ass in Red Hot Patriot

Nov 26

Kathleen Turner kicks ass in <i>Red Hot Patriot</i>

The moral of the story seems to be: if you're going to kick some political ass, make sure you're wearing red cowboy boots – and it helps to have a brain, a fire in your belly (fueled, no doubt, by some hooch) and a sense of humor fueled by a larger-than-average intellect.

It seems Molly Ivins had all of the above, at least the Molly we meet in Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins now on stage at Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Roda Theatre. Ostensibly a one-woman play about Texas' leading red-haired liberal crusader with a typewriter, the play stars Kathleen Turner as Ivins

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