Grief, puppets collide in TheatreWorks’ great Pretender

Jul 13

Grief, puppets collide in TheatreWorks’ great <i>Pretender</i>

You don't often think of puppets and drama together, but playwright David West Read makes a strong case for the combination in the world premiere of his The Great Pretender, the first show of TheatreWorks' 45th season.

Original, funny and genuinely moving, Pretender is set in a very specific world – a "Captain Kangaroo"-like children's television program with a mild-mannered host interacting with spunky puppets – and discovers universal strains of grief, comfort and emotional evolution.

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Sondheim marries love & lyrics in melodic TheatreWorks revue

Jun 09

Sondheim marries love & lyrics in melodic TheatreWorks revue

Even Stephen Sondheim's cast-offs are sturdy enough to carry a show on their own. At least that's the case with Marry Me a Little, a 1980 revue created by Craig Lucas and Norman René. The show collects odds and ends from Sondheim's career, including songs cut from some of his big shows (Follies seems to have lost an extraordinary number of good songs), written for one-off projects or salvaged from flops.

The resulting show, using only songs and no dialogue, tells the story of two lonely neighbors on a Saturday night. The original location was New York, but the new TheatreWorks production directed by Sondheim-o-phile Robert Kelley moves the action to San Francisco and takes every opportunity to have its attractive actors shed clothing. In other words, it's aiming to be young, hip and sexy, and by and large, that tact succeeds.

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Bouncy Island breezes blow at TheatreWorks

Mar 12

Bouncy <i>Island</i> breezes blow at TheatreWorks

Last Saturday I reviewed the TheatreWorks production of Once on This Island, the charming musical fairy tale by the Ragtime/Rocky team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. My review ran in the San Francisco Chronicle, and you can read it here.

Director Robert Kelley's production captures much of the show's charm and energy, and the cast is delightful. But I've been thinking about...

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Starry, starry night: Gunderson lights up Sky at TheatreWorks

Jan 19

Starry, starry night: Gunderson lights up <i>Sky</i> at TheatreWorks

Mind-expanding science and heart-expanding characters are the stock in trade of San Francisco playwright Lauren Gunderson, whose not-so-stealthy takeover of the Bay Area theater scene couldn't be more welcome. Her staggering smarts are matched by her delectable sense of humor, so any new work with her name attached to it is reason for celebration.

Gunderson's latest Bay Area production comes from TheatreWorks: Silent Sky, a bright, poignant drama...

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2013: The year’s best Bay Area theater

Dec 23

2013: The year’s best Bay Area theater

If you’re looking for the year’s best, you can shorten your search by heading directly to Word for Word, that ever-amazing group that turns short works of fiction into some of the most captivating theater we see around here. This year, we were graced with two outstanding Word for Word productions. You Know When the Men Are Gone – Word for...

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TheatreWorks’ shining Desert Cities

Aug 30

TheatreWorks’ shining <i>Desert Cities</i>

I sort of fell in love with Jon Robin Baitz more than 20 years when I saw his The Substance of Fire at the Magic Theatre. He was an astoundingly intelligent playwright crafting dramas that felt of another time and from a writer well beyond his years.

Baitz has continued to turn out compelling dramas over the decades, but it was his stint in Hollywood that seemed to really recharge his theatrical battery. After a not-so-great experience in the world of network television, Baitz wrote what might be his best play yet, Other Desert Cities, which receives its local premiere from TheatreWorks.

I reviewed the play for the Palo Alto Weekly, an excerpt of which follows.

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