Megan Trout is Viola de Lesseps and Adam Magill is Will Shakespeare in the Marin Theatre Company production of Shakespeare in Love, a stage adaptation of the 1998 movie. Photo by Kevin Berne
The most produced play of the 2017-18 season, according to American Theatre magazine, is Shakespeare in Love, the stage adaptation (by Lee Hall) of the 1998 movie of the same name that is now (in)famous for being one of the first “success” stories of Harvey Weinstein’s battering ram-style Oscar campaigns. The movie picked up abundant awards, including best picture and best screenplay for Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman. Then it took more than a decade and a half to find its way to the stage, and the results are disappointing. This should have been a musical, but apparently they couldn’t bear to cut any of the Stoppardian dialogue, so they just went the way of play with lots of music.
The Bay Area finally gets to see the show thanks to Marin Theatre Company, and while the cast boasts some of the Bay Area’s best actors – Stacy Ross, Lance Gardner, Megan Trout, Mark Anderson Phillips, L. Peter Callender – the production flails under the direction of Jasson Minadakis.
With an Oscar-winning screenplay by preeminent playwright Tom Stoppard (with Marc Norman), it seems only natural that a stage adaptation would eventually appear. What is surprising is that the play adaptation feels like it had aspirations to be a musical, with adapter Lee Hall (Billy Elliott) wrestling it into a lumpy play with lots of music and retaining only some of the charm of the movie.
Director Jasson Minadakis goes for a stripped-down theater vibe with Shakespeare in Love at the Marin Theatre Company, with 13 actors playing around 30 roles and having them provide all of the musical accompaniment for Paddy Cunneen’s overactive score. That makes for a frenetic two-plus hours that offer only intermittent pleasures.
Psychology student Hilary (Brenda Meaney, second from right) celebrates being published with colleagues from the prestigious Krohl Institute for Brain Science in the West Coast premiere of Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem. Below: Spike (Dan Clegg) and Hilary (Meaney) meet up at a conference in Venice, Italy. Photos by Kevin Berne
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.
This production marks the 17th Stoppard play produced at ACT in the last 50 years and the 10th directed by Artistic Director Carey Perloff. It’s Stoppard’s first new play in a decade, and as mildly entertaining as the play is, it feels like minor Stoppard – a lot of interesting ideas presented in an attractive package without a terribly compelling story or characters. This theatrical exploration of the nature of consciousness (and its relationship to altruism and the world’s financial markets) comes at a pop-culture moment when a television show, HBO’s “Westworld,” is exploring similar territory in a completely different (and more satisfyingly dramatic) way. Stoppard gives us neuroscientists, psychologists and hedge fund brokers debating about the nature of the mind and what guides us as human beings, while HBO gives us a theme park inhabited by lifelike robots on the verge of sentience. These robots are programmed to deliver humanlike responses, complete with a certain amount of randomness thrown in to make it highly realistic, but they’re machines incapable of actual original thought and feeling (or are they?).
Stoppard’s appealing main character is Hilary (Brenda Meaney), a psychologist whose mind is capable of considering elements beyond the scientific in her quest to understand the difference between the brain the mind, between evolutionary purpose and spiritual revelation. She dares to bring the concept of God into scientific discourse, and the scientists around her balk as if she had proposed chakra alignment as a cure for cancer.
It seems the people around Hilary exist to provide breadcrumbs on her trail toward enlightenment of some kind. The spiky boyfriend Spike (the ever-amiable Dan Clegg, who is supposed to read a decade older than Hilary but doesn’t) and the brash brain scientist Amal (Vandit Bhatt) challenge and provoke (and occasionally demean) her, the colleagues (Narea Kang as Bo and Anthony Fusco as Leo) who fall in love with her and the big money bags who funds the brain institute where she works (the pitch-perfect Mike Ryan as Jerry, who seems to be in a different, more engaging play) leads her to the rather corny heart of the play where we consider the notion of coincidence vs. miracle. There’s also a lovely couple – scientist Ursula (Stacy Ross) and Pilates instructor Julia (Safiya Fredericks) – who seem to be hanging around for no apparent reason other than to employ two wonderful actors who don’t get nearly enough to do.
Stoppard has a lot of thoughts to share about the mysterious center of our humanity, but he does so in scenes that are ostensibly about something else – competing for a slot at the Krohl Institute, trying to get laid, having a disastrous dinner party (why must brainiacs fail so miserably at the domestic arts?), trysting in Venice – and that keeps the play on a relatable, human scale. Perloff’s production keeps to a brisk pace (too brisk in some scenes where it’s hard to pick up on everything being said), with the coolly efficient sliding panels of Andrew Boyce’s set shifting the action from laboratories to apartments to backyards to pilates classes, all with the aid of a rear projection screen that is mostly filled with clouds (as in “head in the…”).
There’s not a whole lot of drama here other than the publication of an article with dubious scientific merits and a deep dark secret that isn’t much of either. There’s a strange alpha-male confrontation between hedge fund gazillionaire Jerry and Amal that feels like it’s a different, more vital play suddenly encroaching on this rather stately one, and the sexual chemistry between Spike and Hilary never really registers, even when Spike cavorts around in Hilary’s micro-mini negligee.
There are bursts of humor (this is Stoppard after all), and some of the brainy brain stuff is thought provoking, but The Hard Problem ends up being more problematic than engaging.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem> continues through Nov. 13 in an American Conservatory Theater production at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25-$125 (subject to change). Call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.
Julia Coffey (left) is Lady Croom, Nick Gabriel (center) is Captain Brice and Nicholas Pelczar is Ezra Chater in ACT’s production of Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, directed by Carey Perloff. Below: Ken Ruta (left) is butler Jellaby and Jack Cutmore-Scott is tutor Septimus Hodge. Photos by Kevin Berne.
The ideas are as big as the heart in Tom Stoppard’s glorious Arcadia, a play that seems only to get better with time.
When American Conservatory Theater Artistic Director Carey Perloff first directed the play in 1995 at the Stage Door Theatre, the production and the play came off beautifully and with more warmth than the chilly 1995 production at New York’s Lincoln Center. But now that Perloff has revived the play at the Geary Theater, it’s like switching from an cozy, old-fashioned living room TV to high-def, widescreen wonder.
The curtain comes up on a goergeous, glass-domed room at Sidley Park, a lush Derbyshire country estate (the set is by Douglas W. Schmidt and the sumptuous lighting is by Robert Wierzel). The room is sparsely furnished – a table, some chairs, a book stand – but the large windows and the trees painted on the walls give the perfect impression of opulence amid nature and the attempt to turn nature into another form of opulent art.
In Stoppard’s carefully constructed world, this room holds two time periods. The first is the early 19th century and the other is present day. We get a period piece and a contemporary comedy/drama, and by the end of this nearly three-hour experience, the two have fused into one of the most satisfying, inspiring, poignant endings in 20th-century drama.
Among Stoppard’s great qualities, and it’s something Perloff’s production accentuates, is that he has the power to make his audience feel smart. And fully immersed/involved in his world. Arcadia is intellectual in the extreme – some of its funniest moments come from skewering ego-inflated academic types and the rich mixture of math, science, history and art can be dizzying. But Stoppard never lets the brainy stuff overtake the play. He explains just enough to keep the threads of the storyline taut, and without dumbing down anything, he engages us in complex scientific thought by comparing certain theories to jam being stirred in pudding or a cup of hot tea (and, it turns out, everything in the universe) coming to room temperature all by itself.
Because Perloff and her wonderful cast are so in control of Stoppard’s world, the intellectual side of the play just makes its more human and comic aspects all the more alive and exciting. In the early 1800s, a 13-year-old girl named Thomasina Coverly (the remarkable Rebekah Brockman) proves more knowledgeable than her tutor (the Hugh Grant-charming Jack Cutmore-Scott) in the realm of abstract, forward-thinking science, but she depends on him to clue her in to the ways of the world (their discussion of “carnal embrace” is an early indication of the play’s humor and the depths of character that drive it). They are the center of the story around which buffoonish poets (Nichols Pleczar is a silly but sympathetic would-be Byron named Ezra Chater) and self-serving academics (Robert Parsons as Bernard Nightingale, admirably filling the shoes of Andy Murray, who has left the production, and Gretchen Egolf as Hannah Jarvis) jostle for recognition and wrestle with history, adultery and the compelling notion that everything we think we’ve lost will eventually come around again in one form or another.
Perloff’s direction is so assured, so clear-eyed and compassionate – even the most ridiculous people on stage are treated with affection – that the show flies by. But scene after scene unfolds its riches without feeling rushed or slighted in any way. The performances, from Ken Ruta as Jellaby, the somewhat baffled butler, to Julia Coffey’s sexy, funny turn as the domineering lady of the house, all crackle as if the actors were relishing every discovery they’re making in Stoppard’s multilayered script.
Arcadia is a play that feels inspired from beginning to end, and ACT’s revival make a persuasive case that this is Stoppard’s masterpiece, truly a play for the ages.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
American Conservatory Theater’s production of Arcadia by Tom Stoppard continues an extended run through June 16 at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$95. Call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.
Theatergoing in the San Francisco Bay Area is one of life’s treats. No question about it. If you love theater, this is a wonderland. In this devastating economic climate, may that only hold true for the next couple of years.
There is so much good theater here, so many incredible actors, writers, directors and crafts people that an annual Top 10 is often difficult to wrangle. That’s why the Top 10 is followed by a list of other shows that should, by all rights, also be included in the Top 10, but numbers being the chronological beasts that they are, dictate on show per number (still, I cheated with No. 6 and included two shows by one playwright).
1. TheatreWorks’ Caroline, or Change by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori – My favorite show of the year peeled yet another layer of this incredible musical to reveal a work of sheer genius. Director Robert Kelly and his extraordinary leading lady, C. Kelly Wright, offered some of their best work ever, and that’s saying something.
2. California Shakespeare Theater’s Pericles – Adapted and directed by Joel Sass, this incredibly colorful telling of one of Shakespeare’s oddest tales was entrancing and memorable, especially on a warm summer night in the gorgeous Bruns Amphitheatre in Ordina.
3. Campo Santo and Intersection for the Arts’ Angry Black White Boy adapted by Dan Wolf from Adam Mansbach’s novel – The year’s most exciting new work was a bold act of contemporary theatricality, blending hip-hop, spoken word, drama and movement into a seamless blend directed by Sean San Jose. Good news for anyone who missed it – the show returns to Intersection Jan. 29-Feb. 15.
4. SF Playhouse’s Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party by Aaron Loeb – We had to wait all year for a world-premiere play that entertained as much as it titillated and thrilled. Funny, serious and wacky, this Chris Smith-directed musing on a divided America proved to be as smart as it is imaginative.
5. Traveling Jewish Theater and Thick Description’s Dead Mother, Or Shirley Not All in Vain by David Greenspan — Weird and wild barely begins to describe this play about a gay son who essentially becomes his dead mother. Outstanding, memory-searing performances came from Liam Vincent and Deb Fink in Tony Kelly’s production.
6. SF Playhouse’s Shining City and Marin Theatre Company’s The Seafarer, both by Conor McPherson – Ireland’s top-tier playwright received two outstanding productions by local theaters, each demonstrated his compassionate (and slightly warped) humanity.
7. Shotgun Players and Banana, Bag & Bodice’s Beowulf – This rock musical take on one of college lit’s greatest hits was one of the year’s most delightful surprises. Composer Dave Malloy and writer Jason Craig breathed new life into an Old English classic. This one comes back for one performance only, Jan. 8, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, before heading out to conquer New York.
8. Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s TRAGEDY: a tragedy by Will Eno – Audiences were sharply divided over this existential dark night of the soul as filtered through a TV news team. I loved its Beckettian aridness and humor, and Les Waters’ production was anchored by an outstanding cast.
9. Magic Theatre’s Octopus by Steve Yockey – Water poured and unease flowed in director by Kate Warner’s splashy production of a challenging, unnerving play in which death and disease ooze into every nook and cranny.
10. American Conservatory Theater’s Rock ‘n’ Roll by Tom Stoppard – ACT often does its best work with Stoppard, and this was on exception. Director Carey Perloff revealed the rich rewards of this dense, emotional work.
And now a few other greats in no particular order: Theatre Rhinoceros’ Ishi: The Last of the Yahi by John Fisher; Cal Shakes’ An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde; Magic Theatre’s Evie’s Waltz by Carter W. Lewis; SF Playhouse’s Bug by Tracy Letts; Word for Word’s Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin; Aurora Theatre Company’s The Busy World Is Hushed by Keith Bunin; ACT’s The Quality of Life by Jane Anderson; Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s The Arabian Nightsby Mary Zimmerman; Aurora Theatre Company’s The Best Man by Gore Vidal.
It was quite a year for excellent solo shows as well. Here are some highlights: Nilaja Sun’s No Child… at Berkeley Rep; Colman Domingo’s A Boy and His Soul at Thick Description; Roger Rees’ What You Willat ACT; Ann Randolph’s Squeeze Box at The Marsh; Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking at Berkeley Rep; Judy Gold’s 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother at the Marines Memorial Theatre; Billy Connolly live at the Post Street Theatre; Mark Nadler’s Russian on the Side at the Marines.
And, it has to be said, not everything is genius. Here are shows that lingered less than fondly in memory: Darren Romeo’s The Voice of Magic at the Post Street Theatre; Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector at ACT; Cybill Shepherd in Bobby Goldman’s Curvy Widow at the Post Street Theatre; Edna O’Brien’s Tir na nOg (Land of Youth) at the Magic Theatre.
Rene Augesen is Esme and Manoel Felciano is Jan in a scene set at Prague’s John Lennon wall in the American Conservatory Theater production of Rock ‘n’ Roll by Tom Stoppard. Photos by Kevin Berne
ACT gives Stoppard’s heavy `Rock’ a mighty roll «««1/2
Rock ‘n’ Roll has a beat – a heartbeat.
Tom Stoppard’s play, the season –opener for San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, bears all the playwright’s hallmarks: weighty intellect, deep sense of history, dry wit, thick dramaturgy. But all of that is less important here than the powerful emotions coursing through the characters’ complicated lives – the emotions and the words.
This is Stoppard’s most autobiographical play. Like his protagonist, Jan, Stoppard is Czechoslovakian by birth and spent an important chunk of his childhood in England. This duality gives Stoppard, and Jan, a dual perspective, not to mention another language, through which to view the crumbling of Communism.
Perhaps Stoppard’s intimate relationship with the history involved here combined with his passion for rock music help the play wage a battle between the heart and the intellect that lets the heart ultimately rule.
Director Carey Perloff, who usually does her best work with Stoppard, doesn’t disappoint. Her production has focus and momentum, and her cast navigates well the tricky balance between the ideology and the humanity.
This is a play that dramatizes Czech politics, from “Prague Spring” in 1968 to the post-Communist world of perestroika in the late ’80s. Unless you’re a historian, you likely don’t know a whole lot about this place or this period beyond what you remember from watching (or reading) “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”
And while Stoppard requires his audience to be on its collective toes and pay close attention, the genius of the play is that underneath all the heated discussions about this regime, that petition, these arrests or the pros and cons of socialism, Stoppard allows life and emotions to propel the play.
This notion is embodied in – what else? – rock ‘n’ roll music. Jan (Manoel Felciano) is a rock devotee. When the Czech police want to destroy his spirit they know exactly what to smash: his LP collection full of the Doors, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd’sSyd Barrett (a central, ethereal figure in the play).
Jake Rodriguez’s sound design is like a character in the play – the music is passion, connection and, in its way, revolution. The Czech rock band Plastic People of the Universe (who are, coincidentally, playing Slim’s on Oct. 9) figure prominently in the play as comrades of Jan’s whom he admires musically and politically – he even ends up in jail with them after one of their subversive events (a wedding if I heard correctly).
A Rolling Stones concert becomes a testament to a changed world, and Barrett’s “Golden Hair” (itself based on a James Joyce poem) becomes a family’s musical touchstone.
Felciano (above right with Anthony Fusco as a Czech interrogator) as Jan carries much of the play’s emotional weight and does so beautifully. He ages more than 20 years in a believable, low-key way that takes him from the optimism of youth powered by a mighty mind to the realities of a police state and prison to a more subdued middle age where people matter more than politics.
ACT core company member Rene Augesen has one unforgettable scene in Act 1 as Eleanor, a cancer-ridden Cambridge professor giving Sappho tutorials on her back porch. Decimated by not defeated by her illness delivers a ferocious diatribe against words over meaning. She has just watched her student (Delia MacDougall as Lenka) flirt shamelessly with her Communist husband, Max (Jack Willis), during the lesson.
The word at issue is “mind.” Her husband has highbrow definitions of what the mind is – he says it’s a machine that could be made of beer cans — and she’ll have none of it: “Don’t you dare reclaim that word now,” she says. “I don’t want your `mind’ which you can make out of beer cans. Don’t bring it to my funeral. I want your grieving soul or nothing. I do not want your amazing biological machine – I want what you love me with.”
Augesen is extraordinary – not relying on any of the usual tricks we’ve come to see in her work over the years (those come in Act 2 when she plays Eleanor’s daughter, Esme) – she’s so real and vital and frail you almost feel the need to comfort her.
Words and truth are important and elusive in Rock ‘n’ Roll. How can so many words, so many shifting words, ever arrive at the truth?
Discussing words, Jan tells Max: “A thousand years of knowing who you are gives a people confidence in its judgment. Words mean what they have always meant. With us, words change meaning to make the theory fit the practice.”
The fascinating, compelling blend of words and music – intellect and spirit – fuels the play and makes it stand apart from Stoppard’s oeuvre. It’s a lifetime of experience in a complex, heartbreaking, spirit-crushing world that comes to no easy answer beyond giving yourself over to music you love.
That this trajectory comes through so clearly is a testament to the play itself and to Perloff’s handsome production. Douglas W. Schmidt’s set inspires a feeling of vertigo. Inspired by a photograph by Agata Jablonska, the set conveys a sense of standing amid dense buildings and looking up to the sky – oppression and release.
Aside from some accent issues (they come, they go), the cast is strong. Willis has fire but seems miscast as Max, the Cambridge professor for whom arguing is like breathing. But that’s the only major misstep, and strong supporting turns come from Jud Williford as Jan’s compatriot, Ferdinand, and Summer Serafin as Alice, an ‘80s teen with a restless mind and a big heart.
At nearly three hours, Rock ‘n’ Roll is overwhelming in the best sense. We’re pulled into a world – our world – and made to care. More importantly we’re made to listen. And think. And care.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Rock ‘n’ Roll continues an extended run through Oct. 18 at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$82. Call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.
Manoel Felciano stars in the ACT production of Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. Photo by Ashley Forette Photography
Manoel Felciano, a San Francisco native, had to play Broadway before he could make his hometown professional stage debut.
He’s starring in American Conservatory Theater’s season-opening production of the Tom Stoppard drama Rock ‘n’ Roll, now in previews, opens Wednesday, Sept. 17 and continues through Oct. 18.
And he says the role of Jan, a sort of stand-in for Stoppard himself, is a good fit.
“Jan is something of a nerd, an intellectual,” Felciano says. “He’s a huge rock fan, and he became politically activated later in life. That’s me as well. Politically, the last seven years have been a galvanizing force.”
Through the upheaval of the play, which documents Prague’s revolution in the ’60s and continues into the ’90s, rock music provides a sort of connective tissue between the emotions and the politics.
“In some ways, “Felciano says, “music is a political action in itself. The act of playing a record loud where it is forbidden, is a subversive act. I love that, and it’s part of what makes doing this play here in San Francisco so perfect. This is where some of the music on the soundtrack came from.”
Felciano, known as Mano to his friends, was born 30-some years ago to a Portuguese father and a Swiss mother. He started playing the violin at 5 but later added bass and guitar to his repertoire because “the violin is no way to get girls.” While attending the bilingual French-American International School here in San Francisco, Felciano was tapped for a small role in San Francisco Opera’s Carmen because he could speak French.
“I was 10 years old, and backstage, I had the gall –or was it lack of superego? – to go up to Placido Domingo and in Spanish tell him that he sang Spanish very well.”
That was the last time Felciano was on a professional stage in his hometown. After graduating from Yale and beginning a life on Wall Street, Felciano got sucked into the world of musical theater when he was cast by Hal Prince in the ill-fated Washington, D.C. production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind.
From there, he landed swing and understudy parts in Cabaret and Jesus Christ Superstar, among others. While in Superstar, and after he fell off the stage and into the orchestra pit, injuring his hand, Felciano decided maybe it was time for a little formal acting training.
Grad school paid off handsomely with the plum role of Tobias in John Doyle’s acclaimed 2005 production of Sweeney Todd in which the actors also played all the instruments (Felciano played violin, keyboard and clarinet). The gig scored Felciano a Tony nomination for best supporting actor.
Now he’s back on familiar territory – at least geographically. Other than doing a scene from Stoppard’s The Real Thing in grad school, this is his first Stoppard play and first time working with director Carey Perloff.
To connect with his character Jan’s love of rock, he need look no further than his own love of rock, which began when his dad played him a Beatles song. Felciano was about 10 and immediately headed to Recycled Records, the neighborhood record store on Haight Street, where he bought “Introducing the Beatles.”
Felciano ended up working at Recycled for a number of years, and on a recent visit to the vinyl specialty shop, he recognized the same turntable he used to spin as an employee.
With his own vinyl collection now numbering in the hundreds, Felciano says his prize LP is the Beatles’ “Yesterday and Today” album with the “butcher cover,” the photo of the boys amid decapitated babies and meat that was almost immediately recalled.
During rehearsals, the cast has been listening to the music Stoppard mentions in the play, everything from the Beach Boys to Guns N Roses, with detours into the seminal Czech rock group, The Plastic People of the Universe.
Talking about music, Felciano grows fevered.
“Music, especially the way it’s used in this play, is everything it’s supposed to be: irrational, sexual, visceral, personal, hypnotic. It makes you want to move, scream, fuck, dance, break things. Music is such a primal force. It’s seductive.”
Stoppard is one of the most complex playwrights working, and his blend of intellect, passion, politics, world history and human drama is deep and rich. It also means a whole lot for the actors to work through.
“I trust what Stoppard has written will carry me,” Felciano says. “It’s like with Shakespeare or a Sondheim lyric, it’s all there in the words. The historical, cultural and political context is important, but what really matters is the character’s need and what the conflict is. Audiences instinctively get that.”
After Rock ‘n’ Roll, Felciano will hang around San Francisco a little longer before heading home to New York. He’s appearing in the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s Zipperz on Nov. 14, which features music by his childhood friend Nathaniel Stookey and a libretto by one of his former French-American International School teachers, Dan Harder. (Visit http://www.oebs.org/page/nov.htm for information)
ACT’s Rock ‘n’ Roll continues through Oct. 18 at 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$82. Call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org for information.
Manoel Felciano, a San Francisco native who used to work at Recycled Records on Haight Street, plays Jan, the central character in Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, an ACT production. Photo by Ashley Forrette Photography
With all this buzz about, there must be a new theater season about to start.
First up is news from American Conservatory Theater. Casting is complete for its season-opener, the West Coast premiere of Tom Stoppard’s Tony Award-winning Rock ‘n’ Roll, which begins performances Sept. 11 and continues through Oct. 12.
Artistic director Carey Perloff, something of a Stoppard expert, is directing a cast that includes San Francisco native Manoel Felciano (Toby in the recent revival of Sweeney Todd on Broadway) makes his Bay Area professional debut as Jan, the rock ‘n’ roll-obsessed Czech graduate student at the center of the play. The cast also includes ACT company members Rene Augesen, Anthony Fusco, Jud Williford and Jack Willis. The cast is rounded out by James Carpenter, Delia MacDougall, Marcia Pizzo, Summer Serafin and ACT MFA third-year students Nicholas Pelczar and Natalie Hegg.
Previews begin Sept. 11 and opening night is Sept. 17. Tickets are $17-$62 for previews, $20-$73 for regular performances. Call 415-749-2228or visit www.act-sf.org for information.
In other ACT news, the company will partner for the first time with Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Perloff will direct Racine’s Phèdre in a new translation by Timberlake Wertenbaker, who previously provided scripts for Perloff’s Hecuba and Antigone.
The production, which will bow in the 2009-10 season, will star 17-year Stratford veteran Seana McKenna in the title role.
“We are thrilled to be producing Racine for the first time in ACT’s history,” Perloff said in a statement. “Timberlake’s extraordinary and fresh translation pays homage to the gorgeous poetry of the original while sustaining this play’s explosive heat and visceral sexuality. I have admired Stratford’s work for many years an am excited to work at the theater, where Heather Kitchen, my partner at ACT, started her career.”
Sure the Tony Awards celebrate NEW YORK theater and Broadway and all that jazz, but what about US?
Not a problem. We can even make the Tonys Bay Area-centric. It’s a little harder this year because we’re not getting as many pre-Broadway tryouts as we have in past years, and our local geniuses are content with being local, so their output is expressly for us and not those NYC theater aesthetes.
So here’s how we factor into the Tonys:
First off, Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, a nominee for best play, will be part of the American Conservatory Theater season later this year. It’ll be a different production but the same play. So root for that one to win (it won’t –it’s all August: Osage County this year, but stay tuned — there’s buzz that one way or another, Bay Area audiences will be seeing that next season as well).
The big Bay Area tie comes courtesy of Berkeley Repertory Theatre, which co-produced the world premiere of Stew and Heidi Rodewald’s rock musical Passing Strange, which then went on to the Public Theater in New York and then BroadWAY. Passing Strange, as you’ll recall, earned seven Tony Award nominations on Tuesday.
Here’s Stew on the Berkeley Rep connection:
Passing Strange is all about pilgrimages to the Real, and my first real-life pilgrimage was to Berkeley when I was a teenager. This is why it was so moving and important to me that the play premiered at Berkeley Rep. Berkeley embodies many of the ideals that are celebrated in the play – a place where people live as if their thoughts have meaning and consequence. Berkeley Rep was the perfect place for a crazy rock band with no idea what theatre was to make a play. I can’t think of a better environment to have given birth to Passing Strange. Probably because there is none.
Finally, fine folks at TheatreWorks are always right on top of this stuff and provide the following list of their Tony connections:
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL Danny Burstein,South Pacific – at TWorks in Everything’s Ducky (World Premiere from Bill Russell and Henry Krieger)
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL Laura Benanti, Gypsy – at TWorks in Caraboo (written by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning author Marsha Norman) at New Works Festival reading
BEST CHOREOGRAPHY Andy Blankenbuehler, In the Heights – at TWorks for Kept and A Little Princess (world Premiere from Andrew Lippa and Brian Crawley) Dan Knechtges, Xanadu– at TWorks for Vanities (world premiere from David Kirshenbaum and Jack Heifner)
BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL Catherine Zuber, South Pacific – at TWorks for A Little Princess
Tony Award nominations are out today. Here’s how it shook out:
BEST PLAY: August: Osage County by Tracy Letts Rock ‘n’ Roll by Tom Stoppard The Seafarer by Conor McPherson The 39 Steps by Patrick Barlow
BEST MUSICAL: Cry-Baby
In The Heights
BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL: Cry-Baby by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan In the Heights by Quiara Alegría Hudes Passing Strange by Stew Xanadu Douglas by Carter Beane
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC/LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATER: Cry-Baby Music & Lyrics: David Javerbaum & Adam Schlesinger In the Heights Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda The Little Mermaid Music: Alan Menken; Lyrics: Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater Passing Strange Music: Stew and Heidi Rodewald; Lyrics: Stew
BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY: Boeing-Boeing
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL: Grease
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Sunday in the Park with George
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY: Ben Daniels, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood
Mark Rylance (right), Boeing-Boeing
Rufus Sewell, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Patrick Stewart, Macbeth
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Eve Best, The Homecoming
Deanna Dunagan, August: Osage County
Kate Fleetwood, Macbeth
S. Epatha Merkerson, Come Back, Little Sheba
Amy Morton, August: Osage County
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Daniel Evans, Sunday in the Park with George
Lin-Manuel Miranda, In the Heights
Stew, Passing Strange
Paulo Szot, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Tom Wopat, A Catered Affair
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Kerry Butler, Xanadu
Patti LuPone (right), Gypsy
Kelli O’Hara, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Faith Prince, A Catered Affair
Jenna Russell, Sunday in the Park with George
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY: Bobby Cannavale, Mauritius
Raúl Esparza, The Homecoming
Conleth Hill, The Seafarer
Jim Norton, The Seafarer
David Pittu, Is He Dead?
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Sinead Cusack, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Mary McCormack, Boeing-Boeing
Laurie Metcalf, November
Martha Plimpton, Top Girls
Rondi Reed, August: Osage County
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Daniel Breaker, Passing Strange
Danny Burstein (above), Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Robin De Jesús, In The Heights
Christopher Fitzgerald, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Boyd Gaines, Gypsy
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: de’Adre Aziza, Passing Strange
Laura Benanti, Gypsy
Andrea Martin, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Olga Merediz, In The Heights
Loretta Ables Sayre, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY: Maria Aitken, The 39 Steps
Conor McPherson, The Seafarer
Anna D. Shapiro, August: Osage County
Matthew Warchus, Boeing-Boeing
BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL: Sam Buntrock, Sunday in the Park with George
Thomas Kail, In the Heights
Arthur Laurents Gypsy
Bartlett Sher Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
BEST CHOREOGRAPHY: Rob Ashford, Cry-Baby
Andy Blankenbuehler, In the Heights
Christopher Gattelli, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Dan Knechtges, Xanadu
BEST ORCHESTRATIONS: Jason Carr, Sunday in the Park with George
Alex Lacamoire & Bill Sherman, In The Heights
Stew & Heidi Rodewald, Passing Strange
Jonathan Tunick, A Catered Affair
BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY: Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps
Scott Pask, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Todd Rosenthal, August: Osage County
Anthony Ward, Macbeth
BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: David Farley and Timothy Bird & The Knifedge Creative Network, Sunday in the Park with George
Anna Louizos, In the Heights
Robin Wagner ,The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Michael Yeargan, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY: Gregory Gale, Cyrano de Bergerac
Rob Howell, Boeing-Boeing
Katrina Lindsay, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps
BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: David Farley, Sunday in the Park with George
Martin Pakledinaz, Gypsy
Paul Tazewell, In the Heights
Catherine Zuber, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
SPECIAL TONY AWARD FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT IN THE THEATER: Stephen Sondheim
REGIONAL THEATER TONY AWARD: Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
SPECIAL TONY AWARD: Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981), in recognition of his historic contribution to American musical theatre in the field of orchestrations, as represented on Broadway this season by Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific.
There’s some juicy-good stuff in American Conservatory Theater’s newly announced 2008-09 season.
Here’s the rundown:
Rock ‘n’ Roll by Tom Stoppard (Sept. 11-Oct. 12) — Surprising no one, especially after Stoppard’s visit to ACT in January, the West Coast premiere of this London and New York hit will be directed by ACT artistic director Carey Perloff. The drama, Stoppard’s most autobiographical, follows a Czech man in England drawn back to the fight against the Soviets in his native Prague — and it’s all set to a suitably rocky soundtrack full of the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.
The Quality of Life by Jane Anderson (Oct. 24-Nov. 23) — Celebrity casting makes this already intriguing play even more so. Laurie Metcalf (worth seeing in just about anything) and JoBeth Williams (gone too long from movie screens) play cousins, one from the Midwest, one from the liberal Bay Area. When serious illness and the ravages of the Oakland hills fire bring them together, it turns out family and ideology aren’t such a good mix. A co-production with the Geffen Theatre and Jonathan Reinis Productions.
Rich and Famous by John Guare (Jan. 8-Feb. 8, 2009) — This marks the first major revival of Guare’s comedy about a playwright sruggling toward fame and fortune since its 1976 New York premiere.
Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins by Stephen Temperly (Feb. 13-March 15, 2009) — If you want a sneak peek at this off-kilter musical biography, head down to San Jose Repertory Theatre, where the regional premiere of Souvenir opens this week starring Patti Cohenour. The ACT production will star Judy Kaye, right, (Mrs. Lovett in the Sweeney Todd that stopped at ACT last fall), who was nominated for the role in 2006. She plays Jenkins, a New York socialite who fancied herself an opera diva though she could hardly carry a tune.
War Music by Lillian Groag (March 26-April 26, 2009) — Poet Christopher Logue’s translation of Homer’s Iliad is adapted for the stage and directed by Groag, a regular player in the Bay Area theater scene (especially at California Shakespeare Theater of late). This world-premiere production re-tells the story of Achilles and his rival Agamemnon.
Boleros for the Disenchanted by Jose Rivera (May 7-June 7, 2009) — Rivera, the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter (The Motorcyle Diaries) pens the tale of four decades in the life of a Puerto Rican girl whose life ranges from her native land to American shores.
Peter and Jerry by Edward Albee (June 12-July 12, 2009) — Albee’s one-act The Zoo Story, his first play, written in 1958, is revisited and appended with a new first act, called Homelife. Rebecca Taichman directs the West Coast premiere of this revised version.
Also on the ACT stage, it almost goes without saying, is A Christmas Carol (Dec. 4-27). James Carpenter returns in the role of Scrooge.
Season subscriptions range start at $101 for all seven plays. Single tickets go on sale in August.
Call 415-749-2250 or visit www.act-sf.org for information.