Shavian wit still dwells in Aurora’s Houses

Feb 04

Shavian wit still dwells in Aurora’s <i>Houses</i>

George Bernard Shaw's Widowers' Houses last played Berkeley's Aurora Theatre Company more than 20 years ago, and though the theater company has come up on the world (bigger, spiffier theater), the satirical world of Shaw's play still reflects badly on our own lack of evolution where greed, poverty and decency are concerned.

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Sacred and profane: much to mull in Playhouse’s Christians

Jan 29

Sacred and profane: much to mull in Playhouse’s <i>Christians</i>

While the San Francisco Playhouse audience was delving into Lucas Hnath's The Christians, a powerful, fraught examination of faith and organized religion, protestors were shutting down airports in demonstrations against the Trump administration's ban on immigrants from countries whose religions posed a perceived threat to our nation. In other words, the spiritual and emotional chaos inside and outside the theater were well matched.

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ACT crowns a glorious King Charles III

Sep 22

ACT crowns a glorious <i>King Charles III</i>

What will happen when Queen Elizabeth, Great Britain's longest reigning queen, leaves the throne? In a hefty helping of royal speculation, playwright Mike Bartlett takes on that question, but does so by way of Shakespeare with a soupçon of Notting Hill.

The result is King Charles III a new history play that traffics in family drama, parliamentary procedure, the liberties of the fourth estate and everything we think we know about Charles, Camilla, William, Kate and Harry. There's sensation and substance, comedy and some genuine emotion mixed in with provocative observations on the relevance of the monarchy in the 21st century.

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Smart, creepy Nether wows at SF Playhouse

Jan 25

Smart, creepy <i>Nether</i> wows at SF Playhouse

There aren't that many plays with the power to totally creep you out and entertain you mightily. Such is the power of Jennifer Haley's The Nether at San Francisco Playhouse in a production that is stunning in all the right ways.

The play is only 80 minutes, but it packs a mighty wallop. Here you have a play that is, ostensibly, about the rape and murder of children, but it's not horrific. It's nifty sci-fi trick is to set the action in the near future when virtual reality has become a big part of life.

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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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Magic Up Against some funny creeps

Feb 11

Magic <i>Up Against</i> some funny creeps

Playwright Theresa Rebeck, a master of barbed contemporary dialogue, conducts an interesting experiment in the Magic Theatre’s world premiere of What We’re Up Against.

Her Petri dish is a big-city architectural firm – all glass and metal in Skip Mercier’s sleek, mostly black, white and gray set. Her chosen bacteria: the architects, all of whom turn out to be antiseptic assholes.

To stir the chemical reactions, Rebeck introduces elements commonly found in the workplace: power plays, raging sexism, vaulting ambition, moronic behavior and that ever-powerful agent, greed.

The architects at this particular firm are mostly isolated from the outside world. We hear about some client interaction, but the focus of their activity is internal. There’s not talk of spouses, significant others, children, parents, pets, groceries or dry cleaning. This nearly two-hour, two-act drama (with some hearty if stinging comedy) has a sharp focus and that is unpleasant behavior from unpleasant people.

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