Odds are in favor of SF Playhouse’s 77%

Nov 08

Odds are in favor of SF Playhouse’s <i>77%</i>

The title of Rinne Groff's new play 77% may seem cold and statistical, but it's actually wonderfully charming. You have to see the play to get it, but here's something to know: if you can achieve that percentage with a romantic partner of some kind, you're doing a really good job.

A play about marriage, among other things, 77% receives its world premiere as part of San Francisco Playhouse's Sandbox Series for new plays. It's a remarkable play, in part, because it seems so unremarkable.

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Speaking words of wisdom, Mother Mary testifies at ACT

Nov 06

Speaking words of wisdom, Mother Mary testifies at ACT

Has any mother ever inspired so much and such varied art?

Colm Tóibín's Testament, now at American Conservatory Theater, is another in a long line of interpretations of Mary, mother of Jesus. In is version, which started life as a Dublin play, then became a novel before being turned into a different play on Broadway last year, Toibin is interested in the humanity of Mary, a mother first and foremost, and a citizen caught up – rather unwillingly – in a dangerous rebellion.

Directed by ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff and starring revered Canadian actor Seana McKenna ...

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Slow, thoughtful Silence at the Magic

Nov 05

Slow, thoughtful <i>Silence</i> at the Magic

In Naomi Wallace's And I and Silence now at the Magic Theatre we meet two interesting women, Dee and Jamie, who became friends while in prison. Both are in for nine-year stints, and as their bond intensifies, they begin to train one another for a life after prison – a life that will include the two of them together. As lovers? As friends? Not quite clear. But given that Jamie is black and Dee is white and their release will occur in the late '50s, there are all kinds of complications to contemplate.

Rather strangely, the flashback scenes to the prison feel...

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Nine justices ponder pasties, g-strings and nudity in Arguendo

Oct 31

Nine justices ponder pasties, g-strings and nudity in <i>Arguendo</i>

For those of us with no ear for legalese, for whom courtroom scenes in TV shows and movies induce narcolepsy, the premise of Elevator Repair Service's Arguendo does not sound promising. This celebrated and intrepid New York company, most famous for its word-for-word production of The Great Gatsby (the eight-hour Gatz), turns its attention to our highest court for a verbatim account of a 1991 case, Barnes v. Glen Theatre Inc., that dealt with issues of public nudity, more specifically the nude dancers at the South Bend, Ind., Kitty Kat Lounge and Glen Theatre.

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Party People at Berkeley Rep: Necessary

Oct 25

<i>Party People</i> at Berkeley Rep: Necessary

There are ovations and there are ovations. The opening of an envelope gets a standing ovation these days, so the stand and clap doesn't really mean much anymore. But at the opening night of UNIVERSES' Party People at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the audience was instantly on its collective feet at show's end, applauding thunderously, shouting and hooting. The appreciative cast bowed, expressed gratitude and exited the stage. The house lights came on, and still the clamor continued. A few audience members exited the theater, but mostly the noise grew in intensity until the surprised cast had to return to the stage and bow yet again.

It seemed a fittingly over-the-top reaction to an ambitious, over-the-top show that leaves you feeling moved by the wheels of history and the vagaries of the human heart.

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Blitz bombs but TheatreWorks’ Sweeney still soars

Oct 12

Blitz bombs but TheatreWorks’ <i>Sweeney</i> still soars

Tory Ross' sublime performance as Mrs. Lovett, maker of the "worst pies in London," threatens to hijack the TheatreWorks production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and turn it into Nellie Lovett: People Who Eat People Are the Luckiest People.

There's no escaping the genius of Angela Lansbury's indelible performance (captured on video) in the original production of what composer Stephen Sondheim describes as a "dark operetta," but that star turn was a Victorian cartoon, a manically genial grotesque with shadings of a real flesh-and-bone woman under all the goofiness.

But Ross is a whole lot less cartoon and a whole lot more human being.

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A Whale of a (heartbreaking) tale in Marin

Oct 08

A <i>Whale</i> of a (heartbreaking) tale in Marin

Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale, now at Marin Theatre Company is a difficult play to watch. That description might not make you want to run out and buy a ticket, but hold on. Difficult doesn't preclude greatness.

At first glance, the play, winner of MTC's 2011 Sky Cooper New American Play Prize, involves a guy in a fat suit. Granted, it's a really good fat suit (Christine Crook is the costume designer), but faking a 600-pound guy and watching an actual 600-pound guy are very different experiences. But here's the thing: what actor Nicholas Pelczar brings to that suit is extraordinary.

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