Faith, choices, colonialism collide in Marin’s gutsy Convert

Feb 25

Faith, choices, colonialism collide in Marin’s gutsy <i>Convert</i>

p>For someone who kills zombies in her day job, Danai Gurira sure knows her way around a compelling drama. Best known as the kick-ass, Katana-wielding Michonne on AMC's "The Walking Dead," Gurira is also a playwright, an impressive one as it turns out based on her Bay Area debut with The Convert now at Marin Theatre Company.

This is a good, old-fashioned historical drama – three acts and nearly three hours – about the soul-crushing damage of colonialism and missionary zeal. What's interesting is that The Convert is the second play to open in the Bay Area recently specifically addressing the colonizing of Africa by Europeans.

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Disney’s Newsies seizes its musical day

Feb 19

Disney’s <i>Newsies</i> seizes its musical day

Newsies that unlikely Broadway hit that started out as a flop movie musical, isn't so much about groundbreaking theater as it is a sterling example of how efficient Disney can be at creating solid, broadly appealing entertainment.

The Broadway production closed last fall, but the tour dances on. If ever there was a show meant for the road, it's Newsies, a high-energy, stick-it-to-the-man ode to unions of all kind (labor, romantic, brotherly). Now at the Orpheum Theatre as part of the SHN season, Newsies is the definition of crowd pleaser.

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Just Theater presents a wildly provocative Presentation

Feb 16

Just Theater presents a wildly provocative <i>Presentation</i>

In some ways, the less you know about Just Theater's latest show, the better. Here's what you need to know and then you can read the rest after you've seen it: this is a very modern show in that it deconstructs and wrestles to the ground ideas of traditional theater. It deals with heavy subject matter (genocide) but does so with intelligence, humor and a wildly energetic style that moves well beyond the usual, polite play-audience interaction and more into the visceral punch-in-the-gut territory that leaves you slightly dazed in its aftermath.

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Aurora’s Lyons subdues its roar

Feb 08

Aurora’s <i>Lyons</i> subdues its roar

There are breathtaking moments – literally, your capacity to process oxygen is shut down – in Nicky Silver's script of The Lyons now at the Aurora Theatre. Silver takes an average situation – a patriarch in the final days of an illness is tended to by his wife and two adult children – and makes it painfully funny by exposing every sharp edge he can find and slicing through anything in his way. Those breathtaking moments usually involve some sort of truth telling at the expense of someone else's fragile or carefully crafted sense of self, but the inability to breathe is often followed by a huge laugh.

Or at least it feels like there should be a big laugh. Director Barbara Damashek's production is dialed to 6 while Silver's script seems to call for at least double that.

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Shaker it up, baby now!

Feb 06

Shaker it up, baby now!

If, as they say, 'tis the gift to be simple, then Early Shaker Spirituals is truly gifted.

Just what is this show exactly? Is it an hourlong piece of documentary theater about songs sung (and danced) by the Shakers, an offshoot of the Quakers? Is it a simply staged concert in which four women sing along with a record album? Is it some avant garde comment on simplicity and spirituality by New York's famed Wooster Group? Yes, yes and yes.

If you happen to be going to this sold-out touring production now at Z Space, first of all, lucky you.

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Gardley gets a Glickman

Feb 04

Gardley gets a Glickman

Oakland playwright Marcus Gardley is the winner of the Will Glickman Award for the best new play to have its premiere in the Bay Area in 2014. The play is The House that will not Stand, loosely based on Federico Garcìa Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba, which had its premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in February of 2014. Read my review of the show here.

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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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