Impact’s new `Bar Mitzvah’ season: Mazel tov!

“We’re calling it our Bar Mitzvah season not just because the company is run by two Jews,” says Impact Theatre artistic director Melissa Hillman referring to herself and managing director Cheshire Isaacs. “This season we’re taking some large leaps forward. It really is a rite of passage for us.”

Yes, Impact Theatre, one of the Bay Area’s most youthfully invigorating theater companies (their motto is: “Theater that doesn’t suck”) opens its 13th season next month with Lauren Yee’s irreverent new comedy Ching Chong Chinaman. The play won the 2007 Yale Playwrights Festival and made its debut at the New York Fringe Festival shortly after. Yee is a Bay Area native and is the founder and executive director of the San Francisco Young Playwright’s Festival.

Skewering every cliché about Asian-American identity, Yee’s play receives its West Coast premiere under the direction of former Impact associate artistic director Desdemona Chiang.

Next up, in November, is Melanie Marnich’s Tallgrass Gothic, a spare, haunting drama based on the Jaobean tragedy The Changeling. In this adaptation, the action takes place in the Great Plains, where Laura yearns to leave her hometown and escape her abusive husband. A lover appears to promise her a way out, but that path leads to a devastating climax.

Tallgrass was featured in the 2004 Humana Festival of New Plays, and Marnich’s works have been on some of the country’s major regional stages. But this production marks her Bay Area professional debut.

In February 2009, Hillman directs the company’s seventh “classic with a twist.” Previous outings have been heavy Shakespeare (Henry IV, Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet, Measure for Measure). This time around, however, Hillman is in a lighter, brighter mood and will be directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her production, while retaining Shakespeare’s language, will be set in 1980s nightclubs.

The season concludes with the return of Impact Briefs in May 2009, an evening of original short plays on a theme, which this time around will be puberty.

“Impact may be growing up in many ways, but we’re still 13 years old,” Hillman says with a laugh. “I think puberty describes exactly where we are in our development. That said, no matter how old we get, we’re always going to have this streak in us.”

In addition to its roster of plays, the Impact season comes with some other news: audiences will enjoy new seats in LaVal’s Subterranean, the basement theater space under a Berkeley pizzeria. And the seats have fold out desks that promise to make the eating of pizza during the show that much easier.

Also, subscriptions are available for the first time – a full season commitment figures $13 per show. And the date for Impact’s popular poker night fundraiser, Full Houses, has been set for July 11, 2009.


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