Watch on the Rhine at Berkeley Rep

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The cast of Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Watch on the Rhine by Lillian Hellman includes (front row from left) Jonah Horowitz as Bodo Muller, Emma Curtin as Babette Muller and Elijah Alexander as Kurt Muller; (back row, from left) Sarah Agnew as Sara Muller and Silas Sellnow as Joshua Muller. Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

The thing I can’t stand about 24-hour cable news networks is that it’s 5% news and 95% talking heads spouting opinions and fighting over those opinions.

The thing I loved about Lillian Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine (a co-production from Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Guthrie Theatre) is that the author stakes a claim for action. After a certain point, opinions matter a whole lot less than what you choose to do about whatever opinion you hold.

I reviewed the production for Here’s a glimpse.

Though Hellman’s dialogue can be ponderous and stagey, there’s a fervor to it that director Peterson embraces, and the nearly three-hour, three-act drama steadily ratchets up the tension. By the third act, it becomes a thriller that actually delivers.

You can almost feel Hellman trying to rein in her passion by interjecting humor, which usually means the wisecracking Fanny, so sharply performed by [Caitlin] O’Connell, gets off another good line or insult while swanning about in elegant 1940s finery designed by Raquel Barreto. Otherwise, this is pretty serious and grim going.

Lillian Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine continues through Jan. 14 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $30-$97. Call 510-647-2949 or visit

Building a `Little House’ on Broadway?

Melissa Gilbert stars as Ma in the Guthrie Theatre’s world-premiere musical adaptation of Little House on the Prairie. Photo by Michal Daniel

First a series of beloved, ever-popular books, then a long-running TV series that eventually outgrew the books and created a world of its own.

And now a…musical! Of course Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books would eventually become a musical. What doesn’t?

The big news about the musical, which is having its world premiere at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theatre, is that Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura on the TV show, stars in the musical as Ma, the role originally played by Karen Grassle (now a Bay Area resident).

The show, still in previews (it opens Friday, Aug. 15), has already been extended due to popular demand. The show now runs through Oct. 19.

And now news comes down that the show is going to head out on a 40-city tour. Will one of those 40 cities be in the Bay Area? Stay tuned. Producer Ben Sprecher told that the tour will launch in the fall of 2009.

Could this mean that producers want to build a Little House on Broadway? With all the girls visiting New York flocking to the American Girl store/show, it seems as likely as a hard prairie winter.

Little House on the Prairie is directed by opera director Francesca Zambello, who recently made her Broadway debut with Disney’s The Little Mermaid (does she only direct musicals with the word “little” in the title?). The book is by Tony-winner Rachel Sheinkin (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), lyrics by Donna DiNovelli and music by Rachel Portman (best known for her movie scores such (Emma, Chocolat and The Cider House Rules).

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has some fun Little House stories and trivia games that are worth a look for fans. Click here.

For information about Little House, visit the Guthrie’s site here.