The cast of ACT’s Clybourne Park includes (from left) Manoel Felciano, Rene Augesen, Emily Kitchens and Richard Theiriot. Photo by Erik Tomasson
Because I interviewed playwright Bruce Norris for the San Francisco Chronicle (read the interview here), I will not be reviewing his Clybourne Park at American Conservatory Theater.
Mr. Norris requests that journalists who interview him not review his work. I’m happy to respect that request, but know that it will be extremely difficult not to tell you how extraordinary this play is or that it’s the first absolutely-must-see show of 2011. A review might mention the extraordinarily deft hand of director Jonathan Moscone or how I’ll never hear Ray Charles’ “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” the same way again. But this is not a review.
And I absolutely won’t mention how exciting it is to encounter a play that stirs deep emotions, offers big laughs and makes you think very seriously about the nature of change.
If you want to see Clybourne Park — and you really should — information is below.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
American Conservatory Theaer’s Clybourne Park continues an extended run through Feb. 20 at 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $10-$88. Call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org
Omoze Idehenre and Manoel Felciano in American Conservatory Theater’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Photo by Kevin Berne
Theater is musical even when it’s not necessarily musical theater. At the very least, you’re likely to hear music in the lobby before and after the show or at intermission. People sing on stage, even in plays, and what’s a blackout without some sort of music or soundscape with which to accompany it?
My point is that theater and music are deeply and inextricably linked. Two ends of the show music spectrum played out this week in San Francisco.
At American Conservatory Theater, directory John Doyle – best known for his Broadway revivals of Sondheim (Sweeney Todd, Company) in which the actors double as the orchestra – applied his talents to a new translation (by Dominique Lozano) of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. On what you might call a “garbage set” (think Cats meets Rent), he stages a sort of wartime, apocalyptic version of the Judgment of Solomon as filtered through Brecht’s epic theater.
What’s most interesting about this play is Doyle’s use of music. You’d never call this a musical, but there’s an awful lot of music. San Francisco composer Nathaniel Stookey has created a sound that is part choral blast, part solemn chant. New ACT core company member Manoel Felciano does most of the heavy vocal lifting as the de facto narrator, and his superb voice serves the score well.
Stookey’s score – at turns accompanied by the occasional accordion, guitar or violin – never lets loose and fully engages singer and audience. This is Brecht, after all, with the theater of alienation and all that. Also, to reach that kind of musical apex would veer more directly into full-fledged musical theater.
The traditional show tune, to put it rather crudely, allows for full release.
Caucasian Chalk Circle takes us close but not all the way. That somehow makes this enterprise seem a more serious way to serve both Brecht’s (and Doyle’s) vision of a wartime parable.
For full-on show tune release – and then some – we had to wait until Saturday night’s performance of Forever Broadway at the Herbst Theatre.
The latest from emerging impresario John Bisceglie, who made a splash with the SF Follies, Forever Broadway was a show-tune lover’s haven and pure hell for anyone else. Here’s the general overview: three hours; a cast of 80; nearly 90 songs. If you left Caucasian Chalk Circle feeling musically frustrated, you left Forever Broadway feeling overstuffed. Director/producer Bisceglie does things on a grand scale, and this show is a lot of fun. But it’s also a little much, even for a show-tune fanatic like me.
The first act has the slickness of a really good high school show choir or a better-than-average cruise ship revue. More than 50 songs are crammed into about 80 minutes, with singers and dancers hustling on and off the stage like they’ll be penalized for lingering (or at least mowed down by a horde of black-clad backup singers, which could actually happen).
Music and vocal director Frank Johnson’s pre-recorded accompaniment adds to the slick factor but also keeps the evening moving right along. Toward the end of the first act, we start a medley with a fist-pumping ensemble number from Les Miserables, segue to “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” make a divergent Sondheim stop for “Broadway Baby” then hustle into the expurgated lyrics of “Greased Lightning” before landing, rather inexplicably, at “Tomorrow” from Annie.
It’s a democratic song selection without any consistent rhyme or reason, but there can be no doubt we hear some wonderful voices. There are also moments of cringing, such as when the inevitable “Memory” pops up with a dancer mimicking feline movements behind the singer.
Act 2 is a definite improvement because Bisceglie lets his singers take the time to connect with the audience and invest more emotion in their songs. Keith Stevenson’s “Some Enchanted Evening” is as sweet a version as I’ve heard, completely free of bombast. And Jason Hite’s musical monologue “If I Didn’t Believe In You” from Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years was one of the long evening’s most memorable moments.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the show that came off best on this show tune-y night was Avenue Q. A suite of that puppet musical’s songs – performed, I might add, completely without puppets by Brett Hammon, Brooke Wallace, Larry Cowen, Daniel Schultz, Chad Benjamin Potter, Lee Achacoso-Haskin and Mandy Wilczynski – was funny and sweet. Suzanne Henry worked the audience with Stars and the Moon (another Jason Robert Brown charmer), and Désirée Goyette showed off a dazzling voice on “Gold,” an unfortunately mediocre Frank Wildhorn song from Camille Claudel.
Bisceglie and his gargantuan cast will reprise the show March 21 at the Herbst (3pm). Tickets, as they were on Saturday, are $25, which is a bargain when you consider how many singers and songs you get for your entertainment dollar.
With Bisceglie’s stage full of talent, I couldn’t help longing for a celebration of the great American show tune that re-cast favorites in a new light and exposed hidden gems that should have stopped their original shows but never got the chance. Maybe that will be the ever-enterprising Bisceglie’s next extravaganza.
Here’s a video taste of Biscgelie’s Forever Broadway. Perhaps I don’t have to mention this, but it’s kinda long.
American Conservatory Theater’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle continues through. Call 415 or visit www.act-sf.org for information.
Opened June 10, 2990 at American Conservatory Theater
René Augesen is Ann and Anthony Fusco is Peter in the “Homelife” half of Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo, the final show of the American Conservatory Theater season. Photos by www.kevinberne.com
Human beasts, growl, purr, bark in Albee’s revised `Home/Zoo’ «««« (four stars for Act 1) ««« (three stars for Act 2)
There are two Edward Albees on display in American Conservatory Theater’s season-ending At Home at the Zoo. We have the 30-year-old writer staking his first major dramatic claim in a one-act play called The Zoo Story, written in 1958 and produced the following year in Berlin on a double bill with Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. Clearly the play marked the introduction of a major voice in American drama.
The other Albee on view here is the 76-year-old, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner with one of the most consistently surprising and long-lived careers on the American stage.
Guess which one trumps the other?
Albee’s The Zoo Story gained a companion play in 2004 at the Hartford Stage in Connecticut. Homelife took us into the private life of Peter, a publisher of, as he describes it, important but boring textbooks. He interacts with his wife, Ann, and after we delve into some sensitive marital waters, Zoo Story unfolds as we follow Peter to Central Park, where he encounters a somewhat off-balance younger man named Jerry.
The complete evening, heretofore called Peter and Jerry, was renamed last year as At Home at the Zoo because Albee reportedly thought the other title conjured Ben & Jerry’s ice cream more than it did a drama about the difficulties inherent in living life to the fullest.
Director Rebecca Bayla Thompson’s production is beautifully directed, performed and designed. Set designer Robert Brill keeps the focus on the humans in Peter and Ann’s pristine beige apartment and then opens the stage up for the second-act move to Central Park, where Stephen Strawbridge’s lights cast a green hue on the back wall of the stage and sound designer Jake Rodriguez delicately weaves in the presence of man (cars, hubbub) and nature (birdsong).
Both acts, in their different ways, address one of Albee’s favorite topics: the monster that terrorizes and devours so many of us, which is to say the fear of life itself. And this is how the older Albee bests his younger self.
In the Zoo Story half, Albee gives us a study in contrasts with Peter (Anthony Fusco), the somewhat priggish, reasonably well-to-do executive interacting with the “permanent transient” Jerry (Manoel Felciano), a rooming house boarder with a desperate need to connect with a stranger. There’s a lot of talk, mostly by Jerry, in this 50-minute encounter about animals – a landlady’s aggressive hound, the caged animals in the zoo – and it’s clear that the beats somehow represent the life that we want to tame and cage.
This is Albee writing in large, metaphorical ways, and it’s fascinating, especially when you consider that this young writer was just beginning to unleash his talent. But the piece, even with certain updates, is dated. Jerry uses expressions (“hither and thither”?) that, safe to say, very few modern 30somethings would use. And are there really still rooming houses on New York’s Upper West Side?
The drama, though full of interesting writing and ideas, is grand and somewhat self-important. It’s interesting to watch expert actors like Fusco and Felciano grapple with the piece. Fusco mostly has to listen, but Felciano treads a delicate balance between Jerry’s compelling intellect and his threatening aggressiveness. He does so with a gathering sense of momentum that helps ground the play in something resembling reality even though it belongs more to the world of theatrical construction.
That’s definitely not true of Homelife, which opens the evening. Fusco, playing opposite René Augesen as Ann, gets to reveal depths to Peter that we would never even guess at if we were only seeing the Zoo Story part of him. And Augesen gets to do some of her best work since last fall’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. The two actors find a natural, impeccable rhythm that makes it easy to relate to these middle-age marrieds who tacitly agreed at some point to a “smooth voyage on a safe ship.”
But now Ann is restless and dissatisfied – with her husband, with life, with herself – and has deep yearnings and misgivings. In the space of an extraordinary hour, she gets her husband to put down his book and engage in conversation with her that conjures that monster – the dark places we go in the small hours of the night. Husband and wife break through the politeness and habit of long-time marriage and hit on some sensitive, troublesome territory.
This is, in the best sense, theater for grown-ups.
Director Taichman orchestrates the body language and movement of the two actors with tremendous emphasis but virtually no artificiality. You can feel the audience hanging on every word, and it’s thrilling to experience dialogue that feels like action. The action of Act 2’s Zoo is more boisterous and dramatic, but you leave the theater still buzzing from the current generated in Act 1’s Home.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Edward Albee’sAt Home at the Zoo continues through July 5 at American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $17-$82. Call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org for information.
As someone who has loved musicals since his formative years, Jim Gardia is certainly in the right business. And to think, he could have ended up as a swim coach.
In college, Gardia, who was a competitive swimmer, was seriously considering a career as a swim coach.
“But theater pulled me harder,” he says.
For six years he worked with Los Angeles’ acclaimed Reprise Theatre Company, both as managing director and as producing director. Last year, he left his native L.A. to come north. He is now the executive director of San Mateo’s Broadway by the Bay, replacing Greg Phillips, who left early last year to serve as executive director of Oregon’s Portland Center Stage.
A musical theater performer since childhood, Gardia is someone who has the musical in his bones. While with Reprise, he got to work on some great shows with some great talent. Here’s a sampling: Sunday in the Park with George with Kelli O’Hara and Manoel Felciano directed by Jason Alexander, Follies with Patty Duke, Vikki Carr, Harry Groener and Donna McKechnie, Anything Goes with Rachel York and Brent Barrett, City of Angels with Stephen Bogardus and Vicki Lewis and Zorba with Marc Kudisch and Judy Kaye.
As Gardia says, he didn’t leave Los Angeles or Reprise out of any kind of dissatisfaction. “I had been wanting to move to the Bay Area for years,” he says. “I saw an opportunity with Broadway by the Bay. Jason Alexander is running Reprise, so I left it in good hands.”
A high-level community theater, Broadway by the Bay opens its 44th season this week with the Gershwin musical Crazy for You. With nearly 7,000 season subscribers and more than 6,000 single show ticket sales per production, BBB is the biggest theater on the Peninsula and has a reputation for big, splashy musicals with giant casts and strong production values.
Coming into such an established organization, Gardia, now a resident of Half Moon Bay, says he doesn’t have any plans to change the Broadway by the Bay vision. “What they do thrills me. This format works. I’m here to help make change if it’s needed, but I don’t see the need. We can buff up here and there, but nothing’s broken.”
Nothing in the company may be broken, but there is something big that has gone bust: the economy. Opening a new season in the midst of a recession is something that weighs on every performing arts company at this moment, especially after having seen American Musical Theatre of San Jose cease operation last year.
“Of course the recession is something we have to prepare for,” Gardia says. “We’ve cut our budget, gone line by line and cut where we could. I do not like cutting anything that goes on stage because that’s what we do. Everyone on the board has cut back where they can.”
Ticket prices have gone up, according to Gardia, by “a couple dollars.” But, he adds, you can still see a BBB show for $20 at the lowest level and under $50 at the highest.
“One of our goals is to keep these shows affordable,” Gardia says. “We want this to be for everyone, especially during these times. With this kind of musical entertainment, you can walk into the theater and get carried away for a couple of hours. That’s essential to our psyche. Our job continues to be bringing entertainment to the masses.”
>Also coming this season, whose theme is “The best is yet to come”: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I (July 16-Aug. 2), The Full Monty (Sept. 17-Oct. 4) and the composer showcase, Broadway Up Close and Personal: A Tribute to Cy Coleman (Nov. 5-8).
Gershwin and Rodgers and Hammerstein are familiar names at BBB. But the work of composer David Yazbeck, the man behind The Full Monty, is not. Also new to the BBB stage is the notion of male strippers.
“Full Monty is a little riskier kind of show for us,” Gardia says. “But think about the storyline: unemployed steel workers in Buffalo trying to figure out how they can raise money. It says a lot about the world right now, and every time I’ve seen the show, the audience leaves with huge smiles on their faces.”
This will be the third year that BBB has offered the composer showcase after previous outings honor Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Schwartz. Gardia says subscribers weren’t sure about the composer showcase at first but have warmed to it.
“I think people definitely see it as a highlight of the season now,” Gardia says. The Cy Coleman tribute will feature Coleman collaborator David Zippel and ASCAP’s Michael A. Kirker joined by Broadway performers Lillias White and Jason Graae.
“One of the things we hope to do with the composer showcase is expand it into a master class of some kind for our Youth Theatre and Musical Theatre conservatories,” Gardia says.
Broadway by the Bay’s Crazy for You runs April 2-19 at the San Mateo Center for Performing Arts, 600 Delaware Ave., San Mateo. Tickets are $17-$48. Call 650-579-5565 or visit www.broadwaybythebay.org for information
Rene Augesen is Esme and Manoel Felciano is Jan in a scene set at Prague’s John Lennon wall in the American Conservatory Theater production of Rock ‘n’ Roll by Tom Stoppard. Photos by Kevin Berne
ACT gives Stoppard’s heavy `Rock’ a mighty roll «««1/2
Rock ‘n’ Roll has a beat – a heartbeat.
Tom Stoppard’s play, the season –opener for San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, bears all the playwright’s hallmarks: weighty intellect, deep sense of history, dry wit, thick dramaturgy. But all of that is less important here than the powerful emotions coursing through the characters’ complicated lives – the emotions and the words.
This is Stoppard’s most autobiographical play. Like his protagonist, Jan, Stoppard is Czechoslovakian by birth and spent an important chunk of his childhood in England. This duality gives Stoppard, and Jan, a dual perspective, not to mention another language, through which to view the crumbling of Communism.
Perhaps Stoppard’s intimate relationship with the history involved here combined with his passion for rock music help the play wage a battle between the heart and the intellect that lets the heart ultimately rule.
Director Carey Perloff, who usually does her best work with Stoppard, doesn’t disappoint. Her production has focus and momentum, and her cast navigates well the tricky balance between the ideology and the humanity.
This is a play that dramatizes Czech politics, from “Prague Spring” in 1968 to the post-Communist world of perestroika in the late ’80s. Unless you’re a historian, you likely don’t know a whole lot about this place or this period beyond what you remember from watching (or reading) “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”
And while Stoppard requires his audience to be on its collective toes and pay close attention, the genius of the play is that underneath all the heated discussions about this regime, that petition, these arrests or the pros and cons of socialism, Stoppard allows life and emotions to propel the play.
This notion is embodied in – what else? – rock ‘n’ roll music. Jan (Manoel Felciano) is a rock devotee. When the Czech police want to destroy his spirit they know exactly what to smash: his LP collection full of the Doors, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd’sSyd Barrett (a central, ethereal figure in the play).
Jake Rodriguez’s sound design is like a character in the play – the music is passion, connection and, in its way, revolution. The Czech rock band Plastic People of the Universe (who are, coincidentally, playing Slim’s on Oct. 9) figure prominently in the play as comrades of Jan’s whom he admires musically and politically – he even ends up in jail with them after one of their subversive events (a wedding if I heard correctly).
A Rolling Stones concert becomes a testament to a changed world, and Barrett’s “Golden Hair” (itself based on a James Joyce poem) becomes a family’s musical touchstone.
Felciano (above right with Anthony Fusco as a Czech interrogator) as Jan carries much of the play’s emotional weight and does so beautifully. He ages more than 20 years in a believable, low-key way that takes him from the optimism of youth powered by a mighty mind to the realities of a police state and prison to a more subdued middle age where people matter more than politics.
ACT core company member Rene Augesen has one unforgettable scene in Act 1 as Eleanor, a cancer-ridden Cambridge professor giving Sappho tutorials on her back porch. Decimated by not defeated by her illness delivers a ferocious diatribe against words over meaning. She has just watched her student (Delia MacDougall as Lenka) flirt shamelessly with her Communist husband, Max (Jack Willis), during the lesson.
The word at issue is “mind.” Her husband has highbrow definitions of what the mind is – he says it’s a machine that could be made of beer cans — and she’ll have none of it: “Don’t you dare reclaim that word now,” she says. “I don’t want your `mind’ which you can make out of beer cans. Don’t bring it to my funeral. I want your grieving soul or nothing. I do not want your amazing biological machine – I want what you love me with.”
Augesen is extraordinary – not relying on any of the usual tricks we’ve come to see in her work over the years (those come in Act 2 when she plays Eleanor’s daughter, Esme) – she’s so real and vital and frail you almost feel the need to comfort her.
Words and truth are important and elusive in Rock ‘n’ Roll. How can so many words, so many shifting words, ever arrive at the truth?
Discussing words, Jan tells Max: “A thousand years of knowing who you are gives a people confidence in its judgment. Words mean what they have always meant. With us, words change meaning to make the theory fit the practice.”
The fascinating, compelling blend of words and music – intellect and spirit – fuels the play and makes it stand apart from Stoppard’s oeuvre. It’s a lifetime of experience in a complex, heartbreaking, spirit-crushing world that comes to no easy answer beyond giving yourself over to music you love.
That this trajectory comes through so clearly is a testament to the play itself and to Perloff’s handsome production. Douglas W. Schmidt’s set inspires a feeling of vertigo. Inspired by a photograph by Agata Jablonska, the set conveys a sense of standing amid dense buildings and looking up to the sky – oppression and release.
Aside from some accent issues (they come, they go), the cast is strong. Willis has fire but seems miscast as Max, the Cambridge professor for whom arguing is like breathing. But that’s the only major misstep, and strong supporting turns come from Jud Williford as Jan’s compatriot, Ferdinand, and Summer Serafin as Alice, an ‘80s teen with a restless mind and a big heart.
At nearly three hours, Rock ‘n’ Roll is overwhelming in the best sense. We’re pulled into a world – our world – and made to care. More importantly we’re made to listen. And think. And care.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Rock ‘n’ Roll continues an extended run through Oct. 18 at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$82. Call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.
Manoel Felciano stars in the ACT production of Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. Photo by Ashley Forette Photography
Manoel Felciano, a San Francisco native, had to play Broadway before he could make his hometown professional stage debut.
He’s starring in American Conservatory Theater’s season-opening production of the Tom Stoppard drama Rock ‘n’ Roll, now in previews, opens Wednesday, Sept. 17 and continues through Oct. 18.
And he says the role of Jan, a sort of stand-in for Stoppard himself, is a good fit.
“Jan is something of a nerd, an intellectual,” Felciano says. “He’s a huge rock fan, and he became politically activated later in life. That’s me as well. Politically, the last seven years have been a galvanizing force.”
Through the upheaval of the play, which documents Prague’s revolution in the ’60s and continues into the ’90s, rock music provides a sort of connective tissue between the emotions and the politics.
“In some ways, “Felciano says, “music is a political action in itself. The act of playing a record loud where it is forbidden, is a subversive act. I love that, and it’s part of what makes doing this play here in San Francisco so perfect. This is where some of the music on the soundtrack came from.”
Felciano, known as Mano to his friends, was born 30-some years ago to a Portuguese father and a Swiss mother. He started playing the violin at 5 but later added bass and guitar to his repertoire because “the violin is no way to get girls.” While attending the bilingual French-American International School here in San Francisco, Felciano was tapped for a small role in San Francisco Opera’s Carmen because he could speak French.
“I was 10 years old, and backstage, I had the gall –or was it lack of superego? – to go up to Placido Domingo and in Spanish tell him that he sang Spanish very well.”
That was the last time Felciano was on a professional stage in his hometown. After graduating from Yale and beginning a life on Wall Street, Felciano got sucked into the world of musical theater when he was cast by Hal Prince in the ill-fated Washington, D.C. production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind.
From there, he landed swing and understudy parts in Cabaret and Jesus Christ Superstar, among others. While in Superstar, and after he fell off the stage and into the orchestra pit, injuring his hand, Felciano decided maybe it was time for a little formal acting training.
Grad school paid off handsomely with the plum role of Tobias in John Doyle’s acclaimed 2005 production of Sweeney Todd in which the actors also played all the instruments (Felciano played violin, keyboard and clarinet). The gig scored Felciano a Tony nomination for best supporting actor.
Now he’s back on familiar territory – at least geographically. Other than doing a scene from Stoppard’s The Real Thing in grad school, this is his first Stoppard play and first time working with director Carey Perloff.
To connect with his character Jan’s love of rock, he need look no further than his own love of rock, which began when his dad played him a Beatles song. Felciano was about 10 and immediately headed to Recycled Records, the neighborhood record store on Haight Street, where he bought “Introducing the Beatles.”
Felciano ended up working at Recycled for a number of years, and on a recent visit to the vinyl specialty shop, he recognized the same turntable he used to spin as an employee.
With his own vinyl collection now numbering in the hundreds, Felciano says his prize LP is the Beatles’ “Yesterday and Today” album with the “butcher cover,” the photo of the boys amid decapitated babies and meat that was almost immediately recalled.
During rehearsals, the cast has been listening to the music Stoppard mentions in the play, everything from the Beach Boys to Guns N Roses, with detours into the seminal Czech rock group, The Plastic People of the Universe.
Talking about music, Felciano grows fevered.
“Music, especially the way it’s used in this play, is everything it’s supposed to be: irrational, sexual, visceral, personal, hypnotic. It makes you want to move, scream, fuck, dance, break things. Music is such a primal force. It’s seductive.”
Stoppard is one of the most complex playwrights working, and his blend of intellect, passion, politics, world history and human drama is deep and rich. It also means a whole lot for the actors to work through.
“I trust what Stoppard has written will carry me,” Felciano says. “It’s like with Shakespeare or a Sondheim lyric, it’s all there in the words. The historical, cultural and political context is important, but what really matters is the character’s need and what the conflict is. Audiences instinctively get that.”
After Rock ‘n’ Roll, Felciano will hang around San Francisco a little longer before heading home to New York. He’s appearing in the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s Zipperz on Nov. 14, which features music by his childhood friend Nathaniel Stookey and a libretto by one of his former French-American International School teachers, Dan Harder. (Visit http://www.oebs.org/page/nov.htm for information)
ACT’s Rock ‘n’ Roll continues through Oct. 18 at 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$82. Call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org for information.
Manoel Felciano, a San Francisco native who used to work at Recycled Records on Haight Street, plays Jan, the central character in Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, an ACT production. Photo by Ashley Forrette Photography
With all this buzz about, there must be a new theater season about to start.
First up is news from American Conservatory Theater. Casting is complete for its season-opener, the West Coast premiere of Tom Stoppard’s Tony Award-winning Rock ‘n’ Roll, which begins performances Sept. 11 and continues through Oct. 12.
Artistic director Carey Perloff, something of a Stoppard expert, is directing a cast that includes San Francisco native Manoel Felciano (Toby in the recent revival of Sweeney Todd on Broadway) makes his Bay Area professional debut as Jan, the rock ‘n’ roll-obsessed Czech graduate student at the center of the play. The cast also includes ACT company members Rene Augesen, Anthony Fusco, Jud Williford and Jack Willis. The cast is rounded out by James Carpenter, Delia MacDougall, Marcia Pizzo, Summer Serafin and ACT MFA third-year students Nicholas Pelczar and Natalie Hegg.
Previews begin Sept. 11 and opening night is Sept. 17. Tickets are $17-$62 for previews, $20-$73 for regular performances. Call 415-749-2228or visit www.act-sf.org for information.
In other ACT news, the company will partner for the first time with Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Perloff will direct Racine’s Phèdre in a new translation by Timberlake Wertenbaker, who previously provided scripts for Perloff’s Hecuba and Antigone.
The production, which will bow in the 2009-10 season, will star 17-year Stratford veteran Seana McKenna in the title role.
“We are thrilled to be producing Racine for the first time in ACT’s history,” Perloff said in a statement. “Timberlake’s extraordinary and fresh translation pays homage to the gorgeous poetry of the original while sustaining this play’s explosive heat and visceral sexuality. I have admired Stratford’s work for many years an am excited to work at the theater, where Heather Kitchen, my partner at ACT, started her career.”