Trekking gently through O’Neill’s nostalgic Wilderness

Oct 22

Trekking gently through O’Neill’s nostalgic <i>Wilderness</i>

Can we agree that Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! is warm and wonderful...and weird? The sepia-tinted 1933 play is a rare light work from tragedian O'Neill, though its fantasy elements – the family O'Neill wished he had growing up rather than the more nightmarish version he depicted in Long Day's Journey Into Night – lend it a rather sad underpinning.

It's almost as if O'Neill strayed into Kaufman and Hart territory long enough to write the four-act play about...

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Greed not so good in ACT’s Napoli!

Feb 20

Greed not so good in ACT’s <i>Napoli!</i>

Scuzza me, but you see back in old Napoli that's...

In the play Napoli!, it's not so much "amore" as it is "controlling the market." American Conservatory Theater's new translation of Eduardo De Filippo's 1945 play eschews the Italian title, Napoli milionaria!, in favor of translators Linda Alper and Beatrice Basso's choice, Napoli!. The exclamation point might suggest a musical (Hello, Mussolini!), but it's probably meant more ironically. Naples during World War II, especially before the allies arrived, was a pretty dismal, bombed-out, typhus-infested place with no shortage of shortages.

Neither a chest-beating drama nor an uproarious comedy, Napoli! resides in an in-between zone...

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Sam Shepard feels a Holy song coming on

Jan 12

Sam Shepard feels a <i>Holy</i> song coming on

The new year begins with an intriguing, nearly under-the-radar collaboration. American Conservatory Theater and Campo Santo have jumped into the ring formed by Magic Theatre and dubbed Sheparding America, a far-ranging celebration of Sam Shepard that promises to flare for years to come.

Co-directed by Campo Santo's Sean San José and ACT's Mark Rucker and performed in the near-round at ACT's Costume Shop, Holy Crime: Rock 'n' Roll Sam Shepard is an amalgam of Shepard texts with an infusion of live music. The prologue and epilogue come from 1969's Holy Ghostly and the big chunk in the middle comes from 1972 Tooth of Crime (which Shepard revised in 1997).

The best part of the 85-minute show is...

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ACT’s 4000 Miles a journey worth taking

Jan 25

ACT’s <i>4000 Miles</i> a journey worth taking

How do you make a hug between grandmother and grandson a high point of a play without making it corny or sentimental? That's the trick playwright Amy Herzog and director Mark Rucker pull off in the compelling drama 4000 Miles now at American Conservatory Theater's Geary Theater.

The moment comes fairly early in this 90-minute one-act after 21-year-old Leo (Reggie Gowland) has surprised his 91-year-old grandmother, Vera (Susan Blommaert) by showing up in the middle of the night after completing a cross-country bicycle trip from Seattle to Manhattan.

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High on Cal Shakes’ spiffy Spirit

Aug 16

High on Cal Shakes’ spiffy <i>Spirit</i>

Noël Coward was a man of his time in many ways and maybe even ahead of his time in others. For instance, in the delightful 1941 play Blithe Spirit, now gracing the Orinda Hills in a handsome and well-tuned production from California Shakespeare Theater, Coward was way ahead of the ghastly Twilight curve.

No, he wasn't dealing with pale but attractive vampires and shirtless werewolves, but he did understand a little something about mixing mortality and romance. In the play, the ghost of a dead wife returns to haunt her husband and his new wife, but her real aim is to get her beloved to join her on the other side, and she's not above trying to kill him herself to accomplish that goal. To love someone enough to want to spend eternity with them is an intriguing concept, and thankfully Coward played it for laughs, with only a trace of the shadows poking through the peaked meringue of his comedy.

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Past imperfect in ACT’s Maple and Vine

Apr 05

Past imperfect in ACT’s <i>Maple and Vine</i>

Dwelling in the past, as so many human beings come to find, causes nothing but frustration and disappointment. The same is true for Jordan Harrison's play Maple and Vine now at American Conservatory Theater.

Harrison is the talented young writer last seen in the Bay Area with Finn in the Underworld at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2005 and Act a Lady at the New Conservatory Theatre Center in 2009. His Maple and Vine premiered about a year ago at the Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville, Ky., and it's a more interesting play than it is a good one. The play purports to be about the quality of life now compared to the 1950s, but it really ends up being about how far people are willing to go to save a relationship.

Act 1 is pretty much all set up...

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