Jeune Lune closes shop

Tony Award-winning Minneapolis-based theater company Theatre de la Jeune Lune will cease to exist as we know it. And those of us in the Bay Area know it thanks to Jeune Lune’s frequent collaborations with Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The company was just here with its gorgeous production of Figaro, and now comes news that there will be “a planned significant reduction in artistic and administrative staff, effective July 31, 2008.” That last comes from the letter posted online by Jeune Lune board president Bruce Neary.

Artistic director Dominque Serrand (in the photo above, a scene from Figaro, which Serrand directed as well) also posted a letter explaining that for its first 14 years, Jeune Lune was an itinerant company, then, in 1992, the company purchased and renovated a warehouse space, creating their own theater. Here’s what Serrand had to say about that:

…we are faced with an excruciating decision. With the organization burdened by mounting and unmanageable debt, the Board of Directors has voted to put Jeune Lune’s home up for sale. After much soul searching and extensive fundraising and debt management efforts, we have determined it to be the only prudent and fiscally responsible choice. What has been acclaimed, as one of the most striking and unique theatre spaces in the country will go dark. It is a huge loss, a loss for us, for all of the artists who work with us, for our audience and for the community at large, both locally and nationally.

He goes on to describe the company’s last 30 years as “amazing” and says they never “sought nor desired to be an institution.” Rather, Jeune Lune attempted to exist in a playground in which to ” gather with other adventurous souls and create the unimaginable.”

Here’s more from Serrand:

The theatrical experience is an event truly of the moment — immediate, fleeting and ephemeral. Yet in the space of that moment something takes place that is transformative to the human spirit and remains indelible in our memory — the stuff that dreams are made of, the stuff we carry with us forever. We hope you will treasure well the memory of Jeune Lune.

For information visit

Review: `Figaro’

Opened April 29 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre

Opera, drama create intriguing hybrid in Figaro
Three stars Figaro, Figaro, Fi-ga-roooo!

Theatre de la Jeune Lune returns to Berkeley Rep with the West Coast premiere of a multimedia Figaro.
Photos by Kevin Berne


There’s no easy way to describe Theatre de la Jeune Lune’s Figaro, which opened Tuesday at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.


This is a signature piece from the celebrated Minneapolis-based theater company, and it is, to describe it clunkily, a play-opera-musical comedy, or plopsical.

As conceived by Steven Epp and Dominique Serrand, who also star, Figaro is a re-working of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’ three Figaro plays (The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro and The Guilty Mother) into one story told in flashback from the vantage point of the French Revolution, all the while incorporating hefty chunks of the Mozart opera Le Nozze de Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro, with a libretto by Da Ponte).

Serrand directs in his usual freewheeling style – the Roda stage is wide open with only scattered furniture and video projections (including live video to make the whole thing seem more intimate, which it does, even when the stage action is clearly created with the cameras more in mind than the audience) – and the tone of the evening wanders from slapstick (Serrand is a physical shtick master) to exquisite beauty, both in staging and in musical and emotional content.


If you’re familiar with the opera or with Beaumarchais’ stories, you’ll get a lot more out of the evening. The combination of the three stories, as recalled by an aged Count Almaviva (Serrand) and his barber/servant Figaro (Epp, above) as they hide from guillotine-hungry French revolutionaries, is convoluted. All the mistaken identity high jinks grow wearisome. But the flashbacks are mainly an excuse to launch into great chunks of glorious Mozart music.

Accompanied by the 7th Avenue String Quartet (Alex Kelly on cello, Justin Mackewich on violin, Katrina Weeks on viola and Sarah Jo Zaharako on violin, with Barbara Brooks conducting and playing piano), the singers are unamplified, and just the chance to hear beautiful, unamplified voices in the Roda is reason enough to buy a ticket. This is not opera lite. This is serious opera mixed in with a funny, sometimes ruminative play about aging and our roles in society. These are serious singers, and at nearly three hours, this show is very much an endurance experience, not unlike an opera-house opera.

It’s an interesting proposition: opera people probably want to hear just the opera, while theater people probably prefer the non-musical Epp-Serrand scenes. Then there’s the middle audience, pleased to have some of both, but probably not in such quantity. For the non-opera lover, a little aria goes a long way, even when the opera is staged with energy and humor and general non-stuffiness.

That said, I have to say I adored Jennifer Baldwin Peden (abve left)as the Countess in love with a young rogue, Cherubino (Christina Baldwin, who happens to be Jennifer’s sister, and oh, when their voices join!). Her entrance as a lovelorn maiden adrift in a boat covered in a swath of red material is stunning, as is her Act 2 song of mourning.

Bradley Greenwald is also pretty exciting as the young Count, sparring with the young Figaro (Bryan Boyce) and Figaro’s bride-to-be, Susanna (Momoko Tanno), but as gorgeous as the operatic elements can be, the meat of the evening is really Epp and Serrand and their complicated, ever-changing master-servant relationship. There’s a heavy pall of melancholy over the evening that imbues the proceedings with more heart than you might expect. Epp has a particularly poignant second-act monologue, and as the video camera zooms in and protects his big face on the screen at the back of the stage, you almost feel guilty for watching the projected image rather than the real thing, but the image is incredibly intense and intimate.

Cleverness and beauty abound in Figaro, a work of high art and low pretension. I tend to prefer my theater with less opera and my opera with more theater, but that’s just one of my quirks.

Figaro continues through June 8 at the Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $33-$69. Call 510-647-2949 or visit for information.


Some interesting Figaro-related events at Berkeley Rep:

  • Berkeley Rep Book Club gathers Friday, May 9 to discuss Christopher Hibbert’s The Life and Times of the French Revolution at 6:30 p.m. in the Mendel Room in the Roda Theatre. RSVP to 510-647-2916 or
  • David Gockley of the San Francisco Opera moderates a conversation with Dominique Serrand and Steven Epp of Theatre de Jeune Lune on Monday, May 19 at 7 p.m. on the Thrust Stage (2025 Addison St.). Admission is free.


Tip-top ten

Happy holidays, Theater Dogs!

Thanks for reading the blog in 2006. I’ll try to make it bigger, better, funnier and fresher in 2007.

Below you’ll find my Top 10 list of favorite theater experiences in 2006. I’d love for you all to share some of your favorites as well, so use the comment feature liberally.

1.The Clean House,TheatreWorks

Sarah Ruhl’s immaculate play — is it a comic drama or a dramatic comedy? — reveals a writer so attuned to the human heart that her work may actually be beneficial to your health. This production, helmed by Juliette Carrillo, sure was. Love is a mess, Ruhl tells us. It’s dirty (like a good joke), messy and, at its best, like really good homemade chocolate ice cream.

2. The Glass Menagerie, Berkeley Repertory Theatre

The news that Rita Moreno, the Bay Area’s resident living legend, would tackle the role of Amanda in this Tennessee Williams classic was intriguing. Could Moreno handle it? Anyone who doubted Moreno’s chops was quickly proven wrong by her powerhouse portrayal of a mother desperate to see her children succeed in a harsh world. Director Les Waters gave us such a fresh approach to the play that it almost seemed newly minted.

3. Love Is a Dream House in Lorin, Shotgun Players

Playwright Marcus Gardley did a magnificent thing with this world-premiere play: He turned a neighborhood into art, and in doing so made the specific universal. Gardley immersed himself in the history of Berkeley’s Lorin District — from the recent past clear back to Native American days — and, with the help of director Aaron Davidman, managed to capture something significant about each era leading up to the present. The cast of more than 30 professionals and nonprofessionals found the heart of the piece and showed us over and over again that without community, we’re not much.

4. Hunter Gatherers, Killing My Lobster

Of all this year’s comedies, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s world premiere for sketch troupe Killing My Lobster was the meatiest. Maybe it had something to do with the onstage slaughter of a lamb at the play’s start. Or maybe it was the huge chunk of roasted meat that factors into the play’s bloody end. Whatever, this was an aggressively funny play about our primal, cave-man impulses, man’s need to hump (or kill) everything in sight and woman’s need for chocolate.

5. 4 Adverbs, Word for Word

San Francisco’s Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) ended his “Series of Unfortunate Events” books this year, but not before releasing a book under his own name. Four chapters of that book (Adverbs) became the basis for a typically wondrous production by Word for Word, the company that translates short fiction to the stage without changing a word of the original text. Kind of makes you glad Lemony Snicket is taking a break.

6. Dessa Rose, TheatreWorks

A musical about slavery sounds like a glum proposition, but in the hands of composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, glum turns into serious, which turns into transcendent. Based on the novel by Sherley Anne Williams, the story of an escaped slave and the slave owner she reluctantly befriends bears the weight of history and the healing power of music.

7. In On It, Encore Theatre Company

Canadian playwright/director Daniel MacIvor’s work isn’t that well-known south of our northern border, but based on this dynamic, beautifully directed and performed piece,
MacIvor should be in demand. Actors Ian Scott McGregor and Glenn Peters broke the fourth wall, bent time and concealed key details as they told us the story of actors who used to be lovers working on a play about their relationship. Or were they?

8. Gem of the Ocean, American Conservatory Theater

The late August Wilson received a beautiful valedictory production of his second-to-last play from ACT and director Ruben Santiago-Hudson. The electric jolt of Wilson’s language — “So, live!” are the play’s final words — coursed through the nearly three-hour show, but the sturdy cast, headed by Michele Shay as Aunt Ester, made it very much alive.

9. Restoration Comedy, California Shakespeare Theater
San Francisco writer Amy Freed’s effervescent comedy is based on two 17th-century comedies that wished they could have been this fresh and funny. Special mention must be made of the hilarious Danny Scheie, who played Sir Novelty Fashion who later becomes Lord Foppington, the star of the show-stopping Act 2 fashion show (Anna R. Oliver provided the costumes).

10. Permanent Collection, Aurora Theatre Company

This serious drama about race relations by Thomas Gibbons veered into polemics, but before it did, the battle between a black man and a white man over a collection of art is humane, disturbing and, best of all, thought provoking.

The best shows that didn’t necessarily originate here (or were on their way somewhere else — like Broadway) include: Jersey Boys (Best of Broadway/SHN); A Chorus Line (Best of Broadway/SHN); The Miser (Berkeley Repertory Theatre/Theatre de la Jeune Lune); The Light in the Piazza (Best of Broadway/SHN); The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Stone, Nederlander, Barrington Stage Company et al); Swan Lake (Best of Broadway/SHN).

For more 2006 highlights, check out Jones for Theater.

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