Tis the season for fall picks.
New Caryl Churchill play breaks in ACT’s shiny new Strand Theater. Read my review on KQED Arts.
The last time I’d been in the Strand was 25 years ago, back when it was a grimy old movie theater, attending the Rocky Horror Picture Show because I was dating somebody in the live cast at the time. It looks a whole lot different now.
In post-apocalyptic Northern California, The Simpsons becomes the stuff of myth.
The great director Peter Brook comes to ACT with an Apartheid-era South African fable, and the results are… eh. My review is on KQED Arts.
American Conservatory Theater’s masochistic backstage comedy isn’t exactly hard-hitting.
The cool thing about Stuck Elevator, the latest world premiere at American Conservatory Theater, is that it’s a sung-through musical about a Chinese delivery guy getting stuck in the elevator of a Bronx apartment building for 81 hours without food or water. That’s also the problematic thing about it. The show’s based on a true story, and while the fact of this guy getting stuck in an elevator is fascinating, actually watching someone stuck in an elevator gets tedious after a while. The creators of the play have to work very, very hard to keep things interesting, and the strain shows.
We’ve seen a number of dramas about soldiers having trouble adjusting after coming home from the war—such as Julie Marie Myatt’s Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter, which TheatreFIRST did a couple years ago—and still more about the desensitizing effect that war has on the psyche, like Bill Cain’s 9 Circles at Marin Theatre Company a few years back. Now Canadian playwright George F. Walker mines the subject not for pathos—though there’s certainly some of that as well—but for dark comedy in the world premiere of Dead Metaphor at American Conservatory Theater.
Boy, this was a hard year to reduce to a Top Ten. When I look over the list of the 117 shows I attended in 2012, eight strike me as shoo-ins for the list, and then there are fifteen other shows vying for the remaining two slots. Mind you, that’s a good problem to have; there really was a lot of good theater in the Bay Area this year—and, of course, some so-so and not very good theater as well. And of course there’s not any inherent virtue in the vast theaterscape of 2012 being reducible to a list in the first place, so maybe I should quit my kvetching, suck it up, and get to it. Although I’m restricting myself to ten, these shows aren’t ranked or numbered and are listed in chronological order.
Now making its Bay Area debut at American Conservatory Theater, The Scottsboro Boys is a curious concoction that probably shouldn’t work as well as it does. The final collaboration between composer John Kander and the late lyricist Fred Ebb, the team that brought us Cabaret and Chicago, the 2010 musical takes a landmark case in the fight for the right of African-Americans to get a fair trial in the segregated South and tells it in the style of a minstrel show, the now-notorious blackface variety acts that remained popular into the first couple of decades of the 20th century (and survived in some areas as late as the 1960s). Minstrel stock characters Mr. Bones, Mr. Tambo, and the Interlocutor play many of the roles around the nine unjustly incarcerated men, and the performance style is a curious mélange of broad proto-vaudeville comedy with intentionally cringeworthy racial jokes, passionate semi-naturalism from the prisoners, and the usual conventions of Broadway musicals in which we accept that people break into song and dance at the slightest provocation.
The announcement late last year that American Conservatory Theater would be staging Samuel Beckett’s Endgame and Play this season in lieu of the previously scheduled Twelfth Night was great news on several counts: It would feature the return of world-class physical comic Bill Irwin to the ACT stage, it would be another always-welcome opportunity to savor the challenging texts of the modernist pioneer, and after artistic director Carey Perloff’s lackluster productions of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore I hadn’t been looking forward to her staging of Shakespeare’s popular comedy.