The tragedy of Medea is one of the best-known tales in Western culture, handed down from Greek myth and the ancient play by Euripides. Medea, who betrayed her own family to help the sailor Jason steal the Golden Fleece, married him, and had his children, finds herself thrown aside when Jason has the opportunity for a more advantageous marriage, and gets her vengeance on her fickle husband by killing her own children. More than a story, it’s become a familiar cultural touchstone. It’s been turned into a psychological complex and become the basis for countless adaptations, including Luis Alfaro’s Bruja at Magic Theatre just last year.
William Shakespeare wrote plays about all the other Richards that served as kings of England, and even wrote trilogies about a couple of Henrys, but Richard the First, called the Lionheart? Forget it. The bard was more interested in the troubled reign of Good King Richard’s little brother, King John (who, full disclosure, is supposedly my 26th-great-grandfather–oh, how the mighty have fallen). Heck, there are even a couple plays about the Lionheart’s father, Henry II, though those came much later (James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter and Jean Anouilh’s Becket). Richard, meanwhile, has been reduced to that guy who comes riding in at the end of many versions of Robin Hood, though he’s in The Lion in Winter too.
Congressman Roy Armstrong loves women. As he’s quick to tell anyone who asks, being raised by a working-class single mother gave him a profound respect for women, and he’s made trying to pass the Equal Rights Amendment the chief focus of his political career.
Mesmeric Revelation…Before Edgar Allen Poe has nothing to do with Edgar Allen Poe. The second play that Los Angeles writer/director Aaron Henne has created with Berkeley’s Central Works, Mesmeric Revelation… is named after an 1844 Poe short story that’s almost entirely in dialogue, a metaphysical conversation about the nature of God, matter, consciousness and reality with a client in an induced mesmeric trance. But the show isn’t at all based on the Poe story, although there are a few nods to it in subject matter and stretches of dialogue. Instead it’s set shortly before the French revolution, focusing on the man who came up with mesmerism in the first place.
The financial shenanigans that brought the economy to the brink of collapse are tailor-made for satire, and Bay Area theater companies were quick to rise to the task, from the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s Too Big to Fail a couple years ago to No Nude Men’s Hermes this spring. Now Berkeley’s Central Works—which does nothing but collaboratively created new plays—gets into the act with Patricia Milton’s comedy Reduction in Force, directed by company codirector (and usual playwright) Gary Graves.
There’s something mighty strange going on at the Berkeley City Club. The latest play by Central Works has a very different feel from other collaboratively created pieces the company has done in the past. Some of that feeling is inevitable because A Man’s Home… is based on Franz Kafka’s The Castle, and the German-Czech author’s atmosphere of labyrinthine bureaucracy and foreboding pervades his work so much that anything like it is now called “Kafkaesque.” But no doubt much of it as well comes from the unfamiliar aesthetic of writer/director Aaron Henne, who’s new to the company.
For some reason The Odyssey has been getting a lot of theatrical attention around the Bay Area this year. This summer Stanford Summer Theater performed a new piece called The Wanderings of Odysseus. In December Jon Tracy will follow up his Iliad adaptation for Shotgun Players, The Salt Plays 1: In the Wound, with his Odyssey riff Of the Earth. And right now Berkeley’s Central Works tackles the story from the vantage point of the faithful wife who waited 20 years for her husband to come home.
Let’s get this out of the way first. An Anonymous Story by Anton Chekhov isn’t one of Chekhov’s plays. Like most Central Works plays, it’s by company co-director Gary Graves in collaboration with the cast and crew. It is, however, based on a novella by Chekhov, as was Central Works’ 2004 play The Duel. Nor is the anonymous narrator truly anonymous: he goes by a couple of different names in the story, but we first meet him as Stepan, a servant in the house of a St. Petersburg government functionary named Orlov.