There have been umpteen zillion variations and adaptations of Woyzeck, assembled from unsorted fragments that author Georg Büchner left when he died in 1837 at the age of 24. The Shotgun Players production under the direction of local auteur Mark Jackson uses a high-profile musical version from the year 2000, adapted by Ann-Christin Rommen and Wolfgang Wiens with a concept by original director Robert Wilson and songs by Tom Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan that Waits later recorded on his 2002 album Blood Money.
San Francisco playwright/director Mark Jackson started a fruitful relationship with Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company with his 2006 production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome. While Shotgun Players across town has premiered many of Jackson’s own works as a writer/director, his work with Aurora up till now has been strictly as a director, focused on inventive stagings of classics such as August Strindberg’s Miss Julie and a new adaptation of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Now Aurora has commissioned a new play that goes right back to Salome with Salomania, about onetime San Franciscan dancer Maud Allan.
It’s a good problem to have: Looking over the list of the 118 local shows I saw this year, I had a hard time narrowing it down to a Top Ten. There are plenty of ways in which 2011 was a tough, lousy, no-good year, but in terms of what I saw on the Bay Area stage, it was pretty damn good. It was a great year for solo shows, between the Marsh (Marga Gomez’s Not Getting Any Younger, Don Reed’s The Kipling Hotel and Geoff Hoyle’s Geezer) and Berkeley Rep (Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and The Last Cargo Cult, Anna Deavere Smith’s Let Me Down Easy and Rita Moreno’s Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup). There were a couple of great visiting performances by screen stars: Kevin Spacey as Richard III, John Malkovich as mass murderer Jack Unterweger. And there were any number of other shows that thoroughly charmed me in one respect or another but didn’t quite crack the Top Ten: Crowded Fire and Asian American Theatre Company’s Songs of the Dragons Crying to Heaven, Sleepwalkers Theatre’s The Nature Line, Shotgun Players’ Beardo and Care of Trees, Impact’s Disassembly, SF Playhouse’s Tigers Be Still. As for what did make it onto the list, I tried to rank them in order of preference, but no matter how many times I tweak it the ranking feels arbitrary. So let’s say that, like one’s own children, I love them all equally, and just hope they buy that.
American theater started as a criminal act. The first play performed in English in the colonies was Ye Bare and Ye Cubbe, a satirical stab at the English throne performed in rural Virginia in 1665. As Shakespeare’s contemporaries could attest a generation before, the Puritans were no fans of theater. Performing plays was a crime under their governance, and so was breaking the Sabbath—so this play performed in a tavern on Sunday was doubly forbidden, even disregarding any treasonous content. The show was reprised in a command performance in court, where it was judged harmless.
It’s hard enough dealing with grief when you understand what happened, and why and how it happened, but when what’s happening to someone you love is completely incomprehensible, it’s mighty hard to get your mind around it and resign yourself to anything. For whatever reason, plays all over Berkeley depict families dealing with highly unconventional versions of loss.
THEATER REVIEW: SAN FRANCISCO
Show #9: The Companion Piece, Z Space, January 27.
Here we are pretty much back where we started on this blog, with my Top Ten list of my favorite shows for the year. It was awfully hard to whittle the 126 shows I saw this year in the Bay Area down to ten, which is probably a good sign: that’s a far better problem to have than not being able to think of ten good ones. I limited myself to shows that actually opened in 2010, which disqualifies shows like Ann Randolph’s hilarious monologue Loveland that otherwise would be high on my list. Most links are to my original reviews earlier in the year, and the shows are more or less in order of preference.
As acclaimed as he is for original works such as Shotgun Players’ The Death of Meyerhold and The Forest War, what’s particularly fascinating about local writer-director Mark Jackson’s work is his treatment of classic texts, from inventive stagings of Shakespeare’s Macbeth for Shotgun and Strindberg’s Miss Julie at Aurora to dizzying choreography-oriented desconstructions such as Juliet at San Francisco State and his Three Sisters riff Yes, Yes to Moscow at the San Francisco International Arts Festival. Somewhere in between are his adaptations, which bear the unmistakable mark of his strong visual and highly stylized approach while remaining much more of a conversation with the original work than a reinvention of it.
Show #31: Juliet, San Francisco State University, March 12.
Top Ten Theater Productions of 2009
Although I started 2009 reviewing theater for one paper and ended the year reviewing for another, when I look over the list of the 108 shows I saw over the course of the year to determine my top ten, I realize that none of my favorite shows are ones that I actually reviewed. Those respective papers have space, money and geographical constraints, and it just happened that there was no overlap between the shows in my review docket and those in this year’s top ten.