Is it worth it for theatrical designers to get an MFA? I asked a few in my latest feature for Theatre Bay Area.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A left-wing blogger and a right-wing congressional aide wake up in a hotel room in various levels of undress, with no idea how they got there. The door is locked and their cell phones are gone. It turns out they’ve been abducted by an immaculately poised Georgia beauty queen who wants them to help her rewrite the United States Constitution.
Just Theater is back with not one but two plays in rep, and the first one, A Maze, is pretty freaking remarkable. You can read my review on KQED Arts.
It doesn’t matter how much I talk about The Hundred Flowers Project; there’s no way I can adequately capture the dueling senses of chaos and exquisitely crafted architecture that make up Christopher Chen’s play, which in its own way is as ambitious as the mammoth theatrical project that the characters in it are creating—one that, of course, is also called The Hundred Flowers Project. In fact, the more I talk about it the less I feel I ought to, because so much of its magic lies in the unexpected places it goes in Crowded Fire Theater and Playwrights Foundation’s world premiere production, dazzlingly staged by Desdemona Chiang with a superb cast and exquisitely coordinated technical elements.
Invasion! is a puzzling play. Written by Tunisian-Swedish playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri and translated from the original Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles, it touches upon themes of youth culture, anti-Islamic xenophobia, language, and identity, but in a fragmented, scattershot way that almost but not quite comes together to form a rough mosaic portrait. But of what? If anything it’s of the mysterious Abulkasem, and he’s ultimately unknowable, apocryphal, based on faulty premises. But even if it’s hard to know what to make of it when all’s said and done, Crowded Fire Theater’s sharp West Coast premiere makes the saying and doing tremendously entertaining along the way.
Bay Area audiences have become familiar with the devilish and often bloody-minded wit of Martin McDonagh over the last decade or two, largely thanks to excellent productions of the London-born Irish playwright’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. But Berkeley Rep’s had no monopoly on McDonagh by any means, as his plays have been staged by Magic Theatre, TheatreWorks, Wilde Irish and Cal Performances, among others. Now SF Playhouse gets into the act with the regional premiere of A Behanding in Spokane, which debuted on Broadway two years ago.
Titus Andronicus is William Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy, and for centuries it was also generally considered to be his worst. Although the playwright’s contemporaries loved it, it wouldn’t regain popularity until after Word War II, when all the play’s hand-chopping, child-killing, rape, decapitation and cannibalism no longer seemed as outlandish as it once did. In the age of the slasher flick, Titus’s Grand Guignol elements are once again its primary selling point.
Before the opening of the Bay Area premiere of Becky Shaw, SF Playhouse artistic director Bill English gave a stirring speech about theater as a gym for compassion, for developing the muscle of empathy. The sentiment rings true, but it’s also ironic going into a comedy about people who either lack compassion for anyone outside of their chosen circle or whose empathy draws them into trouble. Whether or not you empathize with these characters, you’re such to be entertained by them in this tantalizing first local glimpse of playwright Gina Gionfriddo’s work, thanks to an excellent cast and director Amy Glazer’s sharply paced staging.
THEATER REVIEW: SAN FRANCISCO
Show #92: Honey Brown Eyes, SF Playhouse, September 27.
Show #90: Night over Erzinga, Golden Thread Productions, September 18.
THEATER REVIEW: BERKELEY
Show #80: Of Dice and Men, Impact Theatre, September 2.