The presidential debates are upon us, Election Day is just a few weeks away, and two local theater companies are getting into the spirit of the thing by staging gleefully perverse musicals about the U.S. presidency.
It’s not often that you see a guy in a Mexican wrestling mask just sitting in the audience at the theater, but then, it’s not every day that you see a play about professional wrestling. Everyone knows that wrestling is just as scripted as your average play, with the characters, twists, and outcomes all determined in advance, but I don’t know how much crossover there really is between the audiences of the ring and those of the stage.
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.
I have not one but two reviews in today’s Marin Independent Journal: Cinnabar Theater’s rollicking revival of Born Yesterday, featuring a hilarious Heather Gordon as Billie Dawn, and Marin Theatre Company doing Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage just a couple of months after San Jose Rep gave the play its local premiere. So what are you waiting for? Click on the links in that first sentence to read all about ‘em.
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.
“Happy families are all alike,” Leo Tolstoy writes in Anna Karenina; “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Two classic examples are on display at two Berkeley theatres, both of which are celebrating their 20th anniversary seasons right now, albeit in different ways. Shotgun Players are in the middle of a whole season of commissioned world premieres, while at Aurora Theatre it’s old home week, bringing back key artists from throughout the company’s history. But the plays they’re doing depict two houses, alike in comfortable wealth, that have both been unhappy a very long time.
I wrote up Jon Tracy’s steampunk reinvention of The Tempest for today’s Marin Independent Journal, and you can see what I thought of it over yonder.
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 #44: Reborning, SF Playhouse, May 12.
After creating a propulsive contemporary take on George Orwell’s Animal Farm for Shotgun Players’ summer show last year, this summer writer-director Jon Tracy followed it up with The Salt Plays, Part 1: In the Wound, a stunning, kinetic, poetic riff on the Trojan War that both was and wasn’t an adaptation of The Iliad. And if that wasn’t ambitious enough, Tracy followed his Iliad up this December with–what else?–his Odyssey, following his cold-blooded, business-suited strategist Odysseus on his long-delayed voyage home to his waiting wife Penelope.