This List Goes to ’11

24 December, 2011 Theater 1 comment
This List Goes to ’11

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.

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Girl Anachronism

18 December, 2011 Theater No comments
Girl Anachronism

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.

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We’re a Happy Family

We’re a Happy Family

“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.

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Dead on Arrival

4 September, 2011 Theater No comments
Dead on Arrival

THEATER REVIEW: BERKELEY

Show #73: The Road to Hades, Shotgun Players, August 6.

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Stages of Grief

Stages of Grief

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.

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No One Expects the Russian Revolution

No One Expects the Russian Revolution

Shotgun Players’ 2008 premiere of Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage was such a resounding success—winning the Glickman Award for best play to premiere in the Bay Area that year—that it’s no wonder that Shotgun commissioned Beowulf playwright Jason Craig and composer Dave Malloy to write another song-play for the company. Beardo is another raucous musical celebration of a legendary badass, this time Grigori Rasputin, the mystic “Mad Monk” who advised the last of the Russian Tsars, Nicholas II, and his wife, the Tsaritsa Alexandra.

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Ten for Twenty-Ten

31 December, 2010 Theater 6 comments

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.

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Homeric Undone

29 December, 2010 Theater No comments
Homeric Undone

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.

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It’s Not Easy Being Queen

It’s Not Easy Being Queen

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.

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The Drums of War

17 September, 2010 Theater No comments
The Drums of War

 

THEATER REVIEW: BERKELEY

Show #93: The Salt Plays, Part One: In the Wound, Shotgun Players, September 11.

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