Sam’s Editors’ Picks: November/December 2013
Monday, November 11, 2013
By Sam Hurwitt
Tristan & Yseult
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Nov. 22–Jan. 6
Straight outta Cornwall, Kneehigh Theatre became a recurring force in Bay Area theatre with the dazzling theatricality of Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter at American Conservatory Theater in 2009 and The Wild Bride at Berkeley Rep in 2011 and again in 2012. Now Kneehigh’s back to bring us the show that really established the reputation of the 33-year-old company and artistic director Emma Rice internationally, 2003’s Tristan & Yseult. The tale of the titular lovers was made famous through 12th-century French poetry but became incorporated into Arthurian legend in myriad ways—by inspiring the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot and by Tristan himself being inserted into the story as a knight of the Round Table. There are many variants of the romance of the Cornish knight and the Irish princess, but the basics are these: Tristan’s king and uncle, Mark, sends Tristan to Ireland to fetch Yseult, the king’s bride-to-be, but on the way Tristan and Yseult drink a love potion and fall hopelessly in love with each other. As in the Arthurian version, all three of them love each other, but what are they to do? A polyamorous threesome is sadly probably out of the question. Kneehigh’s version adds a heaping helping of comedy, multilingual dialogue, cross-dressing and circus elements to the already mixed-up situation. Visit berkeleyrep.org.
Andrew Durand and Patrycja Kujawska in Tristan & Yseult. Photo: Steve Tanner
Sam’s Other Picks
Troilus and Cressida
Nov. 7–Dec. 15
I’m excited about Troilus and Cressida for purely selfish reasons, because it’s one of the two remaining William Shakespeare plays that I still haven’t seen on stage. (It’ll probably be a long time before I get to see the other one, Henry VIII, because opportunities to see Troilus pop up maybe once a decade, but nobody ever does that damn Tudor king.) Troilus is an odd specimen; set during the Trojan War but rooted in medieval legend rather than actual Greek myth, it starts off being the star-crossed love story of a Trojan prince and a priest’s daughter in wartime, when women are traded as bargaining chips, but ends up almost abandoning that story to focus on the fate of Hector. The tone just as quickly shifts from playful comedy to portentous doom and woe and dark cynicism, something director Melissa Hillman should have a field day with—particularly because, as Impact Theatre says on its website, “it proves disturbingly prescient in its resonance to today’s world of rape culture.” Visit impacttheatre.com.
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
Nov. 10–Dec. 8
Winner of the 2012 Tony Award for best revival of a musical, this is a greatly retooled Porgy and Bess, turning the 1935 American folk opera by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward into a Broadway musical. Directed by Diane Paulus, this new version boasts spoken dialogue adapted by the great playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and George Gershwin’s magnificent music tweaked by Deidre Murray (composer of the jazz opera Running Man). It also attempts to rethink the depiction of African American life, since many had long found the show’s depiction of the beggars, drug dealers, craps players and other poor black folk of Catfish Row problematic. But you can’t argue with the music, as Porgy is full to bursting with classics such as “Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “I Loves You, Porgy” and “I Got Plenty of Nothing.” Visit shnsf.com.
Be Bop Baby: A Musical Memoir
I have to break the streak of pairs of lovers for this one, but I couldn’t possibly pass up the long-awaited premiere of Margo Hall’s account of growing up in a musical family in Detroit. One of the Bay Area’s most reliably excellent actors, Hall recounts her eccentric childhood with stepfather Teddy Harris Jr., a significant player on the Motown scene. A jazz theatre collaboration with composer Marcus Shelby, Be Bop Baby stars Hall alongside Halili Knox, Dawn Troupe-Masi and Mujahid Abdul-Rashid as well as the 14-piece Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra. Visit zspace.org.
Sam Hurwitt is editor-in-chief for Theatre Bay Area. He is also the author of The Idiolect, a blog about theatre, movies, comics, media and the decline and fall of Western civilization. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.