Editors' Picks: March/April 2015
Monday, March 2, 2015
Writer/actor/comedian Allison Page, co-creative director of the sketch comedy troupe Killing My Lobster, writes and stars in a play about a self-destructive comedian living in drunken squalor. According to the press release, "Maybe she'll turn it all around, or maybe her drunken lies, hungover manipulations and impulsive violence will finally bury her." Place your bets! Claire Rice directs the play for DivaFest, the Exit Theatre's annual festival of works by women. This year's fest is more spread out in time than in years past; in June, Rice will join fellow playwrights Rachel Bublitz and Tracy Held Potter in Loud and Unladylike, three new plays about "historically significant, but lesser known women" who "left their mark on history through their contributions to the arts, sciences, politics, war, civil rights and beyond." Visit divafest.info.
|Allison Page in Hilarity at the Exit Theatre's DivaFest. Photo: Natali Truax
Sam's Other Picks
Aulis: An Act of Nihilism in One Long Act
UC Berkeley Department of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies
Directed by Mina Morita, this world premiere of a new work by Bay Area playwright Christopher Chen (whose The Hundred Flowers Project won the Glickman Award for best play to premiere in the Bay Area in 2012 and was published in the July/August 2013 issue of TBA magazine) has been a long time coming. Formerly called Anomieaulis (a title I always intriguingly misread as Anomienauts), his absurdist take on Euripides's play Iphigenia at Aulis has been bouncing around in one form or another since at least 2008, going from the Bay Area Playwrights Festival to the Edinburgh Fringe to Cutting Ball Theater's Risk Is This Festival. Inspired in part by the Iraq War, Aulis: An Act of Nihilism in One Long Act features King Agamemnon plagued with crippling indecision about whether or not to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia in order to get favorable winds to carry his army's ships to war, while his troops pass the time with video games and sitcoms. Visit tdps.berkeley.edu/events/aulis.
Nick and Nora
42nd Street Moon
One fascinating thing about 42nd Street Moon's mission of reviving obscure and rarely performed musicals is seeing exactly why they're so obscure and rarely performed. Nick and Nora might be a case in point. While other shows in the company's season hail from the 1940s, '50s and '60s, N&N premiered on Broadway as recently as 1991—and was never seen again until now. Nick and Nora set a record for the most preview shows before opening (71) that wasn't broken until Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark a decade later. Once it finally opened to brutal reviews, it closed after only nine performances. In principle an old-fashioned musical about Nick and Nora Charles—the witty and sophisticated crime-solving married couple from Dashiell Hammett's novel The Thin Man and its many movie, radio and TV sequels—seems like a fine idea, and the creative team seemed strong: book by Arthur Laurents (Gypsy, West Side Story), lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. (Miss Saigon) and music by Charles Strouse (Annie, Bye Bye Birdie). So what went wrong? Who dunnit? Now we can find out ourselves in the musical's first post-Broadway outing. Visit 42ndstmoon.org.
Mar. 18–May 30
The Bay Area has long been fortunate to have such a deft comedic performer as Geoff Hoyle in our midst, from his days as the Pickle Family Circus clown Mr. Sniff in the 1970s to his hilarious performances at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, American Conservatory Theater, and many other companies. We've also been treated to many of his own shows over the years, from Feast of Fools at Marines' Memorial to The Convict's Return, Geni(us) and The First Hundred Years at Berkeley Rep and most recently Geezer at the Marsh, where his son Dan frequently performs his own solo shows. Now for his new show at the Marsh, written with and directed by David Ford, the elder Hoyle takes on the role of a fool so iconic he has no other name—the one from Shakespeare's King Lear, at last getting a chance to tell his own side of the story. Visit themarsh.org.
|The ensemble of Antigonick in development of the project. Photo: Jessica Palopoli
Mar. 18–Apr. 29
As editor-in-chief Sam Hurwitt noted in our previous magazine issue, Sophocles's Antigone has been translated and adapted countless times. Makes sense; the story's strong outlines give theatre-makers almost unlimited room for exploration. Many versions emphasize the play's "Individual Versus Oppressive Society" aspect, but what the world premiere audience in 441 BCE would have responded to is its complex depiction of what may have been Western culture's first no-win situation: how to maintain order (or at least discourage bloody rebellion) without creating tyrants who abuse the law and crush the citizens? Anne Carson's Antigonick departs from the original in key ways that still aim to capture its spirit, including radical, modern changes to the dialogue; formal, heightened movement and characters' metacommentary on themselves as public figures. All of the upcoming Antigones seem striking, though, including Cutting Ball's new translation and chillingly relevant Xtigone at African-American Shakespeare, so catch all three! Visit shotgunplayers.org.
Laura's Other Picks
50 Cent Tabernacle—Meredith Monk Ensemble Edition
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
In the nonprofit world, we hear a lot about "small experiments with radical intent" as the real engines of innovation in reaching and serving people. The 50 Cent Tabernacle isn't exactly small, either in ambition or the work involved in producing it, but the idea is wonderfully, radically simple. Especially welcoming to youth (YBCA's Young Artists at Work program hosts) but open to everyone, the events offer five different hour-long dance lessons, taught by local and national masters, for 50 cents...total. Held five times a year, in alignment with YBCA's mainstage shows, this is community/audience engagement done right. Check it out. Visit ybca.org.
In a Word
San Francisco native Lauren Yee has a uniquely sure hand with dialogue. In her plays, conversation—and reality—vaults from the mundanely realistic to the sharply hyperreal and back with disorienting agility. The cognitive dissonance that results is largely the point; Yee deftly demonstrates how language, thoughts, memory and reality often behave in ways we cannot control or even anticipate. Yee's play The Hatmaker's Wife reveals a heartwarming side to this unpredictability (in one scene, its grumpy protagonist shares Cheetos with a golem). In a Word is bleaker, more fragmented, its central couple grasping at words and the past for clues to their son's disappearance. Visit sfplayhouse.org.
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Mar. 13–Apr. 12
Former coartistic directors of Tony-winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune (now closed, sadly), Dominique Serrand and Steven Epp reunite to give Molière's most popular comedy another whirl. Those who caught The Miser at Berkeley Rep in 2006 know that Epp (most recently seen at BRT as the Maniac in Accidental Death of an Anarchist) brings a madcap comic athleticism to the stage that Serrand's crisp discipline does much to sharpen and focus. Drawing on the great physical comedy traditions of commedia dell'arte, European mime and the work of Charlie Chaplin, this team still has the power to surprise. Visit berkeleyrep.org.
Jeri Lynn Cohen in "The Office" by Alice Munro. Photo: Mark Leialoha
Stories by Alice Munro: The Office and Dolly
Word for Word
Mar. 4–Apr. 12
For my valedictory editors' picks, I'm thrilled to recommend a writer whose short stories I always part with reluctantly. They are more than confidantes, these pieces; they ennoble all that I do that's banal or inward or impulsive. Canadian author Alice Munro, who is now 83 and who won the Nobel Prize in 2013, is known for her unadorned, unsentimental prose and strong female characters. But what I love most about her work is its narrative structure. She veers away from outcomes that seem obvious or inevitable and then magically makes the unexpected seem natural, perfect. Word for Word dramatizes these stories—one about a young woman's quest for a room of one's own, the other about an older couple's tested love—as they're written, "she said"s and all. Company favorites Sheila Balter, Jeri Lynn Cohen, Paul Finocchiaro and Susan Harloe star; Joel Mullennix directs. Visit zspace.org/w4w.
Lily's Other Picks
A Murder of Crows
Cutting Ball Theater
This staged reading exemplifies the important work of Cutting Ball's Hidden Classics series: to help canonize underproduced plays and playwrights. Mac Wellman's 1991 drama should especially appeal to my fellow Sam Shepard acolytes; it follows a rural family who's "always downwind of something peculiar," including a Gulf War vet who spends most of the play as a statue on a pedestal, both rusting and photosynthesizing. It's also linguistically lush: The ocean's "a big bowl of custard, wiggly custard"; an avalanche is a "ghastly, wolfish slime." Note: the characters also talk about things that aren't icky liquids. Visit cuttingball.com.
Crowded Fire Theater
Apr. 9–May 2
This West Coast premiere has great lead roles for women of color—two black college professors vying for tenure seemingly against each other, though one teaches at a state university and the other at a liberal arts college—and great women of color helming them: Lauren Spencer, who returns to Crowded Fire after a nuanced, tremulous performance in The Late Wedding, and Safiya Fredericks, who makes her debut with the company. Under the direction of Mina Morita, Idris Goodwin's black comedy also stars Michele Leavy as the pair's mysterious, menacing waitress who fans the flames of the academics' rivalry. Visit crowdedfire.org.
Mar. 5–Apr. 18
One of the most exciting additions to the San Francisco arts scene is PianoFight's new three-stage venue, which hosts shows by SF Theater Pub, Killing My Lobster and many others, as well as homegrown productions like this one. ShortLived flouts the conventions of playwriting competitions: it's fast and furious, in contrast to the months or years of typical submission turnaround, and instead of being judged by the supposed experts—such as, I don't know, critics—the audience is in charge. That's you, boss, so avail yourself of the venue's full bar and restaurant as you vote! Visit pianofight.com.
About the editors:
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.
Laura Brueckner is digital content manager for Theatre Bay Area, and the author of "Bread and Circuits," an apparently annual TBA Online column on intersections of theatre and technology. She is also resident dramaturg at Crowded Fire Theater in San Francisco and holds a PhD in dramaturgy.
Lily Janiak was listings editor for Theatre Bay Area. We miss her. She is also a theatre critic for publications including SF Weekly and HowlRound.