ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Set in two different centuries, Tom’s Stoppard’s “Arcadia” is a smart romantic play that uses garden design as metaphor for progress, at A.C.T. through June 9, 2013

Rebekah Brockman is brainy Thomasina Coverly and Jack Cutmore-Scott is her ambitious tutor, Septimus Hodge, in A.C.T.’s production of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” directed by Carey Perloff, through June 9, 2013.  Photo by Kevin Berne.

Rebekah Brockman is brainy Thomasina Coverly and Jack Cutmore-Scott is her ambitious tutor, Septimus Hodge. Their smart repartee is divine and their on stage chemistry is magic in A.C.T.’s production of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” directed by Carey Perloff, through June 9, 2013. Photo by Kevin Berne.

I saw Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia for the first time, when it opened last Wednesday at A.C.T. (American Conservatory Theatre) and, already, I’m already planning to go again. It’s gardening season and time is precious but I was seduced by this dazzling production whose action that moves between the 19th century and the present and its riveting exploration of how big ideas take root, blossom, and then, become compost. The repartee and on-stage chemistry of the fine actors, the gorgeous set design and overall flow of the performance added up to an unforgettable evening. I was hooked once I discovered that, at its core, Arcadia uses tensions in garden design as a metaphor for progress. Frequently, when I describe plays to friends who live up in the wine country, no matter how good the production is, they bemoan the drive in to San Francisco, especially during gardening season.  Well, here it is!—a play brimming with ideas that will have you cutting your precious antique roses with renewed zeal because you’re on fire with ideas and how gardens through time embody them.  Whether you’re an orderly classicist who believes in preserving the structure of things or you’re more of a romantic who views structure as a straightjacket, and are constantly tossing out the old rules in favor of the new, there’s something intoxicating in Stoppard’s romantic story that will leave you exquisitely satisfied and slightly perplexed that you haven’t quite caught it all.

Set in Sidley Park, an English stately home, in two different centuries, the play opens in Edwardian 1809, much in the fashion of an Oscar Wilde drawing-room farce. The first thing you notice is Douglas W. Schmidt’s expansive drawing room set, appointed with picturesque trees that wind elegantly around the room. Septimus Hodge (played by Jack Cutmore-Scott), a young science graduate, is resident tutor to Thomasina Coverley (played by Rebekah Brockman), the precocious 13-year old daughter of the owners of Sidley Park. The two are cozied up at a wooden table. Reading through her Latin homework, she asks him, quite innocently, to explain what “carnal embrace” means. When he tells her, she is appalled. “Now whenever I do it, I shall think of you!” she gasps. “Is it like love?” He replies: “Oh no my lady, it is much nicer than that.” 

(from L-R): Rebekah Brockman (Thomasina Coverly), Jack Cutmore-Scott (Septimus Hodge), Adam O’Byrne (Valentine Coverly), and Gretchen Egolf (Hannah Jarvis) in A.C.T.’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, directed by Carey Perloff. Photo by Kevin Berne

(from L-R): Rebekah Brockman (Thomasina Coverly), Jack Cutmore-Scott (Septimus Hodge), Adam O’Byrne (Valentine Coverly), and Gretchen Egolf (Hannah Jarvis) in A.C.T.’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, directed by Carey Perloff. Photo by Kevin Berne

Turns out that Septimus has been practicing that on which he expounds—he was seen having a “perpendicular poke” in the gazebo with Mrs. Chater, the wife of a visiting poet. Their tutoring session is interrupted by a note from Mr. Chater, demanding he receive “satisfaction” for his wounded honor in the form of a duel. Septimus moans: “Mrs. Chater demanded satisfaction and now you demand satisfaction. I cannot spend my day and night satisfying the demands of the Chater family.” When Mr Chater arrives in a fury, Septimus asserts that he won’t engage in a pistol-fight to defend the honor of “a woman whose reputation could not be adequately defended with a platoon of musketry deployed by rota.” Septimus is also pursuing Lady Croom, Thomasina’s pert mother, but she has her eyes fixed on nabbing Lord Byron, Septimus’ college pal.

The play then shifts abruptly to the 1990s, and a more realist style. In the same house, and using the same set, a historian, Hannah Jarvis, is delving into Sidley Park’s history, with the permission of the Croom family. She is immersed in her research and in piecing together stories from the past.

She is interrupted by her rival, a patronizing old English fart, Bernard Nightingale, who has discovered a note that Chater wrote to Septimus in an old book.  He is convinced that the note was written by Lord Byron, the great Romantic poet, who happened to be visiting Sidley Park that weekend— and that he fought in the duel and killed Chater. He posits that this would explain why Byron fled to France in 1810 and asserts that he is hot on the trail of “the literary discovery of the century” which will make him a media sensation.

Rebekah Brockman (Thomasina Coverly) and Jack Cutmore-Scott (Septimus Hodge) in A.C.T.’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, directed by Carey Perloff. Photo by Kevin Berne

Rebekah Brockman (Thomasina Coverly) and Jack Cutmore-Scott (Septimus Hodge) in A.C.T.’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, directed by Carey Perloff. Photo by Kevin Berne

Those are the bare bones. The action unfolds from 1809 to 1812, while the characters in the late 20th century attempt to untangle what happened by reviewing what they know about their lives. The stories alternate until, in the final scene, all the characters appear on stage together, waltzing past each other, unseen.

Rebekah Brockman delivers an astounding and entirely believable performance as Thomasina, the innocent girl genius, the heart and soul of the play.  Her natural chemistry with her tutor, Septimus, Jack Cutmore-Scott, is a delight.  As he educates her in the basics of Newton’s laws of physics, she quickly demonstrates that her grasp of the implications of these principles far exceeds that of her adult peers.  She’s able to cut to chase using very familiar examples, making astounding connections between seemingly unrelated things—“When you stir your rice pudding, Septimus, the spoonful of jam spreads itself round making red trails like the picture of a meteor in my astronomical atlas. But if you stir backward, the jam will not come together again. Indeed, the pudding does not notice and continues to turn pink just as before. (1.1).”  Later, she makes observations about what happens with free will in a world where we are all merely atoms following the laws of motion in Newton’s universe.  It is she who leads Septimus to see the flaws in Newton, and he, in turn, who falls for her.

The present day couple—Hannah and Bernard, played by Gretchen Egolf and Andy Murray—due to their lack of on stage chemistry, is less dynamic, though they both, as feuding scholars, represent interesting ideas.  She is a model of classical reserve while he, boisterous and passionate, follows his gut instincts and prefers to reject the hard evidence that leads to the conclusion that Byron was not the killer he initially thought him to be.       

And the garden?  The garden at Sidley Park is never actually seen but its symbolic presence is felt throughout the play, as styles (Romanticism and Classicism) and their attenuate ideas butt up against each other.

Says Perloff: “To me Arcadia is the perfect play: sexy, subtle, romantic, bracing, hilarious, and complex, rewarding multiple viewings and multiple explorations. When I directed the show at A.C.T. in 1995, the Geary Theater was still undergoing repairs from the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake, so we have never done it on The Geary stage. Now we’ve gathered an incredible company and it is truly a fulfillment of a dream for me to bring Arcadia back to A.C.T.”

More on the origin of “Arcadia”— Arcadia is part of the Peloponnese peninsula and in European Renaissance arts was celebrated as an unspoiled, harmonious wilderness, even an imaginary idyllic paradise, immortalized by Virgil’s Eclogues, and later by Jacopo Sannazaro in his pastoral masterpiece, Arcadia (1504). The Latin phrase “Et in Arcadia ego,” which is usually
interpreted to mean “Even in Arcadia there am I” (“I” meaning Death), is a memento mori, a cautionary reminder of the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death. The phrase is most often associated with a 1647 painting by Nicolas Poussin, also known as “The
Arcadian Shepherds.”  In the painting, the phrase appears as an inscription on a tomb discovered by youthful figures in classical garb.

Best Garden Quote:  “English landscape was invented by gardeners imitating foreign painters who were evoking classical authors. The whole thing was brought home in the luggage from the grand tour. Here, look – Capability Brown doing Claude, who was doing Virgil. Arcadia! And here, superimposed by Richard Noakes, untamed nature in the style of Salvator Rosa. It’s the Gothic novel expressed in landscape. Everything but vampires.”  (Hannah 1.2)

Run time:   2 hours and 35 minutes with a 15 minute intermission

CAST:  Rebekah Brockman is Thomasina Coverly; Jack Cutmore-Scott is Septimus Hodge; Julia Coffey is Lady Croom; Allegra Rose Edwards is Chloë Coverly; Gretchen Egolf is Hannah Jarvis; Anthony Fusco is Richard Noakes; Nick Gabriel is Captain Brice; Andy Murray is Bernard Nightingale; Adam O’Byrne is Valentine Coverly); Nicholas Pelczar is Ezra Chater; Ken Ruta is Jellaby.

CREATIVE TEAM:  by Tom Stoppard;  Directed by Carey Perloff.   Douglas W. Schmidt (scenic designer), Alex Jaeger (costume designer), Alexander V. Nichols (lighting designer), Jake Rodriguez (sound designer).

InterACT Programming for Arcadia— InterACT events are presented free of charge to give patrons a chance to get closer to the action while making a whole night out of their evening at the theatre. Visit act-­‐sf.org/interact to learn more about subscribing to these events throughout the season:

Audience  Exchanges: Tuesday, May 28, at 7 p.m. | Sun., June 2, at 2 p.m. | Wed., June 5, at 2 p.m.  Learn firsthand what goes into the making of great theatre. After the show, join A.C.T. on stage for a lively onstage chat with the cast, designers and artists who develop the work onstage.

OUT with A.C.T.:  Wednesday, May 29, following the 8 p.m. performanceThe best LGBT night in town! Mingle with the cast and enjoy free drinks and treats at this popular afterparty.

Wine Series: Tuesday, June 4, at 7 p.m.  Before the show, raise a glass at this wine tasting event featuring leading sommeliers from the Bay Area’s hottest local wineries.

PlayTime: Saturday, June 8, at 2 p.m.  Before this matinee performance, get hands-­‐on with theater with the artists who make it happen at this interactive workshop.

Bike to the Theater Nights: Thursday, May 23.   Providing a greener alternative to theater transportation, A.C.T. and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition offer free valet bike parking, as well as a special discount on tickets, for these select performances.

Details: Arcadia runs through June 9, 2013 at American Conservatory Theater, 405 Geary Street, San Francisco.  Performances are 8 p.m. most Tuesdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. most Wednesdays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. most Sundays. Tickets: $20 to $95, phone 415.749.2228, or visit www.act-sf.org .

A.C.T.’s 2013–14 season:  Seven incredible productions await A.C.T. patrons in 2013-14, including the West Coast premiere of Tony Award–winning director Frank Galati’s acclaimed new staging of 1776; the Northern California premiere of David Ives’s captivating cat-­‐and-­‐mouse drama, Venus in Fur; James Fenton’s beautiful reinvention of The Orphan of Zhao, starring the inimitable stage and film star BD Wong; and a sumptuous production of George Bernard Shaw’s political comedy Major Barbara. The remaining three shows will be announced at a later date. In addition to the seven-­‐play subscription season, A.C.T. is happy to welcome back the Bay Area’s favorite holiday tradition, the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, after its record-­‐breaking run last season.  To subscribe or for more information, please click here, or call 415.749.2250.

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May 28, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A.C.T.’s “Stuck Elevator,” a new musical-theatre-opera hybrid that will make you want to take the stairs, through April 28, 2013

In “Stuck Elevator,” which has its world premiere at A.C.T., Julius Ahn is Chinese deliveryman Guāng who gets stuck in an elevator for over three days and starts to hallucinate.  The musical-theatre-opera hybrid runs April 4 – 28, 2013, at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater. Photo by Kevin Berne

In “Stuck Elevator,” which has its world premiere at A.C.T., Julius Ahn is Chinese deliveryman Guāng who gets stuck in an elevator for over three days and starts to hallucinate. The musical-theatre-opera hybrid runs April 4 – 28, 2013, at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Photo by Kevin Berne

If you’ve ever been stuck in an elevator, the memory never leaves you. In 2005, a 35 year-old Chinese-food deliveryman, Ming Kuang Chen, an immigrant from Fujian province who owed over $60,000 to human traffickers, was trapped in an elevator for 81 hours. Just after he had dropped off a $15 delivery, his elevator, an express lift, stalled out between the fourth and third floors of a 38 floor Bronx high-rise. Talk about being “boxed in”—despite a complete lack of food and water, he was terrified to push the emergency alarm because he was an undocumented immigrant and feared the consequences of being found by authorities even more. His 81 hour ordeal is the basis of Stuck Elevator, a gripping 81 minute musical hybrid by composer Byron Au Yong and librettist, playwright and hip hop poet Aaron Jafferis, which has its world premiere at A.C.T. (American Conservatory Theater).  Obie Award winner director, Chay Yew (currently artistic director of Victory Gardens Theatre), transforms Chen’s traumatic ordeal into a mesmerizing musical of solo and ensemble performances.   Ranging from opera to energizing doses of hip-hop, the music richly captures his physical and mental collapse as well as the symbolic journey of the displaced immigrant in our society.  The songs, all sung in English, have Chinese supertitles and address his memories of his wife and son in China as well as his isolation and stress as an expendable worker in the U.S., omnipresent in our society yet virtually invisible as an individual.  Stuck Elevator runs through April 28, 2013.

Young and Jafferis’s story opens with Chinese food delivery man, Guāng (光), standing at the elevator door, celebrating his good fortune at having made a $15 delivery which yielded a generous tip.  He leveraged everything he had just to get to the States and all he earns isn’t enough to make even a small dent in what he owes to Snake Man, his trafficker—$60,000.  

Julius Ahn delivers a thoroughly engrossing Guāng, a gentle, seemingly honest and hardworking delivery man who, through no fault of his own, was trapped long before he got stuck in the elevator.  His predicament is better than it was in China but as an undocumented worker who doesn’t speak English, he’s living the dark side of the American dream, where the climb up is precarious.   His dreams to bring his wife and son to the States are fanned by frequent phone calls to them in China where he sugar coats the reality of his situation.  Remarkably,  Stuck Elevator opened the very day (April 16th) that our Senate’s “Gang of Eight” revealed a much-anticipated (estimated 1,500 page) comprehensive immigration reform package whose main provision creates a quick path to legalization for undocumented immigrants.    

Julius Ahn as Guāng, Marie-France Arcilla as Míng and Raymond J. Lee as Wáng Yuè in “Stuck Elevator,” playing April 4 – 28, 2013 at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Julius Ahn as Guāng, Marie-France Arcilla as Míng and Raymond J. Lee as Wáng Yuè in “Stuck Elevator,” playing April 4 – 28, 2013 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Ahn/Guāng carries the show—he’s the only actor who never leaves the stage.  The rest—Marie-France Arcilla, Raymond J. Lee, Joseph Anthony Foronda and Joel Perez—take on multiple roles playing Guang’s family and close associates.   Ahn, a classically trained operatic tenor (Madame Butterfly at Nashville Opera; Turandot at Seattle Opera), delivers solos in a range of styles seamlessly.  He also performs evocative ballads with Marie-France Arcilla (wife Míng) that convey the genuine love the couple share. 

Overall, Stuck Elevator has the energy and feel of a musical you’d see on Broadway  and is a perfect example of the musical theatre hybrid that opera houses and theatre companies alike are experimenting with.  (San Francisco Opera has engaged Francesca Zambello to direct a grand scale production of Show Boat as part of its 2014 fall season.)   Complementing the singing is A.C.T.’s highly creative use of its space—singers perform from the balcony and even come down the aisles, making the songs even more engaging.  At one point when Guāng and Míng exchange letters, they launch paper airplanes across the stage and out into the audience, a simple but clever representation of air mail.  

Daniel Ostling’s stark set is in perfect tune with the drab misery of Guāng’s life. The elevator is a steel open frame box that, in an instant, becomes his cage.  It rises up and down on steel posts but most of the movement in this production is mental—the personalities and demons Guāng conjures as he passes time waiting to be found.

 Kate Freer’s enormous video projections are visible through the elevator’s open walls, illustrating the eerie but rich dialogue between Guāng and his inner demons.  One thing that fascinates about these painterly projections, reminiscent of the early work of pioneering video artist Tony Oursler, is the way in which they awaken emotions.  A particularly compelling projection is a blown up portrait of Guāng’s face which dominates the background as he writhes powerless on the elevator’s floor, compelling us to really see him as an individual.  And that is the journey of this production, coming to a place where we can relate to Guāng’s plight.

Joseph Anthony Foronda as El Elevator and Julius Ahn as Guāng in “Stuck Elevator,” playing April 4 – 28, 2013 at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Joseph Anthony Foronda as El Elevator and Julius Ahn as Guāng in “Stuck Elevator,” playing April 4 – 28, 2013 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Later, when Guāng melts down and his demons actually come to life, things start to get too busy. When he, in a state of hallucination, does actual battle with a silvery alien robot, or a giant fortune cookie appears urging him to pull a fortune out of her head, the production leers off course to the farcical or absurd, distracting from his very real and poignant emotional journey.  If there’s a weak link in this production this is it—it goes too far.   

While the story is set in the U.S., the writers missed the opportunity to give a overview of the enormity of the global problem—rapid modernization is almost always at the expense of the work force.  Chinese workers, particularly migrant workers, lead lives of extraordinary hardship to offer their children a way out of poverty and are often confronted with a series of choices that all lead to undesirable outcomes, hence the urgency to get to America.  Once here, of course, the reality is often far from the dream.  Guāng again becomes a nameless cog in a wheel, toiling day and night to chaise an elusive dream that, more often than naught, includes more hazards than rewards.  The elevator is indeed “stuck.”

CAST: Julius Ahn (Madame Butterfly at Nashville Opera; Turandot at Seattle Opera) as Guāng. The following actors play multiple roles, with their main rle listed—Raymond J. Lee (Anything Goes and Mamma Mia! on Broadway) as Wáng Yuè (王越), Guāng’s 8-year-old son; Marie-France Arcilla (Working at Off-Broadways’ 59E59 Theaters; Sondheim on Sondheim at the Cleveland Playhouse) as Míng (明), Guāng’s wife; Joel Perez (In the Heights , 1st national tour; Fun Home at the Public Theater) as Marco, the wisecracking Mexican deliveryman; and Joseph Anthony Foronda (Pacific Overtures and Miss Saigon on Broadway) as Zhōng Yi (忠佚), Guāng’s brother-in-law.

CREATIVE TEAM: scenic designer Daniel Ostling (Endgame and Play and Once in a Lifetime at A.C.T.; Clybourne Park on Broadway); costume designer Myung Hee Cho (Lackawanna Blues at A.C.T.; Emotional Creature at Berkeley Rep); lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols (Endgame and Play at A.C.T.; Hugh Jackman Back on Broadway and Wishful Drinking on Broadway); video designer Kate Freer (Bullet for Adolph at New World Stages; P.S. Jones and the Frozen City); and sound designer Mikhail Fiksel (Black n Blue Boys at Berkeley Rep; In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) at St. Louis Repertory). 

InterACT Programming for Stuck Elevator: InterACT events are presented free of charge to give patrons a chance to get closer to the action while making a whole night out of their evening at the theatre.

Audience Exchanges:  Sunday, April 21, at 2 p.m. | Wednesday Apr. 24, at 2 p.m. Sunday, Learn firsthand what goes into the making of great theatre. After the show, join A.C.T. on stage for a lively onstage chat with the cast, designers and artists who develop the work onstage.

Wine Series: Tuesday, April 23, at 7 p.m. Raise a glass at this wine-tasting event featuring leading sommeliers from the Bay Area’s hottest local wineries.

PlayTime: Saturday, April 27, 12:30 p.m.  Before this matiness performance, get hands on with theatre and the artists who make it happens at the interactive preshow workshop.

Details:  Stuck Elevator runs through April 28, 2013 at American Conservatory Theater, 405 Geary Street, San Francisco.  Performances are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. most Wednesdays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. most Sundays.  Tickets: $20 to $90, phone 415.749.2228 or visit www.act-sf.org

Up Next at A.C.T. — National Theatre of Scotland’s internationally acclaimed production of Black Watch makes its highly anticipated Bay Area premiere May 9, 2013 at The Drill Court at the Armory Community Center, located in San Francisco’s Mission District, a space used as a National Guard facility from 1914 until 1976.  Based on interviews with soldiers who served in Iraq in Scotland’s 300-year-old Black Watch regiment, this powerful depiction of war splices together choreographed marches and Scottish ballads with searing video news footage, capturing war from the perspective of those on the ground—what it really means to be part of the war on terror and what it means to make the journey home again.  Through June 9, 2103.

A.C.T. wraps its 2012-13 season with a new production of Tom Stoppard’s rich comedy Arcadia.  In pursuit of a major literary sensation, two obsessive modern-day scholars piece together the volatile and passionate events that took place centuries earlier.  This enchanting story moves between the 19th century and the present through a series of love stories.  Characters from both eras discover connections, unearth mysteries and unravel hidden truths. May 16 – June 9, 2013.

April 19, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: In Amy Herzog’s “4,000 Miles,” a directionless young man moves in with his feisty grandma and it works, at A.C.T. through February 10, 2013

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In Amy Herzog’s new play 4,000 Miles, which has its West Coast premiere at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.), twenty-something Leo, arrives in the middle of the night at his grandma Vera’s apartment in Greenwich Village after having biked some 4,000 miles from Seattle.  She’s an old Communist and he epitomizes the aimlessness of the failure-to-launch generation.  While on the trip, there was an accident and Leo’s best friend and biking partner was killed, and he decides to take respite with Vera, a surprisingly spry 91-year-old widow.  As these two unlikely roommates re-connect, both grief-shattered in their own way, a surprisingly tender, honest and healing connection is forged which makes for a quietly captivating drama.  What’s unique about this play, is that on its opening night—last Wednesday—it managed to pack the Geary Theatre, at least the balcony section where I was seated, with young adults who were thoroughly engrossed in its story.   How wonderful it was to see row after row of young and older, side by side, everyone enjoying this intergenerational drama.  

As it turns out, playwright Amy Herzog is just 33 but she’s on a roll—“4000 Miles” was the recipient of two 2012 Obie Awards, including best new American play.  4000 Miles had its 2011 world premiere at New York’s Lincoln Center Theatre, where it played to sold-out houses and received accolades from critics.  At A.C.T., under Mark Rucker’s skillful direction, the play’s emotional resonance lingers long after the 95 minute performance.

Like many young adults, easy-going Leo is searching for something that will give his life meaning.  And while it’s not immediately obvious, he actually has a lot in common with his grandma—they are both non-conformists, refreshingly honest, good listeners and open minded.  That’s a very good thing because all the other women in Leo’s life have issues with him.  His mother is disappointed in his ability to keep in touch, especially after he and his adoptive sister got high on Peyote and he kissed her.  His adoptive sister is supposedly in therapy over the event.  Bec, his girlfriend, can’t understand his immaturity.  And Amanda, a drunken young woman he picks up and brings home to Vera’s place, can’t figure out what he wants either.  After some initial trust issues are worked through, Vera really warms to Leo’s presence and has a palpable influence on him.  By listening and not judging, she meets his emotional needs and, by the end of the play, Leo is exhibiting some long overdue maturity.  He is salve for her wounds too.  As Vera talks about the old days, her marriage and the family, Leo listens.  This is priceless because Leo, it turns out, is her sole confidant.

Herzog based the play on her real-life grandmother, Leepee Joseph, now 96, who she lived with for six months in New York when she was just getting her start as a novice actor.   Leepee also figured prominently in her 2010 play “After the Revolution,” which has character named Vera Joseph, who was also a widowed grandma and card-carrying Communist.  In that play, Vera’s granddaughter learns that Vera’s deceased husband had been a Soviet spy.  Herzog also drew inspiration from her own grueling cross-country bike ride trip a decade ago with Habitat for Humanity that ended with a ride across the Golden Gate Gate Bridge.

Reggie Gowland shines as soft-spoken, laid-back and scrambled Leo and there’s a lot to recognize in this character.  Leo epitomizes the generation of young adults now in their twenties—aimless but likeable adult-kids who are ambling through life, unable to make decisions and satisfied to let the chips fall as they may.

Susan Blommaert plays Vera Joseph as a declining force to be reckoned with.   Her interaction with Leo is funny and seems completely natural; whether she’s accusing him of stealing something she’s actually misplaced or reaching her limit when it comes to talk about sex or searching for a forgotten word.  She also has an affecting and gruff phone rapport with her elderly neighbor.  They have a kind of mutual pact where they call each other daily, partially out of loneliness and to make sure they are each still alive.  Blommaert, 65, is well-known to audiences from her roles in various episodes of the long-running tv series Law and Order, as well as The Good Wife, Guarding Tess, Boardwalk Empire and Doubt. 

Julia Lawler is excellent as Bec, Leo’s long-distance girlfriend who has recently completed college and can no longer relate to Leo’s ambling mentality.

Camille Mana is delightful as inebriated Parson’s student who Leo brings home for a make-out session that is interrupted by Vera.

Everything flows naturally in Herzog’s compassionate drama which all takes place in Vera’s pleasantly out-of-date living room.  At the end of “4,000 Miles,” we come to realization that being a young adult and an adult facing the end of life, are very confusing and frustrating times.  While each of Herzog’s four characters has a complex back story, as we all do, the light is clearly focused on Leo and Vera.  And even though we might like to believe that we don’t have too much in common with these two wounded souls, both grappling with the shattering aftershock of death—one about to graduate to adulthood and the other witnessing it slip away—we all do.

Run Time: 95 minutes without intermission.

CAST: Reggie Gowland as Leo Joseph-Connell; Susan Blommaert as Vera Joseph; Julia Lawler as Bec; and Camille Mana as Amanda.

CREATIVE TEAM: 4000 Miles is directed by A.C.T. Associate Director Mark Rucker with scenic designer Erik Flatmo (Higher and Scapin at A.C.T.); costume designer Alex Jaeger (Maple and Vine and Once in a Lifetime at A.C.T.; Looped at Pasadena Playhouse); lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols (Endgame and Play at A.C.T.; Hugh Jackman Back on Broadway and Wishful Drinking on Broadway); and sound design by Will McCandless (Higher at A.C.T.; Spunk and Blithe Spirit at California Shakespeare Theater).

Audience Exchanges: Stick around after the shows on Tuesday, January 29 at 7 p.m., Sunday, February 3 at 2 p.m. and Wednesday February 6 at 2 p.m. for a lively Q&A with the actors and artists who create the work onstage.

Details: 4,000 Miles runs through February 10, 2013 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theatre, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco.  Tickets: $20-$105, available online through A.C.T.’s online box office or (415) 439-2473.

January 26, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: In Carey Perloff’s riveting production of Sophocles’ “Elektra,” Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis and A.C.T.’s fabulous René Augesen enliven this age old tale of justice—at A.C.T. through November 18, 2012

L to R: René Augesen is Elektra, Olympia Dukakis is the Chorus Leader, and Allegra Rose Edwards is Chrysothemis (Elektra’s sister) in Sophocles’ “Elektra,” directed by Carey Perloff at A.C.T. Photo by Kevin Berne.

With American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) and Berkeley Rep, the Bay Area’s two most prominent theatres, staging revitalized Greek dramas this November, there’s no escaping the enduring power of the ancient Greek classics. A.C.T. presents A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff’s production of Sophocles’ Greek tragedy Elektra — featuring a specially commissioned new translation by Olivier Award–winning British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker, an original score by Pulitzer Prize–winning composer David Lang and Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis. Across the Bay, the Berkeley Repertory Theatre has extended its run of An Iliad, performed by Henry Woronicz and adapted from Homer by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare with a compelling translation by Robert Fagles. An Iliad provides an unforgettable
oral overview of the battles and main characters of the Trojan War, which transpired some 3,200 years ago.  Elektra is set later and focuses on the fall-out from one of those ancient wars and is a cause and effect case study in the ideas of justice and vengeance, pitting truth and deception against each other.  Sophocles left it up to the audience to ferret out the ethics of avenging a strike to the family bloodline with more murder.  Timberlake Wertenbaker distills the story brilliantly in her adaptation with poignant and, at times, very humorous passages which are enlivened by René Augesen in particular.

A.C.T.’s Elektra is a must-see for the exceptional women it brings together on stage— René Augesen, Olympia Dukakis, Caroline Lagerfelt and Allegra Rose Edwards.  Watching A.C.T. core actress René Augesen over the past 11 years has been transformative—she just keeps digging deeper to deliver astounding character performances (she’s done over 30) that have come to anchor entire productions from Hedda in Hedda Gabbler (2007) to Esme in Tom Stoppard’s Rock–n-Roll (2008) to Ruth in Harold Pinter’s Homecoming (2011) to Beverly in Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park (2011). She always good but when she gets on stage as Elektra, Agamemnon’s grief-stricken grown daughter, it is like watching some sort of primal creature emerge. She readily delivers an Elektra who cannot shake the traumatic memory of her father’s murder by her mother Clytemnestra (Caroline Lagerfelt), an Elektra who is so obsessed, so stuck in grief, that she is incapable of moving forward in her own life. Augesen credibly sinks to the lowest suffering imaginable showing the heroic and tragic nature of her character. She is addicted to pain and we can all somehow relate to that.

Caroline Lagerfelt (left) is Clytemnestra, Elektra’s mother, who was unfaithful to her husband, King Agamemnon, when he was away fighting the Trojan War and then conspied with her lover to kill him when he returned home. René Augesen (right) is Elektra who seeks to avenge her father Agamemnon’s murder. Photo by Kevin Berne.

As the entire chorus, boiled down to one character, Olympia Dukakis is formidable. The Academy-Award winning actress (Moonstruck), now 81, seems born dispensing wise counsel.  At times empathetic, at times burning with intensity, she urges the distraught Elektra to justice, knowing full-well the blood that will be shed.  Clothed in a dark gray tunic with an ornate metallic scrolling on the front (all costumes are by Candice Donnelly), Dukakis dramatically entered to the very minimalist music of Pulitzer Prize winning David Lang, which successfully evoked the sense of ancient rhythms and tones as they might have existed in that very time.  As cellist Theresa Wong began keening and wrapping on her instrument, it was as if she was calling up the ancient spirits.  As Dukakis took to the stage, she transfixed the audience and held them in her grip for the next 90 minutes.  Her natural rapport with Augesen is palpable.

And lithe Caroline Lagerfelt, as Clytemnestra, Elektra’s adulterous murderer of a mother, is a model for glorious aging.  She wears the trappings of queen hood well—exquisite jewelry and eloquent flowing gowns—and she feels justified in killing Agamemnon.  Is she?  Her daughter, Iphigenia, was murdered, in a deal that her husband Agamemnon cut with the goddess Artemis to save the Greeks in the Trojan War.  As morally reprehensible as she is, she has a case, adding complexity to the drama. In fact, many of the characters feel justified in their actions in this play—Clytemnestra needs to extract justice on Agamemnon for the death of her daughter; Orestes needs to kill his mother Clytemnestra for killing his father; and Elektra feels bound to kill Clytemnestra and her new husband Aegisthus, but as woman, she needs her brother Orestes to carry out the revenge.  With no divine intervention, Sophocles leaves the question of justice squarely on his audience.

Allegra Rose Edwards (left) is Chrysothemis and René Augesen is Elektra in Sophocles’ Elektra. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Elektra’s sister, Chrysothemis is cast perfectly in Allegra Rose Edwards (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2013), who has survived by living with the imbalance in the universe.  Dressed in a ridiculous white dress haut couture dress looks like one of the impossibly impractical numbers that gets a full page spread in Vogue, she engages authentically with Augesen throughout the play, acknowledging that Elektra has justice on her side but she prefers to go with the flow.  In one of the play’s most touching passages, Elektra finally persuades her to offer a prayer at their father’s grave that Orestes will return and avenge their father’s death.

Orestes (Nick Steen), Elektra’s brother, and true heir to the throne, was the weak link in the play.  From the moment Orestes spoke, it seemed as if his lines were not deeply felt.  Of course, he is younger and hasn’t suffered the way Elektra has.  When he was very young, Elektra feared for his life and took him to live with King Strophius of Phocis, who raised Orestes with his own son Pylades (Titus Thompkins), who accompanies him to the oracle at Delphi.   Then, with Pylades, and his Tutor (Anthony Fusco), Orestes travels in disguise to his former home to avenge his father’s death by killing his mother and her lover.  Another Orestes might have brought more to the production.

Run time is 90 minutes

Cast: René Augesen, Elektra, Olympia Dukakis, Chorus Leader, Caroline Lagerfelt Clytemnestra, Anthony Fusco, the Tutor, Nick Steen, Orestes, Allegra Edwards, Chrysothemis, Steven Anthony Jones Aegisthus.

Creative Team: music by composer David Lang, cellist Teresa Wang,  scenic design Ralph Funicello, costume design Candice Donnell, lighting design Nancy Schertler, and sound design by Cliff Caruthers.

InterACT Programming for Elektra: InterACT events are presented free of charge to give patrons a chance to get closer to the action while making a whole night out of their evening at the theatre.

Audience Exchanges: Sunday, November 11 at 2 PM, Wednesday, November 13 at 8 PM, and November 14 at 2 PM.  Learn firsthand what goes into the making of great theatre.  After the show, join A.C.T. on stage for a lively onstage chat with the cast, designers and artists who develop the work onstage.

Wine Series:  Tuesday, November 13, 8 PM.  Raise a glass at this wine-tasting event featuring leading sommeliers from the Bay Area’s hottest local winderies.

PlayTime: Saturday, November 17, 12:30 PM.  Get hands on with theatre and the artists who make it happens at the interactive preshow workshop.

Details:  Elektra’s limited run ends on Sunday, November 18, 2012 at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco.  Performances: Tuesday-Sundays at 8 PM, with several 2 PM matinee performances, including Saturday, November 10, Sunday November 11, Wednesday November 14, Saturday November 17, and Sunday, November 18, 2012. Tickets (starting at $20 to $150) are available at or at act-sf.org or by calling the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228

Olympia Dukakis narrates SF Symphony’s holiday performance of Peter and the Wolf  

Delight your children with San Francisco Symphony’s annual presentation ofPeter and the Wolf including festive holiday songs for the whole family to sing—perfect for music lovers of all ages.  Donald Cabrera conducts The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra as it performs Prokofiev’s charming tale with Olympia Dukakis narrating.  Approximate length is 1 hour.   Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 1 PM and 4 PM at Davies Symphony Hall.  Tickets are $27-$57 for adults and $13.50 to $28.50 for Children.  For more information and tickets: www.sf.symphony.org

November 9, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: A.C.T.’s Samuel Beckett double bill—“Endgame” and “Play”— through June 3, 2012

Tony Award winner Bill Irwin, left, is Hamm and ) and A.C.T. core acting company member Nick Gabriel is his servant, Clov, in Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame,” performing together with Beckett’s one-act “Play,” at the American Conservatory Theater through Sunday, June 3, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.

No one pokes fun at the misery of existence with the crystalline lines of the late master playwright Samuel Beckett. The problem has always been finding actors who can deliver those lines with the exact flavor of irony and detachment that Beckett calls for.   Two-time Tony Award winner Bill Irwin, no stranger to Beckett, gives a memorable performance as Hamm in Beckett’s masterpiece, Endgame, which is currently at American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) in a double bill with Beckett’s Play, a lesser known absurd comedy written in 1963.  These two Beckett one acts are well-executed revivals that pair well together.

Play opens with a spotlight directed on the three babbling ashen faces protruding out of three huge funeral urns, placed side by side.  A man (M), Anthony Fusco, occupies the middle urn, while his wife (W1), René Augesen, occupies the left urn, and his mistress (W2), Annie Purcell, occupies the urn on the right.  Eternally together in the afterlife, locked in their urns and only able to engage in slight turns of their heads, Beckett uses this trio of lovers like a captive chorus.  Each is condemned to repeat his or her version of the affair for eternity.  One character speaks at a time, in a very mechanical and detached refrain, and only when the spotlight shines on his or her face.

A.C.T. core acting company member Annie Purcell (left), A.C.T. core acting company member Anthony Fusco (center), and A.C.T. core acting company member René Augesen (right) in Samuel Beckett’s Play, performing together with Beckett’s Endgame at the American Conservatory Theater through Sunday, June 3, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.

After the realization that you cannot possibly comprehend all that is said because it is delivered too quickly, you begin to experience it as a concert, taking in fragments and understanding that the heads aren’t communicating with each other, they seem oblivious to each other.  Beckett is all about repetition, which is core to his discourse and is used as a means to unsettle some of our most fundamental notions of how humans function.  Once completed, the cycle of dialogue is repeated.  Hearing it all again, you begin to get a sense of Beckett’s brilliance, much of which will only come through if the timing and delivery of these lines is perfect.  Last Wednesday’s performance was delivered with admirable skill by this unharmonious trio of dead lovers.  A.C.T. core-acting company member Annie Purcell, who gave a vivid performance this February in as the daughter/sister, Janine, in A.C.T.’s Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad, again gave a compelling performance as a seething woman who felt she had won the love of this man (M) and scorned her rival, his wife Augesen (W1).  The wife, of course, has a different take, she feels she owns him.

What makes Play all the more interesting it that it somewhat models Beckett’s personal experiences.  When Play premiered in June 1963, Beckett had recently married his long-time companion of twenty-odd years, Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil.  He had also resumed his long-term affair with Barbara Bray, the acclaimed BBC script editor, who had moved to Paris to be near him.  When Play premiered, Bray not only attended but reviewed it favorably for the venerable Observer, referring to the man (M) as “scooting breathlessly back and forth between the two women, perhaps the worst of the bunch: all need and weakness and feeble, if amiable duplicity…” (A.C.T.’s program p 20).

Bill Irwin portrays the invalid, Hamm, in Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame,” performing together with Beckett’s one-act “Play” at the American Conservatory Theater through Sunday, June 3, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Endgame, one of Beckett’s best plays, takes its English name from the final part of a chess game, when there are very few pieces left, and the outcome is obvious. Its French title, Fin de partie, applies to games beyond chess as well, but there is no precise English equivalent for the phrase.  Beckett himself was an avid chess player.   Endgame is a commentary on death and our transition through life.  Beckett has whittled human drama down to the bone—longing, relationship, abuse and hope.  Everyone meets Endgame on a different terrain based on their own individual life experiences, aesthetics, and needs.  Some will see it as the story of a master and slave and others as that of an overworked caretaker tied by some means to an ill or dying man.

The setting is minimalist.  A bare, partially underground room is inhabited by four characters—Hamm the master (Bill Irwin), Clov his servant (Nick Gabriel), and Hamm’s father, Nagg (Giles Havergal), and mother, Nell (Barbara Oliver).  Hamm is blind and can’t walk and is in a wheelchair that also might be a throne. He makes Clov, who cannot sit, move him around the room, fetch objects, and look out the window for signs of life, of which there are none. Nagg and Nell have no legs and reside in huge trash urns and are fed and watered daily by Clov.  Inside this bleak little world, staged wonderfully by Daniel Ostling, the characters pass their time waiting for an end that never comes.

Bill Irwin, who has acted in Waiting for Godot three times, brings a vibrant energy to Hamm.  Irwin delighted audiences with his perfect comedic timing and remarkably elastic body movements as the wily servant, Scapin, in Molière’s Scapin, which opened A.C.T.’s 2010 season.  In Endgame, even though Hamm is confined to a chair, Irwin manages to make him the life of the party, using his dancing eyes and sharp facial gestures to imbue him with human spirit, so much so that we pity him.

Nagg (Giles Havergal, left) and Nell (Barbara Oliver) in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, performing together with Beckett’s one-act Play at the American Conservatory Theater through Sunday, June 3, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.

There is a strong and palpable chemistry between Irwin and Nick Gabriel, who plays Clov. The two are well-synced in their sparse dialogue and numerous pauses but an almost comedic undertone locks into place between the two, overshadowing the necessary cruelty, abuse and anxiety that are part and parcel of the power-tripping relationship Beckett calls for.  When Clov delivers sadly powerful lines like “No one that ever lived thought so crooked as we,” we don’t understand the full extent of their perverted existence.  In this regard, A.C.T.’s enactment of Endgame falls short of its full dramatic potential. On the other hand, watching Nick Gabriel move about the stage, re-arranging a short step ladder so that he can peer out through the windows into one of two views of oblivion and report on it to Hamm, is slapstick brilliance.  So is Gabriel/Clov’s brief encounter with what he thinks is a flea in his trousers.  You’ll be hard-pressed to find any two actors with more instinctive mastery of the physical gesture than Bill Irwin and Nick Gabriel.

Beckett is frequently criticized for making people feel stupid because they don’t get it.  There’s plenty to ponder in this double bill—our human response to loneliness—but there’s a lot that’s laugh out loud funny too, even if Beckett’s characters are too exhausted to laugh themselves.

Run-time:  Play is 22 minutes long, followed by a 15 minute intermission and Endgame runs for 90 minutes

Cast Play: René Augesen (W1), Anthony Fusco (M), Annie Purcell (W2)

Cast Endgame: Bill Irwin (Hamm), Nick Gabriel (Clov), Giles Havergal (Nagg), Barbara Oliver (Nell)

Creative Team: Carey Perloff (Director), Daniel Ostling (Scenic Design), Candice Donnelly (Costume Design), Alexander V. Nichols (Lighting Design), Fabian Obispo (Sound Design), Michael Paller (Dramaturg), Janet Foster, CSA (Casting Director), Elisa Guthertz (Stage Manager, Megan Q. Sada (Assistant Stage Manager), Daniel Ostling’s staging

A.C.T. InterACT Events:

Audience Exchanges: May 22, 7 p.m., May 27, 2 p.m., June 3, 2 p.m.
After the show, stick around for a lively Q&A session with the actors, moderated by a member of the A.C.T. artistic staff.

Killing My Lobster Plays With Beckett: May 24, 8 p.m.
San Francisco’s premiere sketch comedy troupe offers an original, Beckett-inspired performance 15 minutes after the final curtain (approximately 10:15 p.m.). Possible sketches include “Hunger End Games,” “Cooking with Clov,” and a speed-dating sketch featuring Beckett characters.  Admission is free, but seating is limited. Ticketholders for the May 24 performance will receive priority seating but must RSVP—information will be emailed to you separately.  Non-ticketholders who wish to attend can add their names to the waitlist by sending an email to lobster@act-sf.org with their name and requested number of seats (limit two seats per person).

OUT with A.C.T: May 30, 8 p.m., The best LGBT night in town! Mingle with the cast and enjoy free drinks and treats at this popular afterparty. Visit www.act-sf.org/out for information about how to subscribe to OUT nights throughout the season.

PlayTime New!:  June 2, 2 p.m.
Get hands-on with the art of theater with the artists who make it happen at this interactive preshow workshop. Doors open at 12:45 p.m.; the workshop will begin promptly at 1 p.m.

Details: Endgame and Play end on Sunday, June 3, 2012, at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco.  Performances: Tuesday-Sundays, with several 2 p.m. matinee performances, including Wednesday May 30, 2012, Thursday, May 31, 2012, and all Saturdays and Sundays of the run.  Tickets (starting at $10) are available by calling the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228 or at act-sf.org.

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: In Jordan Harrison’s “Maple and Vine,” a stressed out modern day couple chooses to live life like it’s 1955 again, at A.C.T. through Sunday, April 22, 2012

Married couple Katha (Emily Donahoe) and Ryu (Nelson Lee) are overwhelmed by the stresses of their modern lives in the West Coast premiere of Jordan Harrison's "Maple and Vine," playing at the American Conservatory Theater through Sunday, April 22, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.

How much would you be willing to sacrifice for what you thought would lead to true happiness? In Jordan Harrison’s provocative comedy, Maple & Vine, which has its West Coast premiere at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), a young professional couple overwhelmed by the complexity and plentitude of the modern world find an unconventional exit—they join a community of 1950’s re-enactors, the “Society for Dynamic Obsolescence.”

The idea of leaving it all behind for simpler times is certainly intriguing but the play itself never rises to the level of engrossing drama.  The story unfolds simply—Emily Donohoe, as Katha, and Nelson Lee, as Ryu are representative of the young New York couple on the rise—she’s got a high-powered position in publishing that allows her the satisfaction of pushing around a few people and he’s a plastic surgeon.  He’s also Japanese –American.   On the surface, things look good, but Katha’s suffered a miscarriage that she can’t seem to recoup from, is no longer interested in sex and is just plain lost.  They meet another couple (Jameson Jones, as Dean, and Julia Coffey, as Ellen) who seem to have the joie de vivre and confidence that they lack and so crave.  Their secret—which they are happy to share—is that they have essentially checked of the modern world and live happily in a community where it’s always 1955.  After a few meetings, the idea grows of Katha.  At her urging, she and Ryu decide to swap their cell phones, sushi, lattes and stressed-out lives in Manhattan for rotary phones, fish sticks and Sanka by joining this community in the Midwest where life is slower, passion is risqué́, and a cocktail is a daily accessory.

SDO (Society for Dynamic Obsolescence) member Ellen (Julia Coffey, right) visiting new SDO recruit Katha (Emily Donohoe) in the West Coast premiere of Jordan Harrison’s “Maple and Vine,” at A.C.T. through April 22, 2012. Photo: Kevin Berne

Escapismit’s always lovely at first.  Katha—now Kathy—especially, enjoys her life as housewife.  It’s an implausible stretch to imagine that Ryu gets much out of his entry-level position as a box assembler at the local factory, but he goes along for the ride.  Of course, there’s a trade-off.   This meticulously recreated Ozzie and Harriet world is way beyond off-the grid.  Conformity is strictly enforced by an “authenticity committee” that meets regularly to ensure that disruptions from the real world are minimized.  Rigid retro attitudes about gender, race, and sexuality stir up powerful questions about how good the “good ole days” actually were.  Kathy and Ryu encounter pressure about their interracial marriage and, in her attempts to fit in, Kathy actually stirs the pot by encouraging more prejudice.

Society of Dynamic Obsolescence (SDO) members Ellen (Julia Coffey) and Dean (Jamison Jones) lead an orientation for new members in their community of 1955 reenactors in Jordan Harrison's “Maple and Vine,” at A.C.T. through April 22, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.

A potentially interesting subplot involving a homosexual affair between Ryu’s very bigoted boss and seemingly straight-laced Dean (who brought them into the community) takes off but doesn’t sufficiently land.  All in all, by the middle of the second act, the play has grown so implausible that it has become a farce and it ends without having sufficiently explored  the many complexities created by the conscious choice to check-out.

Set designer Ralph Funicello outdid himself with a splendid New York City backdrop that is expertly lit by Russell H. Champa.   The 1950’s clothing too, by Alex Jaeger, is to die for, especially the women’s dresses with their fitted bodies and flowing skirts and the elegance of heels.  Of course, we all know that under those dresses, enforcing the hourglass shape, are foundation garments that literally meld to the body.

Run-time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.

Friday’s 50’s Dress-Up—the Drinks are on A.C.T.:  Come dressed head-to-toe in ’50s wear at the 8 p.m. Friday performances, and enjoy a free pre-show cocktail at the Geary Theatre’s third-floor Sky Bar. Limit: one free drink per ticketholder.  Valid only before the show at the third-floor Sky Bar.

A.C.T. Family Series Workshop: Saturday, Apr. 21, at 1 p.m.
A new theater experience for young adults and their families!  Meet before the 2 p.m. show for a lively, interactive workshop.  Please note: due to sexual situations and partial nudity, Maple and Vine is recommended for audiences ages 14 and up.

Details: Maple and Vine ends its limited engagement Sunday, April 22, 2012, at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. Performances: Tuesday–Saturday at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets (starting at $10) are available by calling the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228 or at act-sf.org.

April 19, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From stage to screen, once you’ve seen “Incendies,” the film, A.C.T.’s staged version, “Scorched,” falls Flat

Twin siblings Janine (A.C.T. core acting company member Annie Purcell) and Simon (Babak Tafti) attend the reading of their estranged mother's will, in the West Coast premiere of Wajdi Mouawad's “Scorched,” at the American Conservatory Theater through Sunday, March 11, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.

One of my best friends is a librarian and I often hear about how a book is almost always much better, richer, than a movie adaptation.  When a play is adapted into a movie, as is common these days, the play isn’t always better.   A.C.T.’s production of Wajdi Mouawad’s play Scorched, which opened on February 22, 2012, is infinitely less moving than French-Canadian Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies, the film adaptation.  The gut-wrenching drama coheres and resonates profoundly on screen, while A.C.T.’s stage version, directed by Carey Perloff, fails to mine the intense and shifting emotions at the heart of this haunting story.  A.C.T.’s production suffers from poor casting, lackluster acting and other confusions, some of which might be worked through in subsequent performances. Thematically, the material is golden, a Greek tragedy for our time: you can’t choose your family and, try as you may, you can’t escape family either.

In Scorched, we meet twenty-something twins Janine (Annie Purcell) and Simon Marwan (Babak Tafti) in present-day Montreal, as they are being read the will of their late mother by notary Alphonse Lebel (David Strathairn ) who was also her employer near the time of her death and friend.  He hands them letters addressed to a father they were told was dead and a brother they didn’t know existed, letters that their mother stipulated must be delivered before she can be given a proper burial. “Childhood is like a knife stuck in the throat that cannot be easily removed,” the notary says.

And so begins the unraveling of our assumptions about what we think we know about childhood, happiness, and the security of a family’s love.  As the twins gradually discover the tortured history of their mother and of their own origins, that bizarre adage starts to resonate.  Childhood isn’t simply being young; it’s also the experience of being someone’s child.  For Janine and Simon, being the children of Nawal Marwan has been painful and her death is equally complex, leaving them with a world of questions.  They’re sent off on an epic quest — first Jeanne, and later a far more reluctant Simon — to their mother’s homeland.  The balance of the story unfolds in this barren and unnamed Middle Eastern land which has a history of Christan-Muslim violence much like that of Mouawad’s homeland, Lebanon, in the 1970s.

In fulfillment of her estranged mother's final wishes, Canadian notary Alphonse Lebel (David Strathairn) gives Janine (A.C.T. core acting company member Annie Purcell) a jacket with the mysterious number 72 embroidered on the back, in the West Coast premiere of Wajdi Mouawad's “Scorched,” at the American Conservatory Theater through Sunday, March 11, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.

The story itself is a rich melding of drama, mystery, and war-time epic.   As the twins slowly unearth how perversely their family history is tied to the region’s conflicts and violence, the narrative alternates between their present day investigation and their mother’s journeys and trials decades earlier.

Featured actor David Strathairn, as Alphonse Lebel, the notary entrusted with settling Nawal Marwan’s estate with the twins, gives such an affecting performance that he steals the dramatic thunder from Nawal Marwan’s tragic story and the twins’ evolving perspectives. The Emmy-award winning Strathairn, who rambles, spouts malapropisms right and left, and tries out several accents, comes off  much like  detective Monk, the endearing comedic TV detective played by Tony Shalhoub.  Is he meant to evoke a holy fool who guides the twins to the truth?   Who knows—but the alchemy feels very off given the weak performances of the other major characters and the serious emotional tenor of the play.  

It is really the women who should be the dramatic focus.  Nawal’s story at its core, despite its almost unbelievable twists, is representative of the universal struggle of women in war torn, repressive and male-dominated societies everywhere.  The early love scenes between Marjan Neshat, Nawal from ages 14 through 40, and Nick Gabriel as her lover Wahab (a Muslim refugee), which should really hook us, are devoid of passion.  As we see Nawal mature, we understand through dialogue, not her acting, how at odds she is with the perverse context into which she’s been inserted.  Jacqueline Antaramian gives a very affecting performance as Nawal at 60 and earlier in the play as Nawal’s mother.

L to R: Canadian notary Alphonse Lebel (David Strathairn) gives a mysterious notebook and letter to Simon (Babak Tafti) in fulfillment of Simon's estranged mother's final wishes in the West Coast premiere of Wajdi Mouawad's “Scorched,” at the American Conservatory Theater through Sunday, March 11, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Challenging in its own right, play is further confused by A.C.T.’s casting choices—there are several actors who are playing many characters and a couple of characters that are being played by more than one actor and a couple of the characters were played by actors of the opposite gender.  On top of that, some of the characters weren’t able to pull off consistent accents, particularly Omozé Idenhenre as Sawda, Nawal’s companion, who, on opening night, seemed to lapse in and out of various affectations.   In the Word on Plays that accompanies this production, dramaturg Beatrice Basso interviews the translator, Linda Gboriau, who talks about trying to subliminally clue the audience that some of the characters—notary and twins–are from Montreal and go to the Middle East where French is spoken but the audience hears them in English. At other times, when the drama is in the past, in the Middle East, other things were required linguistically. Of the many nuances Gboriau aspired to, few were polished by opening night resulting in a real mish-mash.

Of the twins, Babak Tafti, as Simon, does a great job of portraying his character’s inner emotions.  At first, Simon is dismissive and embittered by the sting of his mother’s abandonment but later, as the facts unfold, he works through the stages of anger, to what we sense is evolving compassion and deep confusion.  One of the highlights of Annie Purcell’s fairly flat performance as Janine is her fascinating digression into graph theory.  Janine’s an emotionally-stilted Ph.D. candidate in theoretical math and presents a riveting analysis of how the perspective she once had of her position in the family has shifted with the new information revealed in her mother’s will.  Her comfort zone—a vertice point on a polygon with a known number of visible connections—has shifted and she now has more connections to contend with and doesn’t know how to move forward.  It is evident that the very scars that Janine’s mother inherited from her mother’s abandonment have marred Janine as well.

L to R: A militiaman (A.C.T. core acting company member Manoel Felciano) apprehends Nawal (Marjan Neshat, left) and her friend Sawda (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program graduate Omozé Idehenre) when he suspects them of being notorious revolutionaries, in the West Coast premiere of Wajdi Mouawad's “Scorched,” at the American Conservatory Theater through Sunday, March 11, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Truly, the psychic work of all our lives is to heal the wounds inflicted upon us by our parents.  In Scorched, we leave wondering if Nawal’s final decision, to lead her children on a journey toward the devastating truth, is too much for them to bear.  If you do see this play, go later in its run.  And be sure to catch the film, which was Canada’s official Oscar entrant and can be streamed on NetFlix.  The film touched a deep but smoldering place deep inside of me and had me thinking for days about my own origins and the emotional legacy I inherited from both my adoptive and birth parents, whereas the play came and went.   

Who is Nawal Marwan, the Woman Who Sings? In 2000, playwright Wajdi Mouawad learned the story of Soha Bechara, a Lebanese Christian with pro-Muslim sympathies, had attempted to assassinate the commander of the Israeli-supported South Lebanon Army during the Lebanese Civil War and was subsequently incarcerated in the notorious Khiam prison for a decade. She was sentenced to solitary confinement in a cell adjacent to the room where inmates were tortured. “For ten years,” Mouawad told CBS News, “she heard the crying and pain of the tortured. To try not to become mad, she began to sing. She sang the songs she knew—popular songs. The people in the jail who heard this woman but never saw her, called her The Woman who Sings. She gave them hope and courage to survive.” Bechara became Mouawad’s inspiration for Nawal, the mother whose history is uncovered by her children in Incendies. (Words on Plays, p. 6)

Details: Scorched performs a limited run February 16–March 11, 2012, at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. Performances: Tuesday–Saturday at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets (starting at $10) are available by calling the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228 or at act-sf.org.

March 5, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: Like father??? Lorenzo Pisoni’s “Humor Abuse” reflects on his life as a clown and the son of Pickle’s founding clown Larry Pisoni─ at A.C.T., extended through Sunday, February 5, 2012

Lorenzo Pisoni as his father Larry Pisoni, one of the founders of the Pickle Family Circus. A.C.T. presents “Humor Abuse,” Pisoni’s one man show about growing up as the youngest member of the Pickle Family Circus. Historic photo featured on set by Terry Lorant. Production photo by Chris Bennion.

Ahhh… men and their fathers….one can’t can’t help but be a reflection of the other.  What makes Lozeno Pisoni’s one man show, Humor Abuse at A.C.T. (American Conservatory Theatre) so special is that it is hilariously funny, packed with dazzling tricks, and, at its core, it’s all about growing up with a very controlling dad and making peace with it.  Lorenzo Pisoni is the youngest member of the Pickle Family Circus and the son of Pickle co-founder Larry Pisoni.  In  Humor Abuse, Pisoni not only shows off the tricks of the trade he learned from his father, he also relates the complex relationship he had on and offstage with him.  Pisoni first appeared onstage at the age of two.  He became his father’s clown partner not long after, and he continued to perform with the troupe during his teens.   A natural storyteller, Pisoni’s recollections are centered around physically demanding tricks (both newly created acts as well as and reenactments of his father’s famous Pickle performances) that show off his skills as a juggler, acrobatic, clown, and physical comedian.   This is one show where it really pays to sit as possible to the stage, to get a good glimpse of the vein-popping, sweat-drenched rigor and special protective padding involved in pulling off a clowning stunt like casually tripping down a flight of stairs or jumping off a platform into a bucket or performing a series of handstands, cartwheels and body-slamming vaults and then juggling.   

Lorenzo Pisoni with an old photo of his two-year old self. Historic photo by Terry Lorant. Production photo by Chris Bennion.

Breathtaking and funny, Pisoni’s show also contains several bittersweet moments when he reflects on his father’s perfectionism and how he was forced to practice a trick for several hours, days on end, to master it.  No matter how perfectly he performed it, he would always garner criticism, rarely praise, from his father.   Sound familiar?   The show is aptly titled—you get a good sense of the physical abuse that these daring comedic feats impart on the body and a sense of the deeper current of torment that Lorenzo experienced growing up under the thumb of such a perfectionist.  And it will come as no surprise that, aside from the circus, the father and son have little in common.   It seems that what lay at the bottom of all these physical acts Lorenzo performed to perfection was disappointment, something missing, some essential emotional territory that the relationship didn’t meet.  But it’s not a downer, at least not anymore…Pisoni, actually seems to be cherishing the opportunity to express and revision himself…because underneath it all is the quest for his own unique identity.  Larry Pisoni was one sour Pickle but Lorenzo has emerged a sweet one.      

Lorenzo Pisoni performs "Humor Abuse," his one-man show about growing up as the youngest member of the Pickle Family Circus. Historic photo featured on set by Terry Lorant. Production photo by Chris Bennion.

 Pickle Family Circus History:  Pisoni was born into the Pickle Family Circus shortly after his parents, Larry Pisoni and Peggy Snider, founded the alternative big top in 1974 with their juggling partner Cecil MacKinnon.  After Bill Irwin and Geoff Hoyle joined their ranks—creating the incomparable clown trio of Lorenzo Pickle (Pisoni), Willy the Clown (Irwin), and Mr. Sniff (Hoyle)—the Pickles became a venerable and beloved Bay Area institution.  They toured the West Coast (and beyond) through the 1980s and ’90s and led the charge in the renewal of the American circus, exchanging animal acts and pyrotechnics in the supersized three-ring format with daring acrobatics and its famous show-stopping group juggle, all presented on one intimate stage so audiences would not miss a single moment.  

Bill Irwin opened A.C.T.’s 2010 season with Scapin.  Pisoni last appeared on the A.C.T. stage in 2005’s in the hugely popular The Gamester.  He also recently performed in Broadway’s Equus alongside Daniel Radcliffe and says: “Ever since Erica (Schmidt) and I created Humor Abuse, I’ve wanted to do it in San Francisco…I know many A.C.T. audience members will have a deep, nostalgic connection to what happens in the play because the Pickles were a part of San Francisco’s culture for so long.”

Humor Abuse  runs 80 minutes with no intermission. 

Humor Abuse: Created by Lorenzo Pisoni and Erica Schmidt.  Directed by Erica Schmidt.

Creative Team:  Hannah Cohen (stage manager), Randy Craig (composer), Bart Fasbender (sound designer), Ben Stanton (lighting designer)

Featuring Lorenzo Pisoni

Related Events:  A.C.T. Family Series (NEW this season!): Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, before the 2 p.m. performance.    Join A.C.T. at 1 p.m. for a fun preshow event!  An A.C.T. artist will lead a lively, interactive workshop on clowning and physical theater.  Visit www.act-sf.org/family for information about how to subscribe to the A.C.T. Family Series throughout the season.

Details: Humor Abuse has been extended through Sunday, February 5, 2012.  The Geary Theater is located at 415 Geary Street, San Francisco.  Tickets (starting at $10) are available by calling the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228 or at http://www.act-sf.org.  

Up Next at A.C.T:  February 1-19, 2012:  The world premiere of Carey Perloff’s Higher, directed by Mark Rucker.

In this smart and sexy new play, two American architects dive into a high-stakes competition to design a memorial in Israel. They’re also in love—but don’t know that they are vying against one another. Higher whisks us from sleek New York studios to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, as the architects confront their own pasts in a race to make their mark on history. Faith, family, desire, and design fuel this thrilling new work, featuring A.C.T. core acting company member René Augesen and A.C.T. favorite Andrew Polk (The Homecoming, November). (Learn more.)  Note:  Performances of “Higher” take place at the The Theater at Children’s Creativity Museum (formerly Zeum Theater), 221 Fourth Street, San Francisco.

February 1, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Bless us, everyone! A heartwarming performance of Dickens’ classic “Christmas Carol,” through December 24 at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre

In A.C.T.’s annual holiday favorite, “A Christmas Carol,” the Ghost of Jacob Marley (A.C.T. core acting company member Jack Willis, left) haunts Scrooge (James Carpenter) on Christmas Eve to save his soul, warning him of the three other ghosts that will visit him. The play runs through Christmas Eve. Photo: Kevin Berne

The holiday season for me means time spent with family and friends and getting back in touch with my “goodwill towards all” vibe.  Tuesday evening, after a romp through a bustling Union Square, I had the pleasure of attending A.C.T.’s “A Christmas Carol” and highly recommend this family-friendly classic for setting spirits right.  This classic and beloved tale of transformation just doesn’t get any better.  The performance (with intermission) runs two hours and the evening show begins an hour early at 7 pm, with additional 1 or 2 pm performances nearly every day through Christmas Eve.  This makes it a doable evening outing for families with kids or for those who are from the greater Bay Area and face a long drive home.

 “A Christmas Carol” was written by Charles Dickens and published in somber Victorian-era Britain in December 1843, when new customs such as the Christmas tree and greeting cards were just being introduced.  This was before Christmas became today’s highly commercial venture but also during a time when there wasn’t much gleeful celebration.  The novella was an instant hit, largely for its memorable characters and its realistic depictions of the hardships of the working class which people related to.  It also infused people with hope and has been credited with putting the “merry” in Merry Christmas in England and America during a stifling period.   It was pirated immediately and adapted to the stage and the rest is history.  Now in its 35thyear at ACT, the play is a cornerstone of ACT’s repertory and has become a holiday tradition for families all around the Bay Area.  Adapted by Paul Walsh and Carey Perloff, and directed by Domenique Lozano, this version has been around since 2004 and has been performed over a thousand times and stays true to the heart of Dickens’ timeless story of redemption. 

Ebenezer Scrooge (James Carpenter, right) scolds his overworked employee Bob Cratchit (A.C.T. core acting company member Manoel Felciano) on Christmas Eve. Photo: Kevin Berne

 We all know the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s wake-up call which rings ever true today.  Rich Ebenezer Scrooge was a miser and a kill joy–not very loving, giving, or even friendly.  James Carpenter, now in his fifth year in this role, doesn’t flinch from playing Scrooge’s harsh sides to the hilt but he also shows us a man who is completely and tragically unaware of how stuck and disagreeable he has become.  In Northern CA, we all know what happens when there’s no positive energy flow and Scrooge embodies the big “NO” with every ounce of his being.  

By contrast, impoverished Bob Cratchit, A.C.T. core acting company member Manoel Felciano, who is Scrooge’s clerk and whipping boy hasn’t a schilling to his name but he has vast inner resources– a true heart of gold- and a large loving family.  Cratchit is played with genuine warmth and dignity by Felciano whose radiance is matched by Delia MacDougall’s portrayal of his equally good-hearted wife, Anne Cratchit.  The Cratchit’s material hardship makes the wealthy Scrooge seem all the more despicable, even pitiable, because he cannot enjoy or share the massive fortune he has amassed.   Dickens realized that if Scrooge’s

The dancing is delightful in A.C.T.'s "A Christmas Carol." The produce sellers (A.C.T. core acting company member Annie Purcell, right, and Cindy Goldfield) bring in the bounty of the season, including belly-dancing Turkish figs (on cart: Emily Spears, left, and Elsie Lipson). Photo: Kevin Berne.

imagination could be stimulated, it would be possible for him to wake up on Christmas morning an entirely new man and that’s the message of the play.  Scrooge’s remarkable transformation—ideological, ethical and emotional– is brought about by the visits of four ghosts on Christmas Eve—Jacob Marley (his former business partner) and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future.   At Tuesday’s press opening, the show was full of marvelous special effects associated with the visits of each of these ghosts who led Scrooge through some very poignant and harrowing scenes from his life.  Jack Willis, who returns as the Ghost of Jacob Marley, set the pace by robustly rising from Scrooge’s bed, rattling chains and warnings amidst clouds of smoke. The Ghost of Christmas Present, played delightfully by A.C.T.’s Omozé Idehenre, emerged in striated green velvet as a Bacchic spirit of abundance with lusty vibes.  

The Cratchit family toasts to Scrooge's health on Christmas in A.C.T.'s annual production of "A Christmas Carol," thorugh December 17, 2011. Photo: Kevin Berne

And then there’s Tiny Tim (little Timothy Cratchit), the play’s emotional center, played wonderfully by young Graham Bennett.  When Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Present, he learns just how ill Tim really is, and that Tim will die unless he receives treatment (which the family cannot afford due to Scrooge’s miserliness). When he’s next visited by The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, all he can see is Tim’s little wooden crutch because Tim has died.  This and several other harrowing visions, lead Scrooge to reform which begins from the moment he wakes up on Christmas morning and shocks his cleaning lady Mrs. Dilber (Sharon Lockwood channeling Bewitched’s dingy Aunt Clara ) by thanking her, paying her generously and giving her the holidays off.

A reformed Scrooge (James Carpenter, center) celebrates the season with his nephew, Fred (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Jason Frank, far left), Fred’s wife, Mary (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Maggie Leigh, second from left), and the Cratchits: Bob (A.C.T. core acting company member Manoel Felciano), Anne (Delia MacDougall), and Tiny Tim (Graham Bennett). Photo: Kevin Berne.

Val Caniparoli’s choreography is fantastic—lots of lighthearted dancing and movement that show off the period costumes designed for the production by Beaver Bauer of Teatro ZinZanni.  Dickens’s lovely descriptions of the abundance of Christmas bounty are staged creatively at the start of Act 2 as “The Waltz of the Opulent Fruit,” with six charming young Bay Area actors taking on the roles of dancing French plums, Turkish figs, and Spanish onions.  The production will infuse one and all with holiday cheer and is highly recommended for families and children of all ages.

Details:  American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco.

7 p.m.: December 20, 21, 22, 23

5:30 p.m.: December 18

2 p.m.: December 21, 22, 23, 24

1 p.m.: December 18

Run-time: Two hours including one intermission. Tickets: $15-$105, available online through the A.C.T. online box office , or by phone (415) 749-2228.  For all performances, no children under the age of 5 are permitted

December 18, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In David Mamet’s captivating Broadway hit “Race,” a court case involving race and sex causes three lawyers to get real about their own beliefs, at A.C.T. through November 13, 2011

In David Mamet’s “Race,” which has its West Coast premiere at San Francisco’s A.C.T., law firm partners Jack Lawson (A.C.T. core acting company member Anthony Fusco, left) and Henry Brown (Chris Butler) discuss whether they should take on a controversial case involving a white man raping a young black woman. Photo by Kevin Berne.

What do you get when you mix three attorneys with a white man accused of raping a black woman?  It all depends.   David Mamet’s  dramedy “Race,” which has its West Coast premiere at San Francisco’s A.C.T.(American Conservatory Theatre), uses a not-so-straightforward scenario of rape to explore the complex world of sexual and racial politics and our discomfort at talking about our deeply held beliefs.  When Jack Lawson (Anthony Fusco), Henry Brown (Chris Butler) and Susan (Susan Heyward) are roped into defending Charles Strickland (Kevin O’Rourke) a wealthy white man who appears to have raped a young black woman in a hotel room, we quickly see how this law firm operates.  Their mandate is to get their client off the hook by whatever legal means available, despite the truth.  Newly-hired associate Susan is most challenged.  As a young black woman, she empathizes with the victim and grows increasingly uncomfortable as a zany defense strategy involving a red sequined dress unfolds, but being new and lowest on the totem pole, she has little power to stand-up directly to her two senior partners.  While the two men spar directly each other about their respective assumptions about racial relations and sex and power dynamics and what may have really unfolded in the case, Susan finds non-verbal ways to assert herself, proving she is not as naïve as she presents.  White versus black; male versus female; privilege versus underprivileged–each character at first seems to conform to certain perceptions but then doesn’t.  Personal convictions and prejudices are road-tested all around by Mamet who also explores the predatory nature of the news media.  

Law firm associate Susan (Susan Heyward) quietly pays close attention to the racially charged case. As the play develops, she proves to be not as naïve as she is presumed to be. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Given Mamet’s track-record for presenting first-rate controversy, “Race” has no real shock impact─it has been upstaged by some of the racially-repugnant language currently on television but it is an entertaining puzzler hat offers a wide platform for exploration of our own deep prejudices.   The 2009 play also has an uncanny applicability to the issues in the highly-publicized case against former International Monetary Fund Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn for allegedly sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid in May of this year.  The shift in that case came when the Manhattan County District Attorney’s office disclosed in a letter to the defense team that the accuser admitted to lying on her 2004 asylum application and subsequent lies were then revealed.  Separating out and isolating issues relevant to the case at hand became part of a legal and media extravaganza and personal biases and projections were intentionally whipped up.  In rape cases, it seemed that one needed to be the near perfect victim, whereas, the friends, family, and supporters of the accused, a man of great wealth and power, argued that he was a certainly seducer but not a rapist.  Justice was a game that was to be played out and the truth was something else.  

Law firm associate Susan (Susan Heyward) and law firm partners Jack Lawson (Anthony Fusco, left) and Henry Brown (Chris Butler, second from right) prep their wealthy client Charles Strickland (Kevin O’Rourke) for questioning at A.C.T. through November 13, 2011. Photo by Kevin Berne.

At the end of the first act of “Race,” lawyers Lawson and Susan are debating the Strickland case when Susan tells Lawson, “This isn’t about sex. It’s about race.”

“What’s the difference,” Lawson asks. “It’s a complicated world, full of misunderstandings. That’s why we have lawyers.”  “Race” explores what’s at the heart of our biases and the world of sin that attorney-client privilege can hide.  At 90 minutes, without intermission, with a four member cast, and all set in a law firm’s conference room, it is one the best productions in A.C.T.’s recent history.  Alert: intentionally coarse language.  

Cast: Anthony Fusco as partner Jack Lawson; Chris Butler as partner Henry Brown; Susan Heyward as associate Susan; Kevin O’Rourke as wealthy client

Directed by Irene Lewis; scenery by Chris Barreca; costumes by Candice Donnelly; Lighting by Rui Rita; Sound design by Cliff Caruthers

“Experts Talks Back” special post-show discussions:  Delve deeply into the issues raised by “Race” with legal and cultural specialists leading discussions about many of the provocative topics that percolate throughout the production:

Friday, October 28, 2011, following the 8 p.m. performance:  Regina Arnold, a former rock critic who teaches at Stanford University, leads a discussion about race and ethnicity in today’s popular culture, moderated by Edward Budworth, A.C.T.’s groupsales and student matinee representative.

• Thursday, November 3, 2011, following the 8 p.m. performance:  Mary McNamara, a white collar criminal defense lawyer who was named one of the top 50 women lawyers in Northern California, leads a discussion moderated by Patrick S. Thompson, a partner at Goodwin Procter and a member of A.C.T.’s Board of Trustees.

• Thursday, November 10, 2011, following the 8 p.m. performance:  Wilda L. White, executive director of the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley School of Law, and Jennifer Madden, deputy district attorney in Alameda County, lead a discussion moderated by Patrick S. Thompson, a partner at Goodwin Procter and a member of A.C.T.’s Board of Trustees. 

Admission to all Experts Talk Back events is free with a ticket to Race; the discussions will take place in Fred’s Columbia Room on the lower level of the American Conservatory Theater (415 Geary Street, San Francisco).

Details:  The West Coast premiere of “Race” runs through November 13, 2011; tickets (starting at $10) are available by calling the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228 or at http://www.act-sf.org.

October 28, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment