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Review: “The Hyprocites’ Pirates of Penzance” at Berkeley Rep’s Osher Theater─ zany, irresistible, family-friendly

Pirates have dropped anchor at Berkeley Rep’s new black-box space, Osher Studio. Matt Kahler (with guitar) is the Major-General with the cast of The Hypocrites’ “Pirates of Penzance,” a lovingly loopy rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s topsy-turvy world, playing through December 20, 2015. Photo: kevinberne.com

Pirates have dropped anchor at Berkeley Rep’s new black-box space, Osher Studio. Matt Kahler (with guitar) is the Major-General with the cast of The Hypocrites’ “Pirates of Penzance,” a lovingly loopy rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s topsy-turvy world, playing through December 20, 2015. Photo: kevinberne.com

If you’re in the mood for a hopping party and a performance with a wild storyline, The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance , which has its West Coast premiere at Berkeley Rep, hits the sweet spot.  The Hypocrites, a Chicago theater group founded by Sean Graney, has reimagined Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance into a fully interactive immersion experience.  The result is an offshoot that shares the original classic’s spirit but is fresh and new, one of the most dynamic, zany shows around.  The family-friendly production has dropped anchor at the Osher Studio, Berkeley Rep’s new black-box performance space, located just across the street from its two main theaters.

The genius in Penzance lies in the space’s promenade zone─a few of the front rows and a large central area the large area where there is no distinction between where the audience begins/ends and the performance space.  The audience is invited to sit wherever they please–the floor, on the edge of a plastic pool, up in the mast of the ship–and to move about freely. Spontaneous interaction between the audience and actors is encouraged and there are a lot of flying beach balls, of all sizes, being joyfully batted around, with ukuleles and banjos strumming.  I took a ten-year-old with me to the opening performance and we arrived early enough to enjoy a delightful 15 minutes of  “play therapy.”   There’s also tiki-hut bar where alcohol and soft drinks can be bought at any time….just amble over and pay.

The plot of this delightful musical is as topsy-turvy as the roaring sea─ right after Frederick (Zeke Sulkes) is released from his twenty-one year long apprenticeship to a band of merry pirates, he meets the web-footed matron Ruth (Christine Stulik) and, having never laid eyes on a woman before, doesn’t understand that there are many younger, more beautiful, female partners to be had.  He quickly realizes the mistake he’s made when he meets Mabel (Christine Stulik) and her sisters, veritable sirens in bathing suits (Jenni M. Hadley, Kristen Magee, Becky Poole).  They are all the daughters of Major-General Stanley (Matt Kahler).  Frederick and Mabel fall in love immediately, which leaves him promised to both Ruth and Mabel.

Frederick creates even bigger problems for himself when it comes to his contract with the pirates he has been contractually apprenticed to for the past 21 years.  It is revealed that his birthday falls on leap year, so technically he has a birthday just once every four years.  Out of honor, he (insanely) insists on serving the pirates another 63 years to complete the terms which state that he remain apprenticed to them until he turns age 21.  Mabel promises to wait.  When she and her sisters get dragged off by pirates, a stand-off and uproar ensues between the pirate king (Shawn Pfautsch) and the Major-General (Kahler).

Christine Stulik is Mabel and Zeke Sulkes is Frederick in The Hypocrites’ “Pirates of Penzance” at Berkeley Rep. Photo: kevinberne.com

Christine Stulik is Mabel and Zeke Sulkes is Frederick in The Hypocrites’ “Pirates of Penzance” at Berkeley Rep. Photo: kevinberne.com

Its screwball humor to the nth degree.  The production is carried off by an extremely talented cast who have an innate sense of comedic timing and can all sing and play instruments, and do an amazing job of navigating through onlookers to hit their marks.  On opening night, it was a little difficult to grasp the full richness of some of the puns due to pronunciation and acoustics but that’s a detail that will have surely worked itself out by the time you read this review.

Alison Sipple’s retro beachwear costumes take their inspiration from kids clothing, old floral cotton prints and striped sailor suits and canvas deck shoes and literally add another layer of wild color to an already over the top performance.

No place for serious: A man who sat next to me on opening night in the lively promenade section had the audacity to spend the entire performance hibernating in a copy of The New Yorker.  This guy, wearing a fully zipped vintage Members-Only jacket, kind of looked like a hunkered over turtle.  Despite the many beach balls that bounced off him, he held his ground, never looking up, never smiling.  If you’re looking for a serious drama, head for Berkeley Rep’s main stage.  If you want a place where you can let your hair down and get a little crazy, Penzance is your show.

Creative Team: Sean Graney (Director); Thrisa Hodits (Co-director); Andra Velis Simon (Music Director); Katie Spelman (Choreographer); Tom Burch (Set Design); Alison Siple (Costume Design); Heather Gilbert (Lighting Design); Kevin O’Donnell (Co-adapter/Sound Design); Miranda Anderson (Stage Manager)

Mario Aivazian (Pirate/Pirate King); Delia Baseman (Pirate/Ruth/Mabel); Jenni M. Hadley (Daughter); Matt Kahler (Major-General/Samuel); Royen Kent (Pirate/Frederick); Kriste Magee (Daughter); Shawn Pfaustch (Pirate King); Becky Poole (Daughter); Christine Stulik (Ruth/Mabel); Zeke Sulkes (Frederick)

Run-time:  1 hour and twenty minutes.  At this show, you are free to move around and come and go and purchase refreshments, so there is no intermission.

Details: The Hyporcites’ Pirates of Penzance closes December 20, 2105.  The Osher Studio is located at 2055 Center Street, near the intersection of Center and Shattuck.  The studio is in the Arts Passage, which runs between Addison and Center Strrets and you can access the passage from either side.  Park as if you are attending a production in the main Berkeley Rep theaters and you will be fine as this is just across the street. Tickets: Risers: $55-65; Promenade: $40-50.  Under age of 30 (Promenade) $25.

Info: http://www.berkeleyrep.org/season/1516/9310.asp

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November 1, 2015 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Hershey Felder channels the angel of all pianists, Chopin, in another mesmerizing musical portrait at Berkeley Rep, through August 10, 2014

At Berkeley Rep, award-winning actor and musician Hershey Felder stars in “Monsieur Chopin,” a passionate portrayal of the Polish pianist and composer, Fryderyk Chopin.  Felder invites the audience into Chopin’s lush salon for a magical music lesson as he tells his tragic life story, punctuated by over a dozen lyrical polonaises, mazurkas, valses, nocturnes and preludes. Photo:  John Zich

At Berkeley Rep, award-winning actor and musician Hershey Felder stars in “Monsieur Chopin,” a passionate portrayal of the Polish pianist and composer, Fryderyk Chopin. Felder invites the audience into Chopin’s lush salon for a magical music lesson as he tells his tragic life story, punctuated by over a dozen lyrical polonaises, mazurkas, valses, nocturnes and preludes. Photo: John Zich

Cherish the moment.  It’s Paris, March 1848, just after the February 1848 Revolution, and Hershey Felder as Polish composer/pianist, Fryderyk Chopin, welcomes you into his elegant Paris salon for an unusual piano lesson—one where he does all the playing.   It seems like he is making up the music as he goes, and what beautiful music it is—full of delicate dynamics, soft tempo fluctuations, imaginative color and touch—utterly different from any previously existing in the 19th century.  Throughout the lesson, he recounts his life story, from his first composition written at age 7 in his Polish hometown of Zelazowa Wola, to his complicated romance in France with the female French novelist, George Sand, to his death at age 39 from tuberculosis, to his heart’s famous burial in Poland.  Hypersensitive Chopin’s story is no sweet melody but his pain and losses and moments of epiphany are punctuated with actual shifts in the tone of Chopin’s music.

Monsieur Chopin, which opened Sunday, is Berkeley Rep’s latest collaboration with Hershey Felder, who is proving his genius for bringing famous composers to life.   Monsieur Chopin, which Felder both wrote and stars in, is directed by Joel Zwick (My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time) and arrives at Berkeley Rep on the heels of Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro (June, 2014) and George Gershwin Alone (June 2013).  Monsieur Chopin is part of Felder’s series of musical enactments, “The Composers Sonata” which have been presented at dozens of theatres across the U.S. and around the world.  The series also includes Beethoven, As I Knew Him (2008) and Hershey Felder as Franz Liszt in Rock Star (2013).  As director, Mr. Felder premiered Mona Golabek in The Pianist of Willesden Lane at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in April 2012 and the musical biography delighted Berkeley Rep audiences in December 2013 and is now immensely popular in New York.

“Fryderyk Chopin, the diminutive ‘Polish Poet of the Piano’ who died at the tender age of 39 and who spent much of his adult life as the prince of the Parisian salon, took an instrument of wood, felt, and metal and made it sing,” remarks Felder. “Chopin said, ‘If one wants to learn how to really play the piano, one must listen to the best opera singers – they will show you what you need to know.’ And for almost two centuries every pianist who has ever touched the instrument strives to bring it to life by making the piano human, by giving it ‘song’ just as Chopin did. He was the first, and the piano music he left us is the music of angels, the music of another world.”

Felder steps into the role of Chopin with complete credibility—from his Polish accent and rendering of Chopin’s artistic temperament to his concert-level playing of some of the most exquisitely lush piano music ever written.  He plays selections from some 15 pieces—polonaises, valses, preludes, mazurkas, and nocturnes—and seems to be spontaneously working them into the story as he goes.  Felder guides you with information about the inventive and enlivening forms that characterized Chopin’s brilliance—even in his youth, he was keenly aware of the fine-line between improvising and composing—as well as his love of Polish songs and dances.   And this is as much the story of music’s golden age as well—an incredibly compressed period, some 200 years— when musical and artistic genius flooded middle Europe.  How profound when Chopin says, “When I was 17 and had my debut, Bach had died 78 years earlier.”  Bach’s compositional genius influenced him heavily and Bach was an importance point of reference when he was teaching his students. This was also a time when high drama characterized the life of composers and transfixed the public, as much as Hollywood does today.

As a small boy, self-taught Chopin made up his own music almost at once, intuitively understanding the intimate relationship between improvising and composing. When he was seven, his first teacher wrote down one of his lush improvisations, a polonaise, and had it published.  At his first appearance in Paris, on February 26, 1832, he performed a concerto he had debuted to great success in Warsaw.  Both Liszt and Mendelssohn attended and heaped praise upon him.  Chopin’s reputation as a pianist is based on just thirty or forty concerts…it was salon playing that sealed his reputation.  Photo: John Zich

Hershey Felder as Chopin. As a boy, self-taught Chopin made up his own music almost at once, intuitively understanding the intimate relationship between improvising and composing. When he was seven, his first teacher wrote down one of his lush improvisations, a polonaise, and had it published. At his first appearance in Paris, on February 26, 1832, he performed a concerto he had debuted to great success in Warsaw. Both Liszt and Mendelssohn attended and heaped praise upon him. Chopin’s reputation as a pianist is based on just thirty or forty concerts…his salon playing sealed his reputation. Photo: John Zich

Speaking of transfixed, I wasn’t able to take my eyes off Felder, a natural born storyteller, and I never would have guessed that he has given this performance over 800 times. That he’s of Polish ethnicity, considers Chopin his pianistic home and lives in Paris, and even owns one of Chopin’s pianos, are no doubt huge factors in the attention to detail and care that he has poured into this.

We all love a love story and the audience on the edge of their seats as Chopin told of his relationship and semi-guarded Bohemian lifestyle with French novelist George Sand (Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin), a woman whose importance as a writer has been eclipsed by her notoriety for wearing trousers, cigar-smoking and her involvement with Chopin.  Strong-willed Sand was painted in broad strokes but we get enough flavor to ascertain that he was attracted to her nurturing and protective side and that she loved him and, for 8 years, tolerated his fragility, mood swings and unpredictability and then, abruptly, she ended it.

Chopin’s relationship with Sand is also an effective vehicle for exploring the vibrant environment of the French salon where his small scale piano pieces, most of them brilliantly improvised, were a hit and fundamental to his legacy. “Invention came to his piano, sudden, complete, sublime,” wrote Sand who would frequently lay under the piano as he played for her.

Chopin’s dedicated student, Karl Flitsch, who Felder also lovingly draws on, wrote “The other day I heard Chopin improvise at George Sand’s house.  It is marvelous to hear Chopin compose in this way: his inspiration is so immediate and complete that he plays without hesitation as if it could not be otherwise. But when it comes to writing it down and recapturing the original thought in all its details, he spends days of nervous strain and almost terrible despair.”

Felder’s works a great deal of humor into this piece and his funny and illuminating impressions of the people in Chopin’s life—like the swooning women in his audience or Hungarian composer and pianist, Franz Liszt, Chopin’s biggest “frenemy” in Paris—humanize Chopin and impart information.  Liszt attended Chopin’s first concert in Paris and promptly declared him a genius and became his agent, collaborator, friend, and at times, bitter rival for public attention, and oddly, his first biographer.

Chopin’s elegant salon (sets by Yael Pardess) is framed by an ornate golden trim, giving it the feel of a romantic period painting to be entered.  Chopin’s Steinway and bench are front and center and a lovely fireplace whose mantle is adorned with Sevres style porcelain vases and an ornate clock are behind.  There’s a delicately carved wooden table with a pitcher where he fastidiously washes his hands, as if to rid himself of the unpleasant memories he’s just shared.

The set also features “smart drapes,” a subtle and elegant scrim for different lighting effects (Richard Norwood) and projections (John Boesche & Andrew Wilder) which change their color hue and design in accordance with various phases of Chopin’s life.  In 1829, when Chopin met his first love, a singing student named Constantia Gladkowska, she was dancing a Polish Mazurka and caught his eye.  Against spectacular dark lighting, she appears romanticized in a white traditional Polish folk dress, smiling and dancing the Mazurka with other young Polish girls.  Felder completes the portrait with his “Mazurka in A Flat Major, Op. 50 No. 2,” a short vibrant piece which concludes in a burst of chromatic harmonies.

Sunday’s opening night became even more special when Polish Consul General Mariusz Brymora from Los Angeles, presented Felder with the “Bene Merito” honorary distinction on behalf of the Polish government.  Established in 2009, this distinction “is conferred upon the citizens of the Republic of Poland and foreign nationals in recognition of their merits in promoting Poland abroad.”  Felder, deeply moved, also received a beautiful Polish woodcut.

Following this, Felder/Chopin engaged with the audience in an open Q & A, further revealing his skill as an improvisational performer.

The ultimate irony, which I mention in closing, is that this performance nearly sold out before it opened and was extended until August 10 and those performances are nearly sold out.  It’s much easier to get people to go to this than an actual Chopin concert.  We live in the age of story and it’s the combination of music and story that brings people in.  Of course, after experiencing Monsieur Chopin, who could not be hungry for more?

Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, no intermission

The music of Fryderyk Chopin is played Hershey Felder enacting Chopin

Production Team— Yael Pardess (Scenic Design), Richard Norwood (Lighting Design), John Boesche & Andrew Wilder (Projection Design), Benjamin Furiga (Original Sound Design), Joel Zwick (Director), Trevor Hay (Associate Director, production stage manager), Erik Carstensen (Sound design, production manager, production stage manager). Samantha F. Voxakia (General Manager, co-producter), Eighty-Eight, LLC (Producer)

Details:  Monsieur Chopin runs through April 20, 2014 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704.

Performances are Tues-Sun with matinees on Sat, Sun and Thursday, August 7.

Tickets: $29 to 87.  Discounts:  Half-price tickets available for anyone under 30 years of age; $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain.  Tickets and info: 510 647–2949 or visit: www.berkeleyrep.org

Parking:  Paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre. The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $5 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM.

July 30, 2014 Posted by | Classical Music, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Nina Raine’s “Tribes”—a family that is all talk and very little listening tackles language barriers

A scene from Nina Raine’s critically acclaimed family drama “Tribes,” at Berkeley Rep through May 18, 2014.  (From L to R) Billy (James Caverly) was born deaf but never learned sign language.  His hearing family—mother Beth (Anita Carey), brother Daniel (Dan Clegg), sister Ruth (Elizabeth Morton) and fiercely outspoken father (not shown)—have always belittled sign language and refused to accommodate him or to accept his deafness.  When Billy meets Sylvia, who hears but is slowly going deaf and who was raised in a deaf family, he comes out of his shell and embraces some of the rituals of the deaf, upending his entire family.  Photo: courtesy Mellopix.com

A scene from Nina Raine’s critically acclaimed family drama “Tribes,” at Berkeley Rep through May 18, 2014. (From L to R) Billy (James Caverly) was born deaf but never learned sign language. His hearing family—mother Beth (Anita Carey), brother Daniel (Dan Clegg), sister Ruth (Elizabeth Morton) and fiercely outspoken father (not shown)—have always belittled sign language and refused to accommodate him or to accept his deafness. When Billy meets Sylvia, who hears but is slowly going deaf and who was raised in a deaf family, he comes out of his shell and embraces some of the rituals of the Deaf, upending his entire family. Photo: courtesy Mellopix.com

I don’t know anyone closely who is deaf but, when my parents reached their early eighties and their hearing began to decline, they both experienced difficulty in comprehending complex sentences.  That, in turn impacted their ability to communicate.  That’s when I began to think more about what it’s actually like to be hearing impaired and the range of issues associated with hearing.   British theatre director Nina Raine’s  Tribes, which had its Bay Area premiere at Berkeley Rep’s Thrust Stage on April 16, further opened my eyes.  This engaging and very relevant family drama tackles hearing, partial hearing, deafness, and listening through the story of a family that can’t shut up long enough to hear much of anything.   The action revolves around Billy, a young man who was born deaf and who has been raised in this overeducated and verbally combative family that considers learning sign language a sign of conformity or capitulation to otherness.  Consequently, Billy reads lips and does not sign…until he falls in love with a woman who upends him and the entire family.

Thoughtfully directed by Jonathan Moscone (artistic director of Cal Shakes and son of SF mayor George Moscone who was slain in 1978), Tribes represents Berkeley Rep at its finest—challenging our tightly held assumptions with realizations that keep coming for days afterwards.   Speaking of assumptions, once I discovered that Nina Raine came from such solid stock—she is the grand niece of the great Russian poet, novelist, and Nobel laureate, Boris Pasternak, author of Doctor Zhivago (1954)—I assumed the play would be substantial fare. Tribes had its world premiere in 2010 at the Royal Court Theatre in London, earning an Olivier Award nomination for best play.

The cast of six is built around a family ( a “tribe” onto itself) that seems to be arguing constantly.  The professorial British father, Christian (Paul Whitworth), whose fallback refrain to comments offered by others is “bullocks,” delights in his own self-involvement.  He’s presently learning Chinese and brings his laptop to the dinner table where his obnoxious practice drills create another layer of babel.  He’s also keen on insulting his ditsy novelist wife, Beth (Anita Carey), who is experiencing writers block.  She is determined to finish her book—”a marriage-breakdown detective novel.”  She doesn’t know who’s “done the murder yet. I’m going to decide at the end… and then put all the clues in.”

The adult children, all twenty-something, live at home and suffer failure to launch. Ruth (Elizabeth Morton) is an aspiring opera singer who can only score singing gigs in pubs. Daniel (Dan Clegg) is a grad student continually rewriting his thesis on language.  He stammers when caught by surprise and suffers from auditory hallucinations.  Billy (James Caverly), the central character, was born deaf.

In Nina Raine’s “Tribes,” a deaf young man, Billy (James Caverly, L), has grown up in an overeducated and argumentative family that considers learning sign language a distressing act of conformity.  After he meets Sylvia (Nell Geisslinger, R), who is struggling with the early phases of adult-onset deafness, he learns to sign and his outlook on life changes considerably as he starts to identify with a new group.  Photo: courtesy Mellopix.com

In Nina Raine’s “Tribes,” a deaf young man, Billy (James Caverly, L), has grown up in an overeducated and argumentative family that considers learning sign language a distressing act of conformity. After he meets Sylvia (Nell Geisslinger, R), who is struggling with the early phases of adult-onset deafness, he learns to sign and his outlook on life changes considerably as he starts to identify with a new group. Photo: courtesy Mellopix.com

The play opens with a typical family dinner that establishes their communication dynamic as a nightmare of disconnection.  It’s amusing to keep a running tally of all the non-compassionate listening infractions that occur while trying to stay on top of all the literary namedropping.  We recognize immediately from Billy’s silence that his comprehension is limited.  The family doesn’t accept this though.  Over the years, they have refused to accommodate him or to really accept his deafness. Billy doesn’t know sign language because the family has always belittled it.   He has adapted to them by learning to read their lips but even this has been challenging as it requires their willingness to participate, which they haven’t always been consistent about.  On the up side, having spent his life isolated from the ruckus, Billy is the sweetest of the lot.

Todd Rosenthal’s set is a lived-in dining and living room whose walls are lined with books, reinforcing the impression that this is a family that is book smart and but short on common sense and wisdom.

The pot is stirred to a boil when Daniel meets Sylvia (Nell Geisslinger), who hears but is struggling with the early phases of adult-onset deafness.  She learned sign language because she was raised in a deaf family.  Eager to connect with Billy, she introduces him to the Deaf community and helps him with learning to sign and with getting a job that involves lip-reading and transcribing videotapes that are used as evidence in court.   Not only does she serve as a great catalyst for Billy, she is tender and compassionate and remarkable young woman.

One of the drama’s most gratifying moments comes when Billy begins to stand up to his family and to insist, from now on, that they communicate with him on his terms.  But just he experiences empowerment and gets more immersed in the Deaf community, Sylvia becomes frustrated with its politics and insularity.  We learn that while some deaf people feel cut off from the hearing world, or disabled, for others, being Deaf is a culture and a source of pride. (Capitalized “Deaf” denotes culture, as distinct from lowercase “deaf,” which describes a pathology.)  Geisslinger anchors the entire production with her authentic performance as someone navigating her own identity issues while slowly embracing a world of non-hearing.  Sylvia has grown up understanding from an early age the issues that Billy is tackling much later in life and the couple is both united and separated by this divide.

One of the play’s most powerful scenes occurs when Sylvia comes to meet the family and Christopher challenges her about the expressiveness of sign language—what it can and cannot do.  She rises to the occasion, educating us all about its strengths and limitations, and matching him argumentatively blow for blow, never backing down.  She also explains the implicit hierarchies of the Deaf which she finds hard to navigate–she was not deaf from birth so that makes her “less than” someone who was (Billy) but she was raised in a deaf family which gives her as edge.  At which point Christopher asserts that the Deaf community is just like any other tribe that has rules about who it will and will not admit.

James Caverly delivers an engaging Billy whose personal journey imparts a great deal of information about language and deafness.  His lip-reading, for example, turns out to be an incredibly inexact tool and Raine has weaved this into the plot. (Since most lip movements are associated with more than one sound, the lip reader must guess and intuit in order to make sense of what is being said.)  The play’s important take-away is the message that, if you know one language, you can go on to learn another.  The learning process will show you how language defines systems of thought and reveal the biases implicit in the languages you are dealing with.  The audience is forced to engage and to experience some dissatisfaction because not all of the sign language is translated with subtitles and not all of what Billy says is understandable.   Is this an issue of translation? Are we then of a different tribe?  The plays invites a lot of questions.

 

Details:  Tribes runs through May 18, 2014, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley.

Performances are Tues-Sun with matinees on Sat, Sun and some Thurs.

Tickets: $29 to $99.  Discounts:  Half-price tickets available for anyone under 30 years of age; $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain.  Tickets and info: www.berkeleyrep.org or phone: 510 647–2949.

Parking:  Paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre. The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $5 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM.

April 30, 2014 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Berkeley Rep’s “Accidental Death of An Anarchist”…tweaked for the liberally inclined, through April 20, 2014

Comic actor Steven Epp returns to Berkeley Rep as the insanely shrewd Maniac who sets off the investigation in Dario Fo’s classic comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist.” Photo by Joan Marcus

Comic actor Steven Epp returns to Berkeley Rep as the insanely shrewd Maniac who sets off the investigation in Dario Fo’s classic comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist.” Photo by Joan Marcus

Ever since he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979, Italian playwright and actor Dario Fo has been on my radar.  An anarchist and a profoundly gifted clown, Fo’s genius comes in his ability to make us look at ourselves in new light. All of his plays, in some way or another, deal with subverting ideology, questioning why society is set up a certain way and why some people are the winners and others losers. Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which opened Wednesday at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater and runs through April 20, 2104, is a tweaked version of Fo’s original masterpiece from 1970, a  bit too tweaked.

Adapted by Gavin Richards from a translation by Gillian Hanna and directed by Christopher Bayes, this Yale Repertory Theatre co-production has been injected with some (stale) references to contemporary American politics and pop culture (Obama health care, NSA, Netflix, Bush-Cheney and so forth) intended to resonate with the well-informed liberal cognoscenti.  The resulting mash-up feels like an overdone affirmation, considering Berkeley’s Rep’s sophisticated audience.  The good news is that the add-ons are fired off quickly and only mildly detract from the play’s exhilarating tour de farce—Steven Epp.  Director Stephen Bayes and Epp were the team behind Berkeley’s Rep’s 2012 hysterical hit A Doctor in Spite of Himself.  Here, Epp works with a great group of comic actors whose chemistry and timing and lunacy are so spot on you have the impression it’s all being improvised on the spot.  The play contains some of the finest comedic acting you’ll see in the Bay Area this year.  And the various musical gigs, all under Aaron Halva’s direction, are lyrically delightful and hysterically performed.

The play addresses a real-life mystery that got tremendous play in Italy—the 1969 death of a suspected anarchist who “fell” from the fourth floor window of a police station window while being interrogated for bombing of a bank in Milan which left 16 dead.  Did he fall, or, was he pushed?  That’s the question.  The charges were eventually dropped against the anarchist but it was too late to be of benefit.  Fo called his play a “tragic farce.”  Knowing full well that laughter can be a profound vehicle for exploring human nature, Fo deconstructed this man’s tragic death through comedy.  A Maniac (Steven Epp in the role Fo wrote for himself), who himself has been arrested for fraud, sequentially questions the police who are holding him captive  By pretending to be on their side, he gradually wins the trust of the gullible officers, records their conversations and tricks them into divulging what really happened.  In the process, he exposes their brutality, corruption and collusion with neo-fascist gangs carrying out such bombings in Italy at the time.  The events of the play are fictional but the implications profound.  The fast-paced momentum, epic slack stick and wonderful moments of musical comedy are delightful.

In Dario Fo’s comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” now at Berkeley Rep, Maniac (Steven Epp) (center) impersonates a judge and interrogates quack Constable (Eugene Ma, left) and dim-witted Inspector Pissani (Allen Gilmore) and catches them in a lie about a death that occurred at the police station.

In Dario Fo’s comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” now at Berkeley Rep, Maniac (Steven Epp) (center) impersonates a judge and interrogates Constable (Eugene Ma) (left) and dim-witted Inspector Pissani (Allen Gilmore(right)) and catches them in a lie about a death that occurred at the police station.

Highpoints are the opening of the play, when Inspector Bertozzo (Jesse J. Perez) is interrogating the Maniac on the first floor of the police station. Perez and Epps are magical.  Perez later shows how light he is on feet as he performs a number of song and dance gigs with Inspector Pissani (Allen Gilmore), the Superintendent (Liam Craig), and Eugene Ma, brilliantly playing two Constables at once and seemingly embodying Oliver Hardy.  Renata Friedman steals the action as Feletti, an Oriana Fallaci-style investigate journalist who is conducting her own investigation in a short red dress. When she lets go with a stupefyingly-agile rap riff, prepare to have your jaws drop.  But nothing compares with Epp, who jumps from one disordered personality to another, never ever missing a beat.

Cast & Creative Team: The cast of Accidental Death of an Anarchist includes Liam Craig (Superintendent), Steven Epp (Maniac) Renata Friedman (Feletti), Allen Gilmore (Pissani), Eugene Ma (Constables), Jesse J. Perez (Bertozzo).   The creative team consists of Aaron Halva (music director, composer, and musician), Travis Hendrix (musician), Kate Noll (scenic design), Elivia Bovenzi (costumes), Olivier Wason (lighting), Charles Coes (sound designer), Nathan Roberts (composer and sound designer), Michael F. Bergmann (projection designer). The stage manager for Berkeley Rep is Kimberly Mark Webb.

Jesse J. Perez (L) is the fiery tempered police inspector, Bertozzo, and Renata Friedman (R) is an Oriana Fallaci-style investigative journalist, Felletti, who bring considerable depth to Dario Fo’s classic comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” at Berkeley Rep. Photo by Jared Oates

Jesse J. Perez (L) is the fiery tempered police inspector, Bertozzo, and Renata Friedman (R) is an Oriana Fallaci-style investigative journalist, Felletti, who bring considerable depth to Dario Fo’s classic comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” at Berkeley Rep. Photo by Jared Oates

Special Events:

Repartee :  FREE docent talks before Tuesday and Thursday evening performances, and free discussions after all matinees

Post-play discussions:  Thursday 3/27, Tuesday 4/1, and Friday 4/11 following the performance

Open captioned performance:  Sunday 4/20 @ 2pm

Details:  Accidental Death of an Anarchist runs through April 20, 2014 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704.

Performances are Tues-Sun with matinees on Sat, Sun and some Thurs.

Tickets: $29 to $99.  Discounts:  Half-price tickets available for anyone under 30 years of age; $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain.  Tickets and info: 510 647–2949 or visit: www.berkeleyrep.org

Parking:  Paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre. The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $5 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM.

March 17, 2014 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”—an hilarious reflection on the what-ifs in Chekhov, at Berkeley Rep through October 25, 2013

(l to r) Leading Bay Area actor Anthony Fusco (Vanya), award-winning actress Lorri Holt (Masha), and stage and TV actor Mark Junek (Spike) star in Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at Berkeley Rep through October 25, 2013. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

(l to r) Leading Bay Area actor Anthony Fusco (Vanya), award-winning actress Lorri Holt (Masha), and stage and TV actor Mark Junek (Spike) star in Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at Berkeley Rep through October 25, 2013. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

There are very few Chekhov shows that have the audience busting out in laughter, but that’s exactly what happened last Wednesday at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s regional premiere of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the Broadway blockbuster from Obie Award-winner Christopher Durang.  Richard E.T White, who directed numerous productions at Berkeley Rep between 1984 and 1993, is back at the helm for the staging of this delightfully zany production.  I can’t think of a recent Berkeley Rep performance that I’ve enjoyed more.  Demand has been so strong that the play has been extended through October 25, 2013.

Durang, the renowned author of rollicking comedies such as Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You (1979) and The Marriage of Bette & Boo (1985), has described his farcical family drama as “Chekhov in a blender,” referring to the fact that he took his characters and themes from the Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov but set them in present-day Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he actually resides with his long-time partner.  The play draws on characters and themes from Chekhov’s most popular works—Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Seagull, and Cherry Orchard.  Durang cleverly combines elements of those stories, asking the “what-if” questions that Chekhov’s characters themselves might have asked about the trajectories of their lives had Chekhov not penned them another way.  It’s not essential to have read Chekhov or seen any of these plays but if you have, you’ll get a lot of more of the references. To keep it popping, and in sync with his own signature of outrageous, Durang added loads of great one-liners, a great voodoo pin-stabbing doll scene, crazy storybook costumes, wild impersonations, and boy-toy eye candy.

Beloved Bay Area actors Anthony Fusco and Sharon Lockwood portray Vanya and Sonia, the two terminally melancholic siblings anchoring the production.  They got their names from their community college professor parents who were enamored with Chekhov.  They dawdle through their days in their family’s peaceful Bucks County farmhouse performing such rituals as morning tea and daily bird watching while bickering like an old married couple.

Lockwood gives a priceless tender and comedic performance as Sonia, the dutiful adoptive spinster sister, who bemoans the fact that life has raced by while she’s has been stuck on the farm caretaking.  At least, she’s got her beloved cherry orchard.  There are 10 struggling cherry trees way out back which Sonia insists constitute an orchard and Vanya insists don’t.  So Chekhovian…and not.

Vanya, a struggling writer who keeps his play hidden in the parlor, is brought to pitch-perfect life by Fusco.

There’s also Cassandra, their belligerent but good-hearted servant who is brought to life by the bright energy and stage presence of Heather Alicia Simms.  Cassandra doesn’t cook much but, like her Greek namesake, she’s a psychic whose pronouncements are heeded.  She also happens to whip up a mean voodoo doll.

(l to r) Bay Area actors Anthony Fusco (Vanya) and Sharon Lockwood (Sonia) portray siblings in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, this year’s Tony Award winner for Best Play, at Berkeley rep through October 25, 2013.  Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

(l to r) Bay Area actors Anthony Fusco (Vanya) and Sharon Lockwood (Sonia) portray siblings in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” this year’s Tony Award winner for Best Play, at Berkeley rep through October 25, 2013. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

The whole play transpires in an expansive wood-and-stone home, with gorgeously appointed wicker furnished sunroom by set designer Kent Dorsey, with lighting by Alexander V. Nichols.

The anxiety-ridden question of the moment is how Vanya and Sonia will handle the pending visit of their sister Masha (Lorri Holt), a Hollywood B-movie star, who made her career in the “Sexy Killer” film franchise and who’s been footing all their bills.  These middle-aged dependents worry that she’ll sell the house and leave them homeless. When glamorous Masha arrives, it’s in grand style— she’s dressed in sophisticate clothing, is full of interesting conversation (about herself) and is accompanied by her dim-witted hunky young lover, Spike (Mark Junek).  Masha is not really there to see Vanya and Sonia but to attend a costume party down the road at Dorothy Parker’s house and to show off.

Masha triggers jealousy and longing in frumpy Sonia.  Preening Spike triggers carnal urges in Vanya.  Enter Nina (Caroline Kaplan)—the sweet, sincere and very comely neighbor, straight out of The Seagull, who draws Spike’s attention away from Masha and ignites Vanya’s literary passions.  In the shadow of Nina’s radiant natural beauty, Masha’s anxieties about aging quickly come to the surface.

As they all prepare their costumes for the party, the play achieves comic brilliance.  To ensure that she will steal the show as Snow White, Masha tries to control what everyone else wears, insisting they go as her attendant dwarfs, with the exception of Spike who is to be Prince Charming.  Costume designer Beaver Bauer’s Disney Snow White costumes are delightful.

Sonia’s priceless moment of ascension comes when she defies Masha, steps out of her sorry self and dons a sparkly evening gown to channel Maggie Smith, “on her way to claiming an Oscar in California Suite.”  And does she shine, so much so that she attracts some long-overdue male interest.

Vanya’s moment comes when Nina gives the group a read-though of his secret play about a molecule…a slow existential boiler whose enactment is rudely interrupted by Spike’s texting.  The cell phone incident triggers Vanya’s inspired rant about horrors of the modern technology.  It all neatly ties in with Chekhov’s main themes in The Cherry Orchard— the inescapable forward march of time and the arrival of progress into the change-resistant cherry orchard.  This full-on comedy, with as much depth as you want to give it, is a wonderful way to celebrate the start of Berkeley Rep 46th season.

Run-Time is 2 hours 45 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

Creative Team:

Kent Dorsey (scenic designer) has designed sets for a number of Berkeley Rep productions, including The Alchemist, For Better or Worse, Serious Money, The Importance of Being Earnest, Dancing at Lughnasa, Mother Jones, and Blue Window. Beaver Bauer (costume designer) has designed several Berkeley Rep productions: What the Butler Saw, Tartuffe, Blue Window, In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe, Rhinoceros, The House of Blue Leaves, and Menocchio. Alexander V. Nichols (lighting designer) returns to Berkeley Rep for his 26th production. His theatre credits include Berkeley Rep’s production of Wishful Drinking here and on Broadway, Hugh Jackman Back On Broadway, and the off-Broadway productions of Bridge and Tunnel (also at Berkeley Rep), Horizon, In the Wake, Los Big Names, Taking Over, and Through the Night. Composer Rob Milburn and sound designer Michael Bodeen composed music and designed sound for Berkeley Rep’s previous production, No Man’s Land, which moves to Broadway this fall.  The stage manager for the production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is Michael Suenkel, Berkeley Rep’s resident production stage manager.  Executive producers are Bill Falik and Diana Cohen.

Details: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike has been extended through October 25, 2013 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704. Performances are Tues-Fri at 8 PM and Sat at 2 PM and 8 PM and Sun at 2 PM and 7 PM.  Tickets: $29 to $89.  Discounts:  Half-price tickets available for anyone under 30 years of age; $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain.

Parking:  Paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre. The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $3 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM or all day on Saturday or Sunday when your garage-issued parking ticket is accompanied by a free voucher ticket that is available in the theatre lobby.  These new tickets accommodate the newly automated parking garage’s ticket machines and are available in a pile located where the ink stamp used to be.

October 2, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: Dael Orlandersmith’s “Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men”—a powerful one woman show that probes the lingering wounds of abuse— at Berkeley Rep, through June 24, 2012

Pulitzer Prize-finalist Dael Orlandersmith is back at Berkeley Rep with the world premiere of “Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men.” Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

From the moment the formidable Dael Orlandersmith steps onto the barren floor of the Thrust Stage at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, her intensity is hypnotic.  In her new solo work Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men, which had its world premiere last Wednesday evening, Orlandersmith transforms herself into five young men of varying ages and races to take us on a dark journey that probes the lasting trauma of childhood abuse.  Wearing simple loose-fitting black clothing and her signature braids loose throughout the entire 100 minute performance, Orlandersmith shifts her weight, changes her accent and seems effortlessly, from someplace within, to call forth five young men of varying races, origins and ages who tell their stories.  Having lived through horrific abuse—recounted in graphic detail—the common enemy these young men now face is the power of history and painful personal experience.   Adulthood, especially for children from homes with recurrent abuse and violence, presents varying levels of growth and regression.  Orlandersmith takes us a journey riddled with turbulent emotional shifts as acts of self-sabotage and unintentional abuse undo significant gains.  As these young men question the choices they’ve made and the patterns they’ve enacted, we can’t help but applaud the strength it took for Orlandersmith to give voice to their demons and the sliver of hope residing in the dark corners of their awakening self-awareness.

Orlandersmith made an indelible impression on local audiences in 2004 with Berkeley Rep’s production of Yellowman.  That play, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, explored the complex dimensions interracial prejudice through the story of a young black couple.  It was commissioned and originally produced by McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey and was the first play Orlandersmith wrote for other actors.  Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men has the potential to be every bit as biting as Yellowman but it needs to be tightened and honed, much of which will happen during its road-test at Berkeley Rep.  Orlandersmith pours every once of her soul into these young men, giving a raw, haunting and audacious performance.    

Special Events:

Free 30-minute docent presentations about the show take place at 7:00 PM on the following Tuesday and Thursday evenings: June 5, June 7, June 12, June 14, June 19, and June 21, 2012.  Docent talks are also held in three local communities: at the Orinda Library on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 7:00 PM, at the Lafayette Library on Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 7:00 PM , and at the Moraga Library on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 2:00 PM.

Post-play discussions moderated by theatre professionals follow the 8:00 PM shows on Friday, June 8, 2012 and Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

Free tastings: Join Berkeley Rep for complimentary pre-performance tastings! Sample wine and other delights.  New tasting events are being added all the time, so be sure to check back often!

  • Friday, June 8, 2012: Urbano Cellars / 7pm
  • Saturday, June 9, 2012 Dr. Kracker / 7pm
  • Friday, June 15, 2012: Semifreddi’s / 7pm

Creative Team:  written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith; directed by Chay Yew; designed by Daniel Ostling (sets), Anita Yavich (costumes), Ben Stanton (lights), and Mikhail Fiksel (sound)

Details:  Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men runs through Sunday, June 24, 2012. The Berkeley Repertory Theatre (Thrust Stage) is located at 2025 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704.  Tickets start at $29.  Additional savings are available for groups, seniors, students, and anyone under 30 years of age – meaning discounted seats can be obtained for as little as $14.50. For tickets and info: http://www.berkeleyrep.org or phone 510.647.2949

June 4, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: “In Paris”—Mikhail Baryshnikov is smoldering as a downtrodden general in a May-December romance, at Berkeley Rep through May 13, 2012

Mikhail Baryshnikov (right) and Anna Sinyakina perform at Berkeley Rep in a special presentation of “In Paris,” through May, 13, 2012. Photo: Maria Baranova

Last Wednesday’s opening night performance of In Paris at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre began an uncharacteristic 17 minutes late.  No one was more keenly aware of this than Mikhail Baryshnikov, who stood waiting quietly in darkness at the back of the stage for the action to begin. And when it did begin, none of us were exactly sure what was happening because we had been thrown a kilter by the time…but a slight woman in a hat appeared in the front rows, where the audience was seated, and she made her way to the left wall of the theatre and began to move a blown-up postcard through the tightly seated audience, bumping a few people in the process. She foisted it up onto to the stage where she then dragged and rotated it towards a stationary Baryshnikov, who was dressed in a trench coat, staring downwards. The black and white image was an old photo of Notre Dame and, as tentative and drawn out as the gesture was, we had all just made the symbolic journey to Paris.  That’s just one of the vehicles that Russian director Dmitry Krymov uses to engage his audiences in this very poetic staging of Baryshnikov’s new show which tells its story through music, song, video projections, props that are suggestive of moving collage or puzzle pieces, dramatic lighting by Damir Ismagilov, and a palette of black, white and gray hues in Maria Tregubova’s set and costume design.

Director Dmitry Krymov’s “In Paris” opens with Anna Sinyakina dramatically dragging a huge postcard of the Notre Dame onto the stage of Berkeley’s Rep’s Roda Theatre and plopping it down it by Mikhail Baryshnikov (right). Photo: Maria Baranova

The story itself is set in Paris in the 1930’s and has been adapted from a short story written in 1940 by Ivan Bunin, the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1933, who himself lived in exile in Paris and never returned to Russia.  Baryshnikov is Nikolai Platonitch, a retired general of White Russian army who was thrown out of Russia by the Bolshevik army, is living in Paris, and by chance meets a beautiful young Russian émigré, Olga, a waitress, played by the compelling young Russian actress Anna Sinyakina.  The two lonely souls fall in love but, alas, their tender journey is bittersweet.  Rounding out the ensemble are actors from Russia and Finland, members of the Dmitry Krymov Laboratory, who don’t have defined roles but serve as a chorus, accompanying the drama at the moment by moving props and singing.

Legendary performer Mikhail Baryshnikov is a retired general of the White Russian army living in exile Paris who is in a May-December romance with Anna Sinyakina in “In Paris,” at Berkeley Rep through May 13, 2012. Photo: Maria Baranova

Baryshnikov, now 64, is considered one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century but he has also enjoyed an extensive acting career.  He made his first film debut in the 1977 film The Turning Point, and was last seen on Sex and the City, playing the man dumped by Carrie Bradshaw. His most recent theatrical performance was in Beckett Shorts, a collection off four short Beckett plays, directed by JoAnne Akalaitis for Samuel Beckett’s centenary in 2007.  In In Paris, he first appears in shadows, not moving much at all, yet gesturing the girl with an inner movement.  Instead of physically gliding towards her like he did so dramatically in numerous ballets, he practices a form of expression that relies on calling forth his bearing as a general who has shed his uniform but still wears it invisibly.  The girl responds.

Dmitry Krymov, the influential Russian artist, director, and set designer has given Bunin’s story new resonance. His small experimental Moscow theater company, Dmitry Krymov Laboratory, has become somewhat of a phenomenon in the past 7 years for its repertoire of staged works called “painters theatre” with a very dominant and engaging visual aesthetic. In the first few minutes of In Paris, the word “loneliness” is projected across the stage in several languages, evoking a connection to the world’s displaced peoples and the collective loneliness that underpins Bunin’s story. Video projections of texts—dialogue translations and poetry—are projected creatively across the stage and actors throughout, making a dynamic visual impression.

Mikhail Baryshnikov (right) and Anna Sinyakina perform at Berkeley Rep in a special presentation of “In Paris,” through May, 13, 2012. Photo: Maria Baranova

The drama is organized around a circle which symbolically reinforces the characters’ situations in a fairly typical Russian love story.  The aged Baryshnikov/Nikolai Platonitch has lived his life and he’s not leaving his destiny.  Sinyakina/Olga is a simple soul who has been endowed with beauty.  She has a small world and doesn’t dream outside of it.  She has a moment with him and then it ends and that’s it.  Her crest comes in a brief scene of preparation and anticipation, as she dresses for her first date with Platonitch.  She stands before the audience and does something akin to Salome’s dance of the seven veils with her dress, a magnificently stretchy and utilitarian creation which she transforms into dozens of fashion statements before settling on the right one. Other props evoke a subtly humorous association with handicrafts—there’s the tilted table at the restaurant, that serves as foil for a delightful small talk about soup, and later a car—a large cut-out—that transports them on their first date.

There are relatively few spoken words but hearing Baryshnikov and Sinyakina communicate tenderly in their native Russian is soothing, lyrical—especially their precious small talk about soup.

Baryshnikov sustains our interest keenly throughout as a presence not dependent on movement at all—it isn’t until the end that he dances briefly.  He collapses and then there’s a dream sequence, a kind of resurrection, where he’s a matador dominating a bull against the musical backdrop of Bizet’s Carmen.  His dance is elegant, refined, brief— the perfect ending to this dynamic collage that paints a rich portrait of two lost souls and the illusive nature of love.

It’s been a very strong season for Berkeley Rep which prepped us for this melancholy Russian story with Chekov’s Three Sisters  in April 2011, a Russian classic steeped in loss whose characters’ sufferings are not too distant from those of In Paris.

Run time is 80 minutes with no intermission

Performed in Russian and French with English subtitles

Adapted from the short story by Ivan Bunin; Direction and adaptation by Dmitry Krymov; Set and costume design by Maria Tregubova; Music by Dmitry Volkov

Performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Anna Sinyakina, Maxim Maminov, Maria Gulik, Dmitry Volkov, and Polina Butko with Ossi Makkonen and Lasse Lindberg

Featuring the work of Damir Ismagilov (lighting designer), Andrey Shchukin (movement coach), Alexei Ratmansky (choreographer), and Tei Blow (audio and video designer)

A production of the Baryshnikov Arts Center, Dmitry Krymov Laboratory, and the AG Foundation in association with the Korjaamo Culture Factory of Helsinki, Finland.

Free tastings:  Join Berkeley Rep for complimentary pre-performance tastings! Sample wine, beer, chocolate, champagne, vodka, organic produce or other delights before select Friday 8pm, Saturday 8pm and Sunday 7pm performances. New tasting events are being added all the time, so be sure to check back often!

  • Friday, May      4: Peterson Winery / 7pm
  • Saturday,      May 5: Calstar Cellars / 7pm
  • Friday, May      11: Cater Too / 7pm
  • Saturday,      May 12: Via Pacifica Selections/ 7pm

Details: In Paris runs for three weeks only and ends May 13, 2012.  The Berkeley Repertory Theatre (Roda Theatre) is located at 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704.  Tickets are $22.50 -$125, with discounts for students and seniors and half-price to anyone under the age of 30.  For tickets and info:  http://www.berkeleyrep.org  or phone 510.647.2949

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

Review: Steven Epp returns to Berkeley Rep with “A Doctor in Spite of Himself”─bawdy, silly, politically incorrect and not to be missed, through March 25, 2011

Is laughter the best cure?   It certainly helps!  Molière’s classic comedy, A Doctor in Spite of Himself, which opened at Berkeley Rep on February 16, offers an ingenious promenade of tawdry merry-making carried out by actors  and puppets that resemble them.  Adapted by comic actor extraordinaire Steven Epp and director Christopher Bayes, this farce maintains the structure and tempo of the 17th century original but delights with its modern innuendo and live music.

The show opens in the woods with an all too familiar marital argument—who’s the boss?   Woodcutter and lout, Sganarelle (Steven Epps), is beating his wife Martine (Justine Williams) and her ample bouncing breasts assert themselves in the bout as much she does.  A delightful Punch and Judy show takes place behind the actors, the puppets replicating what’s transpiring live.  Adding a rural touch, and enforcing the rapid-fire potty-mouth humor, the puppet show takes place in an outhouse.

Pained and pissed-off about taking a beating, Martine is devoted to pay-back.  Opportunity soon presents itself—when two servants (Liam Craig  and Jacob Ming-Trent) show up in search of doctor, she tells them that Sganarelle is a doctor but the only way to get him to admit to this high rank is to beat him silly.  After a thorough beating, Sganarelle is ready to admit to anything.  He is quite shocked to see how much respect he gets as doctor when he shows up at the local big-wig’s (Allen Gilmore) plush chateau to treat his daughter, Lucinde (Renata Friedman), a garish-goth girl who is FAKING illness.  Turns out, she’s mourning being separated from her lover (Chivas Michael), whom her wealthy father can’t stand.  Reversals are the order of the day in this fast-paced romp: the doctor is indistinguishable from the peasant and the healthy from the sick.   The riotously funny dialogue is so expertly and freshly delivered, that it sounds like improv.

While the dialogue is superb, so too is the music composed by Aaron Halva and played onstage with gusto by Greg C. Powers (trombone, tuba, ukulele) and Robertson Witmer (accordion, clarinet, drums).  The music runs the gamut from recognizable snippets of pop to opera to Broadway.  The man sitting next to me got so excited that he started conducting, humming, and swaying at all once and was promptly shut down with a swat of a program.   It’s that kind of show—expect fits of laughter everywhere and anywhere.

Run Time:  90 minutes, no intermission

Post-show discussions: Stick around for a lively 30-minute Q&A with the cast or other company members:  Thursday, March 1, 2012, Tuesday, March 6, 2012 and Friday, March 16, 2012

Free tastings:  Join Berkeley Rep for complimentary tastings!  Sample wine, beer, chocolate, champagne, vodka, organic produce or other delights before select Friday 8pm, Saturday 8pm and Sunday 7pm performances.

  • Friday, February 24: Dr. Kracker / 7pm
  • Saturday, February 25: Peterson Winery / 7pm
  • Sunday, February 26: Ecology Center / 6pm
  • Friday, March 2: Charbay Winery and Distillery / 7pm
  • Sunday, March 4: Green Barrel Wine Merchants / 6pm
  • Friday, March 9: Speakeasy Ales & Lagers / 7pm
  • Saturday, March 10: Stella Nonna Catering / 7pm
  • Sunday, March 11: Ecology Center / 6pm
  • Saturday, March 17: Donkey & Goat Winery / 7pm
  • Sunday, March 25: Ecology Center / 6pm

Details: A Doctor in Spite of Himself  runs through March 25, 2012 at Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA.  Tickets: $14.50 to $73.  Call 510-647-2949 or visit http://www.berkeleyrep.org .

February 29, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Wild Bride:” dark, fascinating, and mythically marvelous─at Berkeley Rep through January 22, 2012

Adapted and directed by Emma Rice.  Text and lyrics by Carl Grose / Music by Stu Barker / Choreography by Etta Murfitt

Featuring:  Audrey Brisson (the Girl), Stuart Goodwin (the Father and the Prince), Patrycja Kujawska (the Wild), Éva Magyar (the Woman), Stuart McLoughlin (the Devil), and Ian Ross (the Musician)

Designed by Bill Mitchell (sets), Myriddin Wannell (costumes), Malcolm Rippeth (lights), and Simon Baker (sound)

Details:  The Wild Bride closes January 22, 2012.  The Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Thrust Stage is located at 2025 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704.  Tickets and Info: (510) 647-2949, http://berkeleyrep.org

December 14, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Listening Between the Lines, Anna Deavere Smith in conversation at the New School, Bolinas, Thursday June 23, 2011

Observation is one of the most exacting skills every artist must cultivate. For a writer, listening is critical to the process of transmuting observed reality into art. Playwright and performer Anna Deavere Smith is said to have created a new form of theatre mining the riches of both spoken and unspoken language.  She will appear in conversation with painter and author Eric Karpeles at the New School at Commonweal in Bolinas this Thursday, June 23, 2011 from 2-4 p.m.  Honoring her sources, Deavere-Smith has developed an idiosyncratic theatrical form that is composed exclusively of verbatim texts hobbled together from interviews done over years with both ordinary and extraordinary people.  Her journey has led her through riot-torn streets and up academic ivory towers, encountering a dazzling cross-section of American individuals.  Her current production, “Let Me Down Easy” is centered on the drama of the human body and its rough handling in the hands of the medical-industrial complex. Performances at Berkeley Rep run through Sunday, June 26th, 2011 and the production has been extended for its second time, will return for 27 additional performances over four weeks starting August 10, 2011- September 4, 2011.  

Anna Deavere Smith is a poet, teacher, actor, and playwright. Her explosive theater works about race in America—Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992—garnered considerable acclaim. Television and film credits include Nurse Jackie, The West Wing, The American President and The Human Stain. A professor at NYU, Smith is founder of The Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue and has taught at Harvard and Stanford.  She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1996.

Details:  RSVP for Anna Deavere Smith in Conversation to the New School at thenewschool@commonweal.org.  New School events are held in the main Commonweal building at 451 Mesa Road, Bolinas, CA 94924.  A sign on the front door will lead you to either the Library or the Gallery, depending on the size of the event. Download a map (PDF) with driving directions to Commonweal. Click here for driving directions from Google.

Let Me Down Easy closes June 26, 2011 at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s and will resume again August 10-September 4, 2011.   The Berkeley Repertory Theatre is located at 2025 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA  94704.  Tickets: $49-$95.  Info: 510.647.2949 or http://www.berkeleyrep.org

June 20, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment