Geneva Anderson digs into art

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

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

Mary Zimmerman has another mesmerizing hit in the epic Chinese fable, “The White Snake,” at Berkeley Rep through December 23, 2012

Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman returns to Berkeley Rep for the world-premiere production of “The White Snake,” which stars Amy Kim Waschke (left) and Christopher Livingston. Photo courtesy of

Told with puppets that come to life and magical special effects, Tony-award winning director Mary Zimmerman’s stirring adaptation of the ancient Chinese fairy tale, The White Snake, which has its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, is a must-see holiday treat.  Suddenly, we’re all children again and we’ve been taken into a world of wonder where a glorious legend, as old as time and yet timeless, unfolds on stage before us. The epic fable is about a thousand-year-old white snake spirit who is so curious about the human world that she transforms herself into a human.  She comes down from her contemplative life on a mountaintop with a friendly green snake who has also transformed herself into a woman and who serves as her friend and confidant.  The White Snake finds true love with a man who has no reason to suspect she is not human.  A meddling monk jeopardizes everything when he tries to break them up in order to enforce an age-old law declaring love relationships between spirits and humans an inappropriate violation of nature’s law.  Of course, when the White Snake hides her true nature from her true love, there are bound to be repercussions.

Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman returns to Berkeley Rep for the world-premiere production of “The White Snake,” which features Tanya Thai McBride as Greenie, the green snake spirit who is the indefatigable sidekick to Kim Waschke’s White Snake spirit. Photo courtesy of

This co-production with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival ran in Ashland through July 2012 and is the seventh Mary Zimmerman creation to grace the stage of Berkeley Rep.  Like her other winners Argonautika (2008), The Arabian Nights (2008, 2010), it draws on a classic tale that has been re-shaped by her own distinctive vision to create a subtle exploration of love, deception, loss and survival.

Zimmerman’s plays are renowned for their stunning visual impact.  Projection designer Shawn Sagady and set designer Daniel Ostling have collaborated again to employ the latest in video projection techniques mixed with simple touches such as streams of silken fabric that drop elegantly from the sky to represent rain and the artistry of hand-operated paper snake puppets.  Particularly enchanting is the way the bamboo walls come alive when lines of ink projected on the walls seem to transform into lovely Chinese screens or when the floor becomes a river undulating with color. A wonderful set of wooden cabinets which opens to reveal a lovely bed is on stage for much of the production.  When combined with T.J. Gerckens’ gorgeous lighting, it all comes together and builds into a mesmerizing visual tableau.

Honesty is essential for any love relationship to flourish. In Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman’s production of “The White Snake,” Christopher Livingston plays the naïve herbalist, Xu Xian (left), who is deceived by his wife, played by Amy Kim Waschke, who does not reveal her true nature to him. Photographer: Mary Zimmerman

The visual magic is only half of the fun. The Chinese legend of the White Snake existed in oral tradition long before any written compilation, and was handed down from the Tang and Five Dynasties through the Ming and Qing Dynasties until it became a classical theme, its many versions inspiring Chinese operas, ballads, scrolls, novels, films and even TV series. (Click here for Berkeley’s Rep’s fascinating compilation of legend of the White Snake.) Zimmerman gives us a story that will delight a child but that has levels of meaning that lend themselves to multiple interpretations.

Amy Kim Waschke, who plays the White Snake, has the remarkable ability to project empowerment with vulnerability and scattered-brained behavior, making for a very interesting and down-to-earth White Snake. Once she has transformed herself into a human, she begins to experience the fulfilling joy and pain of the human experience.  She will do anything to preserve her marriage except reveal the truth of her snake nature to her husband.

The White Snake’s loyal gal-pal “Greenie” (Tanya Thai McBride ) is there for her and understands her and they have a fabulous on stage chemistry that resonates much more than that between Waschke and Christopher Livingston, who plays Xu Xian, the naïve herbalist that White Snake is smitten with. Tanya Thai McBride is a natural cut-up and it’s a real treat to watch her blossom in human form in the many humorous scenes that occur.

Jack Willis, revered for his longstanding role as the Ghost Jacob Marley in A.C.T.’s much-loved annual production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is much scarier here as the cunning Buddhist monk, Fa Hai, who feels he must, at all costs, break-up the happy bi-species relationship.

Jack Willis (left) is Fa Hai, the evil Buddhist monk and Christopher Livingston is Xu Xian, the naïve herbalist and bridegroom in Mary Zimmerman’s production of “The White Snake,” at Berkeley Rep through December 23, 2012. Photo courtesy of

Composer/sound designer Andre J. Pluess’ enchanting original score is performed by Michal Palzewicz (cello), Tessa Brinckman (flutes), and Ronnie Malley (strings and percussion).

Creative Team:  Adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman; Designed by Daniel Ostling (sets);  Mara Blumenfeld (costumes);  T.J. Gerckens (lighting);  Andre Pluess (sound);  and Shawn Sagady (projections).   Music performed by Tessa Brinckman, Ronnie Malley, and Michal Palzewicz

Cast:  Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, Gina Daniels, Richard Howard, Cristofer Jean, Emily Sophia Knapp, Vin Kridakorn, Christopher Livingston, Tanya Thai McBride, Lisa Tejero, Amy Kim Waschke, and Jack Willis

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission)

Details: The White Snake ends December 23, 2012. Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Rhoda Theatre is located at 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley (near the intersection of Addison and Shattuck Avenue), Berkeley, CA 94704.  Performances: Tuesday-Sunday, with matinee performances on weekends and additional matiness at 2 PM on Thursdays 11/29 and 12/13.  No performance Thanksgiving. Tickets: Tickets: $29-$99 call box office at 510-647-2949 or purchase online at

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 validated in the theatre lobby.

November 21, 2012 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

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: or phone 510.647.2949

June 4, 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 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 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

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