Posts in Reviews
Ubuntu's 'Mother Courage' Dares, Soars, And Falters All At Once

One of Ubuntu theater’s great successes is how they treat social justice as a theatrical project, a real art. Each play is a provisional response to a never-ending problem. There is not one truth, but many. There is not one situation or conflict, but multiple fronts. There is no solution, only the fight that continues from production to production.

And that brings us to their latest battle, three hours and twenty-minutes of Bertolt Brecht’s anti-war, epic, Mother Courage And Her Children. Under Emilie Whelan’s vigorous, though up-and-down, direction, the company makes a radical case for Brecht, testing the limits of his vision, what ambitious theater can do, and what Ubuntu can accomplish. Not everything is successful, but it is fascinating and bracing and unusual.

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ACT's 'Seascape' Dabbles In The Cosmic

With ACT’s new production of Edward Albee’s Seascape we have a fairly obscure work by a major playwright, despite the fact that it won the Pulitzer in 1974. The play’s mood is gentle and comic with few hints of the acid-in-the-face histrionics of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Delicate Balance, and his late-career, screech-fest, The Goat. And so we should ask, or at least wonder, what’s in this for new Artistic Director Pam McKinnon in her first directorial outing for her first year on the job.

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Campo Santo's 'Candlestick' and SF Playhouse's 'King of the Yees' Dream Of Missing San Francisco Fathers

There’s a touch of King Lear in all fathers. They begin in our lives as resplendent Gods and end their lives, at least before us, diminished, humbled, confused, and defiantly human. They are well suited to the needs of drama and two new plays, Campo Santo’s production of Bennett Fischer’s Candlestick at the Costume Shop and Lauren Yee’s King of the Yees at the SF Playhouse give us not just fallible fathers, but San Francisco ones as well.

And it is their daughters, not without their own troubles, who must contend with the humanity of these men and the ways their souls have seeped into their memories of a radically changing city. Look away and both the fathers and the San Francisco that they knew might vanish.

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Berkeley Rep's 'Paradise Square' Aims For High-Quality Creativity And Unfortunately Hits The Mark

Paradise Square is the unwitting product of the crisis of authorship in American theater. In many ways what the musical is about is beside the point, though its plot and aspirations are telling to say the least. In its seriousness, it obliterates any possibility of artistic ambition, wildness, freedom, and scope. Its goal is to parrot conventional sensibilities and give them a high culture sheen of political and social importance. There’s no author here, only a producer selling the idea of high-quality creativity.

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The Best of Bay Area Theater in 2018

There must be a better way to sum up 2018 Bay Area Theater than flying away from the scene of the crime, but since I’m actually on a shaky Jet Blue flight on the eve of the New Year I’ll have to accept the situation. And accepting the situation is what this list is about: the situation of the country, the situation of a theater and performance culture that is too often automated and soulless, and, most depressingly, the situation of a great art form that still manages to gather sizable audiences, but to rather aesthetically and politically questionable ends.

There were moments of fire and passion and real insight in 2018, but over and over again they felt like dying stars in distant galaxies. These five stars burned the brightest and in many ways all of them were Black Swans, miracles of happenstance, the outliers of an increasingly dark age of false outrage, preening conformity, and aesthetic timidity. Yet, if you pay attention, there was always an individual—the playwright, the director, the choreographer, an actor, and in the case of our best production of the year, a company (albeit German but brought to us by the engaged presenters at Cal Performances) that just refused to accept the world in its present state.

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Shotgun's 'Arcadia' Takes Up The Drama Of Those Who Come Last

Of all the theater companies in the Bay Area, the Shotgun Players, under founding artistic director Patrick Dooley’s guidance, is the most keen to the notion that theater is an occasion, that each performance is a gamble and a celebration of the play and the community that comes to see it. And it makes sense that Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia would represent a tantalizing bet for them. At his best, Stoppard is all about celebrations and Arcadia with its dual time periods (1809 and the present) is an attempt to feel the joy of the past in our fallen present.

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Big Dance Theater's '17 C' Demands All Of Our Imagination

You never know what you’ve got until you’ve reached the end and sometimes even a long time after that—it’s true of performances, of books, even the mundane work of the day. We never know the true state of things until the last breath is drawn, you close your eyes, and the lights go out.

That’s one way you could think about Big Dance Theater’s mysterious and often-beautiful 17 C, conceived by Annie-B Parsons, and co-directed by Parsons and Paul Lazar. The importance of waiting until the end, to staying in a state of flux, to seeing what happens: it’s an interesting life lesson and a theatrical one, too.

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Golden Thread's 'We Swim, We Talk, We Go To War' Has An Off-Handed Beauty

One of Mansour’s sharpest insights is that the drama of the Aunt and the Nephew is fluid and has few rules. Rather delightfully, it is also a source of joy, exactly what we expect and want from family. So when we first meet She (The Aunt) and He (The Nephew) we immediately get the sense that not only do these two people get a kick out of each other, but also that they’ve always gotten a kick out of each other. They want to be together and that’s a real pleasure to experience.

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The Aurora's 'Everything is Illuminated' Is A Failure of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Aesthetic and Moral Imagination

There’s something distasteful about rank ambition and its stench is all over the Aurora Theater’s production of Simon Block’s stage adaption of Jonathan Safran Foer’s kind-of-celebrated, first novel, Everything is Illuminated. The whole enterprise is what we might call anxious for significance.

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ACT's 'Men On Boats' Is An Illusion Of True Engagement

Men in Boats is as an incredible failure of imagination. The actual story of John Wesley Powell’s 1869 trip down the Colorado River is stirring and complex, a moment in history worthy of investigation, critique, celebration, whatever your game. Yet you can’t get to any of that without a real vision or philosophy of history. And a real vision would never reduce these complex people to stick figure goofballs.

What we get from Men on Boats is an illusion of real engagement and experimentation. It’s selling radical critique, revisionist history, feminist ideals, and theatrical invention, but it’s all packaging without soul or sense or care, just idle gestures to make us feel that something has happened.

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