Author Archives: Emily S. Mendel
One of the fresh, modern aspects of the 1978 Fifth of July by Pulitzer Prize winner Lanford Wilson (1937–2011) is that it concerns a gay couple whose sexuality is never questioned. Neither is the relationship the subject of angst, derision or other negative reaction — just love and acceptance. Unfortunately, a few other elements of the play seem slightly off, despite the fact that Fifth of July has much to offer.
It’s 1977, and we’re at the Lebanon, Missouri childhood home of Kenneth Talley, Jr. (Craig Marker) a legless Vietnam veteran, who lives with his partner, botanist Jed Jenkins (Josh Schell). Jed seems content to put down roots there by continuing to improve the English garden he has designed. But Ken is now reluctant to teach at the local high school as he had planned, and is considering selling the house.
Visiting Ken are some longtime friends from his 1960s days in Berkeley, copper conglomerate heiress Gwen Landis (Nanci Zoppi) and her assertive husband, John Landis (John Girot). Gwen dreams of becoming a country singer and is actively promoted by her husband. They are traveling with Gwen’s amusing guitar player, Weston Hurley (Harold Pierce). John thinks that the 19-room Talley house would make a fine music studio for Gwen. Or does John have ulterior motives? … Continue reading »
We often wonder why tragedies occur, particularly when they affect good people. It’s a question as old as the story of Job or Jesus’s cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In Head of Passes, playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, a 2013 MacArthur “genius” grantee, presents us with the deeply religious widow Shelah, who, when faced with personal tragedy, prays, pleads, and confronts her God with a biblical fervor worthy of Job.
Shelah (great performance by Cheryl Lynn Bruce) lives in a remote marshy area of Louisiana where the Mississippi River divides and meets the Gulf of Mexico, known as the Head of Passes. Before the play begins, we see a man (Sullivan Jones) in a tuxedo sitting on the stage. From the cast list, we glean that he may be the Angel. He didn’t add much to the drama, except perhaps a misplaced sense of the supernatural. … Continue reading »
Those who are fortunate and fast enough to find tickets for Aurora’s Theatre’s Talley’s Folly will enjoy a first-class theatrical experience.
Celebrated author Lanford Wilson (1937–2011) deservedly won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for this tender two-person, one-act romantic comedy. It’s one of the plays in Wilson’s famed trilogy about the wealthy Talley family of Lebanon, Missouri. Aurora will be presenting the two other plays in the trilogy, Wilson’s Fifth of July from April 17 through May 17, 2015, and four private staged readings of the less produced Talley & Son in April.
Noted Bay Area veteran actor and director Joy Carlin directs inspired performances by Lauren English, as the unmarriageable 30-year old Sally Talley, and Rolf Saxon, as 40-something Matt Friedman, a Jewish émigré accountant from St. Louis, who shows up on July 4, 1944 at the Talley boathouse (or folly) to propose marriage to Sally. … Continue reading »
We are fortunate to have a company in Berkeley like Shotgun Players— always willing to take risks, to present large and small productions, classics, new material, or new takes on classics, as in Antigonick.
The beautiful art book Antigonick, on which Shotgun’s production is based, is a new translation of the Sophocles play, Antigone, by Canadian world-class poet, classicist and MacArthur “genius” fellowship winner, Anne Carson, and her collaborator Robert Currie. Published in 2012, the book contains text blocks hand-inked on the page, with translucent vellum pages and stunning drawings by Bianca Stone that overlay the text. Shotgun has some copies for sale.
Directors Mark Jackson and Hope Mohr turn the 2,500-year-old play into an ultra-modern visual, dance and intellectual experiment that combines Carson’s adaptation, Mohr’s choreography skills, and Jackson’s tested directorial talent. … Continue reading »
Berkeley Rep, and the talented actor, writer and director Steven Epp, have been enjoying a 20-year love fest, resulting in productions including “The Green Bird” (2000), Molière’s “The Miser” (2006) and “A Doctor in Spite of Himself” (2012), and “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” (2014).
In the latest work in the collaboration, Molière’s “Tartuffe,” director Dominique Serrand presents a serious take on the moral tale of the wealthy Orgon (Luverne Seifert), who falls under the sway of the counterfeit man of God, Tartuffe (gifted Steven Epp). First presented in 1664 at the Palace of Versailles, “Tartuffe” was found so offensive to religion that the Archbishop of Paris threatened excommunication for anyone who watched, acted or even read the play. And it still packs an anti-religious punch.
In the opening act of The Lyons, Nicky Silver’s bitingly funny and undeniably moving play, we are in a hospital room in New York, where Ben Lyon (Will Marchetti) lies terminally ill with cancer, cursing with pain, as his wife Rita (Ellen Ratner, After the Revolution) thumbs through decorating magazines, casually discussing her plans to redecorate their living room after Ben dies. Not your average loving couple merely engaging in bickering banter, Ben and Rita have struggled through 40 years in a difficult marriage burdened by disappointment and regret.
Into the hospital room timidly peeks adult daughter, Lisa (Jessica Bates, After the Revolution) a single mother of two boys, recently separated from her husband. Lisa struggles to cope with her day-to-day life as well as her psychological and alcohol issues. She’s clearly uncomfortable and distressed by her parents, seemingly more because her father’s condition was kept from her for months, than the fact that he is dying. … Continue reading »
It’s hard to ignore football, even if one tries. Adored by millions of devoted fans, it’s a huge part of American culture, not to mention a multibillion dollar industry. The versatile, vital 85-minute “docudrama” Xs and Os explores diverse aspects of the game from teamwork to trauma, from fandom to fear, from consciousness to concussion.
Playwright KJ Sanchez (a self-described football fan) with actor Jenny Mercein (whose father, Chuck, played in Super Bowls) interviewed assorted groups connected with the game, including fans, current and former players and their families, as well as doctors and coaches. The real names of a few people are used while many have been changed. The interviewees’ comments are repeated verbatim in the play, artfully arranged in short scenes that alternate among the various constituencies. … Continue reading »
In Our Town, three-time Pulitzer prize-winning author Thornton Wilder created a profound and intimate exploration into American life and death. And, although it was written over 76 years ago, the Shotgun Players’ version of the drama remains fresh and vibrant — still an important piece of American theater. Congratulations to the Shotgun Players and Director Susannah Martin for this winning production.
The Stage Manager (excellent Madeline H. D. Brown) serves as narrator and commentator. She explains that the first act opens in 1901 and follows the lives of the residents of tiny Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, where neighbors know each other, doors are never locked and horses are still the mode of transportation. We meet the Webb and the Gibbs families, particularly Emily Webb and George Gibbs. Both El Beh, as Emily, and Josh Schell, as George, are first-rate. … Continue reading »
Molly Ivins (1944-2007) was a beloved Texas newspaper columnist, political commentator, author and humorist. And her perspicacious wit comes through loud and clear, despite Kathleen Turner’s somewhat mixed performance in this one-woman show at the Berkeley Rep.
Ivins was famous for her bright and brash personality, her acerbic sharpness, her liberal leanings, and her continued amazement and amusement with the folly and foolhardiness of Republican politicians in general, and Texas Republican politicians in particular. She was the first to call our 43rd president, George W. Bush, “shrub.”
Early in her career, Ivins was hired by the New York Times (1976-1982), when it sought a writer who was not as staid and dull as its normal hires. Her two claims to fame there were her 1977 obituary of Elvis Presley, and her article about a “community chicken-killing festival” in New Mexico, which she referred to as a “gang-pluck.” … Continue reading »
An intimate power struggle between Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, and Dr. Andrew Peric, a white Zimbabwean psychiatrist, is the compelling concept of Aurora Theatre’s gripping, finely acted drama, Breakfast with Mugabe.
British author Fraser Grace based his riveting play, first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2005, and then off-Broadway in 2013, on news reports that a white psychiatrist had been called to treat a severely depressed President Mugabe, to cure him of being haunting by the malicious spirit of a rival who died under dubious circumstances. Set right before the 2002 Zimbabwean elections, the tense sessions between the two men illuminate the racial, political, historical and emotional divide between blacks and the white landowners in Zimbabwe and, for that matter, in all of formerly colonial Africa. … Continue reading »
You’re in for an exhilarating evening at Berkeley Rep’s production of Party People, a super- energetic theatrical experience recounting the 1960s-1970s Black Panther Party and Chicago’s Young Lords, a civil rights organization for Puerto Ricans and Latinos.
Creators UNIVERSES (Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz Sapp and William Ruiz, a.k.a. Ninja) have developed an organized chaos of poetry, monologue and dialogue, with hip-hop, blues, and salsa songs and dance, all of which artfully come together to explore the heart, soul and politics of these two transformative, though now historical, American revolutionary movements. … Continue reading »
The entertaining, creative and comical Harry Thaw Hates Everybody by Shotgun Players at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley is based on a scandal that is still intriguing after more than 100 years.
Playwright Laurel Meade, winner of the L.A. Drama Critics Award for Best Writing for an earlier version of the play, placed this compelling triangle of human behavior in a fresh new light. Using the technique made famous in the 1950 Japanese film Rashomon, the tale is told from the perspective of each of the four main participants. But instead of a sobering re-telling of a tragedy, the production regales us with music, dance, naughtiness and a slide show of newspaper headlines and turn-of-the-century pornography. … Continue reading »
As the curtain opens, the Australian multitalented and internationally admired artist, Melissa Madden Gray, known as Meow Meow, sparkles and shimmers sitting high above the stage in an elaborately feathered get-up. Then, in the first few minutes, as smoke from her cigarette amusingly wafts out of the cigarette-less side of her face, we understand that we’re witnessing much more than a traditional song and dance act.
An Audience with Meow Meow is more like a comedy of the absurd, a burlesque, with physical comedy at the beginning and some sober and somber moments at the end. A large part of the charm of the performance is trying to figure out where Meow Meow is heading. So I don’t want to give too much away. … Continue reading »