- 08/28/2013 - Free Outdoor Screening in the BAM/PFA Sculpture Garden
- 08/27/2013 - MARK EPSTEIN / The Trauma of Everyday Life
- 08/24/2013 - The goat Rodeo Sessions
- 08/20/2013 - Yang Fudong and Philippe Pirotte in Conversation
- 08/03/2013 - Book Signing and Discussion with Dave Kehr, followed by The Lawless Breed
Author Archives: Emily S. Mendel
George Gershwin Alone is a bright and breezy one-man show written and performed by Hershey Felder using the glorious music and lyrics of George Gershwin (1898–1937), and his brother, Ira (1896–1983). Felder, playing George Gershwin, fascinates the audience as he describes Gershwin’s short life and plays some of his greatest pieces.
Felder is no slouch himself. A talented concert pianist, composer and actor, he spent five years researching and reading Gershwin’s original manuscripts and correspondence. He interviewed biographers and family members, and had unfettered access to the Gershwin archives.
George Gershwin wrote over 1,000 popular songs for Broadway and the movies, many of which you have probably heard. I checked my iTunes library and found 30 of them performed by artists from Cannonball Adderley to Janis Joplin, including “The Man I Love,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Oh, Lady Be Good,” “’S Wonderful,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”
Gershwin also wrote the more sophisticated “Rhapsody in Blue” (1924), the symphonic tone poem “An American in Paris” (1928), and what Gershwin called a folk opera, “Porgy and Bess” (1935). … Continue reading »
Playwright Sarah Ruhl and director Les Waters, much-admired collaborators who created Eurydice, In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) and Three Sisters, return to Berkeley Rep with Dear Elizabeth, a play based on the intimate 30-year correspondence between Pulitzer Prize-winning poets Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), played by Mary Beth Fisher, and Robert Lowell (1917-1977), acted by Tom Nelis.
Sarah Ruhl has chosen a concise selection of letters from the poets’ 900-plus pages of correspondence, which was published in 2008 as, Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Ruhl and Waters staged a two-character recitation of the selected correspondence. Because of constraints imposed by the poets’ estates, only the letters themselves could be used in the play, aside from the recitation of few wonderful poems and the placement of subtitles above the stage identifying the year and place in which the letters were written. … Continue reading »
It takes courage to put on a production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. It’s not one of Shakespeare’s better plays, if in fact Shakespeare wrote the play at all. Yet, Obie Award – winning director Mark Wing-Davey turns the play into what he calls an “extravagant theatricality” and what I call a two-hour street party.
Using a shortened version of the play, first-rate acting, creative staging, inventive effects, original joyful music and sound effects, ingenious costumes and sight gags, Pericles becomes a 21st century tumult — amusing and entertaining at times, but with all that talent and imagination, why didn’t they choose a better play?
Pericles, Prince of Tyre describes Pericles’s episodic journeys over many years, His first stop is Antioch, where hopes to marry a princess, but flees to avoid her incestuous relationship with her father. He then sails to Tarsus, where he saves the city from famine. The governor, Dionyza, is deeply indebted to him. … Continue reading »
Aurora Theatre Company’s provocative production of Max Frisch’s classic absurdist play The Arsonists is a cautionary tale in which apathy, greed and weakness allow evil to flourish. The play is set in a nameless country, in a nameless city, at an unidentified time. It is, however, a time of civil unrest. Arsonists roam the streets setting fire to numerous, yet seemingly arbitrarily chosen, buildings.
The main character of the play, Biedermann, which translates as “bourgeois man,” is masterfully portrayed by Dan Hiatt. The conventional Biedermann lives a moral double life. Although he is smug about his correct, polite and decent family life, he is ruthless and brutal in his business life. In that regard, he could be a Soprano family member, performing vicious criminal acts during the day and kissing his kids in the evening. … Continue reading »
The worldwide premiere of Fallaci, although distinctive and thought provoking, is almost as problematic as was Oriana Fallaci herself. Yet, it’s about time that her life was dramatized. A charismatic, powerful and controversial journalist and writer, Fallaci (1929-2006) took on, and bested, the most influential political interviewees of her day: the Ayatollah Khomeini, Yasser Arafat, Indira Gandhi, Henry Kissinger and Golda Meir.
Rather than being the objective observer, she was a starring player in her interviews. Much to the consternation of others, Fallaci was known for telling different versions of her background. Nevertheless, her father, an Italian resistance fighter during World War II, seems to have skilled Oriana with bravery and courage.
Lawrence Wright’s two-person play begins in 2000 with a young Iranian-American woman, Maryam, (ably performed by Narjan Neshat) attempting to interview an aging Oriana Fallaci (skillfully acted by Concetta Tomei) for Fallaci’s New York Times obituary (to be used when needed). Oriana has receded from public view because of cancer.
Our Practical Heaven is a personality study about three generations of women who gather over several holiday seasons.
They meet at the beach house owned by widowed grandmother Vera (wonderfully acted by Joy Carlin). Vera’s daughter, the insecure and fragile Sasha (top performance by Anne Darragh), and Sasha’s two teenage daughters, Leez and Suze (Adrienne Walters and Blythe Foster, both skilled at their roles). Vera’s “honorary daughter,” the loving yet ambitious Willa (excellent Julia Brothers) and her mysteriously ill daughter, Magz (Lauren Spencer captures a difficult role), are an integral element in the familial group.
Our Practical Heaven explores the ever-shifting connections and bonds among the women. While they swim in the pond, bird watch and clean the house, we observe the changing undercurrents of family allegiance, loyalty, and jealousy. … Continue reading »
Troublemaker, or The Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright, written by the young, talented Dan LeFranc (Sixty Miles to Silver Lake), is a fresh, funny, vibrant, original and ultimately sympathetic glimpse into the angst-filled world of tweeners. It’s a time when young boys feel constrained by their self-described “origin story,” real or imagined, and long to escape their limits into a world of action.
The protagonist Bradley Boatwright (excellent Gabriel King) is a likeable kid who spirals out of control. Brad’s “origin story” is that his father died while saving Brad and his mother (first-rate Jennifer Regan) from a burning car. This puts him one-step up from friends whose origins are mostly being children of divorce. Brad envisions himself a superhero who needs to watch over his mother and his nerdy friend and sidekick, Mikey (Obie award winner, terrific Chad Goodridge). … Continue reading »
The worldwide premiere of The White Snake, Mary Zimmerman’s atmospheric retelling of an ancient Chinese legend, is a visual and artistic wonderland. Zimmerman conceived, wrote and directed The White Snake in the spirit of her previous Berkeley Rep productions, which include Metamorphoses and The Arabian Nights. Zimmerman and the talented cast and crew make the ancient story come alive by using their imagination, creative vision, beautiful aesthetic and inventive stage techniques.
The tale of the white snake, originally published in 981 CE, has transmogrified over time. It began as a cautionary fable in which a man has a brief affair with a woman dressed in white. The man soon becomes ill and dies. It later seems that there never was a woman dressed in white, only a white snake. Moral: beware the evil snake disguised as a beautiful woman. Much later, the fable developed into a love story in which a white snake risks all for love. … Continue reading »
Four engaging one-act plays by Thornton Wilder, the three-time Pulitzer prize-winning author, give us insight into Wilder’s view of the ways in which American families live and struggle — for better or for worse. Add a terrific cast and wonderful direction by Barbara Oliver, and these plays come alive. Whether written in the 1930s or the 1960s, the Wilder Times one-act plays remain creative and fresh.
The first two plays, both written in 1962, Infancy and Childhood, show us what deficient parents we’ve had and what flawed parents we are to our children. Infancy and Childhood were written for Wilder’s Plays for Bleecker Street at the Circle in the Square Theater in Greenwich Village, where they were directed by the great José Quintero. Then and now, Wilder’s plays experiment with the private thoughts of his characters. … Continue reading »
At Berkeley Rep, one phenomenal actor on a bare stage performs a version of The Iliad — and keeps us spellbound for 100 minutes.
This haunting, yet animated theatrical event focuses on events in the tenth and final year of the siege of Troy, supposedly about the 13th century B.C. An Iliad concentrates on the wrath and vengeance of two heroic warriors on opposite sides of the battles, the Greek Achilles and Hector for Troy (Ilion). Achilles seeks to return Helen to her husband, Menelaus of Mycenae, while Hector wants to keep her for Paris, the mortal prince of Troy. This is such a compelling theatrical story that it was wise to eliminate most of the other sections of the Iliad.
Henry Woronicz first appears the Poet, with his arms outstretched speaking the opening lines of Book I of The Iliad in Greek on the dark Thrust stage; he is dressed in nondescript military clothes of a past era. Even though most of the audience doesn’t understand his words, his speech pattern and gestures signify his importance. … Continue reading »
Aurora theatergoers will have ringside seats to see the Bay Area premiere of Kristoffer Diaz’s vibrant and dynamic 2010 play, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, titularly about wrestling, but actually a comic drama examining racial politics in the U.S. and larger questions of good and evil. Don’t be turned off to this production if you’re not a fan of wrestling.
The play centers on a fictional professional wrestling monopoly, THE Wrestling, in which the owner, “EKO” (well played by Rod Gnapp) manipulates his wrestlers, choosing the all-American types, such as the swaggering African-American champion, Chad Deity (the handsome Beethovan Oden) to be the winners and the ethnic minorities, such as the Puerto Rican “Mace” to be the losers.
Wrestling fans love the overblown capitalist Chad Deity. He’s an American. He throws money at his audience. Although he can hardly wrestle, competitors such as Mace do all the heavy lifting (pun intentional) in order to make Deity look good in the ring. … Continue reading »
The world premiere of Dael Orlandersmith’s compelling play, Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men, is now at Berkeley Rep through June 24. Ms. Orlandersmith, sole writer and actor in this powerful production, portrays a handful of abused boys and the haunting effects the abuse has on the men they become.
Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men is carved into searing character studies of abused boys, each of whom suffers a different form of mistreatment. Some of the boys reappear on stage later in their lives as we see them struggle to escape their horrible childhoods. The play has a riveting message that never appears preachy, but it does explore gritty taboo subjects we’d ordinarily avoid. The boys suffer from child rape, alcoholic rages, prostitution, beatings and pedophilia.
In each vignette, Orlandersmith depicts the dialect, body language and affect of the characters, including Puerto Rican, Irish and African American boys. She appears on stage throughout the 90-minute (no intermission) performance. That’s hard work, but Orlandersmith made it seem effortless. Her acting ability is as exceptional as is her writing. In each scene, through her acting and writing talents, she convincingly presents a vivid story of each subject’s life. Yet, the following day, I found that my memory of the characters had run together a bit. … Continue reading »
After its successful London and Broadway run, the powerful Paint it Red! is now at Berkeley Rep’s Thrust Stage. This stunning two-person play presents a fictionalized account of artist Mark Rothko’s (David Chandler) artistic, emotional and intellectual journey as he paints a major series of canvases for a lucrative fee. His assistant, young artist, Ken (John Brummer), has been hired to help with the project.
In 1958, the outwardly arrogant, but inwardly insecure Rothko was commissioned by Phillip Johnson and Seagram & Sons Company to paint a series of seven canvases for the upscale Four Seasons Restaurant in the new Seagram’s Building on Park Avenue. Quite a coup for an artist who had worked for more than 30 years in relative obscurity. Rothko ultimately painted 30 pieces from which the seven would be chosen. … Continue reading »