Author Archives: Emily S. Mendel
In the edgy and provocative “A Bright New Boise,” Idahoan author and winner of the 2011 Obie Award for Playwriting, Samuel D. Hunter, examines familial relations, forgiveness, religion and corporate culture.
Protagonist Will (accomplished Robert Parsons) left his rural Idaho town for Boise after a headline-making tragedy blows apart his nondenominational evangelical church. Will applies for minimal wage work at the Hobby Lobby, a craft-supply big box store (see more about the real Hobby Lobby below), with the hope of reconnecting with Alex, the gloomy teenager he had given up for adoption.
Alex (well-acted by Daniel Petzold) and Alex’s also adopted brother, Leroy (Patrick Russell shines) work at the Hobby Lobby, as does the profit-seeking, loudmouth manager Pauline, (funny Gwen Loeb) and the anxious depressed Anna (excellent Megan Trout). Will completes this blue-collar quintet, all sharing dead-end jobs. Most of the play’s action occurs in the Hobby Lobby’s stark break room, with only a few scenes outside the store. Hobby Lobby is their world. In fact, Will and Anna both choose to spend evenings in the break room. … Continue reading »
Noted concert pianist Mona Golabek’s enthralling one-woman play underscores the power of music and the significance of history. Based on her book (with Lee Cohen) of the same name, The Pianist of Willesden Lane reveals the experiences of Golabek’s mother, Lisa Jura, a Jewish piano virtuoso, who escaped from Nazi-controlled Vienna to London in 1938 when she was 14 years old.
Golabek recounts her own history, performs her mother’s role, and occasionally portrays others in the story. Lisa Jura’s survival story is poignant, yet uplifting. When combined with Golabek’s magnificent piano performance of beautiful music by some of the world’s best composers, including Debussy, Grieg, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Scriabin, the story takes on an intense and profound meaning. … Continue reading »
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike — a 2013 Tony award winner for Best Play making its first regional appearance at Berkeley Rep – combines merriment and literacy with a tinge of sadness. It’s a complex balance that three-time Obie Award-winning playwright, Christopher Durang, (Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You, The Marriage of Bette & Boo) pulls off with aplomb, as director Richard E.T. White (Berkeley Reps’ Otherwise Engaged, Dancing at Lughnasa), and a talented cast bring Durang’s witty and wise words to life.
Durang weaves theatrical themes, most notably from Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull and Uncle Vanya, to create this modern-day version of a dysfunctional family facing the sale of their beloved home and the evaporation of their once bright futures.
As the play begins, Vanya (well acted by Anthony Fusco) and Sonia (excellent Sharon Lockwood) are dressed in their pajamas, likely their attire for the last 15 years. The live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in the large country house they have spent their entire lives. Even as adults, they remained at home and cared for their parents until they died. Vanya and Sonia wallow in their boredom, depression, and hopelessness. … Continue reading »
Aurora Theatre Company’s insightful, humorous and moving production of Amy Herzog’s, After The Revolution concerns a subject that will resonate with Berkeleyans: the leftist movement and the Communist Party of the 1940s and ’50s. The play is also about a family whose interactions are based on secrets and lies, as well as love.
Emma Joseph (great acting by Jessica Bates), the protagonist, lives in blind admiration of her deceased grandfather Joe, who bravely didn’t “name names” at Senator McCarthy’s House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings. Emma has dedicated her life to her grandfather, by establishing and leading the Joe Joseph Foundation to further the cause of principled and color-blind justice.
In the early 1950s, Senator McCarthy became the public face of those who feared that Cold War Communists were infiltrating the United States. McCarthy also asserted he had “lists of members of a spy ring” who worked in the U.S. State Department. He ruined the lives of those refusing to testify before the Committee about other supposed American Communist Party members and sympathizers, by placing their names on his “blacklist.” Once on the list, the blacklisted were ostracized and unemployable. … Continue reading »
In The Attack, a remarkable, beautifully made film now playing at Landmark Shattuck Theaters, the intractability of the Israeli/Palestinian divide is explored on a heartbreakingly personal level. Amin Jaafari (excellent Ali Suliman of Paradise Now) is a successful Arab surgeon living comfortably in Tel Aviv with his Palestinian-born, social worker wife, Siham (Israeli actor, Reymond Amsalem).
As the film begins, Amin is receiving a career achievement award; he’s the first Arab to win this special award. His easy relations with his many Israeli friends and colleagues lead him to believe that he is exempt from racial and cultural attacks. He’s an urbane, non-practicing Muslim, a caring, highly respected surgeon, who is nevertheless surrounded by the Middle East undercurrent of racial animus. … Continue reading »
Aurora Theatre’s final production of the season is also its finest of the season. Provocative playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute (Fat Pig, Reasons to be Pretty, In the Company of Men), presents us with an outstanding dark comedy in which nothing is quite what it seems. Even after the play ends, the audience is left to wonder where the truth lies. And that’s just one of the many attributes of this taut 2005 play that has already fascinated audiences in New York and London, among others.
This is How It Goes is a three-character piece about the blond, stay-at-home mother and former cheerleader, Belinda Phipps (fantastic Carrie Paff), her black, athletic, successful and driven husband, Cody Phipps (terrific Aldo Billingslea) and the unnamed smart-ass male narrator, “Man” (exceptional Gabriel Marin) who returns to their Midwestern hometown, rents a studio apartment above the Phipps’ garage and turns their three lives upside down. … Continue reading »
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 »