A Great Time to See Bay Area Theater (not that there’s a bad time!)

The fate of many shows in the Bay Area is determined by a little man and his little chair—and that little man’s relationship to his little chair. Amidst a culture of blogiewers (blog + reviewer? Yes? No? Did I coin a phrase or create the verbal equivalent of the jackalope?) and cost-cutting measures from down-and-out newspapers (resulting in theater reviews by reporters who aren’t necessarily theater-savvy), Rob Hurwitt, theater critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, is probably the most respected theater opinion published in the Bay Area. Like everyone, I have disagreed with Hurwitt in the past and I have agreed with him; most of his reviews are insightful and well-written, while a few made me wonder if he even saw the show. Regardless of my own personal internal dialogue with the man, in times of economic difficulty and shortened runs, patrons rely even more heavily on reviews. They don’t have money—or time—to waste, and they look to the Chronicle‘s little man for advice.

I am not going to get into whether or not a 2-dimensional little man deserves to be the Bay Area theater czar. Nor am I going to ponder his personal life (Does he have a little woman? Why doesn’t she come to the theater with him? Does he ever bring his little kids?). All I am here to say is that the little man has been jumping out of his seat a lot lately! And I have been jumping with him.

He jumped out of his chair for Marin’s In the Red and Brown Water and the Magic’s The Brothers Size—parts 1 and 2 of The Brother/Sister Plays. A.C.T. is up next with part 3, Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet, and our two partner-theaters have set the bar high! In preparation for our program articles and Words on Plays, I’ve studied 29-year-old Tarell Alvin McCraney’s breakout cycle (and I should be cleaning up my 2-hour interview with him as I write this . . . whoops!), but even I was caught off-guard by the power of these productions. Comparisons are inevitable, and my preference is definitely with Ryan Rilette’s elegant Red and Brown, a very loose adaptation of Lorca’s Yerma set in the Louisiana projects; and I am only comfortable sharing so strong a bias because people I respect and trust disagree with me wholeheartedly and were emotionally destroyed by Octavio Solis’s muscular Brothers Size, a smaller, tighter play that focuses on the relationship between two brothers. We start rehearsals on Tuesday for Marcus, which goes into previews on October 29. The amazing energy that has resulted from this three-theater collaboration requires its own post.

Hyacinth (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Ashley Wickett) is angry that Scapin (Bill Irwin, right) and Sylvestre (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program graduate Jud Williford) can never remember her name. Photo by Kevin Berne.

The little man fell out of his chair, laughing uncontrollably, for our production of Scapin (“The funniest show of the year!”), which opened last Tuesday and has now been extended. This show also, strangely, caught me off-guard. I’ve been living with Molière’s comedy for a couple months now, and I had sat in on some of the rehearsals, but I wasn’t able to make it over to the theater for any of the previews. Opening night was a revelation: a living, breathing example of the raw power of comedy for comedy’s sake. When we think of plays as timely, we think of them as exploring issues that society is conversing about; Scapin is timely because it distracts us from those issues at a time when we desperately need distraction. And Bill Irwin being Bill Irwin, he slips some fantastic contemporary zingers in there too.

The little man also loved Shotgun’s In the Wound, Jon Tracy’s dramatization of the entire Trojan War. I have tickets for their closing performance, which is next Sunday, October 3! And, also, Berkeley Rep’s production of Compulsion, starring Mandy Patinkin and directed by Oskar Eustis, who came to speak to our students a couple weeks ago.

I am sure there are many other amazing shows going on right now that the little man has jumped for, but suffice it to say that the 2010–11 season has gotten off to an explosive start! See them all!

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One thought on “A Great Time to See Bay Area Theater (not that there’s a bad time!)

  1. I was fortunate enough to have the seen the preview of Scapin. It was marvelously timed; theatergoers will be surprised by a very fresh take that I think Moliere likely would have approved of.
    It’s very tempting to go back to see it delivered to a full house. I have the suspicion that a lot of care was taken to bring a large multi-level audience into the somewhat intimate feeling sphere of the jokes and asides of the interactions of many of the characters, particularly Scapin and Sylvestre.

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