Sunday, March 22, 2009

Word for Word: "More Stories by Tobias Wolff" ☼ ☼ ☼ 1/2 BANG

Tobias Wolff stories are fun to read at all times, but they really jump to life when performed by Word for Word Theater Company. The short run at the Julia Morgan of three Wolff short stories ends on Sunday March 22, after which the company is taking its show on the road for a two week run in different cities in France.

The French will love Stephanie Hunt's jaunty hat and Michelle Pava Mills's big brown boots in the opening piece, "Sanity." Mills must have been April once, or maybe she still is, to channel the young girl's clodhoppery walk so perfectly, as opposed to Hunt's assured and measured pace as Claire, April's stepmother.

"Sanity" is followed by "Down to Bone," where Paul Finocchiaro is forced to watch his mother waste away in a nursing home. Mills has a beautiful cameo role in this one as a bright red Miata, and Jeri Lynn Cohen is a very pleasing Elfie, the funeral director who says to Finocchiaro: "I have my momentary weaknesses, and I think you may be one of them."

But this is all cake. After an intermission we get the ice cream: Wolff's "Firelight." Anthony Nemirovsky plays the young teenage son of Cohen, as Mom and Son spend their weekends looking for apartments in the college town in whose outskirts they are currently residing in a cheap boarding house. They can never afford these apartments, and have no intention of actually moving into any of them, but then they come to the current home of Dr. and Mrs. Avery, played by Finocchiaro and Hunt, and their daughter (whose name is Sister), played by Mills.

Oh, what a heartbreaker. We really want Mom and Son to take that apartment. Son lies down in front of the fireplace next to Sister and we get to see his life change before his eyes, as he glances through the fire into a future where there are actual possibilities instead of dead ends. Ah, but life is never that simple.

It's a fulfilling evening of theater, one in which you get to see the power of performance blend seamlessly with grand literature. Word for Word and Tobias Wolff are meant for each other. Can it be a coincidence that Wolff, Word and Word all start with 'W'?

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ 1/2 BANG
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "More Stories by Tobias Wolff" one star for each story and a BANGLE OF PRAISE for Michelle Pava Mills's red Miata. An extra half star is given for Anthony Nemirovsky's two voices, both so believable, in "Firelight," and for his perfect teenage awe when he sees Sister in front of the fire and says: "She had breasts!" Yes, Anthony, and in the previous story she also had a steering wheel.

Word for Word: "More Stories by Tobias Wolff"
The Julia Morgan Theatre
2640 College Avenue, Berkeley
Through Mar 22

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