Friday, December 3, 2010

Lemony Snicket's The Composer is Dead: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

We are going to recommend that you run across the bridge, any bridge, to get to Berkeley Rep, which here means "a theater company willing to take risks certain to destroy the world as we know it," in order to catch the fantastic World Premiere of "Lemony Snicket's The Composer is Dead." That is, as long as we don't have to tell you what in the world it is.

It's easier to tell you what it's not. It's not a puppet show, though puppets by Phantom Limb steal the show. It's not a vaudeville act, though the M.C.'s hairpiece suggests otherwise. It's not a film, though the principal action does take place on, behind, in front of and under screen.

What it is, is living, breathing theater, where everything that could go wrong does. Geoff Hoyle plays both human roles and the whole thing is done with a skeleton crew. Ha ha, you won't get that right now.

We can also tell you this: there is an entire orchestra full of astonishing puppets and the world greatest living composer has been murdered. Everyone is a suspect and every member of the orchestra has a motive. The violas, for example, who are jealous that nobody ever knows what they play. Or the French horns, who are, after all, foreigners.

Or the concert master, who hates the conductor, because concert masters always hate the conductor, or even the conductor himself, because conductors have been murdering the works of composers for years.

Of this we are certain: the composer is dead. He is now decomposing.

The evening is actually made up of two Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket stories: "The Composer is Dead" seamlessly follows "The Magic of Living, Breathing Theater." It takes you a few minutes to get into the first, but if you are a theater buff you will appreciate every scabrous slur. Once we see the orchestra of puppets awaiting Geoff Hoyle's classically vain English inspector, the evening ramps up from fun to eye-popping.

We are grumps here, remember? We don't use these terms lightly. Kudos to real-life composer Nathaniel Stookey, artistic director Tony Taccone and the creative team, especially Jessica Grindstaff and Erik Sanko, who created the puppets. It's short, sweet, funny and exceptionally ambitious.

Of course, the show, theater company and city of Berkeley are destined to fail. We're doomed. Somebody call the police.


The San Francisco Theater Blog awards "Lemony Snicket's The Composer is Dead" Four Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. Berkeley Rep has taken a lot of chances with this production, remaining true to Handler's prose and deprecating humor while creating a visual feast for the eyes. Geoff Hoyle is as wonderful as always -- we loved both his roles. We fear that in real life he comes down to breakfast with Mr. Fuzzles.

Our BANGLE of PRAISE is for the brilliant orchestra, both in terms of puppetry and composition. The show is fun to listen to as well as watch.

Everybody won't love Lemony. But we do.

"Lemony Snicket's The Composer is Dead"
Berkeley Repertory Theater
2015 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through Jan 15, 2011

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