Thursday, December 8, 2011

"The Wild Bride" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ! BANG BANG

We're not sure how you top this one. The Berkeley Rep production of Kneehigh's "The Wild Bride" has everything we expect from both companies at their best. Kneehigh's last production in the Bay Area was the spectacular "Brief Encounter" at A.C.T., and "The Wild Bride" is every bit as irreverent and mode-bursting. It's a brilliant show.

What's the best part? Perhaps it's that the six person cast can all act, sing, play numerous musical instruments, dance and do acrobatics. (We'll bet you suspected, but never knew for sure until now, that the devil is actually a drummer.)

Perhaps it's the performances themselves. As The Girl, Audrey Brisson is almost frighteningly beautiful and innocent.

OK, so she has a little problem in this picture, what with the bloody hands and all the mud, but you can trust us here. Later in Act one, as she grows into The Wild, her part is taken over by Patrycja Kujawska, who confronts the devil with an electric violin solo that seems to have been cloned from "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."

In Act Two Eva Magyar takes over, as The Woman. She is the ballerina. It is her confrontation with the devil that gives us the ending we were hoping for.

In the meantime, Stuart Goodwin plays two terrific parts, as The Girl's Father and then The Prince.

(Hey, Diddle-dee-dee, an actor's life for me!") Stu Goodwin seems to have a great time on stage.

Ian Ross (the Musician) performs on every instrument in the book, sometimes two at a time.

But The Devil himself, played by Stuart McLoughlin (who played the candy vendor in "Brief Encounter"), is as evil as evil can be, while also perhaps the most virtuosic of the performers. We want him to fail miserably, but we also want him to keep mashing that upright bass.

It is a very nice touch that McLoughlin, as the Devil, is so tall, and Brisson is so short, that we fear for her safety the moment we see them together. On his knees, The Devil can stare straight into The Girl's eyes.

For this reviewer, though, the best part of "The Wild Bride" is that the story, if simplistic, has enough meat on it to keep us interested, while allowing our brains to disengage for the evening and pay attention to the shenanigans of this outrageous cast of performers.

It's a short run -- only until New Year's Day. Berkeley Rep has saved the best for last.


We know we have never done this before, but The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is having a lot of trouble rating this show. It could be a Five Star Show. It may be the finest thing we've seen all year, but we also have an Archive Button. We notice that we gave "Brief Encounter" FOUR Stars and FOUR BANGLES OF PRAISE! And Brief Encounter had Noel Coward songs. Stu Barker and Carl Grose's songs in "Wild Bride" are good, but not all that memorable (why are Englishmen always so attracted to that Robert Johnson crossroads story?), though the cast sings the, umm, Hell out of them.

All right, envelopes, please, ladies and gentlemen.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Wild Bride" Four Stars with an Exclamation Point and Two BANGLES OF PRAISE. Truly, the only thing stopping this show from being a five star show is the quality of the songs themselves, and only in comparison to "Brief Encounter." How silly is that? Still.

This is nonetheless a spectacular rating for a spectacular evening at the theater (the reason for the Exclamation Point). Director Emma Rice earns one BANGLE herself for somehow keeping this giant circus in motion. The other is for Stuart Goodwin. Not only does he make us laugh as the Prince while understanding his dilemma as The Father, but he also gets off the best line in the show. It has to do with the Royal Pair. I mean Royal Pears. You'll understand later why it rates its own BANGLE OF PRAISE.

Don't miss "The Wild Bride." Or we're gonna git'cha.

"The Wild Bride"
Berkeley Repertory Company
2025 Addison Street, Berkeley
EXTENDED Through January 22, 2012

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