Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Buried Child" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

It seems like every time there is a role in the Bay Area for a character who is deranged and damaged beyond redemption (but still erudite), someone rings Rod Gnapp's bell. This time, Loretta Greco at the Magic Theatre tapped Gnapp to play Dodge, the central figure in Sam Shepard's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Buried Child." Dodge is deranged, all right, but everyone else in his family is several bolts short of a bridge as well.

Shepard wrote this play while in residence at the Magic in 1978, then re-wrote it for a 1996 Steppenwolf production. We see this later version, with a 2013 cast to do it proud.

You never want to walk into a dark alley with any character in a Sam Shepard play. You have relatives like them. Denise Balthrop Cassidy plays Dodge's wife Halle who oozes deliciously hypocritical religious prattle while carrying on with the local minister. Dodge and Halle's two surviving sons, Tilden (James Wagner) and Bradley (Patrick Kelly Jones) are each shattered wrecks, the detritus of an unspoken family secret. Bradley has lost a leg and Tilden his mind.  

Then Tilden's son Vince (Patrick Alarpone) and his girl friend Shelly (Elaina Garrity) enter and upset the applecart. Garrity comes close to stealing the show. With her initially vapid L.A.-girl persona, she is an outsider, and therefore the only person who can engage Dodge -- and finally get him to confess about what really happened all those years ago. 

The story is thick, the plot thicker, and, for a Pulitzer winner, there are some holes in the second act. But this is an actor's show and the cast brings life to Sam Shepard's desperate Illinois world. 

Special mention to costume designer Alex Jaeger. Tilden's final costume looks like he has gone down to hell and come back up. Which isn't far off.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Buried Child" Four Stars, all for the acting. The play itself is a little obtuse -- what would have shocked an audience silly in 1978 just looks like another night on reality television in 2013. But Shepard's words make all the difference. We hear the playwright, as Halle speaks at the end of the show:

"...You can't force a thing to grow. You can't interfere with it. It's all hidden. Unseen. You just gotta wait 'til it pops up out of the ground." 

"Buried Child"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
EXTENDED Through October 13

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Word for Word: "In Friendship" by Zona Gale: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

The expressions of Patricia Silver and Joanne Winter notwithstanding, Word for Word's latest presentation of five short stories by the early twentieth-century author Zona Gale is absolutely charming. It takes its time to get going, but by the last story "Covers for Seven" we are wrapped up happily in the small town world of Friendship, Wisconsin, somewhere around 1910.

"Friendship," "The Java Entertainment" and "The Cold Shoulder" start us off by presenting the townspeople going about their daily routines.  We love Mrs. Postmaster Sykes (Nancy Shelby), the town's society lady, Miss Amanda Toplady (Amy Kassow), who is trying her best to go with the flow, and you can't help but relish Joel Mullenix's voice as Timothy Toplady. The entire cast keeps us laughing and moving forward towards Act Two, when "Nobody Sick, Nobody Poor" and "Covers for Seven" create one of the most heartwarming Thanksgiving stories we have seen in years. This show could become a Thanksgiving staple, in much the same way we look forward to Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" each year.

Special kudos to Jeri Lynn Cohen as Calliope Marsh, Ms. Gale's true voice of reason, and, as always, for the precise choreography of the Word for Word team. We never get enough of this company.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "In Friendship" by Zona Gale Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. The story, cast and direction deserve one star each and the Bangle is for those wonderful firemen, who manage to disassemble a fire station that doesn't even exist. Great stuff.

Word for Word's "In Friendship" by Zona Gale
Z Space Theater
470 Florida Street, San Francisco
EXTENDED through September 13

"After the Revolution" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

A fascinating and multi-layered drama, Amy Herzog's "After the Revolution" is at it's heart a relationship story about a young woman and her family. The Josephs are a multigenerational clan involved with revolutionary politics, stemming from their late patriarch Joe, continuing through his son Ben and now Ben's daughter Emma. Rolf Saxon and Jessica Bates play Ben and Emma. We hear about all the special circumstances surrounding the Joseph family history (red-baiting, McCarthy trials, blacklisting) but above all we are drawn to the personal stories of Ben and Emma, she a modern woman torn by the realization that old Joe Joseph wasn't the saint he has been made out to be, and he, both son and dad, trying to keep his family and his ideology in balance.

Victor Talmadge turns in a perfectly measured performance as Leo, Ben's older brother, as do Pamela Gaye Walker, as Ben's partner Mel, and Sara Mitchell as Jess, Emma's sister. The cast is completed by Morty (Peter Kybart), a voice of old-school reason, Vera (Ellen Ratner), a grandmother who seems somewhat too young for her role, and Adrian Anchondo as Miguel, Emma's boyfriend.

Along the way we get barbs at the uninvolved younger generation as well as a few choice comments about how the radical older lefties view modern issues such as homosexuality and minorities -- one view for the world, perhaps a different view for their own family.

When was the last time you heard people singing along to the pre-curtain music? This is what you get with a Berkeley audience and a Pete Seeger soundtrack.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Before the Revolution" Four Stars. We love being graced with both plot and first-class acting. Joy Carlin is the perfect director for this story and Amy Herzog deserves praise for a script schooled in history as well as heart.

"After The Revolution"
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
EXTENDED Through October 6