Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Little Erik: ☼

To review a show I love, or like a lot, is easy. Writing flows from the rich memory of what I saw the night before. And with other shows, I almost always can find something about which I can wax enthusiastically, even in a show that may not meet my minimum standards for recommendation. And then there are theater companies I just like, those who don't have huge budgets but take chances. With these, such as the Magic or Theatreworks or San Francisco Playhouse or the Aurora, I often feel like an evangelist, anxious to spread the good news.

But I cannot recommend Aurora's latest production "Little Erik," billed as a contemporary adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's "Little Eyolf."  Switching gender roles to make it hip, and changing the locale to the tech-savvy Northern California of 2016, can be seen as daring. Our local RN (Reviewer of Note) thought so.

But for me, it all seems kind of silly.  Not one performer makes me believe a word he or she says. Perhaps this is the fault of Mark Jackson, who wrote and directed the show. Perhaps the lack of chemistry between the two leads (Marline Talkington as Joie and Joe Eastlack as Freddie) can be explained by how unrelentingly awful a woman Joie is made out to be. Freddie's ooh-wow revelations about nature might have made sense in the time of Walden, but in 2016 he's just dreary. Plus, he's a leach and a worm. It doesn't matter how many times Joie and Freddie toss around the f-bomb, the sexual undertones are neither subtle nor sexy. We are left with a relationship that makes no sense. These are our leads.

Don't ask about Bernie. Greg Ayres is asked to be both a prancing nerd and attractive to Andi (Mariah Castle) at the same time. It's an impossible task. And what game is Andi playing, anyway?

Folks: it's 2016. Making the Rat-Wife (Wilma Bonet) a Latina cleaning woman is just plain insulting.

They really need to work on the ending. As the droning music builds for the final scenes, we know it's either going to be Terrorism or ... well, the other apocalyptic choice, which would be over the top in a Stephen Colbert spoof. Guess which they choose? (In fairness, Ibsen's ending of Little Eyolf, which was kind of tacked on to his vision of economic and social dislocation, was not great either.)


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Little Erik" One Star. The One Star is for Ibsen, one of the master playwrights of the 19th Century. The Aurora and other companies have done exemplary productions of his plays. Little Eyolf was always a minor Ibsen play. Sadly, at this point (we are commenting on the World Premiere),  Little Erik still is.

"Little Erik"
The Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through February 28, 2016