Monday, September 26, 2016

August: Osage County: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Jasson Miniadakis's direction of Marin Theater Company's "August: Osage County" is pretty much perfect. Tracy Letts won Tonys and a Pulitzer for writing this show (his father starred in the original production) and they've made a movie out of it starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Though difficult to mount, it is a stage production at heart. Above all "Osage County" demands a stellar ensemble cast.

Sherman Fracher (above) is remarkably good as Violet, the role Streep took on in the film. As the matriarch of this dysfunctional family, Violet is addicted to pills and has had a diagnosis of cancer. Sometimes she is a voice of insanity and sometimes she's the only sane one in the room.

Arwen Anderson plays Barbara, who finds herself fighting for control of her own life. Her husband Bill (David Ari, so good in MTC's "Cromwell") and she have split but they are trying to keep it a secret. Hah! There are no secrets in this house.

Barbara is developing into a younger version of her mother, while her two sisters,  Ivy (Danielle Levin) and Karen (Joanne Lubeck) are dealing with their own mountain of problems. Letts could probably write a separate play about each of these women.

The entire cast is excellent, with special mention to Danielle Bowen as Jean and Anne Darragh as Mattie Fae. Secrets. Everybody's got 'em.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division gives "August: Osage County" Four Stars. Writing, acting, direction and J.B. Wilson's set earn one star each. When you can't take your eyes off a Three Act show, you know you're in the presence of masters.

August: Osage County
Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley
EXTENDED Through October 9

Saturday, September 10, 2016

"Dear Master" ☼ ☼

Gustave Flaubert inhabits one side of the stage and George Sand the other. The two famed nineteenth century writers communicated by letter for many years, though they never met in person. Their letters have survived and were made into a dialogue for the stage by Dorothy Bryant. In 1991 "Dear Master" was the first play presented by the small company that grew into the Aurora Theatre. In honor of its 25th Anniversary, the Aurora has brought the production back, directed by Joy Carlin, with Michael Ray Wisely as Flaubert and Kimberly King as Sand.

It's talky. The problem with trying to make these letters into drama is that there was little in real life. Mid-19th Century Europe was a cauldron of revolution and anti-revolution, but neither Flaubert or Sand took part in it, except in their younger days before these letters were written. As we might expect, the two authors had no more solutions in mind than we do today. Flaubert would be today's Republican and Sand today's Democrat, one the misogynist wishing the world would return to an earlier day, and the other the idealist longing for the world to use love to fuel the engines of a newly industrial Europe.

King and Wisely are believable as eighteenth century intellectuals. He blusters, she consoles, she invites him to visit her but he never does. We wish something could have transpired between them, if not in life then on stage. Little does, because little did. The letters between Flaubert and Sand are fascinating as a historical record. As a play, a little less so.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Dear Master" Two Stars, one for acting and one for Annie Smart's set, which allows the two characters to remain in their own comfort zones.

But as for the play itself, as George Sand said, referring to progress: "It is much slower than I expected."

"Dear Master"
 The Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through Oct 2

Friday, September 9, 2016

"all of what you love and none of what you hate" ☼ ☼ ☼

Playwright Phillip Howze has taken a simple story, one that has been around since the dawn of time,  and written it into a genre-bursting multi-media performance. The World Premiere of "all of what you love and none of what you hate," presented by SF Playhouse's Playground, is uneven in spots, but gives us a lot to like with even more to build upon.

Britney Frazier plays Girl A. Sad, sad, sad, she has a problem. Depressed into near silence, whenever she tries to talk to her friend Girl B (Tristan Cunningham) about it, Girl B won't stop chattering. Girl A is depressed and Girl B won't listen.

Girl A's mother, played by a self-absorbed India Wilmott, is no help. She seems to be the kind of mother Girl A is trying to avoid becoming.

Meanwhile, Boy (played by Cameron Matthews) has all the youthful exuberance Girl A lacks, but then again she has the problem, not him.

It would have been nice if there had been a little romance. 

...but things really weren't that way. And Boy is not exactly thrilled to hear Girl A's news.

Complete with video screens, cell phones, Facebook, a topsy-turvy set, some magic realism and a long series of nightmares, "a lot of what you like..." makes us ponder the lives of each of these characters.


We have quibbles with Girl A's lack of character development, wherein a long soliloquy at the end seems to arise out of nowhere. The nightmares -- represented by the actors crawling in the dark -- don't make a lot of sense.

But Girl A's story, the young girl overwhelmed by angst, is an eternal one. She may have figured things out by the end. The reviewer's wife thought she had.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "all of what you love and none of what you hate" Three Stars. It is new and it is flawed but it is also unique. You can never go wrong in the Playground's Reuff Theater. Give it a shot.

"all of what you love and none of what you hate"
The Reuff Theatre at the Strand
1127 Market Street, San Francisco
Thurs-Sun through Sept. 27