For over 32 years, Berkeley Repertory Theatre has consistently been the Bay Area's most adventurous company in presenting provocative revivals of classics as well as introducing audacious, contemporary works. As a result, the company's artistic director, Tony Taccone, chose to open its new 600-seat Roda Theatre with an ambitious and stunning staging of the only extant entire classical Greek trilogy, Aeschylus' 2,500 year-old The Orestia. Taccone explained, "I wanted to go back to the roots of drama and western civilization. Aeschylus' epic is rarely performed in its entirety and it's one that will explore and celebrate the possibilities of our new space." The $20 million proscenium theatre is adjacent to the company's 21-year old mainstage, with its most dominant characteristic being its intimacy—no seat is more than 49 feet from the stage.
Taccone has co-directed with noted opera director Stephen Wadsworth, with superb visual elements from designers Christopher Barreca (sets), Anita Yavich (costumes), and Peter Maradudin (lighting) creating a rich tapestry combining primal human ferocity with evocative theatricality. Once again, Berkeley Rep has come up with a deeply engrossing triumph that theatregoers will not soon forget. The Orestia is being presented in two parts: Part One (Agamemnon) runs in repertory with Part Two (The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides presented together) through May 6—with the entire trilogy playing in sequence starting March 31.
TheatreWorks is presenting the West Coast premiere of A. R. Gurney's Far East, playing at Palo Alto's Lucie Stern Theatre through April 8. Set on a Naval base in 1950s Japan, the artful production is another Gurney chronicle of the American WASP, this time framed by traditional Kabuki and Noh theatre devices. The comedy-drama becomes a compelling culture clash with a splendid cast—Julie Eccles, Darren Bridgett, Carie Yonekawa, Michael Keys Hall, and Brian Gillespie. Next up: TheatreWorks opens the prize-winning, Off-Broadway musical, Floyd Collins, directed by Robert Kelley and playing April 11-May 6 at the Mountain View Center of Performing Arts.
A. J. Esta
Financial angels abruptly materialized for a beleaguered Atlanta theatre community March 12 when five mid-sized struggling groups received checks for $75,000 apiece (out of a total $1,025,000 grant overall) from the Charles Loridans and Evelyn and Mark Trammell Foundations. Buffeted by erratic box office and, especially, by a recent stampede of arts administrators out of the city, the artistic directors reveled in their windfall, which will allow them not only to plan and expand, but also to keep and feed their major players.
Actor's Express is the prime case in point, one of the five grantees. Foundation chair Robert Edge dubbed Express founder Chris Coleman the "godfather" behind the cash christening, since Coleman loudly let the business community know how cheap it was when he left for Portland, Oregon's CenterStage last year. His successor, Weir Harman, is now in the black, even as Harman steers the Express on an experimental course with his second absurdist production in a row, Maria Irene Fornes' Fefu and Her Friends (March 8-April 21). Gorgeously designed by Rochelle Barker and costumed by Miranda Hoffman, headlined by a Veronica Lake incarnate in Patricia French and her shining ensemble, Fefu lacks any coherence to become a teasing mix of confounding moments.
As another grantee, Theatrical Outfit's Artistic Director Tom Key hyped Atlanta as "a special city for its support of the arts" March 14 at the premiere of Lettice and Lovage (closed March 18). The all-too-short run deprived Megan McFarland's sidesplitting Lettice Douffet of a long reign under Key's direction, coolly supported by Marianne Fraulo as Lettice's ambivalent ally.
Horizon Theatre, the Atlanta Shakespeare Company, and Seven Stages completed the grantees, the latter offering a fierce American sendoff to South Africa's ensemble piece Sweat (closed March 4 after an extension). Hopefully, Heidi Cline's Soul-stice Rep will attract largesse, as Cline annually mounts a bright roundelay of classics at Seven Stages, this winter featuring Othello, Hay Fever, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (closed March 18) with personal best performances from Brik Berkes, Barbara Cole, David Harrell, Jeff McKerley, and Donna Wright.
Happily well-funded, the Woodruff Arts Center's Alliance Theatre showcased its bounty in a lush send-up of Light Up the Sky (closed March 18). Director Peggy Shannon choreographed her artistes to comic heights in a farce smash.
Citing "financial troubles," the City of New Haven is looking to bring in new operators for the Shubert Theatre. But Shubert president and CEO Caroline Werth is seeking a state subsidy to supplement the not-for-profit theatre's own fundraising and to re-position the legendary playhouse as a premier tryout venue.
Connecticut theatres have additional worries, namely the return of Comstockery (after New Canaan's bluenose reformer Anthony Comstock). Three state senators attached their names to "an act prohibiting sexually explicit material or language" on outdoor billboards. The regulation is aimed partly at preventing the reoccurrence of highway ads like those for The Vagina Monologues and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which were presented by Wallingford's Oakdale Theatre.
Vagina is also scheduled for the Stamford Center for the Arts (April 17-29). Admitting it wishes to avoid controversy, NPR station WSHU in Fairfield refuses to promote the hit show.
Meanwhile, a few New Haven audience eyebrows were raised at the opening moments of Long Wharf Theatre's Big Love (through April 1), in which an actress rushes on stage and promptly removes every stitch. But Charles L. Mee's contemporary adaptation of Aeschylus' The Suppliants is lively and significant, which is more than can be said for Theresa Rebeck's lugubrious DollHouse, a reworking of Ibsen, at Hartford Stage (closed March 25).
The avowed mission of the new Fairfield Theatre Company is to transfer New York showcases to Connecticut, thereby extending limited runs. Admirable as that is, their first offering, West End Shakespeare Ensemble's The Taming of the Shrew at Fairfield University's Wien Experimental Theatre (through April 1), is frantic and shallow.
Playing it safe, Bridgeport's Polka Dot Playhouse has Nunsense Jamboree (through April 22), with naughty jokes that cause Catholics in the audience to positively kvell. Non-believers were heard to shout, "Enough already!"
Also in Bridgeport, Downtown Cabaret Theatre revives Blood Brothers (through May 20), a show given its American premiere at DCT in 1988. The Willy Russell musical is soapy and not a little dopey, yet it plays affectingly under Richard Sabellico's direction, despite DCT's usual aural overload. Outstanding are Randy Redd, Max Von Essen, and Kirsten Wyatt.
David A. Rosenberg