Berkeley Rep Has Announced Its 2009/2010 Season

It’s that time of year. Berkeley Rep has announced its lineup for next season, filled with heavy hitters and a couple more plays they’ll probably take to off- or on-Broadway:

  • Tiny Kushner by Tony Kushner, Oct 16 – Nov 29. A series of shorts by the legendary playwright.
  • Aurélia’s Oratorio by Victoria Thierrée Chaplin, Dec 4 – Jan 24. Puppets, gypsy jazz and Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter.
  • Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West by Naomi Iizuka, Feb 26 – Apr 11. World premiere commission by a great writer.
  • Girlfriend by Todd Almond and Matthew Sweet, Apr 9 – May 9. Inspired by Sweet’s album and the success of Passing Strange.
  • Five Questions by Lisa Kron, May 14 – Jun 27. Reuniting the creators of Broadway’s Well.

Plus two players to be named later.

Two Birds With One Stone

I’ve been meaning to talk about Sarah Ruhl’s fantastic In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), which we saw last week at Berkeley Rep. I’m a big fan of Sarah Ruhl’s cunning dialogue and sly metaphors, the way she mixes humor and drama, the way she almost invariably gets me to tear up at the end of her plays.

I’ve also been meaning to talk about a local playwright’s blog that I’ve only recently discovered. The writing is always interesting and compelling, the topics are always timely, and the comments section is a step above most others.

Rather than waste any more time thinking about exactly how to describe In the Next Room or exactly how to talk about this new-to-me blog, it occurred to me that I could link to Marissa’s description of the play, thus introducing the blog while simultaneously ducking any need to clutter the blogosphere with more words like “entertaining” and “original” and “amazing” and “strongly recommended” when talking about Sarah Ruhl’s play. Who’s the cunning one now?

In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) by Sarah Ruhl, at Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison, Berkeley, through Mar 15. Tickets at berkeleyrep.org.

Marissabidilla at marissabidilla.blogspot.com.

‘ARABIAN NIGHTS’ at Berkeley Rep

M and I both love Mary Zimmerman’s work. As M said, even the shows of hers that don’t blow your mind as much as her others still beat most plays out there. She creates gorgeous productions, casts brilliant actors, and pulls them into a tight group capable of creating amazing theater out of thin air.

This play has been going on for literally three months. It opened in early November, was held over and extended because it was sold out all the way, and we were finally able to get a ticket for last night when they announced an extension during what was my Christmas holiday (which was slightly before everyone else’s Christmas holiday due to the vagaries of Southwest Airlines, but that’s a whole other story).

The show starts with piles of something or other covered in tarps, which you stare at during the pre-show. Then suddenly, drumming kicks in, the cast enters, and the stage is transformed into a sort of courtyard with pillows, platforms and carpets everywhere. The effect is spectacular, although later, reading the program, I learned the rugs are borrowed from a rare carpet store in Chicago and worth about $100,000, so the tarps may be more practical than showmanship.

Then, of course, Scheherezade begins spinning tales, acted out by an ensemble that’s brilliant at switching from character to character. There’s a bit of commedia, a lot of music, a touch of singing, and almost every second is extraordinary. (The show runs 2 1/2 hours, and there are one or two bits that run a little too long, including a seemingly-improvised stretch that only served to prove to this ex-improvisor that not everyone can improvise. But that’s nitpicking, I suppose.)

Every Mary Zimmerman play has at least one moment of theatricality that will stay with me forever. In this one, it was the way she evoked a boat just by having a line of people slowly walk across some platforms. Indescribable, but etched in my mind.

Spectacle, romance, intrigue, storytelling, sophistication, drama, humor. I can see why it’s been selling out, and I’m really glad we didn’t miss it.

Arabian Nights by Mary Zimmerman at Berkeley Rep, through Jan 18, except all remaining performances are SOLD OUT.

Berkeley Rep Blog

I just found out Berkeley Rep has started a blog, with stories of what happens behind the scenes, such as all the work that went into creating accurate newspapers for Itamar MosesYellowjackets:

The newspapers come up in numerous scenes and in different formats. The actors make layouts of pages, have printed proofs, read from pages, and have stacks of these newspapers all as props. We couldn’t get away with glued-together pages or faking a front page and filling the rest with some other newspaper.

A lot of times, theaters start blogs at the beginning of the season, and the blog dies out before the end of the first show. Here’s hoping this one stays around, because Berkeley Rep’s doing some pretty cool stuff this year. It’d be great to hear about Mary Zimmerman‘s process or how the prop guys create all the dead bodies that pile up in Martin McDonagh‘s Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Great Rob Kendt Article On Itamar Moses

The LA Times article covers everything from the current Yellowjackets at Berkeley Rep to the sketchy critical reception of Bach at Leipzig.

IT WAS in fall 2005 when Moses’ whirling, Stoppardesque farce “Bach at Leipzig” bowed in a glittering off-Broadway production, bearing an admiring introductory note by no less than Tom Stoppard himself. The New York press, never fond of being scooped, smelled a rat. In notices that seemed to review the hype as much as the show, the New York Times declared it “hollow” and the Village Voice called it “time-wasting nonsense.” Many critics acknowledged Moses’ promise but dismissed the play as too clever for its own good.

“You can either discover a play or take its pants off,” says Jerry Patch, director of artistic development at the Manhattan Theatre Club, who has championed Moses’ work, both at MTC and in his previous post as co-artistic director at the Old Globe. “If Tom Stoppard has already discovered you — well, that really worked to Itamar’s disadvantage. The critical reception severely damaged him, but he’s a tough kid, and he came back from it. I told him, ‘Now they’ve had their dinner on you, you’ll be all right.’ “

Theater Dogs Article On YELLOWJACKETS

Chad Jones has an article up on his Theater Dogs site talking about a cool thing: The play’s about the Berkeley High School student newspaper, and Berkeley Rep’s set up a journalism summit for teen journalists, where they get to interact with big time reporters (including the aforementioned Chad Jones).

Cool outreach/tie-in, and a great opportunity for up-and-coming journalists. We never had anything like that back when I was on the student newspaper (for a week, before I discovered theatuh. Or more specifically, discovered that the only time girls were allowed into our all-boy high school was when they were rehearsing for the school play. Sign me up!)

On a side note: That’s my friend Alex Curtis with the skateboard in the cast photo above, getting ready to make his Berkeley Rep debut. Go see him. He’s great. (Well, I’ve only seen him improvise, but all the best improvisers I know make for really good, spontaneous, and real actors, so I assume he’ll be great in this too.)

The teen thing, for students grade 9-12, is Aug 18, 9:30AM – 3:30PM, at Berkeley Rep School of Theatre. Yellowjackets is Aug 29 – Oct 12 at Berkeley Rep Theatre.

Berkeley Rep Now NOT Doing YELLOW FACE

Chad Jones reports that Berkeley Rep is postponing David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face, which was supposed to be the last play of the season. It looks like they plan to tour it in 2009, though, like they did with Passing Strange and Bridge & Tunnel, so it could end up being an extremely good thing for Hwang.

You’ve bookmarked Chad Jones’ Theater Dogs site, haven’t you? He knows all and sees everything, including Jersey Boys, which, if I’m reading his blog correctly, he’s seen one million and three times.

FIGARO at Berkeley Rep

I really loved their version of Moliere, so perhaps my expectations were too high, but for this one, I pulled an Alan.

I agree with everything he said in his post, from the acting and singing being superb to the story just not working and the contemporary political jokes being way out of place, so rather than repeat his post, I’ll link to his.

What I Want To See In May

I’ve spent most of April doing rewrites on several plays (and making notes for what may be the next one), so I haven’t seen a whole heck of a lot. But it looks like May is gonna be overflowing with opportunities. I can’t guarantee I’ll have time to see all of these shows, but here’s what I’m hoping to see:

  • Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class at A.C.T. (Apr 25 – May 25)
  • Steven Epp and Dominique Serrand’s Figaro at Berkeley Rep (Apr 25 – Jun 08)
  • Dan Wilson’s Sweetie Tanya at EXIT Theatre (May 02 – May 24)
  • John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore by Impact Theatre (May 02 – Jun 07)
  • Best of PlayGround Festival at Thick House (May 08 – May 25)