Category Archives: berkeley repertory theatre

Berkeley Repertory Theater’s Aurélia’s Oratorio

Photographer: Richard Haughton

Photographer: Richard Haughton

Despite being sparsely populated, Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Aurélia’s Oratorio invites the audience into its world that is brimming with imagination and surprise. With the opening scene of body parts poking in and out of the drawers of a cabinet getting dressed while eating some cake and lighting a candle, the show unfolds in a series of vignettes that finds comedy in the unexpected. A kite hugs the ground while a woman flies at the end of the kite string. A woman hangs her laundry to dry and promptly waters it with a watering can. A marionette show features an animated human face on its stage facing a wooden puppet audience including the guy sleeping in the back row. These images are brief, ephemeral, nonsensical – insert obvious metaphor to life here. With the expected being flipped on its head, the conventional becomes strikingly unconventional, peculiar yet familiar. Illusions pervade a dream world that make the unbelievable, believable. More than being illusions where we’re wowed, illusions become something we cling to, to make the story fit, even if we see how the magic is being done. A man puts red heeled shoes on his hands and becomes the bottom half of a dancing couple. Even though we clearly see him, the audience is invited to suspend disbelief and even be amazed as the couple glides across the stage in a seductive dance. No one is tricked to believe that this is really the bottom half of two people, but we’re invited to participate in the imaginative circus.

Photographer: Richard Haughton

Photographer: Richard Haughton

This is a show that invites the audience to play, to imagine, and even be challenged in Aurelia’s witty dream world that is not without a touch of darkness. Aurélia Thierrée is the show’s quirky star, navigating through each scene with wide-eyed curiosity and aplomb. Her background in circus performance is evident, yet she disarms with the charm of a little girl performing a homespun magic show in her grandmother’s attic. Jamie Martinez is Thierrée’s delightful partner, who constantly searches for Aurélia throughout the show. The sense of searching is a common thread amongst many of the disconnected vignettes. As the show ends with Aurelia looking around in awe as a toy train chugs through a tunnel in her torso, the incessant search ends with the overwhelming sense of wonder.

Aurélia’s Oratorio runs at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre through January 24. Click here for more info.

Fridays at the Theater

Davies After Hours at the San Francisco Symphony, photo taken from their website.

When did Friday nights become the night for young professionals to be spend at the theater? More than one company has picked up on the fact that young people (er, people under age 60) actually want to attend the theater, but for one reason or another, never go. It’s a great idea that’s definitely taken off by making theater more like places where young people actually hang out. 

From the companies that I’m aware of, Berkeley Rep started first with their 30-Below parties with appropriately themed parties before or after a play (and 50% off the ticket price). San Francisco Ballet started their Fridays at the Ballet. I attended a few weeks ago, and it was a classy event that had a welcome atmosphere for mingling, including dancers. And San Francisco Symphony pulled out all the stops with a post-performance party with live music that connects to the symphony performance. And, it’s free! Friday April 24 will be their second Davies After Hours event, with power rock band NTL made up of SFS musicians playing instruments like electric bass and electric violin.

It’s a nice direction without compromising the quality of theater being presented. I do wish there were more dates available, but with SFB and SFS programs just started this year and hopefully next year will bring newer ideas (and more dates).

On My Radar

It’s going to be a late night at work today – I’m just going to jot down some things down while I’m waiting for my protein gel to run.

  • I just saw the documentary Suzanne Farrell – Elusive Muse – my two word review: absolutely riveting. It’s hard to obtain (I believe it’s technically out of production) but rent it from Blockbuster. I always thought that sometimes ballerinas of days gone by looked a bit dated, no matter how amazing they were, most likely due to my “modern” eyes that are used to seeing things in a certain style. Suzanne Farrell proves me wrong, as she is just as uniquely ravishing as any ballerina dancing today.
  • Lots of things starting up in the Bay Area – Berkeley Rep is back with Yellowjackets (check out their free “tastings” and other events that precede their shows), ACT presenting Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll with a stellar cast, and Spring Awakening‘s national tour makes its stop in SF.
  • Movie theaters are hoppin’ these days. Rent, the musical that defined a generation, closed on Broadway this weekend, with its final performance being aired in movie theaters on Sept 24-28. Also, The Met: Live in HD returns this year with even more live performances – I’m especially looking forward to Richard Strauss’ Salome, airing in October, after reading about it in Alex Ross’s book, The Rest is Noise. It sounds hauntingly entrancing.
  • SF Symphony storms in with Beethoven’s 9th symphony, and a Leonard Bernstein program next week in preparation for their performance at Carnegie Hall’s season opener which will be aired on PBS.
  • Due to demand (I know, I can’t believe it myself) on a blog related note – I added an option where you can subscribe for email updates, on the right column of my blog (scroll down). Check it out.

Figaro

(l to r) Jennifer Baldwin Peden as the Countess and Christina Baldwin as Cherubino star in the West Coast premiere of a magical, multimedia Figaro at Berkeley Rep.

This weekend was the last weekend for the season for the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and I was lucky enough to catch one of the two shows still playing there, a show that caught my attention since the beginning of the year. Written by Steven Epp and directed by Dominique Serrand, Figaro is a play with lofty goals – it’s a play that tells a story, uses operatic elements and multimedia to flood the senses, and tops it off with an undercurrent of satire on modern American society. As a story, it’s essentially a sequel to the Mozart opera The Marriage of Figaro, which was a sequel to the Rossini opera, The Barber of Seville. The maddeningly stubborn and now poor Count Almaviva and his valet, Figaro, is struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy in a world where class differences that defined their relationship is now gone as a result of the French Revolution. In the midst of their arguing, they often flash back to the past to its operatic prequels in its original musical form, which lends a dreamy air to the flashbacks. Their witty repartee is often humorous and abusive, yet extremely close as they reminisce together of the best of times, times gone by. In the midst of the dialogue, commentary is made of modern American society with Figaro explaining to the Count, saying, “[In America,] they have a president… They call it a democracy.” The Count replies saltily, “I call it de-bullsh*t.” And in chiding Figaro on his quick anger, the Count replies, “Don’t be so sensitive; you’ll end up being a Democrat.” How could you not love that??

The brilliance of this play was that it highlighted the best of both worlds – it melds the witticism of plays with the heightened emotional impact of operatic music. When the Count’s infidelity has finally been exposed by his wife the Countess, he stops in his tracks. With the potential for it to be a hilarious moment as he is caught red handed, the Count starts to sing his true repentance, known to be true only through the sincerity of the spellbinding gentle music. The Countess responds in forgiveness; although her head says no, her heart says yes. This illustrative moment elevated the level of the poignancy of love to heartbreaking levels through song. Incidentally, this was also the moment in The Marriage of Figaro that was used in the movie Amadeus, to show the brilliance of Mozart in his ability to communicate heavenly beauty to the audience.

A clip from the movie Amadeus

Multimedia backdrops and projections of the actors’ closeups are also used, which adds to the fragmented nature of the flashbacks but are sometimes more distracting than functional; the story would have held up on its own dramatic merits without the use of multimedia.

Dominique Serrand, who staged acclaimed productions of The Miser and The Green Bird at Berkeley Rep, returns to direct and star in the West Coast premiere of Figaro.

Figaro is brilliant in its conception, with its only noticeable flaw being that the play occasionally drags. The play already runs at nearly three hours, with the first act clocking in at nearly an hour and a half. The pontification and constant arguing of Figaro and the Count starts out haltingly and starts feeling repetitive towards the end; this could be due to the fact that the role of Figaro was acted at my performance by Casey Greig, the understudy who starts out hesitantly without the brisk timing necessary for the dialogue to trip along. In fact during intermission, the two women sitting next to me disappeared for the second act.

Figaro was comprised of a strong cast of actors and opera singers. Director and lead Dominique Serrand (as the older Count Almaviva) is organically hilarious and heartbreaking in every moment. Knighted by the French government, Serrand alone was worth the price of my ticket and is one of the best actors I’ve ever seen onstage in any theater. Another standout was Bradley Greenwald, the younger Count Almaviva, who also adapted the music for this production. In addition to his skilled singing abilities, he was a standout amongst the singers in his natural acting ability, with impeccable comic timing and confident swagger with a touch of treachery in his quest to seduce Susanna. Julie Kurtz, the alternate Susanna, was a feisty Susanna and deep-voiced Bryan Boyce was an ardent younger Figaro. Christina Baldwin as Cherubino had a lovely deeper timbre to her singing voice, and Jennifer Baldwin Peden sang the Countess as one who experienced one too many heartaches in her life.

The tireless 7th Ave String Quartet (Alex Kelly, Justin Mackewich, Katrina Weeks, Sarah Jo Zaharako, with conductor/pianist Jason Sherbundy) played the equivalent of a full orchestra and two operas, playing parts of the Marriage of Figaro, Barber of Seville, and a chord from Don Giovanni (at least from what I could tell, there’s probably more that I’m missing). This intricate melting pot of a score was brilliantly adapted by Bradley Greenwald, who made the accompaniment sound luxurious and freshly modern.

Figaro was a great way to close the 40th anniversary year of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre season, not only for its high quality production, but it also represents what the Berkeley Rep stands for – modernly innovative theater with a purpose. It’s a true local gem that I’m glad to have discovered this year.

Be sure to check out the website for next year’s programming.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre

All photos: Photographer: Michal Daniel © Berkeley Repertory Theatre. All rights reserved.

SR, SRO, and $1200+

The Opportunities and Frustrations of a Theater Loving Student

While reading through the Cal Performances’ new 2008-2009 season, I ran across this notice for buying tickets to Yo Yo Ma’s concert:

Available only to $1,200+ Donors and above; see our Support Cal Performances section for full listing of donor benefits and to become a Producers Circle donor today.

Now Ma is an amazingly lyrical player, and he is playing the Bach suites – but this sort of blatant soliciting by opening up this concert only to $1200+ donors is sobering. I saw Ma play in Shanghai a few years ago, and I would actually rather fly to China and see him for the same amount of money than supporting this bold move. It’s not surprising that people call theater elitist and find it uninviting.

Note that even if you donate $1200, it’s an additional $150-250 to see the Yo Yo Ma concert.

Ticket pricing is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart, because it directly affects my ability to see shows. For a person who’s willing to devote time, gas, and effort to see as much theater as I can, ticket prices are the only obstacle to enjoying my favorite and notoriously expensive hobby.

I realize that it takes a lot of money to put on the quality theater that I enjoy. The San Francisco Ballet has reportedly poured in $3 million into the New Works Festival, with Silicon Valley royalty like Yahoo’s founder Jerry Yang sponsoring Elo’s piece, Double Evil. With this, I am eternally grateful to the many institutions in the Bay area that remember the peons the students and offer great discount ticketing options. My favorite is San Francisco Ballet, where you can buy tickets over the phone for same day discounts. It’s such a luxury, and one that I utilize often. (One small complaint: this luxury was yanked for certain days over the New Works Festival which prevented me from watching Program A twice – check out sfmike’s take on what he calls the “only serious misstep” over this decision.) San Francisco Symphony also offers Center Terrace seats (located behind the stage, great for a piano concerto but not so great for something like a violin solo where the soloist faces the front) and rush tickets for certain performances based on availability. Berkeley Repertory Theatre has the most aggressive program aimed at attracting younger audiences, with a great “Under 30″ program with half priced tickets and access to their great Under 30 parties. All these programs are great for reeling in new audiences otherwise intimidated of going to see theater, and hopefully keeping these audiences as salaries expand with age. These programs have allowed me to experience and to keep my theater hobby alive, and whereve I end up, I will be a season subscriber to as many of these venues (or similar ones) as possible.

Cal Performances doesn’t have a consistent general student rush policy except for Berkeley students, which I am not, and rare occasions when most of the theater is empty, which coincidentally don’t occur in the shows that I usually want to see.

It’s also impossible to completely boycott its ticket policies when Cal Performances is bringing Mark Morris’ new Romeo and Juliet and his L’Allegro this year, in addition to the Kirov Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, and Alvin Ailey. It just means I have to limit my support and keep away from the programs that I could live without seeing. It also means no running to the Berkeley campus for last minute viewings when an evening opens up.

(On a side tangent: more information on Morris’ new Romeo and Juliet production. Not only am I looking forward to Morris’ ingenuity in seeing what he’ll do to the sweeping Prokofiev score, but this show will be a premiere in itself using the original music that Prokofiev was forced to rewrite in order to accomodate the strict Stalinist regime. Check out the new website for Morris’ Romeo and Juliet, www.lovelives.net .)

I wrote briefly about this topic before, citing a NY Times article that when NYCB changed its cheapest tickets from $30 to $15, sales tripled. Sometimes I wonder why I couldn’t have cheaper hobbies than theater, like movies or hiking. But thanks to the great student programs out there, it’s really allowed me to see as much as I can without too being too much in debt. I can only hope that these student policies don’t change.

From the NY Times article, If You Discount It, Will They Come?

Updated: Are you a student at UCSF or the SF Conservatory? Check out the SF Performances Culture Card, where you can see over 20 shows for $25. It’s got to be one of the best deals that I’ve ever heard of.

Danny Hoch in “Taking Over”: Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Danny Hoch as “Kaitlin”

How do you present an idea to the world, when your audience consists of

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people who oppose your conclusions, and are in fact, a major cause of the problem?

This was an interesting aspect of Danny Hoch’s socially relevant one man show playing at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, called, “Taking Over”. Danny Hoch, a multi-talented performer, presents a play about the subject of gentrification by playing multiple characters on both sides of the coin. There is the type A personality real estate developer who, being strapped for time, schedules his yoga workout concurrently with an interview and resents being called “evil” for doing his job. There is also a neighborhood lady who has been living in the same place for many years, who reminisces of the time when cocaine bottles were piled high on her doorstep, and now can’t afford the $4 almond croissants that she loves so much in the newly opened French cafe on her street. There is also a hippie girl, Kaitlin from the Midwest, who came to New York to find herself, and is very proud of the fact that her boyfriend is “ethnic” and has plastic covering on his couch. There is even a scene with Danny himself, meditating on the time he stood in line at the new Whole Foods holding an organic California artichoke, recalling a time when years ago, at the very same spot, a homeless man got stabbed in the neck with people watching. With these many characters, different sides of the story is told, leading the audience to realize how complicated the problem really is.

Is it considered progress, or is it a modern day colonization where the previous residents are corralled and excluded? He speaks from the point of a native New Yorker, watching his neighborhood getting transformed into an unrecognizable place filled with yippies and French cafes and Subway sandwich shops. His stance on gentrification is very black and white, and yet the characters he presents are not so black and white. It’s overwhelming how complicated the problem is, yet the fact is that it’s still a problem when neighborhoods are starting to feel excluded and evicted from apartments that have grown too expensive for its tenants. Whoever thinks that when they move into a loft in Williamsburg, what they’re contributing to the neighborhood? It was definitely an important viewpoint that left the audience chewing on that point long after the show was over.

One frustrating aspect, however, was that there is no answer to the problem. In the post-show Q&A, someone tried to get Danny Hoch to pinpoint exactly which character in the show, is the most responsible for the gentrification problem. Danny’s answer was, “the Pilgrims”. Basically, everyone’s a part of the problem, and as an audience member, that’s hard to swallow when there’s no conclusion when the lights go down.

Danny Hoch is a very talented and engaging performer (as well as a writer, since he wrote the show himself), finding humor even in dark places. His ideas are strong, and passion such as his fully engages the audience. I found myself genuinely moved by the portraits of the people he portrayed. It’s an important message for everyone to think about, including the people who support gentrification, which admittedly, include myself. It’s important to think about the people living in the neighborhood, and doing good to them, and to include them. I’m not sure how it’s going to happen, but if anything, this play made me think about an issue that I’ve never really thought about before. Perhaps that was the point.

Thanks to Sarah Bordson and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre for a great night. I have successfully attended everything that they’ve put on so far this year, and am amazed by the breadth of shows that they present, as well as the risks that they take, which include this show! I don’t necessarily agree with everything presented onstage, but the quality of theater has always remained high, and has been really impressive. The world definitely needs more theaters such as this one.

“Taking Over” at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre . The show runs until February 10.

Finding my mojo: Looking ahead

Early last week, I was mentioning to a coworker that I felt like I had lost my mojo. I just hadn’t felt renewed yet – even the irrepressible energy of Riverdance hadn’t perked me up and thrown me to my new beginnings of 2008. As if in retribution for that comment, I immediately succumbed to the worst flu I’ve ever had, beginning that night. Body aches, high fevers, and chills, oh my! It literally forced me to take a break, and I’m left wondering if this is nature’s only way to force me to slow down. I am only now recovering; after my first full day back at work today, the first thing that I did when I got back home was take a three hour nap. It’s progress though, after being sidelined for almost a week, I thought I’d never get back on my feet again. Hope is now in sight.

Lots to look forward to – going to Berkeley Repertory Theatre this week again, looking forward to the one-man show called “Taking Over” with Danny Hoch. It’s directed by Tony Taccone, who also brought the Tony-award winning Sarah Jones to Broadway in the past few years, in her critically acclaimed one woman show, Bridge and Tunnel. Jen and I were this close to nabbing tickets for Bridge and Tunnel during one of my trips to NY, but ended up seeing something else last minute on Broadway. An interesting fact about Danny Hoch: he turned down a role on Seinfeld because they required him to play a stereotype in a Hispanic accent, which he refused to do.

And then, of course, San Francisco Ballet is starting up its 75th anniversary season in mere weeks. Do you THINK that I’m excited?? :) The season starts on January 29th with a repertory program that includes Balanchine’s “Diamonds” from Jewels, and then two days later, Program two starts, which includes Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15, a performance that dance critic Rachel Howard has spoken highly of, and Possohkov’s Firebird, which I’ve had the pleasure of watching before. I’m really looking forward to seeing my favorite dancers on the War Memorial Opera House stage again.

I also ran across this interesting anecdote of Gonzalo Garcia, who moved to NYCB after his stint at SFB, and his last performance in San Francisco. It sounds like a crazy night that only live theater can offer, an accidental Don Q with three casts. Rachel Howard lists his performance as one of the best of the year 2007. From her article:

“Gonzalo Garcia farewell performance: War Memorial Opera House (May). Fans of this irresistibly warmhearted San Francisco Ballet dancer knew saying goodbye would be emotional, but we could never have expected a leave-taking like his “Don Quixote.” When partner Tina LeBlanc came down hard on a jump and couldn’t stand, Garcia gallantly carried her off the stage. Fellow principals Molly Smolen and Tiit Helimets filled in for Act 2, while Vanessa Zahorian rushed across town to dance with Garcia for Act 3. At curtain call, Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson looked choked up, and LeBlanc stood in a leg brace applauding. The triple cast, the palpable concern and affection in the audience for LeBlanc when she fell, Garcia’s high-flying bravura – it was the kind of night at the ballet that you never forget. ”

Gonzalo Garcia and Tina LeBlanc in Don Quixote

Another performance to look forward to: the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee‘s national touring cast is coming to our neighborhood in March. I managed to get a group of almost 20 people together, and we’re going to be sitting front row center. This show stole my heart when I first saw it on Broadway a few years ago; I totally fell in love with the characters on the show, being the district spelling bee champion when I was 10 years old myself! It’s finally closing on Broadway this month, after a great run. It was definitely the little show that could, bursting with heart and humor. I believe the national touring cast stars the blogging superstar and original cast member’s brother, Andrew Keenan-Bolger. I’m really looking forward to it! It should be a fun show.

A video clip featuring original cast member, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (also of Ugly Betty fame, as Dr. Farkas) and his alter ego, Leaf Coneybear. I love his shirt, “I’m Special”.

Opening nights

Berkeley Rep’s Argonautika and ABT with Cal Performances

Berkeley Rep’s Argonautika

Two great shows are opening this week:

  • Argonautika, with the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, is officially opening this Wednesday although it’s already opened for previews. It’s amazing that I just saw the set two weeks ago and it only looked half built, and now it’s already up and running. Casting info here, including Justin Blanchard who was amazing in Journey’s End. Really looking forward to this show.
    • While we’re in outline form, might as well insert a sidenote (I’m comfortable writing in outline form these days, since I’m working on my PhD thesis proposal, for which I’m procrastating right now). Mary Zimmerman, who directed Argonautika, was also bringing her production of Lucia di Lammermoor (which opened at the Met this year) this summer to the SF Opera, but now they’ve announced that they’re not going to bring Zimmerman’s production but going to replace it with another. I’m disappointed, but I’m sure it’ll be a good replacement. Good news is that its star, Natalie Dessay, is still scheduled to appear.
  • American Ballet Theatre is opening its weekend stop at Cal Performances this Wednesday. I can’t wait, I haven’t seen this ballet company perform since I saw Vladimir Malakhov and Diana Vishneva dance Giselle at the Lincoln Center… was it last year? I think I held my breath the entire time. During this stop in Berkeley, I’m looking forward to seeing Herman Cornejo, and seeing David Hallberg for the first time. (I keep on having to remind myself that I have yet to see him dance!) I’m really really going to try to catch both programs, since my schedule is so off these days (my thesis proposal requires me to write til the wee hours of the morning, and then waking up and taking random naps in the afternoon in addition to a lot of panicking.)
    • Cal Performances is continuing its “Focus on Twyla Tharp” series that it has going this year. I’m very new to this type of multi-show themed programming, but it’s been very enlightening. I feel like I’m slowly being taught the multi-faceted talents of Ms. Tharp, being shown all her different works over a relatively short period of time. The last two performances I saw at the Zellerbach Hall included Tharp – Deuce Coupe with Joffrey, and Nine Sinatra Songs and In the Upper Room with Miami City Ballet, which have all been so different and yet with Tharp’s characteristic touches. I’ve really been able to appreciate inventive choreography from a choreographer who isn’t so intensely musical (such as Balanchine and Morris), my favorites that resonates so well with me. The only downside that I see to this “focus” is if the featured is on a choreographer that I didn’t like.
    • These gorgeous rehearsal photos from the multi-talented Matt Murphy has really gotten me jazzed about seeing these more contemporary works, including Elo’s “Close to Chuck” and Tharp’s “Baker’s Dozen”. It’s such a privilege to be offered a backstage peek, and to view a bit of the creative process. It really adds to the appreciation of the hard work involved, and enjoyment of the final product.

White crushed velvet leggings? ABT’s Kristi Boone and Isaac Stappas in Tharp’s “Baker’s Dozen”.

after the quake: Berkeley Repertory Theatre

And a behind-the-scenes look into Argonautika

The two storytellers on the left, watching the fantasy story of how two unlikely characters save Tokyo, a six foot SuperFrog and a homely businessman. Jennifer Shin, Hanson Tse, Keong Sim, and Paul Juhn

Last night, I finally got a chance to visit the Berkeley Repertory Theater for the first time. And what a treat to see a play that I had wanted to see! I saw Frank Galati’s after the quake, based on a book written by Haruki Murakami. It was one of those hypnotic worlds where dreams and fantasies collide and blur the line between reality.

A lot of the press has spoken about how this play is relevant in today’s post-9/11 society. This play centers around the lives of people who survived the tragedy of the Kobe earthquake in Japan. To me though, it had little to do with how people deal with life after tragedy per se, but more universally about how people deal with having dreams and the dangers of such dreams. The characters adopt the strategy of detachment in order to cope with unreached expectations and lost loves. This detachment is magnified by the characters referring to themselves in the third person, and multiple characters share the narration, as if to prevent personal investment in the story. This mood of loneliness and detachment resonated with me as an audience member – perhaps because the sentiment is so relateable and the feeling is so intimately personal, and stayed with me long after I left the theater. Despite mixed reviews, I was absolutely riveted throughout the 90 minute play, and was disappointed when the play ended.

Hanson Tse and Keong Sim were standouts of this play. Both actors have inhabited their roles since its inception, and it really shows how they fully embody their roles. Hanson Tse really is Junpei, the gentle hero coping with his lost love and restrained and crippled to do anything about it. He copes with his failed dreams by spinning fantastical stories that swirl around him and the people around him, buffering his thoughts away from himself. As the play progresses, we start to see the the bubbling of a volcano of emotions underneath his restrained surface, when he realizes he’s reached none of his dreams since college. Keong Sim played the Narrator/Frog – assured and confident, I was struck not only by his talent but also by how roles like his are so rare amongst Asian American actors. It was refreshing to see, and this play was really a step towards Asian American portrayals on stage.

Despite the compelling stories, the play is still very book-like. The writing includes bits such as, “And he says”, which breaks up the flow and reminds the audience that this is originally a written story. Perhaps intentional, but in this sense, I understand why some people felt like this play doesn’t completely translate on the stage, and might be a better read than viewing it on stage. The drama and the riveting effect still translates onstage – in all, it made me more curious about the book this play was based on.

I left this play with a feeling and a mood – an aching bittersweetness of a lost love, with images of a droll frog fighting earthquake worms, Tonkichi the bear who can’t speak, a terrified girl trapped in a box, and unknown heroes.

A few words about Berkeley Rep: I have a soft spot for small theaters, which promotes a sense of intimacy lost in bigger spaces, and I loved the theater we were in, the Thrust Theatre. A small group of us had been invited to tour the Roda Theater as well, which is a bigger theater but still maintains a sense of intimacy. They were setting up the next play of the season, Argonautika, which is a play that I’m really excited about, as I’ve blogged about before. The half-built set looks really cool and multidimensional, with wood paneling as if you are inside a boat, with an open back wall. Directed by the Tony award winning Mary Zimmerman, she weaves the tale of Jason and the Argonauts with even a modern anti-war themes thrown in for good measure. Rumor also is that they use puppets in the show (I’m thinking more Julie Taymor-style Lion King puppets, not the Avenue Q kind).

And in general, Berkeley Rep is picking good works that challenge the boundaries of theater and redefine it. This, to me, is what art is about. I also love the fact that they are striving to reach new audiences, in different ways from providing discounts to audiences under 30, holding “30 Below” parties for people of similar interests to mingle, book clubs of relevant books to shows they are showing, as well as a series of gourmet tastings of chocolate, champagne, and more, before the shows. Check out more of their special events, here.

For me, there really is nothing more fun than experiencing theater and getting to talk about it with like minded people. Many thanks to Terence, Sarah, and Marissa for a great night at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

after the quake is playing through November 25th. Argonautika opens on November 2. Click here for tickets.

Here are my recommendations for this season at the Berkeley Rep.

Jen’s review of after the quake, when it was playing in La Jolla.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre website

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