Category Archives: play

Review: Pride and Prejudice at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Jane Bennet (Nell Geisslinger) and Charles Bingley (Christian Barillas) are smitten with each other by the end of the first dance. Photo by David Cooper.

What do you do when life throws you a curve ball? You know the type – unexpected, hands down, brakes screeching, sort of failure/setback?

I went on a road trip.

At the last minute, I hitched a ride with two friends who had been planning this trip for months. It was great to get away, and the five hour drive to Oregon was a lovely one. I (luckily) nabbed a ticket to a sold out performance of to an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

P&P was one of the many plays that were going on at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this year, which includes not only Shakespeare but a smattering of classic/contemporary plays and even new works. This year, plays included Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Twelfth Night, Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and two world premieres, including of an adaptation of a Kurosawa film by Ping Chong called Throne of Blood. The statistics of this festival is impressive. Established in 1935, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival runs an astonishing 8 months out of the year, presenting 11 plays in three theaters, employing about 550 theater professionals. In 2009, attendance achieved 89% of capacity in all three theaters. Not bad for a small town in Oregon.

Mr. Bennet (Mark Murphey) brings news to his daughters, from left, Elizabeth (Kate Hurster), Kitty (Kimbre Lancaster), Mary (Christine Albright) and Jane (Nell Geisslinger). Photo by Jenny Graham.

The theatrical experience was a wonderful mix of a casual enthustiastic audience and a warm and stellar production. Adapted for the stage by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan and directed by Libby Appel, the production was simple yet elegant. The open set by William Bloodgood and costumes by Mara Blumenfield served many purposes with small but pointed changes. The stage reminded me of an intimate version of Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, with a stage that intrudes into the audience and multiple exits and entrances. The choreography by Art Manke cleverly used dance to transport characters in and out of society at large.

Cheeky touches brightly colored the production, such as the start of the play, where Lydia and Kitty scream at the surprise of a voice over the loudspeaker reminding the audience to put away their cell phones. The first half of the play was a bit slow, flagging in pace of a familiar story that appeared to be loved to everyone in the audience. You could practically hear everyone whispering the lines spoken simultaneously onstage. Mrs. Bennet was played by an appropriately hysterical Judith-Marie Bergan and Mark Murphey as the droll and ever-patient Mr. Bennet. The audience roared in response to Tom Collins as the unfortunately greasy-haired cousin by James Newcomb, who played it up for the audience to a silly extreme.

Mr. Darcy (Elijah Alexander) and Elizabeth Bennet (Kate Hurster) share a dance. Photo by Jenny Graham.

But in the second act, fireworks exploded on stage. The verbal banter in the up-and-down relationship between Elizabeth Bennet (a sassy and pretty Kate Hurster) and Mr. Darcy (Elijah Alexander) was crackling with tension. Mr. Darcy appeared to be slightly miscast, as he didn’t give off the air of a rich nobleman, but rather, a rogue with a rebellious streak who somehow found himself stuck in a suit. But surprisingly, his comedic timing in the second act gave Mr. Darcy an endearing quality that ended up working very well in the end. The audience was so caught up in the love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy that the audience literally screamed at the final kiss, and only then, did I realize how the play had gently led up to that moment. I couldn’t remember the last time an audience was so demonstrative in the middle of a show, and it was so much fun. Even I felt my cynical heart melt with tears when Mr. Bingley (Christian Barillas) proposed to Jane Bennet (Nell Geisslinger).

In all, it was a wonderful production with a stellar cast and most importantly, a singular experience of being a part of a wildly enthusiastic audience. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is definitely worth an annual road trip, as I know a lot of people do, and it’s something I’d love to do again.

Which movie/adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is your favorite? Also, we were debating what made Lizzie Bennet change her mind so drastically about Mr. Darcy. Was it because he was so rich when she saw his house in Pemberley, or was it something else?

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival website. Click here for a video preview of this production of Pride and Prejudice.

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Lunch at Brick's Smokehouse in Redding, CA with a bbq pulled pork sandwich, on the way up to Oregon. Apparently I was eating it the uncool way, with coleslaw on the side and not in the sandwich. © Saturday Matinee

Oregon beer wall

The gorgeous Lithia Park within walking distance from the theater

The view from our hotel room

Breakfast at Morning Glory in Ashland. Their muffins made from scratch were awesome, the long wait to sit down was not.

ACT’s Tosca Project closes on July 3

San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Lorena Feijoo and A.C.T. core acting company member Jack Willis (pictured at the famed Tosca Café) are part of the multidisciplinary cast of The Tosca Project. Photo by Kevin Berne.

American Conservatory Theatre at San Francisco presents a collaborative project with the San Francisco Ballet in a world premiere dance theater production of The Tosca Project. This piece is a result of a three year collaboration between San Francisco Ballet choreographer Val Caniparoli and A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff, with a cast of dancers and actors. The story is inspired by San Francisco’s Tosca Cafe.

It sounds fascinating, and I’m interested in how artists can switch across theatrical mediums. Pascal Molat has shown ballet audiences that he can act, but can he convince the A.C.T. audience he can act as well? And doesn’t Lorena look fabulous?

A sailor (Pascal Molat) and his girl (Lorena Feijoo) dance a duet to Rosemary Clooney singing “What'll I Do?” Photo by Kevin Berne.

Lorena Feijoo (center) with members of the Tosca Project ensemble (Peter Anderson, left, and Rachel Ticotin, right). Photo by Kevin Berne.

A sailor (Pascal Molat) and his girl (Lorena Feijoo) share a last moment before he heads off to World War II. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Please report back if you’ve seen it – click here for more information and tickets. Check out the SF Chronicle review, here. The Tosca Project closes on July 3 after being extended due to popular demand, with A.C.T. core acting company member René Augesen, Milwaukee Ballet principal dancer Julianna Kepley, and Bay Area ballet dancer Jekyns Pelaez join the ensemble for the extension performances.

Shakespeare’s Globe Love’s Labour Lost

Shakespeare_Globe_Theatre_3

It’s nice to know that Shakespeare can still pack a house, even if it’s not in a park. It helps that the company is London-based Shakespeare’s Globe stage troupe to show us how it’s really done, bringing the comedic production of Love’s Labour Lost on a US national tour, with their stop at the Mondavi Center.

From the get go, it was a bit like going back into history. Shakespearean minstrels greeted the audience in the lobby, and actors mingled in the aisles before the show and during intermission, riffing with attendees and even serving hors d’oeuvres. It was enlightening to see how interactive theater was back then. Actors regularly ran up and down the aisles with some of the action going on amongst the audience (with one actor sitting in one poor (or lucky) lady’s lap and flipping through the program and hiding from the king). Shakespearean theater wasn’t some glorified, elevated art form that demands to be treated with kid gloves. It was entertainment for the commoners.

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, this company brought first class comedy to the stage in a fresh production that brought Shakespeare to life. A bright, airy set (by Jonathan Fensom), nimble wordplay, and impeccable comedic timing made this production accessible to modern audiences. The king and his three friends swear to devote themselves to study and chastity and are confounded when the Princess of France and her three ladies visit the royal court. Hilarity ensues. Men in love are just so silly. And they pontificate. A lot. I guess that’s something that hasn’t changed since the Shakespearean times.

In a cast of stellar actors, a standout was Fergal McElherron as Costard, an unlikely swain who inhabited his character in every spirited moment.

It was refreshing to hear unmiked voices, as if the voices were talking directly to you with dynamic vocal projection. However, in addition to the Shakespearean language and a smattering of foreign accents, there were parts that were hard to catch. It’s a speed and speech that American audiences aren’t used to hearing, and I had difficulty in comprehending the unfamiliar script and convoluted story. It was no wonder the audience reacted more consistently to the physical comedy, and there were many chances to laugh.

I’ve forgotten how sophomoric Shakespeare can be, and this show reminded me at how phallic jokes never grow old. Despite its obscure moments, this production was first rate production that throughout history, audiences have always been entertained by both high intellectual comedy of witty wordplay, along with the low.

Mondavi Arts

Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll

When I look back at my favorite plays, I’m often fuzzy on the details, but most of all, I remember a feeling. For Broadway’s revival of Awake and Sing a few years ago, the feeling was a slowly breaking heart of a family falling apart in spite of their tightly clenched fists, hiding a loyal guarded love. History Boys was a feeling of lively razor-sharp wit with a cruel twist. The beauty of plays lies in its transparency, where a tenuous naked world is woven with no music or dancing to hide behind. If a play is successful, I get sucked into its world and get lost in it without realizing it. At American Conservatory Theater’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, the bottom line is that I waited the entire play but never got lost in its world. Spanning the time period of the 1960′s through the 1990′s, going from England to war torn Czechoslovakia with ideals of Marxism and a love of rock and roll in a tumultuous world, the play follows the lead character Jan and the people in his life. Rock ‘n’ Roll was a theatrical spinning merry-go-round, where I was on the outskirts looking in, waiting to get on. But it never stopped to allow me to get on. If I focused hard enough, I would catch glimpses – a witty crack here, a satiric jab at society there, a flash of fiercely tender humanity and love. But in general, things were a blur as the play would march on, wrapped up in its own world with no regard for its audience.

I hardly think I was alone in this sentiment. In general, the audience was a very quiet audience, stunned even in dark scene changes to make the effort at applause. Laughs were more laughs of recognition (“Oh, I actually understood that joke“) rather than genuine merriment. A few rows behind me, there was a woman who was laughing quite loudly and proudly a little too long each time, as if to broadcast her comprehension of what was just said.

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She was mostly laughing alone, I might add, in a completely silent theater. I am reminded of a NY Times article on another one of Tom Stoppard’s plays, his gargantuan Coast of Utopia, in which the journalist writes about an audience’s reluctance to admit that they don’t get Tom Stoppard. In an article titled, “‘Utopia’ Is a Bore. There, I Said It.”:

Some may fear, as my new acquaintance from the plaza did, that to admit dissatisfaction or outright dislike is to advertise one’s intellectual obtuseness or philistinism. The coercive reasoning goes something like this: Everyone says it’s brilliant; I am bored; therefore I am not smart enough to appreciate its brilliance. The play isn’t a failure: I am.

Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been exposed to Tom Stoppard’s writing before, but I have no qualms about saying that I did not understand Rock ‘n’ Roll. My friend immediately deemed it elitist and blatantly exclusive of its audience, and it’s hard not to disagree with her. It’s never a good sign if there are nine pages of program notes that go along with this play, including a time line of relevant history (rock ‘n’ roll, American, and world history) which is basically a requirement to see this play; without having memorized it, I was left wondering who Dubcek and Havel were that the actors kept referring to. If I had understood it, I may have said that this was a brilliant play. Yes, there were moments of smart writing with a core of humanity and loving relationships, but most of it was smothered by a perplexing blur.

My reservations about this play were inherent in the play itself, and not in the production. Directed by ACT’s Carey Perloff, the cast was superb with lots of local homegrown talent. The cast was led by San Francisco native Manoel Felciano as Jan, a rather reserved role that failed to showcase Felciano’s talent and charisma. Rene Augesen as Eleanor/older Esme and Jack Willis as Max were the standouts in this cast, where both actors injected a dose of much needed liveliness to the play. The set design by Douglas W. Schmidt, as shown in the photo above, was imaginative albeit puzzling – the bottom up view was never used literally, and I was left wondering, was it designed to give a sense of open sky in a claustrophobic view? A sense of dreaming while laying down? A world turned on its side? Who knows, the entire play was a big puzzle but a mildly pleasing one.

Maybe this play is for people who grew up in that era, or for Communists, or for rock ‘n’ roll lovers. Maybe it’s just my luck that I don’t relate directly to any of those topics, but the fatal flaw was that this play did not convince me to care.

Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll plays at ACT until October 18th. Click here for more info.

Other takes:

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.

“Bare” is Back!

A cover story in the Sacramento Bee on Artistic Differences’ production of Bare. Ian Cullity as Jason.

Bare is a small musical that seemed unstoppable on its one-track path to Broadway. It had a plot guaranteed to garner a following of Spring Awakening and Rent-like proportions – an edgy modern story of love, sex, identity, forgiveness, and religion about two boys struggle with their love and identities within the backdrop of a Catholic high school. It had a powerful score that rocked, and lyrics to break your heart. It had a superstar cast when in NY, included the unbelievable Michael Arden and stars that later went onto star in big Broadway shows like Wicked and Legally Blonde. Starting in Los Angeles, Bare moved to NY and was slated to go to the New World Stages when the show unexpectedly disappeared. There were Bare posters still left up inside the theater with a sign that said, “Coming Soon”, a hollow promise left unfulfilled. That was in 2004, and now that all that exists is a small but devoted group of fans that have not given up hope, constantly speculating on when and where this show will reappear again. Imagine my surprise when I heard through the grapevine that a local Sacramento theater called Artistic Differences was performing Bare. After experiencing the show through its 11 track sampler (with the AMAZING Michael Arden) and a grainy bootleg video, I grabbed at the chance to be able to see the show live.

Michael Arden in the NY production of Bare

In short, Artistic Differences put on a stirring performance that even moved a finicky heart like mine. This show really calls for the actors to step up to fill the difficult demands of each role and the expectations of Bare‘s fickle fans. This local theater company stepped up and put on one heck of a show. The show relies heavily on the emotion-laden performances of its actors, and this show’s casting was spot-on. Lucas Blair was the boyishly idealistic Peter, and he performed with a subtle yet piercing sensitivity. Ian Cullity played the role of Jason, a confident high schooler who has the world on a string and whose life is slowly derailed as the show progresses because of his love for Peter. Yet in the first act, Cullity plays an almost bewildered Jason lacking a nonchalant confident swagger, surprised and flattered by his popularity with girls. Despite this, Cullity came to soaring life in his songs, and he brought out the darker passionate aspect of the role with a full commitment that gave me chills. Kelly Daniells played the role of the promiscuous yet insecure Ivy who falls for Jason; Daniells sang “All Grown Up” with a sheer raw power that raised the roof. Joelle Wirth most fully embodied her character Nadia, the unattractive girl with a quick quip to cover her insecurity to the world (although it would be more believable if Wirth actually was overweight). Wirth’s performance packed a visceral punch with every line where she pretended not to care. Joshua Glenn Robertson played the role of Matt, the guy hopelessly in love with Ivy and ignored for Jason. Robertson tackled the broad range of emotions that the role requires with ease, from his sweet pursuit of Ivy to jealous rage as he fights with Jason. Natasha Greer as Sister Chantelle gave a rousing rendition of “God Don’t Make No Trash”. Even the minor roles were cast to perfection; a personal standout for me was the priest, acted by Scott Martin, burdened by the sins of the world and his responsibility to tell the world the message of the church that didn’t always make sense, with moments of internalized repressed emotion peeking through. The rest of the cast was just as stellar, with performances that filled the theater with power.

The show is tightly directed by Kevin Caravalho that kept the action moving, peppering the production with interesting personal details such as having Matt accompany himself on the guitar at the beginning of “Are You There?” which added an appropriate lonely, introspective touch. Choreography by Gino Platina added a layer of visual complexity, where I couldn’t help but to wonder if Bare was the precursor for the Broadway hit Spring Awakening, a show which also embodies emotions through dance. Mostly adding depth to the emotions communicated through song, sometimes though, it felt like the movements were too big for a stage of this size, especially in “Portrait of a Girl”. Subtlety and simplicity may have been a better option for this song in a small theater like this one. The beginning of the show was marred by technical sound problems, where it became impossible to hear the actors. This was even more unfortunate because the first three songs immediately throw the audience into the thick of the plot right off the bat. But this is a minor detail that will be fixed I’m sure as the show continues its run.

The success of this show lies in the

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strength of the material and the theater company that was willing to take the risk to put it on and to meet the challenge of presenting it successfully. A forgotten lyric, a missed vocal entrance, and sound problems paled in comparison to the compelling drama that unfolded onstage. Despite its blatant melodrama, there’s something about this show that always brings me to tears. A love despite all odds, a passion that never dies despite a harsh world – it’s a cliche but surely we’re not jaded enough to still buy into this once in a while. In addition, my favorite part of the show was when Peter with heartbreaking pain comes to terms with his religion and sexuality in his conversation with the priest by acknowledging the shortcomings of the church and being honest with himself. The show presents two very different members of the Catholic church, the priest and Sister Chantelle (who even appears as the Virgin Mary in Peter’s dream). One message of the show may be that organized religion and the people who rule it may be imperfect, but God is not. I find this message to be heartbreakingly honest, deeply courageous, and unspeakably moving.

I feel like Bare is a type of show that defines theater companies, and this is no different. It definitely put Artistic Differences on my radar, and am looking forward to seeing the rest of their season, including Sondheim’s Assassins and See What I Wanna See.


The Sacramento cast of Bare on the cover of Outword magazine

Other reviews:

For those of you who don’t have it yet, download the Bare sampler. Michael Arden’s “Role of a Lifetime” is one of my all-time favorite songs.

Artistic Differences. Bare runs on Thurs – Sat on July 31 through Aug 30. Two notes of caution: be careful where you park near the train tracks, and dress appropriately because there’s no air conditioning in the theater and it got pretty hot.

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.

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.

Jolene’s Best of 2007 list

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Best performance of the year: Two shows come to mind -

I spent as much space in a scary moment in Joshua Bell’s show than the more positive aspects of the show, but thinking back in 2007, Bell’s fresh and innovative take on a beautiful yet overfamiliar piece really brought it to life, and it shines in my memory as one of the best performances of the year. Two runner ups, in two pieces that really stand out just because they were so fun: Miami City Ballet’s “In the Upper Room” and SF Ballet’s Nutcracker.

Best male performer of the year: Raul Esparza in Company, Herman Cornejo spicing up a random collection of pieces at ABT’s first program at Cal Performances in the Le Corsaire pas de deux.

Best female performer of the year: Felicia Fields in the Color Purple, Lea Salonga as Fantine in Les Mis.

Best new discovery of the year: Miami City Ballet

Best regional production of the year: My discovery of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre was a great one, in which I still feel the effects of the quietly moving ripple that was after the quake. Another fun one was Expedition 6, at a much smaller local theater. Just wondering how many more local gems remain to be discovered?

Best performance event in a non-traditional theater venue: Project Bandaloop at Orange County’s Fall for Dance on the outdoor walls of the OCPAC.

Favorite televised theater event: Mark Morris’ Mozart Dances on PBS

Biggest theater obsession: Jersey Boys

Most anticipated performance for 2008: Company on PBS, watching Alvin Ailey for the first time, SF Ballet’s 75th anniversary season, esp the New Works Festival and Giselle!

Theater Favorites 2007

Best performance of the year (ex. best ballet performance, best play, best musical, best classical music concert, best opera, any/all of the above)

Mark Morris, Mozart Dances at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Best male performer of the year

Raul Esparza, Company. Honorable mention: John Gallagher in Spring Awakening.

Best female performer of the year

Alessandra Ferri, Manon

Best new discovery of the year

Journey’s End

Best performance event in a non-traditional theater venue (ex. performance in the street, art gallery, library, trash dump)

Stars in the Alley

Favorite televised theater event

Mark Morris’ Mozart Dances (see a theme?), Wynton Marsalis Red Hot Holiday Stomp, Met’s I Puritani

Most likely to be the next big thing (ex. performer, choreographer, playwright, etc. based on something you saw this year)

Lin Manuel Miranda, writer, creator and performer in “In the Heights”, Jamie Garcia Castilla from SF Ballet

Most anticipated performance for 2008

PBS broadcast of Company, Alvin Ailey at Cal Performances, Nina Anashiavelli’s Giselle, “In the Heights” performance on the Tony broadcast!