Thursday, January 27, 2011

Compleat Female Stage Beauty : City Lights Theatre San Jose : This is Why I go to the Theatre

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts. The world is a stage, and we are all its players.”— William Shakespeare.

The scope of Jeffrey Hatcher’s fact-based historical drama goes far beyond notions of gender politics or sexual orientation. The focus is on his characters and none escape scrutiny. It’s not long after each is introduced that it becomes apparent that everyone is playing a part. But it’s not a matter of deception as much as it is an issue of survival in a world that doesn’t cater to those who fail to stay in character.

Hatcher’s brilliant masterwork posits that it’s the persona we adopt that truly defines us. The idea that our “identity” exists separate from that which we do is merely an illusion. We are, in fact, what we do. If that is taken away, nothing remains but a reflection in a looking glass.

Edward Kynaston, the last of the “boy players”, realized to perfection by Thomas Gorrebeeck, discovers this awful truth after being literally stripped of his role by royal fiat. He is left beaten, shunned and horribly alone. His ability to adapt to the new era of British “Restoration" is much in doubt. Ironically, Margaret Hughes (Robyn Winslow), his anointed successor and rival, finds herself similarly disoriented. It’s not until a final staggering confrontation is his (their) fate revealed.

Staged within a scene taken from Shakespeare’s Othello, we are witness to an acting duel of frenzied intensity, where the line between reality and performance art becomes blurred. It’s a frightening moment that makes for riveting theatre, and the equally matched Gorrebeeck and Winslow push each other to limits seldom seen in any live venue. Beautifully written and performed, it serves as a magnificent distillation of everything the playwright is attempting to say.
Such lofty themes, set during 17th century England no less, might be expected to elicit yawns, if not entirely collapse under their own weight. But that would be to grossly underestimate the literary skills of its gifted author. The play has a decidedly contemporary wit and sensibility. It is at once timeless and immediate, and quite often (ahem) jovial. And it’s flawlessly executed by all concerned.

This is why I go to the theatre. When all facets fit harmoniously into place, in terms of acting talent, direction and every aspect of production design and staging, it’s a marvelous thing to behold. Such is the case with this current production at City Lights Theatre. From the spot-on noblesse oblige trappings of the inimitable George Psarras as King Charles II, to the earthy exuberance of the scene-stealing Therese Schneck as the royal mistress Nell Gwynn, every cast member delivers a signature turn worthy of recognition. Bravo!

It’s a memorable experience that one cannot recommend too highly. I hereby decree that all adults attend this extraordinary event forthwith!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Three Viewings: Theatre Anew San Francisco: Talented Cast Provide Ample Rewards

Jeffrey Hatcher’s literary intensity invariably is rooted in the psychic pain of his characters. That trademark style is manifest in this tripartite exploration of loss and longing.

As a series of demanding monologues, it’s imperative that the actors possess consummate acting skill. They must be able to grasp the intent behind the words to give them the requisite depth of meaning. Thankfully, it’s readily apparent that each cast member was chosen for more than just their superb vocal intonation. They're all first-rate.

Notwithstanding the somber theme of ultimate loss, Hatcher doesn’t forsake the opportunity to entertain us and have some mischievous fun along the way. The key, then, is for the actor to practice restraint and deliver the lines for all they’re worth without anticipating the surprising denouement.

Alas, patience is a virtue that somehow got lost in translation. The benefits of a lingered phrase or timely pause cannot be overstated. They give the audience a chance to digest the full impact of what’s been said. Too often the actors appeared a bit too eager to get to the climax.

I hasten to conclude, however, that despite the dubious tempo, the show is mostly successful and the payoff(s) truly rewarding. And the ingenious idea of utilizing an actual chapel as the play’s setting wonderfully enhances the overall effect. I recommend it highly.

Clybourne Park : American Conservatory Theatre : Incendiary Play Tempered with Humor

Much of the incisive dialogue by its fearless playwright actually provide insight superior to anything I can offer about this marvelous (and searing) examination of race, political correctness, and to a lesser extent marriage, in America.

What makes it exceptional is how the incendiary subject matter is tempered (thankfully) with humor. If it weren't genuinely funny, it could easily descend into a lugubrious diatribe.

The cast, with each member playing a dual role, is for the most part outstanding. They successfully navigate the edgy material without lapsing (too far) into stereotype. This is a credit not only to the talented ensemble but also the confident, tight direction by Jonathan Moscone. And the set design's transformation between acts showcases a meticulous attention to detail which provides a perfect backdrop for the serio-comic proceedings.

As laudable an accomplishment this might be, however, one wonders exactly why Norris chose to deviate from the central theme and frame the story within a heavy subplot regarding a tragic death. Although I acknowledge it does provide some continuity and character motivation, from what I can discern it's mostly unrelated to the primary events on stage.

Notwithstanding that solitary apprehension, I highly recommend one plan a trip to the American Conservatory Theater (formerly the Geary Theater) tout de suite!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Heartbeats: Songs from the Soul - Margaret Wingrove Dance Company's 30th Anniversary : San Jose Stage Company :Exemplary Introduction to Modern Dance

An exemplary presentation of modern dance, featuring magnificent choreography enhanced by an inspired choices in music, lighting and minimalist set design, beautifully performed by a dynamic corps of dancers. Particularly noteworthy are Amy Briones and Travis Walker whose brilliant technical skills stand out among the uniformly talented ensemble. A must see for anyone who recognizes the singular power of dance to illuminate the essence of the human spirit.