“This is Candide. He’s just like you ... Get out!” The Everyman hero of Voltaire’s tale outlives all the considerable horror of his age. He has a happy childhood as student of an optimistic philosopher in Westphalia (“the best of countries in the best of all possible worlds” in the garden of “the best of all possible castles”), then is ejected from this self-proclaimed paradise into the disasters of war, earthquake and tempest. He survives the Inquisition’s auto-da-fe as well as just plain, low-down deception, the turmoil of love and complexities of friendship, while moving across Europe, the high seas, to the New World and back again—and finally, down on the farm, quietly insists, “We must cultivate our garden.”
Now, 250 years later, this story still proves both scathing, satiric testimony for skepticism and a champion for the ethic of universal toleration in Humanism.
Rough and Tumble, Berkeley’s 14-year-old company, which staged Brecht with the Shotgun Players at Hinkel Park, followed by last year’s 43 Plays for 43 Presidents on their own in the subterranean space beneath La Val’s Northside, has just opened at the Berkeley City Club in playwright Len Jenkin’s adaptation, Candide, or Optimism, of Voltaire’s picaresque conte (though ever-innocent Candide never exactly becomes a sly picaro) in the kind of circular (or spiral) storytelling theatrical process that’s become the troupe’s hallmark.
Episode rushes after vignette. The hair-raising is dogged by humor as the Rough and Tumble ensemble essays Voltaire’s burlesque (yet apotheosis) of the morality tale, with various players in turn recounting the story, the group often answering as a call-and-response chorus, swiftly changing countries as fast as changing roles. The speed of the storytelling is salutary, making the overall contour of the tale stand out from the torrent of events, though the tempo seems to let up in the second half.
This sort of round robin of narration and acting works pretty well with a string of related events. With other kinds of plays, it might cut the dynamics.
Some of the players, under the direction of co-founder Cliff Mayotte, are longtime or original Rough-and-Tumblers: Louise Chegwidden, who portrays the optimist philosopher Dr. Pangloss, among others; Carolyn Doyle, the South American colonial Governor Don Fernando (with suave rubber-banded mustache) and Candide’s skeptical friend Martin; Janet Keller (who’s also worked with Kaliyuga Arts) as both Jacques the good Anabaptist and the resilient Old Woman; Eowyn Mader as the lovely, then ravaged Paquette, after whom Pangloss lusts; Stewart Evan Smith, as the King of El Dorado, and many others.
There are also some bright new faces: Diana Dorel Gutierrez as the fair Cunegonde; Wayne Lee as faithful guide Cacambo; and Leon Goertzen (who’s been seen with Impact, The Rep, Aurora and the Mime Troupe) as Candide.
Oakland jazz saxophonist and composer Philip Greenlief accompanies the action, mostly on clarinet, guitar and percussion, and plays a few characters to boot.
Each lends a different savor to the big cannibal stew of human types Voltaire has concocted, and Rough and Tumble serves up, first placing a smiling portrait of the old philosopher among the books that line the mantel in the chamber theater of the City Club at the start of the show.
CANDIDE, OR OPTIMISM
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 21 at
Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave.
randt.org or brownpapertickets.com.