Arts Listings

Stoppard, Anouilh, Fugard and More

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday January 28, 2010 - 08:45:00 AM

The beginning of the winter-spring theater season hit last weekend, more concentrated a downpour than the storm. And a few shows that opened earlier are still running, too, including Oleg Liptsin’s unique, brilliant iPhone-era take on Gogol’s The Nose (which has decamped from Berkeley to the Shelton Studio at Pier 26 in San Francisco), Altarena’s production of Bus Stop, in Alameda, and Shotgun’s acclaimed production of Threepenny Opera, ending its extended run at the Ashby Stage this weekend. A floodtide of theatrical offerings. Here, then, a few highlights, struggling to be an overview: 


Rosenkranz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard’s first big hit, starts off a kind of parody of Beckett, but with the Melancholy Prince and the Traveling Players instead of Pozzo and Lucky and the never-present Godot. It becomes a cleverly built and spoken half-farce, half meditation on mortality, a comedic tour-de-force—and TheateFIRST rises to the occasion. Artistic director Michael Storm and Kalli Jonsson play the interchangeable and marginal pair who end up in the thick of tragedy, along with a splendid Hamlet (Harold Pierce, the Player King in Actors Ensemble’s version, here the Melancholy Prince), George Killingworth as the portable Polonius, and Claudius (Chiron Alston), as well as Ophelia, Gertrude and the wonderfully louche Players, led by Andrew Hurteau, who make all the difference, musically, with slapstick and swashbuckle—and “words, words, words.”   

Stoppard copped a line of Cocteau’s, characterizing the Parisian’s stripped-down, modenized Antigone as “an aerial photo of the Acropolis,” tagging Rosenkranz and Guildenstern as a drive-by tourist snapshot of Elsinore Castle. If you’re fond of the play, or have never seen it, this could be the show for you. Quick on the uptake and enjoyable. 



Presented by TheatreFIRST at 7:30 p.m., Thursday–Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 14 at Marion E. Greene Black Box Theater, 531-19th St., Oakland. $15–$30. 436-5085. 


Antigone, in Jean Anouilh’s version, opens and closes with the cards shuffled and cut by a trio of melancholy guards as the Chorus (ebullient, genial Norman Macleod) goes about his business introducing us to the cast, synopsizing the story, and defining how tragedy differs from melodrama: tragedy’s restful, because there’s no hope—and no whining. Anouilh’s adaptation of Sophocles premiered in Occupation Paris, clearly aimed at Vichy government collaborators. Beginning almost like a pantomime, the tragedy seems to become domestic comedy; modern irony overtakes the antique variety. Or does it? 

Bruce Coughlin directs, and there are a number of familiar Actors Ensemble faces, including Jose Garcia, who cuts a good figure as Haemon, Creon’s son and Antigone’s intended; Maureen Coyne as the Nurse; Alecks Rundell and John Hurst as guards (along with some first-timers); and a slew of alternating Eurydices (Creon’s wife): Helen Slomowitz (who also assisted Kim Stewart with costumes), Lisa Drostova, Martha Luehrmann, with a few more. Rahi Azizi’s Messenger’s speech is a high point, as is Lee Vogt’s Creon (Vogt a local theater vet of decades), in his fine, cynical interrogation, playing both tough and nice cop, of Antigone, not regal but spunky as portrayed by Briana McWhorter. Jerome Solberg’s spare set is spot on; Maia Zimonja and Yu Wu handle the lights, Tom Ferguson’s playing on double bass strikes the right chords. 


Presented by Actors Ensemble at 8 p.m. Friday–Saturday through Feb. 20 at Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck Ave. $12–$15. 649-5999. 


Coming Home, Athol Fugard’s post-apartheid play (sequel to Valley Song) at Berkeley Rep, is just the sort of thing a regional repertory theater should be staging—and the production’s from the Long Wharf, Connecticut’s well-known regional rep. Only the boys playing (and playing well) the very young and almost-adolescent son are local: Kohle T. Bolton (age 5) and Jaden Malik Wiggins (age 11). Gordon Edelstein, Long Wharf artistic director, directed this engaging show, with good acting by Roslyn Ruff, Thomas Silcott and Lou Ferguson, marred only by a too-abrupt scene change, tech trickery in the midst of something carefully worked out dramatically. 

The pleasure and absorption in seeing a Fugard play, whether one of his courageous works written during apartheid rule, or this quieter glimpse of its devastating social aftermath, comes from his crystal-clear dramaturgy and fine dialogue, honed to its social purpose. His theatricality is seamless: after a Strindbergian monologue that’s all exposition, the action turns on a dime to domestic comedy, humorously displaying the relationships on the tragic ground just mapped out. What sentimentality there is is firmly under control, at the service of Fugard’s vision. One of the best postwar playwrights writing in English, yet with a non-Anglo-Saxon perspective. A dramatist with a cause who’s rational, humane and wise. 


Presented by Berkeley Rep Tuesday–Sunday at Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St. $27–$71. 647-2949; 


The Masquers Playhouse, in Point Richmond, just opened Kitchen Witches, by Canadian playwright Caroline Smith. Directed by Robert Taylor, it’s a comedy of battling cable TV cooking coaches, appearing on the same program and consuming all—family, friends and food, in diva-ish frenzy—to one-up the opposite number. 


Presented by Masquers Playhouse at 8 p.m. Friday–Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 27. 105 Park Place, Point Richmond. $18. 232-4031. 



Aurora Theatre, after a round of previews, opens First Grade—one of the winning scripts from Aurora’s Global Age Project, featuring a schoolteacher struggling to rescue a physical therapist from personal travails, as well as touches of depression and Ritalin; a comedy! Written by Joel Drake Johnson and Tom Ross. 


Presented by Aurora Theatre at 7 p.m. Tuesday, at 8 p.m. Wednesday–Saturday, and at 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 28. 2081 Addison St. $15–$55. 843-4822. 


Active Arts Theatre for Young Audiences is staging acclaimed playwright Len Jenkin’s play of Beverly Cleary’s novels, Ramona Quimby at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts. The College Avenue theater is now in partnership with Berkeley Playhouse in the creation of a performing arts center for young people and families, where accomplished professional players and their younger counterparts, of different companies, produce excellent entertainment. There’s also the newly inaugurated solo and storytelling series, Tell It on Tuesdays. Coming up: Berkeley Playhouse’s Youth Company/Teen En-semble in matinees of Godspell (opening Feb. 12); and Youth Musical Theater Company in Once Upon a Mattress (opening Feb. 20). 


Presented by Active Arts for Young Audiences at 2 p.m Saturday and Sunday through Feb. 7 at the Julia Morgan Center, 2640 College Ave. $14–$18. 296-4433. 

(For other events at the Julia Morgan, call 845-8542 or visit 



On Monday, Feb. 1, Subterranean Shakespeare continues its engaging series of staged readings of The Bard’s whole canon of plays, with Two Noble Kinsmen, at the Unitarian Fellowship at Cedar and Bonita, at 7:30 p.m. $8. 


Presented by Subterranean Shakespeare as a staged reading at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1, at Unitarian Fellowship, 1924 Cedar St. $8. 276-3871. 


Contra Costa Civic Theater in El Cerrito, will stage Over the Tavern, a family comedy by Tom Dudzicks. Opens Feb. 5. 


Presented by Contra Costa Civic Theater at 8 p.m. Friday–Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 28. 951 Pomona at Moeser Lane, El Cerrito. $11-$18. 524-9012. 



Oleg Liptsin’s The Nose, by Gogol. 8 p.m Friday–Saturday, Shelton Studio, Pier 26, The embarcadero, San Francisco. $18–$22. (415) 922-1555. 


Bus Stop, presented by Altarena Playhouse at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 1409 High St., Alameda. $19–$22. 523-1553. 


Threepenny Opera, presented by Shotgun Players at 8 p.m. tonight (Thursday), Friday and Saturday, and at 5 p.m. Sunday at Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby at MLK. $15–$35. 841-6500.