Arts & Events

Around & About--Here and There--in Theater & Opera

By Ken Bullock
Monday June 07, 2010 - 12:49:00 PM

Playing at the Berkeley City Club: Just Theater's terrific '1001,' by Jason Grote, billed as a riff on the Arabian Nights--that and much, much more ... A small cast in an intimate spacedoubles, triples, quadruplesplayingprotean roles that unfoldfrom, and fold back into,the fabled tales of—and about--Sharhar and Scherazade,bawdy yet unsettling, as are the originals, with an unsteady time-warp opening up (silly to call it mere anachronism), out of which pop Flaubert in the Mideast, Jorge Luis Borges and a strange kind of romance set in Gaza and, during 9/11,New York. Hilarious, unpredictable and impossible to pin down.(The genie warned you!) Much more creative, wilder and yet more thoughtful, than the Mary Zimmerman improv on some of the same material at Berkeley Rep a few years back. And at a fraction of the cost--for company and audience as well. Thursdays-Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 5, city Club, 2315 Durant. $15-$20. 488-4116 or 


Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma was founded by an operatic baritone38 years ago, and has produced many excellent operas in the old schoolhouse on a knoll where its performing arts series and school classes are held. But the current show, Tobias Picker's EMMELINE, in its West Coast premiere, is something else again. 

Based on a true story, fictionalized by Judith Rossner, it tells the tale of a 14 year-old girl in 19th century New England, sent to a garment factory, where she's seduced and sent home pregnant, and the doomed romance that follows 20 years of spinsterhood, in thrall to her family's sense of shame, when the past boomerangs back into the present. Picker's music is, in SF Classical Voice critic Jeff Kaliss's comment on opening night, reminiscent at times of Benjamin Britten's operas. Sublime and relentless, it carries along a story which could prove melodramatic, though it finally touches on a genuine modern sense of tragedy. 

Yet there's humor, and wonderful little moments (Emmeline, smiling at the oppressive factory, when she sees her own face for the first time in a mir$ror--and years later smiling at a simple tune on harmonica, played by the young man she falls for). An unusually balaced opera, musically and dramatically. 

Superb singing and acting by the principals, in particular the remarkable Carrie Hennessey, who runs the gamut of the years as Emmeline, a part Patricia Racette (now at SF Opera as Marguerite in a fine FAUST) originated at Santa Fe. Excellent small orchestra, conducted byNina Shuman (Samuel Bill's arrangement) and chorus, many the young students of Cinnabar's own program, playing and singing the factory girls their own age.Excellent stage direction by Cinnabar artistic director Elly Lichtenstein. Picker has also composed an opera to Dreiser's AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY. This packs a similar social--and emotional--wallop. 

Petaluma might seem a ways off--really not so far--and if you go,you won't forget a great, yet intimate musical and dramatic experience. $32-$38. (707) 763-8920;