Arts & Events

Theatre Around and About

By Ken Bullock
Monday June 21, 2010 - 06:13:00 PM

TheatreFirst closes their first season in the Marion Greene Theater, around the corner on 18th Street from the Fox movie palace on Telegraph in Uptown Oakland, with Michael Healey's internationally successful Canadian play, THE DRAWER BOY, starring two excellent actors—Warren David Keith and Howard Swain, with good support from ACT Masters Program candidate Max Rosenak, directed by Domenique Lozzano.  

Miles, a young actor from a peripatetic, collective troupe, seeks work on an Ontario farm, so he can study what it is to be a farmer—or for that matter, a cow—all for the glory of the stage. Mercilessly put on, and prodded, by Morgan (Swain), the kid gradually becomes acquainted with Morg's old friend and farming partner Angus (Keith), who has an idiot savant's genius for accounts and statistics, but no memory of who he just met or what was said. Morgan endlessly rehearses their own tale for Angus's temporary edification, touching on tragedy. But what happens when Miles stages it? And is what Morg repeats really how it was, the true story of what kept'em down on the farm? A hint of Lenny and George from OF MICE AND MEN, but merely a passing thought, as the play rocks back and forth between comedy and drama, always choosing comedy. Keith's portrayal of Angus is the centerpiece, with Swain as the knowing straight man-as-comedian, finally caught up short in his act. An enjoyable and peculiarly interesting show, which in this production only misses the sense of Canadian timing, a matter of approach, a little like the difference between English and American comedy: the accents tend to fall on the beat, here, sometimes making the story, with its meandering quality, seem more unfinished than it may actually be. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 2, t through July 4. $15-$130. 436-5085; 

Berkeley Rep's production of IN THE WAKE ... has been reviewed and discussed a great deal around the Bay Area, seemingly only in white or black. Some have been impressed with the writing and the criticism of self-absorbed progressives, others can't identify, or feel its beating—and, at two hours and 45 minutes, beating, and beating— a long-dead nag. What struck me, opening night and ever since, was the facileness of the play, a veritable set-up, with glib, cute-enough-to-make-you-scream, yet sometimes smarmy dialogue from sitcoms like 'Friends' (a common enough condition, alas, in contemporary Regional Rep theater), cut with exposition by the main character, related directly to the audience, to keep us in a rather flaccid loop.  

Self-criticism by progressives—or by the left—has been an apparent need, screaming out since at least the start of the Gulf War, or even after Carter's election, when a Democratic administration took up what, scrutinized, looked like Rockefeller Republican, or more conservative, policies.  

But it's not progressive self-criticism to throw darts at a straw (wo)man, a character hoisted onstage apparently to give those in the audience of like mind the chance to applaud, then say to themselves while leaving, "Well! I'm not like that!" Nor is it good dramaturgy to frame progressive issues in the reactionary framework of sitcom-ish boilerplate, unless an exploration of its passive-aggressive dialogue and situational assumptions is being initiated, as was the case with THE FIRST GRADE recently at Aurora. 

The one bright spot in this dreary, overly primpted-up milieu, is Deirdre O'Connell's characterization of Judy, the half-shunned roommate and college chum, of blue collar background, but divorced from Middle America and a freak in progressive Middle Class America, forever running off to work in refugee camps—or, on return, to smoke alone on the fire escape. Even her salutary diffidence is finally sacrificed to exposition, a hapless outsider explaining at last to the haplessly privileged "protagonist" what's been beating on the drum all night, in case the audience missed the point. Mort Sahl wryly commented on this kind of post-game quarterbacking, by the quarterback herself: The characters are only related through their real, sole parent, the playwright, who gives birth to them only to fulfill a simple function—to fill us in on what just happened. 

(And isn't that the dilemma, and endlessly-repeated wail, of those IN THE WAKE ... pretends to criticize, What Happened?) 

Playwright-Performer John O'Keefe, cofounder of Berkeley's Blake Street Hawkeyes—and more recently author of the brilliant libretto for CRYSALIS, with Clark Suprynowicz's music, commissioned by Berkeley Opera, as well as THE BRONTE CYCLE, featured by Subterranean Shakespeare here in December—has a new work, directed by Yuriko Doi, founder of Theatre of Yugen: MYSTICAL ABYSS, from themes in Japanese theater and myth. One night only, Tuesday, June 22, at Noh Space, Project Artaud, Mariposa Street, San Francisco. (415) 621-0507; —it's Free.