Arts & Events

Around & About Onstage

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday October 05, 2010 - 09:57:00 AM

—TheatreFirst wrapped up performances of Anton in Show Business, Jane Martin's play about an unlikely troika of actresses—one from Southern Methodist U. trying to make her way in Manhattan, asking Jesus' indulgence (comic ingenue Megan Briggs); another a princess of the (unpaid) Off-Off Broadway stage, cynical and down (Beth Deitschman, an unusual actor, with finally a role in the East Bay she can begin to sink her teeth in); the third a TV star "slumming" onstage in hopes of a film deal (Josie Alvarez)—flying to Texas to rehearse and play some kind of interpretation (always-game trouper Phoebe Moyer, as a rash of pretentious directors) of the Russian playwright's Three Sisters

The all-female cast (a facet that becomes self-referential—and which includes energetic Amaki Izuchi, a strong Shannon Veon Kase and Denkyi Ronge as a questioning reviewer in the audience) put on an engaging show of a sometimes funny, often savvy, though sometimes slightly arch, play-within-a-play-within-the-world-of-theater. Michael Storm, TheatreFirst's artistic director, helmed the show, making apparent once again the distinctively new course the company seems set on, in comparison to the years of Clive Chafer's tenure as A. D.—which featured many plays from the UK and elsewhere exploring social engagement; Michael Storm's proclivity is for plays about theater and the art—and job—of acting, from North America and Ireland—and a war horse, Rosenkrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead—at least so far. 

—Last Friday night, the second night of Traditions Engaged, the combination of concerts with a conference at the Yerba Buena Center, followed by a stand in LA, celebrating Kathak teacher, dancer and choreographer Chitresh Das, three performances highlighted the storytelling and dramatic aspects of Indian dance: Chitresh's own company, premiered his Kathak drama Sita Haran from stories in the Ramayana, like a live silent movie with a lush instrumental track, featuring an all-female cast playing both sexes, the strongest performance by Charlotte Moraga playing demon king Ravan with mustache-twirling elan; V. P. and Shanta Dhananjayn dancing the strict classical form of Bharata Natyam, V. P. Dhananjyan himself with unusually sinuous style and raconteurish charm, particularly in a vignette about an untouchable on pilgrimage turned away from a temple—and a splendid, rare performance of Kathakali, the great South Indian classical drama, with a story from the Mahabharata about a heavenly nymph rebuffed and appeased, a kind of mythic comedy of manners, with stunning costume and make-up, intricate stylized gestures and intense movement communicating wordless dialogue, while drumming and singers backed the virtuosic performances of Vijayan Gopinathan—a man playing the nymph with the subtlety of a Kabuki onnagata—and, as epic hero Arjuna, Sadanam Harikundaram, who is also playwright and composer. 

—It's a pleasure to watch a Broadway trouper like Mandy Patinkin at close range—that and the excellent "utility" support of his two fellow actors , the work of three excellent puppeteers and a well-staged production (directed by Oskar Eustice, once artistic director for the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco) are the reasons to see Compulsion by Rinne Groff at Berkeley Rep. 

The play itself seems promising going in—based on author Meyer Levin and his fascination with Anne Frank and her then-recently discovered diary, the action follows his zeal in getting it published and scripting it for theater, which turns to obsession when he's sidelined as 'other interests" predominate, and Levin puts career, reputation and marriage on the line seeking what he considers justice, while increasingly self-identified with the original victim diarist herself. Levin founded a marionette theater himself—shades of Kleist's parable on theatrical self-consciousness, "On the Marionette Theater"—and the puppets act out the Franks in hiding, and represent some of the characters of Groff's play as well. 

But it never really comes into focus, constantly doubling back on, even contradicting itself, leading to nagging questions: to what end was the play written? Patinkin's perfect as Sol Silver, the Levin character, but his authority as a performer overshadows the piece, even causing awkward moments when his grasp exceeds the material reached for ... It's as if it was written by committee, vainly trying to please everyone and no-one, like many commercial movies end up. Still, the pleasure of the craftsmanship onstage and the high production values make up in part for the slump of artistic posturing in the script. (through October 31 at the Rep; 647-2949; 

Youth Musical Theatre Company will be staging Cole Porter's 30s fandango Anything Goes at the Julia Morgan Center on College Avenue, October 12 through 22; 12-$22; (800) 836-3006, 

Lower Bottom Playaz will present August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean, an ambitious project directed by founder Ayodele Nzinga. Community theater at its most committed. October 8-17, 7:30 p. m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p. m.Sundays, out-of-doors at the Sister thea bowman Memorial Theater, 920 Peralta, West Oakland. $10-$20. 208-1912;