By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
3rd Set, Suicide in B Flat
The improvisational energy of jazz informed Sam Shepard's experimental play. The disorder that makes jazz compelling is something of a curse in most dramatic work, but director Val Hendrickson struck the perfect balance by making the music as important as Shepard's abstract script; lucky for him he found fabulous musicians who could also act. The symbiosis made the production a remarkable event, and a stunning example of why written text is only the start of good theater.
Art Street Theater, R & J
450 Geary Street Theater
This fast-forward, cut-up version of Romeo and Juliet was told as much with dancelike movement and pop music as with well-acted speeches from Shakespeare. "Movement theater" of the un-self-indulgent variety is not easy to find, but Art Street Theater made it gripping.
Core, Entertainment for the Apocalypse
Brady Street Dance Center
Three men and two women who talked, danced, sang, played rock music, and generally collided genres in a kinetic festival of urban bravura. The most memorable show of the year.
Fifth Floor Productions, Dr. Faustus Lights the Light
Intersection for the Arts
Infusing emotion into the musical nonsense of Gertrude Stein's proto-hype of postmodernism, Fifth Floor managed the implausible: to make an intellectual exercise into a visual and endearing delight.
Lizz Roman, In Her Dreams
Choreographer Roman's In Her Dreams used Kevin Cunningham's billowy black-and-white film as a medium between waking and sleeping. Dancers merged with and were replaced by their filmic images: falling asleep, they quite literally entered another frame of reference. Roman's intertwining media became the message.
A Traveling Jewish Theater, Seduction
This show told a vaudevillian love story between two neurotic strangers on a train platform in "Seduction, Kansas," without any dialogue, in the naive comic tradition of Charlie Chaplin. It was light material but fresh, unlike almost anything else onstage last year.
Joseph Chaikin, Texts for Nothing
The run of this show was short -- understandably so: Chaikin suffers from a stroke-induced speech aphasia, forcing him to fight through the selection from Beckett's Texts for Nothing. Sweat poured from Chaikin's brow as he read; he paused only to listen to tape recordings of his own, clear voice performing the script in 1981. Beckett's weighty theme of the inadequacy of language has never felt so human; man's primal need for narrative and communication never seemed more real, or desperate.
Luz de la Riva, Rosita's Jalapeno Kitchen
El Teatro de la Esperanza
The kitchen was a warm space with bright pink walls and a flamy jalapeno pattern on the curtains, chairs, and barstools, with a rusted gas stove under the window. It was also threatened by a bulldozer. Luz de la Riva turned in a seamless performance as Rosita ranting against the mini-mall development that was about to raze her restaurant, mimicking people from the neighborhood and detailing a hilarious dream-tour of heaven and hell.
Varla Jean Merman
Josie's Cabaret and Juice Joint
"Velvety smooth" better describes the spray cheese Merman uses in her act than her operatic falsetto, but she remains a comic diva. Incorporating large wigs, glamorous costumes, and faux-art-school black-and-white video Merman elevates female impersonation to multimedia cabaret.
Kristina Robbins, Face by the Door
This satire of Mary Kay cosmetics, with writer Kristina Robbins playing all three characters, was a deadpan-funny show with sly undertones about self-image. It made fun of a makeup saleswoman who was also a lesbian in full denial. Robbins bred her show at the Marsh and is cultivating it, currently, in L.A. See our separate story.
Aurora Theater Company
Artistic Director Barbara Oliver maintains a mix of established writers (Pinter, Mike Leigh, Shaw) and new scripts by relative unknowns. Dear Master was both the first play by Berkeley novelist Dorothy Bryant and also the reason Oliver founded her group seven years ago. The small stone space in the Berkeley City Club is cramped but always lavishly decorated -- how can they afford those sets? -- and the shows are consistently fascinating, funny, and bright.
The Shotgun Players, led by Patrick Dooley (see separate story), have performed in prisons, parks, and parades; but for most of the last seven years the tenacious little company has built up an East Bay following by presenting modest but strong shows in the basement of a pizza parlor. As they pull themselves up from amateur to professional status, not every production is perfect, but the Shotgun's core talent makes any of their productions worth a trip across the bridge.
True Fiction Magazine
They walk out onstage, and begin. With no script, no direction, no agenda they improvise a full-length show. The next night they do the same thing and create an entirely different show. Utterly infectiously, they enter the blind realm of play.
Isaac Ho, Along for the Ride
A gem that received only a short and moderately attended run at the Exit Theater. Balancing relationship drama and sci-fi fantasy, the script distinguished itself from Star Trek-ish dreck with sharp dialogue and clever characters. Ho kept his best material for last, finishing the show with a twist that made you rethink the sexual orientation and agenda of each player. A satisfying play with mental leftovers.