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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Coronado. Dennis Lehane is the current go-to guy for gritty drama soaked in family tragedy. He wrote books that were adapted for the screen for Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone and Clint Eastwood's Mystic River. In 2004, he joined the writing staff of The Wire, HBO's brilliant and critically lauded crime drama. As for his theater work, Lehane wastes no time getting down and dirty. Within the first five minutes of Coronado, we're drawn into a world of missing diamonds, bullets to the head, blackmail, and murder. On an absolutely stellar set (with SF Playhouse artistic director Bill English doing double duty as set designer and actor) depicting a rundown bar on the edge of a desert, a group of stories unwind and intertwine, linking each character to a heady world of adultery and deception. Stacy Ross is electric as a woman trying to forget her past ("There are worse crimes than murder") while simultaneously blackmailing and carrying on an affair with her therapist. Lehane's script and Susi Damilano's direction give this production a slick, sexy cinematic vibe but don't ignore the haunting undercurrent of transgression and regret. At its dark, twisted heart, Coronado is a reflection of the crossroads we encounter, the (sometimes disastrous) choices we make, and the regret we're forced to live with. This is heavy stuff, but this skillful production makes it all eminently pleasurable to watch. Through April 26 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $20-$65; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed April 2.

Mrs. Warren's Profession. Approaching the plays of George Bernard Shaw as if they were typical 19th-century drawing-room dramas is like tying a lead weight to your foot before jumping in the pool. Sure, your swimming or theatrical talents might eventually get you to the other side, but the journey won't be nearly as enjoyable as it could be. Alas, such is the case with Shotgun Players' production of Shaw's rumination on the ups and downs of the world's oldest profession. Aside from some nice half-doors, director Susannah Martin and set designer Steve Decker's faithful detailing of the nooks and crannies of the Warren summer home adds little to the drama, and a lot in the way of obstacles and cumbersome rotating pieces to hamper the action. Martin gets good work from her actors, who are mostly game and do their best to liven up the piece. Emily Jordan as Vivie Warren and Joseph O'Malley as her would-be lover Frank are particularly winsome, embracing Shaw's language and rhetoric with gusto. But ultimately the production, weighed down by its devotion to the drawing-room style the playwright himself was subverting, never lets Shaw's intellectual flights of fancy get off the theatrical ground. Through April 27 at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at Martin Luther King Jr.), Berkeley. Tickets are $17-$25; call 510-841-6500 or visit www.shotgunplayers.org. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed April 2.

Tings Dey Happen. Based on his experiences as a Fulbright Scholar studying oil politics in Nigeria (American's fifth-biggest oil supplier), solo performer Dan Hoyle drills deep beneath the surface of media hype and NGO cant to help us understand the forces at work behind the oil-rich country's escalating cycle of corruption and violence. On his journey backward and forward between Nigeria's oil capital, Port Harcourt, and the lawless hinterlands of the Niger Delta, Hoyle — with acute attention to physical detail (and an ear for pidgin) — embodies a soft-spoken, 23-year-old rebel sniper whose chief desire is to obtain a university degree; a warlord armed with four cellphones and a family photo album, like Marlon Brando in The Godfather; and a nerdy Japanese member of the Young Diplomats Club in Lagos working on a thesis about the Tanzanian cashew nut, among many others. Like Anna Deavere Smith, one of the most famous practitioners of this style of show, Hoyle takes a journalistic approach. But unlike Smith, whose slavish impersonation of the speech nuances of her interviewees seems more stenography than artistry, Hoyle filters his Nigerian experience through his vivid imagination, creating full-blooded characters that are as theatrical as they are real. Through April 19 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 21st St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-$22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 10, 2007.

TRAGEDY: a tragedy. New York playwright Will Eno explores the dislocation between the words used to describe dark events and the dark events themselves with characteristic delicacy and depth in this heady 2001 play. On the surface, the 75-minute drama appears to be a guffaw-inducing satire on media ineptitude, as a network news anchor and three reporters struggle to spin headlines out of little more than a change in the quality of light and an amorphous sense of malaise. But as Les Waters' stylishly minimalist American premiere of Eno's drama for Berkeley Rep reveals, a news report about an event as seemingly unnewsworthy as the day turning to night is symptomatic of something much more disturbing: humanity's inability to itself express through words, let alone come to terms with, its self-destructive streak. It's tragic that it's taken the better part of a decade for TRAGEDY: a tragedy to receive an American production. The drama's message would have carried a special significance in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the advent of the War on Terror. Through April 13 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $13.50-$69; call 510-647 2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. (C.V.) Reviewed April 2.

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