Bill Oliver, longtime East Bay theater artist, died of a heart attack early this month in Costa Rica, where he was directing his translation of Edward Albee's Seascape. Oliver, 68, taught at UC Berkeley's drama department from 1958 to 1991. In addition to being a director, actor and writer, he was husband of Aurora Theatre Company artistic director Barbara Oliver, (whom he played opposite in Gin Game a few years ago), and father of actor Soren Oliver, who appears in Aurora's current production of A Place With the Pigs. The son of missionaries, Bill Oliver was born in Panama, and his lifelong fondness for South America led him to become a “conduit of South American works,” according to his colleague and friend Travis Bogart, head of Cal's theater program during most of Oliver's tenure. “His list of translations is formidable. He introduced major Spanish [language] writers who'd never been heard of before in the theater community here,” Bogart recalls. “He also worked very well with students. The most amateur students could do the most amazing things under his direction.” One of Oliver's students was a young Stacy Keach, who, as a student at Berkeley, acted in Oliver's original plays. Oliver also gave a helping hand to another of his students, Michael Liebert, when that young man was starting a company called Berkeley Rep.
We're up to our tear ducts in Shakespearean tragedy this month. Along with ACT's Othello, Geary Studio Theatre's Play Desdemona explores the historic passing of the baton from male to female actors, finally letting the Bard's women be women.
Thick Description will have its biggest season to date: three sizable productions, as opposed to the usual program of studio shows and one major presentation. Slated for June is Cleveland Raining, by Sung J. Rno. The play, which won Seattle Group Theatre's Multicultural Playwrighting Festival, is about a guy who rigs his Volkswagen to float à la Noah's ark for the flood he believes imminent. Octavio Solis directs; Karen Amano and Kelvin Han Yee star in this co-production with Asian American. In September, Thick D. mounts a work by Pomo Afro Homos member Brian Freeman about Bayard Rustin, a civil rights activist who has yet to get his due. Then in December, at Theater Artaud, the company presents a play it commissioned from Eric Ehn based on the novel Wieland (1798), a work Kelly calls “part Nathaniel Hawthorne, part Pulp Fiction.” It's about a guy who killed his family while poss-ibly under religious delusion. Cool.
By Laura Jamison