Review: “An Octoroon” at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre

In an age which has become brow-beaten by simply how much everyone living today has seen, the concept of being made uncomfortable by that which is new can be a slightly alien concept. This is true in life and perhaps even more true in art. In an era where the hyper-violent Game of Thrones is the single most culturally relevant piece of current pop culture, Moonlight won the Best Picture Oscar, and most popular music has been sexualized to the point of diminishing returns, finding a piece of art that is invigoratingly, aggressively different from any perceived norm can be quite an uncomfortable experience, but it can also be vital and arrestingly beautiful if done correctly. Such is the case with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon, his 2014 play currently in a production at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, which can be initially off-putting, but offers tremendous rewards for those willing to give it a chance.

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Review: “Nora” at Shotgun Players

It appears that 2017 is the year of cut-down Ibsen productions in the Bay Area. First, you had the Cutting Ball’s 75-minute edition of Hedda Gabler, of which the less said the better, and now Shotgun Players is staging a production of Nora, a version of A Doll’s House written by Ingmar Bergman (of The Seventh Seal and Persona) that lasts 95 intermission-free minutes. Unlike Hedda Gabler, however, this Nora is a winner, a fully engaging evening of theatre, sparse-yet-effective, and currently being produced in Berkeley in a top-notch staging until April 16th. Continue reading “Review: “Nora” at Shotgun Players”

Review: “Hand to God” at Berkeley Repertory Theatre

From it’s original incarnation in 2011 to the 2013 MCC production to the original Broadway run, critics seem to almost unanimously agree about one thing: Hand to God is absolutely hysterical. With a humor style a few shades darker than pitch black and a plot structure of pure insanity, it’s hard to walk away from Hand to God doing anything but clutching your aching belly from laughing so hard. What many critics didn’t always pick up on, however, was Hand to God‘s surprisingly enormous sociological implications and thematic sweep, which elevates the unassuming play from a typical comedy to a genuine modern day masterpiece. Continue reading “Review: “Hand to God” at Berkeley Repertory Theatre”

Review: “Hamlet” in Repertory at Shotgun Players

Every comment, every review, every blurb on Shotgun Players’ Hamlet begins with a description of how this Hamlet differs from all others. Far from it my place to deny the continuation of this tradition, I will now describe what makes this Hamlet different:

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Review: “Safe House” at Aurora Repertory Theatre

How often do people yell in real life? In the past six months, I can only think of about two conversations that have resulted in raised voices that I personally participated in. Keith Josef Adkins, however, would have you believe that the natural colloquy of human beings is loud and emotional. At least, that’s how he presents his characters in his 2014 slavery drama Safe House, a loud and exasperatingly overwrought melodrama that hides its interesting sociopolitical themes in a thick coating of syrupy sentiment.

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Review: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” at Shotgun Players

If you’ve ever seen a play that involves upper class WASPs having a verbal sparring match over dinner or drinks, you’ve seen a play inspired by Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The 1962 play blew the roof off of the dramatic form and shocked Broadway audiences with its takedown of the American nuclear family ideal and the relationship between men and women in the 1960s. Along with the Cold War and the Beatles, it sounded the death knell for post-World War II ideals of the American dream. The play is not much more than a piece of its time, but it still is an intense and interesting work, even if it’s not the masterpiece that it was once claimed to be. If you’ve never seen Virginia Woolf, now is the time to go see it, as Shotgun Players’ production is as good as it could possibly be.

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