My Favorite Bay Area Theatrical Premieres 2009

Here is a short list of my favorite local productions of new plays which had their world premieres in the Bay Area in 2009. The list is not in any particular order:In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) by Sarah Ruhl (pictured), Berkeley RepFaust, Part 1 by Mark Jackson, Shotgun PlayersLegs and All by Summer Shapiro, Climate TheaterRabbi Sam by Charlie Varon, The MarshThis World in a Woman's Hands by Marcus Gardley, Shotgun PlayersHere's to more great new theatrical productions in 2010! … [Read more...]

Making It Pretty Doesn’t Pay (Well, Technically It Does, But Not In The Right Way)

James Cameron's massive CGI blockbuster epic, Avatar, is a gorgeous treat for the eyes. The lighting and water effects take digital animation to a new level of brilliance and delicacy. When you view the film in 3D, as I did a couple of days ago in a Chicago multiplex, you feel completely transported to a fantasy world. I don't think I have ever seen such incandescent flora, sinewy fauna, and shimmering surfaces in an animated feature to date. The movie really does take the artform to a whole new visual level.But as is so often the case with … [Read more...]

A Few Things

A bit of a roundup before I hop on a plane to Peoria, Illinois, of all places...1. It was weird experiencing the San Francisco Ballet's uber-traditional production of The Nutcracker after checking out Mark Morris' campy-irreverent The Hard Nut at Cal Performances the previous week. It would have probably made more sense to see the productions the other way around. Choreographically-speaking, SF Ballet's production is much more interesting. The character dances are especially magnetic to watch -- incredible leg-work from the trio of men who … [Read more...]

On Mistaking an Actor for a Terrorist and Feeling Silly About it

I was on the 51 bus yesterday traveling between Oakland and Berkeley. Somewhere along College Avenue, an angular young man got on the bus and sat opposite me. He was muttering to himself and looking very shifty. He kept saying, in quite an upper class, tight-lipped colonial era British-sounding accent, "I have a difficult thing to do" and "I have decided they cannot live."Although people are always muttering to themselves on Bay Area buses, this man's insistent and slightly menacing vocal repetitions and stooped over frame made me wary. Plus, … [Read more...]

When A Theatrical Mashup Works

How do you make a work as well-known and didactic as The Threepenny Opera feel fresh? The piece is so often performed and makes such a strong and obvious statement about societal corruption, that any production of the three-hour-plus-long Weill-Brecht magnum opus is bound to fall short of surprises, even if the songs are a hell of a lot of fun to listen to and sing.Shotgun Players' current production of the musical play, directed by Susannah Martin, manages to make a virtue out of the heavy-handedness of the material through the energy of the … [Read more...]

Niche Is Nice

Since the publication of Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail a few years ago, niche concepts and organizations have become more accepted and even celebrated in culture. The public isn't so surprised about the existence of tiny splinter groups and weird cultural interests than they used to be. Some niches are nichier than others though. Selling w-scraped oboe reeds made with goldbeater skin or running a dance studio dedicated to a genre from a tiny Pacific island, might seem like losing propositions. But these days -- thankfully -- these kinds … [Read more...]

Will Franken Takes Up Singing (At The Ripe Old Age Of 36)

My friend and comedian Will Franken has taken up singing. Until he joined a church choir in San Francisco last week, he'd pretty much decided he couldn't hold a tune. In fact, when he was at high school he made fun of people who sang. To his surprise, Will found himself taking to the choir quite naturally. I asked him to share some thoughts about his debut:I joined the choir last week at a church up in Bernal Heights. There's only like five or six of us--only two males, excluding the choir director.I've been going here since September and spent … [Read more...]

Assessing The Sing-Off

Ever since I first heard about NBC's new a cappella singing competition, The Sing-Off, in the summer, I've been excited about the new series. Certainly it seems to build on the current wave of interest sweeping the country (and other places like the UK) in group singing. BBC Radio's The Choir and Fox's Glee are just two examples of mainstream media projects devoted to ensemble singing in recent times. While Glee and The Choir have made for delightful viewing and listening, the same cannot be said of NBC's new show.I'm going to see how the … [Read more...]

Belated Musings On Stuff I Did At The Weekend

In the spirit of catching up and filling in...1. A Chanticleer Christmas at The Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland: Very happy to say that my doubts about the acoustic of the new Oakland Cathedral (which I touched upon briefly last Sunday in my latest column for The New York Times) were put to rest by the primo a cappella ensemble's Christmas concert. Gospel music might not work well in the cavernous space -- heavy bass and drums swallow everything else up. But the lines and lyrics in Chanticleer's Friday night program were warm and clear. … [Read more...]

800th Birthday Hash

My alma mater, Cambridge University, is celebrating its 800th anniversary right now. If I were responsible for putting together the celebrations for such an auspicious occasion, I probably wouldn't do it the way in which the organizers of the Bay Area 800th anniversary party did it.The ingredients of last night's soiree at the St Francis Yacht Club were not the freshest to say the least. The champagne quickly ran out at the two-hour-long party and half an hour before the end, the houselights were turned up and the waiters started coming around … [Read more...]

Pure Theatrical Escapism

Perhaps it's the war-mongering, economically-difficult times we currently live in, but theatre companies seem to be achieving great commercial success in San Francisco these days with shows that draw inspiration from the black and white movie thrillers and romances of yore to create a new breed of theatrical escapism.As I sat in the Curran Theatre last night watching the touring Broadway production of a show based on Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, Kneehigh Theatre's recent tour of a show based on Noel Coward's Brief Encounter kept popping … [Read more...]

Ficino on Song

I came across a beautiful if slightly knotty quote yesterday in Thomas Forrest Kelly's book about classical music world premieres that changed the course of music history, First Nights.This is the Fifteenth Century Florentine humanist, Marsilio Ficino, on the power of song:"Remember that song is the most powerful imitator of all things. For it imitates the intentions and affectations of the soul, and speech, and also reproduces bodily gestures, human movements and moral characters, and imitates and acts everything so powerfully that it … [Read more...]