Thursday, May 21, 2009

Berkeley Theatres Struck Gold in Bloody Plays

Recently, two theaters in Berkeley struck gold, bloody red gold.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre's The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh, directed by Les Waters made a huge splash in the audience and on stage. It was hilarious, funny, sad, scary and downright nauseating. The gallons of theatrical blood employed show after show generated huge talk and collective moan but it was an amazing show. Yet, I felt the set was too realistic to truly feel the impact of the play. If the direction and set design were a little more abstract or exaggerated, it might have worked better; however, as it is, it might be the very conflict between the verisimilitude and absurdity of the plot empowered the play.

Less bloody but even more disturbing due to the intimate setting of Aurora Theatre, August Strindberg's Miss Julie, directed by Mark Jackson, starring Beth Deitchman (Christine), Mark Anderson Phillips (Jean), Lauren Grace (Miss Julie), triumphed in an effort of stylized realism (or naturalism, to please the playwright). It was a huge hit with audience and critics yet it was less than truly satisfying - the valet Jean to the Count was utterly charmless and without unstoppable ambition which were the reasons to capture both Miss Julie and poor Christine. The social constraint on women and lower classes were portrait well, but the sudden turn of Christine to an unpleasant moralistic bible-trotting bully was overdone. It seemed that American productions of such European plays often failed to convey the pathos and resignation if the face of insurmountable social hierarchy, either due to the limitation of the production team of the choice of them, so as to resonate with an audience the creative team believed (rightly or wrongly) would fail to grasp the spirit of such early seminal works unless the connection to the American lifestyle was made explicit. Even so, it was a bloody show, particularly Lauren Grace's Miss Julie. Brava.

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