Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Come Unto These Yellow Sands

On Sunday I went with my family to see The Tempest at Marin Shakes, directed by Jon Tracy. This was unusual because:
Sarah Gold as Miranda.
Photo by Eric Chazankin.
a) I rarely get to see theater with my family. 
b) I rarely take the trek to San Rafael.


It was worth it.

Very much so.

We went on Family Matinee Day, which was wonderful because it meant that my three siblings and I got in for FREE. I couldn't help thinking that was a bit of a steal, but hey – it would have been too expensive for a family outing otherwise (and I do love seeing theater without feeling like I'm falling into financial ruin). There was a pre-show speech directed at some of the younger kids in the audience who didn't know the story of The Tempest. “Prospero got very mad because Caliban wanted to have babies with Miranda,” the Managing Director explained, and a few children let out nervous giggles. (A few parents did, too.) And then the show started. 

Those of you who have seen Jon Tracy theater before may have some idea of what to expect when coming to watch this Tempest. Certainly you wouldn't expect straight Shakespeare. You'd expect some crazy re-imagining that, somehow, against all odds, would work. And you would not be disappointed. But before I elaborate on that (without giving too much away, I promise), I need to quote from the Director's Note included in the program. I rarely laugh at Director's Notes, but this one got me (and my brother) in a big way.
I hate wizards.
Specifically, I hate one type of wizard; those guys with the big beards and the purple gown and hat with the silver moons and stars embroidered on them. Oh, and these wizards always have a magic wizard staff. Dumb.
No, not dumb. Boring. Really boring. Why? Because they always win. Why else? Because they know they will always win. They are wizards and you aren't. Really, the battle is over before it ever began. We're left with a bunch of fun magic spells to bide our time but really, that dude in purple is going to be just fine.
You protest. “What about Gandalf?” you say. “When I used to play Dungeons and Dragons my wizard character was totally killed by the Rancor Monster!” I reply in these ways: first, Gandalf didn't do so bad for himself, second, the Rancor Monster was in Star Wars but I get what you're saying and third, I'm obviously not talking about those wizards. I am instead really talking about one wizard. His name is Prospero.
But –” you continue to argue. I cut off with this addition: “It's my Director's Notes, not yours...back off.”
Jeremy Vik as a Quality.
Photo by Eric Chazankin.
Oh yes. So Tracy moved the action to 1901, and Prospero, instead of being a wizard, is based on the scientist Nikola Tesla, an electrical engineer and inventor famous for his work with alternating currents. Instead of brandishing a magic wizard staff, he fiddles with electricity, invents, fixes, works, and plays chess (in cluttered workspaces that are beautiful and interesting and designed by Nina Ball). Ariel is not one sprite but The Ariel Coil – with six goggled-and-suited beings called “Qualities” who move around the stage mechanically, as if on a grid, in a classic-ly creepy Tracian way. The production is full of sounds and surprises and Qualities popping out where you least expect them. (We saw it in the daytime so we missed whatever magic was happening with the lights, but I bet they're awesome at night [and probably raise the creepy level a couple of notches].)

There was one particular GREAT payoff for the electric transposition of the storyline: I have never appreciated the line: "My Ariel, chick / That is thy charge" as much as I did in this production, where the word “charge” becomes electrically punny. And, though I'm sure this is not what happened, I got a laugh imagining that Jon Tracy reimagined this whole show electrically primarily because of that great pun, and only secondarily because of the numerous and interesting reasons he outlined briefly in his Director's Notes.

Then my father pointed out to me that the pun was funny, but not that funny.

I have also never seen such a tough Miranda, and I like it. In most productions of The Tempest, Miranda will be played innocently, with a naivete and overpowering sweetness. Not that Sarah Gold's Miranda wasn't innocent or sweet, too. But when you see Miranda furtively lighting a cigarette when her father isn't looking, tucking her hair beneath a beanie, and sporting suspenders and breeches...suddenly she just becomes more interesting. Real. And yes, most certainly more of a teenager.

One caveat: this wouldn't be the Shakespeare show to go to if you were looking to familiarize (or re-familiarize) yourself with the Bard's work, because (to me, at least) the text was a bit underwhelming next to the synchronized mechanical Qualities and the shifting and surprising set. But if you:
a) know The Tempest (anywhere from “vaguely” like my brother to “almost-by-heart” like my father) and are interested in seeing a new interpretations of it, OR
b) you usually dislike Shakespeare because you find it boring, OR
c) you like Tracian takes on classics, OR
d) you're intrigued by anything mentioned above,

...you should probably go. Or, in other words: if you miss this show, you probably will never get to see another one like it. Ever. No pressure.

The Tempest plays through Sept. 25th at Marin Shakespeare Company. More info here.

>> Still curious? Read a review of the show here

Set design by Nina Ball. Photo by Eric Chazankin.
(The Teen Perspectives blog post series comes from teens around the Bay who have seen a piece of theater that made them think. Have you seen a show that you want to respond to? Write it up! Short, long, medium, three words. It doesn't have to be a review; it can be [and is encouraged to be!] just reactions, thoughts, musings. Email it to us at upnextbayarea@gmail.com to have it featured on our blog.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Teen's Perspective: Of Dice and Men at Impact

Up Next teens attended the first preview of Of Dice and Men at Impact Theatre in Berkeley. Here's one teen's (a self-professed proud nerd and occasional roleplayer) response:

I must confess, I was kind of setting myself up to be disappointed by Of Dice and Men. I mean, bringing my D&D 3.5 Player's Handbook might have been a bit overboard. A bit.
Amazingly, however, the show managed to be what I wanted it to be -- and more. The completely impossible expectations I had set up were resoundingly Sneak Attacked and critted. The actors were obviously having a fun time, and did a wonderful job of bringing the audience into the joking, arguing and fighting. A thoroughly enjoyable show. (Plus, they have ├╝ber cool swords!)

Of Dice and Men previews August 25 & 26 and opens August 27, playing Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm through October 1 at La Val's Subterranean Theater in Berkeley.

Tickets and information at: http://impacttheatre.com/

The cast of Of Dice and Men. Photo by Impact Theatre.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Month in Review(s): July 2011

One month in and our teen theater-going initiative is off to a great start! Here are some of the shows we've seen in July and what our members thought about them.

The Verona Project. Photo by Kevin Berne.
Tales of the City (ACT) – “I'd forgotten what high-budget theater can be like. This show is great. The actors are great. The music is great. The sets and costumes are great. Betsy Wolfe's voice is beyond great. Fun all around!”

The Verona Project (Cal Shakes) – “I am actually in love with the person playing Sylvio.” “I like the person playing Thuria and the person playing the various moms – they're my favorites!” “I really like the array of instruments and how they're using them to tell the story.” “It has a really good energy.” “The blend of play and concert is definitely working. I love it!”

Metamorphosis (Aurora) – “The direction of this show was amazing. I loved the stylized movement.”

Jesus Christ Superstar (YMTC) – “These teens are crazy-talented!” “It's loud. And awesome.”

Seussical. Photo by Larry Abel. 
Seussical (Berkeley Playhouse) – “What a fun show. I love Seussical in general but this production was especially full of surprises and laughs. (Also, the sets, props, and costumes made me feel like I was actually in a Dr. Seuss book. Actually.)”

A Midsummer Night's Dream (Woman's Will) – “I've never seen a Woman's Will show before and I really liked this one. There's something wonderful about all-female Shakespeare in a park – I can't describe it.”

Lend Me a Tenor (Livermore Shakespeare Festival) – “My side were hurting so badly at the end of this show because I was laughing so hard.” “All the actors were great (and it didn't hurt that the story was ridiculous and hilarious). So. Much. Fun.”

Lend Me a Tenor. Photo by Kenneth Alexander.
Rock Creek: Southern Gothic (Bay Area Playwrights Festival) – “Lauren Gunderson's script was funny and tragic (and sometimes both at the same time). Most of all, it was just wonderful. I can't wait to see where this play goes.”

Korczak's Children (ACT Young Conservatory) – “It's been a few days and I'm still thinking about this show. The cast's ages spanned from elementary school to ACT MFA students, but they all worked well as an ensemble to tell a really heartbreaking story.”

The Road to Hades (Shotgun) – “A very interesting look at war, theater, gender roles, and Walmart. (I know what you're thinking: 'Walmart?' My response: 'Yes. Walmart. Go see it.')”

Tell us about the shows you've seen in August – at big theaters, small theater, community theaters, school theaters – any and all theater! Write a sentence or two (or three) about what you thought of the show and email it to upnextbayarea@gmail.com to be featured in our August “A Month in Review(s)” blog post. (Or, if you can't fit it all into one or two sentences, write a review!)

...And if you saw one of the shows above, drop a comment below and let us know what you thought about it!