Robert Avila

Going postal

Magic Theatre delivers a winning stamp-collecting caper with Mauritius
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The ins and outs of stamp collecting can strike an outside ear as so much esoteric jabbering about phosphor bands and dandy rolls. Read more »

First things Faust

Shotgun Players' Faust, Part 1 at the Ashby Stage is whole unto itself
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Bay Area writer-director Mark Jackson has been rightly hailed for his original scripts, especially since the rollicking ingenuity of 2003's The Death of Meyerhold. But his dialogue with established or classic plays has been just as intriguing to follow. Here, strict fidelity to the text has not always proved a recipe for success. Read more »

Revenge of the nerds

High-energy Fukú Americanus lacks depth
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"Fukú Americanus" does not actually translate as "fucked-up American," but it might as well. Fukú refers to a curse, a bad piece of destiny that clings to your behind like a genetically transmitted boot up the ass, passing on through generations until it runs its course, which is who-knows-how-long. Read more »

The world stage

The San Francisco International Arts Festival's globo-theatrical must-sees
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Recently I was lucky enough to land at an international theater festival in Wroclaw, Poland, jostling elbows with a transnational mix of theater folk on the occasion of the 13th annual European Theatre Prize, this year awarded to the great Polish director Krystian Lupa. It was an eye-opening glimpse at some awesome theatrical muscle rarely if ever seen in the Bay Area, or even the United States. Read more »

On the rise

The Best of PlayGround Festival, now more than a decade old, nurtures exciting, emerging talent
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Even when times are shaky in San Francisco, it's a fine time to head to PlayGround. Read more »

Home run

American Hwangap a winning homecoming dramedy
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In American Hwangap, Lloyd Suh's charmingly witty and gently woebegone world premiere, hwangap — the momentous 60th birthday marking completion of the astrological life cycle in Korean tradition — is occasion for a fresh start for Min Suk (an irresistibly expansive Keone Young), a former engineer and disenchanted immigrant returning home to his Texas-raised Korean American family 15 years after abandoning them and fleeing back to the old country. Read more »

Fit to print?

The Story's black-and-white news unfolds in the audience's reactions
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Not long ago, before newspapers themselves were an endangered species, survival among journalists at the country's leading papers was already a Darwinian proposition, especially for people of color. Read more »

El Paso passages

Poetic Lydia follows a family in transition -- and delves into sheer lyricism
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At the poetic heart of acclaimed playwright Octavio Solis's aching, wild, and poignant new drama, Lydia — receiving a beautifully cast and memorable West Coast premiere at Marin Theatre Company under the direction of MTC's Jasson Minadakis — is a mysterious connection between two very differently challenged and empowered young women: the severely brain-damaged Ceci Flores (Gloria Garayua) and her family's new undocumented Mexican maid, Lydia (Adriana Gaviria). Read more »

Sam I am?

Charlie Varon examines Jewish identity in the 21st century in Rabbi Sam
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He has come, he says, to take American Jewry into the 21st century. Some members of the suburban synagogue that just hired Sam Isaac, charismatic tax attorney and single father turned rabble-rousing rabbi and spiritual visionary, are thrilled. Others, not so much. Between those two poles, and across 12 fully fledged characters, solo performer extraordinaire Charlie Varon takes us on a steadily dramatic, extremely witty, and thought-provoking ride through what he pictures as a transformative moment in Jewish identity. Read more »

Dirty duo

Sign of the lean times? Misanthropes reign at Berkeley Rep and Cutting Ball
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In what maybe can only be considered a sign of the times, bad attitudes abound in two lean productions on either side of the Bay this week. The first comes courtesy of Dostoevsky, badass of 19th-century Russian literature, whose rascal Raskolnikov (an excellent Tyler Pierce) stalks feverishly across Berkeley Rep's Thrust Stage in a bracingly focused new adaptation of Crime and Punishment by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus. Read more »