Robert Avila

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 »

"Old Times" and "The Homecoming"

Two Harold Pinter domestic dramas, if so prosaic a term can apply to the psychological warfare underway in them
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PREVIEW Don't get too cozy at home this weekend. Two Harold Pinter domestic dramas (if so prosaic a term can apply to the psychological warfare underway in them) are opening, and each ranks among his most stingingly taut, darkly hilarious, and downright creepy works. So take a pause for Pinter, the late and great, and unsettle the nest a bit — beginning with TheatreFIRST's offering of Old Times, an eerie 1971 three-hander (featuring a rare opportunity to see the excellent L. Peter Callender on something other than the largest of local stages). Read more »

Model A

Traveling Jewish Theatre's not-to-be-missed The Model Apartment
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The stuff of dreams, this model apartment. And a repository for them too. Dreams, though, run in two directions, heavenward being only one. For an elderly Jewish couple from Brooklyn beginning a new chapter of their lives in mid-1980s Florida, nothing in this apartment is as it seems. Neither are they what they may first seem to us. Read more »

Climate change

How does a small, intrepid theater company survive — and thrive — in turbulent economic times? Look to SoMa's Climate Theater
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I've heard about a fortuneteller with a tarot deck and a dead fish. I can smell the fish, but I'm daunted by the line in front of the curtain, so I wander into another room and stand before a terrycloth sculpture of some tropical beach getaway. Read more »

Loving the enemy

A Girl's War and Waitin' 2 End Hell cast relationships in, and as, war zones
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REVIEW Nation, ethnicity, family, friends, gender, lover — where do our true loyalties lie? More to the point, when our multiple loyalties slip out of concentric orbit and collide, how much say do we really have in the matter? Read more »

A cold one

Little heat, plenty of miscasting mar NCTC's Tennessee in the Summer
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Tennessee Williams was notoriously afraid of going insane — the fate of his sister Rose, a presence haunting several of his greatest plays — and in the latter half of his career, the great American dramatist wrestled mightily with a slump in his fortunes, depression, and addictions to pills and alcohol. Read more »

It's a living?

Mixed emotions, no news in the respectful Betrayed
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REVIEW Amid worsening violence between their respective Sunni and Shia communities, even old friends Adnan (Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari) and Laith (Amir Sharafeh) are prone to argue along sectarian lines. But these squabbles are more than offset by a dire mutual predicament: as Iraqi translators working for the U.S. occupation in Baghdad, Adnan and Laith live as persons "in between," precariously balanced between glib and suspicion-prone American employer and outraged fellow citizen alike. Read more »

Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes

A time-tripping escapade across three centuries of culture and cruelty
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PREVIEW What lengths will you go to for your art? If you're a castrato it's probably a sore point. For Mexico's internationally renowned experimental theater company, Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes (Certain Inhabitants Theatre), it's the beginning of a lush and lively investigation into the complexities and contradictions of cultural power and refinement. Read more »

Night at the museum

A return visit to Rich and Famous
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REVIEW American Conservatory Theater leads off its new season with a revival of John Guare's rollickingly self-referential 1974 comedy, a madcap musical so quirky and of the moment in conception and mood that it comes shrouded in a sometimes dazzling, more often distancing veil of nostalgia.

New York playwright Bing Ringling (Brooks Ashmanskas) has received his first commercial production — after only several hundred attempts — in a dreary downtown theater haunted by an insane producer (Mary Birdsong) with a failure wish and a strong resemblance to a tottering Kate Hepbu Read more »