Robert Avila

As the world turns

Revolutions and Rock 'n' Roll in Tom Stoppard's latest philosophical epic
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REVIEW American Conservatory Theater's season opener marks the 40-year anniversary of 1968 with the well-timed if less than well-executed Bay Area premiere of Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll, which from the dual vantage points of Prague and Cambridge traces revolutionary politics and counterculture between 1968's Prague Spring and 1989's Velvet Revolution.

Stoppard's latest but not greatest is almost a 20th-century coda to his grand three-part saga of 19th-century revolutionaries, The Coast of Utopia, building on the famed playwright's on Read more »

Live through this

"Spring Awakening" rocks unabashedly toward the schmaltz
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REVIEW Hey, kids! Wake up and smell the freedom! Outside the RNC, for instance, where a phalanx of Taser-wielding storm troopers recently did their dirty work on citizens practicing what civics classes used to call free speech. One 19-year-old there was beaten unconscious, hooded, hauled away, and beaten some more — subjected to what any dropout in years past would have rightly called torture. Read more »

Knuckleballin'

San Francisco Fringe Festival juggles peg heads, clowns, Nazi pals
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REVIEW I don't know if it helps to have a strategy at the San Francisco Fringe Festival. The nature of this annual animal — the 17th installment opened Sept. 3 — resists forethought. You study the program, listen to the buzz while getting yours on in the Exit Theatre Café, read the audience reviews online, but in the end you never know what you'll get. This year I led with my gut and — it being that kind of year — decided to go for all the dark stuff: the ugly, the brutal, the profane. Read more »

Curtain calls

Fall Arts Preview: Theater gets political, playful, potent
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Fall arts resolution No. 1: have no faith in leaders. Obummer and McPain will only disappoint, or worse. (Probably worse.) If faith you must ooze, kindly direct it toward people who really care about you and have your interests at heart. Why did Gore Vidal write his play The Best Man (1960), for instance? Most likely it wasn't to get elected (though he did try). Read more »

Collage boys

In Zona by 2boys.tv, life is a multilayered, dark queer cabaret
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As we enter the intoxicatingly rich world of Zona, we encounter a deceptively simple melodrama. It unfolds in shadow play on a gold-hued screen fronting a kind of rectangular tent at the back of the stage. We see the silhouette of a mother cradling her newborn infant, swaddled in a blanket, as an old recording of an Italian operatic duet comes seeping through. The woman sets the baby down and briefly retires from the scene, giving opportunity to a snarling beast which promptly swoops in and snatches up the child. Read more »

Pennies from heaven

Kirk Read's Southern gay evangelical fantasy pays off
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Growing up gay in a military family of evangelical Christians in the Reagan-era South sounds like a tight squeeze for anyone. But as Kirk Read affirms, however claustrophobic one's environment, there's always room for a good fantasy. Besides, Read likes tight squeezes. Read more »

Between two worlds and then some

Ishi: The Last of the Yahi traces history real and imagined
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There have been books, documentaries, feature films, and more than one play about Ishi, the last "wild" California Indian who emerged from the hills of northern California in 1911 and became friend and subject of renowned Berkeley anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and his colleagues. Read more »

Campaign pain?

SF Mime Troupe takes no election-year guff in Red State
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November's presidential election already looms on the horizon like a herpes outbreak, promising nothing so much as a painful, shame-filled denouement to a drunken and ill-conceived flirtation with someone you thought you knew. So it's refreshing that the San Francisco Mime Troupe's seasonal offering of free, rabble-rousing political theater is an election-year special in which the opposing candidates from the two monopolizing parties are conspicuously absent. Read more »

Beyond belief

The Queer issue: The Busy World Is Hushed questions love, family, and faith
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THE QUEER ISSUE Aurora Theater takes on — reportedly — its first gay-themed work with a West Coast premiere of Keith Bunin's almost-too-smart The Busy World Is Hushed, a play that ultimately has as much to do with questions of Christian faith and the mixed blessing/burden of family as with sexual orientation. Read more »

"Chop Shop"

Everyday drama on the harried, often undocumented margins of immigrant life
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REVIEW Ramin Bahrani's first feature, Man Push Cart (2005) — about a struggling Pakistani service worker selling coffee and bagels from a midtown Manhattan pushcart — signaled the arrival of a genuine talent for atmospheric and absorbing realist drama, and an unpreachy champion of America's disregarded immigrant working-class. Read more »