Robert Avila

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 »

"Trench" mouth

The blog that ate San Francisco! Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's new play takes on the neighbors. Plus: The best of Sketchfest
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REVIEW So I used to live, for a couple of years, around the corner from the Atlas Café in the Mission District. You may know the place. It's nice. I probably went there more than I should have. I certainly don't want to think how much money I sank there. The beetloaf sandwich is excellent. The point is, one day I saw Peter Sinn Nachtrieb there. He's the local playwright with the budding national reputation ever since his very sharp and funny Hunter Gatherers took off a couple of years ago. Very nice guy, too. Read more »

Return to deform

Banana Bag and Bodice take Beowulf on an epic journey
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PREVIEW One of the most exciting and unusual theatrical events of 2008 came from a small San Francisco–spawned, now Brooklyn-based company: the curiously named Banana Bag and Bodice. It almost sounds unexpected, but in fact BBB, which retains close ties to the Bay Area, has been doing shrewd, highly imaginative, often startlingly designed songplays — their preferred term — with practically no budget for about a decade. Read more »

"The W. Kamau Bell Curve"

Reflections on the recent election and Proposition 8
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REVIEW Standup comic W. Kamau Bell has reopened his frank, funny, and genuinely thoughtful one-man show at SF Playhouse, and it's worth catching if you haven't yet (I took in a recent performance at the Climate).

Subtitled "Ending Racism in About an Hour," Bell's reflections on the recent election and Proposition 8, among other race-inflected personal and political matters still closer to home, are topical, to say the least, and run considerably deeper than the usual one-liners or simplistic oppositions of much race-based comedy. Read more »

Lincoln flogs

Beowulf, phantoms, and swearing Scots mark the year in theater
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Barack Obama wasn't the only lanky senator from Illinois to have a triumph on the stage, political or otherwise, this year. Abraham Lincoln took a couple of bows himself. Of course, many have noted the weighty coincidence of the country's first African American president following Lincoln's senatorial trail to the White House. But who could match Thick Description's revival of Suzan-Lori Parks' The America Play — focusing on an African American protagonist whose calling involves dressing up in Lincoln drag — for political prescience? Read more »

Dig it

History proves as timely as ever in Thick Description's revival of The America Play
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REVIEW Long before Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize–winning Topdog/Underdog (2002) was bedazzling them on Broadway, an earlier and related work called The America Play (1990-93) was wowing Bay Area audiences in a small but vital production staged by Thick Description. Read more »

Couch-surf theater

Boxcar takes Edward Albee's The American Dream on the road (sort of)
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PREVIEW No sooner do they settle into their snug and versatile new alley roost on Natoma Street than the people at Boxcar Theatre go itinerant again. The company, founded just a few years back on valiantly environmental productions set aboard moving buses (2006's 21/One) or on the sands of Baker Beach (2006's Zen), is spending the holiday season couch-surfing its production of Edward Albee's The American Dream in a series of private living rooms around the Bay.

Fair enough. Read more »