Robert Avila

"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 »

Rolling out the carpet

Mary Zimmerman takes another Bay Area bow with The Arabian Nights
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REVIEW Director Mary Zimmerman's association with the Berkeley Rep goes back to 1996's Journey to the West, her adaptation of the classical Chinese novel, famously followed in 2001 by Metamorphoses, a visually startling adaptation from Ovid's collection of Greek and Roman myths for which she went on to receive a directing Tony. Read more »

Wonder as they wander

Traversing Joe Turner's Come and Gone and The Last Yiddish Poet
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The great Langston Hughes titled a volume of his autobiography I Wonder as I Wander, invoking the notion of the poet in terms entirely personal and inevitably representative of a whole people, violently unsettled by history and restlessly searching for meaning, home, dignity — in short, for themselves. In Hughes' art, this dovetailed with the image of the poet as blues singer and the blues singer as poet. Read more »

Rap-erations

Crisscrossing race and identity in Angry Black White Boy
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REVIEW Even if the rest of the "change" he's been promising remains elusive, Barack Obama's resounding electoral win is already change — and of a profound kind — given its undeniable impact on racial consciousness among African Americans, Americans at large, and no doubt people around the globe. Of course, nobody thinks racism disappeared overnight Nov. 4. If anything, the day marks an opportunity for a reinvigorated dialogue on the complexities of race and racism in the 21st-century United States. Read more »

The Cutting Ball Theater

GOLDIES 2008 winner: It's often the warped glass that furnishes the truest picture
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If you were at the latest Cutting Ball show, avantgardARAMA!, you entered a theater that looked like an art installation, already buzzing and flickering with video images on a screen suspended in front of a shimmering mirror-box set, accompanied by a soundtrack of voices and droning tones. It was like some serenely wicked room in a purgatorial funhouse, where all you've been and all you might become could be reflected at you, from every possible angle, ad infinitum. Read more »