Robert Avila

Acting pleasant

Notable theater performances of 2007
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George Bernard Shaw once titled a bound collection of his dramas Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant, thus inadvertently summing up any year in any theater scene anywhere. But this is a happy time, so we can concentrate on the former.

The pool of local acting talent, in particular, spoils us in the Bay Area. While it's not hard to find a strong performance from last year, finding room to list them all is another story, and a much longer one. Read more »

Chair and chair alike

Adam Bock plumbs the depths of commitment in The Shaker Chair
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What we owe one another, whether family, friends, fellow human beings, or just fellow creatures — and how we define we in the first place — is a perennial question of both politics and art. Read more »

Durang harangue

Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge serves a heaping helping of humbug
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The annual relentless prosecution of Christmas is a happy time for some. For others, not so much. For her part, Gladys Cratchit (Joan Mankin), the long-suffering wife of Bob (Keith Burkland) — that misty-eyed mistletoe of a man harried six days a week by his grasping gargoyle of an employer, Ebenezer Scrooge (Victor Talmadge) — is ready to throw herself off London Bridge. One sees her point. Read more »

Will trade thought for food

"What You Will" -- and won't -- in TheatreWorks' Twelfth Night
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"If music be the food of love, let's party" goes the catchphrase for TheatreWorks' holiday production of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or What You Will. As this jiggering with Orsino's famous opening line suggests, artistic director Robert Kelley takes the Bard's invitation to do "what you will" as a license to rock, with a San Francisco Summer of Love theme meant to warm the cockles on a winter's eve. It's a theme the show's producers run with at full tilt. Read more »

In and out

Unpacking the social pressure to procreate in The Crowd You're In With
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Playwright Rebecca Gilman's work has often courted subjects with ripped-from-the-headlines appeal, such as Spinning into Butter's take on racism at a small New England college or Boy Gets Girl's stalker scenario. Her latest play, The Crowd You're In With, is no less timely. But at first blush it seems quieter and more understated in its choice of setting and subject matter: a backyard barbeque and a clash between three couples over whether or not to have children. Read more »

Disaster preparedness

Ellen Gavin's Stardust and Empty Wagons: Stories from the Katrina Diaspora
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Above a semicircle of wooden crates arranged on a weathered wooden stage, two tattered flags of New Orleans and the United States are projected on a back screen. The flags appear to flutter in the rotating series of overlapping still images. Read more »

I feel pretty

Keeping up with appearances in elastic future's Beautiful and ACT's The Rainmaker
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"Make my world beautiful," commands the (drag) queen (Flynn Witmeyer) of her corseted courtiers. The incantation naturally has something defiant and (given our location in a loft on Capp near 16th Street) maybe even a little urgent about it, summoning the new Eden as an unruly if royal realm of gender-blurring sexual role play and uninhibited frolic. Naturally too there's bound to be trouble in paradise, the intruder in this instance being no snake but rather a pair of slithering fish-head waiters. Read more »

Goldie winner -- Theater: foolsFURY

Where kinetic energy meets darkly alluring words
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One of the first things to strike you about a foolsFURY production is its sheer kinetic energy and rigorous physical vocabulary. Hovering somewhere between modern dance and mime, or maybe the fashion runway and the circus, the movement of the actors onstage suggests tightly coiled regimentation and an unpredictable, acrobatic freedom. Bodies rewrite the most seemingly inconsequential gestures as larger than life or in an altogether different register, so that you might suddenly see and wonder at them.

But the next thing to strike you will surely be the words. Read more »

Historically challenged

War and peace in Philip Glass's Appomattox
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The central scene in Appomattox, Philip Glass's new opera now world-premiering with San Francisco Opera, is the fateful meeting of generals Ulysses S. Grant (Andrew Shore) and Robert E. Lee (Dwayne Croft) in a private residence in the Virginia town of Appomattox Court House, where Lee surrendered on behalf of the South on April 9, 1865, officially bringing the catastrophic Civil War to a dainty close. Read more »

Life sucks

A Lebanese vampire makes his mark at the Arab Film Fest
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By now it's natural to expect a lot from the Arab Film Festival, which is opening its 11th annual survey of cinema from the Arab world and diaspora with veteran Tunisian filmmaker Nouri Bouzid's excellent feature Making Of, then presenting more than 80 features, docs, and shorts from 13 countries in screenings around the Bay and, for the first time, in Los Angeles. Ghassan Salhab's The Last Man (2006), on the other hand, delivers something probably less expected: the first Lebanese vampire movie. Read more »