Robert Avila

Eat your heart out

Kneehigh's comic-romantic 'Tristan & Yseult' is high-flying theater for the masses

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER Crowd-pleasing can sometimes sound like a put-down — hey, sometimes it is — but it becomes a virtue in Kneehigh's Tristan & Yseult. The Cornwall-based company (already known locally for Brief Encounter at ACT in 2009 and The Wild Bride at Berkeley Rep last winter) has returned to Berkeley Rep with a remounting of its 2003 hit. And it proves as accomplished and intelligent as it is shamelessly entertaining.Read more »

Family album

Margo Hall and Marcus Shelby craft a musical memoir in 'Be Bop Baby'

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THEATER Forgetting can be a key to understanding, and to freedom. This is something any jazz musician knows. Learning theory, practicing scales, getting to know your instrument and your craft — it's all prelude to forgetting, to letting go. What comes back to you in the moment, ideally, is deeper than any superficial knowledge. It's everything behind the music — a life.Read more »

Cul de sac

Familiar narrative tropes foreshorten Campo Santo's 'Alleluia, the Road'

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Two mothers are coping with grief — and becoming friends — in a room at a Bakersfield community center. Ruth (Nora El Samahy) is still not at the point of speaking the depth of her burden, and instead chirps on about the horror visited on her murdered child with a kind of fierce, enforced casualness, fueled by too much coffee. Mary (Catherine Castellanos), meanwhile, her emotional turmoil welling just beneath the surface, has a stronger bearing — and a peculiar lilt indicative of someone who has only recently heard the sound of her own voice.Read more »

The horror

Lightening up the darkness in 'Underneath the Lintel' and 'Grand Guignol'

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THEATER Just last night a cordial campfire conversation with a hobgoblin and a menorah tumbled precipitously from the obscenity of rents in the city to the cold hard facts of our existence on this planet. Halloween was not yet over, and the really scary stuff had already returned.Read more »

The art of dialogue

Voices and impressions from Poland's Dialog Festival
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THEATER Maybe there's no better way to grasp your own time and place than by leaving it — in this case, trading San Francisco for Wroclaw, Poland, and Pacific Standard Time for a whiplashing case of jet lag. Wroclaw was home base for a little more than a week during the recent Dialog Festival (Oct. 11–18; dialogfestival.pl/en), which was in its seventh season as a major biennial international theater festival created and programmed by Krystyna Meissner, a force in Polish and European theater for decades.Read more »

Government smackdown

The Taming hits below the Beltway but stays shy of a knockout

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER The premise of Bay Area playwright Lauren Gunderson's latest, The Taming (not to be confused with her other latest, I and You, running more or less simultaneously at Marin Theatre Company), felt riotously germane on opening night, less than a week into the recent shutdown of the federal government. But only at first.Read more »

Hearts on fire

Studium Teatralne makes its Bay Area debut with a heroic Holocaust tale

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Grown up stuff: themes of rejection and reclamation at Portland's TBA Festival

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Now in its 11th year, Portland, Ore.'s Time-Based Art Festival is fall's major performance festival to the north (almost simultaneous with REDCAT's Radar LA, the major festival to the south). Mounted annually by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA), TBA has become something of a pilgrimage site for Bay Area artists and audiences, judging by the number of familiar faces onstage and off both this year and last.

PICA's artistic director, Angela Mattox, has something to do with this. As the former performing arts programmer at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Mattox (now in her second year at PICA) retains strong ties to Bay Area artists. Other likely factors include the relative proximity and general cultural appeal of Portland (an increasing refuge to artists and others pushed out of San Francisco by gentrification), not to mention the scandalous lack of any Bay Area performance festival of comparable scope.

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Self service

SF Fringe Festival tells it like it is with random tales from the service sector and beyond

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THEATER Sitting in the Exit Café with a can of Guinness and the San Francisco Fringe Festival program is one of life's modest but absorbing pleasures. For those without much inside knowledge on the lineup (currently encompassing 36 companies and 158 performances), it's a little like taking a vacation by pitching darts at a wall map. There were several immediate sub-themes to choose from for 2013. I could have picked shows with bananas in the title, for instance. Read more »

Self service: SF Fringe Festival tells it like it is

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Note: this is an extended version of an article that appears in this week's print version.

Sitting in the Exit Café with a can of Guinness and the San Francisco Fringe Festival program is one of life's modest but absorbing pleasures. For those without much inside knowledge on the lineup (currently encompassing 36 companies and 158 performances), it's a little like taking a vacation by pitching darts at a wall map. There were several immediate sub-themes to choose from for 2013. I could have picked shows with bananas in the title, for instance. But for whatever reason, I dived into the service and servitude sector.

Of course, the Fringe, now in its 22nd year, is a lottery-based operation, so it is fate's fingers that pluck these patterns from the cultural whirl. At the same time, you don't need the I Ching to know that serving the rich is about all that's left of the economy for most of us, making it hardly surprising to find so many stories of bartenders, wait staff, sex workers, and mermaids-who-are-also-sex-workers floating in the pool.

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