Theater

What comes around

In The Cycle Plays, Theatre of Yugen looks to uncover a spirit in every tone
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PREVIEW Until stumbling on The Wishing Bone Cycle some years back, I hadn't wondered why owls die with wings outspread or how a man wearing antlers on his head can be tricked into thinking that real moose are after him. Yet Howard Norman's eye-opening transcription-translations of Swampy Cree narrative poems are so arresting that I still find new questions in my life just to bring them to the stories. The tales invariably answer with bigger inquiries of their own. Read more »

"Bella" epic

Anna Bella Eema is engaging and magical
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BELLA EPIC

As you walk into the theater to see Anna Bella Eema, you'll meet the play's three women seated on high stools in the midst of a found-object concert. They make sounds by swinging their arms, chomping their teeth, slurping through a straw, and rattling a hodgepodge of objects within arm's reach. Read more »

Tongues and tales

Under the Bed and Artemisia go for baroque
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The unconscious, the underworld, the undead — what is it that under-the-mattress anxiety points to, exactly? And what might it have to do with a pack of powdered French fops in Louis Seize costumes? Given the blissful nonchalance with which Dark Porch Theater's Under the Bed tackles that thing called plot, it's probably best not to mull it over too much. Read more »

Tokeville

Democracy in Berkeley, according to Citizen Josh
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There's a section in Josh Kornbluth's new show wherein the veteran (but weirdly ageless) monologist, waxing on admiringly about Sheldon S. Wolin, notes his old Princeton political science prof's capacity for turning a student's half-baked ideas into $10 notions. It reminded me of a professor I knew who was adept at the same thing. Read more »

Muse of fire

David Gordon puts a Bush-era spin on Shakespeare's Henry V
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REVIEW Perhaps the most intriguing question about David Gordon's Pick Up Performance Company's Dancing Henry Five is why it works so well. Read more »

Serious games

Powerful First Person Shooter is uncomfortably timely
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Two weeks before the world premiere of Aaron Loeb's First Person Shooter, a play that explores the controversial relationship between video games and violence in the aftermath of a Columbine-like school shooting, Virginia Tech suddenly made the subject almost too relevant. SF Playhouse and PlayGround, the coproducing companies, considered a postponement — according to excerpts from e-mails between the theater's cofounders, the director, and the playwright, which were reprinted in the program — but in the end went forward with the opening. Read more »

May day

History runs up against a wall in America Tropical
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The May Day rampage of the Los Angeles Police Department over peaceful protesters and journalists at an immigrants' rights march lends an undeniable immediacy to America Tropical, a new and at times poignant chamber opera by composer David Conte and librettist Oliver Mayer that addresses the legacy of racial and class exploitation built into the very fabric of the City of Angels.

The compact 60-minute work, which premiered April 27 at the Thick House under the auspices of San Francisco's Thick Description, takes its cue from América Tropic Read more »

Meeting acute

Gore Vidal lands an interview with Timothy McVeigh in Edmund White's Terre Haute
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REVIEW In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, one of the only voices raised on behalf of understanding Timothy McVeigh — that is, as someone slightly more complicated than a Hollywood-style incarnation of pure evil — was that of Gore Vidal. Vidal insisted on pointing to the obvious: the bombing of offices that included the local headquarters of the FBI and the ATF — although utterly cruel and misguided in leading to 168 deaths — was not arbitrary wickedness but a carefully considered act of revenge. Read more »

Still evolving

Boxcar Theatre learns to adapt with Vonnegut
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The human race either sinks or swims. That's evolution as Charles Darwin first saw it. But flippers and a seal pelt, that's pure Kurt Vonnegut. The novelist plays God like no other, wresting the species from its self-destruction, then sending it on its wobbly way with a childlike capacity for invention and a wry if discontented grasp of human folly. That's Galápagos, anyway, his 1985 best-seller in which evolution saves humankind from its big and mischievous brains by sending it back to the sea. Read more »

Home run

"After the War" lucidly strikes home
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HOME RUN: AFTER THE WAR LUCIDLY STRIKES HOME

Philip Kan Gotanda's After the War, enjoying an exceptional world premiere at the American Conservatory Theater, is set during 1948 in a Fillmore boardinghouse run by a laid-back jazz musician and second-generation Japanese American named Chester "Chet" Monkawa (Vancouver's Hiro Kanagawa in an impressive US debut). Read more »