Archive for September, 2008

“Pericles” – San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

September 18, 2008

Last weekend I went to the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival production of “Pericles.” They have been performing it all summer in various locations, but there is only one more weekend of it left. I saw it in the Presidio, which is where they have been in San Francisco for the last few years. (Before that they had been in Golden Gate Park.) Just getting there was an adventure. Before SF Shakes started to use the Presidio I hadn’t visited there much – I had to learn to the bus routes to where they were doing the play. This year I was experienced enough to actually hike part of the way into the Presidio. I ended up on what turned out to be one of the oldest foot-paths in the City. According to a plaque I read it has been in use for hundreds of years, and it was really fun to think about how many generations of hikers had walked on it before me. It was called “Lovers Lane,” which seemed like the perfect path to take to go see the love story of “Pericles.” I arrived safely at the Parade Grounds, where SF Shakes set up their portable stage, sound system, lights, generator, etc. It’s quite a lot of equipment to haul around from city to city to put on a show, and they’ve been doing it for 26 years now. I think of SF Shakes as a real local treasure – I look forward to seeing them every year. When I talk to tourists who are visiting San Francisco, and they ask me what to do here, I tell them to go to the park and see a play! It’s a chance to see some of our local talent at their best, visit an historic site, and, on a night like I saw them, see a full moon rising up above in the fog. What could be better than that?

They do a Saturday evening performance, and then another on Sunday afternoon, and the contrast in the weather between them can be quite extreme. This year I caught an evening show and, as in years past, it was very cold and foggy – but I dressed appropriately. “Pericles” is not one of Shakespeare’s (or anyone else’s) classic plays. But the cast and crew of SF Shakes did a fine job of making it a fun evening of theatre. I’ve only seen it a few times prior to this (including once in June at CalShakes) and I was impressed with how they were able to make sense of the long, twisted plot. This is a story of a man on a journey. It’s a weird, improbable journey, but then so are most journeys – and in fact most lives. So I walked away from “Pericles” with something of a better understanding of what it means to be alive. This production was set somewhere in the American frontier in the 1800s. I can’t explain why or how, but it worked. Live music was a big part of the show. I don’t know much about the musical genres that were used – I guess you would call it “old timey” or maybe old gospel or folk. But the musicians were talented, and it was quite a change from last years SF Shakes show, when all the music was pre-recorded pop songs and classical music. The live sound mix, as well as the actor’s voices, came through clear and clean over the SF Shakes p.a. system (which they haven’t always done in years past.) The dancing and costumes were colorful. It was a pleasure watching the cast move around. The accents that most of them had were at first a bit strange, and maybe even annoying and confusing. But after a while I got used to it as I settled into the world that they were creating on stage.

I was happy to see some people from last years SF Shakes production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” returning. I loved that show, and went to see it every weekend it was in the Presidio. Emily Jordan and Michael C. Storm, who last year played Oberon and Titania, were back again in the lead roles. Wow! They are both so talented that it was worth seeing the play just to experience their acting. I barely recognized either of them when the play began – their characters are so different from “Midsummer.” I took the bus home and slept well after an evening in the park. When I woke up the next morning I continued to think about the play I had seen. It was one of those kind of performances that stayed with me, and left me feeling good in the days that followed. Go see it this weekend if you have the chance, and it might do the same for you.

Pax, Vox

“Rock ‘n Roll” – ACT

September 15, 2008


I saw Tom Stoppard’s “Rock ‘n Roll” in previews at ACT. It was fantastic! I’m not going to write a lengthy blog about it – maybe I will later after I go to see it again, which I definitely plan on doing. All I can say now is: don’t miss it! And when you go, get there early and take your seat. Before the show starts they play some amazing music, and sitting in the beautiful ACT theater and listening to it, while gazing at the awesome set design on the stage, is the perfect way to get into the mood for this play. The music is, in fact, an important part of the play’s story. The more of it you can hear beforehand, the more you’ll appreciate “Rock ‘n Roll.”

Pax,  Vox


“Romeo and Juliet,” Curtain Theatre

September 11, 2008

This is my first post on my first blog. It is about a play I saw last weekend. I live in San Francisco, and I went up to Mill Valley to see the Curtain Theatre production of “Romeo and Juliet.” I really enjoyed it. Curtain Theatre does a different Shakespeare play every August outdoors in the redwood grove behind the Mill Valley library. This is one of the most amazing places on earth to see a weekend matinee, and I am surprised that more people don’t know about it. One of the reasons I have decided to start this blog is to encourage people to go see this kind of stuff. A lot of work, time and love went into putting on this performance. There are a lot of plays that I have gone to that have been very enjoyable and that, like this one, have not gotten much coverage by the local media. Or been seen by many people. Maybe by writing this I will somehow encourage someone to go see a play in the future, or write one, or to somehow get involved in the theatre community. Maybe by starting this blog I will meet somebody new! So here I go.


The play was performed in Old Mill Park behind the Mill Valley Library. There is a bare stage floor that has been there for a long time – it might even have been built by the WPA. On that wooden floor was built, for this particular production, not a backdrop but something that looked like the ruins of a Frank Lloyd Wright building. It was so well designed that it seemed real, like it was actually made out of stone. With the giant redwood trees rising up behind it the stage seemed like a temple from some lost civilization. When I walked into the grove I was transported into another time and place. Just being there was an awesome way to start the afternoon.


There are a few wooden benches built into the hillside facing it. Some of the audience sat on the benches but most people brought their own chairs, or else just sat on the ground on blankets. There was a lot of picnicking, and quite a few kids. Those lucky kids, even the really young ones, seemed to dig the experience. They sat still and were quiet and attentive till the end.


The performance of the play was, well, magical. That word tends to get over-used in reviews, but in this case I feel justified. When Romeo said, “It is the East, and Juliet is the sun,” Juliet was standing in a perfect shaft of bright sunlight that came down from between the trees. No team of Lucasfilm technicians could ever create something as beautiful as what happened by chance in that moment in nature. When the drugged Juliet is laid out in the Capulet’s tomb the sun once again cooperated, making her glow like a sacrifice on the altar in Stonehenge at summer Solstice. Wow!


Actors could easily get overwhelmed in such an atmosphere but the cast was talented and did a great job. They all knew how to do Shakespearean dialogue, and they worked together well as ensemble. I felt like these characters were real, and that Verona, wherever it might be, did indeed exist.


This was something of a violent, almost sadistic version of the story, but that is certainly one way of interpreting it. In her program notes director Julianna Rees wrote, “If ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a famous love story, it should be known equally for its intractable cycle of violence and revenge.” And she proved it in her staging. The Capulet’s party scene had no dancing, but all the fight scenes were intense and carefully choreographed. Romeo (Benjamin Boulevalt) was not played as a sensitive dreamer. In this version he was dangerous and unstable. He reminded me of people I used to see around when I was in high school who were hard-wired to get into trouble. They didn’t seem to have any choice in the matter, or care. And somehow they always seemed to attract girls who, I used to think, should have known better! This Juliet, as played by Emily Hanley, was just that kind of girl. 


Dennis Crumley brought a lot of depth and humor to the character of Mercutio. There were, actually, many lines in this production of the play that made me laugh that I had never laughed at before. There is a lot of sarcasm in “Romeo and Juliet,” or at least it can be, and was, performed that way. The role of Benvolio was played by a woman (Lindsay Pratt), and she was very passionate with both Mercutio and Romeo. This was an interesting way of playing of the character. It proved that there are many different romantic relationships in “Romeo and Juliet” in addition to the one between the title characters. There are always new things to learn from Shakespeare’s plays, and new ways to look at them, which is why I go to see them over and over again. And as long as there are fresh productions like this one, I will continue to do so.


I don’t know if or when anyone will be reading these words I am writing. But this is a start. As Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” I have now officially shown up. I have been inspired to do this, and maybe it will have some kind of ripple affect. Thanks to everyone who has inspired me.