Archive for February, 2009

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Impact Theatre

February 16, 2009

The 2009 Bay Area Shakespeare season has begun. Not in a park, or in a theater, but in the basement of a college pizza parlor. On the first floor there was a basketball game on TV, a pool table, a picture of Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason in “The Hustler” on the wall, and people pouring pitchers of beer. Walk down the narrow stairs and there it was: Impact Theatre’s awesome new production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Director Melissa Hillman set this “Dream” in a 1980’s nightclub underworld, with all the appropriate music, clothes and behavior. When the Goth Faeries were on stage it was like watching an early MTV video, back when a whole story was told in one short song with a lot of quick edits and dazzling, cinematic movement. Titania’s dialogue was trimmed, but the scenes between her and Bottom, who was played by another woman, were hilarious and hot. The two excellent actresses got right to the essence of what was happening.

In keeping with the eighties theme, the scenes with the Athenian royalty and the rude mechanicals were done in the style of an SCTV sketch. A good choice – I always thought that show was funnier than “Saturday Night Live.” The cast of SCTV were good actors, and mixed in serious literary and artistic references with their pop-culture satire and slapstick humor.

Impact’s “Midsummer” really sparkled when the new wave Oberon and punk Puck began to mess around with the two pairs of young lovers. The lovers actually had distinct personalities; as written, they’re almost interchangeable. This time I could actually tell the difference between Demetrius and Lysander and Helena and Hermia. Not only that the characters, as performed, had real depth and motivation.

The big scene where they all fight while Oberon and Puck watch was brilliantly staged. They delivered their dialogue sharp and staccato, like they were in a 1930’s screwball comedy movie. And the fight choreography was equally fast and funny. The audience loved it. I’ve seen this play many times and I, personally, don’t remember laughing as much as I did at this performance.

I was around back in the eighties, and was probably about the same age then as many of the cast members are now. So, this “Midsummer” had a certain dream-like quality for me. It’s amazing how a play that was written 400 years ago can, it seems, have so much to say about other times and places. I don’t want to over-analyze it, but I’ll likely be going back to check it out again. If nothing else, I’m sure it will be another entertaining evening.

Pax, Vox


February 1, 2009


The Edwardian Ball, which happens every year in San Francisco, started nine years ago as a one night performance in a small, dark Folsom Street bar and has grown into a major social and theatrical event. The very first one featured the band Rosin Coven playing while actors and dancers performed a story from one of writer/artist Edward Gorey’s books. Every year since then the performances of the stories have gotten bigger and more elaborate, and so have the audiences. Somewhere along the way the historical re-creation crowd discovered the Balls and started showing up in real Edwardian clothing. Now almost everyone who attends dresses up in some way or another.

And it is surprisingly wonderful to be in a large crowd of people dressed in period costumes. Especially when they’re not all from the same period – some were from fantasies and alternative histories, some were characters from books (including Gorey’s and the science-fiction steampunk universe) and some seemed to having wandered in from Burning Man. The audience was as much a part of the show as what was happening on stage – kind of like it used to be in the early days of punk. The overall affect was of being in some other world. They were even serving absinthe! I don’t drink alcohol, but it was fun to watch the whole ritual that makes the absinthe turn green. And I got to meet the Green Faerie – she was mingling in the crowd and fit right in. It was that kind of weekend.

The first night had the theme of “The Edwardian World’s Fair.” There were steam-powered inventions set up throughout the Regency center, including a time machine motorcycle in the lobby. (Its inventor had successfully channeled the spirit of George Pal.) On stage first was the band “Abney Park.” Rumor has it that they were from some place called Seattle, but they claimed to have “come from an era that never was, but one that we wish had been. An era where airships waged war in the skies, and corsets and cummberbunds were proper adventuring attire.”

Friday’s headliners “Rasputina” were, according to their official history, “formed by cellist/singer Melora Creager in 1891.” Well over a century later Creager still looks great in a corset, and continues to be backed up by another cello player and a percussionist. They might actually be Victorian, not Edwardian, but they fit right in when they took the stage after midnight –  their music was appropriately dark and mysterious.

Saturday night was “The Edwardian Ball” itself, featuring three one-act plays that were staged by house band Rosin Coven and the multi-talented Vau De Vire Society. Their first story of the evening was an original, a tribute to writer/cartoonist Edward Gorey. He lived in New York and, when George Balanchine was alive and choreographing, Edward Gorey went to every performance of the New York City Ballet. He always wore a full-length fur coat, lots of outrageous jewelry, and sneakers. The ballet was one of his inspirations, and the dancers were his muses. So, at the Ball, while Rosin Coven accompanied them with a slow blues, the Vau De Vire Society danced and played cartoon ballerinas, and the character of Edward Gorey brought them to life and then cleverly killed them off.

The second play was a dramatization of Edward Gorey’s short story “The Disrespectful Summons.” For this one Rosin Coven was joined by guest artists Cirque Berzerk. “The Disrespectful Summons” is about a woman who sells her soul to the devil and pays the price in the end. But of course as Gorey wrote it , it was all very clever and entertaining.

And this was all just a warm-up to the grand finale, an epic staging of Gorey’s  “The Tuning Fork.” The original story is only 168 words long, with 16 black and white illustrations. In the Regency Center Ballroom that night it was magic – a fantasy that was made real. This was the first year the Ball has been in actual ballroom, and it has a big stage. The Vau de Vire society are, among other things, talented circus acrobats, and they finally had some room to show off what they can really do. The combination of acting, dance, music, costumes, puppets and computer technology, and the particular time and place, was radical, beautiful and unforgettable.