Posts Tagged ‘boxcar theatre’

Sam Shepard in Repertory – Boxcar Theatre

March 28, 2012

For the last two months I’ve been going to the Boxcar theatres over and over to see their Sam Shepard plays in repertory. Seeing this many plays of his, in such a short amount of time, in these tiny theatres, has been an incredible opportunity. Some brief thoughts:

Buried Child: I saw this one first,  at the Boxcar Playhouse on Natoma. I had no idea what to expect when I went in. I ended up sitting in the middle of a row of people I’d never met before, but by the end of the evening it felt like we were all best friends. Buried Child became this kind of trip that we were all taking with each other. This is a really intense play, and I don’t know if Sam Shepard intended it to be as funny as we all thought it was, but once one of us started laughing we were all laughing together. And then the play seemed to get funnier as it continued. Whatever preconceptions I had about what kind of a writer Shepard is, or what’s possible during an evening of theatre, went out the window with this one.

Fool for Love: Once again the audience and the theatre itself were an important part of the experience. When the play started multiple cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon were popped open around the room. Which is not to say there was anything at all lacking in the cast. On the contrary, they were all fantastic. And part of the joy of having these plays in repertory is getting to see the same people as multiple characters in different environments. For this particular play one of the boxcar studios on Hyde Street has been transformed into a seedy motel room. It’s not like watching them perform on a stage – it’s like being in a motel with them. You can practically hear their hearts beating. I’ve seen Fool for Love a bunch of times, including the original New York City production at Circle Repertory Theatre in 1983. Every time it’s different, and even now I’m still not sure what exactly is happening in this story. But I love Fool for Love, and this is an awesome staging of it.

True West: Another play I’d never seen before, and what a way to check it out. Boxcar’s True West seemed to continue and amplify the elements that had gone into make the previous two plays so memorable. Down a narrow hallway from where Fool for Love is simultaneously playing, past some mysterious industrial metal doors, is another black box theatre that has been transformed into a family kitchen. There are audience seats set up everywhere, including between the stove and refrigerator. The smell of burnt toast near the end of the play is inescapable, as is the relationship between the two brothers. It’s both frightening and hilarious.

Staged Readings/Workshops: There were several one-act plays that were done for limited appearances when there were dark nights in the studio theatres (which wasn’t often.) I wish I’d been able to see more of them. Of course there was no way of knowing in advance how much I’d enjoy the ones that I did. The “Shep Rep” festival has kind of built up it’s own momentum, and I have gotten caught up in it. I did manage to catch Suicide in B-flat, which was excellently staged by those rising stars of the Bay Area theatre world, “Do It Live! Productions.” For some reason this was the Sam Shepard play that made the most sense to me. It’s got a non-linear plot and some of the weirdest dialogue I heard during the fest, but I totally got it.

And then there were two short one-acts done back-to-back, Action and 4-H Club. The first play ended with the characters hanging sheets over laundry lines and completely cutting off the view of the audience. When the sheets came down the set had been changed and the second play began. They did a fabulous job of reviving these early gems from Shepard’s off-off-Broadway days. And how often does this kind of stuff get done anymore? Clearly, I can now say, not enough.

Sam Shepard in Repertory continues at boxcar’s playhouse and studios till April 14. They’re also doing Lie of the Mind, which I’ll be seeing next. And Do It Live! Productions is moving Suicide in B-flat over to the Mission for two weekends of late night gigs at Stagewerx.  I’ll likely go back for repeat viewings of as many of these as I can, because I don’t want the fun to end.



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2011: eleven plays

January 8, 2012

These plays are eleven of my favorites from 2011, in chronological order:


MEASURE FOR MEASURE: This was a staged reading by Subterranean Shakespeare in some kind of meeting room in a Unitarian Church in Berkeley. They did a whole series of these on consecutive Monday nights, putting a lot of work into plays that were only seen one time each.  Of the ones I went to see Measure for Measure comes to mind right now because it’s one of my favorites and doesn’t get produced very often. SubShakes proved that Measure for Measure is not a “problem play.”

April 2011:

SPEED-THE-PLAY: Move About Theatre simultaneously did four short plays outdoors on the four sides of Union Square in downtown SF. I was really impressed with the one called Speed-the-Play, which had  everything David Mamet ever wrote squeezed into seven minutes. There were tourists walking by who were probably wondering why these people were talking so fast and yelling and swearing at each other so much.

May 2011:


“VERSHININ. I have come to say good-bye. . . .

[OLGA moves a little away to leave them free to say good-bye.]

MASHA [looking into his face]. Good-bye . . . [a prolonged kiss].

OLGA. Don’t, don’t. . . .

[MASHA sobs violently.]”

Berkeley Rep’s production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, directed by Les Waters, had everything it needed: an awesome cast, beautiful period costumes and sets, and Russian vodka served in the lobby during intermission.

July 2011:

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: I took a theatre trip to New York City and saw five plays in three days. I planned the weekend vacation around seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company, who were visiting from the UK. But the plays that made it to this list aren’t the RSC productions that I had bought tickets for months in advance. They’re two local shows I didn’t know I was going to see till I got there:

The first was A Midsummer Night’s Dream,  in a storefront theatre on 23rd Street that, I’m guessing, might have originally been someone’s townhouse. The opening scene was staged as a cocktail party, not unlike festivities that might have actually taken place in the same room once upon a time, with an open bar and guests toasting from a loft balcony. And then, we all went off into the forest…

Afterwards, at the end of a day that had started in San Francisco, I wasn’t even sure where I was. But I was glad to be there.

July 2011:

On the asphalt at Shakespeare in the Parking Lot

HAMLET : My second night in NYC I saw Hamlet performed in a parking lot at the corner of Ludlow and Broome. I have a tendency to romanticize experiences like this. I’ve been trying to write about it for six months, using a lot of my favorite words – urban, cool, visceral, modern, primal, downtown, lucid, punk, Ophelia, etc. – all of which would have been appropriate. But there was much than that going on. This was a really fantastic Hamlet, and it would have been just as fantastic anywhere else The Drilling Company might have set up shop. The Bard was right: all the world is a stage.

Gertrude and Hamlet. (With the corpse of Pollonius leaning against the street light. )

September 2011:

CYMBELINE : Life in San Francisco wasn’t the same after I got back from New York, and I was grateful when the SF Shakespeare Festival began their annual residency in the Presidio. I’ve written about them before – seeing them on a cold, foggy Saturday night (or a hot sunny Sunday afternoon) is always a pleasure, and I still don’t understand why more people don’t check them out. Hey, it’s free! The SF Chronicle didn’t even review this year’s show, Cymbeline, and it was one of the best things they’ve ever done. It’s not one of the classics, but in their capable hands it was not only entertaining but moving.

October 2011:

INANNA’S DESCENT : Last year Ragged Wing took over a trippy neighborhood park in Berkeley and turned it into a mythic, interactive underworld for Persephone’s Roots. This year they were back with a different Goddess, but with the common theme of death and rebirth. It was that time of year – the final performance was on Halloween. Heavy stuff,  but with a sense of humor and original music. This was something that could be experienced over and over and be different every time.

Here’s an interview I did with the director, Anna Shneiderman, in 2010:

October 2011: DESDEMONA & GOOD NIGHT DESDEMONA (GOOD MORNING, JULIET): I wrote a previous blog post about these two plays, both done at the Boxcar Theatre. I’m looking forward to returning to the Boxcar this year, when they’ll be doing four Sam Shepard plays in repertory.

November 2011:

HAIR: I really loved Hair, The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, which was in town for four weeks at the Golden Gate Theater. I’m still in a blissful state, and not yet ready to analyze what happened. Check back with me later for more details.

December 2011:

BAD HAMLET – The Bootleg Quarto of 1603: I found this one by pure serendipity. I was walking home from the library and saw a poster for it in a window. At first I thought it was some kind of prank, but I went back in the evening to check it out and it was, indeed, real. Was it “bad?” No, actually, it was great. In closing I’d like to thank Do It Live! Productions: having a chance to see Hamlet again this year was, for me, a happy ending to 2011.



(Asphalt photo by Andrea Beeman/Bioluminosity B&B. Gertrude and Hamlet photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.)

Desdemona: The lady is a tramp.

October 22, 2011

Oh Heavens! I just logged in and saw that I’ve only done one post in the last year. Where did the time go? What have I been doing? I love theatre, and I go see plays every week.  I always have some thoughts about them when they’re over, though it appears that I haven’t been logging in too many of them. But I was inspired by a play that I saw tonight, and as I left I decided that I would go home and write a gonzo blog post. So I walked into my apartment, sat down (in the chair where I am now) and I won’t get up until I’m done. It’s time to share the love:

I just went to a theatre in downtown San Francisco called the boxcar. It’s in a dark alley of one of the last gritty blocks left in downtown San Francisco. This micro-neighborhood seems to have missed all the gentrification that’s happened since I moved here twenty years ago. I don’t know if that’s why I didn’t visit the Boxcar till this month. But they finally got my attention by doing not one but two modern plays featuring characters created by Shakespeare. The first one, which was only done on four nights, was called “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet.)” I’d never seen anything quite like it. The main character gets to step into two Shakespeare plays, prevent tragedies, and then find out what happens instead.

I quickly became caught up in what was going on. It actually wasn’t about Desdemona and Juliet so much as it was about the modern woman stuck in grad school somewhere who went back and met them. She was, it seemed, learning about herself; not changing Shakespeare’s stories, but her own. And that was a really interesting idea. And a great production!  This was a fully staged performance that was put together just to be done when the main show was dark, which meant I saw it on a Monday night. When it was over I was amazed at what I had seen, the hard work that had gone into it, and how I lucky I was to have gotten the chance to experience it.

Tonight I saw the main show, still running in the same space, which was just called “Desdemona.” There was what might have been a subtitle that asked the question, “What if Desdemona really was a whore?” I’m not sure if that is an actual part of the name of the play.  I’ll do the research later. This is my gut reaction to what I saw, and I dug it. “Desdemona” was kind of like Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” in that it is a look at some scenes that were missing from another play. The play in this case would be “Othello,” though the Moor himself did not appear. (For a moment he could be heard slapping his wife offstage.)

There was just Emelia, Desdemona and Bianca and a story about what they might have been really like.  How did they end up in the situation that they were in? Why did they behave the way they did? In this play their fates didn’t change, but who they might have been did. “Othello” is not one of my favorite plays but now I’m looking forward to seeing it again from the perspective of these three women.

I was once again impressed by the efforts of a great cast and everyone else involved in putting on the show. I’m not sure what all this means.  The boxcar theatre itself is small, but the talent in it is gigantic. And the alley the theatre is on isn’t really that dark. It’s got streetlights and there’s a lot of traffic going by and it’s easy to get to.  I’ll be going back there again. There’s a lot there to be discovered – and that, perhaps, is what both of these plays were about.



PS – “Goodnight Desdemona…” was the second play I’ve seen recently that featured ukulele playing, and it sounded wonderful. If this is the beginning of a trend, that’s fine with me.