Category Archive for: ‘Annette Lust’

May/June Theatre Reviews

The Tempest

Erika Chong Shuch in The Tempest, directed by Jonathan Moscone; photo by Kevin Berne.

From Medea to Bruja at the Magic Theatre
Set in today’s Mission district in San Francisco,  Bruja by Chicano writer Luis Alfaro, actor, stage director and professor, had its worldwide premiere at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco on June 6th. The title of the play in Spanish means witch, evildoer or sorceress and can sometimes refer to a sharp tongued woman. Alfaro’s play is an updated version of Euripedes’ Medea based on Mayan culture that transforms the Greek myth of Medea and Jason in which Medea’s (whose name in Greek mythology means “cunning”)  magic helps Jason and the Argonauts obtain the Golden Fleece to obtain his legitimate kingship in Thessaly. For abandoning her to marry the daughter of a king, Medea poisons Jason’s bride and slays their children for revenge.
In Alfaro’s adaptation the playwright brings out the intensity of love and hate in an immigrant couple’s relationship outside of the bonds of marriage as they undergo the pressures of adapting to the standards of a new country where material needs and ambition take precedence. Alfaro concretizes this relationship by converting the Greek myth into a prosaic portrayal of a Mexican heroine (Sabina Zuniga Varela) and her sons and male lover (Sean San José) whose tranquil and loving life turns to hate and crime.  After fleeing from her hometown in Mexico, Medea, a neighborhood healer, lives in the Mission district of San Francisco with the elderly Vieja (Wilma Bonet) and Jason who works in construction for Creon (Carlos Aguirre). Creon takes a liking to Jason and upon discovering he is not married to Medea arranges for him to marry his own young daughter. When Creon appears to evict Medea she asks for twenty four hours more to leave. After this the play takes on the passionate turn of events familiar to Euripides play with a poetic and tragic ending in which Jason arrives to look for his boys while Medea moves upward toward the sky as Jason calls out to her with a bird’s call.
The play is well directed by artistic director Loretta Greco in the Magic Theatre space with spectators seated three quarters around the action.The entire cast performs with conviction and emotional strength. The pace could be quickened and at times the dialogue could use a clearer diction when  Spanish and a Spanish accent are utilized.
Minimal sets (Andrew Boyce) are effective to increase the use of more space. Sound effects (Jake Rodriguez) and appropriate regional costumes (Alex Jaeger) empower the production.
Luis Alfaro’s Bruja is an original and successful recreation of the ancient Greek revenge Medea myth that leaves us feeling empathy for the heroine who in the Euripides tragedy says, “It never shall be said that I have left my children for my foes to trample on.”
 Bruja plays through June  24th. For information call 415-441-8822 or visit
Emilie or The Marquise du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight
Lauren Gunderson’s world premiere of the life of the celebrated 18thcentury Marquise du Chatelet’s opens with her early death at forty three. Danielle Levin interprets the thoughts of the dying Emelie as she recalls her life on her deathbed while Blythe Foster simultaneously interprets the action of her dying. Projected on a wall are the titles Love on one column and Philosophy on a second column upon which Emilie will add a check ON one or the other according to her success in one area or the other.
Married young to the Marquis de Chatelet, a military nobleman with whom she has little in common other than three children, Emilie encounters Voltaire at the Opera and develops a friendship with the philosopher (Robert Parsons) that turns into passionate love and an intellectual binding. When Voltaire abandons her temporarily for another woman she has an affair with the poet Jean Franç Lambert (Tyler McKenna). Much of the dramatic conflict resides in Emilie’s translations of Newton’s mathematical principles that opposed Voltaire’s defense of Leipzig’s principles. Emilie dies still searching for solutions to her mathematical problems. “I’m not done!” she exclaims as she dies. We are left with the statement ” Answers may not come but it is the asking that is important.”
Playwright Gunderson’s portrait of Emilie through the eyes of a dying woman in which one actress’s (Danielle Levin) monologues look back at her life’s aims and experiences is an ingenious one. It offers us an inner look into the soul of a woman who is exceptional for the age in which she lived. We learn about her strong internal will to succeed intellectually and to love passionately and shamelessly, never sacrificing her actions to the conventions of women married to nobility. The second actress (Blythe Foster) simultaneously playing Emilie externally projects the incidents in Emilie’s life resulting from her inner will.
Skillfully directed by Chloe Bronzan, founder and artistic director of Symmetry, in the intimate Berkeley City Club space where the Aurora theatre had its beginnings, the movement and oral interpretation captured the elegant stylization of Emilie’s court life and 18th century intellectual and artistic milieus. Danielle Levin ‘s interpretation of Emilie leans more toward the ambitious and willful aspect of the heroine’s character rather than toward her sensuality. (Voltaire had said that Emilie was an outstanding man in the body of a woman) Blythe Foster as Emilie simultaneously acting out incidents of her life offers the more feminine side of Emilie. Robert Parsons and Tyler McKenna are inspiring as Voltaire and the poet Jean Francois. Marie Shell as Madame and other characters and Colin Thomson as the Marquis create convincing character types.
Minimal sets and elegant period costumes are tastefully done by Chloe Bronzan.
The staging of this polished production accomplished by a new company with a clearly defined and worthy mission has provided a signature piece that matches the company’s aim to create professional theatre that stimulates and challenges spectators as well as includes as many female characters and equity members as males who perform women’s as well as male works.
Emilie plays until July 1st. For information call 415- 377-0457 or visit
Cal Shakes’ Tempest Both Creative and Fun

In complete contrast to Jon Tracy’s adaptation of The Tempest at Marin Shakespeare last September, which was dark and gloomy, TheTempest at Cal Shakes is both lighthearted and lots of fun.  Director Jonathan Moscone’s adaptation trims the text, cuts the subsidiary characters and rearranges the text for six actors to play eleven roles. 
When we walk into Bruns Amphitheatre, we see a rough-hewn wooden boat run painfully aground.  Emily Greene effectively designed this shipwreck of a set with sea chests opening to reveal a wealth of props, nets and most of all, books all over the place. 
Scene One opens with a violent storm that befalls Alonso, King of Naples (James Carpenter); Antonio, Duke of Milan (Catherine Castellanos); Alonso’s brother Sebastian (Emily Kitchens); and Alonso’s son Ferdinand (Nicholas Pelczar) on their journey through the Mediterranean.  They all wear yellow slicker raincoats designed by Anna Oliver.  Unbeknownst to them, this storm has been conjured by the magic of Prospero (Michael Winters), the exiled Duke of Milan, unjustly ousted by his brother and washed up on a remote island with his daughter, Miranda (Emily Kitchens), where he has made himself both a master magician and a king. 
Next, Erica Chong Shuch, who choreographed the production, emerges from a trunk as Ariel to do Prospero’s bidding. She is charming in the role as she flits and flies through the action, assisted by three other dancers. Soon Ferdinand meets Prospero’s daughter Miranda and the two fall immediately in love. 
The high comedy scenes between Caliban (Catherine Castellanos), Trinculo (Nicholas Pelczar), and Stephano (Michael Winters) are a delight with much audience involvement.  Moscone’s production is strongest in these scenes of broad humor. 
The play ends with a wedding and a renunciation.  Ferdinand and Miranda happily marry to Nat King Cole singing “Stardust,” and Prospero reveals to Antonio the results of his “rough magic” that has furthered his enterprise, exposed his enemies, regained his kingdom and insured his daughter’s future happiness.  To this end, Michael Winters gave a solid performance as Prospero. 
Come and enjoy the magic in the new California Shakespeare Theatre’s production of The Tempest.  The Tempest runs May 30-June 24, 2012 at Bruns Amphitheatre in Orinda, CA.  For tickets, call 510-548-9666 or go online at
Coming up next at Cal Shakes is Spunk from July 4-29. Spunk is made up of three tales by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by George C. Wolfe and directed by Patricia McGregor. 
Flora Lynn Isaacson
Larry Hankin’s Street Stories at the Marsh
Larry Hankin, the veteran east-west coast storyteller, who moved from Greenwich Village to North Beach in San Francisco to perform in The Committee in the sixties, recently had his audiences happily smiling at the S.F. Marsh.
Sponsored by the San Francisco Improv Festival August 16th to Aug. 25th,
Hankin began with his “Sometimes Jones” story of a young pickpocket who ran away from home and lived on Market Street in San Francisco. He got so good at pickpocketing that he could steal from himself. And when the United States President came to San Francisco and he was able to shake hands with him he came home with the President’s wallet that had a card in it that promised him a second life if ever his life was threatened. At times raping in rime, Hankin briskly continues through adventure after adventure with Sometime Jones and his second lives.
Hankin’s second set of stories is centered around Emmett Deemus, an aging biker who tells short stories for 25 cents each. At this point Hankin describes homelessness as a real job and how it differs from regular homes through the absence of doorknobs, walls and toilets that makes it home free.
Hankin’s unique combination of story telling combined with improvisation utilizing street jargon to describe original characters along with his knack for enlarging on their eccentricity with humor leaves his audience wishing for more.
For more information on Larry Hankin’s background on stage, screen and T.V. and to see him performing Sometimes Jones in Solly’s Dineron you tube visit Larry

 In the African American Shakespeare Company’s Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry husband Walter Lee Younger is played by Todd Risby and his son Travis is played alternately by Sav’ion Green and Z 

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