Berkeley Daily Planet: Stoppard, Anouilh, Fugard and More

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet

Thursday January 28, 2010

The beginning of the winter-spring theatre season hit last weekend, more concentrated a downpour than the storm. And a few shows that opened earlier are still running, too, including Oleg Liptsin’s unique, brilliant iPhone-era take on Gogol’s The Nose (which has decamped from Berkeley to the Shelton Studio at Pier 26 in San Francisco), Altarena’s production of Bus Stop, in Alameda, and Shotgun’s acclaimed production of Threepenny Opera, ending its extended run at the Ashby Stage this weekend. A floodtide of theatrical offerings. Here, then, a few highlights, struggling to be an overview:

Rosenkranz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard’s first big hit, starts off a kind of parody of Beckett, but with the Melancholy Prince and the Traveling Players instead of Pozzo and Lucky and the never-present Godot. It becomes a cleverly built and spoken half-farce, half meditation on mortality, a comedic tour-de-force—and TheateFIRST rises to the occasion. Artistic director Michael Storm and Kalli Jonsson play the interchangeable and marginal pair who end up in the thick of tragedy, along with a splendid Hamlet (Harold Pierce, the Player King in Actors Ensemble’s version, here the Melancholy Prince), George Killingworth as the portable Polonius, and Claudius (Chiron Alston), as well as Ophelia, Gertrude and the wonderfully louche Players, led by Andrew Hurteau, who make all the difference, musically, with slapstick and swashbuckle—and “words, words, words.”

Stoppard copped a line of Cocteau’s, characterizing the Parisian’s stripped-down, modenized Antigone as “an aerial photo of the Acropolis,” tagging Rosenkranz and Guildenstern as a drive-by tourist snapshot of Elsinore Castle. If you’re fond of the play, or have never seen it, this could be the show for you. Quick on the uptake and enjoyable.