Make it so, Mark! A theater critic's wish list for 2015

What he hopes to see on local and national stages.

click to enlarge BARD LESSONS: Leib pines for historical Bard productions like Richard III, here starring Kevin Spacey in his  worldwide production and documentary, NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage. -  - Courtesy of BAM/Bridge Project Company
Courtesy of BAM/Bridge Project Company
BARD LESSONS: Leib pines for historical Bard productions like Richard III, here starring Kevin Spacey in his worldwide production and documentary, NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage.

So a new year begins. And a humble critic makes his list of what he’d like to see in the perfect 2015:

1. An Experimental Theater Company. We’re fortunate, here in the Bay area, to have several fine theaters bringing us top plays from New York, the regions, and the classical canon. But where is the company challenging our sense of reality, bringing us the complex, unique pleasures of a Richard Foreman or a Mac Wellman, the early Maria Irene Fornes or the later Peter Handke? Yeah, live theater can tell us tons about life-as-story. But where’s the bold group that wants to shatter our logic and raise our complacent consciousness?

2. Disgraced. Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is about a hotshot Muslim-American attorney married to a blonde artist, and preferring to reject his Islamic roots in favor of American Pie. But in the post-9/11 world, it’s not easy to be named Amir; with dangerous pressure from another couple (a white art curator and his African-American wife), walls of propriety collapse and disaster impends. Won’t somebody please produce this scorcher?

3. Some Modern French Masterpieces. The last century brought a large handful of French playwrights to well-deserved renown, but they never seem to turn up on our professional stages. What a pleasure it might be to see the occasional masterwork by Giraudoux, Anouilh, Cocteau, Sartre, Camus, or Genet (oh for a sharply staged Balcony!). You want literate, passionate, philosophical theater? Give these Frenchies a look.

4. Plays by Local Writers. Okay, this may sound self-serving (I’ve been known to write a script on occasion), but the fact is, in some cities the theaters actually encourage local playwrights to hand them their work. What’s the chance of developing a group of potent Bay area writers when most theaters around here show next to no interest in their efforts? And no, the odd ten-minute play festival isn’t enough.

5. Pirandello. The theater’s premier modernist (all right, Brecht also has a claim on that title) wrote plays about the impossible paradoxes of theater itself, the strange life that a character has, and the complicated relationship of acting to truth. So why, in the last 16 years at least, haven’t local audiences seen Six Characters in Search of an Author or Henry IV or It Is So (If You Think So)? Old Luigi’s best work is just as satisfying in its ambitious way as a painting by Picasso. When will it arrive in Tampa or St. Pete?

6. Bad Jews. This New York hit by Joshua Harmon is about Daphna, a young Jewish woman preparing to move to Israel, and Liam, her assimilated cousin, and his Gentile fiancée Melody. Daphna is dangerously judgmental and sure of her superior values; Liam is nobody’s pushover, not at all intimidated by his sharp-tongued kinswoman. Their fight over a precious family heirloom becomes symbolic of greater questions of faith and fate; and when the play’s not verbally riveting, it’s wonderfully funny.

7. Caryl Churchill. Perhaps the greatest living British playwright, Churchill is woefully under-represented on area stages. Eleven years ago, Jobsite Theater justified its existence with a brilliant Cloud 9; and the briefer plays A Number and Far Away have come by elsewhere and departed. But what about Top Girls with its challenging structure and impossible colloquy? What about Fen or Vinegar Tom? Caryl, we hardly know ye.

8. Shakespeare’s History Plays. Sometimes it seems that only the tragedies and comedies make it to our tropical shores, while vastly entertaining histories like Richard III and Henry IV, Part One are ignored or passed over. But as all Bardophiles know, some of Shakespeare’s greatest writing is in Richard II or Henry V, and you don’t need to be Hamlet to speak the speech trippingly on the tongue. What a gift to the actor asked to play hunchbacked Richard III or corpulent Falstaff! What a gift to the audience!

9. Matthew McGee in something serious. Okay, so McGee has repeatedly proven that he’s the area’s best at making comedy. But wouldn’t it be interesting to try him in serious drama, say in one of the many contemporary theater hits that regularly turn up on area stages? I’m not saying he’s bound to succeed – maybe his instinct is only to amuse – but wouldn’t it make an intriguing gamble?

10. Ionesco. For example: The Killer. Or Exit the King. Or the hilarious Bald Soprano. Maybe a double bill of Jack, or The Submission and The Lesson. But something, anything (except Rhinoceros). Call it absurdist, call it existentialist, it’s usually sublime.

That’s the shape of it, reader. Have an excellent 2015. And may all your dramas be romantic comedies.      

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