YOU, NERO A review for JACK GOES BOATING FAUST PART ONE at the ASHBY STAGE

YOU, NERO

 

Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

 

Danny Scheie is perhaps the greatest comic actor in North America, without being accused of hyperbole; it would be a safe bet to also include Central America and most of the Galapagos Islands as well.

 

Personally I give Danny sovereignty over the Western Hemisphere excluding perhaps Nova Scotia.

 

Danny has ranges of both emotion and vocal pitch that enable him to effect multi-polar mood swings like the weather in Portland; cast as the imperious, impetuous, petulant, irascible Nero, these are an important attributes.

 

Nero as depicted in Amy Freed's YOU, NERO, currently running at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, is the kind of guy who can love you in one instant like Telly Savalas and in the next instant have you as the head liner at Circus Maximus, or the main event at exhibition lion wrestling in the Coliseum or maybe used as a Tiki Torch to light up a ritzy patrician garden party up on the Palatine.

 

Danny's best performance in the bay area was also Amy Freed's work: RESTORATION COMEDY at California Shakespeare; YOU, NERO is more of Danny doing what he does best: high-energy comedy.

 

According to Toynbee, the Roman Empire entered a decline after the Second Punic War commencing in 218 b.c.e., Nero hastened that decline, like a pilot trimming nose down following a dual engine flameout.

 

As the nephew of Caligula, genetically speaking, his DNA did not augur much promise politically; when he ordered the murder of his own mother; it became evident that he put political expediency ahead of family considerations.

 

Uninformed or informed people believe that the Countrywide Mortgage Company invented the housing crisis; this play illustrates that the first major housing crisis was actually precipitated by Nero.

 

Historians of his day claim that Nero kept Rome burning for nine days: it took a lot of houses off the market.

 

Jeff McCarthy as the obsequious, compromising playwright Scribonius is absolutely a howl: while having at least a shred of moral fiber, Jeff's Scribonius instantly tosses it onto the pyre, or into the Venetorium, when offered an evening with Poppaea—played with scintillating, sintering intensity by Susannah Schulman.

 

The show should NOT be missed; people will be talking about this show for years and you may be left out of the conversation completely unless you act now: call (510) 647-2949.

JACK GOES BOATING

 

Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

 

Conspicuously great directing, by Joy Carlin, and a superb cast, take this romantic comedy to comedic heights far beyond what the playwright, Bob Glaudini, could only have dreamed of.

 

While Glaudini's dramatis personae seem like "off the shelf" stock New Yorkers: standard New York City working class stereotypes speaking in a viscous Brooklynese patois, the acting is any but "off the shelf."

 

Award winning Gabriel Marin, as Clyde, performs a spectacular balancing act: he never actually strives to be a Brooklyn limo driver: his tact is to lampoon or parody a Brooklyn limo driver; the comedic result is leaps beyond what would have resulted otherwise: this too is supporting evidence of Carlin's directing genius.

 

MR Marin has his character nailed: he reaches the core of his character and comes back out to the audience in a hilarious tour de force.

 

The pauses, hesitations, facial contortions, tics, twitches, gestures, body English and Italian-American gesticulations, used unsparingly, unstintingly and unmercifully by MR Marin, are fine brush strokes adding buckets of detail and imbuing his character with unsentimental, riotous comedy.

 

MR Marin gets the audience into such a laughing jag, that he is funny even when he is not supposed to be funny; the audience found him risible even at the final curtain and the cast party that followed.

 

Danny Wolohan plays the title character: a loveable guy of immeasurable sincerity and very measurable academic and intellectual promise.

 

Jack falls very patiently in love with Connie (played by Beth Wilmurt); waiting like a addled sap to close escrow.

 

Jack, like many of us, clearly lacks a sense of proportion.

 

Jack belongs to a special Arab tradition of characters that traces back to the Mediterranean region of the 13th century.

 

Jack was Goha in North Africa, Jahan in Malta, Giufa in Sicily and Quixote in Spain: he is a loveable simpleton who lacks a sense of proportion but occasionally shows flashes of lucidity and genius.

 

For example: when Guifa learned that his wife was with child, he threw away all the knives of the house; when his wife asked where the knives had gone, Guifa told her that he had dispensed with them so that their child would not cut himself on one of them.

 

After inviting Connie over for dinner, Jack spends months with a professional assistant chef "the Cannole" learning to cook; when he offers Connie a row boat ride in Central Park, he spends months learning to swim in perchance the boat should capsize during their half hour at sea.

 

Jack's dawdling romance with Connie provides a clear vision of what Lennie's affair with Curley's Wife might have looked like had Lennie not granulated several of her cervical vertebrae and squeezed her hyoid bone up into her cranial cavity.

 

If you would like to witness spectacular comedy, not the canned laughter and skits that are cut and pasted together for tedious prime-time sitcoms, then this is rare opportunity; one has to wonder how long it will be before the formidable talent of MR Marin will be whisked off the stages of the bay area and transported to the world of high-definition mass media humdrum.

 

Warning: if you have recently undergone abdominal surgery or routine lipo-suction, you might want to wait before attending the show: your laughter could pop your rivets and sutures.

 

The show is a must for any purist who appreciates the art of real comedy or for anyone who just wants or needs to laugh long and hard.

 

This show in indisputably the funniest show in northern Calfornia; perhaps even west of the Pecos.

 

For tickets to this comedic masterpiece contact the Aurora Theatre at www.auroratheatre.org or flip open the cell and call 510-843-4822.

FAUST PART ONE

Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

The Shotgun Players are now performing FAUST PART ONE at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley.

Mark Jackson writes, directs and acts in this startling, yea even shocking, rendition of the proverbial Mephistophelean contract.

Faust—played by Mark Jackson—seems a little vertically translated from the Faust we might think we remember from Goethe.

Goethe's Faust is a bit reminiscent of the story of Job: like Job, Faust is a victim: the object of a supernatural wager.

In this case Mephistopheles makes a wager with God regarding the fundamentally fallen or corrupt nature of Faust.

The Faust of Goethe is a man for all seasons, an intellectual, scientist, alchemist, etc. who is innocently plodding: striving to learn all that is worth knowing.

Mark Jackson's Faust is a frustrated middle-aged man, insulated and alienated from the hoi polio by his own sense of intellectual superiority; his Faust eagerly parlays his sophistication; shucks his contemplative life for a debauching digression with a naïve virgin youth.

Mark Jackson may be exposing the fundamental fantasy that serves as the mainspring—the engine—for the intelligent, ambitious man: that his accrued knowledge, wealth and power can be parlayed into meaningful sexual dalliances with beautiful voluptuous women.

Like the average middle-aged man, Faust quickly wearies of the mortal angel—the apparition of Aphrodite—that he was all too eager to trade his soul for.

This is must be the California Faust.

Faust attains no knowledge: esoteric or scientific or otherwise, from Mephistopheles; instead he gets coached on the romantic arts of seduction: he is taught to be a boulevardier: a lothario.

Faust learns how to attain his share of sensuous pulchritude and steamy unbridled concupiscence from the abundant wellspring of Gretchen.

Gretchen snaps at the trinkets, bling-bling or baubles offered by Faust like a barracuda snaps at chromium minnows laced with treble hooks.

No sooner does Faust close escrow with Gretchen then corpses begin to litter the stage.

As Shakespeare once said, "Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin awards me pain." (Sonnet CXLI)

Faust is awarded pain: if this is California Faust, it retains the priggish moral integrity or karmic inevitability of German Catholic tragedy or Morality Plays.

Blythe Foster is superb as Gretchen particularly as she blithely (no pun intended) pours the whole amphora—okay vial—of sleeping potion into her mother's toddy, rather than the three drops recommended by the Devilish Pharmacist: Mephistopheles.

Peter Ruocco is unctuously slick as Mephistopheles: were the audience not tutored on FAUST prior to the show, they might mistake Ruocco's Mephistopheles for a benign, sagely, generous godfather.

Mephistopheles never injures anybody: he just provides all the necessary tools.

Sound man Matt Stines contributions the auditory, vibratory, sensory and subliminal: his bass line causes the audience's seating to tremble and their spines to tingle: he plants woofers and sub-woofers in the Ashby Stage that will fibrillate your adipose and resonant your vertebrae.

In these desperate times, Mephistophelean contracts are lying about like fly paper; before you start drawing blood to sign on the dotted line, get thee first to the Ashby Stage.

For tickets to an absolutely riveting show, with moral overtones, contact the box office at www.shotgunplayers.org or call on your cell—NOT while you are in a play or driving—510 841-7468.