For 2016, I’m replacing resolutions with a theme

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I’ve made the same new year’s resolutions time and time again: get organized, get fit, lose weight, write every day, read more books, yada yada yada.

I’m going for a slightly different approach this year. It’s not that I don’t still need to get organized and fit, and I would like to write more regularly and read more. But just saying I would do those things didn’t seem to make an impression on the part of me that’s responsible for the action of carrying them out.

So rather than a list of resolutions, I’m setting up a theme for myself, under which sub-categories of various sorts might work their way into my lifelong quest of self-improvement.

And what is that theme? Letting go.

I’m going to try to keep it simple. Unwanted habits, excess pounds, space-hogging paperwork, maybe even unrealistic expectations–they’re all prime candidates for letting go. My motto this year will be “Less is more.”

It’s worth a try. And maybe by this time next year, there will be less of whatever gets in the way of me being the happiest possible version of myself. Not that I’m currently unhappy–quite the contrary. But it sometimes feels like I’m trying to hold on to too much stuff, both material and emotional. So I envision a lighter me for 2017. Wish me luck!

Everyone should see Disgraced

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Bernard White, Nisi Sturgis, Zakiya Young & J. Anthony Crane in a happy moment

Disgraced is not a fun night of theater, but it is definitely worth your time and money, even if you have to pay single-ticket prices. Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece focuses on Amir, a Pakistani American lawyer (played expertly by Bernard White) and his wife, Emily, who is a painter interested in Muslim art. They have a couple over for dinner–Amir’s colleague, Jory, and her husband, Isaac, who is a gallery owner and has the power to promote Emily’s work. Just the politics involved in becoming partners in a law firm and making your mark on the art world would probably be meat enough for a serious play. But Akhtar dug deeper into our post 9/11 psyche and made his characters reflect distinct backgrounds with a lot of cultural baggage: Emily is white, Isaac is Jewish, and Jory is black. Amir not only hides his Muslim background but rails on Islam to the point that Isaac accuses him of self-loathing. And Amir’s nephew, Abe, is a young Pakistani searching for his identity in a place where presidential candidates want to build walls to keep immigrants out. Lots of words are thrown out more and more carelessly as the couples drink away their day-to-day filters.

Despite its surface similarity to other disastrous dinner-party plays a la Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Disgraced delves much deeper than Albee’s tale of academics and their discontented wives. Amir strives for partnership in his law firm and has seemingly assimilated successfully to an affluent New York City lifestyle. He has turned his back on Islam but isn’t able to shake its cultural hold on him. Emily appreciates Islam on an aesthetic level from a safe perch of white privilege. Jory takes her cues from Henry Kissinger, valuing order over justice. Isaac has his own secret desires and a sharp tongue. And Abe, a youth teetering toward rebellion, pleads with Amir to help a friend in a legal matter, but Amir is loath to get involved for reasons that become painfully clear by play’s end.

On one level Disgraced is about Islamophobia, but it’s also about systemic racism in general, cultural identity, family loyalty, ambition, domestic violence, and what it means to be human. It has no heroes and offers no easy answers. Because of the intensity of the issues raised in the play, the Berkeley Rep had a question-and-answer session after every performance. The night after the Paris massacre, the audience observed a moment of silence, no doubt stunned by the timing. You can’t watch Disgraced and then leave it behind you as you exit the theater. It’s going to stick with you not just because it’s beautifully written or profound but because it represents our present situation with all its confusion, fear, and hope.

I regret not getting this post up before the play’s run at Berkeley Rep ended, but this play has staying power, so it’s bound to return some day. It’s a play everyone should see.

 

There’s just no end to theater opportunities!

Once again, I’ve been remiss in giving timely reviews to all the shows I’ve seen in the last month. Perhaps I will make a resolution to write posts immediately after shows in the year to come.

I added a new venue to my list in November–the Brava Theatre, where I saw the fabulous Marga Gomez perform her one-woman show “Pound.” It was a hilarious journey through her current life as a single, middle-aged lesbian, with some film critique and fantasy thrown in. I always love Marga. That particular show ended, but she’s going to be part of a big New Year’s Eve bash at the Brava, which will probably be loads of fun.

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Gabriel Marin & Carrie Paff

Sarah Ruhl’s “Stage Kiss” at SF Playhouse was a treat. Carrie Paff and Gabriel Marin are always a joy to watch. The premise is that two ex-lovers are cast as the romantic leads in a play. So the audience gets to see both the play itself and the play within the play. Mark Anderson Phillips gets to play his part for laughs–a director who doesn’t know when to quit when he’s behind. And Michael Gene Sullivan (who, for me, is synonymous with the SF Mime Troupe, which means I still have to get used to seeing him indoors) is the patient husband who plays the innocent, even though he’s not officially part of the play within the play. And you can probably guess that a lot of acting goes on, whether onstage or off, and that the offstage behavior rivals the play itself until you can hear Shakespeare’s old adage about all the world’s a stage. It’s great fun. And it’s been extended, so get yourself a ticket now!

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Misner & Smith

PlayGround’s Monday Night Series was on fire in November during its annual musical theater night. Local folk duo Misner & Smith performed their songs, which were the inspirations for the plays. The result was a great combo of lovely harmonies and great storytelling. I may be biased, having had one of my plays among the six showcased, but I swear that everyone around me seemed to be having a grand old time.

It’s the end of an era for the Playwrights’ Center’s Sheherezade’s Last Tales, which celebrated its fifteenth year bringing short plays to the stage. Word is that it’s not disappearing but morphing into something else, but we don’t know what that will be. Sheherezade 15 was a mix of zany, serious, and thought-provoking vignettes that covered family relationships, changing identities, and the dating scene for the over-60 crowd. Out of the eight offerings, a few were ambitious but just missed the mark, one or two could have used a tad more development, and about half were genuinely worthwhile. But that’s the beauty of seeing several short plays–if you’re not engaged by one, another one will be on stage shortly. I’ll be interested in seeing what the Playwrights’ Center comes up with to take SLT’s place.

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Rich Black’s amazing poster for Mousetrap

“Mousetrap,” Agatha Christie’s murder mystery playing at the Shotgun Players’ Ashby Stage, is a great night of theater. A winter storm strands several unusual characters together in a newly redone inn in the English countryside shortly after a murder in London. And so the twisted tale begins and the questions arise: Who will die? Who is the killer? How are these people related to each other? And why does the stranger who claims to have had car trouble have such a bad Italian accent? (Trivia side note: Agatha Christie was an expert surfer!) My favorite performance was Nick Medina’s version of Christopher Wren. He looked like he was having the time of his life up there, which made me enjoy it even more. Lucky for any of you who haven’t yet seen this show, it’s been extended until January 24. So there’s no excuse to miss it!

The Ira Glass collaboration with Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass that recently graced Zellerbach’s stage was the most original show of the year. When else have I attended a show that featured a modern dance company and a radio legend famous for his storytelling? The iconic host of This American Life provided the text for “Three Acts, Two Dancers, and One Radio Show Host” while Monica and Anna showed off their distinctive choreography. And Ira danced too!

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Inebriated revelers in “Dancing Dan’s Christmas”

Word for Word’s “Holiday Hijinx” was a real delight and a nice twist on traditional holiday fare. The three stories were set in Depression-era New York and were all written by journalists. My favorite was E.B. White’s “Christmas and Relative Pronouns,” which was published in The New Yorker in December of 1932. I’m just sad that the traffic on the bridge made us too late to imbibe the complimentary pre-show Tom & Jerry, the cocktail that featured prominently in the opening story, Damon Runyon’s “Dancing Dan’s Christmas.”  It made me want to come home and make myself a Tom & Jerry. (Who am I kidding? Of course, I’d ask my mixologist husband, Dave, to make it.)