Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard
Shotgun Players
1901 Ashby Avenue Berkeley, CA
November 30, 2018–January 6, 2019

Directed by Patrick Dooley

Words, words, words…and ideas.

Put on your thinking, listening and historical hats and go see Stoppard’s “Arcadia” now at the Shotgun Players. (The run has been extended too January 27.) The play is set in two different time periods, early Victorian, 1809 and late 20th century, 1992. The eleven actors handle all this very well, although the barrage of words and the multiple ideas and relationships among the players require careful attention. You will be confronted not only with the past and present, but with disorder vs. certainty, Romanticism vs. Classicism, poets and poetry… and for good measure mathematical theorems. “Arcadia” should not however phase a post-modern audience.

Arcadia, the land itself, was a noted pastoral part of ancient Greece. Poets and painters described it as a place of “love, poetry and sometimes politics.” This image, is spoken of in Act I, when landscape architect David Sinaiko (Ricard Noakes) enters, shortly accompanied by Adam Nieman (Captain Brice) and Danielle O’Hare (Lady Croom). The three discuss proposed modifications to the gardens, while Max Forman-Mullin (Septimus Hodge) and Amanda Ramos ( Thomasina), the brilliant young student of Hodge, sketches an imaginary hermit on Noakes’s technical drawing of the garden. Thereafter, there may or may not be a duel.

Forman-Mullan (Hodge) and Amanda Ramos (Thomasina) carry the through line of the play, since lessons concern “carnal knowledge,” poetry, (Lord Byron is, or has been, a house guest!), love, gardens and mathematics. All this will be the several subjects that occupy the characters of 1992 Act Two. Therein, Jessma Evans, (Hannah Jarvis), Aaron Murphy (Bernard Nightingale), and Gabriel Christian (Valentine Coverly) will attempt to prove or disprove the events of Act One. Murphy, as Nightingale, the pretentious academic, steals the show with his bravura and his downfall. Still, the theorems prevail. Thomasina, who in the story does not live to continue her work, is the prevailing math* genius. Past and present join together on the ‘stage in the round,’ characters waltzing to provide a musical/dance finale to a play of words.

Patrick Dooley, director, Brooke Jennings, costume designer and the production team of “Arcadia” are to be congratulated for handling a complex, intriguing production.

*Note on the Math: Shotgun audiences had the pleasure of hearing Professor David Eisenbud, Professor of Mathematics, UC Berkeley, lead a panel discussion of the math of “Arcadia” on December 15, 2018. This event may be repeated. Check it out!

Joanna G. Harris


“17c” Big Dance Theater
Cal Performances. UC Berkeley.
December 13-16, 2018
Zellerbach Playhouse

Pepys’ Show

My acute academic neighbor remarked, at the end of “17c” that Pina Bausch had brought a new definition to ‘dance-theater,’ but it was yet unrealized in many productions. Alistair Macauley, in the December 15 issue of the NY Times, notes that the British troupe “Gandini Juggling” also uses dance-theater elements. Although Anne-B Parson’s “17c” “a feminist re-examination of the life of Samuel Pepys” claims to be “Big Dance Theater,” it fails to create dynamic action and lively narrative.

Parson seems fascinated by diaries as she tells us in an unsavory pre-production narrative, and while Pepys diaries are famous literature, this production does not animate them. Events and incidents are disconnected and sporadic. No amount of technical devices, moving sets, declarative statements nor incidental movement is effective. Somehow both story telling and animation are disjointed.

The center mishap is the desultory narrative delivered by Paul Lazar as Pepys. He sits in an easy chair, center stage, and goes on and on about the love affair with the household maid, citing the date of each meeting. The affair is dull as is the recitation.

Pepys may be known for many of his egotistic infatuations; this one is not interesting. Fidelity in marriage was hardly the normal state of affairs as recorded in the 17th century. Although Parson attempts to this with Pepys contemporary, in comments by feminist Margaret Cavendish, the contrast is not effective since it too dissolves into desultory conversation.

An opportunity to show the skill of dancer/actress Elizabeth deMent was sorely missed in the story of Bess, Pepys’ wife, and her infatuation with her dancing master. The dance forms of the 17th century were widely cultivated so that great balls could imitate those of the French court. Yet, deMent, for all her good skill as a dancer, get no opportunity to show those skills. She moves beautifully but the choreography is ineffective.

Although meant to “dismantle this unchallenged historical figure, and embody the women’s voices omitted from Pepys’ intimate portrait of his life,“ (program note), this production seems not to have the impact that dance theater demands. Perhaps the technical requirements (use of mike on long wires, clumsy movement of set pieces) became too challenging in the Zellerbach Playhouse. “17c” was a considered effort, but to this reviewer, and to much of the audience who seemed to withdraw into silence, it was not effective. The performers were:

Elizabeth DeMent – Annotator/Bess (wife of Samuel Pepys): Kourtney Rutherford – Annotator and Margaret Cavendish: Mikéah Earnest Jennings – Samuel Pepys:  Cynthia Hopkins – Samuel Pepys: Paul Lazar – Samuel Pepys. Co-directed by Paul Lazar.

Pictured: Aaron Mattocks and Elizabeth DeMent.
(credit: Johanna Austin)

Joanna G. Harris

Consent Forms

Scott Wells Dancers
“Consent Forms”
Dance Mission Theater, SF
Dec.7-9, 2018

Now! Questions. Conflicted Answers

“Consent Forms”, the work of Scott Wells and dancers, was part performance and part seminar on current questions of ‘consent’ (permission to touch?), so currently on the agenda of everyday news. This agenda does bring the audience into participation. It also makes for time lags, uncomfortable moments for those who cannot find the words and disruption of focus for those who come to concentrate on the dancing.

The best event, choreographically and comment useful, was Wells’ “The Why ask why we dance DUET?”. The piece is a duet for Sebastian Grubb and Michaela Burns who perform it with great technical ease and superb ensemble. But, then the questions.

“Is there a romantic inference when a man and woman dance together? If the woman wears a dress, does that imply sexual preference? Does the music matter? The text?”

All of these were presented and discussed. Grubb and Burns repeated the work. It is a very good piece of contact choreography no matter what the implications.

Also fun and in good spirits was the group work by Miriam Wolodarski performed by herself and Megan Lowe. A group of men sat listening. The title of the work is “Men listening to Women.” The text accompanying the work is by a distinguished group of women, writers, musicians and others whose voices have been heard. The men listened. The women danced with easy skill. Their performance was heard.

I am not impressed with the two pieces choreographed, taught, spoken and directed by Liz Duran Boubion. “What are we doing here?”, a work for herself with Grubb, Lowe, Vitali Kononov and Wells, began with instructions to the audience. No audience can follow the complexity of so many directions while watching others. The improvisors, though committed and skilled, seemed ‘out of it,’ using somewhat indifferent energy, but enjoying each others’ moves. Boubion appeared to dominate the event as she dominates others in posture and gesture. She made a point of changing her costume to something ‘show-biz’ at the end, and then sang. She can’t sing.

Her “1993” work drew even more attention to herself as she employed complex and extravagant costumes to ‘act out’ her response to ‘rape’ stories in “Don’t Grab.” The piece goes on and on. Five other dancers join her. She leads them around, changing costume pieces constantly, leaving the others in very secondary roles. Their confrontation with her might make the piece interesting. Boubion, while skilled and talented in her ideas and movement, could edit and focus her work.

The excellent lighting design was by Harry Rubeck.

Joanna G. Harris

Dia de los Muertos – Oakland Ballet

Oakland Ballet “Dia de los Muertos”
Paramount Theater, Oakland
Nov. 2, 3 2018 Community Celebration

The Oakland Ballet, under the leadership of Graham Lustig, really knows how to celebrate with its community. This year, the “Dia de los Muertos” program brought several groups to add to the festivities. First: the “Blessing Ceremony” danced by Nahul Ehekati and Co. brought scenic and costume wonder to the stage as the group of feathered dancers and drummers asked “Permission to Dance” from the ancestors. Then, the “Ballet Folklorica Mexico Danza”, citing Chichimeca Mexican territory as their homeland, performed some polkas and schottisches that were brought there by European immigrants.

Lustig’s “Luna Mexicana,” last year’s production, established the ceremony of “the day of the dead.” With Jasmine Quezada in the leading role as the mourner, the stage filled with skeletons and ancestors, images that delighted the audience with amazing costumes and movement. Particularly applauded was the “bride and groom duet” done by Samantha Bell and Landes Dixon. Of course, the “hat dance” was the favorite. The house hooted, clapped and was thoroughly involved with the memorable event which marks the Halloween holiday.

The life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo has inspired Oakland Ballet, in collaboration with Ballet Folklorico’s Martin Romero, to produce a new ballet “Viva la Vida!” The work unfolds in several episodes, some depict her paintings of beloved animals, some, her life with Diego Rivera, and her commitment to left wing revolutionary politics. The Rivera incident involves a series of duets, one with Frida (Nina Pearlman) and others with the several women who were his lovers. Alberto Angulano danced Rivera. A tango, choreographed by Romero held unusual charm. It appeared to be danced by two men, but that, of course, was not clear. The full company joined the “Uprising” event: Walt Whitman was quoted; the Mexican flag flew…and the International was sung. What a finale for these political times. “Viva la Vida!” Is an outstanding celebration! Bravo!

Emily Kerr as the Bride and Richard Link as the Groom in Oakland Ballet’s Day of the Dead celebration, “Luna Mexicana.”
Photo: Steven Texeira

Joanna G. Harris


Wakefield” – A new play by Brian Thorstenson
Choreography/Direction: Erin Mei-Ling Stuart
October 5-14, 2018
3435 Caesar Chavez, SF no. 210

Cinematic, Surreal Reality

Thorstenson and Stuart have produce a one-of-a-kind dramatic event which captures the imagination through a series of short episodes that always makes sense and thought, though throughout which there is no logical sequence.

Inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story of the same name, Wakefield starts at the moment Hawthorne’s story ends, when the husband Henry Wakefield returns home after 20 years. What follows is a series of episodes, questioning, remembering, reacting, accepting, rejecting, celebrating…and generally exploring the whole range of both conscious and unconscious associations.

Thorstenson as Henry and Anne Darragh as Sophia, Henry’s wife give superb performances, carrying each episodes with convincing narrative, action, reaction and wonder. The choreographed episodes by Stuart add to the surrealistic dimension of the play. It is a perfect vehicle for cinema. This reviewer suggested it be the next production.

Wakefield” is part of the series “6NewPlays”.

Wakefield features a commissioned score for solo clarinet by Tina Traboulsi, a former student of Thorstenson’s, with Bruce Belton performing live at each show. Additional collaborators include acting coach Tracy Ward and lighting designer Richard Board.

All the participants have great skill and commitment to this project, which is part of 6plays.

Wakefield” is part of the series “6NewPlays”. “6NewPlays” is a collective of six Bay Area playwrights. Over the last three years, the group has produced one play by each playwright: Christopher Chen (Home Invasion, 2016) Andrea Hart (dark is a different beast, 2016), Erin Bregman (That It All Makes Perfect, 2017), Eugenie Chan (Madame Ho, 2017), Barry Eitel (Champagne, 2018) and Brian Thorstenson (Wakefield, 2018). Based on the model of 13P in New York, 6NewPlays put the production process in the hands of each playwright, who served as artistic director for their own production. 6NewPlays is a member of Intersection for the Arts.

Photos by Kegan Marling: Thorstenson and Darragh in “Wakefield

Joanna G. Harris


JODOKU SUSHI – Rockridge

Jodoku Sushi
5295 College Ave, Oakland CA 94618

Our favorite Japanese restaurant, Kamakura in Alemeda, was shuttered over a year ago due to a fire and has not reopened. We finally gave in to a longing for Japanese cuisine nearby and have started a search-and-consume program to replace Kamakura. Our first try in the Rockridge neighborhood, Jodoku Sushi at the southern end of College Avenue was a welcome start. In a pleasant atmosphere with jazz softly playing we ordered too much, but were not disappointed.

Neither of us are fond of the rice-on-the-outside-9-zillion-things-on-the-inside rolls – we stuck to a simple kappa maki (cucumber in rice wrapped with seaweed) and a tuna sashimi appetizer. The maki was firm and the rice properly tasty, the sashimi was fresh and delicious. We did not know what to expect with ‘Tempura Shrimp Pops’ – they turned out to be 4 shrimp, rolled flat at the ends of sticks, with an appropriate sauce drizzled over them. Not your mother-in-law’s tempura, but fun.






For a main course I chose tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) which was tender and tasty (I have had tonkatsu which made cardboard seem soft, but not here), though the miso soup that came with it was bland. A side dish of Agedashi Tofu (battered tofu with sauce) as an experiment was fine for me, though Genevieve found it too squishy for her taste.






Service was friendly though a bit harried. Prices are moderate. Parking in that area can be difficult. We shall return.