CA's Berkeley Repertory Theatre opens its 1998-99 season with Tony Kushner's Hydrotaphia or the Death of Dr. Browne in a co-production with Houston's Alley Theatre, Sept. 16-Nov. 1.
Kushner's wild intellectual comedy chronicles the last hours in the life of Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), an English physician and writer known for the richness of his prose and his attempt to reconcile Christian values with scientific knowledge. As the great man (played by Jonathan Hadary) wanes, he must deal with not just his wife and amanuensis, but also his Soul and Death, not to mention a love-struck gravedigger, a stuttering preacher, and a trio ranters, among the cast of 15. Each character has an all-important agenda and is single-minded in the pursuit of it in a "fabulous" world that spans heaven and earth, the metaphysical and the mundane, the bawdy and the beatific.
Subtitled, An Epic Farce About Death and Primitive Capital Accumulation in Five Scenes. finished its Houston run April 25.
Set against the Restoration, Hydriotaphia continues Kushner's interest in periods of transitions, times when the status quo is changing. Like Angels in America and SLAVS!, both of which used instability as a theme, Hydriotaphia has as its backdrop societal disappointment and upheaval.
Said another way, it's a semi-historical and semi-biographical musing on immortality and death in a threatened era. It invites the notion that there is, as Browne wrote, "something very vital and electric about morbidity."
Kushner first wrote Hydriotaphia in three weeks a decade ago. Under Michael Wilson's direction, this early version was workshopped then at New York University, but for a number of reasons, the piece didn't go as well as planned. With Wilson still at the helm, it was drastically revisioned for the Alley mounting and has received further reexamination for the Berkeley run. Cast-members include Charles Dean, Rod Gnapp, Sharon Lockwood, Wilma Bonet, Delia MacDougall, Moya Furlow and Louise Chegwidden. *
Here's the rest of 1998-99 Berkeley Rep line-up:
Antony and Cleopatra. William Shakespeare's drama, staged by Lisa Peterson, runs Nov. 10-Jan. 8, 1999, opening Nov. 18. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, both lead characters are mature and headstrong, yet they, too, face destruction.
* Collected Stories. Richard Seyd directs Donald Margulies' comedy/drama, a finalist for last year's Pulitzer Prize (the one nobody won). Opening Jan. 20, 1999, Stories tells of a literature professor whose student ends up surpassing her -- by using the professor's own life story as fiction material. Other Margulies works include The Loman Family Picnic, The Model Apartment and Sight Unseen, which played at Berkeley Rep four years ago. Previews begin Jan. 15 for a run through Mar. 5, 1999.
* Pop-up book sets, flying sequences and Celtic music punctuate Peter And Wendy, a bunraku puppet adaptation of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan by the Mabou Mines troupe, plays a limited engagement Jan. 29-Feb. 26, 1999, opening Feb. 3, 1999. (The show is the first in the Rep's "Parallel Season," the second of which has yet to be announced.)
A hit at the 1996 International Festival Of Puppet Theatre (at the Public Theatre), Peter And Wendy then came to Off-Broadway's New Victory Theatre and CA's Geffen Playhouse.
Like most Mabou Mines pieces, Peter & Wendy "melds movement, theatre, imagery and music into a rich theatrical tapestry." Lee Breuer (The Gospel At Colonnus) directs Liza Lorwin's adaptation of the Barrie fantasy. Julie Archer provides the sets, Johnny Cunningham the Scottish music.
Hoping to capture the moment when childhood imagination gives way to adult reality, director Breuer tries to represent "absolute reality from five-year-old's point of view." In so doing, the Darling Nursery becomes Neverland, Wendy's bed a pirate ship and Nana a crocodile. Bunraku "shadow" puppets are held by visible, onstage puppeteers. The only human character, however, is narrator Karen Kandel, supplying all the voices -- from Wendy to Captain Hook to Peter Pan. She won a Village Voice Obie for this performance.
Mabou Mines, founded in 1970 and named for a community in Nova Scotia, was mixing theatre with visual and multi media long before the experimental move "performance art" established itself. Original Mabou members include minimalist composer Philip Glass, director JoAnne Akalaitis, and the actors, Ruth Maleczech and David Warrilow.
Fans of Peter And Wendy can hear its score on the recording of songs from the show. Composed by fiddle virtuoso Johnny Cunningham, 20 Celtic songs appear on the Alula Records CD (ALU-1006).
Ravenshead. Newly added to the Berkeley Rep season, this world premiere opera, by composer Steve Mackey and librettist Rinde Eckert, runs Mar. 5-Apr. 4, 1999, opening Mar. 10. Only one person, Eckert, will appear in the piece, though he'll be backed by the Paul Dresher Ensemble Electro-Acoustic Band.
The true story of an egotistical manufacturer who tried to cheat in a 1968 English boat race, Ravenshead shows the unravelling of the yachtsman's mind when he realized he'd probably be found out as a fraud. "It is believed," reads the press release, "that after 243 days at sea, he simply stepped off his boat mid-ocean."
Mackey has worked with the Kronos Quartet and Michael Tilson Thomas; Eckert composed Romeo Sierra Tango for the Public Theatre's New Works Festival.
Artistic director Tony Taccone will stage Ravenshead, which is co produced by Berkeley Rep and the Dresher Ensemble, at the Florence Schwimley Little Theatre space.
* The Magic Fire. Lillian Garrett-Groag's autobiographical piece tells of her coming of age in Peron-era Argentina. The drama world premiered at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1997 and later played at MN's Guthrie Theatre. Opening Mar. 24, 1999, Magic Fire runs Mar. 19-May 7, 1999.
Jack O'Brien directs this co-production with the Old Globe Theatre, where he serves as artistic director.
* The First Hundred Years. Broadway audiences can currently see Geoff Hoyle as Zazu the Hornbill in The Lion King, but Berkeley audiences will see him May 14-July 10, 1999 in the world premiere of his clown show, The First Hundred Years. Artistic director Taccone will stage the piece, which chronicles the life of a has-been comedian who has barricaded himself inside an old theatre. The one-man, multi-media solo opens May 19.
Local writer/performer Anne Galjour, who brought her solo Alligator Tales across the country, will world premiere The Queen of the Sea (Jan. 25-Mar. 7, 1999) with a cast of five as part of the Rep's Hilde Mosse Program for Education. The poetic tale, directed by Cliff Mayotte, tells of a family living along a magical coast.
Founded in 1968, Berkeley Rep won the 1997 regional theatre Tony Award. For tickets and more information on Berkeley Repertory shows call (510) 845-4700.