Love, Determination Rebuild SF's Geary

Special Features   Love, Determination Rebuild SF's Geary


San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater moves back into its home, The Geary Theater, this month after a six-year exile, which began when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake nearly destroyed the federal landmark. They have the indomitable citizens of the City by the Bay to thank for raising a good part of the $27.5 million needed to reopen the theatre.

"People were broken-hearted when the theatre closed after the quake," said Carey Perloff, ACT's artistic director about the gloriously reconstructed state-of-the-art, seismically stabilized Geary. "When I first arrived here in 1992, people would come up to me all the time and introduce themselves as 'Mr. G101 and Mrs. G102.' The great thing about the Geary is that with all this gloom and doom about the arts, a community cared that much about their theatre that they committed themselves to raising the largest capital campaign in theatre history."

It's just as well that Mr. G101 and Mrs. G102 were not sitting in their seats when the earthquake struck, since that was exactly where the lighting grid came to rest after it peeled off the ceiling. It's appropriate then that the first production at the new ACT, after the Gala on the 10th, should be Shakespeare's "The Tempest," which opens on January 24. "All hell breaks lose in the play, but at the same time it's an extremely intimate work, having a lot to say about parents and children and extremely complex relationships," says Perloff who is directing. "It's a work that you can play in many keys."

Since being named artistic director in 1992, Perloff herself has been an Ariel of sorts, wreaking magic, not mayhem, on the theatre, which has been an itinerant one, performing in six stages around the city. While it is not a permanent company, ACT does have quite a large acting school attached to it and has drawn the talent of many well-known actors, including David Straitharn (who plays Prospero in "The Tempest"), Olympia Dukakis (Hecuba), John Turturro as well as local legends like Ken Ruta, Bill Paterson and Ruth Kobart."I love fearless actors and actors for whom language is an addiction," says Perloff, who served as artistic director of New York's Classic Stage Company (CSC Rep) for six years before being named to head ACT. "That helps when you have an audience as sophisticated as the one who comes to ACT. It's the most literate I've ever played to, and that includes New York. When we did 'Arcadia,' Tom Stoppard's three-hour play about some fairly complex ideas, you couldn't get a ticket for love or money."

Perloff intends to introduce more adventurous new work at the Geary, which has largely been a bastion of classics thus far. First up to bat will be a new Eric ("On the Verge") Overmyer play, "Dark Raptures," about the Oakland fires, which will open in late February or March with David Petrarca directing. She is confident that the audience will be receptive, especially since it is attracting many young new members. "We keep striving to make the theatre more transgenerational," she says. "I'm working on getting a child-care center at the Geary."

-- By Patrick Pacheco

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