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Showing posts from February, 2017

The Dramatic Power of Thinking: Annie Baker's John

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By Simon Hodgson

“Thinking is potentially as dramatic a force onstage as speaking,” says Ken Rus Schmoll, the director of A.C.T.’s production of John, currently running through April 23 at The Strand Theater. “Personally, I am obsessed with thinking onstage: what actors think, what characters think, how thinking actually occurs, how thinking is represented to be happening.”

In John, the latest play from Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Annie Baker, there is a lot of thinking and watching. Twentysomethings Jenny and Elias arrive late at night to a bed-and-breakfast in Gettysburg. Already tense and tired, they are greeted by the eccentric proprietor Mertis. Over the next 48 hours, the characters argue, discuss philosophy, and attempt to communicate with each other.

Baker presents these moments to us as realistically as possible. The set feels like a bed-and-breakfast. The lighting is more natural than theatrical. Even the dialogue feels natural. “We watch Annie’s plays unfold, with t…

Act Two, Scene One: A.C.T. from the '90s to Today

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By Elspeth Sweatman

As A.C.T. gears up to celebrate its 50th birthday, we are taking a trip down memory lane. For Subscription Manager Mark Peters, that’s 30 years of stories and subscription order forms, productions and puzzles.

What was the first show you saw at A.C.T.?
The first A.C.T. production I saw was actually while I was in college. In class, we watched tapes of Cyrano de Bergerac (1972). The first show I saw at The Geary was King Lear in 1987. It was the first season after Artistic Director Bill Ball had left.

You’ve been here almost 30 years. What have been some of your favorite productions? I saw Angels in America (1994)—both parts—every time we changed a cast. I went to both parts six times. That’s a commitment; each part is four, four-and-a-half hours. But it was amazing. Our angel was wicked; she had these big metal wings that could open and close. The theater we performed in (the Marines’ Memorial Theatre) didn’t have any fly space, so we had to work with a com…

Morris Panych's 7 Stories at A.C.T.

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By A.C.T. Publications Staff

On the seventh-story ledge of an apartment building, a man stands. He pauses, ready to jump, but is suddenly interrupted by a string of neighbors and partygoers—a pair of murderous lovers, a suspicious shrink, and an ex-actor with a false mustache and 150 million reasons for marriage. In 7 Stories,Canadian writer and director Morris Panych weaves together multiple narratives involving gunshots, cocktails, nurses, God, and one particular umbrella to create a sharp and unpredictable dark comedy.

Morris Panych is a prolific theater artist who has written more than 30 plays and directed 90 across Canada. He is the recipient of more than 50 awards for his work. He last collaborated with A.C.T. in 2009 when he directed his play Vigil. And before that, he staged his and Wendy Gorling's 2005 adaptation of The Overcoat, based on the nineteenth-century short story by Nikolai Gogol.

7 Stories runs February 22–25 at The Rueff at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater, 1127 …

Inside the World of A Thousand Splendid Suns

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By Elspeth Sweatman

Mariam, Laila, and Rasheed—the characters at the center of A Thousand Splendid Suns, running through February 26 at The Geary Theater—may have begun in the mind of author Khaled Hosseini and playwright Ursula Rani Sarma, but their personalities are rooted firmly in their native Afghanistan.

Approximately the size of Texas, Afghanistan is a land of extreme beauty and extreme geographic diversity, ranging from towering mountains to expansive plains to barren deserts. Winters there are harsh, and summers sweltering. In this dramatic landscape live 32.5 million Afghans, a mixture of religions, languages, and ethnicities.

In 1979, the Soviet Union sent troops into Afghanistan to prop up a failing socialist government, but they were ill-prepared for the ferocious response of the Afghan people. When the Soviet troops withdrew in 1989, Afghans were hopeful that life would return to normal.

However, many of the militant groups that had fought the Soviets—known as the Muj…

Relationships Take Center Stage at The Geary and The Strand

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By Elspeth Sweatman

Ah, young love! This Valentine’s Day, A.C.T. brings you productions that explore both sides of love: the bliss and the madness.

In the world-premiere adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, running through February 26 at The Geary Theater, childhood sweethearts Laila and Tariq are torn apart by the violence of the Afghan Civil War. Is their friendship and love enough to keep them safe during these turbulent years and bring them together again?
The couple at the center of Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Annie Baker’s John, which opens at The Strand Theater on February 22, have the opposite problem; they are trying to save their relationship. At the beginning of the play, Jenny and Elias have just arrived at a bed-and-breakfast in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. They are on their way home to New York after spending time with Jenny’s parents in Ohio. But as soon as they are shown to their room, the bickering begins. Will this trip bring them cl…

Director Ken Rus Schmoll on Annie Baker's John

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By Elspeth Sweatman 

"John is like going over to a stranger's house and sitting in their living room talking for three hours," says director Ken Rus Schmoll. At the first rehearsal for John at The Strand Theater, Schmoll introduced the play to a rapt audience of A.C.T. trustees, executive producers, staff, and students. "You listen to the other person's story and wonder about his or her secrets. Maybe you ask a few questions, and receive a few answers, but you ultimately leave with both more understanding and less."

John, written by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Annie Baker and starring Georgia Engel (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), begins with the arrival of twentysomethings Jenny and Elias at a bed-and-breakfast in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. But in this old house filled with shelves of smiling dolls and tchotchkes, the cracks in their relationship begin to surface.

"Some plays pack a lot of information, ideas, and thoughts into their 90 minutes," …

Strong Women: Mariam and Laila in A Thousand Splendid Suns

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By Elspeth Sweatman

During A.C.T.’s 50th-anniversary season, strong women are navigating their way through traditionally male-oriented spaces. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, running through February 26 at The Geary Theater, Mariam and Laila must fight to hold onto their hopes and dreams in a world where violence and religious fundamentalism conspire to dash them.

These two strong women are thrown together by the tragedy of war. Laila’s parents have been killed in a bombing, and Rasheed—Mariam’s husband—has pulled her from the rubble into their home. Although Mariam is initially suspicious of this newcomer, the two women rally together to take care of a child.

The women’s dreams of a better life are further threatened by the arrival of the Taliban. This Islamic fundamentalist group believed that the country’s problems were due to sinful behavior. They quickly issued edicts against these vices, which included women attending school, wearing nail polish, and leaving the house without …

The Indescribable Beauty of the Saw: An Interview with Composer David Coulter

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By Michael Paller

If you remember the didgeridoo, the ukulele, or the banjo playing from The Black Rider: Casting of the Magic Bullets at A.C.T. in 2004, you have heard the work of David Coulter. This British-born, Oakland-based musician specializes in unusual instruments whose sound is rarely heard by contemporary audiences—among his specialties are the jaw harp, the theremin, and the musical saw. During workshops for A Thousand Splendid Suns, we spoke with Coulter to learn more about sound art, saws, and the score for Suns.

What is it about the sound of the saw that attracts you?
When played well it is capable of indescribable beauty. It contains passion and tenderness. The opposite extremes are also possible: it can be used to create horrific and excruciatingly ugly sounds. For a carpenter’s hand tool, it is capable of producing a vast and wide array of sonic possibilities.

What kind of saw do you use, a woodcutting one or a musical one?
All my saws are essentially produced with …

Facing the Unknown: The YC's The Life to Come

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By Joelle Hagen 

Set in 1918, Timothy Mason's The Life to Come tells the story of eight young students in a small Minnesota town who are preparing for a school production of Macbeth. As the students explore Shakespeare's dark and violent tragedy, they watch their world crumble and contemplate what the future holds for them in this time of war.

Today, the actors in our production face a similar situation to those students in 1918. They are watching the world around them grapple with war, hate, racism, and the fear of the unknown, and while they do not have much power to change it, they are stuck with the consequences of the decisions made by the generations before them.

In rehearsals, the cast and creative team have discussed the relevance of this play in the modern world. These teenage actors find themselves caught between being too young to carry much power and responsibility and too old to ignore what is going on in this volatile time. Producing this play is a way for these…