Wolf Play

Wolf Play
Shotgun Theater
Berkeley, CA

Opening Night September 9, 2023

In a theater seminar at UC Berkeley a professor asked, after the class had read a play, “What is the play about?” Students began to cite the plot. “No!” The professor said again, “What is the play about?” He was trying to point out the “through line”, the thematic idea that hold the play together around which all the incidents, the plot, the lines and the characters are connected.

The “through” line of “Wolf Play” is adoption, adaptation, relationships and imagination. That may be too many ideas for any play but they’re all there. Although several of the actors give exciting and original performances, the event itself becomes too long (almost two hours without intermission)… and too busy.

Playwright Hansol Jung asks, “What ultimately makes a family?” Her play attempts the answer through multiple complications legal and emotional. The boy, Jeenu, is presented as a puppet, brilliantly maneuvered by Mikee Loria as Wolf. Gabby Momah (Ash) also gives a fine performance as the boxer. Laura Domingo, Caleb Cabrera and Sam Bertken complete the cast. Elizabeth Carter directed.

The central performance by Loria is his ability to bring the puppet alive in many different circumstances and accomplish the sense of his growth, character and intelligence. This is contrasted with Momah’s portrayal as a reluctant boxer who finally accepts the ‘wolf’ child…who does not join others easily, seeking his own world.

There are other challenges: a former parent wants the child returned; family members resent the ‘new’ child; the adoption has legal challenges. All this makes for exiting drama staged with much ‘business’ including breakfast scenes, boxing exhibitions, legal arguments and emotional crises.

Wolf Play” is a good two hours of challenging drama. It would be more effective shorter, clearer and with unnecessary ‘stage’ business.

Go see it! …and reflect on the social questions raised. Most of all, enjoy the performances.


The Triumph of Love

Shotgun Players
Berkeley, CA
“The Triumph of Love”
March 25, 2023. Preview

Love” withstands the test of time…

…in the theater with Shotgun’s delightful cast and Patrick Dooley’s direction. Shotgun has remade a 300 year old “commedia” play into a contemporary ‘action’ drama. The play echoes the French theater tradition from Racine as well as that of “commedia dell’arte,” the famous Italian tradition.The program note states…

Marivaux’s characters – in struggling to understand what is happening to them and to accept the the sobering notion of change at great cost to themselves – we can see the image of Enlightenment Europe.

All that is so, but really the play is a comedy of characters who resist and then accept love’s advances, seductive, delightful, humorous but always marvelously delivered. Veronica Renner as Leonide (dressed as a man) invades the household of Hermocrates to rescue Agis who is wrongly kept there. By exquisite persuasion, she is able to convince both Hermocraates and his sister Leontine that she loves them and promises marriage. The endless (sometimes too much) verbal play (translated by Stephen Wadsworth) is effective. Agis is restored to his rightful position in court. All characters have felt the impact of love’s power and are thus ‘transformed”.

A delightful scene is performed by Jamin Jollo, a classical triad mime-clown whose physical skills in acrobatic feats as well as facial and gestural skill are transformative throughout the play. Jollo as “Harlequin” snuggles up to Leonide’s ‘helper’ Corine, played by Susanna Martin. With no words at all, Jollo accomplishes friendliness, affection and an intimacy not seen between other characters. Their interaction is a true ‘commedia’ accomplishment.

All players, scenic designers, and director Patrick Dooley deserve great praise for bringing the ‘classic’ Marivaux to our contemporary theater. Although the play runs 2 hours and 30 minutes with two intermissions, the audience is enchanted and beguiled by the action and verbal skill of the players, (especially Renner as Leonide). Bravo to all! “The Triumph of Love” is certainly that.

Joanna Harris

Oakland Ballet March 17, 2023

“Dancing Moons Festival”
Oakland Ballet
Oakland Asian Cultural Center
March 17, 2023 7:30 pm

Many Events of Diverse Design

The Oakland Ballet, under the direction of Graham Lustig, has reached into the Oakland community in many ways, staging dances from the many cultures of that diverse town.

Here, he has brought his company to the Oakland Asian Cultural Center and invited several talented Asian choreographers to ‘fill the bill. ”Dancing Moons Festival” was a delight.

Phil Chan and Caili Quan were the principal choreographers for Part One of the Festival. Works included an 18th century “Ballet des Porcelaines” or “The Teapot Prince” (1739) music by Grandval…to a ‘meditation on America the Beautiful entitled “Amber Waves”. All these three opening works were danced with remarkable skill, clarity and dramatic projection.

After Intermission the entire group participated in what was entitled “Exquisite Corpse”, a game during which each choreographer creates a solo (head), group (torso), duet (legs), after which the “nine sections will be woven together to create an “Exquisite Corpse.” What followed was dynamic, often humorous, always well performed and marvelously costumed. Costume Design was by Vinyl Zhang and Bethany Deal.

The nine works that are included in “Exquisite Corpse” are performed by eleven dancers, all very skilled and capable of projection their enthusiasm for dance. The movement of this work included not just the expected ballet dance technique (steps on toe shoes (en pointe), multiple turns and lifts, tremendous jumps by both men and women), but also lots of ‘contemporary movies’ torso, shoulders and hips, fingers and heads. This was lively medley of old and new.

All the dancers are skilled and projected good energy and delight in dancing. I will mention three who stood out for this reviewer. Those are Nicole Townsend who demonstrate a “mature” technique in “Duet” her partner Logan Martin and Lawrence Chen in a “Solo” and another “Duet”. Chen demonstrated a quickness of skill in turning and his ability as a partner.

Congratulations to the Oakland Ballet, all the participating artists in Lighting, Costume Design and Wardrobe for such an unusual and exciting group of works. All need to be seen again in a large theater. The Cultural Center’s stage is too small. These works were performed in the center of the auditorium space on a special floor; the audience sat on the stage and on all four sides. It brings the dancers very close to its audience which is not always easy for everyone. But this group succeeded in pleasing and delighting its audience.

(One note: the seating meant the lights were often in the audience’s face making it hard to see the dancers. It’s both a focus problem and seating problem. Everyone adjusted.)

All the dancers, choreographers, technical staff and administration deserve applause for this production. We can hope that it will be repeated in another venue for further admiration.

The dancers appearing in this production are: Lawrence Chen; Lizzie Devaney; Karina Eimon Cesar Lino; William Fowler; Logan Martin; Jasmine Quezada; Lucas Sverdlen; AshleyThopiah; Nicole Townsend; Rebecca Huang. Bravo to them all.