Transcendental Wild Oats
In 1843, Bronson Alcott dragged his family, including daughter Louisa, to a farm near Harvard to found an experiment in transcendental utopianism he called "Fruitlands." Supported in the project by Englishman Charles Lane, he and his benefactor later split over the issue of segregation of the sexes. They were joined at the short-lived Fruitlands by various eccentrics and idealists. Thirty years later, Louisa wrote a sharp, short, and satirical account of this experience. It also contained a hint of forgiveness for the foolish men who nearly broke apart her family. Playwright Le Clanche Du Rand uses the story to create a ham-fisted tale of tragic romantic folly. Lane's implicit misogyny becomes explicit, and Du Rand stupidly invents an improbable misunderstanding between Bronson (Ric Prindle) and his wife Abby (Lee Ann Manley) to create, you know, drama. The script's a disaster. The Aurora Theater's production is adequately staged by director Barbara Oliver, except for two missteps: '60s folk music (Dylan, Mitchell, and Baez) plays between scenes for "relevancy," and Manley is briefly double-cast as her own daughter. Prindle plays earnestness well, but not much else. Terry Lamb's Lane conveys a creepy rigidity, while Jenny Lord as Louisa has a pretty singing voice that's right for the period, but she's stiff and unconvincing otherwise. Owen Murphy in a brief appearance as Ralph Waldo Emerson provides some much-needed sanity.
--By Joe Mader
Yu San (Harmony)
Theater Artaud has been transformed into an enchanted space for the S.F. Circus School's holiday production Yu San (Harmony), lending a sense that you're looking down a magical tunnel as children dressed like jesters ebulliently manipulate hoops, ribbons, poles, and their own bodies. A band in the eaves, complete with drums and horns, avoids traditional circus music, instead playing original scores that bring out the grace and otherworldliness of the acts. Artists of all levels and ages are given the stage, the more advanced executing back flips off teeterboards into suspended chairs, or twisting their spines and limbs into disturbing contortions, both on the ground or while suspended from hoops or fantastic red ribbons. The show's slightly unpolished style and the tender age of its performers make it far more endearing than the sophisticated acts found in the traditional three-ring circus.
--By Fiona Gow
Who's Afraid of Edward Albee?
Playwright Michael Kearns takes as his starting point Edward Albee's continued (and entirely justified) refusal to allow his play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to be performed by an all-male cast. Kearns imagines just such a production, and purports to give a backstage view in which the relationships between the gay and straight actors parallel those of the Albee play they're performing. True to New Conservatory Theater Center form, the play is completely unwatchable. (With crap like this, the more the actors commit to the script the worse they come off.) Clearly the NCTC's play selection criteria are more political than artistic, but their poor aesthetic decisions undermine their intentions. Were anybody's politics ever changed by bad art? The gays in Edward Albee are all disturbed, damaged victims with borderline personality disorders. The same can be said of NCTC's earlier offering, Steel Kiss, aka "Hey you guys, quit beating up gay people!" Makes you want to go right out and wave that rainbow flag. Is NCTC Artistic Director Ed Decker so blinded by his activist agenda he can't see the damage he's doing to it? It appears so. Thus far the "Millennium Pride Season" has produced nothing but shame.
--By Joe Mader