Catch up on the anniversary season in an action-packed week.
Shotgun Players brings "The Village Bike" to repertory theater.
Pak Han, courtesy of Shotgun Players
This year, Berkeley’s Shotgun Players decided to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a bold experiment. It would present its entire 2016 season in repertory. From April to October, Shotgun has been gradually rolling out the five plays in its season, occasionally peppered with repertory revivals of the earlier plays. Starting at the end of November, all of the plays are presented in rotating repertory through mid-January. In some cases, you could see all five plays in the space of a single week. The plays share many of the same performers, so you can also follow the actors through several wildly different roles.
The first show is one that bears repeat viewing, because the casting is different for every performance. Director Mark Jackson’s inventive production of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet features a cast of seven actors who have to be prepared to play any of the roles on any given night. They find out mere minutes before the show begins which one of them is going to be playing Hamlet, Ophelia, Gertrude, Polonius, and so on, irrespective of the age or gender of the performer.
The inventive rendition of "Hamlet" rotates cast members thoughout the play's run.
Jackson also directed the last play of the season, the one going into repertory fresh off of its initial run. This one is a more modern classic, the late Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Its living room set lacking any furniture, Jackson’s production gives a strikingly stylized twist to Albee’s booze-soaked evening of matrimonial venom.
The other plays are much newer. Helmed by artistic director Patrick Dooley, Penelope Skinner’s The Village Bike is an extremely uncomfortable exploration of the sexual frustration of a pregnant woman whose milquetoast husband won’t touch her but whose neighbors in a small English town seem to be giving her the eye.
Set in a church soup kitchen run by a impressively patient plainclothes nun, Heidi Schreck’s Grand Concourse is a play about redemption and forgiveness, but in a very different and more difficult way than we’re led to believe, as an erratic new volunteer makes us wonder exactly what her problem is and how exactly it’s inevitably going to become everybody else’s problem.
Deftly directed by Susannah Martin, Bay Area native Christopher Chen’s new play Caught is the biggest brain-teaser of them all. The piece is inspired by the 2012 scandal around Mike Daisey performing segments of his theatrical monologue about Chinese factory workers building Apple projects on This American Life, only to find that poetic license in theater becomes simply falsehood in an ostensibly journalistic context. In Chen’s labyrinthine Caught, layer after layer of lies and fiction is stripped away, causing the audience to question not only what’s true and what isn’t, but also what’s part of the play and what isn’t. Even when it’s time to leave the theater, there’s a nagging doubt of whether or not the play’s really over.
Hamlet, The Village Bike, Grand Concourse, Caught, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, in repertory through Jan. 22, Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, 510-841-6500, www.ShotgunPlayers.org.
Published online on Nov. 28, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.