by Karen D'Souza
The San Jose Mercury News,
published June 24, 2001
Shoots From The Hip
Players getting their own space, on their own terms.
By Karen D'Souza
You can tell a lot
about a man from his tattoos.
On Patrick Dooley's
right arm, there's an inky blue sketch of a shotgun,
which just happens to be the name of his upstart Berkeley theater company.
The rub is that he got the tattoo long before he knew if the Shotgun
would ever get off the ground. Was he that cocky? ''Yep,'' says the
33-year-old director. ''That's what everybody said, 'You're crazy man!
This thing could go belly-up.' What can I say? I made a commitment.''
Since that leap
of faith in 1992, Dooley and his company have beaten the
odds, going from the basement of a pizza parlor to the front ranks of
Bay Area's alternative-theater scene. They've earned a shoot-from-the-hip
reputation, striding fearlessly from ''The Merchant of Venice'' to Mamet,
premiering works by big-time playwrights such as Ariel Dorfman (''Death
the Maiden'') and setting their sights on what many small theaters consider
the Holy Grail: a home base. In December, the nomadic troupe moves into
90-seat space in the Gaia Building in downtown Berkeley.
and courageous and fun, and there's nothing they won't
try,'' says Barbara Oliver, artistic director of Berkeley's Aurora Theatre.
''That's the niche they've carved out for themselves.''
Roots of the troupe
It all started when
Dooley, a Virginia native, headed west for Seattle. He
stopped off to visit his brother in Berkeley and never left. That was
''I've still never
been to Seattle,'' he says. ''I just fell in love with
Berkeley and started my own company. That way I didn't have to wait
to get cast in a play. I could pick the shows I wanted to do.''
These days you can
find Dooley and his band of actors amid the bucolic
splendor of John Hinkel Park, sinking their teeth into the dense realm
Greek tragedy. Their production of ''Iphigenia in Aulis'' opens tonight
runs through Aug. 12. In keeping with the laid-back spirit of the company,
which has long sought to entice the MTV-crowd into the theater, the
Dooley tore himself
away from rehearsals with Euripides on a recent Sunday
in the park to talk about his vision for the company. A mixture of chutzpah
and charisma, the director will do whatever it takes to keep the show
afloat. He knows how to sweet-talk strangers into becoming volunteers,
to charm actors into working for peanuts and how to make ends meet (his
job used to be pumping espresso).
''In the old days
I did everything,'' says the boyish impresario. ''Every
decision was mine and I made it by myself. Now we have a company where
everyone does their thing.''
Nobody makes a living
at it, by and large, but everybody gets a stipend.
Like many small theaters, the Shotgun runs on a shoestring and moxie.
stage seven main stage shows and five experimental works on an annual
of about $140,000.
''This is not like
the other theater companies I've worked for,'' says
costume designer Valera Coble, 31, sitting in the parking lot watching
chorus members try on their flowing earth-tone robes. ''The creative
really wide open here. There's never a preconceived idea of how things
supposed to be. . . . We can have a Pixie's song in 'As You Like It.'
who we are.''
have sculpted the company's minimal aesthetic. Seven cast
members play all the parts in ''Iphigenia.'' Masks and the scent of
meat being charred nearby (they are still looking for people to run
barbecue, so if you're interested, step right up!) will heighten the
pulse of the show.
''You know when
you come to see one of our shows that a stick is also going
to be a candle and a sword,'' says Dooley. ''I like to break things
the fundamentals. Writing, acting and directing. I don't want the other
stuff to get in the way. I'm a purist. I say hit me with it. Cut to
artistic director of the California Shakespeare Festival,
suspects the Shotgun's rough-and-tumble sensibility is part of its appeal.
''I think their
name really says it all,'' says Moscone. ''They may not be a
big company, but that doesn't mean they're not important. In some ways
theater scene is as strong as its smallest members. Patrick has an ensemble
of actors who really believe in what they do, which is pretty eclectic.''
On to Euripides
That's where Euripides
comes in. Actress Amaya Alonso Hallifax giggles when
asked if pulling off the title role in ''Iphigenia'' is a wee bit daunting.
''Yes, it's a challenge,
but we like challenges,'' says the soft-spoken
18-year-old as she ducks into a tiny tent, the Shotgun version of a
The prequel to what
happens in the ''Oresteia,'' which Berkeley Rep just
staged, this play charts the downfall of the House of Atreus. King Agamemnon
must decide whether to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to the gods.
spills her blood, then fate may smile on his soldiers as they embark
the Trojan War.
''At first you think
'What kind of monster would do that?' '' says Dooley.
''But it's really about a family that's being ripped apart. You have
think about the decisions people will make, what they'll drag their
families through, for the sake of their ambitions. I mean, it's never
job you're late for. You make sure about that. But are you late for
How do you treat the people you love?''
In some ways, this
ensemble has become a family unto itself. Nobody bats an
eyelash when Hallifax brings her dog to the rehearsals (and it wanders
stage after her) or when a performance has to be canceled because two
company members are getting married (to each other -- and no, it's not
''shotgun wedding''). They train together every Saturday, learning new
breathing techniques and styles of movement. They go on vacation together.
They hang out.
''I would never
want to become an equity company. I would never want this to
be a job,'' says Dooley. ''It's not about the money. That's not the
art I want to do.''