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Montclarion, Jan. 2, 2004

Epic 'Death of Meyerhold' hits mark

-- Jack Tucker


I KNOW it's a couple of days late, but have you got room for just one more New Year's resolution? It's an easy one to keep. No counting calories. No swearing off a lifelong habit. Ready?

Resolved: To increase support of community theater throughout 2004. Good! And now for a powerful reason to stick to your resolution.

A SHOTGUN BULL'S-EYE: "The Death of Meyerhold," Shotgun Players' big, vivid and sinewy production of Mark Jackson's ambitious study of the Russian theater innovator and political revolutionary, reopens Jan. 8 at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave., Berkeley. The play finished its inaugural run at Berkeley's Live Oak Theatre on Dec. 28.

This is Shotgun's shoot-the-works, aim-for-the-heights epic. In this splendid effort, reach and grasp are firmly in accord. This is compelling theater, large in vision, penetrating and respectful of its subject, and of its audience.

The play succeeds in suggesting the chaos during the early days of the Russian Revolution in 1917, and the turmoil in the life of Vsevolod Meyerhold as he struggled to give voice to progressive ideas in a paranoid society. He paid for it with his life.

Much of this essential background is conveyed to the audience before the play begins by an interview downstage between playwright Jackson, founder of San Francisco's Art Street Theatre, who also directs the play, and Patrick Dooley, Shotgun's founder and artistic director, who also plays a part in the show.

The research and scholarship are exemplary; the history, helpful. But as theater, the device puts a burden of inertia on getting the show on the road.

Featured actors play multiple roles of historic theater figures in this sweeping three-act production. Art Street Theatre actor Kevin Clarke and co-founder Beth Wilmurt (with Jackson) join Shotgun regulars Dooley, Andy Alabran, Reid Davis, Dave Maier and Clive Worsley.

Newcomer Cassidy Brown evokes the spirit of the many-sided Meyerhold, and Isabelle Ortega ignites his fiery wife, Zinaida Raikh.

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