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SF Bay Guardian, 12-24-03


The Year in Theater

--Robert Avila


As I recently watched the Shotgun Players' exuberant production of The Death of Meyerhold, I found myself nodding my head knowingly to this plaintive query by poet Mayakovsky (Clive Worsley) until the woman seated behind me finally insisted I stop. A proper review of this ambitious and intriguing play by writer-director Mark Jackson will have to wait a week or two, but suffice it to say its uneven but overall ingenious and kinetic account of the career of the great Russian director Vsevolod Meyerhold (Cassidy Brown) fits well into the fraught mix of art and political action stirred up by our own time.

Moreover, the play presents a seductive collaboration, two years in the making, between Jackson (cofounder and artistic director of San Francisco's experimental Art Street Theater) and Berkeley's ever industrious Shotgun Players – two distinct parties with a mutual talent for going after big ideas, and damn the small theater label, while reinventing stodgy classics with real flair. Shotgun earlier this year mounted a spirited and memorable outdoor production of Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children. Now, along with Art Street's Kevin Clarke and cofounder Beth Wilmurt, it brings the same brazen energy, humor, and savvy to this formidable portrait of one of Brecht's more critical influences.

Indeed, unlike me, Meyerhold is far from gloomy. It's full, even too full, of playful spontaneity and good-natured humor to be less than affirming and hopeful, for all its intrinsic worrying about creeping totalitarianism, then and now. But a little escapism isn't necessarily bad. As Stanislavsky (Richard Louis James) says, echoing Meyerhold, "We need more than reality to get to the truth."

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