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East Bay Express, November 2006


Another Unpopular War

-- By Lisa Drostova

Shotgun takes a look at The Forest War.

Ever ornery, the Shotgun Players decided a while back to be the company that didn't do Christmas shows, and began their own tradition of offering mayhem and murder, surrealism and daring to holiday audiences desperate for something without sugarplums.

Three years ago, they took a chance on a complex three-hour world premiere of a play about a Russian theater director nobody had ever heard of. And while the previews looked a little grim, the play so caught the fancy of audiences that Shotgun faced something they'd never seen before: lines of people so desperate for tickets they'd buy them off scalpers. Company artistic director Patrick Dooley figures he could have sold six hundred seats a night, if the Julia Morgan building could have held that many people.

That show was The Death of Meyerhold, written and directed by Art Street Theatre founder Mark Jackson. Besides winning tremendous critical and audience praise, it established Jackson as the director actors would claw their eyes out to work with. They haven't had the chance until recently, though, because right after Meyerhold, Jackson took off to Berlin to watch actors throw themselves down stairs and navigate stages full of broken glass in toe shoes. But he's back to direct another world premiere of his own work, this time a historical-ish epic about an imagined Asian kingdom where the new ruler must make a difficult decision about whether to continue a draining conflict with the neighbors. Written during a residency at the Djerassi artists’ colony, The Forest War is an oblique reference to modern politics, but with samurai swords, forbidden love, and Kevin Clarke (Meyerhold's deliciously neurotic Shostakovich, the one who crawled all over the scaffolding) as the bad guy.

Besides a large cast, Shotgun's also breaking the bank on the design, spending as much on the costumes for this one show as they usually budget for a whole season. The Forest War is going to be big and lavish by Shotgun standards, and dramatic by anyone's; the word "Kurosawa" is being batted around by the people involved. Catch it before Jackson gets too big for us and takes off for New York or Europe and the scalpers there.

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