Last week, I headed to New York for the Broadway debut of In the Next Room or the vibrator play,a work by Sarah Ruhl which was commissioned by Berkeley Rep and had its world premiere here last February. Sarah is one of the country’s foremost playwrights, so it wasn’t surprising that a number of New York theatres came knocking on Berkeley Rep’s doors last winter to have a look at Sarah’s newest work. It was Lincoln Center Theater that won the opportunity to mount the production at the Lyceum Theatre, directed once again by our own Les Waters.
I couldn’t miss Les' Broadway debut and the opportunity to see the further development of the play. Tony Taccone and Susie Medak were there too, along with several of the Theatre’s board members and donors who have supported our new play development program. This was a chance to see the fruits of our investment in new plays and to celebrate another entry in the canon of great American theatre.
Opening night was a gas. Les welcomed me with a hug under the Lyceum’s marquee. Mina Morita, the Theatre’s artistic fellow who was an assistant director on the Berkeley Rep production, was also there. Inside the theatre, it was a virtual who’s who of the New York theatre scene, as well as a reunion of old friends. Mark Wing-Davey, who last directed Naomi Iizuka’s 36 Views at Berkeley Rep in 2001, chatted with Susie in the lobby. I spied Marian Seldes in the third row, looking like a Broadway grand dame. The Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz (who grew up attending Berkeley Rep!) was there, along with Mary Louise Parker. Kathleen Chalfant, a good friend of Les, and who last starred at Berkeley Rep in Honour, enthusiastically cheered Les on.
The next night, one of the Theatre’s trustees held a party for our New York friends at her midtown apartment – to celebrate the fact that Wishful Drinking and In the Next Room had made their way to the Great White Way, but also to toast the incredible run of American Idiot, which we hope will be landing in a Broadway house next year. Idiot set designer Christine Jones showed up, as well as “Whatsername” Rebecca Naomi Jones, who shared with me her experience last week of the cast’s recording of “21 Guns” at Green Day’s Jingletown. She said it was a heady experience, with many of the cast in astonished tears as they listened to the track they had just laid down. I can’t wait for the release of the song, with Green Day performing as well, sometime after Thanksgiving.
Chad Goodridge, who was also in Passing Strange with Rebecca, showed up for the celebration, as did Jorma Taccone (son of Tony Taccone), who is currently a staff writer for Saturday Night Live and is directing his first feature length film based on his SNL sketch, MacGruber. He had me in hysterics describing the movie, and I know its sophomoric underpinnings will amuse my 19-year-old son when he sees it next year.
Of course, aside from the partying, I also took in other plays while I was there – Tracy Letts’ new play Superior Donuts was very good and featured an exceptional performance by a member of Steppenwolf’s company, John Michael Hill. Haven’t heard of him? Keep your eye out for this guy – he’s going places. I also caught Anna Deavere Smith’s Let Me Down Easy, a moving evening of monologues derived from more than 300 interviews, and who knew Ana Gastyer could belt out a tune? She played the Ethel Merman role in the Encores "staged reading" of the Gershwins' 1930 hit Girl Crazy.
On my last day I ventured to Brooklyn to have brunch with musician Heidi Rodewald, catching up on life since Passing Strange and hearing about the new work that Berkeley Rep has commissioned from her and Stew. Our conversation kept coming back to what I had heard repeatedly from all of our friends over the last week – how special Berkeley Rep is in the realm of both commercial and nonprofit theatres, about the familial nature of this place, and the generosity of the staff in supporting the birth of new work. I was bowled over by it all – indeed this theatre is a special place, and while I’ll take Manhattan, I’ll take Berkeley too.
Top photo: In front of the Lyceum Theatre, home of In the Next Room or the vibrator play, with director Les Waters and Lynn Eve Komaromi. Middle photo: At the party (from left) Rebecca Naomi Jones, Jorma Taccone, Chad Goodridge, and Marielle Heller (Jorma's wife). Bottom photo: An enthusiastic promoter of Wishful Drinking roams Times Square.
Photos courtesy of Lynn Eve Komaromi
Wanted to point out that Adam Duritz (@countingcrows) Tweeted about his "American Idiot" experience at Berkeley Rep:
"American Idiot" will come to B'way next year & hit Times Square like a bomb going off. It's like the most melodic buzzsaw you ever heard.
Wow - what a fun-filled trip to NY!
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