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Berkeley Rep named best of the decade

posted by Terence Keane on Mon, Dec 28, 2009
in News

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Happy New Year to you and yours! It certainly has been quite a year here at Berkeley Rep:

In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)

  • Another two shows developed at Berkeley Rep landed on Broadway: Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking and Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room (or the vibrator play).

  • Wishful Drinking also became a bestseller – and earned its author a Grammy nomination for her audio book!

  • Spike Lee released his film of Passing Strange, and Green Day released a new version of the song "21 Guns" featuring the cast from our blockbuster production of American Idiot.

  • With a daring array of plays, we continued to break box-office records in Berkeley even as our shows toured to Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, and other cities.

We’re grateful for your support in 2009, and thrilled to share with you the accolades we’ve received as the decade draws to a close:

  • In today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Hurwitt asserts that “the rise of Berkeley Repertory Theatre” was the Top Theatre Story of the Decade! “The Rep opened its new Roda Theatre in ’01, allowing it longer runs and greater flexibility with two mainstages, and has quickly risen in local and national prestige. Under the leadership of Tony Taccone and his associate artistic director Les Waters, it’s become one of the region’s two flagship companies and a primary source of new work for Broadway (where Taccone and Waters each opened a show this fall) and the rest of the country.”

In 2009, we were proud to premiere an unconventional comedy called In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) – and even prouder when Les made his Broadway debut with Sarah’s script this fall. The play that we commissioned proved popular with the nation’s most prominent theatre critics:

  • Elysa Gardner named it Best Play of the Year in USA Today: “Broadway newbie Sarah Ruhl defied gender and genre orthodoxy to give us a hilarious and moving meditation on the many factors that complicate communication between (and within) the sexes.”

  • In The New Yorker, John Lahr proclaimed it the Top Moment in Theater for 2009: “Sarah Ruhl’s benign detachment, her astute mind, and her capacity for wonder turn this evening into an indelible pleasure. In Les Waters, who directed her exciting Eurydice a few seasons back, she has found an expert collaborator... In the Next Room is not only Ruhl’s best play in her short, distinguished career, but time may prove it to be a great play. If In the Next Room doesn’t win the Tony for best play – it’s Ruhl’s first Broadway show – I’ll eat my shorts.”

  • And Charles Isherwood of the New York Times declared it one of “the four best new plays to be produced in New York this year.” He calls it “a wonderfully daring, serious-minded sex comedy about the fundamental lack of understanding between men and women in the post-gaslight era (and, by extension, our own).” That’s four straight years in which a show developed at Berkeley Rep made his list!

Passing Strange, the provocative rock musical that premiered at Berkeley Rep several years back, also continued its long, strange trip this year. Spike Lee released his documentary of our Broadway production, and both film critics from the Associated Press ranked Passing Strange among the Top 10 Films of 2009:

Passing Strange

  • David Germain: “Spike Lee oversees a blast of stage energy, his filmed version of the Broadway show so up-close and intimate that the players’ sweat practically drips onto the audiences’ lap. Musician Stew is the big-voiced master of ceremonies for his play, whose final performances Lee filmed to craft the movie. The small cast leaps seamlessly through multiple roles as they trace an artistic young black man’s journey to find his creative soul with grand humor, deep insight and songs that truly rock.”

  • Christy Lemire: “It’s easy to see why Spike Lee was drawn to Stew, the one-named musician and mastermind behind the Broadway production Passing Strange. Like Lee, the artist formerly known as Mark Stewart possesses a powerful and singular voice, one he uses to express vividly his own experience of growing up black in America. In bringing Stew’s Tony-winning musical to the screen, Lee took the wise and uncharacteristic step of staying out of the way. The crisp, intimate result makes you feel as if you’re on stage with Stew and his formidable cast.”

If you haven’t already seen the film, the DVD becomes available on January 12 and PBS begins airing it on January 13.

Finally, here at home, critics continue to rank our shows among the year’s best:

  • Charles McNulty of the LA Times placed our production of In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) among the Top 10 of 2009: “Sarah Ruhl's latest drama is so flush with insight into the question that flummoxed Freud about what women want that it was impossible not to revel in the playwright's singularly quirky imagination.” He also mentions that show – and Passing Strange – in his article looking back at the decade’s best theatre

  • The Lieutenant of Inishmore.Three of our shows made Karen D’Souza’s Top 10 for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, and Oakland Tribune. Karen’s list starts with In the Next Room and also includes American Idiot and The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

  • Robert Hurwitt chose Inishmore for his own Top 10 in the Chronicle, calling it “a penetrating and hilariously timely dissection of man's inhumanity to man – and cats.” Rob Avila named the show among his favorites in the SF Bay Guardian as well.

  • And two of our shows ranked among Rachel Swan’s Top 10 in the East Bay Express: Aurélia's Oratorio is “tantamount to stepping inside a dream” and American Idiot “was certainly a knockout show... You never thought it would happen, but this year an East Bay theater production – an opera no less – actually graced the pages of Rolling Stone magazine. Indeed, this was the year of Green Day’s American Idiot, a dizzying production that gave director Michael Mayer newfound pop-culture currency while bringing an East Bay punk band into the high-art realm.”

Thank you for your support of the theatrical risks we take at Berkeley Rep. We couldn’t do it without you.


All photos by Kevin Berne: In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) starred Maria Dizzia and Hannah Cabell in Berkeley; Passing Strange featured de'Adra Aziza and Stew, and The Lieutenant of Inishmore showcased James Carpenter, Blake Ellis, and Adam Farabee.

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