This week, in the Napa Valley Register, Sasha Paulsen asks all of the questions that come up when one hears about The Great Game: Afghanistan -- and then she answers them in cogent, passionate prose. It's rare that one reads a review this thorough and heartfelt:
All during the drive to Berkeley, Afghanistan kept surfacing in NPR news reports: Had fraud invalidated the recent elections; was it necessary for the Afghan government to negotiate with the Taliban; why was Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declaring Pakistan is the U.S.’s greatest ally in defeating terrorism?
The drone of these news stories, day after day, can be numbing. Set against it is the fact that a 21-year-old Napa man, Army Spc. Chase Stanley, died last July in this conflict.
He was one of 62,415 troops from 46 countries currently in Afghanistan, and to the military fatalities must be added the deaths of thousands of civilians — and thousands more if one goes back to the beginnings of this “Great Game,” according to information in the “The Great Game” program.
Theatrical questions arise: Can ‘entertainment’ be made of this? Is this issue so important one can dispense with entertainment and just be enlightened? Is it possible to entertain and inform? Is it possible that entertainment can prove more enlightening that “just the facts?” Twelve playwrights on one vast, complex, bewildering topic: We were going to watch blind men describing an elephant?
... Eleven hours later, on the drive back to Napa from Berkeley, slightly foggy-headed but oddly exhilarated, I was listening to NPR again.
The news stories were the same as they’d been that morning: the election fraud, Hilary Clinton and the Pakistanis, could the U.S. hold Kandahar, and can anyone negotiate with the Taliban?
These complex stories, however, had acquired faces and voices, amid drumbeats of history and human folly. And that, in the end, is the affect of great, of brilliant theater.
If you've already seen the show, or if you're trying to decide if you want to see it, Sasha's story will undoubtedly speak to you. Read the entire review here.
There's one more week of The Great Game. It closes next Sunday, November 7, and then heads off to New York.
Photo of Danny Rahim in The Great Game: Afghanistan by John Haynes
We’ve received terrific response from both critics and audiences for The Great Game: Afghanistan, the sweeping three-part cycle of short plays by 12 top playwrights, playing through November 7. We shouldn’t be surprised; after all, we know our audiences are adventurous and hungry for theatre both intelligent and entertaining. And many of you are looking for more ways to be involved in the conversation about the war in Afghanistan.
One of our many special (and free!) events takes place tonight at the Roda Theatre at 6:00 PM. "Representing Afghanistan: The Great Game" is a forum that examines the opportunities and challenges that involvement in Afghanistan presents, both for foreign countries and for Afghan natives. Moderated by Simon Gammell, director of the British Council, West Coast, the panelists include Dr. Mohammad H. Qayoumi, president, California State University, East Bay; Nushin Arbabzadah, research scholar, UCLA Center for the Study of Women; and Rona Popal, executive director, Afghan Coalition. They’ll discuss the role played by the arts, the media, and academia in our understanding of Afghanistan.
What does The Great Game illustrate about the importance of cultural understanding and dialogue in relation to current events? How do we represent a culture, whether it’s our own or someone else’s? Come find out tonight!
Do you want more info on our speakers? Here are the bios:
Simon Gammell has worked for the British Council in the UK, Italy, Argentina, Australia, India, and now the United States. He has worked extensively in the arts throughout his career, with a particular specialism in international theatre. Simon relocated to LA in August to take up his new position in the British Council's leadership team for USA.
Dr. Mohammad H. Qayoumi, Ph.D., is president of California State University, East Bay (CSUEB). He has worked in university administration more than 30 years and has a background in both engineering and business. Qayoumi was born in Afghanistan and is the first person of Afghan descent to head a major US university.
Nushin Arbabzadah is an Afghan author, journalist, analyst, and translator who grew up in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation before fleeing to Germany with her family. She is a research scholar at UCLA Center for the Study of Women. Before going to UCLA, Nushin worked for the British Council, running literary and journalistic projects on intercultural communication, with a focus on dialogue with the Muslim world. In 2005, she joined the BBC, where she specialized in media, politics, and society in contemporary Afghanistan.
Rona Popal is the executive director of the Afghan Coalition and AWAI and the project director at Afghan Health Partnership Program. She has worked in social services for more than 20 years as an employment counselor and social worker and has headed the Afghan Women’s Association since 2001 and the Afghan Coalition since 2003. Popal is a recognized community leader and was voted International Woman of the Year by the Silicon Valley Women’s Organization in 2002. She holds a BA in political science and international relations from CSUEB.
Our actors and backstage crews pulled off quite a feat this weekend: nine shows in three days! On Friday, we opened our epic production of The Great Game: Afghanistan, presenting the entire trilogy in one impressive marathon that started at 11:30 AM and ended at 10:30 PM. And then we did it again on Saturday and Sunday! (And meanwhile, next door on our Thrust Stage, the hardworking folks from Compulsion "only" gave us the usual five-show weekend.)
Was it worth it? Well, the local critics have added their voices to the international praise for this ambitious production:
"There's no doubt that the Tricycle Theatre's The Great Game: Afghanistan is one of the theatrical events of the season... This is no polemic. It's a timely history lesson, an animated primer to add context to one of the era's most pressing issues. It's also strikingly staged." - San Francisco Chronicle
“This production pulls off an amazing feat. It entertains and informs. It’s a double whammy that should not be missed by fans of theater nor fans of politics.” – Stark Insider
“Berkeley Rep’s Great Game is powerful… Going to see all three plays will definitely provide theatergoers with a deeper understanding of a 170-year swath of Afghanistan’s history. They will see some fine acting as well. Many members of the Tricycle’s London company are simply outstanding, including Jemma Redgrave (of the famous acting family).” – Berkeleyside
“This really is a staggering event… the plays as a whole create a fascinating portrait of Afghanistan – not unlike like the giant mural at the back of Pamela Howard’s simple set that undergoes several important evolutions.” – Theater Dogs
We're still waiting to see the review from the Bay Area News Group, which should appear this Thursday in the San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune, and Contra Costa Times. But you may not want to wait that long to order tickets. The Chronicle urges you to "Go for the marathon," and tickets to see the entire series are going fast!
Photo of Jemma Redgrave and Daniel Rabin in The Great Game: Afghanistan by John Haynes
By Allison Whorton
“Is everyone ready to go?” Candice McDowell, my fellow Education fellow, said to me at 12:45pm on Thursday afternoon. The Berkeley Rep School of Theatre staff gathered together in our lobby. What were we ready for? Not a staff meeting, not one of our many School of Theatre events. Instead, the six of us excitedly headed out the door and walked down Shattuck Avenue to a local Berkeley movie theatre for a field trip. A movie? During a work day? The School of Theatre staff can primarily be found in our office during the work day, plugging away at our desks, orchestrating our diverse range of theatre education programming, or out in Bay Area schools. However, this day was special. We went to see Waiting for ‘Superman’, Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary about America’s flawed education system.
With our large popcorn and soda to share, we scurried into the balcony of the movie theatre, awaiting the start of the film. It begins with an interview with Anthony, a little boy who lives in the Washington D.C. area. As Guggenheim interviews him about his experiences, the elementary school student says, “I want my kids to have better than what I had.” From the moment the documentary began, I knew it would be an intimate and profound reflection of the dismal state of our nation’s public education system. Guggenheim follows five young and promising students around throughout the documentary, and we witness how our current education system can hinder our youth, instead of supporting their growth as students and as people.
The documentary imparted some staggering statistics. America ranks only 25th in math and 21st in science among 30 developing countries. It is estimated that only 50 million Americans will be qualified to fill the 123 million high-paying, high-skilled jobs that will be available by the year 2020. More than 2,000 American high schools are “dropout factories” (meaning more than 40 percent of the students do not graduate). After I saw the documentary, I researched statistics specific to California. California’s high school graduation rate is 68 percent. In 8th grade, only 37 percent pass the state test in math, and 38 percent pass the state test in reading.
In just over an hour, The Great Game: Afghanistan begins! It's the first marathon performance, with Part 1 starting at 11:30 AM; Part 2 at 3:30 PM; and Part 3 at 8 PM.
The Great Game has arrived direct from London, where it played at Tricycle Theatre, co-directed by artitsic director Nicolas Kent. Check out the SFGate.com's article about the show and Nicolas here, and we hope to see you at the show, which plays through November 7. Here's more information.
The Arabian Nights is back! The show that inspired nightly standing ovations in 2008 is returning for a limited engagement this holiday season. Until now, tickets were only available to subscribers, but now the hottest ticket of the season is available to everyone. So what are you waiting for? Call the box office at 510-647-2949 or buy your tickets online today!
This week, Berkeley's own Tres Agaves Tequila gave away hundreds of free drinks in the courtyard before Compulsion and An Evening with Robin Williams. Did you get a taste? If you missed it, don't worry—we do this all the time! You can sample wine, beer, chocolate, champagne, vodka, organic produce, or other delights before most Friday 8pm, Saturday 8pm, and Sunday 7pm performances. New tasting events are being added all the time, so be sure to check our website often!
Last week, October 8, 2010, marked the nine-year anniversary of the beginning of the current war in Afghanistan—mind boggling. Thousands of people have died. Trillions of dollars have been spent. As concerned citizens, as compassionate human beings, how do we wrap our heads around that? See a play? Well, actually, see 12 short plays presented in three parts.
General Sir David Richards, head of Britain’s Armed Forces, said recently that if he had seen the Tricycle Theatre's production of The Great Game: Afghanistan before he deployed to Afghanistan in 2005, he would have been a better commander.
Now, the production is coming to Berkeley Rep.
Here is a short preview:
We've had some pretty stellar people on our stages in the two years I've been working at Berkeley Rep. Tony and Emmy Award—winning actor Mandy Patinkin will be on the Thrust stage this very evening. We've had a lot of performances sell-out of tickets. American Idiot sold so well we had to extend it before it even opened. An Evening with David Sedaris was sold out for months in advance of his appearance during our Fireworks Festival this past summer.
We've just announced a special event in The Roda. It will take place for only three nights—Sunday October 10, Tuesday October 12, and Wednesday October 13. It appears the event may set some new ticket sales records for us—and we haven't really done much marketing yet.
Have you heard about it yet? Here's a clue:
Yup! Robin Williams will be here. Get a ticket while you can.
To keep the poles from getting cold? Your guess is as good as ours...
Now someone sheds some light on this mystery. According to a story in the Monterery Herald, the cozies are the work of "a woman who calls herself Streetcolor to avoid attention from the authorities. And she's not selling a thing. She's 'yarnbombing,' spending at least 12 hours a day spinning yarn and knitting pole cozies. So far she has placed nearly 50 around the California towns of Berkeley, Oakland and Kensington."
"It's only going to be up for a while, and I think it enhances the area," she says. "It's just this momentary experience of it being more fun to be there."
Curious? Read all about it.
There's a debate about whether this is art or graffiti. What do you think?