Last week’s shows were comedies first and foremost, this week’s reviews highlight one series of very funny and melodramatic one acts by Anton Chekhov in Walnut Creek, one arduous and thought provoking work by George Bernard Shaw in Berkeley, and one equally thought provoking play by Irish author, Conor McPherson.

The first play I will review today is Conor McPherson’ slice of Irish life, entitled “The Wier” that opened two weeks ago at the Town Hall Theater in Lafayette. Director Kevin Morales has shown great skill in both his selection of talented and professional actors to deliver this truly excellent bit of Irish story telling, and (I am impressed in this case) by his understanding of what makes this simple story resonate with his audiences.

I truly enjoyed this story of five people and their moment of truth, their moment of recognition that there are things beyond their comprehension, in addition to their brief shinning moment where they truly felt humble and felt admiration and sympathy for someone other than themselves.

This production of Conor McPherson's play is so grounded, you walk away feeling that you have witnessed a special event, a personal event that could only occur in this way, in this town, in this time. McPherson has set the story in a pub in today’s rural Ireland. As the production opens, the pub is empty and it becomes quickly evident that this little neighborhood bar is hardly a money-making venture. It is primarily frequented by a handful of loyal locals. On this particular evening the appearance of an outsider promises a breath of fresh air. An attractive young woman by the name of Valerie (Katie Pelensky) has recently arrived from Dublin, rents a local house, and intends to stay for a while. A local property speculator who runs the local hotel is known by the name of Finbar (Eric Neiman), and it is this same married gentleman who rented the young lady the cottage and has now taken on the personal responsibility of showing her around the area. Much to the suspicion of several locals, it seems that the handsome and gregarious realtor is going a bit beyond the call of duty, in introducing Valerie personally to the local color and characters in their town. Finbar is now regarded somewhat dubiously by his old friends.Valerie is a source of fascination to this ale-house full of bachelors – the spry, somewhat older auto-mechanic, Jack (Warren McClure), Jim (Sean Robert Griffin), the local gravedigger and auto mechanic’s assistant, and finally, Brendan (Henry Perkins), the barman.

While you watch for flickers of romantic opportunism, the chat “accidentally” becomes a campfire collage of spooky and increasingly distressing tales - of sprites knocking at doors, of ghouls and ghosts seen by some and not others, and of a dead child’s heartbreaking phone call from another world. Wow, spooks and spats galore, and more, a wakeup call about things that we and they cannot explain away! This is a powerful play, understated, played brilliantly by its superb actors, focused and chilling, and directed by Kevin T. Morales in pluperfect fashion! It will not be a play for everybody as it is not as easy to comprehend as many typical plays. I spoke to one gentleman after the show that came away shaking his head, not fully catching the subtle complexities of these characters and the purpose of the story, not at least, until we discussed it a bit.

Understanding every line is a bit of a challenge, and may be a bit difficult for our seniors because of the very well spoken but often times difficult to comprehend Irish brogues. Much as attending a play by William Shakespeare, this type of play requires some concentration to fully engage the subtle comedy, richly adorned with many Irish colloquialisms, sometimes delivered more quickly than my mind can fully comprehend. Dialect coach, Lisa Ann Porter has really done a superlative job. The Irish dialect is dead on! I should recommend that you try to get seating fairly close to the middle of the front seating area.

This is a play without intermission, and if you’re inclined to imbibe a bit, the Green Room bar has a bottle or two of Guinness or Harp Ale, even a shot or two of good Irish whiskey. Keep in mind how much you imbibe, as this may not make the brogue any easier to understand. On the other hand, in your case (as the Irish might say), perhaps it will!

The set, designed by Klyph Stanford and the costumes by Melissa Patterson suited this production very, very well. Great Job!

This intriguing play runs in repertory, rotating weekly/nightly with the delightfully comedy about baseball’s Bleacher Bums, also showing at the Town Hall Theatre. This show plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays now through October 28th. The Weir performances will rotate with it’s productions on the following dates, September 22nd, 23rd, 27th, 28th, October 6th, 7th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 18th, 20th, 21st, 25th, 26th 27th and closing on the 28th. The big brown Town Hall Theatre is located at 3535 School Street at Moraga Road in Lafayette. Call (925) 283-1557 for ticket or reservation information of visit their web-site at for more information. Tickets range between $12 for Student “Rush” tickets, and $32 at the upper end of the Adult ticket prices. I’m not sure this play is really well suited for children under age 12 due to the adult language. Then again, I’m not sure a younger person will comprehend the Irish colloquialisms anyway, be they adult in nature or not. Don’t miss this great show at one of the East Bay’s premier community theaters!

Lois Grandi, Adam Fitzgerald, and the Playhouse West organization, have opened their 2007-2008 season with a delightful selection of four one act comedies by Anton Chekhov in their production of “The Brute and Other Farces”. Much like the melodramas at the turn of the 19th century, Checkhov’s stories highlight (with tongue in cheek) human frailties ranging from a struggling aging actor in Swan Song, to the hen-pecked husband delivering a lecture on the Harmfulness of Smoking, to the epitome of what can go wrong when pride commeth before The Marriage Proposal, and finally a debt unpaid, a duel delayed, and a widow unswayed, in The Brute.

Lois Grandi has once again garnered an excellent cast who deliver, for the most part, a delightful evening of outrageous farcical comedy. In particular, I truly enjoyed Stu Klitsner, George McRae, Sarah Eismann and Robert Parnell in The Brute, a story of a widow who is assailed by a local merchant for an old debt unpaid, following her husband’s death. The merchant, played by George McRae, and the widow, played by Sarah Eismann, were particularly entertaining, displaying a great range of emotion, conviction, humor and believability. The Harmfulness of Smoking in which Morgan Mackay delivered a lecture at his wife’s insistence, obviously against his true beliefs, is a delightful one man monologue demonstrating a man’s inner rebellion and outer acquiescence to his wife’s overpowering influences. Mackay is truly excellent in his portrayal. The Marriage Proposal was quite entertaining but the Swan Song left me on a low note. This encounter with a drunken actor taking the stage late at night after the theatre had closed, was too much on one level, too repetitive and monotonous for my taste.

The costumes designed by Krista Nelson were absolutely perfect and the set designed by Jan Zimmerman was excellent as well. This is a very small stage and Jan has made it work very, very well. By the way, see if you recognize image in the portrait on the wall. The initials are A.C..

This delightful series of melodramatic farces provides an evening of easy going light-hearted comedy, in an old fashioned style. This series continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., on Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m., now through Sunday, October 7th. Call (925) 982-0300 or visit the company’s website at for more information or ticket reservations. The newly outfitted Playhouse West Theatre is located at 1345 Locust Street with plenty of public parking nearby, in a garage directly across the street or one block south on Locust near the theatre complex. Tickets are a very reasonable $26 to $30 depending on the performance date and time.

The Berkeley Repertory Theatre has just opened their 40th season with a very popular and timely production of George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House. Artistic Director Anthony Taccone made this succinct statement in the prologue to this production’s program: “No other play that I know of speaks to the situation at hand: a humorous depiction of a desperate class of people desperately working to prove that they are not desperate. We have produced this play more than any other in the history of Berkeley Rep, simply because it speaks to our culture and our situation in ways that few other plays do. It has all of Shaw’s distinctive trademarks: a relentless, scathing wit, a potpourri of fantastically entertaining characters, and a huge yearning on the part of the author to jar us out or our political complacency.”

George Bernard Shaw detested war, more specifically “the Great War” of 1914, but more than that, he detested the complacency of the privileged upper class, the aristocracy who would never let “a silly war come between them and their dinner or tea parties or theatre engagements!” He wrote incessantly in essays, pamphlets, newspaper columns, (and following the war) in plays about the evils of war and what should be done about it. As a member of the “Fabian Society” (a group dedicated to socialism reform affected by a revolution in the thinking process rather than an open physical revolution), he worked to change the world’s understanding of the waste and travesty of war, especially on the lower and middle classes, the cannon fodder used to propel the war machines financed by the wealthy. He labored to “wake society up” from its dream-like complacency.

In Heartbreak House, the patriarch Captain Shotover, is disgusted with those around him, with his daughters, their families, and guests who come to call. He is disgusted with their lack of ambition, their lack of concern for themselves and those around them, their inability to “wake up” to the "drumming (dropping of bombs from dirigibles over England) in the distance".

The play has a strange rambling flow to it. While individuals discuss their displeasure at not being properly received or expected after having been invited to Shotover’s home for a weekend gathering, they all seem to be having problems communicating, dealing with broken hearts, trouble staying awake or concentrating on anything other than their immediate pleasure. The play’s characters entertain everything from open lifestyles to open rebellion.
The excellent cast includes Allison Jean White as the first guest, Ellie Dunn. Her father, Mazzini Dunn, a failed entrepreneur is played by Matt Gottlieb. The reviled captain of industry, “Boss” Alfred Mangan, is played by David Chandler. Captain Shotover is played by Michael Winters. His living at home daughter, Hesione Hushaby, is played by Michelle Morain, and his visiting daughter, Ariadne Utterword is played by Susan Wilder. Hesione’s playboy husband, Hector Hushaby is played by Stephen Caffrey. Ariadne’s emotional and love-struck brother-in-law, Randall Utterword is played by Michael Ray Wisely. The family servant, Nurse Guinness is played by Lunne Soffer. And last, but not least, the Burglar is played by Chris Ayles.

Heartbreak House is a masterpiece of metaphor: sleeping is a metaphor for ignorance and ambivalence. The characters, as defined by Shaw, are constantly sleeping or in need of sleep, or even hypnotized. The “Drumming in the sky” is a metaphor for the sound of cannons and bombs dropping. Even the names of the characters have a resonance in metaphor. It is a terrific play, until the last act, which just seems to drag on and on, some discussion seems significant, some seeming irrelevant, becoming even more irrelevant at the time dragged on. The drawn out ending almost exhausted me! Director Les Waters had so much going for him in this production, had he only cut a little bit here and there to shorten the play to a bit more palatable time frame.

For the most part, this is a very well acted and conceived play. It plays Tuesdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Wednesdays and Sundays at 7 p.m., Thursdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. ans Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., now through October 14th in the Berkeley Repertory Theater’s Roda Theatre at 2015 Addison Street in Berkeley. There will be no performance on Friday, October twelfth. Tickets range between $33 and $69 each, depending on performance and seating location. Call (510) 647-2949 or visit their website at for ticket and reservation information.