Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Shotgun Players Presents a Stimulating Production of Caryl Churchill's Owners

Also see Richard's reviews of Our Town, The Crucible, and Rain

Howard Dillon and Ryan O'Donnell
The Shotgun Players are currently presenting Caryl Churchill's Owners at their new theatre The Ashby Stage in Berkeley. This 1972 farcical but serious play was the playwright's first professional stage production when it played at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Since that time, it has rarely been presented except as a reading course in theatre arts in universities. The play deserves to be seen professionally in theatres since it is still relevant in today's world.

Caryl Churchill has unadulterated audacity and assurance in her writing and is able to use her significant wit and intelligence in ways at once unusual, resonant and dramatically riveting. Ms. Churchill does this in the current production of Owners which features a first rate cast of actors. The dialogue is brittle and sparking and you get a little David Mamet speech pattern in some of the scenes. The whole play is reminiscent of a Mike Leigh film.

In Owners, the playwright negotiates the landscape of wicked authority gained by being a landlord and the true power one person can have over others by controlling where and how they live. Churchill attacks the way the concept of ownership destroys potential relationships. She displays her basic socialist views on what capitalism is all about: being aggressive, getting ahead and doing well. This is all displayed through Marion (Trish Mulholland), a leathery, heartless and conniving real estate developer who believes strongly in capitalism and class hierarchy. She brutally dominates her husband Clegg (Howard Dillon), her equally ruthless assistant Worsley (Ryan O'Donnell), and her former lover's wife Lisa (Zehra Berkman) to get what she wants. She will stop at nothing to gain a piece of property for redevelopment.

Scenes change rapidly in this two hour 15 minute complex production with one intermission. There are various subplots involving Marion's husband, a butcher who thinks murderous thoughts against his wife, and a suicidal assistant to the realtor who has tried many ways of killing himself but has failed each time. His therapist says he has a "life wish." Also involved is the passive husband Alec (John Mercer), a former lover of the monster realtor, and his pregnant wife pregnant Lisa. Even the birth of the baby becomes involved in the "ownership" scheme of things.

Patrick Dooley has helmed a sharp, fast paced farce with excellent actors - especially Trish Mulholland who plays the realtor from hell with great evil passion. She is hilarious as she becomes more and more aggravated when she cannot have it all her own way. Zehra Berkman is excellent as the hysterical pageant wife Lisa who tends to cry at the drop of the hat. Howard Dillon as the pompously chauvinist butcher gives a penetrating performance. Ryan O'Donnell is uproarious when describing his suicide attempts. His British accent is spot on. John Mercer as the "spaced out" detached husband is a real hoot. His brief words seem to have a Mamet influence. Megan Kane rounds out the small cast doing various small roles, and she is particularly exceptional as the next door neighbor in one scene.

Patrick Dooley uses a revolving platform that changes rapidly to butcher shop, a flat, strip club, Marion's office and a hospital room. The mini sets by Jean-Francois Revon are very smart. There is a false proscenium frame of a building surrounding the smaller set piece that is very clever.

Owner plays the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave, Berkeley through October 9th. For tickets please call 510-841-6500 or visit

Their next production will be Kander and Ebb's Cabaret opening on November 30 and running through January 6, 2006.

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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