Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Private Jokes, Public Places
Catches the Meaning of Modern Architecture in Entertaining Style

Also see Richard's reviews of Blue Door and Gay Divorce

Max Gordon Moore, Robert Parsons, Charles Dean and M.J. Kang
The Aurora Theatre Company is presenting the regional premiere of Oren Safdie's biting academic satire Private Jokes, Public Places through May 13th. The farce had its premiere at Off-Off Broadway's La Mama E.T.C. in 2002. Since that time it has had brief runs in Los Angeles and more recently at the Theatre at the Center for Architecture in Greenwich Village.

In recent years, live theatre has dealt with science and the arts. There was a serge of plays centering on mathematics but few about architecture. What better person to write one than Oren Safdie, who was well on his way to becoming an architect before he became a playwright. He had the good sense to make this a satire on those academics who build the structures. You really don't have to be an architect to appreciate this razor-sharp, peevish criticism of post-modern architecture.

The one-hour 20-minute play centers around Korean-American architecture student Margaret's (M.J. Kang) model of a public swimming pool as three judges - verbose German master architect Erhardt (Robert Parsons), prissy Colin (Charles Dean) and nervous studio professor William (Max Gordon Moore) - sound off on its design. The audience members in the three-side theatre become the students and we are invited to ask if Margaret really knows what she is doing. What occurs is a sharp comical dissertation about modern architecture that is full of wonderful insights into the characters of the three "famous" judges.

Private Jokes, Public Places is full of clever arguments spoken by a superlative cast. It becomes farcical in nature as each of the high-blown architects speaks his piece on modern buildings. There is deeper meaning since the Korean-American student is defending her thesis project to three males and this definitely brings up issues of sexual and racial politics.

Robert Parsons (Pain + Suffering, Little Foxes, Lonesome West) wonderfully portrays the German architect Erhardt as he subjects Margaret to an arduous psychological cross-examination. His miss-mash speech on the effects of European Architecture is hilarious. As he ends his dissertation he asks, "does everyone understand?" The characters shake their heads "No."

Charles Dean (The Price, Irving Berlin's White Christmas) gives an uproarious performance as the obnoxious, pompous twit Colin. He sounds a little like William Buckley Jr when speaking. His mincing of words is side splitting.

Max Gordon Moore (Pain + Pleasure, Family Alchemy is outstanding as the studio professor. He is a real natural as William is intimidated by his blowhard elders. His movements are a joy to watch as he tries to get the senior architects to approve the swimming pool design.

M.J. Kang (originated the role) is captivating as Margaret tries to impress the judges. Her lambasting of the judges at the end of the farce is a powerful tour de force of acting.

Set Designer Kate Boyd and Lighting Designer Russell H. Champa have transformed the performing space into a brilliantly lit lecture hall. Barbara Damashek (2006 SFBATCC winner for Best Director) helms a fast-paced and fascinating production.

Private Jokes, Public Places runs through May 13th at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley. For ticket please call 510-843-4822 or visit

The theatre closes the seasons with John Guare's Bosoms and Neglect opening June 15 and running through July 22nd.

Photo: David Allen

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

- Richard Connema

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