Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Berkeley Repertory Presents a Nice Fall
The Berkeley Rep is currently presenting a nice little coming of age comedy in cooperation with Baltimore's Center Stage where it just closed. Fall premiered at the Trinity Repertory theater in Providence, Rhode Island, last May. The play was written by promising 31 year-old playwright Bridget Carpenter, who based the play on her first experience at taking swing dance lessons a few years ago. She said her enthusiasm for the dance fired up the theme of play. She visualize herself as a 14 year old girl with a yearning for the concepts of leading and following, pressure and holding back.
The bittersweet comedy takes place at a Catalina Island swing camp. The central character is Lydia, an outspoken 14 year old girl who would rather be scuba diving than attending a swing dance camp with her parents. She believes herself to be double cursed with swing obsessed freaks for parents.
Lydia, at dance camp, experiences the first hormonal activity in her young life when she falls in love with a 23 year-old teacher who recently has been divorced. Besides the incessant lessons in the Lindy Hop and Shim Sham, she learns more poignant lessons about life, love and family.
The play includes some of Lydia's whimsical dreams, while she is scuba-diving amongst a kelp bed. On the stage tubular acrylic sculptures descend from the ceiling to represent the kelp; very effective stage craft.
Lydia dreams all sorts of teen terrors. She picks up a conch shell and puts it to her ear. She hears swing music coming from the shell. Her mind goes further out of field when she visualizes her mother having an affair with the 23 year old teacher Mr. Gonzales. She then sees her mother swinging in the arms of dance instruction Gopal and then the cameo turns into Mr. Gonzales locked in a tango with guess who - her father. Later in a dream sequence the father spontaneously combusts, leaving only a pair shoes filled with ashes. These sequences are the best scenes in the play.
On the whole, the play is a glorified soap-operish sitcom that probably could not be on network television due to Lydia's affair with adult Mr. Gonzales. The first act was slow and I got a little tired of Lydia, who tended to grate on my nerves with her whining. However that is the fault of the playwright rather then the actress. The second act was much more interesting as she slowly becomes an adult. The conversations become more animated and not so melodramatic.
Most of the actors are very experienced with excellent credits. The 14 year-old Lydia is played by the adult Megan Austin Oberle, who was in the NBC miniseries "The '70s". She has appeared in productions at Actor's Circle Theatre, Circle X and the Next Stage. My only problem with her was she was a little too old to be playing a 14 year old girl. That said, she did somewhat catch the cadences of teen angst and fearless pomposity nicely.
Nancy Bell played the mother. She has played in many theaters across the United States and was recently with the New York Theatre Workshop. She was adequate in the role The father, whose name was Dog (don't ask why), was a little too "show-offish" as the male parent of Lydia.
I like Thomas Christopher Nieto as Mr. Gonzales. He tends to be a little taciturn in his performance but he has a certain something to make the role appealing. Donnie Keshawarz plays the idealistic dance teacher. Rounding out the ensemble are actual local dance teachers Chad Kubo and Niloufar Telebi. They have no lines, but they can dance.
The set is minimal on a rotating table, with a bench on a terrace overlooking a painted sea. For the swing scene a disco ball comes down from the rafters and the stage darkens. The music is canned.
Fall runs Wednesday to Sunday