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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Aurora Theatre Company's Knock, Knock

Also see Richard's review of The Worst of Varla Jean Merman and The Hairy Ape


The Aurora Theatre Company is currently presenting Jules Feiffer's fantasy comedy Knock, Knock in their new theater on Addison Street, Berkeley. The play premiered at the Biltmore Theatre in New York on February 24, 1976, and it ran for 150 performances. The New York Times critic said of the play, "it is partly a philosophical fairy tale and partly a free-wheeling vaudeville. If Saul Bellow had written The Sunshine Boys it might have turned into something like this". The play is a masterpiece of American absurdism from the '70s and '80s; however, it is rarely produced today. It is a pleasure to see this silly Marx Brothers type comedy again.

Knock, Knock is about two cantankerous old ducks who have shared a log cabin for twenty years. In all of those years Abe and Cohn have never stepped out of the enclosure. They have never had visitors either, with the exception of a Jehovah's Witness who knocked on their door years ago. Abe informs us he invited him into the cabin where they had coffee and a religious discussion. These grumpy retired old men have no fondness for each other and their whole relationship is based on mutual aggravation.

One day while they are arguing about some small matter, Cohn gives an example of Aladdin's Lamp and he rubs a lamp to make a point. Suddenly a crazy genie, looking and acting like Groucho Marx, appears. During a wonderful, zany interchange there is a knock on the door and Joan of Arc arrives. She is badly in need of moral support and her "voices" tell her that she is on a mission for the Emperor. She informs us that the sky is missing and she must collect two of a every kind, including two schlepps, for the Emperor. Once done, the sky will reappear. The play gets sillier and sillier as Abe and Cohn find themselves spiraling further out of control with their ridiculous destiny. In one funny scene during a poker game, one character says "in the poker game of life, an outside patio with a rose garden beats an inside straight." Don't ask what it means; it's Feiffer's way of explaining life. There are other crazy wordplays, sight gags and contemplations of life. Even Joan's famous voices can be heard from various speakers in the theater.

Director Michael Butler's wacky production has two of the best actors in the Bay Area; Dan Hiatt and Will Marchetti play off each other superbly. Mr. Haitt, fresh from his award winning triumph in Flea In Her Ear, is outstanding as the theoretical Abe. Mr. Marchetti as Cohn turns his state of depression to a work of fine art. Rachel Brown as the Maid of Orleans is excellent as the maddening single minded woman warrior who transforms herself into a kvetch and finally back to the Maid as she delivers a prize monologue. Sara Moore gives a fun performance in several roles including Wiseman, the clown genie.

The production is preposterous, bizarre and completely foolish but I loved and laughed every minute of the two hour farce. Knock, Knock runs through April 14 at the Aurora Theater now located at 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley. Call (510)843-4822 for tickets. Their next production will be The Entertainer starring Charles Dean. It opens on May 16 and will run through June 16.


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


- Richard Connema



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