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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Marcel Pagnol's Marius
is a Charming Pastiche

Also see Richard's reviews of Irving Berlin's White Christmas and Splittin' the Raft

Marius
(back)Jessa Brie Berkner and Daniel Hart Donoghue; (l-r) George Maguire, Cesar, Nicholas Pelczar, and Jordan Lund
The Aurora Theater Company is presenting the world premiere of the first English language translation of Marcel Pagnol's Marius through December 18 at their intimate three-sided theatre in Berkeley. The translation is by Zack Ragow and he has thrown some modern idiomatic words into the script - sometimes losing the Gallic flavor. This French comedy-drama is the first part of Pagnol's famous trilogy which included Fanny and Cesar.

Marius was originally produced in Paris in 1929 and was an instant success with over one thousand performances in the city of light. The play was made into one of the great French film classics in 1931 starring the legendary French actors Raimu and Pierre Fresnay. The next two in the trilogy followed quickly, and today film history buffs consider the trilogy to be one of the great French cinema masterpieces of the 20th century.

Harold Rome's 1954 musical Fanny highlighted certain sections of the complete trilogy to make a beautiful tuneful musical starring Ezio Pinza, Walter Slezak, Florence Henderson and William Talbert. It played the Majestic Theatre and toured around the country.

Marius is a tour de force of simple human drama. It’s a classic tale of love and heartbreak set among the working class on the Marseilles seaport. The play is full of young at heart longings and comical situations involving the older characters.

This is the story of Panisse (George Maguire), an older Marseille fish seller who wants to marry the young Fanny (Jessa Brie Berkner) who loves Marius (Daniel Hart Donoghue), a bartender with his eye on a life at sea. Cesar (Robert Ernst) is Marius' stern father and owner of the bar. Clichés abound, but even though they have become familiar it is nice to see and hear them again.

Pagnol's drama features richly detailed performances by George Maguire as Panisse and Robert Ernst as Cesar. Maguire is first rate as the dapper ladies man who still believes he can capture the eye of the young Fanny. Robert Ernest is excellent as the cantankerous, goodhearted bar owner and father of Marius. Both of these men capture the essence of Pagnol's world as they bicker together. They are a joy to watch as they deliberate the problems of the day.

Romantic leads Daniel Hart Donoghue as Marius and Jessa Brie Berkner as Fanny give good performances. However, Donoghue seems a little stiff when he is with Fanny. He is more effective in the scenes with his father. There does not seem to be much chemistry between the young couple in the romantic scenes.

Lynne Soffer gives a good performance as the lively, realistic widow Honorine, the mother of Fanny. Her scene with Panisse as she does some no-nonsense bargaining over financial terms concerning whether the older dandy is going to marry her 18-year-old daughter is hilarious. Nicholas Pelczar is amusing in the small role of the perplexed clerk Piquoiseau. Jordan Lund gives a shallow elucidation of a ferry captain. Energetic and talented actor Nick Tagas makes the most of his small role as The Stoker and The Bosun.

Greg Dunham has designed an effective set, with a small bar-café setting overlooking the harbor of Marseille on the back wall. There are smooth arch ceiling fragments overhead while the rest of the stage has tables where the characters sit to converse with each other. Jim Cave's lights give the effect of the Provençal sun that lights the southern French seaport. Tom Ross has directed a smooth and placid production.

Marius plays through December 18th at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, Ca. For tickets call 510-843-4822 or visit www.aurorathatre.org.

The Aurora Theatre will present A Little Cole in Your Stocking starring Meg Mackay and Billy Philadelphia from on December 21-23 and 28-30 at 8 pm. Tickets can be purchased by going to www.auroratheatre.org.


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

- Richard Connema



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