Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
It has always been a problem to translate Racine to English and Rob Melrose and the superb direction of Ariel Craft have conquered that. What we get is more of a psychological drama than a tragic poem.
The strength of this production is Phèdre herself in Courtney Walsh's dynamic performance. I saw Glenda Jackson as Phèdre in the West End and Courtney more than matches the her performance. She brilliantly displays the complex mix of emotions, guilt, covetousness, rage and anguish that accompanied the queen's passion for stepson Hippolytus.
Ed Berkeley is dazzling as Hippolytus. His strong voice rings throughout the four-sided band box theatre. He plays the role as it should be played, reactive rather than active, and he is fantastic. Kenneth Heaton vividly performs as misguided Theseus. He is a magnificent Orson Welles figure with a great theatrical voice. Recent transplant from New York, Brennan Pickman-Thoon, rocks as Hippolytus's best friend Theramenes. His big final speech describing Hippolytus's death is intelligently delivered. I hung on every word of his description. There is strong support from Cecily Schmidt, Karen Offereins, and Maria Leigh as Aricia, Oenone, and Ismene.
Ariel Craft should be congratulated for sharp and decisive direction on this intimate stage with actors performing a few feet from the audience. Congratulations also to Nina Ball for creating an inventive set in such a small space, with a doorway to the left and a summer lattice gate to the right of the stage, and costume designer Brooke Jennings for his 1950s attire.
Phèdre plays through May 21, 2017, at the Cutting Ball Theatre, Exit of Taylor, 277 Taylor Street, San Francisco. For tickets and information, visit www.cuttingball.com or call 415-525-1205