Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Patrick's review of Camelot
For Wintertime, which opened Wednesday night at Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Roda Theatre, I knew literally nothing about the play beyond its title. I didn't even know it was written by Charles L. Mee, one of the elder statesmen of American avant-garde theatre. When it was over, I felt as if I had been blindfolded, led to a seat, and had the blindfold removed to discover I was on a rollercoaster that would take me on a two-hour fifteen-minute thrill ride through a world of love and anger, foolishness and forgiveness, intimacy and isolation.
Featuring a brilliant cast of ten, Wintertime muses far and wide on the nature of love and relationships, alternately waxing philosophical and comical, exhibiting both brains and brawn, the latter in the form of some delightful physical comedy, including a scene of slamming doors taken to a never-before-seenat least by melevel, and of a chair reduced almost to toothpicks by a seething Jonathan.
As the show opens (on a gorgeous white-on-white set by Annie Smart), Jonathan (Micah Peoples) and his girlfriend Ariel (Carmen Berkeley) have come to a house in the dead of winter to be alone with each other (and, it is soon revealed, for Jonathan to propose to Ariel). Their alone time, however, lasts about as long as the half-life of Hydrogen-7 when Jonathan's mother, Maria (Nora El Samahy) appears, followed immediately after by her lover Francois (Thomas Jay Ryan). They will soon be even less alone when Frank (James Carpenter), Maria's ex-husband, and Edmund (David Ryan Smith), Frank's new lover, appear, followed in quick succession by Bertha (Lorri Holt) and Hilda (Sharon Lockwood), a couple who live in the neighborhood.
From this point on, it's non-stop comedy and conflict as the couples examine their relationships in specific and relationships in general as the snow gently falls, quietly accumulating outside the door, which, for some unknown reason is left open, despite the weather.
There are some sweet, even heartbreaking moments of revelation amidst the chaos of the action, as when Edmund says earnestly "I need to be first in someone's life," or when Bob, a delivery man/priest (Jomar Tagatac), wonders, "Why do people kill each other all the time if it's not from love gone wrong?"
Mee has created characters who must navigate the treacherous, narrow escarpment between faithfulness and freedom, and director Les Waters has assembled a cast who are, to the audience's great delight, easily up to the task. At the risk of leaving out even one member of this terrific ensemble, I feel I must call attention to performances that stand out even while being perfectly in balance with their scene partners. Lorri Holt, as ever, is able to wring laughs out of seemingly bland lines, and imbues her character with a gentle humanity that makes you want to fix her a cup of tea and have a long, long chat. Jomar Tagatac, after his stunning performance in San Francisco Playhouse's Hold These Truths, is fast becoming one of my favorite Bay Area actors. His ability to hold a moment, pulling us to the edges of our seats, and then hitting the line with the perfect intonation and timing is a wonder to behold. Likewise, James Carpenter exhibits a comfort on stage that dares you to look away from him for fear of missing something wonderful. Thomas Jay Ryan's French accent may slip away from time to time, but that doesn't diminish his comic powerespecially in a striptease in act two that is nothing short of a marvel.
It seems the characters in Wintertime all want to be alone in one way or another, but none really are, just as even the most isolated of hermits hiding in a remote mountain cave are still part of humanity. That we need each other, even when we think we don't, may be exactly the point Mee is trying to make.
Wintertime runs through December 19, 2021, in the Roda Theatre at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley CA. Shows are Friday-Sunday at 2:00 p.m., with the second half beginning at 7:30 p.m. There is an additional show on Thursday, February 20, 2022. Tickets range from $20-$104. Tickets are available online at www.berkeleyrep.org, or by calling the box office at 510-647-2949.