Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Trust and The Life of Galileo

Eureka Theatre Company is presenting the American Premier of Gary Mitchell's play Trust. This is the company's first play of the '99-'00 season and what a start for this ambitious company in their second year. Trust, a play about the troubles of Northern Ireland, is one of the few plays to use a Protestant family as its centerpiece. Mr. Mitchell is the lone Ulsterman who is now writing plays about his country. However, there is really no political message in this play. This family could be either Catholic or Protestant.

The story takes place in Rathcoole, a poor working class Protestant enclave in the suburbs of Belfast in 1999. The drama is centered around the dysfunctional McKnight family. Geordie is the district commander for the Ulster Defense Association which is an illegal paramilitary organization. He wants to keep Ulster British. His wife is a despairing person who is very protective of their 15 year old son, Jake. The son is bullied at school and suffers from debilitating headaches. The playwright makes sure that the persons bulling the son are not Catholics but the sons of a police sergeant.

Also in the cast are Artty, Geordie's chief lieutenant and mate plus an English soldier, Vincent, and his Ulster lover Julie who are involved in a clandestine arms deal with Geordie. The second plot involves the wife hiring a volatile Treavor fresh from a 13 year prison term to "protect" the son from the bullies. The play runs a fateful spiral downward toward a harrowing final scene.

This play had its premier last spring at the Royal National Theatre where the playwright is now a resident. The Eureka was able to persuade Mr. Mitchell to give the American premier at the Eureka. It is by far the strongest outing for the Eureka so far.

The cast does a beautiful job of portraying the depths to which the political tensions have seeped into their personal relationships. Jonathan Haugen portrays the cocky, swaggering Geordie. He plays off Mhari Sandoval's grim and bitter Margaret with a soft voice and a chilling smile that masks an undercurrent of uncertainty. They deliver multiple layers of domestic tension. Ms. Sandoval is outstanding in her role. This actress has been one of the leading lights these past 5 seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Lanky Dan Hiatt is hilarious and smarmy as Geordie's sidekick. Mr. Hiatt has a long list of impressive credits with ACT. Johnny Sanders is terrific as the teenage son. The rest of the cast were superb and the direction by Ann Glazer taunt and tight. The play runs to November 14.

The Life of Galileo

The Berkeley Rep Theatre has opened their '99-'00 season with a superb and lavish production of Bertolt Brecht's The Life of Galileo. This is a new translation by David Hare and he has updated the play in a way that makes recent genetic breakthroughs resonate with Galileo's work. Brecht had used Galileo ‘s struggles as a mirror of reason against the 20th Century struggles such as European fascism, anti-communist witch hunts and our culture's fascination with the trivial.

The 14 scene production consists of the life of the Italian physicist from 1609 to 1637. It centers around his battle with the Catholic Church which refuses to acknowledge that the sun is the center of the universe. They hold on to the ancient Greek theory that the earth is the center. The Church has a lot invested in suppressing Galileo's theories and promoting the aesthetically pleasing Aristotelian worldview. Threatened with instruments of torture by the Holy Inquisition, Galileo eventually recants, a captive of his own natural zest for living.

The production is directed with blazing inventiveness by Mark Wing-Davey, who had staged Angels In America at ACT. Galileo and his followers wear garments of the 1940s, while the characters associated with the church wear 17th Century garments. The production spans the centuries of Galileo's time to our 20th Century life. There are streams of projections and video images going through the walls of the theatre: star charts, sun spots, a DNA double helix and even, for some unknown reason, an Italian TV game show.

The director has assembled a superb cast of top Bay area and Los Angeles actors. Michael Winters plays the lead role of Galileo. He anchors his role with a beautifully thought through, emotionally solid, detailed performance that make his genius accessible. You can also see his moral cowardice when it come to recanting his ideas.

Ken Ruta makes an imposing and sly Cardinal Inquisitor. A superb Amy Mordecai is brilliant as Galileo's giddy daughter. A large cast of good Bay area actors round out this excellent production. David Hare's new adaptation is a taut, muscular, exceptionally clear and faithful rendering of Brecht's final version. This three hour and 15 minute show runs until November 5.

- Richard Connema

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