COURTESY CHESHIRE ISAACSFrom left

COURTESY CHESHIRE ISAACSFrom left

Just Theater scores with Cold War comedy

Sometimes you can tell that a production will be good from the opening moment.

Such is the case in Jonathan Spector’s “In From the Cold,” a Just Theater world premiere. The lights come up in media res: grumpy, Russian-born father Ivan (aka “Howard Johnson,” played with gusto and deep and varying emotional levels by Julian López-Morillas) stands poised above his all-American son, Alex (Seton Brown, a delightfully nebbishy Everyman, or perhaps Everyson), who is seated. Hand extended, Ivan is offering Alex a gun. “No!” shouts Alex. “Dad, I can’t take a gun to school!”

It’s a funny, absurd opening tableau that instantly piques your interest, and which clearly indicates the play is firing on all cylinders. An excellent ensemble cast, sharp-eyed director Christine Young and the playwright (also Just Theater’s co-artistic director) achieve a precise balance of drama and farce throughout.

Ivan is a former Cold War spy, an army bureaucrat who was a double agent of sorts, but with wildly idealistic goals. Forced to flee the Soviet Union, he is now obsessively paranoid, convinced his former KGB colleagues are aiming to — slight spoiler alert ahead — kill his son.

He apparently has good reason to believe this, but is he a reliable witness?

For his part, Alex, who recently returned home (from living in Japan) in order to care for his presumably ailing father, is baffled and frustrated by Ivan’s controlling behavior.

Just starting a new job, as a substitute history teacher in his alma mater high school, Alex is busy reconnecting with two old classmates: hang-loose underachiever Damian (Harold Pierce, hilariously hyper and likable) and Carrie (an engaging and idiosyncratic Sarah Moser), a teacher at the high school who used to date Alex’s older brother.

David Sinaiko completes the pitch-perfect cast, playing several small roles with his usual comic verve.

Spector’s plot is tight and engrossing, and his characters are distinctive, but he has a broader agenda, too: By way of Alex’s lectures to his clueless students, interwoven into the action, Spector presents a carefully crafted view of modern history as revealed in popular movies from the 1980s (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Back to the Future,” “The Karate Kid”).

He also examines, through the character of the tormented, out-of-touch father, the personal cost of committing to political ideals.

REVIEW

In From the Cold

Presented by: Just Theater

Where: Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shatuck Ave., Berkeley

When: 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 23

Tickets: $22 to $25

Contact: (510) 214-3780, www.justtheater.orgartsIn From the ColdJonathan SpectorJust Theater

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A warning notice sits under the windshield wiper of a recreational vehicle belonging to a homeless man named David as it sits parked on De Wolf Street near Alemany Boulevard on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. A proposed SF Municipal Transportation Agency law would make it illegal for overnight parking on the side street for vehicles taller than seven feet or longer than 22 feet. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA to resume ‘poverty tows’ amid calls to make temporary ban permanent

Fines and fees hurt low-income, homeless residents, but officials say they are a necessary tool

A broad coalition of tenants and housing rights organizers rally at Stanley Mosk Courthouse to protest eviction orders issued against renters Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Federal judge strikes down CDC’s national moratorium on evictions

David Yaffe-Bellany, Noah Buhayar Los Angeles Times A federal judge in Washington… Continue reading

San Francisco Unified School District spends less in the classroom than other large school districts but has more senior administrative staff.
Data shows SFUSD behind other districts on tax funding, classroom spending

With spending cuts on the horizon, school board members are taking a… Continue reading

City Attorney Dennis Herrera is seeking injunctions preventing those arrested on drug dealing charges in the Tenderloin from returning to the area. 
Examiner file photo
Judge to rule on Herrera’s new plan for tackling Tenderloin drug dealing

A San Francisco judge heard arguments Tuesday on whether City Attorney Dennis… Continue reading

The Roxie Theater in the Mission, a haven for movie lovers, is slated to reopen on May 21 with a special program being selected by a poll of enthusiastic viewers. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
S.F. indie movie houses readying to reopen

Fans, operators excited to return to the big-screen experience

Most Read