November theater picks: A world premiere, two music-infused plays and a comedy

All four explore the vicissitudes of nothing less than love

Let the music, and the holiday season, begin. This month’s best theater bets include one full-fledged musical and two other plays that are music-infused. Two are world premieres, all four are deliciously comedic, and all four explore the vicissitudes of nothing less than love.

‘Father/Daughter’

Aurora Theatre Company has, since its inception, been an actor-centric theater, and Kait Kerrigan’s two-hander, “Father/Daughter,” a world premiere that’s Aurora’s first live show since the pandemic began, is surely a thespian’s dream.

In it, actors William Thomas Hodgson and Sam Jackson take on two characters apiece, switching back and forth from scene to scene. The 14 scenes fly by with almost no transitions.

Although many plays are non-linear, I’ve never seen a play that’s structured in just this way: The first scene involves a couple (Baldwin, age 30, divorced with an 8-year-old daughter, and Risa) on a first date, then follows that couple through time, while intertwined scenes follow a second couple (Miranda and Louis) on a parallel course 23 years later. Miranda, it turns out, is Baldwin’s daughter, now all grown up, and just as Baldwin and Risa struggle to connect amid much witty banter and Baldwin’s tendency to keep an emotional distance, so too do Miranda and Louis, in equally comedic and affecting ways.

As the scenes keep changing, back-to-back, and the actors switch characters, the play just keeps moving forward, notes the play’s director, M. Graham Smith, a longtime Aurora artistic associate. One of the things the play is chiefly about, he says, is “the legacy of loving and how vulnerability is inherited … Miranda has inherited (among other traits perhaps) Baldwin’s reluctance about being vulnerable.” He notes that award-winning playwright Kerrigan wrote it because, as she was planning to marry, she realized that marriage would give her an opportunity to see her father differently. In the play, says Smith, Miranda, who believes her relationship with her father is immutable, discovers that it can change. “Her relationship with her partner opens up space for her relationship with her father to grow,” Smith says, and so it does, in a touching final scene.

“Father/Daughter” runs at Aurora Theatre Co., 2081 Addison St., Berkeley, from Nov. 12-Dec. 12. Tickets are $20-$78. Call (510) 843-4822 or visit auroratheatre.org.

‘Georgiana & Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley’

Those of us who love Jane Austen eagerly anticipate this third and final installment in Lauren M. Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s “Christmas at Pemberley” trilogy, a Marin Theatre Company world premiere. The two collaborating playwrights unpacked the ever-popular Regency-era comedy of manners “Pride and Prejudice” to further explore the lives of the five Bennet sisters. Austen herself has already given us a beautifully detailed look at Elizabeth and her bumpy courtship with the ever-severe yet enticing Mr. Darcy, so in the collaborators’ first installment, bookworm sister Mary was the focus, and in the second, the problematic and precocious youngest sister, Lydia.

Now, along with courtship rituals, the playwrights look deeply at a female friendship: musically inclined fourth Bennet sister Kitty (played by Emilie Whelan) and Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana (Lauren Spencer), who, being much younger than her brother, is under his tutelage. “When you really think about it,” muses Gunderson, “the friendships of your life are what sustain you and your growth as an individual.” Austen says very little about Kitty or Georgiana in “Pride and Prejudice,” and that gave the collaborators free rein to create full characters almost from whole cloth. Says Melcon, “What little we get [of Kitty in Austen’s novel] is enough to build a whole person and a whole complex set of circumstances… . That’s what’s fun about it… . A less well drawn character gives us more room to use our imaginations.”

Marin Theatre Company’s premiere “Georgiana and Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley” follows characters created by Jane Austen. <ins>(Courtesy Kevin Berne)</ins>

Marin Theatre Company’s premiere “Georgiana and Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley” follows characters created by Jane Austen. (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

Of course romance blossoms, between Georgiana and an attractive visitor, despite Mr. Darcy’s (Daniel Duque-Estrada) interference. The racially diverse cast consists of six women and three men; original music is composed by Jenny Giering and Meredith McDonough directs.

“Georgiana & Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley” runs at Marin Theatre Co., 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, from Nov. 18-Dec. 19. Tickets are $25-$60. Call (415) 388-5208 or visit marintheatre.org.

‘Twelfth Night’

San Francisco Playhouse has never, in its 19-year history, tackled Shakespeare — until now, with the musical version of the Bard’s comedy “Twelfth Night.” The adaptation premiered at New York’s Public Theatre, conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub, with music and lyrics by Taub. When it opened in 2018, it was called one of the best theatrical productions of the year by Time, the Washington Post and the Hollywood Reporter.

Kwame Kwei-Armah is the co-creator of New York Public Theatre’s acclaimed musical adaptation of “Twelfth Night,” which runs Nov. 24-Jan. 15 at San Francisco Playhouse. (Courtesy San Francisco Playhouse)

Kwame Kwei-Armah is the co-creator of New York Public Theatre’s acclaimed musical adaptation of “Twelfth Night,” which runs Nov. 24-Jan. 15 at San Francisco Playhouse. (Courtesy San Francisco Playhouse)

A Christmastime comedy about gender confusion, mistaken identity, misguided aspirations and, most of all, romantic yearning, it follows young Viola as she washes ashore, shipwrecked, in Illyria. Believing her brother to be drowned, she disguises herself as a boy, Cesario, and becomes a servant of the lovelorn Duke, offering to court the widowed Countess Olivia on his behalf. The Countess, in turn, is quickly besotted by Cesario.

In the 90-minute show, nothing of the story is left out; rather, songs replace many of the soliloquies. The music, says director Susi Damilano, runs the gamut from Motown to Broadway to New Orleans jazz to ’80s pop and everything in between. Her own favorite among the songs is the wistful “Is This Not Love,” sung by the jester Feste, during a scene in which the disguised-as-Cesario Viola and the dejected and rejected Duke exchange heartfelt confidences.

Elsewhere, and right to the point, Feste sings, “Everyone wants who they don’t got/And everyone’s being somebody they’re not/Is it true? Is it true?/Who’s gonna end up with who?/Give me the word, word, word on the street …”

In the opening lines of “Twelfth Night,” the Duke declares, famously, “If music be the food of love, play on.” The idea of a musical “Twelfth Night” is built right into the text, Damilano exults. “The music gets into you a little deeper than the spoken word,” she says, “and [here is] Shakespeare’s poetry turned to music! I think he’d be thrilled with this.”

“Twelfth Night” runs at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., S.F., from Nov. 24-Jan. 15. Tickets are $30-$100. Call (415) 677- 9596 or visit sfplayhouse.org.

‘Wintertime’

The zany, farcical comedy “Wintertime” is set right after Christmas, in a big summer house covered with snow — even the furniture is snow-covered, according to playwright Charles L. Mee’s written stage directions.

Jonathan has brought Ariel here to propose to her. Inconveniently, it turns out his mother is already here, with her lover. Soon enough others arrive, and the house overflows with friends, lovers, relations and strangers of all ages, races and sexual orientations.

Early on, a neighbor, Bertha, bursts in to breathlessly announce that her partner, Hilda, has fallen into a nearby pond while ice fishing, and the entire household goes berserk trying to organize a rescue effort — until Hilda herself staggers in, sopping wet and furious, accusing Bertha of trying to drown her.

Later, a “big, scary-looking guy” appears, delivering a composter that no one ordered. And Jonathan rips a chair to shreds in a fury. And more.

Rage, jealousy, conflict abound. Occasionally Mee specifies a musical interlude — for example, Jussi Bjorling singing “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s “Turandot.” Life happens in all its wonderful, unpredictable, Mee-style absurdity.

Director Les Waters has helmed “Wintertime” twice elsewhere back in 2002, plus other Mee plays. Of the particular challenges that the playwright presents, Waters says via email, “I think I understand his world of intimate scenes and large-scale spectacle … Most of his plays question the concepts of love and attraction. What is love? Why do we need it? Why is it so difficult to maintain it?” He adds that “Wintertime” is influenced by Mee’s reading of Anne Carson’s “Eros the Bittersweet,” in which she discusses the concept of “eros” in classical philosophy and literature.

The Berkeley Rep all-star cast of 10 includes such local favorites as James Carpenter, Nora el Samahy, Sarah Nina Hayon, Lori Holt, Jomar Tagatac and Sharon Lockwood.

“Wintertime” runs at Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley, from Nov. 12-Dec 19. Tickets are $22-$100. Call (510) 647-2949 or visit berkeleyrep.org.

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