Figaro – the Best Theatre Company in the World; Curse of the Starving Class – Thought Provoking

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on May 2, 2008


Positively, absolutely the best Theatre Company in the World has to be Theatre De La Jeune. Fussy theatergoers are always looking for the next edgy production, the next genius sly interpretation of a classic, and actors that they can gush over. Well, I’m here to tell you that you need look no further than the Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater for that elusive thrill. Your prayers have been answered.

Figaro is a plump and juicy heavyweight. It’s eclectic and daringly fresh. Your Dream Theater Experience is right here in Berkeley. This exciting production by De Le Jeune has hit the jackpot. Cameras are rolling, Actors are in a fit of unrest and the voices conjure up all the splendor and tumult of Mozart’s music.

You’ll have a hard time finding more adventurous, thrilling production values than in this remodeled telling of the three famous Figaro comedies that are melded into one evening. Dominique Serrand and Steven Epp are the masters with the words in this funny and daring show. I love Figaro!

Artistic Director of the Berkeley Rep said of the play: “it is a description of the world, then and now, in all its knowable truth and unknowable mystery.” And that really sums it up perfectly. Figaro has all the elements. Relationships, sex, music, war, singing, cruelty, human entitlement and comedy levels it all out in the end.

In the program is this note: “Thanks and apologies to Beaumarchais, Mozart, and da Ponte.” I see no reason to apologize for anything. They do have fun with the adaptation – but they give proper credit. They didn’t change Mozart’s name to Moxart. But now that I think about it Beauhmarchais, Mozart and da Ponte would be a good name for a Rock Band.

Here are the magnificent and astonishing players: Christina Baldwin, Bryan Boyce, Steven Epp, Bradley Greenwald, Carrie Hennessey, Bryan Janssen, Justin D. Madel, Jennifer Baldwin Peden, Dominique Serrand and Momoko Tanno. Every one of them was dynamite.

The musicians: Cello – Alex Kelly, Violin – Justin Mackewich, Viola – Katrina Weeks and Violin – Sarah Jo Zaharako (7th Avenue String Quartet) were FIGtastic. Amazing!

This Figaro was conceived by Steven Epp and Dominique Serrand. The Text is by Steven Epp, and it is directed by Dominique Serrand. Both are also actors on the stage.

The most unusual, fascinating, Scenography & Video is designed by Dominique Serrand. The costumes by Sonya Berlovitz are packed with imagery. And, the inventive Lighting design is by Marcus Dilliard. Believe me, his work will generate discussion.

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating). –trademarked-

An unhappy house in “Curse of Starving Class.” Photo Kevin Berne


This family is definitely dysfunctional. There is Emma, the daughter who has just had her first period. Emma wants to run away from home all the time. And, who could blame her. She had a school project that she worked really hard for. Her older brother puts it on the floor and pisses on it. And yes, you actually see IT. She seems the most level headed of the bunch, until she goes to a local saloon and shoots it up with a gun and lands in the pokey.

Her brother Wesley at first seems to be wiser and more attune to what’s going on around this dreary family home in the middle of nowhere. But, he too goes off the deep end, sometimes completely in the nude.

Every meeting of this family seems to explode in a battle of words, and throwing chairs around. The father Weston is a total drunk that needs help. Later in the play he does seem to want to make a transformation, but for him it is too late. He owes big bucks to people that will hurt him if they don’t get their money. And they came looking for him.

At times “Curse” is hard to watch. There is a cute little Lamb in a Crib like cage that has maggots. Wesley, the brother brings it in to nurse it back to health. We get the feeling that something bad it going to happen to the Lamb. And my intuition came true. I had to look away. The last act gets very gruesome and cruel. There are some brilliant moments in the play. But, there are also moments of pretension in Sam Shepard’s words. All of a sudden one of the actors will go into some kind of a monologue, which has nothing to do with real conversation.

Everyone in this family has an agenda. Mom wants to sell the property out from under her drunken husband and go to Europe. He wants to sell the property without the families knowledge also. He has his sights on a piece of land in Mexico. The Daughter finally leaves home – but not the way that she had hoped for. My interpretation is that she didn’t get very far.

Wesley the brother goes completely bonkers near the end. He’s a total mess. There are no tidy solutions for these people. They are completely lost. They will never recover. The play ends on a dark vision. No one wins. No one is happy — and the end is left up to you to decide what happened to the daughter and the father. There is a black cloud over the theater. However it is thought provoking with superb acting.

The Brilliant players are: Jud Williford (Wesley), Pamela Reed (Ella), Nicole Lowrence (Emma), Dan Hiatt (Mr. Taylor), Jack Willis (Weston), Rod Gnapp (Ellis), Craig Marker(Malcolm), T. Edward Webster (Emerson), and Howard Swain (Slater).

The Scenery by Loy Arcenas really sets the mood. The Costumes by Lydia Tanji are great, and the Lighting by Japhy Weiderman helps take you down that slippery slope where hopelessness is never ends.

One thing is clear. You will never forget that cute little white Lamb.


That’s a Wrap!

The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour.



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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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