Even though it closed on Sunday I wanted to do a quick blurb about Ubuntu's recent staging of A Streetcar Named Desire, both because it's one of the best things I've seen recently and because it made me very excited about the rest of their 2018 season. In a production that managed to be simultaneously stripped-down and rich with meaning, the performers embodied the lyricism of Tennessee Williams's language and delivered gripping performances across the board, though Lisa Ramirez deserves special mention for her mesmerizing turn as Blanche. I loved the poignancy and nuance in the scene between her and Sarita Ocón's Stella the morning after Stanley and Stella have their steamy reconciliation; as an aside, I played that very scene with my best friend in our high school drama class, and it is safe to say I had zero concept of what it was really about at that time. In Ubuntu's hands very little about the play seemed dated, as right now Americans grapple anew with the relationships between men and women and our socio-economic divides. Next up in the Ubuntu season: Dance of the Holy Ghosts by Marcus Gardley, staged at the Oakland Peace Center, followed by work by Maxim Gorky, Philip Kan Gotanda, and a certain William Shakespeare. Check their website at the link above for the full listing.
Through February 24 - Mechanisms at the Wattis. Curated by Anthony Huberman and organized with Leila Grothe, this group show brilliantly fractures our current obsession with technology by taking a close look at machines themselves. Some objects gain new meaning when removed from their traditional contexts, as in Charlotte Posenenske's figurative sculptures of metal ducts or Jay DeFeo's renderings of her swim goggles and tripod that mimic anatomical drawings. Zarouhie Abdalian is similarly interested in transformation, here rebuilding shiny "hand tools" like scissors into new objets d'art meant for display only and no actual physical work. A sense of foreboding builds throughout the show as well, culminating in the back room where Danh Vo's "Twenty-Two Traps" lie on the floor in anticipation of prey at the same time as a monolith-like sculpture by Aaron Flint Jamison provides a menacing hum of a soundtrack from one corner. While machines themselves are technically neutral objects, it is we the users who determine whether they will construct or consume. From the exhibition brochure:
Machines, like all tools, have their agendas. They embody and enforce specific regimes. They have trained us to embrace and enjoy a life of seamless connectivity and complete flexibility. They have taught us to value efficiency and standardization. They live within the bloodstream of our subjectivities, our policies, and our politics.
Through February 24 - Red Speedo at Center Rep. Playwright Lucas Hnath's drama is well worth making the short trek to Walnut Creek for, and not just because Max Carpenter as Olympic hopeful Ray wears nothing but the titular swimsuit for the entire 80-minute play. Hnath takes the story of a swimmer vying for a high-stakes endorsement contract (as negotiated by his lawyer brother Peter, the always-fabulous Gabriel Marin) and juices it up with performance-enhancing drugs, relieving the tension only with some dark humor. Inventive stage design puts the audience quite literally poolside (I joked that my front-row seat put me right in the splash zone), and Rosie Hallett and Michael J. Asberry are also wonderful in their roles as Ray's ex-girlfriend and his current coach. With the winter Olympics right around the corner it's the perfect moment to consider what goes untold in the athlete stories NBC spoon-feeds viewers during its broadcasts, and about the price those dedicated and talented humans pay for momentary glory.