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Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Head of Passes Plays At Berkeley Rep

Broadway Black

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American playwright, Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble member, and MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” award-winner Tarell Alvin McCraney is at it again, this time in Berkeley, California.

McCraney’s play Head of Passes is currently on stage at Berkeley Rep. Described as a “poignant and poetic new play about the journey of family and faith, trial and tribulation,” Head of Passes takes place in a “dilapidated house near the ever-shifting mouth of the Mississippi,” where “Shelah’s family gathers on a stormy night for her birthday—bringing ghosts and secrets of the past with them. As her roof buckles under the weight of the rain, Shelah’s convictions begin to wash away, leaving her to excavate the truths buried below.”

Featuring a powerhouse cast including Cheryl Lynn Bruce (The Gospel of Lovingkindness, Gem of the Ocean, The Convert, Intimate Apparel) reprising her role from the Chicago world premiere, Michael A. Shepperd (Choir Boy, Take Me Out, Master Harold and the Boys)Jonathan Burke (Choir Boy, Langston in Harlem, The Wiz)Francois Battiste (Bronx Bombers, Magic/Byrd, Detroit ’67, Broke-ology, The Good Negro), Nikkole Salter (Tough Titty, Stick Fly, Jitney), Brian Tyree Henry (Fortress of Solitude, The Book of Mormon, The Brother’s Size), Kimberly Scott (Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ruined) and Sullivan Jones (One Night in Miami, Intimate Apparel), this production is making a lot of good noise down in the Bay.

“McCraney writes the richest dialogue of any scribe of his generation.” — Chicago Tribune.

“A stunning production…Every one of the performances is spot-on, effectively shaping distinct personalities who give credible, affecting and sometimes amusing shape to McCraney’s tale, which was inspired by the Book of Job. But this is Shelah’s drama, and Bruce dispatches it with heart, power and conviction that is as close to biblical as we’re likely to see on a stage. It’s a tour-de-force to remember, in an expertly crafted play.” — Huffington Post.

Head of Passes is on the Thrust Stage at Berkeley Rep now until May 24th. If you’re in the Bay, or can get to the Bay, this is a MUST SEE.

WATCH: Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney talks about the heart of his play.

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Events and Happenings

Top 5 Works To See at Under The Radar Festival!

Drew Shade

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Over the last 15 years, The Public Theater’s UNDER THE RADAR FESTIVAL has presented over 229 companies from 42 countries. This festival is an outlet that allows new works the opportunity to catch their breath and breathe. The Public’s mission for providing a high-visibility platform to support artists from diverse backgrounds who are redefining the act of making theater is what this festival is all about.

There is a lot to see but listed here are the top 5 to get you started. Be sure to click on the dates and times above each trailer for all of the details including location, ticket prices, detailed show dates and starting times.

1. HYPERBOLIC!

The Illustrious Blacks have arrived to save the world one beat at a time! Once upon a time in a galaxy not far away, there lived two kings. Each was the ruler of his own deliciously glorious planet. The first king, Manchildblack, was well known throughout the cosmos for his ethereal vocals, celestial sonics, and earthy musical messages. The other king, Monstah Black, was a star in the solar system for his gravity-defying performances, gender-bending fashions, and spacey disposition. One magical night, an inexplicable ultra-magnetic pull forced the two planets to collide. A technicolored explosion occurred, turning night into day, with a feast of aural and visual delights. It was then that the universe was changed forever. Manchildblack and Monstah Black united and became The Illustrious Blacks!

Friday, January 4 – Sunday, January 13 Running Time: 60 Minutes 

2. HEAR WORD! NAIJA WOMAN TALK TRUE

Inspired by multi-generational stories of inequality and transformation. Staged by director and writer Ifeoma Fafunwa, the show grapples with the issues affecting the lives of women across Nigeria, and the factors that limit their potential for independence, leadership, and meaningful contribution in society. Combining song and dance with intimate portraits of resilience and resistance, the show celebrates women who have broken the culture of silence, challenged the status quo, and moved beyond barriers to achieving solutions.

Featuring a cast of leading Nigerian actresses (Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Joke Silva, Elvina Ibru, Omonor, Ufuoma McDermott, Zara Udofia-Ejoh, Rita Edward,  Debbie Ohiri,  Odenike, and Oluchi Odii) as well as percussionists Emeka Anokwuru and Blessing Idireri.

Thursday, January 3 – Monday, January 7 Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

3. INK: A Piece For Museums

INK is an art lecture, live personal essay, and electronic music concert all in one. With stunning visuals by media designer Shawn Duan, musician-storyteller duo James Harrison Monaco and Jerome Ellis perform a lush live score as they lovingly analyze works from around the world, exploring the traditional art lecture into a unique theatrical experience—one that’s at once playful, intellectual, and spiritual. Together, they guide us through a meditation on calligraphy and illuminated manuscripts, on music and silence, and on Jerome’s intimate relationship to the spoken and written word, in this first-ever collaboration between Under the Radar and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Saturday, January 5th-Sunday, January 6th Running Time: 75 Minutes

 

Now, the last two works are part of  INCOMING! A festival within a festival. Rapid Response. Controlled Chaos. New Work.

Incoming! features works-in-process from The Public Theater’s Devised Theater Working Group. The DTWG is an artist resource program, offering workshops in critical and professional skills-building, as well as opportunities for creative collaboration. Reciprocally, this Working Group also advises for the Devised Theater Initiative, helping to shape a more inclusive and equitable field.

4. MACBETH IN STRIDE

Whitney White‘s live concert and theatrical event excavate the underbelly of female ambition. With throbbing orchestrations of vintage rock, White traces the fatalistic arc of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth while exorcizing demons of her own. One in a five-part series on Shakespeare’s women, this concert play is a battle cry for black female power and desire.

Saturday, January 5 – Monday, January 7 Running Time: 75 minutes 

5. CABIN

Sean Dononvan‘s new work is the reconstruction of a memory—the story of a queer couple who move from Brooklyn to a cabin in upstate New York, and of the violence that befalls them. Through monologue, film, dance, and music by Heather Christian, CABIN surveys the lines between myth and memoir, the complexity of intimacy, and the magnitude of loss.

Sunday, January 6 – Saturday, January 12 Running Time: 40 Minutes 

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A Must See

We Were There: Experience Deja Vu With Groundhog Day

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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groundhog day

What if you had to relive the same day over and over and over AND over again? Would you try something new every time to get a different outcome? Would you drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how to stop it? Now a two-time Olivier Award-winning new musical, Groundhog Day takes us on a whirlwind of adventure and misery through the eyes of a jaded weatherman forced to relive the same day, every day.

Funny enough, Groundhog Day is actually based on a film with the same title, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, and co-written by the show’s book writer Danny Rubin, about a weatherman caught in time and forced to relive the same day over and over and over again.

The concept seemingly feels like dangerous ground for a musical or a play, for that matter, as it forces the audience to watch the same moments over and over AND over again. Yet, somehow Groundhog Day manages to make what could be dangerous territory and turn it into a brilliant masterpiece of a musical. Largely in part to the catchy, fun music of the brilliant Tim Minchin, Groundhog Day makes deja vu seem kinda… cool.

Like the 1993 film, we meet our snarky protagonist Phil Connors (Andy Karl), a weatherman sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the annual prediction of spring, as predicted by “Phil the Groundhog.” Naturally, Phil feels nothing but disdain for the ritual, Punxsutawney, and everyone who celebrates it, including his producer Rita Hanson (Barrett Doss), who he tries to woo while acting like a complete prick to her.

As the Groundhog Day version of Ebenezer Scrooge, Connors needs to deal with the consequences of his terrible, often hilarious, actions. Cue the deja vu, where he must relive the same day over and over.

While he initially spends his days in self-loathing, also encountering a massive groundhog mascot that hilariously hits him on the head as he passes by every day (and he totally deserves it too), he eventually comes to his senses and looks to turning over a new leaf as he tries to win Rita over.

But not before indulging in his share of booze, women, and crime. Repeatedly, of course.

Image result for groundhog day musicalKarl’s charm really comes to play here, as we can easily grow to hate Phil Connors. After all, he’s literally the worst. Yet somehow, watching him suffer this forever purgatory, you can’t help but both root for his liberation and also hope he’s stuck there for all eternity. Karl’s performance in the West End run of the show earned him an Olivier for Best Actor in a Musical last week.

It helps that Broadway newcomer Barrett Doss is an excellent match for Karl, their chemistry undeniable, like her talent. The role (and some of the songs) hint that she’s more than the boring, hard-working producer that we’re led to believe (largely in part to her interactions with Connors), but, underneath the surface, a quirkier soul searching for love. Doss plays that side of Rita with enormous heart and playful charm and wit.

The show also offers a few solos of other Punxsutawney citizens, who express their own joys, worries, and troubles of life in the small town.

Minchin, director Matthew Warchus, Rob Howell (set design), Hugh Vanstone (light design), Paul Kieve (illusions), and Peter Darling (choreography) prove that when the creative team shares the same vision, magic can happen, as evident in the first act’s amazing car-chase number with Phil, two idiot bar patrons, and the Punxsutawney police — one of the most fun sequences I’ve seen on Broadway since … everything in Matilda, which featured the same creative team behind this musical.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed Groundhog Day, and, honestly, wouldn’t mind being stuck in a suburban purgatory with Phil and company again… and again.

Groundhog Day plays at the August Wilson Theatre.

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