The plaintive notes of a bagpipe set the mood for the American Conservatory Theatre's presentation of "Black Watch."
The highly stylized work by the National Theatre of Scotland performs at the Armory Community Center, 333 14th Street, between Mission and Valencia, in San Francisco, through June 16.
The show begins with members of the elite Black Watch, a highly decorated 300-year-old unit, as they describe their experiences in Iraq to a journalist. Soon those stories take on a life of their own and the action abruptly shifts to an armored wagon in Iraq. The action continues to jog back and forth in time as the soldiers' individual stories unfold.
The Armory provides a splendid setting for this show about military pride and the terrible consequences of war. Stadium style seating places the action in the middle with great use of the tall scaffolding at each end.
Scaffolding not only allows interesting placement of the actors but also provides giant projection screens for this multimedia onslaught of war. Not for the faint of heart, the show features very strong language, strobe lighting and loud sound effects bombarding the audience with the consequences of combat.
Director John Tiffany skillfully weaves narrative, song, stylized movement and film into this tale of Scottish pride and the horrors of warfare. One of the transitions involves the pool table in the opening pub scene transforming into an armory wagon in Iraq, complete with soldiers tearing their way out of the felt cloth.
A highlight throughout the show is associate director Steven Hoggett's stylized movement that alternates rigid military steps with fluid, graceful ballet-like acrobatics, culminating in a series of more and more frantic marches. A lone female voice sounding so pure and sad ends the show.
The 10 actors do a herculean job racing through time and set changes. One particularly effective sequence that also adds a bit of humor is the history of the Black Watch with performer Stuart Martin flipped this way and that in a series of acrobatic moves as the rest of the cast change his costume over and over.
While this is certainly a unique, fascinating production, it would benefit from a few judicious cuts. The one hour and fifty-minute piece plays without an intermission, and any audience members needing to leave before that, must exit through the top of the stadium seating or risk becoming one of the war casualties on stage.
For tickets, call 415-749-2228 or go to www.act-sf/org.
Concord's annual Bay Area KidFest comes to town over Memorial Day Weekend from May 25-27. This year's family activities include zip lining three stories above the action, animal attractions, a variety of sports activities, lots of music and much more.
It all takes place at Mt. Diablo High School, 2450 Grant St., Concord. For more information, call 925-671-3287 or go to www.kidfestconcord.com.
Eric Inman, former Willows artistic director, has been keeping busy. He just completed directing a very successful production, "Little Me," for 42nd Street Moon and is currently hard at work writing a miniseries about an innocent man convicted of murder, set to film in October.
He's also been busy rewriting his play "Bound by Blood," which premiered in San Francisco last October, into a screenplay. Principal photography begins in February 2014.
Lafayette's Town Hall Theatre closes out its 2012-2013 season with a fun production of Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure."
Director Chris Hayes brings a new take on the Bard's story of a local government's attempt to control its populace by borrowing from the Japanese tradition of Anime. "Drawing from Anime gives me many tools to serve both the comedic and dramatic elements in the play," he says.
The production runs May 23—June 15 and features Anya Kazimierski as Isabella, Joel Roster as Angelo, and Steve Rhyne as Duke Vincentio.
For tickets, call 925-283-1557 or go to www.townhallthatre.com.
Special apologies and kudos to Ella Wolfe of Vagabond Players. The actress stepped in at the last minute to replace Lana Lang in the company's production of Neil Simon's "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers," which performed at the El Campanil Theatre in Antioch this past weekend.
I didn't realize at the time about the switch but I've heard that Ella did a fantastic job learning a very large part in no time at all.
Contact Sally Hogarty at email@example.com.