GASP! A review of theatre, arts and culture

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“Fire Work” at Theatre First, Sept. 26 – Oct. 19, 2014

Fire Work
by Lauren Gunderson.
Directed by Mina Morita.

At Theatre First, Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley (2 blocks north of Cheese Board and Chez Panisse)

Ana (Rinabeth Apostol) and her father (Brian Herndon) watch fireworks they made.  Photo by Adam Tolbert

Ana (Rinabeth Apostol) and her father (Brian Herndon) watch fireworks they made. Photo by Adam Tolbert

This world premiere production of Fire Work by Lauren Gunderson, directed by Mina Morita, was, to put it simply, a delight, a gem you may also find hidden in the little Live Oak Theatre, up on the unknown part of Shattuck Avenue, but a short walk from the Gourmet Ghetto. TheatreFirst, run by the able Michael Storm, arranged to manage and upgrade this city-owned space to hold its productions there. You should not miss it. It only runs until Sunday October 19.

Ana (Rinabeth Apostol) builds fireworks, a trade she inherited from her father (Brian Herndon), in an unspecified society (gasp! Where women are to hide). They’re on their way out, but Ben (Aleph Ayin) shows up with sparklers that weren’t wrapped in the right color. He wants them redone, and doubts Ana’s capability until he recognizes her from their past in grade school, when things were different. So he falls in love, they start texting – yes, this is the new way to courtship. I won’t give you too much of the plot, but they end up in an awkward position resolved in an unexpected denouement, the refusal to go on with a violent world.

Suspend reality, everything is done so you can’t guess what country this is in. I guessed Iran, because it is a place where changes occurred quickly, however not recently enough to have young people texting who were in grade school before the revolution. Don’t get me started on historical and factual inaccuracies as awfully rendered in the movie Argo! So it’s a good choice to avoid depicting the context. We don’t really know what’s outside the house on stage, except that they have fireworks and explosions, and the people don’t like to see women. On the other hand, like most people I know who came from Iran, the people in Fire Work are super nice (they weren’t in Argo, but I’ve already covered that). And the actors in Fire Work aren’t trying to sound like aliens with strange accents, because that is not the point. In fact I enjoyed the different paces in the acting, that the father speaks a little more deliberately and poetically whereas the young ones talk like they’re texting.

Ana and her father work with fire, and they have had enough of it. It is out of control as, say, our society manages a nuclear arsenal that could go very very wrong some day. If Ben urges Ana to remain, it is because he has not yet played with fire. When he is under attack, he wished he could fight back, but Ana teaches him there’s been enough of that. She smothers his fire, and he stays behind.

This production uses projection, some of it to show the text and a lot of it, but also some peculiarly interesting technique where an image is projected on the actor – in this case, they manipulate fire, or we watch them watching fireworks. It’s a rather new thing, actually, this mixing projections with live acting, and rarely seen because you need a projection designer (Erik Scanlon) and the equipment for it. Just for that the price of your ticket is a bargain. But think, also, that the actors have to position themselves right where the fire will show up – it’s the same as finding the position where the spotlight will be, and many actors miss it. But here they must have cues to interact with this invisible actor, coordinated by the stage technician in the booth. Nothing easy, but it worked very well. And the set was very well constructed – with a back wall that moved noiselessly, a little nook of a bedroom with red Christmas lights.

As I said in the beginning, you shouldn’t miss it. Add to it that the price of a ticket is about half what you would pay at a bigger theater, for a comparable play. Okay, I’ll say it: this production was better than many I have seen at much bigger theatres. So don’t hesitate.




This entry was posted on September 29, 2014 by in Play and tagged , , , , , , , , .


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