Arts & Events

Theater Review: A Last Minute Pick for 'Arden of Faversham,' Onstage Through This Weekend

Ken Bullock
Friday May 10, 2019 - 04:19:00 PM

"Get thee gone ... I am too good to be thy favorite."

A chance encounter Thursday night with a domestic tragedy (an early style of drama) from 1593 by an anonymous playwright or team of playwrights (a scene in it has been attributed to Shakespeare) has spurred me to recommend it here--an eleventh hour rec': it closes, after three more performances, this Sunday afternoon.

It's 'Arden of Faversham,' staged by Theater of Others in the lovely post-1906 Quake Kelly Cullen Community Auditorium, two blocks from Civic Center BART in San Francisco. 

The play's Elizabethan, but based on a pre-Elizabethan chronicle of the murder of a wealthy Tudorian real estate speculator, one who "flipped" former Roman Catholic Church properties seized by Henry VIII during the English Reformation. 

Arden's wife Alice has taken a lover and decides to do away with her husband, enlisting an ever-growing gaggle of accomplices to assist in the messy undertaking. 

There's a botched series of attempts on Arden's life; Theater of Others bills it as Black Humor. That's consistent with Renaissance and Baroque dramaturgy, as well as some slapstick thrown in and the somewhat goofy sense of a shaggy dog story--will these dastards ever get the job done? 

Theater of Others sees their job through with alacrity, giving one of the finest renditions I can recall of what an old comic melodrama or melodramatic comedy must've looked like to the groundlings at the Globe or more likely the swells at an indoor playhouse, like Blackfriars, The Cockpit or Gray's Inn. 

Glenn Havlan's fine direction keeps a good ensemble on an even keel as they navigate the turbulent waters of plotting and accident, high passions and a bevy of low motives. The script's strictly horizontal, procedinging from left to right like reading an old chronicle on vellum. Speeches and dialogue are the play's motor, some speeches loaded with descriptive passages. And the staging's strictly frontal, with histrionic poses and gestures, which will remind some spectators of silent movies. 

Buoyed by a bravura performance of Alice by Heather Cherry, the show also has fine efforts by Evan Winet as Arden and Jeffrey Trescott (a familiar face to Berkeley theatergoers, here also assistant director and dramaturg) as Arden's bosom friend Franklin. Marc Berman is a particularly effective, comically cut-throat villain, Shakebag. The rest of the cast--Savanna Benedetti, Nathan Bogner, Sheila Cress, John Frediani, John Holst, Jeffrey Kimmich, Mason Waller, David Weiner and Myles Wynn--further the action in diverse and lively ways. 

Lisa Claybaugh's brilliant period costumes provide great scenic effect. Paul Seliga's technical direction and lighting design capitalizes on simple elegance, as does James Goode's spare sound: a dog barking, an owl hooting, seagulls ... 

I hope some of you will be able to catch one of its last three performances: 

Friday & Saturday the 10th & 11th at 8, Sunday the 12th at 2. 

Like most old plays it's long by our TV & movie-filtered standards, about 2 1/2 hours and an intermission. But it's constantly engaging with no let-up. 

Those who love Shakespeare may find, too, that their peripheral theatrical vision has widened, both for the Bard's plays and for theater as a whole. 

Kelly Cullen Community Auditorium, upstairs, 220 Golden Gate, near the northwest corner at Leavenworth. 

(Walking up from Civic Center BART on Market, take Leavenworth walkway on the east side of UN Plaza or Brenham Place and McAllister, then a block up Leavenworth to Golden Gate.) 

For tickets, click on the website below, which connects with Brown Paper Tickets. 

(Theater of Others offers a remarkable deal for admission: $10 for a reservation, $20 with special seating for supporters--the service charge is less than $2--and a Pay What You Will option, collected at the door.)