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Two big Bay Area theaters offer alternative seasons.

Two big Bay Area theaters offer alternative seasons

The twin pillars of the Bay Area theater establishment--the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and Berkeley Repertory Theatre across the bay-- now offer interesting supplements to their main-stage seasons.

Both companies present lesser-known alternative programs, called Plays-In-Progress at ACT and The Parallel Season at Berkeley Rep. Both give audiences a chance to see top-flight theater professionals experiment with works that, for various reasons, could not be included in the company's main-stage calendar.

This month, each company has a production on its alternative stage, with scheduled performances through April; extra shows may be added. It's a good time to see a play and decide whether you'd like to include this less-conventional kind of theatergoing in your plans for next season (fall through spring).

In San Francisco: Plays-In-Progress

Under the leadership of associate artistic director Joy Carlin (herself a respected veteran of both ACT and Berkeley Rep), Plays-In-Progress is an outgrowth of ACT's recent decision to return to rotating repertory. Once again, ACT will produce several plays at a time at the Geary Theatre, instead of running one show, closing it, then opening the next.

While actors from one cast perform at the Geary, those temporarily off-duty come over to the "Playroom" at ACT's training center across the street (450 Geary). Here, their experience is completely different: instead of projecting gestures and sound for an audience of 1,400, they play to a maximum of 49 people per performance. In this intimate setting, actors can work in a much more subtle style, and can try material that might be too risky for the main theater.

Audiences have a different experience as well. You see top-quality Equity actors in productions assisted by ACT's sophisticated costume and set-building facilities, but so close they might be in your own living room. It can be enthralling.

Scripts selected for Plays-In-Progress are always experimental. Carlin's objective is to create a growth-provoking situation for writers as well as actors. She requires the playwright to attend rehearsals as the work develops, then, once the show opens, to respond to audience reactions. This means writer, director, actors, and audience are all part of the creative process.

Almost best of all, at $7 to $9 a show, Plays-In-Progress is a definite bargain.

This month's production, Seven Gables, by Robert Gordon, is based on the Hawthorne novel. The show, the last in the 1987-88 season, has 10 performances, running from April 13 to 27. Call (415) 775-5811 for reservations and times, and to get on the mailing list for next season's schedule (normally sent to ACT subscribers only).

Berkeley Rep's Parallel Season: experiments in space

As at ACT, the Parallel Season involves members of the resident company in works that, for one reason or another, wouldn't suit the Rep's main theater, at 2025 Addison Street. The script may be new, an adaptation of a nontheatrical work, or a revival with a fresh vision.

Standards are high, as are production values. The scripts selected, though full of challenge, are considered to have finished "evolving."

And as with Plays-In-Progress, the change of place provided by the Parallel Season gives company members a chance to work out theatrical problems in a different theatrical environment.

As artistic director Sharon Ott told a Sunset reporter, "There are limits to what you can do with a thrust stage, which is what our main theater has. A proscenium stage gives the director more control over the visual aspect of the work, which you need with some of the contemporary pieces using video, for example. Going elsewhere to work lets us do things we can't do at home. It's a way of extending our production boundaries."

Ott handles The Parallel Season with a relaxed openness to impulse. When Berkeley Rep's main subscription calendar is announced, there's no set schedule for The Parallel Season. That develops in response to such specific opportunities as an interesting new script, a piece with ambitious musical or visual devices, or an appealing coproduction. Last season, for example, Berkeley Rep coproduced a Japan-originated Clytemnestra with UC Berkeley's Cal Performances, reflecting Ott's spirit of internationalism.

In the past, most Parallel Season plays have appeared at the nearby Addison Stage Company. But Ott has also ventured beyond Berkeley (as with last fall's production of Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape at Theatre Artaud in San Francisco), seeking a geographically different audience and a radically different architectural setting.

Now playing at Addison Stage (1111 Addison Street) is the premiere of Philip Kan Gotanda's Yankee Dawg You Die--in spite of its title, a delicate comedy about cultural stereotypes. It runs March 19 through April 17; tickets cost $9 to $15. Call (415) 845-4700 for reservations and notice of future productions.

Photo: Living room close is how close you are to actors at Plays-In-Progress; this play was The Great Fugue, by Dakin Matthews

Photo: Berkeley Rep's Hard Times, by Charles Dickens, took Parallel players on to New York and critical acclaim Off-Broadway
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Title Annotation:American Conservatory Theatre and Berkeley Repertory
Date:Apr 1, 1988
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