Berkeley Rep to premiere Jonestown docudrama

A “Laramie Project”-style docudrama about the Jonestown massacre, one of the most traumatic events in recent local history, will receive its world premiere in the 2004-05 Berkeley Repertory Theatre season announced Tuesday. New works by the ever-inventive Mary Zimmerman and Charles L. Mee, and a rediscovered musical drama by Zora Neale Hurston are among the highlights of Artistic Director Tony Taccone’s ambitious new season.

The season, which runs from September through next spring, includes five “main season” productions — running for 6 1/2 weeks or longer — and two shorter “limited engagements.” West Coast premieres of Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice” and “Honour,” by Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, and the inevitable play-to-be-named-later, make up the rest of the season in the Tony award- winning company’s two theaters.

“Stories From Jonestown and the Peoples Temple,” opening next spring in the Roda Theatre, is the project likely to attract the widest attention. It’s a docudrama examination of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple and the murder-suicides of 914 of its members in Guyana in 1978, based on extensive interviews with former Temple members and Jonestown survivors. The play is a co-production between the Rep and Z Space, which commissioned and helped develop the work.

The Rep has a long history with works that combine features of docudrama and investigative reporting, extending from its 1985 premiere of Emily Mann’s “Execution of Justice” (with San Jose Rep and the Eureka Theatre) — about the murders of George Moscone and Harvey Milk — to Moisés Kaufman’s Tectonic Theater Project’s “The Laramie Project” three years ago. “Jonestown” was written by Leigh Fondakowski, lead writer on “Laramie” and its director in Berkeley, working with fellow “Laramie” veterans Greg Pierotti and Stephen Wangh and with Margo Hall (of Word for Word and Campo Santo). Fondakowski will direct.

The season opens Sept. 8 with Zimmerman’s “The Secret in the Wings” in the Roda. The creator of such theatrical fascinations as “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” and the outstanding “Metamorphoses,” Zimmerman explores the world of familiar and lesser-known fairy tales in a piece she originally created in ’91 and re-imagined in a new staging to open Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre’s new home last fall.

A limited engagement of Ruhl’s “Eurydice” opens on the Thrust Stage in October. Associate Artistic Director Les Waters stages the new version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth as told from the heroine’s point of view.

“Polk County,” a play with blues music by Hurston and Dorothy Waring, opens in the Roda in November. Never produced in Hurston’s lifetime, the script was rediscovered among her manuscripts at the Library of Congress and finally mounted, in an adaptation by Kyle Donnelly and Cathy Madison, at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., in 2002. Donnelly will restage her version at the Rep.

Mee’s previously announced “Fêtes de la Nuit,” another of his anarchic theatrical collages about love — this one set in contemporary Paris — opens in February in the Roda as the season’s second limited engagement. Waters, who staged a riotous version of Mee’s “Big Love,” will direct.

Specific dates haven’t been set for the remainder of the season, pending Taccone’s choice of one more play. He is in London, where his production of David Edgar ‘s two-play “Continental Divide” opened at the Barbican Theatre on Saturday. He plans to close the season by directing Murray-Smith’s “Honour,” a dissection of a marriage unraveling in the presence of a sexy interloper.

Season subscriptions are available at (510) 647-2949, (888) 427-8849 or Single tickets go on sale in August.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
San Francisco Chronicle, USA
Mar, 24, 2004
Robert Hurwitt, Chronicle Theater Critic
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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday March 24, 2004.
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