There was much initial buzz and bliss when it was announced last fall that Jasson Minadakis had been hired to replace outgoing Marin Theater Company artistic director Lee Sankowich. Much Googling was done. Mistakes were made regarding the spelling of his name. The founder and director of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival and most recently the artistic director of the Actor’s Express Theater Company in Atlanta, Ga., Minadakis (frequently described as “friendly” and “intense”) is the guy about whom Atlanta’s Creative Loafing newsweekly recently said, while lamenting the mighty M’s departure from their city, “As a director, he’s proved masterful at ramping up onstage tension as far as it can go–and then ramping it up some more.”
Indeed, Minadakis is renowned for selecting heavy-duty subject matter and then directing the hell out of it, and he has a fondness for developing brand-new material. Reportedly, the creative and critical highlight of Minadakis’ time at Actor’s Express was his staging of Love Jerry, an original musical about a pedophile.
As MTC works its way through a theatrical season that was already mostly planned out before he showed up, a lot of people have been holding their breath, given Minadakis’ reputation, waiting for their first chance to see him work first-hand as a director. Unfortunately, he won’t direct his first full play until the season-closing run of Sandra Deer’s The Subject Tonight Is Love, and that doesn’t hit the boards till May.
The good news is that MTC has a little thing they call NuWerkz, a series of staged readings of new works by up-and-coming playwrights, and as his first official directorial effort at MTC, Minadakis will be directing February’s portion of the series, a suitably intense-sounding play titled Telescopes, by Mat Smart.
In an alternative universe, an assortment of interrelated lighthouse keepers are all battling a weird and frightening illness. Their own prejudices and social imprinting are challenged when a self-described “healer,” someone they’ve been programmed to mistrust, is suddenly shipwrecked near their home. Minadakis’ workshop staging of the piece will get a two-day run Sunday-Monday, Feb. 25-26, on MTC’s 99-seat Second Stage. Until May, this will have to stand as our first sampling of the legendary Minadakis intensity.
Also in Marin, the off-the-cuff thespians who comprise the Bay Area Playback Theater plan a one-night stand at the Larkspur Cafe Theater on Saturday, Feb. 24. The troupe employ their own brand of improvisational performance, eliciting personal true stories from their audience members and then transforming those tales, abracadabra-like, into theatrical-historical-comical performance-based thingamajigs, blending movement, music and dramatic spoken word. It’s like those improv shows where audience members shout out plot lines and literary genres, only in this case, people shout out the plots of their lives. Sometimes, the Playback folks turn the stories into epic myths, other times they simply reenact them in ways that can be funny, powerful or both.
Playback theater, as a genre, has been building since the 1970s, and there are several groups in California that use the basic concept in different ways. Bay Area Playback Theater–which usually features some combination of the actors Sylvia Israel, Marti Holtz, Marcy Dubova, Joanne Brauman, Benny Buettner, Linda Scaparotti, Duncan Silvester and Martin Masters–is focused on the notion that when we see our own stories played back to us, we can have a better appreciation of the significant ebb and flow of our lives. If that doesn’t happen, of course, at least it’s usually pretty entertaining.
Larkspur Theater Cafe, 500 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur. Playback Theater begins at 8pm. $20. 415.924.6107. www.larkspurcafetheatre.com. Marin Theatre Company stages ‘Telescopes’ Feb. 25-26. 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. 7:30pm. Free; suggested $10 donation. 415.388.5208. www.marintheatre.org.
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