Aurora Theatre boldly showcases working-class life in Marseilles with its world-premiere translation of celebrated writer, filmmaker, and director Marcel Pagnol's Marius, an endearing, lyrical tour de force directed by house artistic director Tom Ross. Zack Ragow offers the first English-language translation of Pagnol's play since it was originally produced in France in 1929 with a record-setting one thousand performances. Marius is the first installment of what is affectionately coined the "Fanny Trilogy" (aka the "Marseilles Trilogy"), a collection that defiantly countered the common boulevard comedies of the day with heartfelt working-class sensibility. Each of the flavorful characters -- César, Marius, Fanny, and Panisse -- was reprised in Pagnol's subsequent plays, Fanny and César, garnering similar popularity in both ticket sales and reviews. And local legend insists these are the sources of inspiration for famed restaurateur Alice Waters and her associates in naming their renowned Berkeley restaurants.
Translations often risk losing the exact flavor of the original, yet Aurora's Marius promises to be the exception. The warmth of spirit, coupled with indelible themes -- youthful loving, longing, and yearning -- depicted among the members of Pagnol's Marseilles seaport community transcend time and space. Under Ross' direction, Ragow's script honors Pagnol's treatment of the classic motifs, a richly visual tapestry of characters and themes superbly suited for theater and film alike. Marius enthusiasts have a double-decker treat in store, as the Pacific Film Archive has included Alexander Korda's 1931 film Marius in its "Marcel Pagnol's Provence" film retrospective.
While the "Fanny Trilogy" was specifically written for the stage, the success of the plays allowed Pagnol to transition from theater to screen his love for the culture of the pre-industrial South of France. Unlike the more avant-garde French cinematographers, Pagnol was more concerned with a romantic realism that emphasized believable dialogue. Whether you see it as a play or a film, Marius remains a must-see work of art. Some might call it l'oeuvre d'art. "Darn good show!" works for us.
Marius opens Friday at the Aurora (2081 Addison St., Berkeley)and plays through December 18. Tickets cost $28-$45 from AuroraTheatre.org or 510-843-4822. The film version of Marius, in French with English subtitles, screens at the Pacific Film Archive on Saturday, December 17 at 6 p.m. Admission: $4 Cal students; $8 general. Information: 510-642-1412 or BAMPFA.berkeley.edu -- Jim Norrena
Venerable home of IRA supporters, indie rockers, and bohemian poets that it is, Berkeley's Starry Plough (3101 Shattuck Ave.) isn't exactly known for its dance performances, although tipsy folks have been known to two-step. That all changes Thursday night with the third annual 8x8x8 series. The challenge of eight choreographers designing pieces for an eight-foot-square space is considerable, yet Randee Paufve, Lisa Townsend, Nina Haft, Jane Schnorrenberg & Kegan Marling, Wendy Diamond, Christy Funsch, Doyle Avant, and Michael Barber rise to the occasion. 9:15 p.m., $8. Info: StarryPloughPub.com -- Eric K. Arnold
Three of Hearts
Norm Foster has been called the "Canadian Neil Simon" -- doubtless a better epithet than the "Canadian Charles Manson." Recognized for his comedic writing and captivating dialogue, he has become a favorite of Walnut Creek's Playhouse West, whose fourth entry into Foster's canon is Here on the Flight Path, about a man searching for romance and his three female neighbors: Fay, a hooker; Angel, an aspiring actress; and Gwen, on the rebound after a failed marriage. The play, which opens Friday at the Dean Lesher Center, stars David Hern, Joanne Green, Rebecca Schweitzer, and Lisa-Marie Newton, and runs until December 3. PlayhouseWest.org or 925-943-SHOW. -- Eric K. Arnold
A drunken space commander who proclaims: "Hey, Kirk had Spock. I have Johnnie Walker. That's why autopilot was invented!" Surgery performed using the Mattel Tissue Repairer. Mayhem aboard a spaceship. If any of the above seems like a ripe premise for an evening's entertainment, climb into your Particle Rearranger and beam yourself over to the Pleasanton Hotel (855 Main St., Pleasanton), where the Gibson House Mystery House Performers are putting on Murder in Space, their latest dinner-theater show, this Friday and next only. Reservations ($54 per sleuth) available from GibsonHouse.com or 925-846-8106. -- Kelly Vance
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