From Haitian voudoun trance rituals to the suicidal cult of Jim Jones, Oakland Opera Theater's production of White Darkness spans geographic and musical universes. Company founder Tom Dean's original creation, loosely modeled after Sergei Prokofiev's 1926 opera The Fiery Angel, features a wild libretto written by Dean and Lori Zook and set to original music inspired by Prokofiev. While Dean retains the main characters from the opera, he moves the action from 16th-century Renaissance Germany to a tumultuous San Francisco in 1978. The story spotlights several headline-dominating figures of the period, including Jonestown cult founder and mass murderer Jim Jones and San Francisco's Twinkie-consuming double-assassin Supervisor Dan White. "Basically we transposed Prokofiev to Haiti," Dean says. "We took Haitian polyrhythms, extensively rescored, and rewrote the libretto. It's as though you've happened upon a voodoo sect that's practicing in San Francisco." He created the opera after becoming fascinated with Afro-Haitian percussion and its ability to induce a trancelike state in drummers and participants. Familiar with Prokofiev's score, he sensed that the composer was trying to achieve similar trance states with his music. Dean found it so easy to blend disparate times and traditions that he began to feel as though the different parts were meant for each other: "It was fascinating to me that even though Prokofiev had no knowledge of non-Western music, he was able to channel the essence of Haitian trance music into The Fiery Angel. He truly got himself into another state of mind in order to create music that bespeaks the Catholic sense of demonic possession."
Key components of Dean's must-see synthesis include heavy reliance on a seven-person dance troupe, choreography by Michael Mohammed, and concurrent video by Ethan Hoerneman that features historic footage of Jonestown and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. The strong cast of thirteen features soprano Erina Newkirk in the lead role of Renata and a women's chorus composed of first-rank singers who usually perform principal roles. White Darkness runs at the Oakland Metro, Thursday through Sunday, through May 22. For more info, call 510-763-1146 or visit OaklandOpera.org Jason Victor Serinus
As if coitus interruptus weren't bad enough on its own, Peter Ackerman had to go and write a play about it. You might want to get your naughty business out of the way before heading out the door to Theatre Q's production of Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight, running Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:15 p.m., Sundays at 2:15 p.m. at Dean Lesher's Knight Stage. Otherwise, after watching the farce about a chain reaction from one unfinished tryst to another -- and then another -- you may be too exhausted from laughter (or frustration) -- to get actively horizontal. Bobby Weinapple directs, and tickets cost $20-$25 (recommended for ages sixteen and older). Info: 925- 943-SHOW or DLRCA.org -- Stefanie Kalem
According to TheatreFIRST artistic director Clive Chafer, playwright Robert Holman is the best-kept secret in British theater -- not so much because his plays haven't been produced, but because their dramatic thrust, lately on the Big Subject of war, have spent their energy on the private, emotional level. Take Holman's Making Noise Quietly, with its story of a conscientious objector meeting an artist during WWII. The 1986 drama, in a production directed by Chafer and Erin Gilley, previews Thursday, then opens Friday for a run through June 5, at Mills College's Lisser Hall, 5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland. Tix and info: 510-436-5085. -- Kelly Vance
It's a great big world of dance out there. Just ask the organizers of Dances in the Key to Life, the curiously unidiomatically titled package of world dance performances twirling and jettisoning into Walnut Creek's Dean Lesher Center for the Arts this Saturday with folk dances from Polynesia-Hawaii-Tahiti (KaUaTuahine Polynesian Dance Company), Northern India (Chhandam School of Kathak Dance), and West Africa (Linda Johnson's Spirit Ensemble plus Diamano Coura West Africa Dance Company). 8 p.m. The DLRCA is at 1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek. Tickets: $15-$25 from 925-943-7469. Info: 510-845-2605. -- Kelly Vance
Culture Spy - April 20, 9:52 AM
Culture Spy - April 13, 12:18 PM