Big Payback 

Greek-turned-Irish revenge

4/1- 5/1

Ghosts, blood, revenge, and politics: What will you sacrifice to get what you want? The question has fascinated writers across the millennia. For the ancient Greeks, one potent answer was the virgin Iphigenia, Agamemnon's daughter. When the wind wouldn't cooperate to carry Agamemnon's ships to Troy, he took it as sign of divine displeasure and knocked off his youngest at the urging of the prophet Colchis, an act that would eventually win Agamemnon his own death at his wife Clytemnestra's hands ... who would then of course be killed by her son Orestes, drawing him in turn to the attention of the Furies, who are pretty unfriendly to people who spill parental blood. Those wacky ancient Greeks and their revenge tragedies! Young award-heavy Irish playwright Marina Carr, whose play By the Bog of Cats will be familiar to Berkeley audiences from its Aurora production, is all about revenge tragedies, and indeed the dark side of human nature and society in all its forms. In 2002 she refashioned Iphigenia's story by setting it in Ireland's modern-day Midlands, but kept all the pathos and ambition intact. In Ariel, cement magnate Fermoy Fitzgerald's religious obsession and thirst for political power drive him to commit an unspeakable act on the eve of his daughter's sixteenth birthday. Drawing from the Greek myth but infused with Irish textures and sounds, Ariel is a story of revenge that Guardian (London) theater critic Michael Billington said, "makes the House of Atreus look moderately well adjusted."

This isn't the first time Carr has gone to the classics for inspiration. Her children's play Meat and Salt, which tells the story of a girl who must make her way in the world after being cast out by her father, was inspired by King Lear, while Bog was a new spin on Medea. Described by her publisher as "our laureate of destructive passions," Carr is a challenging choice for newish small company Wilde Irish. But then Wilde Irish is all about challenging pieces, from a one-man play about the life of Oscar Wilde to Beckett's Endgame and the story of young women essentially imprisoned by nuns. Their work so far has been tight and powerful, and it will be interesting to see what they do with Carr's explosive work in the intimate confines of the Berkeley City Club. Ariel runs from April 2 through May 1 at the Berkeley City Club. Tickets are available online at WildeIrish.org or at 510-644-9940. – Lisa Drostova

4/1-4/23

Fiddle About

It all makes sense at DLRCA

The title of Playhouse West's latest production, String Fever, actually refers to a couple of filamentary things. Its main character, Lily, is a former symphony violinist; and the new man in her life, a physicist, has introduced her to the concept of "string theory," wherein matter is made up of teeny strings, and therefore, somehow, it allows things to make sense that haven't done so before. And it's Lily's fortieth birthday -- what better time to embrace the warmer facts of science? String Fever opens at Dean Lesher Friday. PlayhouseWest.org, 925-943-SHOW. --Stefanie Kalem

4/1-4/3

Immortal Soul

Hitsville U.S.A. used to be called The Motown Story, but presumably somebody got a phone call from somebody else about trademark infringement or some such. The show is still the same -- a rollicking history of Detroit's world-famous soul music factory and the life and times of Berry Gordy, performed and sung by a cast of 25, as written by Cleveland, Ohio's George Sledge. The show's East Bay return engagement, directed as before by Mary Ann Tidwell Broussard, plays three performances only, Friday through Sunday, at Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave., Berkeley. Tickets ($35-$15): 925-798-1300. Info: JuliaMorgan.org -- Kelly Vance

4/1-5/7

Proven

It's been a year and a half since Theatreworks staged David Auburn's Pulitzer- and Tony-winner, Proof, at Dean Lesher, and in June, Stage 1 will mount the play in Newark. In between, there's Masquers' version, opening this Friday in Pt. Richmond. What's all the fuss? Well, it's not every day that a play successfully fuses mystery, love, sex, money, betrayal, and insanity, and Proof -- wherein a woman nurses her mad genius of a mathematician father, and may have inherited his ability or his lunacy, or both -- isn't an everyday play. Just an every coupla months one. Directed by John McMullen. Tickets cost $13, shows Fridays, Saturdays, and select Sundays. Masquers.org, 510-232-4031. -- Stefanie Kalem

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