AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Zayd Dohrn
Directed by Ryan Rilette
Presented by Marin Theatre Company
Lieberman Theatre
397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, CA / Phone (415) 388-5208

Reviewed by Judy Richter

What was life like for children who grew up in hippie communes in the '70s? More important, what is life like for them back in the "regular" world? Zayd Dohrn explores these questions in "Magic Forest Farm," being given its world premiere by Marin Theatre Company. Dohrn can write with some authority since he is the son of William Ayers (the one whose name arose in Barack Obama's presidential campaign) and Bernadine Dohrn, founders of the radical Weather Underground. As such, "he was born underground and grew up in communes and hideouts across the country," according to an MTC press release. Despite this background, the program explicitly states that the events, people and places are all fictionalized.

Most of the action takes place in 1989, but there are flashbacks to 1979. The central character is the teenaged Allegra (Laura Morache), who lives with her parents and brother in La Jolla, Calif. She and her brother, Ben (Avery Monsen), were born in the Magic Forest Farm commune in Northern California and spent several years of their childhood there. Now their father, Marvin (Robert Sicular), is a professor at the University of California at San Diego, where he teaches a class in the history of American radicalism. Their mother, Eleanor (Julia Brothers), is a health care professional and works in a clinic.

Allegra is unhappy. She doesn't fit in at school, and she's beginning to have disturbing feelings about what might have happened at the commune. To find out, she takes her mother's car and drives north to the commune, where she's welcomed by remaining residents Gabby (David Cramer) and his daughter, Swan (Anna Bullard). Gabby's wife still lives there but is away on a visit. They're soon joined by Allegra's parents and brother, who are concerned about her. What ensues is a series of conversations, mainly among the three adults and among the three teens. There are flashbacks to 1979, when the commune was in full flower with lots of drugs and sex. Along the way, Allegra and Ben make some disturbing discoveries.

MTC is presenting the play in its smaller theater, the 99-seat Lieberman. Director Ryan Rilette and scenic-lighting designer Jeff Rowlings make good use of the small thrust stage. Callie Floor's costumes fit the times, and music by co-composers Chris Houston (who also designed the sound) and Didier Bouvet help to recall the times. Although all six actors create believable characters, Monsen tends to play Ben within a narrow range, becoming irritable with Allegra and then retreating into a shell and refusing to talk about his feelings as events unfold. In part this may be Dohrn's fault for not fleshing him out more fully.

Otherwise, it's an absorbing 90 minutes, running without intermission, from a promising young playwright.

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