AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Amy Freed
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Art Manke
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 843-4822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Amy Freed's "The Monster-Builder" is influenced by Henrik Ibsen's 1892 "The Master Builder" in that both plays deal with megalomaniac architects.

Aurora Theatre Company is giving Freed's fascinating and funny play its Bay Area premiere and only its second professional production since its premiere in Portland, Ore., last year.

The title character is Gregor (Danny Scheie), a self-absorbed, snobbish architect who embraces modernism at its most extreme -- so extreme that his new house on an island has no solid walls, just glass. He says this impractical house is "demanding transparency," but the goings-on by him and his current live-in girlfriend, Tamsin (Sierra Jolene), also are entertaining men in a nearby fishing camp.

As the play opens, he and Tamsin are showing the house to a young married couple, Deiter (Thomas Gorrebeeck) and Rita (Tracy Hazas), who was Tamsin's college roommate. Deiter and Rita are fledgling architects with high hopes of landing a contract to restore a badly rundown but historically significant boathouse.

Gregor manages to snare the contract himself, but he lures the attractive Rita (and supposedly Deiter, who has despised him from the start) to be the lead designers. It's soon obvious that they have radically different ideas about what should be done.

In the meantime, Rita has been working on house plans for a couple, the apparently upper class Pam (Nancy Carlin) and her blue collar husband, Andy (Rod Gnapp), a successful builder. Pam and Andy have lots of money but not much taste. Still, they're decent people.

Besides trying to ensnare Rita, Gregor is trying to design the Abu Dhabi Palace of Justice and Interrogation. One of his previous designs was an Alzheimer's facility with a patient-bewildering maze.

As the play continues, Gregor evolves from just snobbish and underhanded to downright malevolent, a monster.

Although the play often refers to famous architects and architectural sites, one doesn't have to be familiar with all of them to enjoy it. At its heart, it looks at what constitutes statement architecture versus what kind of architecture everyday people enjoy. Some might call the latter plebian or even schlock, but many people feel comfortable with it and are willing to pay for it.

Art Manke, who directed the world premiere, also directs this production and its stellar cast. All six actors bring out the subtleties of their characters along with their more obvious traits. Special mention goes to Jolene's acrobatic Tamsin.

Tom Buderwitz designed the modernist, minimalist set with lighting by Kent Dorsey and sound by Rodolfo Ortega. Callie Floor designed the costumes, noteworthy for the women's attractive dresses.

The two-act play runs about two hours with one intermission. It's a heady, entertaining experience.

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