AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Anthony Clarvoe
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Allen McKelvey
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 843-4822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Three generations of women celebrate holidays at the family's coastal cottage, watch birds, bicker and look ahead in Anthony Clarvoe's "Our Practical Heaven," being given its world premiere by Berkeley's Aurora Theatre Company.

Clarvoe's two-act play is the main stage anchor production of Aurora's eighth annual Global Age Project, which fosters 21st century play development. It features excellent acting thanks to such Bay Area treasures as Joy Carlin, who plays Vera, the family's widowed matriarch; Anne Darragh, who plays Sasha, Vera's daughter; and Julia Brothers, who plays Willa, whom Sasha considers an honorary sister. With them are three young up-and-comers: Blythe Foster as Suze and Adrienne Walters as Leez, Sasha's daughters; and Lauren Spencer as Magz, Willa's daughter.

Perhaps because Sasha is so uptight, her daughters don't especially like her. While sitting next to each other, they communicate their feelings about her via text messages, which are projected onto the back of Mikiko Uesugi's set. Willa, who overcame lowly beginnings to become a successful businesswoman, is mostly level-headed, but she's greatly concerned about Magz, who has an autoimmune disorder that often leaves her in severe pain.

Despite the excellent acting and Allen McKelvey's direction, the play can feel vague. It needs more background to clarify why some of the characters are the way they are. Some details seem sketchy, as do issues like the threat of global warming. Still, there are some lovely scenes, especially the one in which Carlin's Vera talks to Leez about the specialized functions of feathers she has collected.

The production benefits from Callie Floor's costumes, Michael Palumbo's lighting and Clifford Caruthers' sound. Chris Black served as dance consultant.

The play went through much work after being given a reading as part of the 2011 Global Age Project. Some more work is needed for it to reach its full promise.

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