Aurora Theatre Co To Open Season With 'Best Man'

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 Just in time for the fall election, Berkeley's acclaimed Aurora Theatre Company opens its 17th season with Gore Vidal's fascinating political nail-biter THE BEST MAN. Aurora Theatre Company Artistic Director Tom Ross helms this seminal satirical political drama, called "elegant and damnably entertaining" by The New Yorker, starring Tim Kniffin, Charles Shaw Robinson, and Charles Dean, and featuring Elizabeth Benedict; Michael Cassidy; Jackson Davis; Deb Fink; Michael Patrick Gaffney; and Emily Talbot. THE BEST MAN plays August 22 through September 28 at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley. For tickets and information ($28-50) the public can call (510) 843-4822 or visit

Due to the historic nature of the upcoming Democratic National Convention, which closes on Aurora Theatre Company's opening night performance of THE BEST MAN on August 28, there will be a special early curtain time of 7pm; a special post-show reception and screening of the Democratic nomination acceptance speech will be shown in the theatre immediately following the performance.

Shedding light on some of the issues surrounding today's bid for the White House, THE BEST MAN is a timely morality tale that takes place during a national political convention. Two front runners vie for a political party nomination and one of them will almost certainly be the next President of the United States. Each candidate is in possession of some serious mud to sling and each has to decide just how dirty to play the game. Written with the deep insight of a true political insider (Vidal ran for Congress in 1960, the same year he penned THE BEST MAN), this witty, sophisticated play, hailed as "Gore Vidal's best play" by New York Magazine, calls into question public versus private morals and captures the seemingly incompatible virtues of being a good person while being a good politician.

Aurora Theatre Company has assembled an extraordinary ensemble for THE BEST MAN. Charles Shaw Robinson returns to Aurora Theatre Company as Secretary William Russell in THE BEST MAN; he most recently appeared in the Company's acclaimed production of Harold Pinter's Betrayal (directed by Tom Ross), as well as productions of The Persians, The Weir, and The Mystery of Irma Vep. Additional credits include productions at American Conservatory Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Magic Theatre, and California Shakespeare Theatre, among others. Tim Kniffin returns to Aurora Theatre Company as Senator Joseph Cantwell in THE BEST MAN. He previously appeared in the Company's critically lauded production of Permanent Collection. Additional credits include Summer and Smoke, directed by Lee Sankowich, at Center REPertory, and Betrayal and A Streetcar Named Desire at Pacific Alliance.

Charles Dean returns to Aurora Theatre Company as President Hockstader in THE BEST MAN. Dean previously appeared at Aurora Theatre Company in Hysteria, Private Jokes, Public Places, The Price, The Entertainer, and The Philanderer. A 20-year company member and associate artist at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Dean has acted in more than 80 productions, and has performed at American Conservatory Theatre, Seattle Repertory, Guthrie Theater, Old Globe Theatre, San Jose Repertory, Marin Theatre Company, and Magic Theatre, among others.

Emilie Talbot returns to Aurora Theatre Company as Alice Russell. She most recently appeared in the Company's production of The Trojan Women and has been featured in productions at American Conservatory Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Mark Taper Forum, among others. Deb Fink makes her Aurora debut as Mabel Cantwell; additional credits include productions at Thick House, where she was featured in Dead Mother, Magic Theatre, California Shakespeare Theatre, SF Playhouse, Center REPertory, and Playwrights Horizons.

Also featured in THE BEST MAN is Jackson Davis as Sheldon Marcus; credits include productions at TheatreWorks, Marin Theatre Company, Magic Theatre, and American Conservatory Theatre. Elizabeth Benedict (Aurora Theatre Company, TheatreWorks, A Traveling Jewish Theatre), Michael Cassidy (42nd Street Moon, Mountain Play), and Michael Patrick Gaffney (Thick House, 42nd Street Moon) round out the cast.

For six decades, Gore Vidal has explored a wide variety of sociopolitical, sexual, historical, and literary themes. A novelist, essayist, playwright, and provocateur, Vidal was born in 1925 with high political and social connections: his father worked for the Roosevelt administration, his maternal grandfather was Senator Thomas Prior Gore of Oklahoma, and his mother married Hugh D. Auchincloss, Jr., who became the stepfather of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy; Vidal is a fifth cousin of Jimmy Carter, and a distant cousin of former Vice President Al Gore. As a political activist, Vidal was the Democratic candidate for Congress (running as Eugene Gore) in 1960.

Gore Vidal began his writing career at the age of 19 with the publication of the military novel Williwaw, based upon his Alaskan Harbor Detachment duty. A few years later, his novel The City and the Pillar caused a furor for its presentation of homosexuality. In the early 1950s, he produced three mystery novels under the pseudonym "Edgar Box;" he was also hired as a contract screenwriter for Metro Goldwyn Mayer. In the 1960s, Vidal wrote three highly successful novels, Julian (1964), which dealt with the apostate Roman emperor, Washington, D.C. (1967), which focused on a political family during the Franklin D. Roosevelt era, and the satirical comedy Myra Breckinridge (1968). After the novel Two Sisters (1970), Vidal focused on essays and fiction dealing with American history and the nature of national politics; he won the National Book Award for his collection of essays United States (1952–1992).

Two plays, Visit to a Small Planet (1957) and THE BEST MAN (1960) were both Broadway and film successes. Other plays include On the March to the Sea (1960–1961, 2005); Romulus (1962); Drawing Room Comedy (1970); and An Evening with Richard Nixon (1972). Additionally, Vidal penned the screen plays for The Catered Affair (1956), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Ben Hur (1959), and THE BEST MAN (1964). Vidal's recent critiques of American expansionism, the military-industrial complex, and the current administration include the pamphlets Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta, and Imperial America.

Aurora Theatre Company Artistic Director Tom Ross inaugurated Aurora Theatre Company with Barbara Oliver in 1992. He has directed 18 productions for the Company, including last season's hit production of Mae West's SEX, The Birthday Party, Blue/Orange, Betrayal, and Lobby Hero, which went on to be presented as a co-production between Aurora Theatre Company, Jonathan Reinis, Inc., and the Napa Valley Opera House. For Aurora Theatre Company, Ross has also directed acclaimed productions of The Shape of Things, The Entertainer, The Weir, Death Defying Acts, The Homecoming, Abigail's Party, The Mystery of Irma Vep (co-directed with Danny Scheie), and The Aspern Papers, among others. He also wrote and directed A Karen Carpenter Christmas in both San Francisco and Seattle. Prior to coming to the Bay Area, he worked for eight years at New York's Public Theatre as Executive Assistant to Joseph Papp and as co-Director of Play and Musical Development. While in New York, Ross also penned the book adaptation of the New York Drama Desk nominated musical Up Against It, based upon Joe Orton's screenplay for The Beatles.

Following THE BEST MAN, Aurora Theatre Company continues its 17th season in October with THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE, George Bernard Shaw's comedy set during the American Revolution, directed by Aurora Theatre Company founding Artistic Director Barbara Oliver, followed by the West Coast Premiere of George Packer's provocative recent Off-Broadway hit BETRAYED in January. Mark Jackson, who directed Aurora Theatre Company's acclaimed production of Salome, returns to the Company to helm August Strindberg's MISS JULIE in April. Bob Glaudini's unconventional romantic comedy JACK GOES BOATING, directed by Joy Carlin, rounds out the season in June.

Aurora Theatre Company continues to offer challenging, literate, intelligent stage works to the Bay Area, each year increasing its reputation for top-notch theatre. Located in the heart of the Downtown Berkeley Arts District, Aurora Theatre Company has been called "one of the most important regional theaters in the area" by the San Francisco Chronicle, while The Wall Street Journal has "nothing but praise for the Aurora." The Contra Costa Times stated, "perfection is probably an unattainable ideal in a medium as fluid as live performance, but the Aurora Theatre comes luminously close," while the San Jose Mercury News affirmed "[Aurora Theatre Company] lives up to its reputation as a theater that feeds the mind," and the Oakland Tribune declared "it's all about choices, and if you value good theater, choose the Aurora."


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