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BWW Review: WINTERTIME at Berkeley Rep

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Sparks fly with recriminations, sexual picadillo revelations, infidelities real and assumed and old baggage.

BWW Review: WINTERTIME at Berkeley Rep

Wintertime

Written by Charles L. Mee

Directed by Les Waters

Berkeley Repertory

Who doesn't enjoy a good farce? The genre's been around since recorded history, and playwright Charles L. Mee is a whiz at incorporating his influences throughout Wintertime, his comedy of the heart that sparkles with wit, charm and superb ensemble acting opening Berkeley Rep's first in-person performance in twenty long, long months.

Directed by Berkeley Rep's former Associate Artistic Director Les Waters, this super minimalistic bare set of doors and hanging icicles by Annie Smart is wonderfully lit by Russell H. Champa with a sumptuous operatic score by Jake Rodriguez. It focuses the action where it needs to be - on the beautiful wordplay and zany antics of the inter-related couplings that rivals the best of Shakespeare with a little Fellini thrown in.

BWW Review: WINTERTIME at Berkeley Rep
(l to r) Carmen Berkeley (Ariel), Jomar Tagatac (Bob), and James Carpenter (Frank)

The setup for Wintertime is a family cabin where a young couple (Micah Peoples as Jonathan and Carmen Berkeley as Ariel) are seeking a New Year's Eve getaway; she to experience "sinking into the snow and into you", he to propose marriage. They are surprised by his mother Maria (Nora el Samahy), her lover Francois (Thomas Jay Ryan), Jonathan's estranged father Frank (James Carpenter) and his lover Edmund (David Ryan Smith).

BWW Review: WINTERTIME at Berkeley Rep
(l to r) Nora el Samahy (Maria), David Ryan Smith (Edmund), Micah Peoples (Jonathan), James Carpenter (Frank), and Thomas Jay Ryan (Francois)

Sparks fly immediately with recriminations, sexual picadillo revelations, infidelities real and assumed and old baggage. Maria loves Francois but still sleeps with her husband Frank. Frank loves Maria but has a new lover whom he keeps at arms-length. Jonathan mistakenly believes Ariel has slept with Francois. The first act is a tour de force of excellent writing coupled with stellar performances by this cast of Bay Area luminaries.

BWW Review: WINTERTIME at Berkeley Rep
(l to r) Sharon Lockwood (Hilda) and Lorri Holt (Bertha)

While these are civilized adults, their actions are anything but as tempers flare, furniture destroyed, and recriminations fly. Frank mentions ''All the jealousies, all the imagined and real betrayals'' and we feel them all. The hostility is palpable, yet Mee somehow reveals the absurdity of their positions providing much-needed comic relief. Add in some hilarious supporting roles by Jomar Tagatac (Bob) as a philosophy-wielding compost salesman, Sharon Lockwood (Hilda) and Lorri Holt (Bertha) as a neighboring lesbian couple and Sarah Nina Hayon (Jaqueline) as a paramour of Francois' and you have farce at its best.

BWW Review: WINTERTIME at Berkeley Rep
(l to r) Micah Peoples (Jonathan) and Carmen Berkeley (Ariel)

A tragedy is announced at the finale of the first act which sets up act two, which opens with a hilarious memorial service. The actors sit on funereal draped black chairs, all dressed in black. One knits, one falls asleep, one cries hysterically all backed by lovely arias. The second act is all about second chances and recognizing the messes we make. Ariel is overwhelmed by the proposition saying ''the idea that you haven't got a second chance in life is too unbearable.'', while a broken Frank opines that for him, at least, things turn out just the same.

BWW Review: WINTERTIME at Berkeley Rep
(l to r) Sarah Nina Hayon (Jacqueline) and Carmen Berkeley (Ariel)

Wintertime is emotionally draining and illuminating, both in a good way. There is some beautiful acting to behold, especially gut-wrenching speeches by Edmund delivered to Frank that is mirrored exactly by Francois to Maria and a sensational ensemble door slamming scene to express extreme frustrations. The first act alone is well worth the price of this exciting production.

Wintertime runs through December 19th. Tickets can be purchased online at berkeleyrep.org or by phone at 510 647-2949

Photo Credit: Kevin Berne


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