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Reviews: Live Performance

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The season of people posting their "top 10" or "10 favorite" for the past year is a bit fraught for authors. There's always the hope that maybe, just maybe, your work will have been among someone's favorites, or considered by someone to have been among the best of whatever category it is they're considering. For those of us whose work falls outside the popular categories, and when that work came out at the very end of the year when most people have already drawn up their lists, it's best just to close our hearts and move on.

As has become custom, while in NYC for Thanksgiving, I took in the show playing at the theater where Lauri is house manager. This time it was "The Encounter" created, directed, and solo-performed by Simon McBurney. This work clearly falls in the general category of "experimental theater" so I'm going to come at this review from several different angles. The synopsis from Playbill gives the most basic background of the work: "In 1969, Loren McIntyre, a National Geographic photographer, found himself lost among the people of the remote Javari Valley in Brazil.

Shakespeare is often touted for the universality of his stories—the way the themes resonate down the ages even when the historic settings are long past. But the flip side of that is the ability to distance ourselves from those themes, not only because they are framed as entertainment, but because their historic grounding provides an easy out. “Yes, Romeo and Juliet is a universal story, but after all we no longer live in a society that marries off pre-teen girls or where private feuds spill over into public body-counts. (Except when we do; except where they do.)

Shaw is known for witty, talky satires of what was perceived as the results of rapid social change (though what era has not perceived itself as assaulted by rapid social change?) and in particular, shifts in the expectations and perceptions of women's role in society. Although I've often seen Shaw's take spun as progressive and feminist, I've always felt that his female characters who stood up for the ideals of independence and self-determination seem to come in for the sharpest lampooning, and often seem to be the targets of ridicule for those ideals.

The second performance in this year's Cal Shakes season is August Wilson's "Fences", part of what came to be known as his Pittsburgh Cycle, a play set in each decade of the 20th century centering around the black neighborhood where Wilson spent half his life. "Fences" is set in the '50s, focusing around Troy Maxson, a former Negro League ballplayer, ex-convict, sanitation worker, outwardly devoted husband, and well-intentioned but stumbling father.

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