×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Private Jokes, Public Places

Before a playwriting class yanked his attention elsewhere, Oren Safdie expected to follow in the footsteps of father Moshe, an Israeli architect of international repute. The former's "Private Jokes, Public Places" provides compact, biting commentary on the ivory-tower nature of much leading-edge architectural design and criticism.

With:
Margaret - M. J. Kang Erhardt - Robert Parsons Colin - Charles Dean William - Max Gordon Moore

Before a playwriting class yanked his attention elsewhere, Oren Safdie expected to follow in the footsteps of father Moshe, an Israeli architect of international repute. The former’s “Private Jokes, Public Places” provides compact, biting commentary on the ivory-tower nature of much leading-edge architectural design and criticism. Barbara Damashek’s razor-sharp production for Berkeley’s reliably high-grade, small-scale Aurora Theater Company gets maximum sting out of a work that has remained Safdie’s (“The Last Word,” “Jesus & Jews”) most-produced since its 2001 premiere.

A video monitor opens the one-act, as visiting celebrity jurors gush praise — albeit of an exasperatingly abstruse stripe — over a male student’s thesis-project design in an adjoining room at the National School of Architecture. Nervously fussing over her own project is next candidate Margaret (M. J. Kang, who originated the role and is the author’s spouse). She’s flustered when the judges loll in, bantering and swaggering.

Guest bigwigs are Erhardt (Robert Parsons), a Teutonic architect of flashy renown dressed in regulation artist black; and persnickety older Brit crit/academe Colin (Charles Dean). Completing the jury is nebbishy William (Max Gordon Moore), repping the institution’s own staff. He’s as intimidated by this illustrious company as he is eager to promote his students’ efforts.

Margaret anxiously outlines the overall aim and details of her project, seen in both a mock-up miniature and blueprints on the wall behind. Inspired by her childhood memories of swim lessons in a dank basement facility with no changing room privacy, she has designed an inner-city public pool emphasizing open space, natural light, and uniquely welcoming particulars.

Yet the jaded jurors immediately start nitpicking at perceived minor flaws — even a glue-spot still wet on the hastily constructed model. They attack Margaret’s idealism with cruel ivory-tower indolence, not to mention self-contradictions, calling her design “too open” yet “too restrictive.” Accorded zero respect by these alleged superiors, Margaret goes from crushed to furious. She assails sacred architectural modernism “designed for mice not people.”

Such impudence enrages her judges — when they’re not at each others’ throats, that is. Colin sees himself as the guardian of intellectual/historical wisdom in this art, while Erhardt strikes a revolutionist pose at odds with his fascistic sense of superiority. Mocked by Colin for designing a span that stops in mid-air (and which some oblivious tourists died falling from), Erhardt shrills, “It’s not a bridge to nowhere! It’s a bridge to contemplate where it goes!”

The leering Erhardt also reveals sexist and racist attitudes. When Margaret (who’s Korean-American) protests, she’s accused of being knee-jerk “politically correct.”

Attempting damage control is William, Margaret’s faculty adviser and (hinted) lover. His frantic efforts at re-framing her work to win over the judges become so spastically garrulous he’s told in no uncertain terms to shut up.

Moore is very funny in this sympathetic/pathetic part, while Parsons and Dean relish pushing their snob-archetype roles to the brink of farcical caricature. As the “straight woman” here, Kang doesn’t get to score any laughs, but her emotional arc is the play’s crux.

Design contribs are all fine-tuned, though Margaret’s miniature ought to more vividly communicate the rightness of her pool design.

Popular on Variety

Private Jokes, Public Places

Aurora Theater, Berkeley; 150 Seats; $45 Top

Production: BERKELEY, Calif. An Aurora Theater Company presentation of a play in one act by Oren Safdie. Directed by Barbara Damashek.

Creative: Set, Kate Boyd; costumes, Brandin Baron; lighting, Russell H. Champa; props, Rebecca Helgeson; dialect coach, Kimberly Mohne Hill; production stage manager, Angela Nostrand. Opened, reviewed April 12, 2007. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.

Cast: Margaret - M. J. Kang Erhardt - Robert Parsons Colin - Charles Dean William - Max Gordon Moore

More Legit

  • Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works

    Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works as a Movie From Heyday, BBC Films

    David Heyman’s Heyday Films, whose credits include “Gravity,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Marriage Story” and the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts franchises, and BBC Films have secured the film rights to Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s musical “Follies.” “Follies” will be adapted for the screen and directed by Dominic Cooke, a four-time Olivier [...]

  • Tina Turner The Musical

    How 'Tina: The Tina Turner Musical' Tells the Icon's Traumatic Story

    It wasn’t the response Tali Pelman had hoped to receive. The group creative managing director of Stage Entertainment had traveled to Küsnacht, Switzerland, with one goal in mind: Convince Tina Turner that her life could be the stuff of a successful stage musical. “We walked in the door,” Pelman remembers. “Tina was already there, and she greeted [...]

  • Ben McKenzie

    'Gotham' Star Ben McKenzie to Make Broadway Debut in 'Grand Horizons'

    “Gotham” star Ben McKenzie will make his Broadway debut in Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons.” He joins a cast that includes Oscar nominees Jane Alexander (“Kramer vs. Kramer,” “The Great White Hope”) and James Cromwell (“Babe,” “L.A. Confidential”). The show has a strictly limited 10-week run and begins previews on Dec. 23, 2019, before officially opening [...]

  • The Great Society review

    Listen: Brian Cox on 'Succession,' Shakespeare, and the Crisis We're In

    Brian Cox is having a pop-culture moment with “Succession,” the buzzy HBO series in which he stars. But he’s also an accomplished theater actor with plenty of experience doing Shakespeare — and it serves him well in both “Succession” and in his current Broadway show, “The Great Society.” Listen to this week’s podcast below: Cox [...]

  • Scooby Doo Ella Louise Allaire Martin

    Scooby-Doo Live Theater Tour Is Goofy Dane's Latest Adventure

    From its 1969 start as a Saturday morning kids mystery cartoon series “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” starring its titular, talking Great Dane and his four teenaged friends, has made adventure its staple. Once Hanna-Barbera’s successor, Warner Bros. Animation, took the leash, Scooby and company became a comic book, a board game, a series of video [...]

  • Tootsie Santino Fontana

    'Tootsie' Ending Broadway Run in January

    “Tootsie,” the critically acclaimed musical adaptation of the 1982 classic film comedy, will play its final Broadway performance on Jan. 5, 2020. When it wraps up its run, the show will have logged 293 regular and 25 preview performances at the cavernous Marquis Theatre, where it sometimes labored to draw big crowds. Last week, “Tootsie” [...]

  • Laurel Griggs

    Laurel Griggs, Broadway and 'SNL' Actress, Dies at 13

    Laurel Griggs, who starred in Broadway’s “ONCE the Musical” as Ivanka, has died. She was 13. An obituary posted to Dignity Memorial indicates she died on Nov. 5, and Griggs’ grandfather wrote on Facebook that her death was due to a massive asthma attack. Griggs made her Broadway debut when she was six years old [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content