How to Write a New Book for the Bible – Berkeley Repertory Theatre [Review]

I’ve always loved good coming-of age-stories, origin stories, and memoirs. Bill Cain’s latest play, How to Write a New Book for the Bible (directed by Kent Nicholson at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre), indeed satisfies my thirst for this kind of psycho-analytical character-driven drama. However, while I walked into this play understanding that it was autobiographical and written following the death of Cain’s mother, Mary, what I didn’t expect was how hard and often I could laugh while watching a play written in such somber circumstances, and how much I could actually enjoy a bit of “preachiness” in a play.

Tyler Pierce and Linda Gehringer. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

It may be unfair to describe How to Write as preachy. Cain is actually a Jesuit Priest/award-winning-playwright, so it is entirely appropriate that at key moments, Bill, (played charmingly by Tyler Pierce) speaks directly to the audience, combining funny and entirely relatable observations with reverent revelation. Pierce plays Bill Cain as if he were the impossible offspring of Ray Romano and Henry David Thoreau. And although these monologues are certainly informed by Cain’s clerical past (the character half-waxes-half-admits that “all writing is prayer”), they seem to trod the inviting meanderings of a philosopher-poet, eschewing the guilt-laden homilies which former-Catholics fervently avoid.

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Jenny Lewis on Tour

Like many of her fans, I admire singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis for the sincerity she exudes in her recordings and concerts with her commanding, yet tender and plaintive singing. Over the years, and between her various albums, her singing style has shifted from casual and effortless, with a sweet and almost child-like quality, to soulful, smoky, and timeless. Her performances reveal an honest and unpretentious artist–transforming mundane personal conflicts and anxieties into something keenly introspective, and profoundly beautiful. I’ve always cherished her lyrics as well, grouping Lewis in my mind with other favorite bands and songwriters whose words are charmingly truthful, in a way that I feel reflects my own life experiences and beliefs.

So naturally, In 2007, I began searching for an appropriate Lewis song to play during my upcoming wedding ceremony. Initially, it seemed like a good idea since I connected with my husband through Rilo Kiley, a longtime favorite band of mine. But even though our mutual appreciation of Rilo Kiley’s unique alt-country-fused indie-pop resulted in eventual love and marriage, the band’s lyrics were simply too full of dark irony and cynicism to create the optimistic ambiance suitable for use in our wedding.

And the grass it was a ticking
And the sun was on the rise
I never felt so wicked
As when I willed our love to die

– From “Silver Lining” on Rilo Kiley’s album, Under the Blacklight.

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Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre [Review]

As a six-year old, Rita Moreno, then Rosita Dolores Alverío, had already been inaugurated into the tumultuous life of a career in entertainment by performing flamenco as a mini-Carmen Miranda under the tutelage of Paco Cansino, the brother of Rita Hayworth. She believed that if Hayworth, who “was once a Latino, too” could make it, so could she.  In her autobiographical show, Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup, writer Tony Taccone has paired his skills with Moreno ‘s heartfelt and witty artistry to reveal the profound personal and social struggles Moreno went through as she searched for her place as a woman of color in the rather brutal and sometimes malevolent Hollywood entertainment industry. In the show, Moreno acts out scenes from her life, performs song/dance numbers from film and theater, and sometimes just speaks directly to the audience. Moreno’s verve, emotion, and the fascinating details of her life and career offer the audience a rare and engaging perspective of one of modern entertainment’s most ground-breaking performers.

Photo by Michael LaMonica.

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