Hardly Strictly Holidays…Three Enticing Options

by Jean Schiffman

Generation Theatre, Other Minds and Opera Parallèle close out the year with memorable performances.

Photo: Nick Volpert

Generation Theatre: “A Game of Love and Chance”

“I’ve been wanting to do Marivaux for a long time,” says founder/artistic director R. David Valayre of Generation Theatre, a small San Francisco company that’s been producing original as well as established work, including some plays in French, since 2008. Valayre, who is French, is directing his own translation/adaptation of “The Game of Love and Chance” (“Le jeu de l’amour et du hasard”); in the French playwright’s comedy, first produced in 1730, a betrothed couple, in an effort to take an advance sneak peek at the promised mate, each disguise themselves as their own servant. Inevitably, the two “servants” fall in love.

“Marivaux,” explains Valayre, “was ahead of his time. The play is really about conflicted characters that are more in the vein of what you’d find in [the plays of more modern, psychologically based] playwrights like Chekhov.” Although Marivaux’s characters have commedia-style names, Valayre sees his concept as quite modern: “Feelings are approached as a source for social change,” he points out. “There’s a social/political dimension to it, as the characters find themselves in love with—or so they believe—a ‘lowly’ servant.”

Struck by the similarities between Marivaux’s comedy and stories from the Yiddish canon, Valayre set the play in the late 1940s in a small Jewish community somewhere near Turkey and Uzbekistan, where two rabbis arrange a match for their children. Independently, each of the youngsters, determined to observe the other before agreeing to the marriage, disguise themselves—she as her own housemaid, he as his driver—and follow their hearts.

Valayre neither added nor deleted characters from the original, but wrote a slightly farcical night-time scene that he felt was missing in the original, in which the various characters are unable to see each other in the dark, causing confusion and misunderstanding: Who’s who, and who’s declaring love to whom? Valayre directs a nine-member cast, and plays one of the rabbis himself, a role for which he’s been growing his beard for three months.

Nov. 29-Dec. 9

Southside Theatre, Fort Mason, San Francisco

Other Minds: Piano Works by Terry Riley

Other Minds, dedicated to supporting new classical music in all its forms–especially the American experimental tradition–opens its 25th anniversary season with a one-night recital of piano works by Terry Riley. The works are performed by Riley, who’s now 83, and Los Angeles-based pianist and Grammy and Emmy winner Gloria Cheng, a longtime collaborator. A special feature is the Bay Area premiere of Riley’s new piece, “Cheng Tiger Growl Roar,” written for four hands—Riley’s and Cheng’s. It premiered in March in Los Angeles, and Other Minds executive/artistic director Charles Amirkhanian and colleagues were eager to present it here, where a core group of aficionados are eagerly anticipating it. The title of the piece is derived from the scrambled initials of the two musicians’ names.

Also on the program is a selection of Riley’s semi-improvised solo piano works (including “Simply M” and “Requiem for Wally”) and, with Cheng, several other pieces, including “The Heaven Ladder, Book 7.”

“The concert [Terry Riley] is doing with us is going to be very interesting,” remarks Amirkhanian. Riley, long known as a pioneer of Western classical minimalism, has been working with Other Minds since its inception in 1992; his connection to music is a complicated one, says Amirkhanian, coming from his study of Western classical as well as Indian classical and jazz. “Terry is laid back, he can improvise for an hour and make it seem like a river going by,” says Amirkhanian. Cheng, though, doesn’t like to improvise—“but he’s making her do it!” Cheng and Riley, he observes, have very different personalities. Cheng “is heady; she can interpret a complicated score, but wants it written down. . . . There are places [in “Cheng Tiger”] where she’ll have to improvise.” Much of it will be notated, though. “It will make for an interesting tension,” concludes Amirkhanian. “It’s going to be a fantastic thing to see what he does with Gloria.”

Dec. 5, 7:30 pm

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission St., San Francisco,

Opera Parallèle: “The Little Prince”

In French writer Antoine de St.-Exupéry’s fanciful and philosophical 1943 novella, with its simple, iconic illustrations, a little boy from a tiny asteroid, who’s tumbled into the Sahara Desert, meets a pilot who’s also stranded there. In English composer Rachel Portman’s 2003 opera (with libretto by Nicholas Wright) based on the novella, presented by San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle for the second holiday season in a row, all principal characters are played by women and girls. In addition, little girls from the San Francisco Girls Chorus represent such fantastical peripheral figures as birds and stars. (Yes, men play some of the roles, too.)

“‘The Little Prince’ was the first book I had as a little girl,” says Nicole Paiment, Opera Parallèle’s artistic director and conductor, who is French. “In French culture it’s a book you have all your life.” Before she ever saw it, she was hired to conduct the opera in Washington, D.C., a few years ago and knew she’d bring it to San Francisco when the time was right. She was eager add it to her company’s repertoire since Opera Parallèle has had no activities specifically designed for families.

The production (in English) includes animated illustrations by Matt Kish (projections by David Murakami) and an ensemble that incorporates the book’s charmed creatures: the Fox, the Rose, the Water, the Lamplighter, the King and others. Although Portman composed it for both full and chamber orchestra versions, it toured England with just a piano, and Paiment seized upon that concept with Keisuke Nakagoshi on piano, plus a few other musicians providing magical sounds on various percussion instruments. Portman, says Paiment, knows how to compose music to tell a story, fitting the music to the characters. The score, she says, is “varied—very, very not one palette.”

Dec. 7-9

Marines’ Memorial Theatre

609 Sutter St., San Francisco