When the big red door was rolled onto the middle of the stage, we knew we were in for something memorable.
Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison St., through Dec. 19
It was a joyous homecoming at Berkeley Rep for the opening of its first live production since the lockdown began. And Charles L. Mee’s Wintertime was a great choice. What could be a more appealing return to the theater than a physical comedy about all of love’s permutations and couplings?
As the first scene begins, Jonathan (Micah Peoples) has brought his fiancée-to-be, Ariel (Carman Berkeley), to Jonathan’s family country house. He is planning a romantic Christmas visit and a New Year’s Eve proposal. But of course, he soon finds his mother, Maria (Nora el Samahy), and her lover, Francois (Thomas Jay Ryan), already in residence, sashaying around in their silk robes. Not to be outdone, Jonathan’s father, Frank (James Carpenter), and his lover, Edmund (David Ryan Smith), also make an entrance, also seeking a quiet winter getaway. The lesbian neighbors, well played by Sharon Lockwood and Lorri Holt, appear to be the only faithful couple of the lot.
And then the mischief, as well as the heartache, begins. The three couples quickly grow at odds with each other as they ruminate and argue over old wounds of mistrust, betrayal, envy, and other pitfalls of love that can instantly turn into hate. Chairs are thrown, and glasses are broken. And then a big red door is rolled onto the stage, perfect for door-slamming.
In an interlude, Bob (Jomar Tagatac), who is inexplicitly delivering an unwanted composter, explains the mystery and philosophy of romantic and erotic love: “… what Eros means is a desire for something that is missing, and once it is no longer missing, you no longer have the desire.”
Playwright Mee (Big Love, Fêtes de la Nuit) has thrown everything from his bag of literary tricks into this play — a nod to Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, a touch of Anne Carson’s book Eros the Bittersweet, traces of commedia dell’arte’s physical comedy, and bits of farce worthy of Molière. The combination essentially works well, although the genre mix got muddled as the second act grew a tad juvenile.
As we have come to expect from Berkeley Rep, the production of Wintertime is first rate. The whole cast is outstanding, and Obie award-winner and former Berkeley Rep associate artistic director Les Waters is responsible for the assured direction.
The bare white set, with glimpses of snow drifting through the front door and window, complemented by the shiny silvery strips of ribbon dangling from the rafters, create the essence of a winter wonderland (set design, Annie Smart). We almost believe that one or more characters could fall into the icy lake beyond the front door.
Wintertime displayed us, as passionate humans, with all our flaws and faults. We have to laugh. What else can we do?
Wintertime runs through Sunday, Dec. 19. It’s two hours and 10 minutes long, with one intermission. Proof of vaccination and mask wearing are required. Berkeley Rep is encouraging donations to The Giving Grove Project, a collaboration with seven Bay Area nonprofit organizations that provide food and housing, immigration support, and youth development.