Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Play review: Spiritual drama played in North Berkeley by Actors Ensemble--rewarding production
by Peter Menkin

The problems of living in community were dramatized for this rewarding play, "As it is in Heaven" from Actors Ensemble of Berkeley. On a cool night Linda and I visited the comfortable theatre that is part of a recreational center, getting there via directions by MapQuest that led us directly to the foot of the location we wanted to be: Live Oak Theatre, Berkeley, CA USA.

Known better as Actors Ensemble of Berkeley, and well said since the all woman cast of this "Spiritual Drama" was polished and practiced, that their rehearsal and study paid off shown well in the performance we attended on a Saturday night.

The able and even dramatically imaginative directing by Jeremy Cole in his last production of the 2009 season played so well that with nary a hitch the dance and singing, the dialogue and drama moved ahead and movingly in a choreographed series of conversation, angel sightings, character dialogue of a revealing kind on the backgrounds of these dedicated Shaker women. The women were afterall both entertainingly and skillfully played as their 19th Century simplicity of lifestyle and faith in God in Christ at their Kentucky village in Pleasant Hill.

Written with obvious compassion and feeling by playwright Arlene Hutton, this sometime comic and amusing portrayal is a two-act pleasure. As we expected, the evening was a good one as both Linda and I became involved in the lives of these devout and dedicated women of special character and conviction. The musical singing was soothing, melodic enough without being harmonic (appropriately so for Shakers, we learned), and all in all the event was worth the 50 minute drive from where I live in Mill Valley, CA (north of San Francisco).

The North Berkeley location is well lit, and the man behind the ticket counter amusing as he took our money or did the will-call ticket check-in with a little story or a few words to each patron in line. An hospitable experience by the young man who wore a fashionable hat while keeping the line going.

The theatre house blurb notes of the play: "Based on actual events from the Era of Manifestations in the late 1830's, "AIIIH" interprets a time when reports came to light of young Shaker girls experiencing unusual trancelike activities, communication with angels, and descriptive journeys to heavenly places."

Let me note that the Deacon was well played and with a fierceness that was convincing and effective. The elder of the Shaker village women showed her steadfast willingness to keep the community stable and long lasting, though required to make tough decisions about the lives of her flock. An admirable and mature performance by the actress was obvious. In fact, the entire range of performance was mature in outlook and rendering, no small feat given the various emotions and situations of a living kind the women practiced in their work of getting along, living together in religious community.

In conclusion, let the playgoer know that this ensemble play acting will entice and even bring joy with some edification to the fortunate theatre goer who takes the extra measure of checking out Actors Ensemble of Berkeley's very good production of "As It is in Heaven." Certainly, this is a theatre that gives value for the price of admission judging by this show, the first Linda and I have attended.


When: October 23rd - November 21st, Fridays and Saturdays, with an extra show on Thursday, November 19th. All shows 8pm.

What: "As It Is In Heaven"

Who: Actors Ensemble of Berkeley

Where: Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck Avenue (@ Berryman) in Berkeley

Public Info: (510) 649-5999 (510) 649-5999

Admission: All shows - $15 General Admission; $12 for Seniors and Students (w/ I.D.). To order tickets online, go to To reserve tickets, call (510) 649-5999 (510) 649-5999.
Contact: Eric Carlson (510) 525-7511 (510) 525-7511 -

Contact: Alan Barkan -

Director Jeremy Cole

Musical Director Alexis Lane Jensen

Assistant Director / Props Martha Luehrmann

Stage Manager Jose Garcia

Set Norm De Veyra, Shu Ping Guan

Costumes Elizabeth Van Buren

Lighting Alecks Rundell

Producer Alan Barkan

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