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The East Bay’s Berkeley based TheatreFIRST has been surviving creating new and classic theatre for 23 years. This fall one the Bay Area's most inventive and creative directors, Jon Tracy, is now their new chief. TheatreFIRST has always been the “go to” stage company for new playwrights and actors to work as a community to build a theatre wing that shares worldviews. Tracy as their new creative director is the perfect choice for this troop as they move permanently to their home at the Live Oak Theatre in Berkeley, Ca. Tracy and his team redesigned the community stage and lobby for their first mainstream 23rd season in the Bay Area. Tracy also announced a new mission statement: TheatreFIRST would switch to a developmental residency model, producing only new work. To give a voice to all communities guided by the principle of “aggressive diversity” and telling the world’s stories through a mix of centralized and decentralized viewpoints.

Tracy says about T1 “When I started thinking about what TheatreFirst might look like, I had these weird phrases stuck in my head, - I want to have a space where we give people voice.’ Well, that’s bull - people have a voice already. ‘Well, I’m going to carve out a space for that voice.’ Well, people can carve out their own damn space. Sooner or later, I got to this idea that seems so simple, my job is to get out of the way. We can be a model that we can all extract data from. We can all look at this together. We don’t want to be insular. We’re a blank canvas and we’re going through drafts right now.”

Lintik (Ed Berkeley) and Palarin (Richard Robert Bunker) scheme

The first play of the new season BAGYO opened this month and is now on stage at the Live Oak venue through November 5th. Bagyó, a Southeast Asian inspiration with Shakespearean Tempest subtext, written by San Francisco playwright Rob Dario and directed by Bridgette Loriaux, with dramaturgy by Kim Tran. Stylistically designed by Noelle Viñas, her set is based on the island mirage and battlefields of the Philippines. The 140 minute one act is a fantasia of color and powerful visual rhyme, dance and story based on some fairytale and the reality of war and beliefs. Dario inspired some elegant dance movement created by Director Loriaux.

Iwaksi (Wesley Gabrillo) interrogates Miranda (Grace Ng)

Local favorite, Grace Ng, plays Miranda a lost daughter who is left abandoned by her father on an island. Miranda falls in love with Danny, an American soldier, played by the dapper Soren Santos. The two celebrate an exquisite dance with light sticks designed by props master, Brittany White. Miranda combats many emotions and spirits in this story, and she is excellent on stage with both Santos and Wes Gabrillo. As she learns about her history, she starts an adventure that is a mix of her future and past.

Two sisters appear in the story or dream played beautifully by Jennifer Jovez and Marsha Dimalanta, they sing a haunting lullaby in Tagalog was written and composed by Dimalanta. The beauty of this staging is the question are we watching a dream, theatre or performance art. Yet it all links the history of these lost families and metaphors including an entertaining cooking segment. Loriaux’s staging is warm and haunting with Kevin Myrick’s dramatic light design, and Lorin King’s important sound design. It included one stinging Shakespearean ocean “Bagyo” storm the Live Oak venue has ever experienced. The costumes by the inventive Miyuki Bierlein are stark and authentic, and the men fitted strong and traditional Pinoy history. Bierlein also has to create a ghost formal and military grunt mood and it is successful. The stoic, bold Ed Berkeley plays Lintik the island spirit of Bagyó, and he is clearly the heart and soul of the tale.

The crossover themes with “The Tempest” are clear, since “Bagyó” means storm in Tagalog. Dario’s warrior is a women, Miranda and Ng is excellent in her mysterious original performance. The father, Prospero, is played by Richard Robert Bunker. He is a villain yet has some magical gifts as “governor of the island”. Bunker is daring on stage and I had hoped the character had more to do, he is awesome. The endearing and handsome, Wes Gabrillo, as the asian warrior is one of the highpoints of the piece. Gabrillo moves with ease as he tumbles, dances and fights the many spirits and ghosts on stage; he transforms to Iwaksi another island energy that is just as dynamic. Santos also transforms from his soldier Danny to characters based on some american history moments including Ferdinand, Presidents McKinley, Johnson and an uncertain Barack Obama.

The excellent Krystle Piamonte plays a number of female roles, but she is most memorable as Miranda’s mother who as a ghost gives birth to a pineapple. The pineapple fairy tale is a popular children's story in Filipino culture, and is cherished by Dario; he remembers his mother telling him the story when he was a boy. “That moment when you bring your parents to the theatre to watch a play you wrote, you get to the part when a character performs the monologue of a childhood story your mom told you, and you put your arm around her, glance and see she is mouthing the rest of the lines. Tears of joy” wrote Dario.

Director Bridgette Loriaux has assembled a gifted, talented cast, and Dario has written an emotional mix of dance, horror and fairy-tale that is very striking and full of a history of language and voices. This first production of T1 - might be stormy and confusing at times, but its heart and message of folklore and passion is clear and impressive. If this first work sets the tone for TheatreFIRST’S new mission, then the Bay Area is sure to be blessed with some excellent theatre in the months to follow. “Making theatre a place where social justice happens means crafting stories that reflect the word around it, letting go the old to make space for the now.” says Tracy. Follow T1 Facebook page (link below) for special “Pay what you can” performance dates and other great offers and subscription deals..

Photos by Cheshire Isaacs

TheatreFIRST presents


By Rob Dario

Directed by Bridgette Loriaux

Dramaturgy by Kim Tran

Live Oak Theater

1301 Shattuck Ave.

Through Saturday, Nov. 5th, 2016

Runs Thursday – Saturdays, 8pm. Sundays, 2pm

Tickets: $25 general, $20 student/senior

Subscriptions on sale now for four show main stage season: $75 general, $60 student, senior Tickets available through our website:

Facebook Page -

Jon Tracy, Artistic Director:

Photos by Cheshire Isaacs

*Interview quotes from Sam Hurwitt Theatre Bay Area Company Spotlight

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