The Entertainer
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by David Allen

One of the beauties of Aurora Theatre is that they take on challenging productions like John Osborne’s The Entertainer. On the surface it seems like a simple enough play about a family of English entertainers right after WWII. But we soon realize that the play is a slice of history showing the decline of England through three generations of this very dysfunctional family.

Like many young writers, who grew up in the devastation of WWII, his early plays, such as Look Back In Anger, are full of anger and despair. Even a so-called “good war,” where we fought against the evil of Hitler, is devastating to everyone involved, particularly creative spirits such as Osborne.

The Entertainer is a subtle blend of angst, an ironic yearning for the good old days, and a dark comic acceptance of reality. The grandfather, Billy Rice (Edward Sarafin), longs for the good old days when you treated women like ladies and everything was good and simple. His granddaughter, Jean Rice (Emily Ackerman) strains to be one of those innocent ladies from her grandfather’s good old days but only succeeds by drinking a lot of gin. Indeed, every member of this dysfunctional family drinks a lot of gin. All in a state of pain from living in post war England, gin is what numbs their senses enough to prevent constant violent outbursts of rage.

Jean’s father Archie Rice (Charles Dean), though also heavily medicated with gin, is the only member of the family capable of laughing at life and seeing its layers of dark comic irony. Dean’s acting talent is so good that we sense the tears lurking behind every joke he makes. But there’s a brutal honesty in his flawed character that the audience can’t help but respect. He’s a womanizer, a user, and a poor entertainer, but he’s the first to admit his flaws, and in spite of them, he still finds ways to scrape a marginal living for his family.

Osborne tells the story of this family’s life by juxtaposing entertainment and stark reality, aware that one feeds the other. When reality becomes too much to take, these characters escape into entertainment as a means of balance and survival, and in this activity, we, the audience, realize that they are not that different from ourselves.

This is a very difficult play to pull off, but Aurora Theatre was more than up to the task. This production features some of the finest actors in Bay Area Theatre and is directed by Tom Ross. If you like theatre that challenges its audience, this production of The Entertainer is for you.

For tickets and more information call (510) 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.

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