Saturday, November 19, 2005

Panisse on Stage in Berkeley

As restaurant names go, Alice Waters' landmark Chez Panisse is one of the more obscure ones. The source is a trilogy of French films from the 1930s: Marius (1931), Fanny (1932), and César (1936). Panisse, a late-middle-aged widower who made his fortune as a sail maker in Marseilles, France is featured in each film. In Marius, Panisse wants to marry the 18-year old Fanny (namesake of Alice Waters daughter and the overpriced but high quality Cafe Fanny in Northwest Berkeley). But Fanny is in love with Marius, son of César the bar owner (and source of the name of the tapas bar next to Chez Panisse in Berkeley).

The first movie, Marius, was first produced as a play, and is starting a new run in Berkeley at the Aurora Theatre. Today's SF Chronicle has a review of the new production of Marius by Marcel Pagnol. Here's an excerpt from the review:

It all started with "Marius." Sort of.

Marcel Pagnol may be far better known for his sweetly life-affirming films, but he started out as a playwright. "Marius" was actually his second runaway hit, in Paris in 1929, but it was the first of his trademark delicate comedies of working-class Marseilles life. It launched his film career two years later. It became the first of his famed "Fanny" or "Marseilles" trilogy, onstage and then on film.

"Marius" also introduced the characters after whom some of Berkeley's finer restaurants are named -- Panisse, Fanny and César. Which makes it perfectly fitting that Berkeley is the site of the first new stage translation of "Marius" in some 70 years.

Zack Rogow's translation of "Marius" opened Thursday at the Aurora Theatre, staged by Artistic Director Tom Ross. It's sweet, gentle and lightly comic, pleasantly designed and fairly well performed. If it has nothing like the impact it had in '29, when it broke the Parisian mold of sophisticated boulevard comedies, it offers a rarely staged look at the manners and ideas of another time. Berkeley diners may be pleased to note that it also offers particularly nice turns by Panisse, Fanny and César.

It's a waterfront tale of goodhearted, wise eccentrics and of young love in conflict with the siren call of the sea. And it all takes place in a small bar-cafe, a charmingly open construct of gently arched ceiling fragments, old-fashioned orange linoleum and a view of the boats in the harbor in Greg Dunham's set, bathed in the Provencal sun of Jim Cave's lights. The neighborhood provincialism is nicely established by the denizens' reactions to a primly bemused clerk's (nicely portrayed by Nicholas Pelczar) account of a recent trip to Paris.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I bet he would have trouble getting motorcycle insurance for that thing, lol.