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Riveting lead carries Stoppard’s play

Mills College Weekly

Hilarity, ferocity and charisma reflected by the main characters in Tom Stoppard’s “Night and Day” commanded the attention of a Geary Theater crowd in San Francisco.

Through brutally funny inner-monologue and piercing confrontations the audience observes Ruth’s fascinating schizophrenia: sexy, confident, intellectual while also self-deprecating. Rene Augesen is radiant in this role of a lonely, bored and emotionally unsatisfied wife of an African copper magnate.

Augesen alone is reason enough to see this play, which is thoroughly enjoyable and chock-full of talent and stimulating material.

Augesen exemplifies the entire play: rich in complexity and full of brainy wit.

Rene was certainly the fiery center of the dark-comedy, however, the other actors were often equally engaging.

Two reporters compete both for Ruth’s attention as well as the news story of an impending military coup, rivaling each other on professional, ethical, and sexual levels. Although the older, confident reporter Dick Wagner, played by Marco Barricelli, struggled in moments with his Australian accent, he kept his self-absorbed, machismo role intact.

Steven Anthony Jones gave a frightening and powerful performance as African dictator, Prime Minister Mugabe. Jones is mesmerizing, full, loud power and violent cruelty lurking under a veil of sophisticated geniality.

Gregory Wallace was also particularly commendable as a servant. Though virtually silent the entire play, he was a memorable presence on stage, symbolizing an intolerant Africa silently waiting to break out of oppression and gain control.

The set is lovely, an upscale yet simple African colonial living room. The lights were nuances of orange and beautiful-sexy-evening shadows were cast across the stage.

The sound was equally superb from the startling helicopter noise at the beginning to later crackling gunfire, and roaring car engines. Costumes were appropriate for the characters, evoking the personality and profession of each character.

Finally, Stoppard’s script is highly witty and inspired, full of probing questions and insights regarding international policy and the world of journalism, drawn from personal experience in the field.

Many sharp jokes are made at the news-world’s expense and anyone with media interest should go, as it’s a funny and informative experience. Stoppard is a renowned British playwright with titles such as “Arcadia” and “Shakespeare in Love” under his belt.

As testament to his staying power and sheer talent as a playwright, the material has proven to be particularly pertinent in this time of heightened international tensions, though the script dates to 1978.

But “Night and Day” is even more than that. It involves questions of free press, unionizing, and whether a news story is ever worth dying for.

Stoppard determines in the end, through character Paul Whitworth, “Information is light. Information, in itself, about anything, is light.”