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For now, the Parkway’s dreams of reopening are deferred. This week news broke that Motion Picture Heritage Alliance, a Midwestern-based cinema company, moved its business elsewhere.

It’s bad news for Oakland, and for Park Blvd. neighbors who wanted the boards on the storefront taken down. It appears then that the “Curious Case of Benjamin Button” poster will remain for the next while; Brad Pitt’s visage seems to mock passers-by that he’s the starring role in the forthcoming film based on the book “Money Ball,” by Michael Lewis. It’s about Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s (and presumably how we let players like Eric Byrnes go to other teams). Whatever you think about Pitt’s acting, it brings to mind an Oakland tendency: losing a good deal to somewhere else.

Recent developments show that while the Parkway’s closing felt sudden, it really suffered a slow financial death. Reportage of how the Cerrito theater bankrupted the Parkway reminded me of how it went down at Cody’s Books. Then and now, expansion proved too big for business. In another development, Oakland Focus blogger Zennie posted a heart-wrenching interview he had yesterday with the Fischers. No word from Pat Kernighan about the potential investors, or from the pro-Parkway movement at iliketheparkway. Its site remains quiet and has not been updated as of this posting. Blight, wherever you find it, is a sad thing.

But as reported, former Parkway programmer and host Will “The Thrill” Viharo remains optimistic about the theater’s fate. In an email announcement today, Viharo has said that talks between the city (District 2’s Pat Kernighan) and the potential investor (Mark Haskett) are officially on:

“Mark has very specific ideas on how to streamline the original business model. He shares my view that the overhead should be split between a team with specific theater experience and one with restaurant experience, working in concert under one roof. This has always seemed the most cost effective and efficient way to operate this kind of business, as far as I’m concerned.

“Anyway, some of the players have changed but the goal remains the same: let’s get this damn thing reopened. The longer it stays dark, the harder it will be to light up again.”

It would seem that the Parkway dream may come out of deferment. It did, at any rate, for a movie house outside of Pittsburgh, PA. Viharo mentioned in another email this week that the Motion Picture Heritage Alliance has revitalized another movie house called The Hollywood Theatre. It opened last weekend in Dormont, a southern suburb of the Iron City.

The Hollywood Theatre in Dormont, PA

On Opening Day: The Hollywood Theatre in Dormont, PA

It all started when Dormont’s city council president John Maggio approached Bill Dever at MPH to reopen the Hollywood after it shuttered last June. Months later, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Hollywood will once again operate as a cinema and also as a live performance venue. (Plans for the brew-and-view will go into effect once they obtain a liquor license.) It’s an inspiring success story, and one that Oakland could take into account the next time new business rolls into town. Then we could save all the drama for the “Gentlemen of Leisure.”

Here are some archival photographs of Oakland’s fave speakeasy in brighter days. I unearthed them at the Oakland History Room and found a lot of images by Vernon Sappers, Oakland’s own railway historian who wrote a book on the Key System Streetcars. When Sapper took these images, the 18 streetcar passed the Parkway on its hill-bound route.

"Construction of Parkway Theatre," Vernon Sappers (ca. 1925)
“Construction of Parkway Theatre” photo from the Vernon Sappers Collection (ca. 1925)

…Interesting to see a view of the Parkway in pre-Kragen times. The homes to the right of the construction site gave way to a co-op, which later gave way to the auto parts store chain.

"Construction of Parkway Theatre," Vernon Sappers Collection (ca. 1925)
“Construction of Parkway Theatre” photo from the Vernon Sappers Collection (ca. 1925)

…Here’s a view facing Park Blvd. and the Brooklyn neighborhood to the north.

Parkway Theatre's initial storefront, Vernon Sappers Collection
Parkway Theatre’s initial storefront, Vernon Sappers Collection

…The theater started out, an older resident told me, as an independent arts cinema.

"Parkway Theatre - Oakland," Gary L. Parks, spring 1986
Photo by Gary L. Parks, spring 1986

…Gotta love Oakland in the ’80s.

Photo by Mark Koehler (ca. 1980s)
Photo by Mark Koehler (ca. 1980s)

…The Parkway marquee here touches on themes of the present-day closure.

The Parkway this spring
The Parkway this spring

…Thank you to the Fischers for creating the dream, Viharo for stewarding it and to those who, in a campaign for the Parkways’ survival, showed their Oaktown love in reviving it.


The Aurora Theatre posts that all tickets for this play are sold out. But if you like romantic comedies and want to see a flawless production, you may have some luck snagging a no-show ticket last minute. It’d be worth the trip.

“Jack Goes Boating” itself is a simple tale of budding (and belabored) romance. Jack (Danny Wolohan) and Connie (Beth Wilmurt) are just embarking on a love voyage while their friends and match-makers Clyde (Gabriel Marin) and Lucy (Amanda Duarte) suffer with a relationship on the rocks. Playwright Bob Glaudini sets the story in New York, and most of the scenes take place in Clyde and Lucy’s marijuana-filled apartment. They toke, they ponder love and the Rastafarian way. It feels a lot like the pad on NBC’s “Friends” sit-com, but with a hookah on the coffeetable.

photo courtesy of the aurora theatre

photo courtesy of the aurora theatre

Glaudini’s play has earned rave reviews all over the region for its refreshing combination of sweetness and snark. Glaudini hits the right tone with his humorous notes and while the dialogue feels a little canned at times, the cast and direction make it sing. Joy Carlin directs a lively and seamless play, using a two-tiered stage to maximum effect. Danny Wolohan, a Bay Area native, plays an endearing Jack, whose nervous tick and starter dreads give him a funny presence even without his lines. His Forest Gump-ish quality make him a good match for the equally verbose Connie, expertly played by Beth Wilmurt. As his friends—the limo-driving and impromptu swim teacher Clyde and funeral home mistress Lucy—guide him into favorable waters with Connie, he bumbles his way to earning her affections.

A point of departure for me was the play’s Rasta theme. One major prop is Jack’s portable stereo that plays reggae tunes. He bumps the beats for friends and smokes his ganja religiously, but taken together the Rasta motif never makes more than a comedic statement. What Rastafarianism meant to the decidedly white love story remains a mystery to me. Jack reminded me of guys I met at UC Santa Cruz—broad shouldered white dudes who toked on the daily and lined their dorm rooms with Marley posters. I’ll be curious to see how Philip Seymour Hoffman tweaks this when he directs “Jack Goes Boating” for the the silver screen in 2010. He starred in the original Broadway production two years ago and his film reprises all but one of the original actors. But perhaps I’m over-thinking this. This is just a light-hearted comedy without the twists and turns in more heady plays, like the Aurora’s “Betrayed” play earlier this season. This play’s about a man who shares his love of reggae and learns to navigate the waters with his lady love.

“I do it all for you,” Jack says to her. Certainly a sentiment worth seeing. And as always, the Aurora makes a big splash in a modest space. It has the feel of living room theater, and sees a lot better shows than your flat screen TV.

Stroll down to the Aurora Theatre this weekend to see if you can squeeze your way in: 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets $40-$42. Call (510) 843-4822,

Jane Austen is a name anyone who had an English class would recognize. Her novels were the wallpaper lining of my literary education right next to Shakespeare and Greek myths. In the last few years, her books have unfurled on the silver screen; Gweneth Paltrow sported empire waist dresses as “Emma” and Keira Knightley earned an Oscar nomination for her title role in “Pride and Prejudice.” But there’s one Austen fiction I hadn’t heard of until recently. It’s the first work penned by “England’s Jane,” and has now been put to stage by San Francisco’s Bella Union Theatre Company.

Candice M. Milan as Lady Susan, Gene Mocsy as Manwaring and Daria Hepps as Mrs. Vernon (image courtesy of Bella Union).

Candice M. Milan as Lady Susan, Gene Mocsy as Manwaring and Daria Hepps as Mrs. Vernon (image courtesy of Bella Union).

At age 19, Austen wrote “Lady Susan,” a tale about a beautiful and manipulative widow who’s on the hunt for financial stature. It’s also a novella written in epistolary form. Conceived as a series of letters, the action plots through correspondence between the characters. While some of Austen’s novels use this motif, only “Lady Susan” is composed entirely of, in a playwright’s eyes, monologues. Christine U’Ren, a founding member of Bella Union, adapted the play. She said that “It’s relatively simple to bring the characters of an epistolary novel such as Lady Susan to life, as the letter-writing character speaks directly for him or herself.”

After the initial staged readings, however, it became clear that the back-to-back soliloquies wouldn’t work alone. As U’Ren recalled, “The challenge [was] to flesh out the interactions between the characters.” U’Ren added Jane Austen as a peripheral character, who could be seen moving and prompting characters through the storyline. Director Gina Baleria added movement and a new theatrical device—a handwritten letter—that the actors passed about on stage.

The polished result is a fast-paced choreography (and a slow-stewing propriety) that’s well worth the $12 ticket. The cast is amazing, the dialogue witty and, even though I saw the play many times over as the rehearsal stage manager, I laughed at the jokes every time. U’Ren also helped design the costumes—gorgeous, hand-sewn and custom-tailored. Sir James’ character wears a purple velvet coat that I’ve been coveting the last few dress rehearsals. And since every seat is a good seat at the Berkeley City Club, you’ll be able to oggle his covered buttons from the audience.

Drop by the Berkeley City Club between tonight and July 26, and see if “Lady Susan” gets all she bargains for. Perhaps you’ll be able to see elements of Austen’s later characters, who similarly pranced across the page.

The details:

“Lady Susan”
Bella Union Theatre Company
July 2 – 26, 2009