By: Dario Fo
Produced by: berkeleyrep.org
Featuring: Liam Craig (Superintendent), Steven Epp (Maniac), Renata Friedman (Feletti), Allen Gilmore (Pissani), Eugene Ma (Constables), and Jesse J. Perez (Bertozzo)
Directed by: Christopher Bayes
When: March 7 through April 20, 2014
Where: Berkeley Repertory Theatre Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, California
Tickets:$29-$99 (subject to change; discounts available). Call 510-647-2949 or visit berkeleyrep.org
See a video of Renata Friedman in "The K of D, An Urban Legend," as performed at Seattle Rep.
Read John Orr's review of "Upright Grand" at TheatreWorks.
I was pretty excited, when I read the cast list for "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" at Berkeley Rep, because Renata Friedman was there.
Why? Read what I had to say about Friedman when she was in "Upright Grand" at TheatreWorks in 2012:
"Friedman as Kiddo is something special, someone for the ages. It's not just her actor's gymnastics in making the audience see her as a playful, smart-alecky 12-year-old who transitions through a difficult adolescence into being an ultra-sophisticated, world-traveling concert star. And all that is, indeed, very impressive. It's that she brings a palpable depth of character and strength to her performance, and is absolutely mesmerizing. Every eye is on her when she is on the stage, because we just don't see this kind of performance every day. She is an astounding talent."
Well, that was understating it, if anything, so I was very much looking forward to seeing her in "Accidental Death of an Anarchist."
And that's why I interviewed her, back in late February.
But then, before I wrote the story, I got sick, was hospitalized, lost a lot of blood, and since then have had the strength and stamina of a dandelion blossom. What little strength I've had went to my straight job, the one that pays something, at least, and has benefits. Regarding Arts is a labor of love that pays bupkis.
But here I am, looking at my notes from my phone conversation with the talented Ms. Friedman.
I told her, early on, that my goal was to find out how she became the powerful actor she is, a statement, I think, that kind of surprised her.
So, first we just talked about her childhood and family.
She grew up in Port Townsend, Washington, the daughter of Rocky Friedman and Robin Biffle. Ms. Biffle, who used to be a police officer, is now an Episcopalian priest in Moscow, Idaho. Rocky Friedman runs the Rose Theatre in Port Townsend.
"It's an old, restored Nicklodean," Ms. Friedman told me. "It opened in 1907. It was a vaudeville house."
Rocky Friedman and Phil Johnson started restoring the theater in 1992, when Renata was 12, and she has been involved with it ever since, even going back once in a while to run it while dad takes a vacation, originally for a full month.
"That used to be the case, but I've been working so much I haven't had time to do that lately," Ms. Renata told me. "I used to do it ... I'm trying to remember the last time I did that for a whole month. Must have been a few years."
But she still is "quite involved with the theater," she said. "I do a lot of work for him online, and when I am in town, I give him just a week or two off, every once in a while."
(The Rose seems to be quite the fascinating place. Check it out at rosetheatre.com.)
But Friedman's path to live theater excellence began before her dad started running The Rose.
"The first performance I was involved in was in kindergarten," she said. "Some kind of circus animal play. I'd never seen a play, I'd never been in a play. I didn't understand you were supposed to wear a costume."
She was playing a tiger, but was most excited about getting to wear blue eye shadow. When she arrived for the play, the other kids were dressed in animal costumes. She was wearing a tutu.
"I remember jumping through a hoop. That's about it."
She performed in "Oliver Twist" when in the second grade and "just continued, transitioning to junior high. When I was in the 8th grade, I was cast in a high school production of 'Romeo and Juliet.'
"That was a pretty big moment for me. That was the beginning of me being pretty serious about it."
Friedman started commuting to Seattle to take classes at Seattle Children's Theatre, taking more intensive classes, then went to the prestigious and effective Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.
"It was the only place I applied," Friedman said. "I didn't even have a back-up plan."
And her impressive talent in the theater?
"It was sort of born into me," she said. "I don't know. It's always been a huge priority, the only thing I've wanted to pursue as a career.
"I am serious about it. In this business, you have to be really serious, have to hustle, have to create your own work. You have to be on time, you have to do your job.
"There's not a lot of leeway for a casual approach .... if you want a career, want to work consistently, you have to really fight for the jobs."
One of her most challenging gigs, she said, was when she did Laura Schellhardt's "The K of D, an urban legend," at Seattle Rep, for which she was the entire cast and also the show's producer. She played, basically, an entire small town.
"'The K of D' was one of the most challenging shows for me, only because doing a solo show is incredibly lonely, incredibly difficult. It's terrifying that the audiences' eyes will never leave you. There is no escape, you have to be on the ball.
"And the dressing room was really lonely. ... No one to share a drink with after the show."
But, as she pointed out, "Laura Schellhardt and I really clicked. I clicked with the material, wanted to do the play. ... I produced it myself when I realized that a play so suited to me wouldn't come along all that much."
Schellhardt, by the way, is also the author of "Upright Grand," in which Friedman was brilliant.
Friedman's done a lot of theater in Seattle, which she calls "one of the few places where you can make a living as a performer."
But these days her home is in New York, where opportunities have been popping up for her.
New York is like a central market for theater people. Not just for the Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway crowd, but for regional theaters around the nation. All the major regional operations, from Seattle Rep to Berkeley Rep to TheatreWorks to South Coast Rep send people to New York to audition actors, which is why theater gypsies travel so much.
But Friedman came to Berkeley Rep this time for "Accidental Death of a Tourist" by a kind of networking route.
In 2002 at NYU, Friedman took a clowning class with Christopher Bayes, who is directing "Accidental Death."
"It was one of the best classes" she took, Friedman said, "And one of the most terrifying and exciting."
Later, they hooked up to do "A Doctor In Spite of Himself," and now, Friedman is subbing in to "Accidental Death," in the role of Felletti, which another actor originated for this production at Yale Rep in 2013.
Reviewers are talking about how funny the show is. Robert Hurwitt, in the Chronicle, said Friedman "is brilliant as a sexy-tough, remarkably fast-tongued feminist journalist." Karen D'Souza, in the Mercury News, said, "a Fallaci-style journalist played with relish by Renata Friedman."
Undoubtedly a great show, and one I probably won't get to see. Dang.
After the show closes in Berkeley, it's back to New York for Friedman, whose boyfriend just got a job there.
"I'm enjoying life," she said, "constantly surprised that I am making a living as a theater artist. ... It's a real pleasure and I don't take it for granted, and I am very grateful for every job.
"I've been making a living just doing theater for six or seven years. No film, no commercials, no voice-overs ... just doing theater.
"I'm quite happy."
Email John Orr at email@example.com