Chuck Jaffee: Another good reason to spend time at a movie house |

Chuck Jaffee: Another good reason to spend time at a movie house

This is not a movie review. It’s a live theater review – even though you see the plays in this series at Sierra Cinemas in Grass Valley.

“Phedre” opens the series of National Theatre Live, broadcast around the world.

The high definition images pop off the big screen. The play runs unedited, as the live audience sees it, with the advantage, you might say, that multiple cameras transmit different angles and zooms.

It’s natural to laud the first-rate acting, led by Academy Award winner Helen Mirren in the title role. (She is at least as accomplished for prestigious stage work as she is for doing movies and television.) A play like “Phedre” demands high class acting, with its mythically proportioned fates seething and flaming. This production from London delivers.

A Greek queen anguishes with disgraceful passion for her stepson. Upheavals to the throne whirl around this core. The tangle of who knows what when unravels through ancient royal equations and ruffled human frailties, with implicated gods nearby.

The stark simplicity of the set contributes stunningly to the effectiveness of the theatre atmosphere. A hard yet rich tone soaks up a feeling of light and distance radiating from offstage. Tragic portent vibrates from rumbling variations in the sound effects.

Unlike the retooling of 3D, the experience of National Theatre Live rises above gimmick in creating new reasons to spend time at a movie house.

The play’s the thing. “Phedre” was a big hit last year in the less widely distributed first season. Starting the second season, this so-called encore performance from the initial broadcast lineup is a fitting way to introduce a remarkable cultural alternative.

Sierra Cinemas is stepping cautiously into this cultural alternative. In addition to “Phedre” showing once last Thursday evening, it’s playing one more time at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 9. Surprise yourself and Sierra Cinemas by encouraging this theatre-at-the-movies concept – even one that starts at 10 a.m.


Chuck Jaffee of Nevada City likes to plug people into the spirit of independent filmmakers. Find his other articles for The Union at Check out the yearlong schedule at

Sierra Cinemas has partnered with the National Theater of London, England, to present a series of extraordinary plays to show live via satellite on the big screen.

Equipped with state of the art digital projection, Sierra Cinemas will transport you direct to the London stage for an unforgettable live theater experience, without the air fare.

National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking initiative to broadcast live performances from Britain’s stages to cinemas worldwide. Sierra Theaters will be one of only 10 California cinemas to broadcast the 2010-11 season.

Following the opening production, “Phedre,” the season continues with gathering intensity. This month, an award-winning new play, “A Disappearing Number,” tells of the heartbreaking collaboration between the greatest natural mathematician of the 20th century, Srinivasa Ramanujan, a penniless Brahmin from Madras in South India, and his British counterpart, the brilliant Cambridge don G.H. Hardy.

In December, look forward to “Hamlet,” followed in January by “FELA!,” a provocative and wholly unique hybrid of dance, theatre and music that explores the world of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Derek Jacobi stars in a February production of “King Lear.” And in March, save the date for Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire). The season concludes with Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” in July 2011.

For a thrilling evening of world-class entertainment, go to Sierra Cinemas at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, to see “Phedre.”

“A Disappearing Number” plays at 7:15 p.m. Oct. 14 and 10 a.m. Oct. 23. Tickets are $18 and $15 for children, seniors and students and are available at the Sierra Cinemas box office. Season tickets and group rates are available.

Sierra Cinemas is at 840-C E. Main St. at the corner of Hughes Road in Grass Valley.

For information, visit and

• “Phedre” – Oct. 9

An encore performance of the 2009 production of “Phedre” will start off the 2010 season. Helen Mirren takes the title role in this savage play by Jean Racine, translated into muscular free verse by the late Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes.

* “A Disappearing Number” – Oct. 14 and 23

The season will launch on Oct. 14 with Complicite’s “A Disappearing Number,” live from Theatre Royal Plymouth.

Directed by Simon McBurney. Awards include the Olivier Award for Best New Play (2008), the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play (2007) and The Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Best New Play (2007).

* “Hamlet” – Dec. 9 and 18

On Dec. 9, Hamlet will be broadcast, directed by Nicholas Hytner featuring Rory Kinnear in the title role, David Calder as Polonius, Clare Higgins as Gertrude, Patrick Malahide as Claudius and Ruth Negga as Ophelia.

* “FELA!” – Jan. 13 and 22, 2011

A provocative and wholly unique hybrid of dance, theatre and music, FELA! explores the extravagant, decadent and rebellious world of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones. Tony-winning musical FELA! will be broadcast on Jan. 13, 2011.

“King Lear” – Feb. 3 and 12, 2011

The Donmar Warehouse’s production of King Lear will be broadcast as part of the second season of National Theatre Live on Feb. 3, 2011. An aging monarch. A kingdom divided. A child’s love rejected. As Lear’s world descends into chaos, all that he once believed is brought into question.

One of the greatest works in western literature, King Lear explores the very nature of human existence: Love and duty, power and loss, good and evil.

Derek Jacobi and Michael Grandage renew their collaboration, having previously worked together on The Tempest, Don Carlos and Twelfth Night.

Grandage’s creative team – Christopher Oram, Neil Austin and Adam Cork are the Tony Award-winning team behind the company’s recent Broadway smash hit Red.

• “Frankenstein” – March 17 and 26, 2011

Danny Boyle’s production of Frankenstein, a play by Nick Dear, based on the novel by Mary Shelley will follow on March 17, 2011.

• “The Cherry Orchard” – June 30 and July 9

Also in the new season will be Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, directed by NT Associate Director Howard Davies, whose recent productions of Russian plays (including Philistines, Burnt by the Sun and The White Guard) have earned huge critical acclaim. Zoë Wanamaker will play Madame Ranevskaya.

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