By Sam Hurwitt
La Val's Subterranean has a curiously rich theatrical history for a pizza parlor basement. For 20 years, the cramped downstairs room at La Val's Pizza on Euclid Avenue in Berkeley was home to Impact Theatre until the company decided to stop producing last year. Before that, Subterranean Shakespeare was in residence down there, and Berkeley's Shotgun Players originally started out there as well. Now, a new company is taking over stewardship of the space, and it's a new company in more ways than one.
Artistic director Tina Taylor has been producing theater in one form or another under the name Theatre Lunatico since 2004, but it's really only in the last couple of years that the company has gradually emerged as a presence in the Bay Area theater scene—specifically, until now, in Marin County.
The British-born Taylor was a dancer and actor in England for many years before she moved to Point Reyes, where she lived for 15 years. "In eight years. I did 20 shows out there, all under the Theatre Lunatico name," she said. "I was bringing my kid up there, and it was a lovely, idyllic place for her to grow up. I worked with local actors, some had experience, some had zero experience."
Taylor moved to Mill Valley four or five years ago, and it was with a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that she directed in a tiny Mill Valley space in 2015 that the current iteration of the company emerged.
"Out of that production, a core group of people came together around Theatre Lunatico and wanted to move it forward," she said. "It's a five-person working team, and we've been working together to form a company and to find a space."
Now busily cleaning up and rebuilding the low-ceilinged black-box theater at La Val's, the company has big plans for the space. They've just announced their first season, which kicks off in November with a contemporary take on Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1777 comedy The School for Scandal (Nov. 10-Dec. 10). In the spring, they're doing the West Coast premiere of British playwright Bryony Lavery's 2009 play Kursk, set aboard a British submarine witnessing the 2000 accident that sank a Russian nuclear sub. As an added twist, Taylor's production features a cast of five women. Around May, Lunatico plans to host a small festival of devised work for women, and then in the summer, company member Michael Barr will direct Measure for Measure, one of William Shakespeare's more problematic comedies. The season wraps up next fall with Steven Dietz's 1996 stage adaptation of Bram Stoker's horror classic Dracula.
Eventually, Taylor would like to mix in more original devised work as well. "I trained and taught for years on the English fringe theater scene in a very raw, energy, political, physical ensemble theater," she said. "So, the vision is to create a small laboratory ensemble physical theater hub here. I want to connect with my old theater friends back in England and to get some exchanges going. And when the space isn't being used, open it up to the art community for rent. Of course we'll keep the rent as cheap as we can afford to keep it. We just want to see it busy, really, just 24/7 art happening here."
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Shawn Oda as Lennox in Theatre Lunatico's 2017 production of Macbeth. Photo by Robin Jackson.