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Three generations of family gather over three holidays in a home none of them expects to long survive the rising sea. They do chores, text each other, and dance. They watch the birds and watch each other, while struggling for loyalty, legacy, and turf. By the end, everything has shifted and a new generation is in charge, but of what? Our Practical Heaven, the third Aurora mainstage production to develop from our annual Global Age Project, addresses the changing tides of communication, gender roles, and society in a place where even the notions of home and family remain fluid. GAP director Allen McKelvey, and original GAP cast members Julia Brothers* (The First Grade), Joy Carlin* (Thérèse Raquin), and Anne Darragh* (A Delicate Balance), reprise their roles for Aurora’s main stage production.

*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers
Critics are saying
A Lesson from the Birds Read Full Review »
- Jean Schiffman
American Theatre Magazine
Just when Bay Area-born playwright Anthony Clarvoe's career was hitting its stride, he bolted. Now he's back, and he's birding. Read Full Review »
- Chad Jones
San Francisco Chronicle
The seasoned, proficient Joy Carlin, Julia Brothers and Anne Darragh lead a six-person ensemble coping with everything from family tensions to climate change, including mother-daughter battles, cancer, cutthroat capitalism, rising sea levels, autoimmune diseases and aging parents. In other words, it's life in the 21st century.
- Robert Hurwitt
San Francisco Chronicle
[Playwright Anthony] Clarvoe adds up the little details of daily living in a rich portrait of mothers, daughters and perpetual misunderstandings... Sensitively directed by Allen McKelvey in its world premiere at Berkeley's Aurora Theatre, 'Our Practical Heaven' sweeps us away with eccentric characters and universal themes.
- Karen D'Souza
San Jose Mercury News / Bay Area News Group
There’s a lot to like in the world premiere of Anthony Clarvoe's family drama Our Practical Heaven at Aurora Theatre Company. Laughs come frequently, the production itself – full of light and space – is lovely and the six women in the cast are all quite interesting.
- Chad Jones
Playwright Anthony Clarvoe is a master... Just like his characters in CTRL+ALT+DEL, Clarvoe, presents each of these women as a whole person....[Our Practical Heaven] engages, presenting riddles that need to be decoded.
- Cy Ashley Webb
Stark Insider
Actress Joy Carlin is 'delectable.'
- Michelle Lin
The Daily Californian
[Our Practical Heaven] features excellent acting thanks to Bay Area treasures Joy Carlin, Anne Darragh, and Julia Brothers.
- Judy Richter
Aisle Say / San Mateo Daily Journal
A charming production... a great cast of both veteran and accomplished young actresses.
- Richard Connema
Talkin' Broadway
Don’t miss Julia Brothers...Joy Carlin and Anne Darragh also give memorable performances—such a treat to see real women with meaty roles that celebrate their vast talents.
- Rhonda Shrader
Dogmom's Dish
[Playwright Anthony] Clarvoe’s script is quite witty; the dialogue pops with wry one-liners and truly funny self-deprecation.
- Adam Brinklow
...wonderfully acted by Joy Carlin...[a] top performance by Anne Darragh...Adrienne Walters and Blythe Foster [are] skilled...[an] excellent Julia Brothers...Lauren Spencer captures a difficult role
- Emily Mendel
Actress Joy Carlin is 'agelessly marvelous.'
- Leo Stutzin
Huffington Post
Julia Brothers, Joy Carlin, and Anne Darragh are 'buoyant.'
- Rob Avila
San Francisco Bay Guardian
There's a peace and quiet and unspoken texture to [Joy Carlin's] performance.
- Erika Milvy
East Bay Express
Sibling rivalry, aging and loss fuel Anthony Clarvoe’s gentle multigenerational drama.
- Georgia Rowe
The SF Examiner
Anne Darragh, Joy Carlin, and Julia Brothers are 'superb.'
- George Heymont
My Cultural Landscape
There are some striking ideas [in] Our Practical Heaven...the play’s suggestion of a kind of existential ennui brought about by climate change is an intriguing one.
- Marianne Moore
Behind the Scenes/Our Practical Heaven

Our Practical Heaven Trailer

  • Allen McKelvey - Director
  • Anthony Clarvoe - Playwright
  • Joy Carlin* - Vera
  • Julia Brothers* - Willa
  • Anne Darragh* - Sasha
  • Blythe Foster* - Suze
  • Adrienne Walters - Leez
  • Lauren Spencer - Magz
  • Mikiko Uesugi+ Set Designer
  • Michael Palumbo Light Designer
  • Callie Floor+ Costume Designer
  • Clifford Caruthers+ Sound Designer
  • Micah J. Stieglitz - Video Designer
  • Mia Baxter/ Seren Helday - Props Artisans
  • Susan Reamy* - Stage Manager
ADREINNE WALTERS is making her debut with Aurora Theatre Company in Our Practical Heaven. Most recently, she was the understudy for all of the female roles of SF Playhouse's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Adrienne's favorite roles include Ilse in Spring Awakening (Center Rep), Suzy in Marvelous Wonderettes (Broadway by the Bay), Jean in August: Osage County (City Lights Theatre Co), and Olive Ostrovsky in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Bus Barn Stage Co). Next, she can be seen in the world premier of Spacebar at City Lights Theatre Company. Adrienne thanks her family for their endless love and support, and as always, for Brian.
ANNE DARRAGH is delighted to return to the Aurora where she was last seen in The Busy World is Hushed and The Master Builder. Recent performances include Snow Falling on Cedars at TheatreWorks. Ms. Darragh has performed in numerous world premiers including the Eureka Theatre production of Angels in America (Harper), A Round-Heeled Woman (starring Sharon Gless) at Z Space, Brian Thorstenson’s Over the Mountain at Brava and Peter Nachtrieb’s T.I.C. (Trenchcoat in Common) with Encore. Locally she has performed with A.C.T., Berkeley Rep, Campo Santo, Magic Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, Porchlight Theatre, San Jose Rep and Stephen Pelton Dance Theatre Company..
BLYTHE FOSTER is happy to be performing at Aurora Theatre Company. She recently appeared in Symmetry Theatre’s production of Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight, and in A Christmas Carol at San Jose Repertory Theatre. Locally, she has played Mayella Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird at TheatreWorks, Jo in boom at Marin Theatre Company, and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth and Gretchen in Faust, Part I, both at Shotgun Players. Blythe’s studies include an MFA in Acting from Columbia University in New York, training with Gardzienice Theatre in Poland and an apprenticeship with Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont.
JOY CARLIN has been a leading actress, teacher, director, and Associate Artistic Director at the American Conservatory Theater. She was an Actor and Resident Director at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and served as its Interim Artistic Director. She has performed many roles, winning Bay Area Critics Circle and L.A. Dramalogue Awards for both her acting and directing. At the Aurora she has directed Nora, Rocket to the Moon, Hysteria, Dublin Carol, Benefactors, Awake and Sing!, The Price, Bosoms and Neglect, Jack Goes Boating and Body Awareness, and has acted in The Belle of Amherst and Therese Raquin. She will play Meg in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Marin Theatre next season and you can also look for her in the Woody Allen movie which was filmed in San Francisco this past summer.
JULIE BROTHERS recent Bay Area credits include Marty in Circle Mirror Transformation and Polina in Seagull at Marin Theatre Company, The Lily’s Revenge at Magic Theatre and The First Grade and Salome at Aurora. Ms. Brothers appeared in George is Dead (written and directed by Elaine May, co-starring Marlo Thomas) at Magic Theatre, Arizona Theatre Company, George Street Playhouse and most recently understudied for Relatively Speaking, three one acts by Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen, directed by John Turturro, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway. Upcoming TV: "Zero Hour" with Anthony Edwards on ABC. Ms. Brothers was named MVP for Theater in 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle.
LAUREN SPENCER  is thrilled to make her Aurora debut. Recent credits include Sunny in Good Goods (Crowded Fire Theatre Company), Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Boxcar Theatre), Cathy in The Last Five Years (Poor Man's Players), and Maria in Twelfth Night (African American Shakespeare Co.).  She has worked with Magic Theatre, Just Theatre, No Nude Men, Woman's Will, among others. In the off hours she works as a teaching artist with San Francisco Shakespeare Company and Handful Players.
*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers

Interview with Playwright Anthony Clarvoe

By Josh Costello, Literary Manager

This play was a finalist in Aurora's Global Age Project before being selected for a full production. What was that process like for you as a playwright? How has the text of the play changed since the version you originally submitted to the GAP?

OUR PRACTICAL HEAVEN was my first play in nearly twenty years that wasn't written as some kind of commission. It accumulated bit by bit between other projects. I submitted it to the Aurora as I was returning home to the Bay Area to live. The norm in my working life has been to travel to where my work is being produced, working in a number of different places and with a number of different companies on each work. The opportunity to work with the same terrific director, Allen McKelvey, the same organization, and a very tight and brilliant group of actors over two years, all a mile's walk from my house, has been both unfamiliar and wonderfully familial.

The script is fundamentally the same as it was when I submitted it, and there have also been hundreds of changes. Because it is such a personal play, and because it is a play in which all the characters have known each other for years, the challenge was to invite and embrace the audience, while not having to have everyone in the play spend a lot of time telling each other things they all already know. Am I being confusing? Or am I belaboring points? Am I creating opportunities for my collaborators and then getting out of their way? I tell my students that the first draft is for you to express yourself; all the other drafts are for you to collaborate with the artists who are offering you their talents and the audiences who are giving you their precious time.

The young characters in this play are often typing on their phones, communicating with each other electronically. Why did you choose to make this such a presence in the play?

It was this use of what I generically refer to as Gizmos, as much as anything, that convinced me this was a Global Age Project play. This phenomenon of people carrying on several different conversations at once, in person and virtually, strikes a chord with something I try to do theatrically: have several different things going on at once that can stand independently and also comment on each other, so they add layers of meaning though juxtaposition. The live characters, especially the moms, are unwittingly being the pictures for which their daughters' texts are supplying the captions. The photos someone is taking and uploading, when projected, can supply a real or expressionistic backdrop to a scene. The theme of whether we're more present and able to communicate when we're with people in person or when we're reaching out through our devices runs right through the play.

What changes do you expect to see in theater as technology becomes more and more ubiquitous in our lives?

I'm intrigued with the ways technology is allowing for greater malleability and permeability of what we think of as stage space. Theater people have always known that what we're creating is less a literal duplication of reality than a kind of waking dream, a place that responds dynamically to emotion. King Lear rages and the storm rages. Nowadays people walk around talking with people who aren't there, listening to background music only they can hear, following a map that changes with their every step. We're all starting to live in that waking dream. In our increasingly web-based life, there's special significance in the kinds of art and entertainment that rely on our being physically present in the same place with each other.

You have said that your first inspiration for this play was birdwatching, and that the play really took off once you realized it should be about family. What is it about birdwatching and family that inspire you, and how do you connect them?

I've always loved people who are passionate about something -- it lends them energy, enriches their speech, shows them enacting their values. Nerds are my people. Birders -- and I have been happy to count myself among them -- are passionate outdoor nerds. Their interests tend to include ornithology and environmentalism, of course. But because a lot of birding tends to be done on coasts, borders, and frontiers, they care about climate change, immigration, even homeland security -- you see what happens when you stand in a marsh near an airport with a scope on a tripod.

By now I've had a chance to experience family as a child and as a parent. I've been struck over the last few years at the many ways our American sense of what a family is has grown and changed. Especially in the Bay Area, especially in the arts, we have a lot of experience in declaring ourselves to be families -- marrying and adopting each other as partners, parents, siblings, and children, officially or not. The rest of the country is just catching up with us.

And of course both family and birding require a lot of patience and close attention. Blink and you might miss something great.

production photos
Photos by David Allen
*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers
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