BERKELEY -- Veteran theater director Joy Carlin has seen it all. Arriving in the Bay Area in 1963, just as Actor's Workshop moved to New York City, she says, "There was nothing here."
Fortunately, the American Conservatory Theater gained the support of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce in 1966 and Carlin joined the troupe three years later. "That was a period of experimental theater," she recalls,"but then somehow, that disappeared."
Jumping ahead to August 2013 as she is preparing to open playwright Amy Herzog's "After the Revolution" at the Aurora Theatre, Carlin rates the last 10 years as "a pretty good time with a lot to look at."
The local stage scene is currently so ripe with talent, she's even able to recruit cast members in theater lobbies.
"I tend not to audition, but to ask people," she says. "I found one cast member for this play in the Berkeley Rep lobby one night. She just looked the part: I didn't even know she was an actress until my daughter recognized her and told me about her." (Daughter Nancy Carlin followed in her mother's actor-director footprints and now headlines "act two" of the family's theatrical dynasty.)
But Carlin's apparently casual casting is anything but. She looks for exactly the right fit, relying on instinct and expertise arising from decades on the boards. The benefit of her selectivity is apparent during the rehearsal process, she suggests. "When the inner feeling (about an actor) is right, I can just let them go," she admits.
"After the Revolution" demands "letting go." Carlin first came across the tight, smartly written play about a Jewish family of leftist radicals in which a mistake has been made that leads to a father-daughter rift, when her son sent her the script.
"It's remarkable," Carlin says. "The dialogue is realistic: everybody talking over everybody. A real family drama, laced with opinions and strife."
The play patterns itself on both grand and minimal canvases. Sweeping broad, universal strokes with its content -- worker-led revolutions, Marxism, Cold War politics, civil rights violations and the law versus justice -- the personal collapse of trust between a father and daughter forms the incendiary centerpoint of the drama. When Emma, a lawyer, learns her father has perjured himself by withholding the truth about her grandfather, her resentment and anger infect the entire family.
"Over-faith in parents is crushing," Carlin says. "The shock at being kept from the truth by someone you love is a human situation."
Fortunately, Herzog writes with humor and a wisdom belying the playwright's 30-something age, Carlin says. "This is a close-knit family that can make each other laugh and cry," she says. "I love the family dynamic and the channels of communication -- I like that it has three generations trying to understand each other."
Carlin says she identifies with the family's discord and devotion in the same way audiences will: Aware of the wide scale of emotions and the familial end game, when judgment leads to forgiveness and to enduring, if pained, connectivity.
Having lived through the McCarthy period herself, she approaches the play's primary theme from a familiar, "been there" perspective. And recent events, especially the Edward Snowden whistle-blower situation, she calls "absolutely relatable."
"Today, the NSA can pick up on people. Then, (during the era when the play's fallen hero was leaking national secrets to the Russians, not fighting social injustice) the FBI could question your neighbors about your sexual activities and your background," Carlin says.
The play's rich, dynamic landscape is unrolling rapidly, Carlin says, her tone signaling expectations met, more than surprise.
After all, she's working in the fertile, continually evolving -- occasionally even revolutionary -- Bay Area theater scene.