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A time to Gather: Berkeley beckons with dinner and theater

Berkeley Repertory Theatre lured me over to that former hotbed of radicalism on a recent Sunday to attend “Fallaci,” the eponymous play about the feisty Italian journalist.

Written by Lawrence Wright and directed by Oskar Eustis, the play recounts Oriana Fallaci’s life story as told to a New York Times reporter, Maryam.

Like Wright, I was disappointed with Fallaci’s late-in-life political flip-flop. She transformed from child of socialist parents to unintentional spokeswoman for anti-immigration groups. After 9/11, she became convinced that Islam was evil and subsequently became the darling of rightist anti-immigration and Islamophobic groups. Critics accused her of racism.

Actress Concetta Tomei skillfully portrays the aging diva, who opens the door to Maryam (played by Marjan Neshat), a younger version of herself. Maryam tricks Fallaci into cooperating by appealing to her vanity, claiming that the Times wants to do a feature story on her life. In reality, Maryam writes obituaries.

Fallaci earned a reputation for confronting the world’s most powerful political figures in the 1970s and ’80s, including Yasser Arafat, Henry Kissinger, the Shah of Iran and the Ayatollah Khomeini. As a young girl, she helped her father in the resistance against Mussolini, delivering explosives and newspapers to Allied POWs. She was a study in contradictions. A heavy smoker, she died of lung cancer in Florence in 2006.

After the play, we recovered at Gather restaurant, 2200 Oxford St., which bills itself as both a vegetarian and omnivore establishment. It uses local, heritage vegetables and slaughters its animals in-house. Something for everyone.

The interior of the restaurant, founded by former mountain guides Eric Fenster and Ari Derfel, looks a bit like what we used to call a “fern bar,” with plants hanging over the counter and open kitchen. At 5 p.m., opening time, it filled up fast.

Cocktails looked seductive, with Bay Area descriptions – an $11 Gather Fog Cutter with bourbon, lime, falernum and mint would probably cut the chill of the ocean breeze, but we settled on West Coast wines.

We felt a bit rushed, especially because the menu, though not particularly long, was difficult to decipher. For example, the starters included Sea Lettuce and Smoked Kampachi ($15), and for $12, a gluten-free Batavia and Little Gems with buttermilk, raw and fermented vegetables and lovage.

We decided on Beef Tartare ($16) with tendon, asparagus, spring flowers and herbs. It came to us pink and herbed, with a spicy sauce – a bracing starter.

For the entrée, we enjoyed the Asparagus Pizza ($18) with pancetta. Portion sizes were European, not American, and I couldn’t resist three slices. Dishes presented so colorfully and pleasingly rated several iPhotos by our neighbors before they began eating.

To top it off, we split a dessert, the $11 Ricotta Budino, with burnt honey ice cream, almond and Meyer lemon, all gluten free. The double-shot espressos helped us come to our senses, but I’m coming back for the rest of the menu, like the vegan “charcuterie.”

For more information, visit www.berkeleyrep.org or www.gatherrestaurant.com.

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