Thursday, August 16, 2018

Serious Activism as Crazy Caper


#GETGANDHI
A Seriously Radical Feminist Comedy

August 10 -26
At Z Below, 450 Florida St, San Francisco
Written by Anne Galjour
Directed by Nancy Carlin
Presented by The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits Theatre Collective


The hashtag in the title sets the time and tone of this play by the accomplished Bay Area playwright Anne Galjour who, with the “Sisterhood of Traveling Pantsuits Theatre Collective,” has brought forth the World Premiere of #getgandhi, a sitcom-like production that echoes the outraged chorus of the #metoo and #itsabouttime movements.

The play centers around three women: Miriam (a feisty Patricia Silver), an old school activist itching to fight for a cause; Helen (Jeri Lynn Cohen), a gentle but perceptive yoga teacher; and Maya (Miranda Swain), a spirited young artist who knows her way around Burning Man. Although each has a unique perspective, they are united in their disgust at what they deem to be hypocrisy of that guru of nonviolence, Gandhi, who had naked young women sleep next to him to test his spiritual resolve. In other words, he used these young women, an act that is simply unforgivable.
Miriam (Patricia Silver) and Helen (Jeri Lynn Cohen)

But what to do? Miriam poses a call to action: topple the bronze statue of Gandhi from its pedestal in San Francisco’s Embarcadero. At first the quest seems quixotic, but eventually Helen and Maya pitch in to bring Gandhi down, an endeavor that turns into a mad caper full of fun comic moments somewhat reminiscent of I Love Lucy.

The frenetic, farcical urgency of the three women is evened out by laid-back Bob (a wonderfully mellifluous Howard Swain), Helen’s partner of many years who embodies mellowness as he patiently tries to be as supportive as possible to the worried Helen. Their bond is strong, even as they interact with their daughter Rebecca (a cool Lyndsy Kail) who is married to a Republican political aspirant.

Maya, newly schooled by Miriam and Helen in the art of protest, wants to do more than topple the statue. She aims to create something new, such as dressing the statue of Gandhi in a pink sari and pink pussy hat.

With crisp, vivid and fun dialog, each character’s voice is clear and understood.  Although some scenes (such as the opening yoga class) could benefit from a little more editing, #getgandhi works as a whole and ends with Maya’s delightful dance with her arms like Shiva, showing us that it takes the movement of many to effect change.

Shiva


The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits Theatre Collective presents
#GETGANDHI
A Seriously Radical Feminist Comedy

CAST
Jeri Lynn Cohen (Helen)
Miranda Swain (Maya)
Patricia Silver (Miriam)
Howard Swain (Bob)
Lyndsy Kail (Rebecca)

CREATIVE TEAM
Nancy Carlin (Director)
Julius Rea (Assistant Director)
John Mayne (Scenic Designer)
Michelle Mulholland (Costume Designer)
Kate Boyd (Lighting Designer)
Cliff Caruthers (Sound Designer)
Tony Guidry (Stage Manager)
Lawrence Helman (Publicist)



Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A Dark Night of the Soul

4.48 Psychosis

Written by Sarah Kane
Directed by Robert Estes
Choreography by Bridgette Loriaux
Performed by Anastasia Barron, Jody Christian, Adrian Deane

Anton’s Well Theater Company
at Temescal Arts Center
511 48th Street, Oakland

Until August 5, 2018


The demons come out at night.

You may know these demons, the ones that wake you from sleep and swirl around you in a unstoppable whirlwind of anger, remorse, panic, pain and confusion.

Playwright Sarah Kane knew them all too well. In 4.48 Psychosis, written shortly before her suicide in 1999, Kane expressed her interior world not with pat narrative, three-act structure, or even dialog; instead, her sparse, 24-scene script is a streaming fugue of images, impressions, and snatches of conversations that comprise the mind-churning prelude to breakdown.
Jody Christian, Anastasia Barron, Adrian Deane (Jane Shamaeva)

Anton’s Well Theater Company has brought 4.48 Psychosis to a small studio at Temescal Arts Center in Oakland. Director Robert Estes and choreographer Bridgette Loriaux create a visceral and verbal experience where three brilliant performers (Anastasia Barron, Jody Christian, and Adrian Deane) dance, interact, intertwine, explode, recoil and literally throw themselves against the wall while uttering lines like “Built to be lonely/to love the absent/Find me/Free me/from this/corrosive doubt/futile despair/horror in repose…” or “What do you offer your friends to make them so supportive?”

4.48 Psychosis is no easy piece of theater; there is no neat resolution or comic relief. It is an intense glimpse into a very dark night of the soul rendered beautifully.


Friday, July 13, 2018

A Hunchback Full of Heart

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical

Presented by Bay Area Musicals
Victoria Theatre
2961 16th St, San Francisco
July 7 to August 5, 2018

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Like the stony interior of the renowned cathedral itself, The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical is suffused in a human darkness that first flowed from Victor Hugo’s pen and many years later coursed its way to becoming a Disney musical animation. Although rich with moving songs, the show never made it fully to Broadway and, like Quasimodo, was not completely formed.
Quasimodo (Alex Rodriguez) as the King of Topsy-Turvy
Set in medieval times, it’s the beautiful, sad story of Quasimodo, the bastard orphan of a gypsy and a life-loving but aimless young man who, at his death, beseeches his brother Frollo, the clerical caretaker of Notre Dame, to care for the child. Appalled by the child’s physical deformities, Frollo sees it as a cursed, aberrant monster that must be hidden away at all costs, and in what better place than the dark sanctuary recesses of the cathedral.

Closing its season, Bay Area Musicals brings a fantastic, talent-rich production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical to the Victoria Theater in San Francisco. One thing that distinguishes BAM is how its cast and crew consistently generate an energy of collaboration and enthusiasm for their shows, and Hunchback is no different.

Opening night ended with a rousing standing ovation for the performers and artistic team, with the only challenge being some inconsistent lighting during the performance.

The play’s undercurrent of religious fanaticism masking sexual repression, of loneliness and rejection, of cruelty and fear, are the kinds of things that would make anyone, much less a child, lie awake at night. But the musical does take on these topics, expressed in lovely songs like "The Bells of Notre Dame," "Out There" and "God Bless the Outcasts." In the darkness, there is, like Notre Dame's beautiful circle of stained glass, some glimmer of hope,kindness, acceptance and love.
Frollo (Clay David)
Clay David as Frollo has a Christopher Lee kind of chilly intensity, looming like a clerical cobra with his severe frock and wildly stern expression; it is always a pleasure to see this finely trained and experienced actor perform.
Esmeralda (Alysis Beltran)

Tormented by his attraction to the sensuous gypsy Esmeralda (played with heart, sultriness, compassion and a beautiful voice by Alsyis Beltran), Frollo reconciles his confusion by declaring witchcraft and the ultimate punishment of death to Esmeralda. "Hellfire," with its liturgical strains of "kyrie eleison," speaks of the rigid good-evil, heaven-hell, righteous-sinning dichotomous worldview of Frollo and the medieval world he resides in.

Quasimodo (Alex Rodriguez)
Alex Rodriguez, another Bay Area treasure, is a gentle, loving Quasimodo who can barely speak but whose interior voice soars in songs like "Heaven’s Light." Friends with the stone gargoyles that guard the cathedral and the huge bells he names as friends, Quasimodo’s yearning for, and right to, love and be loved is what touches our hearts.

A delightful disruption is Trouillefou Clopin, the extreme and ebullient trickster played so entertainingly by Branden Thomas.

The set (Matthew McCoy) suggested, as well as one can on a tiny stage, the cavernous cathedral and the busy town square. The costumes (Brooke Jennings) were colorful, creative and well-designed, and the orchestra (Jon Gallo) sustained the pace, in some cases competing a little too much with the singers. There were some technical glitches in lighting and miking that will most likely be worked out in subsequent performances.
The Cast
This story about outcasts, oppressors and enduring love is a sad, timely mirror of our current political situation where the idea of sanctuary is seen as a threat and not redemption.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical
Bay Area Musicals
Victoria Theatre, San Francisco
July 7 to August 5, 2018

Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Peter Parnell
based upon the Victor Hugo novel and songs from the Disney film
Direction and Choreography by Matthew McCoy 
Musical Direction by Jon Gallo

All photos by Ben Krantz

CAST

Alex Rodriguez, Quasimodo
Clay David, Frollo
Alysia Beltran, Esmeralda
Jack O'Reilly, Phoebus
Branden Thomas, Trouillefou Clopin
Pauli Amornkul, Player
Patrick Brewer, Player
Alvin Bunales, Player
Jorey Cantu, Player
Juan Castro, Player
Julio Chavez, Player
Z Hansen, Player
Christopher Juan, Player
Benjamin Nguyen, Player
Loreigna Sinclair, Player
Kaylamay Suarez, Player

ARTISTIC TEAM

Matthew McCoy, Director/Choreographer
Jon Gallo, Musical Director
Wayne Roadie, Stage Manager
Cat Knight, Assnt. Stage Manager
Genevieve Pabon, Assnt. Stage Manager
Matthew McCoy, Set Designer
Brooke Jennings, Costume Designer
Eric Johnson, Lighting Designer
Anton Hedman, Sound Designer
Clay David, Prop Designer
Jackie Dennis, Wig Designer
Jake Delgado, Sound Board Op
Richard Gutierrez, Wardrobe Master
Stewart Lyle, Technical Director
ORCHESTRA
Trumpet - Sonja Lindsay
Trombone - Jeremy Carrillo
Reed 1 - Amar Khalsa
Reed 2 - Larry De La Cruz
Violin - Corey Johnson
Cello - Laura Boytz
Keyboard 1 / Conductor - Jon Gallo
Keyboard 2 - Kjirsten Grove
Percussion - Randy Hood

Friday, June 22, 2018

What You Need to Know about Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel: What I Need You to Know

June 22-24, 2018
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture


For her performance as Scarlett O’Hara’s maid “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind, Hattie McDaniel, in an era replete with racism and segregation, made history as the first African-American woman to receive an Oscar and win a place in the Hollywood firmament, even if that place was far in the back and near the kitchen.
Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in Gone With the Wind
In Hattie McDaniel: What I Need You to Know (currently playing until June 24 at the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason), actress, singer and songwriter Vickilyn Reynolds brings Hattie to life, telling her story from being the youngest of 13 children of former slaves to pursuing her dream of performing on stage and eventually in films in the early days of Hollywood, where roles for black actors were limited and scarce.

Vickilyn Reynolds as Hattie McDaniel (photo: Alissa Banks)
In a series of loosely-joined vignettes that could benefit from tighter direction, editing and a stronger story thread, Reynolds presents Hattie as an intrepid fighter undeterred by the word no. What makes this show is Reynolds’ remarkable songwriting and singing talent. Her original songs such as "Hollywood," "When Will It Be My Turn," "Dis, Dat, Deez, Dem Day," "Any Kinda Man" and more are moving, warm and very creative. She has a belt-it-out, come-to-Jesus voice that lifts you out of your seat, and this experience alone is worth the price of admission. And, to boot, Reynolds resembles McDaniel’s in stature and feisty attitude.

Vickilyn Reynolds (photo: Alissa Banks)
Opening night was challenged by abrupt or delayed lighting and costume changes and a persistent feedback buzz, but such things can be corrected with repeat performances, especially as the show begins its USA tour.

Audiences will walk away humming a few new tunes, enlightened and entertained by the story of a legendary Hollywood icon who deserves much more recognition.
Hattie McDaniel
Hattie McDaniel: What I Need You to Know
June 22-24, 2018
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture

Performer
Vickilyn Reynolds as Hattie McDaniel

Director, Lighting and Set Design: Byron Nora
Costumes: Kevin Mays and Mylette Nora
Stage Manager: Alyssa Champos

Tickets range from $25 - $100 and are available by emailing ticketing@fortmason.org or in-person at the Box Office. More information about the production can be found online at www.hattiewhatineedyoutoknow.com or by calling (415) 345-7500.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Stories of Street and Struggle



Reflections in Black 2018
San Francisco Recovery Theater
June 1-16, 2018 (7pm Fridays and Saturdays)

at Piano Fight
144 Taylor St
San Francisco

$20 general admission but free for Tenderloin residents
Tickets


A quiet but powerful agent of change in the heart of the Tenderloin is San Francisco Recovery Theatre, which for 20 years has provided “a safe place for those who are suffering, their families and those in recovery.” It’s a theater of the spirit and stories about lives lived and lost, and a haven for often-unheard voices.

Led by accomplished actor, director, playwright and SFRT founder Geoffrey Grier, SFRT’s Reflections In Black 2018 revisits an existing collection of original monologues and devised plays, and excerpts, songs and adaptations of plays and essays by African American writers and actors whose individual stories create a mosaic of what it means to be Black in the United States.

Staged in one of Piano Fight’s tiny hot box theater spaces, this production is as up close and personal as it can be as it begins with the all-too-familiar (and sometimes cliched) Twilight Zone intro music to bring us into “The Black Zone.” Grier begins to explain what will ensue only to be interrupted by The Homeless Prophet (Vernon Medearis) who had been sitting in the audience mumbling to himself and being a slight nuisance before he takes the mike to tell his story and prophecy. What follows is a series of vignettes including the story of Paul Robeson (Benn Bacot) whose story far exceeded the singular reputation he had for singing Old Man River; "Angela’s Rant," where the wife (Beverly McGriff) of an incarcerated man rants at him during a prison visit, berating him for the disappointment and pain he has caused her as he sits there in silence; the very powerful "Salaam Huey, Salaam," performed by Grier as the friend of fellow junkie Huey Newton in his last days of life on the Oakland streets. There are 10 stories in all, each with its own power.

With this production, SFRT is reaching out to much of the Mid-Market and 6th Street corridor population as well by organizing groups from neighborhood organizations to see the play free of charge, and by casting actors who are currently or have lived in the Tenderloin.

Reflections in Black 2018 is a small diamond tucked deep in the urban landscape, and it is a treasure to experience.

Reflections in Black 2018
San Francisco Recovery Theater

CAST
Vernon Medearis
Geoffrey Grier
Benn Bacot
Richard May
Eric Ward
Beverly McGriff

Encore! Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical



Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical
By Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott
Directed by John Fisher
Produced by Theatre Rhinoceros therhino.org

May 26 –  July 7, 2018
Gateway Theatre
215 Jackson San Francisco
Run time: @ 2-1/2 hours


Depressed by the news? Bored by the same old-same old? Then what you need is some glitz and glam and disco to shake it up, and Theater Rhinoceros does that with its encore of their 2017 award-winning production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert - The Musical, just in time for Pride month. Based on the 1994 movie about a group of drag queen friends on an Australian outback driveabout, this production is at the Gateway Theater until June 30, 2018.

Everyone in the cast simply revels in the joyful chaos of this show, with disco favorites such as “It’s Raining Men,” “Don’t Leave Me this Way,” “I Love the Nightlife,” “I Will Survive,” “Go West” and more keeping the audience chair-dancing. The over 100 costumes were fun and fab and feathery and sparkly as if dozens of closets were raided at once.

Felicia (Charles Peoples III), Mitzi (Rudy Guerrero) and Bernadette (Kim Larsen)
Counterpoint to the drag queens are the various outback characters, country folk with a rough edge who ain’t seen nothin’ like the show the queens put on. We feel the bravery of the queens as they venture into unknown territory onboard their pink bus christened “Priscilla”: they are vulnerable outsiders who manage to win over the toughest crowds. There are some absolutely wacky and fun scenes in the play, and some sad and shocking ones as well.

Priscilla - the fabulous ship of the desert
Rudy Guerrero brings a superb professionalism and skill to Tick (aka Mitzi), the man on a mission to see his son Benji (gamely played by the young Cameron Zener). Guerrero is a pro at singing and dancing and seems the most comfortable on the stage; he was the only one who managed to sustain a convincing Aussie accent. A few of the other actors had to work to keep up with Guerrero, and some of them were slightly off key. (Is it possible to set this play in America, which has its own deserts, small towns and country boys? It’s hard to learn an accent.)
Rudy Guerrero (Mitzi/Tick)

If you’re looking for a night of campy energy and fun, go see this production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - The Musical -- and don’t forget your dancing shoes.

Trailer
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMBp-mwKH2A&feature=youtu.be


Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
The Musical


PRODUCTION
Director - John Fisher
Choreography - AeJay Mitchell
Rudy Guerrero - Dance Captain
Scenic Designer - Gilbert Johnson
Lighting - Sean Keehan
Costumes Robert Horek
Headdress Designer Glenn Krumbholz
Sound - James Goode

CAST
Rudy Guerrero - Tick/Mitzi
John-Thomas Hanson - Pastor, ensemble
Kim Larsen - Bernadette
Charles Peoples III - Adam/Felicia
Morgan Lange - Lars 1, Errol, Jules, Ensemble
Grace Liu - Cynthia, ensemble
Lisa McHenry - Shirley, Diva
Phaedra Tillery - Marion, Diva
David Tuttle - Miss Understanding, Lars 2, Band Boy, Young Bernadette, Ensemble
Dee Wagner - Marion’s Wife, ensemble
Cameron Weston - Bob, Ensemble
Cameron Zener - Benji




Thursday, May 24, 2018

A Kick-Ass J. C. Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar

Ray of Light Theatre
http://rayoflighttheatre.com

At the Victoria Theater until June 9, 2018
2961 16th Street between Mission and Capp streets
#shesus


Reviewed by Christine Okon

What would Jesus say about Ray of Light Theatre’s all-woman production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Jesus Christ Superstar?

Jesus would say, “hell, yeah, THAT’s what I’m talkin’ about! Radical.Rebellious. Relevant!”

This show wins on all counts--directing, singing, dancing, set design, music, video, costumes, everything--and it would be a shame if you didn’t get to experience it for yourself.

Jesus (Janelle LaSalle) and the Apostles

As the familiar, wailing LIVE guitar overture fills the Victoria theater, we are immersed in the chaos of a present-day conflict that is played out on stage while at the same time, four large TV screens blare the “Breaking News,” all of it disturbingly familiar to our own lives in the current world state. Protesters clash against “Rome,” a symbol of tyranny for any age, as the music reaches a crescendo until it is settled by the main theme music and the spotlight illuminates the powerful yet peaceful form of Jesus Christ (a remarkable Janelle LaSalle), comforting and interacting with the apostles. And we soon meet Judas, Jesus’s passionate “right-hand man” (a powerful Jocelyn Pickett) who argues that the mission is going off track and that the apostles have too much “Heaven on Their Minds.”

Judas (Jocelyn Pickett) returns
As one of those people who knows the whole score by heart, it was a pleasure to experience the innovative staging of each song. Most incredible is Janelle LaSalle as Jesus, her strong voice moving across the range of notes from gentle prayer to argumentative scream; her version of “Gethsemane” is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. This production has some powerful talent, especially Maita Ponce as Mary Magdalene and Heather Orth as Caiaphas. An especially delightful splash of humor was the visit to Herod, played by Hayley Lovgren as the glitzy, ditzy host of “The Herod Show” where we are the studio audience, instructed to respond to cue cards of “APPLAUSE,” “OOH” and “AHH.”

Herod (Hayley Lovgren) and dancers
I am so glad the lyrics were not “feminized,” i.e. changing he to she, etc. as it would have changed the songs. This play is about the universal human Christ, so it’s not necessary.

Ray of Light's production of Jesus Christ Superstar is such a moving, kinetic experience that I did not want it to end; in fact, I may go back to see it again.


Jesus Christ Superstar

CAST
Maita Ponce (Mary)
Janelle LaSalle (Jesus)
Melinda Campero (Simon)
Sarita Cannon (Priest)
Jennifer Mitchell (Priest)
Angel Adedokun (Peter)
April Deutschle (Apostle)
Madeline Lambie (Apostle)
LeighAnn Cannon (Apostle)
Audrey Baker (Apostle)
Amy Alvino (Priest)
Rachel Witte (Apostle)
Cecily Schmidt (Apostle)
Jillian Bader (Priest)
Crystal Liu (Apostle)
Heather Orth (Caiaphas)
Courtney Merrell (Pilate)
Kathryn Sullivan (Apostle)
Christen Sottolano (Annas)
Sara Altier (Priest)
Jocelyn Pickett (Judas)
Jill Jacobs (Apostle)
Hayley Lovgren (Herod)

PRODUCTION TEAM
Jenn BeVard (Dramaturgy)
Daniel Cadigan (Technical Director)
Connie Carranza (Assistant Stage Manager)
Peet Cocke (Props Designer)
Lori Fowler (Stage Manager)
Chanterelle Grover (Wardrobe Associate)
Anton Hedman (Sound Engineer
Theodore J.H. Hulsker (Sound Designer)
Josh Kirkbride (Spot Operator)
Eliza Leoni (Co-Director)
Kuo-Hao Lo (Set Designer)
Christian V. Mejia (Lighting Director)
Aaron Mills (Spot Operator)
Patrick Nims (Video Coordinator)

Ben Prince (Music Director)
Shane Ray (Co-Director)
Alex Rodriguez (Choreographer)
Erik Scanlon (Video Designer)
Weili Shi (Master Electrician, Assistant Lighting Designer)
Maggie Whitaker (Costume Designer)

MUSICIANS
Ben Prince (Keyboard/Conductor)
Stephen Danska (Guitar)
Travis Kindred (Bass)
Taylor Rankin (Drums)
Ken Brill/Dave Dobrusky (Keyboard 2)