Friday, March 16, 2018

African-American Shakespeare Company Brings New Light to Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire

African-American Shakespeare Company 

Directed by: L. Peter Callender

Marine's Memorial Theater
609 Sutter St
San Francisco, CA

Last performances
Saturday, March 17 at 8pm
Sunday, March 18 at 3pm
Stella (Santoya Fields) and Stanley (Khary Moye)

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire is a pressure cooker of human emotions  that range from rage to passion, jealousy to loyalty, dark shame to glaring honesty and more. Director Peter Callendar coaxes the versatile actors of the African-American Shakespeare Company  actors to dive fearlessly into the shadowy and steamy soul of this play and resurface in a beautiful catharsis.

The characters are pitched together in a muggy closeness in a tiny and cramped New Orleans apartment where live Stanley Kowalski and his wife Stella in their domestic sensual bliss which is soon disrupted.

Stanley, a strong, hardworking ordinary guy (solidly played by Khary Moye), reveres the bond of brothers that are his poker buddies and regards his home, as Huey Long suggested, as his castle where he is the king. Stella is his steadfast and open-armed wife (given great presence by Santoya Fields), loving her life with Stanley and a grounding force to his volatile temper.

When Stella’s sister Blanche DuBois (the ethereally beautiful yet fragile Jemier Jenkins) enters the scene in a crisp and glamorous white dress and hat, she is as out of place as an orchid in a back alley. Blanche projects herself as a delicate southern belle, but we soon learn the dark and tangled roots that comprise her past. Jenkins brings a delicately nuanced desperation to Blanche who clings to the image she wishes to project, and protect, to keep at bay the. terror of confronting her own reality. Blanche is practiced in the southern playbook of manners and gentility, but she wears them like a mask, a mask she desperately clings to because the truth is too painful.

The subtle but palpable tension between Blanche and Stanley begins to simmer in the first act, with Stanley being annoyed as Blanch e’s sense of entitlement and superiority that threaten his stance and personhood. There ensues a battle of wits, with Blanche desperately trying to maintain the veneer that Stanley increasingly chips away at in his pursuit of what he thinks is the truth. But Stanley’s truth is one of force, like that of prying open a rose bud before it has bloomed to find out what it’s made of. Blanche has her own truth, the magic and grace of beauty, delicacy, and gentility that, as phony as it seems, is the only thing keeping her from the depths of darkness and death.

Williams’ characters must navigate the subtle dichotomies of gentility and brutality, the difference between seeing life in the warm light of a festive lantern or the harsh glare of a bare bulb that hangs almost ominously over the kitchen table. Especially noteworthy is Fred Pitts as Mitch, the “decent” guy who is drawn to Blanche before he eventually sees her in the harsh light.

Callender has taken a bold and original move to present this Williams play with black actors and somehow raise it above the “southerness” to make it universal.

The end of the play is sad as we witness Blanche having disintegrated in her terror and confusion, overwhelmed by the dark evidence of her reality that Stanley managed to unearth. She is cornered like an animal, panicked by the hostile handlers who do not speak her language or understand her, until she is approached by the kind doctor (Nathaniel Andalis) who extends his hand in gracious invitation to come to take her away. It would have been good to have the doctor’s gestures exaggerated in hyperbolic southern gentility, a dance that Blanche has done many times to make her acceptance even more convincing.

This show is ending too soon, with March 18 being the last performance. Try to see it if you can.

A Streetcar Named Desire

CAST
Blanche DuBois: Jemier Jenkins
Stanley Kowalski: Khary Moye
Stella Kowalski: Santoya Fields
Mitch: Fred Pitts
Eunice: Kim Saunders
Steve: ShawnJ West
Pablo: Jarrett Holley
Doctor / Ensemble: Nathaniel Andalis
Neighbor / Nurse: Jan Hunter


PRODUCTION TEAM
Director — L. Peter Callender
Production Manager — Leontyne Mbele-Mbong
Stage Manager — Apollonia
Set Designer — Kevin August Landesman
Lighting Designer — Kevin Myrick
Sound Designer — Everett Elton Bradman
Costume & Prop Designer — Rachael Heiman

Monday, February 19, 2018

No Ordinary Dame: Jill Vice and A Fatal Step

A Fatal Step

The Marsh Theatre -  San Francisco

Written and performed by Jill Vice
Directed by Mark Kenward
Developed with David Ford
January 18-April 29, 2018

Jill Vice (photo: John Orvis)
A Fatal Step is a fun heist of familiar Film Noir tropes: the dangerous dame, the good Joe, and six other characters that tell the story of a woman trying to hold on to her man, except the tables are turned and expectations are flipped like Blackjack cards in a smoky casino. Written and performed by Jill Vice, A Fatal Step is about a woman finding her true power and discovering what she really wants, overcoming unexpected circumstances.
Jill Vice (photo: John Orvis)

Vice is a master of eight different characters, with eight different voices and mannerisms that she engages in fast-paced dialog, so convincing that you can visualize them all, from the Bogart-infused idealistic podiatrist husband to the mousy good girl who threatens to steal him away to the bedridden mother appropriately named Mona, because that’s what she does, to the smart-ass Lyft driver, and others. It’s an ingenious and fun device to have the setting be contemporary but threaded with 40’s film noir patter and drama. Vice is a one-woman character machine, bringing the story to life in practiced perfection.

Jill Vice and Eddie Muller, the "Czar of Noir" (photo: Bill Selby)  
After the February 8 show was a talk back with Jill Vice and Eddie Muller, the “Czar of Noir” who explained the essence of Film Noir, where usually the tables are turned on characters, and where good intentions don’t lead to expected good endings. There’s a darkness that’s ripe for mining, and this is what Vice does with A Fatal Step. Her “femme fatale” is really an everywoman who’s just trying to lay her claim on the world, is thwarted, but manages to come out victorious. A Fatal Step is a night of well-crafted, well-directed and polished theater. It’s playing only on Thursday and Saturdays at the Marsh San Francisco until April 29, so catch it while you can.


Friday, December 29, 2017

A Christmas Story: The Musical

A Christmas Story: The Musical

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street

Until January 13, 2018

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Tucked among the holiday lights and memories of your personal Christmas past is, perhaps, the 1983 film A Christmas Story, Jean Shepherd’s warm and quirky reminiscence of his own childhood in circa 1940’s small town America. Good news: You can still experience a little bit of Christmas with San Francisco Playhouse’s production of A Christmas Story: The Musical, playing until January 13, 2018.

The Cast
Director Susi Damilano knows how to bring forth the wide range of talent and personalities of the large cast of children and adults who partake in the real and fantasy life of Ralphie Parker, the boy who dreams and schemes to get the special gift of a “Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle” despite warnings from everyone that he’ll “shoot his eye out.” The kids can really sing, dance and act, with special standout Jonah Broscow who brings a nerdy likeability to Ralphie, a complex mix of doubt and determination as he dreams of what he can do with the gun.

Ralphie and his dream gift  (Jonah Broscow) 
Ryan Drummond plays Ralphie’s dad, “The Old Man,” with the defensive insecurity of Don Knotts and the loopy agility of Donald O’Connor; The Old Man is a volatile and constantly irked ordinary guy who emits a creative cacophony of swearing.

Mother (Abbie Haug) at odds with the Old Man's prize lamp

Christopher Reber is the amiable and likeable narrator Jean Shepherd, lending a bemused but loving tone to the retelling of memories, not all of which are joyful.

Christopher Reber as Jean Shepherd
As the schoolteacher Miss Shields, Katrina Lauren McGraw supercharges the room with her presence and voice full of soul and passion, especially in the “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” number that’s set in a fantasy 1930s speakeasy.

Miss Shields (Katrina Lauren McGraw) and class 
And a really fun and energetic piece is “Ralphie to the Rescue,” where our pulse rises with Ralphie’s as he dreams of saving the day in many ways with his Red Ryder Gun.

Ralphie (Jonah Broscow) "rescues" Miss Shields (l) and Mother (r)
Ralphie’s dad also dreams of glory and is rewarded when his crossword entry wins him the special prize: a garish lamp that’s a sexy woman mannequin’s leg capped by a lampshade, much to to chagrin of Ralphie’s mom (a strained but patient Abbie Haug) who is the quiet engine of order in the midst of chaos.

The Old Man’s fantasy builds into song and dance as he imagines himself “The Genius of Cleveland Street,” joined by others swinging and waltzing with their leg lamps across the stage.

The Old Man (Ryan Drummond) exults in the Lamp Dance
While being diligent to his dream, Ralphie must live his ordinary kid’s life, surviving the daily school bully's attack; witnessing the triple-dog-dare that schoolmate Flick (Mario Gianni Herrera) accepts only to have his tongue stuck to the frozen flagpole; being big brother to the goofy Randy (Kavan Bhatia) who gleefully and noisily demonstrates that he’s “mommy’s little piggy” as he wolfs down dinner from a dish on the floor; and throwing away his shot to tell Santa what he really wants for Christmas.

The Triple Dog Dare
But “It All Comes Down to Christmas” after all, with the warmth of community and sense of home, and the bond of family that thrives beyond the expected trappings of the holiday and the surprises as diverse as a Chinese menu.

The Parkers Enjoy a Christmas Meal

Go ahead, treat yourself to a little more Christmas and start the new year with A Christmas Story: The Musical.

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A Christmas Story: The Musical

San Francisco Playhouse
Until January 13, 2018

Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Book by Joseph Robinette

CAST

Christopher Reber JEAN SHEPHERD
Jonah Broscow RALPHIE
Jack Barrett GROVER DILL
Kavan Bhatia RANDY
Ken Brill SANTA
Chloe Dalzell ESTER JANE
Ryan Drummond THE OLD MAN
Kathryn Han NANCY'S MOM
Abby Haug MOTHER
Gwen Herndon NANCY
Mario Gianni Herrera FLICK
Matilda Holtz SCUT FARKUS
Alex Hsu VILLIAN/WAITER
Sophia LaPaglia ENSEMBLE
Charlotte Ying Levy NANCY
Katrina Lauren McGraw MISS SHIELDS

Understudies
Jake Miller RANDY
Ozlo Ransom Mitchell FLICK/SCHWARTZ
David Rukin SCHWARTZ
Mira Shah ESTER JANE
Leo Sens GROVER DILL
Panita Serizawa MARY BETH
Sammy Vernick SCUT FARKUS

CREATIVE TEAM

Director  - Susi Damilano
Music Director - David Dobrusky
Choreographer - Kimberly Richards
Scenic and Properties Designer - Jacquelyn Scott
Costume Designer - Abra Berman
Sound Designer - Theodor J.H. Hulsker
Lighting Designer - Thomas J. Munn
Stage Manager - Saraj Selig




Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Come and Meet Those Dancing Feet

42nd Street

Bay Area Musicals

Alcazar Theatre
650 Geary St., San Francisco

Ends December 10, 2017

Reviewed by Christine Okon

There’s something uplifting about the sound of dancing feet. Why, it’s almost better than therapy.

Shuffling Off to Buffalo
Depression era audiences knew this when they escaped into Busby Berkeley movies like Gold Diggers of 1935, Babes on Broadway, and of course, 42nd Street. Now you, too, can get a kick, with Bay Area Musicals' current production of 42nd Street, playing at the Alcazar theater until December 10, 2017.

Peggy Sawyer (Samantha Rose) and Gang

Director Daren A.C. Carollo and choreographer Matthew McCoy (who is also the driving force behind BAM) have gifted us with their version of the Broadway show that starts with a big dance number and and continues nonstop with songs like “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “We’re in the Money,” and more.

DC Scarpelli, Samantha Rose, and Cast

The plot is familiar: a young woman from a small town dreams of making it big on the New York stage, and, by golly, she does! Samantha Rose is a wonderful Peggy Sawyer, a demure presence with a dynamite voice and powerhouse legs that tap their way to stardom when a twist of fate creates the big chance. But she doesn’t do it alone: she’s part of a group of “kids,” fellow hoof and song aspirants who are betting it all with every step and number. There’s a lot of energy in their camaraderie that fills the room.

Billy Lawlor (Nikita Burshteyn)

Everyone in the cast is a fine performer, with special thrills given by Nikita Burshteyn as the wannabe beau Billy Lawlor, DC Scarpelli as the producer-with-a-heart Julian Marsh, and Marisa Cozart as the capable but fun stage manager Maggie Jones. All of the large cast deserves big applause.

We're in the Money!

This production is the result of a lot of work and it is amazing to see the young performers keep such lively rhythm and precision. The live music is fun but there were times the band could have used more practice.

42nd Street is a perfect show to see as a respite from holiday and other worldly stress. When you leave the theater, you may just want to tap dance your way down Geary to Union Square to get a little holiday spirit.



42nd Street

Music by Harry Warren; Lyrics by Al Dubin; Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble

Direction by Daren A.C. Carollo
Choreography by Matthew McCoy
Musical Direction by Jon Gallo

ALCAZAR THEATRE
650 GEARY STREET
SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94102

CAST

Samantha Rose, Peggy Sawyer
Nikita Burshteyn, Billy Lawlor
Laurie Strawn, Dorothy Brock
DC Scarpelli, Julian Marsh
Marisa Cozart, Maggie Jones
John Brown, Bert Berry
Venis Goodman, Abner Dillon
Zach Padlo, Andy Lee/ M Ens
Peter Budinger, Pat Denning
Kevin Singer, Mac/Thug/Doctor
John Charles Quimpo, Oscar/M Ens
Janet Wiggins, Annie
Hilary McQuaide, Lorraine
Catrina Manahan, Phyllis
Danielle Cheiken, Ensemble/Dance Captain
BriAnne Martin, Ensemble
Lindsey Meyer, Ensemble
Alyson Chilton, Ensemble
Leslie Waggoner, Ensemble
RJ San Jose, Ensemble
Carlos Guerrero, Ensemble

ARTISTIC TEAM

Daren A.C. Carollo, Director
Matthew McCoy, Choreographer
Jon Gallo, Musical Director
Daren A.C. Carollo/Matthew McCoy, Scenic Design
Brooke Jennings, Costume Design
Courtney Johnson, Lighting Design
Wayne Roadie, Prop Design
Anton Hedman, Sound Design
Barry  Despenza, Sound Board Op
Jackie Dennis, Wig Design
Ryan Weinstock, Stage Manager
Wayne Roadie, Assnt. Stage Manager
Richard Gutierrez, Wardrobe Master
Stewart Lyle, Technical Director
Clay David, Scenic Artist


ORCHESTRA

Sonja Lindsay, Trumpet
Jeremy Carrillo, Trombone
Larry De La Cruz, Woodwinds
Will Berg, Woodwinds
Keith Leung, Woodwinds
Kyle Wong, Bass
Randy Hood, Drums
Jon Gallo, Keyboard/Conductor

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Small Mouth Sounds: Six Characters in Search of...

Small Mouth Sounds

Written by Bess Wohl
Directed by Rachel Chavkin

A.C.T's Strand Theater
1127 Market St, San Francisco
www.act-sf.org
October 11- December 10 2017

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Small Mouth Sounds at A.C.T Strand Theater begins with a serene, stark room with six chairs in a row, a simple setting not unlike Spirit Rock or Green Gulch. Soon, the chairs are filled with people who awkwardly try to communicate without speaking as they gesture, smile, shrug, giggle. We soon learn that they have come to a silent retreat, with the only voice being that of the guru, the unseen Teacher as he explains the rules of schedule and expectations in a lilting, soothing, unplaced accent.

Retreat Attendees: Ned (Ben Beckley); Alicia (Brenna Plughi); Jan (Connor Barrett); Rodney (Edward Chin-Lyn); Judy (Cherene Snow); Joan (Socorro Santiago)

The retreat is silent, but the characters soon reveal their own internal noise, the noise of disappointment, failed relationships, grief, confusion, regret, curiosity. Like a memorable silent film, the real punch is packed without words.

The silence is a wonderfully engaging and effective device by playwright Bess Wohl in that it sparks the curiosity, anticipation, and ultimately catharsis of the audience. It’s fun getting to know the characters, all superbly cast. There’s Ned, the intellectual worrier on edge with his own vulnerability, captured so earnestly by Ben Beckley.
Ned (Ben Beckley)
Joan (Socorro Santiago) and Judy (Cherene Snow) are partners who learn to at last listen to each other during the silent retreat. Edward Chin-Lyn endows his character Rodney, a minor celebrity in yoga circles, with a bodily presence as lithe and strong as a big cat and an ego to match. (The small mouth sound that Joan utters upon seeing him is pretty funny.)
Ned (Ben Beckley) and Rodney (Edward Chin-Lyn)
Then there’s Alicia, a complex bundle of nerves, tears and raw emotion so convincingly played by Brenna Plughi that you just want to comfort her.
Alicia (Brenna Plughi) and Ned (Ben Beckley)
To me, the most intriguing character is Jan, a sad enigma so in need of a voice for his pain, compassionately rendered by Connor Barrett.
Jan (Connor Barrett)
All of these characters are confined within the rules of the retreat, guided by the voice of the Teacher (Orville Mendoza) who, even after leading countless retreats, is still grappling with his personal challenges. Imagine Sartre’s No Exit with deep belly breathing and mindful intentions.

Gradually, we get glimpses of each character’s history of pain, loss, stress, confusion. Each has his or her own wants; each hopes for answers to unrealized questions.

Director Rachel Chavkin brings Wohl’s simple but potent script to life, making this production work well on so many levels. The seeming spontaneity of the characters’ interactions is the result of many rehearsals and practiced choreography, with every gesture chosen deliberately. And orchestrating small mouth sounds of the characters to create meaning, humor, emotions, and story is quite an accomplishment.

If you go see Small Mouth Sounds, don’t be surprised if you find yourself a bit changed, or at least wondering.


CAST
Connor Barrett - Jan
Ben Beckley - Ned
Edward Chin-Lyn - Rodney
Orville Mendoza - Teacher
Brenna Palughi - Alicia
Socorro Santiago - Joan
Cherene Snow - Judy

CREATIVE TEAM
Scenic Designer: Laura Jellinek
Costume Designer Tilly Grimes
Lighting Designer: Mike Inwood
Sound Designer: Stowe Nelson
Props Designer: Noah Mease
Video Designer: Andrew Schneider
Associate Director: Lauren Z. Adleman
Production Stage Manager: James Steele
Assistant Stage Manager: Megan McClintock

PHOTOGRAPHY:  T Charles Erickson