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)









Monday, May 21, 2018

The Persistence of Memory


Marjorie Prime

Written by Jordan Harrison
Directed by Ken Sus Schmoll

Until May 27, 2018

Marin Theatre Company
Marintheatre.org

397 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA
415.388.5200


A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for? - Robert Browning

If you want to exceed your grasp, there’s probably an app for that. In a time where technology is woven in the familiar cloth of our daily lives, it’s not implausible to imagine a time, say 2062, where the essence of a person can persist long after the body is gone.

Marjorie Prime (at Marin Theatre Company until May 27) begins with a scenario that is all too familiar to many people: caring for an aging parent whose memory and faculties are fading. In a sparse, office-like living room sits Marjorie, an 86-year-old woman. She faces a crisply-suited, handsome young man perched on the couch. They engage in a simple and predictable conversation that seems to comfort Marjorie while at the same time confusing her. The young man is Walter Prime, a digitally-created derivative of her late husband Walter when he was in his handsome prime, bought by Marjorie’s daughter Tess and her husband Jon in an effort to assuage Marjorie's grief as well as to lighten the load of caretaking.

Marjorie (Joy Carlin) and Walter Prime (Tommy Gorrebeeck)

Joy Carlin is adept at playing aging, frail and somewhat confused Marjorie as well as the precise and curious Marjorie Prime, with subtle differences in stance, movement and speech. Tommy Goorebeeck conveys the paradox of a caring but detached digital presence, his machine learning skills activated to absorb as much data about Walter as possible.


Tess (Julie Eccles) and Jon (Anthony Fusco)

Walter Prime exercises Marjorie’s recall of past events and reminds her to perform activities of daily living, such as eating a tablespoon of peanut butter. He is humanoid enough to irk Tess, who seems to resent his ability to engage Marjorie in ways she cannot. Tess is conflicted internally and externally, a middle-aged woman dealing with her own demons and fears, powerfully played by Julie Eccles. Her husband Jon, patiently portrayed by Anthony Fusco, tries to be supportive of Tess as well as Marjorie but is caught in the middle of problem solving and disappointing reality.

Marjorie’s death is subtly implied, and her space is filled by Marjorie Prime, commissioned by Jon to help Tess through her pain and disconnectedness. Like Walter Prime, Marjorie Prime seems perfect but not enough to keep Tess from the darkness that grips her.

Marjorie Prime explores an eerie but beautiful projection into a timeless, spaceless dimension where digital entities can continue to converse in their finite loops.

Marjorie (Joy Carlin) and Tess (Julie Eccles)

The passage of time in this play happens in the blink of an eye, and you realize that you have journeyed to a time without space and time. MTC’s Marjorie Prime takes us on an important journey through the stages of human grief and the reality that even with slick technology, we cannot escape our human condition.

Marin Theatre Company always goes the extra distance is expanding the spheres of the plays they produce; with Marjorie Prime, the lobby is full of interesting, educational and interactive exhibits about memory, dementia, caregiving, and memory. Try to catch this show before it ends May 27.

CAST
​Joy Carlin*   Marjorie
Julie Eccles* Tess
​Anthony Fusco*  Jon
Walter Thomas Gorrebeeck*

CREATIVE TEAM
​Jordan Harrison Playwright
Ken Rus Schmoll Director
Kimie Nishikawa Set Designer
Michael Palumbo Lighting Designer
Jessie Amoroso Costume Designer
Brendan Aanes Sound Designer

* Denotes member of Actors Equity Association







Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Bugs and the Human Heart

An Entomologist's Love Story

World Premiere
Written by Melissa Ross
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli

May 8 to June 23, 2018

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street San Francisco, CA 94102
sfplayhouse.org  


Reviewed by Christine Okon

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even entomologists with PhDs do it.

And they find out that love’s a bitch.

San Francisco Playhouse brings us another great World Premiere play with Melissa Ross’s  An Entomologist’s Love Story, a smart, delightful, educational, funny and very moving look at love at all levels.

The play begins with an eeewww-inducing big-screen projection of an insect to illustrate a lecture on the sex lives of insects, given by Betty, a PhD-certified entomologist with the NYC Museum of Natural History. Betty has given this talk many times, and even though it strains her adherence to the scientific method she knows and loves, she realizes that sex, after all, sells. With spicy, sardonic wit she narrates slide after slide of the violent world of insect love, where the female often destroys the male after she’s done with him, concluding with everyone’s favorite: the female praying mantis chomping off the head of her partner. Lori Prince's Betty is serious, snarky and borderline frumpy, quick to strike out with a confidence that veils lurking insecurity.

Jeff (Lucas Verbrugghe) and Betty (Lori Prince) in the lab
Betty has studied bugs for years, and science is her life, or at least the only life she has allowed. She has little tolerance for sloppier, unpredictable activities that humans are prone to, like relationships. Her caustic wit, self-containment and knee-jerk hostility protect her like an emotional exoskeleton as she reigns over the lab that she shares with her lab partner of many years, Jeff. Lucas Verbrugghe as Jeff is the perfect foil, likable in his good-guy simplicity as we root for him to withstand Betty’s constant beration and grip. Like the hundreds of insect specimens displayed floor to ceiling (kudos to set designer Nina Ball), Betty assumes she has Jeff pinned and wriggling.

Lindsay (Jessica Lynn Carroll) and Jeff (Lucas Verbrugghe)

There’s a bedbug scare in the city, and a worried young woman named Lindsay (sweetly unassuming and unpretentious) emails the lab to find out what bit her in the night to cause a rash on her leg. Betty punts the query to Jeff, who makes an extra effort to help and eventually meet the young woman. The possibility of a relationship excites Jeff but inflames Betty who launches a salvo of insults about Lindsay; she concludes that Jeff, like most men, only cares about looks and sweetness and that Lindsay is probably a silly and stupid bimbo. Yay for Jeff as he stands up to Betty’s barrage and continues a relationship with Lindsay who insists, while peeking through the lab microscope, that the bug is staring back at her, that it has a face. This is not possible, says Jeff the scientist, but Lindsay persists with the simple question “but how do you know?” a question that's a threshold to other realms of thinking and being. This is what makes the play so wonderful: that it is possible to see beyond the habits of certainty to experience life.

Andy (Will Springhorn Jr.) and Betty (Lori Prince)

Betty later meets Andy, a stranger who has seen her lectures, on a park bench, and quickly retreats into her protective shell by making assumptions about his life and character. Will Springhorn Jr., resembling a young Nick Cage, is superb as Andy who delivers some of the best lines in the play, especially the subjunctive and heartfelt litany of “what if I told you that..” to dispel each of Betty’s assumptions about him. Each character in this love story is richly painted with surprising and delightful character points.

Beautifully directed, An Entomologist’s Love Story bookends with Betty again lecturing, this time about why fireflies blink in the night darkness. Thanks to Kurt Landisman’s beautiful lighting design, those fireflies could just as easily be seen as stars, depending on how you look at it.

Behind the scenes look: https://www.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/2017-2018-season/entomologists-love-story/


An Entomologist's Love Story

CAST
LINDSAY  Jessica Lynn Carroll
BETTY Lori Prince
ANDY  Will Springhorn Jr.
JEFF Lucas Verbrugghe

CREW
PLAYWRIGHT Melissa Ross
DIRECTOR Giovanna Sardelli
SCENIC DESIGNER Nina Ball
COSTUME DESIGNER  Brooke Jennings
SOUND & PROJECTIONS DESIGNER Theodore J.H. Hulsker
LIGHTING DESIGNER Kurt Landisman
PROPERTIES DESIGNER Jacquelyn Scott

Photos by Jessica Palopoli




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.