Friday, August 16, 2019

"Somebody's Baby, Somebody's Child"

52 Letters

Regina Evans and Rashida Chase Photo: Scott Tsuchitani

Written and performed by Regina Evans
Vocals by Rashida Chase

Ubuntu Theater Project
The FLAX Building, 1501 MLK Jr. Way, Oakland, CA

Until August 25, 2019

By Christine Okon

"52 Letters" is more than a play.

It is a prayer, a poem, a cry, and an impassioned call to action to acknowledge a terrible wrong that is all too common yet invisible: the sex trafficking of young girls. Ubuntu Theater Project gives space to artist, activist, and poet Regina Evans to proclaim her message in a stage play that also won the Best of San Francisco Fringe Festival in 2013.

Like an angel of truth, a stunning woman (Rashida Chase) in a regal white dress and headdress enters singing “Motherless Child” with a deep and mournful voice that creates a sanctifying effect sustained throughout the play. Evans begins to tell the stories of young victims, each one “somebody’s baby, somebody’s child.”

Regina Evans Photo: Scott Tsuchitani

As a former victim herself, Evan uses her voice, body, and soul to convey her message, writhing and moaning as if reliving her own nightmare. Poetry flows from her like cleansing water from a deep, natural spring, immersing us in vivid and visceral descriptions of the degradation, suffering, and entrapment of young girls who are abducted, “processed,” and transformed into instruments of profit for their “handlers.” A real horror is how organized and collaborative traffickers are, smoothly moving girls like product from city to city, state to state, country to country. The recent exposure of wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of young girls made the news, revealing that the crime crosses all socioeconomic boundaries. But how many such stories remain invisible and unheard?

Regina Evans and Rashida Chase Photo: Scott Tsuchitani

Like a wise medicine woman who knows the path to healing, Evans traces the journey from the hell of slavery to the hope of renewal. This is her mission in life: to help young girls find their way back to themselves and society. Evans is the founder of Regina’s Door, a non-profit that helps trafficking victims learn new skills in retail and fashion, and she joins in the voices of other organizations dedicated to helping young victims.

Each performance of "52 Letters" is followed by a guest speaker from one such organization. For example, former victim Sarai Mazariegos tells us that “we don’t sit on our trauma,” meaning that the goal of the S.H.A.D.E. movement she founded is to help victims realize their power to “thrive, not just survive.”

Many more organizations exist, and "52 Letters" urges us to not only learn about the reality of sex trafficking but to take action to help. In this way, theater can indeed be an instrument of change.


"52 Letters," written and performed by Regina Evans at Ubuntu Theater Project, The FLAX Building, Oakland, CA, through Sunday, August 25, 2019. , Info: ubuntutheaterproject.com/letters

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Come to This Cabaret

Cabaret


John Paul Gonzalez and Dancers Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Book by Joe Masteroff; Based on the play by John Van Druten 
and Stories by Christopher Isherwood; Music by John Kander; Lyrics by Fred Ebb

Directed by Susi Damilano
San Francisco Playhouse

Until September 14, 2019

By Christine Okon

I saw “Cabaret” about 10 years ago at San Francisco Playhouse in a powerful production that showed how joy could be decimated by encroaching, fascistic powers that be. “Good thing we’re not in Nazi Germany,” I thought naively ruminating on the history lesson of how a whole country changed.

How the world has changed, with our democracy threatened from within as never before. In San Francisco Playhouse’s current production of the musical “Cabaret,” a subtle pulse of apprehension about the growing swell of fascism before WWII beats with the fabulous music about the lives of people in “a city called Berlin in a country called Germany and it was the end of the world.”

John Paul Gonzalez and Dancers Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Like a thousand moths beating their wings madly before the light goes out, this “Cabaret” is rich with story, dance, and songs of dark irony and warm poignancy. The scenic design (Jacqueline Scott) transforms the theater into the decadent Kit Kat Klub where the devious-trickster Master of Ceremonies (John Paul Gonzalez) insists that you can “leave your troubles outside” because “in here, life is beautiful...”  The Cabaret Girls, Cabaret Boys, and emcee raise the heart rate with "Willkommen" to show they are “happy to see you..” Fosse-inspired choreography by Nicole Helfer and the live music directed by Dave Dobrusky spark every dance number, and all of the dancers are decadently precise in their movements.

Kit Kat Klub Dancers Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Clifford Bradshaw (a gentle and convincing Atticus Shaindlin) rides the train into Berlin where he hopes to make his mark as a novelist. He is befriended by the uber-suave, powerful German businessman Ernst Ludwig (Will Springhorn Jr.); with a smile on his face and ice in his veins, Springhorn embodies a dispassionate character who later turns dangerous.

Ernst takes Cliff under his wing and finds him a place to stay at the run-down boarding house of Fräulein Schneider (Jennie Brick). In many ways, the real story of "Cabaret" is the story of Fräulein Schneider, an ordinary German woman way past any semblance of youth, who must “learn how to settle” for what she gets, bemoaning that “it will all go on if we’re here or not / So who cares? / So what? / So Who Cares?”

Jennie Blick and Louis Parnell Photo: Jessica Palopoli

If you wonder how a “whole nation” could support Hitler, consider Fräulein Schneider’s choice between resistance and resilience. Jenny Brick brings a fullness to Fräulein Schneider; even the ill-fitting wig is in character to present a woman just trying to keep it together. Fräulein Schneider is courted by the sweet Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz who woos her with gifts of sweet Italian oranges and other delights. Louis Parnell is a lovable Schultz, and as the two grow in love for each other we root for them as they begin to choose happiness over loneliness.

One of the tenants is Fräulein Kost (a lithe and strong Mary Kalita). She has many visitors, mostly sailors, who are all somehow “related.” Although Schneider clucks disapproval, she must look the other way or else lose the rent money. Kost shows up later as the dangerous arm candy of Ernst as he sports a swastika armband. She sings the rousing nationalist theme “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” as well as a loving “Heirat”  but also casually informs Ernst of Herr Schulze’s religion. Things turn ugly and the audience is filled with dread as arms are raised in the Nazi salute before intermission.

At the Kit Kat Klub, Cliff meets Sally Bowles, the British expat headliner of the cabaret show. Melissa WolfKlain creates an energetic Sally with a strong, moving voice that brings a lot of heart to the role. It's exciting to watch her lead the Kit Kat Klub dancers in a knockout, acrobatic "Mein Herr" complete with teetering chairs and floor-slapping. When Sally sings the final song "Cabaret," it is not as a joyful invitation to fun, but a sad, ironic reference to just the opposite. Watching WolfKlain in this scene is like watching a wounded creature dying, robbed of hope, and trapped in a stillborn dream.

Ambiguity and contradictions thread through the story. So many things hang in the balance between male-female, neighbor-enemy, trust-suspicion, poverty-wealth, compliance-power. This "Cabaret" taps into a dark desperation that transcends its time to convey the fear and  uncertainty of living on the brink of change.

"Cabaret," Book by Joe Masteroff; based on the play by John Van Druten and Stories by Christopher Isherwood; Music by John Kander; Lyrics by Fred Ebb, directed by Susi Damilano, San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., San Francisco, through September 14, 2019. Info: sfplayhouse.org

CAST
Jennie Brick* as Fräulein Schneider
John Paul Gonzalez as Emcee
Carlos Guerrero as Victor
Mary Kalita as Fräulein Kost
Melissa Wolfklain* as Sally Bowles
Zachary Isen as Bobby
Jean-Paul Jones as Texas
Nicole Helfer* as Frenchie
Louis Parnell* as Herr Schultz
Atticus Shaindlin* as Clifford Bradshaw
Will Springhorn Jr.* as Ernst Ludwig
Zoë Swenson-Graham as Helga
Shaun Leslie Thomas as Max
Joe Ayers as Rosie

*Member, Actor's Equity

CREATIVE TEAM
Susi Damilano  DIRECTOR
Dave Dobrusky MUSIC DIRECTOR
Nicole Helfer  CHOREOGRAPHER
Jacquelyn Scott  SCENIC & PROPERTIES DESIGNER
Abra Berman  COSTUME DESIGNER
Michael Oesch  LIGHTING DESIGNER
Teddy Hulsker SOUND DESIGNER
Laundra Tyme  WIG DESIGNER



Saturday, July 27, 2019

Dreamscapes of Mortality

Escaped Alone and
Here We Go


By Caryl Churchill

Directed by Robert Estes

Anton’s Well Theatre Company 
At Thousand Oaks Baptist Church, 1821 Catalina Ave., Berkeley

Until August 3, 2019. (Thursdays-Saturdays, with additional performance on Wednesday, July 31, all 7:30) 

By Christine Okon

Robert Estes, director of Anton’s Well Theatre Company, has chosen to produce two of Caryl Churchill’s later short plays "Escaped Alone” and “Here We Go" because they “so acutely chart our shared future.”

Victorian Skull Illusion

“Escaped Alone” brings to mind the Victorian image that shows either two women talking or a skull, depending on how it is viewed. Church presents a bifurcated reality of chit-chat among old friends against graphic descriptions of apocalyptic devastation and horror.

The audience waits in a small outdoor garden; there’s a waterless fountain and hummingbirds cruise the red flowers on the bushes.

Three women--Vi (Jenn Lucas), Sally (Jan Carty Marsh), and Lena (Susannah Wood) enter, sit down, and begin to engage in the ordinary, friendly banter of old friends. A fourth woman, Mrs. Jarrett (Marsha Van Broek), joins the group but seems uncomfortable. She faces the audience and describes an appalling and terrifying scenario of death, violence, and destruction; this is what the world has come to.  She then joins the other women in their conversation about daily routines, gossip, and pleasantries. All four sing The Beatles’ "Help," united in giddy familiarity with a tune from their youth until Mrs. Jarrett describes more horror, and the personal, bizarre crises of the women are revealed.

Sally is extraordinarily paranoid about her cat and is heading for a breakdown. Another talks fearfully about gunshots. All are traumatized somehow, yet they shift back into mundane chatter mode. To Churchill, images are visual morphemes to be interpreted as one would try to make sense of a strange dream.

Sound effects (e.g., meowing, explosions, or guns firing) were distracting and should have been used sparingly, if at all. Still, “Escaped Alone” reminds us of how easy it is to become inured to the global horrors we are exposed to every day.

Jenn Lucas & Jan Carty Marsh in ESCAPED ALONE Photo: Jay Yamada

After a brief intermission, the audience moves indoors for the next play,  “Here We Go.” The title alone connotes either enthusiasm or resignation. There are three scenes, each a study of the experience and reality of death and dying.

The first scene presents eight mourners at a post-funeral party chatting about their lives and reminiscing about the dearly departed man, who wanders among the crowd unseen yet wanting to participate. As each mourner steps forward to state how and when they later died, we are put on Churchill’s time-space continuum where past, present, and future are blurred, and existential finality underscores the most ordinary conversations.

Abe Bernstein in HERE WE GO Photo: Anton's Well Theatre Company

In “After,” a dead woman fretfully ruminates on death, dying, the afterlife and the meaning of existence but receives no answer. Words, even if philosophical, are empty in a vacuum.

The last scene, "Getting There," is the most moving and beautiful, with no words at all.  A caretaker in scrubs (Jan Carty Marsh) assists an old, frail,  woman (Alison Sacha Ross) in a hospital gown. The woman has long, flowing, gray hair, and she is tiny, almost melted away. Her body language denotes intense pain. The caretaker combs the woman’s hair and gives a sponge bath in a routine that is repeated a few times during the scene. Although the caretaker is simply doing her job, the patient relishes the act as a delicious, tactile respite from suffering and a moment of connection with another living being. When the caretaker moves across the room, the woman reaches forward in longing as if begging for the moment to last longer. Gradually, the caretaker becomes more involved and exhibits fondness, and the emotional intensity is profound and visceral. The two actors become one entity of empathy, and their interaction is remarkable to observe.

Both "Escaped Alone” and “Here We Go" are contemplations and meditations rich with images, talk, and the simple gift of presence, making for a quiet yet disturbing night of theater.


"Escaped Alone” and “Here We Go" by Caryl Churchill, directed by Robert Estes of Anton’s Well Theatre Company, at Thousand Oaks Baptist Church in Berkeley. Through Saturday, August 3, 2019. Info: antonswell.org



Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Translating the Language of the Heart

The Language Archive



By Julia Cho
Directed by Jeffrey Lo
Lucie Sterm Theatre, Palo Alto

Until August 4, 2019

By Christine Okon

Here’s a sobering fact from UNESCO: of the 7,000 living languages in the world, more than half will be extinct by the end of the century. In urgent response to the dilemma, many people dedicate their lives to the study and preservation of such languages.

In Julia Cho’s “The Language Archive,” George (Jomar Tagatec) is a linguist so immersed in the study of dying languages that he is oblivious to his wife Mary’s (Elena Wright) attempts to communicate. These two are not the kind of people who finish each other’s sentences, and it seems that one's signal is the other’s noise. For example, Mary leaves little desperate notes for George and cries continuously in her unhappiness, while George is befuddled by her actions. How did these two ever get married?

Jomar Tagatac and Elena Wright Photo: Alessandra Mello

When the last two remaining speakers of the dying language Elloway agree to visit from a far-off and unspecified country, George looks forward to fulfilling his research by capturing their conversation in their native language. He is surprised when his guests Resten (Francis Jue) and Alta (Emily Kuroda), an old married couple, bicker about trivial things in English because, as Alta explains, “it is the language of anger.” Jue and Kuroda are as funny and practiced as an old vaudeville team as they shake up George’s, and our, expectations. Costume designer Noah Marin must have had a lot of fun dressing Resten and Alta in the motley and colorful items of clothing from a far-away land.

Francis Jue and Emily Kuroda Photo: Alessandra Mello

George, upset that his study is straying from protocol, tries to steer his subjects toward his ends. The concept of love is brought up, with George fretting in “analysis paralysis” while Resten and Alta define their bond as simply not being able to imagine living without the other person. Cho’s poetric gifts infuse “The Language Archive," illuminating how language gives voice to the heart. 

The give-and-take and sad breakdowns of communication form a delicate cat’s cradle among the characters. George thinks compiling a CD of “I Love You” in dying languages will win Mary back, but she leaves him to nourish an unfulfilled longing for her own life and passion. George’s assistant Emma (Adrienne Katori Walters) is his work-wife of sorts and strives to demonstrate her love by learning Esperanto, his favorite language. Torn by conflicting but unexpressed feelings, Tagatac delivers a heartbreaking portrayal of a man who cannot even communicate with himself.

L-R Elena Wright, Jomar Tagatac, Francis Jue, Emily Kuroda, Adrienne Kaori Walters
Photo: Alessandra Mello

Justifiably exuberant with winning the 2019 Regional Theatre Tony Award, Theatreworks Silicon Valley begins its 50th season with this play. Even though “The Language Archive” has ingredients for a perfect production: superb cast, smooth direction by Jeffrey Lo, an evocative and versatile set (Andrea Bechert), poignant music and sound (Sinan Refik Zefar), it was hard to connect with the characters except for Resten and Alta, who seemed to be the only ones who had self-awareness. The beautiful image of Resten and Alta after death becoming  “two trees whose leaves whisper to each other all day long” lingers long after the play ends, hinting at what real communication is all about.

"The Language Archive" by Julio Cho, directed by Jeffery Lo, Theatreworks Silicon Valley at the Lucie Stern Theater, Palo Alto, through August 4, 2019.
Info: theatreworks.org or call (650) 463-1960

CAST
George  Jomar Tagatac
Mary  Elena Wright
Emma  Adrienne Kaori Walters
Alta and others  Emily Kuroda
Resten and others  Francis Jue

CREATIVE TEAM
Playwright  Julia Cho
Director  Jeffrey Lo
Scenic Designer  Andrea Bechert
Costume Designer  Noah Marin
Sound Designer  Sinan Refik Zafar

Friday, July 12, 2019

This "Hairspray" Has Bounce and Shine

Hairspray


Cassie Grilley and Company Photo: Ben Krantz Studio

Music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan; based on the 1988 film of the same name by John Waters

Directed by Matthew McCoy

Bay Area Musicals
Victoria Theater, San Francisco

Until August 11, 2019

By Christine Okon

Long ago, my mother would take me to get a wash, set and styling for next to nothing at the local beauty school. The student would grab her can of Aqua Net hairspray as I squeezed my eyes shut and held my breath as the ssshhhh buzzed around my ears, and small sticky droplets hit my neck.  Hairspray was the essential, bubblegum fix for the instant glamour of beehives, bouffants, and big hair.

Bay Area Musicals (BAM) has launched a high-powered, fun show with the musical "Hairspray.”  Under the direction of Matthew McCoy, BAM performers, in any show they put on, always exude commitment and enthusiasm, and this show is no different.

"Hairspray," set in 1962 when times were about to be a-changin’, follows the sweet and “pleasingly plump” teenager Tracy Turnblad (a big-haired and bubbly Cassie Grilley) as she celebrates her life in Baltimore, “where every day is an open door,” and dreams of meeting and marrying Link Larkin, the handsomest dancer on the Corny Collins (a slippery and suave Scott Taylor-Cole) after school dance show. Tracy and her best friend Penny Pingleton (a remarkably versatile Melissa  Momboisse) squeal and wriggle as they watch the show on the small black and white television in the Turnblad living room. With her “radio and hairspray,” Tracy can take on the world, which indeed she does.

Dave J. Abrams and Company Photo: Ben Krantz Studio

This musical beats like the heart of a teenage girl dancing to songs, joys, challenges and triumphs. From beginning to end, the stage is full of action and surprises with dance numbers that keep on coming. You feel that sweet anticipation for the next 45 rpm to drop down the spindle rack and hit the turntable.

Jon Gallo and musicians adeptly travel the musical allusions that range from doo-wop, girl band, surf, and Trudy’s favorite: rhythm and blues and soul, which Corny Collins plays once a week on “Negro Day” when local black kids take the floor.  As lead dancer Seaweed J. Stubbs, Dave Abrams lights up the stage with his moves, flips and grinds in “Run and Tell That.”

Sarah Sloan and Lauren Meyer Photo: Ben Krantz Studi

When Tracy asks innocently why Negroes can’t dance every day with the white kids, she unveils the racism and snobbery of the show’s producer Velma Von Tussle (Sarah Sloan) who, with her equally vacuous and pink-chiffon-dressed daughter Amber (Lauren Meyer). will stop at nothing to do the white, er, right thing to protect the status quo. It’s as if she were using the show’s sponsor “Ultra-Clutch Hairspray” to keep flyaway hair, times, behavior, rules and mores in place.

Tracy’s eyes and consciousness are widened by Motormouth Maybelle (Elizabeth Jones), a “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” black woman in shimmering blue lame and sequins (cheers to costume designer Brooke Jennings). When Jones belts out “I Know Where I’ve Been,” I felt as if I were at a leap-to-your-feet church celebration.

Elizabeth Jones Photo: Ben Krantz


With “Welcome to the 60’s,” Tracy urges her mother Edna Turnblad, who has not left the house since 1951, to take chances. Scott DiLorenzo fills out Edna’s housedress adequately but needs to create a more convincing mother-daughter bond of affection.

Although the miking had problems opening night, BAM brings another fun night at the theater. When the audience leaps up to join the actors in the final number “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” everyone dances out the history lesson that teaches that for true change to happen, “just to sit still would be a sin.”

"Hairspray" by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, directed by Matthew McCoy of Bay Area Musicals at The Victoria Theatre, San Francisco, through Sunday, August 11, 2019. Info: bamsf.org

CAST
Cassie Grilley, Tracy Turnblad
Melissa Momboisse, Penny Pingleton
Scott DiLorenzo, Edna Turnblad
Kamren Mahaney, Link Larkin
Elizabeth Jones, Motormouth Maybelle
*Dave Abrams, Seaweed J. Stubbs
Kennedy Williams, Little Inez
Paul Plain, Wilbur Turnblad
Lauren Meyer, Amber Von Tussle
Sarah Sloan, Velma Von Tussle
Scott Taylor-Cole, Corny Collins
Bonnie Lafer, Prudy Pingleton/Others
Kim Larsen, Principal/Male Authority
Stephen Kanaski, Brad
Ronald James, Fender
Emma Sutherland, Brenda
Brendan Looney, Sketch
Claire Pearson, Tammy
Steven McCloud, I.Q.
Peli Naomi Woods, Detention Kid/Dynamite
Smita Patibanda, Detention Kid/Dynamite
Chanel Tilghman, Detention Kid/Dynamite
April Deutschle, Detention Kid
Carlos Carrillo, Detention Kid
Zoe Hodge, Detention Kid
Ajay Prater, Detention Kid

*Appears courtesy of Actor’s Equity Association   

ARTISTIC TEAM
Matthew McCoy, Director/Choreographer
Jon Gallo, Musical Director
Leslie Waggoner, Assnt. Choreographer
Cat Knight, Stage Manager
Andie Fanelli, Assnt. Stage Manager
Lynn Grant, Set Designer
Brooke Jennings, Costume Designer
Eric Johnson, Lighting Designer
Anton Hedman, Sound Engineer
Jackie Dennis, Wig Designer
Matthew McCoy/Cat Knight, Prop Designers
Richard Gutierrez, Wardrobe Master
Stewart Lyle, Technical Director

ORCHESTRA
Sonja Lindsay, Trumpet
William Berg, Woodwinds
Adam Hughes, Guitar
Kyle Wong, Bass
Dominic Moisant, Drums
Jon Gallo, Keyboard/Conductor


Sunday, June 30, 2019

Quantum Dragon Breathes Fire into Bradbury Classic

Fahrenheit 451


Dorian Lockett as Beatty Photo: Morgan Finley King

By Ray Bradbury

Directed by Sam Tillis

Quantum Dragon Theatre
Potrero Stage / 1695 18th St, San Francisco

Until July 7, 2019

By Christine Okon

In 1953, Ray Bradbury wrote the novel Fahrenheit 451 to first lament McCarthy-era suppression of free thought and later to sound the alarm about mass media’s threat to reading literature. Although Marshall McLuhan called television “medium cool,” Bradbury’s story reveals how easily everything that defines a person--and society--can go up in flames. It’s especially relevant today in a global digital world that displaces discourse with sound bites, soul searching for quick Google results, and logic with Twitter rants. Does anyone have time to think?

Quantum Dragon Theater (one of four theaters in the country dedicated to science fiction and fantasy theater) brings a tight, intense and profoundly moving production of "Fahrenheit 451" to the Potrero Stage. Sam Tillis directs a wonderful ensemble cast in Ray Bradbury's own adaptation of his novel, with the ending inspired by Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film version.

In the distant future, the act of reading books threatens government control and is therefore a punishable crime. To enforce the law, firemen are dispatched as needed to destroy books by starting fires. Don’t like a particular point of view? Burn the book. Upset by the emotions stirred by reading? Burn the book. Why not make it easy and burn every book? (Substitute “burn the book” with “block or delete” to see how it relates to digital life.)

Guy Montag is a fireman not quite happy with his job, or his life for that matter. Ron Chapman gives us a Montag who is a somewhat confused dreamer who drifted into his occupation without thought and is just now realizing how it consumes him. He’s challenged and intrigued by his bright and questioning neighbor Clarisse (Emily Dwyer) who has the fierce cunning of a French Resistance fighter. His mind sparked by curiosity, Montag goes home to see his wife Mildred (Emily Corbo) once again asleep on the couch; even when awake, she can communicate only in terms of meaningless TV shows and drugs. He begins to realize that something is wrong with this picture, and thus begins a shift in his blind compliance to authority.

Emily Corbo and Ron Chapman Photo: Morgan Finley King

As Fire Captain Beatty, Dorian Lockett brings us a remarkable, sardonic character who heightens ordinary discourse with literary allusions that fly over the heads of his underlings (Melanie Marshall, James Aaron Oh). Like many people, he had long ago taken the job of fireman as a matter of survival only to become engulfed in the dangerous mediocrity of its responsibility. Lockett delivers an amazing 13-page monolog to paint the story of a man who revered books before he was forced to forsake discovery for destruction, details over headlines, and prattle over discussion. He is a man in despair.

Melanie Marshall, James Aaron Oh, Dorian Lockett Photo: Morgan Finley King

Beatty smokes a pipe that emits the sweet scent of a glowing fireplace, adding olfactory enhancement to the experience. Smells are suggested in other scenes, as when an elderly woman (Annette Oliveira) presses her nose into a book as if it were a baby’s belly, or when Montag describes the rich odor of kerosene. Strategic lighting to suggest fire and screaming alarms add to the multi-sensory drama.

Montag begins to revere books as sacred objects when he realizes they are written by individuals. He moves away from his soul-killing work toward self-discovery with the help of old Professor Faber (Annette Oliveira) who quotes lines from books to Montag via a tiny earpiece. Montag’s resolve is rewarded when he encounters a renegade tribe of book-lovers who have memorized the works of Dickens, Melville, Dostoevsky and others to protect them via oral tradition, not unlike the origins of language itself.  Montag realizes he is home at last as he is welcomed by these guardians of literature, and there is a feeling of hope in the embers.

After turning off my phone before the play began, I was in no hurry to turn it on again when the play ended. There was just so much to think about, and the digital realm could wait.

"Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, directed by Sam Tillis of Quantum Dragon Theatre at The Potrero Stage, San Francisco, through Sunday, July 7, 2019. Info: quantumdragon.org

CAST
Beatty...Dorian Lockett*
Montag...Ron Chapman
Mildred...Emily Corbo
Clarisse...Emily Dwyer
Black/First Paramedic/Helen...Melanie Marshall
Holden/Second Paramedic/Alice...James Aaron Oh
Hudson/Faber...Annette Oliveira
Aristotle...Crystal Why
Tolkien...Lucianne Colón
Dostoevsky...Christine Sheppard
Saint-Exupéry...Willow Mae
Carroll...Jacinta Sutphin
Plato...Omar Osoria-Peña
Melville...Ray Dequina
Stevenson...Abe Bernstein
*Appears with the special permission of Actors' Equity Association.

PRODUCTION TEAM
Director...Sam Tillis
Stage Manager…Annie Tillis
Set Design...Katie Whitcraft
Master Builder…Karl Haller
Lighting Design...Sara Saavedra
Sound Design…Larry Tasse
Costume Design...Marisely Cortes & Emily Dwyer
Properties Design...Miles Callan
Projection Design...Colin Johnson
Poster Design...Marisa Darabi
Promotional Photography…Morgan Finley King



Monday, June 17, 2019

A Rhino Walks Into a Bar...

Rhinoceros

Eugène Ionesco Drawing by George Chialtis

by Eugène Ionesco

Translated by Derek Prouse
Directed by Frank Galati

A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, San Francisco

Until June 23, 2019

By Christine Okon

If “fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong,” a whole town turning into rhinoceroses should be no big deal. Unless you’re Berenger, the only man who stands alone against a growing stampede of conformity in Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist classic “Rhinoceros” at A.C.T. until June 23, 2019.

Director Frank Galati has unleashed his Asolo Theatre production in San Francisco where it goes on a rampage of hilarity and surprise. Although the play is said to be inspired by Ionesco’s reaction to how quickly his supposedly intellectual friends embraced Fascism, “Rhinoceros” is a fun circus of puppetry, mime, clowning, vaudeville, and ingenious set and sound design where a huge rhinoceros sits upstage like, well, an elephant in the room and people react with shock, awe, or skepticism as the beasts take over the town.

Jomar Tagatac, Danny Scheie, David Breitbarth, Rona Figueroa, Teddy Spencer, Trish Mulholland
Photo: Kevin Berne

Berenger (David Breitbarth) and Gene (Matt DeCaro) are two friends in a somewhat dysfunctional relationship, where Gene berates Berenger for his drinking, slovenliness, and timidity while Berenger tries to keep hold of his sanity and dream of winning over his coworker Daisy (Rona Figueroa). It’s a joy to watch Breitbarth and DeCaro play off each other like practiced vaudevillians or dancers engaged in conversations that go nowhere. Using only his body, expressions, and voice, DeCaro masterfully sculpts the illusion of a man indeed actually turning into a rhinoceros while his loyal friend Berenger reacts like a concerned parent nursing a child with a fever.

Matt DeCaro and David Breitbarth Photo: Kevin Berne

The whole town is literally shaken by the onslaught of the strange, powerful creatures, and so is the A.C.T. stage as a rhino trapped in the basement bashes through the floor, howling and bellowing (thanks to Joseph Cerqua’s sound design). When a frantic Mrs. Boeuf (hilarious Trish Mulholland) recognizes her husband-turned-rhino, she reaches out to him and later rides off on a rollicking rump of amazing stagecraft.

David Breitbarth and Trish Mulholland Photo: Kevin Berne

Soon everyone is joining Team Rhino, with some gradually changing while others, like Mr. Dudard, played with geeky self-constraint by Teddy Spencer, take a huge leap of faith. And why not join the rhinoceroses? They are singing, having fun, being together. They’re strong and powerful. The only one who us not enticed is Berenger who exclaims “I will never capitulate!” By the end of the play, one wonders whether it’s worth it to stay a Berenger.

David Breitbarth Photo: Kevin Berne

Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” ("No, I do not regret anything") is played throughout as a type of theme song, appropriate for someone who’s made  a decision one way or the other and resists change.

Rhinoceros” by Eugene Ionesco, directed by Frank Galati, at A.C.T. Geary Theater, San Francisco, through Sunday, June 23, 2019. Info: act-sf.org


CAST
David Breitbarth -- Berenger
Matt DeCaro --Gene
Rona Figueroa -- Daisy
Trish Mulholland -- Mrs. Boeuf
Göran Norquist -- Marcel
Danny Scheie -- Mr. Papillon
Lauren Spencer -- Collette
Teddy Spencer -- Mr. Dudard
Jomar Tagatac -- Mr. Botard

CREATIVE TEAM
Author -- Eugène Ionesco
Translator -- Derek Prouse
Director -- Frank Galati
Scenic and Costume Designer -- Robert Perdziola
Lighting Designer -- Chris Lundahl
Sound Designer & Original Music -- Joseph Cerqua
Vocal Coach -- Christine Adaire
Movement Coach -- Danyon Davis
Dramaturg  -- Joy Meads

The actors and stage managers employed in this production are members of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.