Sunday, May 19, 2019

Bloodthirsty and Bespoke

American Psycho: The Musical


Patrick (Kipp Glass) and Ensemble Photo: Nick Otto

Music & Lyrics by Duncan Sheik
Book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Ray of Light Theatre
Victoria Theater / 2961 16th St / SF

Until June 8, 2019

By Christine Okon

Obsession with winning at all costs.  The need to be the center of attention and alpha male at all times. Ruthless competitiveness that wrecks the lives of others. Solipsistic grandiosity. Dangerous. Does this guy sound familiar?

No, not that guy. But close.

From the start, Ray of Light Theatre's production of American Psycho: The Musical  hurtles us into the late 1980s MTV-frenzied world of 26-year-old Wall Street investment banker Patrick Bateman, where appearance trumps substance, greed is good, and one’s purpose in life is to crush the competition at all costs. Underneath the smooth and suave exterior is a psychopath with bottomless bloodlust for getting what he wants and wanting what he can’t get. Like Showtime's serial killer "Dexter," Patrick manages to hide the monster behind a human disguise.

Patrick (Kipp Glass) on a "Killing Spree" Photo: Nick Otto

And with this premise American Psycho takes us on a wild and darkly satirical ride through the world of Patrick Bateman.

Inspired by the 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis and 2000 film starring Christian Bale, American Psycho: The Musical premiered in London in 2013 and came to Broadway in 2016 where it closed after only 27 previews and 54 regular performances, although it captured two Tony Awards for the projection design and lighting which inspired this current production directed by Jason Hoover.

Ray of Light has done great justice to the sadly underacknowledged music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik and book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and gives the audience one hell of an aerobic workout to an incessant 80s dance beat and adrenaline rush of fear. From the exquisite, precise dancers who recreate the technology-infused 80s to the top-notch singing, this production is as good as it gets.

We are thrown into the world of “what it means to be Patrick Bateman” as he does the “Morning Routine” that keeps him in lean, mean fighting form. Kipp Glass is the perfect Patrick, a mix of sleek disdain, inordinate self-assuredness, and designer-perfect looks. In “Selling Out,” he revels in how easily he gets others to buy whatever he’s selling. His supreme egotism is captured in “Not a Common Man”: “There are gods, there are kings / I’m pretty sure I’m the same thing. / Beyond boundaries, beyond rules...” Kipp is a sharklike pro who easily swims between his cool exterior to inner sadist.

Melinda Campero, Danielle Altizio, Desiree Juanes, Madeline Lambie, Kirstin Louie, Jill Jacobs Photo: Nick Otto

Patrick sees himself as the biggest and only star in a universe where others are mere satellites obsessed with looking good, and better than others, at all costs. In “You Are What You Wear,” the women prance around a party and flaunt their fashion choices: “I'm with Prada / I'm with Gucci / Missoni, Versace, / Which one is best? / The guys just buzz, / Do I look underdressed?” As Patrick’s self-absorbed fiance Evelyn who sees marriage to Patrick as a another prize to acquire, Danielle Altizio brings a convincing and shimmering shallowness to the character. Evelyn’s opposite is Jean (Zoey Lytle), Patrick’s executive assistant who holds an innocent love for him, seeing substance where Evelyn sees style. Lytle sings “In the Air Tonight” in a moving and mournful solo, and the more we learn about Patrick, the more we fear for her.

Patrick’s male coworkers are equally obsessed with appearance, captured in “Cards” where the choice of font and paper for a business card, that immediate indicator of power and status, is critical because “The question isn't what's in a name, but what it's printed on.”

Kyle Ewalt as Paul Owen Photo: Nick Otto

When Patrick finds out that his rival Paul Owen (Kyle Ewalt) not only wins the prized Fisher account, can get a reservation at the elite restaurant Dorsia, AND has a better looking business card, the inner monster flashes his teeth. When Patrick invites Paul to his apartment before both attend a party, both men dance to “Hip to Be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News, and Ewalt, all legs and arms, shows his moves like a Gumby-Michael Jackson machine. When Patrick raises “cutthroat competition” with Paul to bloody Grand Guignol, we are shocked just in time to take an intermission breather.

This American Psycho: The Musical features superb choreography (Leslie Waggoner), costumes (Katie Dowe), set design (Angrette McCloskey), sound design (Jerry Girard), lighting (Weili Shi) and video projection (Erik Scanlon), showing that Ray of Light is on its way to becoming even brighter. It’s an experience to die for.


American Psycho: The Musical
Music & Lyrics by Duncan Sheik
Book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Ray of Light Theatre
Victoria Theater

Until June 8, 2019

CAST
Patrick Bateman: Kipp Glass
Paul Owen: Kyle Ewalt
Tim Price: Matt Skinner
Van Patten/Ensemble: Clint Calimlim
McDermott/Tom Cruise/Ensemble: Julio Chavez
Jean: Zoey Lytle
Courtney: Kirstin Louie
Evelyn: Danielle Altizio
Mrs B/Svetlana/Ensemble: Anna Joham
Luis/Ensemble: Joshua Beld
Vanden/Ensemble: Melinda Campero
Victoria/Ensemble: Desiree Juanes
Sabrina/Video Clerk/Ensemble: Jill Jacobs
Sean/Ensemble: Spenser Morris
Christine/Waitress/Ensemble: Madeline Lambie
Detective Kimball/Homeless Man: Timothy Beagley

PRODUCTION TEAM
Director: Jason Hoover
Music Director: Ben Prince
Choreographer: Leslie Waggoner
Set Designer: Angrette McCloskey
Costume Designer: Katie Dowse
Lighting Designer: Weili Shi
Sound Designer: Jerry Girard
Video Designer: Erik Scanlon
Props Designer: Peet Cocke
Stage Manager: Lori Fowler

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Undiscovered and Unexpected

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY


Hunter Scott MacNair, Chris Steele, Ava Roy Photo: Lauren Matley

Written and directed by Ava Roy
We Players - weplayers.org
Sunnyside Conservatory /  236 Monterey Blvd, San Francisco

Th-Sun until May 19, 2019

By Christine Okon

Leave it to We Players to conjure a magical stage from a familiar, real world place. In past productions, for example, Fort Point in the Presidio became Macbeth’s castle, and Sutro Baths was where Ondine came from the sea.

Now they’ve turned the historical and beautifully restored Sunnyside Conservatory into Undiscovered Country where the Wild West meets Shakespeare in Love inflamed with the madness of Hamlet. Written and directed by We Players Artistic Director Ava Roy and set in the American West in the late 1800’s United States, Undiscovered Country is a fast, visceral, fun, and sexy ride for actors and audience alike (especially if you agree to be a stagecoach "passenger.")

We think we know what to expect with the familiar western trope of two law-breakin', gun-totin’ cowboy pardners, a beautiful rich widow, and a stagecoach robbery. But whoa, there’s more.

Ava Roy and Hunter Scott MacNair Photo: Lauren Matley

Turns out that the alpha outlaw, Jack Spear, is as wild and unpredictable as a mustang and a manic actor who LOVES Shakespeare and draws only on lines from Hamlet to communicate with his compliant sidekick and best friend Horace. Red-haired and spry Hunter Scott MacNair percolates with Jack’s desperate and sparking madness as he spews dialog from Hamlet while Chris Steele’s Horace patiently obliges and replies in kind. When the widow Aurelia (Ava Roy), no innocent lamb, reveals that she also loves and knows Shakespeare even better than Jack (echoes of Annie Oakley’s “I can do anything better than you can..”) there’s no stopping the passionate repartee of the secret language "bardolalia" that ignites between them. The Hamlet-inspired back-and-forth volleys, slings and arrows of attraction soon burst into obsession, and things turn steamy indeed when the two engage in “country matters.”

Hunter Scott MacNair and Chris Steele Photo: Lauren Matley
Inevitably, the "bromance" of Jack and Horace is rocked as Jack’s passion for Aurelia escalates. As his hurt and resentment increase, Horace confronts Jack with the perceived betrayal. The tension builds to fighting, with Jack and Horace rolling across the floor in graceful and convincing fight scenes (designed by Steele).

Although no guns are fired, some beautifully crafted and historically accurate firearm artifacts from the collection of JD Durst are used. The scent of leather from the holsters and saddle adds to the verisimilitude along with the spot-on costumes meticulously researched and designed by Brooke Jennings.

We don’t really know where the characters are headed, and neither do they, it seems. As Jack spins off into madness, Aurelia and Horace face off and, in the kind of twist Shakespeare would have written himself, take first steps into their own undiscovered country.


UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY
Written and directed by Ava Roy
We Players
Sunnyside Conservatory 236 Monterey Blv SF
Th-Sun until May 19, 2019

CAST
Hunter Scott MacNair -- Jack Spear
Chris Steele  -- Horace
Ava Roy -- Aurelia

CREATIVE TEAM
Brooke Jennings -- Costume Designer
JD Durst -- Historic Weapon and Leather Consultant
Chris Steele -- Fight Director
Britt Lauer -- Stage Manager
Nick Medina -- Collaborator





Thursday, May 9, 2019

New Rhythms of the Heart

JAZZ

Dezi Soley and Dane Troy Photo: Kevin Berne

Adapted by Nambi E. Kelley 
Based on the book by Toni Morrison
Directed by Awoye Timpo 
Music by Marcus Shelby 
Choreography by Joanna Haigood

Marin Theater Company 
397 Miller Ave | Mill Valley, CA 94941

Until May 19, 2019

By Christine Okon

Like the music itself, Marin Theatre Company’s (MTC) production of Toni Morrison’s book Jazz lifts and flows through the spirits, histories, needs and passions of African Americans living in Harlem in the 1920s. Part narrative, part dream, and part dance, Jazz focuses on four main characters: Joe Trace (Michael Jean Sullivan), his wife Violet (C. Kelley Wright), his mistress Dorcas (Dezi Soley) and Dorcas’s Aunt Alice Manfred (Margo Hall) with echoes of the past that shape the passion and hope of the present.

Jazz spans many layers of time and space, from a cotton field in Virginia to a dance hall in Harlem, from the solemn presence of a funeral to the ephemeral memories of childhood. Representing all of this on the MTC box stage must have posed quite a challenge to the set designers, and the result is confusing to the audience, especially those unfamiliar with the book.

Nevertheless, the power of this production is in the acting. As the fulcrum of strength, resilience and wisdom, Margo Hall’s Aunt Alice Manfred brings a spirit big enough to endure pain and eventually allow forgiveness when her niece Dorcas is killed; in the midst of chaos, Alice is a kind of healer.

Ensemble in the past Photo: Kevin Berne

C. Kelly Wright gives us an emotional Violet frazzled by her husband’s infidelity and her own fear of aging and loneliness. As the smooth-talking cosmetics salesman Joe Trace, Michael Gene Sullivan taps into the character’s wild and ancient roots that reveals why he would be so obsessively drawn to the young girl Dorcas (Dezi Soley as a Janus of innocence and seduction) with zero tolerance of her wanting to see other men.

C. Kelley Wright, Paige Mayes, Michael Gene Sullivan Photo: Kevin Berne

Especially captivating is Paige Mayes (in an amazingly resplendent suit designed by Karen Perry) as both the parrot who is Joe’s gift to Violet, saying the “I love you” she longs to hear, and Golden Gray, the mysterious and seductive mix of racial beauty from the past. When Mayes voice lifts into song, along with the constant live jazz pulse of Marcus Shelby and musicians, we get a visceral understanding of what jazz can do to a person; “It’s the music’s fault” is said many times in the play.

Director Awoye Timpo sustains playwright Nambi E. Kelley’s vision of Morrison’s novel to present a time when people, thoughts and music were moving wildly toward a new and unknown freedom.  And, as always, MTC fills its lobby with excellent background exhibits coordinated by dramaturgs Laura A. Brueckner and Arminda Thomas to make us aware of the significant historical and social context of the play.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/333218932

JAZZ
Adapted by Nambi E. Kelley
Based on the book by Toni Morrison
Directed by Awoye Timpo
Music by Marcus Shelby

Marin Theatre Company
marintheatre.org

CAST
*C. Kelly Wright: VIOLET / COUNTRY VIOLET
*Michael Gene Sullivan: JOE TRACE / COUNTRY JOE
Dezi Solèy: DORCAS / WILD
Tiffany Tenille: FELICE / CIGARETTE GIRL / WILD'S SHADOW
Paige Mayes: PARROT / GOLDEN GRAY
*Margo Hall: ALICE MANFRED / TRUE BELLE
*Lisa Lacy: MALVONE / COUNTRY GOSSIP
*Dane Troy: HENRY LEVOY / ACTON / COUNTRY DRUNK / NUMBERS RUNNER

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association

CREATIVE TEAM
​Nambi E. Kelley: Playwright
​Awoye Timpo: Director
Marcus Shelby: Composer
Kimie Nishikawa: Scenic Designer
Karen Perry+ : Costume Designer
Jeff Rowlings+ : Lighting Designer
Gregory Robinson+ : Sound Designer
Joanna Haigood: Choreographer
Arminda Thomas: Co-Dramaturg
Laura Brueckner: Co-Dramaturg
Jerome Butler: Dialect Coach
+ Member, United Scenic Artists
^ Member, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Bonds of Memory and Love

Mother Lear


Ava Roy and Courtney Walsh Photo: Lauren Matley

Adapted from William Shakespeare's King Lear
by Ava Roy and Courtney Walsh
We Players

San Francisco International Arts Festival
May 25 & 26, 2019
The Chapel at Fort Mason, San Francisco

By Christine Okon

When someone you know and love no longer recognizes you because their mind and memory have been dissolved by dementia, it brings a sadness like no other. And if you are a caretaker of such a person, as more and more people now are, the grief is compounded with tears of exasperation, anxiety, exhaustion, and love. Such drama occurs everywhere, in your neighbor’s home, retirement communities, hospitals, prisons, and more, whether you know it or not.

In Mother Lear, Ava Roy (Artistic Director) and Courtney Walsh of We Players have created a compact and powerful story of a daughter trying to take care of a scholarly mother with dementia who communicates only in lines from Shakespeare’s King Lear. In just 50 minutes, “Cordelia” (Roy) and “Mother Lear” (Walsh) bring us through the wringer of emotions, humiliations and struggles as each tries to bring the other into her own reality. Almost broken by having to deal with a once-dignified mother who has regressed to a stubborn, irascible child, Cordelia fights back tears of desperation as she plays the loyal Fool who tries to appease and care for the selfish and confused “King.”

We Players continues to perform Mother Lear in many different small venues (such as Cypress Golden Gate, where I saw it following a meeting of the San Francisco End of Life Coalition) in the Bay Area, and each performance is followed by open discussion with the audience who invariably shares their own experiences. The  characters and actions in the play have evolved from over 100 encounters with patients and caregivers, creating a profound and deep sense of reality for the audience.

Mother Lear is a simple and brilliant depiction of a painful drama so many of us share, and it’s fortunate that We Players is making it available to increasingly wider audiences.  To book a performance of Mother Lear, go to http://www.weplayers.org/press-mother-lear

Mother Lear will also be performed at the San Francisco International Arts Festival, Fort Mason Chapel, May 25 & 26, 2019. Tickets: https://www.sfiaf.org/calendar_tickets_2019

See a video of Mother Learhttps://vimeo.com/312280544


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Three Plays in Search of Home

Down Here Below, Scenes from 71* Years, and The Jungle


Down Here Below
Ubuntu Theater Project
The FLAX Building, 1501 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Oakland, CA
Until May 5, 2019

Scenes from 71* Years
Golden Thread Theater
Portero Stage, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco
Until May 5, 2019

The Jungle
Curran Theatre
450 Geary Street, San Francisco
Until May 19, 2019

By Christine Okon

What does home mean to you? Is it the house you grew up in? Is it a lifeline that keeps you from spinning into the existential void? To me, home is more than a place; it’s the deep connection to what has shaped my identity, history, and story.

When I was growing up on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950’s, “DP’s” (an unfortunate, small-minded acronym for “Dumb Polack”) would wander uncertainly through the neighborhood, speak Polish or Czech amongst themselves, wear oversized dark woolen coats and floral head scarves called “babushkas,” and look lost and wary. To a kid (and to many adults), these people were “Other,” and it was not until years later that I learned that DP meant Displaced Person, at that time a refugee from WWII war-torn Europe. In that environment, it was so easy to keep a distance from these people whose lives were turned upside down by forces beyond their control.

Imagine losing home. What grief there is and what resilience is needed to recover from such a disturbance.

Three Bay area plays--Down Here Below, Scenes from 71* Years, and The Jungle--challenge us to hear and respond to individual stories of those who are in search of home.

Down Here Below


Some residents of the "Village of Radical Acceptance" Photo: Jose Manuel Moctezuma 

In the small garage of the Flax Store in downtown Oakland, Ubuntu Theater Project presents Down Here Below, Lisa Ramirez’s compact, intense play set in an Oakland homeless encampment. Inspired by Gorky’s The Lower Depths, Ramirez weaves the individual stories of the many people she interviewed into a tapestry of a present reality that we can choose to acknowledge or ignore. Under the direction of Michael French, the 20 characters in the play create a sense of real street life with cops, addicts, runaways, activists, developers, and others. The action is centered in the makeshift “Village of Radical Acceptance,” with Mama Gwen (Kimberly Daniels) trying to create a sense of family amid the transience and chaos. How ephemeral the idea of “home” is.

Down Here Below does not evoke pity, but engagement. It’s as if we, too, are in the camp; when the developer shows up with a potential property buyer saying “and all of this will be gone, of course,” we feel disregarded, like human debris.

Down Here Below is playing until May 5. More information...

Scenes from 71* Years 


Adam El-Sharkawi and Nida Khalil Photo: Najib Joe Hakim

Golden Thread Productions, dedicated to creating, staging and promoting Middle East theater, presents Scenes from 71* Years at the Potrero stage until May 5.  Written by Hannah Khalil and featuring a superb cast directed by Michael Malek Najjar, Scenes from 71* Years is just that: a montage of different stories over the 71-plus years of Palestinian occupation under Israel. We share the anguish of a man who revisits the home he was pushed out of years ago and is now occupied by Israeli strangers. We feel the indignation and nervousness of women trying to enjoy a picnic on the beach as they are harassed by Israeli guards. And we can share the tedium of waiting in long  checkpoint lines just to go to work across the border. The drama of the play is in the continuity of the story of loss and mourning that is passed down from generation to generation. Scenes from 71* Years  spotlights how much we Americans need to be schooled on the intricacies and treasures of Middle Eastern cultures, and that is indeed the stated mission of Golden Thread Artistic Director Torange Yeghiazarian.

Scenes from 71* Years is at the Potrero Stage until May 5. More information...

In The Jungle (previously reviewed here), we are thrust into the refugee camp in Calais, France to experience the chaos, violence, uncertainty and helplessness felt by individuals from different countries who have been displaced by powers beyond their control.

From a high level, it is easy to view the plight of refugees as one big problem, a problem of borders, security, and political priorities. But when we become engaged in the stories of individuals who are trying to survive after the loss of home, we realize that the human is in the details.


Down Here Below
Ubuntu Theater Project
The FLAX Building
1501 Martin Luther King Jr Way
Oakland, CA 94612
Until May 5, 2019
http://www.ubuntutheaterproject.com/below

Scenes from 71* Years
Golden Thread Theater
Portero Stage, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco
Until May 5, 2019
https://www.goldenthread.org/2019-season/scenes/

The Jungle
Curran Theatre
450 Geary Street, Suite 301
San Francisco, CA 94102
Until May 19, 2019
https://sfcurran.com/shows/the-jungle/

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

These Roots Are Strong and Deep


In Old Age


Nancy Moricette as Abasiama Udot Photo: Jennifer Riley

written by Mfoniso Udofia
directed by Victor Malana Maog

Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, San Francisco

Until April 21, 2019

Reviewed by Christine Okon

In Mfoniso Udofia’s In Old Age, a dilapidated house is indeed one of three characters with the elderly occupant Abasiama Ufot (Nancy Moricette) and the middle-aged Southern-born handyman Azel Abernathy (Stephen Anthony Jones).

Nancy Moricette Photo: Jennifer Riley

In a darkened living room with a pictureless television playing gospel music, a figure is cocooned in a pile of blankets on a worn couch. Insistent knocking on the front door stirs Abasiama to get up and warily shuffle to investigate the unexpected visitor. It turns out that Abasiama’s daughter had hired Azel Abernathy through the church to repair her mother’s house, starting with the floors.

Nancy Moricette brings a frail but unstoppable stubbornness to this elderly Nigerian matriarch. She’s “African AND old,” as Azel later comments, explaining Abasiama’s quirkiness of living in the modern world while connecting to unseen but palpable spirits. Like a deep-rooted baobab tree, the old house grips Abasiama in a tangle of unhappy memories of subjugation, dissatisfaction, and misery. She still argues with husbands who have since died, but whose "random stuff" shrinks her personal space so much that she retreats to the safety of the couch. The walls shudder and bang with loud thuds that are real as verbal threats to Abasiama, but she manages to hold her own.

Stephen Anthony Jones as Azel and Nancy Moricette at Abasiama Photo: Jennifer Riley

Azel comes to work on the floor over a period of days. When Abasiama asks several times “What kind of man are you?” he is at first puzzled and somewhat annoyed, but the question plants a seed in his mind. Stephen Anthony Jones creates an amiable but complex and conflicted Azel who, as he replaces each worn wooden plank with new cherrywood, learns more about himself and the cantankerous Abasiama who grows more and more alive and engaged.

Playwright Udofia reaches beyond the verbal layer of language into the realm of the heart. One person’s noise is another’s meaning. A thud to one is a scream to another. In a moving scene where Azel and Abasiama voice each other’s secret thoughts, we are invited to listen in a new way, too.

Nancy Moricette and Stephen Anthony Jones Photo: Jennifer Riley

Lighting (York Kennedy), Sound (Sara Huddleston) and Set (Andrew Boyce) designs are essential to the story, moving us from a cluttered abode of loneliness to a simpler space of hope. Sometimes it was hard to understand Abasiasma’s heavily accented words or to see past a wicker laundry basket blocking the action. Despite these minor distractions, In Old Age is a beautifully crafted and directed play that weaves gold thread from ancient roots into a modern, intricate and rich garment.

In Old Age

written by Mfoniso Udofia
directed by Victor Malana Maog+

Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, San Francisco

Until April 21, 2019
Run Time: 1:45 (No Intermission)
415.441.8822
boxoffice@magictheatre.org

CAST
STEVEN ANTHONY JONES*
Azel Abernathy

NANCY MORICETTE*
Abasiama Ufot

* Member of Actor’s Equity Association

CREATIVE TEAM
Set Design - Andrew Boyce**
Costume Design - Courtney Flores
Lighting Design - York Kennedy**
Sound Design - Sara Huddleston

**Member of United Scenic Artists local 829

+Member of Stage Directors and Choreographers


Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Jungle: Theater as Call to Action

The Jungle

Okot (John Pfumojena) Photo: Little Fang
Written by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson
Directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin
Until May 19, 2019

Curran Theater, 445 Geary St., San Francisco

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Today's news overwhelms us with images of displaced, huddled and disdained refugees such as the little Syrian boy lying face down in the sand, drowned in an attempt to flee his ravaged homeland. There is no shortage of such images.

Now imagine being in a ramshackle restaurant with dirt floors in one of the dozens of camps near Calais, France where thousands of Kurdish, Syrian, Somali, Eritrean, Afghan, Palestinian, Iranian and Iraqi refugees are trying to survive while waiting for their "good chance" of reaching the safe haven of England just across the channel.

Mahelet (Bisserat Tseggai) and
Helene (Nahel Tzegai) Photo: Little Fang
Welcome to The Jungle, a powerfully immersive play that recreates the experience of living in a refugee camp in a landfill off a roadway. Written by British playwrights Joe Murphy and Joe Roberston, who as volunteers started the Good Chance Theater in the camp, The Jungle was staged in England and New York before arriving at the Curran Theater.

The Curran Theater's plush seats and lovely decor are gone, radically transformed by Miriam Beuther’s set design. (See the development of the set at https://sfcurran.com/the-currant/articles/2019-2/). Audience members are packed elbow-to-elbow on backless benches in front of long wooden tables under a makeshift ceiling of  cardboard, tarps, fabric, and miscellaneous items. More than 20 performers weave through the audience, some offering chai tea in Styrofoam cups, as we learn we're in a restaurant managed by Salar (a wise and passionate Ben Turner) as the sound (designed by Paul Arditti) of loud bulldozers and roadway traffic periodically shakes the room.

Our guts tighten with fear, curiosity or excitement as we try to make sense of the chaos. A young boy is killed by a truck on the road and the grieving community unites in a Muslim burial service.

(L-R) Mohammed (Jonathan Nyati), Sam (Tommy Letts),
and Safi (Ammar Haj Ahmad) Photo: Little Fang
A narrator enters--Safi (Ammar Haj Ahmad)--to provide perspective as the story shifts to months earlier when the refugees reveal how they fled their homelands to escape  destruction, threats, poverty and death.

 Safi (Ammar Haj Ahmad) and
Okot (John Pfumojena) Photo: Little Fang
The play is framed around the interactions between a handful of refugees seeking a home  and a group of well-meaning UK volunteers who want to mitigate the problems of housing, food, childcare and medicine within the larger sphere of hostile anti-immigrant sentiment in French society. We identify with the plight of these people as we hear stories of the hell they went through to get as far as they did.

The Jungle is beyond theater. It beckons us to care and invites us to take action by learning more about the plight of refugees everywhere. One way to start is by visiting  goodchange.org.uk/america.  Watching the news will never be the same.

The Jungle
 Written by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson. Directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin. Through May 19. Two hours, 50 minutes. $25-$165. Curran theater, 445 Geary St., San Francisco, 415-358-1220. https://sfcurran.com

CAST

MOE BAR-EL -- Maz

LORRAINE BRUCE -- Paula

ALEXANDER DEVRIENT -- Henri/Yasin

TREVOR FOX -- Boxer

AMMAR HAJ AHMAD -- Safi

TOMMY LETTS -- Sam

ARYA ROSE LOHMOR -- Little Amal

CATHERINE LUEDTKE -- Angela, u/s Paula

YASIN MORADI -- Hamid

JONATHAN NYATI -- Mohammed

JOHN PFUMOJENA -- Okot

ZARA RASTI -- Little Amal

RACHEL REDFORD -- Beth

IBRAHIM RENNO -- Imad, u/s Salar/Ali

DOMINIC ROWAN -- Derek

RACHID SABITRI -- Ali

MOHAMED SARRAR -- Omar

MOSES M. SESAY -- Mustafa, u/s Okot/Mohammed

ERIC TABACH -- Shahmeer, u/s Sam/Maz/Henri

MILAN TAJMIRI -- Omid

BISSERAT TSEGGAI -- Mahelet, u/s Beth/Helene

BEN TURNER -- Salar

NAHEL TZEGAI -- Helene

TIM WRIGHT -- Gary, u/s Boxer/Derek

KHALED ZAHABI -- Norullah


CREATIVES

JOE MURPHY AND JOE ROBERTSON
Playwrights

STEPHEN DALDRY
Director

JUSTIN MARTIN
Director

MIRIAM BUETHER
Set Designer

CATHERINE KODICEK
Costume Designer

JON CLARK
Lighting Designer

PAUL ARDITTI
Sound Designer

JOHN PFUMOJENA
Compositions

DUNCAN MCLEAN
Video Designer

TRISTAN SHEPHERD
Video Designer

JULIA HORAN, CDG
UK Casting

JIM CARNAHAN, CSA
US Casting

JILLIAN CIMINI, CSA
US Casting

ALEXANDRE BLEU, CSA
US Casting

DAVID LAN
Executive Producer

SUNNY JAIN
Music Director

GEORGIA BIRD
Stage Manager