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.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Unescapable Prison of Destiny

Oedipus El Rey

Sean San José and Esteban Carmona  Photo: Jennifer Reiley

Written by Luis Alfaro
Directed by Loretta Greco

Magic Theatre
Fort Mason Center, San Francisco

Until June 23, 2019

By Christine Okon

Sophocles’ tragedy about a hubristic king ensnared in a destiny that leads him to kill his father and marry his mother is the template for Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey, now in a 10th anniversary revival at Magic Theatre.

Brimming with machismo, afire with passion and rage, and studded with vivid (to say the least) urban Spanish idioms, Oedipus El Rey is a powerful journey of a soul traversing the past, present, and future in realms of the physical and mystical to reach a painful self-discovery. Alfaro weaves his own ancient and contemporary Hispanic roots into a complex tapestry of cultural beliefs, expectations, spirituality, and street-survival.

The play opens with men in orange prison jumpsuits shuffling in line. As the heavy gates slam shut, a power dynamic of cutthroat competition begins to play out among the men practiced in the game of survival. “Who is this man?” asks the chorus (Sean San Jose, Juan Amador, Armando Rodriguez, and Gendell Hing-Hernandez) who throughout the play voices ancient wisdom and admonitions of culture and spirit.

Gendell Hing-Hernandez, Esteban Amador, Sean San José, Armando Rodriguez
Photo: Jennifer Reiley

The man is Oedipus, a young and beautifully fit inmate who calls himself king. Esteban Carmona presents a visually strong Oedipus with an innocence that doesn’t quite project the ruthless toughness of a cursed man who has suffered his way to power. Oedipus has been protected from birth by the blind Tireisas (a wry and compassionate Sean San Jose) who alone knows the boy’s history and who has come to see him as a son. Because of Tiresias, Oedipus thinks above the fray enough to see himself as a king, and it is this attitude that locks him in the unstoppable train of destiny.

Gendell Hing-Hernandez, Armando Rodriguez, Esteban Amador,  Juan Amador
Photo: Jennifer Reiley
Once out of prison, Oedipus embarks on a journey to power, starting with a fierce standoff with another driver that ends in the fateful death of his father Laius (steely Gendell Hing-Hernandez). Fleeing from the crime, Oedipus finds a place with his uncle Creon (a tough and savvy Armando Rodriguez) who runs a “family business” with his sister Jocasta (played with a timeless sensuality by Lorraine Velez), the widow of Laius. “The dead can get into your head and make you stop living, even from the grave,” she says, in one of Alfaro’s many beautifully rendered lines. In blissful ignorance of their fated reality, Oedipus and Jocasta follow their palpable and vivid attraction into a deep and arousing passion that only heightens the devastating shock of truth.

Juan Amador, Esteban Carmona, Lorraine Velez
Photo: Jennifer Reiley
Throughout the play, the backdrop shifts like shadows on the cave wall in an evocative dreamscape of abstract and floating images. The square floor of the Magic’s northside theater, however, could be used to present more than static tableaux of characters interacting with each other.

Oedipus El Rey is about boundaries that, when crossed, can trigger deadly machismo standoffs as well as the wrath of the gods punishing the defiant, a reality faced all too often by those who must struggle to survive.

Oedipus El Rey by Luis Alfaro, directed by Loretta Greco, at Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, San Francisco, through Sunday, June 23, 2019. Info: magictheatre.org

CAST
Oedipus -- Esteban Carmona*
Jocasta -- Lorraine Velez*
Coro/Tiresias -- Sean San José*
Coro/El Sobador -- Juan Amador
Coro/Creon --  Armando Rodriguez*
Coro/Laius -- Gendell Hing-Hernandez*
*Member of Actors' Equity Association

CREATIVE TEAM
Hana Kim** (Scenic/Projection Design)
Ulises Alcala** (Costume Design)
Wen-Ling Liao** (Lighting Design)
Jake Rodriguez (Sound Design)
Amanda Marshall (Stage Manager)
Sonia Fernandez (Dramaturg)
Libby Martinez (Props Design)
Jacquelyn Scott (Tattoo Design)
**Member of United Scenic Artists local USA 829