Saturday, September 7, 2019

A Special Bond Between Two Women of Words

HICK: A Love Story
The Romance of Lorena Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt



Written and performed by Terry Baum
Directed by Carolyn Myers

San Francisco Fringe Festival
Exit Theater, 156 Eddy St., San Francisco

Sept 5, 7, 8, and 12, 2019

“The love that dare not speak its name” finds voice in the letters between journalist Lorena “Hick” Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Playwright Terry Baum (who first performed this piece in 2014) IS Hick in this show. You’re right there with her in the New York newsroom of the Associated Press in 1932 when star “gal reporter” Lorena Hickok lands the choice assignment of covering the campaign tour of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his bid for the Presidency.

Terry Baum as Hick Photo: Bill Selby

In a gesture to give advantage to her fellow female reporters, Hick suggests to her editor that it would be a good idea to assign a female reporter to cover Mrs. Roosevelt. Instead, Hick herself is awarded that assignment, thus beginning a relationship with Eleanor that soon grows into passionate love.

Aware of FDR’s indiscretions, Eleanor maintained her position as his wife, and the two gave each other a wide berth when it came to personal matters. Eleanor was key in helping her husband land the Presidency while living as independently as anyone could in the public eye.

Baum dons the floppy hat, baggy clothes, and clunky shoes of Hick, a spitfire of a woman who was gifted with cojones and acerbic wit while realizing that she would always be on the periphery of social acceptance. It is Eleanor who triggers the romance with the reporter, a dream that Hick never imagined could come true.

The development of the love relationship is captured in over 2300 letters that reveal a range of emotion, passion, and tenderness between the two women, from coy fondness to outright “naughtiness.”

Loretta Janca as Eleanor Photo: Bill Selby

Baum bubbles like a giddy schoolgirl who learns that her “crush” is reciprocated. Her joyful exuberance fills the room, and the letter exchange between “E.R.” (Loretta Janca) and Hick suggests a wonderfully intimate inner life of a first lady who was often judged solely on a drab appearance that belied her colorful character. Realizing how deeply human, joyful, and sexual E.R. was is a fresh and delightful revelation.

As if waiting by the fireside for the next chat, the Narrator Tara Ayres colors the sweep of time with snippets of “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “Moonglow” and contextualizes events from the Great Depression to FDR’s inauguration to WWII, all the while highlighting the difficulty of sustaining a discreet bond between E. R. and Hick.

Terry Baum and Tara Ayres Photo: Bill Selby

The span ends in 1968, the year of Hick’s death, with Hick trying to decide what to do with the boxes and boxes of correspondence between her and Eleanor, “some of it good and some of it bad.” She ultimately decides to donate all to the FDR archives.

In an innovative and efficient way to establish the different worlds of the two women, the set is literally a pop-up, with enlarged handwritten letters on White House stationery on the left and various newspaper headlines on the right.

The energy of “HICK: A Love Story” is about a timeless and chaotic love that could barely be contained by the conventions of the time, and holds special relevance today. You will be rewarded with a warm and educational encounter with two women of words who briefly shared their life.

“HICK: A Love Story” by Terry Baum, directed by Carolyn Myers, at SF Fringe Festival, Exit Theater, San Francisco, September 5, 7, 8, and 12, 2019. Info: hick.brownpapertickets.com



Thursday, September 5, 2019

What Happens When You Leave the Movie Theater

The Flick


Chris Ginesi and Ari Rampy

Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Jon Tracy

Shotgun Players
The Ashby Stage, Berkeley

Until October 6, 2019

Playwright Annie Baker slows down the frame rate to follow three employees of a rundown movie theater called “The Flick” where movies are big  and everyday life is ordinary.

The audience sits in the dark as “movie music” fills the space. Our view is from behind the screen where blurry chiaroscuro shapes swirl in Rorschach shadows and light. End credits roll, the flickering projection lamp stops, and house lights come up to reveal a small theater that’s seen better days, with sad sconces tacked to dingy green walls surrounding rows of red seats. Popcorn is scattered all over the floor. Lighting, sound, and set design by Kurt Landisman, Kris Barrera, and Randy Wong Westbrooke, respectively, create a convincing small theater experience.

Justin Howard and Chris Ginesi

The mess must be cleaned before the next show, and longtime Flick employee Sam (Chris Ginesi) is teaching 20-something Avery (Justin Howard) the ropes of sweeping up. Sam proceeds to move the mop through the back row, slowly and carefully, pushing the debris to the end of the row before sweeping it into the pan. Avery, a geeky and bespectacled black kid, scrawny and introverted, watches and does the same on his end of the aisle. These two move at a pace so slow we wonder if they will ever finish. They finally exit, and soon there is another end credit roll, rousing music, house lights up, and mops manned by the two. This Sisyphean routine is repeated again, film after film, day after day, month after month. At age 35 and still living with his parents, Sam (given a subtle sadness by Ginesi) lives in the stasis between wishing for something better and passive resignation.

Justin Howard, Chris Ginesi, Ari Rampy

Sam is drawn to Rose (Ari Rampy), the projectionist who works in the booth above and grabs zzz’s between screenings. The job neither contains nor defines her, and Rampy bursts with dance and joy with this character who moves so fast she’s oblivious to how stuck she is. Rose, Sam, and Avery form a prism of desires, dreams, and disappointments.

Justin Howard

Avery lives in a universe where film is all that matters. He reveres the endangered celluloid format because it captures the actual shadows and light of the moment they were filmed and are not manipulated as with digital. Howard presents an Avery who is withdrawn, intelligent, and keeps to himself. Movies are his world and his refuge from real world pain. When Sam coaxes him to play a “six degrees of separation” movie game, Avery grows silent as he scans the movie database in his mind, like a computer, without fun. He comes up with the correct answer every time, showing a heightened sensibility that amazes and intimidates Sam.

Justin Howard and Ari Rampy

Rampy sparks Rose with exuberance and curiosity, and although she’s good at her job she really just wants to have fun. Sam yearns for her and wishes she would teach him the coveted skill of projection, for it may mean advancement for him. But she is instead drawn to Avery who is about as responsive as a movie poster.

Ari Rampy, Chris Ginesi, Justin Howard

Sam, Avery, and Rose move with and against each other with no real movement or direction, yet we sense their yearning for connection. Avery is on a mission to save cinema. Sam is desperate, lonely, and resigned. Rose keeps moving at a pace too fast for self-examination. These three continue until the inevitable change happens: The Flick is sold to a mega theater company, and the employees become walking brand symbols wearing logo-emblazoned, ill-fitting polo shirts. Conformity and efficiency are the new normal, as shown by how quickly the new employee Skylar (Rob Dario) sweeps up the post-screening mess.

"The Flick" is not so much about characters as it is about movement through time and space. Progress happens, change is inevitable, and one’s life can move forward or wind up on the cutting room floor (an anachronistic reference in a world of digital efficiency).

Like a too-long cut of a film that the director could not bear to edit, "The Flick" challenges your patience. I felt ansty, wanting the characters to do something with their lives until I realized that the pace mirrors the humdrum of routine and weary monotony where one waits for the “good parts” to make it all worthwhile.


"The Flick" by Annie Baker, directed by Jon Tracy of Shotgun Players at the Ashby Stage, Berkeley, through Sunday, September, 2019. Info: shotgunplayers.org


"The Flick"

Photography by Ben Krantz Studio | @benkrantzstudio

CAST
Chris Ginesi Sam
Justin Howard Avery
Ari Rampy Rose
Rob Dario Skylar & Sleeping Man

PRODUCTION TEAM
Jon Tracy Director
Nikki Anderson Joy Costume Designer
Kris Barrera Sound & Video Designer
Helen Frances Wardrobe Supervisor
Linda GirĂ³n Assistant Director
Liz Johnson Production Assistant
Heather Kelly-Laws Stage Manager
Devon LaBelle Props Designer
Kurt Landisman Lighting Designer
Victoria Mortimer Costume Design Assistant
Adeline Smith Scenic Charge Painter
Caitlin Steinmann Master Electrician
Randy Wong-Westbrooke Set Designer
Elena Wright Intimacy Choreographer