Sunday, October 27, 2019

A Wild and an Untamed Thing

The Rocky Horror Show

D'Arcy Drollinger and Joey Feldman Photo: Nick Otto

Book and Music by Richard O’Brien
Directed by Alex Rodriguez
Ray of Light Theatre
Victoria Theater, San Francisco

Until November 2, 2019

Reviewed by Christine Okon

What “A Christmas Carol” is to Christmas, "The Rocky Horror Show" is to Halloween. It’s time to do the “Time Warp” again.

For the fifth and final year, Ray of Light Theatre turns the venerable old Victoria Theatre into the freaky funhouse of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who’s “just a sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania.” First produced in 1973, "The Rocky Horror Show" was far ahead of its time in celebrating sexual freedom and gender fluidity in the framework of a silly plot full of old scifi and horror movie tropes, like aliens, a mad scientist, and a creepy house on a dark and stormy night. Most people learned the back-and-forth “liturgy” from the ubiquitous midnight showings of the “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” which were full of fun cosplay and talking back to the screen.

Caleb Haven Draper and Courtney Merrell Photo: Nick Otto

Ray of Light Theatre always seems to get the best local talent in everything from acting to costume design, and this production of "The Rocky Horror Show" is no different. As the newly engaged and vacuously “normal” Brad and Janet, Caleb Haven Draper and Courtney Merrell work well off each other’s straight and naive demeanor in “There’s a Light,” and it is fun to watch each of these characters fall into the wild swirl of the night where much is learned. Unfortunately, the inadequate miking made it hard to discern a lot of the lyrics, but hopefully that problem has been fixed.

As Frank-N-Furter’s assistants Riff Raff and Magenta, Randy O’Hara and Jocelyn Pickett are delightfully sleazy and funny in their quirky physicality, as when Magenta’s butt cheek serves as the doorbell. As the outrageous plot devolves even more, John Flaw shines big as both the rock and roll rebel-without-a-brain Eddie and the wheelchair-bound Dr. Scott who later reveals a frilly secret underneath his lap blanket. J. Conrad Frank brings a controlled but hilarious Dame Edna aura to the Narrator who can return audience volleys as fast as they are dealt in a time-honored interactive tradition of the play.

But the absolute star is D’Arcy Drollinger as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, towering above all in a burst of glitter, swagger, seductiveness and humor as he welcomes Brad and Janet into his home and later reveals what he’s been working on in his lab. Not only is Drollinger a sublime drag diva with a deep voice and exquisite moves, he’s a master of comedic timing and acting.

D'Arcy Drollinger and Ensemble Photo: Nick Otto

Speaking of glitter, the costumes designed by Maggie Whitaker are a fantasia of gold lame, leather, sparkles, and chiffon. In shiny, clingy boy shorts, Joseph Feldman as Rocky scampers like a simian trickster let loose in sexual frolic, adding to the delightful chaos.

Scenic design by Peet Cooke makes good use of the small space, such as incorporating a turntable stage to maximize action or using the actors themselves as props. John Bernard’s lighting design intensifies the moods that range from confusion to ecstasy. The live music coordinated by musical director Steven Bolinger is never less than expert. Alex Rodriguez pulls it all together with keen directing and choreography.

Admittedly, people who have never seen or heard "The Rocky Horror Show" may have trouble following the details or lyrics of the plot. For those who know all the words to the outrageous liturgy of Rocky Horror Show, it's not too late to become a "creature of the night."

"The Rocky Horror Show" by Richard O’Brien, directed by Alex Rodriguez, Ray of Light Theatre, Victoria Theater, San Francisco through November 2, 2019.  Info:

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Kevin Achas (Phantom)Sara Altier (Phantom)
Melinda Campero (Columbia)
Caleb Haven Draper (Brad Majors)
D’Arcy Drollinger (Frank-N-Furter)
Emily Dwyer (Usherette)
Joseph Feldmann (Rocky)
John Flaw (Dr. Scott/Eddie)
J. Conrad Frank (Narrator)
Carlos Guerrero (Phantom)
Melissa Martinez (Phantom)
James Mayagoitia (Phantom)
Courtney Merrell (Janet Weiss)
Spenser Morris (Phantom)
Randy O’Hara (Riff Raff)
Jocelyn Pickett (Magenta)
Caroline Shen (Phantom)

"God Bless Lili St.Cyr"


John Bernard (Lighting Designer)
Steven Bolinger (Music Director)
Connie Caranza (Assistant Stage Manager)
Peet Cocke (Set Designer)
Jerry Girard (Sound Designer)
Madeline Lambie (Assistant Director/Assistant Choreographer)
Anton Hedman (Sound Engineer)
Maggie Whitaker (Costume Designer)

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Loneliness of a Long Day's Journey

Long Day's Journey into Night 

Cathleen Riddley, Victor Talmadge, Kevin Rebultan

By Eugene O'Neill
Directed by Michael Socrates Moran
Ubuntu Theater Project
FLAX Building, Oakland

Until Sunday, November 3, 2019

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Long Day's Journey into Night” is a pressure cooker of a play that locks us in with the Tyrone family who dwell in a dreary house by the sea but move past each other like lonely and lost ships in the fog. Eugene O’Neill draws from his own Irish-American roots to portray people gripped by past, present, and future ghosts.

As James Tyrone, the miserly head of the family, Victor Talmadge is a self-righteous, obstinate man who prides himself on providing for his family while withholding needed money for decent medical care for his wife Mary Tyrone, given a delicate vulnerability by Cathleen Riddley who moves like a compass needle looking for true North. Mary revels dreamily in past, happier memories but cowers from reality like a cornered animal desperate to escape. And escape she does, into the temporary peace of morphine prescribed by the low-rate physician hired by James. It would be very easy to lapse into the cliched exaggeration of a crazy “dope fiend,” but Riddley carries her character with dignity and guardedness. It is heartbreaking when Mary’s actions are seen as weakness of character and not cries of pain, but that was not the attitude of early 1900's.

Cellist Andrew Kort and Cathleen Riddley

Jose Rodriguez conveys the deep anger and stubbornness of Jamie, the son who drinks to dull the awareness that he will never be accepted by his father. Kevin Rebultan infuses the character of the consumptive brother Edmund with rage, confusion, and the passion for the most beautiful lines in the play, as when he recounts his time at sea when it was “as if I was a ghost belonging to the fog, and the fog was the ghost of the sea….” As with his mother Mary, Edmund is a victim of his father’s closefistedness.

Victor Talmadge, Kevin Rebultan, Jose Rodriguez

This play references addiction, but what wrenches my heart is how each character suffers in utter loneliness. Director Michael Socrates Moran elicits a deep and disturbing energy from his actors, beginning with an opening tableau, silent save for the plaintive cello playing of Alexander Kort, where each character flinches, writhes, and convulses before moving on. The actors tune in to an inner vibrancy that transcends physical types.

As the characters interact with the hallmark rituals of addiction--blame, anger, denial, secrecy, fantasy, self-centeredness--they helplessly watch each other drown, alone.


"Long Day's Journey Into Night" by Eugene O'Neill, directed by Michael Socrates Moran, Ubuntu Theater Project, FLAX Building, Oakland, Th-Sunday through October 20, 2019. Info:

Photos by Carson French

Victor Talmadge* (James Tyrone)
Cathleen Riddley* (Mary Tyrone)
Jose Rodriguez (Jamie Tyrone)
Kevin Rebultan (Edmund Tyrone)
Alexander Kort (Cellist/Ensemble)
*Actors Equity

Director  Michael Socrates Moran
Stage Manager Vanessa Hill
Production Manager Dominick Palamenti
Set Designer Karla Hargrave
Sound Designer Uriah Findlay
Costume Designer Ralph Hoy
Lighting Designer  Stephanie Anne Johnson
Composer Andrew Vargas

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Enduring Fight for Identity


Sarah Ridge Polson (Elizabeth Frances)

by Mary Kathryn Nagle
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
Marin Theatre Company

Until Sunday, October 20, 2019

By Christine Okon

Sovereignty,” termed a “documentary play,” is about how great wrongs done to a people--in this case, the Cherokee Nation--cause suffering that continues to be endured by many subsequent generations. Without doubt, it presents an important lesson about Native American history that is diminished in traditional American history books, and those who see it will be enlightened indeed. As a dramatic play, though, “Sovereignty” lags between drama and lesson, caught in the back-and-forth “A-B roll” staging that makes it hard to sustain empathetic continuity with the characters. Still, the very nature of the topic is compelling.

Major Ridge (Andrew Roa) meets with President Andrew Jackson (Craig Marker)

Present-day lawyer Sarah Ridge Polson (a dynamic and passionate Elizabeth Frances) tasks herself with understanding the role her forefathers played in the numerous treaties between Native tribes and the United States in the 1830s. The Cherokee Nation, in several attempts to negotiate with a new American nation headed by Andrew Jackson, hell-bent on westward expansion, ultimately lost their sovereignty, land, and rights that led to the “Trail of Tears.” The long-term result is the fragmentation of Native American tribal cultures, life, and identity that has persisted in devastating repercussions over generations.

The signing of the Treaty of New Echota (L-R: Elizabeth Frances, Adam Magill, Kholan Studi, Scott Coopwood, Andrew Roa, Robert I. Mesa).

Sarah renews the fight to preserve jurisdiction over people committing crimes on Cherokee land, specifically rape, echoing the struggles of her great-great-great-great grandfather Major Ridge (Andrew Roa) who was murdered for signing the 1835 Treaty of Echota in a failed attempt to bargain with the US government to preserve Cherokee sovereignty. When Sarah is violated by her jealous fiance Ben (Craig Marker, who also plays Andrew Jackson), the reality of inadequate legal protection hits home. A fine, diverse cast of actors, aptly directed by Jasson Minadakis, assumes double roles representing characters from the parallel lines of present and past, and it would have been interesting to have Sarah directly engage with individual ancestors as members of the Cherokee diaspora. A moving scene where Sarah’s grandfather (Andrew Roa) speaks to her infant is an example of powerful cross-generational interaction.

As always, MTC provides extensive, well-researched background information in the lobby and in numerous live-panel discussions about the wider scope and impact of the play. If you would like to learn about the current and past dilemmas of Native American tribes, “Sovereignty” will be well worth your time.

"Sovereignty" by Mary Kathryn Nagle, directed by Jasson Minadakis, Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley, through October 20, 2019. Info:

Photos by Kevin Berne

Scott Coopwood* White Chorus Man
Ella Dershowitz*  Sarah Bird Northrup / Flora Ridge
Elizabeth Frances* Sarah Polson
Adam Magill* Samuel Worcester / Mitch
Craig Marker* Andrew Jackson / Ben
Robert I Mesa* John Ridge
Andrew Roa* Major Ridge / Roger Ridge Polson           
Kholan Studi* Elias Boudinot / Watie
Jake Waid* John Ross / Jim Ross
* Member of Actor's Equity Association

Mary Kathryn Nagle Playwright
Jasson Minadakis Director
Brenda Pipestem  Cultural Consultant
Annie Smart+ Scenic Designer
E.B. Brooks+ Costume Designer
Danny Osburn  Lighting Designer
Sara Huddleston Sound Designer
Mike Post  Projection Designer
​Laura A. Brueckner Literary Manager & Resident Dramaturg

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A Poe-pourri of Puppets and Puns

Puppets & Poe: Devised Defiance

Steven Flores and Ella Cooley

Directed by Shannon R. Davis
Theatre of Yugen, NOH Space, San Francisco

October 3 - November 2, 2019
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 PM

By Christine Okon

Who knew that Edgar Allan Poe could be the life of the party?

In "Puppets and Poe: Devised Defiance," the collaborative, creative spirits that comprise Theatre of Yugen riff on the greatest hits of the master of macabre in ways that are exotic, erotic, creepy, unnerving, and really fun.

Steven Flores and Ella Cooley

You’ll have a good time if you abandon expectations of traditional structure and plot and pretend that you’ve been brought to a strange and delightful party that’s brimming with unusual and engaging characters who are inviting you to play with them. The performers (Ariella Cooley, Alan Coyne, Shannon R. Davis, Steven Flores, Nick Ishimaru, and Jamin Jollo) use voice, improv, Noh and Kyogen movement, dance, and puppetry in short skits that all have some relevance to Poe.

Steven Flores

Trying to identify the unexpected allusions to “The Bells,” “Premature Burial,”  “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “Annabelle Lee” is part of the fun. “The Raven” with the refrain of “Nevermore” is prominent with the added presence of a huge, hilarious raven skeleton puppet working the audience like a snarky and raunchy Sesame Street character.

Ella Cooley and Steven Flores

Overflowing with ideas, "Puppets and Poe" could use some editing, especially the “Murders in the Rue Morgue” segment. Still, it’s a fun and unexpected way to step into the spooky season.

"Puppets and Poe: Devised Defiance” directed by Shannon R. Davis, Theatre of Yugen, NOH Space, San Francisco, through Saturday, November 2, 2019. Info:

All photos by Theatre of Yugen

Watch the trailer:

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Success at All Costs

Top Girls

Rosie Hallett, Summer Brown, Michelle Beck, Monica Lin, Julia McNeal

By Caryl Churchill
Directed by Tamilla Woodard
A.C.T. Geary Theater, San Francisco

Until October 13, 2019

“Top Girls” by Caryl Churchill is a paradoxically anachronistic and timeless examination of the quandaries faced by women who try to make their mark on the world. Set in 1982 in Thatcher’s England, the fast-paced crosstalk among the characters creates an annoying noise that’s hard to follow until one realizes that the characters are trying to find their own “signal” in the noise.

Marlene (Michelle Beck), voluptuous and powerful in a striking red dress, is celebrating her promotion at the Top Girls Employment Agency with a dinner party at a posh restaurant with her besties who happen to be unique women from different historical and fictional times. It is interesting to compare this scenario with Judy Chicago’s art installation “The Dinner Party”
which was making the rounds around the same time as the play.

With their stories of struggle and resilience in a man’s world, Marlene’s female mentors are enhanced by the wonderfully inventive costume designs of Sarita Fellows. Pope Joan (Rosie Hallett) regales the group with stories of how she fooled everyone into thinking she was a man. Dull Gret (Summer Brown) carries the fierceness captured by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in his apocalyptic painting of 1563. Isabella Bird (Julia McNeal), indeed a tough British bird, matter-of-factly describes how intense physical pain did not keep her from intrepid world travels. Soft-spoken Lady Nijo (Monica Lin) describes her path from royalty to exile to enlightened compassion.  Had there been room at the table, Lady Macbeth with her plea to “unsex me here” would have fit right in. 

Summer Brown and Rosie Hallett

Marlene relishes her role as a woman in power, but the very name of “Top Girls” diminishes the impact. Because “girls” could go just so far in a man’s world, their only recourse is to find ways to win. I am reminded of that 80’s guide Games Mother Never Taught You: Corporate Gamesmanship for Women .

In the office, Marlene reigns supreme in impeccable, shoulder-padded dress-for-success garb, and the other women fear and respect her. Her disdain of weakness becomes an unspoken measure of candidate selection as she ferrets out those who will “never make it.”

Michelle Beck and Gabriella Momah

Marlene’s tightly ordered universe is challenged when Angie (a desperately confused and vulnerable Gabriella Momah), the daughter of Marlene’s sister Joyce (Nafeesa Monroe), visits her favorite aunt Marlene unexpectedly at the office. Marlene at first feigns delight but realizes she can’t let Angie live with her as the teenager wants. As the reality of the relationship of Marlene, Joyce, and Angie is disclosed, we realize the sad effects of Marlene’s decision to choose power over maternal love. She is a victim of her own cross-talk between being a player in a man’s world vs. that of a mother to a child who just might not “make it.”

Michelle Beck and Nafeesa Monroe
I can’t say that I liked this play, but I thought about it a lot days after. Following it takes patience, and a few audience members left at intermission. Not a comfortably linear play with a discernible plot, “Top Girls” is as if Churchill were exploring an iceberg where the visible part is a mere fragment of the huge mystery underneath.

"Top Girls" by Caryl Churchill, directed by Tamilla Woodard, A.C.T. Geary Theater,
San Francisco, through Sunday, October 13, 2019. Info:

All photos by Kevin Berne

Monique Hafen Adams*
Patient Griselda, Mrs. Kidd
Michelle Beck*
Summer Brown**
Dull Gret, Nell
Rosie Hallett*
Pope Joan, Win
Lily Harris**
Kit, Shona
Monica Lin**
Lady Nijo, Jeanine
Julia McNeal*
Isabella Bird, Louise
Gabriella Momah*
Nafeesa Monroe*
Joyce, Waitress

Written by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Tamilla Woodard
Scenic Designer Nina Ball
Costume Designer Sarita Fellows
Lighting Designer Barbara Samuels
Sound Designer Jake Rodriguez
Voice and Dialect Coach Christine Adaire
Dramaturg Allie Moss
Casting Director Janet Foster, CSA
Assistant Director Karina Fox

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.

** Member of the A.C.T. M.F.A. Program class of 2020.