Wednesday, December 11, 2019

What a Difference a Day Makes

Groundhog Day


Cameron La Brie, Sophia Introna*, Michael Motroni,  Jorge Luis Diaz

Book by Danny Rubin; Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Directed by Susi Damilano
Music direction by Dave Dobrusky
Choreography by Nicole Helfer

San Francisco Playhouse, San Francisco

Until January 18, 2020

Reviewed by Christine Okon

SF Playhouse brings a bit o’ brightness with “Groundhog Day,” an uplifting story about second chances, redemption, and the importance of cherishing each moment. Although it takes place on February 2nd in Punxsutawney, PA when the famous rodent reveals or does not reveal its shadow, “Groundhog Day” fits right in with the ancient belief of bringing Yule light to the darkest nights of winter.

Based on the 1993 comedy starring Bill Murray, “Groundhog Day” gives rich life to the people in the small town where jaded weatherman Phil Connors (Dean Linnard, the understudy for Ryan Drummond) is assigned to report on the yearly reveal regarding the groundhog’s shadow. Linnard projects the smugness, disdain, and boredom of a man who sees himself as the center of his own universe, impatient to get out of the drudge town until he slips into a time loop where he must repeat February 2 again and again and again, waking up to the same annoying alarm clock in the same plain little B&B where he encounters the same people in their mundane daily routines. To Phil, “There's nothing more depressing than small town, USA / and there is no town smaller than Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day.”

Ryan Drummond

Phil spins like a small cog in a larger clock, the clock of the day-to-day life we all must lead. Edward T. Morris’s ingenious stage design reminds me of a medieval cosmology where the rotating stage signals the passing of the days while Phil spins in his orbit. Gripped by boredom, he tries to escape “empty smiles in empty faces, the same old places, this stunning stasis” and tries everything from rudeness to cruelty to reckless behavior as he descends into a depression that leads him to creative but unsuccessful (and funny) suicide attempts. It’s a perfect metaphor for addiction where one does the same thing hoping for different results.

Scott Taylor-Cole, Jorge Luis Diaz, Ryan Drummond

While Phil careens through frenzied, frustrated confusion, we learn more about the other townsfolk who are also struggling with their lives. Phil joins two local good old boys, Gus (David Schiller) and Ralph (Jorge Luis Diaz), on a wild ride in a pickup truck where they sing a C&W lament about their routine lives: “I wake up hungover / I go to bed smashed / Like an alcoholic hamster / On one of them little wheelie things…”

In “One Day,” each character in the town voices what they want..some day. Rita Hanson (Rinabeth Apostol), the TV producer Phil tries to impress, sings about finding a real person to love: “...I'd rather be lonely / Than sit on my fanny / Waiting for my prince to come…” Apostol plays Rita with a wonderful mix of humor and skepticism that veils a deep longing for connection. Sophia Introna gives a standout performance with “Playing Nancy,” a heartrending and all-too-common story about a girl who “takes what [she] is given, just to feel the love again.”

Ryan Drummond and Rinabeth Apostol

Trapped in an infinite loop, Phil slowly realizes that it doesn’t matter what he does if he doesn’t connect with others. The passage of time is suggested by Phil’s learning the piano on a spinning stage, going from novice key-plunker to virtuoso over the course of so many days and years, always freshly impressing his teacher (Kathryn Han). His iterative observations of the people around him finally move him toward compassion, and he realizes that he has the chance to redeem himself and help others. Linnard and Apostol sing a beautiful duet “If I had my time again.../ To make mistakes and set them right / Delay the coming of the night.”

"Groundhog Day” is a much needed gift for the spirit, beautifully wrapped in Susi Damilano’s direction and presented by the masterful creative team and ensemble. It’s also a fun speculation on the quantum possibility that the same moment can be revisited, like a spot on Fibonacci spiral.

"Groundhog Day" Music & Lyrics by Tim Minchin, Book by Danny Rubin, directed by Susi Damilano. San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco, 2nd floor of the Kensington Park Hotel, San Francisco, through January 18, 2020. Info: sfplayhouse.org

Production photos by Jessica Palopoli

CAST on December 6, 2019
Rinabeth Apostol* as Rita Hanson
Jorge Luis Diaz as Fred, DJ, Ralph
Dean Linnard* (for Ryan Drummond) as Phil Connors
Kathryn Han as Doris, Piano Teacher
Sophia Introna as Nancy, Joelle, Healer
Larissa Kelloway as Mrs. Lancaster, Healer
Cameron La Brie as Chubby Man, Deputy
Scott Taylor-Cole (for Dean Linnard) as Ned Ryerson
Michael Motroni as Mr. Cleveland, Stormchaser, Elder
Montel Anthony Nord as Jeff, Groundhog, Bartender Billy
Danielle Philapil as Mrs. Cleveland, Stormchaser, Healer
Anthony Rollins-Mullens* as Sheriff, Healer
Bobby Singer (for David Schiller) as Jenson, Elder
Loreigna Sinclair as Debbie, Nurse, DJ
Michael Gene Sullivan* as Buster, Healer
David Schiller (for Scott Taylor-Cole) as Larry, Gus

*Member of Actors' Equity Association

CREATIVE TEAM
Susi Damilano DIRECTOR
Dave Dobrusky  MUSIC DIRECTOR
Nicole Helfer CHOREOGRAPHER
Edward T. Morris SCENIC DESIGNER
Abra Berman COSTUME DESIGNER
Teddy Hulsker SOUND DESIGNER, PROJECTIONS DESIGNER
York Kennedy LIGHTING DESIGNER
Jacquelyn Scott PROPERTIES DESIGNER
Dori Jacob CASTING DIRECTOR
Zoƫ Swenson-Graham INTIMACY DIRECTOR, FIGHT DIRECTOR
Sydney Isabelle Mayer DRAMATURG
Kirt Siders ASSISTANT LIGHTING DESIGNER
Stephanie Dittbern WARDROBE ASSISTANT

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