SF Theater Blog

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Mélia Mills: "The Allure of Thug Life" ★★★★

Almost impossible

This Hip-Hopsical 

Is sweet as a Popsicle 

And has no obstacle. 

This is why some people rap and some people write reviews.

Let's be up-front about this: "Mélia Mills' "The Allure of Thug Life" is the most refreshing new show we've seen in a long while. She's a classy performer coming into theater through a brand new door. And a filled-up audience tells you it's working.

Ms. Mills can write a lot and sing some too. She plays characters like would-be-boyfriend Rashid Rahad Rahim and her Spanish teacher Ms. Mosca and, best of all, her mortal enemy BeBé. BeBé is threatening even to the audience, but Mélia manages to show a little humanity even for her. Unfortunately, Bebé comes very close to bringing down the curtain. We don't want to give away the ending, so let's just say getting shot can have advantages over remaining unpopular.

We would like to warn any fathers in the audience who have teenage daughters: you might think about walking down the street to see The Lion King.

We love this show. The Marsh Berkeley will certainly extend Mélia and we hope they improve their miking system too. She's got a lot to say and you don't want to miss a word.

Thanks, 'Pac.


The San Francisco Theater Blog, which normally is as Hip-Hop as a stick of Juicy Fruit, is overjoyed to award FOUR STARS ★★★★ to Mélia Mills's "The Allure of Thug Life." This one-woman show is going to be around a long time.

It's a little bit whacked

But the theater was packed.

The girl can act. 

I wanna go back.

Huh? Huh? Not bad? 


"Mélia Mills: The Allure of Thug Life"

The Marsh, Berkeley

2120 Allston Way, Berkeley

Saturdays through Nov. 11


Word For Word: "Citizen" ★ ★ ★


Greg Sarris's "Citizen" is a Feel Good show. We get a hero, who is a good guy, along with several bad guys. The good guy wins and the bad guys lose. The ensemble cast is excellent, and from an acting standpoint the show does what it is supposed to do: it makes us feel better about the plight of immigrants. 

"Citizen" is a strange call for Word For Word. At 90 minutes with no intermission, and almost all the dialogue and action emanating from one character, the story hinges on the audience pulling for Salvador, a U.S. citizen who was taken to Mexico as a child and is only now returning. His journey is a difficult one, mirroring the difficulties faced by so many millions of immigrants before and after him. But, being already a legal citizen, his future is rosier than for all the others.

Christian Jiménez plays Salvador. This is an arduous role, because he is narrator as well as principal actor. The actor must act while the narrator narrates. It takes a very accomplished actor to pull this off. Salvador, who does not speak the language and is at the mercy of some seriously seedy friends, is not always able to erase the blur between actor and writer/narrator.

We liked Ixtlán, who plays Salvador's real brother Ernesto as well as Marco, the boy who starts out mentoring Salvador but has a darker purpose. Their housemate Eldine, played by El Duarte, alternates between the good mom and the bad apple. She and Marco are partners in crime, though we come to understand the pressures they too are living with. 

A Word For Word show is always worth seeing, filled with the kinds of physical and vocal choreographies you see nowhere else. For us, "Citizen" plays a little long but is well worth seeing.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division gives "Citizen" Three Stars (★★★). We loved the way they rode the bus (seen above) and many other production touches, such as the sprawling grape vines indicated by actors' linked arms. If there is a problem, it is with the writing, not the acting. As always with Word For Word productions, excellent Direction (Gendell Hing-Hernández) and Lighting (Brittany Mellerson) help us follow the action easily.


Z Space Downstairs

450 Florida St., San Francisco

Wed.-Sun., through Nov. 12, 2023


Sunday, October 15, 2023

Don Reed: "East Fourteenth St." (2023) ★ ★ ★

It's been more than a decade since we first met Blinky and Trout Mouth and Stickface.  Don Reed's ability to move his mouth and contort his body hilariously with each new character has not diminished. This year's new workup of "East Fourteenth St," the area in East Oakland where Reed grew up, has everything the original had plus various new bits. Some work, some don't, but the heart of the story still beats with humor and love.

Reed's Dad is his hero. True, his occupation ("He was a pimp. I thought he was just into hats") was sketchy, but living with him, on one end of East Fourteenth St., was a lot easier than with his strict Seventh Day Adventist mother and stepfather on the other end. This pull between worlds, as young Blinky tries to figure out just where he belongs, is where Reed finds all his best characters. 

That's Trout Mouth (below), with the classic laugh.

Two hours with an intermission feels long, however, especially the section of Act Two that deals with Reed losing his virginity, which involves many trips into night clubs and hapless interventions by his brothers on his behalf. Also, our 2023 sensibilities would like the stepfather to suffer a bit for the beating he deals out. But that's not how things worked in East Oakland, which is also the point.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division realizes that any Don Reed show starts out with a minimum of a Three Star rating, because nobody does physical comedy like he does. We love to watch his dance moves, his contortions, his attitude. Reed's career has taken off since we were first taken down East Fourteenth St. and we're still happy to accompany him on his journey, even though this current reprise takes a while to get where it's going.

Don Reed: "East Fourteenth St."
The Marsh
1962 Valencia St., San Francisco
Through Oct, 22

Saturday, October 7, 2023

"Nollywood Dreams" ★ ★ ★ ★

Jocelyn Bioh and San Francisco Playhouse have given us a big laugh and a welcome lift with Bioh's "Nollywood Dreams." Taking place in Lagos, within the growing Nigerian film industry known as Nollywood,  we meet Ayamma (Angel Adedokun), an aspiring actress who runs a travel agency with her sister Dede (Brittany Sims). Ayamma wants to audition for a new film directed by hotshot Gbenga Ezie (Tre'vonne Bell, on right, above).

The problem is that Gbenga has already promised the role to his ex-girlfriend Fayola (Anna Marie Sharpe).

There are entertaining roles by Tanika Baptiste, who plays talk-show host Adenikeh, and Jordan Covington as Wale, the love interest of all Nigeria, who is to co-sar in the film. 

No one expects a romance between Wale and Ayamma, nor are we ready for Dede's expert use of pharmaceuticals. And underneath all the banter, there is also the backdrop of class in Nigeria. Everyone has a secret they are trying to hide. These secrets become more apparent as the show progresses.

 We loved the relationship of the two sisters -- Ayamma, seemingly the more sophisticated, who, in the end, must rely on Dede to apply the finishing touch to Ayamma's audition. 

"Nollywood Dreams" is just what we need: a light-hearted and entertaining piece of writing and acting. Congratulations to San Francisco Playhouse, as their 21st season begins, for finding one more off-center show, filled with fun and laughs.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants FOUR STARS to "Nollywood Dreams." Special  shoutouts to Adedokun and Sims for their roles as the two appealing sisters Ayamma and Dede, and to Baptiste for her hysterical stint as over-the-top Oprah wannabe Adenikeh. Bill English has crafted another terrific set that has us excited the moment we set foot in the theater. Well done, everyone.

"Nollywood Dreams"

San Francisco Playhouse

2450 Post Street, San Francisco (2d Floor of Kensington Park Hotel)

Through Nov 4, 2023


Sunday, July 23, 2023

Fred Pitts: "Aren't You...?" ★★★★

How does a black man feel while visiting California Missions? "Like a fly in a bowl of milk," says Fred Pitts. He's got reason to feel this way - he is always the only black visitor at each Mission and at each one, fellow tourists, all white, confuse him with any number of famous black people. "Aren't you...Will Smith? Rafer Johnson? Sidney Poitier? Barry Bonds? 
Richard Roundtree (Shaft)? 

Unfortunately, says Pitts, nobody confuses him with LeBron James.

This self-proclaimed history geek takes it all in stride for the first half of the twenty-one missions he is determined to visit, but it does start to get at him. Still, he is learning all the time, as are we, the grateful audience, who get a history lesson while laughing at Pitts's terrific imitations of these tourists, and the docents, his grandmother and his childhood pastor, Reverend Davis.

Do you know about the Chumash revolt of 1824 at Mission Santa Inés or the Gold Rebellion of 1811 in New Orleans, which is the largest slave insurrection in American History? Of course you don't, neither did we and neither did Fred Pitts until he dug a little deeper into the history of the California missions. History class teaches only the history it wants us to know.
"Aren't You..." is a fabulous show. We have one small nitpick, which is that Mr. Pitts could probably learn a bit of Spanish pronunciation, since each mission he visits has a Spanish name. But he's got time. There are a bunch of Baja California missions too and we hope he travels there someday as well. We'll always be happy to laugh and learn from this excellent performer who also seems like a really nice guy.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Cuatro Estrellas (Four Stars) to Fred Pitts for this superb night of theater. I never listened to my High School History teacher but I will listen to Fred Pitts. There are some difficult squirm-in-our-seats issues we need to think about. Perhaps laughter is the aspirin that allows our historical headaches to heal.

Fred Pitts: "Aren't You...?"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia St., San Francisco
Fridays through Aug. 18

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

San Francisco Mime Troupe: "Breakdown" (2023): ★★★ BANG

You don't go to the Indy Five Hundred to escape the noise. You go because of the noise.  Same with the Mime Troupe, which is about off-the-wall political humor plus a healthy dose of Hippie Nonsense, mixed in with insightful commentary about this year's news, which is pretty much like last year's and will be the same as next year's. If this is not your cup of theater, then we suggest a cocktail in the neighborhood. But if you want to sit on a  blanket in the park and have a great time, yukking it up with people who feel exactly the same way you do, don't miss "Breakdown."

We loved the show, and afterwards the J-Church streetcar was filled with people agreeing this is the best Mime Troupe show in years. The major reason is Jamella Cross, who is all smarmy business in her Fox News red suit and shoes. She is the perfect right-wing show host, searching for any news story that will paint San Francisco as Hellhole for a Day, in order to please her boss Rupert Murdoch, played with delicious sleaze by Andre Amarotico. Cross's performance elevates everyone else's, even with the usual off-key singing and staging oopsies par for an Opening Day performance. Michael Gene Sullivan and Marie Cartier's writing is inspired and the cast blasts through it with moxie.

Kina Kantor plays Yume and Jed Parsario is Felix, our homeless heroes, destined to bring down Jamella and Fox to a chorus of cheers. Felix has many get-rich schemes, all short one crucial element, while Yume seems bewildered by her predicament as she battles her demon (also played by Parsario).

Don't think, just enjoy. Bad guys are bad guys and good guys are good guys, just like in the real world, at least in Bay Area parks during the good-old summertime.


'The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants THREE STARS with a Bangle of Praise to "Breakdown." The show made us laugh and feel good, which gets you three fat ones every time. The Bangle is for Jamella Cross, who is both funny and believable. We hope the Mime Troupe can hang on to her.

San Francisco Mime Troupe "Breakdown" (2023)
Various parks throughout the Bay Area
July 1 - Sept. 4 ( see sfmt.org/press-schedule-by-dates )
(Donations solicited shamelessly)

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

"A Chorus Line" ★ ★ ★ ★

There is little left to write that has not already been written about "A Chorus Line," except that the show premiered in 1975, which is as far from this writer's 2023 IPad as 1917 was when I first heard the Beatles and typed my term papers with carbon paper.

I was then the same age as most of these Chorus Line dancers. 1917 was an ancient history book. World War I. Carbon paper. A typewriter. 

Now we know that stories are the only things that survive. This is in many ways the underlining theme that is being acted out here on stage. Art endures. A dancer dances, a writer writes, a composer composes and if they succeed they capture the times in which they live. The issues never change. Only the outfits.

The SFP production is the outlier today that it was in 1975: a two hour show without an intermission. We discover our attention spans are not as short as advertised.

Late in the action, one character muses on how Broadway no longer is hiring as many dancers (in 1975) as they once were. Of course, this is before so many chorus lines around the world would be decimated by the plague of the 1980s, but no one knew about that in 1975, when the worst thing that could happen was not to get a desperately needed job. 

Original choreography by Michael Bennett, a giant of the era, should be enough to bring anyone into this show. San Francisco Playhouse empties out its entire stage to make room for 21 dancers and succeeds wildly. The opening sequence, featuring "I Hope I Get it," and I Can Do That," two of fourteen songs by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, tell the whole story with no explanations needed.

You all know the plot: 17 dancers vying for 8 spots. Their personal trials and what has led them from around the country to an audition room in New York. We, the audience, get to root for our favorites to be picked. And then -- you may need to be reminded. We promise you will be moved now, in our age of robotics and AI, as much as you were when we were all just hoping to be asked to dance. 

RATINGS: ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Four Stars ★ ★ ★ ★  to "A Chorus Line." Yes, the story is long and somewhat implausible ( a casting director actually taking the time to query the dancers as to their feelings), but at its center is love for what we all do. "God, I'm a dancer.  A dancer dances." 

Special mention to Dave Dobrusky for leading a flawless band through a precise and difficult score, to  director Bill English for figuring out where to put all those people, and to Nicole Helfer for keeping them graceful. From the cast, we especially love Danielle Cheiken's Maggie (on left in photo above) and Samantha Rose Cárdenas's Diana (center, below). But these are only two of a standout cast. For us, they all get the job.

"A Chorus Line"

San Francisco Playhouse

450 Post St., San Frqncisco

2d floor of Kensington Park Hotel

Through Sept. 9 (Long Summer Run)