SF Theater Blog

Monday, March 20, 2023

"Clue" ★ ★ ★ BANG!

It's silly, wacky, ditzy, impossible and choreographed. "Clue" reminds us of what it was like in the good old days, before atmospheric rivers and the ocean of depression we call the morning newspaper. Susi Damilano directs a cast of familiar actors paying even more familiar roles, for those of us who remember playing the Parker Brothers' board game when we were children - and then again with our own children. Surely, our house could not have been the only one where "Colonel Mustard in the billiard room with a wrench" became a standard excuse for "Who stole the cookies?"

No, it's not a world-class drama, and there is only one gender issue (and it's a brilliant one), thank you very much. The ensemble cast remains in character even as they trail en masse through imaginary doors, walking like Egyptians and bumping into walls, as they head into room sets that the backstage crew is desperately making ready as we all watch.

Every character is guilty. Of them all, Greg Ayers is the standout, as Mr. Green the, uh, FBI agent. as are Renee Rogoff as the treacherous Mrs. White, Stacy Ross as the spacey Mrs. Peacock and Michael Gene Sullivan as the pipe-smoking Professor Plum, though on Opening Night the role was voiced by Mr Sullivan but played on stage by Albert Hodge. Now, there's a trick.

We cannot forget Dorian Lockett's role as Wadsworth the butler, though since his part did not exist in the original game we tend to dismiss him as a Newbie. Courtney Walsh plays a fetching Miss Scarlett and Michael Ray Wisely the officiously daft Colonel Mustard. Special mention to the smaller but equally enjoyable roles of Margherita Ventura and Eiko Yamamoto as Yvette the maid and the especially ominous Cook with a cleaver. The ending is a tour de force of writing and performance, leaving us with the understanding that everyone is guilty and no one is guilty and life goes on in the English mansion of all our memories, with all the secrets as well as secret passages.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Sherlock Holmes Division for Whodunits awards "Clue" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise for the delightful conclusion. See, people, this is what we all long for. A problem: an answer. More or less.


San Francisco Playhouse

450 Post St., San Francisco

Second Floor of Kensington Park Hotel

Through April 22


Tuesday, March 14, 2023

"Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer" ★ ★ ★ BANG!

Greta Oglesby's performance is the highlight of Cheryl L. West's "Fannie: The Music and Life of 
Fannie Lou Hamer." This is essentially a one-woman show, with a three-piece backup band (keyboards, guitar/bass, drums). It is labeled a musical, but although Ms. Oglesby plays the part of Ms. Hamer and sings the protest songs of the era with grace and energy, the songs themselves, which were important to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's, are so simple and so familiar by now that at times the show feels bogged down by them. 

However, Ms Hamer's life and the times in which she lived, wherein Jim Crow made the laws of our country into such a hypocrisy that the Soviets could use our tv news broadcasts as examples of why our government was failing its people, should never be forgotten. Ms. West and Ms. Oglesby, along with Director Tim Bond, have done right to bring this history onto the stage. As Fannie says to us: "We've got a lot to be proud of and a lot to be ashamed of." 

Preach, Ms. Hamer. 

We love the way Ms. Oglesby mixes music with history. We believe her and feel for Ms. Hamer's personal trials. But the show still feels smaller than the stage. Perhaps these are kinks that will be worked out during this run.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise to "Fannie: The Life and Times of Fannie Lou Hamer." The Bangle is, of course, for Greta Oglesby.

While we feel the show itself is a bit simplistic, Ms. Oglesby's performance is anything but. We would like to see the rest of the production, starting with the band, match her energy. This should not be a hootenanny with a camp director leading the audience in group sing. It is a powerful story that deserves more fire.

Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer

Lucie Stern Theatre

1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

Through April 2, 2023

$30 and up

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Travelers: ★ ★ ★ ★

Luis Alfaro's new play, "The Travelers," is a wonder. Glorious staging, costuming and choreographed movement have us fascinated and involved from the opening sequence, where the young men change from their everyday clothing into novitiate robes. These are all discarded souls, having managed to eke out a perilous haven in a religious order that is so obscure it is being canceled by its own church. Everyone here is ultimately on their own.

The actors use their real names. The most likeable is Yiyo, played by Guillermo Yiyo Ornelas, a frightened boy who understands how desperate their situation is. 

 The entire ensemble is first rate. We love them all: Juan Amador as new Brother Juan, Daniel Duque-Estrada as Brother Daniel, Brian M. Rivera as Brother Brian, Kinan Valdez as Brother Nancho and Ogie Zulueta as poor hostage Ogie, who lives in a bathtub next to the toilet.

Brother Daniel, seen above, just wants to run a circus back in his hometown of Zacatecas. Brother Nancho is suspicious of the whole enterprise. Brother Brian is the boss, but he has a secret that will present a problem that may be insoluble.

This being a Luis Alfaro show, there are lots of side jokes. They wish Brothers Andrew and Brother Michael good luck with their new lives in Palm Springs. Everyone knows God is good for arthritis. They are in agreement that pain leads to God but they'd rather have less pain and more God.  Meanwhile, Brother Juan looks like he's going to take over.

RATINGS ★ ★ ★ ★

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants FOUR STARS to Luis Alfaro's "The Travelers." The run is short and this is a show you should not miss. We live in an age of confusion. It's good to know these devout brothers are as messed up as we are. And it is an infrequent pleasure to be front-of-the-seat involved in a show from curtain to curtain. 

OK, there is no curtain at the Magic Theater. God made me write that.

"The Travelers"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, 3rd Floor
San Francisco
Through March 5, 2023

Sunday, February 5, 2023

"He Wants to Run" ★★★ BANG

There are many solo performers who feel like they are speaking to a camera. David Kleinberg is an exception. His "He Wants to Run" is a simple story told simply. We are immediately involved in this touching tale of a man and his neighbor's dog running through the hills of Cloverdale. But there is a lot more to it. Butler, above right, wearing the collar, wants to run until he can run no more. His friend David, above left, pointing at his old buddy, discovers the secret Butler is trying to tell him: we all have to grow old, so why not chase those birds and splash in that river while we can? Everything works better when you have a good friend to keep you on your feet.

Don't expect fireworks, bells or whistles. Do expect the kind of story you can't stop thinking about afterwards. There are only four shows over two weekends during this short run, so hurry. We love "He Wants to Run." You will too.


This is one of those shows that is not made for a theatrical rating system. We are giving "He Wants to Run" a Three Star with a Bangle of Praise rating, despite no costuming, no set design, no music and zero flash. What Kleinberg does is tell a short, one-hour story that makes us feel good. That's it. Kleinberg the performer gets one star, Kleinberg the writer gets another, Butler the dog gets a third and he also earns a Bangle of Praise for barking the bejesus out of those dobermans. 


"He Wants to Run"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Saturday and Sunday through Feb. 12

"Cashed Out" ★★ BANG

San Francisco Playhouse is to be commended for "Cashed Out," a production commissioned by SFP and written, directed, acted and supported backstage by Native Americans. The story takes place in Arizona, not far from the reservation of the Gila River Community, and we are immersed in the dark corners of Res life -- notably, addictions in several flavors.

The Camu family has been weaving high-end baskets for generations: "I'm a Camu. I make baskets." We meet Rocky and Levi, played by Rainbow Dickerson and Chingwe Padraig Sullivan, during several periods of their lives. Levi represents solidity and Rocky is trouble. Her inability to resist gambling in local casinos talks not only of the dangers these casinos pose to local people but also how they have disrupted native geography and customs.

Special credit must be given to Sheila Tousey, who plays Aunt Nan, the seen-it-all earth mother of the Camu family, now that her sister, Rocky's mother Virginia Camu (Lisa Ramirez) has gone off the rails.

As often happens with premieres, it takes awhile to iron out the kinks. Acting can be a bit stiff and the show feels long, especially Act One, whose ending sets us up for an Act Two payoff that never really develops. But we do get a feel for a world about which we know little. There is a lot to like about "Cashed Out."


The San Francisco Theater BlogAwards Division gives a Two Star with Bangle of Praise rating to "Cashed Out." Sheila Tousey and Rainbow Dickerson's performances merit the Stars and the Bangle is for Dickerson's visible descent into addiction in Act Two. 

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Sutter Street, San Francisco
(2d floor of Kensington Hotel)
Through Feb. 25, 2023

Monday, January 23, 2023

"In Every Generation" ★ ★

It's the Passover from Hell. Grandpa is in a wheelchair, Grandma and Mom would rather be anywhere else, Dad (who is a rabbi) has apparently run off with the President of the Sisterhood and the two daughters can't stop arguing.

Ali Viterbi's "In Every Generation" seems to intend to convey that Passovers are times for personal angst. As Grandma (Luisa Sermol) says, "Arguing is Jewish." Jews will be familiar with the nods to Seder customs, such as counting out the ten plagues and a child singing the Four Questions, but non-Jews will probably be scratching their heads about why everybody is in such a tsimmis before dinner.

Act One sets the scene and the beginning set piece of Act Two delivers a wonderful dialogue between Grandma and Grandpa from fifty years earlier, when they were recent immigrants struggling with assimilation, language and difficult memories. These are terrific performances from Sermol and Michael Champlin. We feel for them, we understand them, we can look back to Act One and come to understand the bittersweet passage of time. 

But then comes the incomprehensible last set piece, a flashback to Moses and his family in the desert, arguing, of course, about whether or not someone born in Egypt can be allowed into the Promised Land, which is only for Israelites. The similarities between 1400 BC and today are clear, on a political level. We get it. We already got it. Everyone dances the hora in sandals and then the kids take off for the Promised Land. 

Are we uplifted? No. It just feels like a bad dream. 

Ratings: ★★

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Two Stars to "In Every Generation." Perhaps this story reflects the author's experience but she needs to decide whether she is going for the joke or something deeper, if we are to make it to the Promised Land.


"In Every Generation"
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through Feb. 21, 2003
$30 and up

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Ennio, The Living Paper Cartoon ★ ★ ★ ★ BANG

You've never seen anything quite like Ennio. Not only is his choreography and quick-change artistry astonishing, but his one-hour performance is super-musical and also very, very funny. Nonstop, he delivers one short sketch after another, including changing paper costumes before our eyes, bringing forth chuckles leading to cheers and ending with a standing ovation.

That's Ennio above as Celine Dion on the Titanic, and below you've got Whitney Houston singing "I Will Always Love You..."


...written by Dolly Parton...

These photos do not do justice to what is happening on stage. Ennio's collaborator Sosthen Hennekam has created the costumes out of paper, some laminated, and each has a hidden surprise. These innovative costumes, and the technique Ennio uses to manipulate them, are the heart of his show. 

Ennio has performed around the world, including several times in San Francisco. Club Fugazi is a perfect venue for the Italian artist. Get ready to have fun. 


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants FOUR STARS with a BANGLE OF PRAISE to "Ennio: The Human Paper Cartoon." The show sparkles from beginning to end. There are many bits that merit a Bangle, but here are our favorites: Edwin Hawkins' "Oh, Happy Day," Madama Butterfly, and let's not forget Bruce.

"Ennio: The Living Paper Cartoon"

Club Fugazi

678 Green St., San Francisco

Through Feb. 5