SF Theater Blog

Thursday, April 11, 2024

"Tiger Style!" ★

Mike Lew's "Tiger Style" hits some familiar and resounding notes, especially for Chinese-American audiences. Based on Amy Chua's memoir, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," Lew's take on parenting, expectations that parents have for their children, and, for their part, the children's inability to ever live up to those expectations, will ring many bells for the audience.

This is a homecoming for Francis Jue, who plays four different roles, including the happily-suburban Dad. Jue is a well-respected veteran of Bay Area theater, as is Emily Kuroda, who is given four different roles herself, including Dragon Mom. Will Dao and Jenny Nguyen Nelson play the confused adult children, Albert and Jenny, who are filled with angst and analysis, while their parents seem to float serenely along, happy to have moved up in the world. 

Truth is, Dad actually makes a lot of sense and Mom doesn't seem at all like a dragon. Ah, kids today.

Blaming their parents doesn't work. So, of course, the next thing to do is...go to China. Waddayaknow! They discover they're not in Kansas anymore.

For this reviewer, this show is meant to be both slapstick and meaningful, which is a hard line upon which to balance. Albert and Jenny's plight would be understandable if it weren't for the unbelievably moronic anglo characters, all played by Jeremy Kahn like Jeff Daniels in "Dumb and Dumber." There is no way either Albert or Jenny or even the playwright could take these doofuses seriously. 

Racism is everywhere, on all sides. Albert's boss, Melvin, played by Jue, is determined to bend over backwards to impress and promote Albert's anglo rival, Russ the Bus. OK, we get it. 

Albert wants the American Dream and Jenny wants the American Rom-Com. But they act like entitled children. They end up in a Chinese prison. And then they don't. And then they get to declare their independence -- to a Customs Agent.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Tiger Style" One Star. But bear in mind we are not Asian. On the other hand, we're not  Black either and we found Jenny's lapsing into black pop dialogue, well...not very nice. This may not bother others -- the audience seemed to laugh at jokes that went over our heads. Clearly, we are not the demographic audience for  "Tiger Style!"

"Tiger Style!" 
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through April 24, 2024

Sunday, March 24, 2024

"Pipeline" ★ ★ ★ ★

Dominique Morriseau's "Pipeline," directed by L. Peter Callender, is brilliantly written and acted. From the opening video backdrop, a disturbing series of newsreels showing police brutalizing Black school kids, to the first bit of audio, featuring a school administrator's voice over a grainy p.a. system informing kids they are not allowed to bring cell phones into their school, "AND THERE WILL BE NO EXCEPTIONS!," we are slammed uncomfortably against the wall of everyday reality. But what follows is a brilliant study of six people caught up in the pipeline that criminalizes students of color and funnels them into our nation's prisons.

Leontyne Mbele-Mbong plays Nya, the mom, whose dream of sending her son Omari (Atlantis Clay) to an upscale private school appears to be backfiring. Omari already has Two Strikes against him - another incident will get him expelled. 

Nya is a teacher at the local school in her neighborhood, the school Omari would normally have attended, but problems in this school are overwhelming. Fellow teacher Laurie (Kelly Rinehart) and security guard Dun (Gary Moore) are caught up in the everyday violence among students, about which they are powerless to do anything. Equally powerless are Omari's girlfriend Jasmine, played with smoldering force by Ije Success, as well as Nya's estranged husband Xavier, played by Michael Gene Sullivan.

Sullivan normally plays characters that make us laugh. Not this time. There is nothing funny about Xavier. 

There are no easy answers. As Nya keeps saying: "Just instruct me. Tell me what to do." 

Each actor gets a monologue and they all shine. We were spellbound by Dun's back-and-forth with Laurie, in which the teacher is about to be disciplined for breaking up a fight between two of her students in which one of the students was having his head slammed against the floor, while Dun, the head of security, was unable to come to her room fast enough because another teacher was complaining at the same time about something else and Dun's line was busy. 

Ms. Morriseau, who was once a teacher herself in the Detroit school system, gets to the heart of each of her characters. But brilliant writing is nothing without equally brilliant acting. "Pipeline" gives us both and leaves us talking about the show for days afterwards.

RATINGS: ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants FOUR STARS to Dominique Morriseau's "Pipeline." This is a show everyone should see. The current run lasts only one more week, so hurry.


Atrium Theater

401 Van Ness Avenue (4th floor of War Memorial Opera House), San Francisco

Through March 31, 2024


Monday, March 18, 2024

"Queen" ★ ★ ★ ★

We live in an acrimonious world. There are two sides to every story, yours and the other guy's, and there seems to be little attempt to explore the dangers of opinions pre-cast in stone.

This reviewer happens to have a scientist child who is involved in research that may or may not be welcomed by the current political climate. What has to be trusted is the science. Madhuri Shekar's thought-provoking new play, "Queen," opens up the reality of the research world: People do the science, and people have issues of their own that can possibly cloud their results.

Kjerstine Rose Anderson plays Ariel, best friend and research partner of Sanam, played by Uma Paranjpe. Both young women are graduate students at UC Santa Cruz, a minor player in the Harvard/Stanford-dominated world of academia. They are studying the habits of honey bees, whose numbers have been decreasing precipitously over the course of their research. They believe the culprit to be Monsanto, the agrochemical giant, because the bees' decline has corresponded to the introduction of a particularly dangerous pesticide.

Have you ever tried to talk to your family about politics? No matter what you say, it confirms what they already think. There is a name for this: Confirmation Bias. But what about when what your research is attempting to prove influences what you see and how that research is interpreted? Add into this everyone's desperate search for funding.

Mike Ryan plays a professor anxious to make a name for himself on the back of Ariel and Sanam's research, as long as it supports his theory. His career is riding on a blockbuster publication of this data. 

Meanwhile, Deven Kolluri plays Arvind, an Indian-American derivatives analyst whose obnoxious character flaws as a potential boyfriend for Sanam seem impossible to overcome. But he sees the world for what it is, not what it might be. What we see is not necessarily what we get. 

Congratulations to Ms. Shekar and Director Miriam A. Laube for bringing us back to the honeybees, and to nature as well as common sense. The twist at the curtain makes for a honey of an ending.

RATINGS: ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog grants FOUR STARS to Madhuri Shekar's "Queen." Story, acting and staging (we love those drop-down study lights) earn one star each and the honesty of the ending earns another. This show gives us hope. 


Lucie Stern Theatre

1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

Through 3/31/24


Friday, March 15, 2024

"The 39 Steps": ★★★ baub baub

 This is our third time around for "The 39 Steps," the previous two productions being in 2011 and 2019. We are happy to report San Francisco Playhouse's production has as much clowning and craziness as the others. Patrick Barlow's adaptation from the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film is brilliantly achieved, with four actors playing a multitude of parts, often within seconds of each other. The costume changes and character switches are the best part of the show, as the audience delights in figuring out who is what and why.

We must first mention Susi Damilano's direction, as a LOT is going on at once and the choreography must be perfect. And we loved both clowns: Greg Ayres and Renee Rogoff.

These two are what make a rather mundane spy story into a farcical romp. They might be phony detectives or a Scottish couple operating a hotel on the moors, but wherever they go we accompany them gratefully, laughing all the way.

The two leads, Phil Wong as Richard Hannay and Maggie Mason as Pamela plus any number of tempting molls, appear to be having a great time on stage. They share a glorious comic scene as she must unlatch her garter belt and remove her stockings while handcuffed to her proper Englishman who refuses to look.

Phil Wong's role calls for restraint and this is what we get. His character is kind of blank, though. We knew Henry Higgins was a self-centered, entitled snob. We know nothing about Richard Hannay. 

Maggie Mason can carry her slapstick humor further, and the further she goes the more we like it.The Scottish hotel scene is hard to beat. 

Ms. Mason takes a wonderful turn as Margaret, the randy Scottish lass peeking in the window.

RATINGS ★★★ baub baub

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "The 39 Steps" THREE STARS with TWO BANGLES OF PRAISE. Bangle One is for Phil Wong's McCorquodale's political speech, which made us realize once again that this is an election year, and Bangle Two goes to Greg Ayres for his incomprehensible Scottish achhhh-cent,  

"The 39 Steps"

San Francisco Playhouse

450 Post Street

2d Floor of Kensington Hotel

Through April 20, 2024


Monday, March 4, 2024

Dirty White Teslas Make Me Sad : UNRATED

Ashley Smiley has grabbed on to a terrific metaphor: the Tesla, symbol of white entitlement, which the owners don’t even bother to wash, giving those who cannot afford the basics of a decent life, let alone a luxury car, to feel even more abandoned and left behind.

Her new play, directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges, is having its premiere at the Magic Theater. It shows promise. Tanika Baptiste plays the mom who is being evicted from her San Francisco home, for unexplained causes that seem to have to do with gentrification. She and her daughter Naima have three days to move everything they own across the bay to Oakland, but Naima isn’t having it. She gets involved in a shadowy plot with her uncle (Juan Manuel Amador) to…well, maybe it’s to steal Teslas or maybe it’s to link them together in some sort of revolutionary statement. Or maybe it’s just to get high. 

No getting around it, a first play is a first play. We aren’t really sure what was at stake here. One of our problems may have been that the dialogue is young, black slang and we are neither. The show definitely needs an ending: we have read the script and see how the story is supposed to end, but very little of that was evident on stage on Opening Night.  “Dirty White Teslas” is still a crackerjack idea that needs to have a story coalesce around it.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division has chosen not to rate “Dirty White Teslas Make Me Sad.” This is a first show from a playwright who shows promise. One word of caution: there are no reserved seats. We suggest arriving early to sit in the middle section. Our seats were on the side and much of the show was inaudible.

“Dirty White teslas Make Me Sad”

The Magic Theatre

Fort Mason, Building D

Through March 17, 2024


Thursday, February 1, 2024

My Home on the Moon ★★★ BANG

This review is being generated by Ronald The Review Bot, an exclusive presentation of San Francisco Theater Blog.


But what if A.I.  could create a review that was so lovely and inviting that all you readers would clamor to climb right onto the page and live your own dream of a perfect life?

San Francisco Playhouse's newest show, "My Home on the Moon," written by Minna Lee and directed by Mei Ann Teo, will make you think about questions like this. The World Premiere gave us a crazy but totally involving story, including terrific acting, a fabulous set and a puzzle not unraveled until the very end. All along, we find ourselves confronting the issue that haunts us all: Who is in charge here?

Rinabeth Apostol steals the show as Vera, the strangely appealing Marketing Consultant from Novus Corp. We won't give anything away to say Vera is, perhaps, not quite what she may seem. We have seen Apostol in several previous roles - we now see she is a gifted physical comic. Sharon Omi and Jenny Nguyen Nelson are the owner and chef at Pho Lan, a failing Vietnamese restaurant with no customers, about to be bulldozed under for not paying rent. Until Vera appears. 

Vera has all the answers.

Is the algorithm smarter than the heart?

Who gets to decide what is real?

And if you thought you had found your own perfect heaven, would you cver want to leave?

Ronald the Review Bot doesn't have any answers. Neither does Will Dao, food critic. Perhaps you will. Go see this terrific new show and let us know.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Review Generator, also known as Doug, gives "My Home on the Moon" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. Special shout-out to Erin Mei-Ling Stuart as a spot-on Tech CEO. She really gives us the creeps. 

The only thing we don't get is the big noodle. 

But, hey. We love it. We've been served a delicious night of theater that leaves us hungry for more.

"My Home on the Moon"

San Francisco Playhouse

450 Post St., 2d floor of Kensington Hotel

Through Mar 12


Friday, January 26, 2024

August Wilson's How I Learned What I Learned: ★ ★ ★ ★


When we last saw this terrific one-man show, it wasn't so terrific. A show with only one actor depends on that actor, and on that particular night in 2019 Steven Anthony Jones fumbled his lines and gave a disjointed performance. We closed our review by saying we couldn't wait to see the show again when the production would be smoother.

That moment has arrived. Theatreworks' 2024 production of "August Wilson's How I Learned What I Learned" feels flawless. Originally performed in 2003 by Wilson himself, two years before he died, Jones has crawled into August Wilson's body. Every word feels as gruff and honest as Wilson himself, and although we wish the author would have included a few vignettes about a few of his plays, with which we are already so familiar, the personal details about being Black in America hit as hard as they did when Wilson wrote them. 

Perhaps this blending of actor and author has a lot to do with the direction of Tim Bond, who was a friend of August Wilson.  Steven Anthony Jones, for years the Artistic Director of the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, along with Bond, make us laugh at all times, even when describing the travails of a black kid in The Hill District of Pittsburgh. 

If you want to tell your own story, it never hurts to be as grand a writer as August Wilson. You get to be the hero and your ideals are noble, even when they boil down to "Being a young man, I desired female companionship." Jones, Bond and the production of Giovanna Sardelli insure that we never stop rooting for our hero. 

Special shout-outs to Nina Ball's scenic design, crucial for a one-man show, and the sound and projections of Rasean Davonté Johnson. 

That section about John Coltrane -- Goose-bumps. Magnificent.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is pleased to grant FOUR STARS to "August Wilson's "How I Learned What I Learned." Stephen Anthony Jones is five years older than when we last saw him do this role. He knows it in and out now. Thank you for a memorable night of theatre.


"August Wilson's How I Learned What I Learned"

Mountain View Center for Performing Arts

500 Castro Street, Mountain View

Through Feb. 3, 2024