SF Theater Blog

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.


OK, NOT.



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.



RATINGS ★★★ BANG

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

$25-$125



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.



RATINGS ★★★★

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.


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

Mountain View Center for Performing Arts

500 Castro Street, Mountain View

Through Feb. 3, 2024

$27-$84

Monday, December 18, 2023

Circus Bella: "Kaleidoscope" ★★★★





Turn off the talking heads, close the depressing newspaper and rush downtown to the candy-colored Big Top at Howard and Main. There is no better prescription for what has been ailing us all than to take in a ninety-minute shot of Circus Bella's "Kaleidoscope." From the opening musical segment, played with fire by the rocking and costumed band, all the way through segment after segment of jugglers, clowns, aerial straphangers, contortionists and daredevils, individually and in groups, each act displaying the kind of artistry that can only have come from years of dedication and hard work -- all the way through to  the finale with everyone gathered on stage before a cheering audience -- this is what we need, folks. No snark. No screeds. Just magic and fun.


We particularly loved Veronica Blair's Aerial Strap routine. How can anyone with shoulders that strong perform so gracefully while twenty feet in the air? Ori Quesada doesn't seem to have any muscles at all but the man can put on his shoes while balancing on a plank suspended over a ball. 

Oh, and the clowns, each with his or her own segment as an individual performer but coming together to keep everyone laughing several times during each act. We couldn't take our eyes off the remarkable Natasha Kaluza, the "Super Duper Hula Hooper," who dances and high steps while cracking us all up. 


Special thanks to Director and ringmaster Abagail Munn,  and to Musical Director Rob Reich's six-piece band, playing his fantastic score. That music keeps our feet tapping and hands clapping while we are otherwise occupied Ooohing and Aaaahing. 

But don't take our word for it. We hope the city will make a tradition out of Circus Bella, especially during Holiday Season. Right now, they are only here through December 31. If you don't have a clown car, take Muni. But do it soon. 



RATINGS:  ★★★★ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Four Big Fat Joyful Stars to "Kaleidoscope" by Circus Bella. This show is just one more fabulous thing about our city. We haven't had this much fun since we won the World Series.  

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Circus Bella's "Kaleidoscope"

The Crossing at East Cut

Main and Howard Streets, San Francisco

Through Dec. 31, 2023

$55-$85


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.

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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.

RATINGS ★★★★


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? 

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"Mélia Mills: The Allure of Thug Life"

The Marsh, Berkeley

2120 Allston Way, Berkeley

Saturdays through Nov. 11

$25-$35







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.

RATINGS ★★★

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.

"Citizen"

Z Space Downstairs

450 Florida St., San Francisco

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

$40-$75



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.


RATINGS ★ ★ ★

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
$55-$100






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.

RATINGS ★★★★

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

$15-$100