SF Theater Blog

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Outside Mullingar ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Playwright John Patrick Shanley has a Tony, an Oscar and a Pulitzer sitting on his mantel (does a Pulitzer sit on a mantel?), but his romantic comedy "Outside Mullingar" is one you won't want to miss. It has a lot of "Moonstruck" in it (also written by Shanley), only instead of big-city Italians this time we get rural Irish. It is one of those rare evenings at the theater when you jump up and cheer at the final curtain and wish you could see the whole thing again.

Jessica Wortham doesn't make her entrance until the second scene but she grabs this show and runs away with it. As much as we loved her as Kiddo in "Upright Grand," this is a role she was born to play. As Rosemary, the neighbor daughter in the Irish farm village, she gives us grand physical humor along with expected rain-spattered Irish melancholy, all delivered with a brogue that, one supposes, is only acting. She fooled me.

 She has been in love with Anthony (Rod Brogan) forever, but he is as passive as the grass. There is a long-standing family feud engendered by Anthony's stubborn father Anthony Sr. (Steve Brady), which centers on a patch of ground sold by him to Rosemary's father, the late and lamented Mr. Muldoon.  Lucinda Hitchcock Cone plays Aoifie Muldoon, Rosemary's mother, who delivers quite a few of the show's great lines, like "Don't think! Thinkin' is worse than February."

Anthony Senior could win a curmudgeon award in any language. He says to Aoife:

"The only reason you own that land is love and spite."

 Aofie: "That's two reasons."

Robert Kelley's direction is perfect, and the combination of set (Andrea Bechert), costumes (B. Modern) and lighting (Steven B. Mannshardt) make us feel like we have been teleported from Mountain View to Mullingar.  The show is funny and heartfelt. We can't recommend it more highly.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division feels "Outside Mullingar" has everything a Five Star Show has, except for featured music. Fill me with fiddles and harps, lads, and a five-star we should be havin'. Lacking that, we award FOUR STARS with a BANGLE OF PRAISE, our next-highest rating.

"Outside Mullingar" make us remember why we go to live theater: a story that moves us with actors who make us laugh and cry. It seems simple when done so perfectly.

"Outside Mullingar"
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through Oct. 30

Monday, October 3, 2016

"Pride and Prejudice" ☼ ☼ ☼

The Southside Theater uses the room across from the Magic Theatre in Fort Mason. Acoustics and sightlines are good. This is important for Rita Abrams and Josie Brown's adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice," which features a seventeen-person ensemble under Lexie Papedo Gasparini's direction. There isn't a lot of space on that stage for all those people so every movement counts. Somehow, they manage to pull it off.

The ensemble contains excellent singers, including Brittany Law as Elizabeth Bennet, David Crane as Mr. Darcy, Lizzy Moss as Jane Bennet and Fernando Siu as Mr. Wickham. Poor Mr. Wickham only gets one number but could probably use more.

The Jane Austen story is familiar to everyone who knows the genre: young Englishwomen faced with the choice of marriage or poverty. Aristocracy is evil, the middle class is good, husbands are useful for their income and wives serve to promote the husband's standing. Cash is good but inheritance is better.

Ms. Abrams writes clever lyrics with simple melodies. We especially enjoyed "Five Daughters," "A Husband" and "The One Who I Will Be with You."

"Pride and Prejudice, The Musical," is a lot simpler with less psychodrama than the original Jane Austen novel. For this and for an enjoyable night at the theater, we thank Josie Brown and Rita Abrams.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division finds "Pride and Prejudice, The Musical," difficult to rate. In some ways it feels like a local theater production where production and casting decisions are limited. But in other ways this production is the equal of others with far greater resources. The cast is excellent and there are standout performers in the principal as well as non-principal roles. The songs are catchy and we exit the theater singing.

Three Stars for "Pride and Prejudice, the Musical."

"Pride and Prejudice, the Musical." 
The Southside Theater
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Thurs-Sun through October 9

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Theresa Rebeck's brand new "Seared" takes us inside a restaurant kitchen. It's hot and loud and it smells great. San Francisco Playhouse commissioned this show three years ago and Rebeck has rewarded their faith. How can you not like a plot that includes donuts and bacon?

We love Brian Dykstra as Harry, the part-owner of the Brooklyn restaurant. He is the chef, bullheaded, but alive with ideas and a genius with food. Harry is the artist and his partner Mike (Rod Gnapp) is the money. Where it comes from we would like to know, because Mike's money is not unlimited. Due to a variety of issues familiar to all restaurant owners, the business is failing, despite a recent excellent mention in New York Magazine.

Long time waiter and friend Rodney (Larry Powell) is forced to be the referee during Harry and Mike's constant shouting matches. His is the one voice of reason in this kitchen.

Enter Emily, played by Alex Sunderhaus. She is the food-services consultant, whom Mike has met the previous night in the restaurant. Alice's advice and contacts just might save everyone. But she herself is as unstable as a souffle.

Rebeck's dialogue is sharp, the issues real and they really are cooking bacon on stage. "There are an infinite amount of doors that can be opened with butter," says Harry, one of our favorite lines. But we think the author can add more.  Our biggest problem is with the character of Emily. She is awfully young and high-heelish for a kitchen. Act One ends with a tiny sprinkle of flirtation. Is this it? Emily's motivation is unclear. It might be blind ambition. Or something else. We'd like to know.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division understands this is a World Premiere with many different spices available to continue to season the sauce. We give "Seared," which may turn out to be one of Rebeck's best plays, Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE.  Filled with sharp dialogue and a fascinating glance into a world about which we know little, it will go higher.

As always, stories come down to people. Harry and Rodney, we get. Mike, we pretty much get. Emily, somewhat less. And what about friendship? What about loyalty? Is there a bad guy here?

THE BANGLE is for Larry Powell. His Rodney is spot on perfect, compassionate but realistic. And the man can cook. They all can.

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street (second floor of Kensington Park Hotel)
San Francisco
Through November 12

Monday, September 26, 2016

August: Osage County: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Jasson Miniadakis's direction of Marin Theater Company's "August: Osage County" is pretty much perfect. Tracy Letts won Tonys and a Pulitzer for writing this show (his father starred in the original production) and they've made a movie out of it starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Though difficult to mount, it is a stage production at heart. Above all "Osage County" demands a stellar ensemble cast.

Sherman Fracher (above) is remarkably good as Violet, the role Streep took on in the film. As the matriarch of this dysfunctional family, Violet is addicted to pills and has had a diagnosis of cancer. Sometimes she is a voice of insanity and sometimes she's the only sane one in the room.

Arwen Anderson plays Barbara, who finds herself fighting for control of her own life. Her husband Bill (David Ari, so good in MTC's "Cromwell") and she have split but they are trying to keep it a secret. Hah! There are no secrets in this house.

Barbara is developing into a younger version of her mother, while her two sisters,  Ivy (Danielle Levin) and Karen (Joanne Lubeck) are dealing with their own mountain of problems. Letts could probably write a separate play about each of these women.

The entire cast is excellent, with special mention to Danielle Bowen as Jean and Anne Darragh as Mattie Fae. Secrets. Everybody's got 'em.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division gives "August: Osage County" Four Stars. Writing, acting, direction and J.B. Wilson's set earn one star each. When you can't take your eyes off a Three Act show, you know you're in the presence of masters.

August: Osage County
Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley
EXTENDED Through October 9

Saturday, September 10, 2016

"Dear Master" ☼ ☼

Gustave Flaubert inhabits one side of the stage and George Sand the other. The two famed nineteenth century writers communicated by letter for many years, though they never met in person. Their letters have survived and were made into a dialogue for the stage by Dorothy Bryant. In 1991 "Dear Master" was the first play presented by the small company that grew into the Aurora Theatre. In honor of its 25th Anniversary, the Aurora has brought the production back, directed by Joy Carlin, with Michael Ray Wisely as Flaubert and Kimberly King as Sand.

It's talky. The problem with trying to make these letters into drama is that there was little in real life. Mid-19th Century Europe was a cauldron of revolution and anti-revolution, but neither Flaubert or Sand took part in it, except in their younger days before these letters were written. As we might expect, the two authors had no more solutions in mind than we do today. Flaubert would be today's Republican and Sand today's Democrat, one the misogynist wishing the world would return to an earlier day, and the other the idealist longing for the world to use love to fuel the engines of a newly industrial Europe.

King and Wisely are believable as eighteenth century intellectuals. He blusters, she consoles, she invites him to visit her but he never does. We wish something could have transpired between them, if not in life then on stage. Little does, because little did. The letters between Flaubert and Sand are fascinating as a historical record. As a play, a little less so.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Dear Master" Two Stars, one for acting and one for Annie Smart's set, which allows the two characters to remain in their own comfort zones.

But as for the play itself, as George Sand said, referring to progress: "It is much slower than I expected."

"Dear Master"
 The Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through Oct 2

Friday, September 9, 2016

"all of what you love and none of what you hate" ☼ ☼ ☼

Playwright Phillip Howze has taken a simple story, one that has been around since the dawn of time,  and written it into a genre-bursting multi-media performance. The World Premiere of "all of what you love and none of what you hate," presented by SF Playhouse's Playground, is uneven in spots, but gives us a lot to like with even more to build upon.

Britney Frazier plays Girl A. Sad, sad, sad, she has a problem. Depressed into near silence, whenever she tries to talk to her friend Girl B (Tristan Cunningham) about it, Girl B won't stop chattering. Girl A is depressed and Girl B won't listen.

Girl A's mother, played by a self-absorbed India Wilmott, is no help. She seems to be the kind of mother Girl A is trying to avoid becoming.

Meanwhile, Boy (played by Cameron Matthews) has all the youthful exuberance Girl A lacks, but then again she has the problem, not him.

It would have been nice if there had been a little romance. 

...but things really weren't that way. And Boy is not exactly thrilled to hear Girl A's news.

Complete with video screens, cell phones, Facebook, a topsy-turvy set, some magic realism and a long series of nightmares, "a lot of what you like..." makes us ponder the lives of each of these characters.


We have quibbles with Girl A's lack of character development, wherein a long soliloquy at the end seems to arise out of nowhere. The nightmares -- represented by the actors crawling in the dark -- don't make a lot of sense.

But Girl A's story, the young girl overwhelmed by angst, is an eternal one. She may have figured things out by the end. The reviewer's wife thought she had.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "all of what you love and none of what you hate" Three Stars. It is new and it is flawed but it is also unique. You can never go wrong in the Playground's Reuff Theater. Give it a shot.

"all of what you love and none of what you hate"
The Reuff Theatre at the Strand
1127 Market Street, San Francisco
Thurs-Sun through Sept. 27

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Confederates" ☼ ☼

The World Premiere of Suzanne Bradbeer's "The Confederates" gives us a three-person drama dealing with Presidential primaries and the hypocrisy of the media who covers them. We get Will, the young, idealistic reporter (Richard Prioleau); Stephanie (Tasha Lawrence), the hard-boiled realist willing to do anything to advance her career; and Maddie (Jessica Lynn Carroll), the daughter of a leading presidential candidate. Maddie and Will know each other from their younger days, and this leads to a revelation to Will from Maddie that could alter the upcoming election.

Should Will run with this scoop? Should he tell Stephanie, his older, more experienced boss? And in the end, in the pivotal scene, will the young idealist bow to pressure or do what his heart tells him?

We have a problem with Maddie. Her character is too undefined. She is neither bad nor good, dumb or smart, artsy or just plain conniving. Should we sympathize with her? Should we believe what she has done was nothing more than juvenile stupidity, or is there an undercurrent implied but never explored?

We like Lawrence's Stephanie, easy to read and simple to predict, and Prioleau is a good enough Will, though he too suffers from staying in the emotional middle. It may be a problem of Lisa Rothe's direction or simply that this is a brand new show and the actors still have to work out where they stand on the many issues that are presented.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Confederates" Two Stars. We feel it will improve with time, but right now it is too close to real life without telling us anything we don't already know. Until we know Maddie, we can't know Will, and if we don't know either of them his decision doesn't really matter.

Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through August 7