SF Theater Blog

Saturday, July 25, 2015

"Triangle" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

The TheatreWorks World Premiere of "Triangle" is ambitious, with infectious music, clever lyrics, and excellent performances by all six characters, especially Ross Lekites as Brian and Megan McGinnis in the dual role of Jenni/Sarah. The staging and lighting are innovative and help move the play through the complications of hundred-year time switches and character changes. You get to exit the theater singing, a major plus in the spectacle-first musical idiom of our era.

But things are a little out of balance. The central conceit is that Brian and Ben's love-after-ten-seconds relationship in 2011 has the same power and gravitas as Vincenzo and Sarah's a hundred years earlier, who were doomed to die with hundreds of others in the historical 1911 fire at New York's Triangle Shirtwaist Company. Thomas Mizer and Curtis Moore's songs are strongest, though, when they pertain to the earlier romance ("Business," "Follow the Rules," "Papa's Gonna Kill You," "All That I Need is Here.") You can dance to the more modern-themed numbers, such as "Nine Floors Up" and "Drive Away," but they lack the same power.

Zachary Prince alternates with ease between the fey boy-toy Ben and the empathetic and serious Vincenzo. Sharon Rietkerk is excellent as Brian's friend Cynthia but even better as Sara's sister Chaya. Rounding out the cast are Laura D'andre as Dr. Zimmerman and Rolf Saxon as Howard/Boss/Isaac.

When the characters from different ages meet at the end, we want the modern Brian to convince the historical Sarah not to go to the Triangle to meet Vincenzo, as Brian never did with his dead sister Jenni (also played by McGinnis). But we already know the history. So the audience has to decide for itself how they feel about Ben and Brian, now that Vincenzo and Sarah are gone.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Triangle" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. The ensemble of actors, the set and staging, and Meredith McDonough's direction earn one star each. The BANGLE is for the cleverness of the lyrics that make the audience laugh with recognition, like "from seam to shining seam" (when the historical sisters are talking about finding work as seamstresses in their new marvelous America). But this BANGLE must be shared with Lekites hitting really high notes while sitting on the floor.

"Triangle" is a World Premiere and is still young. With the help of God, theirs or ours, the show will only get stronger as the run proceeds.

Lucie Stern Theater
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through August 2

Monday, July 13, 2015

"Company" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The most amazing thing about Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's "Company," playing for a good chunk of the summer at San Francisco Playhouse, is that the show is forty-five years old but feels perfectly honest today. Sondheim's lyrics astonish you with their incisive wit, as always, and though his music feels a bit dated, in a Burt Bacharach-y soft-jazzy kind of way, the songs continue to have the same power as they had when the show won six Tonys in 1970, including Best Musical.

If you ever have any questions about marriage, listen to "Grateful-Sorry." From the heart, and also from the craft of the consummate songwriter, there are few songs in the entire canon that cut to the core like this one. Thankfully, the show has several lighthearted songs too, including the more famous "Marry Me A Little," "Barcelona" and of course the anthem to New York: "A Hundred Other People."

This SFP production has many wonderful things about it. We particularly enjoyed Teresa Attridge as Marta, Velina Brown as Sarah, Christoper Reber as Harry, Ryan Drummond as David, and of course Monique Hafen as Amy, whose tongue-twisting "Getting Married Today" is a comedic standout.

Bill English and Jacquelyn Scott designed an eye-popping set and Susi Damilano's direction was almost enough to counter the lack of space for the dance sequences to pay off as they might on a larger stage, given a cast this size. We love the intimacy of the scaled-down two-piano music, much the same as SFP did with My Fair Lady in the old building. Congratulations to San Francisco Playhouse for taking a chance with an undertaking of this size. It pays off in just about every way.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

 The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division, specializing in Musical Theatre, awards "Company" FOUR STARS. Show, direction, singing and acting each merit one star. If the dancing smooths out later in the run the production will be even stronger.

San Francisco Playhouse
2d Floor of Kensington Park Hotel
450 Post St., San Francisco
Through Sept. 12

Saturday, June 27, 2015

"Detroit" ☼ ☼

Since 2009, critics and theater-goers have been heaping praise upon "Detroit," Lisa D'Amour's Obie-Winning show of that year, when it was selected Best New American Play. Written in the midst of a financial meltdown, issues of economic dislocation and the disappearance of traditional American middle-class life are in the background at all times.

Our four characters are treading water and sinking fast. Ben and Mary (Jeff Garrett
and Amy Resnick) appear to have a normal suburban life with a house and a yard and lawn furniture. They have invited their newly-met neighbors, Kenny and Sharon (Patrick Kelly Jones and Luisa Frasconi), to a backyard barbecue.

Conversation reveals that Kenny and Sharon have only recently met in a rehab facility and are practically destitute. At the same time, Ben has lost his job as a bank officer and Mary is trying to hold the house together while ignoring her own serious alcohol problem.

Times are tough. Of the four, we are most drawn to Sharon, who is an emotional wreck but easy to identify with. Her vivid stream-of-consciousness monologues about drug dependency ("when I wake up in the morning, the only thing I think about is how much I want my pipe") show us how desperate is her situation. Her female counterpoint Mary is mostly played for jokes by Amy Resnick, while Mary's husband Ben is a bit over-the-top in his bemused reaction to the circus unfolding in front of him. The younger Kenny is clearly a no-goodnik and gets worse as the play chugs forward. As a result, Sharon is the one character of the four about whom we care enough to invest any emotional energy, and her fate is inconsequential to the story's resolution.

As for the ending, the reviewer's wife feels there is hope for redemption implied. However you may take it, "Detroit," which is called "Funny as Hell" on the program cover, is decidedly disturbing.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Detroit" Two Stars, one each for Luisa Frasconi's evocative performance and for Cliff Carruthers's original musical cues during the lengthy scene changes. Although somewhat long (100 minutes) for a show with no intermission, the show never lags. We are happy the women make it home from the camping trip. Or so it seems at the time.

Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
EXTENDED through July 26

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Choir Boy: ☼ ☼ ☼

There are two ways to discuss Tarell Alvin McCraney's "Choir Boy," having its West Coast premiere at Marin Theater Company: as a play and as social commentary. As far as the latter goes, McCraney's coming-of-age drama touches upon homophobia, racism, elitism and boarding schools versus their boards of governors, as well as generational attitudes about young black men. Mixed with some brilliant gospel singing, these issues grab our attention and hold onto it.

But despite the promise of a brilliantly musical beginning, "Choir Boy" takes us to the sky but not quite to Heaven. If it is memoir, we need more background. If it is a musical, give us more variety. But if it is drama-with-music, it seems out of character for Headmaster Marrow (Ken Robinson) to turn to face the audience and sing like the opening of Oklahoma. Perhaps if the music weren't as brilliantly in the pocket when the young men are singing in their choir we would not notice the few false notes.

The story belongs to Pharus (Jelani Alladin), who is enthusiastically nelly -- a diva in an environment where expressing oneself in this manner can prove dangerous. He doesn't seem to notice his own arrogance, ignoring his room-mate Anthony (Jaysen Wright)'s warnings. What matters to Pharus is becoming head of the choir, and being granted the privilege of singing the school song at the upcoming graduation ceremony.

Enemies abound. Bobby (Dimitri Woods), the headmaster's nephew, has problems of his own and
speaks hatefully to Pharus; Bobby's sidekick Junior (Rotimi Agbabiaka) sticks with Bobby, though he seems to be primarily looking out for himself.

David (Forest Van Dyke) has the nicest voice but has a secret of his own that puts him in jeopardy. The character of Mr. Pendleton (Charles Shaw Robinson) is a bit confusing -- why would this man who knows nothing about music be put in charge of the choir?

The set by Jason Sherwood is terrific and scene changes are skillfully executed, one minute the Headmaster's cushy office and the next a shower room, with little interruption in the action. A lot of credit also goes to Kurt Landisman for his expertly placed lighting. The show is directed by Kent Gash, who helmed the show in Washington D.C.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Choir Boy" Three Stars, one each for acting, directing and music. Though we have quibbles with the script, the young men on stage are all excellent performers with a lot to say.

"Choir Boy"
Marin Theater Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
EXTENDED Through July 5
(Tuesday - Sunday)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

This Golden State, Part One: Delano ☼ ☼ ☼

Most of "Delano" takes place within the walls of the Apostolic Gospel Church of Delano. The Magic has installed red pews in place of the side rows and several actors appear first as parishioners testifying from the theater audience. Playwright Luis Alfaro grew up both Catholic and Pentecostal and has a keen ear for the searchings and struggles of immigrants living in farm communities in California's Central Valley.

Commissioned through a partnership between the Magic Theatre and Oregon Shakespeare Companies, Part One of "This Golden State" is still a work in progress, with the author making frequent changes throughout this short run. At its strongest, we meet developed characters who are working themselves through a questioning of faith. This includes Sean San José as Elias, the returned homeboy now a pastor of his own church; Rod Gnapp as Brother Abel, the hardboiled, older church administrator; Sarah Nina Hayon as Elias's wife Esther, an outsider since she is only half-Mexican and who has questions of her own; and Wilma Bonet as Hermana Cantú, the pragmatic widow of the original spiritual leader of the church. There doesn't seem to be much point yet to Armando Rodríguez's role as Moises, while Carla Gallardo's Romie has an ending telescoped far in advance.

Of course, 'Delano' will change and grow through the years that follow, as Alfaro works through and completes his trilogy -- this is an exciting venture we are sure to be discussing at great length in the future. Right now, Part One: Delano is at times poignant and always laced with dark humor. In a time of drought, every character is thirsty for those answers that are so hard to find.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "This Golden State, Part One: Delano" Three Stars. It is not on a par with "Bruja" or "Oedipus, El Rey," two Alfaro works recently premiered at the Magic, but this is only the beginning of an ambitious project.

This Golden State, Part One: Delano 
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason Center, Building D
San Francisco
Through June 14

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Fallen Angels: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Maybe you say to yourself, "Another Noel Coward show? More English aristocrats flopping around on sofas?" No, no, no, no, no. The new TheatreWorks production of "Fallen Angels," written when Coward was only 24 years old (in 1923), is a riot from start to finish, with superb performances, requisite Coward cleverness and an entire act where Jane (Rebecca Dines, in blue) and Julia (Sarah Overman, in red) get gloriously plastered.

Jane's husband Willy (Cassidy Brown) and Julia's husband Fred (Mark Anderson Phillips) have no idea what is going on. To them, it's still yesterday, when men have their golf and women drink their tea. Little do they know the passion their wives still hold in their hearts for the ex-boyfriend of both women, Maurice (Aldo Billingslea). And Maurice just happens to be in town.

The beauty of Fallen Angels is the understanding the two women have of the difficult situation they are in. Above all, they are best friends, and wish to remain always so; on the other hand, they realize they will claw each other to bits for Maurice's affections. Or so they say. The long second act, distilled from the original and even longer second and third acts, flies by at the speed of champagne as the women wait for Maurice to show up. He does not, so they get drunker and drunker, helped along by Julia's extraordinary new maid Saunders (Tory Ross). Saunders serves tea, plays piano, concocts hangover cures and is the source of much un-asked-for advice.

Dines and Overman could not be more perfect. You will not want to miss this show if only to see the two of them worry about whether a tree might have killed Fred and Willy. For that would be horrible, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it?


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division can do bloody nothing else but award "Fallen Angels" Four Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. Acting, Direction by Robert Kelley, Costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt and the lavishly lovely set by J.B. Wilson all earn one star each. And let us add a BANGLE OF PRAISE for Noel Coward's "Lovely Song," which will ear-worm itself into your brain and not let go. You have been warned.

 "Fallen Angels"
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through June 28

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"Scott Barry: RISE" ☼ ☼ ☼

Above all, Scott Barry is a performer. In a narrow, dark room with nothing but a chair for a prop, Barry controls your attention with his sharp dialogue and athletic movements. His new show "Rise," developed with Joshua Townshend-Zellner, is honest, heartfelt and above all funny.

The premise is simple: in his forties, Barry meets a girl who could become the love of his life, except for his fear of erectile disfunction, or in his case malfunction. We hear a lot about ED, and it all makes sense, especially he and his girl friend's crazed attempts to remedy the situation. We get touches of Barry's grandfather, the real man in the family, and we also meet his Penis, who needs a capital P because he talks (with a southern accent). We learn the dangers of internet experts, new-age gurus and oyster-brussels sprout smoothies.

We might quibble with the ending, which feels a little like a Hallmark card, but all in all we can see Barry taking this show to far larger venues. An ex-college football star, he already knows how to play to an audience.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards Scott Barry's "Rise" Three Stars. He has a lot of moxie and wrings universality out of a subject not normally the topic of conversation. This run is almost over but keep your eyes and ears open for Scott Barry.

Scott Barry: "Rise"
The Exit Theater
156 Eddy Street, San Francisco
Through Mar 23