SF Theater Blog

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

Eating Pasta Off The Floor ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Maria Grazia Affinito's "Eating Pasta off the Floor" is difficult to categorize. Her solo story of an American girl growing up with her crazy Italian mother fills up many hankies with tears while also providing countless laughs. Ms. Affinito is an accomplished comedienne and actor, as well as a trained singer, something that comes in handy as a central motif of her story. We have seen many solo performances, but this one takes big chances. We ride an involving and emotional roller coaster.

If this were it, it would be sufficient. "Eating Pasta" is wonderful. 

But midway through her performance, Ms. Affinito breaks character and begins to talk about rape, her own and what clearly also happened to her mother. Once she speaks directly to us in her own voice, about such a serious subject, it is difficult for us to get back into the bodies and voices of her show characters.

So we wish she could deliver her message as Maria, or as Assunta, or LaLa, or a combination of this wonderful Italian cast she has assembled for us all to enjoy. We loved "Eating Pasta Off the Floor" and will anxiously await whatever Ms. Affinito does next. The present run at the Marsh has only two shows left. We encourage you to catch one of them.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division Wards "Eating Pasta off the Floor" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. This is a special show that we believe will develop into something even more special as time goes by. The introductions to her Italian family on the train platform, the smell of wet concrete, olive picking, the bag of bones. So many memorable moments.

"Eating Pasta off the Floor"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Thursdays and Sundays through July 24 ONLY

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dan Hoyle: "The Real Americans" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

We have seen Dan Hoyle's "The Real Americans" three times, the first in development, the second at its Opening in 2010 and again last night as Hoyle brings back his newest update. In the meantime several things have happened. One has to do with the show.

Here is my review from 2010:

SFTB 2010 review of The Real Americans

In 2016, Hoyle has added more depth to each of these characters. Perhaps he has simply gotten more polished as a performer himself, though he has always been a pleasure to watch. Perhaps the passage of six years has given him time to reflect more deeply about the preacher from Wisconsin or the Dominican family from New York or the laid-off factory worker in Alabama. The best parts of the show are still the reflections of Dan and his San Francisco friends as they sit around a cafe and attempt to make sense of things. 

What has really changed, however, is the world around us all. Whereas "The Real Americans" once spoke about a worrisome but not-particularly-bothersome mistrust of government in America's heartland, in this election year these issues are in hyperboil. In 2010 we exited laughing; in 2016 we walk out terrified.

Said in another way, "The Real Americans" is over-the-top brilliant, a belly-laugh evening of the best that solo performance has to offer. Real America, however, is not the least bit funny. The fact that probably every single character Hoyle portrays will vote for Donald Trump gives this San Francisco audience a bubble-bursting thump in the belly.


Theater and Life. What do we say, what do we do?

Well, first off, the San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division, in a unanimous vote although we are still waiting for our ninth Theater Judge to be confirmed, awards "The Real Americans" FOUR STARS. Hoyle as a writer and performer takes home two stars on his own, Charlie Varon's direction (invisible -- the best kind) earns one as well.

The Fourth Star is for all the thought that goes into these reflections.The most bothersome part of Dan Hoyle's show, as well as our view of what is happening inside our country, is that everyone is missing the point. Everyone except us. And that is where we all go off the tracks.

"The Real Americans"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
EXTENDED Through October 15

City of the Angels: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Debuting in 1989 and written about the Hollywood of the late 1940s, the 2016 San Francisco Playhouse production of "City of the Angels" is a rare example where production and staging match and sometimes even outmatch the cast and music. Bill English's direction and set (including a brilliant staging piece at the end which led the audience to applaud as loudly as they had for the singers), along with Michael Oesch's lighting and projections by Theodore J.H. Hulsker bring us directly inside this clever fantasy, where a writer and a Hollywood mogul lock horns over the sanctity of the written word.

We loved Monique Hafen as Donna, the under-appreciated assistant, and Brandon Dahlquist as Stone, the fictional detective. Stone owes his existence to Stine (Jeffrey Brian Adams), the Pulitzer Prize winning author whose book is being pounded into pulp by agent/director Buddy Fiddler (Ryan Drummond).

Hafen stands out as a singer and comedienne while Dahlquist brings us macho mixed with a surprisingly pure upper register. Jeffrey Brian Adams plays Stine with low-key emotion. 

But it's Drummond who keeps threatening to steal the show with his perfect send up of Buddy Fiddler. Every time he goes into one of his shticks or pseudo-rages, his entire body shakes. He is a pleasure to watch.

Buddy's song "Double Talk" in Act 2 is one of the show's best, along with Stone and vamp Alaura (Nancy Zoppi)'s "The Tennis Song." The show's ear-worm "You're Nothing Without Me," transcends most duets since this one is sung by the writer and the character he has invented. Then, satisfyingly, the song turns into a traditional love song with the Reprise in Act 2.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "City of the Angels" Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. The production is definitively Four Star quality. But there are a few question marks, which have to do with a rangy score by Cy Coleman that calls for fabulous singers. Not everyone in this cast is up to that standard yet. We love the story and production and hope the music can grow to match it during the run.

The BANGLE OF PRAISE is for Melissa Torchia's wonderful costumes, all done within the motif of full color for real people and muted pastels for characters in the movie. Another mention must be made of Ken Brill's face. The man must be made out of silly putty. This is a terrific show.

City of the Angels
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, San Francisco
Second Floor of the Kensington Park Hotel
Through Sept. 17