SF Theater Blog

Monday, January 23, 2023

"In Every Generation" ★ ★


It's the Passover from Hell. Grandpa is in a wheelchair, Grandma and Mom would rather be anywhere else, Dad (who is a rabbi) has apparently run off with the President of the Sisterhood and the two daughters can't stop arguing.


Ali Viterbi's "In Every Generation" seems to intend to convey that Passovers are times for personal angst. As Grandma (Luisa Sermol) says, "Arguing is Jewish." Jews will be familiar with the nods to Seder customs, such as counting out the ten plagues and a child singing the Four Questions, but non-Jews will probably be scratching their heads about why everybody is in such a tsimmis before dinner.

Act One sets the scene and the beginning set piece of Act Two delivers a wonderful dialogue between Grandma and Grandpa from fifty years earlier, when they were recent immigrants struggling with assimilation, language and difficult memories. These are terrific performances from Sermol and Michael Champlin. We feel for them, we understand them, we can look back to Act One and come to understand the bittersweet passage of time. 



But then comes the incomprehensible last set piece, a flashback to Moses and his family in the desert, arguing, of course, about whether or not someone born in Egypt can be allowed into the Promised Land, which is only for Israelites. The similarities between 1400 BC and today are clear, on a political level. We get it. We already got it. Everyone dances the hora in sandals and then the kids take off for the Promised Land. 

Are we uplifted? No. It just feels like a bad dream. 


Ratings: ★★

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Two Stars to "In Every Generation." Perhaps this story reflects the author's experience but she needs to decide whether she is going for the joke or something deeper, if we are to make it to the Promised Land.

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"In Every Generation"
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through Feb. 21, 2003
$30 and up

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Ennio, The Living Paper Cartoon ★ ★ ★ ★ BANG

You've never seen anything quite like Ennio. Not only is his choreography and quick-change artistry astonishing, but his one-hour performance is super-musical and also very, very funny. Nonstop, he delivers one short sketch after another, including changing paper costumes before our eyes, bringing forth chuckles leading to cheers and ending with a standing ovation.

That's Ennio above as Celine Dion on the Titanic, and below you've got Whitney Houston singing "I Will Always Love You..."

.


...written by Dolly Parton...

These photos do not do justice to what is happening on stage. Ennio's collaborator Sosthen Hennekam has created the costumes out of paper, some laminated, and each has a hidden surprise. These innovative costumes, and the technique Ennio uses to manipulate them, are the heart of his show. 



Ennio has performed around the world, including several times in San Francisco. Club Fugazi is a perfect venue for the Italian artist. Get ready to have fun. 



RATINGS: ★ ★ ★ ★ BANG


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants FOUR STARS with a BANGLE OF PRAISE to "Ennio: The Human Paper Cartoon." The show sparkles from beginning to end. There are many bits that merit a Bangle, but here are our favorites: Edwin Hawkins' "Oh, Happy Day," Madama Butterfly, and let's not forget Bruce.



"Ennio: The Living Paper Cartoon"

Club Fugazi

678 Green St., San Francisco

Through Feb. 5

$35-$53

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Poetic Justice: ★★ - ★★★★ = ★★★

 



"We never know how we will be remembered, or by whom." says Charles Shaw Robinson, as poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in the first of two short plays by Lynne Kaufman, now playing at the Marsh in San Francisco. In the first, "You Must Change Your life," he is speaking onstage to actor Julia McNeal, but his words are taken from Rilke's letters to an Austrian cadet in 1902, a young boy who didn't know if he should join the army or become a writer.  Rilke pontificates, sometimes with lovely lines, and the young soldier, in the body of the female actor, mostly whines. "How will I KNOW if my writing is any good?" Yes, well, Franz, you won't.

Kaufman most likely chose a female to play the male cadet in order to segue more easily into the second play of the two that comprise "Poetic Justice," which is "Divine Madness." This is the sad story of poet Robert Lowell's romance with fellow poet Elizabeth Hardwicke. They meet at a Writer's Conference (ho ho ho, that certainly has never happened before), he moves in with her, produces a child, then jilts her for an English heiress. Both suffer, but mostly her. 

It is hard to feel too terribly distraught about Hardwicke's distress, after her lines that she has lived ten years in a New York hotel, having many lovers, both for love as well as career advancement. One might surmise that she went for Lowell to advance her career and Lowell left her for money. In the meantime there are both love and a child but neither seem to matter much to Lowell. 

In our opinion, "You Must Change Your Life" is a bit of a slog, with Robinson's vaguely German-accent English and McNeal's complaining about how she/he can never be in control of an uncontrollable instinct. However, in "Divine Madness," we delve deeper into each character. Lowell comes alive as a tormented and self-centered ass, as Hardwicke nails him again and again with her vision of the truth. But she still loves him. So:

                                        RATINGS: ★★ - ★★★★ = ★★★

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division Boy Reviewer grants Two Stars to "Poetic Justice," with the caveat that "It is kinda talky." However, the Girl Reviewer loved both acts and could not be talked out of it in the car going home: "I loved them both." This has led to the rare ★★ - ★★★★ = ★★★ Rating. Be advised as well as encouraged. Either way, both Robinson and McNeal are excellent actors and a joy to watch. 

=

"POETIC JUSTICE"

The Marsh

1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco

Saturdays and Sundays through Jan. 29

$25-$35


Sunday, December 11, 2022

As You Like It: 😎 😎 😎


"How do you make the magic real?" sings the cast of San Francisco Playhouse's new musical version of Shakespeare's "As You Like It." There is magic indeed in the sets, especially when Arden forest appears out of nowhere, aided by some impressive lighting and screen projections. Whenever DeanalΓ­s Arocho Resto is on center stage, her beautiful voice and presence make us smile. And Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery's score gives us three excellent songs, "All the World's a Stage," "When I'm Your Wife," and "Still I Will Love."



But there are sixteen other songs and some of them are doozies. The singing never stops. A character enters Stage Left, meets the first character he/she runs into, falls helplessly in love, faces the audience, sings a song and either exits Stage Right or fights a duel with evil. We get hip hop dancers and lines like "I'll love you when you're menopausalind, Rosalind." 


Michael Gene Sullivan is one of our favorite San Francisco actors. It turns out he can sing! This is a nice surprise.

We do not claim to be exempt from fuddiduddiness. The existential role of every theater in America is to try and encourage a younger audience into the theater. In Shakespeare's day, all female roles were played by men. In our day, gender is fluid. After all, as someone said on Tik Tok, "Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind."


RATINGS:  😎😎😎

The San Francisco Theater Blog Elizabethan/Tik-Tok Rating System awards "As You Like It" Three Smiling Faces with Sunglasses. San Francisco Playhouse, as always, takes chances with its shows. This one works when it works. Certain characters will irritate some audiences. It's campy, silly and fun. 



 "As You Like It"

San Francisco Playhouse

450 Post St. San Francisco 

(Second floor of Kensington Hotel)

Through Jan. 14, 2023

($15-$100)

Monday, December 5, 2022

Little Shop of Horrors ★ ★ ★ ★

 

You're going to love Naima Alakham, Alia Hodge and Lucca Troutman. They might not be Chinese, but they're great singers and they're neighborhood girls, see, because Mushnik's Flower Shop has switched Skid Rows. He's in Chinatown now. We are happy to report that nothing else has changed. Theatre Works's production of "Little Shop of Horrors" is every bit as weird and wonderful as it has ever been. 

Phil Wong and Sumi Yu play Seymour and Audrey, the two misfits destined for each other, if Audrey 2 doesn't get them first. 

The sadistic and famished plant is played to perfection by puppeteer Brandon Leland with voice by Katrina Lauren McGraw. They don't miss a trick. Every time the plant moves or groans or threatens, the audience howls. 


And of course, the fifties-style music, by the late Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, is both tuneful and funny. Jeffrey Lo's direction moves us forward and never lags. 

A Special shout-out to Nick Nakashima for his most frighteningly sadistic dentist. We suggest you get your teeth cleaned well before you go see this show.


RATINGS:  ★ ★ ★ ★


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Four Stars to Theatreworks' "Little Shop of Horrors." These days, it feels so good to laugh. And you get to move your feet at the same time. This is a perfect show for everyone during the holiday season. Don't miss it.

 

"Little Shop of Horrors"

Lucie Stern Theatre

500 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

Through Dec. 24

$35 and up

Sunday, October 9, 2022

"Otto Frank" ★ ★ ★ BANG





Live theater's magic is that you never know what will happen next. With a performer like Roger Guenvere Smith, in his one-man show "Otto Frank," the suspense is magnified because the man never moves. He sits behind a desk, arms for the most part glued to a corner of that desk. He whispers, he roars. He passes from reflection to prediction. He breaks our heart by breaking his own heart first. This is a piece of emotional and theatrical therapy.

It is impossible for those of us born after the horrors of the Holocaust to comprehend how it must have felt for the real Otto Frank, who survived Auschwitz dreaming of reuniting with his family in Amsterdam, only to discover them all dead upon his return. All that remained was Anne's diary, that he had given to her at age 13 and told her to fill it with her dreams as well as her nightmares. A neighbor had found it and saved it for him.

The current run at the Magic Theater for "Otto Frank" was for only three nights. His next move is to the Public Theater in New York in January.  The show is brilliant, but not for the squeamish. 


RATINGS ★ ★ ★  BANG


The San Francisco Theater Blog grants "Otto Frank: Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. Go see it when you're in New York. We recommend it to anyone who wants to be transported for an hour into an actor's personal trance. You already know how the story ends - this one is about great acting. Don't miss it. 

Roger Guenvere Smith: Otto Frank"

SHOW HAS CLOSED

Brian Copeland's "Grandma and Me" ★ ★ ★ ★




Brian Copeland's grandmother became a single mom at the age of 57, when she took over raising Brian and his four siblings after their mother died young. For those of us who have raised our own children in far less difficult circumstances, what this woman did is nothing short of  heroic.

But "Grandma and Me" is far more than a shoutout to Grandma. It is a testament to single parents everywhere. Copeland was fourteen when his mother died, but 37 when he and his wife divorced, leaving Copeland to raise his own four children on his own. His new show goes back and forth between his rebellious boyhood and his time as a single dad, as he comes to realize the razor edge all single moms and dads have to balance upon just to get by.


As always, Copeland gives us wonderful voices, particularly of his grandmother and of Sylvester, the man who turns out to be his stepfather. He keeps reminding us of the difference between "broke" and "poor." When you're broke, you're only out of money. You've always got options. When you're poor, every nickel adds up, even when an ice cream cone only costs five cents. "Twenty nickels is a dollar," Grandma warns. 


Above all, this latest Brian Copeland one-man show feels honest. Since one person is playing all the roles, it can get a bit confusing as to whether we are looking at 15 year-old Brian or 37 year-old Brian or 58 year-old Brian. But we don't stay puzzled for long. "Grandma and Me" is very funny as well as deep. It's about life. It's about dancing with your daughter at her wedding. It's even about lasagna. 

RATINGS ★ ★ ★ ★

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants 4 STARS to Brian Copeland's "Grandma and Me." There are so many great lines, but perhaps our favorite is Copeland's observation that when your parents are really mad at you they use all of your names, such as "John Wilkes Booth, you clean up your room right now!" 

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"Brian Copeland's "Grandma and Me" 

The Marsh

1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco

EXTENDED through November 19

$ Sliding Scale