SF Theater Blog

Saturday, February 2, 2019

"Creditors" ☼ ☼ ☼


August Strindberg wrote "Creditors" in 1888. The new Aurora Theatre production written by David Greig and directed by Barbara Damashek works on many levels. We have old against young, strong versus weak, and woman versus man. The themes butt up against each other most in the role of Tecla, played with style by Rebecca Dines.


Tecla is married to Adolph (Joseph Patrick O'Malley), a weak and sickly artist. His wife is a flirt, and though quite liberated for the times, clearly looked down upon by the author who is well known for his misogyny. Tecla has written a novel in which her ex-husband Gustav (Jonathan Rhys Williams) is made out to be a fool. Enraged by her characterization of him, Gustav plots revenge against both Tecla and Adolph.


It is somewhat more difficult for a modern audience to understand why Adolph would fall for Gustav's specious lies, or to accept the plan the two men hatch to identify and punish Tecla's supposed unfaithfulness. Tecla's chief flaw appears to be she seems happy, a character trait apparently unknown by either of the two men.



The Title: "The Creditors," refers to the idea that "What you have is mine," that is, that no pleasure will last, that sooner or later you will have to pay for anything you love. The weak will be overcome by the strong. Women will remain inferior and men cruel and powerless. Not the kind of show you exit needing to see twice.


RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

 The San Francisco Theater Blog awards "Creditors" Three Stars. Some may find Strindberg's characterizations of women to be painful, and others may wish they could open up Adolph and insert a bit of spine. In the end, despite fine acting, the play that was undoubtedly felt to be cutting edge in 1888 feels somewhat less so in 2019.

"Creditors"
Aurora Theater
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
EXTENDED Through March 3, 2019
$35-$70


Sunday, January 27, 2019

King of the Yees: 四颗星 BANG BANG (Four Stars with Two Bangles of Praise)


24 hours later, we are still laughing. Lauren Yee's "King of the Yees" is brilliant, innovative and self-deprecating while fiercely proud at the same time. It is also very, very funny, with sequences that are nothing short of side-splitting.


You don't have to be San Franciscans to appreciate all the nuances of this show -- but, hey, we are! Shrimp Boy in the white mink and all-white theater audiences and Chinese parents demanding grandchildren and don't forget the Jews. The show skewers every nationality so hard it could probably be on Fox, if there were anything fake about it, which there isn't, and if it weren't so sympathetic and heartfelt about all cultures.


We don't want to give anything away. Playwright Lauren Yee (played by Krystie Piamonte) has hired Actor 2 (Rinabeth Apostol) to play Lauren in her show about the obsolescence and irrelevance of modern Chinatown. She has also hired Actor 1 (Jomar Tagatac) to play her father, Larry Yee (Francis Jue), the King of the Yees. (Larry runs the local Yee Family Association.)


But...she hasn't bothered to tell her dad that the play is about him, or that this is basically his daughter's good-bye to Chinatown and, by extension, to her Chinese heritage. Then, Larry comes to rehearsal.


Get ready for brilliant actors playing multiple parts, and parodies of Chinatown traditions such as lion dances and a liquor store where they sell "the good, cheap stuff." Don't forget the Lum Elders. God, no.

Each actor has room to steal this show, including Actor 3 (Will Dao), who comes out of the audience to play several terrific roles, including the dancing lion and a Lum elder.


If someone that wasn't Chinese had written this show, it would probably get skewered for insensitivity. But she is, and she's allowed. "King of the Yees" is a terrific, satisfying production that in the end is all about a girl trying to talk to her Dad.

OK, yeah. The ending's too long.

RATINGS: 四颗星 BANG BANG

The San Francisco Theater Blog awards "King of the Yees" 四颗星 BANG BANG. This means FOUR STARS, plus TWO BANGLES OF PRAISE.One Bangle is for Francis Jue and the way he made us understand what was going on inside Larry Yee, a man who on the surface seems impossibly devoted to all things named Yee (His campaign chant for Leland Yee: "Who do we want? YEE! When do we want it? YEE!")

 The other Bangle is for the way this show makes me laugh, un-self-consciously, at all the trappings that every culture considers sacred. Come on, people. In the end it always comes down to Mom and Dad.




"THE KING OF THE YEES" 
San Francisco Playhouse 
450 Post St.
 Second floor of Kensington Hotel 
Through March 2 
$25-$125


Dan Hoyle: "Border People" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG


Dan Hoyle's 2006 tour de force "Tings dey Happen" took us to the oil fields of the Nigerian Delta. Written and performed brilliantly in spot-on Pidgin English, Hoyle presented a world to us that we had never seen before, about which we knew little. Since then, he has been traveling through America and writing about us. Sadly, we know a lot about this stuff. Hoyle's observations always ring true and they can be painful.

In his latest, "Border People," we hear from, among others, a black man in the projects who wears a sweater vest, a kid from Afghanistan who is graduating from a fancy prep school, into which he was accepted to provide "diversity;" we meet Larry who is tired of being hassled by police on the
Fourth of July, and López, a border patrol agent who longs to do comedy. The format of the show is one long-ish vignette about each character, followed by lights down and a few bars of music, leading to lights up and the next vignette.


We loved Larry and López. We felt for the lady who had come from Iraq and was embarrassed to eat chocolate cheesecake. We applauded the gay hermit/rancher in Southern Arizona who helped illegal immigrants when they showed up at his door. We were very impressed that Dan Hoyle speaks such excellent Spanish, especially after watching Mike Pence mumble incoherently about Venezuela.

With each new Dan Hoyle show we have a similar wish, which is that his characters would interact with each other, or at least have the narrator play a larger role. We love most of his characters, but we search for the center. Perhaps Dan Hoyle, a young man who travels around the country gathering information from people to put into a stage show --  could be featured in one of his vignettes. I'd like to see how López would handle the interview.

We never miss a Dan Hoyle show, and neither should you. He is unique. Also, we love his songs from previous shows. We can always use a little more guitar, sir.



RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

With respect for seldomly-observed digital honesty, The San Francisco Theater Blog must admit that the Hoyles live on our block. You may take that into consideration when observing this rating for "Border People:" THREE STARS WITH A BANGLE OF PRAISE. Dan Hoyle's performance, the music and lighting, and the concept itself earn One Star each. The BANGLE is for Hoyle's comment about the Permanent Residency Card, which turns out to be neither permanent nor residential. And as López the border agent says, "We have to keep the door open, but how far can we open it?" López and Hoyle have defined America's problem. Now, what do we do about it?

"BORDER PEOPLE"
The Marsh, San Francisco
1062 Valencia St.
Through Feb. 23
$25 or Pay What You Can




Friday, January 18, 2019

August Wilson: "How I Learned What I Learned" ☼ ☼ ☼






There are many wonderful things about Steven Anthony Jones's solo performance of August Wilson's final play. Wilson himself performed the role first, two years before his death in 2005, and Jones channels the great author as he talks about his life as a young man growing up in the Hill District of Pittsburgh.


We particularly loved the Wilsonisms, the wry and poetic asides that pepper every August Wilson play, such as a white man approaching the author at a party to say, "I don't see color." Wilson asks the man if he said the same thing to that white man over there, or that white man over there. When the first person says, "No," Wilson asks him, "...then, if you don't see color, why did you say that to me?"

Each character taught August Wilson a valuable lesson. His mother taught him to never settle for less than he is worth. His friend Cy Morocco taught him to dream as high as he wished but be ready to perform when opportunity strikes. Perhaps the biggest laugh of the night was when the author tried to make more money from a 16-line poem by turning it into 32 lines.

Clearly, there were writers in the audience.

Jones does not try to assume the personalities nor physical attributes of each character, as a solo performer might. Instead, we never lose sight of August Wilson, the older man looking back on his youth.

It is a one-man play, and therefore it all comes down to that one man. On Opening Night Jones was personable and accessible, but he also stumbled and mumbled, forgot lines and clearly missed critical sequences. When he was good he was very good, but when he was not the show dragged to an inconclusive ending. The good thing is that this show is co-sponsored by the Lorraine Hansberry Theater and the Ubuntu Theater Project. After the run at Marin Theater Company, the show will continue in smaller venues. We shall see it again then when all the pieces should be in place.


RATINGS: ☼  ☼ ☼ 
The San Francisco Theater Blog awards "August Wilson: How I Learned What I Learned" Three Stars. We expect that the show's rating will rise as the run continues.

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"August Wilson: How I Learned What I Learned"
Marin Theater Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
Through February 3
$25-$70

Lorraine Hansberry Theater
762 Fulton Street, San Francisco
Feb 14-24

Ubuntu Theater Project
2020 4th Street, Berkeley
March 2019 (exact dates TBA)






Sunday, December 2, 2018

C.W. Nevius: "The Oakland Raiders, True Crime and Coming of Age in San Francisco" ☼ ☼



It's a convoluted title that may tell you everything you need to know -- that C. W. Nevius and director David Ford are fishing for a center to this show. Nevius, for years one of our favorite sports writers for the San Francisco Chronicle, is a new performer. He is engaging and likable, with an ear for dialogue and comedy. But we can't really tell you what the purpose of the show is, except to listen to a man tell a few enjoyable stories about the years he covered the Oakland Raiders, as well as a rather obscure sexual misconduct case against a basketball player with the University of San Francisco. The very best parts are Nevius's lookbacks on the Oakland Raiders he once knew, and what has happened to them as time passed. Nevius knows touching stories about these men, several of whom died quite young.


But if the center of this story is Nevius himself, he needs to make us care a little more. We get no insights into his upbringing or how or why he came to love sports, so we are not particularly involved with him as a sportswriting adult. His experiences are interesting to a local audience, and I am one of these who remembers with pleasure the Raiders' glory years, but the performer seems to have learned little from them except to always go for the scoop.

We love this advice, given by his editor: "Go the game, see what happens, and then write that." Every writer ought to pay attention to that one.

Our guess is Chuck Nevius is a really nice guy. He comes off that way. He can come to my house anytime to talk about the Raiders. But if he is going to have a solo show, he has to come up with a reason to be on stage, aside from talking about himself.





RATINGS: ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog awards TWO STARS to C.W. Nevius: "The Oakland Raiders, True Crime and Coming of Age in San Francisco." It is a young show that needs time to mature. Whether or not the show is about the Oakland Raiders or the beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, we need to know more. And a shorter title, please.


"C.W. Nevius: "The Oakland Raiders, True Crime and Coming of Age in San Francisco"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Through Dec. 15
$20-$35 (sliding scale)

Saturday, December 1, 2018

John Fisher: A History of World War II: UNRATED



Unless you are Mel Brooks, it's hard to get laughs out of Nazis, but John Fisher tries. His manic one-man history of World War II from D-Day to the Fall of Berlin, as he falls to the ground shooting a pretend rifle and gets the audience to make machine gun sounds, and German soldier sounds, and bombs-exploding sounds, is funny and gay.  You will laugh, but you may have a problem with German soldiers being thought of as "hot," causing Fisher to hold his legs together as if he has to pee with, we suppose, desire. Perhaps we oldsters have stronger antipathy towards Nazi stormtroopers.



Not that the "great uniforms and monocle" joke doesn't work, once, but after the tenth time it started to feel kind of...weird. The guards at Auschwitz are not "hot." At least, not to this audience member.

John Fisher is a gifted physical comedian, as well as a student and encyclopedia of World War II. He has a great deal of fascinating information for us. Did you know the Russians raped their way into Berlin? Did you know how close the Germans came to winning the war at the end? Did you know Hitler was a vegetarian who didn't smoke or drink? All true. Now you know what to reply to your obnoxious friends who won't touch veal.

But we left the theater feeling we had missed the announcement that this is all high camp and everything is just a big joke. Maybe it is. Unless you miss the joke.


RATINGS: UNRATED

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division feels a bit foolish and old fashioned, but we have chosen not to rate this show. John Fisher is a pro who knows how to work an audience. His show feels like a great party bit, but this is not a party everyone has been invited to. I'm afraid our invitation must have gotten lost, amidst all the confusion.

"John Fisher: A History of World War II"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia St., San Francisco
Thursdays and Saturdays through Dec. 15
$20-$35 Sliding Scale

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War" ☼ ☼ ☼





It was lovely to see the house filled for the opening of Mona Mansour's "We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War," directed by Evren Odcikin. A minimalist production with four characters, a stage, a blackboard and a backdrop onto which electronic images are projected, the show attempts to involve the audience in a study about war. Why do we do it? Does war accomplish anything in the long run?


We loved the acting, especially the two leads Sarah Nina Hayon as She and Joshua Chessin-Yudin as He. She is He's anti-war aunt. He, her nephew, has enlisted in the army. Most of the show consists of She and He pretending to swim (done brilliantly, using nothing but chairs on wheels plus the sound of water in the background) while they carve out their positions: She doesn't get why He would ever want to kill Arabs (she is Lebanese, he is one-quarter Arab) while He is an American kid who just wants to "get bad guys."


Also present, from time to time, are Adam El-Sharkawi as The Arab and Tre-Vonne Bell as The American. The most telling moment of the night comes after She admits to He that she is afraid for him, that she wishes her nephew didn't have to go fight. From his perch, The American, who is African-American, says, "But it's OK for me to go, right?" In this moment we understand that none of us want to lose our own, but at the same time we understand somebody has to stand up for us against the bad guys. We just don't want it to be us.


RATINGS ☼  ☼ ☼ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division, admittedly headed by a one-time Draft Dodger, gives "We Swim..." THREE STARS. A World Premiere, there are important questions considered here, but we feel somewhat lectured to. We would prefer a little more theater.

Staging is what saves us from feeling like we have been sent to the principal's office. We love the evocative way the two swimmers choreograph their movements, including, at one point, the shared fear of drowning that neither wants to admit. We are with them every second they are in the water. This is a masterful touch.


"We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War"
Potrero Stage
1695 18th Street, San Francisco
Through Dec. 16
$15-$38