SF Theater Blog

Saturday, June 15, 2019

"The Fit" : ☼ ☼ ☼

At the Opening Night party, author Carey Perloff graciously thanked several friends in the champagne-and-baklava crowd for helping with her newest ending to the show, which she joked was probably the seventy-fifth ending she had tried. If she had polled the theater audience, however, she might have found that seventy-six is a charm. Many of us felt the show is fascinating until the very last second, when the main character takes a turn out of nowhere, while the better conclusion, number seventy-six, is waiting in the hall with her cleaning solutions.

This advice is offered up by one more Reviewer With an Opinion, never a dependable source. Carey Perloff has surely been through this before.

We rooted for Sakina  (Avanthika Srinavasan), as we were supposed to, and despised Paul (Johnny Moreno) and Jeremy (Jeff Kim), also as intended. But when it became clear her goal was to also jump into the greed pool with the rest of them, Sakina lost some underdog luster. Since Paul, the head of the venture capital firm and Sakina’s boss, was so over-the-top phony, gullible and without a redeeming fingernail, and his pathetic assistant Jeremy was the Sarah Sanders of sidekicks, we were left with only Arwen Anderson, as Paul's wife Marcia, to feel hopeful about. Marcia seemed to get it. She remained the consistent voice of sanity in the room, until the puzzling ending.

...that is, except for Ching (Michelle Talgarow). Ching is the true star of the show. Long Live CEO Ching!

The Reuff Theater at A.C.T.'s Strand Complex is small and a difficult space in which to mount a performance with many entrances and exits, but Director Bill English pulled it off. The show is delightful to look at and though its subject matter feels a bit (I hate to say this) commonplace at this point, seeing as we are all coming to accept corporate dishonesty and financial chicanery as a fact of modern life, as something that is supposed to make us smart, not venal, we nonetheless walk out of the show uncomfortable. The ending doesn't pay off because up until then every person on this stage has been in it for him-or-herself. Sadly, this doesn’t surprise us anymore.

RATINGS  ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards “The Fit” Three Stars. It is a tight and worthwhile production, perfect for a small house like the Reuff. We hope Ms. Perloff is already thinking about the sequel, possibly entitled "Coco Bull," starring CEO Ching.

“The Fit”
The Reuff at A.C.T.'s Strand Theatre
1127 Market Street, San Francisco
Through June 29

PS: For those who have commented to us before that they are uneasy with coming to that section of derelict Market Street at night, we happily report that things have recently been spruced up. You can once again see the decorative cobblestones in front of the theater. We thank those responsible and sincerely hope this continues.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Oedipus El Rey: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

We last reviewed Luis Alfaro's "Oedipus El Rey" in 2010. We loved it then and now, nine years later, the show has evolved into the same story but with a new cast and even more punch. We liked everything about this show, from the Greek chorus made up of Chicano prisoners in Central California, to the cast and direction by Loretta Greco, who also directed the earlier version. We get a new Oedipus (a muscular Esteban Carmona)...

...and a new and sexy Jocasta (Lorraine Vélez, with a difficult role - after all, Oedipus has sex with his mother.)

Sean San José, Juan Amador, Gendell Hing-Hernández and Armando Rodríguez are the Greek chorus as well as having individual roles as players in Sophocles' classic tragedy.

There are so many things to like. The music (Jake Rodríguez ), lights (Wen-ling Liao) and costumes (Ulises Alcalá) all add to this tableau of a community completely tied to its roots, good and bad. Change is to be suspected and newcomers must prove themselves to their elders.

We loved these elders, who dispensed wisdom and also, at other times, sold paletas, cell phones and tamales.

We are quite familiar with Pico-Union, the L.A, neighborhood where Alfaro has set his new Oedipus. Obviously, Alfaro knows it too. Everything about this show feels real. You can't say anything better than that.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is overjoyed to see "Oedipus el Rey" again. We grant FOUR STARS to this production and hope everyone gets a chance to come see it while it lasts.

"Oedipus El Rey"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through June 23

Archduke: ☼ ☼ ☼

A tale of two Acts. Rajiv Joseph's "Archduke" is marvelously entertaining in Act One, as we are presented with the Ionesco-like spectre of three Serbian doofuses, each afflicted with terminal tuberculosis, deciding to go with the flow and shoot some or other Royal of the Hapsburg Empire, in order to make some money and perhaps add meaning to their waning lives. The conceit is that this historical assassination, which in reality led directly to the conflagration of World War I, has nothing to do with nationalism but comes down to poor kids who dream of eating a sandwich.

We are introduced to a cast we love immediately: meditative Stephen Stocking as Gavrilo, Adam Shonkwiler as the more combative Nedeljko and Jeremy Kahn as Trifko, the senior member of the team. All three realize that disease has given them a death sentence, but they don't want to die for nothing. Plus, they are hungry.

Enter Scott Copwood and Luisa Sermol as Apis and his Slavic sidekick Sladjana. Although Apis and Sladjana are stereotypical characters we have been watching since Rocky and Bullwinkle brought us Boris and Natasha, they are very funny. As Act One ends, we say to ourselves: "Well! This is great! Where to next?"

Perhaps they should rethink the curtain. Act Two feels long. We already know the historical outcome and which boy is going to do the deed, so the author's dilemma is how to keep us as entertained in Act Two as he did in Act one. In a One-Act we could keep marching along, but an Act Two needs something besides dialogue, dialogue and more dialogue. No one has much new to say, the train ride to Sarajevo is fun but accomplishes little and the show, which started out exhilarating, plods to a three word conclusion:

Gun: Boom. Boom.


RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division loves Rajiv Joseph and is always ready to recommend a Joseph show to its readers. Will they shorten Act Two? Or add a twist? We can think of several, so a playwright like Rajiv Joseph must be able to think of even more. We hope so. In the meantime: Three Stars, which means Go See, but be forewarned about Act Two.

Mountain View Center for the Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through June 30

Monday, May 20, 2019

Wayne Harris: "Mother's Milk" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

He isn't strutting around the stage in the same way as when we saw his "May Day Parade" in 2008. But Wayne Harris still can captivate us with stories about his native St. Louis, when Union Boulevard was filled with unforgettable characters.

Surrounded by bible pounders like his mother, his stepfather (Uncle Bill), and the Reverend Pruitt, Junior, it is amazing that Harris escaped that world at all. As he describes it, St. Louis had "midwestern mentality tied up with Southern ignorance." It wasn't for him. Once he figured out how to march away by playing his bugle, Harris rarely went home. But then his mother became ill.

This show, "Mother's Milk," is about those months when Harris, number three of five children, had to come to grips with his mother's breast cancer, illness and eventual death. These moments, when he returns to St.. Louis, are the highlight of the show.

Harris is accompanied by a small combo (Randy Craig on Piano and John McArdle on bass) and for the most part they impart flavor to the story. For us, we felt that the action tended to stop when Harris moved to the mike to sing and it took a few moments for the story to pick up again. We enjoyed the music and we enjoyed the story but they could probably seam together a little more smoothly. Harris's version of "God Bless the Child" was a standout.

We loved it best when Harris brought to life Reverend Pruitt, or his mother, or his crazy sister, or several other characters from his younger days. His voice became stronger, his body took on a different posture and we were happy to go along for the ride.

It's a heartwarming show. You can't help but like Wayne Harris.

RATINGS ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Wayne Harris: Mother's Milk" Four Stars. We were sorry when it ended and will look forward to his next batch of St. Louis stories.

Wayne Harris: "Mother's Milk"
The Marsh
2120 Addison Street, Berkeley
Fridays and Sundays through May 31
$20-$35 Siding Scale

Sunday, May 5, 2019

"Significant Other" ☼ ☼ ☼

Kyle Cameron's performance in Joshua Harmon's "Significant Other" is so spectacular that it outshadows the rest of the show. Cameron plays Jordan, the gay male friend of three women. They are thick as thieves until, one by one, each of the women gets snapped up by husbands. Jordan ends up feeling old and in the way.

We have seen these female characters in countless sitcoms, the stereotypical fast one, the ditzy one and the more soulful one. The male character is also a cliché, the gay male who is kind but misunderstood, a neurotic Jew, everybody's friend but nobody's baby. Kyle Cameron turns these overused motes into towers of strength with nothing but body language and performance of a brilliant script. He does his best to take a somewhat pedestrian story and turn it into art.

We liked the ensemble cast. Laura (Ruibo Qian) has the biggest part, as the sympathetic friend. Nicole-Azalee Danielle plays Vanessa and Hayley Lovgren plays Kiki, the other two women of this trio, whose ties are far closer than Jordan realizes. We love Joy Carlin but she is wasted here in a simplistic role as Kyle's doddering grandmother.

Of the two men in the cast, Greg Ayers shows great depth in his three roles. August Browning has three lesser roles, including a gender-confusing role as Will.

One thing is for sure: Nobody wants to be Kyle Cameron's understudy.

What is the point here? Gender matters, no matter what anyone says. Friendship counts, but straight women choose husbands over friendship. Gayness means loneliness. And, above all, great acting is every playwright's best friend.


 The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Significant Other" Three Stars. Kyle Cameron's performance is award-worthy and that alone is worth the price of admission. Director Lauren English is wise to give him lots of space. And a special shout-out for Jacquelyn Scott's set. Each scene is a beauty. 

"Significant Other"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, San Francisco
2nd Floor of Kensington Park Hotel
Through June 15

Thursday, May 2, 2019

"Jazz": ☼ ☼ ☼

Gee, such promise. Nambi E. Kelley's adaptation of the Toni Morrison novel, a cast including Margo Hall and C. Kelly Wright and a score by Marcus Shelby. What could go wrong?

On the plus side, C. Kelly Wright's portrayal of the conflicted Violet, whose husband has shot a young woman with whom he was having an affair, is award-show caliber. Hall is her usual seen-it-all-nothing-surprises-me self as both Alice Manfred and True Belle. And Paige Mayes's Parrot, whose every gesture demands our attention, gives us a rare and stunning stage presence.

The truth is, though, that until the actors took their bows and C. Kelly Wright bowed first, we had no idea the story was about her. At least the actors think it is. There are many side stories and unexplained threads that appear and then disappear, to say nothing of time travel and Morrison's expected magical realism that is hard enough to portray on a page let alone on a stage.

And the music -- gee whiz. An adaptation of a Toni Morrison novel set in Harlem in 1926 and entitled "Jazz?" And this is what they wanted from Marcus Shelby? We know and love this man's work. The show desperately needs a wake-up call and it may start here.

Our favorite moments were when Dane Troy, seen above in overalls, who said little but was always on stage, danced with Paige Mayes. In those moments the show seemed to be poised to explode onto a new plateau. Sadly, the segments were short and never returned.

Michael Gene Sullivan plays Joe Trace. Sullivan is an admirable comedian, one of our favorites for many years in the Bay Area. But perhaps due to Awoye Timpo's direction, his relationship with the doomed Dorcas makes little sense -- why, exactly, does the beautiful young girl fall for the somewhat portly. middle-aged soap salesman? -- and then is exacerbated when his wife takes him right back without a thought to the young girl Joe has murdered.

This is "Jazz"'s West Coast Premiere and is sure to be discussed and, hopefully, tightened. Right now there are good notes but they have yet to be assembled into a meaningful score.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants THREE STARS to "Jazz." We enjoyed the show while it was going on, but had looked forward to so much more. With a cast like this, and a performance like C. Kelly Wright's, somebody has to add some oomph. We suggest a phone call to Mr. Shelby.

Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
Through May 19

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Hershey Felder: A Paris Love Story (Claude Debussy): ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Hershey Felder must be getting tired of dreaming up ways to tell the stories of his favorite composers. For us, just listening to him sit at the piano and play, while talking to us about musical history and context, would be more than enough. But not enough for Felder.

In the World Premiere of "A Paris Love Story," featuring the music of Claude Debussy, Felder adds a bit of autobiography, as he relates the story of a young boy (Felder), infatuated with Debussy's music, who travels through Paris searching for homes where Debussy lived, bridges the composer may have crossed, and of course the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral. When Felder announced the boy was standing in front of Notre Dame there was a loud "ohhhhhh!" from the audience.

We love Hershey Felder and would not miss any of his shows. But perhaps the artifice is beginning to show. His French-accented English begins to sound Russian and the story of the young boy in Paris really has no beginning or end. We love Claude Debussy as much as the next person, but the 12-tone music invented by Debussy might not be accessible enough to sustain an entire show.

After the curtain, Felder stood at the front of the stage and took questions from the audience. These were our favorite moments. He is a citizen of the world, erudite and brilliant. His answers were on point and expanded upon. When asked about Notre Dame he reminded us that there are tens of thousands of tourists visiting the cathedral every day. That no one was killed putting out that fire is its own miracle.  At the end, he said, "I can't listen to the news anymore. Just be kind to each other. "


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Hershey Felder: A Paris Love Story (Claude Debussy)" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. Hershey Felder is a wonderful musician but he is somewhat less of a story teller. When the music dominates, as in "Irving Berlin," we can't get enough. In this brand new show there is plenty of music but for now it is taking second fiddle to the autobiography.

"Hershey Felder: A Paris Love Story (Claude Debussy)" 
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through May 5