SF Theater Blog

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Julie Katz: "Grey Matter" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Julie Katz's "Grey Matter" had us snorting and sniveling with laughter. There are only a dozen more shows before she takes off for the NY Fringe Festival, so I'll keep this short: GO SEE GREY MATTER -- but only if, like everyone else in America, you find corporate-speak hilarious as well as undecipherable. Katz takes us on an angst-filled romp through the brains of the characters who work on many different floors for The Company, until they get fired and go to work for The Corporation. We particularly loved the announcement lady, whose core value is Feel the Spirit and whose Fun Fact is she's never had soda. We wish somebody would change the paper towels in the lunch room. We hope the Assistant VP of Happiness and Effectiveness has a nice life.

Though she looks like a teenager, Katz has had enough time on the planet to become an excellent physical comic, as well as an aphorism sponge. You'll laugh your head off, and when the show is over you'll need a dose of reality. Fortunately, you can get that right outside the door.

RATINGS:☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division, each member of whom is a leader, because WE ARE ALL LEADERS (and, on a personal note, we feel the artisan hot chocolate machine should NOT be moved to the 103rd floor), awards "Grey Matter" Four Stars. We have no choice, because this column was leaked in advance and e-mailed to 13,000 subscribers and the Chronicle.

Julie Katz: "Grey Matter"
The Marsh San Francisco
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
EXTENDED Through July 9

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Invisible Hand: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

What a concept, what a story. Ayad Akhtar's "The Invisible Hand" brings us into a difficult situation where bad or good mean nothing. The only things that matter are money and God, in that order.

"The Invisible Hand" is one of the guidelines of neoclassical economics -- that financial markets always tend towards equilibrium, guided by the "invisible hand" of thousands of competing transactions.

But sometimes this equilibrium can be upset, for just a moment, but enough time for a wise investor to profit. Craig Marker plays Nick Bright, a low-level Citibank executive working in Pakistan. He is kidnapped by a jihadi group headed by Bashir (Pomme Koch) and Imam Saleem (Barzin Akhavan). The jihadis demand a ten million dollar ransom, but Bright realizes his company will not consider him to be worth that much. Facing his imminent death, he convinces Bashir and Imam Saleem to allow him to teach them how to make that much money and more, simply by manipulating financial markets the way he does in his everyday life. All they need is a computer, internet access and Bright's expertise.

Of course, making money like this is anti-Islam. No matter. And no matter that Nick Bright warns his 'hosts' that money can corrupt anyone. The game is intoxicating. Once the ball starts rolling and the profits begin to accumulate, an unexpected series of events transpire.

Koch is the star here -- as the English-born Bashir, a jihadi whose hatred of the West is matched only by his thirst for knowledge, Bashir absorbs Nick's lessons and begins to use them himself. His associates, Imam Saleem and Dar (Jason Kapoor) lose control of Bashir as he begins to implement a spectacular and bloody scheme.

We have a small problem with Craig Marker -- who was absolutely brilliant in MTC's previous "Anne Boleyn" and is excellent here. But shouldn't he be nervous? Frightened? Nick Bright seems far more hostile than a prisoner would be. His attitude and physical self don't seem to change much as his incarceration continues, until the very end. A few tweaks may be in order here.

The lesson is unmistakable: money can seduce an imam, and God can still help out the western nonbeliever, in such unusual times.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Invisible Hand' Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE for Pomme Koch. He is so good that after the show was over, when the young actor came to the front of the stage to make a pitch for an MTC charity, using, of course, his real California voice, I was still afraid of him. I thought he might want to put a shackle on my leg.

There are no bad seats in this theatre. Feel safe buying the least expensive seat in the house.

"The Invisible Hand"
Marin Theater Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
EXTENDED Through July 3

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Velocity of Autumn: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

From the ridiculous to the sublime, The San Francisco Blog Reviewing Staff saw two (2) two-person shows this weekend. Let's just say Theatreworks' West Coast premiere of Eric Cable's "The Velocity of Autumn" is so good it almost puts to rest the memory of...that other thing.

Susan Greenhill is spectacular. She plays Alexandra, the seventy-nine year old mother of Chris (Mark Anderson Phillips). She has barricaded herself in her Park Slope apartment because her other two children want to put her in a retirement home. She is determined to stay in her own home and has filled bottles with highly inflammable film developing fluid to prove her point. She walks around with her late husband's Zippo lighter (which still works), and if anyone makes a wrong move she will blow up the entire neighborhood.

Enter Chris. He is the son who went away, who never quite fit in. He is, we come to see, just like his mother. They understand each other. The police are standing by outside. If Chris fails to figure out a solution to this problem the world goes up in smoke.

Ms. Greenhill gives such honesty to Alexandra, who realizes she is losing her body and mind as time passes. "Every day, another old body part shrivels," she says. " A friend dies. Your world is ending."  And her memory is failing. "I'm not me anymore." The only world she has left is the small, familiar one inside her apartment. She will not leave without a fight.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division, whose members are not as old as Alexandra but sometimes cannot remember where they put their keys, awards "The Velocity of Autumn" Four Stars. How many? Four. See? We remembered. 

Mark Anderson Phillips we know well..."The 39 Steps," "Ideation" and so many more... but Susan Greenhill -- who is this wonderful actor?  She does a lot of TV. We hope she finds a home in the Bay Area very soon. We need to see her again.

"The Velocity of Autumn"
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through June 26