Thursday, June 26, 2008

"The Stove is White": UNRATED

Storyteller Jeanne Haynes is in her sixties and has an interesting tale to tell about her family. She appeared at The Marsh's Wednesday night Marsh Rising Series, whose purpose is to help development of new shows into the caliber suitable for a MainStage run. Haynes appears to still be more of a living room storyteller than captivating performer (she continually forgot her lines and needed prompting from a helper in the first row), so although there are touching and humorous moments, 'The Stove is White' is not ready yet.

RATINGS

"The Stove is White" has not received a rating.

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'The Stove is White'
Marsh Theater
1062 Valencia St., San Francisco

Friday, June 20, 2008

"The Busy World is Hushed": ☼ ☼ 1/2 BANG baub



At the heart of Keith Bunin's "The Busy World is Hushed" is a quest for understanding. Three characters circle the stage for two acts and spend most of their time discussing the life of Jesus and the parallels with their own lives -- which, the more they talk, become more and more intertwined.

Hannah (Anne Darragh) is an Episcopalian minister who has been sent a newly-discovered gospel of Jesus. She hires Brandt (Chad Deverman) to help her research and ghost-write a scholarly tome about this gospel. Brandt, struggling with the imminent loss of his father, can use a parent and Hannah, with trials of her own, needs someone onto whom whom she can pour her motherly feelings. It's all very neat until her wayward son Thomas (James Wagner) arrives. Brandt and Thomas are gay (the backdrop of the Episcopalian church's struggle with acceptance of homosexual pastors is embedded in the writing), so it's only a matter of time until they attempt to find Heaven in each other's arms. The Mom is perfectly happy with this arrangement -- too happy, in fact, which leads to the final inevitable blowup. No surprises here.



Anne Darragh does a marvelous job of bringing us into her world of scholarship and ministry. If she is bothered by the mysterious death of her husband, or the seemingly destructive behavior of her son, these only serve to strengthen her faith in God. Darragh has the craft to make us believe what would normally be a rather iffy rationalization.

Deverman and Darragh work beautifully off each other. But when Wagner's Thomas is in the picture it falls apart. Thomas and Brandt -- well, they don't have much chemistry. Brandt talks too much and Thomas is a jerk. Still, the audience is asked to feel empathy both for Thomas's disturbing lack of love for his mother, and for the inevitable breakup of his relationship with Brandt. Maybe it's casting, though all three actors have been excellent in other Bay Area roles (Deverman was fantastic in SF Playhouse's 'First Person Shooter'). Perhaps Robin Stanton's stand-here-speak-walk-over-there-speak direction was the best she could do with the material.



Anne Darragh is the only one with a clue and she tries hard to steal the show. The two men, when they're done groping, have little to add to the discussion.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ 1/2 BANG baub

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Busy World is Hushed" two and a half stars with one BANGLE of Praise and one bauble of despair. One of the stars is for Anne Darragh's controlled and underplayed minister; another is for the moments she and Chad Deverman comfort one another. It's nice to watch. The last half star is because Bunin's writing makes us look over our shoulder for God when we leave the theater. We realize we could drive into a pothole and never come out while God stood on the sidewalk selling the Street Sheet.

The BANGLE of Praise is given for Minister Hannah's no-nonsense moment when she stares through the stained-glass windows (that she loathes), and says: "I want my windows clear of stain. I want nothing to cloud my view of God." She is able to bare her soul and bring us with her.

The bauble of despair has to be given to the depicted amorous relationship. Perhaps both actors are gay, or one, or none -- and perhaps straight theater reviewers are not supposed to get gay groping -- baloney. Has anyone seen Octopus? Love and fire are there, or they're not. If not, please let them stop writhing on the rug.

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"The Busy World is Hushed"
Aurora Theater Company
2081 Addison St., Berkeley
Thu-Sun through July 20: $40-$42

Sunday, June 15, 2008

" Squeezebox": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG BANG



Brandy the Crack Whore is great, and Julie from Christ the King is great, and the banjo player girl with her dirty toenails is great, and Shoshana who just got back from Calcutta is great...above all, Ann Randolph is really, really fun to watch. She plays all these characters and half a dozen more in her latest version of "Squeeze Box," which was originally produced Off-Broadway by Ann Bancroft and Mel Brooks, and which runs through the end of June at the Marsh. Her world is the daily life of Ann, the woman who has been working the night shift at the Homeless Woman's Shelter while pretending to be a successful consultant so she can attract Harold, the accordion player with the three-and-a-half inch long...well, there's a lot going on here.

Rubber-faced and constantly tying her hair into different configurations to match each new character, Randolph is not the classic comedienne who goes for the joke at every turn. Randolph's best moments are just as likely to be gasps of "Oh, no..." as we watch one her characters get ready for another fall.

Favorite moments: maybe when they're camping, and Hopeful Ann is splayed out naked on a bed of pine needles and Mr. Dense Harold says: "Ann, are you ready? and Ann replies: "Don't I look ready?" We can't forget the beautiful surprise touch of the hymn at the end. But maybe the best thing about the show is the search for faith. Ann Randolph makes you think anything is possible, no matter how much insanity surrounds you.



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RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG BANG

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Squeezebox" Three stars with two grateful BANGLES of Praise. Ann, the writer, deserves one star and Ann, the performer, earns the other two. The first BANGLE of Praise is for Brandy the Crack Whore's being able to put 'blowjobs' into the same sentence with 'Brahms,' and the second is for CHOP CHOP CHOP DOWN THAT TREE but you'll have to see the show to understand. You really should. "Squeezebox" is the Marsh at its best: understated and brilliant.

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"Squeezebox"
The Marsh Theatre, San Francisco
1062 Valencia Street
Sat. and Sun. through June 29; $15-$35 sliding scale

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"'Tis Pity She's a Whore": ☼ ☼ ☼



Nobody does stairways like A.C.T. Certainly, the rooming houses in August Wilson's "Gem of the Ocean' and Phillip Kan Gotanda's "After the War" come to mind. Walt Spangler's surrealistic stairways to Heaven in the new A.C.T. production of John Ford's "'Tis Pity She's a Whore" fit admirably into the long line of on-stage carpentry extravaganzas.

As for Ford's almost 400-year-old avant-baroque morality tale: the stairways helped. With two acts encompassing more than two and a half hours of Middle-English conversation, it was good that the actors had somewhere to walk. The subject matter (incest) would certainly have been controversial at the time the play was written, but perhaps less so since the English writer set the tale in Italy where the villains are all Catholics and the evilest of all characters is the Cardinal himself (Jack Willis). It is smarmy he who, as the curtain comes down, pronounces Ford's famous last couplet:

"Of one so young, so rich in Nature's store
Who could not say: "'tis Pity she's a whore!"



Just about everyone is dead by this time and the Cardinal has appropriated all the valuables for himself. Keep in mind that John Ford was one of the leading English playwrights during the reign of Charles 1, a Protestant who married a Catholic to the dismay of the English people (and, presumably, the playwrights).

It cost Charles his head. So expect incest, duels, at least one poisoning, a lot of backstabbing and front stabbing, masks, intrigues and long speeches about lust = death. Perhaps the excellent Rene Augesen (Annabella) sums the story best, when she cries: "Love me or kill me" -- she says this as her brother kneels beside her with a sharp knife between them. Blood will flow.



RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "'Tis Pity She's a Whore" one star for Walt Spangler's priceless set; another for Candice Donnelly's brilliant costumes and Robert Wierzel's inventive lighting, half a star for the music (more in a moment) which helps to convey mood during scene changes; and the final half because it's such a fascinating production and it has Gregory Wallace (Bergetto) in it. He was a brilliant tax inspector last time out but he's a fine Italian scooter-riding fool as well.



About the music: a great deal is made about the performance of Bonfire Madigan Shive on cello. She is part of the scenery itself. She looks great. She sounds pretty good too, plus she can scream. One of these nights she just might eat her cello. Think Baroque Bjork. The audience loved her.



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"'Tis Pity She's a Whore"
A.C.T. Theatre
405 Geary Street, San Francisco
Tue.-Sat. through July 6
$17-$82