Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bell, Book and Candle: ☼ ☼ ☼


It's Christmas, Homie. More reality is not what any of us need. So SF Playhouse's choice of John Van Druten's "Bell, Book and Candle" for its annual feel-good holiday show is an inspired one. First a stage play, then a 1958 film starring Kim Novak, James Stewart and Ernie Kovacs, the show gives us old-fashioned sensibility along with an appealing love story.


See, they're witches. Some of them, anyway, including Lauren English as Gillian, Scott Cox as her brother Nicky and Zehra Berkman as Miss Holroyd. William Connell plays Shepherd Henderson, the prototypical fifties romantic straight man, and Louis Parnell has all the good funny lines as the alcoholic author Sidney Redlitch. Did you know witches cannot cry? Well, they can't, unless they fall in love, which they also can't do. Brooms, yes. Messing with the electricity grid, yes. But matters of the heart? Nuh uh.

Don't fret. Lauren English has special powers. It all turns out fine.


Shout-outs to Kurt Landisman whose lights really make the set come alive. And that cool red love seat: Artistic Director Bill English scores the rare Theatrical Hat Trick for this one -- he designed the set, directs the play and Lauren English is his daughter.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Bell, Book and Candle" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. It's perfect for Christmas, simple, lighthearted and you don't have to buy it a present. The show will work for all ages.



---------------
"Bell, Book and Candle"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street (second floor Kensington Park Hotel)
San Francisco
Through January 19, 2013
$30-$70






Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Big River: ☼ ☼


A reviewer would be well served to listen to Huckleberry Finn:

"But I never said nothing, never let on; kept it to myself; it's the best way; then you don't have no quarrels, and don't get into no trouble."

So sharpen the points on the slings and arrows: "Big River," based on Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn," show written by William Hauptman with music and lyrics by country music icon Roger Miller, is trite to the point of treacle.


"Huckleberry Finn" was published in 1885 and deals with the issues of slavery and inter-racial friendship in the 1840's, along the rivers of Twain's Missouri childhood. It is one of those rare pieces of literature that can be read at all ages, and each reading produces a new revelation. Twain infused Huckleberry's adventures with both humor and depth. The Theatreworks production offers some excellent acting by side characters, particularly the Duke (Jackson Davis) and the Dauphin (Martin Rojas-Dietrich), and Twain's potent zingers make point after understated point.

But the music! To accompany a story of such longing and personal and political upheaval, the show's producers selected a composer with a limited musical palette. Everybody loves Roger Miller songs when he is the artist -- "King of the Road" is a true classic. But "King of the Road" is not Huckleberry Finn, and Big River doesn't even have a "King of the Road." Several of the songs are downright insulting -- notably the idiotic spoof about Arkansas, and practically every attempt at black gospel. For the first time in memory, the score is actually hurt by the inclusion of a pit orchestra. When every song sounds the same, it does not help to add violins.



We would be remiss not to mention that Miller won a Tony Award for composition on Big River. Also, the audience, or certain members in the audience who stood up and cheered at every opportunity, appeared to love the show. We heard one member of the audience say to his companion: "Huck Finn is an American classic. I never read it."

We liked Lucinda Hitchcock Cone as the Widow Douglas and Sally Phelps. James Monroe Iglehart as Jim and Alex Goley as Huck were adequate by themselves, but didn't seem to have much chemistry as the raft-riding centers of the story. Gary S. Martinez as Pap Finn was over the top as Huck's drunken father. Instead of being the dangerous and evil parent that Twain had written, he was painted, like so much of this production, as a cute caricature of hillbilly denseness.

Robert Kelley has been hitting home run after home run for several years at Theatreworks. This time -- not so much.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Big River" Two Stars, Bless Their Heart, one for the Prince and one for the Dauphin. But if you loved Huck Finn as a boy, and even more as a man, you can't help feel sold down the river by this production.




----------
"Big River"
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road
Palo Alto
Through November 30
$23-$73







Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Acid Test" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼


If you ever knew anything, or read anything, or heard anything about Ram Dass, you will probably love Lynn Kaufman's "Acid Test," an eighty-minute performance triumph for actor Warren David Keith. Kaufman and Keith tell the story of 60's icon Richard Alpert, scion of a wealthy family and tenured professor at Harvard at age 29. Alpert meets Timothy Leary, discovers hallucinogenics and the game is up. He travels to India, meets a guru and is given the name Ram Dass, which means "servant of God." Ram Dass's books, lectures and insightful phrases become desktop images for a generation, before there were desktops.


The one in my mind right now, on November 16, is: "If you think you are enlightened, go home for Thanksgiving."

Warren David Keith is so very good. The only way this reviewer would know for sure that he is NOT the actual Ram Dass, is that author Kaufman was holding court after the show and told a trusted associate she and Keith are heading to Hawaii to perform the show for Ram Dass himself, who has lived there since his stroke in the 1990s.

There are wonderful stories here -- the vignettes about the acid-laced baseball game in Mexico, everything about Ram Dass's father, and, of course, his jabs at Andrew Weill are all standouts.

RATINGS: ☼   ☼   ☼  ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards "Acid Test" Four Stars. It is an unforgettable show about an unforgettable man, with acting, writing and directing all hitting the mark.

-------------
"Acid Test"
The Marsh Berkeley
2120 Allston Way, Berkeley
EXTENDED Through January 5
$15-$35 sliding scale



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Another Way Home" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG


"You see, it was quite a weekend. And it would go on the rest of our lives," says Philip, the dad (Mark Pinter). He and his wife, Lillian (Kim Martin-Cotten), have driven from New York to Maine, to spend the weekend at Camp Kickapoo with their 17-year old son Joey (Daniel Petzold). Joey's disgust for his parents appears to be as psychotic as it is understandable. The parents bicker between themselves, they have what is obviously just one in a long string of fights, Philip screams at Joey and Joey takes off. For hours, all through the night, no one knows where he is, or even if he may have done something horrible to himself.

Now, the parents must come to grips with what the possibility of losing their troubled son would mean.

They are aided in their questioning by camp counselor Mike T., played with a lot of heart by Jeremy Kahn, and by their 16-year-old daughter Nora (Riley Krull). The kids are right on top of the issues, acting like adults, as the parents squabble like babies.






JOEY
I just want to be alone, OK?

PHILIP
No, that's not okay. Not when we came all the way up here to be with you. You know you could show an ounce -- just an ounce -- of gratitude.

LILLIAN
He doesn't need to thank you for coming. You're his father.

PHILIP
You never let me forget it.

LILLIAN
What's that supposed to mean?

JOEY
I can't take the two of you anymore. Talk about grating.

MIKE
Hey, does anyone like lobster? Because there are some really awesome lobster shacks...


The ending is a bit formulaic, but playwright Anna Ziegler wants to leave us with a snapshot of hope for this family. For us, the parents could be a little more redeeming -- they are both such disagreeable people -- and don't seem to grow during this drama.  But that's the parent in us talking. It's easy to identify with the horror of trying to raise a troubled child.


RATINGS  ☼  ☼  ☼  BANG   
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Another Way Home" Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. There isn't enough meat on these bones to justify an extra star, though director Meredith McDonough does not allow the pace of the 80-minute one-act show to falter. The BANGLE is for the actors playing the kids -- Jeremy Kahn, Riley Krull and Daniel Petzold. These three are young adults, not children, but they help us remember the angst of being in between.


-------
"Another Way Home"
Magic Theatre
Fort Mason Center, Building D, San Francisco
Through Dec. 2
 $22-$62

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

" Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" ☼ ☼ BANG


The stage in San Francisco Playhouse's new home has a lot more space for the actors and musicians to work. Every inch is used in Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman's rock and roll musical "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," which originally premiered in New York in 2009. This regional premiere has received excellent reviews since it opened in early October, but for us it lacks an effective center.

Rock and roll is like that -- you've got to convince your audience. Maybe election season 2012 is not the best time for political discussions on stage of the issues of 1828, which are not all that dissimilar from what we are talking about today -- the greater good versus individual perfidy, for example. The problem is that the author does not seem to have made up his mind how he feels about his protagonist. Is General/President Andrew Jackson an American hero whose victories expanded the territory of the United States? Or is he a hated bigot whose portrait belongs on the wall at Indigenous Peoples' Day headquarters? Is he a flawed hero? Of course. But fatally flawed, or just misunderstood?

There's a lot of space between these two poles. Perhaps the music could help us come to a conclusion, but the lyrics are caught between cutesy and overly complicated, while the score is one-dimensional and frenetic. On this night those guitars added power but little else.




The lead, Ashkon Davaran, has been making a name for himself in town due to his celebratory video for the San Francisco Giants World Series victory. He was energetic but didn't have a lot to work with. William Elsman was an effective John C. Calhoun in a limited role, as was Safiya Fredericks as Henry Clay/Black Fox. Ann Hopkins, as the story teller, was an audience favorite.


Historically, the show asks a lot of important questions. But, as one audience member said, rather too loudly as the show ended: "Man! That was complicated!"


RATINGS: ☼ ☼ BANG 
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson" Two Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. Two stars falls below the Julie Andrews line (see explanations of ratings in sidebar), but Jackson's history rates a BANGLE because we do learn quite a bit about the man. Were his parents really murdered by Indians before his eyes?

For us the bottom line is that a musical without singable songs means the show's energy either lifts you or leaves you flat. It's hard to hit the bulls-eye every night.

----------
"Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson"
San Francisco Playhouse
NEW ADDRESS: 450 Post Street, San Francisco
Through Nov. 24
$30-$70

Friday, September 21, 2012

"The Other Place" ☼ ☼ ☼




The Magic Theatre has opened its 2012-2013 season with a terrific show by Sharr White. "The Other Place" makes us work to figure out what is real and what is not. Part of that discovery is our slow realization of the story's true subject matter. What starts out feeling like "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" turns into something very, very different. We love it that the playwright has crafted the arc of the story so brilliantly (especially for a One-Act 80-minute presentation) that we do not dare mention another word about it for fear of angry Spoiler Alert letters from viewers like you.

Don't worry: you'll get it. But don't plan dinner immediately after the show. You may have to sit in your seats for awhile when the lights come up, just to catch your breath after the devastating ending.


Henny Russell is remarkable as Juliana. Her performance is both unsettling and tender -- inexplicable until it all makes sense. Much of this is in the writing but Ms. Russell has to be perfect for us to stay with her. We do, and she rewards us in the end. Meanwhile, Donald Sage Mackay as her husband Ian plays someone as confused as we are, although we come to realize he has seen what is going on far longer than we have.

Carrie Paff plays several parts, the most telling as The Woman who actually lives in The Other Place. Seeing her confusion enables us to crystallize our own. Role after role, Carrie Paff just gets better and better.


Patrick Russell rounds out the cast as The Man. If you saw this year's "Body Awareness" at the Aurora, you will be relieved to know that Jared has survived. Russell also plays multiple roles, including Bobby the nurse and Richard Sillner, the sort-of-alive grad student. That's all you're going to get from us.

"The Other Place" is not lighthearted. You will not be uplifted. You may even be discouraged until that martini comes, as you consider the personal ramifications of what you have just seen.  But you will be talking about this one for awhile, because you have been lucky enough to catch a night of brilliant theater.





RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards Sharr White's "The Other Place" Three Stars. Henny Russell earns one star, Loretta Greco earns another for her excellent direction of a show with more time-signature changes than a Dave Brubeck album; the last star is for the story itself. We wish we could go back and see all the clues we missed. Well, we can. Maybe we will.


-----------
"The Other Place"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason Center, Buildling D, Third Floor
San Francisco
Extended through October 14
$22-$62

Photo credit: Jennifer Reiley

Saturday, September 1, 2012

"The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG BANG



Playwright Kristoffer Diaz has written that there are two categories of theater:


1) The type written by "theater people" for "theater people."

2) The type you take your Dad to.

Diaz's "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" is definitely a 1-415-CALL DAD. From the second you walk into the Aurora and see the entire floor is taken up by a wrestling ring, followed by Dave Maier's spiel as bad-guy wrestler Billy Heartland, who stalks around the ring getting the audience involved in the hi-jinx they're about to see, you know you're in for a night of fun.


But Diaz is one subversive dude. Though the show is written almost completely in monologue -- character to audience -- he lets you see what is inside these wrestlers, who are athletes at the core. Some are heroes, some are villains but all are caricatures. They love it. It's a show.

We can't write another word without mentioning the irrepressibly brilliant Tony Sancho, who plays Macedonio Guerra, known in the ring as The Mace. Sancho's performance is one for the ages, a role few people could play. He's a small athlete with a big heart, an overgrown kid who sees the world as it is and accepts his part in it -- well, almost.

Rod Gnapp always gets the Rod Gnapp parts -- the flawed coper, smarter than people think, but not quite smart enough to get out of the hole he's dug himself into. In this case, Gnapp is the empressario of The Wrestling. He's a kind of Sol Hurok for the common man, full of life and mindful of his audience. Beethovan Oden as idol Chad Deity (who has a dollar sign painted on his shorts) and Nasser Khan as Vigneshwar Paduar, whose hysterical transformation into the wrestler known as The Terrorist, tell us all we need to know about Kristoffer Diaz's politics. The entire cast is a total joy.


If there is a flaw it is in Act Two. We are not in an art house here, it's a wrestling match. We want to know what happens to Mace, but instead we get the ol' Maybe This-Maybe That. This show is for Dad, remember? Dad likes answers, not questions.

But everything else about Chad Deity -- set (Nina Ball), lights (Kurt Landisman), direction (Jon Tracy) and belly laugh dialogue -- make us love this show, flaws and all. Diaz is telling us to look past the dollar sign on Chad Deity's booty and go for the heart.


RATINGS ☼  ☼  ☼  BANG BANG
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division insists on the Two BANGLES of PRAISE, one for Macedonio Guerra and one for Che Chavez Castro, both whom are played by Tony Sancho. But the questionable ending costs the show a star -- fix it and we've got a Four Star Two BANGLE lollapalooza. For now, we'll settle for calling up everyone's Dad and telling him we've got a show he and his family are not going to want to miss.


-
--------------------
"The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity"
The Aurora Theater
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through Sept. 30
$32-$50

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Time Stands Still" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG



War photographer Sarah Goodwin (Rebecca Dines) walks heavily up the stairs and into the Williamsburg apartment that she shares with boyfriend and fellow journalist James Dodd (Mark Anderson Phillips).  They are newly home from a hospital in Germany which followed a tour as journalists in Iraq. She is seriously injured and lucky to be alive. James cares for her but there is something else bubbling under the surface, which begins to come clearer when Sarah's photograph editor Richard  (Rolf Saxon) arrives with his new girl friend, the much younger Mandy (Sarah Moser).



Sarah and James are in trouble. The i.d.e that exploded under her is only part of it.



 This Theatreworks Regional Premiere is a very good one. Dines and Phillips are excellent, but the show is in some ways stolen by Moser's Mandy. We expect her to be vapid. She is anything but. Whereas the other three share a lot of history, Mandy is a newcomer. She is unafraid to speak her mind.


Act Two wanders a bit. James and Sarah's wedding is doomed from the start. The point seems to be that people who experience the rush of combat often are unable to recreate that satisfaction anywhere else. Sadly, in our world of constant war, this is a story we already know. It is very interesting to see how Richard, who lives off people like Sarah who risk their lives to create product that Richard can sell, has become so happy with his young and innocent new love. It's a complicated story that will make you think.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  BANG

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Time Stands Still" THREE STARS with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. Leslie Martinson's direction makes us sit still in our seats during intermission, wondering what ending can possibly tie together all these subplots. The BANGLE is for the brilliant writing as James explains how he figured out what was going on with Sarah while they were apart. These are adults here, dealing with problems few of us ever have to face.

------------
"Time Stands Still"
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through September 16
$23-$53

Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin







Friday, August 17, 2012

"Triangle" UNRATED

In keeping with our practice of not reviewing shows in their work-up stage, we normally stay quiet after seeing them. However, we wish to alert our readers that "Triangle," a musical written by Curtis Moore, Thomas Mizer and Joshua Scher, playing for only a few performances in the Theatreworks New Works Festival, is a show you will hear a lot about.

What a cast! Bryce Ryness, Jenni Barber, A.J. Shively, Sharon Rietkerk and Kelsey Venter sing as  well as they act. The music never stops, but the best part about it is that it is original, without sloshing down into Broadway musical clich├ęs.

Sure there are holes in the script at this point. They'll fill 'em in. Watch for "Triangle" in the future.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Upright Grand" ☼ ☼ ☼


When we saw Laura Schellhardt's "Upright Grand" at last summer's Theatreworks New Works Festival, we were staggered with how good a playwright Schellhardt is -- this being her third show in less than two years that we had seen. All are different, heartfelt and filled with raw emotion.

 Of course, there is no better way to insure you will be disappointed than to see the "improved" show you loved when it was new. All the good parts are still here -- the touching relationship between father and the daughter, the innovative (and tightened-up) interplay between the real on stage accompanist (Brett Ryback) and the actors pretending to play the piano, and the constant appearance of the show's true villain -- the inevitable passage of time. Kiddo (Renata Friedman) catches and surpasses Pops (Dan Hiatt), as we know she must, and as she does so every parent in the audience feels an all-too-familiar punch in the gut.

So what's the problem? It may be chemistry. Hiatt and Friedman are both excellent actors but they are abstract with each other, never touching, never really connecting until it is too late. Friedman doesn't seem young, and Hiatt doesn't seem old. In a talk-back after the Wednesday performance, the actors and dramaturg Vicki Rozell claimed the show has changed very little since 2011, but it does not feel that way.

What has improved is pacing and staging; what has not improved is a true connection. Perhaps this is the way Laura Schellhardt and director Meredith McDonough see their two leads, but although we enjoyed this year's production, last year the show tore our guts out.  Then, there were men crying -- yes, men crying in the theater -- all through the house. This year -- well, not so much.


We love the elevation of Brett Ryback's several roles. He acts as well as plays all the piano pieces. He is excellent as a Russian would-be impressario and blind piano tuner, and he obviously knows his Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Henry Mancini.  But perhaps there is a price to pay by adding a third wheel. We knew this show as a duet, a back and forth between Kiddo and Pops. Now it's a trio.


All that aside, "Upright Grand" hits you where you live. This is the World Premiere and they are still working things out -- the Rachmaninoff, for example, was added when the show was already in previews. So give it time. If you are seeing it for the first time you will be entranced. There is never an excuse to miss any Laura Schellhardt show.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Upright Grand" Three Stars.  Staging, acting and music earn one star each. We especially liked Pops at the bar. Pops, you shouldn't have quit. Really.

----------
"Upright Grand"
Lucie Stern Theater
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through August 10, 2012
$24-$73

Photo Credit: M. Kitaoka and T. Martin

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"My Fair Lady" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ Woo Hoo



Last night was the 51st and last Opening Night for San Francisco Playhouse at their Sutter Street addresss. Beginning with the 2012-2013 season in October the company is moving around the corner into their newly renovated and larger quarters in the Kensington Park Hotel, long-time home of the Post Street Theater.


So how better do you go out than with an absolute Five Star performance of Lerner and Loewe's classic "My Fair Lady?" They've stripped it down to two pianos, one on each side of the audience, and filled Nina Ball's unique set with actors who act and sing like they have been doing this show all their lives. Seeing as Eliza Dolittle is played by Monique Hafen, who can't be twenty-five years old (which means My Fair Lady opened on Broadway when she was minus thirty), clearly this cannot be so. Hafen and director Bill English give us a grittier Eliza, far more streetwise than Julie Andrews ever tried to be. They also give us Johnny Moreno as Henry Higgins. We expect Rex Harrison -- a proper (and middle aged) English gentleman, but Moreno gives us a more vibrant, angrier but equally clueless Higgins. This combination could be dangerous, but instead we are spellbound at the energy between the two leads. As an example, take Moreno's "I'm an Ordinary Man" and Hafen's "Just You Wait." It is both a surprise and a pleasure to see what the undertone of class anger can do to these two brilliant songs.

Add in Charles Dean as the swaggering (and staggering) Alfred P. Dolittle, Richard Frederick as Colonel Pickering and Karen Hirst as Mrs. Pearce/Mrs. Higgins, then sit back and listen to perhaps the most brilliant libretto and score ever created for musical theater, and you cannot help but come away feeling you have seen theater the way it is supposed to be seen.


It doesn't hurt that there isn't one word that isn't perfect in Alan Jay Lerner's lyrics ("Move yer bloomin' arse!" is what Eliza is shouting in the above shot), nor did Frederick Loewe ever write one out of place note. Those of us of a certain age who either saw the original Broadway production or have heard glowing first-hand accounts from those who did, must bow our heads and accept that a large Broadway house would bring magic of its own to My Fair Lady. But this reviewer must add that a 99-seat house, where you are no further than a dozen rows in front of the stage, instead of cloistered somewhere up in Balcony Three -- it's priceless.


We are sorry to gush. We know our readers are not used to reading such a rave from the Crusty Curmudgeon. We hope to be feeling better by next season.

RATINGS ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼ Woo Hoo!
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards "My Fair Lady" Five Stars with a Woo Hoo! This is as high as we can go without tumbling off the praise precipice onto an earth that is once again flat and filled with Disney Musicals. Those of you who follow SFTB already know we might have a tendency to award Three or even Four stars to your preschooler's Farsi production of "My Fair Lady" or "West Side Story," but Five is a different ballgame.

Think of the Richter Scale -- Five Stars is Ten Megapissles stronger than Four, as Four is to Three. For further instructions, please refer to the Ratings Guide on the right side of this page.

And as for San Francisco Playhouse, who else can follow "A Behanding in Seattle" with "My Fair Lady" and move on to "Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson?" Note from Colonel Pickering to Bill English and Susi Damilano: "You did it."

Now all you have to do is keep it up.


-------
"My Fair Lady"
San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through September 29
 $30-$70

Sunday, July 8, 2012

SF Mime Troupe's "For The Greater Good" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG


The new SF Mime Troupe production "For the Greater Good" got a less-than-sterling review from the local pundits but this reviewer thinks it's the funniest and best-acted show they've done in years. For one thing, Ed Holmes is back, playing Gideon Bloodgood, an investment banker who will stop at nothing to keep from being incarcerated for his crimes. No one ever did Dick Cheney like Ed Holmes, and when, in real life, Cheney finally seeped back under the rocks from whence he sprang, he took away the Mime Troupe's most appealing character. Then came the financial meltdown and now an upcoming election. Gideon Bloodgood is fictional, but when he buys his daughter a congressional seat we get to  howl out our derision.

This is what the Mime Troupe does best: evil scumsuckers.

Let's also include cheers for Lisa Hori-Garcia as Bloodgood's wealthy daughter Alida ("just call me Tanya") who aspires to be a revolutionary, and for the terrific Reggie D. White as Damian Landless, who dresses like the devil as he slinks magnificently across the stage, but is also the head of the last Occupy Wall Street encampment. White is a newcomer to the cast and we hope he sticks around.



But it must also be said that although Landless is the show's slickest character, he is also its most confusing. We have no idea whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. We understand that writer and director Michael Gene Sullivan must be getting tired of writing good good guys and bad bad guys, so it is tempting to try and make us --gasp -- think. But when we're outside in the park, in the sun, surrounded by tie-dyes and frisbees, we really don't want to think too hard. If there is a fault to "For the Greater Good," it's that we all seem to be complicit in -- something or other.

As for the production itself, we love the way the encampment catches fire. The opening number "Even Better Than Alright," sung by the full cast," "What We Deserve," sung by Victor Toman and Lisa Hori-Garcia, and "Place for You Here," sung by the full cast, are excellent. Composer/Lyricist Pat Moran has to fit in a lot of words and some of the singers can handle them better than others. This year's songs are as good as any in the recent past and the band, as always, is perfect.


RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼ BANG

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "For the Greater Good" Three Stars
with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. It's very good fun with moments that take the show to the level of the best Mime Troupe shows. We love Mr. and Mrs. Puffy.

NOTE TO SFMT: We Press Types love photos. We know they cost money, but it wouldn't hurt to have a photo of Damian Landless in his devil uniform and of Tanya in her stylish camo. If you should ever add these photos to your site, we will post them immediately. Just sayin'...

---------
San Francisco Mime Troupe's "For the Greater Good"
Various venues throughout the Bay Area
See sfmt.org for schedule
All summer long until September 9, 2012
Free (but why don't you buy a t-shirt?)



Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Reunion" ☼ ☼





The reunion that playwright Kenn Rabin seems to be talking about in his two act drama "Reunion" is not the one we think is about to happen. Tom Gillette (Marvin Green) had affairs with two of his high school students while he was their drama teacher. One of them, Valerie (Alexandra Creighton), accused him of rape and had him sent to prison, where he remains; the other, Julie (Lauren English) has continued corresponding with Tom in prison, and is attempting to wring a confession out of Valerie in order to gain Tom's freedom.

It's the developing friendship between Valerie and Julie that is the real relationship here. The two women could not be more opposite but they each have found different ways to deal with what happened to them in High School. The show presents issues that need to be talked about -- for example, when is sex consensual and when is it not -- but the problem with this play is that you'd just as soon never see any of these people again. Tom is pure smarm, Valerie is too stupid for words and Julie's delusional relationship with Tom is, above all, terribly sad.


Greene's Gillette is hard to swallow -- can this obvious a predator fool the prison psychiatrist (Emily Rosenthal) this easily?  Do they really do those penis tests? Are we watching a universe so unlike the one we live in that whatever happens makes sense?

Maybe. Creighton's Valerie is the one who appears to grow -- she's the strongest. The others just seem trapped. This isn't a show you want to think too closely about.

------
RATINGS ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards division awards "Reunion" Two Stars. As part of SF Playhouse's excellent Sandbox Series, this World Premiere will give playwright Rabin plenty of feedback to work with. We love shows with premises that make us work. If Mr. Rabin can give some more heart to Valerie, Julie and Tom he will bring us into their story, rather than keep us out in the audience, in the dark, happy we're out here and not in there.

-------------
"Reunion"
San Francisco Playhouse
Sandbox Series
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through June 30
$20