Sunday, April 22, 2018

"Keith Moon: Who I Am" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

“Keith Moon: Who I Am” is a solo show written and performed by Mick Berry, a San Francisco drummer and performer, about the life of the legendary drummer of the British band The Who. Dissolute, self-destructive, addicted to everything and dead at 32, Moon is a legend not only because of his behaviors but also because no one has ever played the drums quite like him. 

The stage set is one drum kit and an overhead camera so people in the audience can watch Mick Berry’s hands and feet as he plays. He tells Moon’s story at the same time, and he does it with flair and excitement. It’s a terrific show. 

We are not accustomed to drummers talking. We’re used to drummers drumming, forming the musical foundation on which the band is built. But several excellent segments of Berry’s show are his monologues in front of the drums, where he talks about Keith Moon growing up, like the rest of his bandmates, in working class England. A wonderful set piece comes when the young Keith meets his first (and only) drum teacher. Here, we see lessons taught and lessons learned.

Mick Berry has used a cover band in the past. Here in Redwood City he chose to try performing the show using taped The Who songs instead. It doesn't work very well. Berry is a drum instructor as well as a performer, so he knows the most important thing a drummer can do is keep a steady and solid beat. The worst thing he can do is speed up and slow down during a song. The live Mick Berry may be solid; the Mick Berry trying to perform to prerecorded tracks is rather conspicuously out of sync, even when those tracks are practically inaudible to the audience. It doesn't work.

This is the show’s only flaw. We loved everything else about “Keith Moon”  — the writing, performing, and Mick Berry’s musicianship are first rate. Keith Moon left a legacy for rock and roll to digest and Mick Berry has memorialized him beautifully. 


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Department grants “Keith Moon: Who I Am” Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. We love the hubris of a drummer trying to perform a stage show while sitting behind a drum kit playing his rear end off. Mick Berry is a terrific stage presence. With a crackerjack live band, this show could be performed for years.

"Keith Moon: Who I Am"
The Dragon Theater
2120 Broadway, Redwood City
Through April 22

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Eureka Day: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

What a show. On the plus side, the last half of Act One is one of the funniest, laugh-out-loud-fist-in-mouth twenty minutes we have seen in years. This alone makes "Eureka Day" a must-see. When Act Two of Jonathan Spector's newest comedy, having its World Premiere at Aurora Theatre, decides not to wuss out into a Hallmark Card predictable ending, this show has the chance to become a calendar marker for 2018 America.

We meet the Steering Committee for Eureka Day, a present-day politically correct private school for privileged children in Berkeley. There are Occupy Oakland posters on the wall. No one is allowed to use gender-non-inclusive terms, nor, for that matter, dishes that may contain non-recyclable materials. They are debating the use of the term "trans-racial adoptee" for their Gender pull-down menu. The discussion would be ludicrous in any other age but ours.

But not as insane as what happens when one of the children comes down with mumps. This leads to a battle between the Vaxxers and Anti-Vaxxers, made worse by the decision to try and have a calm and measured Facebook discussion about the issue. Ha ha oh ha ha ha.

Rolf Saxon plays Don, the bearded, shorts-wearing leader of the school, whose principal goal is to keep things on an even keel by reading Rumi. His ally is Suzanne, played brilliantly by Lisa Anne Porter whose conflicts become more and more obvious as time goes on. Her monologue in Act Two is a set piece you can't stop thinking about.

Elizabeth Carter is the newcomer to the board. She tries to become a voice of reason, but runs into the principal premise of this show: How can people compromise when no no one can agree on the truth?

Charisse Loriaux and Teddy Spencer play Meiko and Eli, who are having a secret affair which contributes to the disastrous events of Act Two.

We are hoping for a rewrite of Act Two, where the author will continue the energy and absurdity of Act One. Perhaps Act Two would not seem so anticlimactic if Act One were less innovative. But it is.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Eureka Day" --- crud, this is hard -- Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. The cast, Josh Costello's Direction and the basic premise are worth One Star each and the Facebook Dialogue is absolutely side-splitting to earn the Bangle.

Don't troll me. "Eureka Day" is a Four Star show waiting to happen. So let it be, Lord. (I say "Lord," of course, in a non-religious all-inclusive sense.)

"Eureka Day"
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through May 13

Friday, April 20, 2018

Return to the Scene of the Crime: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

It is a shame that the Marsh put David Kleinberg's "Return to the Scene of the Crime" into their upstairs, smaller room. We understand, however. Brilliant as this show is, and Kleinberg is the kind of performer who makes you believe every word he says, Vietnam is slowly being forgotten as those who remember or participated in that struggle age and disappear. Kleinberg says his audiences are mostly Anti-War people who remember how divisive and life-changing just the word "Vietnam" was for them and everyone they knew. This is apparently translating to smaller audiences as time goes on.

And it's a real shame. We loved this show. David Kleinberg is a natural performer without a fake bone in his body. This is not a tale about the glory of war nor its pointlessness. It is, instead, a simple story told with sincerity by the man who lived it.

Kleinberg's previous show, "Hey, Hey, LBJ," which we saw two years ago, is the precursor to the current piece. Fifty years after the photo above was taken, when Kleinberg was a field correspondent in Cu Chi, Vietnam, he returns to Vietnam in 2017 to attempt to perform "Hey, Hey" for the Vietnamese people. "Return to the Scene of the Crime" details the bureaucratic and political difficulties he has to overcome in order to be allowed to perform his show.

 We love the way he takes us backwards and forwards in time, as he is reminded of battles in which several of his fellow soldiers were killed, and then brings us to the present where we meet the survivors and children of those soldiers, with whom Kleinberg is still in communication. In 2017, his wife and daughter are texting him, reminding him he could be jailed or worse. They beg him to get on the next plane and come home. He couldn't do that in 1967 and he can't do it now.

The story is fascinating but the best part is David himself. For soldiers on the field of battle, everyone's experience is different. It doesn't matter whether they agree with what they are being asked to do or not. Bonds are formed that can never be broken. Thankfully, David Kleinberg survived to tell us the tale.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division gives "Return to the Scene of the Crime" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE for the way the performer understands and communicates with his audience. We are sure we will see more of David Kleinberg.

 "Return to the Scene of the Crime"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street
San Francisco

The Gangster of Love: ☼ ☼

The World Premiere of Jessica Hagedorn's "The Gangster of Love" has plenty of theatrical energy, an excellent ensemble of actors and a terrific set on which to operate. Act One sets up for a big Filipino finish. Unfortunately, Act Two is lengthy and disappointing. As a result, despite Loretta Greco's direction, normally spot-on in every detail, "Gangster" feels incomplete. There is woodshedding yet to do.

We loved the women in this cast. Golda Sargento plays Rocky Rivera opposite her mother Milagros, played by Sara Nina Hayon. Both actors are brilliant and bring us around the kitchen table, into the immigrant's life in San Francisco. Having left the Philippines to escape a broken marriage, Milagros is a status-seeking and upwardly mobile woman, consumed with having fine things to show off. She conveys contempt with the simple toss of an arm. Her daughter Rocky is more American than she knows. Sargento shows us Rocky's confusion as she attempts to navigate two very different worlds. Eventually, Rocky becomes caught up in the Haight Street arts world and is dazzled by her free-thinking friend Keiko, payed with grand flair by Dezi Soley.

Sean San Jose seems perhaps underutilized as a Filipino activist. Born in San Francisco and not speaking Tagalog, his story would be an interesting one. He also plays Uncle Marlon, the flamboyant uncle, who turns out to be one of our favorite characters.

We enjoyed Lawrence Radecker as Rick Fox, the clueless gringo, and also Chuck Lacson as Basilio Cruz, the well-meaning Uncle.

Oh, but Act Two. The poet falls into a bad crowd. The brother goes crazy. The mother tries hustle after hustle. The landlord sells out to a corporation. And so on. We have heard all this before and we are given little reason to identify with any of these characters.

After Act One we were excited. The Philippine exodus to America was interesting, and we waited for more. What we got was a morality play about life in the fast lane being dangerous. Someone goes crazy. Someone's band breaks up. Someone dies. The distinct Philippine flavor of Act one is forgotten.


The San Francisco Theater Blog gives The Magic Theatre's production of  "Gangster of Love" Two Stars. This is below the Mendoza Line for recommendations. (See Sidebar for explanation of ratings.) Remember, however, that this is a World Premiere. It will become tighter (and probably shorter) as the run continues.

As we write this, having not read Hagedorn's novel from which the play was taken, we find ourselves hoping we didn't miss a subtlety that the heavily-Filipino Opening Night crowd, who applauded enthusiastically at the curtain, might have understood. Perhaps this would explain Jimi Hendrix's wings which look like they were taken from the props room at Angels in America? And how landlord Zeke (Lance Gardner) could possibly fall so fast for the clearly-phony Milagros? And the bad-boy lover, Patrick Alparone, one of our favorite Bay Area actors...well, he didn't seem very bad. Just jive. Maybe this is the point.

"The Gangster of Love"
The Magic Theatre
Building D, Fort Mason Center
San Francisco
Through May 6

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Effect: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

It seems like a familiar story -- the evil pharmacologist versus the innocent subjects in his tainted trial in which a new antidepressant drug may be brought to market. And to a degree it is all of that, but there is more. Lucy Prebble's "The Effect" makes us ask ourselves if control over our lives is simply a measurable combination of brain chemicals, and if so, how can that control be manipulated? In the Social Media age, where our every thought is turned into a sales opportunity, "The Effect" makes for a satisfying but uneasy evening of theater.

Connie (Ayelet Firstenberg) and Tristan (Joe Estlack) have volunteered to take part in a test of RLU-37, an anti-depressant developed by Dr. Toby Sealey (Robert Parsons). Tristan is rough-edged, having volunteered solely for the money, while Connie's motivation seems to be an empty period in her life. The drug, which boosts dopamine, at first seems to make both participants giddy and excited, but as the dosages are boosted things start to run off the rails.

Susi Damilano is excellent as Dr. Lorna, who is supervising the trial at the behest of Dr. Toby. She is clearly not the person to be running things, since her own psychological unsteadiness is apparent. Plus, there is an unspoken attraction between her and Dr. Toby.

We in the audience are being manipulated as well. Theatergoers love a love story. But these characters push this reviewer's panic button. When the dosages are boosted time and again, we find ourselves looking under our seat for a place to hide. A glass of wine helped at intermission.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division prepares two paper cups for "The Effect," one with Three Stars and one with a Bangle of Praise. The Bangle is for Firstenberg and Damilano, who steal the show. The makeup department does an amazing job on Damilano at the end of Act Two. At first we wished Tristan would stop stalking Connie around the stage like candidate Trump, but at the same time, all the characters make us question whether love that comes from the heart is ultimately any different than cups of chemicals flowing down a predictable dopamine highway.

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street
Second Floor of Kensington Park Hotel
Through April 28

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Wolves: ☼ ☼

I've read the universally laudatory reviews of Sarah DeLappe's "The Wolves," and have spent several days wondering what I missed. The idea of a girl's high school soccer team (we think -- perhaps a local team unaffiliated with a school) whose players stretch and practice on stage as they prepare for an upcoming match is a fascinating one. Unfortunately, with nine women talking at once, whose voices are basically occupying one sound frequency, it was practically impossible for us to make out much of the dialogue.

The players are given numbers instead of names. Standout performances are given by 46 (Neiry Rojo), the new girl who is made fun of but turns out to be a crackerjack player; 7 (Emma Roos), who tears her ACL after she has had a spat with 25, the Captain (Sango Tajima); 00 (Betsy Norton), the goalie with the nervous disorder and 11 (Portland Thomas), the philosopher with the two therapist parents. Nicole Apostol Bruno (13) has an interesting side story going with Emma Roos. But every character has her moment.

There is a tragedy at the end, which leads to triumph of a sort. Life goes on and the game must be played.

Most reviews we have seen speak of female empowerment being central to understanding this show. This is true. These young women are bonding for a shared purpose while learning to face the world as the strong adults they will soon be. For us, the execution, not the concept, is where the show fails to deliver.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Wolves" Two Stars, one for Neiry Romo and one for Sango Tajima. However, we don't feel it is ready for a Must See recommendation at this moment.

"The Wolves"
Marin Theater Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
EXTENDED Through April 15, 2018

Friday, February 9, 2018

Reel to Reel ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

In John Kolvenbach's 2009 "Goldfish" at the Magic Theatre, Andrew Pastides played an introverted young man who was pursued by a beautiful young woman seemingly out of his league. Kolvenbach's newest play, "Reel to Reel," which is having its World Premiere at the Magic, also involves Andrew Pastides as an introverted young man being pursued by a beautiful young woman. Clearly, the playwright has a rich fantasy life, and equally clearly, the fatal attraction of this young woman to this young man makes no sense. But hold on. Have patience.

"Reel to Reel" is a tour de force, a show that intrigues, involves, surprises and rewards the watcher with a complex story about the beauty of storytelling as well as the power of love.

The two characters are shown at three points in their lives: Ages 24, 42 and 82. ZoĆ« Winters as the younger two Maggie 1s and Carla Spindt as the older Maggie 2 are perfect in their roles. Winters also plays the hysterical Betty, friend to Pastides as Walter 1. Oh man, can Betty scream.

Will Marchetti plays Water 2, whose career as a filmmaker has not produced the lasting art that his wife's has. Her splicing together bits of random recordings of their lives -- on the reel-to-reel tape recorder that gives the show its name -- is the last piece for us to unravel in this unusual but fulfilling drama.

The decision to have the actors making the sound effects on stage is a curious one. For this viewer, it works OK, but it brings us into the theater instead of allowing us to remain within our characters' lives.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Reel to Reel" Four Stars. Writing and directing, both by Kolvenbach, acting and staging earn one star each. The show makes you work a little. There is much to see and enjoy.

"Reel to Reel"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through Feb. 25

Saturday, February 3, 2018

"Skeleton Crew" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

As the third installment in The Detroit Project, a trilogy of shows about author Dominique Morisseau's home town, "Skeleton Crew" is engaging. The stage action takes place inside the lunchroom of the auto stamping factory at which the four characters work, but we also catch glimpses of their lives outside. Those lives are what are at stake here, as the auto industry contracts to try and survive the paralyzing recession of 2008. The more we hear about outside the lunchroom, the more we understand what goes on inside.

It's a terrific cast. The two men in the show, Christian Thompson as Dez and Lance Gardner as Reggie appear to be opposites. Dez is young and fiery while Reggie is older and measured.

In some ways, this is Reggie's show. He has moved up to a white collar job, but he grew up in the same East Detroit neighborhood as everyone else. His loyalties are divided between wishing to keep the house he has been able to purchase and not wanting to sell out his friends. He is the one who must choose which side he is on.

Margo Hall is Faye, the elder stateswoman, full of wisdom for everyone but herself. It takes the whole show for us to realize how far she has fallen. Tristan Cunningham plays Shanita, pregnant and unmarried, but determined not to let that get in her way of success.

We loved Dez. His character is allowed to vent his honest frustration. And those frustrations are real: the people at the bottom are the people who get hurt first and worst. These workers, who take pride in doing a job that will result in people everywhere getting to ride in well-built cars, are rewarded by cut pay, longer hours and eventually pink slips as the factory closes.

The attraction of Dez for Shanita, and vice-versa, feels real.

Special mention to Ed Haynes for his lunchroom set. The "sofa," which is actually a repurposed bench seat from one of their cars, the signs all over the walls, the old refrigerator, the coffee pot, the mismatched chairs and that photo of Barack Obama on the inside of Shanita's locker all bring us into the room with our four workers, fighting for their jobs and their pride.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Skeleton Crew" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise for the terrific set piece between Dez and Faye about why Dez brings a gun to work. All four actors bring life to their roles. "Skeleton Crew" gives us a lot to think about.

"Skeleton Crew"
Marin Theater Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
Through February 18

"Widowers' Houses" ☼ ☼ ☼

George Bernard Shaw's "Widowers' Houses," which in 1892 was his first published play, explores themes he would develop in his later work: the plight of the working poor, relationships within the upper classes, and the realization that social change is difficult to achieve.

It's an entertaining farce. The cast, for the most part, is excellent. When we first see Meghan Trout as Blanche, she seems to be a typical upper-crust young Englishwoman abroad on holiday, but as the show proceeds her venal nature is pulled out of her. She coaxed the opening night audience into a satisfying hiss with her "I HATE the poor!"

Warren David Keith plays her father, Sartorius, a self-made man who knows he will never be accepted into the company of the well-born. He is, however, wealthier than any of them, due to his occupation as a London slumlord. Michael Gene Sullivan and Howard Swain share lickspittle duties, Sullivan as the wannabe upper-crust Cokane and Swain playing the show-stopping Lickcheese. Lickcheese is the common man -- think Eliza Dolittle's father -- except that in this case he turns into the equivalent of the modern techie. He enters in rags but returns in a sealskin coat, having figured out how to use the system to his advantage. This turns all the presumptions of the aristocracy upside down.

Costumes by Callie Floor are wonderful, especially with Lickcheese. "Widowers" is already a three-act play, but we would be happy to watch one more act with no one in it but Lickcheese.

Sarah Mitchell is always, always, always a fabulous comedic player. She can walk funny, talk funny, even have her face squeezed funny.

Our only caveat is although we are huge Dan Hoyle fans, we have trouble with him as leading man Dr. Trench. Hoyle can do wonderful things with his face by not saying a word, but for a man who has done solo shows using twenty characters and voices to match, his poor attempt at aristocratic English makes it hard to even understand, let alone identify with him. He seems like a spoiled teenager. Perhaps this is what GBS intended.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Widowers'' Houses" Three Stars. It is worth seeing. But the show is long and the payoff is tipped far in advance. Director Joy Carlin can do little to keep us from knowing early on where these characters will end up. No surprises here.

"Widowers' Houses"
Aurora Theater
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through Feb. 25

Monday, January 29, 2018

Born Yesterday: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG



Michael Torres brays like a high volume goat and Millie Brooks gives it right back to him.  Playing the corrupt industrialist Harry Brock, Torres has a face as florid as his voice is demanding, and as his ex-showgirl/concubine Billie, Brooks counters Harry's obnoxiousness with her refusal to knuckle under. Written in 1946, against the all too-familiar backdrop of a congress for sale to the highest bidder, Garson Kanin's "Born Yesterday" has a little sermon for us too: the bad guy just might lose and the good girl just might win.

Wait -- what year are we talking about? The business tycoon who needs to pull the entire world down into the mud, the lawyers who enable his nefarious schemes and the Senator who will push through any favorable legislation if the bribe is high enough?

We enjoyed Jason Kapoor as journalist Paul Verall; also Louis Parnell as Senator Hedges though he probably could have been smarmier; Anthony Fusco had the requisite amount of smarm as lawyer Ed Devery but he had become world-weary, whereas Harry Brock's nonstop ranting and raving must have seemed cartoon-like in 1946.

Today, not so much. The cartoon is our daily life and nothing is beyond belief.

Special attention should be given to the brilliant set designed by Jacqueline Scott as well as Abra Berman's ultra-cool double-breasted suits. Director Susi Damilano displays her usual great sense of timing for comedies and Theodore H. J. Hulsker's forties music keeps everybody lathered up and in the mood.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division gives "Born Yesterday" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. The first star is for Garson Kanin, whose career as actor, writer and director spanned more than half a century; acting and direction in this SF Playhouse production earn one star each. We award a Bangle of Praise to Millie Brooks's Billie -- it is as if she started Act One in 1946…

... and ended up in 2018.

"Born Yesterday"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, San Francisco
Second floor of Kensington Park Hotel
Through March 10