Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Crowd You're In With: ☼ ☼ baub

Dan (Kevin Rolston) and Windsong (Alison Jean White) are pregnant and both are happy to be. Jasper (T. Edward Webster) and Melinda (Makela Spielman) are not pregnant, but one of them wants to be. Karen (Lorri Holt) and Tom (Charles Shaw Robinson), seen below, are not pregnant and neither one wants to be.

The implied premise in Rebecca Gilman's 'The Crowd You're In With,' having its World Premiere at the Magic Theatre, is that kids ruin everything. The problem is that everyone at the barbecue in Jasper and Melinda's back yard is already having a perfectly miserable time. It's hard to imagine how much worse a brood of kids could make it.

Tom and Karen are Jasper and Melinda's landlords and they are a generation older. Their decision to never have children has made the younger couples uncomfortable, especially Jasper, who's not so sure he wants to have a child anyway. It's a squirmy afternoon in old Chicago, and director Amy Glazer keeps the pressure up by piling on one liner after one liner. For example, Tom reminisces about how no one ever came to see any of the old people in the home where his grandmother lived out her old age. "Is there more pain in having no one to come see you," he asks, "or knowing there's someone out there who doesn't come?"

"The Crowd You're In With" is a flash photo of an angst-filled moment in time. If the decision of whether or not to have children resonates with you, you'll enjoy the show. If not -- it's only one act and there's time to go home and call the kids.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ baub

The SF Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Crowd You're In With" one star for Alison Jean White's Windsong, who keeps coming up with charmers like: "Not to be anti-Polish, but they're a bunch of thugs." The rock-and-roller Dwight (Chris Yule)'s rant against people with children, who come to the restaurant where he waits tables, is wonderful and earns another star. A Bauble of Despair has to be acknowledged, though, because they had to make Dwight look so much like Jack Black. In fact, there are no musician cliches that Gilman missed -- you know, they're stupid, they're freeloaders, they want children but don't want to do any work. Does the reviewer have thin skin? Perhaps.

Two Stars with a Bauble for "The Crowd You're In With." It's pretty good.

Magic Theatre
Landmark Building D, Fort Mason Center
Wed-Sun $25-$75

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cirque du Soleil's KOOZA: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG

When you have a ratings system based on stars and BANGS, there is only one way to rate the new Cirque du Soleil show KOOZA: Star! BANG! Another BANG! Another Star! Whooo, did you see that? STAR! BANG! BANG!

This is a magnificent show. Gone are (most of) the irritating features for which Cirque du Soleil has become infamous, like canned music and (some of the) idiotic warbling in made-up languages that sound like Elves broke into the syntax machine. The show is backed by a terrific live band and, Glory to God, at one point they roll a riser to center ring and a fabulous drummer takes a featured solo!

Production values are still state-of-the-art, but they do not dominate. Kooza is a return to the old days of Cirque du Soleil, where the show is about the circus acts, not vice-versa.

And those circus acts! Kooza has ten, in this order:

1) Contortion OH MY GOD! BANG!
2) Solo Trapeze
3) Duo Unicycle HOLY SHMOLY! BANG!
4) Clowns
5) Highwire

(INTERMISSION: Buy bad coffee for $3.50 and T-shirts for $45 whose sizes have been modeled by three-foot-tall clowns. The extra-large wouldn't fit your cat. Some things never change.)

7) Pickpocket
10)Teeter Board

Through it all, clowns run amok, the sets are outlandishly cool, you've got lights and smoke and cannons firing confetti and the big top in the Giants Stadium parking lot is cozy and packed and it all feels like a major Big-E Event.


The SF Theater Blog Awards Division awards Cirque du Soleil's KOOZA Four Stars with five BANGS. Yes, that's a lot of BANGS for the buck. But this is one of those rare occasions where big bucks and big sponsorship translates into brilliance. No middle-of-the-road play-it-safe stuff here, only one giant intake of breath after another. The three women contortionists at the beginning, the extraordinary dancing pair who somehow make you forget he is riding a unicycle, the absolutely heart-stopping wheel of death and the magically understated gymnast in a white thong balancing on ever-higher constructions of chairs -- well.

Don't miss KOOZA. This reviewer, a noted cheapskate, is thinking about tickets for the family for Christmas. That ought to tell you something.


Big Top in the parking lot at AT&T Park (Giants Stadium)
Third Street at Terry Francois Boulevard
Tue-Sun through January 8

Friday, November 16, 2007

Slouching Towards Disneyland: ☼ 1/2 BANG baub

You can't say 'Slouching Towards Disneyland' is not clever and you can't say there aren't funny moments, even a few touching ones. You can't say Merle 'Ian Shoales' Kessler isn't an appealing front man and you can't say the concept of the world as an endless and mindless 'It's a Small World After All' theme park ride doesn't ring eerily true.

It is probable there is a built-in Bay Area audience for Kessler and sidekick Joshua 'Raoul' Brody and their anti-modernity rants, which may become more focused when the two men have had a little more time to learn their lines. They may find themselves choosing to banter less and sing a little more.

No would ever say these two are untalented guys. It's nothing short of amazing that Kessler danged near pulls the drowning cat out of the river at the very end when the Disneyland references FINALLY start to pay off the intriguing first line of the show's first song: "I found myself in Anaheim with a little time to kill."

But shoot. You can't say the audience gets to grow during the performance. You can't say one feels much empathy for the two curmudgeons on stage, unless you already felt that way before you came to the theater. And you can't say the show is worth running down to the Marsh to see, not yet anyway. But we've all seen inspiration from Kessler and Brody in the past and it's quite possible the Slouch may, in time, stand up, jump out of the motorized cart and start to evolve into something fascinating.

RATINGS: ☼ 1/2 BANG baub

The SF Theater Blog Awards Division awards 'Slouching Towards Disneyland' one star for the absolute hubris of defining the topic for the evening as 'everything that ever happened since the beginning of time.' Another half a star is given for Kessler's very pleasing solo voice but that uber-irritating tape loop that Brody keeps gleefully drawing from his Mac (it repeats 'The Dustbin of History...The Dustbin of History' like it actually means something) receives a bauble of despair. A special bangle goes out for the intriguing line: "Skin is to tattoos what memory is to computers." Not sure what it means but it's too cool to go unrewarded.

The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street
Thu-Sat Through December 8
$15-$25 sliding scale