Monday, May 19, 2008

"The Cooking Show with Karimi and Castro": ☼ ☼ 1/2 + BANG - 1/2 baub

Although they are carrying knives, Comrade Mero Cocinero Karimi ("the man who put the meat in meatless)" and his favorite leftist right-hand man Comrade Ex (not 'X' as in Malcolm, but 'Ex' as in his current dating status), do not appear to be dangerous men. Whether in back of their food prep tables or walking through the audience serving food to the audience, Robert Farid Karimi and John Manal Castro are very funny guys.

Their slogan is: "La revoluciĆ³n empieza en la cocina" (the revolution begins in the kitchen), and their banter is laced with political activism. When Karimi proudly announces the evening's food preparations will come from locally produced organic vegetables, Comrade Ex gently reminds him they couldn't afford the $20/lb. green leaf lettuce from the Ferry Building Farmer's Market and that the soy sauce comes from Wisconsin.

Guised as a television cooking show, there is music too: Karimi's gag song "I Want to Be Where the Iron Chefs Are" is pleasant, but could be tighter. As an evening of entertainment, the duo excels when doing their planned-out bits, but improvisations tend to drag and Comrade Karimi can become a bit overbearing, especially when he is wheedling for donations at the end.

Karimi and Castro can do more with this show (this reviewer saw it at the final performance of the United States of Asian America Festival). It's unique enough to become a true gem. The two need to put aside the public radio personae and think of themselves as stars. They can do it. The audience will always be on their side, because they're really likable guys.

And a special shout out for the The Persian (whoops, Iranian) yogurt with dill and mint: delicious. Thank you, brothers.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ 1/2 + BANG - 1/2 Baub

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Cooking Show with Karimi and Castro" two and a half stars with a BANGLE of Praise (and a half-bauble of Despair). There is not enough happening on a theater level to talk about characters or lighting or staging, but the Cooking Show idea is intriguing and anyone who has ever seen Bobby Flay or Rachael Rae on TV will enjoy the references. The bit about Spam ("Spam has brought joy to Filipinos, Hawaiians and Trailer Parks across the USA") earns a hysterical BANGLE of Praise. But if Comrade Ex's Cutting Corner is going to remain in the show, and it should, he really has to learn to cut something a little more complex than a carrot into slices, and the audience needs to be able to see it.

"The Cooking Show with Karimi and Castro"
SoMarts Center, 934 Brannan Street San Francisco
Part of the 11th Annual United States of Asian America Festival, now concluded

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Octopus": ☼ ☼ ☼ 1/2 BANG!

First off, you're going to see four naked men fondling each other on stage. Kevin and Blake have met Max and Andy in a neighborhood bar and almost immediately they are back at Kevin and Blake's apartment, in their birthday suits, having dispensed with foreplay, and are moving towards the bed.

But before you think this is a 'gay play,' think again. Steve Yockey's "Octopus," produced through a collaboration of Magic Theater and Encore Theater Company, is a universal love story that deals with the meaning of love, the implications of illness and, above all, the power of commitment.

The four men occupy the first fifteen minutes of the seventy minute, one act performance, but it is the appearance of the fifth (Rowan Brooks, as the unexpected Telegram Delivery Boy), that ratchets 'Octopus' away from your everyday relationship drama.

He has a telegram for Blake, which appears to have been sent from the bottom of the ocean. The Telegram Delivery Boy and the telegram are dripping with water, and that water never quite goes away. Quite the contrary: it becomes the show's most powerful metaphor, as well as the home of...the Octopus.

Patrick Alparone is terrific as the younger and more insecure Blake, as is Eric Kerr as his more distant partner Kevin. It is Kevin who has instigated the evening of sex with strangers, to Blake's nervous discomfort, but it is Blake who is prettier and more desirable. This leads to an unforeseen set of circumstances that bring us to a dark and watery world where saying you love someone is not nearly enough.

Clearly, we will all have to meet the Octopus. As Andy (Brad Erickson), the man who has been tossed aside, intones from the depths: "No one has ever bested this beast."

"Octopus" is hard to define -- part farce, it stings with truth. Highest praise to a young writer with a unique and many-armed talent.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ 1/2 BANG!

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards 'Octopus' one star for the writing -- a rare combination of grand story telling with farcical twists. Kate Warner's flawless direction rates half a star, and Erik Flatmo's set design (oooh, that Bjork poster) and Jarrod Fischer's surreal lighting earn half a star each. The last star is for the ensemble of actors, with a special BANGLE of Praise for Rowan Brooks's Telegram Delivery Boy. All the acting is superb, but no one expects Brooks to go where he goes. Three and a half stars with a BANGLE of Praise, and when we see it again we may up it to Four Stars. The show is that good.

Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Wed.-Sun. through June 8; $40-$45 (sliding scale on Wednesday)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Bug": ☼ ☼ ☼ 1/ 2

Who needs Aerosmith? If you want to see two people rip up a motel room in royal fashion, run down to San Francisco Playhouse to catch the San Francisco Premiere of Tracy Letts's "Bug."

Susi Damilano plays Agnes and Gabriel Marin plays Peter. They are both fabulous -- Damilano's monologue at the end of the show as she ties everything together in her superbly twisted fashion, shows her cutting loose and finding a very convincing inner wacko. We know Marin is a candidate for the loony bin from the very beginning, and expect things not to go all that well for him, but don't expect him to drag Agnes into his delusionary downward spiral.

Or is it delusionary? Keith Burkland's Doctor Sweet makes us pause -- what is on the level here? (HINT: Peter, below, is not kissing the doctor's neck. Note knife.)

We knew John Flanagan's menacing ex-con Jerry Goss would return to cause trouble, but...well, you've got to see this show for yourself.

Letts has won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for "August: Osage County," which is running currently on Broadway. He wrote "Bug" in 1996 and it's amazing he hasn't been locked up yet. Wear long sleeves. Don't miss "Bug."

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ 1/2

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Bug" Three and a Half Stars and it might have been more if our heads weren't still buried under the covers. Damilano and Marin earn one star each, and director Jon Tracy earns another for not putting any brakes on the actors in Act Two. Friends, we are awarding the last half star to the stage crew, because not only do they have to come out between acts and insect proof the motel room set, but they're going to have to clean the whole place up afterwards. Great show.

San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Wed.-Sun. thru June 14. $20-$38

Saturday, May 3, 2008

"And If We Shadows: Scenes from a Circus Life" (UNRATED)

Although we enjoyed "And If We Shadows: Scenes from a Circus Life," extended three weeks to run through June 2 at the Brava Theater in the Mission, it's not going to be possible to rate it. Put on by City Circus/AcroSports, an organization dedicated to combining urban arts with circus crafts, the show is part hip-hop break dance, part aerialist and contortionist spectacle and part attempts at slapstick humor. There are moments where the audience catches its breath as performance equals concept; there are also moments where the show feels like a middle school graduation recital.

There are two givens here: This reviewer has not seen many break-dance beat-box performances, and this may be why Carlos Aguirre (beatboxer), Bobby "Finesse" Vicario (breakdancer) and Shawn "Iron Monkey" Hallman (breakdancer) seem to steal the show. Aguirre does beats with his mouth that defy vocal gravity, while Vicario's finesse and Hallman's sheer strength can be jaw dropping. These three are terrific.

On the other hand, there have been many world class circuses that have come to town, and the reviewer has seen them all. How can you compare pros in Cirque du Soleil and Cirque Eloise with kids who are learning their craft? You can't. It's like apples and burning rings of fire.

The audience seemed to be composed mostly of parents and little brothers and sisters. We're very glad we came, and hope that director Tim Barsky continues his quest to combine two very different and difficult disciplines. There's plenty of work to do and everybody seems dedicated to the task. That's the exciting part.


"And If We Shadows: Scenes from a Circus Life"
Brava Theater
2780 24th Street at Potrero, San Francisco
Fri.-Sun. through June 2; $12.50

Thursday, May 1, 2008

"Curse of the Starving Class": ☼ ☼ 1/2 NOOSE

Sam Shepard has earned a reputation as one of America's great playwrights. This reviewer would rank him right behind Eugene O'Neill in giving theater goers nowhere to hide and nothing to look forward to for the rest of their pathetic lives, after which most of them will die miserable, lonely deaths, unless they have done something noble while they're alive, which allows them to be killed in an exploding car.

In Shepard's "Curse of the Starving Class," you feel the disconnect right away. Loy Arcenas's brilliant set, coupled with subtle lighting by Japhy Weideman, brings us into a farmhouse kitchen, complete with oil cloth on the kitchen table, an earlier generation's peeling wallpaper and an old refrigerator which is always empty. But the scene is far from homey. The kitchen is not on stage level but has been built up on rocks, and is surrounded by dry, barren moonscape on all sides. The effect is harshness. Outside is forbidding and inside is no picnic either.

With Jack Willis as Weston, the dad (based on Shepard's own World War II bomber pilot father), and spunky Nicole Lowrance as his daughter Emma, the production has two characters who breathe life into their every scene. Willis is honest and convincing as a doomed drunk, and Lowrance equally convincing as a sharp young woman with dreams, which means she's also doomed. But Weston and Emma aren't on the stage all that much. Most of the first act is taken up with long, philosophical monologues by Jud Williford as Wesley, the confused son, and cynical diatribes by his mother, Ella, played by Pamela Reed.

Well, who wouldn't be confused and cynical in this family? THERE'S NOTHING TO EAT! The Mom cooks the chicken the daughter needed for her 4-H presentation, the son pees on the daughter's project, the father has been on a bender for days, or years, oh, and the daughter has just gotten her first period.

Though the show, which first opened in New York in 1978, has been recently rewritten and reduced from three acts to two, it still feels long. There is what appears to be the ending in Act Two, but then...just kidding. More betrayal, sadness and that exploding car.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Curse of the Starving Class" Two and a Half Stars with a Noose. (The noose is new and will be applied, when necessary, to works by Sam Shepard and Eugene O'Neill.) Shepard fans who have already been hardened by Buried Child, The Tooth of Crime, La Turista, Tongues, Savage Love and True West are sure to find equal sustenance with "Curse of the Starving Class."

"Curse of the Starving Class"
American Conservatory Theater
405 Geary Street, San Francisco
Tue.-Sun. $17-$82