Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Rick Reynolds: Mid-Life At The Oasis": ☼ ☼ BANG BANG

There's something right about Rick Reynolds -- he's a seasoned performer with a lot of humorous bits, and his show "Mid-Life at the Oasis" strikes a lot of chords with the audience. He has gone through some tough times for sure, but appears to have come out standing on his own feet.

He emotes freely about his alcoholic mother and series of defective stepfathers ("As shitty as my childhood was, it was much better then what the adults had"), about social mores ("why did women have to wise up on our watch?"), about the n-word and the c-word, about depression and love. His show peaks with a hysterically funny bit about doing a comedy show at the maximum security prison in Vacaville.

But there's something wrong too. He's got that used car salesman look in his eye. This reviewer laughed a lot but kept an eye out for the fine print, which in this case means feigned sincerity. Reynolds says he's nervous and insecure but gives no sign of it, neither in the way he moves about the stage nor in his material. He utters many homilies, and they are indisputably true, and he is able to recite, in alphabetical order, a list of 100 reasons to go on living, which probably included baby birds and cute kitties, but thinking about his show afterwards you don't feel like inviting Rick Reynolds over to meet your sister.

Here is a comedian who says his finest moment would be the headline: "Rick Reynolds Found in a Pool of Blood." This would be a big improvement over "Comedian Found in a Pool of Blood." It's a funny bit. Most of the audience loved him. You may too.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Rick Reynolds: Mid-Life At The Oasis" Two Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. It might have been three stars, if he were easier to like. Stevie Wonder has been blind for 59 years. That's tragic. Rick Reynolds is 57 and hasn't had sex for six and a half years. Big deal.

The BANGLE of PRAISE is for that amazing performer's-nightmare story about having to insult all the rapists and serial killers in the prison, just to get a laugh. In fact, let's raise it up to two BANGLES for just that bit. It's a classic, and one you'll tell your friends about.

Rick Reynolds: Mid-Life At The Oasis
The Marsh
1062 Valencia St., San Francisco
Through August 30, Sat 5pm, Sun 7pm.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Yes Sweet Can: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Yes Sweet Can! Yes Sweet Can! Say that ten times without taking a breath while standing on one leg balancing a tea cup on your nose and you start to get an idea what this talented young four person troupe is accomplishing. They say they are a cross between circus and theater, but really it's all circus, with individual acts segueing into each other with the help of a fascinating musical track by E. O.

So what is best? The tap dancing trash cans? Matt White's 'Fly Me to the Broom?' Natasha Kaluza's hula hooping? Kerri Kresinski's tissu aerial routine? These were all fabulous, but no better than Beth Clarke's slack rope workout. It's a short show (only 50 minutes) but so much is crammed into that time that by the time they are finished, you are too.

This viewer's only niggle would be that the opening newspaper routine seems to take a long time to develop, though there are terrific moments there too, such as when all four parade slowly under the umbrella before they remove their cloaks. And clearly, judging from the publicity photos, such as the one above where only three of the performers pictured actually appeared with the troupe in concert, there is some personnel juggling going on within the company. This is natural in an industry that demands the most treacherous balancing act of all: staying alive on on a shoestring budget.

One very nice feature of the Sweet Cans is that all four performers look like real people -- no prepubescent 25-year-old Rumanian acrobats here. And because of her endlessly appealing smile, you can't take your eyes off company co-founder Beth Clarke. If there is one lesson to be learned, aside from the result of hundreds and hundreds of hours of practice, it is that a big, honest smile is the quickest distance between audience and stage. Best of all, Clarke looks like she means it.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards 'Yes Sweet Can' Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. It's an evening of fun, it's inexpensive, it pumps your adrenaline and you get to be in a theater, for once, where the oldest person is...well, you. The Three Stars are for the production itself, while the BANGLE of PRAISE is for the interplay of music to performance. Of course, it would be better without the Eurobabble of taped voices singing in incomprehensible languages, but it appears that circuses brought that in when they pinkslipped the elephants. They all do it; there is little of that here. E.O. plays a mean trumpet to go along with the electronic tracks. Remember: When Sour Can't, Sweet Can.

"Yes Sweet Can"
Mission Dance Theater
3316 24th Street, San Francisco
Sat-Sun, through July 19 ONLY
$15 or Pay What You Can

Sunday, July 5, 2009

SF Mime Troupe: "Too Big to Fail": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG BANG

Comedian Jimmy Walker used to have a bit about how he loved watermelon but refused to eat it because if he did someone would be sure to stick a camera in his face and the next day that picture of a black man eating a watermelon would be on the front page of the New York Daily News with the caption: Summer's Here!

Watermelon notwithstanding, for this reviewer Summer does not begin until the Fourth of July, when the San Francisco Mime Troupe opens at Dolores Park. 2009 is the troupe's Golden Anniversary, and for each of the last fifty years they have been taking the previous year's political and cultural events, filtering them through the Mime Troupe lens of Revolution mixed with Guerrilla Theater, and presenting us with an afternoon of onstage and offstage mayhem that we talk about for the rest of the year.

This year they've outdone themselves. "Too Big To Fail" is too good not to be seen by everyone. From the queens (with names like Reina Terror and Tammy Faye Bakersfield) giving goofy dedications at the outset, to the troupe taking its well-deserved bows at the end, this show always brings out our city at its weird and wacky best.

Pat Moran's songs are funny and good, with "More Money" and "Too Big To Fail" particular standouts. The band is terrific -- Moran has that catchy West African guitar style down pat. Keiko Shimosato's shark costume (as the evil shark devours all the smaller fish, one by one) has to be seen to be believed. As always, the show is so topical it hurts. It's a carnival atmosphere and it's free. Come on. How can anyone live anywhere in the Bay Area and not go to see the Mime Troupe?

Shall we not forget to mention how classic it is to revile the plutocrats one second and then raise the rack of exorbitantly priced Mime Troupe t-shirts and banners while extorting us to buy, buy, buy?

But, hey. Nothing ever makes sense in this city and the Mime Troupe doesn't either, except that they're brilliant and caustic and hysterical. Summer's here! If you don't go see "Too Big to Fail" you're a capitalist stooge who probably doesn't even like watermelon.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Too Big to Fail" Three Stars with Two BANGLES of PRAISE. Michael Gene Sullivan (who co-wrote the show with Ellen Callas), Velina Brown and Adrian Mejia are excellent, as well as the rest of the cast: Ed Holmes (who will always be Dick Cheney to us), Lisa Hori-Garcia and BW Gonzalez. One BANGLE of PRAISE is for that surreal shark dress (all the buzz in the crowd afterwards was about that dress); and the other is for the way the troupe involves the crowd with all the obvious lines: TROUPE: What is more important? The bloated plutocrats or the PEOPLE? CROWD ROARING: "THE PEOPLE!" It's so much fun to feel like we're part of this show year after year.

San Francisco Mime Troupe: "Too Big to Fail."
Many Bay Area and Northern California locations
Through Sept. 27
FREE! (You heard me.) FREE!