Sunday, November 22, 2009

UNRATED: "2009 Eleventh Annual San Francisco Hip Hop Dance Fest"

To most people not familiar with Hip Hop, the very phrase 'Hip Hop' conjures up pictures of boys wearing sideways baseball caps and sagging their trousers down below their rear ends, and heavily made up women in high top sneakers with lots of tattoos. The music has one beat and it is incessant and the lyrics are frequently misogynistic and racist. Skateboards may or may not be involved.

Above all, it is a black art form. Right?

Wrong. Hip Hop has become so mainstream at this point that its style of dress, dance, music and countercultural vibe has taken the entire world by storm. This was easy to see Friday and Saturday nights on stage at the Palace of Fine Arts, where the 2009 Eleventh Annual San Francisco Hip Hop Dance Fest brought in dance groups not only from the SF Bay Area, but also from as far away as England, Ireland, Norway, South Korea and Japan. B-Boy Spaghetti, seen on top, is a hip-hop dancing Persian who comes from Norway. How diverse can we get?

The performers were men, women, young, old(er), black, white, brown and everything in between. They hipped and they hopped but many were obviously trained as well in classical ballet to say nothing of the martial arts and acrobatics. No one appeared to have any elbow or knee sockets. As far as the taped accompanying music, this reviewer had never heard of any of the artists, with the exception of Beyonce and Britney Spears. DJ this and MC that? Daft Punk? Busta Bust? The Muthafunkaz?

But that's what it's all about, isn't it? A new generation's music might be impenetrable to a reviewer whose knees ache just watching these kids dance, but the performers' buoyant spirit, athleticism and artistry explode off the stage. Of the second night's performers, two acts stand out for originality and personality: L.A.'s Versa-Style Dance Company who did an extraordinary piece while seated on chairs as if they were driving on the freeway, and the two person company (Buddha Stretch and Uko Snowbunny) (!) from New York called MopTop Music and Movement whose hip-hopping Super Mario Brothers characters were priceless and infectiously personable. Assuming Snowbunny was the female, she has got one gorgeous smile.

Fun. Nothing but fun. When organizer Micaya brings a new show back to SF next year, it's bound to be every bit as super. Watching these dancers is a treat.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Awards Division will not rate this show because it is a collection of individual performances with no cohesive theme, unless the theme might be "Dancing in the Face of Disaster," or maybe " the Face of your Parents." Whatever. These kids are on the right road. If, as they claim, Hip Hop is a way of life as well as an art form, the next generation is going to turn out just fine.


2009 Eleventh Annual San Francisco Hip Hop Dance Fest
Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco
Nov 20-22

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Fat Pig": ☼ ☼ ☼

They meet innocently enough at a lunch counter. Tom (Jud Williford) is young and handsome, dressed in a smart business suit and tie; Helen (Liliane Klein) is pretty and dressed equally well, but there is one obvious difference: she is perhaps 100 pounds overweight. He is eating a salad. She has eaten three slices of pizza and has several containers of chocolate pudding. She offers him one, which he accepts with pleasure. They banter back and forth and Tom finds himself attracted to Helen, and she to him.

What follows is partly a discussion of America's warped standards of beauty, and partly a story of doomed love. We can understand Helen's attraction to Tom, and his to her, but it is more difficult to see how Tom, who is a weak person barely able to finish a sentence, will summon the courage to allow Helen to enter into his world of shallow, upwardly-mobile office mates.

Tom's ex girl-friend Jeannie (Alexandra Creighton) is hurt that Tom has apparently broken things off with her without bothering to tell her, but she is absolutely aghast to discover that Tom's new flame is overweight. "Fat pig" is only one of the many vicious slurs she uses to describe this woman, of whom she has only seen one small photograph; weasel-like, conniving co-worker Carter (Peter Ruocco) is far more explicit in his condemnation not only of a woman he doesn't know but of Tom's future with the company if he continues in his pursuit of this obviously unacceptable partner.

The key scene at the company beach picnic drives the message home. We are forced to investigate our own senses of right and wrong. As author Neil LaBute has said, referring to his own dieting challenges: "This remains one of the last prejudices that is largely accepted. People always feel it's fair game to ridicule fat people, because they feel if you really wanted to, you could stop eating so much."

Liliane Klein and Jud Williford are each terrific, Helen outwardly comfortable with her physical sense but inwardly frightened of rejection, and Tom, whose office life is populated by 'friends' who seem happy to make all of his decisions for him. He stands up for himself only twice in the entire play, and both times it is to say no.

We would have liked to have a little more examination into Tom's character -- that he would be self-conscious about Helen is too easily accepted. If this is so, why was he attracted to her in the first place? Why can't he stand up for himself? If "societal pressures" is the only answer offered, we haven't had a chance to grow any more than Tom has.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Fat Pig" Three Stars. Director Barbara Damashek moves the show forward with little wasted space; the discussions are often discomfiting but always heart felt. Klein, Williford, Creighton and Ruocco work well together, and in the end it is shallow Carter who spells things out best for Tom: "you're only young once. Don't take a complete dump on your one moment in the sun."

And there you have it.


"Fat Pig"
Aurora Theater
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Extended through December 6

"She Stoops to Comedy:" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG BANG

It's 1997. Amy Resnick is just brilliant. Brilliant is what Amy Resnick is. She is a lighting designer. No, she is an archeologist. At one point she is both, at the same time, and then it's while sitting on a bed. But maybe that's in an earlier version. This doesn't make much sense. Let's start again in 1970.

You're just not going to be able to put David Greenspan's "She Stoops to Comedy" into a neat little box. It's a sex farce, a sendup of Elizabethan comedy, a modern discussion of play writing and an examination of gender switching. It's intellectual, it's funny, and despite requiring all your brain cells to be firing at once in order to concentrate on what might actually be happening on stage, the show turns out to be quite touching as well.

Alexandra (Liam Vincent) loves Alison (Sally Clawson), but Alison has gone off to Maine to play Rosalind in a new production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It." So Alexandra decides to make herself look like a man, to audition for the part of Rosalind's heart throb Orlando, and in this way win back her girl friend.

Of course, Liam Vincent is a man to start with, a man playing a woman who is now pretending to be a man. This deception is easy for Alex(andra) to pull off, since we know Alex is actually a man playing a woman playing a man, but Alison thinks Alex, whose supposed stage name is Harry, is nothing but a sensitive man who acts like a woman playing a man.

Get it? Alison doesn't. Or does she? Not so sure.

Amy Resnick's two roles as Jayne Summerhouse and Kay Fein are so beautifully crafted you might not even notice, as this reviewer did not, that they are both being played by the same woman, until both Jayne and Kay appear together in a back-and-forth double monologue, or, that is, only Amy Resnick does, because she is playing both characters, who have a hysterical discussion with each other about life and love. Resnick moves a few inches and totally inhabits first one character and then the other, which is where the brilliant part comes in. She is so good she confuses herself.

Coupled with Scott Capurro's lengthy monologue about being a self-loathing gay man only a few minutes before Resnick's, David Greenspan has given us two astonishing and memorable theater moments back to back. Everybody is good, but these two monologues are both show-stopping.

You walk out of the theater having really enjoyed the show, but you can't help asking yourself: "How DO they remember all those words?"


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "She Stoops to Comedy" Three Stars with Two Bangles of Praise. We have already discussed Resnick and Capurro's Bangles of Praise, but we also have to laud the way director Mark Rucker just loosens the reins and lets this cast go. What a delight. "She Stoops to Comedy" runs all the way through January 9. You shouldn't miss it.

"She Stoops to Comedy"
San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through January 9, 2010