Friday, June 11, 2010

"The Tosca Project": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

A.C.T.'s new 'The Tosca Project' is brilliant, fascinating and intriguing-- brilliant for its audaciousness as a dance/theater hybrid; fascinating, especially for a San Franciscan, because you have in front of you the history of more than half a century in North Beach; and intriguing because one comes to the theater expecting theater and doesn't get it -- yet still loves it all.

'Tosca' is an interpretive memoir, centered on the locally famous Tosca Cafe, that today would be called a hipster bar, where for decades artists, dancers and divas from all walks of life hung out together. It has been created by A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff and San Francisco Ballet's Val Caniparoli. Do not expect dialogue nor character development. Unless you do a bit of reading beforehand you won't have the slightest idea who these characters dancing around on the stage are supposed to be, and you may find yourself frustrated as you yearn to know what is going on.

But trust someone who would normally prefer to sit on hold with Comcast Customer Service in India than attend a dance concert: 'Tosca' will grab you and never let you go. You may not know who but at least you know when -- Robert de la Rose's flapper dresses, diva frocks and beat generation jackets leave no doubt as to the decade.

Robert Wierzel's lighting is filled with clues as well -- the old Italian bartender's lost love not only appears in a bright red dress but whenever her memory is invoked a mysterious red light appears somewhere on stage. This is very satisfying for an audience straining a bit for information from a show with no dialogue.

All the dancers have beautiful moments -- Caniparoli's choreography even manages to make Jack Willis (the bartender) and Gregory Wallace (the musician who arrives and never goes home), two standout actors from the A.C.T. stable, appear graceful. Really.

Several pas-de-deux's stand out: Pascal Molat and Lorena Feijoo's sailor and girl about to be left behind...

...and also the terrific business man/ballerina seduction dance featuring Sabina Allemann and Peter Anderson.

You get social commentary as well -- the silliness of prohibition, and later the old bartender's dislike of the new beats -- and then there is the Rudolf Nureyev character having a questionable seduction-dance with two other men.

A suggestion: there are lots of liner notes. Get to the theater early, go downstairs and read them all while you drink a glass of wine. This will enhance the feast you are about to experience on stage.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Tosca Project" Four Stars and is happy to do so. Often, the premieres of shows developed for the theater in which they are performed end up over-hyped and under-delivered. Not so here. Once you accept you are watching dancers with a few actors and not the other way around, which is to say once you turn off your niggling little theater-brain, you realize you can survive a night without plot, character, even understanding. Take a deep breath. 'Tosca' is a show to sit back and savor.

One last note: there are several arias from Puccini's opera 'Tosca' included in the sound track. Gorgeous.

"The Tosca Project"
A.C.T. Theater
415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Through June 27

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