Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Olive Kittredge" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Word 4 Word has a new house. Last night they premiered two short stories from Elizabeth Strout's "Olive Kittredge," at Z-Space in the Theater Artaud complex, where the company shall maintain a residency into the near future.

It's never easy to review a Word 4 Word performance because they are always perfect. Really. Every word counts, not only because the actors are so good but because the stories chosen are literary standouts to start with. In the two Olive Kittredge stories, "Tulips" and "River," Patricia Silver is a spot-on perfect Olive, reclusive, cantankerous, sad with unspoken memories but alive with observations about the world she lives in. Warren David Keith plays Jack Kennison in "River," and Paul Finocchiaro plays Henry Kitteridge, in "Tulips," and both are excellent foils for Silver's dissatisfaction.

What a grump she is. At one point, Henry wraps Olive in a hug. Olive rolls her eyes and stares out to space. She says (in narration): "She stood, waiting for the hug to end." In another example, she is worried that she enjoys walking by the river each morning, three miles up and three miles back. "Her one concern was that it might let her live longer."

But she is, in fact, seeking happiness like everyone else in this sleepy town. Perhaps she finds it at the end, perhaps not.

Her relationship with her son Christopher, played by Patrick Alparone, is hinted at in both stories, and he and the other minor characters are excellently rendered by Jeri Lynn Cohen (Mary Blackwell), Nancy Shelby (Louise Larkin) and especially Michelle Bellaver who plays Christopher's momentary wife Suzanne as well as a particularly nasty waitress. The ensemble plays multiple comedic roles, appearing as roller bladers or stroller pushes or an elderly couple walking by the river or gossipers in a local cafe.

These are sad stories of lives advancing with much regret, but the Word 4 Word format always leaves you with a sense of hope, because no matter how bleak their lives, Word 4 Word characters always tell great stories.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Olive Kittredge" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. The actors are all excellent and Joel Mullennix's direction gives us plenty of rumination time as well as enough comedy to distract us from Olive's dour sense of impending doom. One of these small bits earns the BANGLE OF PRAISE: The Scots. They persevered!

"Olive Kittredge"
Z Space at Theater Artaud
450 Florida Street (at Mariposa Street), San Francisco
Through Sept. 26
$30-$40, discounts available

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