Tuesday, December 20, 2011

" Yes, Sweet Can" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

We love "Yes, Sweet Can" more and more each time we see it. Although the show is more or less the same since our last review (July, 2009), it has more focus now and is funnier. If possible, the performers have gotten even better.

Each of the four + performers are virtuosi when it comes to performing their particular specialties, but they also have a lot fun performing as an ensemble. This is what we take home more than anything else: they love doing their show. It's infectious. As the night goes on, the audience whoops and hollers along with them.

The show is short -- good for today's U-Tube attention spans -- with each performer having maybe ten minutes for his or her own specialty, in addition to clowning around with the others. Kerri Kresinski swings and suspends herself from fabric...

...Matt White's push-broom dance routine just gets more and more astonishing each year...

...Beth Clarke convinces you she is going to fall off the slack rope -- but doesn't...

...and Natasha Kaluza has one of those faces you cannot take your eyes off. She is tall and graceful and very, very funny. She also happens to be able to do absolutely anything with a hula hoop.

So much fun. The fifth wheel, trumpeter and d.j. E.O. adds a very welcome touch of live music to the performance. There is more of this than previously, and we could use even more. All the music is great, but when E.O. plays along the show is soulful as well.

It's too bad that "Yes Sweet Can" always has such short runs. It's a perfect Christmas gift -- kids will love it, though it's not, per se, a children's show. It's just honest and fun. Everybody loves that.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Yes, Sweet Can" Four Stars, one for each performer/dancer/acrobat. The fact that they keep getting better each year bodes well for their future. Who is our favorite? It's hard to beat that dancing broom.

TIP: Buy the cheap seats. It's a very small theater and it doesn't matter where you sit.

"Yes, Sweet Can"
Dance Mission Theater
3316 24th Street (at Mission Street)
Through January 1 (but there are two different shows. Check Mission Dance Theater calendar. There are also a few afternoon shows.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"The Wild Bride" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ! BANG BANG

We're not sure how you top this one. The Berkeley Rep production of Kneehigh's "The Wild Bride" has everything we expect from both companies at their best. Kneehigh's last production in the Bay Area was the spectacular "Brief Encounter" at A.C.T., and "The Wild Bride" is every bit as irreverent and mode-bursting. It's a brilliant show.

What's the best part? Perhaps it's that the six person cast can all act, sing, play numerous musical instruments, dance and do acrobatics. (We'll bet you suspected, but never knew for sure until now, that the devil is actually a drummer.)

Perhaps it's the performances themselves. As The Girl, Audrey Brisson is almost frighteningly beautiful and innocent.

OK, so she has a little problem in this picture, what with the bloody hands and all the mud, but you can trust us here. Later in Act one, as she grows into The Wild, her part is taken over by Patrycja Kujawska, who confronts the devil with an electric violin solo that seems to have been cloned from "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."

In Act Two Eva Magyar takes over, as The Woman. She is the ballerina. It is her confrontation with the devil that gives us the ending we were hoping for.

In the meantime, Stuart Goodwin plays two terrific parts, as The Girl's Father and then The Prince.

(Hey, Diddle-dee-dee, an actor's life for me!") Stu Goodwin seems to have a great time on stage.

Ian Ross (the Musician) performs on every instrument in the book, sometimes two at a time.

But The Devil himself, played by Stuart McLoughlin (who played the candy vendor in "Brief Encounter"), is as evil as evil can be, while also perhaps the most virtuosic of the performers. We want him to fail miserably, but we also want him to keep mashing that upright bass.

It is a very nice touch that McLoughlin, as the Devil, is so tall, and Brisson is so short, that we fear for her safety the moment we see them together. On his knees, The Devil can stare straight into The Girl's eyes.

For this reviewer, though, the best part of "The Wild Bride" is that the story, if simplistic, has enough meat on it to keep us interested, while allowing our brains to disengage for the evening and pay attention to the shenanigans of this outrageous cast of performers.

It's a short run -- only until New Year's Day. Berkeley Rep has saved the best for last.


We know we have never done this before, but The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is having a lot of trouble rating this show. It could be a Five Star Show. It may be the finest thing we've seen all year, but we also have an Archive Button. We notice that we gave "Brief Encounter" FOUR Stars and FOUR BANGLES OF PRAISE! And Brief Encounter had Noel Coward songs. Stu Barker and Carl Grose's songs in "Wild Bride" are good, but not all that memorable (why are Englishmen always so attracted to that Robert Johnson crossroads story?), though the cast sings the, umm, Hell out of them.

All right, envelopes, please, ladies and gentlemen.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Wild Bride" Four Stars with an Exclamation Point and Two BANGLES OF PRAISE. Truly, the only thing stopping this show from being a five star show is the quality of the songs themselves, and only in comparison to "Brief Encounter." How silly is that? Still.

This is nonetheless a spectacular rating for a spectacular evening at the theater (the reason for the Exclamation Point). Director Emma Rice earns one BANGLE herself for somehow keeping this giant circus in motion. The other is for Stuart Goodwin. Not only does he make us laugh as the Prince while understanding his dilemma as The Father, but he also gets off the best line in the show. It has to do with the Royal Pair. I mean Royal Pears. You'll understand later why it rates its own BANGLE OF PRAISE.

Don't miss "The Wild Bride." Or we're gonna git'cha.

"The Wild Bride"
Berkeley Repertory Company
2025 Addison Street, Berkeley
EXTENDED Through January 22, 2012

Monday, December 5, 2011

"A Secret Garden" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

"A Secret Garden" was first published in 1911 by Francis Hodgson Burnett and set in Yorkshire around 1906. In Robert Kelley's TheatreWorks production we get all the trappings of a 'holiday show' -- wealthy Englishmen, innocent children, good people who are good and bad people who are bad. Dear Mom has died and Sad Dad is trying to cope. But don't let that deter you for there is a great deal more to this production.

The welcome difference here is that the music, especially in Act One, is interesting and involving (it doesn't hurt that we get to hear it played live by an excellent orchestra). Every member of the cast can really sing. Little Mary (played by sixth-grader Angelina Wahler) has a voice that matches her grown-up stage presence, while Joe Cassidy as good Uncle Archie, Noel Anthony as conniving Uncle Neville, and Courtney Stokes as Martha the chambermaid all perform stereotypical parts with a great deal of heart, not to mention enormous voice boxes.

The show stealer, however, is the side character Dickon, played by Alex Brightman, who seems to be channeling Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. We wish he were on stage more.

The show has pedigree. Burnett's original children's story was a tremendous hit in England and America when it first appeared. She was already renowned for her extremely successful "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1886) and "The Little Princess" (1905). "A Secret Garden" became a Broadway musical in 1991, adapted for the stage with book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Luci Simon (Carly's older sister).

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "A Secret Garden" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. It is certainly not overstuffed holiday turkey, you get excellent trimmings besides. If there is one problem it is that the vaguely Irish-Scottish sameness of Luci Simon's music tends to wear thin halfway through Act Two. Still, the marvelous "In Lily's Eyes," sung in duet by Anthony and Cassidy, is a magnificent song and deserving of the BANGLE all by itself.

"A Secret Garden"
The Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlewood Road, Palo Alto
Through Dec 31
$19 (student) - $71

Photos by M. Kitaoka and T. Martin

Friday, December 2, 2011

"I Didn't Sign Up For This" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The promise that we felt with Julia Jackson's then-incomplete "I Didn't Sign Up For This," when we saw it back in April, has been excitingly fulfilled. The show, which relates the story of a female couple trying to adopt a baby, features the very talented Jackson playing many characters, including herself, her partner, herself as a small child, people from the adoption agency, the birth mom, the birth mom's mom, the birth mom's boy friend, a therapist, a social worker...and we know we've forgotten more than a few.

She does it all with body language and vocal inflection. Some of her set pieces are of two different characters interacting with each other. She moves in and out of character with no more than a turn of her head or a very minimal light cue. Props: one folding chair.

And what a story. $41,000 for a white baby, $15,000 for a black baby. Trina, the birth mom, who is trying to kick alcohol while Clarence, the baby's father is doing his best to get away from crack. The story kicks you in the gut and then makes it all better with a belly laugh. But none of this would be possible without a performance as strong as Julia Jackson's.

Sadly, the show is done for the year. Jackson hopes for a long run in April, and when that happens we will urge you to run to see it.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Julia Jackson's "I Didn't Sign Up For This" Four Stars. In a city of standout solo performers, Jackson can hang with any of them. Imagine a combination of Sara Felder and Ann Randolph -- and you come close. She is another of the fine performers honing their craft with W. Kamau Bell at the Solo Performance Workshop. We're sure we'll be seeing "I Didn't Sign Up For This" in the future, perhaps in a larger venue.

Julia Jackson: "I Didn't Sign Up For This"
Stage Werx Theatre
(NEW ADDRESS:) 446 Valencia Street between 15th and 16th Streets, San Francisco

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"The Soldier's Tale" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

When you say Igor Stravinsky you are talking about one of the musical giants of the 20th Century. Stravinsky wrote the music for "The Soldier's Tale" in 1918, as soldiers across Europe were wandering home to villages whose lives had been changed forever. Stravinsky was broke, since the Russian Revolution had removed his royal patronage and large productions were no longer financially feasible. "The Soldier's Tale," written with Swiss librettist C.F. Ramuz, was meant to be a small, traveling show that could be taken around the continent. Meant to reach large audiences, it is a simple story of a soldier who sells his soul to the devil -- in this case, the trade is his violin for her book of economic prognostications.

Played by the quartet Earplay, led by Mary Chun, Stravinsky's score is rhythmically complex and modernistic. It could have been written today. Or tomorrow. The acting is excellent as well. Narrator L. Peter Callender, Devil Joan Mankin and, especially, Puppeteer, Daughter of the King and co- Director of the show Muriel Maffre, bring this fable to life.


If there is one complaint, it is that the translation of Ramuz's book, by Donald Pippin, in the hands of co-directors Maffre and Tom Ross, make our narrator sound like he is speaking to small children. Perhaps the story did not feel simplistic in 1918, or in its original French. But in 2011 this may be an issue.

The story is intriguing, the acting off-beat and excellent and Stravinsky's music brings it to another level. Do not believe the advertising: there is nothing remotely anti-war about this production. It is the story of a puppet and his unsuccessful struggle against his Devil. There are no conclusions offered nor any to be gathered.

"The Soldier's Tale" feels like a Christmas show and what do you know: it runs through December 18. All ages will love it, including children perhaps ten and older. There are no bad seats at the Aurora.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Soldier's Tale" Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. In truth, you go to hear Earplay (piano, percussion, violin, clarinet) perform this wonderful music. The story is secondary to the music -- perhaps this is the way Stravinsky meant it to be.

"The Soldier's Tale"
The Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through Dec. 18

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Fela" ☼ ☼ ☼ baub

How do you rate this show? Act One is tremendous, filled with intoxicating and nonstop music, actors and dancers at the top of their game, and costumes and choreography that make you think about the great stage musicals (and concerts) you have seen. The band is smoking! They play for ten minutes before the lights even go down.

Act One is all about the legendary Nigerian superstar Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (played superbly by Sahr Ngaujah).

But in Act Two Fela so loves his mother that he gives her his only begotten musical. In a magical-realism segment that makes you think that if this is Heaven you are definitely going to run outside and lie, cheat and maim just to avoid having to go there, Fela and his Mom do a set piece that will not die. It's a bun-squirmer. In Act One you couldn't sit down and in Act Two you don't dare stand up.

Chiseled and acrobatic Ngaujah as Fela is the show all by himself, though he has capable help in Melaine Marshall as Sandra, Ismael Kouyate as Ismael, Gelan Lambert as JK, Rasaan-Elijah "Talu" Green as Mustafa and Melanie Marshall as Fela's mother Funmilayo.

In Act One we are reminded how we felt when we saw the show in New York. It won three Tonys, but none of the big ones and none for music or acting. Our feeling then was that the stage was too big for this show. But here at the Curran, Fela is intimate, the way he would have been in his own Shrine Club in Lagos. You see him, you feel him and he makes you understand the soul of his music. The first part of Act One, where he explains the origins of the sound he came to embody, manages to be intimate and huge at the same time. The politics of his time make his music feel inevitable. At Intermission we can't wait for Act Two.

In Act Two we realize this is a small stage, there are too many people on it and they have to go through too many hi-jinks to keep themselves in motion, especially with Mama up in Heaven and Fela on a white ladder trying to reach up to her. After "Zombie," the huge worldwide mega-hit that occurs here as Song 3 in Act Two, Fela's part in the show is effectively over. It's all Melanie Marshall from that point on and -- well, the show isn't really about her, is it?

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ baub
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division had an emergency meeting about how to rate this show. Act One truly deserves Four Stars at a minimum, while Act Two would gather perhaps One for "Zombie" and another for "Water No Get Enemy." So this averages out to Three Stars. Three Stars means go see the show.

But tickets are expensive and you must sit in the middle because the sound towers block sight lines for anyone sitting on the sides -- you can't even read the necessary translations which are projected behind the actors so the Nigerian patois can be understood.

The bauble of shame is for the last half of Act Two. If you do not love Fela's mother as much as he did, all the Orishas in the world cannot make you care.

If you want to see fabulous music and understand the life of a world music icon, go see "Fela." Certainly don't miss the standout Act One. What you do after Intermission is up to you.

The Curran Theater
445 Geary Street, San Francisco
Through December 11

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Annapurna" ☼ ☼ ☼ !

The more you think about Sharr White's "Annapurna," the more holes open up in the script. But at the time, as you watch the show unfold in front of you, you cannot help but be swept along by the strong sensual attraction between the two characters, as well as the slow pulling back of a disquieting curtain of mystery.

Rod Gnapp plays Ulysses, the anti-hero, a role that Gnapp seems to embrace show after show. Here he is the dissolute poet who has gotten sober after a rocky ten year marriage to Emma (Denise Cormier). We find out that she has taken their then-five year old son Sam and walked out on Ulysses after a particularly stormy night of drinking. Ulysses has eventually disappeared into the Rockies, to live in a squalid trailer community of CDS's (Can't Do Shits).

Emma has tracked him down as the play opens.

"Holy crap," says Ulysses, standing practically naked in his kitchen except for a loin cloth and a backpack that holds his oxygen tank.

"I know," says Emma, and the story begins.

Nobody can remember what happened on the night of their final breakup. Ulysses was too drunk, Emma was at the store and Sam, who may have borne the brunt of Ulysses's drunken rage, was only five at the time and cannot remember either.

We never see Sam on stage, but we come to learn he has a hearing disability. We also learn he is now in his twenties and is determined to come find his father.

Not knowing what happened to his wife and child after they disappeared that night has haunted Ulysses. Not understanding how Ulysses could have done whatever he did, has consumed Emma. In addition, Ulysses appears to be dying from emphysema and lung cancer, and Sam may arrive at any moment. There appears to be only one key that can unlock the box in which both Emma and Ulysses have found themselves: his poetry.

Yes, that's right, poetry, and here is where the story begins to ring false. Emma seems to love Ulysses's poems at least as much as she loves him. When he speaks Emma shies away. But when he recites his poetry she reverts to the fawning young student she was when they met. Emma has been around the block since then so this shedding of one persona for another seems unnatural, in the same hard-to-believe way that Ulysses and his dazzling wit seem unfazed by his mortal illness, except for an occasional nip on his inhaler.

But Annapurna grabs you. You can't take your eyes off the two ex-lovers, continually returning to take the measure of each other. In the end, with all its mystery, we are watching the best kind of love story: hot, doomed and captivating.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ !

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards division awards "Annapurna" Three Stars with an Exclamation Point! Loretta Greco's direction gives the story pacing, which isn't easy to do with only two actors and a thickly dramatic script. Gnapp and Cormier are both utterly believable, even when saddled with the rather hackneyed 'Ivy League Girl' and 'Cowboy Poet' roles. The exclamation point is a thank you to Andrew Boyce for his intriguing (but hard to clean up) set and to Jake Rodriguez for music that keeps us on edge. This is a World Premiere. The show will only get better.

The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through December 4

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Honey Brown Eyes" ☼ ☼ ☼

It's in your face for sure -- war is like that. We're talking about the civil war in Bosnia in 1991, where the six characters in Stefanie Zadravec's "Honey Brown Eyes" intersect. Act One concerns Dragan (Nic Grelli), a Serbian paramilitary, Alma (Jennifer Stuckert), a Bosnian caught alone in her kitchen while attempting to hide her daughter from the rape and genocide on the streets below, and Branko (Cooper Carlson), a terrifying Serbian soldier. It is through Branko's aggressively evil nature that we understand that Dragan, who really only wants to play rock and roll, is in a difficult situation himself.

Poor Alma. She is the beautiful girl who Dragan and all his friends once called Honey Brown Eyes, back in the days when the boys were in a rock band and Alma's brother Denis (Chad Deverman) was the brilliant lead guitarist. In those days in Visegrad, everyone got along. But now the Serbs are murdering Muslims, music means nothing, the world has turned upside down and Zlata (either Madeleine Pauker or Rachel Share-Sapolsky), who is Alma's daughter, is hiding in the heating ducts.

In Act Two we meet Jovanka (Wanda McCaddon), the grandma who attempts to shield Denis from the Serbs.

Her Sarajevo kitchen appears to be the only safe zone in the universe. We also move to a split/stage format where two scenes are acted out simultaneously -- Dragan, Alma and Zlata on one side in Visegrad and Denis and Jovanka in Sarajevo on the other. The juxtaposition is effective, thanks to Kurt Landisman's lights which show us on which side of the small stage we are supposed to be concentrating.

Denis is a casualty of war already. He begs Jovanka to slit his throat. She, knowing she has survived one war and can make it through this one too, refuses.

Stefanie Zadravec and "Honey Brown Eyes" received a Helen Hayes award in 2009 for Best New Play or Musical. It is a riveting show, but it is also loud and intense. This may be one of those rare shows where you want to sit in the back. But don't miss it.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Honey Brown Eyes" Three Stars. Grelli and Stuckert grip us -- the girl trying to survive and the soldier himself caught up in a war not of his making. But what happens between Dragan and Alma is hard to fathom. And why does Denis choose to leave the safety of the kitchen? Perhaps this is the author's intention: war makes no sense. You just react, or, like Branko, end up watching Alf on a pilfered TV.

"Honey Brown Eyes"
San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through November 5

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Race" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

If you doubt that issues of race permeate our lives, the first fifteen minutes of David Mamet's excellent "Race" should change your mind. The show opened on Broadway in a two act version in 2009, but has been trimmed with excellent results to an 85 minute one act in the current ACT production. It is precise and crisp, with perfect casting and issues that you will revisit for days afterwards.

Jack Lawson (Anthony Fusco, on left above) and Henry Brown (Chris Butler) are law partners. They smell a big case when Charles Strickland walks in their door, asking for representation in a case where he has been accused of the rape of a black woman in a hotel.

Strickland (Kevin O'Rourke) looks like Mitt Romney. He is everything a jury will dislike: rich, aloof, entitled and, worst of all, white. He appears to be guilty, though he proclaims innocence, something the experienced lawyers know has nothing to do with conviction or acquittal. The legal system is about only three things, says Lawson: "hatred, fear and envy." A jury will automatically hate and fear their wealthy client.

A third lawyer in the firm is Susan (Susan Heyward), whose position becomes more and more convoluted as time goes on. She is an attorney, but she is also a black woman who is convinced Strickland is guilty. She knows in her heart that due to his influence her client will probably walk. This puts her in an uncomfortable situation.

Mamet's dialogue is brilliant and incisive. It is hard to know which pillar of American values is being hit hardest -- the law, sex, race, privilege or just plain humanity. All people are stupid and prone to blindness, Lawson says. Jews feel guilt. Blacks feel shame. It's all about feelings of inferiority or guilt about superiority. The lawyer's job is to simply tell a better story to the jury than the other lawyer does.

Whatever David Mamet is feeling these days, we are sure of one thing: we wouldn't want to be his lawyer.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Divison awards "Race" Four Stars. It is brilliant theater -- the cast (especially Butler and Fusco), Irene Lewis's flawless direction and Chris Barreca's law office set (another of those A.C.T. sets that makes you smile in anticipation the second you turn the corner and see the stage) couldn't be much better. Most of all, Mamet's plot leads us towards an ending we do not expect, while at the same time forcing us to face uncomfortable truths about ourselves and our world.

It is interesting to this reviewer, and a point to consider for a perspective audience, that many reviewers across the country have not been enthusiastic about this show. It is hard to see how that could be, unless possibly the subject matter -- race, especially -- is just too uncomfortable. Perhaps lines like this one -- when Henry reminds Jack that a preacher's testimony will not be able to be impeached because "white clergymen are allowed to say fuck, nigger and bitch in one sentence" -- are too much for us still.

Don't miss "Race." Maybe you'll figure out who's winning.

A.C.T. Theater
415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Through Nov. 13

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Hair" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Broadway has always seen its purpose as entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. When 'Hair' hit the big stage in 1968 (after opening at Joe Papp's off-Broadway Public Theater a year earlier) it caused an uproar. Nudity! Social issues! Race! Gender! What will the neighbors think!

The neighbors loved it. Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt MacDermot's little show grew to become a time piece and the icon of an age, encapsulating an era when speaking these issues aloud was still unheard of. It didn't hurt to have several show songs become world-wide smash hits. Still today, when we hear "Good Morning Starshine" and "Aquarius," our hearts are filled with peace and light. "Aquarius" is one of the best musical opening numbers we have ever seen.

What is surprising today is how subversive this show was and is. Songs like "Black Boys" and "White Boys," as well as "Sodomy" and "Hashish" would probably not be seen on a stage now, and the PC police would surely temper the constant sex and psychedelia references. In 2011 you would be unlikely to hear "we've got the white man sending the black man to fight the yellow man so we can defend land stolen from the red man" unless it were a toss-off joke in a sit-com.

And of course, you can't escape looking at the political message of 1967 -- cops beating kids over the head as they protested the war in Vietnam -- contrasted with today -- cops beating kids over the head as they protest America's economic inequities. The fact that so little has changed makes you squirm a little in your seat as you watch 'Hair' 40-some years after it was written.

This current production of "Hair" has two very strong moments: the beginning and the end. "Aquarius" opens and the surprising and touching "Let the Sun Shine In," which closes the show, with the actors marching up the aisles as we see the terrible detritus of what remains on the stage -- still leaves the audience aghast. These are beautiful sections, worthy of the best of Broadway.

Sadly, the rest of the show drags a bit. There are forty musical numbers listed in the playbill, but most are short, almost like a variety show where every actor gets to sing a chorus of his favorite song, and you can't easily understand the convoluted lyrics on most of them -- especially when the ensemble is singing. The stage at the Golden Gate really is too small for all these people, and the miking makes it next to impossible to pick out who is singing.

The band is terrific and there are more than the two standout songs: "My Conviction" and "Hare Krishna" in Act one and "What a Piece of Work is Man" and "Good Morning Starshine" in Act Two stand the test of time.

From the national company, Sheila (Sara King) makes us sit up and pay attention every time she sings. The others are good...but not little man jumping off his chair. It is not their fault -- this is a show about the power of the group, not the leadership of a few. Sound familiar?

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards 'Hair' Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. One star is for the opening, one for the closing and one for all the color. The BANGLE is for hiring that great ten piece band (five horns! Hallelujah!) and employing all those tie-dyers. As a legitimate Broadway event, 'Hair' stands up after several decades, and proves that a few beautiful songs can transcend the aging process.

The Golden Gate Theater
Market Street at Golden Gate Avenue, San Francisco
Through November 20

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Word for Word: Two Short Stories By Siobhan Fallon: STAGED READING ONLY

On Monday night, October 24, Word for Word brought six excellent actors to Z Space to do a staged reading of two stories from Siobhan Fallon's "You Know When the Men Are Gone." The idea is to try the stories out in front of a live audience and then get feedback as to whether or not to take these stories into full Word for Word production.

For our money, the answer is a resounding YES. Fallon's stories about vets returning from Iraq, written from the perspective of a writer married to an Army Major and currently living in Amman, Jordan, are heart-rending and theatrical. We hope we get to see more.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division says YES, PLEASE. And also: Maggie Rastetter was a standout in story two.

"Word for Word Staged Reading of Siobhan Fallon's "You Know When the Men Are Gone"
Z Space
450 Florida Street, San Francisco

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Don Reed: "The Kipling Hotel" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Whether he's a young waiter serving breakfast to the elderly, or a developmentally challenged friend in a bar, or his uncle in prison, or E.T., or dozens of other characters whose identity he assumes during his new show "The Kipling Hotel," Don Reed crawls into the faces of each character and becomes them. His own face must be made out of silly putty.

As part of the autobiographical arc that began with Reed's previous solo show "East Fourteenth Street," the Oakland native takes us through his beginnings in show business, starting with his acceptance into UCLA on a partial scholarship ("what partial scholarship means is 'not enough f___ing money"), through his attempts to find a place to live (ending up with his brother's friend T ("a tall, black squirrel on coke"), and into his discovery of a live-in job at the retirement hotel that is the title of the show. The elderly residents of the hotel, as well as the staff, become Reed's principle characters.

Got to love his boss with the flip curl.

The show is brand new and is bound to change a lot -- though all of the bits are funny, there is a little too much reliance on partying right now. His reflections at the end seem a bit forced after all that, but wouldn't if they were mixed in more organically with the story.

Reed flows in and out of character with a rub of his shaved head. His impressions are so effective that we stay with them longer than he does. If he didn't do the rub to show us he had left the previous character we might not realize it. We loved Michael Jackson's shades and the yellow Opal that wouldn't go into reverse.

Right now the show is very funny with not a lot of depth, but like George, one of the hotel residents, said to Reed: "you're a mensch." He is. It's all there, he's just got to put it all together. Nobody else can write lines like:

"Ungawa! Black powa! Yo mama didn't take no showa!"

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards Don Reed's "The Kipling Hotel" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE for E.T. How DO you make your face do that?

We predict that this will be a four star show very soon. Right now it's a fun night at the theater and you walk out laughing and repeating the jokes.

Don Reed: "The Kipling Hotel"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
EXTENDED Through Dec 18