Friday, May 27, 2011

"Blue Man Group": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Blue Man Group is fabulous. It's funny, silly and certainly juvenile but with a lot of heart. What is it? Three guys doing --- stuff, their faces and hands caked in blue so they look like robots, except for their expressive eyes and mouths. They play percussion instruments too and there is a very loud backing band up in the wings that helps along the high energy nature of all their bits.

The act started out in New York more than twenty years ago, and the local press seems to think the earlier shows in a smaller venue were better. Well, if you didn't see those, and maybe even if you did, this one at the Golden Gate feels just fine.

Our favorite bits were the take off on the IPAD (the enormous "Gi-pad"), the way they played with the differences between 2-D and 3-D, of course the monumental boy-humor of tossing, catching, eating and vomiting all those gumballs -- and let us not forget the artwork of Sergei Pretencione.

When a show gives you belly laughs, it's good. When you can clap to the music, it's good. When you feel great leaving the theater, it's good. Nothing against Sartre and Beckett, whose works seem to be filling local theaters these days, but if we have a choice between existential angst and Twinkies, tonight we're going with the Twinkies.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards Blue Man Group Four Stars. We'd take our kids, our friends and our grandkids. It ain't cheap, but it's a huge production and pure entertainment. It's sure to make your brown eyes blue.

"Blue Man Group"
Golden Gate Theater
Golden Gate Avenue at Market Street, San Francisco
Through June 19

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"As You Like It": ☼ ☼ ☼

A lot of people will probably choose to put their theater dollars in other places than the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program's production of William Shakespeare's "As You Like It," and this will be their loss. The experience of watching Shakespeare is always improved by the combination of close seating (Zeum is a terrific space to watch anything) and youthful exuberance.

Gregory Wallace as Jaques, and Anthony Fusco as Touchstone, come from the A.C.T. core acting company and they both add a dimension of maturity and craft to the cast. Max Rosenak could not be a better Orlando and Ashley Wickett is an equally good Rosalind, while Rosalind's cousin Celia (Marisa Duchowny) often steals the show with her animation and good cheer.

This is Shakespeare, after all, so we can't hardly critique the writing -- but Act Two is complicated and plays long. Go tell it to the Bard. Meanwhile, enjoy Callie Floor's terrific costumes and Liliana Duque-Pineiro's innovative set which makes Arden Forest look a little like the floor of a gymnasium, with trees.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "As You Like It" Three Stars. It's a production you will enjoy with a nice mix of old and new. And you get Gregory Wallace saying:

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

One question you may not be able to answer: Tickets are $20.50. Wouldn't twenty bucks be easier?

"As You Like It"
Zeum Theater
Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco
Through May 28

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"Reborning": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

There is so much going on under the surface in Zayd Dohrn's new "Reborning," which had its World Premiere last night at San Francisco Playhouse, that the play itself, which is frequently brilliant, can be taken prisoner by the overwhelming weirdness of its true-to-life subject matter.

"Reborning," the play, deals with the real-life practice of reborning, an art form where women who have (usually) suffered the loss of a small child go to dollmakers, the 'reborning' experts, who craft unbelievably lifelike replicas of these lost children. They are dolls, made out of silicone and other materials, but they are so lifelike we defy you to realize these are not live children, when dressed in baby clothes and strolled or carried in arms by the mother.

How do we know this? Michelle, who created the Eva doll used in the play, came to the show opening and displayed Eva at the post-opening cast party. They told us it was a doll. We knew it was a doll. But it looked so real it gave us -- there is no other way to put it -- the creeps.

Dohrn's story is a fascinating psychological drama featuring three actors. The principal character is Kelly (Lauren English), an artist who has fallen into the design of these lifelike dolls. She is teetering on the edge of psychological breakdown herself, the reasons for which the author allows us to discover a little bit at a time. Her boyfriend Daizy (Alexander Alioto) is also a sculptor: he manufactures (and walks around displaying) realistic dildos.

Enter Emily (Lorri Holt, who was so good in SF Playhouse's "Animals Out of Paper"), who has hired Kelly to make her a doll in the likeness of Emily's lost child Eva. But Kelly cannot satisfy Emily's need. No matter how real Kelly makes her Eva doll, it is never enough for the bereft mom. "I can't sculpt your memory," Kelly says, as she labors in vain to make the doll even more lifelike.

So we have the reborner living with the dildo maker, two people whose jobs are to blur reality for their customers. Then Kelly has her artistic breakthrough and the plot explodes. Too much reality is more than any of the three can handle.

We get excellent acting, plenty of drama with an equal amount of humor, skillful writing and spot-on directing. There are no slow moments. Be warned that the Creep Factor cannot be ignored and that may influence how you feel about a show that feels astonishingly well crafted for a World Premiere. The dolls made us squirm. But we loved "Reborning."


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Reborning" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. Lauren English and Lorri Holt were spellbinding; Alexander Alioto's Daizy could have been developed a bit more (the art school graduate who manufactures dildos seems awfully mom-and-pop-apple-pie right now). But the show grabs you and doesn't let you go -- seventy five minutes with no intermission pass in a heartbeat.

The BANGLE OF PRAISE is for the audacity of this show. Mr. Dohrn is writing for TV now, and we can see "Reborning" having a future there as well.

San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through June 11