Friday, September 16, 2011

Marga Gomez "Not Getting Any Younger" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Marga Gomez may not be getting any younger but her funny bone is stronger than ever. In her new one-woman show "Not Getting Any Younger," Gomez has the audience in hysterics with her takes on salesgirls who say "uh huh" instead of "you're welcome," why she pays extra for soy milk in her latte at Starbucks ("my white friends made me lactose intolerant"), can't-miss dance moves at clubs and her vision of how men see women's conversation ("woman talking. Must sleep").

Best of all are her remembrances of her childhood, which seems to be a limitless resource for Gomez who has already done shows about her parents ("Los Big Names" and "Memory Tricks"). Taking the subway and bus to the old Freedomland in the Bronx turns into wonderful commentary on a bad business decision, as well as a terrific story about her Mom winning the Chubby Chucker twist contest.

The show is perhaps a little long, not because it isn't always funny, but because there are so many great endings. You figure she can't keep going -- but, sure enough, she's off into another set of stories.

Our favorite bit was Marga's description of going to her childhood friend Lisa's birthday parties, where the chaperone was Lisa's father, who had been kicked out of the Marines for being too aggressive. It's this same Lisa whose idea to torment old people leads to Marga's classic Old People Helper club, which might have done better if it didn't sound like Hamburger Helper. The gags just keep on coming and we can't get enough Marga Gomez.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Not Getting Any Younger" Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. Solo performers have to make us believe each character they create, but they also have to make us love them when they're playing themselves. Because Marga makes us laugh so much we love it when she plays her tormenters -- like the old lady with the pot of water or all the schoolkids in Starbucks. Most of all, though, and the recipient of the BANGLE, is Máma Gomez. Marga's mom steals the show at Freedomland and gives us a vision we will always remember, every time we hear "Let's Twist Again."

Marga is still hiding from her criminal friend Lisa -- upstairs at the Marsh. It's a really small space, so get tickets quick and buy the cheapest ones. You laugh just as hard in Row Three.
Marga Gomez "Not Getting Any Younger"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Thu-Sun EXTENDED THROUGH February 25
$15-$35 sliding scale.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"A Delicate Balance": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

You can't help but think of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" when you see the Aurora Theater's new production of the play Edward Albee wrote right after it: "A Delicate Balance." Whereas 'Virginia Woolf' deals with the deep fury of awful people trapped within an alcoholic nightmare, 'Delicate Balance' presents more sublimated anger, along with a little farce to underscore each character's hidden frustration.

What astonishing writing and acting! More than two hours of stage time fly by in an instant. It's terrific theater, and the two short intermissions allow us to collect our thoughts before diving back into the insanity.

The well-off suburban drawing room of Tobias and Agnes, with an empire sofa and coffee table, the familiar big brown Aurora easy chair in the corner for various characters to crumple into at various times, and of course the liquor cabinet, is where all the action takes place. Agnes (Kimberly King) opens the show musing about how she could very possibly lose her mind as she gets older, while her husband Tobias (Ken Grantham) half-listens. It seems incongruous for her to be concerned with such a morbid issue, but by the time the play ends, and she revisits her opening speech, we see this has been Albee's point: how do we keep our lives in balance, given our own personal insanities and fears of decline?

Agnes's sister, the drunkard Claire (Jamie Jones), has a twisted sisterly relationship with Agnes -- they hate each other -- but Claire is living in the house anyway. The three seem to have found their instrument of equilibrium -- booze -- that is, until Harry and Edna arrive. Harry (Charles Dean) and Edna (Anne Darragh) are best friends with Tobias and Agnes, but they have clearly gone off their rockers. For some unspoken reason Harry and Edna have become terrified to remain in their own home so they've just moved in with Tobias and Agnes, occupying the room of daughter Julia (Carrie Paff). No one asks why. No one asks anything. The problem is that Julia has just split up with her fourth husband and returned home to find her room occupied by Harry and Edna. No one really knows what is going on.

Albee chose the perfect title, though we don't realize it until Act Three. Acts One and Two present the seemingly insoluble neuroses of all the characters, as everyone waits for the solid Tobias to DO something. His aria-like monologue in Act Three, as he finally is able to express to Harry how he feels, albeit in tortured gasps, is worth the price of admission by itself. Only then do we see the lines drawn for a possible new balance in the future.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "A Delicate Balance" Four Stars, one for writing, one for Tom Ross's direction, one for acting and one all by itself for Kimberly King's Agnes. She gives us someone on one hand horrid to her child and overly concerned with what the neighbors might think, but on the other hand someone who has been deeply injured herself. In Albee's universe, where no one is willing to confront anything important, we have to find truth somewhere. We find it in Agnes. In the end, she is the delicate balance and Kimberly King makes it all possible.

"A Delicate Balance"
Aurora Theater
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through Oct. 9

Friday, September 9, 2011

"Unveiled": ☼ ☼ BANG

Chicagoan Rohina Malik plays five different women in her new solo show "Unveiled." Maryam, Noor, Inez, Shabana and Layla each have different stories to tell, and each is represented by a different cup of tea. Maryam's chocolate chai represents fusion of cultures; Noor's Moroccan green tea is drunk very sweet to counteract the bitterness of prejudice in her adopted country; Inez's bitter tea has the opposite purpose, to make her remember; Shabana's Kashmiri chai is part of a terrific rap: "When the shit went down in Oklahoma, you blame McVeigh, not Christian preacha, nobody say that's what Bible teacha..." Layla owns a restaurant and serves her customers sage tea, to make their wait more tolerable.

Malik is a performer at heart. She tries to give each character a different body language and personality, but she has a problem. All five women are wearing hijab. They all insist that the hijab is between them and God and has nothing to do with anyone else. The problem is that this attitude may make for spiritual awareness but does not necessarily lead to great theater. We want to get inside our performers, to understand them, to feel their plight. But Malik's characters draw a line between them and us and it feels like more than just fabric. This would be true if they were wearing a nun's habit or the gabardine coat of an Orthodox Jew.

We especially enjoyed Shabana, the London rapper. Her energetic discussion of her mother's obsession with whiteness was especially revealing, as was her definition of wearing the hijab as her own declaration of feminism.

Right now each character wants to let us know she is not our enemy, that the Allah she believes in is peaceful and that she and her family have suffered too. Perhaps in the future Malik can take these characters a little further.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Unveiled" Two Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. What we want to know is if there is more there, aside from being tolerant women of faith.

The BANGLE of PRAISE is for Malik herself. She is a gifted performer and has an important story to relate. Time will tell if her stories can include a little more nuance.

Brava Theater
2781 24th Street at York, San Francisco
Through Sept 17

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rita Moreno: "Life Without Makeup" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

If you're wondering what you want to do when you grow up, go see Rita Moreno's "Life Without Makeup," which is having its World Premiere at Berkeley Rep. Your answer, my answer, everyone's answer has to be: "I want to be just like her." It is 2011. The woman was born in 1931. Add it up. Rita Moreno is a marvel and her one woman show, with the help of two male dancers and a crackerjack four piece band, is an absolute tour-de-force.

We want to say: don't wait. She's 80. Can her knees last an entire run? Well, yes, probably, because she seems to be a freak of nature. As she tells the story of her life, beginning with coming from Puerto Rico to New York on a storm-tossed steamer in 1936, you notice that she holds on to things -- a railing, a shoulder -- and she keeps it simple. This is the beauty of her piece -- it is honest and intimate. Rita Moreno isn't trying to be 18 any more, but she can sure tell you what it felt like.

And what a story she has to tell. The MGM movie set in the '40s and '50s? Clark Gable? Elizabeth Taylor? All her auditions, all her b-movies, her successes and her failures, told with alma and corazón. Heart and soul. Plus, she's funny as hell.

In Act One we get the early days -- did she really have a long-time fling with Marlon Brando and make him jealous by dating Elvis Presley? Five years on The Electric Company with Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman? You'd forgotten that was her bouncing around with Jack Nicholson in Carnal Knowledge? Act One is fascinating and totally absorbing, but that's only because she hasn't gotten to Act Two and West Side Story yet.

After the intermission, we hear stories about the behind-the-scenes craziness during the filming of that iconic musical -- followed by a brilliant trip through several ballet scenes using her two stage-mates as Sharks and Jets -- it doesn't get any better than this, amigos.

We still say go sooner rather than later. But go. Everything is coming up rrrrrrrrr-roses!

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards Rita Moreno: "Life Without Makeup" it's highest rating: Cinco Estrellas Gordas. Five Fat Stars. Miss Moreno, her fabulous dancers (Ray Garcia and Salvatore Vassallo), the amazing band with Cesar Cancino's piano, Tony Taccone's writing and David Gallagan's perfectly staged pacing, the choreography, the costumes -- but most of all, a performer who loves every minute of the evening as much as we do -- these shows don't come along twice.

One more word: you don't have to sit up close. This is one of those rare occasions when the cheap seats will be fine. The Roda is a small theater, so higher up is fine -- but try to stay in the center.
Rita Moreno: "Life Without Makeup"
Berkeley Rep, Roda Theatre
2015 Addison Street, Berkeley
EXTENDED Through November 12

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Why We Have a Body": ☼ ☼

Premieres of shows are always fun. You stand in the lobby, drink wine or champagne out of plastic cups and hobnob with other reviewers, an actor or two, a playwright whose last show you loved. The house is comped with theater sponsors and friends of the actors. The theater world is small. The mood is upbeat. It's nice to fit in.

Then the show starts and sometimes that overly-familiar audience can be a hindrance. Last night's premiere of Claire Chafee's "Why We Have a Body" at the Magic was one of those nights. The audience laughed at every line, funny or not. The words coming from the actors were wry and often comical, but mostly the story is an introspective one. It was as if a portion of the audience thought they were at the Gong Show and someone told them their voices would be heard on national TV.

Perhaps as a partial result, or perhaps just because of the eighteen years that have passed since 1993 when "Body" first premiered and was probably considered controversial -- the show today feels a bit fragmented, even shopworn. We have Lili, a declared lesbian, who is miserable; Renee (Rebecca Dines), separated from her husband, who meets Lili on an airplane and decides to try her out; Mary (Maggie Mason), the sister of Lili and a sexual question mark (she dresses in oversized coats and holds up 7-11 stores); and Eleanor (Lorrie Holt), the mother of Lili and Mary, who is off in the forest seeking some kind of inspiration, as long as it doesn't include returning home to Lili and Mary.

Mom is the only one who seems content. Her daughter Lili never smiles. Her daughter Mary never stops smiling. Renee goes both ways. Sometimes she's happy, sometimes she's sad. And sometimes she insists on showing Lili her baby pictures.

The main problem with "Why We Have a Body" is there is no plot. Lili and Mary are waiting for their mom at the opening and still waiting at the end. Mom is seeking but not finding. Only Renee moves at all. She leaves her husband in Mexico and we could all see that coming from back here in San Francisco.

As a result it is difficult to decipher what the show's point is. What's up with -- anybody? Why is Mary so quirky? Why is Lili so dour? Why is Mom so flighty? Why don't we get any backstory?

"Ha ha ha ha," goes the audience, slapping its knee.

Lorrie Holt and Maggie Mason make us smile. They hold our attention while they are on stage. Lauren English seems ready to burst out of her business suit until Rebecca Dines finally drags her back to her cave. But even this is so --- measured. We have seen all these wonderful actors many times in other roles, so we know it must be direction or story that are holding them back. We want them to explode and -- well, entertain us. Maggie Mason does it a few times. We could use more.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Why We Have a Body" only Two Stars. It's a shame that this stellar cast has not been given a vehicle that would give them more of a chance to take the wraps off. Like Mary says at the end: "I like a bonfire. I like a good bonfire." So would we.

"Why We Have a Body"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through October 2