Friday, September 21, 2012

"The Other Place" ☼ ☼ ☼

The Magic Theatre has opened its 2012-2013 season with a terrific show by Sharr White. "The Other Place" makes us work to figure out what is real and what is not. Part of that discovery is our slow realization of the story's true subject matter. What starts out feeling like "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" turns into something very, very different. We love it that the playwright has crafted the arc of the story so brilliantly (especially for a One-Act 80-minute presentation) that we do not dare mention another word about it for fear of angry Spoiler Alert letters from viewers like you.

Don't worry: you'll get it. But don't plan dinner immediately after the show. You may have to sit in your seats for awhile when the lights come up, just to catch your breath after the devastating ending.

Henny Russell is remarkable as Juliana. Her performance is both unsettling and tender -- inexplicable until it all makes sense. Much of this is in the writing but Ms. Russell has to be perfect for us to stay with her. We do, and she rewards us in the end. Meanwhile, Donald Sage Mackay as her husband Ian plays someone as confused as we are, although we come to realize he has seen what is going on far longer than we have.

Carrie Paff plays several parts, the most telling as The Woman who actually lives in The Other Place. Seeing her confusion enables us to crystallize our own. Role after role, Carrie Paff just gets better and better.

Patrick Russell rounds out the cast as The Man. If you saw this year's "Body Awareness" at the Aurora, you will be relieved to know that Jared has survived. Russell also plays multiple roles, including Bobby the nurse and Richard Sillner, the sort-of-alive grad student. That's all you're going to get from us.

"The Other Place" is not lighthearted. You will not be uplifted. You may even be discouraged until that martini comes, as you consider the personal ramifications of what you have just seen.  But you will be talking about this one for awhile, because you have been lucky enough to catch a night of brilliant theater.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards Sharr White's "The Other Place" Three Stars. Henny Russell earns one star, Loretta Greco earns another for her excellent direction of a show with more time-signature changes than a Dave Brubeck album; the last star is for the story itself. We wish we could go back and see all the clues we missed. Well, we can. Maybe we will.

"The Other Place"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason Center, Buildling D, Third Floor
San Francisco
Extended through October 14

Photo credit: Jennifer Reiley

Saturday, September 1, 2012

"The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG BANG

Playwright Kristoffer Diaz has written that there are two categories of theater:

1) The type written by "theater people" for "theater people."

2) The type you take your Dad to.

Diaz's "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" is definitely a 1-415-CALL DAD. From the second you walk into the Aurora and see the entire floor is taken up by a wrestling ring, followed by Dave Maier's spiel as bad-guy wrestler Billy Heartland, who stalks around the ring getting the audience involved in the hi-jinx they're about to see, you know you're in for a night of fun.

But Diaz is one subversive dude. Though the show is written almost completely in monologue -- character to audience -- he lets you see what is inside these wrestlers, who are athletes at the core. Some are heroes, some are villains but all are caricatures. They love it. It's a show.

We can't write another word without mentioning the irrepressibly brilliant Tony Sancho, who plays Macedonio Guerra, known in the ring as The Mace. Sancho's performance is one for the ages, a role few people could play. He's a small athlete with a big heart, an overgrown kid who sees the world as it is and accepts his part in it -- well, almost.

Rod Gnapp always gets the Rod Gnapp parts -- the flawed coper, smarter than people think, but not quite smart enough to get out of the hole he's dug himself into. In this case, Gnapp is the empressario of The Wrestling. He's a kind of Sol Hurok for the common man, full of life and mindful of his audience. Beethovan Oden as idol Chad Deity (who has a dollar sign painted on his shorts) and Nasser Khan as Vigneshwar Paduar, whose hysterical transformation into the wrestler known as The Terrorist, tell us all we need to know about Kristoffer Diaz's politics. The entire cast is a total joy.

If there is a flaw it is in Act Two. We are not in an art house here, it's a wrestling match. We want to know what happens to Mace, but instead we get the ol' Maybe This-Maybe That. This show is for Dad, remember? Dad likes answers, not questions.

But everything else about Chad Deity -- set (Nina Ball), lights (Kurt Landisman), direction (Jon Tracy) and belly laugh dialogue -- make us love this show, flaws and all. Diaz is telling us to look past the dollar sign on Chad Deity's booty and go for the heart.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division insists on the Two BANGLES of PRAISE, one for Macedonio Guerra and one for Che Chavez Castro, both whom are played by Tony Sancho. But the questionable ending costs the show a star -- fix it and we've got a Four Star Two BANGLE lollapalooza. For now, we'll settle for calling up everyone's Dad and telling him we've got a show he and his family are not going to want to miss.

"The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity"
The Aurora Theater
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through Sept. 30