Friday, May 31, 2013

"Terminus" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG!

"It's a voice I'm certain I recollect, someone I taught in school, I suspect, then am sure of. Yes. A girl named Helen I had for maths. A fucking mess. Though that's a tale best told at another time. For now, she's saying she needs an abortion. Fine. I ask her how many months she's gone, she says 'Nine.'"

---Character A, from Mark O'Rowe's "Terminus"

Read that out loud and you will pick up the lilt of the internal rhymes. Mark O'Rowe's one hour forty-five minute (no intermission) "Terminus" consists of three characters giving ten to fifteen minute monologues, one character following the other, all told in what sounds like verses from a Poetry Slam. It's not an easy evening. You need every ounce of concentration just to make sense of what you are watching and hearing. But give it awhile, because once the story takes on a form you may find yourself, as we were, spellbound.

Things will begin to pop into your head. We thought of Vikram Seth's magnificent "The Golden Gate," a novel about San Francisco written completely in sonnets. The connection is how something can be at once so literary and full of heart.

The three actors (Stacy Ross, Marissa Keltie and Carl Lumbly) are nothing short of brilliant, which is admittedly an easy word to use. So consider this: since they never speak at the same time, nor do they interact with each other, it is a necessity for each character's next monologue to continually one-up the previous one, or the show will drag. It never does. Ross's secret guilt gives her surprising strength, Keltie's innocence brings her to the strangest love this side of Star Wars, and Lumbly is just plain terrifying. Each actor has a reserve, and that reserve has another reserve under it. By the end of the evening they have used themselves up. You find yourself wondering how they will do this show every night for the length of the run.

But after the show, Lumbly said: "I can't wait for tomorrow."

It's dark and smoky in the theater, but this makes sense since we are apparently in Hell. Robert Brill's coal-mine like set and Gabe Maxson's smoke and low light seem perfectly reasonable when faced with issues of life, death, afterlife, monsters, rape, worms, payback, Bette Midler and a goodly collection of Irish guilt. 

You won't see another show like "Terminus" this season. But after Opening Night there are only 17 performances left. If you love great acting and writing, and we know you do, please don't miss this one. 

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG!

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Terminus" Four Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. Each actor plus director Jon Tracy earn one star each, while the Bangle goes to Artistic Director Loretta Greco for having the courage (and, apparently, a supportive Board of Directors) to mount this peformance. "Terminus" makes you squirm. And stretch. Did we mention squirm? We can't stop thinking about it.

The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason Center, Building D
San Francisco
Through July 15

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Abigail's Party" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

An English play written in 1977 about tasteless middle-class people would normally be greeted with a smile and a nod or two. It was that way the last time Mike Leigh's "Abigail's Party" came through town in 1998 at the old Aurora. But this time San Francisco Playhouse has an ace up its sleeve -- Susi Damilano. She may have born to play the role of Bev. A fine comic actor, Damilano allows Bev to be so crass and oblivious that you would strangle her if you could stop laughing. The crasser she gets, as when she is dancing seductively with Tony (Patrick Kelly Jones), the more we gasp. Damilano and the rest of this fine cast make a lightweight play memorable.

Jones, with his barely contained disgust for both his wife and the party he has been forced to attend, and Remi Sandri as Lawrence, Bev's henpecked real-estate salesman husband, give a strong undercurrent to the story. Angela (Allison Jean White) and Sue (Julia Brothers) have no defense against Bev's aggressiveness. They sit and watch as Bev realizes her goal to to get everyone drunk so she can torment her husband. 

Amy Glazer directs. The show is a true two act play and longer than we are used to seeing these days, but does not drag. And you get a surprise ending which, thinking about it later, isn't really much of a surprise. If you were Lawrence, you'd do it too.

 RATINGS:     ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Abigail's Party" Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. The cast, direction and story earn one star each and Damilano's performance brings home the Bangle. Nobody takes the easy way out -- Amy Glazer does not allow Damilano to leave character for an instant, nor does Julia Brothers stand up and scream as we might expect. One word of warning: they smoke real cigarettes and cigars. Some of us love it. Be aware.

"Abigail's Party"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street (2d floor of Kensington Park Hotel)
San Francisco
Through May 24

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Will Durst: "Boomeraging - From LSD to OMG" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

It probably helps if you've been around the block a few times, circled back and then forgot where you were going, but even if you're not a boomer Will Durst will make your shoulders ache from laughing. Or maybe it's bursitis.

Every Tuesday night until November, Durst will be helping us use the Marsh as an alternative to going to the gym. He is so danged funny. We get 90 minutes of joke after joke after joke, but we also are allowed inside a little bit this time. Durst has always made us laugh, but it's nice to hear him talk about his family (especially his Dad -- one of our favorite moments is watching him do his father's four-part groan when getting out of a chair).

Basically, it's a rant. 

Durst is 61. He thinks that is old, only not in comparison to igneous rock formations. He remembers (so do we) being his parents' TV remote control. ("You! Get up and change the channel!") He remembers when doing drugs didn't involve a co-pay. Bada-bing bada-boom.

But he also comments on being invisible as you get older, and he is kind enough to give us the meaning of life:

"It ends."

"Boomeraging" is Will Durst's most satisfying show yet and the best part about it is we can go back every couple months on a Tuesday night and watch the whole thing evolve. 

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Boomeraging - From LSD to OMG" Four Stars. Sure, it's a solo performance, and sure, there is no staging to speak of, and sure, he doesn't change costumes nor does he have one (visible) tattoo. He's just a very funny man. We feel better when we come out than when we walked in. And now we know why our Dad was always fiddling with the change in his pocket.

Will Durst: "From LSD to OMG"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Tuesday nights through November 6

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"The Arsonists" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

The play is delightful, the message not so much. Written in 1953 in his native Czechoslovakia, Max Frisch seems to be lampooning blind totalitarianism at the same time he is sticking it to the wealthy who choose to live with their heads in the sand. The issue here -- a businessman who has invited two arsonists into his attic because he is afraid to appear too terribly bourgeois -- is one we can relate to easily. We see what we choose to see, even with our house about to burn down around us.

You have to love the two arsonists -- Tim Kniffin (Eisenring) and Michael Ray Wisely (Schmitz) never pretend to be anyone except who they are. Bottom line: they love burning things up. Schmitz (seen above with Gwen Loeb as Mrs. Biedermann) is also a pathological liar, and he has figured out that his tales of personal woe elicit embarrassed generosity from others, especially Mr. and Mrs. Biedermann.

We know Biedermann (Dan Hiatt) is a bumbling plutocrat, but it takes us awhile to realize he is also guilty of mistreating an ex-employee.  Perhaps it is this guilt that causes him to try so hard to appease Schmitz with good cigars, excellent food and accommodations in the very attic that every person in the theater, except for Biedermann, knows Schmitz is planning to burn down.

We love the attic scenes. It is theater of the absurd mixed with a touch of The Simpsons, as Biedermann  absolutely refuses to acknowledge what he is staring at with his own eyes. There is an epidemic of arson in the city? You have dragged barrels of gasoline into my attic? No, nothing out of the ordinary here.

 The firemen and their (lengthy) unison chanting seem a little strange -- as much absurdist theater from the mid-50s seems to us now. But the message remains strong. If someone tells you they are intent on burning down your house -- they probably will.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Arsonists" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. The sets, acting and direction (Mark Jackson) earn one star each. Special mention to Dina Percia for her delightfully frustrated Anna. We give the BANGLE to the bad guys -- who doesn't love bad guys who are truly bad? Especially when they have such nice smiles?

"The Arsonists"
The Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through May 12