Sunday, January 26, 2014

Jerusalem: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

You ride the Rooster, one way or the other. If you like him, as you will, despite your better judgement, you'll end up being enthralled with Jez Butterworth's Tony-winning three hour three-act opus "Jerusalem." But you won't be able to ignore the small part of your still-functioning brain that reminds you: "This guy is a creep. He deserves whatever he gets."

Johnny "Rooster" Byron is played to confounding perfection by Brian Dykstra. True, he is a dropout, living in a decrepit mobile home rapidly decaying like the rest of the forest in which he has located himself. True, his only friends are the teenagers to whom he provides booze and sells drugs. True, he is studiously avoiding his fate, numbing himself with any substance he can scrounge from his many stashes.

The Rooster is also delusional. But so was Don Quijote. One man's weirdo is another man's prophet. And within his madness there is a level of truth with which we can all identify. Despite his attempt to call in the giants with his drum, we all know that eventually his self-named Rooster's Forest will be leveled and turned into an expansion of the suburb just across the way. We understand his cocksure refusal to come to grips with this knowledge. But we also know there is power in resistance and we want The Rooster to fight it out.

Here is our only problem with this opus -- we love the two act setup. But in Act Three we wait for what we will not receive. We are ready to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid leap defiantly into their final fusilade. 

"Jerusalem" is a play about England, with a rural English collection of idioms and cultural terms. You won't understand a small percentage of the language, but it won't matter. Performances are so strong, particularly by Dykstra and Ian Scott McGregor who plays Ginger as Rooster's Sancho Panza, that you will be thrown happily downstream into the action along with the rest of us. Joe Estlak plays the menacing Troy, managing somehow to place his defiant skull a foot in front of the rest of his body, Paris Hunter Paul is Lee, who is smart enough to want to leave his dead-end home, while Christopher Reber is very good as poor sore-foot Wesley.

Bill English's set is masterful. The stage is trashed before the curtain even rises. Characters pop out of sofas, from under the mobile home, or from behind a clothes line. English also directs, which is probably one reason for the measured insanity that is the power of this production.

 So it all comes down to whether or not you believe you are rooting for the underdog if you throw in with the Rooster. Is he a hero? An anti-hero? A bum? One thing is for sure: Jez Butterworth has given us the rare epic, the story that does not pander to the supposed attention-gap lap in theater culture. Stay tuned in and you will find a great deal to cheer about.

RATINGS  ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Jerusalem" Four Stars. You cannot deny the brash energy of this show. The acting of the entire ensemble is superb. Performance, direction, writing and set all earn one Star each.

Someone please tell Troy to put down the ax. There's another show tomorrow.

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street (upstairs at Kensington Park Hotel), San Francisco
Through Mar 8

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Marga Gomez: "Lovebirds" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

In a city of excellent solo performers, Marga Gomez stands apart. For one thing, she's been doing it a long time. Her characters and her stories always have a little more depth, her performance is more nuanced and she doesn't hold her audience's hand. In her new "Lovebirds," which we saw in its final Preview before Opening Night at the Marsh, she has sewed all her craft together into a touching tapestry which is also very, very funny.

The show revolves around Polaroid Philly, a lovable photographer who is still working with a Polaroid. She has been around the block a few times but her gift is the kindness she offers to all her customers. We see Philly at the opening, and at the end, and in between we meet Turkey, the manly lesbian who courts Barbara, the politically aware "brand new lesbian" who changes her name to "Dahlia." We meet Barbara/Dahlia's father Orestes, who runs a night club and has fallen in love with his dying-cat-voiced club singer Gladys, who only uses one name, just like Charro and Cher.  There are many other characters too, but our very favorite is Richard Richards, the professor who claims to only need 45 minutes of sleep a night. He is constantly yawning, and believe me, when he yawns, you will too. He is married to Gladys...well, the plot is convoluted and the characters many. 

There is even one character named Marga Gomez, who buys a lot of Cosmopolitans as she tries in vain to pick up Barbara/Dahlia. 

With all of it -- we come back to Polaroid Philly. She knows her polaroids are ancient technology, and that they will fade, as will all our memories. But, despite it all, you can always count on her to keep trying. 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Lovebirds" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. Gomez gets a star for writing and performing, plus another for Richard Richards. The BANGLE of PRAISE is for Gladys's version of "Besame Mucho," though if she had played it a little louder we may have expired with laughter. If we could give an extra Bangle, it would be for the way Turkey does the Hustle.

Marga Gomez "Lovebirds"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Thu-Sat through March 15
$15-$35 sliding scale.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"The Pornographer's Daughter" ☼ ☼ ☼

Liberty Bradford Mitchell has a pedigree, children. Actually, she has two. The first, from her mother's side of the family, takes her back to the Mayflower and Boston society. The second, from her father's  side, gave her a close-up and personal ride into the great pageant of San Francisco porn. With a story like this, and a fine sense of how to hold an audience, Bradford Mitchell's "The Pornographer's Daughter" will rivet you to your seat --- the good way.

It's pretty graphic, folks, at least on the video screen above the stage. Bradford Mitchell was born in 1969, the year the Mitchell Brothers opened their O'Farrell Theater as an outlet to screen their home-made pornographic shorts. Her stories of how brothers Jim and Artie catapulted themselves into mainline cinema and a screening at the Cannes Film Festival with "Behind the Green Door," the first feature-length pornographic movie ever made, starring the Ivory-Snow girl Marilyn Chambers, is absolutely priceless. Bradford Mitchell's personal revelations are terrific too -- like how she hated being "named Liberty in a world of Heathers and Jennifers."

The dark side is there, and we get the sense we've only heard the half of it. Her father, Art Mitchell, was arrested 187 times and her uncle Jim 188. Of course, the last time was when her uncle murdered her father. Liberty's last words to her dad must haunt her to this day.

But that's where the show stops being fun and starts being just weird. Nothing made sense in real life and it doesn't on stage either. Bradford Mitchell's behavior at her uncle's trial, and therefore her depiction of those days, make you ask a lot of questions. It's hard to know what to think.

Music is provided on-stage by The Fluffers. Their finest moment is when they play riffs from '60s songs as the show is opening. We could definitely use some more interplay between Bradford Mitchell and the band. Also, she needs to get some of her facts straight -- USC is not in Watts, for example. She needs to check her dates about Francis Ford Coppola.

None of this is to deny the power of this amazing tale. We come away with respect for a woman who has been through a lot and come out on the other end unapologetic for the way her father and uncle made their living. As she says about her family: "We put the fun in dysfunction." 

(And Marilyn Chambers was really beautiful. Just sayin.' )

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ 
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Pornographer's Daughter" Three Stars. It is well worth seeing, but suffers from a believability issue, capped off by her tears at the end. They ring false for the character on the stage we have seen laughing everything off with a wave and a F-bomb. Liberty Bradford Mitchell is a tremendous talent. Who could be surprised if "The Pornographer's Daughter" still has a few kinks?

"The Pornographer's Daughter"
Z Space Below
470 Florida Street, San Francisco
Thu-Sun through February 16

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Silent Sky: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

In the Northern California debut of Playwright Lauren Gunderson's "Silent Sky,"we get period costumes, rich dialogue and a homage to Henrietta Leavitt, the female astronomer who made pioneering discoveries in the clubby scientific man's world of the early twentieth century. Scenic Designer Annie Smart takes us inside the Harvard Observatory, which ties a satisfying knot at the end of Act Two, and costume designer Fumiko Bielefeldt must have had a lot of fun with the dresses.

In many ways, the heart of Gunderson's story is the relationship between two different sets of women. Elena Wright and Jennifer Le Blanc play Henrietta Leavitt and her sister Margaret. We see two women who, while different in many ways, are still sisters who rely on one another.  In her scientific world, Leavitt has an even more sisterly relationship with her two colleagues Annie Cannon (Sarah Dacey Charles) and Williamina Fleming (Lynne Soffer). The more earthy Fleming and flinty Cannon counsel Henrietta on her work but, more importantly, teach her how to get around the condescending Harvard power structure.

Peter Shaw plays Matt Citron, the Harvard associate who appears to be Henrietta's love interest. But science is this woman's muse as well as her dream. 

"Silent Sky" teaches us about astronomy while giving us a fabulous ending to the story of the woman who in real life discovered more than 2,400 stars. The First Act feels long, but after intermission pays off resolutely.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Silent Sky" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. The writing, acting and production are all first rate while the BANGLE is for the three hanky finale, which wraps up the astronomer's career and and keeps the audience smiling as we exit. We loved this play and you will too.

"Silent Sky"
 Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
 500 Castro Street, Mountain View
 Through Feb 9
 $19 (30 and under) - $73

Photo Credits: M. Kitaoka and T. Martin