Monday, August 25, 2014

"Water By The Spoonful" ☼ ☼ ☼

It is easy to identify with the characters in Quiara Alegria Hudes's "Water by the Spoonful." Each one has been physically or emotionally injured. Several are addicts attempting with great difficulty to remain clean; all are barely keeping their heads above water.

Two parallel stories intersect. In one, ex-Marine Elliot (Miles Gaston Villanueva) is trying to readjust to life back in Philadelphia with the help of his cousin Yazmin (Sabina Zuniga Varela). In the other, a chat-room is hosted by Odessa (Zilah Mendoza), Elliot's birth mother, in an attempt to give crack addicts a place to come and talk, instead of going out and getting high.

Of the two stories, this latter one is fascinating, especially with the help of Erik Flatmo and Steven B. Mannschardt's brilliant set and lights. We find ourselves involved in each of the on-line character's lives. Anna Ishida is terrific as the wisecracking Orangutan, as are Anthony J. Haney as Chutes&Ladders and Patrick Kelly Jones as Fountainhead, two addicts unable to admit how close they are to the edge.

For us real-life story resonates less than the virtual one. Varela is excellent as the girl who got out of the family orbit but is now anxious to become the new head of the family. Villanueva, while giving a lot of energy to his role as the injured Iraqi war veteran, sadly does not exhibit a lot of heart. We see him acting, but he doesn't seem to feel much. In addition, there appears to be a romantic spark between the cousins which makes little sense. Part of the problem may be that the Mountain View Center's sound system was unable to pick up all the lightning fast dialogue; this may be the reason Act Two feels long.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼
 The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Water by the Spoonful" three stars. It is a fascinating concept. When the curtain comes down on Act One the audience is buzzing about what they have just seen and what might come next. We wish we could leave the theater feeling that same excitement.

"Water by the Spoonful"
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through August 22, 2014

Photo Credits: Kevin Berne

Monday, August 11, 2014

From Red to Black ☼ ☼ ☼ !

The World Premiere of Rhett Rossi's "From Red to Black" gives us a police drama with twists and turns. There has been a death on the subway tracks in New York City. The two suspects rounded up are young black men. The two police inspectors are Irish, one a thirty year veteran and one younger and greener.

Charles Shaw Robinson plays Inspector Denny Mitchell, a legacy policemen who reminisces about the days when the entire force was Irish and felt like family. His younger partner Jack Flanagan (Matthew Baldiga)  is a by-the-book guy who has strikes against him as far as Mitchell is concerned, not the least important of which is he is a college graduate.

But the story is not about them. It is instead a study about how preconceived notions of race, of class, of guilt and of innocence can lead different people to different conclusions. Once we meet William (Isiah Thompson), we understand this young man and these two detectives do not inhabit the same universe.

William is the heart of this story, but equally important is a smaller but crucial role played by Michael Shipley. Shipley's Lawrence Stevens adds sexual identity into the mix. What really happened in the subway station in the middle of the night is hard enough to decipher without everyone's notions about what others expect of them.  Each of these characters is trapped inside a stereotype and none see a way out.

Susi Damilano's direction is sharp but the show might play a little long. This may be because the actors on Opening Night had a little trouble with their lines. It is clear that SF Playhouse has found an engaging show from another excellent new writer. 

 RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ !
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "From Red to Black" Three Stars with an Exclamation Point!  The show is Isiah Thompson's to steal and he does so. The one-act 90-minute format is perfect. Don't let the false ending fool you -- the best is still to come.

"From Red to Black"
San Francisco Playhouse Sandbox Series
ACT Costume Shop
1119 Market Street, San Francisco
Wed.-Sat. Through August 30