Monday, September 29, 2014

Don Reed: Semi-Famous ☼ ☼

 The funniest comedians always slug you in the gut every once in awhile. Don Reed has given us this satisfying mix of "ha-ha-ha" combined with "aw-gee-whiz" many times in his past performances. We first saw "East Fourteenth Street" in 2008 but can still see Reed's face and body language as he introduced us to his quirky friends and family, his father and mother and his brothers. We can see little Blinky right now as we write and would love to come back and hear more about all of them.

Sadly, we get too little of that in "Semi-Famous," Reed's latest solo performance. On the bright side, we get some funny bits ("E.T. So Stoned") cobbled around various tales involving celebrities he has come across in his journeys through L.A. semi-stardom. They all start out like bar-jokes: Reed walks into a  bar/club/restaurant and who is there? Jody Whatley. Or Keenan Wayans. Or Barry White. Or Chubby Checker (a peculiarly cruel impersonation). Reed does interesting impressions of all the people he has seen, but that's all there is to it. Like an audition, it's one shot and "next."

When Don Reed brings us into his story and gets us involved with his characters, we're happy to be with him. We love to ride along and meet his creations. In "Semi-Famous" we meet nobody but Reed, as he wanders through the city of the Angels, a semi-famous person having brief encounters with other semi-famous people. We get a few belly laughs. And then we're done.

The San Francisco Theater Blog loves Don Reed but this show: not so much. The Awards Division awards "Semi-Famous" Two Stars. You will laugh for sure, find out something nice about Tom Cruise and pretty much what you expected from Courtney Love.

"Don Reed: "Semi-Famous"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Sat-Sun through October 19

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ideation ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

It's a little long and talky. It's also brilliant. Aaron Loeb's "Ideation," which is the first play to make it out of San Francisco Playhouse''s Sandbox Series and onto the main stage, takes us inside the creepiest corporate boardroom ever. Five participants in a project planning session start out with self-satisfied smurks and end up in terror, concerned their own lives are in imminent danger.

Mark Anderson Phillips has never been better. As Brock, the team leader, he spouts euphemisms like "liquidation," "transport," "cremation" and "mass graves," which give us a pretty good idea this is no everyday assignment. On the white board he writes "N," which refers to the 'N-Word' which is never allowed to be mentioned. What a surprise when we figure out to what this actually refers to.

Carrie Paff (Hannah) is perfect as the one woman on the team, sent by Corporate HQ to either spy on or assist in this meeting. Jason Kapoor plays the younger Sandeep, whose questions about the team's mysterious assignment only underline his not-so-secret relationship with Hannah.

Michael Ray Wisely is the older Ted who would love to wrap things up and get to his daughter's soccer game, while Ben Euphrat's Scooter starts out as a clueless beneficiary of company nepotism but winds up with more to do than bring Hannah coffee.

Bill English's set design team outdoes itself. The curved lines of stage and furniture and deco-like overhang help us understand nothing is on the straight-and-narrow here, as does the title of the show, another deliciously obfuscating dish of corpo-speak.

RATINGS:  ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Ideation" Four Stars. It makes you feel nervous as well as creepy, but you hang on the front of your seat from opening to curtain. It's hard not to feel excited about a World Premiere of a show this well written and acted.
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, San Francisco
 (2d floor Kensington Park Hotel)
Through November 8

Monday, September 8, 2014

"Rapture, Blister, Burn" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

On one level, Gina Gionfriddo's "Rapture, Blister, Burn" is a primer on the modern history of feminist philosophy, but more to the point it is a women-bonding story, where three generations of women chart out their places on the continuum of female enlightenment. The show is funny, features some fine acting and snappy one-liners; at the same time it is talky. Act One's setup is long but Act Two delivers.

The two main characters are forty-somethings and appear to be on opposite sides of philosophical issues. Rebecca Schweitzer plays Gwen, mother of two who abandoned her career to be a stay-at-home Mom. Gwen is defensive about her life, recovering from alcoholism while living with Don (Gabriel Marin), a man content to slide through life without thinking too much about it. Meanwhile, Gwen's old graduate school roommate and friend Catherine (Marilee Talkington) shows up in town. Catherine had been Don's girl friend back then, but they broke up when Catherine got her degree and a job in London while Don stayed home. There, he fell for and married Gwen.

Now Catherine has the career as a successful writer and speaker that Gwen wants, while Gwen has the family (and the man) that Catherine wants. Catherine's mother Alice (Lillian Bogovich), has recently suffered a heart attack and this has brought Catherine to the realization that she will someday be all alone.

Let us not forget Avery, the 21-year-old played with passion by Nicole Javier. In many ways the story of the two middle-aged women is told through the younger Avery and older Alice. Avery is energetic and opinionated; Alice has been through it all before. These two understand that life is different than philosophy. Avery and Alice are delights, and for us they carry Gionfriddo's show.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Rapture, Blister, Burn" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE.  The Bangle is for the writing which includes many one-liners, like Don's "Booze and love dupe you into thinking average people are great." Desdemona Chiang's direction keeps things in motion, although there is a lot of prop moving during the scene breaks. The ending is satisfying, if predictable. Women in the audience will relate to the self-analysis to which these women subject themselves; men, on the other hand, may scratch their heads and wonder why.

"Rapture, Blister, Burn"
Aurora Theater
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
EXTENDED Through Oct. 5