Monday, March 30, 2015

Stupid F**king Bird: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Dev loves Mash who loves Con who loves Nina who loves Trig who loves himself more than Emma who loves herself a lot. So it went in Anton Chekhov's 19th Century Russia and so it goes in Aaron Posner's Americanized sort-of adaptation of Chekhov's "The Seagull," now called "Stupid F**king Bird."

It's the production that shines here. There is a play within a play, a fourth wall which is breached constantly to include audience participation, marvelous soliloquies and even some clever songs and dances. If Chekhov had seen "F**king Bird," he may have left the pistol in the drawer and come back the next night to see how it all turns out.

The cast shines, with each actor receiving his or her moment in the spotlight. El Beh is a perfectly depressed Mash, the Goth girl; Adam Magill the overwrought playwright who thinks the weight of the world is on his shoulders, but it's only his mother (an essay in self-absorption by Carrie Paff); Nina (Martha Brigham) is crazier than you think while Joseph Estlack's Dev has more staying power than even he expects. Rounding out the cast are Johnny Moreno as the Oh So Brilliant Trig and Charles Shaw Robinson as Sorn, the voice of reason. Naturally Sorn is the first to die.

Director Susi Damilano takes a lot of chances and most of them work. We've seen El Beh in lots of roles now and she is a fine actress, not 'just' a brilliant musician. James Sugg has given her some wonderfully silly songs to sing, and what a lovely choice to make the ukelele the instrumental voice of such woeful angst. The show is long, but not too long, and how often do we get to say that?

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Stupid F**king Bird" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. Acting, directing and writing earn one star each, while the BANGLE is for Magill's and Estlack's excellent repartee with the audience as Con begs us to tell him what he ought to do next. It is very difficult to burst through the curtain so many times without it starting to feel phony, but Damilano, Dev and Con pull it off.

Poor baby. Mom was right after all.

"Stupid F**king Bird"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, San Francisco
Kensington Park Hotel, Second Floor
Through May 22

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Lake Effect: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

A cold front is passing over the warmer waters of Lake Erie, bringing snow and icy winds to the streets of Cleveland. The metaphor of rising and falling temperatures permeates "Rajiv Joseph's "The Lake Effect," as frigid personal relations yield slowly to acceptance and understanding.

Vijay (Adam Poss) has returned to the family diner, having received a note from his father Vinode that the diner is to be sold. Poring through his father's ledger, he discovers the family has run out of money. Enter Jason Bowen, playing Bernard, a friend of Vijay's father but unknown to Vijay. Lots of things have been unknown to Vijay, including his father's gambling habit which has been ably assisted by Bernard.

But Bernard is no thief. And Vinode appears to always win his bets. So where is the money? The understory begins to reveal itself as Priya, Vijay's sister arrives. Priya is a little sketchy but has her own story to tell.

Drama, humor and honesty: "The Lake Effect" is a perfect one-act play. Author Joseph and Director Giovanna Sardelli present us with complete stories within each scene. We see disbelief and mistrust change to understanding, we see the immigrant experience as it evolves with each advancing generation and we see how trust can sometimes trump truth.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Lake Effect" Four Stars. Story, acting, directions, sets, costumes, lights and music are all first rate. We feel for Vijay and Priya but we love Bernard. Jason Bowen's big heart shows us how basic is our need for community and friendship. For us, this is Rajiv Joseph's best work since the brilliant "Animals Out of Paper." The Lake Effect will stick with you for awhile, and make you happy you don't live in Cleveland during the winter.

"The Lake Effect"
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road
Palo Alto, CA
Through March 29