Thursday, April 30, 2015

Geoff Hoyle: "Lear's Shadow" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

The problem with seeing Geoff Hoyle do any solo performance, and particularly his latest "Lear's Shadow," is that he raises the bar for everyone else. Hoyle is not only an artist and writer but he's a mime, a fiddler, a clown and a physical comedian of the highest order. Each of his characters is memorable and each engages us as if being portrayed by a unique actor: King Lear as a young King with puffed-out chest and then as a fading old man with sunken shoulders; his daughters Goneril and Regan, deceiving and foolish; Cordelia, proud and affectionate; and, most of all, the Fool himself, our narrator and moral compass.

The story begins after the events made immortal by Shakespeare have transpired. The Fool, now unemployed, is casting about for another position when someone asks him why he left his previous employer. "Because everybody's dead!" he answers, and proceeds to tell us what exactly happened to King Lear and his family, but from the perspective of a once-loyal employee whose loyalty has bought him little but slaps across the face. Twenty-seven, to be exact.

It helps to be familiar with a little of King Lear beforehand, but you can Google all you need to know in less than five minutes. Marry and prithee, don't miss this one. Co-written and directed by David Ford, "Lear's Shadow" is the best solo show we've seen in a long time.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards Geoff Hoyle's "Lear's Shadow" Four Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. Sure, the ending is a little long and for our taste we could do without some of the audience interaction, but these are tiny quibbles, mere quibblitos. The BANGLE is for a quick double-take he gives us towards the end, where with a passing of his hand back and forth across his face we see the Fool and Hoyle, there's Hoyle and there's the Fool and there's Hoyle again, in the blink of an eye. The man is bloody good.

"Lear's Shadow"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Wed, Thurs and Sat. through May 30.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"Speechless" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG baub

Imagine being asked to give a ten-minute Powerpoint presentation on a topic you aren't given until you begin, using random slides you've never seen before. In addition, the slides have nothing to do with your topic, but you must incorporate them into your presentation anyway, using a laser pointer.

Part improv, part TV game show and part payback for being forced to sit through far too many Powerpoint speeches, host Sammy Wegent's "Speechless" can get really funny and is always fresh and interesting. Like all improv, things can slow down and it's uncomfortable when they do, but most of the time you are on the edge of your seat wondering how the contestant is going to avoid stepping on his/her latest visual landmine.

The auduence is young and silicone-valley hip. It's boisterous like Singles Night at your local pub, loud, irreverent and swirling with hipster language and double entendres you don't always understand -- the ones about sex, yes, but the ones about startups and coding, not so much. The contestants are serious but the judges are in it for the laughs, because what they think doesn't matter. The winner is chosen by the audience texting to a predetermined address.

Bottom line: it's a lot of fun. Keep in mind that parking at Public Theatre is problematic, despite two empty and unused city-owned lots next door. "Speechless" runs once a month and the place is packed. Get there early to get a good seat.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG baub

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division says Hey, it's improv. You might catch a Three Star Night and you might catch a Four Star Night, depending on the luck of the draw. Ours was worth Three Stars Plus a BANGLE OF PRAISE because we hate Powerpoint too, but also with a Bauble of Despair for the amateurish warmup act. So Three Stars sounds about right.

Public Works Theater
161 Erie Street, San Francisco
Every third Thursday of the month
$12 advance $20 at door

Saturday, April 18, 2015

"Sister Play" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

In John Kolvenbach's "Sister Play," four characters are caught up in their long-accepted roles. Since their mom left when the girls were young, Anna, the elder of two sisters (Lisa Brescia), has taken over as mom while the younger Lily (Jessi Campbell) has responded by becoming the wayward child. Even as adults, neither sister is happy with these roles, but they seem to have little interest in changing them. Meanwhile, Anna's husband Malcolm (Anthony Fusco), caught between his love for his wife and his inability to crack through Anna and Lily's sisterly bonds, has accepted his lesser spot in the trio…until William Casey arrives.

Played by Patrick Kelly Jones, William is a Texas-born drifter who would be out of place standing in an empty room. He is creepy, though apparently harmless. You have to suspend your disbelief to trust that Lily would pick him up standing on the highway in the middle of the night and bring him back to what was her father's summer house on Cape Cod, where she, Anna and Malcolm are vacationing; nonetheless, she does. And William sticks around. Self-conscious about coming from a lower social class, William rattles everyone's nerves.

The sisters have the key roles, but the meaty lines come from the men. Malcolm, especially, has a beautiful monologue in Act 2 about being a pamphlet stuck between two compendiums written in a language only they understand; William's musings on needing to act precipitously when you find someone you love make you both appreciate him and accept that he is…out of balance.

"Sister Play" is engrossing and keeps your attention through two long acts, separated by a ten minute intermission. The ensemble cast is excellent and Alex Jaeger's costuming adds an honest note to the production.


The San Francisco Theater  Blog Awards Division awards "Sister Play" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. We are awarding the BANGLE to the production, for the wonderful touch of having the characters, in costume, instead of a stage crew, preparing the dinner table for the beginning of Act 2. It involves us intimately in what will follow.

"Sister Play" is a fascinating night of theater, and if we could buy into William Casey a little more the rating would be even higher. As good an actor as Patrick Kelly Jones is, his William is just never going to get Lily. Ain't gonna happen. We give him one more night around the dinner table.

"Sister Play"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through April 19

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Don Reed "Stereotypo: Rants and Rumblngs at the DMV" ☼ ☼ ☼

A more musical show than his previous solo efforts, Don Reed's new "Stereotypo" shows us that in addition to his expected humor Reed owns some cool steps and a nice voice to boot.

In his first, and for our money best solo piece, we fell in love with his characters, especially Blinkie, Reed's pre-adolescent self. East Fourteenth Street came alive as we became involved with the interaction of his characters. But there is no interaction here, and the DMV is little but a location the author can use to opine on the downtrodden characters one might find there.

So this story's strength is its weakness -- there is no Blinkie, no sign of Don Reed himself. And we are already familiar with the DMV. It's difficult to imagine how any of his characters, the kid with no arms, the transgender guy, the old Jewish guy, the Indian taxi driver or any of the others, would actually tell Reed their personal stories in that context we know too well, sitting on an uncomfortable bench with head down, waiting for them to call your number.

As funny as some of the bits are -- we particularly liked Alberta, the DMV greeter as well as the armless boy Reed portrayed by crossing his arms inside his t-shirt so only his opposite hands would protrude from the shirt's armholes -- others feel incomplete. The show's finest moments are the dance sequences -- especially the Indian guy with a black girlfriend doing a dance that mixes Jay-Z and Bollywood. This is a brilliant set piece.

And, in a total switch from 99% of the shows we see, Reed gives us a crackerjack ending. Finally, finally, we see the characters interacting instead of standing and delivering long monologues about themselves. We wish there could be more of this throughout, so we could be involved in a real story in addition to Reed's beloved rants and rumblings. We love and laugh with Don Reed, but we're still waiting for another Blinkie.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division feels "Stereotypo: Rants and Rumblngs at the DMV" was treading water until the ending. But the final moments are so good the show leaped above the Julie Andrews Line (see sidebar for ratings explanation). So we are awarding Three Stars. Don Reed is a funny man and he has plenty of material here to give you some good laughs and remind you to pay those parking tickets so you never have to walk into the DMV again.

"Don Reed Stereotypo: Rants and Rumblngs at the DMV"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
EXTENDED through May 23

Monday, April 6, 2015

"Fire on the Mountain" ☼ ☼ ☼

Part theater and part concert of old-timey music, The Theatreworks Regional Premiere of Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman's "Fire on the Mountain" is a fun night in someone's old barn. You'll get a little coal country history, a lot of nostalgia for the tough old days in Appalachia, plenty of songs (thirty-six, according to the playbill) and some excellent performances. But you have to love this music, because after awhile each song starts to sound like the last one and the next one.

Molly Andrews and David M. Lutken are really, really good. Andrews sings unaccompanied often, in the Irish-y falsetto that makes up so much of this style of music, while Lutken plays a whole series of instruments and his voice has its own special timbre. When the entire ensemble sings in gospel harmony we can feel the strength that comes from a top flight cast who loves what it's doing.

For us, however, the attempt to weave so many songs into a story shortchanges each one. Each song gets a few verses and choruses and then it's done. You do understand the point each is making, but you get little emotion out of it. The show would have far more power if they allowed the songs and the musicians some room to breathe.

Harvy Blanks is the one black actor in the cast and his songs are few, but excellent. The others have individual moments, but this is pretty much the Molly and David Show. If you love Appalachian music you will be in old-timey heaven.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Fire on the Mountain" Three Stars. There are a few show-stoppers, such as Lutken and Tony Marcus's version of "Dark in the Dungeon," Andrews's "Single Girl" and an uncredited U. Utah Philips song by Lutken and Andrews entitled "Miner's Lullaby." They sing that entire song and it's a true heartbreaker.  Look forward to ninety minutes with no intermission.

"Fire on the Mountain"
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through April 26