Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Once" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

We all loved "Once," the movie, and got a little weepy with "Falling Slowly," the Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova song that was the best film song of the decade. Usually it's hard to top the original, but we have to say Edna Walsh's book and divine staging at the Orpheum have made "Once" (the musical) far more interesting than the film. Having a band on stage at all times, with various band members having dramatic roles to play, gives us intimacy instead of the necessary distance of a film.

There are other songs in the soundtrack, and some of them are brought to life with Stuart Ward's spectacular acoustic guitar playing, but basically this show is a One Song Wonder. And a wonder it is. Even though it was very difficult to hear or understand any lyrics, due both to the Irish and Czech accents of all the performers and perhaps under-miking at the Orpheum, these songs could just as well be in Klingon. (They may have been.) But the emotion of the performers and our desire to see Guy get Girl overcome all issues of language. He loves her. Check. She loves him. Czech. That's enough.

Other musical highlights: The opening "Leave," where somehow Ward manages not to break his guitar in half; the Czech "Ej, Pada, Pada, Rosicka," sung by Girl (Dani de Waal) and her Czech immigrant cohort; "When Your Mind's Made Up," sung by Guy and the band; and a very special soft gospel arrangement of "Gold," a song which seems trite when heard in Act One but its reprise in choir format is quite touching.

So with all those songs mentioned, how can we say "One Song Wonder?" It's just that "Falling Slowly" ear-worms into your brain and days later you are still hearing it, and this despite the fact you have to buy the CD and rip open the package to read the lyrics before you have the slightest idea what he is saying. Nahh, but you knew didn't you? Yeah. (sigh)

"Once" (the musical) won eight Tonys including Best Musical of the Year in 2012. And now, in 2015, we see and hear exactly why. But it's a very short run. Hurry, or you'll be left sitting on your chair at home.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Once" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. The stars are for performance, staging and for Stuart Ward. The BANGLE of PRAISE is for "Falling Slowly," that stupid song that I now hate because I can't stop singing it. It's even good in Klingon.

The Orpheum
1192 Market Street, San Francisco
Through November 1 ONLY
$65-$212 ($20 Rush Tickets available 2 hours before curtain)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Proof" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

David Auburn's Pulitzer-winning "Proof" opened in 2000 on Broadway and ran for over 900 performances, although the show is long, close to two hours of drama with no set changes and only four characters. Its success comes from our involvement with the tentative relationship between Catherine (Michelle Beck) and Hal (Lance Gardner).  Catherine is the daughter of a famous mathematician (Robert, played by L. Peter Callender), recently deceased. She studies math as well, as does Hal, who was her father's former student. But with all the talk of elegant mathematical proofs, no one is willing to believe that the untrained Catherine has her father's talent, even when presented with her own elegant theory -- her proof.

There are many wonderful moments, such as her father's flashback monologue about September in Chicago. Robert is perfectly academic, while Hal is a terrific geek, honest and winning while timidly courting Catherine. Superficial big sister Claire (Ashley Bryant) is a little hard to take, interested primarily in getting away from Chicago as she did long ago, leaving Catherine to take care of their ailing father.

It is fascinating that this show, which was cast with white actors originally as was the 2005 film starring Anthony Hopkins and Gwynneth Paltrow, here is presented with a black cast which gives an extra dimension to the issues discussed. The casting works perfectly and this ensemble makes us feel the roles could have been written for them. We love Gregory Robinson's excellent bluesy musical cues between scenes.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Proof" THREE STARS with a Bangle of Praise. The story, the cast and the director (Leslie Martinson) earn one star each while the Bangle of Praise is for the fabulous one-liner that terminates Act One. It's great when you can't wait for Act Two.

Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through November 1

Friday, October 16, 2015

"The Submarine Show" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

For pure physical comedy genius, sick belly laughs and the sight of two guys having the time of their lives befuddling your funny bones, you must see Slater Penney and Jaron Hollander's "The Submarine Show," playing upstairs at the Aurora for only nine more days. Really. You must.

They're a submarine. They're in the submarine. They're in the water. They're on dry land. They're hacking through the jungle (read: the audience) with machetes. They're monkeys, peacocks, mama birds having babies. They're swallowed up by quicksand (read: behind the audience). They turn beautifully synchronized cartwheels. And they really, really, have to pee. Penney's Gotta Pee Ballet is worth the price of admission all by itself, but, you know, use the bathroom first.

 These guys are already old pros, they are instructors of clowning and gymnastics and circus skills.  Hollander is the Artistic Director of Oakland's Kinetic Arts Center. They've both done turns with Cirque du Soleil. They really know what they're doing.

But above all, they're in it for the laughs. There is no dialogue, only relevant and irreverent sounds coming from both of them. Lighting helps, but these guys don't need anything but a sidewalk to be brilliant. Or a pretty lady's lap. Or the back of your chair. It's a short show -- less than an hour -- and everyone is sad to have to get out of the water.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division would love to hand out Five Stars for "The Submarine Show," but that's for PRODUCTIONS, YA KNOW? Here we just have two guys and no props or sets or staging or music or dialogue, for God's Sake. So we are awarding FOUR STARS with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. Each performer gets one star for himself and one star for the way they coordinate their physical movements with the other guy. The BANGLE is for Penney's GOTTA PEE BALLET, but it might be for giving CPR to that mosquito or trying to get the sub's dead battery started, except the key went down the drain and into the fish, oh, you know.

"The Submarine Show"
Harry's UpStage
Upstairs at Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through October 25

Monday, October 12, 2015

"Life is a Dream" ☼ ☼ ☼

In Spanish, Pedro Calderón de la Barca's "La Vida es Sueño" (Life is a Dream) is a three act poem, a morality play written, astonishingly, in verse. First published in 1635, in the years since the story has become known as one of the finest works of Spain's Golden Age.

Resident playwright at the Cutting Ball Theater Andrew Saito has done a new translation and shortened it considerably, turning three acts into one and, of course, abandoning the verse. Director Paige Rogers stages the show as a farce in the Exit's trademark experimental fashion. For the most part it works well.

Prince Segismundo is played by Asher Sinaiko with energy and emotion. He is the standout performer of the show, with other excellent performances by Michael Wayne Turner III's Clarin and Sango Tajima's Rosaura. Sinaiko's father David plays King Basilio, who has cast his son into prison because of a dream his wife had before the child was born.

The show plays a bit long, because there is so much slapstick. The central theme -- that you never know if what you are experiencing is real or if it is just a dream -- can only be repeated so many times until you begin wondering if this dream is ever going to end. We enjoyed the battle fought with kazoos and the cast clapping rhythms along with Barry Despenza's drums.

1635 was not a great year. Bad things happened. Calderón de la Barca sums his show up best: "Prophesy never lies when it predicts misfortune."

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Life is a Dream" Three Stars for its audacity and novelty. Asher Sinaiko, who is only sixteen, may be a star in the making.

"Life is a Dream" 
Cutting Ball Theater at EXIT on Taylor 
277 Taylor Street, San Francisco
Through November 1
$10-$50 (many discounts available)