Sunday, October 9, 2016

Outside Mullingar ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Playwright John Patrick Shanley has a Tony, an Oscar and a Pulitzer sitting on his mantel (does a Pulitzer sit on a mantel?), but his romantic comedy "Outside Mullingar" is one you won't want to miss. It has a lot of "Moonstruck" in it (also written by Shanley), only instead of big-city Italians this time we get rural Irish. It is one of those rare evenings at the theater when you jump up and cheer at the final curtain and wish you could see the whole thing again.

Jessica Wortham doesn't make her entrance until the second scene but she grabs this show and runs away with it. As much as we loved her as Kiddo in "Upright Grand," this is a role she was born to play. As Rosemary, the neighbor daughter in the Irish farm village, she gives us grand physical humor along with expected rain-spattered Irish melancholy, all delivered with a brogue that, one supposes, is only acting. She fooled me.

 She has been in love with Anthony (Rod Brogan) forever, but he is as passive as the grass. There is a long-standing family feud engendered by Anthony's stubborn father Anthony Sr. (Steve Brady), which centers on a patch of ground sold by him to Rosemary's father, the late and lamented Mr. Muldoon.  Lucinda Hitchcock Cone plays Aoifie Muldoon, Rosemary's mother, who delivers quite a few of the show's great lines, like "Don't think! Thinkin' is worse than February."

Anthony Senior could win a curmudgeon award in any language. He says to Aoife:

"The only reason you own that land is love and spite."

 Aofie: "That's two reasons."

Robert Kelley's direction is perfect, and the combination of set (Andrea Bechert), costumes (B. Modern) and lighting (Steven B. Mannshardt) make us feel like we have been teleported from Mountain View to Mullingar.  The show is funny and heartfelt. We can't recommend it more highly.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division feels "Outside Mullingar" has everything a Five Star Show has, except for featured music. Fill me with fiddles and harps, lads, and a five-star we should be havin'. Lacking that, we award FOUR STARS with a BANGLE OF PRAISE, our next-highest rating.

"Outside Mullingar" make us remember why we go to live theater: a story that moves us with actors who make us laugh and cry. It seems simple when done so perfectly.

"Outside Mullingar"
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through Oct. 30

Monday, October 3, 2016

"Pride and Prejudice" ☼ ☼ ☼

The Southside Theater uses the room across from the Magic Theatre in Fort Mason. Acoustics and sightlines are good. This is important for Rita Abrams and Josie Brown's adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice," which features a seventeen-person ensemble under Lexie Papedo Gasparini's direction. There isn't a lot of space on that stage for all those people so every movement counts. Somehow, they manage to pull it off.

The ensemble contains excellent singers, including Brittany Law as Elizabeth Bennet, David Crane as Mr. Darcy, Lizzy Moss as Jane Bennet and Fernando Siu as Mr. Wickham. Poor Mr. Wickham only gets one number but could probably use more.

The Jane Austen story is familiar to everyone who knows the genre: young Englishwomen faced with the choice of marriage or poverty. Aristocracy is evil, the middle class is good, husbands are useful for their income and wives serve to promote the husband's standing. Cash is good but inheritance is better.

Ms. Abrams writes clever lyrics with simple melodies. We especially enjoyed "Five Daughters," "A Husband" and "The One Who I Will Be with You."

"Pride and Prejudice, The Musical," is a lot simpler with less psychodrama than the original Jane Austen novel. For this and for an enjoyable night at the theater, we thank Josie Brown and Rita Abrams.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division finds "Pride and Prejudice, The Musical," difficult to rate. In some ways it feels like a local theater production where production and casting decisions are limited. But in other ways this production is the equal of others with far greater resources. The cast is excellent and there are standout performers in the principal as well as non-principal roles. The songs are catchy and we exit the theater singing.

Three Stars for "Pride and Prejudice, the Musical."

"Pride and Prejudice, the Musical." 
The Southside Theater
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Thurs-Sun through October 9

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Theresa Rebeck's brand new "Seared" takes us inside a restaurant kitchen. It's hot and loud and it smells great. San Francisco Playhouse commissioned this show three years ago and Rebeck has rewarded their faith. How can you not like a plot that includes donuts and bacon?

We love Brian Dykstra as Harry, the part-owner of the Brooklyn restaurant. He is the chef, bullheaded, but alive with ideas and a genius with food. Harry is the artist and his partner Mike (Rod Gnapp) is the money. Where it comes from we would like to know, because Mike's money is not unlimited. Due to a variety of issues familiar to all restaurant owners, the business is failing, despite a recent excellent mention in New York Magazine.

Long time waiter and friend Rodney (Larry Powell) is forced to be the referee during Harry and Mike's constant shouting matches. His is the one voice of reason in this kitchen.

Enter Emily, played by Alex Sunderhaus. She is the food-services consultant, whom Mike has met the previous night in the restaurant. Alice's advice and contacts just might save everyone. But she herself is as unstable as a souffle.

Rebeck's dialogue is sharp, the issues real and they really are cooking bacon on stage. "There are an infinite amount of doors that can be opened with butter," says Harry, one of our favorite lines. But we think the author can add more.  Our biggest problem is with the character of Emily. She is awfully young and high-heelish for a kitchen. Act One ends with a tiny sprinkle of flirtation. Is this it? Emily's motivation is unclear. It might be blind ambition. Or something else. We'd like to know.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division understands this is a World Premiere with many different spices available to continue to season the sauce. We give "Seared," which may turn out to be one of Rebeck's best plays, Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE.  Filled with sharp dialogue and a fascinating glance into a world about which we know little, it will go higher.

As always, stories come down to people. Harry and Rodney, we get. Mike, we pretty much get. Emily, somewhat less. And what about friendship? What about loyalty? Is there a bad guy here?

THE BANGLE is for Larry Powell. His Rodney is spot on perfect, compassionate but realistic. And the man can cook. They all can.

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street (second floor of Kensington Park Hotel)
San Francisco
Through November 12