Friday, February 9, 2018

Reel to Reel ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

In John Kolvenbach's 2009 "Goldfish" at the Magic Theatre, Andrew Pastides played an introverted young man who was pursued by a beautiful young woman seemingly out of his league. Kolvenbach's newest play, "Reel to Reel," which is having its World Premiere at the Magic, also involves Andrew Pastides as an introverted young man being pursued by a beautiful young woman. Clearly, the playwright has a rich fantasy life, and equally clearly, the fatal attraction of this young woman to this young man makes no sense. But hold on. Have patience.

"Reel to Reel" is a tour de force, a show that intrigues, involves, surprises and rewards the watcher with a complex story about the beauty of storytelling as well as the power of love.

The two characters are shown at three points in their lives: Ages 24, 42 and 82. ZoĆ« Winters as the younger two Maggie 1s and Carla Spindt as the older Maggie 2 are perfect in their roles. Winters also plays the hysterical Betty, friend to Pastides as Walter 1. Oh man, can Betty scream.

Will Marchetti plays Water 2, whose career as a filmmaker has not produced the lasting art that his wife's has. Her splicing together bits of random recordings of their lives -- on the reel-to-reel tape recorder that gives the show its name -- is the last piece for us to unravel in this unusual but fulfilling drama.

The decision to have the actors making the sound effects on stage is a curious one. For this viewer, it works OK, but it brings us into the theater instead of allowing us to remain within our characters' lives.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Reel to Reel" Four Stars. Writing and directing, both by Kolvenbach, acting and staging earn one star each. The show makes you work a little. There is much to see and enjoy.

"Reel to Reel"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through Feb. 25

Saturday, February 3, 2018

"Skeleton Crew" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

As the third installment in The Detroit Project, a trilogy of shows about author Dominique Morisseau's home town, "Skeleton Crew" is engaging. The stage action takes place inside the lunchroom of the auto stamping factory at which the four characters work, but we also catch glimpses of their lives outside. Those lives are what are at stake here, as the auto industry contracts to try and survive the paralyzing recession of 2008. The more we hear about outside the lunchroom, the more we understand what goes on inside.

It's a terrific cast. The two men in the show, Christian Thompson as Dez and Lance Gardner as Reggie appear to be opposites. Dez is young and fiery while Reggie is older and measured.

In some ways, this is Reggie's show. He has moved up to a white collar job, but he grew up in the same East Detroit neighborhood as everyone else. His loyalties are divided between wishing to keep the house he has been able to purchase and not wanting to sell out his friends. He is the one who must choose which side he is on.

Margo Hall is Faye, the elder stateswoman, full of wisdom for everyone but herself. It takes the whole show for us to realize how far she has fallen. Tristan Cunningham plays Shanita, pregnant and unmarried, but determined not to let that get in her way of success.

We loved Dez. His character is allowed to vent his honest frustration. And those frustrations are real: the people at the bottom are the people who get hurt first and worst. These workers, who take pride in doing a job that will result in people everywhere getting to ride in well-built cars, are rewarded by cut pay, longer hours and eventually pink slips as the factory closes.

The attraction of Dez for Shanita, and vice-versa, feels real.

Special mention to Ed Haynes for his lunchroom set. The "sofa," which is actually a repurposed bench seat from one of their cars, the signs all over the walls, the old refrigerator, the coffee pot, the mismatched chairs and that photo of Barack Obama on the inside of Shanita's locker all bring us into the room with our four workers, fighting for their jobs and their pride.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Skeleton Crew" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise for the terrific set piece between Dez and Faye about why Dez brings a gun to work. All four actors bring life to their roles. "Skeleton Crew" gives us a lot to think about.

"Skeleton Crew"
Marin Theater Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
Through February 18

"Widowers' Houses" ☼ ☼ ☼

George Bernard Shaw's "Widowers' Houses," which in 1892 was his first published play, explores themes he would develop in his later work: the plight of the working poor, relationships within the upper classes, and the realization that social change is difficult to achieve.

It's an entertaining farce. The cast, for the most part, is excellent. When we first see Meghan Trout as Blanche, she seems to be a typical upper-crust young Englishwoman abroad on holiday, but as the show proceeds her venal nature is pulled out of her. She coaxed the opening night audience into a satisfying hiss with her "I HATE the poor!"

Warren David Keith plays her father, Sartorius, a self-made man who knows he will never be accepted into the company of the well-born. He is, however, wealthier than any of them, due to his occupation as a London slumlord. Michael Gene Sullivan and Howard Swain share lickspittle duties, Sullivan as the wannabe upper-crust Cokane and Swain playing the show-stopping Lickcheese. Lickcheese is the common man -- think Eliza Dolittle's father -- except that in this case he turns into the equivalent of the modern techie. He enters in rags but returns in a sealskin coat, having figured out how to use the system to his advantage. This turns all the presumptions of the aristocracy upside down.

Costumes by Callie Floor are wonderful, especially with Lickcheese. "Widowers" is already a three-act play, but we would be happy to watch one more act with no one in it but Lickcheese.

Sarah Mitchell is always, always, always a fabulous comedic player. She can walk funny, talk funny, even have her face squeezed funny.

Our only caveat is although we are huge Dan Hoyle fans, we have trouble with him as leading man Dr. Trench. Hoyle can do wonderful things with his face by not saying a word, but for a man who has done solo shows using twenty characters and voices to match, his poor attempt at aristocratic English makes it hard to even understand, let alone identify with him. He seems like a spoiled teenager. Perhaps this is what GBS intended.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Widowers'' Houses" Three Stars. It is worth seeing. But the show is long and the payoff is tipped far in advance. Director Joy Carlin can do little to keep us from knowing early on where these characters will end up. No surprises here.

"Widowers' Houses"
Aurora Theater
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through Feb. 25