Friday, August 17, 2018

Washed Up on the Potomac ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

We can't say that we saw a star being born on Opening Night, because Melissa Quine is already well known throughout the Bay Area. Thrust into a starring role in Lynn Rosen's "Washed Up on the Potomac" only three days earlier, due to a casting emergency, Quine plays Sherri, the complex, ultra-neurotic head of proofreading at a low-rent ad agency. We fall in love with her. She steals every scene she is in, delivering a delightfully nuanced performance even when being forced to read her lines from a notebook. Sherri has such a permanent scowl that when she smiles we have no choice but to smile along with her.

The office is staffed with a pair of woulda-beens and wannabes. We get irritating Kate, an over-the-hill woulda-been rocker, and lap-dog Mark, a young wannabe poet, both doing dead-end jobs in the proofreading department along with Sherri. Jessica Bates plays Kate as if she is trying to get herself slapped in the face, while Vincent Randazzo's Mark is so in love with Kate he would be happy for her to simply acknowledge he is alive. Perhaps Director José Zayas has these two play their roles a little too stereotypically. Neither feels quite real.

Their boss, Cole Alexander Smith, is terrific as a middle-level executive with a stunning combover. He is trying to be sympathetic to his staff, but an error has been made and someone's head is going to have to roll.

The last character has an office behind a glass window in what appears to be a stairwell. Played sympathetically by Max Forman-Mullin, he and Sherri might have had a chance together -- if only.

We loved lots of staging details -- the drastic way they changed sets, for example, and the way the proofreaders went about the the boredom of their jobs to the unwavering tone of a metronome. There is a lot to like here.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Washed Up on the Potomac" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. The show itself probably needs a little trimming and tightening up of Kate and Mark's characters, to give us a window into why they seem so trapped in their own dead-end dreams. The Bangle, of course, is for Melissa Quine. I wish it were possible for her not to memorize another line. She could not have been more wonderful.

"Washed Up on the Potomac"
San Francisco Playhouse Playground Series
Custom Made Theater: 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through September 1

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Word for Word's 25th Anniversary Show: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

If you are having trouble believing that Word for Word is 25 years old, just open the Special Program. Did we all look this young once? The Word for Worders did, anyway, and a few of the current crop of actors look like they weren't even born when the company began.

The 25th Anniversary show at Z Space features "Deep Kiss" by Tobias Wolfe and "Victory Lap" by George Saunders. Both are excellent and feature the same cast, with different directors: Joel Mullennix for "Deep Kiss" and Delia MacDougall for "Victory Lap."

Of the two, we liked...both. In "Deep Kiss," Adam Elder (as Joe) has a wonderfully expressive face, as he tries to make sense out of a life that got trapped in a High School memory. There is certainly a lot of kissing and it makes us happy that both Elder and Blythe de Oliveira Foster (as Mary Claude) appear to enjoy it. The story is funny and sad and everything in between.

Let us editorialize and say: Joe. You blew it.

In "Victory Lap," Isabel Langen plays the teenaged Alison Pope. Langen is perfect as a young girl who thinks the world around her is peaches and cream.

 Meanwhile, her neighbor Kyle Boot (Alexander Pannullo), while living only next door, is experiencing existential dread. His parents have him on the world's tightest leash.

The story is Kyle's. He has a pivotal decision to make when The Guy turns up. Played with broad humor by Mohammed Shehata, The Guy has his troubles too. One of them may, or may not, be named Kyle.

We loved Susan Harloe as Kyle's mom (who insists on calling Kyle "My Beloved Only") in "Victory" and Joe's mom in "Kiss." Paul Finccchiaro is his usual hard-ass self and Molly Benson played several roles to perfection in both plays.

We always exit a Word for Word show feeling good about the world. The company consistently creates shows that are different than anyone else's, blending literature and theater into a hybrid that appears seamless. It's a lot of work.

Congratulations, everyone. Twenty-five years. Wow.

RATINGS ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Four Stars to Word for Word's 25th Anniversary Show: "Deep Kiss" gets four and "Victory Lap" gets four more, which ought to make eight, but let's just call it Four Stars. It's very nice to see them on the larger stage upstairs at Z Space. We never miss a Word for Word show, and you shouldn't either.

"Word for Word's 25th Anniversary Show"
Stories by Tobias Wolfe and George Saunders
Z Space
450 Florida Street, San Francisco
Through September 2