Friday, October 19, 2018

The Resting Place: ☼ ☼ ☼

Ashlin Halfnight's "The Resting Place," having its World Premiere at Magic Theatre through November 4, has a disheartening message at its core: We humans are able to ignore those closest to us when they make us uncomfortable.

The story develops slowly. Mitch (James Carpenter), the dad, and his wife Angela (Emile Talbot) have been forced to deal with the suicide of their son, under circumstances that have their entire Michigan home town uniting against them. Their daughters Macy (Emily Radosevich) and Annie (Martha Brigham) have returned home, both to deal with their own grief and to help with their parents.

Things unfold. The story gets seamier. Everyone feels they could have done more to help their son and brother. In the end, guilt overwhelms everyone.

"The Resting Place" is a show well worth seeing, but its main characters feel under-developed. The story twists at plot points, but some of these do not feel nearly as crucial to us as they do to the author. In particular, the wedding-day "almost-confession" of the son to his father is so ambiguous it feels lightweight. Any father would do exactly what Mitch has done.

They take the proverbial gun out of the drawer at the end of Act One -- this becomes what we are all talking about at intermission -- but then forget all about it.

The last scene is agonizingly long and pure T.S. Eliot. This appears to be the way the world ends.

RATINGS ☼  ☼  ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "The Resting Place" Three Stars. This is an excellent ensemble. As time goes on, the author will fill in some back-story holes and his already-strong dialogue will feel like it comes less from him and more from his characters. We are intrigued by the family's treatment -- and non-treatment -- of Liam (Wiley Naman Strasser). We are haunted by Annie's line at the end about having let her brother go to Voice Mail a long time ago. Do we do this, intentionally or unintentionally, to the people we love?

"The Resting Place"
Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through Nov. 4

Sunday, October 7, 2018

FUN HOME: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ !

Having read and loved Alison Bechdel's graphic novel "Fun Home," we were excited to finally see the Tony-winning musical adaptation. Realizing that these elevated expectations are usually a recipe for disaster in the theater, we are happy to report the musical excites as much or more than the book.
Plus. the young kids in this cast give us great hope for the future of Bay Area theater.

There are strict hourly work limits for juveniles in the theater, so Theatreworks has cast six children for three roles. On Opening Night we saw Lila Gold as young Alison and she was spectacular, almost the equal of Erin Kommor as Medium Allison. Kommor's version of "Changing my Major" was performed with body language as engaging as Lisa Kron's lyric, and Gold gave "Flying Away"  a child's innocence mixed with prescient loss.

The entire cast can sing; Gold, Kommor and the others give such nuanced and believable performances that we were able to block out the huge elephant in the room: dad's insanity.

Moira Stone as Alison, James Lloyd Reynolds as Bruce, the father, Crissy Guerrero as Helen, the mom, and Ayelet Firstenberg as Joan all have standout moments. Reynolds scares us silly with his manic anger. The others stay within their roles and, when it's time to sing, all deliver.

Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron won Tonys for their music, book and lyrics. It's easy to see why, but we also must remember this was an adaptation from Alison Bechdel's graphic novel, a most unlikely source for a musical. There is brilliance enough for everyone here. Theatreworks has a big winner on its hands.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼ !

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is happy to award "Fun Home" Four Stars with a big, fat Exclamation Point for the finale. We like it when we tear up during encores. Two people and four watery eyes equals one Exclamation Point. Beautifully done, everyone.

"Fun Home"
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through Oct. 28

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Oslo ☼ ☼ ☼

"Oslo" won a Tony for Best Play of 2017. Before the curtain went up, Marin Theater Company Artistic Director Jasson Minadakis announced they had sold a record number of seats-before-opening. The show is certain to be extended. It was a hit in New York and it will be a hit in Marin.

So never mind about a story that plods, with little character movement or growth, a bunch of people whose names have to be narrated to us as if we were having trouble reading their name tags and a history with whose sad ending we are already far too familiar. In our own present world of deceit posing as truth where good people spend too much time trying to force bad people to act with decency, "Oslo" does little to make us believe in the ultimate triumph of mankind.

We liked Mark Anderson Phillips very much as the well-meaning Terje. His wife Mona (Erica Sullivan) was also good, but she had the unfortunate task of continually leaving character to walk to the front of the stage and introduce new participants (whispered to audience: "This is Yohan Jorgen Holst..."). She, like the rest of the Norwegians, are said to be troubled by losing their jobs if word should leak out of their clandestine mission, but nothing ever really happens to anyone.

The Palestinians (Ashkon Dvaran and J Paul Nicholas) are appropriately hostile but able to be gotten drunk enough to tell jokes, while the Israelis are equally inhospitable, especially the higher-level diplomats like Joel Singer (Peter James Meyers) and Uri Savir (Paris Hunter Paul). You wouldn't invite either one of these guys to hula hoop at your kid's bar-mitzvah. Perfect for a peace treaty.

We sat on the right in the second row. Much of the night the actors had their backs turned to us and we had no idea what they were saying. It may be that the good reviews, and there are many already, will come from the left.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Oslo" Three Stars. Perhaps it was Opening Night jitters. Perhaps the cast hasn't learned its lines yet (there were flubs and not a few). "Oslo" won a major-league Tony. Somebody has to know something we have not seen on stage yet.

Marin Theater Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
Through October 21