Saturday, April 20, 2019

Hershey Felder: A Paris Love Story (Claude Debussy): ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Hershey Felder must be getting tired of dreaming up ways to tell the stories of his favorite composers. For us, just listening to him sit at the piano and play, while talking to us about musical history and context, would be more than enough. But not enough for Felder.

In the World Premiere of "A Paris Love Story," featuring the music of Claude Debussy, Felder adds a bit of autobiography, as he relates the story of a young boy (Felder), infatuated with Debussy's music, who travels through Paris searching for homes where Debussy lived, bridges the composer may have crossed, and of course the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral. When Felder announced the boy was standing in front of Notre Dame there was a loud "ohhhhhh!" from the audience.

We love Hershey Felder and would not miss any of his shows. But perhaps the artifice is beginning to show. His French-accented English begins to sound Russian and the story of the young boy in Paris really has no beginning or end. We love Claude Debussy as much as the next person, but the 12-tone music invented by Debussy might not be accessible enough to sustain an entire show.

After the curtain, Felder stood at the front of the stage and took questions from the audience. These were our favorite moments. He is a citizen of the world, erudite and brilliant. His answers were on point and expanded upon. When asked about Notre Dame he reminded us that there are tens of thousands of tourists visiting the cathedral every day. That no one was killed putting out that fire is its own miracle.  At the end, he said, "I can't listen to the news anymore. Just be kind to each other. "


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Hershey Felder: A Paris Love Story (Claude Debussy)" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. Hershey Felder is a wonderful musician but he is somewhat less of a story teller. When the music dominates, as in "Irving Berlin," we can't get enough. In this brand new show there is plenty of music but for now it is taking second fiddle to the autobiography.

"Hershey Felder: A Paris Love Story (Claude Debussy)" 
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through May 5

Thursday, April 4, 2019

"Yoga Play" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

"Namaste. Now go away," says frustrated Susi Damilano, who plays Joan, the recently-hired financial wizard for Jojomon, manufacturer of incredibly expensive yoga wear for women. Jojomon, a billion-dollar company, has recently been outed in the press for using nine-year-old Bangladeshi women to create their products, so Joan has had to come up with a company-and-face-saving scheme. The company needs a guru.

At the end of Act One, we said, "We hope this gets crazy." Fear not, young rabbit. In Act Two a scene develops worthy of Luci and Ethel Mertz. Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari's Raj, he of the bugged-out eyeballs, meets Guruji, the spiritual leader imported from the foothills of the Himalayas who turns out to actually be from Santa Monica. Throw in Ayelet Firstenberg as Romola, the bubbly yoga-teacher with a sharp tongue, and Ryan Morales as Fred, who is only trying to stay employed, and we have an ensemble that keeps us in stitches as well as wondering where they are going next.

Craig Marker's John Dale, the founder of the company, seen by video-conference from his mountain retreat, is hilarious. He may or may not have another part in the show, in which he may or may not manage to make us howl by only moving his eyes.

We thank everyone involved for the twist at the very end. We say no more.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division, currently practicing in Reviewer Pose, normally known as Downwardly Complaining Dog, grants "Yoga Play" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. The whole thing cracked us up, and that's worth at least Three stars, and the Bangle is for classic lines like, "Bring on the celebratory Kombucha" and "Namaste, you bitch!' Special congratulations to Ayelet Firstenberg for her L.A. yoga-ishness and also for her apology as the off-stage Jojomon worker in Bangladesh who didn't notice the age of the workers: "You know, they're all really small!"

"Yoga Play"
San Francisco Playhouse
Second floor of Kensington Park Hotel
450 Post Street, San Francisco
Through May 16

"In Old Age" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Some plays resonate in different ways with different audiences. Mfoniso Udofia's fifth entry into her Ufot Family Cycle, "In Old Age," currently having its World Premiere at the Magic Theatre in Fort Mason, touched us deeply. Even with the sound difficulties of Opening Night, including miking that seemed to disappear when characters turned their heads, as well as one character of a two-person cast speaking in a heavy Nigerian English accent, we empathized deeply with these struggling souls and did not need language to understand their plight.

It doesn't hurt to have actors of the caliber of Nancy Moricette as Abasiama and Steven Anthony Jones as Azell. We meet Abasiama as she sleeps on the sofa of her dilapidated home in Worcester, Mass. The doorbell rings and in walks Azell Abernathy, played, no, inhabited by Stephen Anthony Jones, who has been hired by Abasiama's children to try and repair her floors. Abasiama wants nothing to do with him. She is far more involved with her dead husband and his spirits, who may or may not be living in the back room.

And that's it. The rest of this brilliant one-act show is all about how two people from opposite worlds, one half-crazy with remembrances, and one trying gamely to overcome his own sorrow, can come to see each other as real people. The show is memorable from beginning to end. The ending brought tears to our eyes and a standing ovation.

Both Jones and Moricette are certain to win honors for these performances. The scene on the sofa where Azell and Abasiama begin talking like one another is a classic. Andrew Boyce's set, in which the floor becomes more and more finished as the handyman and the frightened woman begin to trust each other more, makes us applaud when the work finally is done.

RATINGS ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants FOUR STARS to "In Old Age." This show is dynamite already and we can only imagine how powerful it will become in the next six weeks,

 "In Old Age"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through April 21, 2019