Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"Wink" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Let's not beat around the bush: Jen Silverman's "Wink" is one of the most engaging plays I've ever seen. Wink is a cat, played by a muscly actor (John William Watkins) in the skimpiest of loin cloths. (Clearly, this cat has never been neutered.) He is beloved by his owner, Sophie (Liz Sklar), a frustrated stay-at-home housewife, and despised by Liz's husband Gregor (Seann Gallagher). Kevin R. Free plays Dr. Frans, a shrink who is counseling not only Liz and Gregor but the cat, Wink.  What happens next is audacious, innovative, completely surprising and jaw-dropping.

At one point Gregor strips off his clothing to reveal -- well, that was one of the longest, deepest, choking belly laughs I've heard in years in the theater.

The scene were Wink and the Shrink are both on the floor, facing each other on their knees, moving in for the inevitable kiss, closer, closer -- is a tour de force. Director Mike Donahue lets nature take its slow and steady course and the result is purringly beautiful.

At the curtain, the actors take their bows at the front of a stage littered with strewn cat toys and busted-in walls, from Sophie's remarkable stage-destruction scene at the beginning.

To think she gets to do this eight times a week!

Each actor has a shining moment: Jen's set destruction, Gregor's soliloquy which takes his life backwards in five year intervals, The Doctor's realization that love comes when we do not expect it, and, of course, Wink's reaction to humans, followed by his understanding about the irreversability of fate.

Do not look for spectacular reviews. If you are trying to tie A to B to C, you aren't going to get anywhere. Silverman's point is that we all eventually return to our true natures. We can't avoid it and no stage can hold us in.

Please. Do not Miss "Wink."

RATINGS ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼ BANG

We want to give "Wink" Five Stars, but there is no music. So The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division, at my insistence, grants "Wink" Four Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. The outrageous story, direction, acting and set each earn one star. The BANGLE is for Roland, the Terrorist, who exists inside all of us, just waiting to target us, track us and then pounce. He'll play with us a little bit first, but then we're done.

Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
Through July 7

Saturday, June 15, 2019

"The Fit" : ☼ ☼ ☼

At the Opening Night party, author Carey Perloff graciously thanked several friends in the champagne-and-baklava crowd for helping with her newest ending to the show, which she joked was probably the seventy-fifth ending she had tried. If she had polled the theater audience, however, she might have found that seventy-six is a charm. Many of us felt the show is fascinating until the very last second, when the main character takes a turn out of nowhere, while the better conclusion, number seventy-six, is waiting in the hall with her cleaning solutions.

This advice is offered up by one more Reviewer With an Opinion, never a dependable source. Carey Perloff has surely been through this before.

We rooted for Sakina  (Avanthika Srinavasan), as we were supposed to, and despised Paul (Johnny Moreno) and Jeremy (Jeff Kim), also as intended. But when it became clear her goal was to also jump into the greed pool with the rest of them, Sakina lost some underdog luster. Since Paul, the head of the venture capital firm and Sakina’s boss, was so over-the-top phony, gullible and without a redeeming fingernail, and his pathetic assistant Jeremy was the Sarah Sanders of sidekicks, we were left with only Arwen Anderson, as Paul's wife Marcia, to feel hopeful about. Marcia seemed to get it. She remained the consistent voice of sanity in the room, until the puzzling ending.

...that is, except for Ching (Michelle Talgarow). Ching is the true star of the show. Long Live CEO Ching!

The Reuff Theater at A.C.T.'s Strand Complex is small and a difficult space in which to mount a performance with many entrances and exits, but Director Bill English pulled it off. The show is delightful to look at and though its subject matter feels a bit (I hate to say this) commonplace at this point, seeing as we are all coming to accept corporate dishonesty and financial chicanery as a fact of modern life, as something that is supposed to make us smart, not venal, we nonetheless walk out of the show uncomfortable. The ending doesn't pay off because up until then every person on this stage has been in it for him-or-herself. Sadly, this doesn’t surprise us anymore.

RATINGS  ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards “The Fit” Three Stars. It is a tight and worthwhile production, perfect for a small house like the Reuff. We hope Ms. Perloff is already thinking about the sequel, possibly entitled "Coco Bull," starring CEO Ching.

“The Fit”
The Reuff at A.C.T.'s Strand Theatre
1127 Market Street, San Francisco
Through June 29

PS: For those who have commented to us before that they are uneasy with coming to that section of derelict Market Street at night, we happily report that things have recently been spruced up. You can once again see the decorative cobblestones in front of the theater. We thank those responsible and sincerely hope this continues.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Oedipus El Rey: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

We last reviewed Luis Alfaro's "Oedipus El Rey" in 2010. We loved it then and now, nine years later, the show has evolved into the same story but with a new cast and even more punch. We liked everything about this show, from the Greek chorus made up of Chicano prisoners in Central California, to the cast and direction by Loretta Greco, who also directed the earlier version. We get a new Oedipus (a muscular Esteban Carmona)...

...and a new and sexy Jocasta (Lorraine Vélez, with a difficult role - after all, Oedipus has sex with his mother.)

Sean San José, Juan Amador, Gendell Hing-Hernández and Armando Rodríguez are the Greek chorus as well as having individual roles as players in Sophocles' classic tragedy.

There are so many things to like. The music (Jake Rodríguez ), lights (Wen-ling Liao) and costumes (Ulises Alcalá) all add to this tableau of a community completely tied to its roots, good and bad. Change is to be suspected and newcomers must prove themselves to their elders.

We loved these elders, who dispensed wisdom and also, at other times, sold paletas, cell phones and tamales.

We are quite familiar with Pico-Union, the L.A, neighborhood where Alfaro has set his new Oedipus. Obviously, Alfaro knows it too. Everything about this show feels real. You can't say anything better than that.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is overjoyed to see "Oedipus el Rey" again. We grant FOUR STARS to this production and hope everyone gets a chance to come see it while it lasts.

"Oedipus El Rey"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through June 23

Archduke: ☼ ☼ ☼

A tale of two Acts. Rajiv Joseph's "Archduke" is marvelously entertaining in Act One, as we are presented with the Ionesco-like spectre of three Serbian doofuses, each afflicted with terminal tuberculosis, deciding to go with the flow and shoot some or other Royal of the Hapsburg Empire, in order to make some money and perhaps add meaning to their waning lives. The conceit is that this historical assassination, which in reality led directly to the conflagration of World War I, has nothing to do with nationalism but comes down to poor kids who dream of eating a sandwich.

We are introduced to a cast we love immediately: meditative Stephen Stocking as Gavrilo, Adam Shonkwiler as the more combative Nedeljko and Jeremy Kahn as Trifko, the senior member of the team. All three realize that disease has given them a death sentence, but they don't want to die for nothing. Plus, they are hungry.

Enter Scott Copwood and Luisa Sermol as Apis and his Slavic sidekick Sladjana. Although Apis and Sladjana are stereotypical characters we have been watching since Rocky and Bullwinkle brought us Boris and Natasha, they are very funny. As Act One ends, we say to ourselves: "Well! This is great! Where to next?"

Perhaps they should rethink the curtain. Act Two feels long. We already know the historical outcome and which boy is going to do the deed, so the author's dilemma is how to keep us as entertained in Act Two as he did in Act one. In a One-Act we could keep marching along, but an Act Two needs something besides dialogue, dialogue and more dialogue. No one has much new to say, the train ride to Sarajevo is fun but accomplishes little and the show, which started out exhilarating, plods to a three word conclusion:

Gun: Boom. Boom.


RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division loves Rajiv Joseph and is always ready to recommend a Joseph show to its readers. Will they shorten Act Two? Or add a twist? We can think of several, so a playwright like Rajiv Joseph must be able to think of even more. We hope so. In the meantime: Three Stars, which means Go See, but be forewarned about Act Two.

Mountain View Center for the Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through June 30