Monday, July 15, 2019

"The Language Archive" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Good as principal actors Jomar Tagatac and Elena Wright are, the supporting actors steal the new TheatreWorks production of Julia Cho's "The Language Archive." Resten (Francis Jue) and Alta (Emily Kuroda) are the last speakers of Ellowan, a dying language spoken in a cold and faraway place where fur hats are worn with blue and black knee socks. Tagatac plays linguist George who is desperate to record this native tongue before, like so many others, it disappears.

The problem is Resten and Alta keep speaking English. The reason is they are in the middle of what appears to be a lifelong argument, ostensibly about her cooking and his body odor. Since Ellowan is the language of love, while English is the language of anger, naturally Reston and Alta are forced to argue in English.

Meanwhile, George's marriage to Mary (Elena Wright) has fallen apart. He and his wife cannot fathom each other. Mary tries leaving poetry scattered around the house but George does not understand it. He speaks more than a dozen foreign languages but cannot comprehend his wife.

Mary takes off on her own. She ends up standing on a railway platform where she meets a distraught older man, an ex-baker named Baker. Also played by Francis Jue, Mr. Baker and Mary befriend each other and bring common sense into each other's lives. He gives her his prize possession: his starter. You can't make great bread without a starter. And you can't move forward in your life without starting over.

The show is staged beautifully by director Jeffrey Lo, with actors entering and exiting from all over the theater. Noah Marin's costumes are perfect, especially those of Resten and George. Jue and Kuroda are belly-laugh funny in all their roles. Adrienne Kaori Walters plays George's love-struck lab assistant. We can't understand why she would be in love with stick-in-the-mud George, but she is.

"The Language Archive" is more than a love or out-of-love story. It talks to us about the power of language to mold the way people see themselves and others. We love this show.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "The Language Archive" THREE STARS WITH A BANGLE OF PRAISE. Story, ensemble and direction earn One Star each. The Bangle of Praise is for the way Francis Jue and Emily Kuroda stop becoming caricatures by also being beautifully human. In our current world, we live in an environment of manipulated hatred, where being the least bit different is cause for mistrust. Julia Cho seems to be telling us to relax. We can be angry or happy, satisfied or frustrated, in any language. It is always our choice.

"The Language Archive"
The Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through August 4

Friday, July 5, 2019

San Francisco Mime Troupe: Treasure Island: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Watching a new San Francisco Mime Troupe show on the Fourth of July in Dolores Park is a San Francisco tradition. Since it is the first show of the season, and an outdoor show is always a challenge, especially with sound quality, the July 4 performance can be sketchy. But not this year.

"Treasure Island" arrives with the wind at its back. It is as entertaining a Mime Troupe show as we have seen in many years. Michael Gene Sullivan is back writing the shows, along with Ellen Callas and Marie Cartier, and their witty slap-shtick is as sharp as ever. Sullivan also stars in a variety of roles, along with Lizzie Calogero, Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, Andre Amarotico and Brian Rivera.

As always, the political vibe is everpresent. Modern-day pirates, now known as developers, attempt to kehaul the political process as they rape the system and pillage the populace, using the phrase that politicians love best: "Affordable Housing."

Half the pleasure of a Mime Troupe show is audience-watching. It being San Francisco, after all, one still hears cries of "Pass the guacamole" and "Who wants more burrata?" while the actors are railing about the excesses of capitalism. But you cannot beat the open-air feeling and exuberance of this company. After sixty years they are better than ever.

Arrrr, ye fireworks be damned. The Fourth of July (and the rest of the summer) belongs to the Mime Troupe.

RATINGS ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division happily strikes a blow for the people by awarding "Treasure Island" Four Stars. We loved the music, acting, direction and, above all, the perception that all of us sitting on blankets in a public park can still make a difference if we stay together. The wreckage that has surfaced in Washington will not last forever. Hopefully the Mime Troupe will.

A special shout-out for the song: "How Will We Survive" by Michael Bello and Daniel Savio. Savio? This all just keeps getting better.

San Francisco Mime Troupe: "Treasure Island"
Various parks throughout the bay area
For dates and locations see SFMT.ORG
(But you can buy a t-shirt)

"Cabaret" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

As Artistic Director Bill English said after the Wednesday night premiere, '''Cabaret,' in 2019, hits a lot harder than it used to." We all felt it. San Francisco Playhouse's brilliant new production of Joe Masteroff, John Kander and Fred Ebb's classic "Cabaret," which seemed dark enough when it premiered in the Lyndon Johnson year of 1966, now feels frighteningly prophetic in the age of Donald Trump. What begins as a most tuneful homage to counter-culturalism and cabaret life in Berlin in the 1930s turns quickly into something far more sinister. From the last line of Act Two's "If You Could See Her" through "What Would You Do?," "I Don't Care Much" and on to the chilling reprise of "Cabaret," we understand the potential danger of being different. Fear triumphs far easier than tolerance. As Joseph Goebbels said in 1939, in a sentiment that appears to be repeated daily today, "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."

Fortunately, great art transcends generations. Susi Damilano's direction and a spectacular ensemble cast bring us one of the finest musical evenings we have experienced in years. Viewers are in for a rare treat. 

It doesn't hurt that Cate Hayman's Sally Bowles is world-class. Her every gesture gives us anger as well as vulnerability. She has the voice to bring life to these often-performed songs but also the stage presence to make us feel as well as hear every note and every nuance. We have seen many Sally Bowleses in our time. Cate Hayman is the equal of any.

The toughest role in Cabaret is the Joel Gray role, the Master of Ceremonies. Gray made it his and has challenged two generations of actors to match him. John Paul Gonzales doesn't try. His Master of Ceremonies is far raunchier, sometimes to excess, but we trust and despair with him. 

Other standout roles are turned in by both Jennie Brick (whose performance in SFP's "Barbecue" we still remember) as Frau Schneider, and Louis Parnell as Herr Schultz. Their lovely, understated romance makes sense until it doesn't and we are forced to join them in plummeting to reality. Kander and Ebb wrote "What Would You Do?" more than fifty years ago but here we are again, pondering with discomfort as Frau Schneider sings, forced to ask ourselves the same question.

We loved Atticus Shaindlin as Clifford Bradshaw, a role often dumbed down to a bumbling American. Shaindlin also has a lovely tenor, in a role that unfortunately does not call for much singing. Will Springhorn, Jr. makes us want to punch out Ernst Ludwig, which is precisely the point.

Choreography is often difficult for SFP, due to limited space, but not this time. The dance sequences light up the theater. Dave Dobrusky's band is first-class. Costumes and lighting are too.

There are no sour notes here. This summer you must jump on the Kable Kar and hurry to the Kit Kat Klub to see "Cabaret."

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼ BANG

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Cabaret" Four Stars with a Bangle of Praise. Story, acting, direction and production each earn one star. The Bangle of Praise could be for many outstanding moments, but we are still amazed at how Cate Hayman seemed to be balancing on one toe while crouching on a chair singing "Mein Herr." Perhaps that was Fake News? A pulley? Someone holding her hip? We don't think so. The Bangle stands.

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street (Second floor of Kensington Park Hotel), San Francisco
Through September 14