Wednesday, October 30, 2019

"The Chinese Lady" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Lloyd Suh's "The Chinese Lady" is beautifully written, staged and acted. The brilliant fabric canopy (by Liz Matos) in which the real Afong Moy was made to display herself as a carnival attraction in the America of the 1830s and '40s, is as beautifully constructed as was the story created by the American importers of Chinese artifacts who purchased the 14-year-old from her father to enhance their business dealings. Suh's story is an interpretation of actual historical events.

We loved Rinabeth Apostol as the young, tragic girl who believes she is doing something to enhance Chinese-American relations, and Will Dao, her perhaps even more tragic interpreter. Both know how to act out their employers' desires, but as the years pass neither can avoid seeing the truth: they are prisoners, unpaid and exploited. Their culture is disrespected as they are treated like curiosities in a circus, especially after P.T. Barnum buys them from their previous employers.

The picture this paints of America is troublesome. But it would not feel as sad if our attitudes were not in so many ways unchanged after all these years. The idea of extolling the values of a new culture always loses out to fear of the unknown. 

A highlight of this one-act show is Dao's portrayal of President Andrew Jackson. He has given a meeting to Afong Moy, but proves to be as distasteful as all the others. Atung plays the vainglorious President as well as himself as translator for both Jackson and Afong Moy. He speaks excellent, educated English, but must always translate in simple pidgin. This is a set piece that deserves accolades. 

Props to the Props. Jacquelyn Scott has peppered the stage with perfectly inauthentic Chinese artifacts meant to make Jacksonian audiences Oooh and Ahhh. 

The ending is long, because they seem to be laboring to make a point about racism that we all understood from the beginning. There are no other niggles. This is a terrific show.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "The Chinese Lady" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. Acting, directing and staging earn one star each and the BANGLE is for Andrew Jackson. But don't forget how sensitive and vulnerable is Apostol. Congratulations on perfect casting. 

"The Chinese Lady"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through November 3

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Golden Thread Productions: "ReOrient 2019" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The delicious thing about reviewing theater is finding the gems. It was exciting to see Golden Thread Productions' 20th Anniversary production of ReOrient 2019, seven short plays written by writers dealing with issues pertaining to the Middle East or to Hyphenated-Americans with Middle Eastern backgrounds. Acting, humor and powerful subject matter were evident in each show; somewhat disheartening was how few people were in the audience. These terrific shows deserve far greater exposure. Hopefully, audiences will build as the run continues.

There were no clinkers. Each show was weird but understandable, with lots of words but no slowdowns in action. Perhaps it helps for a show to be five or ten minutes long. This also eliminates the issue of shorter and shorter attention spans.

The opener, "The Grievance Club" by Rendah Heywood, is a showstopper. Atosa Babaoff plays a seriously pissed-off banker, eager to perform physical mayhem upon the list of aging white men who have eagerly signed up to receive it. Babaoff returns as Maysoon in Yussef el Guindi's "Brass Knuckles." She is determined not to allow her anger to destroy her. She says "Today I will have more empathy for people who are assholes."

Lawrence Radecker is perfect as a guilt ridden Turkish Lieutenant in Mustafa Kaymak's "The Basement," delivering platitude after platitude to a journalist as bodies are hauled away in body bags.

We also loved Sofia Ahmad and Ali-Moosa Mirza, two adults playing eight-and-ten year-old Syrian children, whose besieged lives are illuminated only by Harry Potter in Lameece Issaq's "Noor and Hadi go to Hogwarts." This is a sad one, but perhaps not as chilling as Naomi Wallace's "The Book of Mima," in which the plight of Yemen and its children is played out in a monologue attributed to a Saudi Tomahawk Missile. This is truly brilliant writing, packing a punch and terrific performance by Lawrence Radecker.

We also enjoyed the other two shows, the futuristic "In Spenglic" and "An Echo of Laughter," in which a Hitler who does nothing but guffaw still manages to command the stage.

The show continues until Nov. 17.  Go soon. You will want to tell your friends.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Four Stars to "ReOrient 2019." Do not expect major productions with costume changes and elaborate sets. What each of these seven shows does is make us think, while also giving us room for hope.

"Golden Thread Productions:"ReOrient 2019"
Potrero Playhouse
1695 18th Street, San Francisco
Through Nov. 17