Thursday, March 5, 2020

"Don't Eat the Mangos" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

A beautifully written and deeply felt drama, Ricardo Pérez González's "Don't Eat the Mangos" carries a deep secret in the title, but we don't find out about it until the end. The show is so perfectly realized, with actors, set, lights and music working as one well-oiled unit, it is hard to believe we have just seen the World Premiere.

Three daughters and their mother are nursing dying Dad in their small home outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The daughters, late 30s into their 40s, argue about whose chingada turn it is to change the chingada bedpan. The stage directions get it right: "The three sisters greet each other as sisters do, that is to say a blend of familiar affection and loathing."

Ismelda, the oldest, has remained home to care for her parents while Yinoelle and Wicha have left to form their own families. Yetta Gottesman gives Ismelda some strong Eldest-Child Syndrome, which is to say she tries to call all the shots. But she is suffering from a terrible past, of which no one else is aware. Middle daughter Yinoelle (Elena Estér) is the buffer between Ismelda and Wicha (Marilet Martínez) whose incapacity to tell a lie eventually uncovers the secret of the mangos. All three sisters are beautifully realized, as is Wilma Bonet's strong but fading Mami. (Did we mention Mami is dying of cancer?)

Papi is played by veteran actor Julian Lòpez Morillas, whose broken-English laments are punctuated by a bronchial cough that we could feel from Row C.

So Papi is near death, Mami is dying and what is going to happen next? Observe Mami's body language below.

The set by Tanya Orellana allows action to flow between the dining table and the room where Papi's hospital bed has been placed. Chris Lundahl's lights give us hurricane flashes as well as subtle auras of discovery. If we could find fault with David Mendizábal's direction, we would, but we can't. Everything works in this show.

RATINGS ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Don't Eat the Mangos" Four Stars. It is excellent the way it is and can only get better. One caveat is that a significant part of the banter between the four women is in Puerto Rican Spanish. We got most of it, but it probably would be better to sit in the center section where you can see their lips move. Section C seats find action at the end blocked by the actors. There! I KNEW I could find something to complain about.

Sit in the middle. Go see this show.

"Don't Eat the Mangos"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through Mar. 22

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

"On The Periphery" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

The Periphery Road separates two sections of an unnamed city (probably Istanbul) in an unnamed country (probably Turkey), separated by the city's garbage dump. Only the desperately poor live on one side of Periphery Road, in the Genies and Angels neighborhood, where cardboard shacks spring up overnight and from time to time there are spontaneous methane explosions within the garbage, which serve as entertainment for Genies and Angels children.

On the other side is the city: whose people are called Insiders by the occupants of Genies and Angels, for whom a trip across the garbage into the city is as likely as escaping to the EU.

Ayla Yarkut plays Sultane, the TV host of a program called "Sultane of the Periphery." The show is tremendously popular within the Genies and Angels neighborhood. Sultane grants wishes. Her attitude is that of a big city TV huckster, except she delivers. If you are chosen to be on her show, your wish will be granted.

Yarkut is a perfect Sultane. We find ourselves believing her, even though our mistrust glands are stimulated every time she begins her spiel for her sponsor, Miracle Pots and Pans.

Meanwhile, a forbidden friendship has developed between the Roma (gypsy) Kibele (Olivia Rosaldo-Pratt) and the villager Dilsha (Sofia Ahmad). The reason this friendship has been forbidden is the Roma are held in even less repute than the other dwellers on the garbage dump. Dilsha and her husband Bilo (Lijesh Kirishnan) have felt blessed to have left their home villages and become city people, even if their home is in impoverished Genies and Angels. They feel fortunate to have jobs in the factory whose toxicity is causing children to be born without navels, but even so their prejudice against the Roma, who have the same problems as they, is unchangeable.

We love Krishnan as Bilo, whose trusting nature allows us to understand what small pleasures mean in the lives of these villagers. At the same time, we are shown how even those at the bottom can find a way to despise those who they consider to be even lower.

Leila Rosa plays Tamar and Zaya Kolia is Azad, the young couple who have a deep bond with all the other characters in the play. They represent hope. We are on their side, but they're not out of the woods yet.

We love this story by Sedef Ecer (translation by Evren Odcikin). Congratulations to both Golden Thread Productions and Crowded Fire Theater Company for sharing in this lovely and spellbinding show.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "On the Periphery" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. Writing, ensemble and costuming by Maggie Whitaker earn one Star each, with the Bangle of Praise for a rare look at the way people around the world cope with their situations. In the end, all our children want to live a life of their own. But they can never escape their roots.

"On the Periphery"
Potrero Stage
18th and Carolina, Potrero Hill, San Francisco
Through April 4, 2020
$15 - $50