Sunday, March 27, 2022

Water By The Spoonful ★★ Bang

Addiction is not an uplifting topic, but Quiara Alegría Hudes's "Water by the Spoonful" shows us how people can choose to cope with a difficult situation. An Addicts Hotline, hosted by Haikumom, an ex-Junkie whose real name is Odessa Ortiz (Lisa Ramirez), keeps hope alive for fellow long-distance addicts Orangutan (Sango Tajima), Chutes&Ladders (Dorian Lockett) and Fountainhead (Ben Euphrat). The idea is to call in whenever you feel the need to use your drug of choice, and instead talk with the others about it until your craving goes away. As Chutes&Ladders tells Orangutan, "A sober day for you is a sober day for me."

At the same time, Haikumom's son Elliot Ortiz and cousin Yazmin Ortiz (Xander DeAngeles and Lara Maria) are having trouble raising enough money to buy flowers for the funeral of an elderly cousin, whose relationship to the others takes awhile to clear up. Elliot is a Vietnam vet haunted by an Arab ghost (Salim Razawi) and Yazmin is the one responsible for keeping things together.

Elliot is hard to figure. He is both angry and haunted, qualities the author assumes we will accept since he is an ex-Marine who fought in combat. We wish Elliot would give us something besides anger. His scene in Act Two with his mother's computer is just too evil. It's hard to pull for this man. 

Chutes&Ladders 's way of coping with his addiction is to take no chances. He works as an IRS functionary and will have nothing to do with Orangutan's need to have him fly to Japan to meet her in the flesh. "Stay in the Box," he says, so there can be no unpleasant surprises. His and Orangutan's relationship feels honest and is the emotional center of the show.

We are totally on board until intermission. Act 2 runs long, however, as the director and author attempt to tie up loose ends and the acting gets a little frenetic. 

We really like Ben Euphrat.

RATINGS: ★★ Bang

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Water by the Spoonful" Two Stars with a Bangle of Praise (See sidebar for explanation of ratings.) The performance we saw started very strong but by the end lacked emotional impact, probably due to its length.

"Water By the Spoonful"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post St., San Francisco
2d floor of Kensington Hotel
Through April 23

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Dan Hoyle: Talk to Your People

I love my couch, but it's really nice to be back live in a real theater. Excitement is in the air. We have seen quite a few Dan Hoyle shows over the years and the thought of experiencing his newest, "Talk to Your People," has filled us with anticipation. We feel no pain, even in the Marsh's unintentional bucket seats. The theater tapes a piece of paper to the red seatbacks with the names of the people displayed who will be filling them. I see lots of fellow reviewers' names, plus a whole lot of Hoyles. Dan's a brilliant performer and he's also a local guy. We're back. 

The Dan Hoyle formula is to tell a story through various characters. This time, however, as he explains in a jaw-dropping opening rap, his subject is not Nigerians, nor women, nor minorities, nor random folks he has interviewed in his earlier shows, but, instead, the people we are told are "his people": White people from Oakland.

But there are potholes in this road. For a white performer, talking about white people is not a simple subject, even when you are playing to an Opening Night audience at the Marsh, which is, at best, light beige. People may misconstrue what you are saying. Reviewers might too,

One of these potholes is that you can't talk about white people without talking about Black people and/or Asians and/or Latinos. All but one of Hoyle's characters are white, and that one is an Argentinian techie who is also white except that he gets to check the LATINO box. And if you are going to make a big deal out of these people being "your people," it would be better to choose people with more interesting stories to tell. 

It is hard to differentiate one character from the other, which is probably the crux of our niggling. We have seen Dan Hoyle pour himself into his characters to the point that they have become real to us. He is a gifted physical comedian. This time, however, he doesn't seem to be trying all that hard. There is no center to the show, except for one young white man interviewing other young white men, seemingly at random.

We loved the concept of "Strategic Self-Sacrifice," in the bit about a young man trying to figure out how to support his brain-dead boss on a Zoom call. We also loved Hoyle's comparison of the '90s, when we thought we were all the same down deep, to now, when even thinking this thought would get us shouted down as elitists on Twitter.

Hoyle uses home movies as a backdrop during character and clothing changes, as well as interesting musical interludes. The music works. The home movies mostly involve shots of his daughter, who is charming, but we are not sure what she has to do with the concepts of privilege and cancel culture.

Perhaps times have changed since Covid. But maybe they haven't -- it is still about story, characters, performance, growth. For us, "Talk to Your People" is not primo Dan least, not yet.

                                                RATINGS: TWO STARS

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Dan Hoyle: Talk To Your People" TWO STARS. It is a new show and will obviously be refined during the run. It will be good to see if Hoyle chooses to add characters or perhaps give a more cohesive connection to those he portrays. 

                    "Dan Hoyle: Talk To Your People"
                                        The Marsh
                    1062 Valencia St., San Francisco
                                    Through April 16