Sunday, October 9, 2022

"Otto Frank" ★ ★ ★ BANG

Live theater's magic is that you never know what will happen next. With a performer like Roger Guenvere Smith, in his one-man show "Otto Frank," the suspense is magnified because the man never moves. He sits behind a desk, arms for the most part glued to a corner of that desk. He whispers, he roars. He passes from reflection to prediction. He breaks our heart by breaking his own heart first. This is a piece of emotional and theatrical therapy.

It is impossible for those of us born after the horrors of the Holocaust to comprehend how it must have felt for the real Otto Frank, who survived Auschwitz dreaming of reuniting with his family in Amsterdam, only to discover them all dead upon his return. All that remained was Anne's diary, that he had given to her at age 13 and told her to fill it with her dreams as well as her nightmares. A neighbor had found it and saved it for him.

The current run at the Magic Theater for "Otto Frank" was for only three nights. His next move is to the Public Theater in New York in January.  The show is brilliant, but not for the squeamish. 


The San Francisco Theater Blog grants "Otto Frank: Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. Go see it when you're in New York. We recommend it to anyone who wants to be transported for an hour into an actor's personal trance. You already know how the story ends - this one is about great acting. Don't miss it. 

Roger Guenvere Smith: Otto Frank"


Brian Copeland's "Grandma and Me" ★ ★ ★ ★

Brian Copeland's grandmother became a single mom at the age of 57, when she took over raising Brian and his four siblings after their mother died young. For those of us who have raised our own children in far less difficult circumstances, what this woman did is nothing short of  heroic.

But "Grandma and Me" is far more than a shoutout to Grandma. It is a testament to single parents everywhere. Copeland was fourteen when his mother died, but 37 when he and his wife divorced, leaving Copeland to raise his own four children on his own. His new show goes back and forth between his rebellious boyhood and his time as a single dad, as he comes to realize the razor edge all single moms and dads have to balance upon just to get by.

As always, Copeland gives us wonderful voices, particularly of his grandmother and of Sylvester, the man who turns out to be his stepfather. He keeps reminding us of the difference between "broke" and "poor." When you're broke, you're only out of money. You've always got options. When you're poor, every nickel adds up, even when an ice cream cone only costs five cents. "Twenty nickels is a dollar," Grandma warns. 

Above all, this latest Brian Copeland one-man show feels honest. Since one person is playing all the roles, it can get a bit confusing as to whether we are looking at 15 year-old Brian or 37 year-old Brian or 58 year-old Brian. But we don't stay puzzled for long. "Grandma and Me" is very funny as well as deep. It's about life. It's about dancing with your daughter at her wedding. It's even about lasagna. 

RATINGS ★ ★ ★ ★

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants 4 STARS to Brian Copeland's "Grandma and Me." There are so many great lines, but perhaps our favorite is Copeland's observation that when your parents are really mad at you they use all of your names, such as "John Wilkes Booth, you clean up your room right now!" 


"Brian Copeland's "Grandma and Me" 

The Marsh

1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco

EXTENDED through November 19

$ Sliding Scale

Sunday, October 2, 2022

"Indecent "★ ★ ★

In 1906, the Polish/Jewish writer Sholem Asch auditioned his newly completed drama "The God of Vengeance" to the leaders of the Jewish community in Warsaw. In a preview of what would happen seventeen years later, and for the same reasons, Jewish leaders hated Asch's play. Still, this was the beginning of one of the most influential works in the history of Yiddish theater. "God of Vengeance" was translated into fifteen different languages, including English, and played throughout Europe to enthusiastic audiences.

However, when the play had its opening on Broadway in 1923, it was ruled obscene by New York City police, in cohoots with the American Jewish establishment who found Asch's depiction of a Jewish brothel owner and two Jewish lesbians falling in love to be more than they could take. 

The show closed as soon as it opened. but Paula Vogel's "Indecent," which played on Broadway in 2017, has taken it from there. Her interpretation of both Asch's world and, above all, the forbidden relationship between the two women, gives the audience a lot to think about.

Rivka Borek and Malka Wallick are excellent as the lovers who discover each other in such a difficult situation. Lemml, the Stage Manager, who spans the age of the entire show is played with compassion by Dean Linnard. There are fine performances and excellent moments throughout the show.

We wish the story of the writer were not buried. We see him acting irrationally, but why? The story pivots to be about Rivka and Malka to the exclusion of much that has come before. The live Klezmer musicians give the show a Jewish sentiment, but they can only do so much. 


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Three Stars to Paula Vogel's "Indecent." We loved the stunning beginning as well as the touching ending. This show is certain to garner enthusiastic reviews. The actors play many roles. We admit to getting a bit confused. 



San Francisco Playhouse

450 Sutter Street, San Francisco

2d Floor of Kensington Park Hotel

Through Nov, 5, 2022

$15 - $100