Monday, January 23, 2023

"In Every Generation" ★ ★

It's the Passover from Hell. Grandpa is in a wheelchair, Grandma and Mom would rather be anywhere else, Dad (who is a rabbi) has apparently run off with the President of the Sisterhood and the two daughters can't stop arguing.

Ali Viterbi's "In Every Generation" seems to intend to convey that Passovers are times for personal angst. As Grandma (Luisa Sermol) says, "Arguing is Jewish." Jews will be familiar with the nods to Seder customs, such as counting out the ten plagues and a child singing the Four Questions, but non-Jews will probably be scratching their heads about why everybody is in such a tsimmis before dinner.

Act One sets the scene and the beginning set piece of Act Two delivers a wonderful dialogue between Grandma and Grandpa from fifty years earlier, when they were recent immigrants struggling with assimilation, language and difficult memories. These are terrific performances from Sermol and Michael Champlin. We feel for them, we understand them, we can look back to Act One and come to understand the bittersweet passage of time. 

But then comes the incomprehensible last set piece, a flashback to Moses and his family in the desert, arguing, of course, about whether or not someone born in Egypt can be allowed into the Promised Land, which is only for Israelites. The similarities between 1400 BC and today are clear, on a political level. We get it. We already got it. Everyone dances the hora in sandals and then the kids take off for the Promised Land. 

Are we uplifted? No. It just feels like a bad dream. 

Ratings: ★★

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Two Stars to "In Every Generation." Perhaps this story reflects the author's experience but she needs to decide whether she is going for the joke or something deeper, if we are to make it to the Promised Land.


"In Every Generation"
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through Feb. 21, 2003
$30 and up

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Ennio, The Living Paper Cartoon ★ ★ ★ ★ BANG

You've never seen anything quite like Ennio. Not only is his choreography and quick-change artistry astonishing, but his one-hour performance is super-musical and also very, very funny. Nonstop, he delivers one short sketch after another, including changing paper costumes before our eyes, bringing forth chuckles leading to cheers and ending with a standing ovation.

That's Ennio above as Celine Dion on the Titanic, and below you've got Whitney Houston singing "I Will Always Love You..."


...written by Dolly Parton...

These photos do not do justice to what is happening on stage. Ennio's collaborator Sosthen Hennekam has created the costumes out of paper, some laminated, and each has a hidden surprise. These innovative costumes, and the technique Ennio uses to manipulate them, are the heart of his show. 

Ennio has performed around the world, including several times in San Francisco. Club Fugazi is a perfect venue for the Italian artist. Get ready to have fun. 


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants FOUR STARS with a BANGLE OF PRAISE to "Ennio: The Human Paper Cartoon." The show sparkles from beginning to end. There are many bits that merit a Bangle, but here are our favorites: Edwin Hawkins' "Oh, Happy Day," Madama Butterfly, and let's not forget Bruce.

"Ennio: The Living Paper Cartoon"

Club Fugazi

678 Green St., San Francisco

Through Feb. 5


Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Poetic Justice: ★★ - ★★★★ = ★★★


"We never know how we will be remembered, or by whom." says Charles Shaw Robinson, as poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in the first of two short plays by Lynne Kaufman, now playing at the Marsh in San Francisco. In the first, "You Must Change Your life," he is speaking onstage to actor Julia McNeal, but his words are taken from Rilke's letters to an Austrian cadet in 1902, a young boy who didn't know if he should join the army or become a writer.  Rilke pontificates, sometimes with lovely lines, and the young soldier, in the body of the female actor, mostly whines. "How will I KNOW if my writing is any good?" Yes, well, Franz, you won't.

Kaufman most likely chose a female to play the male cadet in order to segue more easily into the second play of the two that comprise "Poetic Justice," which is "Divine Madness." This is the sad story of poet Robert Lowell's romance with fellow poet Elizabeth Hardwicke. They meet at a Writer's Conference (ho ho ho, that certainly has never happened before), he moves in with her, produces a child, then jilts her for an English heiress. Both suffer, but mostly her. 

It is hard to feel too terribly distraught about Hardwicke's distress, after her lines that she has lived ten years in a New York hotel, having many lovers, both for love as well as career advancement. One might surmise that she went for Lowell to advance her career and Lowell left her for money. In the meantime there are both love and a child but neither seem to matter much to Lowell. 

In our opinion, "You Must Change Your Life" is a bit of a slog, with Robinson's vaguely German-accent English and McNeal's complaining about how she/he can never be in control of an uncontrollable instinct. However, in "Divine Madness," we delve deeper into each character. Lowell comes alive as a tormented and self-centered ass, as Hardwicke nails him again and again with her vision of the truth. But she still loves him. So:

                                        RATINGS: ★★ - ★★★★ = ★★★

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division Boy Reviewer grants Two Stars to "Poetic Justice," with the caveat that "It is kinda talky." However, the Girl Reviewer loved both acts and could not be talked out of it in the car going home: "I loved them both." This has led to the rare ★★ - ★★★★ = ★★★ Rating. Be advised as well as encouraged. Either way, both Robinson and McNeal are excellent actors and a joy to watch. 



The Marsh

1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco

Saturdays and Sundays through Jan. 29