Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Travelers: ★ ★ ★ ★

Luis Alfaro's new play, "The Travelers," is a wonder. Glorious staging, costuming and choreographed movement have us fascinated and involved from the opening sequence, where the young men change from their everyday clothing into novitiate robes. These are all discarded souls, having managed to eke out a perilous haven in a religious order that is so obscure it is being canceled by its own church. Everyone here is ultimately on their own.

The actors use their real names. The most likeable is Yiyo, played by Guillermo Yiyo Ornelas, a frightened boy who understands how desperate their situation is. 

 The entire ensemble is first rate. We love them all: Juan Amador as new Brother Juan, Daniel Duque-Estrada as Brother Daniel, Brian M. Rivera as Brother Brian, Kinan Valdez as Brother Nancho and Ogie Zulueta as poor hostage Ogie, who lives in a bathtub next to the toilet.

Brother Daniel, seen above, just wants to run a circus back in his hometown of Zacatecas. Brother Nancho is suspicious of the whole enterprise. Brother Brian is the boss, but he has a secret that will present a problem that may be insoluble.

This being a Luis Alfaro show, there are lots of side jokes. They wish Brothers Andrew and Brother Michael good luck with their new lives in Palm Springs. Everyone knows God is good for arthritis. They are in agreement that pain leads to God but they'd rather have less pain and more God.  Meanwhile, Brother Juan looks like he's going to take over.

RATINGS ★ ★ ★ ★

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants FOUR STARS to Luis Alfaro's "The Travelers." The run is short and this is a show you should not miss. We live in an age of confusion. It's good to know these devout brothers are as messed up as we are. And it is an infrequent pleasure to be front-of-the-seat involved in a show from curtain to curtain. 

OK, there is no curtain at the Magic Theater. God made me write that.

"The Travelers"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, 3rd Floor
San Francisco
Through March 5, 2023

Sunday, February 5, 2023

"He Wants to Run" ★★★ BANG

There are many solo performers who feel like they are speaking to a camera. David Kleinberg is an exception. His "He Wants to Run" is a simple story told simply. We are immediately involved in this touching tale of a man and his neighbor's dog running through the hills of Cloverdale. But there is a lot more to it. Butler, above right, wearing the collar, wants to run until he can run no more. His friend David, above left, pointing at his old buddy, discovers the secret Butler is trying to tell him: we all have to grow old, so why not chase those birds and splash in that river while we can? Everything works better when you have a good friend to keep you on your feet.

Don't expect fireworks, bells or whistles. Do expect the kind of story you can't stop thinking about afterwards. There are only four shows over two weekends during this short run, so hurry. We love "He Wants to Run." You will too.


This is one of those shows that is not made for a theatrical rating system. We are giving "He Wants to Run" a Three Star with a Bangle of Praise rating, despite no costuming, no set design, no music and zero flash. What Kleinberg does is tell a short, one-hour story that makes us feel good. That's it. Kleinberg the performer gets one star, Kleinberg the writer gets another, Butler the dog gets a third and he also earns a Bangle of Praise for barking the bejesus out of those dobermans. 


"He Wants to Run"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Saturday and Sunday through Feb. 12

"Cashed Out" ★★ BANG

San Francisco Playhouse is to be commended for "Cashed Out," a production commissioned by SFP and written, directed, acted and supported backstage by Native Americans. The story takes place in Arizona, not far from the reservation of the Gila River Community, and we are immersed in the dark corners of Res life -- notably, addictions in several flavors.

The Camu family has been weaving high-end baskets for generations: "I'm a Camu. I make baskets." We meet Rocky and Levi, played by Rainbow Dickerson and Chingwe Padraig Sullivan, during several periods of their lives. Levi represents solidity and Rocky is trouble. Her inability to resist gambling in local casinos talks not only of the dangers these casinos pose to local people but also how they have disrupted native geography and customs.

Special credit must be given to Sheila Tousey, who plays Aunt Nan, the seen-it-all earth mother of the Camu family, now that her sister, Rocky's mother Virginia Camu (Lisa Ramirez) has gone off the rails.

As often happens with premieres, it takes awhile to iron out the kinks. Acting can be a bit stiff and the show feels long, especially Act One, whose ending sets us up for an Act Two payoff that never really develops. But we do get a feel for a world about which we know little. There is a lot to like about "Cashed Out."


The San Francisco Theater BlogAwards Division gives a Two Star with Bangle of Praise rating to "Cashed Out." Sheila Tousey and Rainbow Dickerson's performances merit the Stars and the Bangle is for Dickerson's visible descent into addiction in Act Two. 

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Sutter Street, San Francisco
(2d floor of Kensington Hotel)
Through Feb. 25, 2023