Sunday, July 23, 2023

Fred Pitts: "Aren't You...?" ★★★★

How does a black man feel while visiting California Missions? "Like a fly in a bowl of milk," says Fred Pitts. He's got reason to feel this way - he is always the only black visitor at each Mission and at each one, fellow tourists, all white, confuse him with any number of famous black people. "Aren't you...Will Smith? Rafer Johnson? Sidney Poitier? Barry Bonds? 
Richard Roundtree (Shaft)? 

Unfortunately, says Pitts, nobody confuses him with LeBron James.

This self-proclaimed history geek takes it all in stride for the first half of the twenty-one missions he is determined to visit, but it does start to get at him. Still, he is learning all the time, as are we, the grateful audience, who get a history lesson while laughing at Pitts's terrific imitations of these tourists, and the docents, his grandmother and his childhood pastor, Reverend Davis.

Do you know about the Chumash revolt of 1824 at Mission Santa Inés or the Gold Rebellion of 1811 in New Orleans, which is the largest slave insurrection in American History? Of course you don't, neither did we and neither did Fred Pitts until he dug a little deeper into the history of the California missions. History class teaches only the history it wants us to know.
"Aren't You..." is a fabulous show. We have one small nitpick, which is that Mr. Pitts could probably learn a bit of Spanish pronunciation, since each mission he visits has a Spanish name. But he's got time. There are a bunch of Baja California missions too and we hope he travels there someday as well. We'll always be happy to laugh and learn from this excellent performer who also seems like a really nice guy.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Cuatro Estrellas (Four Stars) to Fred Pitts for this superb night of theater. I never listened to my High School History teacher but I will listen to Fred Pitts. There are some difficult squirm-in-our-seats issues we need to think about. Perhaps laughter is the aspirin that allows our historical headaches to heal.

Fred Pitts: "Aren't You...?"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia St., San Francisco
Fridays through Aug. 18

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

San Francisco Mime Troupe: "Breakdown" (2023): ★★★ BANG

You don't go to the Indy Five Hundred to escape the noise. You go because of the noise.  Same with the Mime Troupe, which is about off-the-wall political humor plus a healthy dose of Hippie Nonsense, mixed in with insightful commentary about this year's news, which is pretty much like last year's and will be the same as next year's. If this is not your cup of theater, then we suggest a cocktail in the neighborhood. But if you want to sit on a  blanket in the park and have a great time, yukking it up with people who feel exactly the same way you do, don't miss "Breakdown."

We loved the show, and afterwards the J-Church streetcar was filled with people agreeing this is the best Mime Troupe show in years. The major reason is Jamella Cross, who is all smarmy business in her Fox News red suit and shoes. She is the perfect right-wing show host, searching for any news story that will paint San Francisco as Hellhole for a Day, in order to please her boss Rupert Murdoch, played with delicious sleaze by Andre Amarotico. Cross's performance elevates everyone else's, even with the usual off-key singing and staging oopsies par for an Opening Day performance. Michael Gene Sullivan and Marie Cartier's writing is inspired and the cast blasts through it with moxie.

Kina Kantor plays Yume and Jed Parsario is Felix, our homeless heroes, destined to bring down Jamella and Fox to a chorus of cheers. Felix has many get-rich schemes, all short one crucial element, while Yume seems bewildered by her predicament as she battles her demon (also played by Parsario).

Don't think, just enjoy. Bad guys are bad guys and good guys are good guys, just like in the real world, at least in Bay Area parks during the good-old summertime.


'The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants THREE STARS with a Bangle of Praise to "Breakdown." The show made us laugh and feel good, which gets you three fat ones every time. The Bangle is for Jamella Cross, who is both funny and believable. We hope the Mime Troupe can hang on to her.

San Francisco Mime Troupe "Breakdown" (2023)
Various parks throughout the Bay Area
July 1 - Sept. 4 ( see )
(Donations solicited shamelessly)

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

"A Chorus Line" ★ ★ ★ ★

There is little left to write that has not already been written about "A Chorus Line," except that the show premiered in 1975, which is as far from this writer's 2023 IPad as 1917 was when I first heard the Beatles and typed my term papers with carbon paper.

I was then the same age as most of these Chorus Line dancers. 1917 was an ancient history book. World War I. Carbon paper. A typewriter. 

Now we know that stories are the only things that survive. This is in many ways the underlining theme that is being acted out here on stage. Art endures. A dancer dances, a writer writes, a composer composes and if they succeed they capture the times in which they live. The issues never change. Only the outfits.

The SFP production is the outlier today that it was in 1975: a two hour show without an intermission. We discover our attention spans are not as short as advertised.

Late in the action, one character muses on how Broadway no longer is hiring as many dancers (in 1975) as they once were. Of course, this is before so many chorus lines around the world would be decimated by the plague of the 1980s, but no one knew about that in 1975, when the worst thing that could happen was not to get a desperately needed job. 

Original choreography by Michael Bennett, a giant of the era, should be enough to bring anyone into this show. San Francisco Playhouse empties out its entire stage to make room for 21 dancers and succeeds wildly. The opening sequence, featuring "I Hope I Get it," and I Can Do That," two of fourteen songs by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, tell the whole story with no explanations needed.

You all know the plot: 17 dancers vying for 8 spots. Their personal trials and what has led them from around the country to an audition room in New York. We, the audience, get to root for our favorites to be picked. And then -- you may need to be reminded. We promise you will be moved now, in our age of robotics and AI, as much as you were when we were all just hoping to be asked to dance. 

RATINGS: ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Four Stars ★ ★ ★ ★  to "A Chorus Line." Yes, the story is long and somewhat implausible ( a casting director actually taking the time to query the dancers as to their feelings), but at its center is love for what we all do. "God, I'm a dancer.  A dancer dances." 

Special mention to Dave Dobrusky for leading a flawless band through a precise and difficult score, to  director Bill English for figuring out where to put all those people, and to Nicole Helfer for keeping them graceful. From the cast, we especially love Danielle Cheiken's Maggie (on left in photo above) and Samantha Rose Cárdenas's Diana (center, below). But these are only two of a standout cast. For us, they all get the job.

"A Chorus Line"

San Francisco Playhouse

450 Post St., San Frqncisco

2d floor of Kensington Park Hotel

Through Sept. 9 (Long Summer Run)


Sunday, July 2, 2023

"Atomic Comic" ★ ★ ★

Once George Maguire, Maureen McVerry and Sharon Gless hit the video, Atomic Comic comes to life. Before that, we are in a scary situation. While Sarah Phykitt's scenic design looks intriguing, the clowns cavorting on stage seem confused and the slapstick slaps with little stick.

Perhaps this is the point -- that the life of a clown is difficult in the best of times and the pandemic has made it worse. Agent Willem (Maguire) has booked the three clowns (Sara Toby Moore, DeMarcello Funes and Colin H. Johnson) into a dead-end gig in Chowchilla (something to do with marshmallows) but even that gets canceled. Then, Moore's father dies. And her marriage breaks up. Oh, and cancer.

Aha! NOW we've got someone to root for. Poor clown. grumpy agent, vermouth-pouring partner (McVerry) and sharply entertaining analyst (Gless) arrive on the video backdrop and things start making sense. Sharon Shao plays an off-her-meds social worker who says she hates clowns but is clearly angling for her red nose.

There are some truly hysterical bits, notably the Kaiser Permanente sequences and the spectacular opera takeoff. That one alone is worth the price of admission. There are a few songs as well. Moore is a terrific singer. 

Honestly, though, it's a slog through that beginning. 

We would like to know where Kenna Lindsay (Props Fabrication) got all those suitcases.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division has had to pause before rating "Atomic Comic." The great bits are Four Star stuff, but they are bits, not show. For the most part the clowning is just a few rems above a yawn. We love the story, once we get to it. Kudos to Z-Space for taking a chance with a show that has heart. We feel it has a chance to develop into something special. 

"Atomic Comic"


450 Florida Street, San Francisco

Through July 8