Friday, April 20, 2018

"Head Over Heels"


Head Over Heels
The Go-Gos (Songs); Jeff Whitty (Book); James Magruder (Adapter of Book)
Inspired by The Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney

The Cast of Head Over Heels"
What happens when a Renaissance tale of royal romance written in iambic pentameter collides head-on with the jukebox music of the 1980s all-female group, the Go-Go’s?  And what if twists and turns of the story inspired by Sir Philip Sidney’s The Arcadia (1580s) now include same-sex love, gender-bending left and right, and a transgender Oracle of Delphi?  Putting all that together along with rainbow-colored mermaids, dancing (and definitely hunky) serpents and sheep, and erotic shadow-box sex scenes means that New York had better batten down the hatches for the musical that arrives at the Hudson Theatre June 23 and is now in its final pre-Broadway run at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre!  After receiving its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015 with a book by Jeff Whitty and original songs of the Go-Go’s, Head Over Heels has been further adapted by James Magruder and lands as an adult fairy tale on the Curran stage in a fabulously entertaining, eye-popping, foot-stomping musical extravaganza that has 2019 Tony nomination written all over it.

The Cast of Head Over Heels
As the subjects of Arcadia romp about on stage pumping arms and bodies in multi directions and postures while singing, “Everybody get on your feet, we got the beat, we know you can dance to the beat,” we in the audience already find it hard to sit still as the contagious music of the Go-Go’s has young and old alike rocking in their seats.  The kingdom prides itself in its ability to move in unison as if in a hyped-up aerobics class (part of the energetic, robotic, body-stretching choreography that Spencer Liff has created for the entire evening).  However, there is a command that the arrogant, controlling King Basilius has received from Zeus via the mammoth mouth of a snake dropping from the sky to go see the new Oracle of Delphi. 

This larger than life Oracle (Is that a drag queen or drag king or ??) declares that unless four things happen (none of which he wants), Arcadia will lose its beat; and he, his kingdom.  After all, what king wants to give up his crown for a better king, get caught in an affair (but without being unfaithful?), or marry off his older daughter (but to no groom)?  His answer is not to tell anyone other than his faithful viceroy, Dametas, but instead to take all the court on a journey to slay what he now claims the Oracle has demanded:  a golden stag.  Singing “Get Up and Go” and shuffling suitcases between themselves in a relay dance of sorts, the entire court heads off to Bohemia.

Prior to all this drama, the king’s over-sized daughter, Pamela, continues a four-year trend to reject suitors paraded before her by her parents.  Pamela, whose tall and wide proportions are deemed the peak of beauty by all (and especially her), turns her nose up at four, bare-chested Adonises with ripped abs.  Bonnie Milligan belts a voice as big, bountiful, and bold as her Pamela’s overall build as she sings, “Beautiful,” accompanied by a chorus of picture-frame-carrying girls for constant mirror-viewing of herself.  As she journeys to Bohemia with her family, she will begin discovering through a poem that she writes that rather than a manly body, what she actually craves has bodily curves and rhymes with “wits” and “china” (among other words not suitable for this review!).  Pamela will become absolutely hysterical in her yearning as her desires turn into a tantrum state, with Ms. Mulligan’s fiercely fabulous voice scoring big-time in “How Much More” (... “can I take before I go crazy ... how much more heartache?”).

The focus of her secret attention becomes Mopsa, the daughter of the king’s Viceroy, who takes a side trip to the Greek Island Lesbos as Taylor Iman Jones sings a rousing “Vacation” while singing mermaids swim among huge waves -- all part of the fun scenic design of Julian Crouch that often reminds one of a kid’s pop-up story book.  When the two finally discover their forbidden attraction, both bring their diva voices to bear in singing a hyped-up, electric-charged “Turn to You” – all the time other same-sex couples groove and grind around them.

Peppermint and Ensemble Members
But more illicit love is also in the air.  A shepherd boy who tends to talk in tongues, Musidorus, loves the younger royal daughter, Philoclea, who will declare in clear speech his love for her with his (Andrew Durand’s) over-the-top (and maybe the evening’s best) voice in “Mad about You” (with dancing, kinky sheep as his back-up).  It will take a gender-changing intervention by Pythio -- the Oracle of Delphi played with gusto and grind and marvelously bellowing vocal chords by Peppermint – for him to join the royal train to Bohemia transformed into an Amazon warrior.  That intervention will lead to several other misplaced infatuations and mix-ups, including a humping, bumping nighttime and nude tryst by King Bailius (Jeremy Kushnier) and Queen Gynecia (Rachel York) as they sing in fine voice “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”

The one that Musidorus – shepherd now turned Amazon -- really wants  is Philoclea, the pretty, petite sister Pamela cannot help but ridicule as too plain. As Philoclea, Alexandra Socha brings a soft, melodic innocence to her vocals and an ability gradually to intensify in feeling and volume to deliver in the end a powerful punch (as heard in “Good Girl”).  When she believes love has passed her by and sings quietly in grief that “nothing is gonna change” (“Here You Are”), she blends her voice in intertwined harmonies with her mother to sing, “The love you seek, the love you own, is it so fleeting?”

Michael Mayer directs eight leads and eight ensemble members with an penchant to be just enough naughty to tantalize and tease and with tongue enough in cheek to bring out all the chuckles the Shakespearean-sounding dialogue and lyrics can elicit.  Though set sometime centuries ago, there is a current, timely edge to the story and the approach the director takes, including one character declaring in the end he is ready to let go of his 100% masculine side and to welcome that feminine part of himself, preferring from here on to be referred to as “they” rather than “he.”

The costumes of Arianne Phillips delightfully reside a bit in Renaissance Greece and a lot in the 21st century, with designs wild, wooly, and whimsical all at the same time.  The lighting of Kevin Adams changes its vibrant colors of orange, yellow, blue, and red to reflect the ebullient and changing emotions of the moment; and characters’ sudden shifts and “ah-ha’s” of discoveries explode in hilarious ways in light and sound through the artistry of Mr. Adams and sound designer, Kai Harada.  The six-member, all-female band literally rocks in every respect under the direction of Kimberly Grigsby, perched as they are in the heavens above Arcadia. 

In these and all other respects, Heads Over Heels appears ready to take the Great White Way by storm.  The music of the Go-Go’s will thrill the group’s fans in the way it folds so easily into this fantasy story of old with all its modern new twists.  And those (like I confess, myself) who somehow missed the Go-Go’s in the early ‘80s will walk out and perhaps do what I did this morning during breakfast:  “Alexa, play some Go-Go’s music.”

Rating: 5 E “MUST-SEE”

Head Over Heels continue through May 6, 2018 at the Curran Theatre, , 445 Geary Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at https://sfcurran.com/ or by calling the Box Office at 415-358-1220 between 10 a.m. and 6 pm. Monday through Friday.

Photo Credits: Joan Marcus


Thursday, April 19, 2018

"The Gangster of Love"


The Gangster of Love
Jessica Hagedorn


Lance Gardner & Golda Sargento
Two pairs of eyes widen to reveal mammoth rings of white around dark, darting balls as a brother and sister sway with the ocean’s waves, looking for the first signs of the Golden Gate.  While the girl’s eyes sing with wonder and excitement, the boy’s silently scream of anxiety and maybe terror.  Their young, beautiful mother appears with a camera just as the world-famous bridge comes into sight; and the three émigrés from the Philippines pose for the obligatory pictures as they enter San Francisco Bay in 1978. 

And so opens Jessica Hagedorn’s coming of age story, The Gangster of Love, now in its world premiere as commissioned by Magic Theatre, based on the playwright’s own poetry-packed, psychedelic-tinged journey from the age of seventeen into early adulthood.  Under the inspired, inventive, even infectious direction of Loretta Greco, a fictionalized version of Jessica Hagedorn’s true-life story explodes into an epic-scale travelogue of a City bursting in 1978 with scenes, scents, and sounds foreign and fascinating to this young émigré.  Especially for any San Francisco resident of a Baby Boomer age, there are waves of smiles and chuckles among the audience at the references and scenes from the eclectic likes of Trader Vic’s Restaurant, City Lights Bookstore, Clown Alley, and the Elephant Walk along with a sound track of the songs those of us of that age still believe are the best ever written.  But what makes this sojourn into the coffee house poetry readings, street protests, and acid trips of that recent past especially important and uniquely different is that we are given our tour through time and place via a lens rarely seen on the American stage, that of a Filipina-American.

Rocky Rivera – a name she prefers to her given one of Rachelle – steps onto land and is instantly a young woman with a mission to explore neighborhoods full of love-and-life-teeming nooks and niches and to go beyond boundaries she did not even know existed back in her native Manila.  With a small notebook and pen always in hand, Rocky has been preparing for her destiny as a writer since early childhood; and this new poly-everything panorama of San Francisco becomes a perfect breeding ground for her as a budding poet and eventual musician.  

Golda Sargento impressively combines a determined, serious-minded, and inquisitive Rocky with that of a woman-still-girl who delights with brightened, childlike countenance in her many new experiences and friends.  She is also a typical teen who is one moment loving and adoring of her Filipina immediate and extended family and at other times, a belligerent teen who feels boxed in and too dictated by the expectations, traditions, and problems of that family.  As Rocky finds her new powers of presenting herself in poetry and music on stages small and large, Ms. Sargento transforms from head to toe into a Rocky full of self-found liberation, expressing words and ideas with roots in the sun-baked rice fields of a former homeland but now firmly planted in a poetry defined by the streets and alleys of her newfound home and self.

Golda Sargento & Jed Parsario
Contrasting Rocky’s journey of self-discovery is that of her brother’s, Voltaire, the boy with scared eyes who seems plagued with a pent-up anger over leaving his philandering father to come with his mother and sister to America.  Jed Parsario is a Voltaire often sullen and quiet in his tight-lipped broodiness; but when he erupts into an explosion of accusations and insults that can target an unsuspecting victim (like his mother’s Caucasian, banker boyfriend, Rick), his Voltaire is almost animal-like in his lashings.  As Rocky soars, he sinks.  The last time we see Voltaire is in a preview of an all-too-common, 2018 San Francisco street scene that is a reminder of how the mental-health decisions of an earlier Governor Reagan were already in 1980 having destructive impacts that now plague our City by the Bay.

As Milagros and mother of Rocky and Voltaire, Sarah Nina Hayon enters a room in order to be in the spotlight – a woman who is always on stage and at one point dramatically introduces herself as “a tourist, an immigrant, and a peasant.”  Every ounce of her being is part of her continuous act in a self-invented spotlight.  From vibrantly alive eyes to slightly twitching shoulders to pointing fingers on hands that move through space at supersonic speeds, Ms. Hayon deliciously delivers a mother who clearly can smother at any moment her children with overbearing love but who is also in combative competition with them in order to be the star of the household. 

Lance Gardner & Golda Sargento
The other seven members of this incredibly outstanding cast play both primary and also multiple secondary roles as both family and friends as well as representatives of the tuned-in, tuned-out multitudes of unique folk who populated San Francisco as the Seventies became the Eighties.  Lance Gardner is the amiable, soft-spoken landlord downstairs named Zeke who falls for an only mildly interested Milagros.  He is also larger than life with heavenly wings as a Jimi Hendrix who comes to counsel and advise Rocky in her dreams (Hendrix being the actual hero/muse of the playwright after she first heard him at the 1968 Monterey Jazz Festival).  Finally, Mr. Gardner is the night’s live percussionist -- sometimes a guy in the corner beating a bongo to punctuate read poetry and later playing Bugsy, the drummer of Rocky’s band.

Lisa Hori-Garcia is Milagros’ somewhat silly but big-hearted, younger sister, Fely, whose husband -- a jokester with a limp named Basilio -- is jovially portrayed by Chuck Lacson.  Each wonderfully doubles in other roles including a painfully shy, weepy poet (Ms. Hori-Garcia) and the legendary, stern-faced clerk of City Lights, Shig Murao (Mr. Lacson). 

Sean San Josée
Coming close to stealing the show in two different roles is Sean San José.  He first is the no-doubt-but-gay brother-in-law of Milagros who shows up for Rocky’s eighteenth birthday in an Afghan coat of fur and suede, lifting his turquois-ringed pinky and shifting his tightly panted hips as two of the many ways he expresses his own fabulousness.  Later -- still donning a distinct, thin strip of hair down the center of his otherwise bald head – Mr. San José is a show unto himself as the Carabao Kid, a revered Filopino poet and activist who gives Rocky her first chance at a public reading of her poetry.

Dezi Solèy
Rounding out the cast is Patrick Alparone, playing a mean electric guitar as Elvis and a member of Rocky’s band, The Gangsters of Love.  Lawrence Radecker covers with ease a wide gamut of characters as the dorky, straight-laced banker, Rick; the legendary poet, Declan Wolf, who mentors with care Rocky; and the outlandish drag queen, Fatima.  Dezi Solèy floats from scene to scene as the belly and hip undulating performance artist, Keiko.  As also an aspiring filmmaker, her smoothly speaking Keiko later escapes to New York, hosting Rocky in a wildly beautiful, music-filled, dance-enhanced LSD trip.

The Magic Theatre Creative Team has in fact created magic in every respect in producing this trippy, music-and-color-lush portrait of a San Francisco still known for puka-shell necklaces, wild-colored pants and skimpy tops, and fringe-swinging coats of suede -- all part of a rainbow array of period costumes by Ulises Alcala.  Hana S. Kim’s set is mesmerizing and exciting with its painted back wall of iridescent scenes of the City upon which her many projections provide memories of people and places of that near-past.  The twenty-five or so distinct scenes come and go with ease as members of the cast roll in and out and build together the many pieces needed to bring that era of apartments and clubs and street scenes back to life, aided greatly by the era-authentic props designed by Lily Sorenson.

Ray Oppenheimer’s lighting combined with Ms. Kim’s projections creates waves of water, floods of raindrops, skies crowed with stars, and dozens of other miraculous and stunning effects.  Sara Huddleston’s sound design brings the music of the era to real life as well as the sounds of a city that is popping with its own rhythm and energy.  El Beh directs the live music that adds so much vibrancy and authenticity to the entire ambience of the period portrayed.

Coming in at nearly three hours (including a short intermission), it does feel that there is some future editing to tighten up some of the world premiere’s many scenes or to eliminate a character or two, such as the banker Rick who adds little to the story.  The first half, though long, pops with much zing and zest with fascinating characters and twists/turns.  The second overall loses some of that zip and bogs down in places, taking on a bit too much of a band concert feel with lyrics largely lost in the loud electronics and scream-prone words. 

(One small but irritating aspect of the entire production that feels like it needs adjusting is how much smoking occurs that wafts into the first several rows of the theatre.  I found myself coughing and my eyes watering too much at times.)

However, as a world premiere, there is so much to like and admire about Jessica Hagedorn’s The Gangster of Love.  Hers is truly a sweeping story of a blossoming writer, her recently immigrated family, their Filipino traditions, and their new city with its teeming life of ethnic-rich backstreet and small-club entertainment and energy.  The unique voice and viewpoint of a young Filipina woman reminds us how richer we all are for those who have in our own lifetimes come from other countries and how important it is that this vibrant stream of new Americans is not allowed to dry up – despite all the vitriolic, anti-immigrant rhetoric rampant in our current world.  What our president refers to as “criminals,” we learn from this story are actually “gangsters” – outsiders and underdogs who are willing to do what is needed to be done to succeed.

Rating: 4.5 E

The Gangster of Love continues through May 6, 2018 at Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco.  Tickets are available online at http://magictheatre.org/ or by calling the box office at (415) 441-8822.

Photos credit: Jennifer Reiley

Monday, April 16, 2018

"Disruption"


Disruption
AJ Baker


Nancy Madden, Sally Dana & Heather Gordon
Even though classical music floats serenely through the attractively attired, office setting, any sense of peace and well-being is about to shatter as two execs and a lawyer enter the room clearly irritated and looking ready to go to war.  In a scene oft-repeated in today’s corporate America, the three are trying to determine how to address a whistle-blower threatening to go public just as their firm’s new drug, Miracle, is ready to sweep the market and overthrow its prime, weight-loss supplement competitor.  That the former Senior VP of Global Sales wants $10 million to keep quiet soon becomes the least of their problems when there arrives an accusation by the same person of suffering sexual harassment by the CEO and a new figure of $35 million for the CEO and company to avoid facing a jury and a media maelstrom. 

When Artistic Director AJ Baker began writing her play, Disruption, in 2016 and when her own 3Girls Theatre Company decided to stage the world premiere at Z Below Theatre, the #MeToo movement had not yet swept the globe, although certainly sexual abuse cases were rampant under the sheets of corporate beds in hotels and back-offices worldwide.  What makes AJ Baker’s play not only timely but startling is that the accuser is a man and the CEO, a woman.  Is this a case of a man still taking advantage of a woman – in this case his former boss – or is this just the unfortunate, logical next step in a long history of corporate misuse of power and position as women finally begin to occupy top executive offices? 

Each of the ninety minutes to find out that answer is packed with increasing tension and tantalizing twists and turns, with AJ Baker’s Disruption playing out like a page-turner, paperback novel that cannot be put down.  The result -- while sometimes in its outpouring of new and surprising revelations a bit hard to swallow and believe -- is a solid entertainer and a fabulous way to spend an outing of live theatre.

Sally Dana
Sally Dana is entirely credible as the hard-nosed, no-time-for-this-bullshit CEO, Dr. Andrea (“Andy”) Powell.  She walks into a room with sure-faced cockiness that make many CEOs both feared and admired.  Those eyes and firm scowl along with a brow knitted ever so slightly are sure signs of a brain that is constantly calculating how to take in the latest data and come to a quick answer of resolution.  But as the details become juicier and more personal – bringing back the shock, feelings, and resulting guilt she has over the accidental death of her husband two years prior – Sally Dana’s performance becomes increasingly complex and compelling in her demonstration of a wide range of postures, reactions, and emotions. 

Her colleagues in this war room of sorts are her chief of staff, Chis Friend, and Andy’s personal lawyer, Vivian Starr; and the three together are superior as they plan how to thwart the attacks coming at Andy and their Silicon Valley high-flying company, GeneFarm.  One of the best scenes is when the three women start giggling and then outright bursting into laughter as they react in one particularly tense moment to Vivian’s demand of Andy, “Oh, man up,” and Chris’s echo of “Grow some balls.”  Seeing women employing the same locker-room, military-laced calls to go fight the bastards is refreshing and yes, exhilarating.

As Chris, Heather Gordon is the loyal-to-the-end sidekick of the CEO who is both willing to confront her boss and yet to back down and be sacrificed if needed in order to save the leader’s own neck.  Chris is at times hyper, even frantic as she scurries to get the facts her boss demands; and she is also visibly terrified and in remorse as past cover-ups come out where she, other execs, and even the board hid certain bad news from the woman at the top – not an unusual, corporate ploy that seems always to lead to more trouble in the end. 

Sally Dana, Louis Parnell, Heather Gordon & Nancy Maddon
Nancy Madden is the thick-skinned, tough-talking lawyer, Vivian, who still has a soft spot for her long-time friend, Andy.  Ms. Madden is nothing short of sensational in this role with her every move, stance, and declaration exactly what one might expect from a high exec’s personal lawyer who is willing to be brutally blunt when needed and passionately understanding when that will help her client make necessary decisions.  The cocked head and stony stares along with those given straight-up and shoulder-back speak their own dialogue as loud as any wonderful lines that this talented actress delivers.

Sally Dana, Nancy Maddon, Heather Gordon & Louis Parnell
The women are periodically visited by the mediating, retired judge whose serene office they are using as they try to negotiate their way out of this mess.  Louis Parnell doubles as the play’s director and as Judge Manny Diamond, donned in his obviously expensive three-piece suit – something he can easily afford, given his $2000/hour fee for being the go-between.  This Judge has a smile/smirk that rarely leaves his countenance and a manner that is of an earlier generation unused to this all-female C-Suite, referring more than once to the gathered group as “Ladies.”  But Mr. Parnell’s Judge is also clearly sympathetic to the cause of this client of his long-term friend, Vivian. The thicker the mud and mire, the more his eyes seem to twinkle as the Judge is delightfully enjoying the back-and-forth role he is playing to force the other side into an offer more fair than their opening lob of $35MM.  

Sally Dana & Timothy Roy Redmond
One of the places Ms. Baker’s script becomes a bit hard to believe is a series of meetings that Andy is encouraged by her lawyer to have one-on-one with her accuser.  But without these, we would miss meeting the full-of-himself, dripping-with-sleaze Lazlo Elza, the so-called abused party so deliciously played by Timothy Roy Redmond.  Lazlo was once a direct report of Andy who happened to be at the right place at the right time to end up in bed with her in a Munich hotel when she was particularly vulnerable after her husband’s accident.  The tearful confessions that came from her during that one night stand provide him just the ammunition he needs after he is subsequently reorganized into a new role and sent to Mexico, reporting as a Senior VP of Sales not to the CEO, but now to the VP of Finance.  From the moment we meet him shadow boxing with an air of victory already exuding from his handsome self, Mr. Redmond’s Lazlo is the epitome of a cocky ex-lover who still clearly has the hots for the attractive CEO that has supposedly spurned him.

Disruption is often like a live version of an edgy, contemporary made-for-TV drama; and as such, it is exceptionally well-done and entertaining.  Jeff Wincek’s scenic design has the look of a slick TV set with its well-manicured look of offices costing many tens of thousands of dollars to outfit while the worn outfits of this cast have expensive, designer-labels practically showing as created by Brooke Jennings.  The sound design of Lance Jabr provides that corporate ambience of piped-in music and the continually interrupting cell phone rings and beeps.  The lighting of Brendan Lee is a timed to the second to spotlight the latest revelation by shifting our focus from a new bit of information in one room to the person in the next whose name was just mentioned. 

Employing Louis Parnell’s many skillful tricks and tips as director, the entire creative team and cast shines in ensuring that AJ Baker’s Disruption is an edge-of-your-seat, what-is-going-to-happen-next, Silicon Valley thriller – this time with the women in the executive suite taking the heat and showing us all what ‘balls’ really look like.

Rating: 4 E

Disruption continues through April 28, 2018 in a world premiere production by 3Girls Theatre Company at Z Below, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at http://www.zspace.org/.

Photos by Mario Parnell

Friday, April 13, 2018

"A Fatal Step"


A Fatal Step
Jill Vice

Jill Vice
Maybe the archetype goes all the way back to Eve and the apple.  Ancient models can be traced to Jezebel, Delilah, and Salome in the biblical era or Aphrodite, Helen of Troy, or Medea from the Greek and Roman myths.  Jumping millennia ahead into the 1930s and ‘40s Hollywood, the great femme fatales – “fatal women,” sometimes referred to as “maneaters,” vamps, or even witches – include Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) in Double Indemnity, Cora (Lana Turner) in The Postman Always Rings Twice and Brigid (Mary Astor) in The Maltese Falcon.  And who can forget the most notorious of curvy, sexy seductresses, Natasha Fatale from Rocky and Bullwinkle?

Joining this long line of mysterious, seductive women who use their perfume-laced charms to ensnare supposedly poor, innocent (and usually hunky) lovers is now Jill Vice, author and performer of the satirical thriller, A Fatal Step, soon to complete its extended run at The Marsh in San Francisco.  What makes A Fatal Step particularly enlightening as well as hilariously entertaining is that Ms. Vice (and that is in fact her real name) tells this tale from the viewpoint of the enchantress herself, allowing her character to lure in the audience with her hypnotic powers.  We willingly are on her side in the conflicts, crises, and crimes to ensue – those largely of her own making of course.

Prone to stand with her hip shifted to the side with one hand resting ever so lighting on it, Sarah is naturally in a dress tight and red, with dipping neck line and a slit up the back hem that parts nicely to show her stocking legs whenever she turns her back to us.  Yes, she is determined to seduce us just as she has her live-in lover, Frank.  Sarah has that required Southern accent that has some aristocracy hints in it; and she has red, red lips that smack, purse, and open wide is innocent amazement on cue.  She is totally delicious in a very dangerous way.

As this former nursery worker who has a thumb green for growing creeping plants and vines spills her tale of woe, she introduces us to a host of characters to populate in delightful ways the story.  First and foremost, there is her boyfriend, Frank, a podiatrist (just imagine the foot jokes that find their way into the telling) who calls her “Shh-arahhh” in his back-of-the-throat voice like Sam in Casablanca.  Jill tells us that Frank is “just tall enough he could reach my hat shelf but not so tall I had to strain to kiss him.”  From her pantomimed gestures, we can imagine Frank having broad shoulders and large hands that know how to stroke her curves and curls.

We also meet Alice, Jill’s best friend with a high, pebbly voice that sounds straight from a Saturday morning cartoon.  Into her and Frank’s life comes Alice’s friend, Hope, “too tall for proper pumps ... with mousy brown hair” who is “painfully optimistic.”  Hope sits with her toes tucked inward and has a little-girl voice to match her mousy hair.  The too-too nice Hope becomes soon the rival that every femme fatale must have in order to do her harm.  In this case, Hope convinces Frank to quit his practice and to open a free foot clinic in the Tenderloin for the homeless where Hope herself will use her angelic tears and her long hair to welcome folks off the street, cleaning their tootsies as they enter the clinic.

What becomes more and more stunning about Jill Vice’s performance is how seamlessly she switches from one character to the next in voice, accents, countenance, posture, idiosyncratic twitches, and foot placement – often having two to three of them in rapid conversation or tense, desperate arguments with each other.  We also get to meet Frank’s bed-ridden mother, Mona, whose deep, gravelly voice calls out from her severely down-turned mouth.  There is also the squatty, froggy-voiced reporter with bowed legs from “Foot Medicine Magazine” and the stoned Lyft driver who is quick to give his advice and counsel for Sarah’s sky-rocketing concerns that she is losing her man to that do-gooder, not-at-all-pretty Hope.

Jill Vice
David Ford, who aided in the piece’s development, has created a lighting design that has Hitchcock-familiar shadows and projections that smack loudly of film noir.  A window’s Venetian blinds fall cock-eyed against the back wall while later a rotating spiral provides great parody of scenes from Vertigo.  Mark Kenward’s direction is a great partner to Ms. Vice’s innate abilities to weave a tale of stock characters that have their feet planted both in the 1940s and in current San Francisco, where a raised eyebrow, a upturned lip, or a flick of a finger speak volumes in ensuring the mimicry of film noir occurs in subtle but distinct flair. 

The sixty minutes of A Fatal Step are so packed with characters, twists and turns as well as screen-worthy moments of drama that in the end, it is difficult to believe that all that could be done in just one hour.  The length is perfect as is Jill Vice’s satirical, but loving homage to the femme fatale. 

Rating: 5 E

A Fatal Step continues through in an extended run through April 28, Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., at The Marsh, San Francisco, main stage, 1062 Valencia Street.  Tickets are available at http://themarsh.org or by calling 415-282-3055 Monday – Friday, 1 – 4 p.m.

Photo Credit:  Jill Vice

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"F*ck Tinder: a love story


F*ck Tinder: a love story
David Rodwin

When a show begins with the invitation for the San Francisco, mostly thirty-something audience to yell “Fuck Tinder” so loud that they can be heard in Oakland -- and they do -- it is clear that we are in for a wild and wooly ride.  After all, the nearly fifty-year-old guy before us declares that following a sudden, surprise break-up with his girlfriend, he decided to turn to the dating (more accurately, hook-up) online site Tinder, where he was hoping for “free sex, right now, often weird.”  During the next ninety minutes, David Rodwin leaves no bed sheets unruffled as he describes in full, often XXX-rated detail the up’s and down’s of his two-plus year journey swishing right (yes) and left (no way) on Tinder, looking for his true soul mate – and if not that, then at least a hot, one-night stand.  Returning to PianoFight for a third and final encore of his F*ck Tinder: a love story before heading on a multi-city tour through the U.S., Australia, and Canada, David Rodwin bares it all in a monologue that elicits many laughs and eventually even a few tears.

David’s escapade begins with so many Tinder matches coming in at the same time that he needs a spreadsheet to sort out his options.  He soon finds that if he waits too long to analyze the accumulated data, the potential set of girlfriends quickly becomes null.  One of his first successes is actually not the result of a Tinder swipe but of going to synagogue for a Friday night service, somehow leading from prayer in temple to doggy style in his bedroom to her deciding it is time to go upon climax.  “It feels dirty; I feel like an escort, and it’s kinda hot,” he recounts almost in a panting sweat; but when she leaves, he recalls, “It is only 9:30.”  That leaves him to what becomes his favorite way of spending time alone when the magical app does not work the way he wants:  “I get high, watch “South Park,” and masturbate.”

With much enthusiasm, moving around the small stage in an often hyped-up, arms-flailing state, David proceeds to describe various one-time adventures during that first year of online searching -- from a nursing, hot mom who shows up at 11 a.m. with her baby in tow to a Russian woman who arrives wearing a t-shirt emblazed with the last eight lines of his online profile.  Stories pour forth with images often hilarious, sometimes steamy, always entertaining. 

Fifty women are his rendezvous partners out of the 500 match-ups during that first year, but only seven actually are climatic events in the biblical sense, leaving David 325 nights alone in his bed (getting high, watching “South Park,” etc.).  But as Year Two progresses, our storyteller’s tone and mood begin to shift as into his life enter a true and lasting friend with both free-love and free-drugs benefits named Meadow and a true heart-throb whose eyes send him swooning named Joan. 

David’s story begins to leave behind some of its heretofore locker-room bravado and to reveal more of his own insecurity, vulnerability, and self-doubts.  We also begin to feel and see in his tear-wet eyes more of the real pain that he experiences after finding a possible mate whose advice to him is to “build a wall around your heart” if he wants to continue seeing her – a clear warning she is not where he is even after she slips and says, “I love you.”

David Rodwin is clearly a master storyteller, able to convey a script that sounds as if he is spontaneously relaying this litany of sexual and relationship encounters for the first time.  Sometimes it seems more the kind of talk one might expect in a men’s college dorm room after an evening of consuming a couple of six packs, and one cannot help but wonder if there is not a bit of exaggeration in how many times he actually had sex in some of the more rambunctious outings.  (Eight? Really?)  And there is some unease in wondering if he deserves quite as much sympathy as we are increasingly willing to give him as he tells only his side of the story for each encounter/relationship – especially in light of the current #MeToo revelations.  But there is a sense of genuine honesty and even humbleness that David brings to his telling, and he does hook us in enough amidst our laughter and opened mouths in amazement in order for us to hope that maybe there is a happy ending for him coming at some point.

In the end, there is a possible lesson or two for us all from his experiences that often seem straight out of a National Enquirer, tell-all article.  When David at one point realizes that he may in fact not be successful in his hunting for a partner, he admits, “For the first time in a long time, I didn’t know where I was; I didn’t know how to get there; and there was nowhere else I wanted to be.” 

The look of calm satisfaction and the quiet, reflective tone of his voice at that moment are very different from that initial, diatribe yell he leads against Tinder (and thus, against online and maybe all dating).  Besides providing us with a hilarious, titillating romp through his past couple of years of prowling online for sex and maybe more, David Rodwin also gives us in F*ck Tinder: a love story some things to think about in appreciating the relationships we may already have and/or the patience and perseverance we should employ in seeking our next true love – or loves.

Rating: 4 E

F*ck Tinder: a love story continues two more evenings on April 25 and May 8 at PianoFight’s Mainstage, 144 Taylor Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available online at http://pianofight.com.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"The Bridges of Madison County"


The Bridges of Madison County
Marsha Norman (Book); Jason Robert Brown (Music & Lyrics)
Based on the Novel by Robert James Waller



Rob Robertson & Joan Hess
Anyone coming to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s The Bridges of Madison County fearing the evening could drip with sappiness certainly left thinking anything but.  The soaring score with haunting melodies that linger long after final curtain call combines with a director, creative team, and cast who together weave a story that captures and holds full attention the entire two hours, forty minutes (with intermission), stirring many, sometimes conflicting emotions that are deeply felt and long remembered.

For my full review, please proceed to Talkin' Broadway:  https://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/sanjose/sj119.html.

Rating: 5 E

The Bridges of Madison County continues through April 29, 2018 in production by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View.  Tickets are available online at http://www.theatreworks.org/box-office/ or by calling 650-463-1960, Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Saturday – Sunday, Noon – 6 p.m.

Photo Credits: Kevin Berne
 

Friday, April 6, 2018

"Timon of Athens"


Timon of Athens
William Shakespeare

David Sinaiko & Cast Members of Timon of Athens
In the heart of the troubled Tenderloin with its camped-out homeless and strewn needles and not far from the world headquarters of Twitter with its techy, invading Millennials with pocketbooks often bulging, Cutting Ball Theater opens a tragic tale written over four hundred years ago with roots in ancient Athens in a modern version with aspects of the theater company’s immediate surroundings prevalent.  William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens – a play some dispute was in fact written entirely by the Bard – is one of his rarely staged tragedies with a story that many find clumsy with too many underdeveloped and unexplained plot lines and characters.  However, under the inspired, creative, and envelope-pushing direction of Rob Melrose, Cutting Ball’s Timon of Athens is immediately recognizable as currently relevant and thought-provoking, even if some of its details are puzzling and hazy.  Equally important, the production is a fascinating wonder to behold with production values high, a cast stellar to a person, and action that surrounds and involves the small and enraptured audience from opening lines to closing epitaph.

Brennan Pickman-Thoon
As soon as Brennan Pickman-Thoon appears in his high-style, off-white suit; round, wire-rimmed glasses; and carefully manicured beard of red to match his just-done hair, it is clear this citizen of so-called Athens, Timon, is as stylish and cool as any money-plenty twenty-something in our modern Baghdad by the Bay.  His Timon with big smiles and bigger-than-life personality lavishes upon his friends a feast of sushi and saki, expensive gifts, and cash gratuities bounded by no budget – much to the growing concern of his assistant, the high-heeled, IPad-carrying Flavius (Courtney Walsh) in her own smartly tailored suit that has ‘designer-made’ written all over it.  The coke-snorting, pill-popping host welcomes entertainers that have gay, edgy nightclub flair -- especially the bare-chested, angel-winged Cupid (an outrageously flamboyant John Steele, Jr.) – as the evening and following days becoming more and more decadent and digging into Timon’s cash reserves.  The feast’s increasingly lecherous choreography (designed by Randee Paufve) becomes a dance foretelling troubles to come for the host, who centers himself mid-table as the lustiest of all the revelers.

John Steele, Jr


David Sinaiko
Entering with the ragged looks of a modern-day street dweller, a philosopher Apemantus (David Sinaiko) cynically proclaims upon seeing the madcap festivities, “What a sweep of vanity comes this way!”  Later when asked what time it is, the barefooted, bedraggled Apemantus replies, “Time to be honest.”  His ability to see through the false friends of Timon is ignored by the overly generous social butterfly, and his warning that “Timon, I fear me thou wilt give away thyself in paper shortly” is quickly ignored by Timon with “I am sworn not to give regard to you; farewell, and come with better music.”  The Cassandras of San Francisco who cry out against the mounting encroachment of tech companies and their money-hungry minions probably feel equally ignored by and large.

But roosters do come home to roost, and Timon’s over-spending soon depletes his coffers.  His so-called friends ignore him as cash runs thin, and those from whom he has borrowed money soon demand payments he no longer has.  In one eye-catching scene, Timon’s servants and assistants move out of their quarters, packing away open, filled boxes with the shocked looks of techies just laid off and being asked to leave the company headquarters.

Brennan Pickman-Thoon & David Sinaiko
The transformation that Mr. Pickman-Thoon’s Timon undergoes as he withdraws to his own tent made of blue tarp outside the city walls is award-worthy.  The anguish, despair, cynicism, and eventual revengeful anger that the now dirty, crouching, barely clothed Timon shows comes out in whispered words, breathy gasps, and invective diatribes that echo like thunder.  The overall performance of Brennan Pickman-Thoon as Timon is well worth the price of the ticket and is certainly award-worthy.

Ed Berkeley & Brennan Pickman-Thoon
All of the other members of this fine cast step into multiple roles that are universally captivating – sometimes funny, often spell-bounding, always stunning in capturing both characters from this fable and those very familiar to anyone walking the streets of San Francisco.  Ed Berkeley is a buffed-up military officer in dark glasses, Alcibiades, who is immensely loyal to his friend Timon and to his troops and ready to strike out in full force against anyone who harms either.  Maria Ascención Leigh and Radhika Rao are smartly suited senators in red, white, and blue as well as whores and a friend or servant of Timon – each changing stance, looks, and personality in a flash to take on the next role with the required amounts vigor, sauciness, or sass.  Douglas Nolan is an outrageously cocky and drugged-up Ventidius in his black leathers as well as a Southern-drawling senator as conservative sounding as any from today’s Alabama or Georgia. 

Besides playing so well the carrot-carrying, insult-spewing philosopher and street person, Apemantus, David Sinaiko is hilarious as a wide-eyed servant to Ventidius.  Adam Niemann is a poet who writes of Timon’s glory as long as the money well is full and flowing.  He is also Timon’s servant, Servillius, who learns and must report the shallowness of his master’s once-and-supposed friends.

Everything about the actual production itself is first-class and high-class in a manner not expected for a theatre seating barely sixty people.  The raised, “T”-shaped set designed by Michael Locher at times is authentically rich as marble seats and a table sitting below an incredibly beautiful chandelier of glass balls.  At other times, the same set  – with just the right switch of lighting and shadows -- is the barren earth, home to Timon’s self-banishment.  That lighting design by Heather Basarab is itself high in style and modern in look with such touches as inlaid sconces donning marble-like columns, with light colors shifting to match the mood of the scene.  Cliff Caruthers’s sound design transforms the small set into a raging nightclub or a scene of gun-ringing execution and dozens of effects in between.  But the “Tony” of the night goes to Alina Bokovikova for an array of costumes that look as if they came from a Broadway stage.

Director Rob Melrose pulls out images from Shakespeare’s text to make powerful statements of the themes he wishes to emphasize that hit home in today’s San Francisco.  Hunks of gold are tossed around to those whose lips ooze with greed but who have no gratitude upon receiving them, feeling they are owned to them.  “Beasts” roam these streets of Athens -- beasts with two legs, who are out to take advantage of others.  The pills popped, the designer-looking clothes, the juxtaposition of high-polished shine one might find in a luxury hotel with the grime and grit on streets outside – all of these have a place at one time or another in the fast-paced, five acts of Shakespeare collapsed to two; and they all have a say in making this yesteryear play completely contemporary.

Rare it is to hear of a local staging of Timon of Athens.  In my own thirty-five or so annual visits to Ashland, I have only seen it once.  Not only to be able to see a live production but to have the opportunity to see one that is so timely and wondrously conceived as this edgy, electric, and eye-popping version by Cutting Ball Theater is a gift to the Bay Area that audiences of all ages should not pass up.  This is a “must-see” in my book.

Rating: 5 E, “Must-See”

Timon of Athens continues through April 29, 2018 by Cutting Ball Theatre at The Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at www.cuttingball.com.

Photos by Liz Olson