Review: ‘Antigonick’ at Shotgun Players (***1/2)

April 1, 2015 Leave a comment

by Charles Kruger

Rating: ***1/2
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

“Antigonick” is not Sophocles’ “Antigone.” Not exactly. Even though the language and the story, with a few variations, are translated from the original, the play is credited to writer Anne Carson, perhaps because it is essentially more a commentary on Antigone than simply a telling of the familiar story. For those who need a refresher course, the plot outline is uncomplicated. King Kreon’s two stepsons fought on opposite sides in a recent war, killing one another. Seeking peace and stability, Kreon declares that one of the brothers was a hero, but the other a traitor. Under penalty of death, nobody is to bury the body of the traitor, but Antigone, his sister, defies the edict. Kreon feels obligated to enforce his death sentence, even though his son is Antigone’s betrothed.

Which is more important: a decent burial for the shamed brother, in accorance with religious law, or the reliability of civil law through the honoring of the King’s decree? It is a matter of political practicality versus religious idealism. Such conflicts and confusion about the proper role of government and the nature of moral compromise are timeless.

Carson’s approach to this material presupposes audience familiarity with its basic outlines as she tears it apart with such tactics as portions chanted in unison, often repeated with slight variations or rearranged in sequence. Actors sometimes step out of the action of the play to comment upon it, sometimes touching upon the play’s place in theatrical history. The original material has been cut up and rearranged, making it fresh, bringing the issues to the forefront of our experience in a visceral way. In this telling, the clarity of the story is secondary to its emotional sweep. The language and the movement and the thought are allowed to sweep over the audience like an ocean wave. The experience is one of being overwhelmed and carried by a flood of emotion and intellectual stimulation, but it is not about story telling. In Greek tragedies, the climax typically involves a “sparagmos” or tearing apart of the protagonist, as when Oedipus tears out his own eyes. In Carson’s piece, it is the play itself that is torn apart.

This all makes for unusual, exceptional and qutie challenging theatre.

The most striking feature of this generally striking production is the incorporation of a dancer, Nick, a spectral figure in white, who comments upon and demonstrates the action of the play through the medium of a continuous interpretive dance. This central role is strikingly realized by the very capable and eloquent Parker Murphy. His dance, which is non stop for the full seventy five minutes of the production, displays emotional and physical virtuosity that is quite magical.

Parker Murphy, dancing, as Nick. Photo Credit: Pak Han.

Parker Murphy, dancing, as Nick. Photo Credit: Pak Han.

The rest of the ensemble perform as one, physically, vocally, emotionally. It’s impressive.

The deceptively simple set, customes and lighting by, respectively, Nina Ball, Christine Crook and Stephanie Buchner do their job beautifully and unobtrusively.

This highly stylized, challenging, virtuosic piece of ensemble theatre and dance is hard to describe but easy to assess: it is quite excellent. Highly recommended.

“Antigonick” plays at The Ashby Stage through April 19. For further information click here.

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“Antigonick” by Anne Carson, presented by Shotgun Players. Directors: Mark  Jackson and Hope Mohr. Set: Nina Ball. Light: Stephanie Buchner. Costumes: Christine Crook. Sound: Theodore J. H. Hulsker. Vocal Music: Beth Wilmurt. Dance Captain: Kevin Clarke. Assistant Dance Captain: Parker Murphy. Music Captain: Parker Murphy.

Kreon: Kevin Clarke. Ismene/Eurydike: Monique Jenkinson. Antigone/Tiresias: Rami Margron. Nick: Parker Murphy. Chrous: David Sinaiko. Hamon/Guard/Messenger: Kenny Toll.

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Review: “Stupid Fucking Bird” by Aaron Posner at San Francisco Playhouse (****1/2)

March 24, 2015 Leave a comment

by Charles Kruger
Rating: ****1/2
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Nobody in America who has taken a course on the history of theatre, or subscribed to a theatrical season with any artistic pretensions, has failed to encounter Anton Chekhov. Probably (along with Ibsen) the most influential playwright of the 20th century, his work informs every important play that has come after. Along with Shakespeare, learning to perform Chekhov is at the core of almost every professional training program for actors. In short, Chekhov is Serious. Fucking. Art. You’d better believe it.

And, as with the Bard of Avon, this encumbering weight of artistic significance can be, to say the last, stultifying. Playwrights such as these need sometimes to be rescued from their own reputations. In that regard, playwright Aaron Posner performs the work of a super hero in resuscitating Chekhov’s “The Seagull” as “Stupid Fucking Bird.” Hooray!

Chekhov’s themes are well known. He writes of the longing for love and meaning. His characters ache for one another, and ache for art. He was “emo” decades before the term had been coined — and in Russian! If I seem to be dismissive of the master, let me remind you that the good playwright always insisted that his works were comedies, in spite of the seriousness with which they are so often played.

With “Stupid Fucking Bird” Posner has taken the master at his word. This is certainly a comedy, and a mighty funny one, too. And yet, the Chekhovian themes of longing, as well as the original plot, have not been compromised. Posner manages to deliver the essence of “The Seagull” while simultaneously dismembering it with relish. (To say he has merely “deconstructed” the original seems rather too tame. Feathers fly.)

Mash is desperately in unrequited love with Con. Dev is desperately in unrequited love with Mash. Con adores Nina who is smitten with Trig who is the boy toy of Con’s mother Emma. Sorn (Emma’s avuncular older brother) would like everybody to just get along. And they all care — deeply — about art.

Emma is an accomplished actress and her young lover is a famous writer of short stories, reputedly a genius. Her son Con has gathered the group to see his first play (he calls it a “performance” — a sort of anti-play) with which he hopes to win his mother’s artistic respect. This is an unlikely prospect since Con’s work makes fun of and dismantles exactly the sort of play in which Emma has been successful. Feelings get hurt. It’s all riotously funny. And yet, Posner’s script (and Susi Damilano’s subtle and careful direction) do not short change the depth of human longing these characters feel. We laugh, but we identify, and in the end, we are surprisingly moved.

El Beh as Mash and Johnny Moreno as Trig in SF Playhouse's production of "Stupid Fucking Bird" by Aaron Posner. Photo Credit: SF Playhouse.

El Beh as Mash and Johnny Moreno as Trig in SF Playhouse’s production of “Stupid Fucking Bird” by Aaron Posner. Photo Credit: SF Playhouse.

Everything in this play works well, beginning with Bill English’s subtly humorous set which is well complimented by the other design elements of costume and lighting, music and props. El Beh is a hoot as the gothically clad Mash, singing absurdly depressing songs while accompanying herself on the ukelele. As Nina, the young actress adored by Con, Martha Brigham is deliciously innocent, managing to be silly and entrancing at the same time. As the older, somewhat jaded actress Emma, Carrie Paff is both monstrous and seductive. Joseph Estlack as the love stricken Dev is a comically hapless, lovable Teddy Bear. As Emma’s older brother Sorn, Charles Shaw Robinson plays straight man to this cast of oddballs, and does it well.

The defining performances of this production, however, are Adam Magill’s Con and Johnny Moreno’s Trig. As Con, the suffering young artist desperate to win approval from the very people he condemns, Magill conveys all the confusion and earnestness of youthful creative ambition. His direct interaction with the audience is a highlight of the production, but I won’t spoil that with any more details here. Johnny Moreno is perfectly cast as Trig, the charming, brilliant, dastardly, handsome, heartless, monstrous punk of a genius writer who toys with the emotions and dreams of everybody else because, quite simply, he can. Moreno takes this character and runs with it like the devil, delivering some of his best work to date (at least work that has been seen by this reviewer).

“Stupid Fucking Bird” has a lot to say about the state of our theatre, about Chekhov, about life, about art — and says it with laughter. Guaranteed. This is really good fun, and serious, too. You’ll see.

“Stupid Fucking Bird” plays at the San Francisco Playhouse through May 2, 2015. For further information click here.

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“Stupid Fucking Bird” by Aaron Posner, sort of adapted from “The Seagull” by Anton Chekhov. Director: Susi Damilano. Set: Bill English. Sound: Steve Schoenbeck. Lighting: Mark Hueske. Composer: James Sugg. Costumes: Abra Berman. Props: Jacquelyn Scott. 

Mash: El Beh. Nina: Martha Brigham. Dev: Joseph Estlack. Con: Adam Magill. Trig: Johnny Moreno. Emma: Carrie Paff. Sorn: Charles Shaw Robinson.

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Review: ‘Jewels of Paris: A Revolutionary New Musical Review” from Thrillpeddlers (**1/2)

March 24, 2015 Leave a comment

by Barry David Horwitz
Rating: **1/2
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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“Jewels of Paris,” the latest over-the-top crossdressing genderfuck bare-ass musical extravaganza by Scrumbly Koldewyn and Russell Blackwood shoots for the stars. Thrillpeddlers’ collection of musical and comic sketches invokes the down and dirty days of 1900s Paris. But the true origin of these sexy sketches would be the Cockettes’ 60s satirical theatrics and the Theatre of the Ridiculous, torch-bearers for the Summer of Love in San Francisco. If you are nostalgic for raunchy 60s glam-rock and tunes sung by the likes of Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso, bearded ladies, bare breasts, and lots of bare flesh of the he-, the she-, and the trans- varieties, this is your show.

All the San Francisco glitterati, including a drag queen done up as Dame Edna Everage, who sat in front of us, went wild over the show. But when it comes to musicals of most sorts, I confess to being a “dud.” I enjoyed the clever skits and kitschy references, and wondered if this was celebration or satire. Are we making fun of ourselves? Is San Francisco really the “Paris of the West,” as this multi-faceted revue asserts? Or, are we living on our reputation, waiting for some new history to happen? I sure can see that gay and straight visitors will plug into our reigning myths and the pot, politics, and patchouli-laced scent of the past. Can we live up to it, or just live it up, still? Dame Edna may be on her Final Grand Tour, how about us? These are important questions that the Thrillpeddlers do not bother to address. But the audience and the lively and enthusiastic singers certainly have fun.

Things get going in turn-of-the-century Paris with “Gert’s Postcard,” a witty song, delivered craftily by Hayley Nystrom, in her clear soprano. Gertrude Stein writes to Alice B. Toklas back home in S.F., telling her to get to Paris quickly to partake in the sexual shenanigans of 1900. The whole ensemble follows her “Postcard” with a rousing song called “Everyone’s a Genius in Paree Today,” presenting the musicians, painters, and writers of Paris: Erik Satie, Leonid Massine, Josephine Baker, Stein, and Picasso, who are all happily breaking the old rules. Not much attention is paid to the details of each of these fascinating lives; their famous outrages appear only as mere sketches.  Satie, Massine, and Picasso collaborate on a sensual ballet.

The show rather forgets about its Parisian theme after the intermission, and embarks on other issues, including Roman myths, speaking butts, and “Quasihomo & Lesmerelda.” We wander off into dungeons and DeSade, and a torchsinger who insists amusingly, “I Am You.”

Anything goes in this show — and there’s something for everyone — a cascade of lovely lips, a flurry of  luscious butts, gay sex, straight sex, trans-dressing, transgressing holes, hot bodies, big boobs, and fabulous costumes. You want it, they’ve got it, and these handsome and lovely performers show it all with gusto.

It’s loud, it’s brash, it’s beads and feathers and strutting breasts and booties and butts, all over the place. For those who have enjoyed the satirical musical reviews of the Cockettes and the Thrillpeddlers over the decades, this show is made for you.

“Jewels of Paris: A Revolutionary New Musical Revue” plays at The Hypnodrome through May 2nd, 2015. For further information, click here.

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“Jewels of Paris: A Revolutionary New Musical Revue” presented by Thrillpeddlers. 

Original Music & Lyrics: Scrumbly Koldewyn. Additional Lyrics: Rob Keefe, Martin Worman, Alex Kinney.  Sketches: Rob Keefe, Alex Kinney, Scrumbly Koldewyn & Andy Wegner. Director: Russell Blackwood. Musical Direction: Scrumbly Koldewyn. Choreography: Noah Haydon. Scene Designer: James Blackwood. Costume Design: Tina Sogliuzzo & Birdie-Bob Watt. Lighting: Nicholas Torre. 

Performers: Lisa McHenry, Christine Kim, Kim Larsen, Roxanne Redmeat, Bruna Palmeiro, Hayley Nystrom, Dee Nathaniel, Andrew Darling, Steven Satyricon, Michael Soldier, Andy Wegner, J Iness, Birdie-Bob Watt, Noah Haydon, Jack Crow, Scrumbly Koldewyn (accompanist), Russell Blackwood.

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Review: ‘Other Desert Cities’ at New Conservatory Theatre Center (***1/2)

March 17, 2015 Leave a comment

by Barry David Horwitz

(Rating: ***1/2)

The Wyeth family in NCTC's production of Jon Robin Baitz Pulitzer nominated, "Other Desert Cities." Featuring, from l to r: Paul Collins, Melissa Keith, Geoffrey Colton, Michaela Greeley, Cheryl Smith. Photo Credit: Lois Tema.

The Wyeth family in NCTC’s production of Jon Robin Baitz’s Pulitzer nominated, “Other Desert Cities.” Featuring, from l to r: Cheryl Smith, Melissa Keith, Michaela Greeley, and Paul Collins. Photo Credit: Lois Tema.

(“Other Desert Cities” by Jon Robin Baitz plays at New Conservatory Theatre Center, through April 5, 2015.)

Jon Robin Baitz won an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer nomination for Best New Play in 2011 for “Other Desert Cities,” the story of the Wyeth family of Palm Springs, at war with itself on Christmas Eve, 2004. We see the older ultra-conservative Hollywood couple, trying to work their will on their liberal and passionate grown-up son and daughter, visiting for the holiday. The story unfolds slowly, with each parent and child revealing more mysteries and secrets. Daughter Brooke Wyeth (Melissa Keith) has returned after six years, ready to unlock the secret of her “revolutionary” brother, Henry, who committed suicide, many years ago. She has been suffering ever since, and now has written a memoir about the family’s tragedy. But the older generation, Lyman Wyeth (Geoff Colton) and wife Polly Wyeth (Michaela Greely) are not ready for such public revelations.

The Wyeth family embodies the ideological gap between Reaganaut Right Wingers, living in blissful Palm Springs, and their children from L.A. and Long Island. Baitz sets his play in Polly and Lyman’s elegant ranch house, at the height of G.W. Bush’s folly in Iraq. Polly and Lyman amusingly hold the political line against their kids, in a war at home to echo the war abroad. Here’s the question I want to ask: Could the older Wyeths have saved their children instead of themselves? You will have to decide. The Wyeths only ask “Why?” And sometimes they Lie. And sometimes they are Pollyanna.

From the start, Lyman and Polly, stylish, posh, “friends of Nancy,” use all their paternal and maternal wiles to manipulate their wayward and suffering offspring. Brooke is a depressed and divorced writer, while Trip (Paul Collins) has landed, comically, on his feet as a TV producer of a legal reality show. Love in this elegant and powerful family is expressed in irony and wit, jokes and challenges. Polly, an acerbic tiger-Mom, played with gusto by Ms. Greeley, uses her formidable powers to hold Brooke in her place, as they all orbit around Polly, a Joan Crawford mom, for sure.

They have bet their lives on a secret about their “revolutionary” lost son, which they cannot reveal. They have saved themselves, but what about their children? Geoff Colton’s Lyman Wyeth bravely and calmly tries to talk sense to his beloved daughter, but they have come to stand for opposed ways of life. Whose way makes any sense? Who can be saved from this bitter and all-consuming war? Maybe Baitz’s play takes on too many themes or is over-plotted, but his ambition is admirable. We’re not sure if all the parts fit together, precisely, but it’s a wild ride. It’s not easy to sympathize with these parents, we have to admit.

The road sign says “Other Desert Cities,” pointing to the cities that lie beyond the haven of Palm Springs. Those “other” cities do not matter to the comically rendered Hollywood elite who congregate in their desert oasis. Those of us who live in the “other desert cities” look on in wonder at their crisp show-biz wit. The family reunion, full of brilliant barbs and jokes, crumbles hilariously. Amidst lots of drinking and alcoholism, pills and rehabs the schism deepens, the war flares on all fronts. It’s almost like the Titanic going down, again.

Brilliant and fashionable, vain and in charge, Lyman and Polly want to remain safe and comfy in their isolated retreat, hoarding their secrets and their status. They are as isolated as a solitary figure in an Andrew Wyeth painting of bleak fields. It may be that Baitz chose the name Wyeth to clue us into the alienated world of this family. You will want to be there for the epic fireworks, the startling arias that self-consciously display family miscalculations and misunderstandings.

Each generation reflects terrible truths about self-preservation, self-love, social standing, and artistic expression in a hot time and place. Director Arturo Catricala makes sure we have high emotional stakes in this well-crafted play. Baitz’s second act builds up a tremendous speed and surprises us with pitched confrontations. Catricala has beautifully directed, and he sensitively lets his fine actors explore this material.

Yes, it’s both soap-opera and grand opera, political battle and family dynamic, all specialities of Baitz, who knows how to paint past and present, right and left, parents and children. When you see Baitz’s tangled web unfold at NCTC, you will ask yourself if these parents could have relented, could have been more loving. Or, are all generations limited to a partial, partisan picture of their isolated, fleeting world?

The blockbuster second act brings them together and tears them apart—just like the Iraq War that twists the future into strange shapes, at great cost to us all. The Wyeths embody the new elitism that comes with other people’s wars. By the end, we are completely invested in the family comedy and drama. We are living over-the-top, now. We are struggling with the fall-out from their unfinished personal and political debate. Put on your seat belts, folks. You are in for a smart, funny, and explosive ride with two smartly opposed generations of Wyeths.

For further information, click here.

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“Other Desert Cities” by Jon Robin Baitz, presented by New Conservatory Theatre Center. Director: Arturo Catricala. Scenic Design: Kuo-Hao Lo. Costumes: Keri Fitch. Lighting: Christian V. Mejia. Props: Amy Crumpacker. Stage Manager: Casey Fern.

Trip Wyeth: Paul Collins. Lyman Wyeth: Geoffrey Colton. Polly Wyeth: Michaela Greeley. Brooke Wyeth: Melissa Keith. Silda Grauman: Cheryl Smith.

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Review: ‘Breaking the Code’ at Theatre Rhino (****)

March 9, 2015 Leave a comment

by Barry David Horwitz

(Rating: ****)

John Fisher as Alan Turing in Theatre Rhinoceros' production of "Breaking The Code" by Hugh Whitemore. Photo Credit: David Wilson.

John Fisher as Alan Turing in Theatre Rhinoceros’ production of “Breaking The Code” by Hugh Whitemore. Photo Credit: David Wilson.

(Theatre Rhinoceros’ “Breaking the Code: The Alan Turing Story” by Hugh Whitemore plays at the Eureka Theater, through March 21, 2015.)

Thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch in the academy award winning “Imitation Game” (best adapted screenplay), the story of British mathematical genius Alan Turing is now well known. Turing created the first modern computer in order to break Germany’s “Enigma Code” during World War II and was hounded to death for his homosexuality.

But when Hugh Whitemore first presented his play, “Breaking the Code: The Alan Turing Story,” in 1986 (starring the great Derek Jacobi in an acclaimed performance), Turing’s story was still in limbo.. I remember seeing a TV production of the play on PBS back in the 80s and wondering, “How come no one knows about Alan Turing?”

In 2012, Great Britain declared the Year of Alan Turing, on the 100th anniversary of his birth. He was issued a royal pardon and celebrated as the war hero who solved the Nazi Enigma code, shortening WWII by two years, and saving two million lives. He was forgiven for being gay 59 years after his death.

In the present revival at Theatre Rhinoceros, Artistic Director John Fisher (who also directs) turns in a brilliant and stylish performance as Turing, afflicted by a stammer and all the hatred of eccentricity that the post-war years could muster. Turing stands up for himself in a lovingly rendered Cambridge classroom beautifully designed by Jon Wai-keung Lowe with secret doors suggesting sexual and legal oppression. Surprising exits, entrances, and shifts of time add to the mystery, with each actor creating a sprightly and memorable character, parts of the clockwork machinery that surrounds Turing.

In 1954, at the age of 42, Alan Turing committed suicide, taking cyanide after undergoing court-ordered chemical castration because he confessed to being homosexual. He was tried for “gross indecency” and hounded to death — like his predecessor Oscar Wilde.

In Whitemore’s play, we see Turing and his mother, friends, and codebreaker colleagues exploring his difficult and awkward boyhood, scientific discoveries, probing mind, and rocky relationships. We see his friendship with the scientist and mathematician Pat Green, played by the witty and sensuous Kirsten Peacock, whose every movement is subtle, clear, and engaging — a mathematician in a dancer’s body.

Kirsten Peacock as Pat Green and John Fisher as Alan Turing. Photo Credit: David Wilson.

Kirsten Peacock as Pat Green and John Fisher as Alan Turing. Photo Credit: David Wilson.

The horror of Turing’s chemical castration is played down a bit, followed quickly by his suicide.  It’s heart-wrenching, it’s true, and it’s a lesson to stand beside Selma in our minds and imaginations.

Although he was clearly one of the most brilliant minds of his generation, Turing was barely tolerated by bureaucrats who could not put up with his truth-telling and his eccentricities. He just couldn’t keep himself from telling the damned truth — even to the police. Perhaps he reminds us now of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange? He could not stop breaking the code, even in his daily life. The play is an indictment of the conformist 50s that destroyed free thinkers everywhere. 

All of the actors are excellent. As Sara Turing, the mathematician’s mother who doesn’t quite get what all the fuss is about — math, codes, sex, coupling — Celia Maurice puts in a precise, witty performance. And Michael DeMartini excels as Inspector John Smith, a dour, saturnine, gloomy presence who enjoys twisting the knife in Turing’s heart while “doing his duty” for the British state.

Everyone should see “Breaking the Code” for the acting, the characterizations, the set, the sexiness, the unconventional style.

For further information, click here.

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“Breaking the Code: The Alan Turing Story” by Hugh Whitemore, based on the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma”, by Andrew Hodges, produced by Theatre Rhinoceros. Director: John Fisher. Scenic/Lighting Designer: Jon Wai-keung Lowe. Stage Manager/Sound Designer: Colin Johnson. Costume Designer: Lara Rempel. Assistant Directors: Colin Johnson, Kirsten Peacock. Dialect Coaches: Katina Letheule, Celia Maurice, Kirsten Peacock, Patrick Ross.

Alan Turing: John Fisher. Mick Ross: Patrick Ross. Christopher Morcom/Nikos: Heren Patel. Sara Turing: Celia Maurice. Ron Miller: Justin Lucas. John Smith: Michael DeMartini. Dillwyn Knox: Val Hendrickson. Pat Green: Kirsten Peacock.

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Review: ‘Home Street Home’ at Z Space (***1/2)

March 4, 2015 Leave a comment

by Charles Kruger

(Rating: ***1/2)

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This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(‘Home Street Home’ plays through March 7, 2015 at Z Space.)

‘Home Street Home’ (styled by its publicists as “the sHIT MUSICAL” and “not RENT”) has a rather interesting pedigree. It is the brain child of Fat Mike, lead singer for the punk band NOFX. Fat Mike has been around the block a few times, and his punk cred is unimpeachable. He was banned from an Austin club for allegedly peeing into a bottle of beer that was then drunk by patrons. I mean, how disgusting can you get?

Well, not really that disgusting. It turned out that although there was certainly pee in a bottle, the bottle was switched for clean beer before the audience could get at it.

Fat Mike comes from my own home town of Newton, Massachusetts. Trust me, Jewish boys (even atheist punk Jewish boys) from Newton do not serve piss in bottles to pass out to unsuspecting dupes. Their mothers would kill them, rock star or not.

“Home Street Home” is a stand up example of what I take to be a typical punk aesthetic: super brilliant and talented people refusing, absolutely, to be either “brilliant” or “talented” — they refuse to give a ***ck about that *hit. Punk is about being real and dirty, not cleaned up for show.

“Home Street Home” revisits territory we’ve encountered before, in “Rent” and “Avenue Q”. It takes the relatively cleaned-up visions of those shows and punks them hard. “Home Street Home” doesn’t just tell us that some of the characters are junkies — we see them shooting up, engaging in sex for pay, cutting themselves, playing bondage games, unapologetically celebrating a bohemia that is as far from “Rent” as “Rent” was from “La Boheme”. And their happy ending does not involve growing out of this street life, but rather loving one another in the midst of all the crap and giving a resounding “f*** you” to anybody who thinks they should change.

The squatting street kid denizens of "the slut hut" in "Home Sweet Home".

The squatting street kid denizens of “the slut hut” in “Home Street Home”.

On the other hand, writers Fat Mike and and Goddess Soma are polished professionals in spite of themselves, and it shows. And they have the respectful collaboration of Tony Award winning Jeff Marx (one of the creators of Avenue Q ) to smooth the edges without blunting them too much.

“Home Street Home” tells the truth about life on the streets for teenage runaways. I know. I was a teenage runaway myself back in the day, something I reference easily, but don’t often talk about in detail. Fat Mike and Goddess Soma and the characters of “Home Street Home” are letting it all hang out, however, and the result moved me. Judging from the many tears in the enthusiastic audience, other viewers felt the same.

The story of runaway Sue, rape victim (her father), who takes the punk name Sue-icide and learns to survive and thrive with her peers on the street is told with Broadway pizzazz by a troupe of triple threat performers (singers/actors/dancers) with mondo legit credits. There’s plenty of melody, cleverly constructed lyrics, sex, drugs and, um, more sex and more drugs.

It’s worth mentioning that the musicianship of the band (under the supervision of David O) is conspicuously outstanding, as is the sound mix managed by David Crawford.

If you are a lover of punk and Rodgers & Hammerstein (a combination not as unusual as you might think), you’ll get off on “Home Street Home”.

For futher information click here.

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“Home Street Home”, music by Fat Mike; lyrics by Fat Mike, Jeff Marx, & Goddess Soma; book by Goddess Soma & Fat Mike. Produced by Jeff Marx & Keith Sherman & Jeffery Bischoff & Cassandra Doved Simon. Director: Richard Israel. Scenic Design: Caite Hevner Kemp. Lighting Design: Tom Ontiveros. Costume Design: Goddess Soma. Sound Design: David Crawford. Dance Captain: Sam Given. Fight Captain: Alex Robert Holmes.

Lille: Shaleah Adkisson. Razor: Brandon Curry. Lucious: Sam Given. Trashley: Lauren Patten. Special Ed: Alex Robert Holmes. PD: Kevin H egmann. Nosmo: Matt Magnusson. Mom: Kristin Piacentile. Sue: Justine Magnusson. Officer Walker: Alex Emanuel. Big John: Ryan O’Connor. Niko: Zach Martens. Mother: Jamey Hood. 

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Review: ‘The Convert’ by Danai Gurira at Marin Theatre Company (Rating: *****)

February 27, 2015 Leave a comment

by Charles Kruger

(Rating: *****)

(from l to r) L. Peter Callender as Uncle, JaBen Early as Tamba, and Elizabeth Carter as Mai Tamba in Danai Gurira's "The Convert". Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.

(from l to r) L. Peter Callender as Uncle, JaBen Early as Tamba, and Elizabeth Carter as Mai Tamba in Danai Gurira’s “The Convert”. Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“The Convert” plays at Marin Theatre Company through March 15, 2015 at The Marin Theatre Company.)

The opening sequence, performed mostly in the Shona language, of Danai Gurira’s “The Convert” throws us rapidly and delightfully into the complex story to follow. A native woman, dressed in Western garb, is cleaning what is clearly the home of a Catholic missionary. Her ambivalence about the crucifix and the statue of the Virgin Mary are clear, as she apparently attempts to exorcise them. A somewhat confused young woman enters with a young man, both in native garb, everybody quite excited. When the missionary (also an Africa native) enters, the housekeeper pleads with him to take on the young woman as a servant to save her from a forced marriage to an old man. Moments later, the old Uncle himself arrives, laying claim to the girl. After some discussion, the missionary agrees to take on the young woman and educate her as a Catholic. Learning that she is to go to school, the girl is beside herself with joy. This girl, Jekesai, re-christened as Ester, is “The Convert”. Her story will provide the pretext for the playwright to brilliantly tell of the colonization of what is now Zimbabwe, and the subequent rebellions which began in 1897, and continued until independence was achieved in the 1960s.

Katherine Renee Turner as Esther, the convert, and Jabari Brisport as Chilford, the missionary. Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.

Katherine Renee Turner as Esther, the convert, and Jabari Brisport as Chilford, the missionary. Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.

Playwright Danai Gurira (who is also a distinguished actress) has stated that she is inspired by a desire to write the stories of Afircan women that are rarely depicted onstage. With “The Convert” she succeeds extraordinary well. The women of this play — the convert Ester, the servant Mai Tamba (whose son is drawn into the rebellion) and the Western educated intellectual Prudence — are remarkable, moving, and memorable creations. The male characters are not short changed, however. The true believer Chilford, westernized and dreaming of becoming a Jesuit priest and his best friend Chancellor, who takes advantage of opportunities but harbors no illusions about the colonists, are complex and engaging. Ester’s Uncle is both clownish and dignified as a proud native man trying to assert his rights and the rebellious but likable Tamba is a fully rounded character, complex and conflicted.

These people are richly detailed and multi-faceted, all of them revealing behaviors both cruel and wonderful. This playwright displays a depth of empathy which is only seen in truly exceptional artists. Clearly, Gurira is a major playwright whose career bears watching and whose impact on American theatre is destined to be enormous.

The intellectual Prudence (Omoze Idehenre) challenges Ester to think for herself.

The intellectual Prudence (Omoze Idehenre) challenges Ester (Katherine Renee Turner) to think for herself.

This remarkable work has been carefully and expertly directed by Jasson Minadakis and the cast is so fantastic that it is difficult to think of superlatives worthy of these performances. Each cast member can justifiably be called “brilliant”. Shining particularly bright are L. Peter Callender as Uncle, demonstrating yet again his remarkable range and skill, and Omoze Idehenre as Prudence. Ms. Idehenre gives a great performance of a great character.

“The Convert” offers tragedy, comedy, history and character at a level of excellence rarely encountered. The set, costumes and other technical support are equal to the play and the performances.

If there is anything that is a “must see” this season in the Bay area, “The Convert” surely qualifies.

Find further information here.

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“The Convert” by Danai Gurira, presented by Marin Theatre Company. Director: Jasson Minadakis. Scenic Designer: Nina Ball. Lighting Designer: Gabe Maxson. Costume Designer: Fumiko Bielefeldt. Composer & Sound Designer: Chris Houston. Dialect Coach: Lynne Soffer. Fight Director: Dave Maier. Cultural Consultant and Guest Vocal Artist: Julia Chigamba. Properties Artisan: Kirsten Royston.

Jekesai/Ester: Katherine Renee Turner. Tamba: JaBen Early. Mai Tamba: Elizabeth Carter. Chilford: Jabari Brisport. Uncle: L. Peter Callender. Chancellor: Jefferson A. Russell. Prudence: Omoze Idehenre. 

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