Cutting Ball Theater’s ‘Tenderloin’ is a gem of empathy and compassion

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: 3/5 Stars » Recommended)

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

When the company of Tenderloin, working as an ensemble, recreates the look and feel of the city streets outside the theatre doors, the effect is uncanny. The sounds, the gestures, the body language, the dress perfectly recreate the neighborhood. This is theatre absolutely rooted in its community and it is an impressive accomplishment. You can practically smell the sidewalks.

The evening doesn’t quite hold together dramatically, as the series of monologues and occasional conversations that comprise the show are loosely linked and there is a lack of plot. Granted, there is some tension generated in the exploration of the recent political history of the Tenderloin and the conflicts that have arisen between real estate interests and activists but this is not the main point of this show.

That point is to sympathetically bring to the stage the real life personalities who live and work in the Tenderloin and on that account the production is an unqualified success. Based on actual interviews with local residents, the monologues are true-to-life, funny, touching, enlightening and lovingly crafted by a fine company of actors who have paid attention to detail.

Kathy and Leroy Looper (Rebecca Frank and David Sinaiko), owners of the Cadillac Hotel and Tenderloin community activists, describe the Tenderloin as a “containment zone”. Photo Credit: Cuttingball Theatre

Acting across genders and generations, the company of six actors create an astonishing array of nearly two dozen characters, each clearly differentiated. These folk range from tough, angry, yet compassionate Police Captain Gary Jimenez, played by Michael Uy Kelly (who reminds us that “…the Tenderloin is the best part of the cut”) to soft spoken Vietnamese immigrant social worker Tony Nguyen, also played by Mr. Kelly. Long time community activists Leroy B. and Kathy Looper are brought to life in striking gender bending performances by Rebecca Frank as Leroy and David Sinaiko as Kathy. The well loved Mr. Cooper passed away last September, and the play is dedicated “to the residents of the Tenderloin and to the memory of Leroy B. Cooper.”

All of the characters in this play are real people; you can meet them on the streets of the Tenderloin and many will be immediately recognizable.

The San Francisco Playhouse’s artistic director Bill English has described theatre as “…an empathy gym where we come to practice our powers of compassion.” With Cutting Ball  Theater’s production of Tenderloin, audiences and actors get a heck of a satisfying workout.

Tenderloin continues at Cutting Ball Theater through May 27. For further information click here.

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Tenderloin, a play of transcribed interviews from San Francisco’s Tenderloin, produced by Cutting Ball Theater. Director: Annie Elias. Dramaturg: Erin Moro. Scenic Designer: Michael Locher. Lighting Designer: Stephanie Buchner. Costume Designer: Michelle Mulholland. Sound Design: Matt Stines. Technical Director: Frederic O. Boulay

Ensemble: Tristan Cunningham, Slobhan Doherty, Rebecca Frank, Michael Kelly, Leigh Shaw, David Sinaiko

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