Review: “OUT Of Site,” an LGBTQ performative walking tour through North Beach queer history (****)

by Charles Kruger

Clockwise from left: Lisa Evans, Sarah Paradise, Ariel Harris-Porada, Silky Shoemaker, Ryan Hayes, Earl Alfred Paus and Diego Gomez in “OUT of Site”. Photo Credit: Robbie Sween
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Within moments from the start of “OUT Of Site,” I was practically bawling. Gay men of a certain age, who remember San Francisco in the 70s and 80s, will understand how I felt.

As an audience of mostly gay men and lesbians (or so they seemed to me) stood in the shadow of the Pyramid by Mark Twain place, a group of Queer performers, flamboyant and fabulous, swooped in and began working magic.

Literally.

In the tradition of innumerable neopagan groups, and especially the Radical Fairies, they had us form a circle to invoke the directions and the ancestors, asking us to invite Queers who had passed to the other side. There was music and chanting and the creation of sacred bags for us to use to invoke our Queer ancestors and cheer them on.

This sort of flamboyant, ritualistic theatre can only work when presented as a gift with the utmost sincerity and heartfelt commitment. It can’t be acted; it must be believed and lived. In this case, it is.

Only the most Scrooge-like resistance could have failed to feel the influx of energy that was invoked. And then, moments later, it seemed as if the actors were possessed with spirits of Queer San Franciscans past and for the next two plus hours we were led through their North Beach haunts from Gold Rush days right in to the early 90s.

The company of fourteen performers seemed to people an entire city as they led us with enthusiasm on a half mile tour along Columbus Avenue and into side streets and alleys. As they transformed characters, we encountered Mark Twain’s gay friend, Charles Warren Stoddard and his Japanese lover, the poet Yone Noguchi. There are encounters with stigmatized cross dressers and brazen lesbians, and multiple historical figures right up through the 90s, including the great Jose Sarria, the inimitable Sylvester, several Cockettes, the poet Jack Spicer, and various other characters and performers spanning the entire 20th century in the North Bach community.

All of the quite polished performances are distinguished by great enthusiasm and commitment to the material, and each actor achieves excellence.

At the opening performance, the first with an audience, the show was over-long  by at least an hour. Still, it was wonderful, and rumor has it that subsequent performances are tighter.

This theatrical walking tour should be a must do for anybody, tourists or locals, interested in a deep experience of Gay San Francisco, more real than the Castro, and fresh as a daisy.

“OUT Of Site” will continue next weekend with two performances on March 24th, and one on March 25th. For further information, click here.

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Rating:  **** (for an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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