Sunday, November 28, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Penelope’s Odyssey after Homer
by Gary Graves, in collaboration with the ensemble
at Central Works
Jan Zvaifler as Penelope
(Photo by Jay Yamada)
Another member of the Critics Circle recommended this production, about the Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view (a popular theatrical topic this season), and I can see why. Central Works operates in an intimate, elongated thrust (my favorite type of space), situating its audience members so close to the action that they could trip the actors. This orientation obviates the need for presentation. Actors are afforded more interesting (and realistic) angles of interaction, and they need not amplify their physicalities for the back of a house. Each subtle gesture (or deliberate non-gesture) registers. You hold your breath, that you might hear the actors’ breathing.
The play itself, what’s more, moves along at a steady clip and constantly throws its players into impossible situations: Should Penelope (elegantly played by Jan Zvaifler) take a new husband, now that Odysseus has been missing ten years? How can Antinus (Matt Lai), her leading suitor, win her heart? Is he even worthy? Can Telemakos, (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) Penelope’s son/daughter, trust Penelope to do the right thing for their family? Is the man who later comes forward as Odysseus (Terry Lamb) really he? More importantly, who gets to make that decision, and who will benefit from the verdict?
Graves' writing constantly challenges the audience’s trust; we are never aligned with a single character for long. The title, and much of the action, suggests that Penelope is the protagonist, but by the play’s end even she has ulterior motives that complicate her reliability.
With only a few (but gorgeous) light and sound cues, by director John Patrick Moore, to guide the audience, these actors are truly on their own in this tiny space, their every breath and blink on full display. Under this pressure, some performers bring clearer and more honest performances than others, but the company on the whole is to be commended for producing an engaging evening on a shoestring budget.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
- A variety of major Bay Area theaters—the Magic, ACT, Marin Theatre Company, the Aurora, San Jose Rep, and SF Playhouse—have opened their 2010-2011 seasons with plays that either prominently feature an African-American performer, or, more likely, center on a part of the African-American experience. What does this trend say? Why are these shows at the beginning of the season? Do any of these theaters make African-Americans a focus later in the season? And why, in a city in which Hispanics outnumber African-Americans by two to one and Asians outnumber African-Americans by almost five to one, are no other racial and ethnic minorities getting plays produced about their experiences?
- Last month, when departing the Magic Theatre after a show, I was approached by a woman with a video camera about giving an “audience testimonial.” I declined because I was reviewing the production, but it seemed she was taking comments from anyone leaving the theater. Later, I received an email from the Magic touting the success of opening night—with filmed audience testimonials to prove it! But how do audience members feel about being used for marketing purposes in this manner? Are there certain pressures inherent in it that make for less-than-honest responses? Why do some theaters use it? Why do others refrain?
Monday, October 18, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
The beginning of the show is pure homage. The Mark Ten pantomime with the fervor of the Monkees and respond to interview questions with the cheekiness of the Beatles. Then, seeking to earn their place in history, they decide to create a concept album, or one in which each song serves some larger artistic purpose, the whole greater than the sum of its parts. The band’s issue is coming up with a concept—an issue they share with the playwright.
Secluded in the recording studio, Stu, (Vincent Palo) the vocalist, and Harvey (Robert Campbell), the bassist, talk without communicating and attack without engaging. Unable to compose, they rely on outside assistance in the form of Cindy, a studio musician whose odd blend of ambition and priggishness confines actress Rachel Rajput to a range of emotion from annoyance to scorn—at least, in the preview I saw. Dave (Nick Dickson), the drummer, and Lewis (Sam Leichter), on lead guitar, provide comic relief with varying levels of success. As Petal, the Mark Ten’s lone groupie, Sarah Korda gives the production’s most committed and poised performance, but Breaux’s writing muddles even this character’s arc.
Where this production most falters is in its performance of music. Though the playwright and characters supposedly live for rock and roll, the songs are all recorded, and the performers pantomime with instruments made out of cardboard. At first, when the musicians hilariously enact an Ed Sullivan-style concert, with Petal screaming awkwardly throughout it, the fake instruments work. But the props quickly reveal themselves as a default choice instead of a deliberate one. Apparently, a projection screen with period footage and photos is crucial for the production, but a real guitar or drum set is unnecessary. (For a theatre this size, budget constraints obviously curtail technical options—but minimalism does not preclude artfulness.)
Otherwise, the show looks stunning. Scenic and props designer Patricia Gillespie and costume designer Bessie Delucchi capture a variety of 1960s aesthetics, from mod to psychedelic, with startling, disorienting color. Set off by Lyrica Tyree’s lighting, the mise-en-scene becomes otherworldly, an enchanted space in which Rivera choreographs lip-synching almost beautiful enough to make up for the lack of live sound—but not quite enough to make up for the script or the acting.
The Mark Ten’s Fantastic Parade continues through January 30th at the Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma Street, San Francisco. Tickets ($10 - $20) are available by phone at (800) 838-3006 or online at boxcartheatre.org.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Monday, January 11, 2010
It can be said that the stone benches outside the Yale University Art Gallery offer the best view of the New Haven celebrity parade: The scrappy shopping cart-pusher in the baseball cap who hikes his pants up to his nipples; the clean-cut blond kid who solemnly helms a Segue; the busker whose gravelly voice and blistering harmonica often render one melody indiscernible from the next. All these characters strut their stuff near the intersection of Chapel and High Streets, especially during lunch, when you can get a sandwich from across the street and eat it on one of the aforementioned benches, shamelessly staring at the strangers who are so much more interesting than Yale students. There is one stranger, however, who invites more speculation than all others combined, and it was he who I sought to see on my own Art Gallery days. That stranger is The Runner.
The Runner never walks. Whenever there is an opportunity for transportation, running is The Runner's only option. Apparently there are many such opportunities: I saw him sprinting from building to building most times I ventured out of doors. At one point he was even spotted in the same overpriced café at which I occasionally lunched, dashing from his table to the counter and back—in order to retrieve a napkin. You might conclude that The Runner is a man with places to go; that his haste is a product of necessity; that I should lay off someone who's just trying to incorporate extreme cardiovascular exercise into the minutiae of his existence. Yet as a longtime observer, I can confidently counter this theory: The Runner's routes don't make navigational sense. For all his apparent education in a Yale Graduate School (so the rumors go), The Runner seems to have missed the idea that the shortest distance from point A to B is a straight line. Indeed, something else entirely is going on: Though occasionally endowed with a destination, The Runner primarily runs to pass the time; he runs to stave off the eternal nothingness; he runs to run.
The Forrest Gump comparisons are obvious. Eternally clad in a brightly colored t-shirt, mismatching elastic shorts, white tube socks, sneakers, and a backpack, The Runner would invite speculations of mental retardation even without that little blockbuster of a flick.
I "ran into" The Runner often—we patronized a similar group of off-campus wining and dining establishments (which speaks to his taste, naturally). Upon such sightings, I would send a text message or two to my “team” of underclassmen males—an unofficial spy network, of whom I, the older sister figure, the most enthusiastic member, was the unofficial head. Our mission? To ridicule, affectionately. The catch? To compose something worthy of The Runner in fewer than 160 characters. A favorite:
Call: “Sighting at library. Which do you think The Runner eats for breakfast? a. Wheaties, Breakfast of Champions b. 3 Red Bulls c. His own flesh”
Response: “He photosynthesizes.”
Monitoring The Runner’s movements got to the point that it diverted us from our work—a welcome development given that term papers and exams were looming and other, more legitimate, excuses to procrastinate ran few and far between. At one point, an agent found himself sitting next to The Runner at a coffee shop and proceeded to eavesdrop on his conversation for the next two hours. I learned from the copious notes he took that the Runner’s name was Chris, that he came from a wealthy family in Maryland, that he was a Yale graduate student (gossip triumphs again!) but now worked for the Disabilities Office. My agent described him as excruciatingly awkward, his inability to make eye contact distracting, his tendency to pontificate obnoxious but comical.
For all these encounters, for all my real or feigned interest in the man, I could never garner the courage to introduce myself to him. Alone with my observed, my team an entire text message away, I could not escape my better judgment and my shame. How did The Runner refer to me to his friends, I would wonder. Am I The Gawker? The Serial Texter? The walking, trudging, slouching undergrad who clearly only got into Yale by selling her tact and agreeing to major in snark?
At this point I should mention that after four years of college and the complete celibacy that, for me, came with it, pitching woo, by the time The Runner ran into my life, was not my forte. Whatever hormones or urges poked and prodded at my repressed little soul tended to surface in odd ways: unnecessarily poetic and copious emails to large groups of peers, professions of love recited from a post-it note, a bicycle trip across the country embarked upon with little to no training.
I decided to tell my spy team I was in love with The Runner. I told them how nervous The Runner made me feel, how his sculpted loins stirred up feelings in my own that I did not understand. I told them how jealous I felt when I saw him with other girls. My team maintained this level of rapport, keeping up the obvious joke, or occasionally even understanding that my affections were deliberately misplaced—in the form of a reciprocal shrouded flirtation:
Call: “Sighted in Commons with a cute brunette! Curses. I even broke out my own tie-dye today, in preparation for our life together. Now all is lost.”
Response: “But clearly you’re his type.”
I was encouraged—So encouraged as to bring my campers in on the loop. That summer, I was counseling a group of middle schoolers at a theater camp, and each day for lunch the administration subjected us to an outdoor open-mike concert. Conveniently, our property was situated next to one of The Runner’s favorite coffee shops, so I caught a sighting most days of the week. I told my little ones about him, either just to make conversation or because I actually thought it would be a good idea to do so. Their response, of course, was to begin to chase him, screaming, “OUR COUNSELOR LOVES YOU, RUNNER!” Luckily, The Runner ain’t so-called for nothin, and he could easily escape a few middle school girls.
If I did love him, and for all I knew I did, it was time to state my intentions clearly. I waited for my next day off.
I didn't anticipate that the tube socks and short elastic shorts would highlight the chunkiness of my thighs so well, but there I stood in the heart of the New Haven celebrity parade, in my own version of an all-too-familiar uniform. I felt childish in the backpack, itchy with the lines of perspiration sliding down my back in the humid afternoon, but mostly ashamed with the scheme I had concocted, or confused as to what it was.
Waiting or dreading, I sat down on one of the stone benches, listening to the busker play a Beatles song—or was it Dylan? To my left was a pair of teenage lovers, the girl crunching the ice in a plastic cup with her straw. Then I realized I'd never tipped, or donated to, my favorite gritty troubadour. I looked in my backpack for my wallet, but of course I'd left it in the bag I use when I'm not on a mission to nowhere, for nothing. I supposed I wasn't really the kind of person to give money away anyway. I went home.
Then I stopped seeing The Runner. I wondered if he'd finally taken up long distances, making it out of New Haven when I had failed to do so, long after I too had graduated.
I finally saw him a few months later in the fall. It was raining. I had an umbrella and appropriate attire for the inclement weather. The Runner had neither, the glorious uniform unaltered. He was on the other side of the street. I decided to follow him. Crossing, I completely submerged my loafer in a lake-sized puddle. I speed-walked along, trying to keep up without conspicuously running after him. The drenched foot squelched with each successive step I took. As soon as The Runner darted behind a building, I picked up speed, trying to catch up just enough to glimpse his next turn. Rounding a corner, I was primed to watch for the telltale tie-dye and caught it moving toward Cross Campus. He was heading toward one of the libraries, and I sprinted ahead. He looked behind him; I swerved out of view, behind trees and pedestrians. The thrill of the chase unleashed a surge of adrenaline and something else: I had the urge to capture him somehow, and then to talk to him, to finally introduce myself, confess things, make him understand, be friends. I sent him a mental wave of good will; I wanted him to feel an appreciation from me that was not tinged with mockery. I imagined him slowing, turning, ready to wait for me to catch up, and then to listen. But he only accelerated, rounding a final corner and bounding down a flight of stairs to the underground library, disappearing out of my sight. I couldn't follow, no longer having a valid student ID. And suddenly I didn't want to. It seemed like he was running away from me, and, anyway, I had rain in my shoe.