Racism, history and drama in SF Playhouse’s plush Velvet

May 25

Racism, history and drama in SF Playhouse’s plush <i>Velvet</i>

In its West Coast premiere production at San Francisco Playhouse, Red Velvet provides a plum starring role for the great Carl Lumbly, who tackles the role of Ira Aldridge with depth and gravity. This is a serious actor playing a serious actor whose concern is more for getting the role right than playing into the bile being spewed in his general direction for daring to be a black man playing a black man in the ultra-white world of the theater.

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Golden Thread traverses a rocky Highway

May 10

Golden Thread traverses a rocky <i>Highway</i>

In his raggedy reflective vest and with his small voice booming, Traffic spends his days unlike most 8-year-olds: he waves traffic around a hairpin turn and in and out of a tunnel on the perilous mountain highway that links Kabul and Jalalabad in Afghanistan. He is one of the "Pepsi boys" who ekes out a living waving a smashed soda bottle at passing cars, hoping for a few coins thrown his way as a tip. He also catches fish in the river at the bottom of the ravine and attempts to sell those as a snack to passing travelers.

The story of the Pepsi boys is a compelling one – check out this feature in the New York Times – and clearly playwright Kevin Artigue thought so, too. Their lives inspired his play The Most Dangerous Highway in the World, now receiving its world premiere from Golden Thread Productions.

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Drag rock nirvana in Beyond the Valley of the Ultra Showgirls

May 07

Drag rock nirvana in <i>Beyond the Valley of the Ultra Showgirls</i>

Once the full-out rock song "Flesh Popsicle" has reached its climax, there can be no doubt: Above and Beyond the Valley of the Ultra Showgirls is a bona fide rock musical performed by a raucous five-piece band (that includes a one-woman horn section!) and a raging cast of women, men and men-as-women that would send North Carolinians into fits of moral paralysis. In other words, this is an original drag rock musical that kicks (and shakes) some serious booty.

It should come as no surprise that this two-hour slice of "broad" comedy should come from the pen of D'Arcy Drollinger...

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Enchantment, off-key comedy in revised Cinderella

May 05

Enchantment, off-key comedy in revised <i>Cinderella</i>

If audiences get confused by this abundance of Cinderella that's completely understandable, especially if they assume that the Rodgers and Hammerstein version has something to do with Disney. Any confusion will only be exacerbated by the 2013 Broadway production, which involved some major revision in the book by Douglas Carter Beane and a production design that looks like it took inspiration from Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

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Grand adventure awaits at Berkeley Rep’s Treasure Island

Apr 30

Grand adventure awaits at Berkeley Rep’s <i>Treasure Island</i>

Mary Zimmerman's work is consistently thrilling. Since I first saw Journey to the West at Zellerbach Playhouse, I have looked forward to seeing whatever Zimmerman makes next. Luckily, her relationship with Berkeley Reperoty Theatre is such that she keeps coming back and back, always with something intriguing and, quite often, magnificent. Her swimming pool-set Metamorphoses in 1999 (also performed at Zellerbach Playhouse) remains one of my favorite nights in a theater ever.

Zimmerman's latest offering at Berkeley Rep is a zesty staging of Treasure Island, and it's a blast.

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This Lion is king at ACT

Apr 21

This <i>Lion</i> is king at ACT

If Benjamin Scheuer were simply a musical act, I'd happily go see him in concert and buy his albums. his voice can go from sweet to gravelly, aggressive to tender, rollicking to romantic even within the space of a single song, and the same can be said for his guitar playing. He puts himself out there in his music, and in addition to being aurally pleasing, his music is also deeply satisfying.

But Scheuer is more than a concert act. He's also a playwright and actor. So his version of a concert is the one-man autobiographical musical The Lion now at American Conservatory Theater's Strand Theater.

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Anne Boleyn seems to be heading in right direction

Apr 21

<i>Anne Boleyn</i> seems to be heading in right direction

The relationship between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn – adulterous, adventurous and tragic (for Anne) – has long captivated the public imagination. Their story has been told on the page, on the stage and on screens large and small. There's been a shift in thinking about Anne, not as a vixen, home wrecker or overzealous climber but as a smart cookie who was more of a power player behind Henry's throne than we might have thought.

One such exploration can now bee seen on stage at Marin Theatre Company in Anne Boleyn, a 2010 play by Howard Brenton.

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