Review:’s `Zona’

Stephen Lawson, half of the Canadian duo, performs in Zona at the New Conservatory Theatre Center


Candian duo drags out, lip synchs through twilight `Zona’

 Aaron Pollard and Stephen Lawson, who perform under the rubric are campy performance artists.

They take the art of lip synching out of the gay bar and put it into a theatrical world where it both baffles and delights audiences.

Pollard and Lawson have descended into the United States from their artsy perch in Montreal, Canada to perform a limited engagement of their creation Zona at San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre Center.

Lawson is the lip-synching drag artist who performs, and Pollard is the behind-the-scenes guy who handles more of the tech stuff – the complex soundtrack mixing opera and dialogue from old movies – and the visually stunning video displays that allow Lawson to perform alongside video version of himself as well as with a growling naked man wearing a bear head.

This is bizarre stuff to be sure, but anyone familiar with consummate drag artists such as Lypsinka, who has raised lip synching to a formidable art, shouldn’t be surprised to see enterprising (and, OK, maybe a little pretentious) artists aiming to take the form even further.

Lawson, dragged out in black stockings, garter belts, a series of black gowns and a long black wig, looks like a cross between Sarah Brightman and Liza Minnelli. We first see him perform a shadow play about a woman, a bird and a giant cat. Or some such.

The only spoken dialogue in the 50-minute piece is Lawson intoning an Aubrey Beardsley poem. The rest is excerpted from opera and American cinema. We hear long excerpts of Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly Last Summer. If you listen closely, you’ll also catch Anne Baxter in All About Eve, Bette Davis in a number of movies, Shirley MacLaine in The Children’s Hour and some Miriam Hopkins, Gena Rowlands and Gracie Fields.

Rather than relying on plot, seems to be after a feeling. This is intuitive storytelling, and it mostly works, though long-form lip synch such as this could benefit from a stronger narrative through line.

Lawson plays a woman crippled by fear. She is part nurse, part sensualist, and her fear is manifested in the form of the aforementioned naked bear. Before facing and vanquishing her fear, she must wander through some rather beautiful videoscapes.

Some of the most arresting images involve Lawson holding up the blank pages of a book onto which are projected words and images. Another involves a miniature theater in which a miniature Lawson interacts with the real-life, three-dimensional Lawson.

Whether or not you recognize all the film references, Zona is still intriguing, especially if you can let your brain just relax and receive the impressions rather than trying to make sense of the visual and audio scramble.’s Zona continues through Aug. 31 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Tickets are $22-$34. Call 415-861-8972 or visit for information.

Here are three scenes from an earlier version of Zona:

Midsummer stages heat up

David Kahawaii (left) is JoJo and Carl Danielsen is The Cat in the Hat in the Woodminster Musicals production of Seussical the Musical.

Summer used to be a dead time in Bay Area theater. No longer. Here are some hot shows to check out this weekend and in the weeks to come.

Terrence McNally, the man who wrote Master Class and Love! Valour! Compassion! wrote this pair of one-acts in the early ‘70s and set them in warring rest homes to examine how bucking the status quo can often be the best revenge. Square MaMa resurrects the one-acts for your summer viewing.
– Terrence McNally’s Bad Habits, through Aug. 30 at Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th ST., San Francisco (one block from 16th Street BART station).

One of Canada’s most acclaimed performance art duos,, Stephen Lawson and Aaron Pollard, bring their unique repertoire of “epic multimedia performance” to the States. Described as an “inimitable blend of burlesque, video projections, opera, show tunes and old films,” the boys will present Puree and Zona., through Aug. 31 at New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. $22-$34. 415-861-8972;

Every summer, Thunderbird Theatre premieres something funny. This year we get a show with a tag line: “Jane Austen Sucks (blood).” Yes, Jane Austen meets vampires in Pride & Succubus, the creation of Claire Rice.
– Thunderbird Theatre’s Pride & Succubus, through Aug. 23 at New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom St., San Francisco. $17-$25. 415-289-6766;

One of the most intriguing offerings of the summer, Gary Aylesworth’s The Ballad of Edgar Cayce is a “bluegrass operetta” about one of the world’s most famous so-called psychics who attempted to channel spirit voices to answer the great questions of existence such as: was there really an Atlantis? The show is performed by Aylesworth and Peter Newton, who also supply the live music.
– Gary Aylesworth’s The Ballad of Edgar Cayce, through Aug. 30 at Traveling Jewish Theatre, 47- Florida St., San Francisco. $15-$20. 415-831-1943;

The characters of Dr. Seuss come to musical life in Seussical the Musical created by the same team that brought Doctorow’s Ragtime to the stage. Kids and adults appreciate the travails of Horton, who hears a Who, Maisy the Duck, who admires her tail and the Cat in the Hat.
Seussical the Musical, through Aug. 17 at Woodminster Amphitheater, Joaquin Miller Park, Oakland. $23-$38. 510-531-9597;

Wild shows attacking San Francisco

Sure the Bay Area is brimming with homegrown theatrical talent. But there’s always room for a few visitors.

Now here’s something intriguing: a British theater company called 19;29 is setting up shop at The Mosser Hotel to produce the late Sarah Kane’s 1995 work Blasted.

with tabloid hack Ian and epileptic Cate for a radical reassessment of Sarah Kane’s seminal 1995 work Blasted. Kane, who died in 1999, is most famous for her highly charged piece 4.48 Psychosis (seen here at Cal Performances).

Dealing with rape and brutality, Blasted is considered by some to be a modern classic for its unflinching depiction of “the depths of humanity and the personal impact of war.”

Performed in the intimacy of a hotel suite, 19;29’s transatlantic cast, according to a press release, “seeks to sear Kane’s dystopic vision onto the audience’s consciousness. The physical immediacy of the action has a stomach-churning intensity, which cannot fail to provoke thought and debate as civilization and barbarity collide before your very eyes.”

Sounds intense. Check it out beginning Thursday, June 19 and continuing through June 25 at The Mosser Hotel, 54 Fourth St., San Francisco. Shows are at 3, 5 7 and 9 p.m. Tickes are $19. Visit The show is presented in association with the Exit Theatre. Also check out

But wait, there’s more. A week or so ago I went to see The Group at The Climate Theatre in which the audience is seated, encounter group style, in a circle. In such an arrangement you can’t help talking to your neighbors. Mine happened to be visiting from Canada, and when they learned I was a sort-of member of the press, they lit up and told me about a great group to be on the lookout for when they came to San Francisco.

Well, here they are:

The New Conservatory Theatre is presenting the San Francisco premiere of, the darlings of the is proud to present the San Francisco premiere of, darlings of the Montréal cult cabaret scene. The evening promises to deliver “a riotous evening of absurd, eclectic, and multimedia drag performance.

Here’s more about the show: This internationally acclaimed duo brings to San Francisco their unique repertoire of epic multimedia performance, which aims to dazzle and provoke with political and poetic vigor. incorporates an inimitable blend of burlesque, video projections, opera, show tunes, and old films in a two-part evening specifically designed for The New Conservatory Theatre Center, featuring: Purée and Zona.

In Purée, 2boys present and unpredictable romp into the queer politics of marriage, religion, displacement, and liberation: With musical sources as varied as Maria Callas, Ethel Merman, Judy Garland and Mae West, Purée presents pointed commentary with a spoonful of sugar, drag cabaret that is both visually extraordinary and humorously delivered.

Zona combines disparate elements of Alfred Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams, Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn in an act that follows an “actress” as she struggles to find her genuine voice, whilst descending into madness. A journey through accusation, guilt, amnesia, and regret is constructed out of sampled audio clips from classic films about the theatre, and about the anxiety over the roles we play on stage and in life.

The show previews August 6 – 8, opens August 9 and runs through August 31. All performances are at The New Conservatory Theatre Center (Decker Theatre), l25 Van Ness Ave. near Market St. in San Francisco. Tickets range from $22 – $34. Call 415-861-8972 or visit

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