Cal Shakes sculpts a vital, vivacious Pygmalion

Aug 06

Cal Shakes sculpts a vital, vivacious <i>Pygmalion</i>

When real life comes in and smacks Prof. Henry Higgins across the face, it's a wonderful thing to see this brilliant yet stunted man consider, perhaps for the first time in his life, that kindness may have worth akin to genius.

The force representing the real world – a world of messiness and emotion and connection – takes the form of Eliza Doolittle, an extraordinary young woman who is the intellectual if not social equal of Higgins and his superior when it comes to living life as most of humanity experiences it.

One of the great things about the California Shakespeare Theater production of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion is how balanced it is.

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Raise your cosmos to Sex and the City Live!

Jul 26

Raise your cosmos to <i>Sex and the City Live!</i>

"Sex and the City" impressario Darren Star stopped by to see the San Francisco phenomenon known as Sex and the City Live!, a drag romp inspired by his HBO TV series, and his feeling was that the stage show was funnier than the TV show, and he's absolutely right.

But how could the live version NOT be funnier than the boob-tube version when you've got four hilarious drag artistes playing the lusty ladies of Manhattan and the savvy D'Arcy Drollinger directing the whole enterprise? The show has evolved from its salad days at Rebel Bar and has launched a short run (through Aug. 10) at the Victoria Theatre. The place was packed Friday night, and it seemed the audience (a whole lot of women and gay men) was lapping up every detail of the experience, from the show on stage to the shirtless guy selling shots to the cosmos on sale at the bar.

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Grief, puppets collide in TheatreWorks’ great Pretender

Jul 13

Grief, puppets collide in TheatreWorks’ great <i>Pretender</i>

You don't often think of puppets and drama together, but playwright David West Read makes a strong case for the combination in the world premiere of his The Great Pretender, the first show of TheatreWorks' 45th season.

Original, funny and genuinely moving, Pretender is set in a very specific world – a "Captain Kangaroo"-like children's television program with a mild-mannered host interacting with spunky puppets – and discovers universal strains of grief, comfort and emotional evolution.

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SF Mime Troupe rocks the boat in Ripple Effect

Jul 07

SF Mime Troupe rocks the boat in <i>Ripple Effect</i>

I must admit that for a while there, I ceased looking forward to the July Fourth debut of the latest San Francisco Mime Troupe show at Dolores Park. The productions were feeling slack or worse, forced. The writing was off and the politics came off as strident or silly rather than relevant or even entertaining.Happy to report that this year's show, Ripple Effect, is a major improvement.

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SF Playhouse goes into Sondheim’s Woods

Jul 03

SF Playhouse goes into Sondheim’s <i>Woods</i>

Later this year we're going to get a star-studded, Disney-ized version of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, a 1986 musical mishmash of fairy tales, grim realities and realistic ever-afters. It will be fun seeing the likes of Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp singing Sondheim tunes and bringing these tales to life.

But until then, we have real, live people doing this oft-produced show on stage at San Francisco Playhouse and making a strong case for the genius of Sondheim (especially, in this show, his lyrics).

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Mamet with heart (and humor) at Aurora

Jun 21

Mamet with heart (and humor) at Aurora

Berkeley's Aurora Theatre Company concludes its season with David Mamet's American Buffalo, an early (1975) Mamet play that has all the telltale Mamet qualities (staccato dialogue sprayed in four-letter directions, life among conmen and criminals, pointed criticism of the "great American way," etc.), but unlike some of the later, more intentionally provocative and disturbing work, this one has a core of compassion and human connection.

Part of that is Mamet's play and part of it is director Barbara Damashek's production headed by two Bay Area greats: James Carpenter and Paul Vincent O'Connor. Watching them spar is theatrical bliss.

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