It’s a farce Or, a hysterical – er – historical drama

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Natcha Roi as Aphra Behn and Ben Huber as King Charles II star in Liz Duffy Adams’ Or, at the Magic Theatre. Below: Maggie Mason as celebrated actress Nell Gwynne. Photos by Jennifer Reiley.


With a wink and a nod to Shakespeare, playwright Liz Duffy Adams explains the title of her play Or, in a spiffily rhymed prologue. It’s about love or lust. Danger or delight. Gay or straight. In other words, anything and everything is on the table for 90 minutes of theatrical enjoyment.

Adams, the linguistically inventive author of Dog Act, an award-winning hit for Shotgun Players in 2004, is once again indulging her love of language in Or, now having its West Coast premiere at the Magic Theatre directed by artistic director Loretta Greco. She dives into the wordplay of 17th-century England and splashes around happily.

“The Puritans have had their day. Now it’s our turn,” says one character. And there’s more than an echo of throwing off the Bush years for a taste of Obama-style hope. There’s also a whiff of the swinging ’60s as characters roll in and out of bed with one another and women are tasting the surge of power that equality could bring.

Like Virginia Woolf before her, Adams is letting “flowers fall on the grave of Aphra Behn,” but hers is not an entirely reverent portrait of the somewhat mysterious woman who was the first of her gender to make a living as a playwright. Adams’ vision of Behn is playful but slightly melancholy. We meet Aphra while she’s still in debtor’s prison because her boss – King Charles II – has not paid her what she’s owed.

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But once a dashing, masked stranger enters her cell, the play takes off. The stranger, it turns out, is Charles himself, and once all Aphra’s debts are paid, she’s ensconced in a much more appropriate dwelling where she can write plays, cavort with the king and carry on with Nell Gwynne, the leading actress of her day. This core triangle, with the gorgeous Natacha Roi as Aphra, the hilarious Maggie Mason as Nell and Ben Huber as the philandering monarch, turns into a parallelogram with Huber doubling as William Scott, a fellow spy and possible assassin, and Mason playing the crotchety maid and Lady Davenant, a pioneering lady producer who helped get Aphra’s plays on stage.

Director Greco takes full advantage of the farcical possibilities here, especially as she makes use of a giant wardrobe on Michael Locher’s rustically elegant set. Huber enters the closet as the king, then re-emerges as a drunken Scott. The same is true of Mason’s quick changes as she saunters off stage as the foul-mouthed Gwynne and is back momentarily as the regally attired Davenant (the sumptuous period costumes are by Alex Jaeger). Every time Mason takes the stage, but especially as Lady Davenant and Maria the maid, she can’t help but be the funniest thing going.

In all this rushing around, Charles and Nell find themselves drawn to each other, and neither figure apparently ever met a warm body they couldn’t seduce. So while they’re off trysting in Aphra’s bed, that allows plenty of time for their other characters to take the stage.

There are plenty of jokes at theater’s expense, and amid all the mayhem, Roi’s Aphra remains the picture of seething creativity and abundant intelligence as Aphra, a true artist, puts her days of espionage and adventure behind her as she finds her voice as a poet of the theater.

You laugh and you savor Adams’ skillful blend of 17th-century and contemporary language, but there are shadows and undercurrents to make you think. Comedy and tragedy. Frivolity and substance. It’s definitely not an either Or, situation.


Liz Duffy Adams’ Or, continues through Dec. 5 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $45-$60. Call 415 441-8822 or visit for information.

Theater review: `Mauritius’

Extended through June 28


Zoë Winters (left) is Jackie, James Wagner (center) is Dennis and Warren David Keith is Philip in the Magic Theatre’s season-ending production of Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck. Photos by

Director Greco leaves dramatic stamp on sticky `Mauritius’

Two little tiny pieces of paper cause a whole lot of trouble for the five characters in Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius, a drama about – if you can believe it – stamp collecting.

Except the play isn’t really about stamp collecting. It’s about greed and ownership and, to a lesser degree, about family responsibility and the art of the grudge.

As she did in her hit play The Scene (seen in the Bay Area at SF Playhouse last season), Rebeck demonstrates a flair for vivid dialogue, with definite nods in the fragmented direction of David Mamet and Harold Pinter.

But Rebeck has more flair for comedy than either of those writers, which she amply displays in Mauritius, receiving its local premiere as the season-ender for the Magic Theatre.

By infusing her con-artist drama with some genuine emotion, Rebeck invites laughs and gives the game playing a comic edge that ultimately makes her more Coen Brothers than Mamet (thank the merciful heavens – one Mamet is quite enough).


With the quick movement of some furniture and the sliding of some panels, James Faerron’s nicely designed set flips us between the play’s two locations. The first is a stamp collector’s shop run by Philip (Warren David Keith) and inhabited by Dennis (James Wagner), a philatelist always on the con, and Sterling (Rod Gnapp), a stamp-loving gangster type (you can tell he’s a bad guy because he wears black and has ugly gold buckles on his shoes).

The second location is the cluttered home, where Jackie (Zoë Winters) lived until very recently with her cancer-stricken mother. With her mother gone, Jackie is sorting through the remaining personal effects with the not very helpful assistance of her older half-sister, Mary (Arwen Anderson, above left with Winters).

Conflict arises in the stamp shop and the home because of two little stamps worth millions of dollars. They’re referred to as the “one- and two-cent post office” issued by the British government on the tropical Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. They’re said to be the “crown jewels of philately” and it just so happens that Jackie has found both stamps in album that belonged to her late mother.

Mary (you can tell she’s a prig because she wears an ankle-length skirt and speaks to everyone as if she were the teacher addressing second graders) claims the stamps belong to her because they were her grandfather’s, and he was like a father to her.

Jackie has her own plans for the stamps and, with the dubious help of Dennis, sets off a series of events that lead to Sterling’s involvement and Philip’s interference. It seems there’s a years-old grudge between Sterling and Philip that involved an actual woman rather than stamps.


Beautifully played by Gnapp (right, with Winters), Sterling is a goon with intellect. He’s a gutter mouth and a soft touch where the Mauritius stamps are concerned. But Philip (believably drawn by Keith), is no patsy, and he will not see his status as King of the Stamp Nerds threatened.

At the middle of the melee is Jackie, embodied with wounded passion and vulnerable strength by Winters. This is a young woman who has been treated badly by life. Her home life was a disaster, her mother’s death was messy and her older sister is a creep. She sees the stamps as her ticket to a new life – wash the slate clean and start over again.

But that would be too easy. Everybody’s got a con (whether they know it or not), so Rebeck’s play keeps unfolding in surprising ways.

The first act of director Loretta Greco’s production is frustratingly slow — partly because Rebeck doesn’t do the Mamet-staccato dialogue all that well and partly because it’s hard to like anybody on stage — but things perk up dramatically in Act 2, though Rebeck disappoints in the end by too clearly delineating the villains who had previously shown more depth of character and had reasonable motivations.

Greco’s ensemble makes smart choices, especially when it comes to knowing how to play the drama and the tension against the laughs. Winters is especially adept at this particular game.

This has been a rocky season for the Magic, but it’s nice to see the season ending on such a solid note with a provocative, well-produced drama.


The Magic Theatre’s Mauritius continues through June 28 at the Fort Mason Center, Building D, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street. Tickets are $40-$45. Rush tickets for people younger than 30, students, seniors and educations: $10 half-hour prior to performance, subject to availability. Call 800-595-4849 or visit for information.

Review: `Evie’s Waltz’


The cast of the Magic Theatre’s Evie’s Waltz includes, from left, Marielle Heller, Darren Bridgett and Julia Brothers. The Carter W. Lewis play continues through Dec. 7. Photos by


Tension mounts in Lewis’ modern `Waltz’
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Carter W. Lewis’ Evie’s Waltz, now at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, is a tense, frightening thriller that dredges up provocative issues about life in 21st-century America.

The fact that the 90-minute play is so uncomfortable – I can’t remember sweating so much during a play, and it wasn’t the unseasonably warm weather – is a testament to how well the show is produced.

Magic artistic director Loretta Greco, in her first directorial outing since joining the theater, has cast the show brilliantly and guides her trio of actors through Lewis’ taut, fraught examination of guns, teens and the detonation of the nuclear family.

Erik Flatmo created the patio set on which the play takes place, and from what we can see, this is a gorgeous suburban home surrounded by woods and upper-middle-class affluence. We can only peek into the house itself, but we can tell it is well appointed in every way, as are its inhabitants, Clay (Darren Bridgett) and Gloria (Julia Brothers), who dress nicely even for an informal early autumn barbecue on the deck (costumes are by Fumiko Bielefeldt).

York Kennedy’s lighting design takes on extra importance in Lewis’ story. The warm, inviting early evening light gives way to looming night in the real time of the play, and the darkness is significant in many ways. Kennedy’s lighting design (with assistance from Sara Huddleston’s Strauss-infused sound design) also has some chilling, highly theatrical surprises that remind us just what’s at stake here.

What begins as another white suburban angst drama – Clay and Gloria’s 16-year-old son, Danny, was suspended that morning for bringing a gun to school – turns into a mystery and then an outright thriller.

Clay emerges as the bleeding heart of the family. As he skewers vegetables and brushes them with his soy-citrus marinade, he defends Danny, while Gloria, sipping from her gin and tonic, declares that the boy upstairs in his room is no longer her son. “I want to smother him in his sleep,” she declares.

Then Evie (Marielle Heller), daughter of a hard-drinking single mother in the neighborhood and Danny’s girlfriend, arrives. “Mom’s drunk, so I came instead,” Evie says, just before Gloria and Clay notice the blood on her shoulder.

The tension ratchets up from there as deceptions and plans are revealed, and ghosts of Columbine and random acts of teen violence flood the stage.

Who’s to blame for teen violence? Is it the parents or the parents of the parents? And can a parent really stop loving a child? Lewis doesn’t have any answers, but he creates interesting questions. He shades his female characters beautifully – both Gloria and Evie are far more complex than they first seem – but he doesn’t let Clay develop much beyond the big-hearted, caretaker he appears to be.

That said, the performances are outstanding. Brothers brings incredible depth to Gloria, a smart, mean woman whose plan to be an incredible mother didn’t quite pan out. There’s bitterness and tenderness in her, and it’s an extraordinary thing to watch her succumb to the power of the teenagers she loathes.

Bridgett takes Clay to a powerful emotional level even as the character attempts to put a positive spin on a situation that couldn’t possibly end well. His capacity for denial is immense, but so is his need to be a good father.

Heller has the hardest of the three roles because playing a loose canon 16-year-old and making the audience care about her is a tall order. Heller does it but never without letting us forget that, even with her considerable brains and bruised humanity, Evie is someone we need to fear.

I have rarely been so uncomfortable watching a play as I was during Evie’s Waltz. Fully recognizing how extraordinarily well produced, written and acted it was, I honestly couldn’t wait for it to be over.


Evie’s Waltz continues through Dec. 21 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $40-$45 ($15 for students). Call 415-441-8822 or visit

Review: `The K of D’

Maya Lawson plays the inhabitants of a small Ohio town in the ghost story The K of D, the one-woman show that opens the new Magic Theatre season. Photos by


Magic season opens with chilling solo show `K of D’


In the world of new plays, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to come up with that prince of a hit.

That’s something folks at the Magic Theatre, one of the country’s foremost purveyors of new plays, have known for a long time, and it’s something Magic audiences know, too. When you go see a new play, you are taking a risk, diving into the unknown with an expectation of at least being entertained and a hope of being altered, shaken or moved.

With new artistic director Loretta Greco taking over for Chris Smith, the Magic heads into a new season with a very human opening play.

Laura Schellhardt’s The K of D is a one-woman exercise in storytelling in which the dynamic actress Maya Lawson, a San Francisco native, plays the inhabitants of a small Ohio town during what comes to be known as the year of “the death.”

“I got a little story for you.” Those are the inviting opening word as Lawson, dressed in a tank top and jeans and carrying a satchel and a skateboard, invites us to set our brains on listening mode – something akin to sitting around the campfire and sharing ghost stories.

She tells us this is a story from her childhood, though we’re not exactly sure who exactly she is in this story. Offstage calls indicate she’s actually one of the characters she’s pretending to play, but we’re never quite sure (and that’s actually needlessly confusing by the end of the show).

The western Ohio town we’re in is near the Indiana border — “Think Dairy Queen,” our narrator tells us – and our job is to follow a pack of teenage friends from one tragedy to another and see how the events of one year ended up being a sort of urban legend about a girl with the “k of d” or “kiss of death.”

The play’s foray into the murk of urban legends is actually when it’s most interesting. We hear the teenagers tell a couple legends – one about a phone call from a crypt, another about a disgusting event at a diner – and then we’re given to understand that urban myths tell us a lot about ourselves and our fears. “It’s safer to be wary but more fun to believe.”

Keeping the teenage characters straight is challenging at first, but the appealing, energetic Lawson, under the direction of Rebecca Novick, sharpens her characterizations as she goes and the story begins to pick up speed.

On a set (by Melpomene Katakalos) of wooden planks, a metal milk crate and a steel drum), Lawson spins a yarn of twins Charlotte and Jamie McGraw and what happened when one of them was killed in a car accident by the horrible Johnny Whistler.

Schellhardt gives a whole lot away in her title, so the ending isn’t all that surprising, nor has she crafted an especially satisfying urban legend, but the telling is rich, especially when Sara Huddleston’s sound design is hooting and chirping and whooshing with sound effects that blend nature and possible otherworldly activity.
The K of D is actually more gripping as a ghost story than as an urban legend – there’s something thrillingly creepy about one voice in the dim light (lighting design by Kate Boyd) telling us about things that go bump in the theatrical night.


The K of D continues through Oct. 19 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $40-$45. Call 415-441-8822 or visit

New seasons: Magic, 42nd Street Moon

The Magic Theatre, now under the artistic direction of Loretta Greco, has announced its 2008-09 season. Here’s the lineup:

The K of D, an urban legend by Laura Schellhardt
Sept. 20 – Oct. 19

A small town girl spins the story of an urban legend. When a reckless driver kills her twin brother, Charlotte receives an eerie power from his dying kiss. This quirky and touching play offers that magical perspective of a child on the big questions of life and death. Theatrical and spare, The K of D uses nothing but one actress and your imagination to create the familiar world of a Midwestern town.

Evie’s Waltz by Carter W. Lewis (directed by Greco)
Nov.8 – Dec. 7

Gloria and Clay are living every parent’s nightmare – their son has been expelled for bringing a gun to school. As they struggle with the ramifications of this fact on their family, an unexpected visit from their son’s girlfriend turns their backyard barbecue into a high-stakes game of cat and mouse.

Tough Titty by Oni Faida Lampley (directed by Robert O’Hara)
Jan. 24 – Feb. 22, 2009

Eat healthy, work out, and think positive thoughts. When Angela’s routine cannot keep breast cancer at bay, she must face the disease and her family with willpower, tenacity, and humor. Sassy, funny, and emotional, Tough Titty explores one woman’s journey to find grace in living.

American Hwangap by Lloyd Suh
Feb. 28 – March 28, 2009

On his 60th birthday, Min Suk, a Korean immigrant, decides to return to the US to reconnect with the family he abandoned 15 years ago. In this world premiere play, as the preparations for the big celebration proceed, his wife and three grown kids must wrestle with their broken past to welcome him to the land he once loved.

Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck, seen in photo above, (directed by Greco)
April 18 – May 17, 2009

Who knew stamp collecting could be so dangerous? A young woman discovers the rarest of stamps in her dead mother’s inheritance. Can she outsmart collectors, dealers, and her own sister all the way to the bank? Rebeck weaves a funny and fast-paced thriller that turned into a hit in New York with an all-star cast.

Mistakes Were Made by Craig Wright
Wright’s credits include the play The Pavilion and the HBO drama “Six Feet Under.”strong> “

Six-play subscriptions are $120-$224. Call 415-441-8822 or visit for information.

Also announcing their new season are the folks at 42nd Street Moon, the group that produces concert version of lost, forgotten or unjustly neglected musicals.

Irma La Douce
Music by Marguerite Monnot, English lyrics by Julian Moore, David Heneker and Monty Noman
Sept. 25 – Oct. 12

Girl Crazy
Music by George Gershwin, Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Book by Guy Bolton and John McGowan
Oct. 23 – Nov. 16

Ben Franklin In Paris
Play and Lyrics by Sidney Michaels, Music by Mark Sandrich Jr.
Nov. 28 – Dec. 14

The Baker’s Wife
Book by Joseph Stein, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
March 19 – April 5, 2009

The Great Revues: Celebrating a Lost Broadway Art
April 16 – 26

Wildcat(featuring Maureen McVerry, above)
Music by Cy Coleman, Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Book by N. Richard Nash
May 7 – 24

Special one-night-only fundraiser:

The Sweetest Sounds Celebrating musicals of the 1960s
June 30, 2008 at the Alcazar Theatre.

Call 415-255-8207 or visit for information.

Loretta Greco to head Magic Theatre

Loretta Greco, whom Bay Area audiences know mainly from her work with American Conservatory Theater, has been named as the new artistic director of the Magic Theatre. She replaces Chris Smith.

“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to partner with David Jobin in launching the next era of adventuresome work at Magic Theatre,” Greco said in a statement. “I believe Magic’s 41-year legacy of unwavering commitment to playwrights and the development of bold new work is truly paramount to the future of American theater. I can’t wait to bring my passion for new work to a city I adore and to join San Francisco’s rich and wonderful community of artists.”

Greco arrives at the Magic with a directing career regionally and in New York, as well as producing experience as the producing artistic director of Women’s Project in NYC and as associate director and staff producer of McCarter Theatre.

Greco has director’s credits in the Bay Area as well, including the world premiere of Morbidity & Mortality at the Magic and Speed-the-Plow, Blackbird, and Lackawanna Blues at ACT.

Her New York premieres include: The Story, Lackawanna Blues, Two Sisters and a Piano (Public Theater); Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen, Touch, Gum (Women’s Project); Meshugah (Naked Angels); Mercy (Vineyard Theatre); A Park in Our House (New York Theater Workshop); and Under a Western Sky (INTAR/ Women’s Project). Regional credits include: Romeo and Juliet and Stop Kiss (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); and productions at Long Wharf, South Coast Repertory Theatre, McCarter Theater, Intiman, Williamstown Theater Festival, La Jolla Playhouse, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Repertory Theatre of St Louis, Coconut Grove Playhouse, Playmakers Repertory Company, and the Cleveland Play House. Greco also directed the national tour of Having Our Say as well as the play’s international premiere at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa. Greco has collaborated with a variety of distinguished contemporary writers including Pulitzer Prize-winner Nilo Cruz, Tracey Scott Wilson, Emily Mann, Ruben Santiago Hudson, Deb Margolin, Luis Alfaro, Joyce Carol Oates, and Jessica Hagedorn. Greco’s own play, Passage: Stories of the Cuban Balseros premiered at Miami’s AREA Stage where it ran for six months before transferring to the Coconut Grove Playhouse.

“Loretta is the ideal choice to be leading the Magic at this time,” said Harold Goldstein and Missy Kirchner, co-presidents of Magic Theatre Board of Trustees. “Her experience and commitment to Magic Theatre’s mission was clear from the first day we met her. The Board and the staff are excited to be working with her to build on Magic’s foundation and legacy, most recently accomplished under Chris Smith’s leadership.”

“Loretta’s résumé and reputation speak volumes,” said Jobin, Magic Theatre’s managing director. “And personally, I am thrilled to have her on board.”

For more information, visit