Comedy and more fill Great Moment at Z Below

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Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s The Making of a Great Moment stars Danny Scheie and Aysan Celik and makes its world premiere under the direction of Sean Daniels at Z Below. Photos by Meghan Moore

There are so many great moments in The Making of a Great Moment, the new play from the scintillating San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, that it’s hard to decide if the best ones are from the comic side or the more dramatic one.

Of course the comedy moments have that pleasurable sting, like the insult, “I think her halitosis gave me pink eye” is one that lingers. And so is the sage advice: “Don’t give your own poop to the chimpanzee.” I may never look at a nursing home the same way now that I’ve heard them described as “the hole before the hole.”

Certainly Nachtrieb, one of the sharpest, funniest playwrights working in this or any city, knows his way around a great line, and Great Moment, a Z Space production at Z Below, packs its 90 minutes with memorable lines and some big laughs. But this seeming trifle of a comedy about two Canadian actors touring a ridiculous four-hour show on their bicycles is ultimately going for something much bigger. The epic drama that Mona (Aysan Celik) and Terry (Danny Scheie) are peddling while pedaling is called Great Moments in Human Achievement, and that says it all. Using daffy paper cutouts (by Jessica Ford) to transform quickly into characters from every epoch of human existence, they illuminate such moments as the invention of clothing and language to the all-important creation of the bicycle. The funniest excerpt we see, by far, is the invention of kissing.

But as silly as the play-within-the-play can be, its absurdity is masking a deep yearning to create something that matters to the world, to the actors and to the audience members (meager as they may be). Mona is especially insistent on honoring the play and its quest to honor humanity and inspire humans toward greatness in their own lives. Terry, on the other hand, is over it. For him, this is a job – a difficult one that, he admits, causes him to hemorrhage chunks of his dignity.

It’s easy to laugh at actors who are serious about acting because they can seem pretentious and narcissistic, but Great Moment 1
Great Moment wants to have it all ways: laugh at the actors, laugh with the actors and develop an emotional connection with two humans who happen to be actors. Nachtrieb and director Sean Daniels mostly succeed in these tonal shifts thanks largely to the wonder of Celik and Scheie, who can be cartoons and flesh-and-blood within the same scene. Scheie, with his acid tongue, and Celik with her astonishingly expressive face and eyes, make for a great duo and easily bridge the transitions from tetchy, cynical comedy to the drama of frustrations aching for transcendence.

Apollo Mark Weaver creates a meta-theatrical set so that the play and the play-within-the-play both live in a formal theatrical space with painted backdrops. There’s a nifty mechanism that allows Terry and Mona to climb on their bicycles and pedal while the backdrop rolls behind them (kind of like an old cartoon), and when they make camp by the side of the road, we get the illusion of them in their sleeping bags though they’re actually standing up against another backdrop.

It’s a slick production, though it’s always about Mona and Terry and whether they can – or should – go on. One of the sharpest, funniest moments is Mona spending a sleepless night wondering if the ad lib she created in that night’s show when the electricity went out (“We are all in the dark.”) should become a permanent part of the show, even without the playwright’s permission. Mona’s personality splits in two, each arguing with the other – like a Canadian Gollum in the New Hampshire woods. Mona knows she’s onto something, a real moment of connection with people, but she’s a good theater person and doesn’t want to break the rules.

Terry implores her just to add it already, and while they’re at it, there are a million other things they should fix, but that’s the difference between them. He’s a journeyman who feels life and success has passed him by, and she is still holding out hope that she can make some sort of difference, that theater/art can make a difference. Like Terry, we might not quite believe that, but we really, really want to. Terry, after all, isn’t so far gone that he doesn’t hum Julie Andrews songs to himself (“Stay Awake,” “I Have Confidence”) while he’s doing other things.

There’s a lot to say about The Making of a Great Moment, a broad, entertaining comedy that aims to examine the human condition and figure out what purpose our lives can serve. But enough with the nice comments. As Terry says, “Arbitrary positivity is a sign of mental illness.”

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s The Making of a Great Moment continues through Aug. 26 at Z Below, 470 Florida St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$50. Call 415-626-0453 or visit

Theater Dogs’ Best of 2016

Best of 2016

The theater event that shook my year and reverberated through it constantly didn’t happen on Bay Area stage. Like so many others, I was blown away by Hamilton on Broadway in May and then on repeat and shuffle with the original cast album (and, later in the year, the Hamilton Mix Tape) ever since. Every YouTube video, official or fan made, became part of my queue, and checking Lin-Manuel Miranda’s incredibly busy Twitter feed has become a daily ritual. Hamilton is everything they say it is and more. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, the score that continually reveals its brilliance and a bond with friends, family and other fans. In a year in which hope seemed to physically shrivel and evaporate, Hamilton keeps bolstering my faith in art, in theater, in musical theater, in theater artists and even in this messy country of ours. The show has yet to fail in delighting, surprising or moving me, and I plan to continue testing that limit.

Now that Hamilton is a bona fide phenomenon, the conquering expansion is under way. There’s a company wowing them in Chicago with another set for San Francisco (and later Los Angeles) next spring as part of the SHN season. If you don’t already have your tickets, good luck. I’ll be entering the ticket lottery daily because there’s no conceivable way I can get enough of this show.

Shifting focus back home, theater in the San Francisco Bay Area continues to be a marvel, which is really something given the hostile economic environment arts groups are facing around here. I saw less theater this year (while Theater Dogs celebrated its 10th anniversary in August) and took some time off to reevaluate my theater reviewing future. The upshot is I’m still here, still reviewing but on a more limited scale given the demands of my day job. I’ve been writing about Bay Area theater for 24 years (25th anniversary in September 2017!) and love it too much to stop, and that’s the truth. With so many extraordinary artists here and an ever-intriguing roster of visitors, who could stop trying to spread the good word?

With that in mind, here are some of my favorite Bay Area theatergoing experiences of 2016. (click on the show title to read the original review)

A good year for San Francisco Playhouse

Making notes about the most memorable shows I saw this year, one company kept coming up over and over: San Francisco Playhouse. Talk about hitting your stride! They kicked off 2016 with a mind-blowingly creepy show, Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, a drama about virtual reality that blurred all kinds of lines between theater, audience, reality and fantasy. Thinking about this production, expertly directed by Bill English and designed by Nina Ball, still gives me the shivers. Two other shows made a powerful mark on the SF Playhouse stage as well: Andrew Hinderaker’s Colossal, a blend of drama and dance in the service of exploring football and masculinity, and Theresa Rebeck’s Seared about a hot little restaurant and its chef and loyal staff. I could also add the Playhouse’s musicals, which continue to grow in stature and quality as seen in City of Angels and She Loves Me. But I’ll just give those honorable mention so that one theater doesn’t take up half of this list.

Local playwrights shine

Let’s hear it for our local scribes who continue to devise startlingly good shows. Each of these writers should inspire any prospective audience member to check out whatever they happen to be working on.

Christopher Chen has a brain that knows no boundaries. His Caught, part of Shotgun Players’ stunning repertory season, was like an intellectual amusement park park ride as fun as it was provocative and challenging. Chen had another new show this year, but on a different scale. His Home Invasion was given small productions in a series of people’s living rooms as part of 6NewPlays a consortium of six writers creating new work under the auspices of the Intersection for the Arts Incubator Program. Directed by M. Graham Smith the play is set in a series of living rooms (how appropriate), but its realm expands way beyond its setting. The concepts of multidimensionality that come up in the play truly are mind altering, and what an extraordinary experience to get to watch such amazing actors – Kathryn Zdan and Lisa Anne Porter among them – in such an intimate space.

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb also took us into a home with a new play this year, but this home was built primarily in the theatrical imagination (and in the wondrously impressionistic sets by Sean Riley). In A House Tour of the Infamous Porter Family Mansion with Tour Guide Weston Ludlow Londonderry, Nachtrieb and his solo actor, the always-remarkable Danny Scheie, the audience got to play tourists as we moved from room to room in the most unique historical home tour imaginable. Commissioned by Z Space and written expressly for Scheie, this experience was so delectable we can only hope it will return for another tour of duty.

Not only is Lauren Gunderson a wonderful playwright, she also happens to be the most produced living playwright in the country this season. One of the reasons for that is the new play she wrote with Margot Melcon, Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberley, a sequel to Pride and Prejudice that delivers a feel-good Christmas experience with snap rather than sap (especially in the top-notch Marin Theatre Company production). Gunderson’s love of science and literature combined with her grace, intelligence, good humor and prodigious dramatic talents should continue yielding marvelous results for years to come.

Big drama at Thick House

Two companies in residence at Thick House continually do fantastic things on its small stage. Crowded Fire hit two shows out of the proverbial ballpark this year: Young Jean Lee’s The Shipment and Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s I Call My Brothers. Both plays explore different aspects of race, religion and being an outsider in this country, and both were powerful in their of-the-moment relevance and dramatic impact. The other company in residence at Thick House that dazzled is Golden Thread Productions, whose Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat by Yussef El Guindi delivered action and depth in its exploration of what it means, among other things, to be Muslim in this country. It should be noted that a significant part of what made both I Call My Brothers and Our Enemies so good was the work of the marvelous actor Denmo Ibrahim.

A dazzling finale for Impact

This one makes me as sad as it does happy. As it wound down its work at LaVal’s Subterranean, Impact Theatre unleashed yet another brilliant Shakespeare reinvention. This time it was The Comedy of Errors meets Looney Tunes, and the results in director Melissa Hillman’s production were inventively hilarious and so spot-on it’s a wonder Yosemite Sam or Bugs Bunny didn’t make cameo appearances. Here’s hoping that Impact returns in some form or another sometime soon.

My favorite play this year

Let the record show that this year Berkeley Repertory Theatre was home to two of my least favorite theater experiences (a ponderous Macbeth starring Frances McDormand and a disoncertingly disappointing For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday) as well as my favorite local theater experience: Julia Cho’s Aubergine. Sensitively directed by Tony Taccone, this deeply moving play about families, loss and growing up was rich in quiet beauty and full of performances that allowed the understated to just be. Food and memory played a big part in the drama, but it really came down to who we are within the defining experiences of our parents and our own mortality. A gorgeous production of a gorgeous play that said as much in silence as it did in sound.

A Tour de force for Scheie and Nachtrieb

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Danny Scheie is Weston Ludlow Londonderry, the world’s most passionate tour guide, in Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s A House Tour at Z Space. Photos by Julie Schuchard

The tour group is just heading out when the enthusiastic guide, suddenly quite sensible, says, “You will need to extrapolate quite a bit if you wish to enjoy this tour.”

That is, at once, an incredibly honest thing for a tour guide – any tour guide – to say because it’s almost always true and a subtle wink at the theatrical adventure on which we are embarking in Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s beguiling world premiere A House Tour of the Infamous Porter Family Mansion with Tour Guide Weston Ludlow Londonderry, a commission from Z Space tailor made for its vast space and built on the prodigious talents of actor Danny Scheie.

Scheie, perhaps the Bay Area’s most consistently electrifying actor, is the high-octane engine in this one-man show as Weston Ludlow Londonderry, the tour guide in the light blue blazer and matching beret. We meet Mr. Londonderry in the visitor center of the Porter Family Mansion, one of the historic big buildings in the world worth visiting, according to a list in the visitor center (which also includes the Taj Mahal, Monticello and the Spelling Family Manse). The center’s rather hilarious video introduction to the Porters, narrated by someone claiming to be Linda Hunt, indicates that we are about to see “some of the finest world collections of many different things.” What could be more intriguing?

It turns out that Weston has very little interest in collections of things and is much more interested in the late Porters themselves, Hubert (son of Millie Watanabe, a world-class turmeric addict) and Clarissa, described as “the oatmeal raisin of society, the universal third choice.” When Hubert and Clarissa, both social rejects and physically repellent to all but each other, met at a ball, they found in one another intellectual equals and equally erotic adventurers. We know this because Weston spares no detail in his descriptions of how smart the Porters were and in how many ways they liked to get busy. Living on the fringes of society in a simple shack, Hubert and Clarissa explored (and explored) their every carnal urge and, while they were at it, came up with a unique, fortune-making idea.

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When Ludlow fills us in on all these interesting details, he has already taken us through the garden to the rear entrance (if you read a great deal into that particular detail, Weston would be pleased) and into a replica of the original, rough-hewn Porter shack (the original burned down as a result of young vandals striking sparks with each other) that is now, he tells us, literally and figuratively the cornerstone of the mansion that grew up around it.

Through the marvelously impressionistic efforts of set designer Sean Riley and lighting designer Drew Yerys, our tour takes us through hallways and chambers and rooms and byways of the mansion, always just skirting the other tour groups led by the other tour guides so utterly loathed by Weston: Morgan, Emily and especially Todd. All three are concerned with furniture and the trappings of wealth and society, none of which, we learn, held any interest to the Porters, who lived a secret life under the veneer of their seemingly “normal” mansion.

Weston takes our group into some surprising places and makes some surprising offerings (some edible, some concerned with moisturizing), all in the name of providing an authentic tour and a thorough exploration of the lives and work of two iconoclasts he quite obviously admires. The deeper we journey into the mansion, the deeper we go into Weston’s psyche and the darker the play becomes. If, to honor the spirt of the Porters, Weston could have us all delve into an ecstatic orgy near “the stick of butter that changed it all,” he would, and he comes pretty close near the tour’s end.

That the audience, sorry, tourists, are willing to do whatever Weston tells us to is credit to Scheie’s sharp, disarming performance, which only grows funnier and more poignant as the 90-minute play draws on. Scheie’s expertise keeps the crowd under his spell and (with help from the stage crew shifting set pieces around) helps us extrapolate like pros. Nachtrieb’s play, with its delicious turns of phrase, rich ribaldry and generous embrace of all things “abnormal,” is loaded with big laughs, surprises and a climax that both Hubert and Clarissa would have loved to detail in their personal diaries (available, we’re told, in the gift shop as a set). Director Jason Eagan conquers this massive endeavor, which could be gimmicky, into a consistently intriguing experience that allows a piece of immersive theater to be truly immersive.

There are tours and then there are tours de force. A House Tour is the latter, a triumph for playwright and star, and a theatrical experience to remember.

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s A House Tour of the Infamous Porter Family Mansion with Tour Guide Weston Ludlow Londonderry continues through April 23 at Z Space, 450 Florida St., San Francisco. Tickets are $22 to $33. Visit

Threats of totalitarianism have never been so fun

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Liam Vincent (left) is Jeffrey, a Nebraska doctor, and Andrew Humann is Benn, is his revolutionary young patient in Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s The Totalitarians at Z Below. Below: Vincent’s Jeffrey gets cozy with his wife, Francine (Alexis Lezin), a political consultant. Photos by Mark Leialoha

Our sorry political state may be sending the country down the toilet, but it sure is inspiring some grand entertainment. Veep and House of Cards offer two distinct points of view on the absurdity of Beltway power mongering. Lauren Gunderson’s The Taming was a comic highlight of last year’s local theater scene (review here) in its exploration of political game playing.

Now we have Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s The Totalitarians, a Z Space production in association with Encore Theatre Company and the National New Play Network. Set in the fine state of Nebraska, Nachtrieb’s biting comedy watches seemingly ordinary people mix with politics, all to disastrous results. Not that the play is anything resembling a disaster. On the contrary. It’s hilarious and painful and horrifying in the way it so effortlessly conjures a sham democracy populated by tricksters and schemers, murderers and mental incompetents.

What could be simpler than a race for Nebraska’s lieutenant governor? Those easygoing Midwesterners don’t get caught up in all that political nonsense do they? Oh, but they do, and there’s no such thing as simplicity in politics, not with every race leading back to some power broker in D.C.

Z Space

In this particular race, the underdog candidate is Penelope Easter (Jamie Jones in a performance so ferocious you have to wonder if she might actually be part politician), a foot-in-mouth candidate not unlike the former governor of Alaska. Except Penny is not dumb. She may not be a whiz with words (“Things come in my mouth wrong?), but she’s got passion and lots of it. And ambition. As long as she has someone to put words in her mouth (and maybe a few thoughts in her head), she’s OK.

Her underdog status shifts thanks to a career-defining speech by consultant Francine (Alexis Lezin), who is aching to break out of her Nebraskan confines. She may think Penny is stupid, but she’s also a powerful orator who makes Francine’s prose sing. Every writer responds to that.

Francine’s husband, Jeffrey (Liam Vincent), a generic general practitioner, is alarmed that his wife’s ethics seem to bend so easily to accommodate Penny’s grab for power. Perhaps that’s why he’s so easily swayed by a charismatic (and terminally ill) young patient, Ben (Andrew Humann), who believes that Penny is part of a covert scheme to turn Nebraska into a totalitarian regime.

The first act of this 2 hour, 20-minute comedy ends on such a comic high that is seems nearly impossible that Act 2 will be anything but a letdown. And it is, but only to a certain degree. There’s a lull in the first half of the second act that director Ken Prestininzi has some trouble carbonating. But then Nachtrieb gets his comic groove back, and the darker elements of the satire come bursting out in a bloody climax that essentially turns a Nebraska stadium into a Greek amphitheater.

If Jones is the holy roller (derby) motor of the play, then Lezin is its fuel. She straddles the worlds of realistic working woman and ruthless politician in a play (who is probably more realistically ruthless than we might like to believe). Her frustrations with her talent, her marriage and her career are as rich as her speech-writing, candidate-defining triumphs, and Lezin is such a marvelous actor we feel every bit of everything.

Vincent and Humann make an appealing duo, sort of a would-be terrorist Bert and Ernie, but they’re never quite as interesting as Jones and Lezin, nor are they given as much scenery to chew.

The enjoyment level of The Totalitarians (the title reminds me of a politically themed soap opera I wish I could DVR daily) is high. This new play, part of a rolling world premiere (we’re the second stop after New Orleans), isn’t perfect, but The Totalitarians is, like, totally the subversive laugh fest you need as we head into the brainwash known as the holidays.

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s The Totalitarians continues through Dec. 14 at Z Below, 470 Florida St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$50. Call 866-811-4111 or visit

ACT’s MFA students frolic in kiddie Litter

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ACT’s Master of Fine Arts Program members, all 12 of them, star in the world premiere of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Litter at Zeum Theater. Below: the Framingham Dodecatuplets confer on an important family matter. Photos by Alessandra Mello

It’s a busy late winter for San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, and the busy-ness has a lot to do with unusual births.

Later this month at the Humana Festival of New Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Nachtrieb will premiere BOB, an “epic journey in just five acts” about a man born in a White Castle bathroom.

Closer to home, Nachtrieb is upping the baby ante but in only one act. Litter: The Story of the Framingham Dodecatuplets was written for the 12 students of American Conservatory Theater’s Master of Fine Arts Program Class of 2011. The comedy, complete with original songs, had its world premiere over the weekend at the Zeum Theater.

If you know Nachtrieb from his plays boom or Hunter Gatherers, you know that he is, in a word, hilarious. His comedy has edge and it can be heartfelt. He can slice you up and make it seem like the nicest possible thing to do.

Any opportunity to see a new Nachtrieb work is well worth taking, even when the results, like Litter are still the embryonic stage.

For most of its 90 minutes, Litter, as directed by Mark Rucker, ACT’s new associate artistic director, is a heck of a lot of fun. On a set that looks like it was borrowed from a ‘70s variety show (design by Liliana Duque-Pineiro), we find the Framingham Dodecatuplets in performance at the Concord Senior Center.

Once celebrated for being a happy, singing-and-dancing brood of 12, the dodecatuplets have fallen on hard times. We learn that their mother died during their birth. In fact, we learn she insisted on it. They once had hit records but have now hit hard times.

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Now in their early ‘20s, the Framinghams are all different shapes, colors and sizes. Their lifetime sponsorship by Minute Maid fruit juices means they’ll always have some sort of nutrition in their lives, but lately, that’s about all they have.

They don’t have names but rather numbers, and they wear plush velour track suits (costumes by Callie Floor), further obscuring their identities and their adulthood. They harbor a lot of hostility toward one another, and their collective future is questionable, to say the least.

As a showpiece for the MFA dozen, Litter certainly does the trick. Each actor gets to highlight a custom-made Framingham quirk. For instance, Patrick Lane as 9 plays the violin and tells fart jokes. Ashley Wickett as 1 is the Type-A overachiever de facto leader. And Brian Clark Jansen is the webcam-loving horndog of the group.

The actors attack their roles with enviable energy, and they seem to be enjoying themselves immensely. I was most impressed by Dan Clegg as 8, the dodecatuplet with the enigmatic British accent. His character is probably the most interesting because he’s the most rebellious. Also impressive are Marisa Duchowny as 6, the one in the middle who (like Jan Brady before her) suffers from invisible child syndrome (but then kicks some serious ass as a leather-clad journalist), and Richardson Jones as 2, the quippy, fashion-loving gay one. His every line, even when it’s not a punch line, is funny.

As much fun as the play is, the plot runs out of stem in the final third, and by the end, Nachtrieb seems to just give up on trying to find anything but the most ordinary ending. Any sense of the Framingham’s as faded celebrities or having any sort of pop-culture cachet has vanished. While erstwhile Bradys and Partridges, Osmonds and New Kids on the Block can’t escape their fame or notoriety, but, seemingly, the Framinghams can.

Nachtrieb breaks up the family group and sends its individual members out into the harsh world to make in on their own, but we never hear about them bumping up against their once sparkling celebrity. There’s a reunion at the end, and the fact that it’s not televised on VH-1 makes it seem like an event from a parallel universe.


Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Litter: The Story of the Framingham Dodecatuplets continues through March 19 at Zeum Theater in Yerba Buena Gardens, Fourth and Howard streets, San Francisco. Tickets are $10-$15. Call 415-749-2228 or visit

Theater Dogs and the Zombie Chicken Award

The geniuses over at Great Hera!, which translates into my friend and nerd queen Sarah Kuhn, have seen fit to award this humble little theater Web site a Zombie Chicken Award.

It’s our first award of any kind, and we’re bursting with pride. And gratitude.

We’d like to thank the Academy, the Board of Tony voters and our agents, who have believed in us from the start. And mom and dad, we’re pounding our hearts and pointing to the sky even though you’re still here with us.

Part of the responsibility of winning a Zombie Chicken Award is to pass it on to at least five other worthy bloggers. The criteria is as follows: bloggers must produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. So the following fine folks are now, thanks to us, award winners as well:

Prince Gomolvilas’ Bamboo Nation: Formerly San Francisco-based playwright Gomolvilas puts the pop in pop culture as he traverses the LA scene. Current major project: a kitten named Pork Chop.

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s I Will Dance for You: Current San Francisco playwright Nachtrieb offers glimpses into the life of a successful, award-winning crafter of the art we call play. Current, possibly award-winning project: sprouting an avocado pit.

Chloe Veltman’s Lies Like Truth: SF Weekly theater critic Veltman writes for people with brains, which is unusual here on the Interweb. She also writes about a whole lot more than theater. She tackles music, art and anything she cares to discuss.

Tim Bauer’s Direct Address: Bauer, a playwright and all-around theater fan, has his finger on the proverbial pulse of the theater scene. And he’s an engaging, entertaining, opinionated writer, which keeps things fun.

The Berkeley Rep Blog: Unlike a lot of theater companies trying hard to appear him by Tweeting or Facebooking to no avail, Berkeley Rep has seized upon the trend of blogging and really doing it. Various members of the Berkeley Rep community volunteer to write entries, and the result is a genuine, and genuinely interesting peek behind one of the Bay Area’s best and brightest big theater companies.

Winners, you must now spread the Zombie Chicken love and award five deserving bloggers with accolades.

Theater news: Moon gets `Spirited,’ Encore nabs Nachtrieb, `March’ goes on

42nd Street Moon, the company that specializes in charming productions of classic and lesser-known musicals, has announced a change in its season lineup.

Next March, the previously announced The Baker’s Wife by composer Stephen Schwartz, will be replaced by High Spirits, the musical version of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.

“Unfortunately, director Gordon Greenberg, who had delighted audiences on the East Coast with past productions of The Baker’s Wife, had a conflicting obligation,” said 42nd Street Moon artistic director Greg MacKellan. “His production of Stephen Schwartz’s Working has been scheduled for the Old Globe Theatre at the same time we would have done The Baker’s Wife. We hope to include the show in next season’s lineup, and meanwhile we will replace it with `High Spirits.’ As it happens, there will be a major Broadway revival of Blithe Spirit with Angela Lansbury, Christine Ebersole and Rupert Everett at the same time we are doing the musical version.”

The 42nd Street Moon production will star Megan Cavanagh (so funny in the Moon production of Out of This World) as the eccentric Madame Arcati, a role made famous by Beatrice Lillie in the original 1964 Broadway production. Also on board for the Moon cast are Michael Patrick Gaffney, Maureen McVerry and Dyan McBride.

MacKellan will direct and Dave Dobrusky will serve as musical director, with Mick DiScalla on woodwinds.

The 42nd Street Moon 2008-09 season continues with current hit Girl Crazy through Nov. 16 followed by Ben Franklin in Paris opening Nov. 29. High Spirits begins performances March 19 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Call 415-255-8207 or visit for information.


Encore offers Nachtrieb’s `T.I.C.’

Encore Theatre Company, one of the Bay Area’s most intriguing small companies, has announced that it will present the world premiere of San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s
T.I.C. Trenchcoat in Common in January at the Magic Theatre.

Nachtrieb came to prominence with his 2006 hit Hunter Gatherers, which won the ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award as well as the Glickman New Play Award. Encore commissioned him to create a new play, which turned into T.I.C., the story of a teenage girl publishing a blog about her Tenant-In-Common building. On a boring early-summer night, from her vantage point in the cottage in back of the building, she has a clear view of the building’s rear windows. She captures her neighbors’ private activities on her cell phone and publishes them online with commentary. When strange, menacing events begin to take place at her home, it’s evident that her journal isn’t going unnoticed. Someone is reading, someone is watching and everyone is in danger.

“As one of the leading Bay Area companies dedicated to developing new work, Encore Theatre Company has found an ideal collaborator in Peter Nachtrieb,” said Encore artistic director Lisa Steindler. “From the moment I saw Peter’s work, I knew that I wanted to support and nurture such an extraordinary artist. I am honored to present this new work by one of the most exciting young playwrights on the scene today.”

Developed with support from the Z Space Studio, T.I.C. will be directed by Ken Prestininzi, associate chair of playwriting at Yale School of Drama, and the cast will include Lance Gardner, Arwen Anderson, Michael Shipley, Liam Vincent, Rebecca White and Anne Darragh.

T.I.C. Trenchoat in Common runs Jan. 2 through Feb. 1 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $10-$40. Call 800-838-3006 or visit


Sleepwalkers extend `March’


Sleepwalkers Theatre has announced the extension of its current world premiere production March to November, now playing now through Nov. 15 at the Phoenix Theatre. Performances have been added for Nov. 13, 14, and 15 at 8pm.

Additionally, anyone who brings a program from Boxcar Theatre’s current production of Animal Kingdom to Sleepwalkers on the 13, 14, or 15 can see March to November for $5 at the door.


Inspired by SF Weekly theatre critic Chloe Veltman’s Jan. 9th article “Election Stage Left,” which challenged Bay Area playwrights and theatre companies to create more “political” works, Sleepwalkers answers the call to arms with a classic hero story that assess the relevance of overtly political theatre. With the 2008 election as a backdrop, March to November, by Sleepwalkers co-founder Tore Ingersoll-Thorp, is an examination of one artist’s search to find political responsibility in her work.

Tickets are $14. The Phoenix Theatre is at 414 Mason St. (at Geary), San Francisco. Call 415-814-3944 or visit

Theatrical blogosphere

We here at Theater Dogs love the idea of blogs, obviously. We used to love newspapers, but now, not so much. They’re so…what’s the word?…pagebound. Sure there are good writers at newspapers (really good writers, actually), but on blogs, you can be sassy (snap!), you can be quick and you can add as many photos and videos and Web links as you want. Do that dumb ol’ pile of newsprint.

I just got back from a trip to the Midwest (and the dang airlines couldn’t get us back in time for the opening of High School Musical at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, so you’ll just have to go yourself and send me the review so I can share it with other Theater Dogs, or you’ll just have to re-read my interview with the delightful star of the show, Arielle Jacobs, from Half Moon Bay). Anyway, in the Great Midwest (Indianapolis, actually) I found myself with some time on my hands at a computer with a dial-up modem. That made blogging not such a possibility, but I did spend 12 hours looking at two Web sites (dial-up is slooooow). Kidding. I checked out a bunch of theater-related Web sites, some local some not, some blogs, some not, and wanted to make sure you knew about them as well.

The two big nationals I check all the time are and They have a lot of the same news, but they also have a lot of original content and make a genuine effort to include news from outside New York. Other good ones include TheatreMania and

A really cool site that gathers theater news from around the country is the Ohio-based Theatreforte.

A national site with really good local coverage with an excellent (and active) chat board is The chat board is called All That Chat, and you want the West Coast edition.

One of my favorite local bloggers is San Francisco playwright Tim Bauer, whose Direct Address blog directly addresses local productions as well as the daily life of a — you guessed it — San Francisco playwright. Another is Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, whose I Will Dance for You is just a delight to read and will keep you up to date on the life and work of the Hunter Gatherers author. And speaking of local playwrights, Prince Gomolvilas used to be local, but he’s in the Bay Area a lot, so he qualifies. Check out his Bamboo Nation blog for a very good time.

Berkeley’s Impact Theatre maintains a pretty active blog called Impact Splatter. Check it out.

Foothill Music Theatre keeps up a terrific blog with great input on theatrical subjects of all kinds (especially FMT when there’s a show going). Check it out.

When the California Shakespeare Theater season gets rolling, they have excellent blogs — usually directors, actors, etc. checking in when the rehearsal process starts, right up through the production. Check it out here.

And then there are some of my favorite newspaper writers who maintain excellent blogs: Karen D’Souza at the San Jose Mercury News and Chloe Veltman at the SF Weekly.

I know that’s just the tip of the theatrical blogosphere iceberg, so to speak, so please let me know what I’ve missed. I’d love to include more.

Write me at or post a comment.

Moises Kaufman’s `33 Variations’ wins big award

The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has selected Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations to receive the 2008 Harold and Mimi Steinberg /American Theatre
Critics Association New Play Award
. The announcement was made Saturday, March 29 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays. The award includes a commemorative plaque and a cash prize of $25,000 – currently the largest national playwriting award. Deborah Zoe Laufer’s End Days and Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone also received citations and $7,500 each. Ruhl previously received a Steinberg/ATCA citation in 2005; Kaufman and Laufer are first time honorees.

“The long-standing partnership between the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust and the American Theatre Critics Association has recognized some of today’s greatest writers, and helped identify the great playwrights of tomorrow,” said trustee Jim Steinberg. “We’re delighted to help support the unique telling of tales on the American stage.”

The Steinberg/ATCA Award was started in 1977 to honor new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City, where there are many new play awards. No play is eligible if it has gone on to a New York production within the award year (in this case, 2007).

Kaufman’s 33 Variations debuted in September at Washington’s Arena Stage. It offers a fictional imagining of Beethoven’s creation of 33 brilliant variations on a prosaic waltz. The composer’s obsessive pursuit of perfection parallels a modern tale of a terminally-ill musicologist struggling with her own obsession to unearth the source of Beethoven’s.

Laufer’s End Days premiered in October at Florida Stage in Manalapan. Sometimes comic, sometimes moving, it studies the challenge of maintaining faith in a world dominated by science and fear. A Jewish family copes with the aftermath of 9/11 as the mother, now a born-again Christian, tries to convert them before the rapture arrives — on Wednesday.

Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone made its bow at Washington D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in June. The quirky comedy examines the fallout when a lonely woman takes the cell phone from the body of dead man she discovers sitting next to her in a café and begins answering his calls.

These three were among six finalists selected from 28 eligible scripts submitted by ATCA members. They were evaluated by a committee of 12 theater critics, led by chairman Wm. F. Hirschman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and vice-chair George Hatza of the Reading (Pa.) Eagle. Other committee members are Michael Elkin, Jewish Exponent (Pennsylvania); Wendy Parker, The Village Mill (Virginia); Michael Sander, Back Stage (Minnesota); Herb Simpson, City Newspaper (Rochester, NY); Chad Jones, formerly of the Oakland (Cal.) Tribune; Jay Handelman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; Ellen Fagg, The Salt Lake Tribune; Misha Berson, Seattle Times; Pam Harbaugh, Florida Today; and Elizabeth Keill, Independent Press (Morristown, NJ).

“The amazing range of work — dramas, fantasies, musicals, farces, melodramas — was uplifting confirmation that theater remains a vital and evolving art form that can speak to every generation,” Hirschman said.

Since the inception of ATCA’s New Play Award in 1977, honorees have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Jane Martin, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Donald Margulies, Lee Blessing, Lynn Nottage, Horton Foote and Craig Lucas. Last year’s honoree was Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Hunter Gatherers.

The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust was created in 1986 by Harold Steinberg on behalf of himself and his late wife. Pursuing its primary mission to support the American theater, it has provided grants totaling millions of dollars to support new productions of American plays and educational programs for those who may not ordinarily experience live theater.

Hunting and gathering awards

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Hunter Gatherers is the 2006 winner of the Will Glickman Playwrights Award.

The annual award — given to the author of the best play to make its world premiere in the Bay Area — comes with a $4,000 check.

An esteemed group of theater critics _ including me, naturally _ met to discuss the merits of some 200 new plays that took a bow last year. And, as they say, cream rises to the top. The critical contingent, which also includes Karen D’Souza of the San Jose Mercury News, Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Avila of the SF Bay Guardian and Chloe Veltman of the SF Weekly, wasted no time in selecting Nachtrieb’s dark comedy as the best of 2006.

The first full-length play by San Francisco sketch comedy troupe Killing My Lobster, Hunter Gatherers ran last summer (and ran and ran) at the Thick House. The show was by turns hilarious, sexy and a little scary. It’s the story of two young Bay Area couples and their IKEA-cozy lives. One night, after the slaughter of a lamb for a dinner party, things fall apart, and everyone gives in to their most primal urges. Here’s what I said about the play when I included it in my Top 10 list:

Of all this year’s comedies, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s world premiere for sketch troupe Killing My Lobster was the meatiest. Maybe it had something to do with the onstage slaughter of a lamb at the play’s start. Or maybe it was the huge chunk of roasted meat that factors into the play’s bloody end. Whatever, this was an aggressively funny play about our primal, cave-man impulses, man’s need to hump (or kill) everything in sight and woman’s need for chocolate.

The Glickman award, named for the late comedy writer and playwright Will Glickman, has been bestowed since 1984 and is administered by the Will Glickman Foundation and Theatre Bay Area. The award was created to encourage the development of new work. Previous Glickman winners have included last year’s winner, The People’s Temple by Leigh Fondakowski and her team of writers, Liz Duffy Adams’ Dog Act , Denis Johnson’s Soul of a Whore and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.

For information about Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, visit his Web site at