Blood, gore, giggles galore at Impact Theatre

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Dana Featherby (left), Sarah Coykendall (center) and Maria Giere Marquis are three young women arming themselves for the world outside their door in Lauren Gunderson’s Damsel and Distress Go to a Party, one of the nine violent short plays in Impact Theatre’s Bread and Circuses. Below: Eric Kerr is a man with memory issues in Declan Greene’s Marimba, one of the more serious entries in Bread and Circuses. Photos by Cheshire Isaacs

Blood is fun – at least it is within the confines of Impact Theatre’s omnibus presentation Bread and Circuses, a collection of nine short plays fairly dripping with the thick red stuff.

As you’d expect with such an assortment, there’s a wide variety in style and substance here. There’s also one easy-to-draw conclusion: endings are hard.

The most satisfying entries in this two-hour experience at LaVal’s Subterranean include:

  • Heteronesia by Prince Gomolvilas about a dude so traumatized during masturbation (by a severed horse head falling through the window) that he’s unable to perform sexually in any way and must, under doctor’s orders, be gang banged by a football team. Hilarious. You don’t want to know where the blood comes from in this one.
  • Damsel and Distress Go to a Party by Lauren Gunderson is set in a dystopian future where three women are “putting on their faces” as they get ready to go to a party. They use the word “face” an awful lot in their slangy descriptions of themselves and their friends, and what emerges is a violent picture of women suffering abuse but choosing a warrior path (complete with painted warrior faces). (Now that I think about it, I don’t remember any blood in this short play – perhaps the war paint/makeup can be considered a stand-in for blood.)
  • Marimba by Declan Greene is the evening’s only solo outing and involves the actor Eric Kerr in an unsettling performance as a man for whom thought and memory has gone very wrong. The “marimba” of the title is the name of the ring tone on his iPhone that goes off at regular intervals and creates the jagged trajectory of this alarming tale. There’s blood here, but its appearance should remain a surprise.
  • The Play About the Aswang by Lauren Yee has a great set-up: a single mom is dating a flesh-eating Filipino monster. She can’t quite see the problem with that (even with the bones protruding from the bloody wound where her hand used to be), but her son and his best friend are quite alarmed and ready to do something about it. What’s really interesting about this short play is the way it blends horror, adult sexuality and adolescent sexuality in surprising ways.

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Those were my favorites, but that said, there isn’t one play here that doesn’t have something interesting about it. Steve Yockey has fun subverting horror movie tropes in Bedtime by having the traditional victim victimizing someone else to gain the upper hand. Dave Holstein’s Alone Together gives us a nightmarish mother-daughter scenario wherein the scariest thing (even more than the babysitter scalping) might be the fact that the mother participates in a social event called “jam night” that involves jars of actual jam.

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Insect Love is a low-key 1950s love story among entomologists that is kind of sweet until the shadow of violence looms. Ross Maxwell’s Don’t Turn Around starts off as pure monster-driven horror but turns quickly into relationship hell as a young couple fleeing zombie-like creatures in a mall are sidetracked by their surprise break-up. And the evening comes to a satisfying end with JC Lee’s very funny The Reanimation of Marlene Dietrich, which is exactly what it purports to be. How the story’s teenagers came to find Dietrich’s body to reanimate remains a mystery, but who cares when Lee gives us a flesh-eating Marlene pauses to sing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”

Director Desdemona Chiang and her game cast are clearly having fun here. In addition to Kerr’s turn in Marimba, MVP honors are shared by Maria Giere Marquis, who is a terror of a little girl, a woman warrior, a quiet secretary and, perhaps most memorably, the reanimated corpse of Marlene Dietrich. The rest of the cast – Sarah Coykendall, Mike Delaney, Dana Featherby and Maro Guevara – all have excellent moments and add to the show’s fun, raggedy energy. But as is often the case at Impact, there are some serious smarts under the blood and irreverence.

Impact Theatre’s Bread and Circuses continues through April 6 at LaVal’s Subterranean, 1834 Euclid, Berkeley. Tickets are $15-$25. Visit

If it looks and smells like fish, it must be The Fisherman’s Wife

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Fisherman Cooper (Maro Guevara) attempts to save his wife, Vanessa (Eliza Leoni), from the encroaching tentacle of a lustful sea creature in the world premiere of Steve Yockey’s comedy The Fisherman’s Wife at Impact Theatre. Below: Two hot cephalopods, Sarah Coykendall as the Squid and Roy Landaverde as the Octopus, provide some intermission entertainment. Photos by Mary Kay Hickox

You don’t really expect Japanese erotic tentacle art to be the inspiration for a feel-good treatise on saving a broken marriage. But that’s just what Steve Yockey delivers in the world premiere of The Fisherman’s Wife, the season opener from Berkeley’s Impact Theatre. Taking his cue from the Hokusai woodcut known as “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife,” in which a happy lady is serviced by two octopi, Yockey spins a fast-paced, mostly comic adult fairy tale that begins with an epically unhappy husband and wife.

Cooper Minnow (Maro Guevara) is the titular fisherman. He comes from a long line of successful fisher folk, but he’s a failure. His wife, Vanessa (Eliza Leoni), couldn’t agree more. She claims her seaside life is “undercooked” and she hurls hurtful diatribes at her husband like, “I was bamboozled by the man I thought you were.” Ouch. Through Yockey’s rapid-fire dialogue, we learn all kinds of things about this marriage – that it started happily enough, that what the fisherman lacks in length he makes up for in girth (TMI?), that the wife doesn’t like the husband’s collection of girlie magazines – so much information. And none of it to be found in the Grimm fairy tale of the same name (except maybe the filthy, stinky seaside shack).

When the fisherman sets off for his boat, he encounters two mystical creatures, an Ocotpus (Roy Landaverde) and a Squid (Sarah Coykendall), both adorable, both wearing old-fashioned swimming costumes (designs by Liz Weston). They take a liking to the fisherman and have what Prince Harry might call a party with him. For whatever magical reason, the fisherman (and all the other humans in the play, it turns out), see these horny sea creatures as humans, but they’re really slimy, tentacled cephalopods. And what they call a party, the fisherman calls rape (whether it was legitimate or not can be known only by the idiot troll who goes by the name Akin, but he’s not in this particular fairy tale).

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Meanwhile, back in the stinky seaside shack, Mrs. Minnow receives a caller, a traveling salesman named Thomas Bell (the charming Adrian Anchondo), and like all good traveling salesman, he has the cure for what ails the miserable housewife, and that cure happens to be in two places: his magical Mary Poppins-like bag with untold depths, and in his pants (merch alert: his nautically themed underpants should be on sale after the show, as should his “mystical phallic hat rack”). One highlight of Thomas’ visit is the tale of his tattoo. The anchor on his arm is just an anchor, but the green fish on his chest is so involved it needs a puppet show to tell it right – and not just nay puppet show but one that involves “thick, sticky beast juice.”

Like the good storyteller he is, Yockey ensures this tale involves lots of near nudity from the attractive and very funny cast, and director Ben Randle keeps the pace brisk and laughs (and the characters) coming. It’s all in good, dirty fun, and there’s actually a message. Yockey, the author of Octopus at the Magic Theatre and Bellwether at Marin Theatre Company is clearly having a lot of fun here, but it’s almost as if he wanted to prove to Dr. Phil and all those moronic self-help gurus that you could write about saving a marriage without resorting to all those clichés about rekindling the romance or breaking down communication barriers. In Yockey’s self-help world, all a broken marriage needs is a harrowing event (maybe involving mysterious creatures from the murky deep, maybe not), a hot salesman who swings both ways (with previously mentioned attractive undergarments) and blood lust revenge.

With two acts, each about 30 minutes each, this Fisherman feels like it really wants to be a one-act (with a false intermission featuring Squid and Octopus singing Bon Jovi while accompanying themselves on accordion). The laughs are plentiful, and even though the tone is light and colorful (set against the hilarious and high-schoolish mural set by Anne Kendall), there are shadowy depths under the surface. Sure, the ending is happy, but who knows when the fisherman or his wife might start craving a little tentacle on the side?


Steve Yockey’s The Fisherman’s Wife continues through Sept. 29 at La Val’s Subterranean, 1834 Euclid Ave., Berkeley. Tickets are $10-$20. Visit

Shadows fall on suburbia in Yockey’s beguiling Bellwether

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A strange disappearance: Parents of a missing child (Gabriel Marin and Arwen Anderson on couch) meet with police detectives (Danny Wolohan and Patrick Jones, far left and far right) under the watchful eye of a nosy neighbor (Rachel Harker) in Steve Yockey’s Bellwether at Marin Theatre Company. Below: Anderson meets Kathryn Zdan in the suburban underworld. Photos by

Audacious, entertaining and chilling, Steve Yockey’s world-premiere Bellwether at Marin Theatre Company goes where few plays dare to tread.

What starts out as a satiric look at suburban living – Bellwether is a nice neighborhood, we’re told over and over again, a gated community commuter distance from an unnamed big city – quickly becomes a potent family drama. A husband and wife (Gabriel Marin and Arwen Anderson) have hit some rocky ground as they and their about-to-turn-7-year-old daughter try adjusting to suburban living.

The show becomes a crime thriller when little Amy disappears from her bed while her mom was downstairs with a neighbor and a bottle of wine. And then it turns into something Stephen King might dream up in a novel or short story. Yockey delves into the underworld of suburbia, a dark, dangerous place that balances the shiny, happy existence up top.

That Yockey – MTC’s playwright in residence for the 2009-10 season – anchors the fantastical aspects of the story with his exploration of family life in the suburbs does him credit. He and director Ryan Rilette manage something very tricky here with a tone that shifts from satirical comedy to high drama to horror.

Much of the success of these tonal shifts come from the utterly believable performances at the center of the story. Marin’s intensity and near hysteria powerfully convey the desperation of a father whose child has slipped away from him, and Anderson, though not as intense, displays guilt and determination in equal measure.

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Rachel Harker as a needy, nosy neighbor is extraordinary. She’s like a sitcom character at first but goes through several iterations, all of which she fills with depth and frightening accuracy.

At less than two hours, Bellwether grabs your attention immediately and only tightens its grip as it zips along. I would say that Yockey spends too much time in the underworld – where there is fine work by Jessica Lynn Carroll and Kathryn Zdan. We get a sketchy explanation about how this world works, but it could be swifter and more enigmatic. We don’t want too much time to linger and think about this situation because implausibilities start popping up alongside questions that don’t get answered.

Back on the strangely quiet streets of Bellwether, Yockey and Rilette whip up an increasingly wild mob of neighbors (including Danny Wolohan, Liz Sklar, Marissa Keltie, Mollie Stickney and Patrick Jones) and a trio of inane (naturally) and vampiric TV news reporters.

Bellwether packs quite a punch, from the striking performances to the sumptuous two-level suburban home set by Giulio Cesare Perrone and sinister lighting by York Kennedy.

When the play ends, and it’s hard to know what to think exactly because your head is spinning. Was it funny? Scary? Moving? Yes. Bellwether is, in short, fantastic. In every sense of the word.

Steve Yockey’s Bellwether continues through Oct. 30 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $34-$55 ($15 rush tickets available one hour prior to show, based on availability; under 30: $20, all performances). Call 415-388-5208 or visit

Review: Octopus

Extended through June 21 at the Magic Theatre, San Francisco

Kevin (Eric Kerr, left) and Max (Liam Vincent) wade through murky relationship waters in Steve Yockey’s provocative Octopus, a co-production of the Magic Theatre and Encore Theatre Company. Photos by


Yockey’s Octopus explores inky waters of commitment
«««1/2 Dripping with intrigue

Steve Yockey’s Octopus is a thrilling, somewhat frustrating theatrical experience.

This inaugural co-production of the Magic Theatre and Encore Theatre Company delivers a first-rate production of a fascinating world-premiere play that ultimately comes up a little short only because Yockey sets the bar so high for himself at the outset.

What starts as another riff on gay romantic situation comedies quickly turns into something quite different then evolves into something else shortly after that.

Committed couple Blake (Patrick Alparone) and Kevin (Eric Kerr) are hoping to liven things up by inviting another couple to join them in the bedroom. “It’s something guys do,” Kevin says. Into their neat little urban apartment (fantastic set by Erik Flatmo, more on that in a minute) steps longtime couple Max (Liam Vincent) and Andy (Brad Erickson). While Andy natters on about wine, the voracious Max practically devours Blake with just a glance.

Director Kate Warner masterfully amps up the tension between the four men – as couples and as individuals – to humorous and then to anxiety-inducing levels. Soon enough, though, the clothes come off as Jarrod Fischer’s lights politely dim and the huddle of flesh makes its way to the bed. But things don’t turn out exactly as planned. Feelings are hurt, boundaries are crossed and the flood is unleashed. HIV-AIDS looms, even though Blake says: “It’s not even something people get anymore.”

Yockey is a funny, assured writer, and director Warner and her actors find the rhythms that heighten the laughs (“Don’t say my name like it tastes bad,” Blake snaps, or here’s Max describing a convoluted coffee order: “It’s like an insane caffeinated yard sale in a cup.”) and then underscore the drama. The tone of the play changes with the arrival of a telegram delivery guy (Rowan Brooks), who happens to be sopping wet. Danger fairly drips from the cheerful man, and with each telegram, Octopus grows more chilling.

The ability of Flatmo’s set to hold water becomes increasingly important as action shifts to the bottom of the sea and to apartments overrun with the fluid embodiment of fear – fear of death, fear of commitment, fear of anything honest and real. There’s brilliance in the set-up, with the ocean becoming a metaphor for illness and isolation and sea monsters becoming the threat of imminent death.

The fact that Warner and her crew pull off the aquatic special effects as well as they do carries the last portion of the 70-minute play, even as Yockey sets up a dramatic confrontation between the fearful Kevin and the increasingly angry telegram guy. By this point in the play, we’re literally swimming in metaphor (especially the people in the front row), and the function of the grim-reaperish telegram guy diminishes. We get it, so his presence, especially as the catalyst for dénouement never feels quite right (through no fault of Brooks, who is pitch perfect).

There’s still plenty of power and emotion in Yockey’s ending thanks largely to the excellent Alparone and Kerr, but getting there somehow took an unnecessary detour. And this is much too fascinating a play for detours. One of the hardest things to do in a theater is to scare people, but Octopus, with its crazy sea monsters (and rattling sound design by Sara Huddleston) and astounding imagery, comes close multiple times.

There’s something chilling about Octopus, and it’s not just because the theater is filled with water.

Octopus continues through June 21 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 for information.