Forget Leap Day – it’s Purim, biotch!

The Whole Megillah: 2.0
The cast of The Hub/Killing My Lobster Purim-related sketch comedy show The Whole Megillah 2: Uncut includes, from left, Alex Hersler, Andy Alabran, Millie DeBenet, Danny Webber and Wylie Herman. The show is at The Jewish Theater and, for one night, at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. Photo by Pak Han


The year always goes by so quickly. March 7 and 8 – next week, people – is Purim already. Where does the time go?

If you haven’t made your festive Purim plans, you should go see The Whole Megillah 2: Uncut, a co-production of The Hub at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and sketch comedy troupe Killing My Lobster. For a second year, the Lobsters, with help from The Hub’s Dan Wolf, lampoons all things Purim while adhering to the Purim tradition of telling tales from the Book of Esther, otherwise known as the Megillah.

I interviewed Wolf and Lobster Creative Director Andy Alabran for a story in the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the story here.

In the story, Wolf discusses the genesis of this Megillah:

“People have been dressing up and enjoying this story for centuries,” Wolf says. “When I called Andy to tell him my idea, I knew we could do two things: uphold the tradition of telling the story, and have a lot of fun. I talked to people at the JCC, and they agreed. We’re always so serious. There’s a time when it’s OK to lighten up. Purim is one of those times.”

The notion of dressing up was one way Wolf and the comedy writers at Killing My Lobster approached their “Megillah.” “I wanted it to be traditional, I wanted it to be contemporary and I wanted it to be very San Francisco,” Wolf says.

To that end, a video was created featuring a stellar roster of San Francisco drag queens enjoying cocktails and telling the Purim story. Happily, this video is available on YouTube. Please enjoy.

And now we have chapters 3 and 4…

And as a bonus prize, we have Alabran learning why delicious hamantaschen prune cookies are known as “Haman’s Hat.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The Whole Megillah 2: Uncut, presented by Killing My Lobster and the Hub, continues through March 10 at The Jewish Theater, 470 Florida St., San Francisco. Additional performance March 7 at Kanbar Hall at Kanbar Hall at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St. Tickets are $15-$30. Call 415-292-1233 or visit www.jccsf.org.

Hall’s journey from Billy to War Horse to Pitmen

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Cast members of TheatreWorks’ The Pitmen Painters by Lee Hall include, from left, Jackson Davis, Paul Whitworth, James Carpenter, and Nicholas Pelczar. Photo by Mark Kitaoka


The Bay Area has been pretty good to Lee Hall of late. Last year, his musical adaptation (with music by Sir Elton John) of his movie Billy Elliot received rapturous notices (though closed a month early) at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. It’s a show that had already won the British scribe a 2009 Tony Award for best book of a musical.

Then his movie adaptation of the stage hit War Horse, co-written by Richard Curtis and directed by Steven Spielberg, opened in theaters around the world. And next summer, the play version (which Hall did not write, though he was asked early on) gallops into the SHN season.

Hall’s Broadway follow-up to Billy was a play called The Pitmen Painters, another exploration of arts influence on the population of Northern England. Now that play makes its West Coast debut courtesy of TheatreWorks in Mountain View.

I spoke with Hall about his many and varied projects for an interview in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Read the interview here.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Lee Hall’s The Pitmen Painters continues through Feb. 12 in a TheatreWorks production at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $19-$69. Call 650-463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org.

Delicious theater spiced with fiction

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The cast of Word for Word’s “Food Stories: Pleasure Is Pleasure” includes, from left, Rudy Guerrero, Molly Benson, Soren Oliver, Patricia Silver, Delia MacDougall and Gendell Hernandez. Below: MacDougall and Silver appear in “Enough,” a story by Alice McDermott. Photos by Mark Leialoha


That most scrumptious of Bay Area theater companies, Word for Word, is going the way of the foodie. Yes, Word for Word, the company that turns short fiction into extraordinary theater, is diving headlong into food lit with Food Stories: Pleasure Is Pleasure.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Word for Word’s Susan Harloe and JoAnne Winter about the show (directed by Theatre Rhino Artistic Director John Fisher) for the San Francisco Chronicle. Also got to chat with one of the authors featured in the show, T.C. Boyle, whose “Sorry Fugu” is a delightful tale of a New York chef battling his nerves and his confidence during three visits by the harshest food critic in town. I did not get to speak with the other author, Alice McDermott, whose story “Enough” is also featured.

Read the story here.

Word for Word Food 2

Here’s my favorite quote from Boyle:

“In many respects the whole foodie thing is utterly ridiculous,” he says. “It’s about conspicuous consumption. I love to go to a good restaurant and have a good time, but unlike some of my friends, I don’t do it to the exclusion of all else.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Word for Word’s “Food Stories: Pleasure Is Pleasure” continues through Through Feb. 5 at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$55. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.zspace.org.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/01/11/DDUN1MLHRV.DTL#ixzz1jI9D38fS

Don Reed checks into The Kipling Hotel

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Don Reed wrote, directed and stars in The Kipling Hotel, his latest autobiographical show at The Marsh Berkeley. Photo by Ric Omphroy


I interviewed Don Reed about his new autobiographical solo show The Kipling Hotel, which opens this weekend at The Marsh Berkeley.

You can read the article here.

This is the second chapter in what will likely be a trilogy of solo shows about the Oakland native’s life. The first was the phenomenally successful East 14th, which ran at The Marsh for 2 1/2 years – no mean feat for a guy who lives in Los Angeles and works as the warmup comedian for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

One thing that didn’t make the interview was the fact that Reed also has his own media company, Reediculous Media, specializing in voiceover, copywriting, tag lines, marketing and more. His clients include companies like Nickelodeon and Activision. Add to this the fact that Reed is also writing books based on his shows and you have a true Renaissance man.

“It’s like Benjamin Franklin was a sculptor, a writer, a statesman and a scientist,” Reed says. “If you’re not many things, you’re no one when you show up at a party. I love dancing in different areas of media, from theater to books to advertising. For me, it’s all about bringing a comedic spirit to this little ball we roll around on.”

Reed has also been involved in what he calls “a long, slow conversation” with Robert Townsend about the possibility of turning his story into a screenplay. But at 52, Reed is too old to play his younger self.

“But I know who should do it,” he says. “My older son is 15. He looks just like me, and he can cry on cue.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Don Reed’s The Kipling Hotel continues through Feb. 12 at The Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley. Tickets are $20-$35. Call 415-282-3055 or visit www.themarsh.org.

Fuzzy no more: life after Disneyland

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Trevor Allen re-lives his time behind the mask in Working for the Mouse, a hilarious solo show about what it’s really like for costumed characters behind the scenes at Disneyland. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs

Last summer at Berkeley’s Impact Theatre, Trevor Allen dusted off Working for the Mouse, his finely tuned one-man show about his years as Pluto, Mr. Smee, the Mad Hatter and others on the pavement at Disneyland.

I reviewed the show in June (read the review). Here’s a sample:

Throughout, Allen is a dynamic, highly appealing performer, attacking this coming-of-age story with unflagging energy and crack comic timing. Director Carlin has helped Allen warm up the show and find even more edge to the humor. This is not a Disney-bashing experience, though it certainly could be. Even rabid fans of Disneyland (consider me guilty) will savor Allen’s tales of misbehavior, mismanagement and misbegotten Matterhorn sex.

I also had a chance to interview Allen about the show as he prepared to re-open it at the EXIT Theatre. Read the feature in the San Francisco Chronicle here. Here’s a taste:

Q: So you were studying classical acting during the week and playing Pluto in a hot, sweaty costume on the weekends?

A: Yes, and my classical training came in handy, believe it or not. More than anything, it helped me with creating an attitude on stage that helped gauge and interact with an audience. Later on, when I graduated to playing the Mad Hatter and was allowed to talk, I was able to maintain a character in the face of withering sarcasm from hipper-than-thou teenagers and 8-year-old agnostics who want to pull off your nose. It’s tremendous training for live theater, where everything can and does go wrong.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Trevor Allen’s Working for the Mouse continues through Dec. 17 at the Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$22. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com.

Oh, Maureen! Ms. McVerry revisits the Gershwins

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Above: Maureen McVerry makes her San Francisco directorial debut with 42nd Street Moon’s Oh, Kay! Below: Cast members of Oh, Kay! include (from left) Lisa-Marie Newton as Constance, Teressa Byrne as Kay, Skye Violet Wilson as Gilda Grant, Amie Shapiro as Molly and Erica Kimble as Billie. Photo by DavidAllenStudio.com

In 1993, an ebullient comedienne with a head full of red curls, danced and sang her way across the stage of the Gershwin Theatre (aka the Presentation Theatre) as the bubbly title character in Oh, Kay! a giddy 1926 musical with a score by George and Ira Gershwin.

Maureen McVerry, long one of the Bay Area’s most reliable musical comedy stars, appeared to have a grand time playing a Jazz Age baby wriggling her way through Prohibition and attempting to win the affections of the handsome Jimmy Winter.

McVerry (seen in the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival production below) made a memorable entrance with a boat on her back. “’Are you sure this is how Gertrude Lawrence got her start,’ I remember thinking,” McVerry says on the phone from her Potrero Hill home.Maureen McVerry 2

McVerry is back in the land of Oh, Kay!, this time as the director. She’s helming a slightly revised version for 42nd Street Moon, which begins previews today (Nov. 2) and opens this weekend.

“Our Kay does not enter with a boat on her back,” McVerry says.

It may be news to San Franciscans that McVerry is directing shows and not just starring in them. But for the last few years she has had what she calls “a secret other life.”

“I was the drama queen of Redwood City,” she says. “I got roped into directing shows at the middle school and found it quite satisfying.”

A few shows ago, she needed a musical director, so she turned to her friend and frequent 42nd Street Moon collaborator Dave Dobrusky, who then reported back to 42nd Street HQ that McVerry was a director with whom to reckon.

McVerry got the call to direct Oh, Kay! and is happily back in Gershwin land (with added merriment from P.G. Wodehouse, who wrote the book).

Oh Kay

“I don’t remember the show being such a farce, but it’s really a farce,” McVerry says. “What I remember is that we were all supposed to be drinking all the time. These characters were lit – made the third day at Woodstock look like a cakewalk.”

McVerry says she’s attracted to the lightness of the show – there’s a problem, and it’s solved in a day. The whole thing takes place on a Long Island estate, and everyone’s rich and gorgeous. Then there are the stunning songs – “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Fidgety Feet,” “Clap Yo’ Hands” among them.

So what kind of director is McVerry? Well, since she’s been working with children so much in recent years, she says she doesn’t cuss near as much as she used to.

“I hope I’m the kind of director who makes it a joy to put on a show and who makes each actor feel like they’re contributing something important to that show,” McVerry says. “I’ve worked with so many great directors in my life, and the best directors make sure their actors feel involved.”

She has also worked with directors who were terribly stingy with praise, making the actors feel like they were on the verge of being fired at any moment. McVerry learned from those experiences.

“I’m very clear on this: more praise, more praise,” she says. “It’s not false praise. Actors flourish with genuine praise.”

Next month, after Oh, Kay!,, McVerry will be involved in the opening of a theater space in Redwood City that she raised money to help refurbish. After that, who knows?

“I’d like to do my cabaret act, Very McVerry again,” she says. “The name stays the same, but the show is always changing. Other than that, I don’t know. But as Bette Davis used to say, you should never talk about the future.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION
42nd Street Moon’s Oh, Kay! is in previews and opens Saturday (Nov. 5). The show continues through Nov. 20 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$50. Call 415-255-8207 or visit www.42ndstmoon.org.

Kym Barrett designs a Cirque evolution

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Cirque 2
Top: One of Kym Barrett’s designs for Cirque du Soleil’s Totem. Bottom: Barrett’s costumes as they appear in the touring show. Below: Costume designer Kym Barrett. Photos courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

You don’t go to a Cirque du Soleil show just to see the costumes. Audiences are usually slathering for the death-defying acrobatics and goofy clowns. But what separates a Cirque show from the rest of the circus fray is the spectacle, and that certainly has a lot to do with the costumes.

The latest touring Cirque opus is Totem, another artsy epic under a blue-and-yellow striped tent behind AT&T Park. The theme for this show is evolution, and the costumes are by a charming Australian designer named Kym Barrett. She’s best known for her work in movies – perhaps you’ve seen one of the Matrix movies or Speed Racer? If you haven’t caught one of those, you can check out her work in the upcoming reboot of the Spider-man franchise and the film adaptation of the hit novel Cloud Atlas.
Kym Barrett
I interviewed Barrett and Totem director Robert Lepage (a Canadian theater icon) for a story in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Check out the story here.

Here’s Lepage on working with Barrett:

“We’re not doing period pieces. We create a kind of closed-circuit universe with its own laws and color charts and vocabulary. Kym came with all of that. She is extremely creative, funny, playful and versatile and immediately set the tone for the universe we were creating. This is very much her show. We didn’t even know the characters we were trying to create, but she had photos and fabrics and references and ideas. She was very inspiring.”

And here’s a word from Barrett:

“By the end of the show we’re into kind of Aztec astronaut stuff. We used a lot of imagery from Aztec culture, but all the patterns you see in the actual fabric are from around the world. It’s sort of a designer United Nations in a way. They transcend their borders and move into the next sphere together. It’s all a bit transcendental.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Cirque du Soleil’s Totem continues through Dec. 11 behind AT&T Park in San Francisco. Tickets are $47-$248.50. Call (800) 450-1480 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com.

Project bridges Spacey and SF

Richard III 2
Kevin Spacey and Haydn Gwynne in the Bridge Project’s Richard III, coming to the Curran Theatre as part of the SHN season. Photo by Manuel Harlan

The Bridge Project, that transatlantic experiment in blending American and English actors and designers is slowly wending its way to a close after three seasons. The final lap of the project, a collaboration between the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), The Old Vic in London and director Sam Mendes‘ production company, is Shakespeare’s Richard III starring The Old Vic’s artistic director, a dude named Kevin Spacey.

Neither Spacey nor Mendes made himself available to the press to promote the San Francisco stop on the R3 world tour, so I wrote a feature for the San Francisco Chronicle about the Bridge Project itself.

Read the story here.

SHN is now employing “dynamic pricing,” which boosts ticket prices when there’s high demand. For example, the night after R3 opens – we’re talking about Thursday, Oct. 20 – most available orchestra seats are – gulp – $400. Seats in the very back of the orchestra are $175. Spacey is great and all, but that’s a lot of money for three hours and 20 minutes of evil king.

Here’s a glimpse of Spacey and company at work.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Richard III continues a short run Oct. 19 through Oct. 29 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $35-$400. Call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com.

Bill Cain opens a new book for Bible

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Tyler Pierce is Bill and Linda Gehringer is his mother, Mary, in the world premiere of Bill Cain’s How to Write a New Book for the Bible at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com. Below: Playwright Bill Cain. Photo by Jenny Graham

Bill Cain’s last two Bay Area outings, Equivocation and 9 Circles, both at Marin Theatre Company, were absolutely fantastic. So there’s reason to be excited about the world premiere of his latest play, How to Write a New Book for the Bible at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. With great compassion, intelligence and humor, Cain writes about his parents and his older brother in a play that flips back and forth in time as Cain cares for his dying mother.

I talked to Cain about the play for an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the story here.

As usual, there wasn’t enough space in the story to include all of Cain’s interview, so I’d like to include a few more morsels here.

It’s somewhat ironic that for a play about “writing a new book” that when Cain set out to chronicle his family, he didn’t write a play first. He wrote a book. “The language I speak is the language of stage and ritual,” Cain says. “So why did I write a book? I don’t know exactly, but all of it comes out of my desire to celebrate my family. I shared parts of the book with my brother, and he was very responsive to it. ‘Yes, that’s who we were,’ he said. The book didn’t make either of us nervous in the way the play does. The enacting of a ritual is a frightening thing. It’s where taboos are broken. The lights go out in the theater, the lights come up on the stage. You enter a private space. With a book, you read it in your own space and time. It’s difficult to take a private thing into a public arena.”

Bill Cain

In writing about his parents’ marriage, Cain thought about the kind of marriages we’re used to seeing on stage – George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Willy and Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman – and the high drama involved. His parents didn’t display that kind of drama. “But there’s drama as well in the effort of people to love one another,” Cain says, “to put themselves aside to make space for the other. This play is the story of a man and a woman, both of whom are making each other’s fullness of life possible by creating space for the other. You don’t see that too often on stage. It’s a hard thing to dramatize and usually relegated to comedy, but there is drama to it, but maybe not in the way we’ve defined drama, with a protagonist and an antagonist. In the definition of a good marriage, there is no enemy. You don’t make the other the enemy, but that doesn’t mean there’s not struggle. It’s not George and Martha but rather Ralph and Alice. You treat that struggle with honest respect. Two people accept the foolishness of each other and stand by the other. That requires huge sacrifice, huge discipline.”

New Book is directed by Kent Nicholson, with whom Cain worked at Marin Theatre Company on 9 Circles. “I love working with Kent because he has a way of opening the room to the best idea, to the best impulse,” Cain says. “So everyone is involved fully, creating clarity. He puts it all together, but everyone’s questions help shape the outcome.”

With the new play, Cain says he hopes to create images and stories closer to people’s actual experiences rather than the ones we’re constantly handed. “It’s hard to see what our actual experience is,” Cain says. “Like right now, if you’re watching or reading the news, the only thing that seems to matter is the economy and we should be very afraid. But as a writer and as a Jesuit, I have to say, hey, wait a minute. Where was I touched by the infinite today? What actually was my experience? That’s where great works of art come from. My favorite work of art, my favorite book is Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne Frank lived in a world that told her what she was supposed to be, but she insisted on her own experience. She found huge darkness, and under it found a more luminous reality. That is available to all of us. What’s unique to you is what the world needs.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bill Cain’s How to Write a New Book for the Bible continues through Nov. 20 on Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $14.50 to $73. Call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.

Enter Stage Left: SF theater history on film

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Robin Williams is interviewed in a scene from the documentary Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco.

Docuemntary film director/producer Austin Forbord (below right) has created a fascinating documentary about the history of San Francisco theater from the post-World War II days up to the present. The movie has its premeire at the Mill Valley Film Festival this week and will likely see wider release soon after.
Austn Forbord
I interviewed Forbord for a story in the San Francisco Chronicle. You can read the story here.

The extraordinary cast of interviewees includes: Robert Woodruff, Chris Hardman, Christina Augello, Robin Williams, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Tony Taccone, David Weissman, Misha Berson, Cynthia Moore, Luis Valdez, Peter Coyote, Herbert Blau, Robert Hurwitt, Jean Schiffman, Anna Halprin, Mort Subotnick, RG Davis, Joan Holden, Oskar Eustis, Richard E.T. White. Larry Eilenberg, Bill Irwin, Jeffery Raz, Kimi Okada, Geoff Hoyle, Joy Carlin, Carey Perloff, Bill Ball, Ed Hastings, Bernard Weiner, Charles “Jimmy” Dean, Robert Ernst, Paul Dresher, John O’Keefe, Leonard Pitt, Scrumbly Koldewyn, Pam Tent, John Fisher, Melissa Hillman, Brad Erickson, Philip Gotanda, John LeFan, Dan Hoyle, Stanley Williams and Krissy Keefer.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

You can keep up to date on the movie’s trajectory at the oficial website (click here).