Sam Shepard feels a Holy song coming on

The new year begins with an intriguing, nearly under-the-radar collaboration. American Conservatory Theater and Campo Santo have jumped into the ring formed by Magic Theatre and dubbed Sheparding America, a far-ranging celebration of Sam Shepard that promises to flare for years to come.

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Co-directed by Campo Santo’s Sean San José and ACT’s Mark Rucker and performed in the near-round at ACT’s Costume Shop, Holy Crime: Rock ‘n’ Roll Sam Shepard is an amalgam of Shepard texts with an infusion of live music. The prologue and epilogue come from 1969’s Holy Ghostly and the big chunk in the middle comes from 1972 Tooth of Crime (which Shepard revised in 1997).

The best part of the 85-minute show is, without question, the music, which is composed and arranged by cast members Tommy James Shepherd Jr. and Golda Sargento along with the band: bassist and keyboard player Rachel Lastimosa and guitarist Steve Boss. It takes about a half an hour to get to the first real song, but from there on out the vibrant music trumps Shepard’s cryptic text.

The prologue and epilogue are almost spoofs of the Shepard playbook: a dying cowboy (Myers Clark attempts to reconcile with his son (Ryan Williams French) in a desolate Western landscape with a random corpse (Isiah Thompson) and a Native American spirit (Dan Flapper).

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Then the middle section, which is like a Western movie by way of sci-fi fantasy carbonated by rock opera, reveals itself to be mostly inscrutable in terms of plot and character. But this is where the good music lives. Anytime Shepherd is singing or beatboxing, Holy Crime is fully alive. The same is true when Juan Amador as Ruido shows up to rap up a glorious storm. Another nice musical moment comes when Sango Tajima pulls out her violin and joins the band.

Energetically staged by San José and Rucker, Holy Crime and well performed by a keenly focused cast and is always interesting to watch, even when it’s completely baffling and feels like a workshop production of a very much in-process work. There’s a formula at work here, but it seems to need more music (and amplification – this music needs to be LOUD! even in an intimate space like this) and less Shepard babble.

Holy Crime: Rock ‘n’ Roll Sam Shepard continues through Jan. 19 at the ACT Costume Shop, 1117 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25. Visit

Review: `Angry Black White Boy’


Keith Pinto (left) and Dan Wolf star in Wolf’s adaptation of the Adam Mansbach novel Angry Black White Boy at San Francisco’s Intersection for the Arts. The dynamic production features live music, rap, dance and old-fashioned storytelling. Photos by Evan Loewy


Music, beats, movement make `Angry’ a joy

For all of its form crunching and boundary pushing, Angry Black White Boy rises or falls on the strength of its storytelling.

For most of its two hours, Dan Wolf’s stage adaptation of Adam Mansbach’s novel tells a fierce, funny, fascinating story that cuts to the core of what we talk about when we talk about race in this country.

There’s satire and sincerity in ample supply, and this dynamic Campo Santo/Intersection for the Arts production, directed with sharp focus and experimental glee by Sean San José, is compelling as it is entertaining.

Mansbach’s narrative, which lacks only a satisfying ending, is augmented by fluid sound and movement that make the story feel like dance, poetry and music without ever detracting from the forward motion of the plot and the characters’ trajectory.

“The question is not how I got here but how you all didn’t,” says Macon Detornay (played by Wolf), a white Jewish kid from the Boston suburbs who has fully immersed himself, body and soul, in the world of hip-hop. He’s so outraged by the tacit level of racism in the U.S. that he begins to act out. A Columbia University student, Macon supports himself by driving a cab. And when a “typical white devil asshole” gets into the back of the taxi, Macon robs the man of his wallet and his dignity.

The vigilante robberies continue because all the victims report that the offending driver was black. After the inevitable arrest (when Macon insists that his latest victim note the actual color of his white skin), Macon becomes something of a folk hero and media darling/punching bag as he denounces white people’s institutional, economic and social privilege through something he calls the Race Traitor Project.

Like so many rise to fame stories, once the protagonist hits the peak of celebrity, things get less interesting. Aside from some excellent re-creations of talk show appearances, Macon’s story sort of implodes rather than explodes.

But the storytelling along the way crackles with energy that comes from the fusion of mostly live music (performed by Tommy Shepherd, Keith Pinto and Myers Clark, all of whom are also actors) – a blend of hip-hop, rap, beatbox, doo-wop, gorgeous harmonies — and incisive movement devised by Pinto, who is a joy to watch glide around the small Intersection for the Arts stage.

The story also takes some surprising turns. Part of Macon’s rage against white people stems from his heritage, namely his great grandfather, Cap Anson, the guy largely responsible for getting African-Americans banned from major league baseball. As a sort of attempt to make amends, Macon befriends the great-grandson of a black ball player who was one of the last to leave the league.

This historical detour – the baseball stuff is true – gives the enormously likable Shepherd the chance to play Moses “Fleet” Walker, the player who held on to his dignity to the very end, and to create a rich musical riff inspired by Fleet to the effect of “you can’t keep running away.”

There’s also a very funny late-night encounter with he People’s Cooperative Guerilla Theatre, who stage an impromptu version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House with a startled Macon “starring” as Nora, and an astute scene set in the classroom of a distinguished “academic gangsta” professor who happily apologizes for anything untoward in hip-hop.

As Macon’s friends Nique and Andre, Shepherd and Clark, respectively, offer sharply drawn performances full of humor and grounded realism. And as all of Macon’s victims, as well as a series of talk show hosts, Pinto is equally as effective but in a more stylized comic way.

The excellent quartet of actors fuses sound, movement and storytelling to create a uniquely theatrical experience. This is a true ensemble endeavor, and that’s the ultimate joy of Angry Black White Boy.

Angry Black White Boy continues through Nov. 30 at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$25 on a sliding scale. Call 415-626-3311 or visit


Moving beyond hip-hop theater with `Angry Black White Boy’

Is Dan Wolf an angry black white boy? Or does he just play one on stage.

The answer to both questions is somewhat complicated.

Wolf (pictured above, left, with Tommy Shepherd) is an extraordinary actor, playwright, MC and rapper behind the live hip-hop group Felonious. He’s the father of a newborn, and he spends his days as program manager of The Hub, a group at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco that helps young people in their 20s and 30s connect with their Jewish identity through the arts, new ritual, social action and social networking.

In one of those life-altering moments, Wolf heard San Francisco author Adam Mansbach on the radio talking about his 2005 novel Angry Black White Boy or The Miscegenation of Macon Detornay.

“It was just the right moment for me because I had all these questions about the future of Felonious and what it meant for a white kid from the suburbs teaching hip-hop to white kids,” Wolf says. “I ran out and bought the book, and it just cracked open all these questions in my mind, and passages just jumped off the page.”

Being a man of the theater, Wolf immediately began thinking about adapting the book in some way, but he quickly learned the book had already been optioned as a movie. In his work with the Jewish Community Center, Wolf actually crossed paths with Mansbach, the two talked about some sort of stage adaptation, and Wolf was off and running.

Through his association with Intersection for the Arts’ Hybrid Project and its resident theater company, Campo Santo, Wolf set to work and premiered a 15-minute version of Angry Black White Boy last year as part of the Grounded Festival of New Works.

Campo Santo co-founder Sean San José and the Intersection team liked what they saw and began developing a full-length show with Wolf as the title character working with fellow Felonious members Tommy Shepherd, an actor and soundscape musician, and actor and choreographer Keith Pinto.

Part theatrical storytelling, part poetry, rap, beatboxing, ballet and hip-hop dance, Angry Black White Boy previews this weekend and opens Monday, Oct. 27 at Intersection and continues through Nov. 16.

Directing the piece is San José, who is used to long developmental periods with a new show. Sitting around an Intersection conference table with Wolf and Shepherd, San José says this show demanded a faster and more experimental creation.

“We’ve always wanted to do something like this – a sound and movement piece where sound lives as text and dialogue and music and movement is text and storytelling,” San José says. “It’s sonic and movement and text all feeding into one another. The process has been really fun for all of us. The notion of adaptation has been less of a task.”

Wolf calls the process a “remix”: “We take words, story, movement and sound and use them the way you might take a sample from a song and bring in disparate instruments. You make something new out of something old – and what’s more hip-hop than that?”

Mansbach’s novel tackles issues of race in America through the character of Macon, a white boy obsessed with black culture to the point that he becomes a sort of vigilante celebrity and founder of The Race Traitor Project, which leads to a national Day of Apology and to an epic New York City riot.

“I can’t even imagine the book as a movie because the story is so sharp and complex,” San José says. “But it works as a play. It’s so nuts what we can do with it, how we can tell this story not just through text and sound but also dance. The talent of this team is so extraordinary they can tell a story without words and still keep the story moving forward. Sometimes, between the sound and the movement, which is leading which.”

Shepherd chimes in: “In Felonious we always say follow the follower.”

The book’s sharp, satirical tone initially put off both San José and Shepherd – both say they’re not sure they would have picked up the book, let alone finished it, had Wolf not been so insistent about the project.

But San José and Shepherd eventually fell into Mansbach’s narrative and his exploration of race in the U.S.

“Race is one of the three issues I think I’ll always be addressing in my work,” San José says. “Mansbach is basically saying we live in a racist society, and then we as artists have to decide how we fulfill that. There’s a lot of nastiness to present in the complexity, but Mansbach has done all the thinking for us, and that helps us not over-think it.”

Wolf says the process of bringing Angry Black White Boy to the stage has been all about pushing himself further than he ever has artistically and surprising himself.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – work on a story and a character,” Wolf says. “I’ve had this strange desire for something more classically structured that allows me to use specific skills and create shades in a bigger picture. I’m hoping what we’re doing is more universal, less marginalized artistically. That’s the beauty of working at Intersection and working with these people. We’re allowed to dig deep into the thing and ask the tough questions. As we push ourselves to the next level, we try to do it as fully and completely as possible, and I’m blessed to work in this building with these people.”

Angry Black White Boy continues through Nov. 16 at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$25 on a sliding scale. Call 415-626-3311 or visit