Fuzzy no more: life after Disneyland

Mouse 2
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.

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.

Now and at the Hour is time well spent

Christian Cagigal 2

The last major magic show to hit the Bay Area theater scene involved Siegfried and Roy giving their stamp of magical approval to a kid who sang show tunes while doing fairly lame tricks. It’s no wonder that magic gets such a bad rap for being such a cheeseball staple of the Las Vegas showroom.

But when magic is done well, it’s tremendous. Free of schmaltz and full of ingenuity, genuine theatrical magic is a joy, and that’s what you’ll find in Christian Cagigal’sNow and at the Hour now at the EXIT Stage Left. After a successful run in New York followed by a well-received San Francisco run, the magical Cagigal has revived the show, much to the delight of his adoring audience.

Cagigal doesn’t waste a lot of time with the usual flash-and-flair gimcrackery. He doesn’t need to impress us with empty gesturing and phony-baloney showmanship because he has plenty of genuine wonder at his disposal, and if that fails to make an impression, then magic is simply not for you.

Christian CagigalPart autobiographical solo show, part mind-reading festival, Cagigal’s show is a spellbinding hour that puts a fresh spin theatrical magic. He enters the theater and sets up his stage. He turns over an hourglass and sets a metronome in motion. He checks his pocket watch and he wonders aloud, “Did you ever get the feeling that everything has happened before and it will all happen again?” He attempts to prove the notion of time travel – or at the very least, time bending – during the next hour, and he makes a pretty good case.

Whatever his methods, be they manipulation, trickery, suggestion or genuine magic, Cagigal elicits gasps of amazement from his audience as he quite effectively reads people’s minds. There’s quite a lot of audience participation in this show, but not to worry – it’s not obnoxious in the least. Cagigal is not only a genial host but also unfailingly polite to his volunteers. If some detail he intuits turns out to be too personal, he won’t share it with the crowd, but he’ll make sure you know he knows what’s going on in your dirty mind.

Holding a stereoscope (usually used to view old-fashioned 3-D postcards), Cagigal stares at blank cards that volunteers have supposedly filled with visions from their memories. He then describes what he sees with seemingly remarkable acuity. He does card tricks and even, for one trick, makes the audience the magician.

In between tricks, he tells us stories from his childhood and what it was like growing up in San Francisco with a father whose mental balance was upset by a stint in Vietnam. His father’s presence looms large in the show because as the elder Cagigal battled his demons, the younger retreated into a world of magic as a means of escape. The power of memory and the passage of time fuel the smoke and mirrors of the show and raises it far above the sort of parlor tricks that can sometimes pass for theatrical magic.

How many shows are both astonishing and moving? Cagigal’s Now and at the Hour is both. Cagigal engages the heart and the imagination, making him a magician to watch with a show to see sooner rather than later.


Christian Cagigal’s Now and at the Hour continues an extended run through March 27 at the EXIT Stage Left, 156 Eddy St., San Francisco Tickets are $15-$25. Visit www.theexit.org for information.

Holidays on edge: Alternatives to `Carol’

“God bless us, everyone!” doesn’t warm the cockles of every holiday heart.

Traditional holiday theatrical fare is great, but sometimes you need an alternative. Thankfully, here in the Bay Area, we can do holiday entertainment with edge. Here’s a handy guide to some Carol alternatives (not that there’s anything wrong with A Christmas Carol, mind you – find a Carol guide here).

The Rhino Christmas PantoTheatre Rhinoceros artistic director John Fisher, the man who brought us Medea: The Musical, joins with composer James Dudek , to create a big musical comedy about a disgruntled young man who is show the meaning of Christmas by a fairy – a real fairy – who takes him from the manger in Bethlehem to a gay bar in Oakland. Continues through Dec. 21 at Theatre Rhino, 2926 16th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$40. Call 415-861-5079 or visit www.therhino.org.
Pictured at right, clockwise from top: Jordan L. Moore as Carol Channing, Nicholas Yenson as Jesus Christ, Jean Franco Pilas as An Early Christian, Aaron Martinsen as Aaron, Norman Muñoz as Constantine the Great, Erin Tate Maxon as Slumber Girl, and Rachel L. Jacobs as The Christmas Fairy in The Rhino Christmas Panto, written and directed by John Fisher, with music and lyrics by James Dudek. Photo by Kent Taylor.

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues – Playwright Jeff Goode delves into what happens at the North Pole the other 364 days of the year. It just so happens that one of Santa’s eight tiny reindeer has accused the old man of sexual harassment. Each of the hooved creates gets a chance to speak in this adults-only show. Continues through Dec. 20 at EXIT Stage Left, 156 Eddy St., San Francisco. Tickets are $28. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com.

Wrapping Paper Caper – Here’s an alternative for the entire family. And this one just happens to be my favorite of the annual holiday shows in the Bay Area. Puppeteer Liebe Wetzel, working with director Jeff Raz and her Lunatique Fantastique puppeteers, does amazing things with found objects such as wrapping paper, wrapping paper tubes, tinsel garlands and rain coats. Imaginative and captivating, this is a show you really should see if you haven’t. Continues through Jan. 4 at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $10. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.themarsh.org.

David Hirata & Friends in Magic Holiday – Here’s another Marsh tradition, and it’s also a great one for the entire family. Juggling, magic, comedy – it’s all here, and it’s all delightful. Continues through Dec. 29 at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $10. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.themarsh.org.

Black Nativity – One of the most enduring and rewarding of the annual holiday shows is this Lorraine Hansberry Theatre tradition inspired by Langston Hughes’Black Nativity, a gospel re-telling of the Christmas story. Gospel great Arvis Strickling-Jones headlines this music- and dance-filled spectacle. Performs Dec. 11-28 at the PG&E Auditorium, 77 Beale St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$36. Call 415-474-8800 or visit www.lhtsf.org.

Christmas Crap-ArrayThe Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco presents its second annual bit of holiday irreverence, which features soloists and ensembles performing raunchy, hilarious skits and new songs sure to appeal to grinches and Scrooges as well as naughty boys and girls looking forward to receiving a Christmas Eve spanking from a burly, bearded guy. Three performances only: Dec. 18, 19 and 20 at the Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$40. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com.

Review: `I’m Yours! (or Deranged by Love)’

Opened Oct. 5, 2008

Christian Cagigal (left) is Miguel, Andrew Calabrese (center) is Cardenio and Erin Carter is Don Fernando in Precarious Theatre’s new musical I’m Yours! (or Deranged by Love) at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco. Photos by Stephanie Temple

Cervantes gets the musical treatment in `I’m Yours!’

Precarious Theater is becoming the go-to company for intriguing new small-scale musicals.

After the success of Chemical Imbalance, a riff on the Jekyll/Hyde story, director Matthew Graham Smith and his ensemble return with I’m Yours! (or Deranged by Love), a pop-rock romance adapted from an episode of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

As with most new musicals, there are still some kinks to be worked out – the plot build-up is lengthy and the resolution almost inconsequential – but the general tone is fresh and enjoyable as an innkeeper, who fancies himself a knight errant, tells a tale of thwarted lovers that ends up finding its conclusion in his inn.

The score, by H.P. Mendoza (of Colma: The Musical fame), is sweet and ambitious. The cast, though game, isn’t exactly bursting with musical theater talent. Their approach is more about keeping up with the pre-recorded track and getting through the songs and less about truly selling them.

That said, the gem of the seven-song score is “Luscinda,” a catchy tune that captures the flavor of Andalucía, where much of the action takes place.

Christian Cagigal is Miguel, the innkeeper, also known as the Knight of the Sorrowful Face. He’s inspired to tell a tale of romance when a weary young woman named Zoraida (Sarah Meyeroff) – her feet aching and belly rumbling – shows up at his door and asks for sustenance. He has no food, so he tells a story of a gallant youth named Cardenio (Andrew Calabrese) in love with a beautiful maid named Luscinda (Hannah Knapp).

Theirs is a love story built on letters more than physical attraction, but their fairy tale romance is blocked by Cardenio’s father, who wants to put him in the service of the Duke by becoming a companion to the Duke’s son, Don Fernando (Erin Carter in a trousers role).

The innkeeper’s tale inspires the young maid to tell her own romantic yarn: this one involves her mistress, a peasant woman, Dorotea (Nicole Lungerhausen), who came under the spell of a nobleman – Don Fernando again – and agrees to marry him even though both are advised it is unwise to marry outside one’s class.

The two tales eventually merge as the “blinding force of love” –an oft-repeated phrase in the show’s two hours – results in betrayal, forced marriage, derangement and chance meetings in the woods. A late plot development involving a gender-bending disguise promises much more than it delivers, and the final untangling, though satisfying in a happy ending sort of way, comes with too much emotional ease.

One of the most delightful aspects of director Smith’s production, maybe even more than the score, which tends to disappear for long stretches, is the use of puppets and masks to play parents and nuns and the like. Designed by Lanie Wieland and most frequently operated by the expert Cagigal, the Picasso-inspired faces are attractive, and the whole use of the puppets lends an enchantment to the tale that is most welcome.


I’m Yours (or Deranged by Love) continues through Oct. 25 at the EXIT Theatre, 156 Eddy St., San Francisco. Tickets are $10-$30. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.precarioustheatre.com.

Fringe Fest frenzy flares

Thessaly Lerner stars in The Ukulady’s Pony Show, part of the 17th annual San Francisco Fringe Festival. Photo by Lennon


And here Edinburgh, Scotland thinks it’s got a great fringe festival. Ha!

Back for a 17th season is the San Francisco Fringe Festival, beginning today (Sept. 3) and running through Sept. 14 at a dozen downtown San Francisco venues.

There are 48 shows in all, most not more than an hour and here’s the best deal of all: tickets are $5 to $9. That’s right: real, live theater with actual human beings for less than what it costs to sit through The House Bunny.

Most of the shows are at the EXIT Theatreplex (156 Eddy St. and 277 Taylor St.), but a few are scattered in other venues including Grace Cathedral, The Center for Sex and Culture, Off-Market Theatre, Phoenix Theatre and Boxcar Theatre.

With 48 shows from which to choose – by performers from the Bay Area, across the country, Canada, Poland and England – it’s hard to know which shows to recommend. But with prices so affordable, you might as well go see at least five shows. That way you’ll probably end up loving two, liking two and wishing you had skipped that other one. Those are good entertainment odds.

Here are a few shows that emerged as intriguing from amid the avalanche of Fringe Festival press releases:

Exit Sign – A Rock Opera (pictured above) – Americans, or so we’re told by the Supersonic Theater, have a hard time with death. That’s the basis for this rock ‘n’ roll musical adventure about a father and daughter as they travel through experiences of time, mortality, death and love. Sept. 6, 11, 13, 14 at the EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St.

Along the Path of Larks and SwallowsMia Paschal and chaotic heart offer a dark comic valentine of love, heartbreak and passion. Here’s the catchy tagline: “If only you could break up with somebody right at the beginning it would take a lot of the guesswork out of it, wouldn’t it?” Sept. 4, 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13 at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason St.

Late Nights with the Boys: confessions of a leather bar chanteuseAlex Bond and David L. Carson read selected chapters from Ms. Bond’s novel, which comes from her late-’70s days in the Dallas gay leather bars. Sept. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 at the EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St.

To Kill ForVertigo 50 presents a play about Alfred Hitchcock, who, in the afterlife, misses his wife, Alma Reville. While he waits for her to appear, he is talked into remaking his film “Vertigo.” Alma will arrive, but not before Hitch has had visits from Kim Novak, James Stewart and Tippi Hedren. Sept. 5, 8 and 9 at Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St.

True Theatre Critic – Polish solo performer Omar Sangare, a professor at Williams College, presents his show about a defeated man who, through his sorrow and anger, finds sweet revenge in criticizing those who have rejected him time and again. Sept. 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, EXIT Theatre Stage Left, 156 Eddy St.

The Ukulady’s PonyshowThessaly Lerner (aka The Ukulady) and her Russian nanny (played by Jayne Entwistle) bring their long-running variety extravaganza to the Fringe with guests including the Neosurrealists, Sam Shaw, Gerri Lawlor, Susan McCollom, The Whistleaires, OPM, Don Seaver & Moresies. Sept. 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13 and 14 at the EXIT Theater, 156 Eddy St.

Madge’s Box: The truth about women, vaginas and AmericaHarvey Rabbit presents this self-explanatory show about a housewife who has everything – husband, kids, TiVo – but her vagina. Mixing clown, burlesque, monologue and song, Rabbit goes deep into the dullness of the American Dream. Sept. 4, 6, 10 and 12 at EXIT Stage Left, 156 Eddy St.

My Camino – Canadian Sue Kenney (above, photo by Johnny Lam) walks two miles on a treadmill as she relates the story of her trek covering 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The show is adapted from Kenney’s book “My Camino,” which will soon be a feature film. Sept. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 at the EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St.

For a complete schedule, artist bios, audience reviews, photos and videos, visit www.sffringe.org. Call 415-673-3847.

Here comes DIVAfest

Above: Alissa Mortenson in Nebunele Theatre Company’s Medea Knows Best, part of this year’s DIVAfest at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco. Photo by Rob Gruhl

Celebrating the work of established and emerging women writers, directors and performers, the seventh annual DIVAfest opens Thursday, April 10 and runs through April 26 at San Francisco’s EXIT Theatre.

The highlight of this year’s festival is the world premiere of Medea Knows Best by Seattle’s Nebunele Theatre Company, winner of the Best New Play award at the 2006 Fringe Festival with Secret Truths of Island House. As its title suggests, Medea Knows Best is a dark, sexy, funny drama that re-writes Euripides’ Greek tragedy and sets it in the fabulous ’50s complete with a doo-wop chorus.

Medea previews April 10 and 11 at 8 p.m. and opens April 12 at 8 p.m. and continues through April 26. Tickets are $12-$20 on a sliding scale.

Also part of this year’s DIVAfest: More or Less Love Poems by Diane di Prima at 3 p.m. April 12 (free); War Harvest by San Francisco playwright/poet Pireeni Sundaralingam gets a staged reading at 3 p.m. April 26 (free); DIVAfest Cabaret sets loose Sean Owens (in drag, so he qualifies as a diva) with musician Don Seaver and singers Janet Roitz, Mia Paschal, Alison Bloomfield and Libby O’Connell among others (10 p.m. April 18, 19, 25 and 26, $15).

Call 415-673-3847 or visit www.theexit.org for information.