Crowded Fire delivers the goods with Good Goods

Good Goods

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (left) is Stacey and Armando McClain is Wire in the West Coast premiere of Christina Anderson’s Good Goods, a Crowded Fire Theater production at the Boxcar Playhouse. Below: Mollena Williams is Patricia and Lauren Spencer is Sunny. Photos by Pak Han

A little bit weird (in the most wonderful way) and a whole lot good, Christina Anderson’s Good Goods is a captivating drama that becomes a highly satisfying love story – or love stories to be exact. Crowded Fire Theater is producing the West Coast premiere, with artistic director Marissa Wolf firmly at the helm.

What’s so appealing about this two-act play is that it’s old-fashioned and fresh at the same time, mysterious and yet straightforward enough to be almost instantly engaging. You get a sense of community and real human connection intermingled with the supernatural as in an August Wilson play and abundant romance, betrayal and pining, as in a Tennessee Williams play. But this is not to say that Anderson is being derivative. It’s more like she’s using the best parts of drama to tell an interesting story and keep her audience involved and wondering what the heck is going to happen next.

It’s best not to know too much about the plot (of which there’s no shortage), but it’s OK to know that it all spins out in a small town that is rather out of place and time. There has been a major event – an “invasion” of some kind – in the not-too-distant past that has had a dramatic effect on the area, which is presumably an all-black town in the American south.

The major industry in town is a pencil factory, and that keeps the mercantile of Good Goods – owned by a man whose last name is Good – in operation. The business is ostensibly owned by Mr. Good’s son, Stacey, but he’s been gone for a decade, having hit it big on the comedy circuit with another hometown girl, Patricia. The one actually running the story, or at least keeping it from going under is Truth (“It’s a name you have to earn, that’s for sure”).

Good Goods

As with any good drama, the status quo is disrupted. Stacey returns home to deal not with the disappearance of his father but to revisit a lost love – his childhood friend (and Patricia’s twin brother), Wire. It’s a recognizable world but slightly askew. The set, by Emily Greene, makes the store look like something out of the 1800s, yet one character wears Nike shoes and another listens to a comedian on a cassette player. The time is now (or 1994 to be specific), yet it seems a world away from the modern world. Perhaps that’s why the spirit world is so alive and well here.

There’s talk of a cursed family going back for generations that might be the key to Armageddon, and there’s most definitely visitation from another world, yet somehow these fanciful flights seem just as part of the fabric of this town and these people as the love stories or family dramas.

Wolf’s cast is superb at underplaying the more sensational aspects of the story and imbuing the whole thing with real heart. Yahya Abdul Mateen II is Stacey the prodigal son returned to see if he can reconnect with Wire, played by the vibrant Armando McClain. Their love story is especially touching because it’s clearly meant to be in spite of Stacey’s inability to express himself fully.

Stacey has an easier time fighting with Truth (David E. Moore), a sort of brother figure who is bitter that he’ll likely be forced into work at the pencil factory if Stacey refuses to take over the store. A ray of hope comes into his life with the return of Patricia, played by the luminous Mollena Williams, and her new friend, Sunny, played by Lauren Spencer, an actor who shows extraordinary range in this surprisingly demanding role.

Before this quintet can figure out how their relationships will sever or evolve, the spirit world intervenes, which demands the presence of Anthony Rollins Mullens as a neighbor with talents that extend into various realms. Mullens is, to say the least, a commanding figure, and it’s no wonder the play ends on such a calm note after his hurricane of a scene.

The play zips by at only two hours, and though there are underdeveloped elements – I wanted more from Patricia and her transition into love – it satisfies like few new plays I’ve seen recently. It also feels like it could be the first chapter in an ongoing saga. Here’s hoping.


Christina Anderson’s Good Goods continues through June 23 at the Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma St., San Francisco. Tickets prices are on a sliding scale. Visit

Time gets Sticky in experimental show

Sticky Time 1
Let’s do the time warp again: Rami Margron (left) is Thea, Lawrence Radecker (center) is Tim(e) and Michele Leavy is Emit in Marilee Talkington’s Sticky Time, a co-production of Crowded Fire Theater Company and Vanguardian Productions. Below: Mollena Williams is The Only. Photos by Dave Nowakowsaki

I was enthralled by the form and baffled by the content. That, in a nutshell, is my reaction to the world premiere of Sticky Time, an experimental new work from writer/director Marilee Talkington. A co-production of Crowded Fire Theater Company and Talkington’s own Vanguardian Productions, Sticky Time is a wild hour of theater.

I will not begin to pretend that I understood any of it. In plain fact, I did not. When I got home, I read the program, and the thoughts of dramaturg Laura Brueckner and science advisor Andrew Meisel were very interesting – all about the nature of time, which is an interesting blend of science and philosophy – but in the moment of the show, I strained to understand but failed.

But because Talkington has created an experience as much as she has created a play, there’s much to appreciate in the design and execution of Sticky Time, which is like stepping into an art installation for an hour. All your senses (except maybe smell and taste) are challenged in an interesting way.

The black box space (the upstairs studio at the Brava Theater Center) has been utilized in its entirety. The audience sits in a clump at the center of the room on swiveling office chairs. The performance space rings the room, which has been draped in white fabric. Lights, speakers and projections are everywhere – a veritable showcase for set and lighting designer Andrew Lu, composer Chao-Jan Chang, sound designer Colin Trevor, costumer Maggie Whitaker and video designers Rebecca Longworth (animation) and Lloyd Vance (cinematography).

There’s a horror movie/sci-fi vibe to the look, sound and feel of the room, which is exciting.

Sticky Time 2

As for the play itself, I can tell you the actors are all intense and committed, even if I’m not clear what they’re intensely committed to. Rami Margron seems to be at the center of the story as Thea, a sort of plant manager where the product is time. As with all plants, there’s a punch clock for employees and lots of maintenance on machinery that seems prone to blockages. Lawrence Radecker is Tim(e) and Michele Leavy is Emit, the only other plant employees we meet.

So then there’s this weird stuff with “timequakes,” and then Thea starts shooting up from fiber-optic time cables and seems to become addicted, but every time she hooks up to the fiber-optics, she messes with time and jeopardizes her family.

Then Mollena Williams is some sort of goddess figure floating through the action looking all wise and knowing. Her character, The Only, is the only one with a microphone, so her words must be extra-important. Can’t really tell you any more because, as I’ve said previously, my comprehension was sorely limited.

I must say that understanding a play doesn’t necessarily inhibit enjoyment. It certainly limits your level of involvement – especially emotionally – but if a play sucks you into its world, you don’t have to get everything about it to feel part of it. With Sticky Time I can only say that’s partly true. I loved the artsy rave atmosphere of the theater, but this was one long hour. There’s just enough story and character to make you think you should be more involved, but I could never catch hold, in spite of the actors’ best efforts to convey drama and tension.

In some ways, I wish Sticky Time had gone even further and been even louder and flashier and even more incomprehensible. I would relish a breathless hour in which I didn’t have time to think about what I was getting or not getting and just got caught up in the whirl of experience, when time really does stand still.

Marilee Talkington’s Sticky Time continues through Nov. 18 at the Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$40 with student and senior discounts. Visit

What’s up, glitter Lily?

The Lily's Revenge
Taylor Mac (center) is Lily in The Lily’s Revenge at the Magic Theatre. Here in Act 1, “A Princess Musical” directed by Meredith McDonough, he is surrounded by The Marys (from left) Jason Brock, Amy Kossow and Dave End. Below: In Act 3, “A Dream Ballet,” directed and choreographed by Erika Chong Shuch, Bride Love is played by Rowena Richie and her flower girls are (from left) Erin Mei-Ling Stuart and Ara Glenn-Johanson. Photos by Pak Han

Sitting at the computer, hands hovering over the keyboard, I’ve been staring at the screen wondering where to begin describing and opining about The Lily’s Revenge at the Magic Theatre.

Adjectives don’t quite do it justice – much the way that a photograph of an oil painting never really captures the essence, vibrancy and presence of the original work. And the usual critical jabber – Don’t miss it! Theater event of the spring! Unforgettably unique! – seem paltry as well.

It’s not that Lily, the brainchild of writer/performer Taylor Mac, is a landmark work in Western theater canon or the reinvention of the art form as we know it. But it’s something incredibly special – a completely absorbing communal experience that turns out to be more than the sum of its abundant parts.

There’s a definite party vibe on all floors of Building D in Fort Mason Center. The Magic usually occupies space on the third floor, but for this epic, with five acts, nearly 40 actors and musicians and a running time of about 4 ½ hours, the company has spread out all over the building.

The main floor, when you enter, is where you pick up will call tickets and, if you’re in the mood, order the box meal you’ll receive between Acts 1 and 2 (price is $15 and the meal includes a sandwich, chips, a cookie, piece of fruit and a non-alcoholic beverage). You pass by what is usually a meeting room, but if you poke your head in, you’ll see it’s a ginormous dressing room for the large cast and their outsize costumes. The sounds of giggling and vocal warm-ups trickle out of the room.

As audience members gather outside the Magic’s auditorium, free red wine and coffee (usually available between Acts 1 and 2) are offered to bolster excitement and perhaps provide some added stamina. This is the start of a long haul.

When it’s time to enter the theater, Kat Wentworth as the Card Girl, bangs a gong and gives us instructions. One key thing to note: she requests that for the first two (of three) intermissions, keep all mobile technology off and interact with fellow audience members instead. During the final intermission, communication with the outside world is actively encouraged.

Once inside the theater, you’re strapped in for the ride (metaphorically speaking), and though you could conceivably jump off during an intermission, that would be a mistake – if only because the intermissions contain entertainments as varied and as fun as the show itself.

Five acts, six directors (one for the intermissions), nearly five hours and a cast larger than some operas. Those are the basic parameters. Each act is performed in a different style – musical theater, dance, verse play, film and camp-drag extravaganza – and each time you come back into the theater, you’ll find it in a different configuration (and you won’t be sitting in the same seat or near the same people). Huge kudos to the directors for their outstanding and varied work: Meredith McDonough, Marissa Wolf, Erika Chong Shuch, Erin Gilley, Jessica Holt and Jessica Heidt.

The Lily's Revenge

In terms of the show itself, here’s a little of what you can expect. You will be dazzled by Lindsay W. Davis’ costume designs. He turns the botanical world into a glitzy hot house of roses with killer thorns, a sunflower queen with the most regal headgear this side of African royalty, a pile of dirt that becomes a gorgeous glamazon gal, an infectious disease with staggering member and so, so much more. There’s beauty, humor and dazzle in the pageantry of Davis’ marvelous creations.

You will fall under the spell of Taylor Mac, whose script is so smart, so funny and so incredibly rich with delights that you may be a little resentful to find that he’s also a consummate actor/comedian/singer. He stars as Lily, a potted plant from a home in Daly City who’s being taken to see his first play. At first, he looks like an asparagus crossed with Claudette Colbert, but then you fall for this budding thespian and love him, petals and all. Captivated by the magic of the theater, Lily works his way into the narrative (with the help of Time played by the wonderful Jeri Lynn Cohen) and becomes the hero: a plant who longs to be the groom to the beautiful bride (a silvery voiced Casi Maggio).

There’s a scene in Act 1 when Lily becomes so caught up in the rush of being a theatrical diva that he envisions an entire theater career in one glorious monologue. I immediately wanted to hit rewind and watch him do it again. But there’s no time in a 4 ½-hour show for revisiting. The show must move on.

And so it does. The villain of the piece is The Great Longing, a red velvet theatrical curtain played with bravura gusto by Mollena Williams, and her mission is to keep the world mired in nostalgia and, as we hear over and over again, “institutional narrative” aka the romantic illusion of weddings.

From act to act, we check in on Lily’s journey to woo the bride away from her human (and barely dressed) groom (Paul Baird) and his quest to free Dirt (Monique Jenkinson, also known as Fauxnique and this show’s very busy, very creative makeup designer) for reasons that are too complicated to go into.

In fact, the plot is filled with absurdity as it weaves metaphor and myth and fable in ways that would please John Waters and Joseph Campbell. But as silly as things get, there’s always depth to Mac’s writing and especially to his performance as Lily, a character you immediately love and trust. Then, when Mac sings (the delightfully tuneful score is by Rachelle Garniez and Mac), time stops, and so does the show. A ferociously captivating singer, Mac has a voice that gives you shivers, makes you smile and makes you sad – all at the same time. Magnificent.

I can honestly say that I did not look at my watch once while I was on the Lily’s Revenge ride. I was exhausted by the end – the final scene, in which Mac’s charms are stripped down to their bare essentials and as powerful as ever, had me all emotional – but I loved every minute.

This is a completely unique theatrical experience, one that the Magic should take full credit for orchestrating with panache. This could have been one giant, spangled chaotic mess, but it’s a triumph. It’s an extraordinarily wonderful event infused with utter absurdity and artistic genius.

There’s so much more to the show that I haven’t even begun to touch upon, but I’ve said enough. You should just go experience The Lily’s Revenge for yourself. It’s community theater in the truest sense – created, performed and enjoyed by an open-hearted, appreciative community that is created in a mere 4 ½ hours.


Taylor Mac’s The Lily’s Revenge continues through May 22 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street. Tickets are $30-$75. Call 415-441-8822 or visit for information.