Haunting Ghost Sonata kicks off Strindberg cycle

ghost sonata 1

Director Hummel (James Carpenter) crashes a “ghost supper” in the Cutting Ball Theater production of The Ghost Sonata by August Strindberg. BELOW: The Colonel (Robert Parsons) and the Mummy (Gwyneth Richards) regain control after the Director has done his best to ruin them. Photos by Laura Mason

Watching August Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata at Cutting Ball Theater, it becomes clear that without Strindberg, we probably would not have the wonderfully weird worlds of Samuel Beckett or Harold Pinter or Edward Albee or, in the film world, David Lynch or Spike Jonze. Strindberg, though famous for the naturalism of his Miss Julie, pushed into expressionism later in his career and helped redefine modern theater.

During this, the 100th anniversary year of Strindberg’s death, Cutting Ball has launched an ambitious celebration of one of Sweden’s greatest pre-Abba exports. The Strindberg Cycle collects all five of the chamber plays Strindberg wrote in 1907 that were performed in The Intimate Theater, which had about 150 seats, not unlike the EXIT on Taylor, where Cutting Ball is in residence. This cycle marks the first time all five of these plays have been performed together in an any language. For the real Strindberg fanatics – and this cycle will surely create new members of that category – Cutting Ball offers marathon days (Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 10, 11, 17, 18) on which you can see all five shows in a row.

If The Ghost Sonata, the first show in Cutting Ball’s cycle, is any indication, this is going to be an enjoyably Strindbergian fall in San Francisco.

Like all these plays, Ghost Sonata features a world-premiere translations by Paul Walsh that makes the work immediately accessible and juicy. In addition to the weighty topics like guilt, pain, deception, bad karma, suffering, redemption and death – so much death for an 80-minute play! – we also get secrets and gossip and women living in closets, mysterious deaths and shattering revelations. Remember that horrifically watchable soap opera “Passions,” with its blend of the supernatural and the super-cheesy? This is the much more intellectual precursor to that.

Ghost Sonata 2

Ghost Sonata could be an incredibly dreary experience, but director Melrose, his production team and cast keep that from happening. For each of Strindberg’s three scenes, set designer Michael Locher gives us a distinct space within the space – the whole experience seems to transpire in a grand drawing room, somewhat faded by time. But thanks to York Kennedy’s colorful and intriguing lights and to the component boxes on Locher’s set, we get a street scene, a parlor scene (with a music room visible in the distance) and a final scene that seems to take place half in reality, half in hallucination (the latter half is helped by an eerie sound design by Cliff Caruthers).

Heading the cast is James Carpenter, who appears in all but one of the chamber plays, as Director Hummel, an unscrupulous business man who “ravages people’s fates” and is described as “demonically shrewd” and as a “horse thief in the marketplace of humankind.” In other words, this is not a nice guy. Now in a wheelchair referred to as the “war machine,” Hummel is at the end of his life and wants, in his way, to make amends. So he takes under his wing a young man, Arkenholz (Carl Holvick-Thomas) whose father was ruined as a result of doing business with Hummel. The goal is to match the young man with a sad young woman, Adele (Caitlyn Louchard) so that the young people can escape the wicked web of failure and mistakes made by the older people in their lives.

But it turns out that Hummel is also planning something bigger and more devastating. “I’m unable to forgive until I’ve punished,” he says.

The targets of his punishment include his former fiancée (Gwyneth Richards), the aforementioned woman in the closet, and The Colonel (Robert Parsons), a man with too many secrets to thrive in the presence of Hummel. There’s some surprising humor bubbling up in this production, including David Sinaiko as a butler who seems to have been watching a lot of Peter Lorre movies.

In its last third Ghost Sonata gets very sad as ideals (and lives) are shattered. But somehow in all of this there is liberation of a sort, maybe even a shred of hope.

What’s eminently clear, however, is that Strindberg has found an ally in the Cutting Ball Theater and audiences have found a cycle of plays to savor.

[bonus video]
Cutting Ball Artistic Director Rob Melrose, who also directs the Strindberg Cycle, members of his cast talk about this mammoth effort.

Strindberg Cycle Trailer from The Cutting Ball Theater on Vimeo.


The Ghost Sonata, Part 1 of the Strindberg Cycle, continues through Nov. 18 at the Cutting Ball Theater, in residence at the EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $10-$50. Call 415-525-1205 or visit www.cuttingball.com.

Part 2 of the Strindberg Cycle, The Pelican and The Black Glove, begins performances Oct. 25. Part 3, Storm and Burned House, begins performances Nov. 1. The cycle continues through Nov. 18.

Chamber play marathons of all five shows are on Nov. 10, 11, 17 and 18. A Festival Cycle pass is available for $75.

Into the void with Will Eno; we do not move


Bathroom and beverage break: the cast of Will Eno’s Intermission includes (from left) David Sinaiko, Gwyneth Richards, Galen Murphy-Hoffman and Danielle O’Hare. Below: O’Hare as the title character in Lady Grey (in ever lower light). Photos by Rob Melrose

Will Eno builds some extraordinary bridges – between absurdist theater of the 1950s and now, between laughs that actually tickle and reality that is actually harsh, between ironic dismissal and deep, deep feeling.

I would happily lose myself in Eno’s world for days if possible – his combination of humor, desolation and intelligence come together in ways that make me incredibly happy. And incredibly sad. Thank whatever powers that be in the universe that Will Eno is writing for the theater and that he’s seemingly unaffected by anything remotely hipster or sappy or commercial.

Cutting Ball Theatre produced Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing) in 2009 to great acclaim. Happily, the Cutting Ball-Eno collaboration continues. Three theater-related one-acts are now running at the EXIT on Taylor, and they’re every bit as engaging, hilarious and tinged with genius as Thom Pain.

Lady Grey (in ever lower light) contains two monologues and one multi-character play. They all confront the notion of theater as a “recreational” means to emotion, a gingerly step (as a group) into the maw of the abyss known as reality. We’re all alone, yet we’re all in it together.

“Let me guess – an audience, right? Or, wait, no – friends of the deceased? Family of the victim? Whoever you are, you’re very convincing. White people in chairs? Cheer up. You’re all very beautiful, in a very general way.” Those words are spoken by Lady Grey, the star of the first (and title) play. She assesses us and we her. As played by Danielle O’Hare, she is sharp, melancholy and a little distracted.

“It doesn’t work, my life, without people sitting there, staring, undressing me with their eyes, then undressing themselves, brushing their teeth in their minds and falling asleep, wishing they were dead. So, honestly, thank you,” Lady Grey continues, breaking down the fourth wall and giving us a sort of context for her monologue. She acknowledges that we’re all experiencing a piece of theater and the proceeds to tell us about the pains of life – childhood illness, show-and-tell day in school, lost love and the fear of oncoming night.


She sings a little and she jokes a lot. There are things she says that are outright hilarious and should bring down the house, but O’Hare’s delivery (under the direction of Cutting Ball Artistic Director Rob Melrose) is so droll, so pained at times, that the laughs are tempered by lurking tragedy. It’s a powerful purgatory to inhabit – reveling in the artificiality of the theatrical experience yet savoring every real, prickly emotion that floats from stage.

“You could compare me to a summer’s day, though this really wouldn’t be necessary,” Lady Grey tells us. “I could be compared to a winter’s night, too, though by whom, and why? I’m like last Saturday. Cold, cloudy, over. I can’t be bothered.” She pauses the way a comedian should pause. Then she adds, “I can be bothered, I lied.”

The second piece, Intermission, is set just before and during intermission of a drama called The Mayor (the maudlin excerpt we hear is priceless). An older couple, David Sinaiko and Gwyneth Richards are sitting next to a younger couple, O’Hare and Galen Murphy-Hoffman. It’s an Albee-like set-up milked for all its worth, the age and experience of the older couple trumping the somewhat youthful ignorance of the younger, all the while satirizing serious drama (and the theater companies that underscore its very serious importance).

At one point the older man admonishes the younger: “But, son, do you have a mother? Do you love anything old? Have you ever lost anything, slowly? And if not, then, what experience are you hoping to see represented here? You are comparing this to what?” The artificiality of the theater suddenly seems quite small, especially in the shadow of a story the older man tells about losing his dog, Emily, after she was injured.

“She was like a member of the family,” the older woman adds.

“No, in fact, she was not like a member of the family,” her husband rejoins. “My father was like a member of the family. I’m like a member of the family. She was The Dog. Always there, never moody, living better and truer through life than any of us, by at least a factor of seven. She gave us many beautiful people years.”

In this funny little island of theatricality – the supposedly real space in between the fake parts – we get real drama, real feeling and the spectrum of life. We get a kinder, gentler Virginia Woolf in miniature with less booze. “This is very old-fashioned, somehow. All of us sitting here, having all these feelings, all lit up. It’s nice,” the older woman concludes. And so it is.

The final piece of this 85-minute evening (and that includes an actual 15-minute intermission between the first and second plays) is Mr. Theatre Comes Home Different, a showcase for Sinaiko to hurl scenery and mock the sturm und drang of the dramatic arts. He eats a flower, yearns (oh, how he yearns!) and hopes his fake emotions can somehow intersect with our own genuine emotions.

“Gentles all, my name is blank. And I have come and kicked things over. I have breathed badly. I will act quickly, entertain myself, and then leave,” Mr. Theatre tells us. “This is my character, as I would have you have it; and this, my interior life, as I would, for you, outwardly live it.” It’s a whirlwind performance full of Shakespearean notes, signifying nothing (and everything), and it made me think of something Lady Grey said earlier, “The unreadiness is all.”

Will Eno is his own particular kind of genius, and the showcase that is Lady Grey (in ever lower light) is just more evidence of that. To share the darkness with a Will Eno play is one of life’s pleasures. It’s as pretend and as real as it gets.



Lady Grey (in ever lower light) continues through April 10 at EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$30. Call 800-838-3006 or visit cuttingball.com for information.

Cutting Ball revives a Bone to gnaw on

Diadem 1
Paige Rogers is a young, hopeful Ariadne in Eugenie Chan’s Diadem, a Cutting Ball Theater world premiere. The play is a companion piece to Chan’s Bone to Pick (below), also starring Rogers, as an older, much less hopeful Aridadne. Photos by Rob Melrose.

In the summer of 2008, Cutting Ball Theater threw audiences an incredible Bone. The play, part of the evening known as Avant GardARAMA!, was Eugenie Chan’s Bone to Pick, a one-act that re-imagined the myth of Ariadne, a princess of Crete and a key player in the whole Theseus/Minotaur tussle.

Chan’s play fascinated because it took a dusty old myth and gave it a compelling spin. Ariadne, known as Ria here, is haggard waitress at the end of the world. She was left on the island of Naxos by her new groom (Theseus, here called Theo) at the moment of her greatest happiness. She had just helped her new husband slay the Minotaur (actually her half-brother), and they were heading off to a glorious future together.

But for whatever reason, Theo dumped her. And here it is 3,000-some years later, and she’s a waitress in what’s left of a diner near the end of time. In her craziness/loneliness, she cycles through her life and takes a journey – possibly real, possibly imagined – into a meat locker that leads to a labyrinth of sorts filled with memory and emotion.

Oh, and meat. There’s lots and lots of meat in this story – not actual meet on the stage – but meat that factors into Ria’s emotional and physical state of hunger. You leave the play craving a rib-eye (though not necessarily one cut from a Minotaur, even though it might be as lean as buffalo).

The charms of Chan’s play came to extraordinary life in the performance of Paige Rogers under the direction of Rob Melrose. Her Ria mesmerized us and made her world as real as it could possibly be.

Happily, Cutting Ball has revived Bone to Pick, with the impeccable Rogers back in the role that she so masterfully defined. The play – a Cutting Ball commission – has been so successful that Chan was commissioned to write a companion piece. The result is Diadem, the play that now occupies the first half of the evening.

bone 1Chan dives even deeper into the myth of Ariadne by illuminating that pivotal moment when she realizes, though she tries to deny it, that Theseus is probably not coming back. This is a young, hopeful Ariadne (not the grizzled waitress in the blood-spattered uniform) adorned in flowing blond locks and an equally flowing white gown (costumes by Joceyln Leiser Herndon).

This Ariadne (also played by Rogers) lets her mind wander to the strange events within her family. She’s a little baffled and no wonder. Her mother, Pasiphaë, fell in love with a white bull and had her buddy Daedalus create a gizmo – sort of a cow costume if you will – that allowed her to mate with the bull. The offspring of this awkward union (thank the gods there was no YouTube back then) was the Minotaur, a creature slain by Theseus with the help of Ariadne.

To be frank, Greek myths have never quite captured my imagination. The names and the stories get all jumbled up in my head, and they tend to make me feel like I’m back in school and about to fail a test.

What makes this re-telling so effective is the way Chan makes the story feel ultra-contemporary without sacrificing the scope and mythic size of this ancient story. And through Rogers, we connect with the emotion of hope about to crash and of old wounds that never stop aching. There’s also a whole lot of weirdness, and why not? We’re talking Minotaurs and Zeus here, apocalypse and possible insanity.

Michael Locher’s gorgeous set gives the plays an otherworldly feel – the quilt-like squares of his metallic backdrop are incredibly effective at capturing the flashes and shadows of Heather Basarab’s eloquent lighting design.

This is challenging, rewarding theater filled with power, humor and beauty.


The Cutting Ball Theater’s Bone to Pick and Diadem continue through Feb. 13 at the EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$50. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.cuttingball.com for information.

Final analysis: Cutting Ball’s Tempest is a head-shrinker


Caitlyn Louchard (left), David Sinaiko (center) and Donell Hill are the only three actors in director Rob Melrose’s chamber version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a Cutting Ball Theater production at EXIT on Taylor. Photo by Rob Melrose

High-concept Shakespeare gives me a rash. I should modify that. Most of the time, when directors impose some great new twist, time period, setting, the result merely obscures rather than heightens the play itself.

That said, my favorite Merry Wives of Windsor of all time was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s version, which was set in an “I Love Lucy”-like 1950s. The laughs were so big the actors had to hold and hold and hold. I was sure they had tinkered with the script, but when I ran to my Riverside Shakespeare after, it was all word for word. If a director’s concept pulls you deeper into Shakespeare’s world, I’m all for it.

When I heard that director Rob Melrose, one of the brilliant minds behind Cutting Ball Theater was turning The Tempest into a three-person chamber piece set in a psychiatrist’s office at the bottom of a swimming pool, I was hesitant but intrigued.

Looking at Michael Locher’s set at the EXIT on Taylor, I was impressed even though it looked more like a jungle gym than a swimming pool with a great back wall for Cliff Caruthers’ attractive video projections. The ladders on the sides of the stage allow for feats of physical dexterity on the part of the actors that enliven the action.

When the play started, with Miranda (Caitlyn Louchard) on the couch and Prospero (David Sinaiko) behind the therapist’s desk, the idea of a head-shrinker Tempest seemed inspired.

Prospero is all about playing manipulative head games with everyone around him, so it only makes sense that he would be a psychiatrist. But as the first scene began to play out, I wondered if, in this scenario, Prospero was actually Miranda’s father (would a father really psychoanalyze his daughter?) or if, through patient transference, he was more of a father figure. It soon became clear that he was indeed her father, which just ended up seeming weird.

I soon lost the psychiatrist thread and just saw a scaled-down Tempest that featured some intriguing performances – Louchard is a wonderful Ariel and Donell Hill is superb as Caliban (he’s fine as Ferdinand, too). Sinakio’s Prospero never came to life for me because I couldn’t really figure out who he was supposed to be. Also, having your Prospero appear as other characters (Sinaiko also plays Alonso and Stephano) really steals focus from the center of the play and diminishes the character – even if the concept has all this drama taking place in his head.

With the introduction of the revenge characters and the comic relief characters, Melrose’s production really lost me. The challenges of this chamber production erupted into confusion, and confusion turned into boredom. A friend who had never seen The Tempest before was lost almost from the beginning and left feeling like it was a play she had no interest in seeing again.

Cutting Ball productions are never easy, but their challenges often result in thrilling theatrical experiences. This Tempest certainly has its challenges but comes up short on the rewards.


Cutting Ball Theater’s The Tempest continues an extended run through Dec. 19 at EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$50. Call 800 838-3006 or visit www.cuttingball.com for information.

Theater review: `Krapp’s Last Tape’

Krapp 1

Paul Gerrior is Krapp, a 69-year-old writer spending his birthday with the spirits of his younger selves via an old reel-to-reel tape recorder in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, a Cutting Ball Theater production at the EXIT on Taylor. Photos by Margaret Whitaker

Get a load of `Krapp,’ another sad Beckett clown

Exactly 40 years ago, Samuel Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for a body of work that, even though it has been parsed and produced to a fare thee well for more than five decades, remains elusive, mysterious and vast. There’s space and darkness and humor aplenty in the world of Beckett, and all those qualities are the exact opposite of our fast, narrow, digital world.

It’s hard to imagine Krapp, the hero of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, celebrating his 69th birthday by plugging into an iPod or sliding a gleaming CD into a player as a means of listening to the voice of his 39-year-old self. No, there’s something entirely appropriate about the old man punching buttons and slinging ribbons of tape on a clunky old reel-to-reel tape recorder in order to conjure (and deride) the voice of his youth.

Cutting Ball Theater’s production of Krapp, now at the EXIT on Taylor, is, thankfully, a glimpse of time out of time. It could be 1958 (the play’s year of birth) or it could be in the back closet of now. Whatever time period allows for reel-to-reel, electricity, bananas and offstage hooch, that’s the time we’re in.

Krapp 2

Director Rob Melrose (who also designed the set – a table, a chair, some drawers and some boxes – and the lights) creates an inviting contrast between the stark light where Krapp sits and the thick blackness that surrounds him.

Paul Gerrior is a pitch-perfect Krapp. For much of the play’s brief but rich 45 minutes, Gerrior is a reactor. He’s listening to a recording made by his 39-year-old self (the voice on the tape, full of youthful pseudo-wisdom, belongs to David Sinaiko), who comments on listening to a previous tape made in his late 20s. It’s the three ages of the man all at once, and the expressive Gerrior gives us plenty to experience, even when he’s just listening.

The play begins with a little slapstick as Krapp rummages through drawers and finds a banana. He blithely tosses the peel on the floor then begins pacing. If you know anything about comedy, a banana peel on the floor means only one…oops, he just slipped on it. Ba dum bum.

When Krapp finally settles into the listening (the spot-on sound design is by Cliff Caruthers), the mood turns pretty bleak, especially when, after sufficient listening, Krapp attempts to record this year’s tape. Bitterness, rage and regret seep through his gruff crankiness, leaving us with an incredible vantage point into the aging process of a vibrant, creative mind. Krapp’s younger self has great expectations and won’t be derailed, “Not with the fire in me now,” he says.

But the older Krapp is more extinguished. There’s still a flame of sorts, but he says he’s “drowned in dreams and burning to be gone.” Such sentiment, which reverberates in the silence of a recording with no recorded sound, stir emotions that make Krapp’s Last Tape last far longer than its brief running time.


Cutting Ball Theater’s Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett continues through June 21 at EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$30. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.cuttingball.com for information.

Cutting Ball announces 10th anniversary season

Cutting Ball Theater
Husband-and-wife team Rob Melorse and Paige Rogers are the creative force behind San Francisco’s The Cutting Ball Theater. The company is heading into its 10th anniversary season. Photo courtesy Marin Independent Journal

One of the Bay Area’s most committed alternative theater companies, The Cutting Ball Theater has anounced its 10th Anniversary season.

The season opens in October with Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist comedy The Bald Soprano, in a new translation by Cutting Ball artistic director Rob Melrose, who will also direct.

In March 2010 is … and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi, a new play by Marcus Gardley, directed by Amy Mueller.

In May, back by popular demand is Eugenie Chan’s retelling of the Ariadne myth, Bone to Pick, which received its world premiere in Cutting Ball’s 2007-2008 season as part of Avant GardARAMA!; Paige Rogers once again stars, and the one-act will be accompanied by a newly commissioned companion piece, Diadem. Both will be directed by Melrose.

“For 10 years now, The Cutting Ball Theater has brought experimental new plays and re-visioned classics to the Bay Area,” Melrose said in a statement. “Our 10th anniversary season will be a year-long celebration of this mission featuring productions of new plays and our most extensive offerings in the Hidden Classics Reading Series ever. We are so proud to be presenting some of the most exciting and challenging stage works in San Francisco, as well as preparing risk-taking work to potentially transfer to the national stage; this indeed will be a great season.”

The Cutting Ball Theater continues its Hidden Classics Reading Series with six new installments this season: Aristophanes’ The Knights in September; William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida in November; Euripides and Seneca’s versions of Medea in January; Women Beware Women by Thomas Middleton in February; August Strindberg’s Storm, in a new translation by Paul Walsh, in April; and Carlo Goldoni’s The Antiquarian’s Family, in a new translation by Beatrice Basso, in May. The entire season will be staged in San Francisco at the Cutting Ball Theater in residence at EXIT on Taylor.

Co-founded in 1999 by Melrose and Rogers, Cutting Ball Theater presents avant-garde works of the past, present and future by re-envisioning classics, exploring seminal avant-garde texts, and developing new experimental plays. Cutting Ball Theater has partnered with Playwrights Foundation, Magic Theatre and Z Space New Plays Initiative to commission new experimental works.

For information visit www.cuttingball.com.

Review: `avantGARDARAMA’

Felicia Benefield is Mare in Suzan-Lori Parks’ Betting on the Dust Commander, one of three avant garde plays in The Cutting Ball Theatre’s avantGARDARAMA at the EXIT on Taylor. Photos by Rob Melrose.

Chan’s `Bone’ trumps Parks, Stein in evening of experimental plays

I’ll come right out and say I’m not a fan of avant garde theater. It’s frequently pretentious, self-involved, inscrutable and not much fun.

Call me an unsophisticated hack – OK, you’re an unsophisticated hack! – but I like story. I like humanity. I like to see myself reflected on stage in some way, and I guess I’ve never remotely seen myself in an oddly theatrical, experimentally artistic, forward-thinking way. Poor me.

But let me say this: I don’t love aggressively avant garde theater, but I really like the work of The Cutting Ball Theatre, a group run by Rob Melrose and Paige Rogers. I don’t always love the plays they do, but I always like the way they do them.

Take, for example, Cutting Ball’s avantGARDARAMA! a collection of three short avant garde plays, which just happen to ascend from incomprehensible to wonderfully, imaginatively coherent.

The opening salvo, Accents in Alsace, comes from Gertrude Stein’s 1922 Geography and Plays and doesn’t really make much sense off the page. There’s a soldier (David Westley Skillman), a motherly/sisterly woman with a baby carriage (Felicia Benefield) and a narrator (Rogers).

I got that this had to do with World War I, but that’s about all I got. Rather than try and find a story, as is my wont, I enjoyed director Melrose’s staging, set designer Michael Locher’s metallic box of a set, Heather Basarab’s sharp lighting and Cliff Caruthers’ superb video projections and sound design.

The second piece, Suzan-Lori Parks’
Betting on the Dust Commander, is also strange, but it’s funny – and boy does that make a difference in my enjoyment level. Dust Commander won the 1970 Kentucky Derby, hence the title.

Benefield and Skillman play a married couple stuck in an endless loop of silliness. He bet 35 cents on Dust Commander way back when and won enough to buy them a house. He’s going back to the track to see the old horse run an anniversary race. But before he goes, he’s got to somehow uncross his wife’s eyes.

Parks has a whimsical way with language, and her use of repetition brings out the humor and music of her dialogue. It’s all beautifully executed by Benefield and Skillman, who manage to traffic in Parks’ rhythms while bringing out darker shades involving sex, dissatisfaction, boredom and outright craziness.

The real treat of the evening is the world-premiere of local writer Eugenie Chan’s
Bone to Pick. A commission by The Cutting Ball and Magic Theatre/Z Space New Works Initiative, this retelling of the Ariadne myth brings the heroine to the modern world and leaves her stranded in a diner at the end of the world.

In her once-pink, now filthy, blood-spattered uniform, Ria, impeccably played by Rogers (above), sips dirty water from her coffee pot and re-lives her life of passion, isolation and choice making. “Someone needs to treat me like a piece of meat. Know what I mean?” is Ria’s opening line.

The combination of Chan’s funny, often heartbreaking script with Rogers’ bravura performance is a potent one to say the least.

Rogers establishes such rapport with the audience – especially when she talks about food (this stranded woman is HUNGRY) – that she could take us to any dark corner of theatricality she chooses.

This particular journey goes deep into her relationship with Theo (Theseus), the soldier who used her then abandoned her at the end of the world. He comes back for food every once in a while, but he doesn’t stay (nor does he pay).

Ria, it seems, is doomed to keep repeating the betrayal of her half-brother, the Minotaur (“Oh, brother, oh, bull,” Ria keeps saying). In the current, desolate state of the war-torn world, the Minotaur is the last “rib-eye steak” on the planet, and Ria, despite herself, will lead Theo to him once again. Fire up the barbecue.

Rogers is so moving and Chan’s play so well constructed that the play hardly seems experimental. It just seems like an extraordinary play of depth and expansive feeling.

AvantGARDARAMA continues through Aug. 16 at EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$30. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.cuttingball.com.