Catching up with Colette & Cyrano

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Lorri Holt stars in and co-wrote Colette Uncesnored, the story of the infamous French novelist’s life as a writer, a woman, a pioneer for social change and a lover. The solo show runs through May 14 at The Marsh San Francisco. Photo by David Allen Below: Le Bret (Michael Gene Sullivan, left) warns Cyrano (J. Anthony Crane) in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s production of Cyrano, running through May 1 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Kevin Berne

So many shows, so little time!

Herewith, a petite voyage to France, first to check in with the writer Colette and then to catch up with the swashbuckling Cyrano de Bergerac. I reviewed both Colette Uncensored at The Marsh, a solo show starring and co-written by Lorri Holt (with Zack Rogow, and Cyrano, a new adaptation of Rostand’s tale at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Here is a bit of the Colette Uncensored review:

There’s a definite “ooh la la” factor to Colette’s story, and Holt can flirt with and tease an audience like a true Parisian. But this is less a gossipy tale and more an evolutionary one. Colette thrived in the Belle Epoque period in which the bohemians sought freedom in all its forms (and suffered all the consequences).
At a certain point in her life, she delights that her reputation as a writer has overtaken her reputation as a scandal magnet, and by the time Paris is overtaken by the Nazis, we’ve seen her as a naive young wife, a successful actress, a journalist and a successful novelist. Through it all, she keeps coming back to a central question: “Is pleasure the same thing as happiness?”

Read the full review here.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Lorri Holt and Zack Rogow’s Colette Uncensored continues through May 14 at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$100. Call 415-282-3055 or visit www.themarsh.org.

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And here is a peek a the Cyrano review:

There’s a robust charm to director Robert Kelley’s production in the first act, when Cyrano is surrounded by a noisy crowd of soldiers, actors, friends and antagonists. The second act, however, loses steam in a major way as the lively comedy and masterful swordplay (fight direction by Jonathan Rider) gives way to less exciting romance, a detour into battle and then a 15-year time jump into outright tragedy.
At nearly three hours, this “Cyrano” is at least 20 minutes too long and has a much easier time bearing the laughs and action of the first act than it does the increasingly sad drama of the second.

Read the full review here.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano, adapted by Michael Hollinger and Aaron Posner, continues in a TheatreWorks Silicon Valley production at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $19-$80. Call 650-463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org.

Brian Copeland enters a compelling Period

EXTENDED AGAIN THROUGH DEC. 8
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Comedian, author and TV personality Brian Copeland wrote and starred in one of San Francisco’s longest-running solo shows of all time. He’s back with a new show, The Waiting Period, which takes his art in a powerful new direction. Photo by Joan Marcus


There’s nothing unusual about the following statement: Brian Copeland is a funny, funny man. He has proved that time and time again over the course of his stand-up career and his TV work. We started to see more of Copeland in his extraordinarily successful solo show Not a Genuine Black Man, which ran for more than 700 performances then became a book. Though about something serious – the extreme racism of San Leandro in the 1970s – the show offered abundant laughter and gave audiences the unique experience of dealing with real-world problems in a funny and theatrical way.

Copeland takes that notion a step further with his new solo work, The Waiting Period. Like his previous show, this one is co-developed and directed by David Ford, and it has sprung to life at The Marsh in San Francisco. But unlike his previous outing, this is no comedy. Far from it.

Of course there are laughs in this 70-minute one-act. How could there not be with Copeland writing and performing it? But this is a very different experience because it is driven by a very clear agenda. The Waiting Period is about the disease known as depression and about how important it is for people suffering from depression to reach out to someone, anyone, and keep a connection to life. He dedicates the show to Colton L. Fink, a 15-year-old who lost that connection and took his own life.

The waiting period of the show’s title is the state-mandated 10 days before you can purchase a handgun. We know this because, as Copeland tells us, he was intending to spend about $400 on a gun he intended to use only once. On himself. In this darkest of dark times, Copeland was dealing with the effects of serious injuries sustained in a car accident that happened around the time his wife left him and their three children with no real reason.

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Lost in hopelessness, Copeland visits a gun dealership, where, in spite of his bleak state of mind, he finds humor in the whole enterprise. He sees posters on the wall of bikini-clad ladies holding firearms trying hard to look sexy and lethal. “I’ve been married twice,” he says. “They were either lethal or sexy. Never both.” Or in that moment when he’s holding the revolver, he senses it’s a “little black steel penis extender…not everyone can afford a Corvette.”

With pathos and heart, Copeland conveys to his audience the helplessness of depression and the disease of it. At one point, he’s standing outside of himself, the healthy Brian attempting to “slap the shit” out of depressed Brian. But the healthy self has to concede that, “He can’t hear us. He’s sick.” The power and emotion Copeland and Ford have invested in this story elevate it above your average night out at the theater.

This is an entertaining, intriguing show to be sure. But you know you’re seeing something important as Copeland slowly begins re-connecting to life, most notably when he goes to speak at a local high school where he recognizes an overachieving but depressed teenager. The Waiting Period is ultimately as life-affirming a show as you could hope to see. There’s an especially nice touch toward the end as Copeland, coming into the light and feeling hope trickle in, is surrounded by the sound of happiness, and it sounds like a trumpet playing “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Brian Copeland’s The Waiting Period continues an extended run through Dec. 8 at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$35 on a sliding scale. Call 415-282-3055 or visit www.themarsh.org.

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.

Marga Gomez: So old, so funny

EXTENDED THROUGH DEC. 17!

Marga Gomez gets a horizontal groove on in her new solo show Not Getting Any Younger at The Marsh in San Francisco. Photos by David Wilson

Though hardly a senior citizen, Marga Gomez needs to talk about her age. That doesn’t mean she’ll tell you her age, but it does mean she’ll regale you with her thoughts on the aging process for 80 minutes in her new solo theatrical venture, Not Getting Any Younger at The Marsh in San Francisco.

Probably best known as a stand-up comic, Gomez says she’s considered a pioneer for being one of the first out lesbian comics. But she hates being called a pioneer because it makes her sound old – like she traveled to gigs in a covered wagon. But Gomez is a theatrical force as well. This is her ninth solo show, and if you’ve seen any of her previous theater work (especially the shows about her show-biz parents), you know how artfully she blends the high entertainment value of stand-up comedy with the more deeply felt levels of autobiographical storytelling.

It is, frankly, news that the ever-youthful Gomez is not getting any younger. She’s as spry as ever (just wait until you see her do the twist and then demonstrate some more contemporary dances moves she likes to call “the anal twist”). For someone who looks so good and is working at the top of her considerable game, it’s somewhat surprising that Gomez is so worked up about landing in mid-middle age.

One of the key components of Younger is that Gomez intends to reveal her actual age. In storytelling terms, this is called suspense. If you look up her Wikipedia page (which she says she composed herself while stoned), the birth date reads: June 19, 1960 [citation needed]. Citation needed indeed. In attempting to shave a few years off her age, Gomez admits, she actually made herself older than she intended. Or so she’d like us to believe.

In her laugh-out-loud show, Gomez discusses visiting the amusement park Freedomland in the Bronx when she was young. Curiously, the Wikipedia page for that park states that opening day was June 19, 1960. It probably wouldn’t be too hard to find out Gomez’s real name. Just a casual breeze through her press clips, you see one reference to the move she made from Long Island to San Francisco when she was 20. Another story places that move in 1979.

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Whatever her age, whether she’s in her early 50s or whether, like her mother, she holds to an ever less believable 21, Gomez is ageless because she’s a dynamic performer and afunny and talented writer. Show business is such a warped world that age can mean life or death to a performer, especially a woman, who is likely to be more harshly judged for having the nerve to age (see Joan Rivers [citation needed]). In a perfect world, Gomez wouldn’t care how old she was because age bears no relation whatsoever to her gifts as a performer. The years have certainly helped shape her into the performer she is today (thank you, years), but they have yet to diminish any of her spark.

Originally directed by Ellen Sebastian Chang in a workshop earlier this year, Younger is really less about age than it is about lying. Referring back to that pesky Wikipedia page, there’s a mention that Gomez is known for her honesty. Of course we know on that very page she’s lying about her age. In setting about the creation of this show, she reveals that her mother lied about her age for much of her life. That’s one of many thoughts she explored in the writing process, which took place primarily in her neighborhood Starbuck’s (“an atmosphere conducive to writing about lies”). Over many soy lattes, she worried about Social Security ceasing to exist exactly on her 65th birthday. She also fretted over schoolchildren who were ever-present in the coffee shop (“What could possibly be so bad in their lives that they need coffee?”) and even more so about the babies, whom she does not like (“They’re stupid adults waiting to happen.”).

She hides from a former lover who has let her hair go naturally gray, while Gomez admits to having had gray hair since childhood (you can’t see it, she says, because now it’s internal).

Like any person talking about the aging process, Gomez has to let out her inner curmudgeon, the one that wants to share that she grew up before the advent of the Internet, that she knows what it’s like to have used a rotary phone, that she studied arithmetic in school (not math) and that she remembers Valencia Street before the trees and hipsters when it was mostly mariachi bands and lesbians. Her funniest curmudgeon story involves a trip to that nightmarish palace of eternal youth, Forever 21. Suffice it to say that if Gomez ever thanks you for anything, don’t answer with “uh huh.” And whatever you do, DO NOT call her ma’am. “That’s a word that can give you arthritis,” she says.

Another show high point involves a childhood friend named Lisa, who liked to recruit her friends for the purpose of teasing and taunting old people. Gomez reacts to that by forming her own short-lived do-gooder club called Old People Helper. When she goes to Lisa’s house for a birthday party, the festivities are presided over by her father, an ex-Marine who was tossed for being too aggressive. If you don’t think Gomez can be an effective ex-Marine, you sadly underestimate her skills as an actor. Judi Dench could only dream of being such a scary Marine.

There are several moments in Younger when Gomez reveals some of what’s really going on with her, as when she mentions that she’s six years away from the age at which her dad died and seven years away from the age her mom died. That, more than anything we hear, makes you understand what all this fussing over age is really about. Marga Gomez may not be getting any younger, but she’s getting funnier. And braver.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Marga Gomez’s Not Getting Any Younger continues an extended run through Dec. 17 at The Marsh Studio Theater, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco.Tickets are $15-$35 on a sliding scale. Call 415-282-3055 or visit www.themarsh.org.

Weight and see: Don’t miss 40 Pounds

EXTENDED THROUGH APRIL 30!
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Pidge Meade details her personal transformation in the autobiographical solo show 40 Pounds in 12 Weeks at The Marsh Studio Theatre in San Francisco. Photo by David Allen

 

They say you should never ask a lady about her weight. Well, Pidge Meade is a lady who freely talks about her weight – in fact she’s written an entire solo show about it.

40 Pounds in 12 Weeks: A Love Story, now at The Marsh in San Francisco, is Meade’s intimate, not to mention funny, moving and generally marvelous, account of being a formerly fat lady. One of her recurring characters is a carnival barker who keeps directing our attention to the exhibit of the formerly fat lady trying to navigate her way through difficult life situations such as basking in (too much?) attention at 20-year college reunion or going the metaphysical, from-the-inside-out route toward weight loss.

The carnival barker represents the show’s snarky side because Meade herself is as sweet and likable person as you’ll ever see on stage. Oh, she’ll curse from time to time or show a flash anger, but she’s exactly the kind of amiable person you’d like to spend 70 minutes with. The audience, as audiences do, remains mostly silent throughout her show, yet it somehow feels like a conversation.

Developed with and directed by Charlie Varon, himself a master of the solo show, 40 Pounds tells the story of Meade’s ride on the weight roller coaster. When she went off to college, she immediately gained 40 pounds, much to the dismay of her father, an Olympics-level gymnastic coach. His tough love approach to his daughter’s weight gain was to say that if the weight she gained her freshman year wasn’t gone by the end of summer, she wouldn’t be going back to school at all. Thus began the summer of hell.

More than that, it was the beginning of losing, gaining, losing and gaining more. At her heaviest, about six years ago, Meade was carrying nearly 200 pounds on her slight five-foot frame. She was 198 1/2 pounds, or as she puts it, “almost busting the deuce.”

Meade frames her story with the college reunion, where old friends are astonished to see her so slim and trim. One friend in particular, the still-smiling sorority gal Susie, is insistent about discovering Meade’s secret to weight loss. Was it a juice fast? Well, one was certainly attempted. Was it South Beach? Atkins? Binge and purge? It seems there’s little in the world of weight loss that Meade hadn’t tried.

But the whole point of her show is that there’s no easy answer to weight loss. It’s a deeply personal, highly individual issue that is intimately connected to family issues, relationships and emotional well being.

At the heart of this tale is Meade’s relationship with her father. In those key scenes when she plays her father, the show takes on an utterly compelling dramatic tone. “Break out the tissues, I’ve got daddy issues,” she sings at one point. On the drive back from college, Meade’s dad tells her she’ll never achieve her potential if she’s fat. In the midst of her arduous summer of “weight loss or else,” Meade visits her dad while he’s working with his gymnasts. Chiding her publically, he says, “What do you do with an ass like that?” You feel Meade’s pain so acutely at that moment you want to crawl under you chair.

And what does Meade do with an ass like that? She creates an extraordinary show that has the courage to talk about weight in a way that has the power to change the way you perceive obesity. We’re at a pivotal moment in this country when it comes to childhood obesity. First Lady Michelle Obama has made it the focus of her work in the White House (no matter what Sarah Palin has to say about imposing socialist controls on our kids), and as Meade points out, with 10 million obese children in this country, we risk creating “an entire generation of ginormity.”

Meade gets so honest that she even admits to missing being overweight because it was easier to tell the good people from the bad based on how they react to her. Ouch. That smarts. But Meade isn’t trying to make us feel guilty or make us want to go hug a fat person. She wants to illuminate her own experience – which is ongoing – of personal transformation. When the pain not doing anything became greater than the pain of change, she took action. We can all relate to that, and that’s why 40 Pounds in 12 Weeks is so successful. We’re all part of her story.

BONUS INTERVIEW!

I interviewed Pidge Meade for the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the story here.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Pidge Meade’s 40 Pounds In 12 Weeks continues an extended run through April 30 at The Marsh Studio Theater, 1074 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$35. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.themarsh.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: `No Parole’

Carlo D’Amore plays himself, his mother, members of his family and assorted other characters in his one-man show No Parole at The Marsh in San Francisco. Photo by Rudy Meyers

It’s a laugh sentence in D’Amore’s arresting `No Parole’
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Decked out in his glittery, color-splattered Ed Hardy shirt, Carlo D’Amore is a little like animation come to life in his energetic solo show No Parole now at The Marsh in San Francisco. And that’s a good thing when you need to command a stage for 80 minutes or so.

D’Amore has no problem endearing himself to his audience. He bounces around the stage, switches characters with instant flair and tells a humor-laced story that ends up being quite moving.

The topic, not surprisingly, is family. We’ve all got one and we’ve all got the related issues.

But hand it to D’Amore – his issues are on a grand, international, even criminal scale.

If “No Parole” weren’t so darned entertaining and if D’Amore weren’t so charming, his life story could be downright depressing.

Born in Peru to a Peruvian mother and an Italian father, D’Amore grew up in the shadow of his eccentric, attention-starved mother who had a talent for con-artistry. Clearly the acting gene runs in the D’Amore family, and while Carlo has channeled his into the more legit forms of stage and screen, his mother, whose name varied depending on the con – Angelica, Tina, Gina, Coco – invested hers in scheming, manipulating and money making.

The family headed north to the U.S. , entered illegally (acting was involved) and once settled, Mama D’Amore really went to town on the scams. For a while she was even a highly successful immigration attorney who scored green cards for hundreds of migrant workers.

She was, not, however, flawless in her approach and ended up in prison. Once out, she resumed her schemes, and as angry victims and the law began closing in on her, she suffered a debilitating stroke and ended up living with her son in his illegally sublet studio in New York’s Lower East Side.

This is the meat of D’Amore’s show, his coming to terms with the mother he loves – “To me, my mother is the best mother in the world,” he says – while taking care of her and foiling more of her scams.

Early parts of the show, detailing a tumultuous childhood, come across as comic reflections, but the show, directed by Margarett Perry, really gains traction when it becomes an outright drama and D’Amore finds himself making bold, serious choices in the way he deals with this woman, his mother, who has some sort of pathological need to lie, manipulate and scam.

Throughout the show, he offers life lessons his mother imparted to him such as “People believe what you make them believe.” But in the more dramatic portion of the evening, the lesson “Hurt those who hurt you” takes on some significant emotional weight.

There’s a lot of pain masked by humor in No Parole, and it might make for a more potent show if D’Amore trusted his dramatic power a little more and didn’t try so hard to make this reminiscence quite so palatable for his audience. He’s such a likeable guy we’d go pretty much anywhere with him.

It’s the darkness more than the light that lingers after No Parole concludes, although D’Amore’s optimism and resilience resonates. How did he survive his family with a sense of humor and a sense of self intact?

“Hopefully you learn to forgive them as much as you can.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

No Parole continues through Dec. 13 at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$35. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.themarsh.org.

Carlo D’Amore lands a `Parole’ hearing

A familiar face is back among us.

Carlo D’Amore got his start in the acting world more than a decade ago in productions with some prominent Bay Area theaters: Theatre Rhinoceros’ Twelfth Night, the Magic Theatre’s A Park in Our House and Dog Opera and several San Francisco Shakespeare Festival touring park productions.

Then, with “ants in his pants,” as he puts it, he headed off to New York in 1996 to try life in a bigger pond, only to bottom out before attaining a measured degree of success.

“It was a lot harder than I suspected,” says D’Amore (at right, photos by Rudy Meyers). “But I’ve done pretty well and been lucky enough to work on Broadway a couple of times. For a 5’6″ white Latino who doesn’t sing, that’s a huge accomplishment.”

While living in New York, D’Amore’s mother, a colorful character to say the least who had lived her life as a flamboyant con artist, had a stroke and needed the care and attention of her son.

Born in Peru to an Italian father and a Peruvian mother, D’Amore emigrated to the U.S. and lived in the South Bay. That’s where he came into contact with acting, but he attributes his acting gene to his mother.

“She always used to say that had she been an actress, she would have been amazing,” D’Amore says. “But she was an actress because she was constantly putting on personas in her scamming. She was basically performing, making you think what she wanted you to think. She was fearless in her sort of attack. I learned from her how to do that. Even when I started studying at American Conservatory Theater or with Jean Shelton, I was always a natural.”

While taking care of his ailing mother in New York, D’Amore found himself having to grow up a little bit and become a caretaker. His mother, true to her history, “pulled some shenanigans,” as D’Amore puts it.

“After 30 years of going through these experiences, it came home to me,” he says. “I went ballistic. I came close to…I don’t know.”

He came more than close to pouring his heart out in what would become No Parole, an autobiographical one-man show, the basis of which is this: “Family is a life sentence.”

“I locked myself in for two weeks and wrote 80 pages, single spaced,” D’Amore recalls. “I was pouring these rants, these huge rants, onto the page.”

From that, he was able to perform a chunk of the show in its early stages at the Tribeca Theater Festival. “I was told they were looking for people of color, and I thought, `Hey, I’m colorful!” D’Amore says. “I did it and got some awesome feedback. From there I wanted to go more in depth with it. I worked with a director, Joe Megel, and he told me that with this kind of work, there’s no place to hide. I was talking about my mother, but part of me was still trying to protect her.”

Years before, at Theatre Rhino, D’Amore had performed in the one-man show Men on the Verge and savored the experience of being an actor alone on stage. “I wanted to have that experience again,” he says. “And it turns out the best story I had to tell was my life story and growing up with my mom.”

A producer friend in San Francisco convinced D’Amore to bring his show here, where it ran for several weeks last year at the SF Playhouse. That version of the show was heavy and dark, according to D’Amore.

“My sense of humor is very dark,” he says. “Things I thought were funny just horrified people. People were moved by it, but they weren’t laughing as much as I wanted them to. Something was still not clicking.”

Further work on the show at the Lark Play Development Center in New York and then work with director Margaret Perry have taken the show, D’Amore says, to a “totally different place.” When No Parole opens tonight (Thursday, Nov. 13) at The Marsh, where it runs through Dec. 13, audiences will see a show that is, according to its creator, at least 30 percent new material.

“I think I’m done writing the play,” says D’Amore, who will soon be 40. “It took three years, but it’s finished, and I’m thrilled with where it is.”

D’Amore’s mother didn’t see him on stage for a long time, but not too long before she died, she did get to see him in an early version of No Parole, in which he plays her as a vibrant young woman and as a 60-year-old debilitated by a stroke.

“She saw me do this in 2005 in the first version of the show,” D’Amore says. “It was pretty interesting to have her see that. I think it must have been difficult for her to watch. Part of her loved the fact that she was being immortalized. She’s a huge personality, and along with that comes quite a bit of ego, which is why I think she was able to do all the things she did. She was unstoppable.”

Coming back to San Francisco, D’Amore says, always feels like coming home. He has fond memories of working at the Magic and says that Danny Scheie, who directed him in Theatre Rhino’s all-male Twelfth Night set on a submarine, is “probably the best director I’ve ever worked with. Nobody else is quite as creative or fun.”

There’s a second solo show in the works, Feet First, and though it’s based on his mother’s brother, this is quite a different piece, and at no time in the show does D’Amore play himself.

“My uncle died in San Quentin chained to a hospital bed. It’s a tragic story,” D’Amore says. “The title comes from Incan lore: if you’re born feet first, and you make that journey, you’ll be blessed to waltz through life. It’s basically about a man looking at his life from prison and attempting to pass a positive image on to his son.”

D’Amore pauses and admits that talking about the show gives him “full-body goose pimples.”

“I’m thrilled not to be a one-trick pony writer.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

No Parole continues through Dec. 13 at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$35. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.themarsh.org.

Review: `Towle’s Hill’

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The Marsh is delving into theater of a whole new vintage these days.

Best known as a breeding ground for great solo shows, The Marsh usually pairs enterprising writer/performers with directors who know the ins and outs of one-person shows.

For one of its latest projects, The Marsh followed that model but with a twist. The family-owned Sonoma winery Gundlach Bundschu was about to celebrate its 150th anniversary and wanted to commission a play about the family and the winery.

The task of writing and performing the show fell to Oakland’s Mark Kenward, who developed the piece with director David Ford, and the finished product, Towle’s Hill, hit the road.

Beginning last May, Towle’s Hill toured the country and has now settled into a regular Friday-night slot at The Marsh.

An outsider might look at this project and think, “Oh, no! The Marsh has become a corporate shill!” But it’s not really like that. Yes, a successful winery spent some money to create a show, but the show itself is very much a Marsh product and went through the same developmental process that all Marsh shows follow.

Yes, you may leave the Towle’s Hill wanting to a) visit Rhinefarm, the 320-acre estate vineyard on the southwesterly slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains and b) buy cases and cases of their wine. But you also leave having experienced a genuinely enjoyable evening of theater.

OK, there’s about 45 minutes of theater followed by a wine tasting of Gundlach Bundschu wines, so it’s what you might call a very complete experience.

Back in the early, heady days of Gundlach Bundschu – before the Great Earthquake of 1906 destroyed a million gallons of wine and the reigning motto was “Parties, poetry, prosperity” – the family would throw lavish parties on the vineyard in tribute to Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and patron saint of theater.

So it’s only appropriate that we celebrate the estate’s sesquicentennial in a theatrical way.

In Towle’s Hill, Kenward plays Towle Bundschu, the third generation of the family to farm the land. The year is 1974, a decisive moment in the family’s history because after years of selling grapes to other wineries and after lean years of cattle and sheep ranching, pear farming, hay growing, sheep, Towle’s son, Jim, wants to start bottling wine under the old family label.

But Towle doesn’t know quite what to think about that. He has come close to selling the whole place to make it a University of California, Berkeley campus or a golf course. There’s a plot of land he owns on a little nearby lake where he envisions building a home and spending his days not seeing to every little detail on a big, difficult farm subject to fires and black frost.

But his son Jim has a passion about re-planting the entire vineyard, starting over and becoming a viable vintner.

Before he makes his decision, Towle takes us through his family history and gives us an appreciation for the legacy of the past and the hope for the future in each glass of wine that finds its way to our table.

Kenward is a warm, wonderful storyteller who establishes an instant rapport with his audience. Outfitted in a baseball cap and work clothes, Kenward makes a believable farmer and an even more believable dad who appreciates that his son, like himself, his father, his grandfather and great grandfather before him, truly cares about this beautiful stretch of land.

When it comes right down to it, Towle’s Hill is really about family more than wine, and that makes for quite an intoxicating show.

So after Kenward takes his well-earned bows and the audience heads to the bar in the rear of the theater, the enthusiasm for the wine is genuine. It’s not just wine we’re tasting but history in those glasses.

Towle’s Hill does something we always want theater to do and that is make us more conscious. When we sip the wine, we do it with knowledge and with appreciation, so it’s that much tastier. And it is quite tasty. On a recent Friday the wines on offer were chardonnay, pinot and merlot.

Like the play itself, the wines were crisp, rich and eminently satisfying.

Towle’s Hill is at 8 p.m. Fridays through Nov. 21 (no show Oct. 31) at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$50 on a sliding scale. Theater Dogs readers can get $15 tickets if you mention the code word: “tasting.” Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.themarsh.org.

Bay Area’s best theater bets

The summer season is starting to, pardon the expression, heat up, though anyone who has been through a Bay Area summer knows that summer does not necessarily mean heat around here.


– Lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my! The first outdoor show of the year opened last week on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin: The Mountain Play’s The Wizard of Oz runs weekends through June 15. All shows are at 1 p.m. The views are spectacular, and the show’s probably pretty good, too. Tickets are $25-$39. Call 415-383-1100 or visit www.mountainplay.org for information.


Franz Kafka’s Love Life, Letters and Hallucinations in Short Scenes with Live Actors at the Berkeley City Club. Photo by Marty Sohl

Brookside Repertory Theatre in Berkeley presents Franz Kafka’s Love Life, Letters and Hallucinations in Short Scenes with Live Actors (whew!) by Mae Ziglin Meidav. Written by Brookside’s artistic director, this comic biography delves into the hallucinations that fed Kafka’s creativity. The show continues through June 29 at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave., Berkeley. Tickets are $16-$34. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.brooksiderep.org for information.

– Check out Marga Gomez’s work-in-progress Long Island Iced Latina at The Marsh, which will have its premiere at the Public Theater’s Joe’s Pub in New York. Another in her series of comedic memoirs, the new show is about Gomez’s awkward adolescence (is there any other kind?) in Massapequa, Long Island, where life was equal parts cultural confusion, chronic virginity, mother-daughter instability and polyester fashion.
The show opens today (May 28) and continues through May 31 at The Marsh Studio Theater, 1074 Valencia St., San Francisco. The bill also includes an excerpt from Samantha Chase’s Lydia’s Funeral Video.
Tickets are $15-$35 on a sliding scale. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.themarsh.org for information.

California Shakespeare Theater opens its 2008 season with Pericles, a wacky Shakespeare play involving incest, shipwrecks, tournaments, magicians bringing the dead back to life and, of course, pirates! Minneapolis-based director Joel Sass makes his West Coast directing debut with a highly theatrical re-telling of this odd tale with eight actors playing 50 roles. Previews begin tonight (May 28) and opening is Saturday, May 30. The show continues through June 22 at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda (good news for your gas tank: there’s a free shuttle between Orinda BART and the theater). Tickets are $40-$62. Call 510-548-9666 or visit www.calshakes.org for information.
You might also want to check out Cal Shakes’ blogs here.