Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Lieutenant of Inishmore, American Hwangap
and Sony Holland

The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a "Fecking" Wonderful Irish Farce

James Carpenter, Blake Ellis and Adam Farabee
Berkeley Repertory Theatre is currently presenting the side-splitting The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. I saw the play in New York in 2006 with Brian d'Arcy James and Domhnall Gleeson; it was a pleasure to see it again at Berkeley Repertory Theatre Roda Theatre. This production is just as good as the New York production.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore takes place on a lonely road on the island of Inishmore where someone has killed an Irish Liberation Army enforcer's cat, Wee Thomas. Padraic (Blake Ellis), who can be considered a terrorist, loves Wee Thomas more than life itself. The cat was in the care and custody of Padraic's father Donny (James Carpenter). Someone will pay for kitty's execution just as soon as Padraic returns from his stint of torturing a drug seller and chip shop bombing in Northern Ireland. ("I will take the first fecking boat in the fecking morning," he says upon hearing of his favorite cat being indisposed). What happens to three members of a splinter group of the IRA (Danny Wolohan, Rowan Brooks, Michael Barrett Austin), Donny's very effeminate friend Davey (Adam Farabee) and a young wannabe IRA girl Mairead (Molly Camp) shouldn't happen to a dog—or should I say a cat?

The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a cross between Sweeney Todd and The Duchess of Malfi only so much funnier. When the play opened at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford it caused a sensation. Many audience members walked out because of the extreme violence. Many venerable companies in England and Ireland were too timid to produce the blood-drenched work following its run in Stratford. There was too much violence and savage black humor on a grand scale for the English and Irish.

There are many elements of Quentin Tarantino and Sam Peckinpah in this two-hour blood fest. The second scene in the first act is Grand Guignol at its finest when drug seller James (Daniel Krueger) is seen hanging upside down with blood dripping from his toe nails, being question by Padraic. The poor guy is up there for twelve minutes, but he gives a grand black comedy performance. (In the New York production this was the first scene that the audience saw. It is now the second scene.)

All of the performances are outstanding in this spirited mockery. James Carpenter (recipient of SFBATCC award for Excellence in the Arts in 2007 plus many roles on Bay Area stages) gives a brilliant performance as Donny. His western Irish accent is perfect, and he delivers some of the greatest Irish zingers you are likely to hear anywhere. ("Many's the time I trampled on my mam when she was alive. After she died, I stopped. There seemed no sense.")

Adam Farabee (Off-Broadway Local time 5-7 AM , History Boys at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis) is charismatic as Davey, who is very precious about his pony tailed hair. His girly girl attitude is wonderful.

Blake Ellis (Richard III at Cal Shakes) gives a superb performance as Padraic. He attacks the flavorful dialogue that contains a lot of "fecking" with relish. He plays the role as a psychopath and a murderer but he also has a tender heart for his noble cause.

Molly Camp (Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing at Vineyard Playhouse) is sassy as Mairead, who is in touch with her inner crazy self as she carries a gun around hoping to be a soldier for the IRA.

Michael Barrett Austin (Minnie Boys at 42nd Street Moon), Rowan Brooks (Cabaret at Shotgun) and Danny Wolohan (Tragedy: A tragedy at Berkeley Rep) as the bumptious band of rival terrorists are excellent. A special bravo to Daniel Kruger (The Pillowman) for acting while being help upside down in the second scene.

Director Les Waters never shies away from the torture, brutality and carnage. None of the cast goes over the top, making this an interesting and rapidly paced farce. Antje Ellermann's set is a perfect Irish cottage with a stone path leading up to it. There is broken down furniture and general filth. Tolin FX's re-creation of bloody corpses of cats and humans is authentic and gutsy. Lighting by Alexander V. Nichols also helps to get into the mood of this comedy. Bravo also to fight director Dave Maier for making the fights very realistic. Sound director Obadiah Eaves gave realism to many of the scenes toward the end of the play.

If you love Sweeney Todd you will love The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore plays through May 24th at the Berkeley Repertory Roda Theatre, 2105 Addison Street , Berkeley, California. For tickets please call 510-647-2949 or visit


A Sleek Production of American Hwangap at the Magic Theatre

The Magic Theatre is alive and back, presenting the world premiere comedy American Hwangap by Lloyd Shu. A hwangap is a 60th birthday celebration and considered in Asian cultures to be especially significant as it is the day one has completed his or her zodiac cycle. It is a family-run celebration in which sons and daughters demonstrate symbolically their devotion with wine and food.

Shu has written a sharp and simple comedy about a dysfunctional Korean-American family welcoming father Min Suk (Keone Young) to their Texas home. He has returned to the United States 15 years after abandoning his family. The birthday party celebration unfolds, and his wife and three grown children expose the family's troubled history and its promise for the future. This is one quirky family that will immediately and poignantly become familiar to the audiences.

When Min Suk left the States his wife Mary (Jodi Long) had to provide for their elder son David (Ryun Yu), a smooth investment banker who has become more American than Korean; middle daughter Esther (Angela Lin), who has quite a lot of hang ups, including two divorces; and younger son Ralph (Jon Norman Schneider), who has had a nervous break down. Needless to say, the homecoming does not go smoothly, with emotions breaking down between the family members.

Shu attempts to cover all bases in 90 minutes and does not fully succeed. There is so much that has happened to this family that some of the characterizations get lost. Many questions are not answered, such as why did the young son have a nervous breakdown or why did the patriarch spent six months in a Korean jail. The characterization of the daughter Esther is not fleshed out as to why she is so confused.

Director Trip Cullman as assembled a good cast of Asian actors, all with notable credits from across the country. Keone Young (films and theatre companies, HBO's Deadwood) is very good as the pompous Min Suk. Jon Norman Schneider (Queens Boulevard the Musical, Durango, Blind Mouth Singing in New York) is terrific as the younger son. He has a wonderful knack for a natural performance and a great theatrical voice that reaches the rafters of the Magic Theatre. Even his inflection on a simple "OK" is remarkable.

Ryan You (Los Angeles Ovation Award for Sea Change and many television appearances) gives a splendid performance as a swinging Manhattan investment broker. Jodi Long (Broadway and Los Angeles productions of Flower Drum Song) as Mary presents an amiable performance, especially when the patriarch renews his sexual vows with his wife. Angela Lin (Coram Boy, Top Girls, Sake with the Haiku Geisha in New York) makes the most out of the small part of Esther.

American Hwangap is a pleasant evening of entertainment with some very funny zingers to lighten the emotional trauma of this Korean family. It ran through May 3rd at the Magic Theatre and will play the Denver Center Theatre and then at Tanghalang Pilipino in the Philippines.

Sony Holland Sings and Swings at the Rrazz Room

Sony Holland's warm singing voice gets better and better, and she is a true modern jazz diva. She has a voice that is a cross between Peggy Lee and Nancy Wilson, and it is so smooth. She did an eclectic mix of Broadway show tunes and pop songs during her recent four-night stay at the Rrazz Room in Hotel Nikko. Backed by a cool jazz quartet, Sony entertained the audience with such songs as Van Heusen and Burke's "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," Rufus Wainwright's "Sanssouci" and the lovely "More Than You Know" by Vincent Youmans, a songbook classic.

Her rendition of Garner and Burke's "Misty" turned the song into a soft bluesy ballad. Reaching back to the 1930s, she sang Warren and Dubin "I Only Have Eyes for You," dedicating the song to her husband Jerry Holland who writes great melodies and lyrics. The artist stylized his "Blame It on Peggy Lee" with her mellow voice. She also introduced Jerry's new song, with a melodious reading, "When I Find You." She got down and dirty with Elton John's "Honky Cat" before ending the 80-minute gig with her husband's swinging song, "A Man in Manhattan." As Ferdinand Maylin of Jazz Now said, "This lady can sing."

Sony Holland appeared four days April 8 —11 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 220 Taylor Street , San Francisco. To see who is coming to the Rrazz Room next, go to

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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