Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Little Me and The Language Archive
I saw the original production at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York in 1962 and later two separate productions in England starring British television personalities Russ Abbot and Bruce Forsyth. Jason Graae is wonderful playing seven men in the life of one woman, Belle. He transforms into his characters with elated abandon as if he'd been re-drawn by a caricaturist. With each costume, accent, personality and mannerism change, a new character appears, making this talented comedian almost unrecognizable. You can see he revels in the nonsensicalness of the clichés.
Little Me is based on a book by Patrick Dennis about a fictional movie siren named Belle Poitrine. Actually, she was born Belle Schlumpfert, but Poitrine is her married nameat least one of them. At the age of 16, dirt-poor Belle falls for snooty brat Noble Eggleston and devotes her entire life to acquiring wealth, culture and social position, the three elements Noble claims she must have before he can consider marrying her. A lot happens around Belle in this show, including several murders.
Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh's frisky, melodious score has some great songs, including "The Other Side of the Tracks," "Real Live Girl" and "Here's to Us," which have become standards. Simon's book is broadly funny and reminds me of those vignettes one would see on television shows like "Your Show of Shows" in the 1960s (Little Me was written for Sid Caesar, the star of that TV show).
Teressa Byrne and Sharon Rietkerk share the role of Belle. These dynamic women are clearly showing their acting and singing skills. Teressa Byrne belts out "Little Me" and "Here's to Us" with a commanding voice, and Sharon Rietkerk has a sweet voice and is gorgeous to boot.
Darlene Popovic and Zack Thomas Wilde shine as Bernie and Benny Buchsbaum, especially in the number "Be a Performer!." The rest of the cast slip in and out of various roles as Belle's staff and friends, re-enacting her rags to riches story. The cast flourishes with born comedians. Eric Inman's direction is fast paced, and Brandon Adams on piano and Nick Di Scala on reeds are a fine back up.
Little Me runs through May 19th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-255-8207 or online at www.42ndstmoon.org.
Photo: David Allen
The Symmetry Theatre recently presented The Language Archive, Julia Cho's adroit play, at the Berkeley City Club. It is an elegant, agile confection of a drama whose startling clarifications and sometimes harebrained plot developments mask the strength of the playwright's theme.
The plot centers around George, a scholar of dead or dying languages. However, he can't communicate with his wife Mary. She does not make it easy for George since there are weeping and enigmatic notes thrown about the house, even in the bottom of the cup while he is drinking tea. He has no idea what these notes mean. Mary denies sending this notes but she finally states "I'm leaving you" and, by God, she does. George is "gob smacked" and his whole world, his whole way of life, begins to die.
A rather broad comic contrast to George and Mary's verbal impasse is the romantic trussing of two subjects of George's study, Alta and Resten. This elderly couple is from the far off country Elloway, and their Eastern-European language is becoming extinct. They are brought to the laboratory so George can record them. However, these two, who have been married for fifty years, love to argue. They believe their own language is sacred so they argue in English. "Why?," George asks. Alta explains that "English is the language of anger," and Resten says, "And that is why we can argue in it. Say mean, hateful, ugly thingthis is what English is perfect for!".
The Language Archive has many subplots involving Mary after she leaves her husband, including opening up a bakery, and an Esperanto teacher who regales George's assistant in the language as well as lessons in love (she is secretly in love with George). We even meet the actual inventor of Esperanto, L.L. Zamenhof, whose presence pushes the eccentricity straight over the edge into fantasy.
Director Chloe Bronzan assembled a great cast to present this comedy. She seems to have trusted the play's idiosyncratic comedy rather than its emotional appeal. Gabriel Grilli was excellent as the genuinely dedicated George; he gave a lot of his speeches to the audience in the intimate three-sided theatre. Danielle Levin was extremely skilled at using her face and gestures to represent Emma's inner conflict about her infatuation of George. Elena Wright gave a convincing performance as Mary.
Outstanding were Stacy Ross as Alta and Howard Swain as Resten. They were hilarious exchanging retaliations about her food and his rudeness with the occasional vulgar insult in English. Howard Swain also gave great performances as the Old Man, Passerby, and the inventor of Esperanto. Stacy Ross excellently portrayed a fierce Esperanto teacher.
The Language Archive closed Sunday April 28th at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave, Berkeley.