Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

After the Revolution, Good People and
Darlene Popovic at Society Cabaret

A Thought-Provoking Production of Amy Herzog's After the Revolution

Rolf Saxon, Victor Talmadge (back) and Jessica Bate
Photo by David Allen
Aurora Theatre is presenting Amy Herzog's smart and finely written After the Revolution well directed by Joy Carlin and featuring a splendid cast of actors. This intriguing drama played Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 2010 where it received Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations and won a Lilly Award.

After the Revolution is a perceptive, caustic meditation on what we do with history and how we appreciate it for our emotional needs. It touches on American Communists, the McCarthy blacklistings, and the shift from Left to New Left to Non-Left.

The drama is set in 1999 as promising Emma Joseph (Jessica Bates) has just graduated from law school. Emma is also the head of a foundation that she launched four years earlier named after her grandfather Joe Johnson, a member of the Communist Party who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. She proudly carries the torch of her family's Marxist traditions, and the foundation is used for modern-day radical causes.

A new book is about to be published devoting two pages to the grandfather, documenting how, as a government employee during World War II, he passed classified information to the Soviets. Emma's father Ben (Rolf Saxon) has known about this for years, but Emma did not know this fact. Emma is floored by this information. A deep freeze develops between Ben and Emma which extends throughout the entire extended family, including Ben's partner Mel (Pamela Gaye Walker) and his brother Leo (Victor Talmadge), both of whom are liberals but not extreme left wing, Ben's stepmother Vera (Ellen Ratner), who is losing her hearing but is a steadfast defender of Joe's ethical conscientiousness, and Emma's black sheep sister Jess (Sarah Mitchell), who is just out of rehab and sympathetic to Emma's plight.

Emma becomes lost and confused about what to do about her grandfather's spying for the Soviets. That said, her inactivity goes on much too long, but the Herzog uses this time on her decline to shift the family's balance of power. The playwright brilliantly invokes the ageless allure of radicalism in a society marked by prejudice.

Every actor is excellent, right down to the supporting players in a few brief scenes. Jessica Bates is outstanding as Emma. She draws a convincing portrayal of a high achiever brought down by disenchantment. Rolf Saxon and Pamela Gaye Walker are charmingly genuine as Emma's forthcoming, liberal parents. Ellen Ratner gives a marvelous comic performance as Joe's second wife Vera. She is given the play's most droll lines. Victor Talmadge instills Leo with the wary amicability of the peacemaker. Peter Kybart as the donor Morty bristles with kindhearted warmth and judicious words in discussing the upcoming funds of the foundation. Sarah Mitchell gives a captivating performance as Emma's sister Jess. Adrian Anchondo, in a small role as Emma's boyfriend Miguel, is impressive.

After the Revolution has been extended through October 6 at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley. For ticket please call 510-843-4822 or visit Coming up next is Samuel D. Hunter's A Bright New Boise opening on November 8th.

An Enthralling Production of David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People

Amy Resnick and Mark Anderson Phillips
Photo by Ed Smith
Marin Theatre is presenting probably the most popular play in America: David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People has been seen in at least seventeen different cities during the 2012-2013 season. The Marin Theatre production is an enthralling, gripping and remarkable two-hour comedy-drama performed by a superb cast of actors with sharp direction by OSF director Tracy Young (four seasons with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival).

At the play's center is Margaret, or Margie (Amy Resnick), a down on her luck single mother with a grown but severely handicapped child (not seen). Margie has just been fired from her job at a dollar store by manager Stevie (Ben Euphrat) for chronic lateness because of trying to get someone to tend to her daughter. Things are not good for Margie—she is also facing eviction for not paying the month's rent. The plot is about her efforts to land another job in this hardscrabble Boston neighborhood.

Margaret has discovered high school flame Mike (Mark Anderson Phillips) is a prosperous doctor working in the city. She swallows her pride and seeks his help. During the second act at the home of the good doctor and his wife Kate (ZZ Moor), a university professor who is nearly 20 years younger, many questions come up about class, commitment and what is means to be a "good person." One of the playwright's central issues takes shape in this act. If someone gets out of Southie, is it due to good luck or distinctive ambition and talent" If someone is stuck forever in Southie, is it due to bad luck or lack of get-up-and-go and talent?

Good People is full of peppery dialogue that is often funny, especially in the bingo scenes involving Margaret and her two bingo playing friends Dottie (Anne Darragh) and Jean (Jamie Jones). The dialogue, especially in the confrontation scenes between Mike and Margaret, is outstanding.

Amy Resnick shines as the self-proclaimed ball-busting Margaret. The actress's ability to balance the character's desire for a "way out" with an always prevailing compassion evokes a certain sadness that is largely responsible for moving the audience.

Mark Anderson Phillips is outstanding as Mike, a perplexing character. He successfully portrays Mike's nervousness with this figure from a world that he escaped long ago. His Southie accent is perfect. ZZ Moore is spot-on as the skilled Kate with a crusty air and a wonderful smile.

Anne Darragh and Jamie Jones are excellent as Southie neighbors Dottie and Jean. Anna Darragh gives a wonderful sardonic edge to her performance while Jamie Jones is wickedly funny. Ben Euphrat gives an impressive performance as the store manager who loves to play bingo.

Nina Ball effectively provides different locations, especially a great detailed set of Mike and Kate's upscale living room in the second act. Costumes by Heidi Leigh Hanson are in line with both the haves and the have nots in this fast-paced drama. Bravo to dialect coach Lynn Soffer for the accents of the actors.

Good People plays through September 15 at Marin Theatre, 397 Miller Ave. Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit Coming up next is a world premiere of Lauren Gunderson's I and You opening on October 10 and running through November 3.

Darlene Popovic at Society Cabaret

Society Cabaret has opened at the Hotel Rex on Sutter Street. It is the brainchild of Tim Heitman who has presented shows at San Diego Civic Theatre with the Nederlander organization. He, along with partner C. Scott Lacy, the room's director of entertainment, will be booking locals artists in the room.

The intimate room feels like the Oak Room at the Algonquin and seats 80, comparable to the Starlight Room at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. There is no minimum and the room will be more like theatre—one price for the show, and you can eat and drink if you like.

On Saturday August 31 the imitable singer, comedian, raconteur and actress Darlene Popovic played to a full house of devoted fans. Her show was called Love! It's Lovely! It's Funny! It Can Drive You Crazy!. This remarkable, versatile artist performed an eclectic night of 20 romantic and comedy songs for an appreciative audience. Her program was beautifully crafted in every detail, including song choices aided by C. Scott Lacy on piano. She put over each song with her whole being and you can tell she loves what she does.

The song list was perfectly chosen, with such familiar Broadway show songs as Irving Berlin's "I Got Lost in His Arms" from Annie Get Your Gun, a rousing version of "Chief Cook and Bottle Washer" from Kander and Ebb's The Rink and a stimulating version of "Ring Them Bells" from Kander and Ebb's "Liza with a Z." She was sublime singing "Where Am I Going?" from Cy Coleman's Sweet Charity, "What More Do I Need?" from Saturday Night, and "I Wish I Didn't Love You So" segueing into "Say It isn't So." She even beautifully tackled the classic western song by John Conlee, "I Don't Remember Lovin' You."

Barry Lloyd, one of the best keyboard artists in the country, was Darlene's guest, singing and playing three refreshing songs opening with the invigorating Cole Porter song "Throwing a Ball Tonight" followed up by a moving rendition of "Tea for Two" and ending with Murray Grand's droll "Too Old to Die Young" (Barry Lloyd will perform his own show at the cabaret on January 25, 2014).

San Francisco treasure Wesla Whitfield is currently playing at the cabaret through September 15th. For more information, visit Reservations can be made through Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787

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

- Richard Connema

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