Regional Reviews: San Francisco
An Intriguing Production of Jacquelyn Reingold's String Fever
Playhouse West is presenting the charming Off-Broadway hit String Fever by playwright Jacquelyn Reingold through April 23rd at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts. The comedy that mixes romance with physics premiered at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York during March 2003 where it received good reviews from New York critics. This is only the second production of this bright conversation piece.
Several recent critically approved dramas have included the science of physics since we seem to be living in a world where science has become more important than romance. String Fever isn't as somber as Copenhagen or as conspiring as Proof but takes on "string theory" in a romantic, comical vain. "String theory" is the fabric of multi-dimensional space-time. I won't try to describe this complicated conjecture since it attempts to amalgamate all the physical principles of physics into one. This comedy is farcical, with the theory in the background.
String Fever centers around 40-year-old violin instructor Lily (Heather Mathieson) who has a suicidal father Artie (Stu Klitsner) and a strange neurotic ex-boyfriend Matthew (Seth Margolies). Matt has no idea who he is, and he has a phobia about carrying a lawnchair on his back for at least one half of the comedy. (Don't ask why since it's a "chair on the back" theory.) Lily meets physics professor Frank (Adam Slusser) who knows a lot about the string theory, and they have discussions about the relativity of the hypothesis. It looks like love is in the air when Frank is pressured into marriage, and we find out the teacher likes his cat better then Lily. I told you this was more farcical then comedy.
Lily also has one strange friend Gisli (Eric Frashier Hayes), an Icelandic comic who videotapes uproariously bizarre messages to Lily. Matthew, for some unknown reason, goes to Iceland where these two converse with a speech pattern influenced by Mamet, and then later to a horse ranch for people suffering nervous breakdowns. All of this in a 90 minute period. There is also Lily's best friend Joney (Maggie Grant) who has a more serious role since she is dying of cancer, and a doctor (Bob Ebinger) who gives out medical prognoses on some of the characters since there is a lot mental and physical illness going on.
String Fever is episodic and there are frequent scene changes with the complete cast on the small stage. It can be called a modern day type Our Town on an almost bare stage with a thin, white, wooden plank border fence in the shape of diamonds that probably represents strings. Doug Ham has designed this ingenious set.
Director Lois Grandi has assembled an excellent cast who give the playwright's words a lot of zest and a certain amount of sophistication. The zingers coming from Lily, Artie and Gisli are delightfully creative. Heather Mathieson (Sight Unseen, Nora, After the Fall at Playhouse) is engaging in the role of Lily. Her troubles of dealing with her ex-boyfriend, the weird but wonderful father and the current boyfriend who loves cats are a joy to watch. She is more in the center of a chaos theory than the unknown string theory but she handles it well.
Stu Klitsner (veteran SF Bay actor including Fiddler, Brimstone and The Rothschilds at the Willows) is both hilarious and poignant as the talkative suicidal father. His thoughts on the current boyfriend of daughter Lily are priceless as he calls Frank "a suit without a lining." Eric Frashier Hayes (Chicago actor who has appeared at Steppenwolf and The Goodman) is a real hoot, speaking with an Icelandic accent (there aren't too many persons around who know what an Icelandic accent sounds like), spouting insane comic patter that you might hear on the David Letterman show. He is the major provider of comedy when the drama starts to swerve to tragedy.
Adam Slusser (recently from Fine Arts program at University of Arizona) plays Frank the cat-loving professor well with a certain standoffishness. He goes from being imperceptive to hardly forthcoming. Maggie Grant underplays her role as Lily's best friend who is unhappy about living in Iowa with her boyfriend, then having cancer of the colon. Seth Margolies (resident actor of Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice) as Matthew is properly omnipresent in his role and he gives you the feeling that he does not know who or what he is in the comedy. Bob Ebinger (Force of Nature at Playhouse West) rounds out the cast and does a proper portrayal of a doctor giving diagnoses and prognoses of the characters. Lois Grandi maintains a fast pace for her characters and the timing is perfect.
String Fever plays at Knight Stage 3 of the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek through April 23. For tickets call 925-943-SHOW (7469) or visit www.playhousewest.org. Their next production will be Baby with music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr and book by Sybille Pearson which opens on June 3rd.