Regional Reviews: San Francisco
My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm In Therapy, Man of La Mancha
The 90-minute shtick takes place in a psychiatrist's office where Solomon is waiting for his therapy session. He has time to kill so he talks to the audience about both sides of his wacky family whose sole purpose in life was to drive him into therapy. The doctor's name is Dr. Asshole but he pronounces it non-traditionally. He says if one of the doctor's patients has multiple personalities he charges for each of them.
Steve Solomon creates a cast of 30 characters with great dialects and sound effects. He is a combination of Alan King and Billy Crystal with a splash of George Carlin thrown in. There are wisecracks about his sex life with his ex-wife ("she says, 'Touch me where I'm most sensitive, so I took her to my mother's house' "). There is a hilarious story about airport security people searching a 92-year-old woman for weapons. Solomon has great comic timing as he rattles off one liners.
Solomon reminds me of Sam Levinson when he toured the states talking about similar subjects. Most of the artist's jokes and shaggy dog stories are about growing up learning about sex from his grandmother (he asked his grandmother, "what are genitals?" and she replied, "persons who are not Jewish"). He talks about how his Jewish-American father met his Italian mother in Europe during World War II. The way his Jewish grandmother takes the news that her son is marring a goyim is amusing. He describes his Italian mother as part Sophia Loren and part Danny DeVito. There is a funny bit about kosher cooking and the different styles of cooking that a Jew can eat. He talks bout how his Italian mother understood Jewish holidays by the prayer before the meal, "They tried to kill us, God saved us, let's eat."
My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm in Therapy plays at the Marine Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street, San Francisco through August 12. For tickets call 415-771-6900 or visit www.MarinesMemorialTheatre.com.
Photo: Charles Rapp Enterprises Inc.
I have seen many productions of this long one-act musical, including the original with Richard Kiley and Joan Denier, the desultory version that featured the curious paring of Raul Julia and Sheena Easton, and the recent revival in New York with Brian Stokes Mitchell. I have always thought that it was an overblown, soggy musical that was only saved by a glorious voice on the part of the actor playing Don Quixote.
Director Jon Tracy and artistic director Bill English have decided to not to set the almost two hour piece in the year 1504. The musical takes place in a dirty prison basement in the year 2064 as the war to end all wars (and civilization) is taking place. Surprisingly, it works, with all of the characters on stage looking like they have just been sprung from the San Francisco county jail.
We are informed that the government is controlled by fear. Since the declaration of the Global Fallout Act of 2055, radiation levels have risen to 55% and the population at 100 feet below sea level and higher must wear protective equipment at all times. It is a dangerous time for anyone going against what is called "The Patriot Act." All deviant behavior will be viewed as weakening the fragile populace.
Tracy and set designer Melpomene Katakalos have devised a dark and dank basement in a holding prison where prisoners dressed in blue denim outfits are awaiting trial for treason against the state. Into this den of misery comes Cervantes, who is being tried for writing a criticism against the church. There is still a play within a play and not a word or song has been changed.
What some of the characters lack in their vocal skills they make up for in enthusiastic acting. Even the basic crude choreography by Krista DeNio gives a realistic style to the two-hour presentation (there is a 10-minute intermission).
Bill English gives a different spin on the role of Cervantes/Don Quixote. Most actors have played him as a foolish old man tilting at windmills. English plays the role as a stoic fighter for enlightenment, a Michael Moore for the era. His acting is good as he fights a shadowed windmill portrayed on a sheet, and attempts to call Aldonza his Dulcinea. His singing voice is creditable though more relaxed in the lower registers, especially in the song "The Impossible Dream."
Louis Parnell is amusing as he delightfully mugs as Sancho. He brings great charm to the numbers "I Really Like Him" and "A Little Gossip." Cathleen Riddley gives the Aldonza/Dulcinea character the required pluck and depth. She has a pleasing voice in "What Does He Want of Me?" and the reprise of "Dulcinea."
Martin Rojas-Dietrich is outstanding as The Padre. He has a golden voice when singing "To Each His Dulcinea" and "The Psalm" at the end of the musical. I wish we could have heard more of his shinning voice in the production.
Daniel Krueger as a Muleteer has an excellent singing voice and shines in his one dramatic moment when he is called upon to meet with the interrogators. Terry Rucker is good as the barber and he plays a mean guitar.
Keith Burkland as Dr. Carrasco and Laura Jane Bailey as the Governor and Innkeeper are effective in their roles. Stephan Smith Collins, Lori Kirstein, Ted Harvey, Jenna Johnson and Nicole C. Julian all give efficient performances as prisoners and various characters in the play within the play scenes.
David Dobrusky gives first-rate back-up on the synthesizer. Melpomene Katakalos' set design is properly dark and filthy. There are various everyday props such as beat-up painted milk cartons, an old metal mesh door, wooden planks, imitation pipes and sheets of mirrors and metal service plates for the "Knight of Mirrors" number.
Michael Oesch's lights and Steven Klems' sound are outstanding. Oesch has installed red cone lights throughout the theatre which look like they came from the top of a police vehicle. They go off from time to time, along with authentic-sounding noises when the prisoners' electronic monitoring wristbands that are capable of delivering severe electrical shocks go off. It gives a realistic feel to the production.
Man of La Mancha run through September 1 at the SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter St, San Francisco. For tickets call their box office at 415-677-9596, TicketWeb.com or TIX bay area. Their next production will be John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation opening on September 19th.
Photo: Zabrina Tipton
A Streetcar Named Desire premiered at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre during the winter of 1948. The drama was considered by some to be a lurid shocker in its day. Today some audiences consider it somewhat outdated and not so shocking. My association with Tennessee Williams' great American play goes back to that winter of 1948 when I saw the electrifying Marlon Brando play Stanley Kowalski to Jessica Tandy's Blanche DuBois. Since that time I have seen several revivals of the masterpiece in New York and London plus countless touring and regional productions. I was also fortunate to be part of Harry Stradling Sr.'s cinematography crew when it was filmed on the Warner lot in 1950 with Brando playing opposite the legendary Vivian Leigh.
Streetcar centers on the incurable romantic Blanche who continues to lie because she refuses to accept the hand fate has dealt her. The drama is about the antagonistic relationship between Blanche and Stanley, who disdains the woman's fabrications. Most of the productions I have seen center of the play on the Blanche's neuroses (the exception was Brando on stage and film where he was the center of attention.)
Company member Barbara Michelson-Harder gives an impressive portrayal of the high-strung Blanche. Her voice ranges from a light nasal hum to a smoky Southern belle drawl. The first scene when Blanche arrives at the Kowalskis' run down apartment could be stronger as Blanche and Stella are talking at the kitchen. Their voices do not project to the audience in this intimate theatre. Ms. Harder slowly gets into the character of a neurotic person who begins a fragile dance of fascination with Stanley, constantly criticizing his brutish manner in eating and talking. She is wonderful when Blanche is flirting with the newspaper boy (played by Michael Stein); her scenes with boyfriend Mitch (Drew McAuliffe) are sublime. The last scene when she goes completely from neuroses to psycho is well done. She has the delicate look of a southern belle with her fine bones and porcelain skin.
Up and coming hunky actor Kamran Alexander plays the brutish Stanley Kowalski effectively. He looks more like a Mafia hit man than a Pole living in New Orleans. Many of the actors I have seen have put their own spin on the canny and cagy brute defending his turf. Alexander plays the role like James Farentino did in the New York revival of 1973. This young man, who has limited stage acting experience, is certainly charismatic in his actions. He frightens the audience when he raises his voice in heated arguments with Stella, and the rape scene with Blanche is gut-wrenching acting. He tends to slur his speech in an attempt to gain an accent that somehow borders on Northern New Jersey. There are scenes in which he has food in his mouth and is totally not understandable.
Tara Donoghue takes a little time to get into the character of Stella. During the first act she tends to rush her speech; however, by the end of the first act and in the second act she gets into the character of the emotionally frayed wife almost to a breaking point because of her desire to protect her sister.
Drew McAuliffe is very good as Mitch. He underscores his bulky awkwardness with stabs at chivalrousness and there is the glimpse of a mamma's boy in his portrayal. Raul Ramon Rubio and Glenn Caspillo are very good as Stanley's down to earth, crude buddies. Maureen Williams as the upstairs neighbor Eunice, Michael Stein as the newspaper collector, Joan Marie Wildman as the nurse, and David McKee as the doctor are very efficient in their small roles.
Michael Medici has designed an excellent two-room set on the small stage. It looks like a run-down apartment in New Orleans. Richard Harder has taken some of the fantasy out of the play. It is more of an in-your-face drama probably more suited to 21st century audiences. The action goes by a little too fast in the first act to establish the characters, but it gets into a groove in the second act. There are two blackout scene changes toward the end of the play that are a little too long, breaking up the flow of the drama.
A Streetcar Named Desire is playing at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason Street, 6th Floor, San Francisco through July 28th. For tickets call 800-838-3006 or visit their web site at www.offbroadwaywest.org.