Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Reduced Shakespeare Company, Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge! and Carole Cook's Dress Up
Reduced Shakespeare Company Is Back in Town
Dominic Conti, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor are attractive comic performers in The Bible; Dominic Conti, Matthew Croke and Reed Martin are the wild and crazy guys presenting Completely Hollywood. Of the two, The Bible is the most professional and rounded out, while Completely Hollywood consists of rapid-fire zingers and college humor. It is almost like a fraternity party at a university.
The Bible opens with the three men wearing only fig leaves and looking like Adam, Eve and the Stranger in the Garden of Eden. They go immediately into a swing version of the six days of creation. Each of the trio brings his own biblical text. Reed Martin cites his King James Bible that he picked up in his hotel room, and Austin Tichenor relies on "Isaac Asimov's Guide to the Bible" for his academic excursions. Dominic Conti brings along the sunny "Children's Illustrated Bible." His grasp of matters literary is often shaky in relating to the Old Testament. Most of the first act consists of word play, physical humor and sight gags ("Did you know that Adam and Eve were computer literate? They had an 'apple' and a 'wang.") The Tower of Babel skit is hilarious, with the boys doing double and triple talk.
The trio spends so much time on the early part of Genesis that they have to cram the other books into a single song. The second act begins with three bewildered wise men trying to find the star on an extremely cloudy night. They steer away from too much of Christ's life. However, they return to the Old Testament story of Noah and his Ark. Members of the audience are picked to be the two by two animals. It is somewhat juvenile but funny.
Completely Hollywood (Abridge) is two hours of nonstop silliness. Somehow, the three reminded me of the Marx Brothers in their word play. The show is delivered at a chaotic pace with some audience participation. The cover everything from silent films through the making of a modern epic, with all of the Hollywood clichés thrown into the pot. There are a lot of zingers like "Actors are like cattle. You order them around and just hope they don't make too much mess"; one comedian says he is making sequels like Gandhi With the Wind or A Fish Called Rwanda. They reduce 200 films into approximately 100 minutes.
Both productions are playing in repertory through December 31 at the Marine Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter at Mason, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-771-6900, visit any Ticketmaster outlet or log onto ticketmaster.com.
Photo courtesy of Reduced Shakespeare Company
Christopher Durang is undoubtedly one of America's most bizarre playwrights. He took Dickens' tale of Scrooge's journey to redemption and torpedoed the whole works in a most inventive and outrageous reinvention of the Christmas classic. The playwright refocuses the well-known tale on poor Bob Cratchit's wife (Joan Mankin), a bad tempered woman who has twenty children, most of them living in the root cellar. All she wants to do is to get the hell out of there and have a Tequila Sunrise.
The three spirits are compressed into one (Cathleen Riddley), a sassy frustrated ghost dressed as a UPS delivery person and carrying a stun gun. The ghost even gets mixed up at first by presenting Scrooge in the wrong time frame.
Binge! opens on a festive Christopher Durang song, "It's Christmas Day." There are other songs by the playwright throughout the production that reflect clever remarks and contemporary commentary to the audience.
The very first scene shows you are in for in madcap farce. Young Scrooge (Henry Kinder) kicks an angelic Marley (Madeleine Pauker) singing a Christmas Carol to show him as a very nasty person. The boy Scrooge says "Bugs in your hair" which becomes a direct syndrome said by the older Scrooge throughout the parody.
There are many parodies in this one-hour fifty-minute (with intermission) play. The two charitable men who usually try to solicit funds for the poor are now two men selling "energy units" that involve candlelight power. They are the forerunners of Enron. Tiny Tim, who still has crutches, says proudly, "I fell only 24 times today." When he looks at a very ugly little Christmas tree he says, "What a beautiful tree," and Mrs. Cratchit asks, "Are you blind as well as a cripple?" The family sings "Be Happy and perky and you are going to eat turkey." However, they end up eating McDonald burgers and fries. The angrier she gets the more Scrooge likes her, which does not make the ghost happy.
There is a brilliant scene in Christmas present in which the ghost wears a large, tacky, full robe. Out pop a Dutch couple played nicely by Megan Smith and Arthur Keng doing a scene in Dutch dialect from O Henry's Gift of the Magi. Most of the second act is a campy version of It's a Wonderful Life. The ending is hilarious as the irritable Mrs. Cratchit becomes rich bitch Leona Helmsley and Scrooge becomes her husband.
Binge's very large cast is terrific. Joan Mankin is brilliant as Mrs. Cratchit. She holds the farce together with her pitch perfect deliveries of the funny zingers. Victor Talmadge creates a memorable Scrooge. He plays the role as a very laid back curmudgeon. Some of his one liners are very funny and yet they show the dramatic side of this comedy.
Cathleen Riddley is a hoot playing all of the ghosts in her sexy UPS brown uniform. She is outstanding playing a genially perturbed ghost. Keith Burkland gives a splendid performance as the casually passive and sanctimonious Bob Cratchit. Lizzie Calogero is marvelous as Tiny Tim and Jean Forsman gives a jovial performance as Li'l Nell.
Henry Kinder and Madeleine Pauker captivate the audience with various roles, from the Young Scrooge and Young Marley to children in the Cratchit family (alternating with Gideon Lazarus and Olivia Scott Dahrouge). Brian Degan Scott is great playing the dotty angel Clarence from It's A Wonderful Life. Megan Smith and Arthur Keng are zestful playing the Dutch couple. Terry Rucker is energetic as Mr. Fezziwig.
Director Joy Carlin helms this entertaining comedy. She masters the handling of the large cast on a small stage. The costumes by Valera Coble are very "Dickens-ish". Kim A. Tolman's set is wonderful, with red Dickensian tomes on large book-like boards.
Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge! runs through January 12 at the SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-677-9596 or on line at www.sfplayhouse.org.
Photo: Zabrina Tipton
Ms. Cook opened the show in a picture frame, looking like "Whistler's Mother." When she stepped out of the frame, she certainly was not Whistler's mother. Dressed in a fabulous black caftan with sparking teardrop rhinestones at the base of the outfit and a string of rhinestones that would choke a horse, she went into a Billy Barnes song. Backing her was the young pianist Tim Hanson. She told the audience that she never was accompanied by a fetus before.
When talking about the gems on her person, she told her fans, "I have jewelry at home bigger then this room." She said "I'm not all just glitter and tits. I hope you not offended by the word glitter." Ms. Cook told about growing up in Abilene, Texas and described herself as a six-year-old midget with very long fingers. She talked about her grandmother from hell who was a stern Southern Baptist and would refer to a woman's breast as 'diners.' She talked a lot about her male cousin Bennett who liked to play Wonder Woman. There were stories about dogs, a bridesmaids luncheon in 115 degree heat, merry widow bras that went down to the stomach, and Playtex rubber girdles and how they rolled up during a heat wave ("If you are in room with 15 women wearing the rubber girdles the room smells like burnt rubber). There was a side-splitting story about two women picking okra in a field and seeing an UFO land (the girls said they were little green men with purple peepees.) Many of the stories sounded like they came from Greater Tuna.
Carol opened the second act with Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields' "Nobody Does It Like Me" from Seesaw. There was a fabulous story about the previews of 42nd Street and producer David Merrick. There were three previews of the musicals in New York. Mr. Merrick did not want a critic sneaking in to watch a preview so he bought out all of the seats and all by himself he watched the previews. On the third night, all of the singers, dancers and actors brought stuff animals and 8 x 10 glossies and put them in the unoccupied seats. She told about how the audience was enthusiastic and kept the company coming out sixteen times for their bows. David Merrick then came out and told the audience that the choreographer Gower Champion died that afternoon in the hospital. The audience suddenly was quiet and Jerry Orbach, whose last line in the first act was "Bring down the curtain," gave the line again. Merrick said later "If you got to go, that's the way to go."
Carol had some wonderful stories about the legendary Jeannette McDonald who was playing in stock Bittersweet and how Ms. Cook met the Queen of England in Ottawa, Canada ("I met the Queen of England, and I was thrilled. I've always wanted to be a Queen. Some of my friends have made it"). She is still the queen of spontaneous banter. There are wonderful stories about her friend Lucille Ball who changed Mildred Frances Cook's name to Carole Cook. She still has a great voice when singing and I wish she would have done more songs, especially in the first act.
Carole Cook's show, Dress Up, ended on December 9th at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave. San Francisco