Regional Reviews: San Francisco
I Am My Own Wife, Nixon's Nixon and said SAÏD
I have seen Jefferson Mays twice in this role, in New York and here in a touring production. Nance puts a more intimate spin on von Mahlsdorf than Mr. Mays did. He talks with a delicate German voice to each one of us in the small, friendly theatre. His moments are dignified and he has a wonderful misty gleam in his eyes. His handling of objects like the old fashioned Victrola with an enormous horn is poignant, and the way he handles the pieces of toy furniture is charming. There are many sentences ending with "yes?" or "ya." Andrew easily slides into more than 14 characters in the production. He gives a brilliant tour de force performance.
As Charlotte, he talks about his brutal childhood at the hands of an abusive father whose reign of terror ended when young Lothar (Charlotte's birth name) took a rolling pin and battered the father when he was asleep. He talks about his internment for the killing and how he was set free when Soviet bombs destroyed the building. Andrew's Charlotte is intriguing, talking about the clandestine struggles of gays and lesbians during her lifetime.
I Am My Own Wife turns dark when it is revealed that Charlotte was an informant for the Stasi secret police for the Communist government in East Germany. For this reason, the East German police never jailed her for the underground gay club she was running. Charlotte's most important things in life were, in order of preference, "Museum, furniture, men. This is the order in which I have lived my life." The saving of artifacts was more important than the saving of men in her estimation. Her aunt once told Lothar, "Never forget that you're living in the lion's den. Sometimes, you must howl with the wolves."
Ed Decker's consistently smart and stylish direction brings a helpful solidity and a seamless flow to the production. Andrew Nance gives a bravura, unassuming performance that is marvelous to watch.
I Am My Own Wife plays through March 2nd at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness next to Market Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. Also at the center through February 24 is Mormon American Princess starring Steven Fales.
Photo: Lois Tema
During the summer of 1974, President Richard Nixon faced impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by the Senate for crimes committed against the Constitution and the people of the United States. There was mounting evidence of the President's efforts to conceal the plotting to break into and bug Democratic offices in the Watergate building. Even the Republicans were calling for his ouster.
Embroiled in the coils of relentless fate, Nixon and Kissinger contemplated their place in history. In this play, both look back on their past, touching on encounters with Mao Zedong, Leonid I. Brezhnev and John F. Kennedy. They have memories of the 1968 Czechoslovakian uprising, the war in Vietnam, the secret bombing of Cambodia and the killing of four students on the campus of Kent State University. The President and the Secretary of State cling to self-preservation and their egos. They fire up their self-importance by drinking a lot of booze during the 85-minute piece.
Russell Lee's writing is superb, and you hear wonderful lines like when Kissinger muses, "Sometime I stare in the mirror. What's happening behind those eyes? I'm astonished, mystified," and he pauses and says, "I like it." There are strange ideas coming from Nixon that almost border on Dr. Strangelove when he talks about staging an incident on the Russian-Chinese border that Nixon could negotiate to present World War III, making him a hero to the American people and keeping his job. He tells Kissinger, "We will play them like banjos," and he rages, "It gets tense ... who can prevent world war?? Who has the power and prestige and the trust of the Soviet Union and China? Who? Nixon! Me!"
Andrew Hurteau as Nixon and Steven Irish as Kissinger are superb in their roles. Hurteau's Nixon is desperate, shrewd, paranoid and utterly baffled by the situation. His body language is fantastic, with the hunched shoulders. His language is obscene (Nixon was called "potty mouth" by his staff). He also has the gift of an incomparably incompetent smile.
Steve Irish is perfect as Kissinger. He has that distinctive accent and voice, and it does not sound like it is an imitation. He is alternately sycophantic and aggressive until Nixon lets on that there are tapes that could bring the Secretary down, too. The audience sees how he tries to whip up a small international crisis to keep Nixon in office.
Credit should be given to Mike Taylor, playing a straight-back Marine who comes out at the beginning of the play to set up a screen for projected images of the two famous men. He handles the steel mechanism of the screen like an M-2 rifle. It's a smart performance worthy of a Marine soldier.
Michael Butler's directing is marvelous without being at all domineering. There is constant physical tension going on to make this an intriguing evening, thanks to the director. Scott Welding has designed an amazing set with a slanted stage, solid white walls and doors to suggest a fantasy appeal. Kurt Landisman's lighting is perfect for the political farce.
Nixon's Nixon plays the Lesher Performing Arts Center, 1601 Civic Dr. Walnut Creek through March 1. For tickets, call 925-943-7469 or visit www.CenterREP.org.
Photo: Kevin Berne
Kenneth Lin's profound two-hour and 35-minute political drama involves a theme of slow disappearance of regional languages and cultures. said SAÏD is a didactic play that involves torture, revenge, terrorism and survival. This time, it is not the current wars in Iraq or Afghanistan that are involved, but the Algerian Revolution in the late '50s.
The piece is set simultaneously in an Algerian prison cell in 1962 and in Vermont in 2002, and the action goes back and forth. Kasbah doctor and poet turned United States Poet Laureate, Andre Saïd (Jarion Monroe) is living with his daughter Sarah (Delia MacDougall) in a Vermont country house. He is dying from heart disease. Young graduate student Emily (Danielle Levin) from Dartmouth College makes an unannounced visit to Saïd to seek his help in translating indecipherable writing that lined the poet's cell in Algiers. Saïd is the last living speaker of an obscure Berber dialect, and the scratching in the cell can prove or disprove whether he was a pro-Algerian terrorist.
Emily has brought with her Major Michel Garcet (Marvin Greene), a French expatriate and professor who has made Saïd's poetry his life's work. However, he was the prison interrogator who was responsible for Saïd being tortured. He might also have been responsible for the deaths of Saïd's wife and son. The man is also dying of cancer.
said SAÏD is an intense drama. The characters are vividly brought to life by director Jasson Minadakis. Kenneth Lin's dialogue is razor sharp. Sometime the long, two-act play is exasperating and many times distraught, but it is an absorbing confrontational political drama with fine acting on the part of the four actors.
Jarion Monroe turns in a brilliant performance as Andre Saïd. His accented voice reminds me of the great actor Paul Lukas. Saïd's confrontations with his torturer are powerful, yet he becomes pungent when talking to the young student about his past life. Delia MacDougall once again turns in a fine performance with a certain amount of sardonic remarks to the young student.
Danielle Levin is bright and vivacious as young Emily, while Marvin Greene shifts smoothly between a cruel French interrogator and a sympathetic man dying of cancer.
J.B. Wilson has designed a wonderful, portentous concrete box set that easily turns from being a country house in Vermont to a prison, with the help of harsh lighting through Kurt Landisman's great lighting effects.
said SAÏD plays through February 24th at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. For tickets go to 415-388-5208 or on line at www.marintheatre.org Coming next is Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, opening on March 27th.
Photo: Ed Smith