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San Francisco by Patrick Thomas

God Fights the Plague
The Marsh

Also see Richard's review of American Buffalo, Jeanie's review of The Farnsworth Invention and Patrick's review of Becky Shaw


Dezi Gallegos
Humans seem to love precocity. From Mozart to Midori to the 11-year-old who just played in the U.S. Open, we have been fascinated by those who can, at a very early age, perform a specific skill at a level comparable to—or surpassing—that of even adult professionals. That is often what impresses us most about prodigies—their ability to perform on an adult stage. Concert hall or operating room or Pinehurst #2, doesn't matter, they're playing with the grown-ups.

This makes what theater wunderkind Dezi Gallegos (at 14 he co-wrote and co-directed Prop 8 Love Stories, which went to New York for a two-week run Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop) is doing in his new solo show at The Marsh, God Fights the Plague, so interesting. And indicative of even better things to come from the now 18-year old Petaluman.

Gallegos is going through what a lot of teenagers go through—a crisis of faith. But because he's also going through what a lot of teenagers are not—a mother with a breast cancer diagnosis, a brother who is "on the autism spectrum," and serious, and mysterious, symptoms of his own—he could really use someone to count on. A God, for instance.

So he goes looking for one. Or none. Or several. Gallegos was small "c" catholic in his search. He spoke to Christians and Muslims and atheists. To a well-known Buddhist teacher and author. To a Hindu and a witch and a Qigong practitioner and a rabbi. In telling their stories of faith—in God or all gods or reason—Gallegos tells us his own.

It's fascinating to join this young man as he reveals the workings of a teenaged mind. Most of the insight about teen-age life—that we see on stage or screen, at least—comes from writers remembering that time, not living it. But Gallegos uses his very grown-up skills to examine his own current adolescence. He has the storytelling chops of a seasoned pro (and is directed here by seasoned pro Charlie Varon), but he's wielding those chops to focus on his present situation. Not a memory. Where he is now.

And that's a young man looking for answers. Why have he and his family had such plagues heaped upon them? Why would God create a world filled with such afflictions? Is there even a God (or Gods) up there dishing them out? Or is it all just random meaninglessness and comforting superstitions?

In his search, Gallegos takes a labyrinthine journey through a riot of rituals and philosophies and traditions, portraying each of the 11 interviewees (whose words are repeated verbatim) through a shift in posture, a tilt of the head, or a change of pitch, occasionally donning a hat or scarf. (Each interview subject's name and religion/philosophy is also projected on the upstage wall.)

Gallegos portrays each one with tremendous love and honesty. You can sense his gratitude for their contributions in his performance. No matter who we in the audience think has the craziest worldview—the witch who asks Elvis to intercede on her behalf, or the Christian who was converted in an instant, like Saul on the road to Damascus, except it was a Greyhound bus, or the guy who thinks vocalizations and body movement can better align you with the universal energy force—Gallegos always treats them with the utmost respect.

This fall, Gallegos heads off to film school at USC, so perhaps he's planning to tell his stories in a different medium in the future. I hope he doesn't put aside performing for good, even if he does succeed as a filmmaker. His sincerity and love for his characters is simply too rare.

It's a curious balance Gallegos has—the ability to present an adolescent mind with a professional's storytelling skills. A balance that will last but a brief time. Like this run. So get yourself to The Marsh and enjoy seeing the early stages of a blossoming career.

God Fights the Plague runs through August 10, 2014, in The Marsh San Francisco Studio Theater, 1062 Valencia Street (between 21st and 22nd). Shows are Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $15-$35 on a sliding scale, $50-$100 reserved. Tickets can be purchased at www.themarsh.org or by calling 415-282-3055.


Photo: Myra Levy


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

- Patrick Thomas



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