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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Victor Lodato's The Eviction by The Magic Company

Also see Richard's review of The Mandrake Root


One of the major social problems facing our country today is the homeless population in large cities. The premiere company of new plays, the Magic, currently has on its stage the world premier of Victor Lodato's The Eviction. This is a hard hitting and disclosing drama of a mentally disturbed young man who is about to be evicted on a cold winter's night into the streets of a run down section of a big city. He has lived in his fifth floor apartment for five years but has not managed to pay the rent for the past three months. He gets a small pension from his mother but has no sense in money matters; the money always runs out before the next check.

This 85 minute drama with no intermission is a compassionate and compelling glimpse into the private lives of people often overlooked by our society. The two man drama recently was awarded the Roger L. Stevens Award from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays.

The central character has no name and is just called, The Man. As he faces impending homelessness for the first time in his life, he struggles to separate reality from fantasy. The Man's dissonant interior voices take shape as puppets by acclaimed puppeteer Chrystene R. Ells. Even I became unsure as to what is real and what is illusion and I could see that The Man is on the brink of madness. Presiding over the actions and trying to get The Man to do things is The Reader, who sits in front of a big book on the right side of the stage. He is a Zen-like figure who could be narrating the action or might be determining it.

The Eviction is a remarkable piece of theater. The language is lyrical and much of the speech is reminiscent of John Dos Passos's classics of the '20s about the USA. The banter between the two characters is crisp and sharp, the timing perfect. The Man gets examined thoroughly in this paradoxical new drama. His mind is full of slithering moments, absent memories and delusions. He calls for a cat out of an open window on his fifth floor apartment. It is never coming home, but he continues to call. He bought cans and cans of creamed corn and when he sits down to eat some, he hates the taste. He even receives a Christmas package full of home baked Christmas cookies from his mother well before Christmas. However he will not open the package because it's labeled, "don't open before Christmas". As the narrator explains, the cookies would be stale by Christmas. As a result, this incident causes the Man to go into a shaky tailspin. The Man is so lonely for conversation that he uses the 99 cent a minute telephone chat line just to talk to another human being.

The two actors in this one act play are outstanding. David Gunderman, a veteran of Broadway musicals, plays The Man. Mr. Gunderman has a long history of musicals in New York including Meet Me in St. Louis, A Change in the Heir, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and he was one of the children in the film E.T.. The young actor gives a skilled, carefully thought out performance. He portrays a huge array of emotions and styles as he moves effortlessly from sanity to lunacy. However, he is always in control of himself, a superb performance.

Howard Swain, one the Bay Area's most popular actors, plays the Narrator. He is like a stage manager, trying to describe the actions of The Man and also trying to tell him what to do. He keeps interjecting sarcastic remarks on the plight of this young man and like many people in this world, he does not care what happens to The Man.

There are two scenes involving Ms. Ells' puppets. This artist is known for her work in the films Nightmare before Christmas and Monkeybones. One of the puppets appears while The Man is sleeping on his bed. A strange orange cat, operated by two Japanese style puppeteers, comes creeping in through the open window. It goes slowly into the room, jumps onto the kitchen table to inspect the creamed corn, and then goes to the bed of the sleeping man. It jumps on the bed and stares into the eyes of the young Man, then leaves. It was dreamlike, but it was amazing. The other puppet is a life-size elderly man who comes into the room near the end of the drama. His movement created by the two puppeteers is amazing.

The set by J. B. Wilson is a perfectly shabby room that could be anywhere in the Tenderloin district of this city. The lighting by Kevin Cain plays an important part describing the reality and fantasy states of The Man. There are bands of harsh white light to bring the Man back to reality. Juliette Carrillo's direction is extraordinary and she presents a play that is sharp and on the mark. It is a searing 85 minutes.

The Eviction runs through March 3 at the Magic Theatre, located in Fort Mason Center. Tickets are $10 to $37. Call (415)441-8822 for tickets or visit www.magictheatre.org. Coming next are two Anne Bogart and Siti Company productions, Room based on Virginia Woofe writings running from March 6 through March 17, and Bob inspired by the life of international avant garde director and visual artist Robert Wilson. It will play from March 20 through the 31st.


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


- Richard Connema



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