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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Five Flights Presented by
The Encore Theater Company


San Francisco boasts many small professional theatre companies who operate in intimate theatres through the city. One of these companies is the Encore Theatre Company, a professional ensemble dedicated to the production of innovative productions usually written by local playwrights. This season they are operating out of the Thick House, a small 55 seat theater located in the southern section of the city. At present, they are presenting the world premier of a Canadian playwright who now lives in our city.

Adam Bock's comedy Five Flights has received positive reviews from our critics, and the production has been sold out since the reviews first appeared. It was supposed to close on the 24th of February, but due to popular demand, the "bird farce" has been extended to March 31st, and the box office informs us that it is sold out through March 13.

Five Flights uses birds as a metaphor for a dysfunctional family consisting of a man, his brother, his sister, and his sister-in-law. A dilapidated aviary is the chief inheritance of Ed, Bobby and Adele, left to them by their deceased father. Their father believed that the soul of his dead wife was in a little wren that landed on his hand one day. Adele gives a long dissertation to the audience about this strange story. She relates that the father looked into the eyes of the little bird and saw the soul of his dead wife. He decided to build a glass aviary to house the wren. Dad also believed that souls of the departed are in other birds as well, so he and his daughter caught many birds so that the "dead wife" would not be lonely. Adele explains that when the wren died, their heartbroken father chose to leave this mortal earth.

Bobby (who is never shown), Ed, Adele and Bobby's wife all have different ideas on what to do with the rundown bird sanctuary. Adele wants to replace the bird house with a strange religious group led by the female preacher Olivia, played by Alexis Lezin. Olivia is a cross between Amy Semple MacPherson and a female Elmer Gantry. The church will be called the Church of the Fifth Day because God created birds on the fifth day of creation. Bobby's wife has monetary ideas about the valuable land and building located near a large city. She wants to tear down the structure and put up houses or an apartment complex which would bring in money. Ed, who is sort of an easy going young man, just wants the land to reclaim the structure by its own means. "Let nature take its course," is the creed of Ed. Add to these strange goings on is Tom, played by appealing Craig Neibaur as a professional hockey player who loves the Ballet. He is desperately in love with Ed who does not respond to Tom's love. Also there is a superfluous character named Andre, played by Kevin Karrick, who is a hockey playing buddy of Tom. He comes up with some clever one liners.

Five Flights is a fast 80 minute play with no intermission based on what the playwright says are the various forms within a ballet. He breaks the play into five parts or "flights" as if it were a Russian ballet. Tom, the ballet loving pro-hockey player, explains that there is a Narrative, a Vision, a Mad Scene, a Conclusion and a Little Dance. All of these sections appear in Mr. Bock's little opus. The Narrative is the longest part, wherein Ed attempts to tell the audience about the emptiness of real life. This is well presented by talented actor Liam Vincent who is the most natural actor of the group.

The play is a little thin in certain areas and the soliloquy by Adele goes on a little too long. Artistic director Lisa Steindler is excellent in the role of the lesbian sister and she is the most natural of the female cast members. There are some brilliant scenes that make the play worthwhile such as the night at the ballet where the dance company is presenting "Swan Lake" (what else would you expect?). This is a hilarious scene created by four characters with no words spoken. The "church bake sale" scene is also a little gem with good interplay between Ed and Tom. There is a crazy but fun "mad" scene by the sister-in-law Jane, played by Dawn-Elin Fraser, who gives a lecture with slides on the differences between Eastern and Western "pewees". She does go into hysterics toward the end of this lecture.

Some of the playwright's language is very natural and he has a good ear for dialog, creating short natural sentences between the characters. Mr. Bock's writing particularly shines in these natural conversations, but he seems to get carried away on the long soliloquies. They go on so long that they become unconvincing and somewhat tedious. However the playwright has an exciting talent in creating natural words with skill and compassion for the characters.

The six member cast is excellent on the whole. However, there were times when I wished Alexis Lezin and Dawn-Elin Fraser would have toned down their voices. This is a small little theater and they were projecting their voices as if to a much larger house. The rest of the cast is able to project just enough to make it natural.

Director Kent Nicholson has the actors come in and out of the scenes with wonderful professionalism and he has them interconnect with each other down to a perfect form. Everything from lighting to sound cues work like clockwork.

Five Flights will continue to play at the Thick House, 1695 18th Street, until March 31. Tickets are $20 with senior tickets going for $15. Call (415)401-8081 for tickets. Encore Theatre Company's next production will be a musical by Marcie Karr and Mark Jackson called Princess of Argos!


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


- Richard Connema



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