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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Stories by Tobias Wolff

Also see Richard's review of The Ghost Of Molly Malone

The prestigous Word for Word Company is currently presenting Stories by Tobias Wolff at the Magic Theatre. This company stages short stories, performing every word the author has written. Word for Word has been exciting audiences about the written word for nine years. As one company member said, “It’s like being read to and then some. While it’s fully literary in content it’s completely theatrical in form.” Their production of Stories by Tobias Wolff is no exception.

In Stories by Tobias Wolff, each actor is superb in portraying various characters in three stories as they bring the stories of the famous author to life in this one hour and 45 minute production.

The opening story, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, is told in an effortless narrative flow. This is the story of a simpatico history professor whose academic career is going down the tubes. Thoughout her fifteen year career, mild mannered Mary has gone with the flow at a university that is about to close. She has conformed to every policy at the school. After three more years at an alternative college in Oregon which she hates, the teacher is invited by a close friend to apply for a position at an elite East Coast school. However, her great expectations turn to anger when she learns the truth behind the offer. Susan Harloe gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Mary. It is full of humor and sympathy. Nancy Shelby plays her “friend” Louise at the upper class school; she is superb in the role of the chattering and self centered teacher. Mark Philips, Paul Finocchiaro, Joel Mullennix, Eryka Raines and Adam Ludwig make up the rest of the cast as intolerable academics.

Following an intermission, the company presents two more short stories by the acclaimed author of “A Boy’s Life.” Lady Dream is a short piece about the memory of a long suffering woman, Lady, who is trapped by her husband’s rigidity. The story starts with a long car trip with her meticulous husband. Lady daydreams to escape from her husband’s inflexible attitude. She dreams about how they first met on a summer day in the South when the husband was a soldier. We see that scene reenacted by three incredible actresses: Eryka Raines, Susan Harloe and Ginger Eckert. The latter plays Lady when she was a young girl while Nancy Shelby plays the middle aged Lady. Both give touching performances. Joel Mullennix is very good as the soldier and the husband.

The final story, Bullet in the Brain, is hilarious. A sarcastic book critic who is very world weary is standing in line at a bank when a robbery occurs. The robber played by Mark Phillips is straight out of an early Warner Brothers movie and makes demands with clichés like Cagney would use. One of the clichés breaks up the cynical critic and costs him his life. As he dies from a gunshot wound, the audience sees life scenes that flash before the dying man's eyes. One actor plays a bullet and the stage prop is a large silk parachute that represents the brain. It is a very ingenious scene. Paul Finocchiaro is perfect as the sardonic critic.

Stories by Tobias Wolff plays through August 25 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-437-6775 or visit www.zspace.org.


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


- Richard Connema



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