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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Word for Word Production
of Cannery Row (Chapters 1-7)
is a Delight

Also see Richard's review of Wonderful Town

One of San Francisco’s smartest theater groups, Word for Word, is presenting John Steinbeck’s classic novel Cannery Row at the Magic Theatre in Fort Mason, San Francisco. The production moves to the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts in Berkeley on November 21st. The company is presenting the first seven chapters of the tales of the denizens of Monterey, California. This Pacific seaport town was noted for its fish canning industry and was home to all sorts of interesting characters. During the first seven chapters we meet the quirky citizens and hear stories of a whorehouse run by a tenderhearted madam named Dora, a grocery store run by a “Chinaman,” a café run by a Greek, the piers where all sorts of interesting sea life occurs, and the flop house known as the "Palace" run by Mack who heads a crew of philosophical vagrants. We meet young naïve Hazel (his mother was confused after giving birth to seven children and thought he was a girl). Hazel loves the sound of words and likes to answer questions with questions so he can continue to listen to the words. We meet Doc, a pleasant starfish-collecting biologist and a very lonely cat house watchman, who comes to a tragic end.

Each of the eight members of the cast take on various parts and they are superb in each of their characterizations. Mark Philips, a very talented actor, not only takes on the role of the genial biologist but plays one of the vagrants. He gives a polished performance for both characters. Brian Keith Russell is outstanding as the leader of the crew of unemployed. John Shin is excellent as the watchful Asian of the grocery store, and Matthew Chavez is delightful as the innocent Hazel. Andrew Hurteau, as usual, gives a sterling performance as the tragic watchman and one of the vagrants. Rounding out the male actors is Adrian Elfenbaum, who gives a first rate performance in several parts. Patricia Silver gives a brittle performance as the local madam while Beatie Pompa and Rebecca Noon do very well in the other women’s parts.

Sandra Langsner Crews' direction is excellent, and Mikiko Uesugi cleverly uses a set of plywood panels and packing crates as props for the presentation. They are amplified by watery lights and surf sounds. Rene Walker’s costumes are in line with the 1930s Cannery Row.

Word for Word acts out literature exactly as it is written. They use no book or script in hand. They become the characters themselves. Their goal is to prompt theatergoers to pick up the book and finish off the experience themselves. At the Sunday performance we attended, a young man around the age of 10 was sitting behind us and was very interested in the characters on stage. After the performance he said to his father, “I have to get the book to find out what happens next.”

The Word for Word Company moves over to the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts located at 2640 Collage, Berkeley Ca starting November 21. For tickets and information call 415-437-6775.


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


- Richard Connema



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