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San Francisco by Richard Connema

John Fisher’s Amnesia
Premieres at Theatre Rhinoceros

Also see Richard's reviews of In the Garden and Blue Jelly

John Fisher’s latest opus Amnesia can be seen at the Theatre Rhinoceros through February 15th. Mr. Fisher not only wrote and directed this comedy but stars as the amnesia victim. I am not a great fan of this playwright’s works although I did like his unusual slant on World War 2 in Combat. John, who is the new co-artistic director of the theatre group, has always had a fascination with World War 2 even though he is only 39 years old. As a WW2 vet myself, I must say he gives a very good portrayal of a soldier during the great war.

Amnesia
(l-r) - Jeffrey Hartgraves,
Matt Weimer and
Elsa Wolthausen

Amnesia takes place during World War 2 in an Army hospital in England. Roger (John Fisher) wakes up in the ward, suffering from amnesia, after the Battle of the Bulge. He can’t remember his name, his background or the fact that he is gay. There is the good doctor and the bad doctor in the hospital. The good doctor (Jeffrey Hartgraves) believes Roger needs time to recover his memory while the bad doctor (Greg Lucey) wants to lobotomize him. Roger is rescued from the lobotomizing psychiatrist by Sally (Elsa Wolthausen), a fading Hollywood movie star who is in a U.S.O. troupe entertaining the soldiers. Sally teaches him sex and love. However, all is not right with his sexual identity. Something is missing; he is confused to say the least. Roger is fleeing not only the Nazis (don’t ask why because I don’t know) but the American Army since he is now a deserter. All of this occurs in the first act and at the very of end the act, he receives a bump on the head.

The second act takes place immediately after the concussion which has restores Rogers’ memory, erasing all that has happened to him during the past months. He remembers he is Roger, a famous Broadway theater designer and that he has a lover Gilles (Matt Weimer), a famous choreographer who seems to sleep around a lot. Roger goes back to New York and takes up his life with unfaithful Gilles. Poor Sally is on a transatlantic ship called the Eva Marie when a Nazis submarine sinks the ship, and Sally and her child find a lifeboat and are saved from the ravages of the sea. Now, here is a twist - Sally has lost her memory from the blast, and she does not know who she is. She lands in New York and somehow goes for a job in Roger’s theatrical company and immediately gets a job as an assistant. Roger doesn’t know who Sally is and vice versa. How convoluted can you get? From there, we get a straight comedy-drama involving the making of a musical film based on the Battle of the Bulge and a successful Broadway musical comedy based on psychoanalysis, like Lady in the Dark or One Touch of Venus. The fact that Roger is now torn about his sexuality rules the second act. (Apparently no one knew of bisexuality back then.) I won’t tell you how it turns out.

John Fisher is, as Steve Martin would say, a “wild and crazy guy,” and his writings come out that way. Sometimes he goes completely over the top, especially in the first act when some of the scenes go on much too long. However, some scenes are genius, especially the Spike Jones’ “Cocktail for Two” number with the complete cast running around like Keystone Kops chasing our hero. Another excellent scene in the first act is the flashback on how the amnesia victim lost his memory during battle. Mr. Fisher does know how to stage these scenes.

Act two also contains some gems. The showbiz scenes are exceptional, especially those of Roger and Giles at the St. James Theatre watching Oklahoma! and their first experience of an air conditioned theater, and Roger and Sally at a Yiddish theatre where “suddenly” Sally discovers she can speak Yiddish.

The special effects are very capricious, including the tank battle in the bulge, the sinking of the Eva Marie ship by a Nazi submarine, a parachute drop and the dive bombing by a Nazi plane on a speeding train. You have to see it to believe it. There are silly, underdeveloped camp sex nightmares that make no sense, and sometimes things get a little out of hand in the first act. However, this is the humor of John Fisher and you have to accept it.

Mr. Fisher has assembled a good cast for his war epic. Outstanding is Elsa Wolthausen who starred in Fisher’s Media the Musical. She is nicely focused in both the role of a faded Hollywood sex symbol and the simple girl who somehow knows Yiddish. Treacy Corrigan is a riot, as both the sluttish motor-mouth English sister and the kindly Scottish sister. Also marvelous are the eight characters that Jeffrey Hartgraves plays - each one is a gem. This is burlesque comedy at its best. Matt Weimer plays various roles, but he comes into his own in the second act as the bitchy choreographer. Greg Lucey is very good as a Hollywood producer (I keep thinking I am seeing Bruce Weitz from Hill Street Blues on the small stage). Sarah Korda has multiple roles and especially shines as a sex crazy nurse. Mr. Fisher does a creditable portrayal of both the man who loses his memory and the one who regains it. However, when he is playing the amnesia victim in the opening scenes, it is reminiscent of Christopher Guest in Waiting for Guffman playing in his little musical.

Amnesia is great fun. It is a bit of a film noir spoof, a satire of World War 2 movies. It has social commentary, slapstick, sight gags and good drama. What more can you ask for? The comedy runs through February 15 at the Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 Mission and South Van Ness, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-5079.


Photo by: Steve Savage


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


- Richard Connema



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