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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A slap happy production of The Golden State

Also see Richard's review of Summer and Smoke

The Dell’Arte Company has brought its spacy production of The Golden State to San Francisco for a very brief time. The company finished their run at the Presentation Theatre and will now perform for three days only starting November 5 at the Brava Theatre Center. This is a wild and wooly production, written by Lauren Wilson and based on Moliere’s comic gem, The Miser. The scene is now set in sunny, hedonistic Southern California of the ’40s and the miser is now a woman who is meaner than Mommy Dearest. As in the French classic, the farce draws inspiration from humanity’s blinding and passionate lust for money.

Dell’Arte Company is like no other theatre group in this country. Based north of San Francisco in Humboldt County, they are the largest employer of arts in California, north of the Bay Area. Dell’Arte was founded in 1977 and is the only school of physical theatre using the commedia dell art form in productions. They have traveled the states and overseas to present their slapstick brand of comic farcical acting. Many of the original pieces have won awards, including the Bay Area Critic Circle Award for Best Ensemble.

The Golden State centers on the family trying to get hold of the mother’s cash. She doesn’t trust banks so she hides her thousand dollar bills in her bra. The miser is so tight that she wants the gardener to take out all of the light bulbs in the house so she won’t have to pay her electric bill. Her servants are illegal immigrants from Chile, Russia and Lebanon because she does not have to give them the legal living wage. She has some hideous plans for her two grown children in order to gain more money.

The daughter has a famished hunger for the gardener, who is not what he seems. The son is very flamboyant and does not know if he is gay. However, he soon finds out when an effeminate male hospital nurse comes into the picture. This boy toy becomes a catalyst between mother and the son.

Joan Schirle is superb as the miser Gertrude. Her mugging actions and animated voice are absolutely hilarious, and her timing is impeccable. Tyler Olsen as son Chubby gives a wonderful over-the-top performance in his childlike tantrums as he eats up the scenery. Tim Cunningham is side splitting as the boy toy, speaking “Spanglish” like the Charo and wearing only a bulging thong. Barbara Geary is excellent as the 39-year-old who can’t keep her hands off the gardener and the mother’s “private golf caddy,” played by David Escobedo. He is the only sturdy character in the production.

Keight Gleason as the Russian immigrant maid Urula plays the role with a sarcastic air. Her actions are very athletic as she strolls about the stage like an Olympic winner in gymnastics. Berni Sabath is wonderfully uppity as Fatima, who finds out that Urula gets 50 cents more per hour from the stingy employer. Her fake fainting before Gertrude in the second act is a tour de force of slap stick acting. She is brilliant in her pratfalls.

The Golden State set is minimal. Giulio Cesare Perrone has devised only a diving board and a chair, and they are used for much of the physical comedy; there are plenty of Marx Brothers antics in the production. Perrone also has designed lavishly caricaturist costumes that add to hilarity. There is a large, white fabric background, also in the style of the Italian commedia dell arte.

The Golden State played at the Brava Theatre Center, 2781 24st near Portero, San Francisco through November 7. For more information, visit www.dellarte.com. This production will be going to Indiana University in near future.


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


- Richard Connema



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