Talkin' Broadway Regional News & Reviews: San Francisco - "Strangers We Know" - 1/16/07
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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Word for Word presentation of Strangers We Know is a Delightful Two Hour Production

Also see Richard's review of The Circle

Strangers We Know
Joel Mullennix and
Paul Finocchiaro

Word for Word, who has been performing short stories on stage since 1993, is presenting a delightful evening of two short stories: Mlle. Dias de Corta by Mavis Gallant and Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People by Lorrie Moore. Rather than adapting texts, Word for Word actually presents entire works verbatim. It is a tricky business, but these company actors deliver every word, every bit of dialogue, description and authorial asides found on the page.

The current production, titled Strangers We Know, begins with Mlle Dias de Corta from the writer's Paris Stories. This is one of the most superbly crafted and perceptive stories of our time.

Mlle Dias de Corta begins as an ugly criticism addressed by a narrow-minded Parisian widow, played beautifully by company co-founder and co-Artistic Director Susan Harloe. She talks about an immigrant actress who, years ago, rented a room in her apartment. She rented out the room for companionship since her husband had died and her relationship with their only son was very distant. Maria Candelaria is wonderful portraying the immigrant actress who is seeking work in Paris. One hilarious scene takes place as she gets work in a commercial, advertising an oven cleaner.

After a torrent of rank prejudice about the neighborhood becoming integrated with Asians, the widow obtains surprising insight and a pathetic need for friends. She realizes she has made a mockery of herself hoping that the actress will come back to her just for companionship. Joel Mullennix is excellent as the son while Paul Finocchiaro is effective in the small role of the departed husband.

The second act is the hilarious Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People, by Lorrie Moore This is the tale of Abby Mallon, who goes on an ambitious and crazy drive across Ireland with her mother at the wheel. Abby and her mother have never been close, and the mother is something of an adventurous woman. The only reason why the mother is there is because she is the only one who can drive a stick shift. ("It cost double if you want an automatic in Ireland," she tells her daughter.) There are some mirthful adventures as they travel the length and breadth of the Emerald Isle. One particularly funny bit takes place as both try to kiss the Blarney Stone.

Sheila Balter as the daughter and Patricia Silver portraying the mother are captivating together. They have a wonderful repartee as they banter with each other. This 55-minute piece shows how love, longing and wit can catch the heart off-guard and blow it up. Maria Candelaria, Susan Harloe, Paul Finocchiaro and Joel Mullennix have various roles in the piece. Several portray Irish sheep, and Paul Finocchiaro is particularly impressive as a dog. Joel Mullennix is a riot as an Irish attendant at the Blarney Castle to help tourists kiss the stone.

Joel Mullennix and Amy Kossow co-direct this fast paced two-hour production. They get excellent performances from the cast, using various simple things such as chairs as props to build Blarney Castle. When the mother and daughter talk about the green grass of Ireland, one of the actors throws out a rug of plastic grass.

Strangers We Know plays at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center at Marina Blvd, San Francisco through January 28th. It transfers to the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave, Berkeley from January 31 through February 4th. For tickets please call 415-437-6775 or go to www.zspace.org.


Photo: Clayton Lord


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

- Richard Connema



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