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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Great Men of Genius, Special Forces
and Marin Mazzie

Men of Genius
Mike Daisy
Mike Daisey, the loquacious monologist whom the New York Times calls "the master storyteller," has returned to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Thrust Stage. His new show called Great Men of Genius is a series of four monologues, each running between 70 to 80 minutes in length. The correlated monologues feature influential playwright Bertolt Brecht, master showman P.T. Barnum, creative thinker Nikola Tesla and cult initiator L. Ron Hubbard. The pieces are presented on separate nights and in marathon form; I attended one of the Sunday marathons where he talked for five hours, not counting the two intermissions and a dinner break.

Mike Daisey has the skill to talk about the historical facts and make them human. Paper Magazine says "the listeners are both informed and transformed when they leave the theatre." About half of each talk consists of things that personally happened to Daisey while growing up in Maine and in college. The other half consists of facts relating to each mastermind. The monologues consider the subjects' brilliance as a central conviction and not as Mike's own inclination.

Daisey first talks about the famous German playwright Bertolt Brecht, who was actually born Bertol Brecht (he put the "t" into his first name since the German meaning of "Bertolt" was "pretty"). The speaker says that the famous playwright's figure was "pillowy" just like his own, and points out that the last name of the celebrated playwright has become an adjective, with plays being called "Brechtian."

The Barnum lecture is much more entertaining as he talks about Tom Thumb, Jumbo (who was a regular size elephant but was always featured in prints surrounded by pigmies) and George Washington's 160-year-old nursemaid (who was actually an African American woman in her 60s dressed as a little old weather beaten lady). Somehow the motormouth monologist brings his teenage experience as being a member of the "Star Trek" team at the Maine State Fair into this talk.

The talk on Nikola Tesla reviews the battles this genius had with Thomas Edison and the craziness that pervaded Tesla's later years when thwarted by Edison's efforts to control electrical innovation. (Anyone who saw the film The Prestige saw David Bowie portray the eccentric inventor.) His stories on the inventor working on a death ray machine are hilarious and maybe a little frightening.

Daisey blasts the founder of the Scientology and his so-called "fictitious" life in which he fused together a religion and a business. There are interesting stories about the members of this sect and his own personal views on this strange cult.

Mike Daisey is a first class showman. He does not just recite lines but he connects with his audience, moving smoothly as he speaks. He hugs naturalness on stage. The man is a master storyteller.

Great Men of Genius will play through July 1 featuring Bertolt Brecht on Wednesdays, P.T. Barnum on Thursdays, Nikola Tesla on Fridays and L. Ron Hubbard on Saturdays. All four genius marathons on Sundays with a 2 pm Matinee and a two-hour break for dinner and continuing at 7 pm. The Berkeley Repertory Thrust Stage is located at 2025 Addison St, Berkeley. For tickets call 510-647-2949 or go to www.berkeleyrep.org.

Photo: Ursa Waz


John Fisher's Special Forces is an Intense Drama

Special Forces
Elias Escobedo
Theatre Rhinoceros is currently presenting the world premiere of John Fisher's powerful war drama, Special Forces. For 80 minutes the playwright, who also directs the production, gives the audience an inside view of a combat team in Operation Iraqi Freedom working in the northern Kurd section of Iraq. Their mission is to assassinate a suspected Kurdish leader.

Fisher has assembled four actors who look and act like they were trained by the Marines at Quantico Marine Base in Southern California (one Marine brags that he has a Southern Californian tan). The director has also included a drag entertainer played wonderfully by Matthew Martin. Fisher, who also wrote Combat!, Partisans and Amnesia, has a good handle on the lives of the gung ho marines on this secret mission. He uses chic and permeating dialogue zingers on the questionable nature of the current war in the Middle East. It is the kind of speech you would expect soldiers to speak while on a dangerous mission. A scene where two of the Marines clown around just to relieve the tension is insightful.

Matthew Martin (Awe About Eve, Hush Up, Sweet Charlotte, What Happened to B.B. Jane?) has shed his Bette Davis and Joan Crawford persona and is first-class as the drag queen Dinah Blue, a "camp follower" who has appeared in every gin joint where American troops are stationed. Martin has a great sultry voice when singing rewritten versions of "Volare" and Kurt Weill's "Pimp's Ballad" from Threepenny Opera.

Elias Escobedo (Terre Haute, Romeo & Juliet gives a captivating performance as Lieutenant Thomas Hazlitt USMC. He is charming in the opening scene where Hazlitt is romancing Diana. Their Casablanca scene at the end is very poignant. Sage Howard (What the Butler Saw, Burn This) is mesmerizing as the tough as nails Lieutenant "Dame" Anderson USMC. She plays the role as one aggressive hard-hitting S.O.B. who won't take crap from anyone.

John Fisher takes on the role of Colonel Gerald Jessup. His transference from being a homophobe to a more compassionate person is very well accomplished, especially in a scene with Diana Blue when they discuss their favorite movies (an "in" joke is when Diana Blue tells the colonel her favorite film is All About Eve).

William J. Brown III (Homeland, Enchanted April) as Sergeant Bill Braver and A.K. Conrad (recent graduate of U.S.F.) as Sergeant Jake Somers look and talk like gung ho United States Marines.

Special Forces is performed on Joan Howard's minimalist set with excellent lighting effects from Dave Robertson and a reverberating score by Eric Delora. Jeremy Cole's solider outfits are authentic to the current desert war. John Fisher has directed a very provocative 80 minute realistic drama.

Special Forces has been extended through July 14 at Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St,( Mission/Van Ness), San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-5079 or www.TheRhino.org. Their next production is a new play by Carol Lynn Pearson called Facing East which runs August 10 through August 26.

Photo: Kent Taylor


The Captivating Marin Mazzie at the Empire Plush Room

Three-time Tony nominee Marin Mazzie recently made her debut at the Empire Plush Room accompanied by the very talented Rob Berman on the piano. They celebrated Broadway's most sunny composers: Jerry Herman, John Kander and Fred Ebb, who have won countless awards with their satirical wit.

Velma and the Matron in Kander and Ebb's Chicago sing "What ever happen to class?" Well, Marin Mazzie has Class with a capital "C." My appreciation for this fabulous singer goes all the way back when she first appeared here in And the World Goes Round over 12 years ago. Since that time, I have had the privilege of seeing her in Passion, Kiss Me Kate , Ragtime. and several times in concert with her talented husband Jason Danieley.

Marin Mazzie's show, called Yes, It's Today!, is a fast-paced, 60-minute professional show with little conversation. Wearing a stunning silver gray cocktail dress she, immediately went into Jerry Herman's "It's Today" then segued into "Yes" from Kander and Ebb's 70, Girls, 70. She gave a sensual reading of "Arthur in the Afternoon" and drolly sang the little known Kander and Ebb "Monopoly." She started low and softly on "Time Heals Everything" from Jerry Herman's Mack and Mabel and built the song to a brilliant crescendo. There was a lovely, quiet rendition of "Ribbons Down My Back" going directly into "A Quiet Thing." Marin was cool and sassy in "Razzle Dazzle" and she belted out a composite of "The Best of Times," and "Yes, It's Today" at the end of the show.

Marin came back out for an encore of "Ring Them Bells." Her comic timing was impeccable and she really can ring those bells. Rob Berman is the perfect accompanist for this amazing singer of Broadway songs.

Marin Mazzie completed her week at the Empire Plush Room in the Hotel York, 940 Sutter Street, San Francisco on June 17th. Their current attraction is Madame with Joe Kovacs running through July 9th. This will be followed by Andrea Marcovicci opening on July 10th and running through July 29th.


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

- Richard Connema



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