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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Kooza, Twelfth Night and Staircase


Cirque du Soleil's Kooza is a Brilliant Fusion of Acrobatic Performances and the Art of Clowning

Kooza
Charivari
Cirque du Soleil brings its new production Kooza to the AT&T parking lot, Third Street, San Francisco. This is the debut of the new spectacle under their yellow and gold Grand Chapiteau that will be touring the United States.

Kooza comes from the Sanskrit word "koza" which means box of treasure. The storyline has chubby Stephen Landry dressed in a blue and white striped outfit, clutching a kite to his body, playing an ingenious innocent wandering about the stage. He is introduced to the circus world by con artist Jason Berrent, looking like the god Mercury in a candy stripe outfit.

Kooza is less ethereal than past Cirque productions. This presentation, written and directed by David Shiner, combines two circus traditions: acrobatic performances and the art of clowning, by Gordon White, a nave bossy King. Christian Fitzharris, Joshua Zehner and nifty pickpocket Michael Halvarson fill out the other clown roles. There is a clown dressed as a very large dog that "pees" on the audience, and a chair in the audience section that rises up and down at the will of the officious king. Members of the audience get into many of the clown acts over the three hour period.

As usual, Cirque du Soleil has top flight artists. There are daredevil high wire performers, amazing trapeze and unicycle acts and anatomy-challenging contortionists.

Opening the show are three lithe contortionists, Julie Bergez, Natasha Patterson and Dasha Sovik, doing incredible twisting of their flexible bodies. Following this hard to believe act is seventeen-year-old trapeze artist Darya Vintilova, who thrills the audience doing incredible acrobatic moves on her trapeze swing.

Diana Aleshchenko and Yury Shavro excite the audience with their dual unicycles on the high wire, which is unlike anything you have ever seen. The amazing four-man high wire act featuring the Dominguez family is fantastic, as they ride bicycles on wires midair. They dance and leapfrog across the wires to Spanish tunes. Anthony Gatto, dressed in a silver outfit that is straight out of Las Vegas, is very good as a juggler. However, this act tends to go on a little too long.

Outstanding is the Wheel of Death with Jimmy Ibarra Zapata and Carlos Enrique Marin Loaiza each inside a large wheel as the two wheels are spinning up and down. They give a gripping display of agility, even as one of the men goes outside the rotating wheel, thrilling the audience. The piece de resistance is Zhang Gongli, who balances on his hands atop chairs that are piled high almost to the top of tent.

Kooza's first act has a Turkish motif with an unbelievable two-story bandstand of wrought iron, fabric and lanterns. The second act looks like Las Vegas with flashy jive music by composer Jean-Francois Cote.

Kooza plays through January 20th at the AT&T parking lot off Third Street in San Francisco. The circus then goes to San Jose where it will play from January 31 through March 2 at Taylor Street Bridge. For tickets call 800-678-5440 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com.

Photo: Olivier Samson Arcand


Shakespeare's Twelfth Night Goes Psychedelic

Twelfth Night
Vilma Silva and Carie Kawa
TheatreWorks is currently presenting a wild psychedelic version of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. This two-hour thirty-minute production has all stops pulled out, with music by Paul Gordon, prat falls, college humor and even some semblance of Shakespeare in the courtship of Olivia.

I have seen many productions of this most delightful of Shakespeare's comedies. The productions I have seen have always been of sweetness and pleasantry. Most of the themes are developed on two levels. The main plot is Viola (Carie Kawa) disguised as a man working for Orsino (Michael Gene Sullivan), Duke of Illyria, to represent the Duke to convey his love to the Countess Olivia (Vilma Silva). However, the countess falls hook, line and sinker for Viola, thinking she is a man.

Shakespeare's comedy relief has the shenanigans of the moron Andrew Aguecheek (Darren Bridget), Olivia's suitor, and the pleasure-seeking Toby Belch (Warren David Keith), Olivia's uncle whose continuously loud and lewd behavior tries Olivia's patience. Completing that riotous trio is the fool Feste (Patrick Alparone). The love story of Olivia, Viola and the duke is written mostly in the lovely blank verse of the Bard while the lower characters speak in a prose that involves drunkenness and mischief.

Twelfth Night is now set in San Francisco during the Haight-Ashbury summer of love in the late 1960s. Of all the productions of this comedy I have seen, this is the most inventive. The shipwreck scene now becomes a broken-down hippie bus. Orsino is no longer a duke but now a rock impresario. Feste the fool now has a three-member rock group consisting of two guitars and a conga drum. Feste sings Paul Gordon's new songs that sound a little like the music of The Grateful Dead. The lyrics are Shakespeare's, but they sound very strange when sung by Patrick Alparone. There is a lack of fire in the songs and the musical ranges do not favor Patrick's voice. They become too insignificant. In fact, one song repeats over and over and over again. However, his acting when not singing is very cool.

Robert Kelley has assembled a strong cast that overshadows some of the minuses of the over-the-top acting of the comedy that becomes very frustrating. Much of the comedy goes on much too long. Darren Bridget as the foppish fool Aguecheek once again shows his flair for exaggerated physical comedy, including having fun with members of the audience. Warren David Keith is very good as the dope-wasted Toby Belch. It actually looks like he has been smoking real "maryjane" throughout the comedy. Shannon Warrick is excellent as the hippie chick and maid Maria.

Outstanding is Ron Campbell as Malvolio, a combination of a spartan, self-loving character. His reading of the letter he thinks came from Olivia is a marvel of comedic timing. His attempt at trying to smile is a comedy tour de force.

Vilma Silva gives a winning performance as Olivia. She changes from being a cold fish dressed in somber black Victorian gown and melts wonderfully by degrees as she falls for Viola. Carie Kawa as Viola does not display any masculinity in her acting, and the Sgt. Pepper outfit makes her look like a girl. However, she overcomes this with her captivating acting. These two actresses know how to play Shakespeare.

Rafael Untalan makes the most of his limited role as Sebastian. William Ching as The Captain and Clive Worsley as Antonio are effective in their small roles. Michael Gene Sullivan is efficient as the rock impresario Orsino.

Through director Robert Kelley's work, the hijinks of the comedy trio has become the main story; the love story is almost secondary. His direction is smooth and it all goes along at a crisp pace, but many of the comedy antics become too cartoonish for my taste. Some is strictly collegiate humor. The costumes by Allison Connor are strictly out of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine." The dress includes bell bottoms, paisley, beads and a lot of fringe. The set by Andrea Bechert is a riot of vibrant purples, yellows, green, blues and oranges that look like the work of Peter Max. There is a large, bright orange sun casting rays over the Golden Gate Bridge (it looks like the Japanese flag during those World War II movies). The whole set reminds me of the psychedelic posters of the 1960s.

Of the many versions of Twelfth Night I've seen, this production ranks highly in its inventiveness and gusto, but it loses points for polish and believability.

Twelfth Night is currently playing at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto through December 23rd. For tickets please call 650-903-6000 or visit www.theatreworks.org.

Their next production will be Wendy Wasserstein's final play, Third, opening on January 16 and running through February 10 at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, Castro Street at Mercy, Mountain View.

Photo: David Allen


Theatre Rhinoceros Revives Staircase

Staircase
Donald Currie and Joseph Tally
Theatre Rhinoceros is reviving the rarely produced Charles Dyer comedy drama, Staircase. This campy play was a forerunner of The Boys in the Band and predates that bitchy drama by a few months. This was the first openly gay play on Broadway, arriving from its success in London by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

I saw the Broadway production at the Biltmore during the winter of 1968 with Milo O'Shea and Eli Wallach. I was not particularly fond of the play since it made the two old queens caricatures rather than real human beings. The Broadway show was not a success and it closed after 61 performances. Fox decided to make a film version in 1969 with Rex Harrison and Richard Burton and it turned out to be a commercial flop. Since that time the play has been rarely produced.

Director John Fisher has portrayed the two characters as high camp. Harry and Charlie have been a couple for 30 years, running a low-rent hair salon in London. Charlie was at one time an actor, famous mostly for an old television commercial. He is awaiting his court date for wearing drag at a neighborhood pub and insulting a police officer. He also has a 21-year-old daughter he has never seen coming to visit him. He is not a happy camper.

Harry owns the building and there is very little of his background in the drama. He suffers from the constant nagging and insults thrown at him by Charlie, who berates Harry for having a womanish body and alopecia. The two men taunt, nag and go for the jugular during the two-hour no intermission comedy-drama.

I have seen many older men who have had relationships for 30 years (ours is 27 years), but I have never seen such a bitchy couple in my life. John Fisher has the actors going over the top in some of the scenes.

Donald Currie and Joseph Tally are very good in their roles. Donald Currie, who plays Charlie, is in excellent shape and looks good for a 60-year-old, while Joseph Tally's Harry seems to have lost his looks and body to old age. The punch lines between the two characters are delivered with good timing. However, Currie seems to speak in a strange sing song language with a lot of British slang words thrown into the mix.

Jon Wai-keung Lowe has devised a striking all white hair salon set with an imposing barber's chair and hairstyle charts all around. Jeremy Cole's costumes include gold silk pajamas worn by Donald Currie.

Staircase attempts to be the gay Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but it does not accomplish the witty firmness of the Albee drama.

Staircase played at the Theatre Rhinoceros through December 16. The theatre is located at 2926 16th Street, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-552-4100 or visit www.TheRhino.com.

Photo: Kent Taylor


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

- Richard Connema



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