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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Wishful Drinking, Sonny Blues and Boston Marriage


A Fun Evening with Carrie Fisher

Wishful Drinking
Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher, daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher and Princess Leia in Star Wars, is presenting her solo show Wishful Drinking at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Roda Theatre through March 30. This entertaining one-hour and fifty-minute with intermission show is full of wonderful campy Hollywood stories, especially the first half of the program.

Carrie gives us hilarious yarns about Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, Elizabeth Taylor and her born again Christian brother ("They say that religion is the opiate of the masses; well, I just took masses of opiates religiously."). She talks about her time as Princess Leia in George Lucas's Star Wars trilogy. She even wears the outlandish double-bagel-eared wig toward the end of the first act.

The program starts with an announcement that "the role of Carrie Fisher will not be played by Meryl Steep" and there are a series of fun headlines about Debbie, Eddie and Elizabeth flashed on a set that looks like a 1920s German Impressionist film set ("Carrie Fisher Thanks Elizabeth Taylor for Getting Eddie Out of the House," from a tabloid) She comes out in a black pant suit to tell stories about the relationship of Debbie and Eddie and how Ms. Taylor came into the picture. Carrie talks about her rich childhood, saying, "we had three swimming pools in case two did not work." She says her mother is now called "a gay icon" but Debbie is a bad heterosexual. She talks about the husbands in her mother's life and how two of the so-called rich men took all of Debbie's money. Carrie swaggers about the stage with a diet soda in her hand, smoking clove cigarettes (she asks a member of the audience in front row to puff on the cigarette to be sure it is purely clove).

Carrie brings out a large blackboard with photos of men and women and goes into what sounds like a clever "begat" from the Old Testament. She says many younger audience members might not know about the divorce of Debbie and Eddie. She talks of Eddie as Brad Pitt and Debbie as Jennifer Aniston and points to a picture of Elizabeth Taylor, saying that's Angelina Jolie. There is a lot of talk about her father and how he seems to like being married to Asian women. She says he lives in San Francisco near Chinatown.

Carrie talks about the recent death of her friend R. Gregory Stevens, a 42-year-old gay Republican. His death was declared an overdose but she says it was sleep apnea and a surfeit of sleeping pills. Her best part in the first act is where she offers uproarious stories about George Lucas (he was in the audience) and Star Wars. She thanks George for providing her, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill a with "merry band of stalkers" for a lifetime. She shows how, as Princess Leia, she has become a walking commercial, by presenting soap and shampoo bottles in the shape of the princess.

Wishful Drinking's second act starts with Carrie's marriage to a "short Jewish Man" named Paul Simon. She talks about the songs that Paul dedicated to her and even sings a snippet of one of them. Most of the second act becomes something of a lecture about her psychological struggles. There is a lot of talk of her bi-polar psychosis and she has the house lights turned up to ask the audience a series of ten questions to see if they could possibly be bi-polar. One wonders if this part is her therapy or part of her recovery. She concludes the evening by saying that satisfaction is less intangible than it once was: "I'm still transfixed at looking at how things are and not how they ought to be. I am happy among other things."

Wishful Drinking is playing at Berkeley Theatre's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison, Berkeley through March 30th. For tickets, call 510-647-2949 or toll free 888-4-BRT-Tix or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre's next production will be Will Eno's Tragedy, opening on March 14th and running through April 13 on the intimate Trust Stage.

Photo: Kevin Berne


A Potent Production of James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues

Sonny's Blues
Da'Mon Vann and Peter Macon
Word for Word, in association with the Lorraine Hansberry Theater, recently presented James Baldwin's story of brotherhood, Sonny's Blues. Now in its 14th year, Word for Word's mission is to tell great stories with elegant theatricality. They stage performances from classic and contemporary fiction, and not a word or description is left out of the stories they tell.

Word for Word's production of James Baldwin's classic is a powerful story of two brothers in Harlem during the 1950s. The elder brother (Peter Macon), who is simply called "Brother," is a high school algebra teacher and family man. The younger brother Sonny (Da'Mon Vann) is a jazz pianist with a troubled past. He has recently been released from prison where he served time on a drug-related charge.

The older brother is the narrator of the story and he goes into the past lives of his family and his much loved brother. He returns from military service to find his much-loved brother has changed. In fact, the whole neighborhood has changed. The brothers attempt to navigate their complex relationship against the jazzy rhythmic background of city life.

The final scene is beautiful. It takes place in a Harlem nightclub where the piano and Sonny finally come together. The older brother hears Sonny play for the first time and he is astonished at the kind of welcome the young brother has received. The older brother now realizes that Sonny is in a world that he loves and they can come together as blood brothers.

I have read many novels by this great American author and it is a great pleasure to hear the poetic language coming from a commanding cast of actors, including Peter Macon (Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theatre Club and The Guthrie Theatre performances), who makes an imposing performance in the narrator's role. His articulation is impressive. Da'Mon Vann (recently in The Donkey Show Off-Broadway) gives a great, edgy performance as Sonny. His nervous energy is marvelously portrayed.

Allison L. Payne (Cutting Ball Theatre Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World), Margarete Robinson (ACT Little Foxes and TheatreWorks Crowns), Robert Hampton (Fe in the Desert at the Intersection) and Mujahid Abdul-Rashid (Stardust and Empty Wagons at Brava Theatre) all play various family members, musicians, students and street people. Margarete Robinson in particular gives a poignant performance as the brothers' mother. Mujahid Abdul-Rashid gives a strong performance as the father while Robert Hampton is properly slimy as Sonny's friend. Allison L. Payne plays a variety of characters, including a childhood friend of Sonny, a teacher, and Isabel, the wife of the Narrator. Each role is done to perfection.

Margo Hall's direction is smooth and the changes of past and present are perfect. Marcus Shelby has composed an original score which is comprised of blues and modern jazz. The music gives a wonderful sense of atmosphere to the 90-minute production.

Sonny's Blues played through March 6th at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter Street, San Francisco.

Lorraine Hansberry Theatre's last production will be August Wilson's Fences, running from March 20th through April 20th.

Photo: Clayton Lord


A Different Mamet Style in Boston Marriage

Boston Marriage
Alexandra Creighton and Trish Tillman
The two-act Boston Marriage is not the Mamet that I have grown to love. However, it certainly is courageous of him to pen the one-hour and 45-minute gab fest in an Oscar Wilde style. He tried a different style once before when he wrote Faustus, which premiered at the Magic Theatre in 2004. The critics were not kind to that work.

Watching Boston Marriage, I am reminded of a minor "Masterpiece Theatre" presentation on PBS. There is endless banter between the two women in this overly talky drama. The playwright also tries to put in colloquialisms, such as "you pagan slut" and "evil old bitch," in the Victorian writing.

Boston Marriage begins when Clair (Alexandra Creighton) visits her old lover Anna (Trish Tillman) to find out if she can bring a naÔve young woman to her house for sexual purposes (Anna replies "You want me to be your beard?"). Anna has acquired a male protector to provide a sumptuous standard of living, even though she is a lesbian though and through.

Anna agrees to the tryst as long as she can watch through a hole in the wall. However, things become complicated when it is mother. Now that's a pretty mess, so they devise a sťance.

David Mamet has attempted to write in the style of the Irish playwright. However, there are not many "Wildean" aphorisms in the dialogue. The whole piece is weighed down by too many overwritten speeches. The only true, down to earth speech is presented by the Scottish maid Catherine (Pamela Davis) whom Anna insists is Irish.

Trish Tillman and Alexandra Creighton seem to be speaking the words rather than actually acting, and Tillman tends to screech a lot when talking. Her haughty accent is more Victorian British than Bostonian. However, the playwright has given her just too many monologues; they eventually become very cumbersome. Alexandra Creighton fairs better with the dialogue, mainly because her speech is more concise and to the point.

Jennifer Zakroff comes across fresh in the small role of the Scottish maid. She actually steals the scenes when she has something to say. Her voice is lilting and sounds a little more Irish than Scottish.

Jon Wai-keung Lowe has devised a lovely Victorian drawing room full of rust-colored pillows and flocked wallpaper. Lighting by David Robertson is bright and cheery, and Jeremy Cole has concocted lovely Victorian outfits for the two ladies. Under John Fisher's deft direction, the three actresses manage nice accents that could be out of a Jane Austen film.

Boston Marriage has been extended through March 9th at Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th Street, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-552-4100 or visit their web site www.TheRhino.org.

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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