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San Francisco by Richard Connema

My Children! My Africa!, Teatro ZinZanni's License to Kiss and Christine Ebersole & Billy Stritch

A Fiery Production of Athol Fugard's My Children! My Africa!

Africa
L. Peter Callender
Marin Theatre Company recently presented a powerful revival of Athol Fugard's My Children! My Africa!.  The play premiered in 1989 while South Africa was still under apartheid.  Three actors give intensely moving performances of astonishing reticence and self-control to make this a significant production. Direction by Josh Costello is superb.

My Children! My Africa! starts with a debate between Isabel (Laura Morache), a white liberal English girl from a rich family, and Thami (Lloyd Roberson II), an independent black student in a segregated township school in Camdeboo, South Africa. The debate is about ideals and the political positions of males and females in this segregated society. Mr. M (L. Peter Callender) is a dedicated black teacher who moderates the heated debate.

Fugard's drama is full of rich and eloquent speeches about controlling powerless persons, the privileged white few, and the impoverished blacks of the township who are starting to revolt against the white oppressors. There is talk of a revolution that the blacks call "The Beginning."

Mr. M wants no part of an open revolution while Thami is calling for action now. The playwright makes the audience see both sides, not only academically but emotionally. All of the characters are smart and commendable and it is hard to know who to root for in this powerful play. Isabel represents the new South African whites who believe in equality for all but through a more traditional legal means.

L. Peter Callender is brilliant as Mr. M. He gives one of his most triumphant performances of his distinguished career here in the Bay Area. Lloyd Roberson II gives an intense performance as the rebel student. His performance is so fervent and full of poetic nuance that you can't help but root for him in the "Beginning" of a new era of South African politics. Laura Morache gives a fresh performance as the white liberal Isabel from a rich family. She shows depth and passion as the two-hour and thirty-five minute play progresses.

Eric Sinkkonen's fine set is a run-down classroom of corrugated metal and salvaged timber, and Michael Palumbo's lighting adds to the drama. Sound by Ted Crimy strengthens the tense moments of the play. Bravo to dialect coach Lynne Soffer for the authentic South African accents.

My Children! My Africa! ran through February 8th at the Marin Theatre, 397 Miller Ave. Mill Valley.  Their next production will be Octavio Solis's Lydia which opens on March 19th and runs through April 12. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org.

Photo: Ed Smith


Teatro ZinZanni meets James Bond in License to Kiss

Teatro ZinZanni
Sabine Hettlich
Teatro ZinZanni on Pier 29 on the Embarcadero is one of San Francisco's prime tourist attractions.  For an evening of dinner and entertainment it has become a must for tourists coming to our city.  Each year the company presents entirely new productions to entertain its customers in the authentic spiegeltent. There are only a handful of these unique and legendary venues left in the world. The theater brings the best performers, including singers, comics, balancing acts, aerial acrobats, aerialist and fantastic contortionists.

The newest production is a tribute to James Bond flicks called License to Kiss, under the direction of Jack Fletcher. This is one of the best productions I have seen at this spiegeltent.  The whole presentation is a more sophisticated creation starring German singer Sabine Hettlich and wild and crazy drag comic Kevin Kent.

Sabine Hettlich, who recently headlined at the Lido de Paris and was in original German production of Cats and a main character in German productions of Walt Disney's Aladdin, has lovely vocal chops throughout the production.  She opens the show dressed like Marlene Dietrich in Blue Angel, singing with pitch perfect resonance "Lili Marlene" and segueing into "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" from One Touch of Venus.  She later sings other sensuous songs in French as she walks about the tent area. Her voice has a musical dexterity in all styles of singing and she is dressed in luxurious Beaver Bauer outfits.

Improvisational performer, humorist and physical comedian Kevin Kent shares top billing with the German chanteuse. Opening the Bond sequence, he looks like a husky female German aviator in a "B" film thriller.  Speaking with a faux German accent, he is hilarious as he interrogates performer Ming Fang on being a spy. (Ming Fang was part of the team of aerialists "Ming Fang and Rue Ling," but unfortunately, Rue Ling had an accident during rehearsals, so Ming Fang has been relegated to playing a "hidden undercover spy.") In the background the full orchestra plays German music suggestive of Berlin in the area before the Nazis took over.

License of Kiss also features soprano Kristin Clayton who is a veteran of the Opera's Merola program. She has a bell clear voice when singing "D'Amor sull'ali rosee" from Verdi's Il Trovatore. She also nicely changes tempo singing "It Had to Be You" during the production.

Sam Payne from the United States and Sandra Feusi from Switzerland are astonishing in the sensual "Vertical Tango." They are sexy and terrific aerialists, using only a steel pole, contorting their lithe bodies high above the audience.  Joel Salom from Australia is excellent using his juggling skills and singing "I Don't Care Much" from Cabaret with good vocal cords. In a juggling scene he juggles while taking most of his clothes off in a remarkable trick.

Tatiana Gousarova from the Ukraine undulates, shifts and transforms her body in a wonderful contortionist act as she uses small steel poles at the base of the stage and goes from one pole to another with graceful movements.

The three-hour chaos includes a great four-course meal.  The price is well worth the evening's dinner and entertainments. Teatro ZinZanni is now in its ninth year and has now become a San Francisco institution. The Spiegel Tent is located at Pier 29 on the Embarcadero at the foot of Battery Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-568-3587 or visit www.ZinZanni.org for times and prices.


A Wonderful Afternoon with Christine Ebersole and Billy Stritch

Broadway diva and two-time Tony winner Christine Ebersole wowed her devoted fans in a 5 pm concert on Sunday January 15 at the Marines' Memorial Club in San Francisco.  The ballroom was crowded with extra chairs to acuminate her many fans.  She was ably assisted by Billy Stritch on piano and in the vocal duets.

Christine Ebersole is one of the most gifted performers of the Broadway stage today. She is elegant and displays a breezy and positive approach in every song she sings. The artist did a wonderful mix of Broadway and jazz tunes during the 80-minute concert. Patter was minimal but she did tell an amusing story about her last name. She said in German it meant "soul of a wild boar." She even made fun of Billy Stritch's birth state, Texas, which in Latin meant "death penalty."  Billy retorted by saying he was born in Sugarland, Texas, which is known for a local prison located near the city. Christine replied with the slogan, "Build it and they will come."

Christine Ebersole demonstrated remarkable versatility in such numbers as "There's a Small Hotel" and "They Say It's Wonderful."  Her rendition of "My Ship" from Lady in the Dark was wonderful, flavored with agile jazz styling, and she even cupped her hands over her mouth to replicate a jazzy trumpet sound.  The artist's sensitive acting was revealed with her reading of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." She was sublime singing "Sunday in New York" and "My Favorite Things" from the duo's latest album, Sunday in New York. She did a wicked take-off of Jeannette MacDonald by trilling and pouncing through "Beyond the Blue Horizon," originally from the 1930 Paramount musical film Monte Carlo.

Billy Stritch provided flavorful assistance in several of the numbers. The two were hilarious singing an early Irving Berlin tune, "Slumming on Park Avenue," in a '20s singing style. Billy came into his own singing "Let's Take a Walk around the Park" and "A Shine on Your Shoes." As an encore, Christine Ebersole reprised her Tony Award-winning performance in Grey Gardens by singing the poetically transcendent "Will You?."  This was an afternoon to remember.

Bay Area Cabaret has Jazz singer Nnenna Freelon appears at the Marines' Memorial Club on Sunday March 8th and Ann Hampton Callaway on Sunday May 17th at the same place. 


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

- Richard Connema



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