Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Story, Lydia and Grease

Tracey Scott Wilson's The Story a Powerful and Provocative Drama

Ryan Peters and Craig Marker
SF Playhouse, in association with the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, is presenting Tracey Scott Wilson's riveting drama The Story through April 25. This fascinating 75-minute, fast-paced production is about race, reporting and the truth. The drama was inspired by the 1981 Janet Cooke scandal at the Washington Post when Cooke won the Pulitzer Prize for a sensational story about an 8-year-old heroin addict living in the inner city of the capital. It turned out to be fiction and the African-American reporter was disgraced.

Yvonne (Ryan Peters) is a go-getting, self-possessed young reporter who is not happy working on the "ghetto" Outlook section of a major urban newspaper. Her very stern boss Pat (Halili Knox) has been around the block as a pioneering black journalist. She is constantly telling Yvonne that she owes her a lot for being one of the first black journalists to enter the white world of press reporting.

Yvonne is told by her white yuppie boyfriend Jeff (Craig Marker), the metro editor of the paper, to not be too "white" since she will anger her more belligerent African-American colleagues. Pat and her charge Neil (Dwight Huntsman) are proud of what they have done for the black community in writing positive things about African Americans.

Yvonne has great difficulty in dealing with her co-worker, who says, "Something in my talk tells them I'm not 'down.' I'm not keeping it real. But this is it. This is my real." She is just not happy doing uplifting stories about black community centers and wants to move on to the metro or national desk to be accepted as an esteemed reporter.

A big story breaks when a young, white married couple has made a wrong turn into an unsafe part of the city. As a result the husband is shot to death by a black attacker. Yvonne gets her first big scoop and claims she has found a young girl gang member who might have been involved in the killing. According to the reporter, the girl, Latisha (Kathryn Tkel), has admitted the killing. Yvonne writes a story called "Confessions of a Girl Gang Member." However, the girl has "mysteriously disappeared."

Yvonne's article says that Latisha is an upscale cultural girl who speaks several languages. So the question that arises is, can the gangster girl living in the ghetto be real or is this an invention of Yvonne's imagination? The ending of the provocative play is skillfully ambiguous.

Tracey Scott Wilson's writing is brilliant and acted dexterously by a cast of nine actors. The dialogue is like the sound of a machine gun with its rat-a-tat-tat pace and it conforms to the tempo of a news cycle. Director Margo Hall adds an additional coating of sparkle to the performers.

All of the performers give brilliant portrayals of exciting characters. As Yvonne, Ryan Peters gives a lively performance with great energy. Halili Knox presents a convincing mixture of steel and warmth as Yvonne's editor Pat. Kathryn Tkel bestows a mercurial performance upon the role of the alleged "gangsta" girl Trisha.

Dwight Huntsman brings great wit and a laid back performance to the role of Neil. Craig Marker is fervent and believable as "yuppiefied" Jeff. Awele Makeba is powerful as the detective while Rebecca Schweitzer offers a poignant performance as the widow of the murdered husband. Ensemble members Allison L Payne and Afi Ayanna are excellent.

Lisa Clark's set design is flashy, with headlines looming at the back of the stage, using only simple props to tell the rapidly paced drama.

The Story plays through April 25 at the SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter Street , San Francisco . For tickets, call 415-677-9596 for tickets or visit

Photo: Zabrina Tipton

Octavio Solis' Lydia an Astounding, Skillfully Crafted Tragedy

Gloria Garayua, Adriana Gaviria, David Pintado and Elias Escobedo
Octavio Solis' Lydia, playing at the Marin Theatre through April 12, centers on a dysfunctional Latino-American family living in El Paso in the 1970s.

The Flores family is headed by stern father Claudio (Luis Saguar), a naturalized short order cook who works at night. He harnesses his anger as a dispossessed immigrant by beating his sons and sitting in a chair with headphones, watching television. His wife Rosa (Wilma Bonet) is a religious fanatic whose American dream has dejectedly gone away. She likes to collect S & H Green stamps and purchases lamps with the cellophane still on the shades.

Teenaged daughter Ceci (Gloria Garayua) is brain dead from an automobile accident that becomes a terrible family secret. She lays on the floor center stage throughout the two-hour and 30-minute drama, occasionally becoming lucid to tell the audience about her secret desires to be sexually touched, and she struggles to express these inner feelings to the family. Older brother Rene (Lakin Valdez) is a raging volcano and a closet homosexual who likes to beat up on "fags," while young brother Misha (David Pintado) is an adolescent who likes to write poetry.

The mother hires Lydia (Adrianna Gaviria), an illegal who just has arrived from Mexico, to nurse and care for the spastic daughter. She becomes very close to Ceci as they share an intense bond. In fact, the young caretaker can understand the grunts that are coming from the invalid daughter. Lydia, who could be an Angel of Mercy or of Death, finds out the family's long buried secrets about the automobile accident. Also involved is Alvaro (Elias Escobedo), a family cousin who has just served two years in the army in Korea and is now a border patrol guard. Alvaro figures predominately in the accident.

Solis adroitly interweaves the family conflicts, pulling no punches as tragic scenes pile upon each other at the end of the play. It is emotionally exhausting to watch what happens to the characters. The last scene is shocking and will have audiences talking as they leave the theatre.

Gloria Garayua (Los Angeles actress who has appeared at Mark Taper and Kirk Douglas Theatre) is stupendous as the spastic daughter Ceci. Her poetic words to the audience and the family when she becomes lucid are beautifully spoken. Wilma Bonet (several MTC productions, including Mere Mortals) gives a strong performance as the exhausted mother who had been tending to Ceci needs before Lydia enters the scene. Adrianna Gaviria (has worked in numerous New York theatres) infuses innocent calmness to the character of Lydia. Lakin Valdez (many film and television credits) portrays Rene as one mean dude with his nervous acting.

David Pintado (Southern California actor who last appeared as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum) is admirable as the good brother Misha. Luis Saguar (founding member of Campo Santo) is excellent playing the angry father, with blatant tensions rising when things go wrong in his family. Elias Escobedo (has worked in many Bay Area theatres) gives a sterling performance as the distant cousin and former beau of Ceci with his mislaid patriotic fanaticism.

Robert Mark Morgan has devised an interesting set that has curving walls in the living room of the Flores family. It's as if you are looking at the family in a fish bowl. Kurt Landisman's excellent lighting shifts the moods in Ceci's world. Jasson Minadakis' direction brings out the intensive last scenes.

Lydia plays through April 12 at the Marin Theatre Company Theatre located at 397 Miller Ave , Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit for more information. Their next production will be the world premiere of Zayd Dohrn's Magic Forest Farm opening on April 26 and running through May 17th.

Photo: Ed Smith

A Slick Production of Grease

Eric Schneider and Emily Padgett
Grease is making another appearance at the Golden Gate Theatre for folks who dig good old rock 'n' roll music. Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's music and lyrics (along with additional songs by Barry Gibb, John Farrar, Louis St. Louis and Scott Simon) can still rock audiences. The current production is the touring company of the 2007 Broadway rival.

I am not sure just how many times I have seen this fast-paced rocking musical. I first saw Barry Bostwick as Danny and Adrienne Barbeau as Rizzo at the Broadhurst during the summer of 1972 (at that time the role of Teen Angel was not a big deal). I have seen several productions in London, including the very noisy production at the Dominion Theatre in 1993 which had American pop singer Debbie Gibson playing the role of Sandy. I have seen several productions in Los Angeles and San Francisco and was honored to assist cinematographer Bill Butler when I worked on the film at Paramount in the 1970s.

Grease seems to be more sanitized since I last saw it (however, lines like "bite the weenie, moron" remain in the jive dialogue). The whole cast sings confidently, dances up a storm and each has a certain low-key, unaffected charm. Eric Schneider Zuko gives a striking performance as Danny, the school bad boy who courts Sandy Dumbrowski, played by Emily Padgett. Eric is a zestful mover in the dance numbers. His vocal cords are pleasing when singing the lament to his lost love "Sandy." Emily has a lovely voice, especially when singing "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and the reprise of "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee."

The definite vocal powerhouses in this production are two T-Bird members, Brian Crum playing Doody and Will Blum playing Roger. Brain Crum has great pipes singing "Those Magic Changes" while Will Blum is terrific singing "Mooning" with Bridie Carroll, who also has a good voice, as Jan. In past tours, the role of Teen Angel has been taken over by a "star" rocker. This time it is Taylor Hicks of "American Idol" fame singing "High School Dropout" to a hilariously campy Frenchy played by Kate Morgan Chadwick.

Taylor Hicks appears inside a gigantic ice cream cone atop the Burger Palace, singing the number and slowly descending to the stage. Hicks performs more for his fans when he sings his latest release "What's Right Is Right" after the curtain call.

Kathleen Marshall's choreography is terrific. These young tornado-driven dancers propel the audience into delirious ovations. These shake and bake dancers are the high points of the two hour and twenty minute show.

Production values are good for a touring company. Derek McLane's set design is glitzy with an overabundance of spotlights and strobe lights by Kenneth Posner. There is even a gleaming red Greased Lightnin' convertible that is a visual delight. Costumes by Martin Pakledinaz have that marvelous glitter about them.

Grease plays at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street , San Francisco through April 20. For tickets call Ticketmaster 415-512-7770. Go to Best of Broadway web site for more information. Their next production will be Monty Python's Spamalot opening on May 22 and running through July 5 at the Golden Gate Theatre.

Photo: Joan Marcus

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

- Richard Connema

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