Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

August: Osage County, South Pathetic and His Lovely Wife Ira

A Scintillating Production of August: Osage County

The Company
Eugene O'Neill's Long Day Journey's into Night is considered the epitome of a drama about a dysfunctional American family in the 20th century. Tracy Letts' August: Osage County will be known as the same for a crazy mix upped family of the 21st century. The first national tour of this dazzling Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play is being presented at the Curran Theatre through September 6th. August: Osage County is in the grand tradition of the O'Neill drama, but it's much funnier. There are elements of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Sam Shepard's Buried Child in this three and a half hour play with two intermissions. The playwright has created terrific speeches and sizzling confrontations.

The family saga is set in present day Oklahoma where poet and academic Beverly Weston (Jon DeVries) appears in the prologue sucking down Jim Beam and revealing some basic facts about what the audience is about to see. He tells Johnna Monevata (DeLanna Studi), a Cheyenne woman who is to be the housekeeper, about his life with his druggy wife Violet (Estelle Parsons). He says, "My wife takes pills and I drink." In the next scene, the audience learns that Beverly has disappeared and is found drowned in a nearby lake. From then on, it is pandemonium as the family gathers for the funeral.

All members of the Weston family have major problems. Violet has three daughters: Barbara (Shannon Cochran), Ivy (Angelica Torn) and Karen (Amy Warren). Barbara is in a failing marriage with Bill (Jeff Still), who has a young mistress that we do not see; they arrive with their pot-smoking daughter Jean (Emily Kinney). Karen, who is very naïve about romance, is accompanied by her fiancé Steve (Laurence Lau) who seems to be a bit of cad. Ivy arrives alone, though she has a secret romance which twists and turns at intervals to a terrible conclusion.

Violet's sister Mattie (Libby George), a real bitch and a motor-mouth, arrives with her husband Charlie (Paul Vincent O'Connor) who must be a saint to have lived with her 13 years. Their adult son Little Charles (Stephen Riley Key) is also on hand.

There is not a weak link in this superlative cast. Estelle Parsons gives a towering performance as the pill-popping monster mother. She is a combination of Medea, Mary Cavan Tyrone and Martha of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Libby George is fantastic as the cringe-inducing Aunt Mattie. She has some great wicked lines in this saga.

Shannon Cochran gives an incredible portrayal as Violet's eldest daughter Barbara. The rising face-off between daughter and mother and the relish they take in confrontations are savage. Amy Warren is wonderful as an inexperienced woman who is having her first love affair. Paul Vincent O'Connor as Mattie's husband and Jeff Still as Barbara's husband give rich performances. Laurence Lau is repellant as Steve. Jon DeVries makes the best of his one scene at the beginning of the drama. He gives a poetic performance. Emily Kinney as granddaughter Emily, Stephen Riley Key as Little Charles, Johnna Monevata as the Housekeeper and Marcus Nelson as Sheriff Gilbeau don't disappoint with their acting skills. All are well suited to their parts.

Original director Anna D. Shapiro gives flawless clarity to the characters her work with this large cast. Todd Rosenthal's set design consists of a magnificent three-story Oklahoma homestead with a complex construction of rooms that accommodate each scene.

August: Osage County runs through September 6 th at the Curran Theatre , 445 Geary Ave , San Francisco. For tickets call 415-512-7770 or on line at

Photo: Robert J. Saferstein

South Pathetic is a Side-Splitting Frolic About Community Theatre

Jim David brings his hilarious one-person show, South Pathetic, to the New Conservatory Theatre Center's Ed Decker Theatre through August 23rd. This 85-minute, no-intermission play will appeal to those who gets pleasure from theatre and those who have community theatre experience themselves. The play tells of the misadventures of directing A Streetcar Named Desire at a community theatre in Thermal City, North Carolina (population 2500).

Mothers of Morality, known as MOM, are presenting the Tennessee Williams play as their annual presentation of a classic (one of the mothers has discovered, much to her regret, that the author was a homosexual). Jim David, who has had experience in theatre including a four week gig on Broadway in The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, has been invited to direct the piece.

Jim David plays all of the parts, including the actors and backstage people with their trials and tribulations of putting on the play. There are a dozen or so eccentric characters. The one-liners come fast and furious, and you have to have your wits about you to catch all of the zingers. The artist's takes on these characters are an absolute delight. Some are hilarious and some are very poignant. He skillfully changes voices and accents at a moment notice. These people are not white trash but genteel "trash de blanc." The piece is a cross between Greater Tuna and Waiting for Guffman.

The assorted weird characters include the town socialite Ethelene McGraw ("My husband and I took an around the world tour last year, we are wondering where to go next") who plays Blanche; Darlinda Shepherd, the star of an adult entertainment roadside place of amusement called Foxy Lady where ladies are welcome; and marijuana-puffing ex-porn star Stanley Cappobianco who starred in The Hunt for Pink October and Seven Days in Mary.

The supporting actors in the production are local PBS station operator Sidney Grand ("If anyone is listening, just fire off your guns") as Steve and Dickie Hensley, known as Little Dickey, playing The Young Collector. Other poignant characters include Bob Smith, a salesman for Bob Bedford's Used Cars whose motto is "The Home of Fumigated Used Cars," who is a failed gay actor and has returned home to take care of his off stage invalid mother. Also there is a refugee from war torn Slovakia who comes into the production as a last minute replacement for Little Dickie.

At the end of the local production of Streetcar, David says that on the whole it was a fairly good production. "It was the only time the rape scene has been performed with Blanche on top." He chastises the local critic by saying, "Without critics we would never know that the show that we just thoroughly enjoyed is, in fact, a total piece of shit." David also adds an epilogue about what has happened to these strange characters since the production.

South Pathetic plays at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness off Market, San Francisco through August 23rd . For tickets call 415-861-8972 or visit Their other current production is Robert Aguirre-Sacasa's Good Boys and True running through September 20 and upcoming is Tom Orr in A Crass Act opening on August 27th and running through September 12.

An Invigorating Evening with Mark Nadler in His Lovely Wife Ira

Singer and pianist Mark Nadler recently returned to San Francisco to play a five night gig at the Rrazz Room through. Nadler, who won the SFBATCC award last year for solo performance of Russian on the Side, presented his sizzling new show based on Ira Gershwin's lyrics. This very talented musician overwhelmed the audience with his musical dexterity performing vocal triumphs of Ira Gershwin's lyrics to such composers as his brother George, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke and Kurt Weill. He regaled the audience with little known stories about this very shy lyricist.

The name of the show is based on a disc jockey's naïve supposition that George and Ira were husband and wife. There were wonderful stories about Ira when he was at Warner Brothers working on A Star Is Born. A little known story was told about this film: Judy Garland wanted E.Y. Harburg to do lyrics to Harold Arlen's melodies but she had to accept Ira as the lyricist since Harburg was not available. With his distinctive voice, Mark sang "Gotta Have Me Go With You" and "The Man That Got Away."

Mark Nadler was bursting with enthusiasm as he sang such songs as "Applause, Applause," "Fascinating Rhythm" and as a tribute to gay marriages, "Love Is Sweeping the Country." This was followed by "It's a New World " from A Star is Born with special lyrics written for the 1963 Carnegie Hall concert by Lena Horne; the song has become a civil rights anthem for the gays.

Nadler told the audience that Ira was a very shy man and would usually stand in a corner while his brother George, an extrovert, would schmooze the crowd. Ira's friends were his words. He called them his children. He would agonize over them, which was brought out in a Jerome Kern melody first called " Midnight Madness." The song went through many versions with different lyrics and name changes. It finally became "Long Ago and Far Away."

Stories and songs included some from Lady in the Dark. The pianist said that the lyrics were written before Kurt Weill wrote the musical. The singer was wonderful singing "This is New" and "The Princess of Pure Delight" from the musical.

This was a winning 90-minute show perfect for the intimate theatre. Once can hope Nadler will return with a new show about another famous composer or lyricist.

For upcoming shows at the Rrazz Room visit or call 866-468-3399 for information. The Rrazz Room is located in the Hotel Nikko.

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

- Richard Connema

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