Regional Reviews: San Francisco
In the Wake, The Apotheosis of Pig Husbandry and
In the Wake begins at the end of the Bush-Gore presidential election of 2000. Ellen (Heidi Schreck) and her lover Danny (Carson Elrod) are entertaining friends for a Thanksgiving dinner in their East Village apartment. Ellen, an outspoken and committed liberal journalist, is livid that the Supreme Court decision has given the presidency to George W. Bush.
The play focuses on the two-term presidency of George W. Bush and the righteous indignation of Ellen against the Republican administration. She tried to make sense of the world in the wake of September 11 and hurricane Katrina. She has a certain Woody Allen quality about her and, frankly, her character becomes very annoying as she rants and raves against the administration. Even the other characters in the play seem to get bored as she talks wildly and goes on with no let up.
There are subplots which include a pleasant lesbian couple, Kayla (Andrea Frankle) and Laurie (Danielle Skraastad), who have problems of their own. Also, Ellen also seems to have a romantic interest in artist Amy (Emily Donahoe), even through Amy loves Danny. Also present in this drama is a misleadingly disheartened woman named Judy (Deirdre O'Connell) who has returned from a refugee camp in Guinea where she was a protection officer.
In the Wake succeeds more as a character study than as an assessment of historical zeitgeist. However, it is much too long in its present form. At almost two hours and 50 minutes it is full of political diatribes that become overbearing in some scenes. The first act runs 90 minutes and the opening scene where Ellen rants against a television screen showing CNN news of the Supreme Court decision is completely over the top and much too long. It could stand the cutting of at least 30 to 40 minutes before it goes to New York.
There are some brilliant scenes, especially when a young naïve African-American female student named Tessa (Miriam F. Glover) comes to the apartment of Ellen and Danny and discovers the different lifestyles of Ellen's friends. The last scene, with Judy telling Ellen how voting really does not mean anything in American politics since there will always be "Fat Cats" and rich folks running the government, is brilliantly written and superbly played by Deirdre O'Connell.
The acting is first class, and the play sparkles every time the deliciously deadpan Deirdre O'Connell appears with her wisdom. It is such a relief to hear her against Ellen's alarmed chatter. Heidi Schreck (looking like a young Meryl Streep) is admirable as Ellen, the liberal, outspoken, compassionate (and annoying) woman. Schreck captures the character's intolerable self-righteousness and her unpredicted helplessness.
Andrea Frankle and Danielle Skraastad give refreshing and buoyant performances as Kayla and Laurie. Emily Donahoe gives a sympathetic portrayal of the artist Amy. Her scene where Ellen has suddenly fallen in love with Amy who tries to define the concept of "negative space" is powerful. Carson Elrod seems to overact as Danny in some of the scenes. He is like a boy-man and, even when not saying anything, he tries to hard to be oh, so cute. His big scene at the end of the play when he does not know where he stands with Ellen is well done. Miriam F. Glover is delightful as the small-town mixed-race niece who arrives at Ellen and Danny's apartment trying to sort out the different categories of attachment besides an old fashioned heterosexual wedding.
Scenic designer David Korins provides a nice apartment that looks like typical living quarters in an overpriced tenement in midtown Manhattan. Leigh Silverman's direction is astute.
In The Wake runs through June 27th at the Berkeley Repertory Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison, Berkeley. For tickets please call 510-647-2949) or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. Starting this week is John Leguizamo in Klass Klown as part of the Summer Fireworks Festival. It runs through June 12th.
Playwright William Bivins has been working on this three-character play for almost a year and it is finally being presented at the intimate second stage of the theatre through June 12. The play reminds me of a good "B" film and could almost be considered a film noir for the stage.
The Apotheosis of Pig Husbandry takes place in a sleazy, run-down motel in the Southwest. Lola (Madeline H.D. Brown) is being handcuffed to a bed by her "boyfriend" Asuncion "Assy" Boyle (Chad Deverman). Assy is a revolutionary and you know that because there is a poster of Lenin on the wall of the beat-up room. He has purchased the derelict hotel that is downwind of the biggest farm in the state. Assy has seduced the pig farmer's wife and hopes to blackmail pig farmer Charles (Keith Burkland), who is quite a big shot in the small town. It is hoped that the scandal will ruin the farmer's reputation, and his pig farm will be put out of business. Assy is a real smart dude; since he is an environmentalist, he will clean up the pig shit that's destroying the community and polluting the ground water. He will make it a desert park for the public to enjoy. Of course Assy has a hidden agendahe blames Charles for his mother's death. There is a lot going on in this fast-paced two-hour with intermission play.
Bivins' dialogue is very natural and to the point. The characters don't beat around the bush when talking to each other. The play could stand a little tweaking, especially in the first scene since it is not clear exactly what is going on and why Lola is being handcuffed to the bed. Once that scene is over, the audience gets what is happening and the play becomes clear and compact, thanks to Bill English the director.
Three excellent actors play the absorbing characters. Madeline H.D. Brown (Miss Noir City 8 and a member of the Mugwumpin Theatre Company) is very good as the woman who hates her husband Charles. Chad Deverman (Den of Thieves, First Person Shooter, Coronado) gives an absorbing performance as Assy. He is like a human volcano in the second act as he erupts from his calm demeanor in the first act. This is an excellent cutting-edge actor. Keith Burkland (Aurora Theatre's Betrayal) is excellent with a down-home accent as Charles the pig farmer. He gives a very interesting performance and reminds me of Barry Corbin who played this type of role in the 1980s ("Northern Exposure").
Matt Vuolo has done an amazing job making the small stage into a two-tier motel set with a tacky bar to the right of the stage and a bedroom on the second tier. Bill English's direction keeps the action moving.
The Apotheosis of Pig Husbandry runs through June 12th at the SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. Tickets can be obtained by calling 415-677-9596 or visiting www.sfplayhouse.org. Their next production will be The Fantasticks, opening on June 15 and running through September 4.
Photo: Nina Ball
Spare Stage is presenting the West Coast premiere of David Hare's appealing play The Breath of Life through June 6 at NOHspace in San Francisco. David Hare is best known as a state of the union chronicler, and he writes dramas on big public themes. Now the British playwright presents two women up close and personal.
Breath of Life covers less than a twenty-four hour period in the midlife of two women. Madeleine (Susan Maeder), a retired museum curator and Islamic specialist, is living a life of fussy seclusion on the Isle of Wright. Her delicate peace is devastated by the arrival of Frances (Phoebe Moyer), a popular novelist supposedly writing a memoir of the emotional triangle that was concluded with her lawyer-husband Martin who is now living in Seattle with a new woman. The audience learns the details of the affair that Martin had with Madeline, and the two women take stock of their lives, particularly as defined by Martin. Frances insists she never wanted to be defined by the man in her life while Frances is looking for closure. The novelist believes she can obtain this conclusion by writing an account of the affair.
David Hare offers some very good dialogue. He interweaves private and public concerns in this fascinating play, touching on such issues as 1960s radicalism, American narrow-mindedness and the current preference of reality over fiction: as Frances states, "It's as if the story itself is no longer the point." The result is that the play is smoothly written and superbly performed by the two actresses. The language of the play never strains for effect or emotional conversation.
Phoebe Moyer (winner of five Dean Goodman awards and seven Bay Area Theatre Critic Circle Awards) gives a compelling performance as Frances. She is at her considerable best playing the ex-wife of Martin, especially when she registers the ins and outs of pain when discussing her life with Martin.
Susan Maeder (dozens of leading roles at the Mendocino Theatre Company) is excellent as the waspish, bitingly witty Madeleine. She even listens attentively when Frances is speaking. This is an evening of fine acting in a sophisticated sitcom with some very poignant moments.
Breath of Life plays through June 6 at the NOHspace, 2840 Mariposa Street, San Francisco Tickets can be obtained at www.sparespace.com.