Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Of the Earth: The Salt Plays Part 2, The Christmas Ballet,
Russ Lorenson's Christmas Show and B.O.O.B.S! at the Rrazz Room

An Exhilarating Production of Of the Earth: The Salt Plays Part 2

Shotgun Players are presenting a riveting production based on Homer's "The Iliad" called Of the Earth: The Salt Plays Part 2. This is a modern day telling of Odysseus traveling back to his home in Ithaca. The cutting edge company always does innovative productions of the classics, and Jon Tracy's deconstruction of Homer's work is excellent. The staging alone on the small Ashby Theatre stage is awesome.

Of the Earth: The Salt Plays Part 2 is the follow-up to last summer's In the Wound: The Salt Plays Part 1 which began with Odysseus (Dan Bruno) leaving Troy to return to his home. In Part 2 Odysseus takes the audience on a new journey through the madness of his traumatized mind. One gets the idea that most of what he is going through is in his head since there are video scenes where he is shooting drugs into his arm.

The crafty Greek military leader fends off the seduction of Circe (Charisse Loriaux) and fights the monstrous Cyclops and Scylla (five actresses play these parts). Penelope (Lexie Papedo), Odysseus' wife, repels dozens of suitors since many believe Odysseus is dead. She says she must finish weaving a shroud and then she secretly destroys her work and starts over each day. We are introduced to the goddesses Hera (Emily Rosenthal), Athena (Elena Wright) and Aphrodite (Charisse Loriaux).

The Shotgun Players production is stunning in its design on the small stage, thanks to set designer Nina Ball's sets and Bridgette Loriaux' brilliant athletic choreography and movements for the five actresses as they hang from poles about the stage. Tina Yeaton's celestial spacesuits a la Star Wars for the gods and goddesses give a futuristic look to the play. Odysseus is dressed in a modern day black business suit.

The actresses transform themselves from hero's crew to a brilliant ensemble, Cyclops and monster Scylla. There are pounding of drums (sound director Kristoffer Barrera) in some of the scenes to designate the rowing of the ship. Strongly layered videos on a huge wall at the back of the stage by Lloyd Vance are brilliant in this two-hour with intermission drama. Lighting by Lucas Krech is dynamic, giving the production a dramatic flare. Bravo also to Fight Director Dave Maier for realistic fights with the monsters. This is a breathtaking '50s staging of the classic tale.

Anna Ishida, Charisse Loriaux, Rami Margron, Emily Rosenthal and Elena Wright are excellent as the goddesses. Also, Anna Ishida and Rami Margron are successful playing the male gods Poseidon and Zeus. Charisse Loriaux has a sensual voice vocalizing as Circe. She also makes a lovely Aphrodite.

Don Bruno gives a strong performance as Odysseus while Lexie Papedo is splendid as his wife Penelope who weaves large ropes about the stage. Newcomer Daniel Petzold gives an interesting performance as Odysseus' son Telemachus who views most of the Trojan War on a television set.

You really don't have to know Bullfinch's Mythology to enjoy this modern take on "The Iliad." It is a highly entertaining production of Odysseus' journey back to his home.

Of the Earth: The Salt Plays Part 2 plays at The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. Berkeley through January 30th. For tickets call 510-841-6500 or visit Coming up next is Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? opening February 9th and running through February 27th.

Smuin Ballet Returns with The Christmas Ballet

San Francisco's own celebrated Smuin Ballet returned to the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco with an eclectic program of classical ballet, tap, swing, jazz and pop dances. This edition featured a classical first act followed by "Cool Christmas" where the ballet dancers let their hair down and frolicked to the tunes of Frank Loesser, Irving Berlin and Elvis.

The "Classical Christmas" consisted of sixteen settings of traditional carols and other holiday music. The program opened with the thrilling sounds of Bach's "Magnificat" on the first-class sound system with huge slides of Renaissance paintings. The dancers, dressed in white, twisting and pirouetting, performed exquisite movements. This was followed by the graceful dancing of Jessica Touchet to the traditional "Zither Carol." Amy Seiwert's choreography of "Sleigh Ride" was jauntily danced by Susan Roemer and Travis Walker, and Robin Cornwell and Matthew Linzer.

John Speed Orr danced a terrific athletic solo to the Spanish Carol "Riu Riu Chiu." Two of the highlights of the classical Christmas were the lively "The Gloucestershire Wassail," with intricate dancing on the order of Riverdance by the whole company, and "Licht bensh'n Candle Blessing," a nod to Chanukah with the marvelous Jean Michelle Sayeg dancing alone to a blistering clarinet. This full-of-life dance segued into a spirited klezmer hora where she was courted by a quartet of energetic yeshiva students.

Act two's "Cool Christmas" was an eclectic mix of pop that began with "Christmas in New Orleans." The whole company sashayed to a recording of Louis Armstrong and the Benny Carter Orchestra. John Speed Orr (he took over for Ryan Camou who suffered a severe leg muscle sprain two days before) was dynamic dancing and spinning drumsticks to "The Little Drummer Boy." Matthew Linzer shook his hips doing a terrific impression of Elvis to his recording of "Blue Christmas." The women dancers who swooned over his dancing prowess were fun to watch. Robin Cornwall slinked onto the stage with the world's largest feather boa and a string of sugar daddies to Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" doing a very sensual dance. Erin Yarbrough-Stewart and Jonathan Powell paired for a funny and alluring "Baby It's Cold Outside."

Jessica Touchet was a beguiling Spanish dancer to "La Calandria." The women of the company performed a sexy version of the Sugar Plum Fairy dance called "Sugar Rum Cheery" to the music of Tchaikovsky, adapted by Duke Ellington, while Shannon Hurlburt, Ben Behrends and Shane Tice, wearing life-like dancing Christmas trees tap-danced to the delight of the audience. Shannon Hurlburt got a great round of applause dancing Riverdance-style to "Bells of Dublin" with music by The Chieftains. Rudolph was represented as Jessica Touchet and Jean Michelle Sayeg delightfully danced to "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer."

"Christmas Island" was a hoot with members of the company goofily portraying a tropical scene with Ryan Camou on a surf board and some sight gags relating to Jaws. "The Cajun Christmas" performed by the whole company had an air of Agnes de Mille's "Rodeo" in the dancing. Susan Roemer elegantly danced to "Please Come Home for Christmas" recorded by Aaron Neville. The whole company was splendid dancing "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" to the recording by Andy Williams. The whole cast showed off their skills to Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" as faux snow showered the stage and the audience to end this entertaining event.

The Christmas Ballet closed on December 24th.

The Winter Program of the world premiere "Oh, Inverted World" by Trey McIntyre will be touring the Bay Area February 4th through February 27. Upcoming will be their annual Spring Program consisting of "To the Beatles", "Momentum" and the world premiere of Amy Seiwert's "Requiem," which opens on May 6th and will run in various locations through June 4th. For more information please go to

Russ Lorenson's Christmas Show and B.O.O.B.S! Defying Gravity at the Rrazz Room

The Rrazz Room had two one night only swinging shows to keep holiday spirits high during the season. On December 22nd Russ Lorenson's annual Christmas show got everyone into the holiday mood with great holiday songs performed by Carly Ozard, Katya Smirnoff-Skyy and song stylist Veronica Klaus backed by the Kelly Park Quartet. Unfortunately, Russ Lorenson could not attend as he was still in the U.K. waiting to get out of Heathrow during the big blizzard in Europe. In the best of show biz tradition, the guest stars and the Kelly Park Quartet put on a bang-up 90-minute show.

Carly Ozard came out in male drag to represent Russ and sang with lovely vocal cords Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." The audience joined in on the chorus. Later she did a gorgeous rendition of the "Oh Holy Night" with Kelly Park on piano. She belted out "All I Want for Christmas is a One Night Stand at Carnegie Hall" with a big band.

Katya Smirnoff-Skyy in a brilliant red sequined grown told the audience how she grew up in the Soviet Union where her uncle who looked like Santa gave her big hip boots for Christmas. She married Count Smirnoff who took her away from the drab living in Russia to life in the fast lane in the south of France. She regaled the audience singing "Santa Baby" in a voice that sounded like one of the Gabor sisters. Katya segued into "I've Got My Smirnoff to Keep Me Warm" and ended her session with a wild version of "Proud Mary."

Veronica Klaus with her distinctive voice sang a jazzed up version of "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" segueing into "What Are You Doing New Years Eve" and Carol King's "Way Over Yonder."

Kelly Park's quartet, consisting of Chuck Bennett on bass, Tony Malfatti on sax, Kent Bryson on drums, and Kelly Park on piano, did some great swing arrangements of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "These are My Favorite Things" with each member doing a terrific solo.

Russ Lorenson appeared in a video clip on two screens singing "Christmas In San Francisco" with a much younger Kelly Park at the piano. The evening concluded with the three talented artists returning to the stage to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

On December 28th, three buxom lassies did a wild and wonderful show called "B.O.O.B.S! Defying Gravity". The acronym stands for "Busty, Outrageous, Over-the-Top Broads Singing." Leanne Borghesi, Jessica Coker and Soila Hughes with The Graham Sobelman Trio presented a fast-paced, rowdy and great 75 minutes of current songs for the New Year before a packed house at the Rrazz Room.

The trio of robust ladies started the show with an upbeat "Defying Gravity" from Stephen Schwartz's Wicked showing off their busty, covered breasts. After the song each lady told their fans one fact. Leanne Borghesi said, "Just because I'm fat that does not mean I'm funny." Soila Hughes said, "Just because I'm Mexican does not mean I will mow lawns," and Jessica Coker said, " Just because I'm fat and I can pull off the caps of beer bottles does not mean I have to be lesbian." From then on it was no holds barred as the group sang, together and in solos, mostly upbeat songs that wowed the fans.

Leanne Borghesi was down and dirty singing "Gravity (Is Getting Me Down Blues)" from the new musical OMFG! by Christopher Winslow with lyrics Gavin Dillard. The "gravity" refers to the bosoms of Leanne and it was very funny. She had strong vocal chops singing "Old Fashioned Love Story" from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party and "After the Lights Go Down Low," by Alan White and Leroy Lovett.

Jessica Coker with a terrific upbeat voice sang a droll song called "White Audra" about Audra McDonald getting roles on Broadway. This comic song was penned by Andrew Byrne. The artist turned heartfelt singing "How to Return Home," with music by Brian Lowdermilk and lyrics by Kait Kerrigan, and "It Hurt So Bad," music and lyrics by Tom Hambridge.

Soila Hughes showed nice vocal chops rendering the sexy "Todd (The Phone Sex Song)" by David Dabbon and Tom Bruett and was sublime singing the Spanish song "(God's Child) Baila Conmigo" by David Byrne and Selena. She sang a zippy arrangement of "Shadowboxer," music and lyrics by Fiona Apple.

The three women gave a fetching rendition of a song Betty Hutton made famous, "It's Oh So Quiet" by Hans Lang, Bert Reisfeld and Erich Meder. They sang a tribute to the candy bar called "Oh Henry!" by Christopher Dimond and Michael Kooman. These gifted singers also did a put-on of YouTube artist Kesha with a medley from the musical stylings of the artist. The trio ended the session with "The Life of the Party" from The Wild Party and "Pretty Legs (and Great Big Knockers)" by Gene Pistilli and Theodore Irwin.

The Graham Sobelman trio, consisting of Kellen Garcia on Bass, Alfonso Portela, and Graham Sobelman on piano, rocked the house assisting these very talented ladies. The ladies will be performing this show at the Metropolitan Club in New York in June 2011. For more information on upcoming events in January at the Rrazz Club, Hotel Nikko, 277 Taylor Street, San Francisco, visit

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

- Richard Connema

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