Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Dead Metaphor and The Mountaintop

An Engaging Production of Dead Metaphor

René Augesen and
George Hampe

Photo by Kevin Berne
What happens when a veteran who has seen a lot of action in Afghanistan returns home to find that he has no marketable skills? To make maters worse, his only skill was being a sniper to kill members of the Taliban. Also, he has a wife and soon to be born child to support. Canadian playwright George F. Walker attempts to tell this story in the smart and funny Dead Metaphor currently having its world premiere at the American Conservatory Theater. Dead Metaphor is so many things: a comedy, a political thriller, a love story, and a family saga.

The hypocrisies and policies of postwar living are satirized in the fast-paced production. Dean, a healthy naïve veteran who was a trained killer, has returned home from the Middle East and hits the job market. However, his superior military skills don't get him very far in the business world. Who wants to hire a man whose only skill is killing persons?

Dean is offered a job as the poster boy for a crusading right wing (think Tea Party) politician on her mission for "truth and justice." His military ethics collide with the dodgy world of national political campaigns and he discovers his unique skill may be this best asset after all.

The playwright tells it like it is and take aims at immoral politicians, duplicitous religious leaders, and the indifferent public at large in a ferociously funny deconstruction of post September 11 society. He writes sharp realistic dialogue that reminds me of David Mamet at his best.

Director Irene Lewis has assembled a brilliant cast of New York and local actors. Her taut direction consists of crisp, short scenes revolving in a concentric circle. George Hampe (Regrets Off-Broadway and Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre) is charismatic as the youthful Dean, who has a striking theatrical voice. René Augesen (ACT core member) gives a wonderfully sardonic performance as the self-righteous right winger Helen Denny. Anthony Fusco (ACT core member) gives a splendid performance as her husband Oliver, a social worker attempting to help vets coming home from the wars. The rancorous jabs between Helen and Oliver have a sophisticated sharpness.

Tom Bloom (Cyrano, Henry IV, Race on Broadway) is outstanding as Dean's father Hank. His characterization of a person dying of an inoperable brain tumor is perfect as he is losing control, memory and choice of words. Sharon Lockwood (numerous A.C.T. productions) gives an excellent performance as Hank's gentle-hearted wife. Rebekah Brockman (A.C.T 's Master of Arts Program plus Cal Shakes Blithe Spirit) is perfect as Jenny, the no-nonsense wife of Dean.

Christopher Barreca's slyly spinning set is entertaining, and the lighting by Alexander V. Nichols and sound by Cliff Caruthers add to the enjoyment of the two-hour dark comedy.

Dead Metaphor runs through March 24th at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-749-2228 or visit Coming up next is the world premiere musical Stuck Elevator, libretto by Aaron Jafferis and music by Byron Au Yong, opening on April 4 and running through April 28th.

A Superb Production of The Mountaintop

Adrian Roberts
Photo by Tracy Martin
TheatreWorks is currently presenting a marvelous production of Katori Hall's The Mountaintop. Thanks to director Anthony J. Haney, Adrian Roberts as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Simone Missick as Camae, this is a "magical" evening. The play takes place in Martin Luther King Jr.'s room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in the hours after his 9:30 speech in support of the striking sanitation workers on April 3, 1968; at 6:01pm the next day he will be murdered.

The opening minutes of this excellent play show Martin Luther King Jr. entering his motel room and going to the bathroom—in that instant, Katori Hall in her mischievous and mystical vision, shows the audience both the man and the myth. He asks for a cup of coffee from the motel attendant and Camae, an effervescent and beautiful motel maid, arrives with the coffee. It soon becomes clear that she is not what she appears to be. They smoke, drink a little booze, flirt and debate the merits of nonviolent resistance versus Malcolm X-type militancy, demonstrating how human he is. She comes up with such gems as, "If civil rights don't kill ya, Pall Mall will" and "nonsense coming out of a pretty woman's mouth isn't nonsense: it's poetry." Camae reveals some surprising news and Dr. King is forced to confront his life, his legacy, and the future of his people.

Simone Missick (Los Angeles actress) is mesmerizing as Camae. She is feisty and radiant, transmitting laugh lines and hammering the sassy-gal routine. It is a tour de force of brilliant acting. Adrian Roberts (Claudius in Hamlet at Cal Shakes) is outstanding as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking in a rich, resonant voice that dances with the music, sardonicism and inflections of a person of King's class and social standing. Dr. King and his speech at the end of the 90-minute drama are awesome.

Set designer Eric Sinkkonen lays out an excellent detailed motel room with sound design coming up with realistic sounds of a thunderstorm outside and Jason H. Thompson adding some superb projections of what has happened in civil rights since the assassination of Dr. King.

The Mountaintop plays through March 31st at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, Ca. For tickets call 650-463-1960 or visit Coming up next is the world premiere of Paul Gordon's Being Earnest, opening on April 3rd and running through April 28th.

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

- Richard Connema

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