Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Rich and Famous
Dragon Productions
Review by Jeanie K. Smith

Also see Richard's review of Beautiful and Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo

Tom Gough, Lucinda Dobinson and Ron Talbot
Award-winning American playwright John Guare is well known and famous for his two hit plays House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation, as well as for his screenplay for Atlantic City. It's a bit of a surprise to learn of a lesser-known play of his, just opened at the Dragon Theatre in Redwood City: Rich and Famous, written in 1976. This wild and wacky comedy has many of the earmarks of Guare's other work, including fantastical elements and social satire, but suffers from thematic zeal. Thankfully, the Dragon's production has excellent talent that makes the show fun to watch.

We follow the career of playwright Bing Ringling (Ron Talbot) on the opening of his first produced play (but his 844th try), which is doomed to failure. It sounds like a horrible play, but it's also engineered for failure by his director Veronica (Lucinda Dobinson), who needs a flop in order to stage her own dramatic comeback. Ringling is in every scene, trying desperately to turn the tide of failure and reach his personal goal of being, yes, rich and famous.

Along the way he deals with his composer partner Anatol Torah (Tom Gough), his parents (also Gough and Dobinson), former girlfriends, Hare Krishnas, actors, actresses, and arch-rival Tybalt Dunleavy (Gough). All situations and characters are over-the-top caricature, vaudevillian-style zingers and satire. Truly zany, the pace can be dizzying and the action frenetic as we hope for Ringling's success. But it's not to be—Rich and Famous shows us the folly of pursuing fame for its own sake, the costs of a cult of celebrity and our cultural blindness to real artistic value.

Gough and Dobinson play all of the characters that interact with Ringling, through lightning-fast costume changes. Both are excellent in their versatility and comedic skills, and are terrific fun. Gough as composer Torah positively oozes his way through the drug-soaked guru-worship of the '70s, and then nails the dumb, empty-headed TV-stereotype father, as well as a clueless actor and the ill-fated Tybalt. Dobinson expertly switches from starry-eyed self-obsessed actress to gravelly-voiced director, to Torah's mysterious assistant, to a supremely twisted Donna Reed-like mother. Her expressions are subtle, fascinating, and funny. Jason Arias appears briefly in a few scenes to punctuate the action with song; Guare's plays often feature his music, and Arias does it justice.

Talbot as Ringling holds his own, mostly as a kind of straight man to these outrageous characters, staunchly clinging to his hopes and dreams in spite of his failed production.

The set, by Arias, is a marvel of moving painted surfaces, filling the Dragon's reconfigured space with a circus atmosphere, making great use of balconies and multiple entrances. It's a delight to see this relatively new theatre venue coming to life in the varied and inventive stagings for each show. Complemented by Jeff Swan's evocative lighting design and Lamoria Solomon's fabulous costumes, the show sports handsome production values.

The play is relatively one-note in its relentless message—Ringling doesn't have much of an arc, more of a downward spiral. But the action and pace of the production is lively and keeps us entertained, especially with the antics of Gough and Dobinson. Worth the price of admission to see the talent on stage.

Rich and Famous by John Guare; presented by Dragon Productions, through November 3, 2013. Dragon Theatre, 2120 Broadway Street, Redwood City. Tickets $15 - $35; at or at 650-493-2006.

Photo: Photography by James Kasyan

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

- Jeanie K. Smith

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