Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Ideation and Amaluna

Also see Jeanie's reviews of Coney Island Christmas and The Sunshine Boys

Ideation at San Francisco Playhouse

Carrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips and Michael Ray
San Francisco Playhouse's Sandbox Series is presenting the world premiere of Aaron Loeb's psychological suspense thriller Ideation through December 7th. Loeb, who wrote First Person Shooter and Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party, now goes into the world of paranoia in this excellent 90-minute drama. Director Josh Costello's sharp production is taking place on the company's main stage at the Tides Theatre.

Hannah (Carrie Paff), who heads a team of corporate consultants, is working on a shadowy and morally equivocal project for a foreign government. The group of frantic plotters is trying to salvage a forthcoming video-conference presentation to the CEO in an hour's time. They fling themselves into the task of outlining universal solutions for the huge, very secret Project Senna. They draw common sense reckonings and graphs on a whiteboard during the fast-paced thriller. However, as the drama progresses, paranoia sets in. Does this person know more about this secret project than the other? All begin to suspect each other. They even suspect the CEO of an ulterior motive.

Josh Costello has assembled five brilliant Bay Area actors to keep the audience on their toes, and they succeed in making this a taut production. Carrie Paff gives a vivid performance as Hannah, a person who is starting to wonder about the moral uncertainty of the project. Mark Anderson Phillips is outstanding as the egotistical quick-thinking Brock. It is a delight to listen to him spout each brainstorm idea to solve the problem.

Michael Ray Wisely is perfect in the role of the older and more centered consultant Ted. He really fixates on solving technical problems with a passion and has the best droll lines and humorous cutting remarks. Jason Kapoor is impressive in the role of Sandeep who starts outlining the project's social ramifications. Rounding out the cast is Ben Euphrat who plays Hannah's personal assistant.

Alicia Griffith has devised an eloquent spare conference room set with a ceiling along with excellent bright lighting by Eric Simpson.

Ideation plays through December 7th at the Tides Theatre, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-677-9596 or visit Coming up next is John Patrick Stanley's Storefront Church opening on November 26 and running through January 11.

Photo: Jordan Puckett

A Bewitching Production of Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna

Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna is a feast for the eyes, one of the best Cirque productions to have played our fair city. The show is set on an island that's run by women until a group of young men show up. A love story unfolds as a young couple encounters multiple trials and tribulations. It is story is based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, with a little of the Bard's Romeo and Juliet thrown in. This time Prospero is played by a woman.

Amaluna is a word conjuring both "mother" and "moon" and the cast of this show is chiefly female, including the extraordinary musicians on drums, guitar, saxophone, bass, violoncello and percussion who rock out Canadian duo Bob & Bill's grunge/folk rock score excitingly. Jenifer Aubry and Julie McInnes also wail out the intriguing score.

The choreography by Karole Armitage embodies the essence of femininity and reminded me of a combination of Martha Graham and Twyla Tharp. All of this is under the flabbergasting direction of Diane Paulus, who was recently given a Tony Award for her Broadway production of Pippin and The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (currently at the Golden Gate Theatre).

Amaluna's inventive revolving set by Scott Pask is full of surprises, including a vast bowl that's a cross between a colander and a cauldron. Costumes by Meredith Caron are stunning. They become extensions of the wearer's body, especially those supple lizard boleros and Amy McClendon's fabulous white peacock dress.

Living on this "island" are lizard-boys, bright sprites, camouflage-suited sailors and, yes, Valkyries in red tights, all under the spell of the incandescent Prospera, beautifully played by Julie McInnes, and the volatile Moon Goddess, wonderfully played by Leysan Gayazova. The romantic lovers are splendidly played by Iuliia Mikhaylova as Miranda and sinuous Evgeny Kurkin as Romeo. He does astonishing feats swinging around and sliding headfirst down a Chinese pole. Victor Kee plays Caliban, dressed as a lizard-man with a prehensile tail and singular Cirque blends of danger and joy. He also has a fantastic juggling act in the second act.

The guardians of the island are a band of distaff warriors who perform a predominantly athletic routine on sets of uneven parallel bars at the end of the first act. The female cast gets into the performing action in the second act. There is a trio of performers soaring high above the audience on aerial straps in the segment before the finale.

Of course, Amaluna has jugglers and clowns and lots of artists dangling high above the stage from hoops and straps. There is a group of men called Les Naufrages who bounce off other off on a teeterboard with intrepid ease. The mesmerizing contortionist Iuliia Mikhaylova enthralls the audience doing an underwater ballet in a giant onstage bowl of water. The Valkyries soar through the air and even into the aisles (one Valkyrie landed just next to my aisle seat) in a high-flying pageant framed by water and fire.

The unicyclists wearing architectural hoop skirts that morph into wings, are at once childlike and sexy. Lara Jacobs delicately and precisely assembles and balances 15 palm leaf ribs of various sizes from two feet long to twice her height into a gigantic tree-like structure held together by the vagaries of physics. While she does this remarkable feat the audience is so silent you can hear a pin drop. Nathalee Claude and Shereen Hickman comprise an excellent pair of ribald Shakespearean clowns.

Amaluna has everything from comedy to lust to danger. There are plenty of muscles to look at, not only with the young males but some of the women as well. This Cirque du Soleil Big Top production is playing at AT&T Park, King Street at Fourth, San Francisco through January 12th. It then goes to San Jose's Taylor Street Bridge area from January 22nd through March 2. For more information on the tour, 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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