Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Failure: A Love Story and Body of Water

Also see Patrick's review of Becky Shaw and Richard's reviews of Marry Me a Little and Maestro

An Imaginative Production of Philip Dawkins' Failure: a Love Story

Liz Sklar and Brian Herndon
Photo by Kevin Berne
Marin Theatre Company completes its 2013-14 season with an ingenious production of Chicago playwright Philip Dawkins' Failure: A Love Story. Watching this 110-minute production I was reminded of the tent shows I would see in the 1930s in small town Ohio. All five actors remain onstage throughout the production, performing stylized acting. Intersperse throughout the play are songs from the 1920s and '30s.

Philip Dawkins' enchanting play is about love and loss, with the actors playing multiple characters and sometimes using puppets to advance the story. At the beginning of the drama the audience learns about the history of the Failbottom family, as told by all of the actors on stage. Marishka and Heiner Failbottom, who were immigrants, established a clockwork shop at the intersection of Lumber and Love in Chicago. They raised three young siblings and an adopted brother.

The actors talk about how the parents of three sisters were killed by a car accident, plunging into the Chicago River, and how the three girls and a brother continue to manage the shop. The action then takes place in 1928 when, through brilliant narrative, we are told that all three sisters will die. We are even told how each will die: consumption, the trauma of a blunt object, and drowning. Telling the audience about the daughters' approaching deaths and then showing scenes from their lives is powerful theatre. If this sounds disheartening, it's certainly not. Entering into this drama is Mortimer Mortimer, a swift talker and successful business man who falls in love with each of the three daughters before their deaths.

Failure: A Love Story has gorgeous stylish language full of opulent imagery. There is an ingenious, trendy staging of the play, created to be funny in a kind of 1920s style and faux-vaudeville way.

The direction of Jason Minadakis and the cast are superb. The actors play animals, musical instruments, time pieces, and inanimate objects. They perform at breakneck speed, and all of the acting has a sense of humor about it. The jokes are tongue-in-cheek, an observation on the illogicality of the plot itself.

Brian Herndon gives an earnest and sweet performance as Mortimer Mortimer, a man "so successful he's named after himself." Megan Pearl Smith is admirable playing eldest daughter Gertrude who is dying of consumption. Liz Sklar gives a spirited performance as Jenny, the middle sister who wants to be the first woman to swim across Lake Michigan. Kathryn Zdan is impressive as the youngest sister who dies from a blunt instrument. Rounding out this cast is Patrick Kelly Jones as the adopted brother John who was found as an infant in the nearby Chicago River in a basket with a snake in his hand. He gives an absorbing performance as the bird loving social misfit.

Nina Ball has design a wonderful detailed set of the clock shop with all sizes and shapes of clocks. Jacqueline Firkins' costumes are straight from the 1920s and York Kennedy's lighting design is bright and cheery.

Failure: A Love Story plays through June 29th, 2014, at Marin Theatre, 397 Miller Ave. Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit Coming up next and the start of the 2014-15 season will be the West Coast premiere of Will Power's Fetch Clay, Make Man, opening August 14 and running through September 7th.

An Energy Driven Production of Tony Kienitz' Body of Water

The Cast
Photo by Rob Wilen
A new theatre company called A Theatre Near U has debuted its first production at the Southside Theatre at Ft. Mason. This is a theatre academy for teens who want to have a life in musical theatre when they become adults.

Tony Kienitz and director Tanna Herr have assembled a cast of triple-threat teen performers ages 13 to 18 to present the world premiere of Kienitz' Body of Water. This is an intense musical drama about a group of kids who escape the terrors of a civil war by hiding out in an isolated mountain cabin. Since they have not heard from their parents, they believe they have no future with them, so they strike out on their own as their only hope of survival. Watching this fascinating drama, I was reminded of "Lord of the Flies" with one person becoming more like a dictator to the rest of the group.

The music by Portland and Hollywood composer Jim Walker is rich and evocative and the dances by San Diego choreographer Kaylie Caires are tornado driven, sometimes reminiscent of the work of the Alvin Ailey and Paul Taylor dance companies. The teen-age cast has been rehearsing for eleven months, yes eleven months, to present this two and a half hour production. All are memorable in their acting, singing and dancing. These are the adult performers of the future and some could very well be stars.

Shayan Hooshmand, age 13, gives a uniquely fetching performance as Shorty. His voice has a pitch perfect resonance and he can really shake a leg when dancing. Also outstanding is Aaron Slipper, age 18, who could well become a great actor. He plays the "dictator" of the group and has a vibrant theatrical voice that resonates through the theatre.

Winston Wang, Ido Gal, Cara Parker, Jackson Wylder, Ali Arian Molaei, Alia Cuadros-Contreras, Audrey Forrester, Bella Wilcox, Sara Grey, Elizabeth McCole, Jasmyn Donya and Juan Santos give stimulating performances. Backing up these young actors are Will Kast on guitar, Curtis Wu on violin, Jess Feeman on drums and Gabe Galang on guitar and bass; music director is Pierce Brandt.

Body of Water plays through June 28th, 2014, at Southside Theatre at Fort Mason Center, Building D, 3rd floor, 2 Marina Blvd at Buchanan Street, San Francisco. For tickets and other information, 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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