Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Riveting Production of Lauren Yee's In a Word
San Francisco Playhouse

Richard's reviews of Sister Play and Nick & Nora and Jeanie's review of Death of a Salesman

Jessica Bates and Greg Ayers
As part of their Sandbox series, San Francisco Playhouse is presenting the world premiere of Lauren Yee's enthralling new play In a Word. The young playwright has been making a name for herself in the world of theatre and this production is one of her best works. I was held spellbound for 80 minutes by the superb acting and Mamet-like dialogue. The three actors keep the momentum going from first word to last in this terrific production.

In a Word is centered on Fiona (Jessica Bates), who obsesses over the disappearance of her eight-year-old child. It's the two year anniversary of her young son's disappearance and still nothing makes sense about what happened. No indication has surfaced as to whether the boy was a target of a crime or misfortune or if he might still be flourishing somewhere.

Her husband, simply known as Guy (Cassidy Brown), is certainly blasé about it now. He zigzags between wanting to support her and being fed up with her in a conspicuously selfish way. The case is about to become "cold" so on this particular day she digs back into her memories to uncover that vital piece of information.

What makes this play work are words. There are word games and wordplay. The characters use similarities and we some of them become true on the stage. Words become objects that the characters interact with; for example, when Fiona, who is a second grade teacher, is told by the principal (Greg Ayers) that she should take a "leave of absence," it meanders into a "leaf" and detours toward "abstinence."

All three actors give superb performances, especially Greg Ayers who skillfully morphs into the troubled and difficult eight-year-old Tristan and then becomes a cartoonish detective and the principal of the school. He also plays a nimble maybe imaginary stranger who claims to have held Tristan captive.

Jessica Bates as Fiona and Cassidy Brown as Guy give outstanding performances as well. Both are word perfect in confrontations, with the words flying fast and furious. Let me say it is hard for actors to do this type speech, but these two excel in the dialogue.

Giovanna Sardelli's direction is sharp and incisive. She offers some fantastic surprises during the 80-minute drama. Catalina Nino's living room set matches its allegorical mysteries with a confusion of toys and a large ghostly white twisted tree in the background.

In a Word runs through April 25th, 2015, at the Tides Theatre, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For tickets and information call 415-677-9596 or visit Coming up next is Richard Dresser's Trouble Cometh opening on May 12 and running through June 27th

Photos: Fei Cai

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

- Richard Connema