Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
110 in the Shade takes place in a Dust Bowl town in 1936, struggling from a long drought. The Curry family is at the heart of the show. Father H.C. is played with appropriate big-heartedness by Jesse Caldwell, showing both the scars of losing his wife, and the immense parental love he feels for all three of his children. His oldest boy Noah is the hard-nosed, practical member of the clan, and James Schott portrays him with the put-upon air of a Cassandrahe sees what others can't (or won't), and their refusal to face facts frustrates him. Youngest son Jimmy is played by a dynamic Elliott Hanson, who fills the stage with a boyish energy that is perfectly in line with his character: a young man with raging hormones and an optimistic outlook that most of the townsfolk would likely attribute to his being a little simple-minded. All three are beyond excited to welcome home their sister Lizzy (Andrea Dennison-Laufer), who has been off in another town, ostensibly seeking a husband, since no one in their little hamlet seems romantically interested in a "plain," mature womanespecially one who knows her mind and isn't shy about speaking it. She wants a man "to stand up straightand I want to be able to stand up straight to him!"
Enter Bill Starbuck (Keith Pinto), a rainmaker who rolls into town with a plan to fleece the good, simple folk before taking his grift down the road to the next set of suckers. Not a stand-up straight kind of guy. Amazingly, the townspeople (spurred on by the ever-optimistic H.C.) fall for his con, handing over $100 for the promise of a gully-washer within 24 hours. Although desperate people will often fall for crazy schemes, Starbuck's pitch is so ludicrous that it feels even a toddler who had overindulged on cannabis gummies would see through this transparent scam. Just as ridiculous is the fact that the local sheriff, File (Brian Watson, who also designed the wonderful set) somehow misses the arrival of Starbuck, even though he is supposedly on the lookout for the arrival of a criminal con man known as Tornado Johnson. The Curry boysafter Lizzy has failed to find a husbandthink the divorced File would be a perfect match for her, but File is too emotionally closed-off to respond to their matchmaking efforts.
It doesn't take a PhD in English Literature to figure out that Starbuck is going to worm his way into Lizzy's heartbut, fortunately, this happens in a lovely, gentle fashion, opening Lizzy up, getting her to let down her hair (both literally and figuratively) and embrace her inner and outer beauty. Will she succumb to Starbuck's well-intentioned con? Or will she use her new-found self-esteem to coax the reluctant File into her arms?
It's possible the intimate Gateway Theatre might be a bit too intimate for the scale of this show. The cast of 16 sometimes feels crowded on the stage (though choreographer Scottie Woodward has done excellent work here, with simple movements that feel true to the characters) and Watson's lovely rustic set could easily work in a larger space. The castboth leads and chorusspeak and sing at sufficient volume to fill a larger house. All of which leads me to think a more capacious venue might be what this show needs to better fulfill the potential the capable cast and crew bring to the table. (Though music director Dave Dobrusky's solo piano interpretation of the scoreexcellent though it ismight need some orchestral backup in a bigger space.)
110 in the Shade, through May 12, 2019, at 42nd Street Moon, Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:00pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 6:00pm, with matinees Sundays at 3:00pm. Tickets are $30-$75, available at 42ndStreetMoon.org, or by calling 415-255-8207.