Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Four Reviews
by Richard Connema

Dame Edna's Royal Tour has graciously extended her visit to our city to January 1999. Her royal subjects have been filling the house ever since her arrival to our Queen city. We attended the opening night ceremonies along with all the local celebrities. It was a gala affair. For those of you who don't know her, she is an English treasure. She is a longtime phenom of English theater and television and she is called a "megastar" in the UK. Dame Edna is the drag creation of actor-author Barry Humphries and she has had more sold out performances in the West End's most prestigious theaters for the past 30 years.

Dame Edna spends most of the time goofing with the audience. She catches the eye of (usually) a female member of the audience and starts chatting with her about her clothes and hair. She can make wicked and snide comments about her and then shush the audience for its insensitivity in laughing. She is a master of one line zingers and she shows no mercy to the audience. I guess you can call her a female Don Rickles.

No matter how raunchy, how politically incorrect, or how cruel she may be, the grand dame is saying these things, hurtful as they are, out of a "sense of caring and sharing".

One of the highlights of the show is a British Music Hall number that she wrote about her son "Kenny", a former Quantas steward who now designs most of her clothes and has lots of friends in the Cuban ghetto of San Francisco called the Castro. She also talks about her estranged "daughter" Valmai, who is now raising pit bulls in East Oakland with her partner, a Czechoslovakian tennis player who wears her hair in an Afro under her arms.

The show is wonderful and one of the funniest performance to hit San Francisco in a long time. When she tours your city be sure to see it.

The Theater Rhinoceros has extended Charles Busch's parody of 1940's women who sacrifice all to defeat the Nazis' movies. The play, Lady in Question, which played off Broadway several seasons, is good camp comedy. The dialogue is campy and funny and it reminded me of some of the old Universal films during the war years. Busch interweaves funny, kitschy echoes of everything from "Notorious" to "Hitler's Children". With this material you would think everything was tailored for a very good production. However this production is oddly muted. It's as if the director couldn't decide between a restrained or a high shtick approach. A number of potentially hilarious moments missed the mark.

One of San Francisco's favorite drag artists, Douglas Holsclaw, did his usual Bette Davis impression of a self centered pianist who wanders into Germany prior to America's entrance into the war. She receives the attentions of German Baron von Elsner who overplays his role as the villain. Of course in the end, a handsome American also in Germany makes her see the light. I do wish we could have one drag queen in one of these production who does not do Bette Davis. There were other actresses in films then. A little of Douglas's Davis goes a long way.

I do have to say there were some very excellent performances in this play, particularly Stephanie Taylor, a graduate of Stella Adler, who played the Baroness Augusta von Elnser. She was a hoot.

42nd Street Moon resurrected Schwartz and Fields's 1951 musical A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I am sorry to say that this was not one of their better efforts. The fault was not in the singing and acting of the ensemble, but the story itself. Its a nice piece of 50's nostalgia with a lively score, but it really needs a rehab job. It's based on the best selling novel and the music is delightful, moving easily from sprightly to sentimental and even tossing in a couple of show stoppers such as "Look Who's Dancing" and "Love is the Reason."

The story of an Irish American family at the turn of the century in New York is charming in its way. It deals with the relationship of love-blind wife Kathy and her drinkin' dreamer of a husband Johnny. The couple is played by Susan Powers and Joe Giuffre. Ms Powers brought a demure dignity and solid voice to the role, but Mr. Giuffe was too reserved in manner and voice for Johnny. Carla Befera, in the Shirley Booth role as Aunt Cissy, was a comic delight. Bill Farrner who is becoming one of the best character actors in the Bay Area was quite funny in an assortment of small roles. In all it was a fascinating staging of the play.

It is my understanding that Goodspeed is doing a rehab on this musical with the hope of presenting a full production soon. It should be interesting to see what they do with the musical.

Marin Players updated and revived the 1978 hit baseball comedy Bleacher Bums as their first play of the season. This was first presented by the Organic Theater Company and was created by Joe Mantegna. This production was a 90 minute tribute to the Chicago Cubs and they have updated the Cubs and Cards lineup in their presentation.

It was a fun evening without intermission, even with a 7th inning stretch for the audience to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." You're in Wrigley Field the moment you enter the theater. We stared up into the concrete bleachers above the ivy-covered field wall of the set. Lights bathe the set in bright afternoon sunshine and there were sound effects recreating the action on the field.

Bleacher Bums is a story of the people who come to the ball game and sit in the bleachers. These characters were depicted by a first rate equity cast of veteran actors and actresses. Harry Water Jr., who was excellent in the Theatre Works production of Raisin, played a blind and enthusiastic Cub fan. He followed the game on his transistor radio. Veteran ACT actor Joe Belin played the old curmudgeon who is eager to bet on anything that is happening on the field. His wife, played by veteran actresses Miriam Baboon, is also hilarious. This was a fun-filled evening.

Next week I will review three productions, the west coast Premier of Side Show, Mark Bakalor's college performance of Die, Die, Diana, and the New Conservatory Theatre production of Like a Vampire for the holidays.

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