Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Dirty White Teslas Make Me Sad
Magic Theatre

Guillermo Yiyo Ornelas, Anna Marie Sharpe,
and Jamella Cross

Photo by Jay Yamada
People tend to hate change. Evidence of this would be the success of the book "Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life." You get used to things one way, and before you know it, someone has moved your cheese. Or, in the case of Naima (Anna Marie Sharpe) and her mother (Tanika Baptiste), you are forced to move due to an untenable rent increase. Naima and Moms are San Francisco natives who, like so many other working people in The City, face the difficult reality of leaving the city they love, which is the core conflict at the heart of playwright Ashley Smiley's Dirty White Teslas Make Me Sad, now making its world premiere at Magic Theatre.

When the tech boom hit the Bay Area, the influx of money was staggering. Kids with stock options from the right start-ups were suddenly multi-millionaires, and started buying up properties throughout The City–in part because it was by far the coolest place to live, and the commute to Silicon Valley was eased by luxury buses with wi-fi and espresso machines. The cash drove up property values and rents, and soon a simple one-bedroom in even marginal neighborhoods was $1,000,000+ to buy and $3000+/month to rent. That's one thing if you're a coder or sales rep or exec making $200,000+/year, quite another when you toil away as a carpenter or waiter or fast-food worker or–in the case of Naima–an Uber driver.

So it's no wonder Naima is sad. "I just don't know why I keep waking up in the morning," she says at one point. Her world is about to be turned upside down because her hometown has been transformed over the course of her life into a place that is far less diverse (and arguably far les interesting) and welcoming than it once was. Moms is more angry than sad, it seems. Some of this anger is due to the same feeling of impending doom, but her ire is mostly directed at Naima for not helping with the move–failing to buy boxes, pack her room, staying out late, overindulging in cannabis edibles, etc.

When her car window is broken (for the umpteenth time, but this time it happened while she was in the car), Naima turns to Unc (Juan Manuel Amador), her mother's brother who runs a repair shop. But in addition to replacing her window, Unc offers Naima the opportunity to participate in a rather shady bit of business that involves the Teslas that make Naima so sad. The reason "dirty white Teslas" depress her is because they represent all this new money which the recipients of don't seem to respect. "Damn near custom-made car that you have to put a deposit on and wait for delivery ... made with 23rd century technology but you're going to drive around with it dirty?!"

Unc's scheme puts her in contact with a quartet of hustlers: BabyGurl (Jamella Cross), Caesar (Lauren Andrei Garcia), BrĂ¼t (Jessica Maria Recinos), and KoldKutz (Guillermo Yiyo Ornelas). Together, the four will enter into a scam that isn't terribly clear or terribly dramatic.

Despite some strong performances (especially from Tanika Baptiste), drama is the big problem with Dirty White Teslas Make Me Sad. There's a lot at stake here–a family forced to leave its home, kids caught up in crime, everyone seeking a better life but with little hope of achieving it–but there's nothing to draw us into these stories. Even if we care about the characters, we get left high and dry in terms of any real narrative. It's lyrical at times, the dialogue is sharp (though not always easy to understand), and the many San Francisco references (to Santana and Sly Stone playing in Golden Gate Park, the bus routes, the tragedy of the People's Temple, and more) will resonate with long-time locals, but the lack of a dramatic narrative became fully evident when the play ended and no one in the audience realized it had, making for an uncomfortable start of applause.

Dirty White Teslas Make Me Sad runs through March 17, 2024, at Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Two Marina Boulevard, Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 4:00 p.m. Tickets range from $30-$75. For tickets and information, please visit, call 415-441-8822, or visit the box office in person, Monday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Saturday one hour prior to curtain.