Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Word for Word Performs David Handler's
4 Adverbs

Also see Richard's reviews of Our Lady of 121st Street
and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Dan Wolf
The Word for Word Company is presenting a world premiere of parts of Daniel Handler's 4 Adverbs, which includes stories from his forthcoming adult novel that is due in May. Handler is noted for his Lemony Snicket series of books for children.

Rather than adapt the text, this amazing company presents works verbatim. As co-artistic director Susan Harloe describes, "This is a complete performance with blocking, sets and costumes. We simply make the text a play and we perform every word."

With a different spin than the presentations of American classics Word for Word has done in the past, this is a hip version of the forthcoming novel that will appeal to the younger adult audience with a completely new cast of young talented actors. The language is trendy and involves four stories that toss love and loss in the air in a passionate whirl of longing.

The four scenes are broken up into the four adverbs, and there is a connection between the first and second story. Arguably and Particularly introduce Helena (Sarah Nealis), a young British novelist who, with her American husband David (Jon Wolanske), moved to San Francisco from New York. She has problems with the American idiom of words, especially when it comes to money matters. She also heard that the city of San Francisco is lying on top of a volcano. Helena obtains a position as an elementary school teacher and her supervisor Andrea (Arwen Anderson) happens to be David's ex-lover, which does not help Helena. Everything goes to pot from there through the end of the story. The rest of the cast in this act take on the roles of schoolchildren who are very keen to learn, even with their unconcerned teachers.

Naturally is about Hank Hayride (Nicholas Pelczar) who was unluckily stabbed in Golden Gate Park and appears as a shadow in the sun to Eddie (Beth Wilmurt), sitting in the park both sad and mad from her breakup. Hank and Eddie become lovers, but we cannot be sure if both are real or ghosts. The sequence seems to go on much too long and becomes very wordy.

After an intermission, we are treated to Wrongly in which Alison (Elissa Stebbins) meets Steven (Kevin Rolston), an angry college dropout, and they become stuck together on their way home to South San Francisco, "The Industrial City" (as it is called many times in the conversation).

Handler's dialogue is full of modern day wit, and we get insight into the world of modern day youth in 21st century San Francisco. Many of the characters are misfits, mismatched lovers and lost souls. Some find rediscovered courage through meeting with others. The young ensemble cast is excellent as they take on cameo roles and imitate the sounds of the city.

4 Adverbs' young cast succeeds in bringing out the characters of the book. All present flawless performances. Sarah Nealis gives an appealing performance as the English novelist Helena. She is properly mystified by the American life, while Jon Wolanske as the husband gives an inert feeling about the man. Arwen Anderson is excellent in the role of Andrea and is admirable as the blistering employer of Helena. Beth Wilmurt and Nicholas Pelczar are moving in Naturally; this could be a scene out of a Woody Allen film. Kevin Rolston as the obnoxious Steven in the final act is galvanizing, affecting dodgy undercurrents when he is showing Allison the way to her home in "South San Francisco, the Industrial City." Elissa Stebbins is wonderful as a somewhat distressed Allison and shows some trepidation as to what Steven is all about. All of the stories are performed with the usual imaginative panache that is this company's trademark.

4 Adverbs has been extended through March 19 at Project Artaud Theatre, 450 Florida St. San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-437-6775 or visit

Photo: Mark Leialoha

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

- Richard Connema

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