Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, Endgame
and Christine Ebersole

Judy Gold recently brought her one woman show 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother to the Marines Memorial Club.  She is sternly funny, candid and very moving this 70-minute show. The artist schtick is sharp and droll, and all of her anecdotes are enjoyable and genuine.  Gold starts out by saying "I'm Jewish, I'm a lesbian and a mother of two children. I'm like a documentary premiering at a gay film festival in Berlin called Das Orthodyke."

Judy Gold and Kate Moira Ryan interviewed many Jewish mothers, asking questions like "How are you like and not like your mother?" and "Who do Jewish little girls get to look up to?"  Many of the characters are hilarious, but the artist changes when she portrays a Jewish mother who was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz Birkneau in Poland. It is a heartbreaking telling of her life as a young girl in the camp.

Informally dressed, Judy talks about being at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam and about her own Jewish mother ("I love my mother but I don't want to be her").  She finds out that her mother wants to be a standup comedian and does an uproarious act of her mother doing a standup comedy routine. She plays a character who recounts sitting shiva after her child marries a Protestant.  She talks about own point of view on relatives, sexuality and faith in the future before telling how she told her mother that she was married to another woman and that they had children by artificial insemination.  Her mother could not accept this at first.  

Politics are discussed, especially when she talks about the Howard Dean fund-raiser where she made some outrageous remarks about Bush.  The remarks made headlines in New York and she talks about the email she received afterward.

Even if you're not Jewish, it's easy to be thankful for the comedy and pathos in this show. 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother ran through March 23 at Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street, San Francisco.

A Gifted Production of Samuel Beckett's "Endgame"

David Sinaiko, Paul Gerrior
and Maureen Coyne

Cutting Ball Theatre recently presented a modern take on one of Beckett's most important works.  I have seen many productions of this play, both in this country and in the U.K., and I have always enjoyed the word battles between Hamm and Clov.  Rob Melrose, the theatre's co-founding Artistic Director, is presenting a modern-day situation that takes place in a run-down Victorian house in San Francisco.  Not one word has been changed from Beckett's text. The director's clear, intelligent and understated direction serves the text splendidly.

Let's face it, in Endgame nothing much happens and "endgame" is a term used for the closing moves in a game of chess.   One can look upon the play as a game of chess, with Hamm (David Sinaiko) the master player of the game.   Even the opening sequence, as Clov (Avery Monsen), dressed in ragged clothes, goes about with a stepladder from window to window to look out at nothing, is brilliantly done. Endgame obviously takes place at the end of the world.  Outside there is nothing but desolation - as Clov says, "zero and zero and zero." The only people left on earth are Hamm and his young servant Clov. Hamm's parents Nagg (Paul Gerrior) and Nell (Maureen Coyne) pop up from two ash cans every once in a while to say mundane things.

David Sinaiko (The Taming of the Shrew, Woyzeck) is brilliant in the role of Hamm.  He is restricted to a chair, wearing dark glasses and a moth-eaten dressing outfit. He gives a superb delivery of Beckett's lines. It is an amazing performance with no view of his eyes or any moving about in his chair. Avery Monsen (The Taming of the Screw, Love of Three Oranges) gives an excellent performance as Clov, the shuffling, moaning slave who lugs himself around the stage on futile errands. The timing between these two fine actors is outstanding.

Paul Gerrior (Roberto Zucco, As You Like It) as Nagg and Maureen Coyle (Hedda Gabler) as Nell complete the cast.  Trembling with neglect and age with animated fatigue, you can feel sorry for them as they live the rest of their lives in ash cans.  They even talk like they're in an Abbott and Costello bit (Nagg: Can you hear me?/Nell: Yes, and you?/Nagg: Yes. Our hearing hasn't failed./Nell: Our what?/Nagg: Our hearing/Nell: No ... Nothing is funnier then unhappiness.")

Audiences may wonder what Endgame is: who are Hamm and Clov? You could surmise that Hamm is a hammer while the others are nails (Clov from the French version "clou," Nagg from the German "nagel" and Nell from the English "nail").  Is Hamm a King Lear and Clov his fool?  Are they master and servant? Father and son?  Toward the end of the play Clov looks out the window sees a small boy approaching.   Will he become Clov's servant when Clov takes the dying Hamm's place in the chair?

Rob Melrose's direction is understated while Caitlin Doughty, Carlos Aguilar and Chris Hammer have designed a simple, barren, run-down living room in an old Victorian house with two large windows looking out at nothing.

Samuel Beckett's Endgame ran through March 23rd at the Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida, San Francisco.

Christine Ebersole and Billy Stritch - Dynamic Performances

Christine Ebersole
Christine Ebersole and Billy Stritch gave dynamic performances at the Commandant Room in the Marines Memorial Club on Sunday March 9th before an enthusiastic crowd of fans.  Ms. Ebersole characterizes the delicate, intimate opulence of an experienced cabaret chanteuse. She is pitch perfect in every song.   Backed by the amazing Billy Stritch on piano, he also provides solid assistance in the vocal department. Daniel Fabricant, one of the great bassists in the Bay Area, is a fine asset to the duo.  One might only wish that these great artists could have done more then the 70-minute concert.

Christine Ebersole, in a chic black pant suit, started out with Bob Dorough's "Devil May Care" and segued into a jaunty take of Irving Berlin's "Let's Face the Music and Dance." Billy Stritch joined her in Rodgers and Hart's "There's a Small Hotel," then the duo plus Daniel Fabricant did a great arrangement of Irving Berlin's "Slumming on Park Avenue" with Ebersole showing off her witty agility.  She returned with the infectiously melodic Irving Berlin tune, "They Say It's Wonderful."  Stritch sang a great arrangement of "Walking My Baby Back Home," a song made famous by Nat King Cole, and Ms. Ebersole had a whirling vibrato in her voice on Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Surrey with the Fringe on Top."

One of the great highlights was Ebersole and Stritch with doing an exotic duet of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Dindi."  They talked about a new CD coming out in May called "Sunday in New York" and they did a sublime arrangement of the title song, written by Peter Nero and Carroll Coates.  Going in a different direction, she jived things up with the brassy Skeets Tolbert, John Alston tune, "Hit that Jive, Jack" and slowed down with Berlin's acerbic torch song "What'll I Do."

Christine Ebersole and Billy Stritch met during the revival of 42nd Street and, to salute that great score by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, they performed a medley of songs from the show including "We're in the Money," "I Only Have Eyes for You" and "Lullaby of Broadway." The latter was sung softly, almost like an actual lullaby.   The artist shone when singing the moving "Will You?" from Grey Gardens.   After the fans clapped and jumped to their feet, she left the stage then returned and sang a sublime arrangement of Stephen Sondheim's "Not While I'm Around" from Sweeney Todd.

Photo: Courtesy of Bay Area Cabaret

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

- Richard Connema

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