Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Seafarer, As Bees in Honey Drown
and Here's to the Ladies

A Beguiling Production of Conor McPherson's The Seafarer

Julian López-Morillas and Andy Murray
Marin Theatre Company is presenting the first West Coast production of Connor McPherson's Faustian drama, The Seafarer. This dramatist is theatre's most enticing poet of damnation with such enthralling plays as The Weir and Shining City, the latter recently playing at the SF Playhouse. McPherson's play could be a heavy downer, but he has that wonderful Irish sense of humor that makes this production a hilarious one.

The Seafarer takes place on Christmas Eve with five of the most wonderful Irish characters I have seen since The Weir.  They have gathered in a decrepit house owned by the Harkin brothers in coastal Baldoyle, north of Dublin. Sharky (Andy Murray) has recently return from his travels to take care of his crusty older brother Richard (Julian López-Morillas), a blind man who loves his bit of the sauce to keep him happy. Also at the house is Ivan (Andrew Hurteau), Richard's drinking buddy who is always plastered.

Nicky (John Flanagan), a swaggering Irishman dressed in designer clothes, brings a well-groomed stranger, Mr. Lockhart (Robert Sicular), to the house where the five will play poker. The stakes are high, since it turns out the stranger is known by various names such as Scratch, Beelzebub and the Devil.  He is there to collect the soul of Sharky, who bargained his spirit in a card game 25 years earlier after accidentally killing a man. The Devil is determined to win that soul for his dominions. 

This captivating play includes alcoholism, despair and redemption—with a terrific sense of Irish humor.  There is a lot of hilarity in the two-act piece, such as the five men doing a drunken version of "Ave Maria" after one too many glasses of Irish poteen. This is a very Catholic play which accepts the framework of the Devil and God and redemption as taught by the church.  However, one can see that these archetypes move more toward pagan ends than Catholic ones.

Jason Minadakis has assembled a superb cast of actors to play these never to be forgotten characters. His direction gives the drama a metaphorical feeling that keeps the audience on tender hooks, especially in the second act when the characters are playing poker.   Bravo to dialect couch Dawn-Elin Fraser who helped each actor achieve an authentic Irish accent.

Julian López-Morillas is outstanding as older brother Richard, the old man with an oily head of hair. He plays the cantankerous character like a shameless user and will be everyone's minion as long as he can have a bit of drink. As the Irish saying goes, "There is no tax on talk," and he does shout a lot with a superb Dublin accent.

Andy Murray gives a commanding portrayal of Sharky. He is splendid as he underplays this role. His doleful, impassive countenance to his brother's commands is beautifully accomplished.  Robert Sicular gives a smooth performance as the devil. He successfully shows cracks in his calm behavior with a repugnance for the human form he takes for granted. The confrontation in the second act is an excellent tour de force of acting for both Murray and Sicular.

Andrew Hurteau is priceless as the always inebriated Ivan. He is a hopeless individual who can't remember where he left his glasses or car. John Flanagan is excellent as the boastful, obnoxious Nicky.

J.B. Wilson has designed an interesting set, framing the stage with the rock walls of a cavern just outside of Dublin. Within the cavern is a disheveled, bottle-strewn set that looks like the digs of lower class Irish persons. At the top of the stairs is a lit statue of Christ, showing the religious nature of the brothers.  Michele Wynne's costumes are excellent and authentic for the Irishmen. Kurt Landisman's lighting adds to the ghostly feel of the drama.

The Seafarer runs through December 7 at the Marin Theatre, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley through December 14th.  For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit  Coming up next is Athol Fugard's  My Children, My Africa opening on January 15 and running through February 8th.

Photo: Ed Smith

A Witty and Entertaining Production of As Bees in Honey Drown

New Conservatory Theatre Center is presenting a fascinating production of Douglas Carter Beane's As Bees in Honey Drown through December 21. Director Andrew Nance keeps the comedy moving rapidly from one scene to the next with his skilled direction. In fact, the first four scenes go by so quickly, it's difficult to get into what is actually happening on stage, but the play eventually settles down to what the dark comedy is all about. Douglas Carter Beane has written many zingers like "art is eternal/eternal isn't as long as it use to be."

I first saw the dark comedy in Greenwich Village with Josh Hamilton playing the writer and J. Smith-Cameron playing the mysterious Alexa Vere de Vere. Cynthia Nixon played many roles in that production.  Later, TheatreWorks did a production in their smaller theatre that was excellent.

As Bees in Honey Drown is about gay New York writer Evan Wyler (Jonathan Bock) who is savoring the success of his debut novel. The mysterious Alexa Vere de Vere comes into this life and asks him to write a screenplay of her amazing life.  She is a combination of Sally Bowles, Auntie Mame and Holly Golightly. The fast-talking con artist is beautiful, gifted and inventive. Evan falls for her very upscale British accent line of gab hook, line and sinker.

Alexa promises Evan a great salary and buys him designer suits and shoes and takes him on whirlwind rides in limos with rockers, models and power brokers.  He is on the top of the world, riding high. Even though he is out and out gay, he falls in love with the captivating woman. The world comes tumbling down when he learns that he has been conned out of $20,000 by the crooked Alexa. Evan swears vengeance on the malevolent woman and ultimately obtains it by expositing her secret background.

Jonathan Bock (Sunrise at Campobello, Tony n' Tina's Wedding) is very effective as the struggling victim trying to piece together the puzzle of Alexa. He captures the quintessence of a young naïve man perfectly.  Juliet Heller (Off Off Broadway plus Coco, Out of This World, Student Gypsy and One Touch of Venus at 42nd Street Moon)  is absolutely believable as the fast-talking "English" con artist Alexa.  She gives a painstaking, fever-pitch interpretation of the character in the first act and skillfully deconstructs her in the second act.

Dene Larson, Melissa Jones Briggs, Stefanie Goldstein and Ben Fisher are excellent in multiple roles. Ben Fisher is first rate as the flamboyant clothes salesman, as Skunk, a drugged out rock star, and Mike the artist who reveals Alexa's past life.  Dene Larson gives a polished performance as the photographer Kaden, a record producer and other minor roles. Melissa Jones Briggs gives good performances as Kaden's haughty secretary and scatterbrained photo assistant.  Stefanie Goldstein is very good playing various roles, including a newsstand woman, a back-up singer and Illya.

Seren Helday's set design for the small stage is excellent and lighting design by John Kelly is proficient for the two-act comedy drama.  Prem Lathi has designed smart clothes for the entire cast, especially in the first act.

As Bees In Honey Drown plays at the Walker Theatre of the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness at Market Street, San Francisco through December 21. Call the box office at 415-861-8972 or visit Opening on December 5th is Zanna, Don't a musical fairy tale, and December 10 through December 20 Katya, a Red Christmas will be in the intimate theatre.

An Evening with Christine Andreas and David Burnham

The Bay Area Cabaret opened its fifth season with a grand evening of entertainment featuring twice Tony nominated Broadway diva Christine Andreas and the talented, good looking Broadway singer/actor David Burnham. He was the recipient of the prestigious Helen Hayes Award for best actor as well as a Back Stage West Garland Award for his portrayal of Fabrizio Naccarelli in the national tour of Light in the Piazza.

David Burnham opened the show with Boland and Jaffe's "Gypsy In My Soul" with David Okamura on the piano. The singer has brilliant colorful youthfulness when singing with his tenor voice. He is charismatic both visually and vocally. He sang a new song, "Run Away With Me," from The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk.  David Burnham was sublime singing "Love to Me" from Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza and then segued into "Music of the Night" from The Phantom of the Opera. The golden voiced tenor finished his part of the cabaret performance by singing the infectious David Phelps swing song "Fly Again" before segueing into Jerry Herman's "It Only Takes a Moment."

Christine Andreas entered the stage dressed in a stunning pink chiffon dress accompanied by her husband Martin Silvestri at the piano. Her show called Here's to the Ladies is a tribute to great Broadway divas Ethel Merman, Gertrude Lawrence, Barbra Streisand, Helen Morgan, Mary Martin and Julie Andrews. She told the audience the first professional voice she heard was that of the legendary Mary Martin, and then flawlessly sang "I'm Flying" from Peter Pan.

The chanteuse seduced her audience with a sincerity, veracity and even an aroma of sexuality with songs made famous by the Broadway heroines. This is a first class act. Christine Andreas was sublime singing Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's "My Ship" from Lady in the Dark and with her lilting vocal chops she was wonderful on "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady and "A Wonderful Guy" from South Pacific. The artist showed she can go from a sensual rendition of "My Bill" from Show Boat to a heartfelt rendition of "If He Walked Into My Life" from Mame. Mr. Silvestri, who also arranged all of the music, suavely backed her up on the piano.

Christine Andreas ended the evening with her signature song, the superb "Storybook" waltz from The Scarlet Pimpernel.  David Burnham returned to the stage for an encore duet, the uplifting "My Prayer " and finished up with the lively "Just in Time" from Bells are Ringing.

Here's to the Ladies was a one-night only presentation on November 16 at the Empire Ballroom of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, San Francisco. The next artist to appear will be Barbara Cook in Song and Conversation with Steven Winn of the San Francisco Chronicle at 8 pm December 2 at the Herbst Theatre on Van Ness Ave, San Francisco Tickets for that event call 415-392-4400 or go to

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

- Richard Connema

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