Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

T.I.C. Trenchcoat in Common, Chinese New Year Spectacular and Varla Jean Merman: Victory Lap Dance

A Provocative Production about Voyeurism in T.I.C Trenchcoat in Common

The Encore Theatre Company is presenting a very stimulating comedy with six extraordinary actors under the direction of Ken Prestininzi at the Magic Theatre. T.I.C. Trenchcoat in Common, by award-winning playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, is having its world premiere on the Magic's large stage.

T.I.C. reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, only this is more of a farcical comedy that turns into a Nancy Drew mystery. Nachtrieb has written a very witty comedy that is entertaining. This 100-minute piece takes place in an apartment complex in San Francisco where Kid (Rebecca White) a lonely and despondent teenaged girl too smart and nosy for her own good, starts to publish a blog about her new TIC (Tenant-in-Common) apartment building.

Her Dad (Michael Shipley) is a forlorn, gay, forty-ish man seeking love from his rebel daughter, but receiving none in return. The oddball tenants in the complex all have their hang-ups: Claudia (Anne Darragh), a pot-smoking "terrorist," is building a bomb and talks a lot about sex on the phone with unseen Carlos; Terrence (Liam Vincent) is a Romanian flasher who only wears a trenchcoat and speaks in single syllables; Sabra (Arwen Anderson) just moved in from Boston and is seeking friendship and love from anyone; and Shye (Lance Gardner) is a gay African American who writes violent songs that nobody ever hears—he is trying to write his last song before his impending death.

Kid lives in a cottage in the back of the complex with her Dad. The teenager has a clear view of the building's rear windows so she captures the neighbor's private moments on her cell phone and publishes them online with commentary. She calls them "adult perverts" and has no love for any of them, including her Dad. She is just a young teenager angry about everything in general. The farce turns into a Nancy Drew thriller when menacing events begin to take place at the complex.

Rebecca White (Off-Broadway Exonerated, The Scarlet Letter) is astounding as the angry 16-year-old Kid. Her voice and body movements are like a teenager's and she dominates the stage in this fast-paced travesty. Liam Vincent (Dead Mother, American $uicide and Octopus) gives a charismatic performance as Terrence, the creepy flasher who believes his performances will soon become obsolete because of the Internet porno sites. His last 10 minutes, played fully nude, are a tour de force of comic acting.

Anne Darragh (The Busy World is Hushed, Tir Na nog) as gravel-voice Claudia gives an tense portrayal of a radical left person interested in portentous causes. Lance Gardner (Lovers and Executioners, A Streetcar Named Desire) is excellent as songwriter Shye. He goes from compassionate crooning to angry outbursts at a moment's notice. Arwen Anderson (Streetcar Named Desire, Expedition 6) is wonderful as the delicate Sabra who has bouts of over-ambitious friendliness, devastated weeping, and flirtations with the gay men in the building. Michael Shipley (The Typographer's Dream) gives a fun performance as an Internet voyeur gay father.

Ken Prestininzi's direction is flawless and fast moving. The set by James K. Faerron is amusing, with windows where the actors look out toward the stage plus computer screen pop ups to help tell the story.

T.I.C. Trenchcoat in Common plays through February 1 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Blvd. San Francisco. For tickets call 800-83803006 or go to

Chinese New Year Spectacular Returns to San Francisco

The cast of the Chinese New Year Spectacular
The truly stunning Chinese New Year Spectacular state of the art show recently returned to San Francisco to help celebrate the Year of the Ox. This time the exquisite production played at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco and the Flint Center in Cupertino.

Chinese New Year Spectacular has been called the "the largest Lunar New Year celebration" outside of China. The production features charismatic dancers, brilliant traditional costumes and mini-dance dramas about China's historical characters and events. This is a true look and demonstration of China's 5,000 years of history and civilization. The dances take the audience through different Chinese ethnic regions and historical periods. The choreography is very acrobatic while the 40-piece orchestra plays original scores of western and traditional Chinese music.

Chinese classical dancers under the sublime direction of Vina Lee use jumps, turns, tumbling and challenging acrobatic techniques. The group has both form and spirit, using the mind and the body, unifying internal and external.

This year's Chinese New Year Spectacular contained 21 gorgeous scenes introduced by a pair of attractive announcers who, between each act, gave some cultural and historical explanation, in English and Mandarin Chinese. The opening scene was fantastic, as the complete troupe with 25 drummers took to the stage in sumptuous costumes and interweaving choreography to celebrate 5,000 years of culture.

The production had many stand out scenes. "Udumbara's Bloom," with lovely female dancers, somehow reminded me of a Busby Berkeley dance scene. There were mini-stories, such as "The Monkey King Triumphs," "Mulan Joins the Battle" and "The Miraculous Exhibit" that were reminiscent of Kirov and Bolshoi ballets. The lead dancers were superb in movements of the body and spirit. "The Poet's Vision," which celebrated China's most beloved poet Li Bai, known as "drunken poet," was a charming scene.

The Company made a political statement in one dramatic scene on behalf of the Falun Gong or Falun Dafa movement that has been banned by the Communist Chinese government. The scene called "Persecuted on a Sacred Path" was dramatically danced by both the male and female members of the cast. This stunning production also featured the excellent Chinese singers Jiansheng Tang, contralto; Guimin Guan, tenor; and Yuan Qu, tenor in lovely Chinese songs about the faith of the Falun Gong movement.

Projections by Peijong Hsieh and Ying Han were wonderfully three-dimensional. In the "Mulan" scene we saw Chinese castles and forts on fire that were very lifelike; in another scene Buddha-type gods came from the heavens on projections to become live actors/dancers on stage. The costumes were brilliantly colored and authentic dress to delight the eye. This production was truly spectacular in all senses of the word.

The Chinese New Year Spectacular played at the San Francisco Opera House and Flint Center. The show goes to Seattle on its next stop.

Photo courtesy of NewTang Dynasty TV

Varla Jean Merman Returns to San Francisco

The "love child of Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine," Varla Jean Merman, legendary drag performing artist Jeffery Roberson, played the Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 220 Mason Street, San Francisco through January 17th. The audience was bombarded with 75 minutes of this energetic artist in song and stories of her fabulous life.

Varla Jean Merman is a fevered amalgamation of Divine, Ann-Margaret and Joan Sutherland. She is a demented genius. Varla Jean Merman: Victory Lap Dance included a pre-show of the Varla Jean Mermen Film Festival with a compilation of videos and short films lasting about 45 minutes. (The short film starring Seth Rudetsky was hilarious.)

Victory Lap Dance started with Varla dressed like Mary Poppins and going into a rendition of "regurgibiration" to the tune of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" while descending from the sky onto the roof tops of London. She segued a la Julie Andrews into "These Are a Few of My Favorite Play Things." I don't have to mention those naughty favorite things.

The legendary 6-foot tall drag queen went beyond a standard drag act with her great, operatically trained voice. Most of her jokes were clean but she did have some great bitchy remarks. She constantly changed from one outrageous outfit to another. She was dazzling in a number from Dr. Dolittle which she sang as "If We Could Talk to the Genitals" and in the wonderful "Ring My Bells," featuring her hearing a series of bells. She told the audience she had "gone from Stella to Blanche in these few years."

Much of Varla's act was ad libbed as she interacted with the audience and her drummer Roberta Drake. She appeared in many guises, including an opera diva and someone like Carmen Miranda. The famous drag queen was backed by the piano stylings of Tom Shaw. Varla Jean closed on January 17th at the Rrazz Room. For upcoming events call 866-468-3399.

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

- Richard Connema

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