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13th Floor’s ‘Stairs’ is whimsical, watchable

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From left, Colin Epstein, Julie Mahony, David Silpa, Zach Fischer and Jenny McAllister appear in “Next Time, I’ll Take the Stairs.” (Courtesy Robbie Sweeny)

Five limber, uniquely expressive performers go on a wild ride in 13th Floor’s “Next Time, I’ll Take the Stairs.”

Engaging, sometimes perplexing and always fun to watch, the 65-minute show onstage at the Joe Goode Annex in The City has a distinctive “Alice in Wonderland” feel. It even has a character named Rabbit, played by 13th Floor Artistic Director Jenny McAllister, who wrote the wacky yet provocative script and designed the evocative sound.

The leader of the San Francisco troupe, which calls what it does “comic theater that moves,” clearly has worked closely with her four actor-dancer-acrobat collaborators; all are equally adept with words and movement.

The often dense,literary yet nonsensical text (reminiscent of Lewis Carroll) melds delightfully with seemingly nonstop motion. The artists simultaneously talk (and sometimes yell or cry) as they tumble, balance, lean on or tug at each other.

In a series of 13 episodes, the theater’s black box becomes an elevator (and elevator shaft the characters fall down), a lake, a hall of insects and a labyrinth; the only props are a couple of cell phones and a wrench.

The show begins as the often angry Otis (David Silpa), who’s missing a rib and carrying a wrench, meets pink-haired Ivy (Julie Mahony), who has a soft spot for people who talk too much. They wait for an elevator that’s only going one way, and get into a conversation that takes a lot of turns. (And they cannot turn left.)

After a thunderous crash and darkness, lights (with excellent design by Allen Willner), come up on Rabbit and her younger brothers Norris (Colin Epstein) and Arthur (Zach Fischer). Doing handstands, and moving in concert with each other, they wander around the space, lost. Arthur, apparently, in charge, assures the sensitive, jittery Rabbit “everything will be fine.”

They come upon Otis, who is missing his soul (and apparently has Arthur’s phone), and meet Ivy, whose brain is “roaring fire,” who never forgets anything.

In other scenes, Ivy discovers a dead bird in Rabbit’s pocket (she works in a natural history museum) and meets up with Norris, a puzzle aficionado who writes formulas in chalk on the floor.

A few solos showcase Silpa and Mahony doing slightly more traditional dance, and green-lit sequences put the performers against the wall, literally.

Music by eight composers, ranging from pleasant lilting melodies, to dark, haunting and suspenseful sounds, perfectly complements the script and movement.

Keriann Egeland’s whimsical, storybook costumes look swell on Epstein, Fischer, Mahony, McAllister and Silpa, whose heart, joy, grace, athleticism and humor make “Next Time, I’ll Take the Stairs” a one-of-a-kind experience.

REVIEW
Next Time, I’ll Take the Stairs
Presented by 13th Floor
Where: Joe Goode Annex, 401 Alabama St., S.F.
When 8 p.m. Dec. 15-17, 7 p.m. Dec. 18
Tickets: $15 to $40
Contact: joegoode.org/box-office

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