Leave your snickers at home and catch a smart, sassy ride with “The Cable Car Nymphomaniac” at Z Below in the Mission.
It’s based on an “only in San Francisco” true story – a woman sued Muni claiming a bump on the noggin during a 1964 cable car accident unleashed an insatiable sexual appetite that pretty much ruined her life – but only nominally. However, instead of a salaciously camp peep show with catchy tunes, this virgin flight of FOGG Theatre offers a strong but not preachy rumination on female sexuality … with catchy tunes.
The tunes are courtesy of Tony Asaro, who also co-founded FOGG with Carey McCray, who appears in the production, and Aimee Miles. As lyricist, Asaro has a rich “inner ear” that taps into the feelings of the characters and deftly translates those emotional vibrations into compelling words that land gracefully in his pleasing compositions.
Librettist Kristen Guenther has cleverly repositioned Gloria, the titular nymphomaniac, from protagonist to catalyst, allowing the character of Bryce, repressed wife of Gloria’s attorney Bruce, to drive the action. The result is a satisfying character arc suggestive of early Mary Ann Singleton (“Tales of the City”) evolving to late Diana Goodman (“Next to Normal”).
It’s an across-the-boards success for the mighty cast of seven. Rinabeth Apostol is a knowing Gloria, working the power of a newfound libido and her effect on others but clearly fighting the loss of her identity in the process.
Handsome, angular David Naughton is allowed a playful side in the clever “Bruce Needs His Bryce” before he lawyers up into a repressed, intolerant philanderer. As Esther, his partner in infidelity, McCray is his masterfully droll comic foil. Courtney Merrell soars vocally and brings Bryce from naive, self-doubting waif to a woman on the verge of liberation.
As the chorus of three playing dozens of characters, Steven Ennis, Hayley Lovgren and Alex Rodriguez seem to have an inexhaustible number of voices, poses and other tricks up their frequently gender-bending sleeves. Special applause must be given to Rodriguez who truly excels at both ends of the spectrum in a pair of solos playing a bitchy neighbor selling her “Plasticware” followed by the heated instructor of a “Tango Class.”
Director-choreographer Terry Berliner sets an effervescent but intelligent tone throughout and music director Robert Michael Moreno keeps the intimate space nicely balanced between singers and the five-piece band.
It’s also a great looking show, with clever costumes by Wes Crain and a nicely stylized yet versatile set that keeps the cable car ever present during this happy, bouncy ride.
The Cable Car Nymphomaniac
Presented by FOGG Theatre
Where: Z Below, 470 Florida St., S.F.
When: Most Wednesdays-Sundays; extended through Feb. 8
Contact: (866) 811-4111, www.foggtheatre.org