The number of different characters that San Francisco actor/clown Sara Moore inhabits – and I mean completely channels, right down to the last, telling detail – in her new solo show “Sho Ho” is astounding. You’ve probably never seen a performer take on such a variety of funny, quirky personae and segue so fluidly among them.
The journey of Moore’s alter ego, Rhonda Hammerstein (cruelly nicknamed the Hell’s Kitchen Retard), as she struggles to make it in show biz is touching and outrageously comical in equal measure, thanks to the finely tuned sensitivities of director Andrew Nance of New Conservatory Theatre Center and of the impish Moore.
Rhonda, half-Jewish, “gender-ambiguous” and an eccentric and endearing young woman, has but one soul mate: her granny, a former “show ho” herself, who now holds séances from her wheelchair and dispenses gravelly-voiced aphorisms.
She also sings a song so clever (“Everyone Fun Is Dead”) that you’ll wish there were more such ditties in the show. (Excellent original score, including some ghostly carnivalesque music, is by Marc Ream.)
It is only when virginal Rhonda – rejected not only by her peers but in humiliating audition after audition – runs away to join the circus as a clown that she finds like-minded freaks who accept her as she is: vulnerable, desperate and often embarrassingly inappropriate.
Moore shows us every single character in the low-rent circus, from ballsy, tough-talking owner Corrina to squirmy, squiggly Big Bill, the boss of the clowns, to assorted others — fat ladies, aerial artists, acrobats, even, in one surprising scene, a developmentally disabled kid.
Along the way, she so thoroughly assumes different voices, accents, postures, mannerisms, facial expressions and affects that we actually see those characters.
Among the principals in Moore’s large cast are her two new best friends: clown partner Truly, a “girlie man” who contracts AIDS, and the tall, elegant and soft-spoken showgirl Caroline.
The trio’s exuberant three-way is only one of the show’s many delights. So too, in an entirely different way, is a spectral stroll of dead show biz celebrities down the Atlantic City boardwalk.
Just as Rhonda embraces the freakishness in the ring, so too do we. By the time things get heart-wrenching, about two-thirds of the way in, we’ve grown to love this motley crew, and especially Rhonda herself. Moore’s talents are wondrous to behold.
Presented by New Conservatory Theatre Center
Where: 25 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, plus 2 p.m. closing day Oct. 9
Tickets: $24 to $32
Contact: (415) 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org