During the second act of Annie Baker’s delicate, mesmerizing and almost hyper-realistic three-hander “The Aliens” onstage at SF Playhouse, KJ — a 30-something college dropout with an undisclosed mental condition who requires meds — obsessively repeats the word “ladder.”
He repeats it too many times to count. He repeats it steadily, seemingly endlessly. He repeats it mostly monotonically, hypnotically, but at one point suddenly infuses the word with deep psychic pain. Read More
For starters, the set — layers of clutter and grime beneath a slanted skylight (designer, Eileen Diss) — is auspicious.
Tom Lishman’s surround-sound effects, of thunderous passing underground trains and cooing pigeons, are equally carefully considered.
The stage is awash in an appropriately dismal gray light (by Colin Grenfell).
Surely this British production of Harold Pinter’s 1960, absurdist tragi-comedy “The Caretaker” onstage at the Curran Theatre will be one for the ages.
So it is. Read More
Sometimes a playwright can be a little too close to the material. In Matthew Lombardo’s two-act drama “High” – running through Sunday at the Curran Theatre – Sister Jamie (raspy-voiced Kathleen Turner, with a blond ponytail and an admirable tough-girl stance) is ordered by a priest, Father Michael (Tim Altmeyer), to rehabilitate a 19-year-old junkie, Cody (Evan Jonigkeit). He was found in a motel room with a dead, underage boy. The priest has personal reasons for wanting to protect Cody. Read More
Amid a plethora of contemporary romantic comedies about young people seeking their identities, New York playwright Carly Mensch’s off-Broadway two-hander, “Now Circa Then,” is a charmer, fresh and inventive.In its well-cast West Coast premiere at TheatreWorks, Meredith McDonough directs with assured comic timing and just the right degree of gravity.Margie and Gideon are working as re-enactors at a history museum on the Lower East Side, like the actual Tenement Museum. Read More
If you doubt whether six actors can effectively play all necessary roles in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” or whether the entire five-act play can be compacted into 90 intermissionless minutes in a small theater and still make a huge impact, look no further than African-American Shakespeare Company. For that matter, it might seem surprising that this powerful production is directed by playwright-actor-director Michael Gene Sullivan, who’s best known for the broad political satires produced by the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Read More
Two-thirds of the way into “The Right Thing,” I felt a twitch of impatience: Would I be able to sustain interest in the outcome of the mediation process around which this 90-minute, nonstop-talky drama is structured? Or would I ultimately fail to care about the fate of high-powered CEO Zell Gardner, fired for sexual harassment?Credit playwright AJ Baker, powerhouse actor Catherine Castellanos as the train wreck of a central character and the rest of the able cast, plus director Suze M. Allen, with keeping me tuned in throughout. Read More
“How are you?” That’s the cheerful, empty question that Brian Copeland faces repeatedly — from friends, acquaintances and strangers — at the beginning of his latest solo autobiographical piece, “The Waiting Period.” “Fine,” he mutters hastily.But he’s not fine at all — in fact, everything, including hair, hurts — and over the course of about 75 minutes, we learn why. Read More
In the Estonian folktale upon which Cutting Ball Theater’s new experimental piece is loosely based, little Lona (a piquant, pigtailed Marilet Martinez) lives with her father and a cruel stepmother (Madeline H.D. Brown, vibrant and faintly malevolent).
Gathering strawberries dangerously near the Tontlawald — the “ghost forest” — Lona is captivated by a free-spirited nature girl (a charismatic Rebecca Frank). Read More
In Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad’s lengthy and ambitious drama “Scorched” — onstage at American Conservatory Theater — events unfurl with the grim inevitability of a Greek tragedy.In present-day Quebec, a pair of chronically angry twins meet with the notary Lebel, the executor of their mother’s estate. Recently deceased after an unexplained five-year silence, their mother, Nawal, has bequeathed the twins an unwanted task: to deliver a pair of sealed letters, one to the father they never met, the other to the brother they never knew existed. Read More
“How can you honor the dead if you have no faith?” demands Isaac, the gay, born-again-Jewish son of an architect, Michael.Insists Michael, “I know how to encapsulate grief!”Workaholic Dad, famous for building memorials, has left his heritage so far behind that he never circumcised his son, much to Isaac’s everlasting chagrin.That phrase — “encapsulate grief”— appears more than once in American Conservatory Theater Artistic Director Carey Perloff’s new play, “Higher,” now premiering at ACT’s second stage under Mark Rucker’s generally smooth direction. Read More
So apparently there are a bunch of years in the life of Jesus that are unaccounted for, when he was a teenager. Playwright Lloyd Suh, whose dysfunctional-Korean-family comedy “American Hwangap” was such a hit for the Magic Theatre three seasons ago, let loose his imagination to create a theatrical explanation for those missing years. Read More
Every character in SF Playhouse’s production of Gina Gionfriddo’s 2008 off-Broadway comic drama “Becky Shaw” (a Pulitzer Prize finalist) is complex and deeply flawed — and intriguing.There’s weepy, neurotic Suzanna (a vulnerable, convincingly unstable Liz Sklar), working toward a doctorate in psychology and “untethered,” as she says, since the recent death of her father — whom she now has reason to think she didn’t know all that well. Read More
It’s the superb acting, Leslie Martinson’s lively direction and the highly polished production values that stand out in TheatreWorks’ West Coast premiere of “The Pitmen Painters.” In the cast of eight, every role is played to perfection, but how can you go wrong with such established local actors as Dan Hiatt, James Carpenter, Paul Whitworth, Marcia Pizzo and others?That’s not to say Lee Hall’s play — based on the true story of a group of mid-20th-century miners in Northern England who became renowned “outsider” artists — is not fascinating. Read More
If you don’t laugh your pants off when Lorenzo Pisoni, in enormous flippers, swim cap and goggles, struggles to clamber up a ladder and dive head-first into a small bucket of water, you might be clinically dead.Although “Humor Abuse,” Pisoni’s solo autobiographical play about growing up in San Francisco’s iconic Pickle Family Circus, is at its heart a tender tribute to his irascible, and at times very difficult, father (Pickle co-founder and consummate clown Larry Pisoni, aka Lorenzo Pickle), it’s also a very funny clown show. Read More
Award-winning playwright Cherríe Moraga’s latest, “New Fire,” long in the making, is subtitled “To Put Things Right Again” — a hint at Moraga’s ambition in creating the multimedia, multidisciplinary piece.Moraga, who also directed it for Brava Theater, aims to encompass the struggles of women — queer, indigenous and Chicana in particular — as well as aspects of environmentalism. Read More