Podcasts, performances from Marsh, SF Playhouse, Magic and more

Theaters cleverly transition from stage to small screen

Months into sheltering-in-place, Bay Area theaters are offering a range of para-theatrical presentations on various digital platforms. The work is artistically variable as they continue to experiment with new technology. It’s mostly free (donations are encouraged) and it often remains available online after it’s been live-streamed.

For those who have seen endearing local solo comic performer Marga Gomez onstage at The Marsh (or elsewhere), it’s hard to imagine her intimate, informal stage presence on a small screen. But watching her perform excerpts from three of her solo shows—“Memory Tricks,” “Lovebirds” and “Spanking Machine”— on “Stephanie’s MarshStream” (an hour-long show that’s one of The Marsh’s many online programs, live Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. at https://www.youtube.com/user/TheMarshTV/featured) proves just how gifted the comic performer is.

Appearing at home with carefully situated camera and blank background, she first chats with Marsh co-founder-artistic director Stephanie Weisman, also in her own home — the two reminisce, perhaps a bit too nostalgically for those in the audience eagerly awaiting the show by the beloved lesbian writer-performer — and then steps fully into character, excerpt by excerpt.

A consummate entertainer, Gomez knows exactly when to swoop down to the camera and get in the faces of the virtual audience, and her energy level, timing and connection to that invisible audience are terrific. In a well-chosen snippet from “Memory Tricks” — based, as her works mostly are, on her personal experiences—she’s a 7-year-old whose flamboyant show-biz parents ask her, “Who do you love more, darling?”

In “Lovebirds,” from 2013, she’s Polaroid Phillie, an upbeat photographer in the ‘70s. And in “Spanking Machine,” her “story of Cuban Catholic closet-case kids in the hood,” a schoolkid is sent off for mysterious corporal punishment.

Gomez, so great at creating funny and vulnerable characters of all ages and types onstage, is equally gifted on this once-removed platform.

Marsh subscribers watching the series on Zoom have the opportunity to be seen after the performance and to chat; others can watch (or catch up on past episodes) on YouTube.

Earlier guests on Stephanie’s MarshStream, available on themarsh.org, include Tom Ammiano, Robert Townsend and Josh Kornbluth. The May 13 program features Tina D’Elia with excerpts from her solo show “Overlooked Latinas.”

Meanwhile, Magic Theatre is offering Monday-through-Friday mini-podcasts, each a minutes-long musing by an artist associated with the Magic. The best are well-crafted and very personal little gems; others, more off-the-cuff and rambling, are less engaging. A recent contribution by director Amy Kussow is particularly touching, and her description of Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland is eloquent and wonderfully melancholy. All are available at http://magictheatre.org/season/far-apart-art-podcast.

On San Francisco Playhouse’s weekly “Empathy Gym Fireside Chats” on YouTube, founder-artistic director Bill English — seated comfortably before his own fireplace — has an easygoing, one-on-one conversation with various local theater folks. His chat with the ever-voluble former American Conservatory Theater artistic director Carey Perloff, in which she discusses her new approach to theater, is particularly interesting. She’s developing ideas for an actor-centric aesthetic. This week, brilliant and much-loved erstwhile Bay Area playwright Octavio Solis, appears. Visit https://www.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/.

Among the full-length plays, some are archival, but the recently formed Remote Theater offers a Zoom version of Naomi Wallace’s award-winning 1995 drama “One Flea Spare,” set during the plague in 17th-century London.

Founder-director Giovanni Rodriguez directed the five-character play with a cast (partly on script) that includes excellent local actor James Carpenter as an upper-class gentleman sheltering in place, so to speak, with his wife (erstwhile local actor-playwright Tanya Shaffer, also excellent), plus Samrat Chakrabarti and Emma Marek as a pair of intruders, Lorne Cardinal as a watchman and music composed by Jameson Swanagon. This was Rodriguez’s first effort at staging a play on Zoom, and the technical aspects are, so far, challenging, to say the least, but Wallace’s dark and poetic play is so unsettlingly relevant, and so electrifying, that Rodriguez’s eagerness to put it online is understandable. Watch the recorded iteration at https://remote.theater/.

At the other end of the artistic spectrum is California Shakespeare Theater’s “Mystery Theater 1592,” a goofy occasional event whose format is inspired by TV’s “Mystery Theatre 3000.” Each is a one-time webinar in which an unannounced film of a Shakespeare play is screened, accompanied by snarky commentary from a well-chosen contingent of associated artists. Viewers who register can add their own comments in the chat box.

Most recently, the movie turned out to be Peter Hall’s corny 1968 version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” starring an impossibly young Helen Mirren as Hermia, a nearly nude and also very young Judi Dench as Titania, plus other Royal Shakespeare Company luminaries (the film is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4gaKQWLMPM).

Actors Safiya Fredericks, Alex Moggridge and Phil Wong, plus Cal Shakes artistic director Eric Ting, provided hilarious critiques along the way, tempered by dramaturg Philippa Kelly’s carefully researched remarks. Visit https://calshakes.org/cal-shakes-online/.

Final notes: From now until June 14, PlayGround’s annual festival of 25 events is on Zoom. It includes readings of new plays and treasured PlayGround favorites, films and off-book productions of three new plays. Included are works by such writers as Katie May, Jonathan Spector, Trevor Allen, Geetha Reddy, Ken Prestininzi, Aaron Loeb, Patricia Cotter and many others. Go to https://playground-sf.org/zoomfest/.


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