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Our critics weigh in on local theater

"365 Days/365 Plays." One morning in 2002, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks decided to write a play every day for the next year. Covering everything from the war in Iraq to the death of Johnny Cash to a lost sweater, Parks' cycle is a remarkable, audacious achievement. Even though the ideas didn't always flow (as titles like Going Through the Motions and This Is Shit suggest), the pieces (at least on paper) are constantly playful, occasionally dark, and frequently challenging. At their best, they are all three at once. Now, Parks' 365 days are coming 'round again thanks to theater companies all over the U.S., which are staging the works in an enormous, logistically terrifying festival. By Nov. 12, 2007, more than 700 groups will have performed each piece in the cycle. Given the Bay Area's affinity for the lunatic fringe, it's no surprise to see local artists treating Parks' plays like the madcap circus acts they are. Tactics so far have been radically different from company to company. During opening week last November, for example, the Z Space Studio mounted the first seven dramas at Potrero Hill Neighborhood House. Despite being underscored by clanking, didgeridoo-laced sound art and quasi-spiritual dance interludes, the performance exploited Parks' acerbic sense of humor to the fullest. Ten Red Hen took a more improvisatory approach in Week 4, performing the plays in a variety of private residences, with audience members drafted on the fly. It's easy to denounce such an apparently lawless undertaking as being gimmicky and under-rehearsed. But no matter how haphazardly the plays are staged, the combination of Parks' imprimatur and the careening imaginations of the groups involved inspires confidence and hope that transcends skepticism. Through Nov. 12 at locations throughout the Bay Area. All shows are free to the public; call 437-6775 or visit (C.V.) Reviewed Jan. 3.

Don't Let Go of the Potato. It's not until the last story of Todd LeJeune's solo show that his tales of growing up in the Louisiana backwaters start to lift off the ground. The first act, covering LeJeune's adventures as an 11-year-old boy, is particularly slow, with subtle, meandering stories filled out with only the barest of theatrical stage craft and LeJeune's tendency to shout as the main trait of any character that is not himself. LeJeune and seasoned solo-show director David Ford find some lovely moments in the second act as LeJeune has made it to 17 years old. The story, which gets propelled by LeJeune's girlfriend's tipsy best friend offering him the chance to do a "body shot" off of her, is full of southern charm and dumb teenage choices we can all relate to. We gladly follow him through all the twists and turns back into his girlfriend's heart and into his own sweet moment of self-acceptance. But getting to this story takes so long that the overall effect of the show is hearing stories that might be better off read than seen. Through April 6 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia St. (between 21st and 22nd), S.F. Tickets are $10-22; call 826-5750 or visit (M.R.) Reviewed March 7.

The Magnificence of the Disaster. The material doesn't get any more raw or emotionally wrought than the content of Rebecca Fisher's new solo show. In 1995, Fisher lost her mother in a brutal and highly publicized murder that rocked Memphis. Four years later she lost her brother in another devastating and tragic episode. The title is drawn from the premise that Southerners have "an inherently different approach to tragedy because [they] lost the Civil War. There's a magnificence in how bad it got." This is dark and heavy material, but Fisher employs plenty of Southern-styled comedy and physical humor to relate the tender details of her late mother (social drinking at "Margarita Mondays" and jazzercise workouts at the Baptist Healthplex). The show veers sharply back and forth between despair and an almost forced joviality — much like the reality of mourning — that can be an emotionally confusing narrative arc for an audience to connect with. This, most likely, is due to the shocking fact that the murder trial has been ongoing and just concluded three weeks ago. Magnificence offers up an unresolved, yet unnerving and unflinching look into one family's tragedy. Fisher has absolutely no distance from these heartbreaking events and she points out that the plot doesn't wrap up neatly like a Law & Order episode. Though this monologue feels understandably unfinished, both in structure and tone, it is a moving and unique experience to witness a performer act out scenarios onstage that she is still working through in present-day life. Extended run through April 28 at the Marsh Theater, 1602 Valencia (between 21st & 22nd), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 800-838-3006 or visit (N.E.) Reviewed Feb. 14.

Tings Dey Happen. Based on his experiences as a Fulbright Scholar studying oil politics in Nigeria (American's fifth-biggest oil supplier), solo performer Dan Hoyle drills deep beneath the surface of media hype and NGO cant to help us understand the forces at work behind the oil-rich country's escalating cycle of corruption and violence. On his journey backward and forward between Nigeria's oil capital, Port Harcourt, and the lawless hinterlands of the Niger Delta, Hoyle — with acute attention to physical detail (and an ear for pidgin) — embodies a soft-spoken, 23-year-old rebel sniper whose chief desire is to obtain a university degree; a warlord armed with four cellphones and a family photo album, like Marlon Brando in The Godfather; and a nerdy Japanese member of the Young Diplomats Club in Lagos working on a thesis about the Tanzanian cashew nut, among many others. Like Anna Deavere Smith, one of the most famous practitioners of this style of show, Hoyle takes a journalistic approach. But unlike Smith, whose slavish impersonation of the speech nuances of her interviewees seems more stenography than artistry, Hoyle filters his Nigerian experience through his vivid imagination, creating full-blooded characters that are as theatrical as they are real. Through May 6 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (between 21st and 22nd sts.), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit (C.V.) Reviewed Jan. 10.

Woyzeck. "I wanted to tell about every aspect of this man being stripped away and oppressed, and what happens to him," director Adriana Baer said in a recent article about The Cutting Ball's version of Georg Büchner's menacing 1837 play. Alongside the sparse, uniform lines of Rob Melrose's compact new translation, Baer's staging certainly works hard to strip all signs of humanity from Büchner's story about a poor soldier driven to murder through sexual jealousy and mental and physical depletion. This effect is predominantly achieved through the production's German Expressionism-inspired aesthetic, which is smeared on as thick and unevenly as the white pancake makeup on a silent movie star's face. Some of the staging effects, most obviously Melpomene Katakalos' angular, monochrome set, succinctly suggest dehumanization. But the highly stylized performances work less well. Channeling every Hollywood romantic lead from James Dean to Tom Cruise in his personification of the protagonist, Chad Deverman makes for an impossibly fresh-faced and handsome protagonist. Far from being "stripped away and oppressed," this Woyzeck is almost super-human. Through April 7 at Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor St. (at Eddy) S.F. Tickets are $15-25; call 419-3584 or visit (C.V.) Reviewed Mar. 28.

42nd Street
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden (at Park), San Jose, 408-277-5277.
After the War
American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
Altar Boyz
Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 512-7770.
BATS: Sunday Players
Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, 474-6776.
Beach Blanket Babylon
Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.
Beyond Therapy
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Big City Improv
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic (at Locust), Walnut Creek, 925-943-7469.
Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800.
Chemical Imbalance
Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
Clown Bible
Willard Middle School, 2425 Stuart St. (at Regent), Berkeley.
Dead Certain
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Death of a Salesman
Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida (at 17th St.), 626-4370.
Cadillac Building, 1000 Van Ness Ave. (at O'Farrell), 776-1747.
Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
How We First Met
Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).
Improv Revolution
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
In Bed With Fairy Butch for Women, Transfolks, & Their Pals
12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission (at 22nd St.), 970-9777.
Jesus Hopped the A Train
SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
Love, Chaos & Dinner
Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.
Low Hanging Fruit
CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission (at Ninth St.), 626-2060.
Merrily We Roll Along
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro (at Mercy), Mountain View, 650-903-6000.
Midsummer Night's Dream
Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.
Moscow Cats Theatre
Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon (at Bay), 567-6642.
Menopause, the Musical
Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero), 433-3939.
Monday Night Make Em Ups San Francisco Comedy College, 414 Mason, #705 (at Geary), 921-2051.
Monday Night Marsh
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Murder Mystery Dinner
The Archbishop's Mansion, 1000 Fulton (at Steiner), 563-7872.
Nixon's Nixon
San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio (at South Third St.), San Jose, 408-367-7255.
The Passion of the Crawford
Empire Plush Room, York Hotel, 940 Sutter (at Hyde), 885-2800.
Private Jokes, Public Places
Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.
The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), Trinity Episcopal Church, 650-326-0656.
The Rose Tattoo
Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.
Shopping! The Musical
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Smokey Joe's Café
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden (at Park), San Jose, 408-277-5277.
Terre Haute
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
"Viva Variety"
Buriel Clay Theater, 762 Fulton (at Webster), for more information call 863-0741.
Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 673-3847.


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