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Titanic & Julius Caesar

Wednesday, Aug 16 2000
Titanic, which reputedly had an impressive set in New York, arrives in San Francisco stripped down -- though "denuded" is the better word. The paint budget was apparently nonexistent. Three-D Edwardian splendor might be too much to ask, but couldn't they have at least faked it with painted flats? The radio room set looks as if the local middle school shop class built it. And don't get the expensive seats -- if you sit too close (in the first 15 rows, say) you can't see the little miniature Titanic that goes across the stage at the end of Act 1. The scenery also appears to have survived some tough previous runs -- the scrims are wrinkled, set pieces scraped and chipped, and there's the occasional hole punched in the flats. Were the producers thinking, "Damn the sets -- people will come for the music"? Pity then, poor lyricist and composer Maury Yeston, for whom no line of dialogue is so banal it can't be set to undistinguished music. ("I must get on that ship." "Monopoly makes the industry much better than before." "Morning, Captain.") Hum these tunes, I dare you. The author of the show's book, Peter Stone, also credits himself with the story, as if sinking the Titanic were his idea, and loads this Night to Forget with heaps of foreshadowing and irony. (Am I spoiling things by saying the ship sinks?) Then there's the duet between the fey nerd radioman (Dale Sandish) and the emotional coal stoker (Marcus Chait, whose acting is as overwrought as his vibrato). The radioman sings, "The night is alive with a thousand voices/ I came alive with a thousand voices," while the stoker dictates a message to his fiancee -- "Marry me, marry me." The chorus is in Morse code. Seriously. (I think it spelled out, "For this I went to Juilliard?") Nobody survives this disaster.

-- Joe Mader

Through Aug. 20 at the Orpheum, 1192 Market (at Eighth Street), S.F. Admission is $40-75; call 551-2000.

The politicians in the early scenes of Guerrilla Shakespeare's Julius Caesar all look like American senators, except for Mark Antony, who looks like a soccer player. Caesar himself -- a perfectly cast, if stiff, Lee Corbett -- wears belted slacks and a black turtleneck, and browses the evening news with a remote control. But he's still killed with knives, on the ides of March, and in the civil war that follows he appears on a steel deck in a bloody toga, mournfully watching the traitors die. Director Patricia Miller does an interesting but not always consistent job of mixing pagan and postmodern empires (why does Antony look like a soccer player?), and the show is intriguing until after intermission, when the acting fails to sustain any suspense. Charles Blackburn makes a brilliant Brutus, well-measured and desperate; Linda Ayres-Frederick is a loony female soothsayer; Ian McConnel gives an unpretentious reading of Casca and should think about doing more Shakespeare. But other cast members are either lacking in conviction or overwrought; Paul Jennings' Antony rises to the occasion only for Caesar's eulogy. The most interesting aspect of the production is the banner of the emperor's face -- reddish, angular, Soviet -- which is replaced by a TV screen for live coverage of the war.

-- Michael Scott Moore

Through Aug. 20 at SomArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan (at Eighth Street), S.F. Tickets are $15; call 453-2507.


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