Theater Sports

The first SF Weekly Black Box Awards

John Sowle, All That Fall
Exit Stage Left
Beckett wrote this play for radio, so director John Sowle set his production in a '40s-era radio station, with the cast pretending to be radio actors, stepping up to the microphone for their parts and making sound effects with a bike wheel and gravel. It was an elegant and well-paced double illusion.

Mainstream Production

Berkeley Repertory Theater, The Heiress
This adaptation of Henry James' Washington Square was suspenseful and taut to the last second, the way James never is. A dead-on performance by Anne Torsiglieri as Catherine -- and the lavish Jamesian set, with polished furniture and a sweeping staircase -- made the Berkeley Rep's version seductive.

Magic Theater, The Pharmacist's Daughter
There were several political plays this year; most beat the audience over the head with self-righteous importance. The Pharmacist's Daughter was the exception. On the surface the play was a quirky romance; beneath it, playwright Monika Monika crafted a sly political piece about women as guinea pigs in the pharmaceutical research industry.

Touring Production

Danny Hoch, Evolution of a Homeboy
Berkeley Rep
Danny Hoch turned risky political and racial material into good theater by carefully shaping monologues by jailbirds, rappers, wannabe homeboys, and a grown-up crack baby with barbed humor and an eye for self-revelation.

Venue

Exit Theater
Located in the toughest corner of the Tenderloin, near strip joints and the now-defunct 181 Club, the Exit Theater has arguably hosted more interesting small-space theater than any other house in town. Both stages (the Exit and Exit Stage Left, a true black box) are crammed with a constantly revolving schedule that includes both the Absurdist Season and the San Francisco Fringe Festival. See separate story.

Intersection for the Arts
Intersection has done what more spaces should do -- forge long-term relationships with independent theater companies and from that create a season. The two resident companies, Campo Santo and Fifth Floor Productions, have already added to this year's theater highlights with Joy Ride and Dr. Faustus Lights the Light, respectively.

Josie's Cabaret and Juice Joint
It's shaped like a trailer home and the champagne by the glass is usually flat, but Josie's features such consistently good performers, it's a reliable place for drop-in fun. Prudes and the underage need not apply -- most acts at Josie's are sexually charged. But hey, what's wrong with the lead act campaigning to get laid?

Theater Rhinoceros
Even when the show sounds like it's going to be a stinker, Rhino always surprises with its witty, risky scripts and polished performances. The 20-year-old theater's material is almost always explicitly gay and often explicitly sexual but it's never preachy, never dull, and has offered some peak experiences in the past two years with The Stand Up, Walking the Dead, and The Last Hairdresser, to name but a few.

Puppet Show

Shadowlight Productions, In Xanadu
Cowell Theater
Larry Reed has been studying Balinese shadow-puppetry for about 20 years, and the way his group combines old Eastern traditions with Western moviemaking techniques makes it unique in the city, and possibly the world. Their story last year about Khubilai Khan and his wife Chabui was idealized but graceful; the effect of the cut-out puppets and human figures cast on a screen was hypnotic.

Visuals

Set: Matthew Antaky, America Songbook
Theater Artaud
As Stephen Pelton's America Songbook came to an end, two wounded soldiers helped each other up Matthew Antaky's white-paper hill, a fallen backdrop from an earlier act. It crunched beneath their feet, fragile and man-made, like the war they fought.

Staging: George Coates
Coates' recent Wittgenstein on Mars created an alien landscape so bathed in color it looked like Mars was spilling into the audience. And 20/20 Blake was dreamlike, with 3-D projections of William Blake's religious paintings projected onto scrims for a set. We can only assume that when the technology comes available to design true virtual sets -- holograms cast into space, maybe -- Coates will be first in line to try it.

Costumes: Angelina de Antonis, Down Softly
Brady Street Dance Center
A pair of dancers came out in Down Softly by gradually shedding de Antonis' motley beetle shells-cum-hoop dresses, which stretched from shoulders to knees. De Antonis' contraptions amplified the dancers' already electric liberation.

Staging: Mel Gordon, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld's Museum of Sexology
1209 Howard Street Theater
Having transformed a warehouse into a luscious Weimar nightclub and exactingly correct cross-cultural sex museum, the event was created with each detail lovingly and lustfully conceived to captivate every sense. From the aphrodisiac buffet to the frescoes, the perfumery to the hand massage, this was an extravagant and moving tribute to the first gay activist and sexologist that suffered only from bad dramatic sense.

Staging: Mobius Operandi, Xibalba
Somar Gallery
Though theatrically it fell flat, the mind-boggling sculptural instruments, dada costumes, sprawling choreography, and a cavernous room filled with corn husks deserved the word "spectacular."

Lighting: Joe Williams
Brady Street Dance Center
Joe Williams, Brady Street Dance Center's lighting designer for the past two years, has clarified the intent of hundreds of dances by deepening their foundation. In Erica Essner's Causation the light seemed to both pull the dancers upward and keep itself out of reach, intensifying the work's expression of hope and futile longing.

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