By Josh Edelson
By Chris Hall
By Jonathan Curiel
By Jonathan Curiel
By Sherilyn Connelly
By Mollie McWilliams
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Browner
Mules and Women
Mules. By Winsome Pinnock. Directed by Diane Wynter. Starring Dawn-Elin Fraser, Andrea Harris, and Tina Marie Murray. At the Magic Theater, Fort Mason, Building D, through Nov. 8. Call 441-8822.
San Francisco theater suffers a severe dearth of plays from the Caribbean, an oversight made worse by the fact that one of the world's greatest living playwrights, Nobel Prize-winner Derek Walcott, is from St. Lucia. Walcott has gone totally unplayed in the 22 months that I've been reviewing shows in this city. So until someone raises the courage to stage his mythic Dream on Monkey Mountain or Ti-Jean and His Brothers, S.F. audiences will have to slake any thirst they might have for good Caribbean patois at a play like Mules, by Winsome Pinnock.
Ms. Pinnock was born in London to West Indian parents, and her play traces the economics of drug smuggling that bind Jamaica to Britain. With as little preaching as possible she draws the lives of expendable drug-trade "mules," women who carry packets of cocaine through customs in their vaginas, or in their hats, to escape poverty. It ain't Derek Walcott, but it is a portrait of illicit capitalism, and for a stage polemic it's not too bad.
Mules opens on three rich British women connected somehow to the fashion industry (as a front?) discussing their business, which turns out to be cocaine. At the same time two Jamaican sisters, Lyla and Lou, hawk underwear in the streets of Trenchtown, and a well-off British runaway named Allie gets mugged on the streets of London.
One of the wealthy women, Bridie, descends on all three younger women like a guardian angel, offering them cash for smuggling coke. They accept, because they're poor, and find out too late they've been used by businesspeople who couldn't care less if they died. One harsh scene shows Lyla and Lou inserting condoms packed with coke -- a moment of patriarchal symbolism that isn't lost on anyone -- and another has Bridie describing, to the audience, the fatal OD seizures some women suffer after a condom breaks.
The scenes are brief and quick, and it takes work to keep track of the women, since a three-member cast plays nine or 10 different characters. But the acting is full of energy. If an accent falters sometimes it's only because the players have to juggle so many of them, from London posh to Trenchtown pidgin, and the slips are more than made up for by brightness of character. Andrea Harris does an especially good job as Allie and Lyla, alternately vicious and naive.
The main trouble with Mules, to me, is that it doesn't dig very deep. It shows an audience more about the outside world than about themselves, and I suspect the Magic Theater chose it to open their new season because of its politics. Political shows play well in this town -- which must be the reason, come to think of it, why Derek Walcott has been ignored.
Fishing for Godot
The Ice-Fishing Play. By Kevin Kling. Directed by George Simkins. Starring Karl Erickson, David McNees, Dana Benson, and Will Simkins. At the Cable Car Theater, 430 Mason (at Post), through Nov. 9. Call 753-8521.
If The Ice-Fishing Play sounds about as exciting as The Checkers Play, or maybe The Sitting-in-a-Closet-Freezing-My-Ass-Off Play, it's intentional. Kevin Kling has written a show about the Midwest. Ronnie Huber, wrapped in a parka, sits in a shack over a fishing hole, listening to the slow Minnesotan cadences of a disk jockey, who says the wind outside belongs to "the storm of the century" (second one this winter), while Ronnie languidly drinks cold beer. Eventually, he reels something in. It's -- well, I don't remember what it is, but it must be a piece of his truck, because Ronnie dashes outside and returns with a discouraged look on his face, then tosses his keys down the hole. His truck has fallen through the ice.
The rest of the play is a series of ghost-visitations and memories, the pageant of Ronnie's life passing before his eyes. We meet his wife, his brother, and a friend named Junior. We also meet two monks, who for some reason preach to Ronnie about Christ and the devil -- since when do monks evangelize? -- and seem out of place not just in the fishing shack but in the entire show. Except for them, The Ice-Fishing Play is lively and clever, not at all the dreary outhouse-drama you'd expect from the title. Ronnie is angling for a monster fish that, according to legend, has been cruising the lake for years. Junior and Ronnie's brother give him advice on bait. His wife complains he's never home. By degrees you realize that no one in this shack is alive, except Ronnie, but the banter is so light and entertaining that the gloomy edges of the show seem weak.
This is a Pour Boys production, meaning it has a Guy theme -- the Pour Boys may be the only group in San Francisco unabashedly doing Guy theater -- and it reminds me of last year's Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World, about a man remembering his buddy's childhood as he packs to go to his funeral. This play falters in the same places -- good comedy, forced pathos. The whole cast is able, especially Karl Erickson as a nicely shaded Ron, and Will Simkins as a hilarious and blustering Junior, who in life owned a bait shop and as a ghost rigs Ronnie's hook with half a dozen lures sprayed with aerosol fish odor, then ties the whole thing to a shotgun so Ronnie will know when the Big One bites.
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