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Stage Capsule 

Wednesday, Oct 6 1999
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Amphibians
Billy Roche's exploration of changing standards of manhood in small-town Ireland gets an affectionate, thoughtful rendering from director Cliff Mayotte and the DEO Ireland company, who successfully create a misty atmosphere of regret and disappointment. Wexford, a small coastal burg, teeters between its fishing village past and the shellfish processing factory present. Eagle (Arthur Scappaticci) is the last holdout, trying to eke a living from the water long after his friends have gone to the factory. Reviving an old tradition, Eagle builds a hut for his 12-year-old son on a nearby island, in which the son is to spend St. Martin's Eve; the townspeople seethe with nostalgia, remorse, and jealousy as a result. The acting and storytelling support the first act, so you don't notice that all the men are dreamers, all the women pragmatic and defeated, and that too many anniversaries occur on St. Martin's Eve. In the second act, though, melodrama comes to the forefront, and the play becomes writerly and predictable. The actresses are terrific (Bernadette McCarthy, Marianne Murphy, and Esther Mulligan, who sings beautifully), and Elizabeth Phipps provides a gorgeous set, but they can't overcome Roche's slide into generic blarney.

Through Oct. 23 at New Conservatory Theater Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Call 861-8972.

To Bessie, With Love
S.F. jazz fixture Pat Yankee's singing would have made a wonderful concert, but Yankee and writer/co-star Frank Riley have grander plans. Riley has written a glossy, loving musical based on blues great Bessie Smith's life, but his goodwill has a sanitizing, even slightly condescending effect. Riley delivers the narration himself and then snaps his fingers or bops awkwardly while the band plays and Yankee sings -- at times, the result feels like a Disneyland revue. (Patter including phrases like "The '20s, or as they were often referred to, the Roaring '20s ..." doesn't help.) Smith's ballads were a talisman against unbearable sadness; Pat Yankee has a grand time with Bessie's songs, but you wonder if she's ever had a down day in her life. While her big, growly voice is loads of fun on "Down Hearted Blues," "Baby Doll," and the bawdy "Kitchen Man," her scenes with Riley clunk, especially a sequence in which she downs a flask of his gin. The first-rate band features Allen Smith's exquisite trumpet and Bud Wachter's virtuoso banjo and guitar. As a Pat Yankee concert, it's heaven; as a tribute to Bessie Smith, it's uneven; as a play, it's unworthy.

Extended through Oct. 24 at the Alcazar Theater, 650 Geary (at Leavenworth), S.F. Call 441-4042.

Let's Face It
The 42nd Street Moon company applies its abundant talent to the great songs (by Cole Porter) and dopey book (by Herbert and Dorothy Fields) of this 1941 Danny Kaye vehicle. This staged concert, expertly directed by Roy Casstevens, features two performers, Bill Fahrner and Lesley Hamilton, who'd be big stars in a more just world. Hamilton, terminally wised-up as a neglected society matron, suspects her husband of angling for something other than bass on his fishing trips. She charges around strategizing and issuing more orders than any sergeant, warbling in a great, clear voice. Then, for revenge, she crashes the local Army base with her friends to hire some fresh-faced privates (Fahrner, in the Danny Kaye role, is their leader) to pretend to assignations of their own. Of course the soldiers have girlfriends, and misunderstandings abound. Fahrner, with his long lanky arms, hunched-up shoulders, and scrunched-up eyes, nerds around endearingly, but when he sings, he's a romantic heavyweight. The show's a big tease, talking vulgarity but presenting innocence, and the disparity does grow tiresome. But the songs -- especially "You Irritate Me So" (charmingly sung by Arwen Anderson and Kirk Mills) and "Let's (Not) Talk About Love" (performed by Hamilton and Fahrner) -- and the bitchy one-liners ("I'd Simoniz a battleship for a hundred bucks," states Mills upon hearing about the opportunity with the wives. "You're getting warm," Fahrner replies) are beguiling diversions. With Lianne Marie Dobbs, who rumbas enticingly while purring a tune.

Through Oct. 17 at the New Conservatory Theater Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Call 861-8972.

About The Author

Joe Mader

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