Don't Make Me Look Too Psychotic
Bruce Pachtman's often enjoyable solo show is about a failed relationship with a woman who, despite Pachtman's best efforts, seems psychotic indeed. Pachtman possesses real talent, and his self-mocking, humble demeanor can be very winning. Gloria, the ostensible subject of this monologue, is a wreck, an alcoholic who's given up on AA meetings, a tease who wants to be brought to orgasm but doesn't want to return the favor, and a user who spends dates moaning over a past boyfriend. Pachtman's acute observations and jokes (one date is to see Fatal Attraction: The Director's Cut) are smart and funny. There are some minor missteps (his second meeting with Gloria at first seems to be a fantasy -- only later do we understand that it actually happened -- and he overuses the simile "like the crack of a whip"), but his skill overrides such quibbles. A larger problem is that we hear about Gloria's charm, but see no evidence of it. Thus Pachtman seems as disturbed as Gloria. He actually acknowledges his own "psychosis," but we still need to experience what attracted him to Gloria in the first place; his attempts to explain why he tries so hard in this doomed relationship do give us information about his abusive mother, and his work with a child abuse resource center. Yet despite the polished delivery and the weighty subtopics, the show finally lacks gravity. At play's end, it has all the resonance of a cocktail party anecdote. This ultimately glib treatment of Gloria's obvious mental problems and his mother's past transgressions (terrible as they are) doesn't feel like art or even entertainment -- it feels like revenge.
Extended through June 17 at the Bannam Place Theater, 50A Bannam Place (between Union and Green), S.F. Admission is $12-14; call 986-4607.
In James Faerron's beautiful set for this Encore Theater production, a crooked, two-level farmhouse at stage right juts out like the prow of a ship going nowhere, and at stage left, a ragged cornfield points its stalks straight into a starry sky. Drew Yerys' wonderful lighting enhances every mood, as does Erik Ian Walker's sound design and original music. The script, however, by Lynne Alvarez, is like a teenage girl's attempt to write like Tennessee Williams: It's appalling. World-famous pianist Justin Arn (Damon Seawell, with Van Cliburn hair) is visiting his farmland home, where Pa Thomas (John Robb) is confined to the upper level of the homestead as punishment for confessing to raping his niece Daria (Aya Cash). Ma Cynthia (Nancy Madden) putters around the house refusing to do her marital duties by rapist Pa, decrying Pa's shooting of chicken-stealing varmints, and hoping for a better life someday. Daria spends her time decorating busted umbrellas, symbolizing, no doubt, her busted hymen. It's difficult to see why anyone would mount this mock Southern Gothic claptrap full of ersatz poetry (sample line from Ma: "I was dreaming about a pair of birds with tiny, curved bones. They were magic birds."). The actors are well cast, and they emote appropriately, but they're content to skate on the surface of their characters. At play's end, when Pa finally kills that big dog that's been worryin' the hens (ya see, it wasn't Pa poor Daria needed to be worried about all these months or years or whatever), what sticks with you is Ma's earlier plaintive cry: "Must this go on and on?" Ma speaks for us all. Directed by Lisa Steindler.
Through June 11 at the Thick House, 1695 18th St. (between De Haro and Arkansas), S.F. Admission is $15-20; call 401-8081.