Not About Nightingales

This Tennessee Williams production packs a punch, but it's too loud


Through March 13

Tickets are $15-25



Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (between Mission and South Van Ness), S.F.

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From allegations of misconduct against prisoners of war at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo to the approval of Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest plan to overhaul California's penitentiaries, the U.S. prison system is coming under more scrutiny these days than it has for a while. Like the Actors Theatre's recent production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Theatre Rhinoceros' harrowing staging of Tennessee Williams' Not About Nightingales brings the subject of prison reform firmly into focus. Written in 1938 and based upon true events, this explicit drama describes the grisly outcome of a prison hunger strike. Nightingales is an early Williams work, and the playwright would later learn that offstage violence can be more powerful than onstage brutality: We don't see Blanche raped in A Streetcar Named Desire, for instance. With actor/director John Fisher's imaginative use of the dingy, subterranean space and some provocative performances -- Fisher as the foul warden Whelan and Pete Caslavka as prisoner Canary Jim are particularly memorable -- the production packs a powerful punch. However, in such an intimate setting, the relentless noise of clomping boots and yelling can be tiresome. Toning it down a notch would remove none of the impact.

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