Encore

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Here Lies Jenny. Bebe Neuwirth has an unusual voice. It's not what you would call beautiful. In Here Lies Jenny, a showcase of loosely knit songs by German composer Kurt Weill, she sounds a bit like a sheep nursing a hangover. Weill's songs have long been favorites of many a diva, with artists as diverse as German chanteuse Ute Lempe and operatic soprano Dawn Upshaw bringing their own particular qualities to the composer's brazenly sweet melodies and galumphing accompaniments. Although the Tony Awardwinning Neuwirth is a charismatic, intense performer, the songs all sound rather similar: There's surprisingly little variety in the star's delivery. The show combines the talents of several Broadway luminaries -- including director Roger Rees, choreographer Ann Reinking, and set designer Neil Patel -- but for all the talent it feels cobbled together. Patel's dingy European speak-easy is evocative enough, but Reinking's movements are predictably camp, leaving Neuwirth frequently falling into the arms of some muscle-bound, wife beaterwearing stud. As a vehicle for one of this country's most prominent musical theater artists, Here Lies Jenny lacks drive. Through June 26 at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $35-55; call 771-6900 or visit www.poststreettheatre.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed May 18.

I Look Like an Egg, But I Identify as a Cookie. In her solo show, Heather Gold recounts the journey from Niagara Falls (where she spent the first 19 years of her life) to her current role as San Francisco's resident lesbian domestic goddess -- while baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies in front of a live audience. Even as she's plunking bits of soggy dough onto a battered metal baking tray and babbling on about her rugby-playing days as a law student at Yale, Gold, wielding her remarkable improvisation skills, creates an atmosphere of cozy intimacy. Certain parts of her monologue ramble on for too long, but even during the show's most half-baked moments, it's easy to understand why the audience gets so involved: Gold makes for an endearingly slapdash cook. Each performance involves a special guest, and it's a sheer pleasure to see a food-themed show that's not about battling one's body image (as is so often the case with productions by female artists -- e.g., Eve Ensler's The Good Body) and a program stuffed with recipes for delicacies like gingersnaps and caramel chocolate squares. Through June 20 at Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $30-50; call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.subvert.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 12.

Not a Genuine Black Man. It's not easy being green, but try being a black kid in San Leandro in the early '70s. When Brian Copeland got there -- just a few months after the Summer of Love, he points out -- it was one of the most viciously racist suburbs in America. Now it's officially the most diverse. "Take that, San Francisco," Copeland chides. He's earned that attitude, not just for going through his hell of growing up, but also for extracting from it such affirmative, hilarious stuff. Copeland's rightfully popular one-man show is wrought from pain and rage but never really succumbs to bitterness. "Is that black?" he asks, and proves that it is. Some of his best stereotype-busting material doesn't feel especially new, but it does feel good. Besides, it's the stereotypes that have passed their expiration dates: Copeland's title comes from an accusation flung at him by a cranky listener who called in to his KGO radio program. This show is his response. With help from declarative lighting and David Ford's direction, Copeland creates an affecting hybrid of the dramatic monologue and the rollicking stand-up act. Through June 25 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed June 2, 2004.

The People's Temple. It's easy to understand why so many people flocked to hear the Rev. Jim Jones preach. As depicted in Berkeley Rep's world-premiere production of The People's Temple, Jones, the leader of the cultish church, is charisma personified, a hip cat in dark shades and sharp suits with unbelievable powers of persuasion. Using archival material from the California Historical Society, evangelical songs, and interviews with former Temple-goers, writer and director Leigh Fondakowski (The Laramie Project) has created an engrossing documentary piece about the events that led to the deaths of more than 900 people in a Guyana jungle in 1978. Playing against Sarah L. Lambert's expressive scenery (resembling a cross between a morgue and a Container Store window display), the ensemble cast does more than portray Jones, congregation members, journalists, politicians, and families; the actors also capture the spirit of an entire era, from racial unrest to hippie euphoria. Besides the problem of creating real drama out of narrated interviews (which Fondakowski somewhat overcomes), only one issue remains: Jones swings from messiah to monster, but the play offers little explanation as to why. Through June 5 at Berkeley Repertory's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $10-55; call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed May 4.

The Rules of Charity. John Belluso's engrossing new play describes what it's like to eke out a living in America on meager disability checks and food stamps. If poverty isn't enough to define Monty (Warren David Keith) -- whose cerebral palsy keeps him confined to a wheelchair and his daughter confined to the state of permanent caregiver -- as a social pariah, the fact that he's gay ought to do it. Belluso's writing veers into the terrain of soap opera toward the end, but it's powerful stuff nonetheless. Exploring the way Monty (both as an individual and as an archetypal American charity case) elicits polar responses from the other characters, this stylishly directed and subtly performed production shows how acts of generosity and good will often have little in common with the motives that lie beneath them. Through June 18 at the Magic Theatre Northside, Fort Mason, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Tickets are $20-38; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed May 11.

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