At the Fringe

Chloe Veltman's roundup of the notable in this year's wacky stage fest

On one level, Sperm Warfare tells the story of a couple's struggle to produce a biological child. On another, the play is about the battle between science and nature, where science, from the very outset, is the loser. This message is most eloquently expressed through the contrast between the brute physicality of the performances versus the flimsy inadequacy of the clinical surroundings. Blake (Jon Gale) and Deborah (Anna Kristina) throw themselves about the set and on each other like a couple of cats in heat. Magazines, belt buckles, and tempers fly. The only thing that doesn't -- unfortunately for the couple -- is that all-important semen.

While the Band-Aids on Blake's knee are testimony to the forces of nature in this production, the set reveals something altogether less awe-inspiring about modern science. The very walls of the sterile, windowless clinic, with its ugly furniture and feeble fixtures, look like they're on the verge of collapse.

Blake and Deborah's timing might be off, but Sperm Warfare's is perfect. The temperature in that small, clinical space rises to the boiling point without once overboiling. The comedy is strictly Benny Hill and the characters larger than life. But Gale, Kristina, and Alexis Boozer (as the nurse) manage to keep things intimate, reaching below the slapstick surface of Rouda's slick dialogue to reveal the heartache and confusion beneath.

The Chinese board game Go functions as 
an analogy for the world situation in Go 
Claudia Barr
The Chinese board game Go functions as an analogy for the world situation in Go Kibbitz.

Sperm Warfare is so beguiling that it's easy to gloss over the play's one potential anomaly: Rouda doesn't discount the possibility that Blake's weak sperm count might be partially responsible for the couple's childlessness, yet the constant references to Deborah's grand old age of 40 serve to perpetuate the idea that the infertility problem lies almost exclusively with the ripening female. Mother Nature may not nurture the concept of motherhood past 35, but Rouda, if for no other reason than the sake of "scientific" accountability, might hold his male protagonist equally responsible for the couple's problem without deadening the essential message of his play. After all, the Guinness Book of World Records maintains a category for "World's Oldest Mother," but none, as yet, for "World's Oldest Father" -- despite the fact that it would be a widely contested competition. Perhaps it's time to address this inequality.
Through Sept. 18 at the Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $9; call 296-9179.

Got Lucky

This new musical by Josh Bloch, with music and lyrics by Boaz Reisman, tackles an unusual subject: barrel-jumping over Niagara Falls. Following the untimely death of Jack (Sean Bart), a young man who comes to a watery end while attempting to navigate the falls in a leaky barrel, Jack's brother Adam (Ben Grant) returns to Niagara to deal with the deceased's ashes. When a self-publicizing local impresario plans his own daredevil barrel-jumping stunt, Adam, with the help of Jack's old girlfriend, Leesa (Tania Johnson), discovers the truth about his brother's demise. Despite the catchy melodies (slickly accompanied by a live piano, cello, and percussion trio) and some elegantly choreographed ensemble numbers, Got Lucky steers a rocky course: The unconventional topic is intriguing, but the uneven technical abilities of the performers and the convoluted script and plot cause the musical, in places, to sink.
Through Sept. 17 at the Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (between Mason and Taylor), S.F. Tickets are $9; call 673-3847.


Combining "the goodness of corn with the convenience of potato," CornTato is "a delicious, genetically engineered hybrid of cattle feed-grade corn and reconstituted potato remnants, crossed with a little human DNA for natural flavor." It is also the title of a new "genetically engineered comedy" created by the sketch group the People Who Do That. When the giant corporation Scamron unleashes its revolutionary new food product on an unsuspecting public, things do not go according to plan. Formerly powerful marketing executives suddenly find themselves stripped of their corporate credit cards, and the human DNA in CornTato produces some interesting side effects. Though highly contemporary in flavor, this rambunctious if overbearing satire about the relationship between what we eat and whom we vote for recalls Dr. Strangelove and -- even more explicitly -- the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup.
Through Sept. 18 at the Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor (between Eddy and Ellis), S.F. Tickets are $8; call 673-3847.

When You Stand Alone

Wesley Connor and Sonia Norris' Talking Heads-style play explores the lives of three very different characters with one thing in common: They are all misfits. The three monologues, all performed by Connor, explore the nature of loneliness with varying degrees of humor, poignancy, and anger. In the first and most lighthearted section, Connor plays Samuel, a completely bonkers and quite possibly delusional Beatles fan preparing to go on a blind date. The second monologue -- the most well-written and eloquently performed of the three -- introduces us to Grace, a Canadian housewife who dreams of escaping to Paris. Connor's portrayal of the blue-chiffon-frock-wearing character is full of empathy. In the final monologue, Connor plays Alex, a nihilistic young goth trying to come to terms with the death of his mother. Connor demonstrates great range across the three pieces, though the volume settings are turned up rather high, especially in the first and third monologues. Plus, there's only so much of watching a guy changing his clothes with his back to you that audiences can take.
Through Sept. 18 at Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (between Mason and Taylor), S.F. Tickets are $9; call 673-3847.

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