ASR Film. Oscars 2024: Recap and Some Predictions

By George Maguire

I have now seen every film and performance nominated for an Academy Award. I’ve let them germinate in my mind and with the SAG awards coming and the Golden Globes already history, it’s time to ruminate.

Let it first be said that even with the global success of Barbieheimer, the year was finally a testament to what can be achieved during and after the COVID pandemic.

… will win … should win … and some potential dark horses…

So, I am splitting my predictions into what I think will win, what should win, and some potential dark horses. Enjoy!

Best Picture:

  •  Oppenheimer
  •  Barbie
  •  Anatomy of a Fall
  •  American Fiction
  •  Zone of Interest
  • ` Past Lives
  •  Killers of the Flower Moon
  •  The Holdovers
  •  Poor Things
  •  Maestro
  • Will Win: Oppenheimer
  •  Should Win: American Fiction

Best Actress:

  •  Annette Benning (Nyad)
  •  Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon)
  •  Sandra Hueller (Anatomy of a Fall)
  •  Emma Stone (Poor Things)
  •  Carey Mulligan (Maestro)
  • Will Win: probably Lily Gladstone
  • Should Win: Anyone else
  • I found Lily Gladstone (who spent most of the film in bed) monochromatic. Emma Stone may pull a surprise here in a film I loathed—a rarity for me. My hope is that Annette Benning can pull an upset and finally win an Oscar.

Best Actor:

  •  Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer)
  •  Bradley Cooper (Maestro)
  •  Jeffrey Wright (American Fiction)
  •  Coleman Domingo (Rustin)
  •  Paul Giamatti (The Holdovers)
  • Will Win: Jeffrey Wright – I sincerely hope this is so. Cillian Murphy has a leg up though as Oppenheimer is a frontrunner.
  • Should Win: Jeffrey Wright
  • And bravo to local hero Colman Domingo for his beautiful work in Rustin (and in Color Purple)

Best Supporting Actress:

  •  Emily Blunt (Oppenheimer)
  •  Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Holdovers)
  •  Danielle Brooks (Color Purple)
  •  America Ferrera (Barbie)
  •  Jodie Foster (Nyad)
  • Will Win: Da’Vine
  • Should Win: Da’Vine This is assured!!!

Best Supporting Actor:

  •  Sterling Brown (American Fiction)
  •  Robert Downey Jr. (Oppenheimer)
  •  Robert DeNiro  (Killers of the Flower Moon)
  •  Mark Ruffalo (Poor Things)
  •  Ryan Gosling (Barbie)
  • Will Win: Robert Downey Jr.
  •  Should Win: Robert Downey Jr. (Oppenheimer). A side of him we have never seen before. Stunning!!!

Best Director:

  •  Justine Triet (Anatomy of a Fall)
  •  Martin Scorsese (Killers of the Flower Moon)
  •  Jonathan Glazer (Zone of Interest)
  •  Christopher Nolan (Oppenheimer)
  •  Yorgos Lanthimos (Poor Things)
  • Will Win: Christopher Nolan
  •  Should Win: Christopher Nolan.  No competition here!

Best Original Screenplay:

  •  Anatomy of a Fall (won the Golden Globe, will win here)
  •  The Holdovers
  •  Maestro
  •  Past Lives
  •  May/December

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  •  Zone of Interest
  •  Poor Things
  •  Oppenheimer (will win this!!)
  •  Barbie
  •  American Fiction

Best International Film:

  •  Io Capitano (Italy)
  •  Perfect Days (Japan) – a perfect film!! Should win here!
  •  The Teacher’s Lounge (Germany)
  •  The Society of the Snow (Spain)—done before as Alive.
  •  Zone of Interest (UK)

Best Animated Film:

  •  The Boy and the Heron (The absolute best!)
  •  Spiderman across the Universe (excellent, but no Heron!)
  •  Elemental
  •  Nimona
  •  Robot Dreams (No one saw this!)

So there we are my friends.

As I said I found Poor Things just awful (as did Mick LaSalle of the SF Chronicle). Half way through the film, two girls next to me stood up and stormed out. As a SAG voter, I never leave a film.

I found Zone of Interest terrific and horrid, telling the story of the family who lived next to Auschwitz, without getting into “documentary commenting.” Either way you perceive it, it is a must see!

Oscars are March 10th at 4 p.m. Pacific with host Jimmy Kimmel.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco-based actor/director and Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the Screen Actors Guild, and of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ASR Theater ~~ ASR’s Favorites of 2023

by Team ASR

2023 was a wonderful year for live theater in the Bay Area. Although many companies are still struggling financially, it’s clear that artistically most have bounced back from the pandemic. Rather than a “best of” list, here are ten of the past year’s favorites submitted by ASRians.

Dinner with Friends: In June, Sonoma Arts Live served up a Pulitzer Prize-winning treat. Director Carl Jordan had the perfect recipe for casting Ilana Niernberger, John Browning, Katie Kelley, and Jimmy Gagarin. Recipe?

The play’s friends are foodies, couples who uncouple and all but food fight on a multi-stage set by Jordan and Gary Gonser. The play had just the right amount of both relationships’ spice to flavor any postprandial discussion. — Cari Lynn Pace

Dragon Lady: Spanning most of the life of Maria Senora Porkalob, the playwright/performer’s grandmother and a first-generation Filipina immigrant, Marin Theatre Company’s Dragon Lady was an inspiring, entertaining survival yarn and a master class in solo storytelling. Part biography, part autobiography, part cabaret musical, and part comedy, Dragon Lady was a tour-de-force written and performed by Sara Porkalob, with wonderful instrumental backing by three members of the Washington-based band Hot Damn Scandal.Barry Willis

 … 2023 was a wonderful year for live theater in the Bay Area …

Stones in His Pockets: Spreckels’ production of this whip-smart Irish comedy was touching, insightful, and laugh-out-loud funny. It demanded the utmost from only two actors, playing no fewer than fifteen characters of varying ages, cultures, social classes, and genders.

All that and no costume changes, no props beyond two simple wooden crates, and a bare-bones stage with only a small stone wall and a projection screen to serve as a backdrop. A brilliant exercise in theater done right. — Nicole Singley

Crowns: Walnut Creek’s CenterREP presented an exhilarating, uplifting celebration of life with this serio-comedic musical. A coming-of-age story about a hip-hop girl from Brooklyn on a journey of discovery in a small South Carolina town, the revival-meeting production starred Juanita Harris as the town’s no-nonsense matriarch and queen bee of a bevy of church ladies, each with a collection of elaborate fancy hats mostly reserved for Sundays, when they want to look their best “to meet the king.” — Barry Willis

Silent Sky: Napa’s Lucky Penny Productions gave us a lovely rendering of Lauren Gunderson’s biographical tale about pioneering mathematician/astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, who toiled at Harvard University Observatory for approximately twenty years until she was finally allowed to look through the telescope. She faced opposition from the scientific establishment of the era, but Leavitt’s insights led to major breakthroughs in human understanding of the universe. — Barry Willis

The People vs. Mona: Pt. Richmond’s cozy Masquers Playhouse delivered a delightfully interactive comedic musical about a trumped-up murder case in the tiny south Georgia town of Tippo. The engaging Nelson Brown served as both MC and inept defense counsel Jim Summerford, who comes to the trial having never won a case. Shay Oglesby-Smith was tremendous as the town’s prosecutor and manipulative mayoral candidate Mavis Frye, matched by Michele Sanner Vargas as the accused Mona May Katt. — Susan Dunn

Clyde’s: Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre was the scene for this scathing comedy by Lynn Nottage, in which four parolees try their best to thrive under an oppressive boss.

April Nixon was brilliant as the voluptuous, wise-cracking owner of the roadside diner named for her character—a deliciously malicious force of nature. An uplifting, uproarious, and realistic tale about hope, Clyde’s was among the best comedies of the year. — Barry Willis

Hippest Trip—Soul Train, the Musical: The stage of ACT’s Toni Rembe Theater was transformed into both a giant 1970s television set and the production studio for Soul Train, reportedly the longest-running music-and-dance show ever made. Dominique Morisseau’s dazzling retrospective of the groundbreaking television show was wonderfully directed by Kamilah Forbes. Played by confident Quentin Earl Darrington, Soul Train founder Don Cornelius was a former Chicago crime reporter who envisioned a TV show that would uplift his community. Through sheer willpower, he made it a reality, and so did ACT. — Barry Willis

The Wizard of Oz: The Emerald City met Beach Blanket Babylon in ACT’s spectacularly goofy psychedelic The Wizard of Oz. The wild production adhered closely to the beloved original, including story and songs, but was as far removed from a 1940s Saturday afternoon movie matinee as you can imagine—a hilariously gender-bending extravaganza just perfect for Pride Month in San Francisco.  — Barry Willis

The Glass Menagerie: Ross Valley Players returned to the essence of mid-century theater with a sobering production of Tennessee Williams’ classic family drama. Directed by David Abrams, who also played the role of disaffected son Tom Wingfield, the show starred Tamar Cohn as his delusional, manipulative mother Amanda, Tina Traboulsi as his asocial sister Laura, and Jesse Lumb as the good-natured gentleman caller Jim O’Connor, who arrives late in the tale and quickly discovers what a dysfunctional morass he’s stepped into. Tom O’Brien’s austere set, period-perfect costumes by Michael Berg, evocative lighting design by Michele Samuels, and music collected by sound designer Billie Cox all made significant contributions to one of the year’s most compelling dramas. — George Maguire


ASR Theater ~~ “The Umbrella Play” – Show and Tell

By George Maguire

In my early days in New York city, I was part of the Off-Off Broadway movement, where new works were presented on a small stage with no budget, both as a vehicle for emerging playwrights and for actors hoping to be seen and picked up by an agent.

Writers like Christopher Durang, Albert Innuarato, Lanford Wilson and even Tennessee Williams were showcasing experimental works in theatres like The Direct Theatre, Caffé Cino, La Mama, The Cubiculo, The Impossible Ragtime Theatre and Joe Papp’s Public Theatre.

 … Ms. Frederick … is truly a Bay Area Theatre treasure …

Viewing The Umbrella Play by Linda Ayres-Frederick at the Phoenix Theatre on Mason Street, I was reminded of the power and the joy of presenting the premiers of new works in a workshop setting with no budget and minimal props, lights and sound. Ms. Frederick has a long and remarkable career as a playwright (over 50 plays), an actress and at the Phoenix Theatre as a producer. She is truly a Bay Area Theatre treasure.

Linda Ayres-Frederick at work.

Ms. Frederick uses an umbrella (played by Ms. Frederick herself) as a possession to be passed around, passed down and always remembered. These elements are filled with special memories as we touch them, recall them, and indeed cherish their memory.

The umbrella sees, comments and indeed feels emotions as it watches a family going through a series of confrontations of inheritance after the death of the mother (Adrienne Krug). The feud as such is fueled by a brother, sister and sister in law as they gather to hear the reading of Mama’s will.

Cast members of “The Umbrella Play” at work with the Phoenix Theater.

Among the cast are Michael Sommers (terrific) as the brother, AJ Davenport (strong and willful), Juliet Tanner (excellent) as the sister-in-law, and John Hurst as the bumbling husband.

Adrienne Villalon, Shailesh Sivanantham at work in “the Umbrella Play”

Ms. Frederick sets this play in Russia with allusions to Chekhov in character names and situations. For me, this led to confusion of both time and place. The family, the umbrella, and the challenges could easily have been in Pittsburgh. Were we supposed to glean a Chekhovian air? Probably…but for me, not at all necessary, thank you.

The production is billed as a “workshop” sponsored by the Multi-Ethnic Theatre. My hope is that Ms. Frederick utilizes this experience to craft a truly magical play of an umbrella’s observations.

The potential is all there.


ASR Contributing writer George Maguire is a San Francisco-based actor/director and Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ProductionThe Umbrella Play
Written byLinda Ayres-Frederick
Directed by Julie Dimas Lockfeld
Producing CompanyPhoenix Arts Association
Production DatesThru Dec 2nd
Production AddressThe Phoenix Theatre
414 Mason Street, 6th floor
San Francisco, CA 94102
Telephone(415) 336-1020
Tickets$20 or pay what you will
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Beautiful Shattered Glass: RVP’s “The Glass Menagerie”

By George Maguire

Ross Valley Players has at last been able to re-mount Tennessee Williams’ classic play The Glass Menagerie.

First seen for a very short time in 2020 pre-pandemic, the estimable company has brought back this production and the rewards are ours to behold. Anchored with a stunning performance by Tamar Cohn as Amanda Wingfield, the mother of iron, this production draws on the finest of both technical and actor/director support making it a must-see for the final two weeks of its run.

…Ross Valley Players has given us a gift not to be missed….

Written in 1944, The Glass Menagerie catapulted an obscure Thomas Lanier Williams to the heights of fame. His promise continued with Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Night of the Iguana, Sweet Bird Of Youth, Suddenly Last Summer and many more plays indelibly etched in the American Theatre psyche. A playwright/poet of astonishing language skills, Williams (who adopted the name “Tennessee”), weaves together memories, idiosyncratic characters and pain in this first of his great works.

The play is set in 1937 in a small St. Louis flat inhabited by Amanda Wingfield, her son Tom (David Abams) and her emotionally and physically fragile daughter Laura (Tina Traboulsi). Looking down on them is a portrait of the father, who left for parts unknown years earlier, sending only a postcard with the words “Hello” and “Goodbye.” Laura spends her time tending to a collection of glass figurines which her mother calls “Laura’s glass menagerie.” Tom keeps the family afloat working at a shoe warehouse and dreaming of joining the merchant marines.

Tamar Cohn as Amanda. David Abrams as Tom. Photos by Robin Jackson.

Wanting Laura to break through her intense shyness and hopefully meet and marry, Amanda coerces Tom to bring home a “gentleman caller” for Laura to meet. Tom invites his work colleague Jim O’Conner (Jesse Lumb) without knowing that Laura has had a crush on him since high school.

The RVP production has a simple but almost gauze-like set by Tom O’Brien complete with pastel walls and a see-through curtain separating the dining space from the living room. Outside is the landing with a fire escape where Tom smokes and narrates the memory tale. Spot on costumes by Michael Berg, an imaginative and evocative lighting design by Michele Samuels and period victrola music collected by resident sound designer Billie Cox, complete the fragile memories that Tom illuminates.

Jesse Lumb as Jim. Tina Traboulsi as Laura. Photos by Robin Jackson.

This is indeed a memory play as Tom tells us directly guiding us into his world of painful guilt as he looks back on the family he left behind when, like his father before him, he leaves and never returns.

The RVP cast is exemplary. Tom is played with deep sincerity, beautiful vocal assuredness and pained recollection by Abrams, also the director of the production. Tina Traboulsi brings all right qualities of awkward shyness and yet an underlying strength to Laura. She eschews a leg brace which is often used in productions, and instead adopts a slight limp, which she of course sees as a monumental obstruction. Jesse Lumb’s warm, comforting and caring gentleman caller is pitch-perfect. His scene lit by candlelight with Laura is a particular highlight of emotional excellence.

Tamar Cohn as Amanda. David Abrams as Tom. Photos by Robin Jackson in Tennessee William’s “The Glass Menagerie” Photos by Robin Jackson.

The production however belongs to Tamar Cohn and her astonishing portrayal of Amanda. Wielding wiles of ever imaginative possibilities, this force-of-nature mother cajoles, primps, screams in frustration and anger, and utilizes every tool in her arsenal to help her children. Underlying it all in this beautiful performance is love – a love that shines through the gauze like a beacon of hope. Stunning!

Memory plays such as The Glass Menagerie and Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa necessitate such simplicity of distance bringing us into the narrator’s world, so we feel the pain, anguish and the love of our own lives long past and yet long remembered.

Ross Valley Players has given us a gift not to be missed.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco-based actor/director and is Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ProductionGlass Menagerie
Written byTennessee Williams
Directed byDavid Abrams
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru Oct 14th
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Telephone415-456-9555 ext. 1
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!


ASR Theater ~~ “Rehoming”– Shotgun Players’ “Wolf Play”

By George Maguire

The redoubtable, inventive Shotgun Players troupe continues its journey into the the realm of high-value, thought-provoking and theatrically-bold selections with Korean playwright Hansol Jung’s masterful and multi-layered Wolf Play.

Directed with whip-smart precision by Elizabeth Carter, the show takes the audience on a discovery trip as we define and then redefine what the words “home” and “family” mean.

Wolf Play tells the story of Jeenu (Wolf) a six- year-old child first adopted by Peter and Kate. When Kate becomes pregnant with her own child, Jeenu is “rehomed” by Peter on the internet to Robin – half of a lesbian couple. Robin’s wife Ash is an aspiring boxer whose life and immediate goals are compromised by the unexpected arrival of the child.

…In a world of its own is James Ard’s glorious soundscape…

Played as a puppet manipulated with insouciant and inquisitive spirit by Mikee Loria, Jeenu is seeking a home and a pack and refers to himself as Wolf. He howls, bays, snarls, and growls with anger as his life is uprooted.

Mikee Loria as Wolf. All Photography by Ben Krantz.

Complications ensue when Peter (played with angst and determination by Sam Bertken) discovers that he has sold the boy to an LGBTQIA+ couple, and wants him back. By this time, having discovered his new “pack,” Jeenu has acclimated himself into the home life of his “moms.” Despite Robin’s motherly warmth, clear love of this child, and simultaneous steel (portrayal by the talented Laura Domingo) it is Gobby Momah’s Ash that the boy eventually identifies with.

Laura Domingo as Robin, Caleb Cabrera as Ryan.

One of the joys of the play is watching them communicate. All others look at the puppet when talking to the boy, Ash looks directly at Jeenu. She talks to him, not just about him. Ash is being trained for the big fight by Robin’s brother Ryan (a focused and determined Caleb Cabrero). The characters of Kate the wife and also Ryan and Robin’s Mom are not seen, but are spoken to by the actors in what the reviewer found to be a rather confusing mélange of conversation.

We watch the puppet/boy react with pain, confusion, and tears as his search for family, a pack, is ripped once again away from him. All this culminates in a final courtroom custody battle deciding the fate of the child. The results of that trial won’t be given away here.

Technical elements are good. Stephanie Johnson (whose gorgeous work illuminated Marin Shakespeare Company this summer) brings similar creativity to Shotgun Players. Celeste Martone’s set and Ashley Renee’s costumes serve the play well. The combination of David Maier and boxing consultant Emmanuel Blackwell bring the big match and Gabby Momah’s remarkable reactive punch/foot work to life.

Caleb Cabrera as Ryan, Gabby Momah as Ash.

In a world of its own is James Ard’s glorious soundscape. The opening moments with clangs and bells of the ring, are brilliant. The play’s running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission.

Shotgun delivers a play dealing with many current issues of queer identity, broken lives, the vulnerability of children being bartered like animals, and above all, the need for roots, family, a pack.

Caleb Cabrera as Ryan, Sam Bertken as Peter, Laura Domingo as Robin, Gabby Momah as Ash in “Wolf Play” at Shotgun Players.

On Facebook, we see actors referring to casts as “my chosen family.” How long will that last past the closing? We chose family as such for a lifetime of eternal, ethereal connection. Wolf Play helps us clear the air and get to the root of this journey.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco-based actor/director and is Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ProductionWolf Play
Written byHansol Jung
Directed byKatja Rivera
Producing CompanyShotgun Players
Production Dates
Thru Oct 1st
Production Address1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley CA 94705
Telephone(510) 841-6500
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

ASR Mourns Dottie Lester-White

By George Maguire


All of us at Aisle Seat Review are saddened by the loss of Dottie Lester-White, an icon in Bay Area musical theater. Dottie passed away on August 17th in Mesa, Arizona, where she was choreographing a new production of Hello Dolly!

…A beloved and treasured choreographer, teacher, stage manager, and tapper extraordinaire…

Dottie played on Broadway in the ensemble of No No Nanette, and worked with national touring companies of Nanette and Hello Dolly! Her numerous choreography credits include award-winning productions at AMTSJ, San Jose Stage, Woodminster Summer Theatre, Foothill Musical Theatre, TheatreWorks and the Hillbarn Theater.

A beloved and treasured choreographer, teacher, stage manager, and tapper extraordinaire—she actually taught a renowned tap class at Burning Man—Dottie leaves an unparalleled legacy of excellence. She will be missed by the entire SF Bay Area theater community.

Vaya Con Dios, Dottie. Your spirit lives on.



ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco-based actor/director and is Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:



PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Tina Turner the Musical” Reigns at SF’s GG Theatre

By George Maguire and Barry Willis

“Queen of Rock’n’Roll” is a title that’s been bestowed on several performers—Stevie Nicks and Joan Jett among them. None are more deserving than Tina Turner, who passed away in May 2023. She was a major force during several decades as a pop music icon.

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical gloriously brings her music and life to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theater through August 27. The production moves to Broadway San Jose August 29 – Sept. 3.

…One of this year’s most important national touring productions…

Both a staged equivalent of a “biopic” (a filmed biography) and a “jukebox musical,” The Tina Turner Musical tells the tale of her origin in the small town of Nutbush, TN, to her eventual marriage to musician Ike Turner, and her re-emergence as a solo superstar after their breakup.

At nearly three high-intensity hours, the production is so demanding that it requires two performers in the lead role, alternating performances so that each can have a full rest day before the next one. Zurin Villanueva starred in the Wednesday Aug. 2 opener, with Naomi Rodgers taking the lead on alternate dates. Rodgers is presumably Villanueva’s equal in a huge, sumptuous production directed by Phyllida Lloyd.

Zurin Villanueva.

With the lanky physique and endurance of a distance runner, Villanueva tears into the drama and music with power and conviction. Just when you think she can’t possibly top herself as the eponymous lead, she opens her throat and brings Tina Turner straight to the heart. The Golden Gate’s near-capacity crowd couldn’t get enough.

Naomi Rodgers

The show is all about Tina, of course, but it’s marvelously fleshed out by many other superb talents. High praise to Roderick Lawrence who manages to find humanity in the troubled life of Ike Turner, a talented, charming manipulator who abused Tina so hard and so often that she ultimately made a desperate dash across a busy freeway to throw herself on the mercy of a motel clerk who provided her a room, food, medical care, and an armed guard at her door. That true event is a pivotal scene in the film What’s Love Got to Do with It? and the closing scene in the musical’s first act.

A compelling musician, Lawrence’s vocals are pretty damned good too, but he doesn’t quite measure up to Gerard M. Williams as Tina’s lovelorn bandmate Raymond, whose gorgeous rendition of “Let’s Stay Together” exceeds by many degrees the original by Al Green. Roz White stars as Zelma, Tina’s disdainful mother who sends her daughter away to live with her grandma. There’s no evidence of a father figure in the depiction of Tina’s early life, a circumstance all too prevalent among adult women who subjugate themselves to abusive men. White has only one moment to sing in this show, but her contralto is wonderful.

Ayvah Johnson.

The real emerging superstar in this production is child performer Ayvah Johnson, who captivates the audience as young Anna-Mae (Tina’s birth name), first as a very enthusiastic member of her gospel-singing church, and appearing intermittently throughout the show to remind us where Tina Turner came from. Johnson is clearly a crowd favorite. The Ikettes, the big backstage band, and the show’s stagecraft are all superb. While engaging, we found that the new music by Nicholas Skilbeck  just doesn’t compare favorably with the Turner songbook.

Jeff Sugg’s projection design is a force of its own. Act Two is like a psychedelic trip accentuating and building each song with magic, greatly enhanced by Bruno Poet’s lighting design.

Although the adequate book glosses over details, it provides highlights of her life, reminding us that her biggest personal and professional successes happened well after she turned 40. More than a juke-box musical, this is a superbly conveyed story of triumph and tragedy, blazing the life of icon Tina Turner to the back of the capacious Golden Gate. This inspiring, uplifting tale is beautifully rendered.

One of this year’s most important national touring productions, Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is an absolute must-see.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco-based actor/director and is Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ASR NorCal Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ProductionTina – The Tina Turner Musical
Written byKatori Hall, Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins
Directed byPhyllida Lloyd
Producing CompanyGolden Gate Theatre
Production DatesSF: Thru Aug. 27, SJ: Aug. 29 – Sept. 3

Production AddressGolden Gate Theatre
1 Taylor Street
San Francisco, CA
Broadway San Jose (Aug 29 – Sept. 3)
Center for the Performing Arts
255 S. Almaden Blvd.
San Jose, CA
Telephone(888) 746-1799
Tickets$66.50 – $179.50
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

ASR Theater ~~ Marin Shakespeare Company’s “Twelfth Night or What You Will”

By George Maguire

Combine designer Nina Ball’s lush sylvan setting bedecked with flowers, curtains, and marbled painted stairs, with sumptuous lighting by Stephanie Anne Johnson for warm evenings bringing us a perfect illustration of joy in a production rounding out Marin Shakespeare Company’s nascent season under the helm of artistic producer JonTracy.

One of the most popular plays in the Shakespeare canon, 12th Night is rife with music and gloriously rich poetry, making it one of the bard’s most popular adaptations for musicals. Broadway productions include Your Own Thing (1968), Music Is (1977), Play On (1997 and All Shook Up (2005). The original’s name derives from the fact that it was usually performed on the 12th night of midwinter holidays.

One of the major challenges of any production of 12th Night is deciding whether it’s a comedy, a romance, a tragedy, or all three. Whatever the director stresses, it must be cohesive and indeed always supported by the text and not layered with extraneous effluvia.

…One of the major challenges of any production of 12th Night is deciding whether it’s a comedy, a romance, a tragedy, or all three…

The MSC production directed by Bridgette Loriaux opens Act 1 and later Act 2 with a voice-over contemporary conversation between a parent and a child talking about what love is—a cute idea which doesn’t fulfill the inspiration of the idea itself. This is followed by a rather clumsy depiction of the squall that sunk the boat separating look-alike brother and sister and beginning the play itself as they find themselves in Illyria.

(L to R) Salim Razawi (Sebastian) and Justin P. Lopez (Antonio) in Marin Shakespeare
Company’s Twelfth Night. Photo by Jay Yamada

Once the play itself begins, we are on more firm footing as rich poetic words are proffered by the cast.

Stevie DeMott’s Viola (in disguise as the lad Cesario) grounds this production in such glorious verbal/physical joy that we are transported. Her scenes with Charisse Loriaux (Olivia) bring us the wonders of sexual attraction and wonderment without, of course, Olivia knowing the object of her affection is her same sex. In fact, this machination of same-sex desire makes 12th Night the perfect play for today’s awakening and yes, political discussion dominating our landscape. There’s a lovely moment when Johnny Moreno’s Orsino looks at Stevie LaMott thinking it’s a boy. His pause of simplicity is actor magic.

Of course, no Shakespeare play is complete without the requisite clowns. Robert Parsons is Sir Toby Belch (with a ready flask in hand) commenting, planning and of course drinking and Steve Price is his cohort Sir Andrew Aguecheek who bounces around the stage at times like a manic overzealous kangaroo.

(Front) Michael Gene Sullivan (Malvolio), (Behind, L to R) Robert Parsons (Sir Toby
Belch), Adrian Deane (Feste), and Steve Price (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) in Marin
Shakespeare Company’s Twelfth Night. Photo by Jay Yamada

Adrian Deane’s androgynous Feste is always on the periphery with comments, or simply observing and singing composer David Warner’s many songs is. Her “Come Away Death” is a particular highlight. Michael Gene Sullivan’s prim and proper Malvolio is the perfect foil for his downfall in yellow and cross-gartered stockings orchestrated by Sir Toby, Aguecheek and Mariah (Nancy Carlin). The sight of him alone is enough to make the audience laugh, but then a song with sexual physical groveling is added, which unfortunately takes the point way over the top.

There are moments in the production (Olivia’s pas de deux with others) which although lovely, are only confusing in execution, but again the situation and the talents of actors involved are enough.

Lastly, it is crucial to the play that Sebastian and Viola look alike and wear (unknowingly) the same outfits. How else could the others be confused by them? The costuming of the look-alike twins and the physiques of the actors are incongruent and dissimilar, making both confusion and acceptance laughably impossible.

The end of the play is lovely, where lovers are united and brother and sister find one another in the Illyrian mayhem. The uniting of Sebastian (Salim Razawi) and Antonio (Justin P. Lopez), the love of Johnny Moreno’s Orsino with the now woman revealed Viola, and the aloneness of Olivia are deeply moving.

But wait . . . there’s a coda at the end with Olivia and Malvolio at the edge of the stage which almost sets us up for a sequel.

12th Night Part 2? Someone write it!!!


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco-based actor/director and is Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


Production12th Night
Written byWilliam Shakespeare
Directed byBridgette Loriaux
Producing CompanyMarin Shakespeare Company
Production DatesThru Sept 3rd
Production AddressForest Meadows Amphitheater (outdoors),
Dominican University of California 890 Belle Avenue, San Rafael, CA
Telephone(415) 499-4485
Tickets$10 – $40. Pay what you will Thursday Aug. 17
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?----

Pick! ASR Theater ~~ “A Chorus Line” Shines at SF Playhouse

By George Maguire and Barry Willis

Early each summer, San Franciso Playhouse launches a classic musical that runs well into September—a genius strategy leveraging Union Square tourist traffic. This year’s offering is a brilliant production of A Chorus Line, directed by Bill English and choreographed by Nicole Helfer.

Background: In 1975, word on the street in New York City was “get to the Public Theatre and see the workshop of a new musical called A Chorus Line!” The show opened to standing-room-only on April 14, closed on July 13, and opened 12 days later on Broadway at the Shubert Theater, becoming (until Cats) the longest-running musical in Broadway history. It’s hard to imagine that A Chorus Line appeared the same year as Fosse’s Chicago and Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures. A Chorus Line swept the Tony Awards, leaving Chicago empty-handed until the revival put together by Ann Reinking.

Dancers pin their hopes on winning a role in “A Chorus Line,” presented by San Francisco Playhouse June 22 – September 9th.

Based on Michael Bennett’s conversations with Broadway dancers, the story centers on their careers, hopes, dreams, frustrations, and possible longevity during a wildly vacillating time for Broadway musicals. At these initial meetings, Bennet knew he had something remarkable to tell. The team of writers Nicholas Dante and James Kirkwood, lyricist Ed Kleban, composer Marvin Hamlisch, and co-choreographer Bob Avian yielded one of the most revolutionary musicals of all time, a conceptual breakthrough when it first appeared.

Dancers strut their stuff in SF Playhouse’s “A Chorus Line,” performing June 22 – September 9th in The City.

A Chorus Line conveys multiple stories about a corps of dancers seeking spots in a touring production. A couple of them are so young that they have yet to land their first serious gigs. At the other end of the spectrum are veterans feeling the inevitable pressures of age. In between are those with personal issues that could affect their careers — the responsibilities of parenthood, for example, or long-running guilt over being gay (this was the early ‘70s), or a drug habit, or a tone-deaf singing voice. Anything that might derail the touring production for which they are auditioning is cause for anxiety for them and the show’s director. There are ongoing and sometimes overly broad hints about fleeting friendships and petty jealousies among the dancers.

. . . A Chorus Line is every actor’s story, whether professional or community theater. “I Hope I Get It” . . .

Overseeing them all is a stern but not unsympathetic taskmaster named Zach (Keith Pinto), choreographer of the show-to-be. Zach talks to them in turn as he puts them through their paces, sometimes barking like a Marine Corps drill instructor and at other times almost whispering like a trusted friend.

Zach (center – Keith Pinto) instructs dancers auditioning in San Francisco Playhouse’s “A Chorus Line”.

Zach came up through the ranks and understands their plight, but he also has a high-pressure job to do. Pinto manages this conflict like a high-wire artist, in a riveting performance.

GM: Wasn’t it great to see the SF Playhouse stage filled with some of the finest musical theater talent in SF?

BW: Absolutely. We are lucky to live in such a talent-rich part of the world—talent across all the arts, not merely theater. This production features some of the Bay Area’s best.

GM: Bill English’s direction really highlights the uniqueness in each role as their stories unfold, and Nicole Helfer’s choreography hits a balance of distinction for each. Her ensemble numbers are remarkable.

BW: Nicole is a wonderful choreographer and an excellent director. She filled both duties exceptionally well with her fine production of She Loves Me at RVP recently. This Chorus Line is the first time I can recall seeing her onstage.

I thought she brought a superb blend of self-doubt, vulnerability, determination, and mastery of the craft to the role of Cassie, the show-to-be’s potential lead dancer, Zach’s former girlfriend, and an almost-over-the-hill veteran who hopes to land just one more glorious role before resigning herself to the post-career Siberia of teaching. Nicole’s solo “The Music and the Mirror” is marvelous.

GM: I loved the surprises of newer emerging talents like Chachi Delgado’s as Richie in “Gimme The Ball” and Tony Conaty as Mike in “I Can Do That.”

BW: They’re both great performers. Conaty is amazingly dynamic, but Delgado is in a league of his own in this production—the epitome of innate athleticism, effortless grace, and deep confidence.

GM: Great to see the husband and wife team of Keith Pinto and Alison Ewing perform so well as Zach and Sheila.

BW: Absolutely. Their real-world relationship in some ways reflects a couple of the show’s secondary themes.

GM: Chorus Line never needs a set as such—the tall mirrors at the back of the stage evoke the 52nd & Broadway dance studio where the original actually took place. Michael Oesch’s lighting design brought us focus, and his finale lights are stunning!

BW: Michael made incalculable contributions to the success of this production. During the post-show meet-and-greet he mentioned having basically lived at the Playhouse for the last two weeks before opening.

GM: A Chorus Line delves into the personal and professional torment that is the life of all artists. 1975 was my time in NYC, Barry. I stopped auditioning for Broadway choruses when I was at the very end of the final ten for Shenandoah. Choreographer Bob Tucker asked me (like Zach does) in front of everyone “Why aren’t you taking dance classes?”

I had not taken dance classes to sharpen my skills. I mumbled some lame excuse, walked out with my head down—crying on Broadway!—then said to myself, “Well, maybe I can do Shakespeare!” The rest, dear hearts, is history.

A Chorus Line is among the greatest productions ever about the lives of desperate artists, willing to make almost any sacrifice for their moment under the bright lights. It’s simultaneously personal, painful, and exhilarating—and Dave Dobrusky’s backstage band is terrific! This SF Playhouse production is a must-see event.



ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco-based actor/director and is Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ASR NorCal Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ProductionA Chorus Line
Written byJames Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante/music by Marvin Hamlisch/lyrics by Edward Kleban
Directed byBill English
Producing CompanySan Francisco Playhouse
Production DatesThru Sept 9th
Production AddressSF Playhouse
450 Post Street
San Francisco, CA
Telephone(415) 677-9596
Tickets$15 - $100
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

ASR Theater ~~ “She Loves Me” – A Romantic Atmosphere

By George Maguire

From the first sounds of the four-piece ensemble, we are transported to a Hungarian Rhapsody of music in 42nd Street Moon’s She Loves Me.

Under music director Daniel Thomas’ astute piano accompaniment along with three San Francisco musical stalwarts—Emily Chiet (violin), Nick DiScala (winds) and Lynden James (keyboard), we know we are in for the musical delights of this delicious score.

Based on Miklos Laszlo’s enchanting play Parfumerie, the story has been the basis for many adaptations including The Shop Around the Corner (with Jimmy Stewart), The Good Old Summertime (with Judy Garland), and You’ve Got Mail (Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan) reinventing letters into e-mails as “Dear Friends” find one another.

Will Giammona as Kodaly, Riley McFarland as Georg, Marah Sotelo as Amalia, and Nick Nakashima as Sipos. Photo: 42nd St Moon

In 1963, the estimable team of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (Fiorello and Fiddler on the Roof) along with libretto writer Joe Masteroff (Cabaret) brought the story to musical life. Listen to this score and try to find similarities with Fiddler – impossible, and that is masters at their best. Recipient of five Tony nominations (losing to that little-known musical Hello Dolly), She Loves Me has had a fortunate and constant revival afterlife. The vocal demands alone make presenting it challenging for any company.

The leads in this season-closing 42nd Street Moon production are excellent. Georg Nowak (an exceptional and physically adroit Riley Mcfarland) writes letters of love to his “dear friend” Amalia Balash (Marah Sotelo). Watch and listen to Mcfarland’s ever shifting choices making every word whether sung (superbly) or spoken, a journey into the heart. Sotelo has a sweet lyric soprano as she sings the musical’s classic songs “Dear Friend,” “Will He Like Me,” and the tour-de-force “Ice Cream.” If she cannot quite keep up with McFarland’s roller coaster of smug, defiant, loving and pained choices, who could?

Marah Sotelo as Amalia. Photo: 42 St Moon

Supporting them are solid and vocally rich Will Giammona as the perfume shop’s Snidely Whiplash, Kodaly. Spot-on Sophia Alawi is his occasional paramour Ilona, with Lee Strawn making his long awaited Moon debut as shop owner Mr. Maraczek, Nick Nakashima (hysterical) as Sipos, another shop clerk, Roeen Nooran as the bicycle-riding delivery boy, and Ted Zoldan as the most pompous head waiter in musical lore. Add a lovely ensemble of six actor/singers and the well-cast musical sings with gusto and heart.

Deborah Rosengaus, Ben Chau-Chiu, Meredith Fox, Daniel Gilmer, Milo Boland, and Monica Rose Slater. Photo: 42nd St Moon

The challenge of this musical for any theater company, but especially Moon, with its very limited budgets and resources, is the set. How to present seven distinct locations which repeat themselves throughout the musical?

Designer Kuo-Hao Lo, with assist from Stewart Lyle and Dennis Licktieg, gives us an almost jewelry box design, which at times unfortunately is shakier than a bowl of Jello. Great set design ideas don’t always work as imagined. It was clear during opening that the production needed more secure grounding.

High praise though, to costume designer Adriana Gutierrez for a glorious array of colorful and perfect work. She Loves Me is a treasure trove of musical gifts and so is 42nd Street Moon.

Support our local theaters!


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


ProductionShe Loves Me
Written byJoe Masteroff
Music & Lyrics byBock and Harnick
Directed byPeet Cocke
Producing Company42nd Street Moon
Production DatesThru June 25th
Production AddressThe Gateway Theatre

215 Jackson Street San Francisco, CA
Telephone(415) 255-8205
Tickets$35 – $80
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?----

ASR Theater ~~ “The Road To Mecca” – The Soul Selects Her Own Society

By George Maguire

Weathervane Productions is a collaborative collective created in 2014 by Wendy vanden Heuvel. At Z-Below, the company is presenting a deeply enriching telling of South African writer Athol Fugard’s The Road To Mecca.

Fugard (Master Harold and the Boys, Sizwe Bonzi is Dead, A Lesson From Aloes) based this work on the real life of Helen Martins, an aging woman of the Karoo township, facing late life decisions which will disrupt her path of creating her Mecca garden of statuary.

…the play is riveting…

Whether Mecca, Canterbury or Lourdes, we are all on a journey towards fulfillment. Helen sees her greatest joy in creating a massive statuary of owls, camels, peacocks and indeed people, as a visionary celebration of what the mind can conceive and the art that hands can fashion. These huge and disturbing abstract reliefs are anathema to neighbors convinced that Helen is losing her faculties and needs to be moved to an assisted living facility.

Fugard’s play is a miasma of words rather than action with racism, art activism, and trust above all, shadowing over the proceedings. He brings into Act 1 a much younger friend, Elsa Barlow, who has driven all night from Cape Town to check in on Helen.

Miss Helen (Wendy vanden Heuvel) and Elsa (Kodi Jackman) share a laugh in Athol Fugard’s “The Road to Mecca,”. Photo Credit: Kevin Berne

Their long conversatio motivates the first act and circumnavigates commonplace issues until it finally settles on whether Helen should sign a paper brought to her by the Dominee of the church allowing herself to have her house sold and for her to be moved to a “small but comfortable” room in the assisted living home. It is a listening journey we the audience are required to join and at times, I must admit I wanted it say “Get to the point!”

When that happens, and we enter Act 2, the play is riveting.

The play is directed with delicate precision and grace by Timothy Near. Eric Flamo’s set with wonderful assistance by properties master and set decorator Leah Hammond gives us a peak at what we cannot see but only can conjure in our own imagination – the Mecca that Helen has created.

With glimmering shards of glass and tiles, specific and perfect set pieces in a room illuminated by Maxx Kurzunski’s candle designs and gloriously lit by Kurt Landismann’s lambent lighting, we enter the world of imagination. Seeing what Helen has created in her living space, we can only imagine what she has created in her back acreage.

The cast of three is led by Wendy vanden Heuvel as Miss Helen, giving a performance of depth, pain, and always surprising choices as she brings us into Helen’s world. We can actually see in our minds the garden of Mecca that Helen has created – each statue oriented toward the east, toward Mecca. Ms. Vanden Heuvel gives a magnificent performance of grace and power. Kodi Jackman plays Helen’s young guest with variety and warmth – yielding the ground to Miss Helen’s fluctuating eccentricities.

Marius (Victor Talmadge) and Miss Helen (Wendy vanden Heuvel) share a memory in Athol Fugard’s “The Road to Mecca,” performing June 4-30 at San Francisco’s Z Below.
Photo Credit: Kevin Berne

Act 2 brings us Victor Talmage’s Reverend Marius Byleveld. In a role which some might see as a controlling and indeed heartless person of the cloth, Talmage brings sympathy and true caring even as he attempts to assuage Helen’s fears of signing the document.

The real Helen Martin’s work stands still today: “The Owl House” is a National Heritage Site in Nieu-Bethesda, South Africa.

If words and mind manipulations can conjure your joy, this is a play for you. Fugard is still with us, making our hearts sing in uplifted joy.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


ProductionThe Road to Mecca
Written byAthol Fugard
Directed byTimothy Near
Producing CompanyWeathervane Productions
Production DatesThru June 30th
Production AddressZ-Below
470 Florida St
San Francisco, CA
Telephone(415) 626-0453
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

ASR Theater ~~ Shotgun’s “Yerma” Gives Something to Hope For

By George Maguire

Shotgun Players continues its “Season of Love” with a beautiful adaptation of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma, adapted and translated by Melissa Lopez, and directed with graceful gusto and imagination by Katja Rivera.

Lorca, one of the 20th century’s great Spanish playwright/poets, penned in quick succession, three masterpieces: Yerma, Blood Wedding and The House of Bernarda Alba, before he was executed in 1936 by a Nationalist firing squad. Lorca’s socialist political leanings and his homosexuality were antithetical to Franco’s right-wing militants.

Set in the grape vineyards of California’s San Fernando Valley in the 1930s, we enter into the lives of a Mexican-American rural family struggling to work, feed themselves and indeed procreate, hoping to keep their legacy alive as they try to climb the ladder of the American dream.

The play opens with a vivid scene of copulation between Yerma and her husband Juan. Played with brutal depth and passion by Regina Morones, Yerma is childless after ten years of marriage to Juan. Soon she announces to him that she is five weeks pregnant, only to learn that once again her “body is dry,” as she tells her friends.

Regina Morones as Yerma, Caleb Cabrera as Juan. Photography by Ben Krantz.

Juan (played with swaggering intensity by Caleb Cabrera) has inherited a pig farm which he is desperate to turn into a fertile vineyard. The play itself is infused with scenes of what later became known as “magical realism” under such writers as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende and playwright Jose Rivera, whose realistic views of the world are altered by scenes with magical elements of dreams, hallucinations and hauntings.

This is a play about desire and what we are willing to do to manifest what we want, and indeed what we think we need for connection.

In this eight-person cast are Yerma’s four friends, who bring Yerma to a shamaka (Linda Amayo-Hassan giving a textured mystical performance of grandeur as Incarnacion) known for creating fertility in a seemingly barren woman.

Mylo Cardona as Veronica, Aisha Aurora Rivera as Dolores, Linda Amayo-Hassan as Incarnación. Photography by Ben Krantz.

Alejandra Wahl plays Maria who seems, as she says, to pass by a man and immediately become pregnant. It is a performance of strength and simultaneous fragility both aspects beautifully bifurcated in Ms. Wahl.

Regal Aisha Aurora Rivera, and ultra-chatty gossip Mylo Cardona add nuance and strength to the circle of women. In the midst of the muddle is Victor, Yerma’s childhood friend and now a sheep owner very much in love with her. The yin and yang roller coaster of emotions Yerma lives through on a day-by-day basis come to a brutal conclusion as she makes a horrifying choice at the play’s end.

April Ballesteros (Assistant Stage Manager), Mylo Cardona as Veronica, Alejandra Wahl as Maria, Regina Morones as Yerma, Linda Amayo-Hassan as Incarnación, Linda Maria Girón as Marta. Photo by Ben Krantz.

Director Rivera and her movement/intimacy choreographer Raisa Donato bring all of this to the forefront in a stunning scene of sexual awakening by Yerma as she conjures a horned bare-chested beast (played with god-pan abandon by Samuel Prince) surrounded by scarf-draped women dancing and ululating in wild abandon.

Composer/sound designer Sebastian Gutierrez heightens the stage with an original score of arias, duets and quartets bringing emotional weight and beautifully choreographed movement to the play. When the emotion is too ripe for simple words, we sing and the heart explodes.

The designers have supplemented the work with Nina Ball’s set of dirt piles, ramps and steps, and a beautiful painting in the center illuminated in a lush pallette of ever-changing colors by Sara Miel Saavadra. Valarie Coble has costumed the play with specific lived-in looks of the 1930s farm life.

It’s a beautiful and haunting play given a superb production at Berkeley’s renowned Shotgun Players. Lorca’s gifts of poetry and farce work together to create tears and laughter, hallmarks of his legacy. One can only imagine what else he could have written had he not come to such a tragic end at age 38.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


Written byFrederico Garcia Lorca.

Adapted and translated by Melinda Lopez
Directed byKatja Rivera
Producing CompanyShotgun Players
Production Dates
Video On Demand
May 20-June 25, 2023

Live streaming June 1 & 8
Production Address1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley CA 94705
Telephone(510) 841-6500
TicketsDynamic Pricing Per Show --Call the Box Office
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

ASR Theater ~~ Let The Right One In – Adolescence Can Bite

By George Maguire

Take a bullied 12 year old boy, a bizarre female (or not) new neighbor, and tense and bloody serial killings in the town and you have the ingredients for a biting new play from the National Theatre of Scotland being presented at Berkeley Repertory Theater in its American cast premier.

Based on the novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and stage adapted by Jack Thorne, this new twist on vampire lore and teen coming of age angst is a must-see.

(clockwise from left) Jon Demegillo (Micke), Michael Johnston (Jonny), and Diego Lucano (Oskar) in the West Coast premiere of the National Theatre of Scotland production of “Let the Right One In.”
Photo by Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

12-year-old Oskar (an astonishingly gifted Diego Lucano) is a bullied, sad and lonely child living revenge fantasies among the towering birch trees looming over the town. A jungle gym on the site, which will morph in Act 2 into an astonishing school swimming pool, dominates the right of the imaginative set created by Christine Jones.

Entering with gymnastic flair is Eli, a new neighbor with an older guardian and an interest in connection. They meet, they play, they tease one another and Oskar falls in love. Eli, played with remarkable physical agility and other-worldly acumen by Noah Lamanna, presents a perfect blend of female/male he/she characteristics which both intrigue and excite Oskar.

Eli asks “Would you like me if I turned out not to be a girl?” Oskar freezes and thinks this through responding, ‘Yes…..I guess so.”

Noah Lamanna (Eli) and Richard Topol (Hakan) at work in “Let The Right One In.” Photo by Kevin Berne.

Add another element of suspense and possibility as we watch Diego Lucano’s brilliant work as he listens, thinks a thought through, and reacts. This is a great young actor giving a master class in honest actor reaction.

…John Tiffany directs with minute precision for details…

As we settle into our seats, we watch the small cast trundle through the falling snow and then moments before the play itself begins they exhibit a sense of danger nearby and rush off. Simple set pieces are brought on representing a bed, a candy shop, a locker room or a living room, and then a large trunk which will dominate the play as a home for our vampire heroine.

The seven-member ensemble of supporting actors populates the town as parents, police, shop owners, and of course the three bullies who taunt Oskar constantly with “Here Piggy, Piggy!” shoving him into a locker. We know his revenge will occur.

Julius Thomas III (Halmberg) and Richard Topol (Hakan) at Berkeley Rep. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Director Tiffany and his movement associate Steven Hoggett were the inspiration behind Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Blackwatch and the Tony award winning musical Once. Their combined sensitivity can work wonders as we watch Hoggett’s balletic movement enrich each scene with atmosphere behind and accenting the very terse script.

Olafur Arnalds and Arnor Dan Arnarson have composed a richly textured symphonic score enhanced by sound designer Gareth Fry and special effects designer Jeremy Chernick’s jolting, boo-creating shocks.

Act 2 turns the Rubik’s cube gym around and we are presented with the school swimming pool, one of the most shocking stage moments I can recall as the bullies bet that Oskar cannot hold his breath for three minutes in a pool clearly deeper than the actor’s height.

(l to r) Jon Demegillo, Nicole Shalhoub, Erik Hellman, and Jack DiFalco in the West Coast premiere of the National Theatre of Scotland production of “Let the Right One In” at Berk Rep. Photo by Kevin Berne/Berkeley Rep.

Vampire lore has been a fascination for centuries. Since Bram Stoker’s Dracula, we have seen True Blood, Anne Rice’s Chronicles of a Vampire, the teen Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers, Becoming Human and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to name a few.

Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot is the hallmark of modern vampire books, combining young children with old vampire lore. As these damaged people find one another, we in the audience reflect on our own pasts, seeking revenge for wrong doings on us, anger at parental controls beyond our capability to understand, and of course trying with not much effort to hide our first hickey on the neck.

The blood and the gore of this production may not be to everyone’s taste but its relevance cannot be ignored.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


ProductionLet The Right One In
Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Directed by John Tiffany
Producing CompanyBerkeley Repertory Theatre
Production DatesMay 20-June 25, 2023
Production Address2025 Addison Street, Berkeley CA 94704
Telephone(510) 847-2949
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

ASR Theater ~~ “Chinglish” – A Comic Masterpiece With Depth

By George Maguire

While on a visit to China, Chinese-American dramatist David Henry Hwang saw a sign in a men’s room: “Deformed Man’s Toilet”. Wildly mistranslated from “Handicapped Restroom,” this misnomer was the inspiration for the multi-award winning writer (Gold Child, M Butterfly, FOB, the Disney cartoon Tarzan etc,) to dig deeper into the cultural phenomenon of mistranslation, both grammatically and culturally, between American and Chinese people. The phenomenon is examined with great hilarity in Chinglish at San Francisco Playhouse.

We have come a long way from the Hollywood casting of white actors as Asian stereotypes: Marlon Brando and Mickey Rooney in Tea House of the August Moon, John Wayne as Genghis Kahn, Katharine Hepburn in Dragon Seed, and many others.

…Stunningly directed by Jeffrey Lo, SF Playhouse’s wonderful production (of Chinglish) is a winner…

What sets Chinglish apart is that it not only lampoons the language divide, with merry misfiring mirth, but also reaches deeply into the geo-political realities of what such misfires can and indeed do create.

The political economic power of the current Chinese economy is a frightening reminder to America of where we now stand in the world and how far the Chinese have come. Hwang’s script has been updated since the play’s 2011 opening. to reflect both the Sino-American political landscape and modern conveniences like cellphones.

American businessman Daniel Cavanaugh (Michael Barrett Austin) has an encounter with vice minister Xi Yan (Nicole Tung) in San Francisco Playhouse’s “Chinglish,” performing May 4 – June 10. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli

Chinglish tells the story of David Cavanaugh (Michael Barret Austin), the owner of a family sign making firm in Cleveland. Newly arrived in China, he’s prepared to make a proposal for signage at a new cultural arts center in the town of Guiyang. He is richly seen by Chinese officials as the genius who was responsible for Enron when the topic is introduced.

Peter Timms (Matthew Bohrer) and minister Cai Guoliang (Alex Hsu) discuss Guānxi and the complications of business in San Francisco Playhouse’s “Chinglish.” Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli

The Minister of Culture (a very funny and ultimately deeply poignant Alex Hsu) is accompanied by his associate Xi Yan (a stately and multi-faceted Nicole Tung). Ms. Yan has her own agendas playing out as a relationship develops between herself and Cavanaugh.

In one hilarious post-coital scene, Cavanaugh attempts to say “I love you,” but the tonal resonance of Mandarin Chinese translates it first as “my fifth aunt” and then “my frog needs to pee!”

Vice minister Xi Yan (Nicole Tung) makes a confession to Peter Timms (Matthew Bohrer) in SF Playhouse’s “Chinglish.” — Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli

The ever-changing conversational mishaps presented by the worst possible, most inept Chinese translations are projected onto set designer Andrea Bechert’s imaginative sliding screens, and beautifully realized under Wen-Ling Liao’s luminous lights, and projection designer Spense Matubang’s glowing translations.

Stunningly directed by Jeffrey Lo, SF Playhouse’s wonderful production is a winner. One major translation not misinterpreted is “All persons get screwed!” Therein lies the premise of this wonderful and prescient Chinglish.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


Written byDavid Henry Hwang
Directed byJeffrey Lo
Producing CompanySan Francisco Playhouse
Production DatesThru June 10th
Production AddressSF Playhouse
450 Post Street
San Francisco, CA
Telephone(415) 677-9596
Tickets$30 - $100
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

Other Voices….

"...achieves the sort of momentum that sends audiences into the ether."The New York Times
"...great frisky fun, with savory chemistry between its leads and a refreshingly grown-up undercoating of well-earned melancholy."Vulture.Com
"No shortage of laughs."Hollywood Reporter

ASR Theater ~~ 42nd Street Moon Shines with “The Scottsboro Boys”

By George Maguire

The Scottsboro Boys retells the story of nine young black men who on March 25, 1931 while on a freight train in Alabama were accused by two white women of rape and were subsequently arrested. These innocent men would serve collectively over 100 years of imprisonment with numerous retrials and continued electric chair verdicts.

The ACLU (cofounded by Helen Keller) and the American Communist Party fought valiantly for their acquittal.

The Scottsboro Boys is a minstrel musical masterpiece by 42nd Street Moon Theater Company that should be applauded for presenting this challenging and visionary musical. Receiving a rousing opening- night standing ovation, the play is beautifully cast with thirteen actors/singers – twelve of them African American, and one white interlocutor (wonderfully played by gifted Michael Patrick Gaffney) who introduces us into the minstrel show theatricality demanded by the material.

…42nd Street Moon has found a niche of excellence in their presentation…

The remarkable musical, the last full collaboration of John Kander and Fred Ebb, whose work always seemed to push the boundaries of ingenious theatricality (Chicago, Cabaret, etc.) was first presented off-Broadway in 2010, six years after Fred Ebb’s death. Each actor in the Moon production brings an indelible font of the past to the proceedings.

The minstrel show presentation enlivened by Anthony Rollins-Mullens as Mr. Tambo and Albert Hodge as Mr. Bones brings us pointedly into the world of black entertainers as they were perceived by a white audience at the time.

The Ensemble

(On a personal note, I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware and my father was a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization. I remember vividly being introduced to minstrel shows presented with the knights in blackface as they entertained white family audiences. Frightening and painful to recall now in light of a five year old’s perspective.)

The constant back and forth jabs at slightly off-color humor that the wonderful actors bring with their rich singing voices and movement/dance infuse the evening with history and pain.

A deeply moving Marcus J. Paige as Heywood, one of the prisoners, gives one of the great performances of the evening, singing with sorrow, pathos and simplicity a beautiful ballad called “Nothin”. A great actor doing great work!

Director Brandon Jackson allows each sterling moment to shine. Choreographer Kimberly Valmore stages the work with amazing versatility and imagination. Musical director Diana Lee conducts the lovely backstage three-piece ensemble.

Jon-David Randle and Alejandro Eustaquio at 42nd St Moon.

42nd Street Moon has found a niche of excellence in their presentation. The pain, the guilt, and the cry to the future for change and understanding are paramount. See this musical and you will laugh and weep!


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


ProductionThe Scottsboro Boys
Written by

Music/Lyrics by
David Thompson

John Kander + Fred Ebb
Directed byBrandon Jackson
Producing Company42nd Street Moon
Production DatesThru May 21st
Production AddressThe Gateway Theatre

215 Jackson Street San Francisco, CA
Telephone(415) 255-8205
Tickets$35 – $80
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?----

ASR Theater ~~ Poor Yella Rednecks Vietgone, Part 2 at ACT

By George Maguire

Five years ago, playwright Qui Nguyen dazzled us with the pyrotechnics of his autobiographical deep-dive into his family with Vietgone at American Conservatory Theatre’s Strand Theater.

He has returned with Part 2 – Poor Yella Rednecks which takes us deeper into the family’s upheaval from Vietnam in the 1970s to 1981 El Dorado, Arkansas, as the playwright now interviews his mother. The play fixates on the trials of cultural change, language barriers and of course the challenges and truths held-back by his parents.

…The show’s production values alone though are worth a visit…

Similar to Part 1, Nguyen peppers his play with hip-hop, rap, comic book heroes, profanity, martial arts, puppetry, cowboys, and an enormous well of humor and bold ideas. Once again Jaime Castaneda directs the vivid production with imagination and verve.

The parents Tong (gloriously played with depth and passion by Jenny Nguyen Nelson) and Quang (a deeply moving Hyunmin Rhee) are assimilating into American “cheeseburger” culture. They live with Grandma Huong (obscenity-spewing and knife-wielding Christine Jamlig) and their young son Little Man (portrayed as a wooden puppet movingly brought to life and voice by gifted Will Dao). Little Man will of course grow up to become the playwright himself.

Hyunmin Rhee (left) and Jenny Nguyen Nelson in Qui Nguyen’s “Poor Yella Rednecks,” a sequel to “Vietgone,” at American Conservatory Theater. Photo: Kevin Berne, ACT.

There is a bold attempt by the playwright to utilize language as a key to the challenges faced by assimilating immigrants. All Vietnamese speak in colloquial English and the Anglos (Jomar Tagatac’s hysterical Bobby, for example) speak in broken Vietnamese as we might hear them. It’s a clever idea that is interesting but not well defined.

Too often this play is interrupted by a “rap” song defining the inner feelings of the character. When the gambit works (as with Tong) it can support the text, but for this reviewer it too often stops the momentum. When the playwright settles into simple and moving narrative, as he does in a gorgeously acted barroom seduction scene between Ms. Jamlig and Mr. Rhee, he reveals enormous talent, and one wants to say “Trust your instincts and give us your words.”

Jenny Nguyen Nelson (left) and Christine Jamlig in “Poor Yella Rednecks.” Photo: Kevin Berne.

The show’s production values alone though are worth a visit. Tanya Orellana’s massive and eclectic set, with the apartment elevated above the stage floor, is a character in itself. Interestingly, this is the second play I have seen designed by Ms. Orellana, and the second time I have seen a set elevated in vision above the main floor. Part of her set for Fefu and Her Friends (also at ACT,) had a similar kitchen set piece. Yi Zhao’s lighting design is a wonder of neon, roving spot lights, and illuminated glory. Jessie Amoroso has done lovely and character-driven costume designs. Jake Rodriguez’s sound, Shammy Dee’s original music and Yee Eun Nam’s projections add other sterling elements to the production.

Like Vietgone 1, there are so many ideas emanating from the mind and heart of the writer. As this is the second part of a trilogy, we eagerly await Mr. Nguyen’s next step.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


ProductionPoor Yella Rednecks
Written byQui Nguyen
Original MusicShammy Dee
Directed byJaime Castaneda
Producing CompanyAmerican Conservatory Theater (ACT) - The Strand Theater
Production DatesThru May 7th
Production Address1127 Market Street
San Francisco, CA
Telephone(415) 749-2228
Tickets$25 – $60
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK!----

Other voices…

"Oh boy! The second installment of Qui Nguyen's autobiographical "Vietgone" trilogy is just as exciting, creative, and rewarding as the original produced by ACT five years ago."
Broadway World
"Two things lift this poignant tale far out of the ordinary. It’s based on the playwright’s actual life story—these are his parents, his grandmother, he himself as a child—and it’s an imaginative and wonderfully comical retelling of that story. "
Local News Matters
In “Vietgone,” playwright Qui Nguyen tells the story of how his parents met after escaping the Vietnam War and landing in the same resettlement camp in Arkansas. It’s a tale of traumatic displacement written and performed with unstoppable comic verve that sneakily brings the reality of the refugee experience vividly to life."
Los Angeles Times

ASR Theater ~~ “The Triumph of Love” – A Many Splendored Thing at Shotgun Players

By George Maguire

Shotgun Players continues their “Season of Love” with a spirited and gloriously designed production of Pierre de Marivoux’s 1732 comedy-drama The Triumph of Love.

Marivoux was a worthy 18th Century successor to Moliere and Racine, twisting vulnerability and amour de coeur with deception, cross dressing, and hysterical commedia del arte improvisational aplomb. This production is adapted and translated by renowned Stephen Wadsworth.

Triumph of Love is a triumph…

The play brings us into the Age of Enlightenment, when discoveries of reason and intellect were heralded. Galileo’s treatise on the planets, Isaac Newton’s theories, the Declaration of Independence and the founding of America, and the French Revolution were some of the historical highlights of the time. Women were celebrated as independent thinkers and men often were parodied as buffoons in their quest to conquer the opposite sex.

Veronica Renner & Edward Im at work at SHotgun Players.

The Triumph of Love tells the story of Leonide (a stunning performance by Veronica Renner) who cross-dresses as a man called Phocion to enter the household of her enemy Hermocrates (regal David Boyll). Her initial aim is to meet her rival for the throne Agis (Edward Im), the usurped son of the king of Sparta now living under the protection of Hermacrates.

As both a man and a woman, Leonide seduces the servants and the aristocrats alike, making marriage proposals and wielding her wiles into a spider web of conniving. Only a playwright as astute as Marivoux could concoct the intricate confusions involved.

The Shotgun cast is exceptional. Ms. Renner establishes herself as a new voice in the Bay Area with each choice she makes. Logical and rich in depth, she and director Patrick Dooley find not just the humor but also an imperious streak of meanness in her revenge. Brava!

Jamin Jollo in “The Triumph of Love”.

The clowns are played with rich detail and fun by a commedia masked Jamin Jollo, whose body always finds a new way of movement and agility, and our spirit guide Wayne Wong – always on the periphery waiting to be summoned and knowing just a bit more than anyone else on stage.

Edward Im is a sweet and gentle Agis bringing himself and us to tears as he realizes his love for first Leonide’s boy and then Leonide’s girl. The two other women (Corine – Leonide’s companion) and Leontine (Hermacrate’s sister) are beautifully delineated and defined by renowned actor/directors Susannah Martin and Mary Ann Rodgers.

Malcolm Rodgers has designed a magnificent estate garden (beautifully lit by Spense Matubang) complete with a lily pond and hanging greenery offering the cast places to hide, peek and dash. Costumer Ashley Renee has arrayed the cast in lush, character specific attire.

Patrick Dooley’s spot-on direction is a pure celebration of this ”season of love.” Triumph of Love is a triumph for the inventive and redoubtable Shotgun Players.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


ProductionThe Triumph of Love
Written byPierre de Marivaux, adapted and translated by Stephen Wadsworth.
Directed byPatrick Dooley
Producing CompanyShotgun Players
Production Dates
Video On Demand
Mar 25-May 7th
Production Address1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley CA 94705
Telephone(510) 841-4500
TicketsDynamic Pricing Per Show
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

ASR Theater ~~ Silly Fun: A Clue to “Clue”

By George Maguire

When I returned home from the SF Playhouse and their energetic, almost frenetic production of Clue, I immediately ransacked my closet and found (ta da!) my own Parker Brothers original version of the game.

I doubt there is anyone who has not played this fun and inventive game sometime in their life. With over 350 scenarios, it’s been translated into numerous other languages.

Among the suspects, we all had favorites—for me, usually Miss Scarlet or Professor Plum. Its popularity engendered a 1985 film starring Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan and Christopher Lloyd. A Broadway musical followed in 1997, then a Broadway play in 2018, revised in 2022 with additional material by Hunter Foster and Eric Price

All six of our suspects are here: Miss Scarlet (a ravishing Courtney Walsh), Colonel Mustard (a perfectly befuddled Michael Ray Wisely), Professor Plum (a leering Michael Gene Sullivan), Mr. Green (a primly proper Greg Ayers), Mrs. White (a diabolical Rene Rogoff) and finally Mrs. Peacock (an inspired piece of casting with the versatile Stacy Ross).

Boddy Manor’s guests share their suspicions about the murders that keep happening in SF Playhouse’s “Clue,” performing March 9 – April 22. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli

Add a butler (Dorian Lockett), a French maid (Margherita Ventura), a Mr. Body, a tapping messenger girl, and a police captain (Will Springhorn Jr.) with more accents than all the others put together, plus his cohorts, and you have hilarity in the making.

All six suspects are being blackmailed for their secrets and have received invitations to a very private dinner party without knowing one another. The banquet begins, and as in Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap, the bodies pile up.

There’s one more big star: designer Heather Kenyon’s amazing set. This masterpiece of invention is in itself a suspect, and a hiding place that brings to us every room and hallway from the game. Suddenly we are in the numerous rooms and lounges where the action enfolds. Bravo Ms. Kenyon!

Director Susi Damilano has a blast putting this cast of characters into gyrating and tip-toeing terpsichorean romps of entrances and exits across the stage in beams and bars from Derek Duarte’s lights.

The occupants of Boddy Manor reveal a shocking twist! Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli

The last fifteen minutes are a roundelay of imagined possibilities as the suspects argue which was the real way the story and murders progressed.

Once you have seen the play, I urge you to see the film, available on Netflix. You’ll recognize the conceit drummed exhaustingly at us. By the end a galloping “Whew!” is sparked in the audience.

Go and have a laughingly good time at the Playhouse. After ninety minutes you’re on your way home—maybe to play the game yourself!


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


Written bySandy Rustin.
With additional material by Hunter Foster and Eric Price,

Based on a screenplay by Jonathan Lynn.
Directed bySusi Damilano
Producing CompanySan Francisco Playhouse
Production DatesMar 9-Apr 22, 2023
Production AddressSF Playhouse
450 Post Street
San Francisco, CA
Telephone(415) 677-9596
Tickets$30 - $
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

Other Voices…

"... the show is absolutely fun; light and silly and full of entertaining moments."
"At S.F. Playhouse’s ‘Clue,’ everyone’s guilty — of having a good time"
San Francisco Chronicle
"...this is a drop-dead, bonafide beauty of a black comedy. It’s guaranteed to produce thrills, chills, goosebumps and uncontrollable laughter for the entire 90 minutes of its uninterrupted mayhem."
Chicago Theatre Review
"...the show is a very fun, very silly 1950s-set whodunit..."
The New York Times

ASR Art ~~ Sargent and Spain: A Celebration at SF’s Legion of Honor

By George Maguire

San Francisco’s gorgeous Legion of Honor Museum is hosting a stunning exhibition of American painter John Singer Sargent ((1856-1925).

Sargent is recognized as the great portrait painter of his generation. His work exemplifies the lap of luxury elite of the Edwardian era. His vast portraiture work includes Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Claude Monet, actress Ellen Terry, and John D. Rockefeller.

John Singer Sargent. Photo: Wikipedia.

Sargent’s admiration for the great Spanish painters Goya, Velazquez and El Greco is evident in his ever changing early styles as he came into his own as an artist. Sargent’s oeuvre consisted of over 900 oils, some 2,000 exquisite watercolors and numerous sketches and studies and never before presented photographs, many seen here at this exhibit.

John Singer Sargent, “Majorcan Fisherman,” 1908, oil on canvas.

Although born of American parents, he spent the majority of his life in Europe. His travels took him to Venice, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, Florida, and Spain, the concentration of this exhibition. Sargent visited Spain seven times from 1879-1912. His detailed breadth of work brings to life these excursions and his fascination with Spanish culture.

“Prepare to be flabbergasted!” — The Washington Post

Organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the rare exhibition is showcased in this sole West Coast stop.

John Singer Sargent, La Carmencita, ca. 1890

To view Sargent’s brush strokes of the grand dancer Carmencita (1890) is in itself reason enough to arrange a trip. It is as if the dresses swirl into our eyes with delicate precision. One can feel her dancing for us. His vast collection of male nudes and sailors sealed his reputation as a provocateur and simultaneously, a not-so-open homosexual.

What fascinates the viewer are the eyes of his subjects and our own imagination as they look directly at us – alluring, inviting…questioning?

This exhibition at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum runs through May 14, 2023, offering a vast look at one of America’s most prodigious artists. While there, visit Gallery 7 and view the recent acquisition of the painting by Canaletto, Venice, the Grand Canal looking east with Santa Maria della Salute. This beautiful work hung in Gordon and Ann Getty’s house before the vast Getty collection was auctioned off, and was gifted to the museum by Diane “Dede” Wilsey.

Venice, the Grand Canal Looking East towards the Bacino. By Canaletto.

I was speaking recently with renowned sculptor Roger Arvid Anderson about the museums here in San Francisco. He said that we in San Francisco are fortunate to have such varieties of touring shows and exhibitions which give us access to the finest, whether it is Tut or Ansel Adams.

Or John Singer Sargent. Don’t miss it!

  • Event: John Singer Sargent at the Legion of Honor Museum
  • Address: 100 34th Street (at Clement) San Francisco, 94121.
  • Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 9:30-5:15 (Dark Monday.)
  • Tickets: Adults $15.00, Seniors (65+) $12.00, Students $6.00, Members free.
  • Website:
  • Information: (415) 750-3600
  • Extras: On-site Café open until 3:30.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


ASR Theater ~~ “Anything Goes” at 42nd Street Moon — Sporadically De-Lightful and De-Lovely

By George Maguire

No one dominated the Broadway scene in the 1930s and 1940s more than the prolific Cole Porter. With 24 musicals beginning with Paris in 1928, Porter’s wit, elegance and astonishing gift of music enriched both the mind and the heart. Cole Porter captivated the zeitgeist and bonhomie of the upper class like no other composer. Richard Rogers took musical theater in a whole other direction with the breakthrough of Oklahoma! in 1943.

What fascinates is that with the exceptions of Anything Goes and Kiss Me Kate no other Cole Porter musical has met the test of time despite often prestigious and memorable songs. Anything Goes opened in 1934 and decades later became one of the most beloved and revived musicals in the Broadway canon—1987 with Patti Lupone and 2011 with Sutton Foster. With original songs “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “All Through The Night,” “Blow Gabriel Blow,” and “Friendship,” it stormed Broadway with a then record setting run of 420 performances.

…Lisa Danz’s elegant and imaginative costumes pop out with color and taste…

The ridiculously inane and goofy plot (if you can begin to follow it) takes place on a cruise ship crossing the Atlantic from NYC to England. With toe tapping sailors, mistaken identities, crooks and gangsters and ever-changing love affairs, the latest version of the musical is held together with a luscious score filled with interpolated musical numbers (“You’re The Top,” “It’s Delovely”) from the Porter canon. You just sit back and let the memorable, constantly hummable score wrap you in the greatness of an American musical.

Now to the problems and the challenges of this production. The set (by Kuo-Hao Lo) is a monochromatic white boat deck that is desperately in need of some filigree. Like a large roll of paper towels, it is just there and unfortunately feels unfinished. This is not enhanced by the weak lighting design of Sean Keenan.

Only Lisa Danz’s elegant and imaginative costumes pop out with color and taste. Kudos to Ms.Danz’s choice to give the sailors the colors of Ukraine with yellow and blue tops.

All of this is richly enhanced by Robyn Tribuzi’s stunning tap choreography of the title song. It keeps building and building until it bursts with Broadway glory and we are finally at home with Anything Goes.

(L-R) Heather Orth, Jillian A. Smith, Paul Hovannes

The 18-member cast is led by Ashley Cowl as Reno Sweeney (The Ethel Merman role), and Ms. Cowl can do it all. The score is perfectly situated in her head-belt range and she sings it with flair and gusto. In a glorious role reversal casting choice, the role of the inept con-man Moonface Martin, is played with expert comic timing and gorgeous vocals by Heather Orth as a gun toting hilarious gal in a nun’s outfit.

Is there anything Ms. Orth cannot do? Matt Skinner is the stowaway Billy Crocker in love with the already engaged Hope Harcourt (Jas Cook). Mr. Skinner’s sweet tenor and love on his shirt sleeves ardor make for a boyish leading man. His “You’re the Top” duet with Ms. Cowl’s Reno is a particular highlight.

The rest of the cast for me was either inadequate or pushed so hard, I wanted to say “Dial it back.” This is a tough show in which to find a balance, and I kept forgetting who and why some roles were even on stage under Nick Ishimaru’s direction.

The opening night audience was loud and appreciative, but there were empty seat post-intermission. Still, there is that score and delight in the music (led by music director Dave Dubrusky’s four-piece ensemble), as the song goes – takes us back to Manhattan.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


ProductionAnything Goes
Written by --- Revised by --- Music byGuy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse --- Lindsay and Crouse --- Cole Porter
Directed byNick Ishimaru
Producing Company42nd Street Moon
Production DatesThru Mar 12, 2023
Production AddressThe Gateway Theatre

176 Jackson Street San Francisco, CA
Telephone(415) 255-8205
Tickets$35 – $80
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?----

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Kaufman’s “Poetic Justice” at The Marsh San Francisco

By George Maguire

“We are worms.” — Winston Churchill
“We are glowworms.” — Robert Lowell

Gifted writer Lynne Kaufman’s structured one-act plays bring us the beauty of language in the pairing of You Must Change Your Life and Divine Madness, at the Marsh San Francisco, starring two of the Bay Area’s top actors, Charles Shaw Robinson and Julia McNeal.

Movingly directed by Lauren English, the 65-minute evening opens first with You Must Change Your Life, where we meet German poet Rainer Maria Rilke answering queries on poetry from Franz Krappus, a 19-year-old soldier in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Krappus sends Rilke a poem and asks for feedback. The resulting ten-letter correspondence forms Rilke’s postmortem masterpiece Briefe an einen Jungen Dichter (Letters to a Young Poet), compiled and published by Krappus himself. These letters were a vital part of my own Bachelor’s Degree German education.

I wish both these plays were broadened into full-length.

Rilke (beautifully portrayed by Shaw with a slight German accent) encourages Krappus to avoid reading all criticism as it “Fails to touch a work of art.” Be true to yourself and ‘Go into yourself’, to find answers and create art. Wearing her own father’s Army jacket, Ms. McNeal plays Krappus with emotions ranging from pained insecurity to the resolve of a gifted artist.

The evening is as much about the performing range of Shaw and McNeal as it is about the poets. (A side note: the letters from Krappus to Rilke were found in Krappus’ estate and published separately in 2020.)

The second play, Divine Madness, dives into the fractured and storied relationship between renowned poet Robert Lowell and writer Elizabeth Hardwick. It is a relationship of intellectual verbal bantering and rage, as Lowell tries to ingratiate himself back into the life of his ex-wife. He left the intellectual Hardwick for Lady Caroline Blackwood, heiress of the Guinness Brewery company.

Two of the Bay Area’s top actors, Charles Shaw Robinson (R) and Julia McNeal (L). Photo Credit: David Allen

Lowell described his erudite and quite beautiful wife Caroline as “a mermaid who dines upon the bones of her winded lovers.” Kaufman’s play brings out all of this in compiling the evidence, the results of the divorce, and the children involved. Lowell himself documented this relationship in his Pulitzer Prize winning book of poetry, The Dolphin.

Lowell was a manic-depressive artist who was often hospitalized with a bi-polar disorder. The sudden bursts of anger and rage are depicted in Shaw’s range of emotional insecurity as are McNeal’s strong firm grip on Hardwick’s own post-Lowell life with their daughter Harriet. What pervades through pain, frustration and anger are love, passion, and respect.

I wish both these plays were broadened into full-length. They give us a taste, an amuse bouche, and the Rilke piece, good as it is, feels tacked on to make this a longer evening that could be worthy of “Poetic Justice.”


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


Production'You Must Change Your Life' and 'Divine Madness'
Written byLynne Kaufman
Directed byLauren English
Producing CompanyThe Marsh, San Francisco
Production DatesThrough January 29, 2023. Saturday at 8:30, Sunday at 5pm
Production Address1062 Valencia St.
Telephone(415) 282-3055
Tickets$25 – $35
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Remember This – The Lesson of Jan Karski” at Berkeley Rep

By George Maguire

As I sat watching this remarkable production at Berkeley Rep’s Peets Theatre, I was filled with my own vivid memories of living in Germany for my junior year in college, and a trip I took to Dachau.

This was in 1966, only 20 years after the end of the war, and the camp was still structured as it had been when the Allies liberated it. I was 19 and have rarely spoken of my reactions to being in the Konzentrationslagers, sitting one of the remaining bed frames where hundreds were kept in the bitter cold awaiting their impending death, and then peering into the still remaining ovens where thousands were incinerated.

Dachau is a suburban town of Munich with a single railway leading to disembarkation center for the prisoners. The idea that no one knew was impossible to grasp. If I could smell the scents of the city in the cold alpine air, how could the citizens NOT smell the death of humanity? They did and they chose to ignore it, pushing it aside in an “It has nothing to do with me!” or “We just did not know!” firm attitude.

…Emmy Award winner and Academy Award nominee David Strathairn portrays the Polish World War II hero and Holocaust witness Jan Karski…

For 35 years, Polish Catholic Jan Karski was silent. He was a courier sent by the Polish government in exile to view what was happening to the millions of Jews who were disappearing from the ghettos. The great Elie Weisel invited Karski (a professor at Georgetown University) to speak at a conference on the liberation of the camps, and Karski finally opened up, retelling in harrowing detail what he witnessed.

The recounting, put together by writer/professor Derek Goldman and his then student Clark Young began as a class project and then with the divine casting of Goldman’s friend and Oscar nominee David Strathairn, the play took root. With a gorgeous and very specific lighting design by Zach Lane and subtle music of Roc Lee, we enter the world of the play in our minds and hearts.

David Strathairn at work at Berkeley Rep. Photo: Manaf Azzam

As Strathairn morphs in performance into the numerous voices of those Karski encountered, including FDR, Britain’s Anthony Eden, Winston Churchill, and various Dutch, Polish, German, and French people with whom he spoke and, of course Karski himself, we are both astounded by 73-year-old Strathairn’s versatility, physicality and ease, but also left in tears by what he conveys.

With the current rise of nationalism, antisemitism, and racial injustice in the world today and of course in the USA, The Lesson of Jan Karski arrives at the most opportune time. It is time not just to reflect, but more importantly to speak out. For 35 long years, Jan Karski did not, and then in a torrent of pain revealed his anguish.

David Strathairn as Jan Karski. Photo: Rich Hein

The play and David Strathairn’s vivid portrayal give us a doorway to our souls of necessity allowing us not just to view what we see, but to activate with words and deeds our own battle for truth.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


ProductionRemember This: The Lessons of Jan Karski
Written by Derek Goldman
Directed by Clark Young
Producing CompanyBerkeley Repertory Theatre
Production DatesThrough Dec 18th
Production Address2025 Addison Street, Berkeley CA 94704
Telephone(510) 847-2949
Tickets$31 - $98
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ On Track: Marin Theatre Company’s “Two Trains Running”

By George Maguire

Recognized as one of the greatest voices in American theater, Pittsburgh native August Wilson set out with the task of chronicling a century of the African American experience with ten plays reflecting each decade of the 20th century.

Two Trains Running is his 1960s play, bringing to life the assassination of Martin Luther King, inner city re-development and subsequent brewing discontent.

Set in Home Style, a restaurant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Hill District, we meet owner Memphis (Lamont Thompson – an actor of endless vocal variety and passion), as he prepares for the inevitable selling of his property to the city, which will tear it down eliminating both history and the convivial meeting place for the few remaining patrons.

Sam Jackson (Risa) and Lamont Thompson (Memphis
) at work at Marin Theatre Company. Photo: Kevin

Memphis has property in Jackson, Mississippi and he is eager to take one of the daily two trains running from Pittsburgh to Jackson to set claim with the papers he owns on his entitled land.

I love this play…

This play always resonates home for me, as I am from Pittsburgh and can recall when a vast swath of the Hill District was torn down to build the huge City Arena where I would begin my own career as a professional actor. The inhabitants were simply given notice and moved. Eminent domain! No choice! Literally hundreds of families and the history of a vital and thriving section of Pittsburgh ended in the 1960s.

What makes Two Trains Running so remarkable is that as we are introduced to seven characters whose threatened lives bring the play to life, there is no bombast as their idiosyncratic personalities express pain, humor and a searching for some continuity. We meet Wolf, a dynamic and always plotting numbers-runner played to slithering perfection by Kenny Scott. There is Holloway (a remarkable Michael Asberry), the moral compass of the café, always there, always at the down front table ready for a coffee and a chess game and a tete-a-tete conversation with Memphis.

Michael J. Asberry (Holloway) in Marin Theatre Company’s production of August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running” — Photo: Kevin Berne

The stage is then energized by Eddie Ewell as Sterling. Fresh out of the state pen, he is glib and suave. Mr. Ewell fills the room with effortless radiance with a smile and guile that can melt the heart of Risa the waitress (Sam Jackson) whose life, it seems, is to refill the always emptying coffee cups and dish out the cornbread and chicken, which seem to be the only foodstuffs served at the Home Style. Risa has a secret which has protected her from any assault. Jackson hides the daily grind and the pain with a quiet resolve.

Eddie Ewell (Sterling) in MTC’s production of “Two Trains Running”. Photo: Kevin Berne.

Home Style is across the street from West’s Funeral Home. Khary L. Moye’s West, wearing his black suit and black gloves at all times, proudly announces his many Cadillacs, the dream cars of the black experience, are always in tip-top shape readying for the next death. Lastly and most movingly there is Hambone, whose two reiterated lines “I wants my ham. He gonna give me my ham!” brings us to tears in Michael Wayne Rice’s simple rendering of this sad complicated man.

Wilson’s play is filled with lengthy but distinctive monologues as Memphis and Holloway especially bring us Wilson’s prescient, proud profundities with shooting arrow precision. “No wonder Justice is wearing a blindfold” . . . “We are all a part of everything that came before.” The play is directed with infinite care and precision by Dawn Monique Williams. Even the scene changes under sound designer Gregory Robinson’s haunting work bringing the shifting passage of time are a part of Ms. Williams’ clarity.

I love this play and its bold attempt not to be bold, but just be! It is never boring. All we have to do is listen. Listen to the beating hearts of the black men and women impatiently and patiently knowing that change is coming.

Sometimes it’s the quiet ones who scream the loudest in our hearts,


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is San Francisco based actor-director and is Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ProductionTwo Trains Running
Written byAugust Wilson
Directed byDawn Monique Williams
Producing CompanyMarin Theatre Company (MTC)
Production DatesThrough Dec. 18th
Production AddressMarin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA
Telephone(415) 388-5200
Tickets$25.50 – $60.50
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Compelling, Controversial “Wuthering Heights” at Berkeley Rep

By George Maguire and Barry Willis

Writer/director Emma Rice has deconstructed one of the most beloved English novels of the 19th century and has remade it into a pop-rock extravaganza, delighting some critics and outraging others. Her Wuthering Heights runs at Berkeley Repertory Theatre through January 1, 2023.

Traditionalists expecting a stage production of the dark 1939 film starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier are likely to be disappointed. This frenetic, high-energy show is geared to a younger generation with a different aesthetic, but it can work equally well for those not necessarily tethered to the past. Innumerable classic stories have been reinvented for the sake of stage and screen entertainment. There’s certainly no reason why Wuthering Heights shouldn’t suffer the same fate, just as Hamlet can be reinterpreted as a modern business drama, or Romeo and Juliet reconfigured as a rock opera.

…The movement work in this show is inspiring. So is (the) mining of humor…

Controversy swirled at Berkeley Rep’s November 22 press opener. Some critics raved to their colleagues about Rice’s stunning production while others dismissed it as an abomination. ASR’s George Maguire and Barry Willis comment here:

BW: This is an amazing, dynamic production with multi-threat performers who can act, dance, do gymnastics, and in some cases, play instruments. Especially impressive are Jordan Laviniere, who plays the leader of the Yorkshire Moors, and Leah Brotherhead as Catherine. She’s also a great rock singer. TJ Holmes, who plays Dr. Kenneth, performs on cello and accordion when he’s not stage center. He’s a delightful comic actor, one of a cast of eleven, most of whom tackle multiple roles. Theatrical talent is everywhere in this show but the multi-casting can cause confusion among viewers because most of the characters are cousins with similar names.

GM: Yeah, Barry! It is a fairly faithful adaptation of Emily Bronte’s novel, and if you can stop conflating the story with her sister Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, you’re a winner. The story itself is weighted down with so many generations of relationships, and births and deaths, with eleven actors playing all the roles. It’s often highly confusing.

Leah Brotherhead as Catherine and Liam Tamne as Heathcliff in the West Coast premiere of Wise Children’s “Wuthering Heights” at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Photo by Kevin Berne.

BW: I’m no Bronte expert, but it looks to me like Emma Rice has adhered to the original plot, but uses story elements and characters to create something entirely new. I’m generally approving of prequels, sequels, and reinterpretations of classic stories — with the exception of Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma!, a real horror show.

Rice’s Wuthering Heights isn’t really the Bronte classic. I attended with my friend Marcia Tanner, an art curator with a degree in English Literature from UC Berkeley. She quipped: “It’s misleading to title this show Wuthering Heights . . . it should be Something Based on Wuthering Heights.” That’s a fair assessment.

GM: My biggest challenge was not hearing the play (technically, a musical), but frankly, it was not understanding what the cast was saying and singing.

BW: That was a problem for many in the audience, I believe. Thick Yorkshire accents were tough enough to understand during dialog, and impossible to decipher during the show’s many songs. I loved the music but couldn’t tell you what any of the songs are about. Marcia astutely observed, “They need superscripts.” The only words that appear on the large backdrop are a few lines from the novel.

GM: Etta Murfitt’s choreography is wonderful and eclectic, ranging from almost hoe-down, to Irish jig, to nonspecific elegance. A lovely and diverse musical score by Ian Ross keeps the play moving. The casting of eleven very accomplished members of the Wise Children’s troupe was a joy, as was watching them effortlessly morph into the manifold characters in the novel. Heathcliff (Liam Tamne, of multi-national background) is particularly inspired casting, making the orphan Heathcliff the dark, brooding, and very sexy creature he was — unlike anyone else in the Yorkshire moors.

BW: I was knocked out by the performers and the quick-moving stagecraft, especially the rolling doors-and-windows pieces that transformed into beds and other devices. The books-on-sticks-as-fluttering-birds bit is brilliant low-cost theatricality. So are the chalkboards that serve as erasable tombstones.

GM: The movement work in this show is inspiring. So is Rice’s mining of humor — she finds comedic potential in many of Bronte’s situations, something that to my knowledge has never been done. But this Wuthering Heights is no spoof — it’s an inspired reinterpretation.

BW: Was the love affair between Heathcliff and his adoptive sister Catherine considered scandalous when the novel was published? It might be seen as close to incest today even though the two were not biologically related. Save Dr. Kenneth and the narrator Mr. Lockwood, almost all the other characters in the production are cousins, nothing unusual in an isolated community.

Jordan Laviniere as the Leader of the Yorkshire Moors; Eleanor Sutton, Katy Ellis, Tama Phethean, Stephanie Elstob, and Ricardo Castro as The Moors in the West Coast premiere of Wise Children’s “Wuthering Heights” now showing at Berkeley Rep. Photo by Kevin Berne.

GM: A community that’s cold, damp, and dark! Rice and set designer Vicki Mortimer went over the top portraying that.

BW: I had no expectations about this show, and was delighted — especially by the incredibly dynamic first act.

My only prior exposure was reading the novel in ninth grade — required reading — and having watched the movie at some point not long after that on late-night TV. The subject matter wasn’t something that resonated for me and wasn’t anything I cared to revisit.

I have difficulty relating to the social structure and morality of the time, which makes playwrights like Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekov, and their contemporaries something of a slog for me. I never liked G. B. Shaw until I saw Major Barbara, but I hope to live a thousand years without enduring another Mrs. Warren’s Profession.

But I understand the appeal of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, especially for women. In their time, the only path to a better life was through choosing the right marriage partner. Mothers often bled to death after childbirth. Infant and childhood mortality were rampant, from conditions easily treated today. This whole pathetic milieu is background for Wuthering Heights, but Emma Rice makes it entertaining and enjoyable..

GM: In all, this Wuthering Heights is a truly nifty addition to the repertoire of Wise Children, a new theatre company founded by Ms. Rice, whose group brought The Wild Bride to life at Berkeley Rep a few years ago. Imaginative, enthralling and chillingly-thrillingly theater.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco-based actor-director and is Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ASR NorCal Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ProductionWuthering Heights
Written by Emily Bronte
Adapted by Emma Rice
Directed by Emma Rice
Choreographed by Etta Murfitt
Saheem Ali (Conceiver/Director)
Producing CompanyWise Children / Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Production DatesThrough January 1, 2023
Production Address2025 Addison Street, Berkeley CA 94704
Telephone(510) 847-2949
Tickets$24 - $119
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

ASR Theater ~~ “Red Shades” A Rockin’ World Premier

By George Maguire


It takes years to get a new musical up and ready to be seen.

The rockabilly sound-and-light fest Red Shades is no exception. A cast of mostly trans, binary, and renowned queer artists of the Bay Area take us on a phantasmagorical journey in wild comic book style with a heart as big as Golden Gate Park. Started at the El Rio with follow-up work at PianoFight, Starlight and other workshop homes, Red Shades finally opened as a completed musical at the Z Space Steindler Theater.

…For a seemingly simple story of a boy/girl arriving in SF, this one has more twists and turns than Lombard Street…

Three years before the Stonewall riots in NYC, the Gene Compton Cafeteria trans, drag queens and queers riots in San Francisco’s Tenderloin began it all only to be lost in gay “herstory.” It has been re-discovered by playwright Adrienne Price, forging a union with composers Matt Fukui Grandy and Jeanine Adkisson creating this world premier.

Pictured (L to R): Chris Steele, May Ramos, Romelo Urbi. Photo by Jay Yamada

Red Shades tells the story of Ida Diamond, who as a boy in rural Nevada, dons a dress and is accosted by his father. The music and lyrics (which in a genuine and glorious surprise for a rock musical, are at least 80% crystal clear), take us on Ida’s journey. Dad sends him/her off to a hospital. The songs “Daddy Eggshells” and the wonderful “For Your Protection” are sung with panache and total drag-nurse commitment by the estimable Chris Steele.

Adam KuveNiemann gets to flex a host of scumbag sensibilities (and a terrific voice) as the abusive father, the sadistic doctor, and the sheriff. Ida finally escapes and arrives in San Francisco, finding a room with three of the wildest trans superheroes one can imagine (“Welcome to Flip House”). Chris Steele (Genevieve), Ezra Reeves (Tommy) and B Noel Thomas (Sherry) embody these three with amazing style and powerful vocals.

Pictured (L to R): Ezra Reaves, Chris Steele, Carmen Castillo, B Noel Thomas.
Photo by Jay Yamada

It takes Act Two to finally give us what the title is about—a hopefully fixable part in the development of this musical. When the hostility and threats of beatings arise, you put on the red shades and presto – you become a superpower and kickass with superhero strength. The shades bring rage into focus, and we can survive another day. Ida gets the glasses, and gets her life together despite the desperate attempts of her father and the Sheriff to arrest her. The shades win on all accounts. For a seemingly simple story of a boy/girl arriving in SF, this one has more twists and turns than Lombard Street.


Pictured, Foreground (L to R): Julio Chavez, Ezra Reaves. Photo by Jay Yamada

Sarah Phykitt has designed the terrific set and video projection work, Lyre Alston does spot on costume designing, and special mention must go to sound mixers Michael Creason and Daniel Hall who (except when the singer feels she has to screech and scream) give us the lyrics and thus the story. Bravo to co-directors Rotimi Agbabiaka and Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe for guiding Red Shades to the stage and to stage manager Marie Shell for wrangling this complicated, multi-cued production. She alone deserves a pair of red shades.



ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco base actor-director and is Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ProductionThe Red Shades
Directed byRotimi Agbabiaka and Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe
Additional DirectionMusic Directors: Matt Fukui Grandy, Sid Quinsaat.

Choreographer: Stacey Printz.

Intimacy/Fight Choreographer: Carla Pantoja.
Production DatesThru Nov 5th
Production AddressZ Space Steindler Theater SF, CA
Telephone(415) 626-0453
Tickets$0-$50 (Sliding scale)
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Waves of Racial Justice at Berkeley Rep

By George Maguire

There are theater pieces which resonate in such a profound place deep within the psyche that you are dwelling in your life’s past, contemplating the present, and hoping for the future.

Christina Anderson’s “The Ripple, The Wave That Carried Me Home” is just that for this writer. In it, segregated swimming pools become a touchstone for black families not allowed to swim in “whites only” pools. This memory play of a black woman spans the years 1956 in Kansas, to 1992 Ohio, and again Kansas, as Christina Clark’s Janice wrestles with a decision to return to Kansas to speak at a community center ceremony honoring her activist father.

…See this play and then look inside yourselves.

I’m an east coast boy, born and raised in the 1950s in Wilmington, Delaware and later Pittsburgh, PA. As a child and as a teenager, I knew no black families, and indeed at the Catholic grade school and high school I attended, there were no black students at all. Only when we moved to Pittsburgh for my final 12th grade, did I meet any black students, and even those were mostly bused to school from another area of town. Four years later, post university (where again I recall only one black student), I returned to my high school to teach. Much had changed. Black and Latino families were moving into the community, and their children became active participants in the school curriculum. Penn Hills, PA became a melting pot.

Memories of missed connections in retrospect created a post-show train of thought as I went home after the Berkeley Rep production, directed with precision and grand compassion by Jackson Gay.

This remarkable play opens with Janice (our narrator Christiana Clark) drinking a glass of water. She does so every day, reminding herself of the water of the pools which transformed her life. Her mother (a richly multi-faceted performance by Aneisa J. Hicks) taught swimming to black children at the black swimming pool in Brookside Center. Janice’s father (a swaggering and charm-filled Ronald L. Conner) eventually goes on trial for activism in promoting change.

(l to r) Aneisa J. Hicks (Helen), Brianna Buckley (Gayle), and Christiana Clark (Janice) in the world premiere production of Christina Anderson’s the ripple, the wave that carried me home. Directed by Jackson Gay. In association with Goodman Theatre.
Photo by Kevin Berne.

The “young chipper ambitious black woman,” played to absolute perfection by Brianna Buckley, wants Janice to speak at the dedication to her father of the new swim center’s pool. Circling all of this is the simultaneous Rodney King uprising and the death by drowning of three boys.

So many colossal matters of change in the lives of all Americans surround this period with pain, guilt—and eventual breath—making Tony nominee Christina Anderson’s play harrowing and heart wrenching. Change can happen, change MUST happen, and indeed, change has happened. The question is always: Is it enough, or is it never enough? No, it is not!

See this play and then look inside yourselves. The answers are always there waiting to be revealed.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco base actor-director and is Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ProductionThe Ripple, The Wave That Carried Me Home
Written by / Music & Lyrics by /
Choreography by
Christina Anderson
Directed byJackson Gay
Producing CompanyBerkeley Repertory Theatre
Production DatesThrough Oct 16th, 2022
Production Address2025 Addison Street, Berkeley CA 94704
Telephone(510) 647-2900
Tickets$24 - $70
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Moulin Rouge” Sizzles at the Orpheum

By George Maguire

As you enter the Orpheum Theatre, gorgeously transformed by designer Derek Lane into the Moulin Rouge, the hottest of hot spots in all of Paris, you are taken into a past of song, dance (the infamous Can-Can of course) and musical revues which had no equal.

The Moulin Rouge (“red windmill”) created itself—there was nothing like it, with its huge iconic windmill of lights, the elephant which contained rooms for the performers, and above all, the stage itself, capable of whatever the director/presenter had in mind. It was the Las Vegas of its time.

The cast of the North American Tour of Moulin Rouge! Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.

“Moulin Rouge” has a story as such, based on the exquisite Baz Lurhmann juke-box musical film with its echoes of Puccini’s “La Boheme” and the bohemian life that the characters embodied. Satine (Courtney Reed), is the star of the show, the silver goddess of song. Impresario Harold Zidler (a marvelous moustache-twirling Austin Durant) introduces each act and preps us for Satine, who enters flown in on a swing. Into the fray comes a sweet and innocent songwriter (golden voiced Conor Ryan) who falls for Satine. He has one desire: to compose a love song celebrating their mutual attraction and affair.

As in all tragedies, complications ensue. The Moulin Rouge is in deep debt, and to make ends meet, Zidler coerces Satine into an affair with the very wealthy Duke of Monroth (David Harris) who promises financing as long as he “owns” not just the club but also Satine. Add to this her impending death from consumption, and we can see that the end will not be a happy one. Andre Ward does a marvelous creation of Toulouse-Lautrec.

… This is just the beginning of theater at its absolute grandest.

Then there’s the music, with non-stop modern sources including U2, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Patsy Cline, Whitney Houston’s “And I Will Always Love You” (written by Dolly Parton), the Police, Adele and scores of others. One can only imagine the performance rights being paid to composers for even snippets of their work.

Courtney Reed and Conor Ryan. Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.

Special mention must be made to sound designer Peter Hylenski who manages to make everything crystal clear in the barn of the Orpheum Theater, a challenge for any sound designer. Multiple Tony Award-winner Catherine Zuber has designed an array of glitzy spangled and feathered costumes which outdo themselves at every moment. Justin Townsend’s Tony-winning lighting enhances every scene with new color and jaw-dropping splendor.

With moving direction by Alex Timbers, lush choreography by Sonya Tayeh (both Tony winners for their work), this ten-time Tony Award-winning musical is simply a “Must See” for a Bay Area audience.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor-director and is Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.


ProductionMoulin Rouge: The Musical
Written byJohn Logan
Directed byAlex Timbers
Producing CompanyBroadwaySF
Production DatesThru Nov 6, 2022
Production Address1192 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Telephone(888) 746-1799
TicketsUp to $307 (rush tickets/discounts available)
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

Pick! ASR Theater ~~“Man of God:” Revenge is Sweet at Shotgun Players

By George Maguire

Have you ever had all-consuming revenge fantasies for acts of bullying, abuse, or sexual come-ons—whether real or perceived? Actions that hurt or damaged you emotionally, not just then, but into the future? Let’s face it: we all have!

Thoughts of “if only I had done this to the perpetrator” live on with us.

Such feelings of revenge surround four teen-aged Korean-American girls on a Christian New Seoul Church mission trip with their pastor to Thailand, a land of iniquity. As the girls acclimate themselves to their hotel room, one of them discovers a hidden camera tucked away in their bathroom.

…we laugh throughout as their Kpop-infused dialogue…

Who put it there? When the girls discover, to their horror, that it is the property of the church. They assume it was placed there by their pastor to watch them as they perform intimate functions in the expected privacy of their own bathroom.

Sharon Shao as Kyung-Hwa, Alexandra Lee as Samantha. Photos by Ben Krantz

“Man of God” presents the girls’ conundrum in flights of fancy, a dizzying array of wildly imaginative revenge scenarios from mafia-driven execution to machete kung-fu action to comedy blood-lust to ice bath disembowelment of vital organs. As they free-flight fantasize about their vengeance, we laugh throughout as their Kpop-infused dialogue brilliantly captures the patois of teenage girls while their imaginations fuel decisions they never make.

Boys are excused because it’s in their nature to “act out.” Girls, however are not doormats! “If we continue allowing ourselves this kind of abuse, it is actually on us!”

The girls understand the reality they live in, and they turn on a dime from spouting quick bursts of vital truisms of women in a patriarchal society to discussions of make-up and moisturizers.

Five very gifted Asian American actors embody the girls and the pastor. Each girl is distinctly depicted by playwright Anna Ouyang Moench and expertly guided by director Michelle Talgarow’s spot-on staging on Randy Wong-Westbrooke’s marvel of a set.

Sharon Shao as Kyung-Hwa, Lauren Andrei Garcia as Mimi, Alexandra Lee as Samantha, Joyce Domanico-Huh as Jen. Photos by Ben Krantz.

Joyce Domanico-Huh, Lauren Andrei Garcia, Alexandra Lee, and Sharon Shao are pure delights, bringing the language of their world alive. Did Pastor, played by Chuck Lacson, place the camera in the bathroom? That is not resolved until the final moments of this 90-minute one-act. To find out, you must see the play, as this reviewer certainly isn’t going to give it away.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor-director and Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre.




ProductionMan of God
Written byAnna Ouyang Moench
Directed byMichelle Talgarow
Producing CompanyShotgun Players
Production Dates
Video On Demand
> thru October 2, 2022
> October 5-16
Production Address1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley CA 94705
Telephone(510) 841-4500
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

Pick! ASR Theater ~~ “Goddess” at Berkeley Rep Looks Broadway Bound!

By George Maguire

Berkeley Rep’s “Goddess” opens with electrifying, high-energy afro-centric dance and music that encompass skat, jazz, and R & B, and introduces us to Moto Moto, a bar in Mombasa, Kenya. A loquacious and slitheringly sexy emcee Ahmed (Rodrick Covington) and company welcome us, the visitors, to an evening of high entertainment. “Moto Moto” means hot and fiery. Indeed it is.

Through a trio of always-present all-knowing spirits, we meet the bar’s owner Madongo (Lawrence Stallings), the snap-crackle-and-pop bar gal, Rashida (Abena), and the boy just back from Columbia University with a Poli-sci degree, Omari (the multi-talented quadruple-threat Philip Johnson Richardson). Suddenly the mood shifts from exuberant joy to a sense of fear and awe as we meet Nadira (the golden voiced Amber Iman). Nadira is the Goddess reaching into mortal elements trying to find that most human of virtues: love. Omari is smitten as she sings “That Love.” They meet and a bond of the heart begins.

…With some tweaking, this wonderful new musical should find its place on the Broadway roster of hits….

A weave of myth and legend, Nadira’s world is the African tale of Marimba, the Goddess of Music and Mother of Song. Nadira’s desire to understand the love possessed by mortals is hampered by a curse placed on her by her vengeful Mother, the Goddess of Evil—a curse that will be fulfilled should Nadira relinquish her power and attempt to come alive as human. The budding mutual passion she and Omari feel—and his own love of music (Mr. Richardson also plays a mean sax)—can only bring heartbreak.

(center) Isio-Maya Nuwere (Moto Moto Ensemble – Safiyah) (l to r) Teshomech (Grio Trio – Tisa), Wade Watson (Moto Moto Ensemble – Musa), Awa Sal Secka (Grio Trio – Zawadi), Quiantae Thomas (Moto Moto Ensemble – Amina), Zachary Downer (Moto Moto Ensemble – Sameer), Aaron Nicholas Patterson (Moto Moto Ensemble – Yusef), and (stairs) Rodrick Covington (Ahmed) in the world premiere musical production of Goddess. Directed by Saheem Ali, book by Jocelyn Bioh, music and lyrics by Michael Thurber. Photo by Kevin Berne and Alessandra Mello/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Complications ensue as Omari’s parents and fiancée have other plans for him. He is tied to the roots of family and must marry and become the Mayor of Mombasa. The talented Kecia Lewis and Kingsley Leggs as the parents, and officious Destinee Rha as the fiancée, offer Omari no alternative but to get out of his situation and back to Moto Moto and Nadira.

In the sixteen-year development of this musical, this area still needs work. We need to see and understand how Omari is torn between wanting to honor the commitment he made to them before he left for NYC and his nascent love for Nadira.

(front) Phillip Johnson Richardson (Omari) (back, l to r) Wade Watson (Moto Moto Enemble – Musa), Melessie Clark (Grio Trio – Mosi), Quiantae Thomas (Moto Moto Ensemble – Amina), and Awa Sal Secka (Grio Trio – Zawadi) in the world premiere musical production of Goddess. Directed by Saheem Ali, book by Jocelyn Bioh, music and lyrics by Michael Thurber. Photo by Kevin Berne and Alessandra Mello/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

A magnificent production surrounds the world of Moto Moto with a detailed Afro-Arabic set by Arnulfo Maldonado, luminous lighting by Tony Winner Bradley King, magnificent costuming by Dede Ayite and special mention to the sound design of Nevin Steinberg. Literally every word spoken or sung is clearly understood. Music director Marco Paguia honors Michael Thurber’s original score with joy and specificity.

With some tweaking, this wonderful new musical should find its place on the Broadway roster of hits.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco-based actor and director and Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre.










Written by / Music & Lyrics by /
Choreography by
Jocelyn Bioh /
Michael Thurber /
Darrell Grand Moultrie
Directed bySaheem Ali (Conceiver/Director)
Producing CompanyBerkeley Repertory Theatre
Production DatesThrough September 25, 2022
Production Address2025 Addison Street, Berkeley CA 94704
Telephone(510) 647-2900
Tickets$38 - $104
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!