PICK ASR! ~~ Risk-Taking Exercises with “Extreme Acts”

By Susan Dunn

In San Francisco’s black-box Marsh Stage, two chairs and a table provide all the set needed for a fierce story about two performers who live mainly in their bodies and explore the heights and depths of audience risk-taking together. I was immediately struck by the almost wildcat energy and defiance of Sophia (Arwen Anderson), who plays Sophia, a woman supporting herself solely through performance art with audience engagement.

We begin peacefully enough. She has just come off one of her museum gigs, where the audience pays to sit across from her and gaze directly into her eyes for an hour. She describes how the experience transports and inspires both her and the other sitter. From there, her performance routines escalate rapidly into aggressive activity and physical danger.

” … Try Extreme Acts and be entertained by its acting and invention …”

The Table Challenge alters Sophia’s life. In this performance, a table is set with various items of pleasure, like a rose or perfume, and items of pain, like a thorn or pin or a gun. The audience is invited to interact with Sophia using any of the items on the table. She experiences sensations of both kinds depending on the audience member. She is physically pricked by one of them. Another takes and loads the gun. Her lover-to-be, Jasper (Johnny Moreno), rushes in from the audience, removes the gun, and saves Sophia from harm. Their subsequent love affair is extravagant, both physically and mentally, framing two people who obsess on the present through a filter of their individual childhood experiences.

From L to R: Arwen Anderson and Johnny Moreno star in the world premiere of “Extreme Acts,” written by Lynne Kaufman at The Marsh San Francisco May 11 – June 2, 2024.
Photo credit: David Allen

Extreme Acts is about taking risks, testing your ability to manage possible jeopardy, and succeeding in defying danger, isolation and pain of all kinds. It’s not for the faint of heart. Sophia is shaped by a mother who puts her in harm’s way and abandons her, while Jasper is driven by his desire to fly, to escape the security of the ground and to dare to defy gravity. As these two partner into a joint challenge of performance acts, it is clear that Sophia is physically more capable of withstanding some of her daredevil schemes. This culminates in an act of sitting across from each other, looking into each other’s eyes for 8 hours at a stretch, for 8 days. On the last day Jasper gets up from the chair, with his body is in physical rebellion, and abandons the performance, leaving her to her paying public.

Will these two lovers survive their acts and each other’s worlds? Hers, the physical mutilations and his, the flying escapes? Will their thoughts on family and normalcy ever mesh? This play succeeds on the great strength of the acting. It continually engages us in a fantastic narrative, in a barebones surrounding, with minimal costumes and props. As the battle of the sexes is so often fought in the minds of the players, the shift to the physical battleground is a refreshing slant. A final note has Sophia challenge the audience directly. It’s up for grabs whether this strategy works in the play but take the risk and see.

Try Extreme Acts and be entertained by its acting and invention. The authenticity of the actors demands kudos.


Senior Reviewer Susan Dunn arrived in California from New York in 1991. Since then she’s been on the executive boards of Hillbarn Theatre, Altarena Playhouse, Berkeley Playhouse, Virago Theatre and Island City Opera, where she is a development director and stage manager. An enthusiastic advocate for new productions and local playwrights, she is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, and a recipient of a 2015 Alameda County Arts Leadership Award. Contact: susanmdunn@yahoo.com

ProductionExtreme Acts
Written byLynne Kaufman
Directed byMolly Noble
Producing CompanyThe Marsh, San Francisco
Production DatesThru June 2nd
Production Address1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA, 94110
Telephone (415) 282-3055