ASR’s Not So Random Question Time: Write This Down — You Will Pay Big Money One Day to See a Play Directed by M. Graham Smith

Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.

Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)

Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black. These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.

Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.

***

M. Graham Smith is a San Francisco-based Director, Educator, and Producer. He is an O’Neill/NNPN National Directing Fellow, an Oregon Shakespeare Festival FAIR Fellow, and a proud Resident Artist at SF’s Crowded Fire.

He grew up outside of New York City and has been based in San Francisco for the last fourteen years. He’s directed in New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Portland Oregon, Washington DC, and venues in San Francisco.

Graham directed the West Coast Premiere of JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA in SF and TRUFFALDINO SAYS NO at Shotgun Players, winning Best Director for the Bay Area Critics Circle.  

Recent credits include the World Premiere of Obie winner Christopher Chen’s HOME INVASION in SF, DEAL WITH THE DRAGON at ACT’s Costume Shop & Edinburgh Fringe & NCTC, Mia Chung’s YOU FOR ME FOR YOU at Crowded Fire, and James Ijames’ WHITE at Shotgun.

His two upcoming projects include the world premiere of BONE ON BONE at NJ Rep, and the first workshop production of HOMOSEXUAL CONDUCT at Occidental College in LA, a play he co-created with playwright Sarah Kozinn about the Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision.

He spent five years as Producer of Aurora Theater’s new play development program and festival The Global Age Project. He teaches at A.C.T.’s actor-training programs, Berkeley Rep School of Theatre and at Barcelona’s premiere Meisner Technique program in Spain.

You can visit him online at www.MGrahamSmith.com

M Graham Smith

ASR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a guest do at the theater?

GS: In general I believe that theater is a space where weirdness and every variety of behavior should be allowed without judgment. I hate the weirdness of audience members shushing other audience members for laughing and responding to the play.

That feels like a very weird behavior to me. After all, we came to the space to meet the play with our whole selves.

ASR: Which person has had the largest impact on your professional development in the theater?

GS: There have been a lot of folks who’ve helped me developed my professional career, almost all of them my peers, like the extraordinary Mina Morita at Crowded Fire, who is a trusted advisor. Like Marissa Wolf, now the AD at Portland Center Stage. The Actor/Creator Kevin Rolston whom I’ve spent several years developing work with.

It’s funny that I have been unsuccessful for most of my career in finding a mentor.

Tommy Kail, the director of Hamilton, whom I went to college with, jokes with me about this phenomenon: “Are you my mentor, are you my mentor?” – Perhaps because I’m inherently not a joiner, I’ve never enjoyed that kind of relationship. 

To indicate that I was too “cool”… I wore sunglasses. It was a revelation...

ASR: What is the funniest screw-up you’ve seen on stage in a live performance of a play?

GS:  I happened to be on stage at the time, and an actor was supposed to enter the scene through the door of the set, but the door was stuck, so the actor had to open a window and enter the scene that way, which was bizarre and hilarious.

It was an early lesson for me about playing the moment!

ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what are three things you would tell them are essential to know?

GS: Let me think…

      1. The best ideas don’t have to be yours; encourage a space where everyone feels excited to contribute.
      2. Art is about experimentation, so do things you don’t know what the outcome will be.
      3. Don’t attempt something that doesn’t scare you a little bit. Otherwise, you’re not stretching yourself.

ASR: What would be the worst “Buy One,  Get One Free” sale of all time?

 GS: A suicide kit.

ASR:  You discover a beautiful island on which you may build your own society. You make The Rules. What are the first three rules you put into place?

GS: Hmmm…. ok here goes…

      1. No shoes!
      2. Good food ONLY!
      3. Happy hour is at 5 pm every day of the year!

ASR: How do you relax before a performance?

GS: A great meal with good friends.

ASR: You have been given the opportunity to create the 30-minute TV show of your own design. What is it called and what’s the premise?

GS: I really like shows about food.

And dogs.

So maybe something about food and dogs.

But not dogfood.

ASR: If you were arrested with no explanation, what would your friends and family assume you had done?

GS: Somewhere between civil disobedience and jaywalking. I’m a snooze.

ASR: What theater-related friendship means the most to you? Why?

GS:  It’s hard to narrow it down to one person. I think we are blessed in the Bay Area with a strong community that really looks out for each other.

I can always call Dawn Monique Williams to have a long serious talk about a play we’ve just seen. Or Chris Herold about educational pedagogy. Or Lisa Marie Rollins who has always been there for me in ways big and small. Ely Sonny Orquiza has been such an incredible co-pilot with me on some of my favorite projects.

We have a strong community here that I’m so grateful to call home.

ASR: What three songs are included on the soundtrack to your life? And why each?

GS:  The People Have The Power sung by Patti Smith. Because we do. Sam Cooke, the entire album of Night Beat because it’s just the best music ever made. The Book of Love by the Magnetic Fields – we played it at our wedding. 

ASR: Which one fashion accessory do you like better than others?

GS:  I love a really good pair of shoes.

ASR: Which play would you like to see put into the deep freeze for 20 years?

GS:  To Kill a Mockingbird. Maybe more than 20 years.

ASR: As hard as it may be to pick just one, name an actor on a Bay Area stage who you think is doing amazing work?

GS: Jomar Tagatac. Every one of his performances is a revelation. He’s a shapeshifter with a dedication to being present and making the moment live.

ASR: Shakespeare’s most underrated play? Why?

GS:  I love Winter’s Tale. The first half is like Othello, the second half is like As You Like It. It’s a story of cruelty and healing, and the problems you need to solve in directing it are very exciting to think about.

ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing one of the following technical theater roles: Light, Props or Costumes which would it be and why?

GS:  Light. I love telling stories with light. The transformation that you can create with that department is so rich. I spent a long time when I was younger doing light design and light board op. I love the technical attention to detail.

ASR: What would be the coolest animal to scale up to the size of a horse?

GS:  A snail!

ASR: Shark diving, bungee jumping, or skydiving?

GS:  Bungee all the way!

ASR: What was the first play you performed in or directed for a paying audience?

GS: At Church, we did this church musical called It’s Cool in the Furnace about King Nebuchadnezzar attempting to murder political enemies in a furnace. You know, really great children’s musical theater material.

I played Daniel, who performs some sort of miracle. To indicate that I was too “cool” for the furnace, I wore sunglasses.

It was a revelation.

ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?

GS: Two lines. Same movie…

Actor 1: “Inconceivable!”

Actor 2: “You keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The Princess Bride

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Kris Neely

Kris Neely launched Aisle Seat Review in 2015. He is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of ASR. Mr. Neely is an SFBATCC Best Director Award Winner (2013). He is also the founder and publisher of Cresting Wave Publishing, LLC at www.gocwpub.com

 

 

ASR’s Not So Random Question Time: Master Actor, Teacher, and Musician Mister Marvin Greene

Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.

Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)

Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black. These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.

Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.

***

Marvin Greene

Marvin Greene is an amazing human being: actor, musician, teacher, voice over artist, New York cab driver  —   even a coal miner.

Legend has it he arrived in San Francisco in the cast of a road show of Biloxi Blues starring Woody Harrelson, and that he (Mr. Greene) loved the Bay Area so much … he put down roots and stayed here.

Marvin has been teaching acting, directing, and improvising around the Bay Area.  Just the briefest glance at his resume shows some illustrious names, including: A.C.T, San Jose Repertory Theater, Marin Shakespeare Company, Marina Theatre Company, Aurora Theater, and a host of others. He has taught acting at A.C.T., Berkeley Rep, the Academy of Art University and Voice One in San Francisco, among others. He has performed in regional theater, voice-over, television and film, and appeared in the feature film Fruitvale.

Marvin came to the theatre by way of his and other people’s music, starting his career playing guitar and cello in the pit orchestra for musicals. This is also a man who proffers damn good advice for people going into an audition, “Remember the word “show” in show business. Be charming!”

In addition to his “night job” as an actor/musician, Marvin has worked with the firm “Stand & Deliver Group” since 2012,  at organizations like Black Rock, Deloitte, and Cisco, focusing on helping individuals and teams find relevance in their messages; communicate honestly and without pretense; elevate their confidence; learn to read others; and communicate with brevity.

A graduate of Brown University in English literature, Marvin received his M.F.A. in Theater from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

As busy as ever, Aisle Seat Review’s publisher Kris Neely managed to lasso Mr. Green long enough to get some answers to some of our favorite Not So Random Questions!

ASR: What was the first play you performed in or directed for a paying audience?

MG: First real play I performed in was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I played Lysander.

ASR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a guest do at the theater?

MG: Have a heart attack and die instantly. The weird part is that right before we went on I said to the leading lady, “you look so hot you’re going to give some old man a heart attack.”

She did. But I suppose it was almost okay in the end. His wife told us that he loved the Theater and if he had chosen a way to go that would be it.

ASR:  Which person has had the largest impact on your professional development in the theater?

MG: James Barnhill. My first acting teacher at Brown University. He was one of the few professors I ever met who seemed to enjoy his job. He made me fall in love with acting.

ASR: What is the funniest screw-up you’ve seen on stage in a live performance of a play?

MG: That was at the Longwharf Theater in 1984. I and another Equity Membership Candidate (EMC) had something like four or five lines each.

Before one show he said: “Watch me out there.” He went out and started ad-libbing the play.

His desire to be a star was so huge that he wrote himself a part and recited it for the audience. One of the actors improved him off the stage. Needless to say he never worked in that town again.

ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what are three things you would tell them are essential to know?

Know who you are.

Know who you are.

Know who you are.

ASR: What would be the worst “buy one get one free” sale of all time?

MG: Ex-Lax.

ASR: You discover a beautiful island on which you may build your own society. You make The Rules. What are the first three rules you put into place?

MG: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The rest… is commentary.

ASR: How do you relax before a performance?

MG: I play the guitar. Music is great because it’s a language beyond words. Doesn’t mess with the text.

…Shoes. I’m really fascinated by how they change you…

ASR: You have been given the opportunity to create the 30-minute TV show of your own design. What is it called and what’s the premise?

MG: Okay I’m really winging it here. It’s called PICK ME.

A guy is on-line dating and meets a girl who he’s so attracted that he can’t give up on her. After the first date she rejects him. So he keeps re-inventing himself through costume and behavior. She keeps rejecting him and picking the new version of him.

Eventually the end up together.

ASR: What theater-related friendship means the most to you? Why?

MG: I have many. They generally form when the problems in the play are the problems in our lives and we’re all working out our lives together as we work out the play together.

That creates a bond that is like family.

ASR: What three songs are Included on the soundtrack to your life? And why each?

MG: Dark Was the Night by Blind Willie Johnson. Ry Cooder called it the “single most transcendent piece of American music.” It’s haunting, beautiful and deep beyond words.

Stardust by Louis Armstrong Louis has freedom and restraint in his playing at the same time. Total imagination and playfulness. Soul beyond description.

Something is New by Santana. It reminds me of being 16 with the world ahead of me. His playing is lyrical and the band is great.

ASR: Which one fashion accessory do you like better than others?

MG: Shoes. I’m really fascinated by how they change you

ASR: Which play would you like to see put into deep freeze for 20 years?

MG: Well, anything topical, really. Cultures, like people, need breathing and healing time before their reflections become art.

ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing one of the following technical theater roles: Light, Props or Costumes which would it be and why?

MG: Costumes hands down. The pressure work is before the performance. Once the show is up you’re mostly planning for a new show, doing minor repairs on costumes and you’re way backstage where you can do or say what you want. Besides very few people can really do what you do so nobody gets in the way too much.

ASR: What would be the coolest animal to scale up to the size of a horse?

MG: A squirrel. Can you imagine how far they could leap?

ASR: Shark diving, bungee jumping, or skydiving?

MG: Shark diving.

ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?

MG: It’s from The Godfather. They’ve just murdered this guy in a car.

One of the assassins says: “Leave the gun. Take the Cannoli.” (There was a pastry on the seat of the car.)

Legend has it that the actor made up the line on set.

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Kris Neely

Kris Neely launched Aisle Seat Review in 2015. He is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of ASR. Mr. Neely is an SFBATCC Best Director Award Winner (2013). He is also the founder and publisher of Cresting Wave Publishing, LLC at www.gocwpub.com

 

 

 

ASR’s Not-So-Random Questions for Theater People: The Very Real, The Very Talented, The Very Amazing, The Very Cool Jeffrey Lo

Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.

Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)

Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black. These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.

Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.

***

Jeffrey Lo is a Filipino-American playwright and director based in the Bay Area. He is the recipient of the 2014 Leigh Weimers Emerging Arist award, the 2012 Emerging Artist Laureate by Arts Council Silicon Valley and Theatre Bay Area Director’s TITAN Award.

Selected directing credits include The Language Archive and The Santaland Diaries at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Vietgone at Capital Stage, A Doll’s House, Part 2 and Eurydice at Palo Alto Players (TBA Awards finalist for Best Direction), Peter and the Starcatcher and Noises Off at Hillbarn Theatre, The Grapes of Wrath, The Crucible and Yellow Face at Los Altos Stage Company and Uncle Vanya at the Pear Theatre (BATCC award for Best Production).

As a playwright, his plays have been produced and workshopped at The BindleStiff Studio, City Lights Theatre Company and Custom Made Theatre Company. His play Writing Fragments Home was a finalist for the Bay Area Playwright’s Conference and a semi-finalist for the O’Neill Playwright’s Conference.

Jeffrey has also worked with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, San Jose Repertory, Aurora Theater, and is a company member of Ferocious Lotus Theatre Company and SF Playground.

In addition to his work in theatre he works as an educator and advocate for issues of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and has served as a grant panelist for the Zellerbach Family Foundation, Silicon Valley Creates and Theatre Bay Area. He is the Casting Director at the Tony Award Winning TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, a graduate of the Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute, and a proud alumnus of the UC Irvine Drama Department.

Amidst all that activity he sat down with ASR’s Publisher Kris Neely for a chat.

Jeffrey Lo

ASR: What was the first play you performed in or directed for a paying audience?

JL – In high school I acted in this production of a play called Addict which was a series of pseudo-monologues about what could happen if one falls into drug abuse. First play I directed for a paying artist was later that year. It was a play I wrote and directed called “With Love, Jaysson.”

ASR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a guest do at the theater?

JL– I wouldn’t say this is the weirdest but it sticks out in my mind. I was house managing a production of Theresa Rebeck’s play Bad Dates at the Dragon Theatre and they were having a “ladies night” special where every audience member received free champagne or wine at the beginning of the performance.

There was a bachelorette party that showed up and this very excited bride to be came up to me asking how much to buy a bottle for her bridesmaids. I let her know that because of the ladies night special they all got champagne for free. She told me it was a special night and she wanted to buy a bottle for her ladies. I repeated that it was all free. After going in circles for a bit, I just made up a price and handed the group a bottle of champagne.

ASR: Which person has had the largest impact on your professional development in the theater?

JL – I think we all stand on the shoulders of giants so it’s hard to pick one. I’ll go with Julia Cho because through her work and our limited interactions she has reminded me how an artist can lead with heart, kindness and immense talent.

ASR: What is the funniest screw-up you’ve seen on stage in a live performance of a play?

JL – When I was an apprentice at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I worked on their production of Julia Cho’s The Language Archive and towards the end of the play, a letter is supposed to fall magically from the sky and the character of Emma is supposed to exclaim, “A letter!’

On our final preview, the letter fell from the sky alright … but immediately slipped through one of the scenic tracks and fell beneath the stage.

The actress stared at the empty spot where the letter should have been and had no choice but to go on with exclaiming, “A letter!”

The whole audience erupted with laughter because they saw the letter slip under the stage. Little did we know, there was a crew member beneath the stage and after Emma said her line, we slowly saw the letter rise up from the crevice which got even more laughter and more applause from the audience. It was a magical moment and our playwright asked, “could it happen that way every night?”

ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what are three things you would tell them are essential to know?

JL – Let me break this down a bit for you:

For playwrights – remember that your first draft is not your final draft. Your first draft isn’t even the second draft. No one has to read the first draft. Don’t edit yourself before you have to. Don’t get in your own way of finishing your draft. Finish the first draft and take it from there.

For directors – the lighting designer will know more about lighting design that you. The actor will know more about acting than you. Your job as director is not to know more than everyone else in the room. Your job as director is to know enough to be able to identify when your talented collaborators have better ideas than you.

For humans – ask yourself how you can help people. I know it’s impossible to spend every second and every choice of your life towards helping people, but if you make it a practice in your life to take the time to think it through whenever you can – I think it will lead you towards a good path.

ASR: What would be the worst “buy one get one free” sale of all time?

JL – Buy one gun get one free. We don’t need guns.

ASR: You discover a beautiful island on which you may build your own society. You make The Rules. What are the first three rules you put into place?

JL – Hmmm….OK, here goes…

1 – Be kind.

2 – Be chill.

3 – Have fun.

(In order of importance and in order of which rule overtakes the others.)

ASR: How do you relax before a performance?

JL – If it’s an opening night, I tend to spend my mornings of openings drinking coffee, listening to music and writing thank you cards.

ASR: You have been given the opportunity to create the 30-minute TV show of your own design. What is it called and what’s the premise?

JL – Some sort of variety show with amazing under-represented and under-appreciated artists doing what they do best. I’d call it HIRE THESE PEOPLE.

…The actress stared at the empty spot where the letter should have been and had no choice but to go on with exclaiming, “A letter!”

ASR: If you were arrested with no explanation, what would your friends and family assume you had done?

JL – I think they’d assume I was wrongfully arrested.

ASR: What theater-related friendship means the most to you? Why?

JL – Easily Leslie Martinson. To be fair, she started as a theater-related friendship, evolved into a mentor-ship and evolved further into just full everyday friendship. When I was right out of undergrad, Leslie and I had an informational interview of sorts over a coffee and she hired me to be her assistant director for her production of Superior Donuts at TheatreWorks.

She’s given me so many opportunities, provided advice at every turn and was really the first person to see me as an artist and essentially say, “You are someone special. You can do this.”

ASR: What three songs are Included on the soundtrack to your life? And why each?

JLJust My Imagination by The Temptations for the way they are able to perfectly encapsulate and blur the lines of happiness and melancholy in such a smooth and beautiful tune.

Dahil Sa lyo – it’s the quintessential Filipino love song. If you know, you know. I recommend the cover by Bay Area singing quintet Pinay. There’s also an excellent version that Nat King Cole sang live at his concert in the Philippines.

Kendrick Lamar – Alright. It’s a song of protest. A song of celebration. A song of anger. A song of hope. It’s pretty perfect.

ASR: Which one fashion accessory do you like better than others?

JL – The right tie can do a lot for your day.

ASR: Which play would you like to see put into deep freeze for 20 years?

JL – Easy, Miss Saigon.

ASR: Shakespeare’s most underrated play? Why?

JL – I think the history plays are almost all underrated. My favorite is Henry V.

ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing one of the following technical theater roles: Light, Props or Costumes which would it be and why?

JL – Assuming I knew how to do it well, lighting. I’m always astounded by the ways lights can enhance, shift and inform everything that we do in theatre.

ASR: What would be the coolest animal to scale up to the size of a horse?

JL – I’d prefer to scale down animals to the size of a baby corgi. A horse the size of a baby corgi? Adorable. But if I HAD to scale an animal up. Probably a sea turtle.

ASR: Shark diving, bungee jumping, or skydiving?

JL – None. I’m good feeling safe on land.

ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?

 JL – “We’re all freaks, depending on the backdrop.” – Passing Strange

Publisher’s Note: ASR Publisher Kris Neely wants it firmly on the record that he first predicted we’d all one day pay Big Money to see Mr. Lo’s directorial finesse on Broadway. So let’s keep the record straight on that one, because it’s going to happen. — KN

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Kris Neely

Kris Neely launched Aisle Seat Review in 2015. He is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of ASR. Mr. Neely is an SFBATCC Best Director Award Winner (2013). He is also the founder and publisher of Cresting Wave Publishing, LLC at www.gocwpub.com

 

 

ASR Theater Review! ‘Cops and Robbers’ is Must See Theater — by Kris Neely

Cops and Robbers is an important piece of theater. As presented at The Marsh in Berkeley, CA, it is also raw, honest, and powerful, demanding more than just passive viewing. This is theater that challenges the audience, regardless of ethnicity, to honestly assess their perceptions—and assumptions—on race in America.

In Cops and Robbers, Mr. Jinho Ferreira plays 17 wildly different roles including a self-centered news reporter, a black activist, an amazingly comic white conservative talk show host, a judge, and a hyped-up police department sergeant. The plot of this 90-minute, one-man theater piece turns on the now all-too-familiar topic of an officer-involved shooting, with the host of characters morphing in and out of the show to tell the story from each person’s perspective.

To be fair, the production needs some minor editing/tightening, more consistent lighting, better microphone management, and a re-designed opening video montage that better engages the audience.

Yet, it is a damned important piece of theater, well rendered by an actor/playwright focused on asking essential questions through his writing, storytelling, and acting.

This reviewer left The Marsh not just liking, not merely appreciating, but actively respecting Mr. Ferreira and his work as a playwright and as an actor.

Each character in Cops and Robbers is the personification of an ethical viewpoint the playwright encountered growing up in West Oakland, CA. Mr. Ferreira’s insightful writing and bravura performance, goes where few American theater productions go by asking the audience a single, powerful, pervasive question: what will you do with your new knowledge, awareness, and insider view of topics many of us prefer to hear about in sanitized sound bites—if we want to hear about them at all.

This play takes on difficult topics—black-on-black crime, police officers’ use of force, American politics, the power of social media—and shows the audience how the people in these societal factions often do not speak the same language, value the same things, or make much of an effort to understand one another.  Mr. Ferreira is trying to drill down to the essence—not the stereotypes or popular perceptions—of those who live on these cultural islands, which are informed by ideology, pride, power (real and imagined), tradition, money, influence, and pain.

Typically, a play review discusses what the production is about. I believe in this case it is equally important to discuss what this play and performance is not.

It is not:

  • a politically-driven rant
  • a Black Power endorsement wrapped in the lights, costumes, and imagery of the stage.
  • an indictment of the power structure (whatever you deem that to be)
  • anti-white or anti-black
  • pro-black or pro-white
  • a classically-trained actor exploiting the onslaught of shooting and police-in-the-news stories
  • dumbed-down

Mr. Ferreira endeavors to go beyond right/wrong, white/black, yes/no and stereotypes to lead the audience beyond themselves to a new level of understanding; to see reality as it is and not as we think it is, or would like it to be.

This reviewer places lots of value on craft. As an actor, I applaud his work. As a writer, I’m amazed at the subtlety of his script. As a director, it would be an honor to work with a talent as powerful and singular as Jinho Ferreira. As an audience member who has experienced Mr. Ferreira’s craft and heard the messages of his play, my take-away—my responsibility—is to spread the word of this singular achievement.

If you like theater that supplies pat answers, this is not your show. If you like theater that asks you to think, that asks you to examine your perceptions, that urges and inspires you to act and be part of the solution then this is your show.

Cops and Robbers is that rarest of experiences: essential and important theater.

 

Cops and Robbers:

Directed by Ami Zins and Lew Levinson.

Written by Jinho “The Piper” Ferreira. A graduate of San Francisco State University, Ferreira, who describes himself as a self-taught actor and playwright, is also a musician, singer, father of three, and Alameda County Sherriff’s Deputy.

Mature content: appropriate for ages 15+.

Runs SATURDAY AFTERNOONS ONLY at 5:00 p.m. through October 3, 2015; dark on 9/19/15 at The Marsh Theater, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA.

Tickets available online at www.themarsh.org or by phone at 415.282.3055 1:00-4:00 p.m. Mon-Fri

Run time: 90 minutes with one intermission.

Rating: Four-and-a-Half out of Five Stars

 

Kris Neely is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle and a Theater Bay Area (TBA) Adjudicator.

Mr. Neely’s blogs on theater and performing arts are found on Aisle Seat Review at www.AisleSeatReview.com and also on For All Events at www.ForAllEvents.com.

 

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

 

ASR Theater Review! ‘Company’ Storms SF Playhouse and That’s Good News! — by Kris Neely

SF Playhouse has learned a secret uncovered by few community and regional theaters: big musicals in the June 1 to Sept. 1 time-frame can make serious money. Especially in tourist destination cities or areas.

Raising a vodka gimlet to toast their own obvious success with this secret (as witnessed by the near sell-out audience last Saturday night), SF Playhouse’s production of Company, by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, went down as smooth as a cocktail and left many patrons with a satisfied glow as a result.

Company is not your typical all-singing-all-dancing musical. In fact, there’s little enough dancing in the show—this is a musical with the emphasis on the music and the singing.Company is not a sort of A-to-Z straight-line plot, either. The show is composed of a variety of scenes that taken as a whole tell our tale.

The scenes/music/singing all revolve around the dating / marriage / commitment / relationships of one newly 35-year-old man named Bobby, played with almost detached studied aplomb by Keith Pinto. A perpetual bachelor and bon vivant, Bobby, and his married friends, are celebrating his birthday; that, in essence, is the story line.

As directed by SF Playhouse co-founder Susi Damilano, Company eschews the full orchestration and electric guitars of most productions, relying instead on two pianos, located stage left and stage right. Music Director Dave Dobrusky presides over one of these pianos and surely conducts his charges. The effect of this two-piano strategy is more personal, less grandiose than a full or even partial orchestra.

The set design by Bill English and Jacquelyn Scott is elegant on many levels because the set is built on, you guessed it, many levels. The scenic rear projections as designed by Micah Stieglitz add a powerful theatrical touch to the proceedings. The sound design by Anton Hedman works well, as does the lighting design by Michael Oesch.

Stage management by Tatjana Genser is tight with sound and light cues snappily in place. Costume design by Shannon Sigman takes full marks—elegant, well designed, and nicely rendered. All the actors looked darn good in Sigman’s work. The props design is fine—what props need to be in place are in place, work well, and underscore scenes nicely.

Choreography by Kimberly Richards, ably assisted by Morgan Dayley, is sharp and professional, given the limitations on dancing room due to the multi-plane set.

Let’s move on to the acting. Overall, the casting and associated acting of this show is a little bit uneven, but, to be sure, the acting is in general rendered with obvious verve and commitment.

I do wish we’d gotten to see a bit more of Abby Sammons’ (Jenny) good work. This is a talented lady.

Then there is Monique Hafen as Amy.

Can I say, “Oh. My. God.” in a review? There’s nothing else to say. To say Hafen nails the anxiety, the intensity, the comedy, and the speed-singing of Amy, who may not be getting married today, is like saying the Mona Lisa is “a pretty, sort of, mostly OK drawing.” Once Hafen starts acting and singing, almost all the other cast members turn to specters at worst or supporting actors/singers at best. Hafen is the most exciting and engaging musical performer in this cast, bar none. If she doesn’t have a suitcase permanently packed for Broadway by her home’s front door she’s doing something wrong.

Another notable performance is rendered by Joanne (Stephanie Prentice). Never far from a bar or a drink, the fragile, emotional wreck that is Joanne has one of the most powerful songs of the night (“The Ladies Who Lunch”) and Prentice nailed it cold.

Full marks must be given to Morgan Dayley in her character as a flight attendant who spends as much time looking up at bedroom ceilings as she does looking down airplane aisles. Dayley gives the role her all and does so without stepping into cliché or camp. Watch this performer, she is going places.

“Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You?” is, I will admit, one of my favorite dance numbers and SF Playhouse did it with gusto. Overall, the music and singing were quite good.

All in all, SF Playhouse’s Company is a fine night on the town.

Company continues through Sept. 12 at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., San Francisco.

Rating: Four out of Five Stars

***

Kris Neely is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle and a Theater Bay Area (TBA) Adjudicator.

Mr. Neely’s blogs on theater and performing arts are found on Aisle Seat Review at www.AisleSeatReview.com and also on For All Events at www.ForAllEvents.com.

Mr. Neely is a huge fan of Tejava!

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

 

ASR Theater Review! Multi Ethnic Theater Does August Wilson Proud — by Kris Neely

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back reporting that there were more Tennessee Williams theater festivals and events sliding in between similar Shakespeare happenings than ever before. That’s a good thing, to be sure. Yet there is no doubt Mr. August Wilson will be joining those illustrious ranks soon.

Mr. Wilson exploded onto the American theater scene with critically acclaimed plays such as Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, as well as Fences (1987 Tony Award, New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, and the Pulitzer Prize) and The Piano Lesson (1990, Pulitzer Prize).

Mr. Wilson’s command of the black experience in twentieth-century America is second-to-none. His talent for shaping dialog is unquestioned. His characters are realistic, genuine, and thoughtfully rendered while his choice of language is exacting and considered. His plays, including this one, often deal with themes of community loyalty and commitment, to fair play and justice.

Two Trains Running is Mr. Wilson’s seventh effort in his ten-part series of plays entitled The Pittsburgh Cycle. The play was first produced by the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, and later opened on Broadway in the spring of 1992 at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

The play gives us a complex story based on the lives of ordinary people, a volatile turning point in American history. The location is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the racially charged world of 1969. Mr. Memphis Lee’s threadbare cafe is a regular stop for neighborhood folks all trying to understand the cultural maelstrom of the late 1960s. The regulars do their best to come to an accommodation with the swirling tides of change, but not always with the results they intended.

As the play begins, the city block on which Mr. Memphis’s diner is located is due to be torn down in a city renovation project. One of Mr. Memphis’ regular customers is the rich undertaker whose business is located across the street from the diner. The undertaker urges Mr. Memphis to accept his offer to buy the cafe, but his price is unacceptable to the stoic Mr. Memphis. He’s been swindled out of property before and he’s determined to stand his ground this time and get what he thinks his property is worth.

Another regular to the café is Sterling, a petty ex-con just out of the penitentiary with big dreams for his future. Then there’s Wolf, a bookie, a hustler (in the survival sense of the word) and a man-about-town.  He dresses to the nine’s and is equally focused on the details of his own success.

Risa is the only female in the cast. A waitress of quiet dignity occupying the still point in this play, she has self-inflicted cuts on her legs, self-mutilation as a barrier between herself and men. Hambone is a mentally disturbed man who seeks comfort in the friendship shown him by Risa. He speaks infrequently but when he does, it’s one variation or another of the phrase, “He gonna give me my ham. I want my ham!”

The senior character in the play is Holloway. He has seen it all and his role is steady anchor, neighborhood philosopher, and ardent proponent of a legendary 322-year-old woman prophet down the street. Although never seen, she radiates a strong influence over the actions of many of the characters in the play, and serves as a reminder of the heritage of Black Americans.

With these strong roots, Mr. Wilson grows a powerful theatrical experience and a strong history lesson for those of us not witness to Black life in 1969.

As directed by Lewis Campbell with Esperanza Catubig assisting, and rendered by the Multi Ethnic Theater Company and presented in the Gough Street Playhouse in San Francisco, Two Trains Running ran 3 hours including one intermission. The running time is important, as slowness of pacing was an issue on opening night. This play requires pacing more like everyday life, with the dynamics of neighbors talking with neighbors they’ve known for years; that is to say briskly, sometimes obliquely, with awareness of personal quirks and hot buttons, and with every intent to find or deliver a message, a joke, a jab, or a cut. The actors cast in this production are certainly more than capable of doing this sort of work, but on opening night the presentation was too muted. (Note: It was extremely hot in the theater this night and I’m sure that had an impact on the actors. I know it did on the audience.)

Fabian Herd was superb as Wolf, Vernon Medearis a study in subtlety and nuance as West (the undertaker), and Stuart Elwyn Hall every bit the oracle of Black life as Holloway. All three actors demonstrated a keen ability to do what so many actors fail at: to listen to what is being said by other actors, instead of simply waiting for their turn to speak. These gentlemen delivered acting in considered gradations, rendering layered performances which would hold them in good stead with notable theaters across this country.

The set design, that of a scruffy café so much a part of neighborhoods everywhere, was nicely done. The turquoise booths were period perfect. Unpainted plywood here-and-there emphasized  a business managed with small dollars and ‘just enough’ repairs. Set construction showed care. Making a set look down-on-its-luck without making it look slapdash is harder than one might imagine. The set designer/builders (Lewis Campbell and David Hampton) pulled it off nicely.

Props were period and detailed. Even though no one in the play ate anything which required catsup, the always ubiquitous red plastic catsup dispenser appeared one-third full. The bowl of beans eaten by Hambone were appealing, as was the coffee dispensed by Risa.

Costumes were period and nicely selected (especially those for Wolf.) A bit more attention to fit would render some costumes perfect.

There is little doubt August Wilson has a ‘reserved seat’ in the pantheon of Greatest American Playwrights. Seeing Multi Ethnic Theater’s production of Two Trains Running shows why.

Two Trains Running continues through August 30th at the Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94109.

Rating: Three-and-a-Half out of Five Stars

Industry Commentary…

  • “Vivid and uplifting… pure poetry… remarkable!”—Time
  • “A symphonic composition with a rich lode of humanity running through it.”—Los Angeles Times
  • Winner of the New York Drama Critics Circle Best Play Award
  • “Vivid and uplifting… pure poetry… remarkable!”—Time
  • “A symphonic composition with a rich lode of humanity running through it.”—Los Angeles Times
  • “His language is golden: rich in humor and poetry and redolent of a colorful vernacular.”—Wall Street Journal
  • “Has an unassailable authenticity… a lot of life and a lot of humor… By the end, a small world has been utterly transformed.”—Variety
  • “These characters are fully imagined—they live… reeling out stories about their past, their angers, their dreams.”—Washington Post
  • “Wilson’s most adventurous and honest attempt to reveal the intimate nature of history… glorious storytelling… touching and often funny… a penetrating revelation of a world hidden from view.”—Frank Rich, The New York Times

Also Available…

Script available here. 

Script, Samuel French  available here.

Study Guide available here.

Paybill from Broadway run available here.

Discount Tickets are also available on Goldstar

Tickets are available on the theater’s website.

Kris Neely is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle and a Theater Bay Area (TBA) Adjudicator.

Mr. Neely’s blogs on theater and performing arts are found on Aisle Seat Review at www.AisleSeatReview.com and also on For All Events at www.ForAllEvents.com.

Mr. Neely is a huge fan of Tejava!

***** ***** ***** ***** *****