Drama Talk & Drinks: A Tale of Autumn – “A long philosophy lesson”

Bay Area Obie award-winning playwright Christopher Chen‘s latest work, A Tale of Autumn, just had its’ world premiere at Potrero Stage. One of DT&D favorite theater companies, Crowded Fire Theater, commissioned the work “a psychological rise-to-power fable”, so we knew we wanted to check it out for Drama Talk & Drinks.

Lawrence Radecker as Dave (left) and Shoresh Alaudini as Gil (right)  Photo by Cheshire Isaacs
Lawrence Radecker as Dave (left) and Shoresh Alaudini as Gil (right)
Photo by Cheshire Isaacs

Katie: What just happened? I was so excited for this show, and that was just…meh.

Brittany: I feel bad. For the first act I was like, “cool, I’m with you”. There were some good actors, a smart script exploring some cool concepts, but I wish it ended at the end of the first act. I mean, I know it didn’t make sense as an ending, but the whole second act felt like a long philosophy lesson. It totally lost momentum.

K: I agree, I just felt like the story could have been more concise. It was like we were being hit over the head with the concept that the ends can’t justify the means. Cool I get it. How is this helping to move the story along? There were a lot of words coming at me and it didn’t help me connect to the characters. A strong story is really important to me, without that I just stop caring.

B:  It wasn’t like the people in it weren’t talented, or the set wasn’t cool, the set was really cool. It was just over written. You can make a point without jamming it down people’s throats.

K: I agree. I don’t think I’ll be telling friends to run out and see this one, but I have for multiple other Crowded Fire shows. This is a piece that seems like it could use some work.

B: Love Crowded Fire though, they always do interesting, innovative work. This one was a bit too much like a lecture.

The Verdict:  If you are a Bay Area theater nerd, you should probably see it. Christopher Chen is a prominent local playwright, and this is the world premiere of his latest work. Otherwise, if you aren’t really into Bay Area theater and having your pulse on the local theater scene, this is probably one you can skip.

The Drama Talk: This is such a promising play, but needs some edits to live up to its potential.  There were lots of cool and smart things A Tale of Autumn explores  –  like what is the line between selfishness and self care, and should we as a society trust “benevolent” companies, but the story gets lost in the philosophizing in the second act. While this show has lots of bright moments, a cool set, and some great actors, it just collapsed under its own weight.

The Drinks: As always after a show at the Potrero Stage, we headed up the hill to Blooms for some drinks with a view.

A Tale of Autumn plays through October 7th at the Potrero Stage. Tickets range from $15-35 and can be purchased on their website. The company also offers the following discounts: Student Tickets are always $15! (Please bring i.d.). Seniors (65+), TBA/TCG Members: $3 off at checkout.Groups of 5 or more receive an automatic 15% savings at checkout

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Taylor Mac A 24-Decade History of Popular Music – “WOW”

Ever since we got to see Taylor Mac perform a portion of A 24-Decade History of Popular Music at Curran Under-Construction we couldn’t wait for the full show to come back. Last Friday the wait finally ended, and we got to see the first six hour chapter of the show at the Curran- covering the first six decades of American history from 1776-1836. It made for some unforgettable Drama Talk & Drinks.

Taylor Mac, photo by Teddy Wolf
Taylor Mac, photo by Teddy Wolf

Brittany: SIX HOURS!

Katie: Crazy, right! I was worried it was going to brutal, but it wasn’t at all. It went fast.

B: It went so fast! I was surprised every time an hour ended.

K: The pacing was so well done and deliberate. Taylor really thought about the human condition. The flow of it, and the strategic audience participation at just the right moments. The show moved. I didn’t feel tortured in any way, and when it was over it was like ‘Oh….WOW! ‘

B: I had some anxiety going into the show. The idea of going into a six hour performance that doesn’t have any intermissions is kind of daunting. I was worried about having to pee, getting tired, getting hungry, getting bored. All of those things were taken care of, so none of that was a problem. It would be very easy for them to just be like f*-you it’s performance art, you’re supposed to be uncomfortable, but it’s clear they really cared about taking care of the audience.

K: It was also just an amazing show. I loved it. So unique, so fun, so engaging.

B: I’ve never seen a show like it, so I can’t even go about comparing it. Taylor is an amazing performer, so expressive, such a fabulous voice.

K:  I feel like this show made performance art so accessible. From the way Taylor engaged with the audience and shared personal stories, to the amazing costume design by Machine Dazzle, to the more contemporary arrangements of these historical popular songs by Matt Ray, the whole show felt so deeply relevant. It was fabulous, irreverent, smart, intellectual, artsy, and still deeply human. I was able to connect to it. Not like other performance art I’ve seen that I’ve felt alienated from.

B: The Curran is such a big space too, and somehow they managed to create a really intimate experience. They did audience participation better than any show I’ve ever seen. Taylor even called it out,  that audience participation can be really uncomfortable. Somehow they managed to create a space where it was just fun. They kept pushing audience boundaries, asking us to do stranger more intimate things, and by the end it truly felt like the audience was part of a community and building the show together – which is an amazing thing to accomplish.

K: What an undertaking. I can’t even imagine there’s so much more of this show to go.

B: I know! I thought I would be done after six hours, but now I really want to go back and see the other nights. Especially the last two installments which will have more contemporary music I’m more familiar with. This show does such a clear-eyed job deconstructing the history of oppression in America, and it would be fascinating to see songs I know turned on their head.

The Verdict: Go see this show! It’s one of the most remarkable pieces of theater we’ve seen.

The Drama Talk: Taylor opens the show telling the audience this is a “radical fairy realness ritual” and there isn’t really a better way to define it. Part drag performance, part concert, part performance art, part history lesson this show can’t be put into a box. It was workshopped over three years, in various configurations in New York. Culminating last year in a 24-hour performance of the show in full at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse. This San Francisco production, a collaboration between the Curran, Magic Theater, Stanford Live, and Pomegranate Arts (Taylor’s home theater) is the first showing where they’ve broken the 24 hour show into four six-hour blocks (1776-1836, 1836-1896, 1896-1956 and 1959-present) and shown it in its entirety over multiple days. It’s a remarkable testament to the company’s talent that six hours felt like no time at all. Using popular music from each decade Taylor explores the history of America and the systemic oppression which has been foundational to our society. All of this is done with such heart and levity, that you don’t even realize how deep the content is until you leave the theater. A really remarkable performance that you should see if you can.

The Drinks: The Curran sells drinks and food throughout the show, which you can bring into the theater, so that’s what we did. Each night is different, but there was both food and drink handed out to the audience by the Dandy Minions during the performance we saw as well, so you will be well taken care of. Just remember to pace yourself. In one moment this show feels like a raunchy drag performance, in the next it’s tackling issues like racism and sexism, so you don’t want to be wasted and miss some of the really smart critiques this show has to offer.

The last two chapters of this show are this coming weekend, (September 22 & 24) so if you want a chance to experience this amazing performance you need to go now. Tickets range from $285 to supposedly $49, but the cheapest we could find for single ticket purchase remaining were $99 tickets. You can buy tickets through the Curran website.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: An American In Paris – “who is this musical for?”

We have kicked off the Fall theater season with seeing the Tony Award winning musical, An American In Paris at SHN’s Orpheum Theatre. It’s a musical inspired by the 1951 film, which is full of George and Ira Gershwin songs. Brittany couldn’t make it, so she was replaced with our backup theater lover, Garrett.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
An American in Paris Touring Company

Katie: So much dancing.

Garrett: Yeah, but the dancing is what I liked about it.

K: Really? There were great dancers and dance sequences for sure, but for me when I’m not interested in the story, the dancing feels like a filler. The dancing was beautiful, but there was just so much of it, and the show dragged on for me. The other aspect that made it drag for me was the weak male romantic lead (Jerry Mulligan, played by McGee Maddox), who was far from believable.

G: I think the show started off strong, but then the story didn’t hold up and it never quite took off for me. It felt like a forced love story and very old fashioned for a newly adapted script.

K: It felt like a super old American musical, which I can appreciate but don’t seem to have as much patience for anymore, I’m just over this style of storytelling. I mean, who is this musical for?

G: It feels like it’s for grandparents or someone who loves the nostalgia that you get from the old classic Gershwin songs, or maybe a very young person who loves to be visually stimulated and doesn’t need a complex well developed storyline.

K: I guess. I think we are just not the audience for this musical. I was underwhelmed. It felt stale and unimaginative. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone between the ages of 20-50.

The Verdict: This old time feeling musical could be a great night out with parents or grandparents. The nostalgia from classic songs like “I Got Rhythm” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” is enjoyable. Don’t go to this show expecting something new and unexpected.

The Drama Talk: This Tony winning musical fell short when it came to imaginative, well developed storytelling, but didn’t disappoint in terms of music and choreography. Everything about this production, from the set to the costumes and actors, were just, well….fine, but nothing really stood out as exceptional. This felt like a big budget Broadway musical going through the motions and checking the standard boxes of what used to wow people. There is nothing new to see here.

The Drinks: Less than a block away there is a new beer and wine bar called Fermentation Lab. It wasn’t crowded or loud which made it a great place to grab a drink and talk about what we had just seen.

An American In Paris runs through October 8th at the Orpheum Theatre. There are $40 both virtual and in-person rush tickets available. You can check-out the SHN website for rush instructions. Goldstar also currently has tickets for $50-70.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: SF Mime Troupe’s “Walls” – This play pissed off Breitbart

We know we are in the middle of summer when we get the notification for a San Francisco Mime Troupe show. We look forward to it every summer. We were extra excited to find out that they are celebrating their 58th season with a show musical about immigration called “Walls”. So we packed our picnic basket full of treats and canned wine, and headed off to McLaren Park for some drama talk and drinks.

l-r) Velina Brown (L. Mary Jones), Marilet Martinez (Zaniyah Nahuatl) Photo by: Mike@mikemelnyk.com
l-r) Velina Brown (L. Mary Jones), Marilet Martinez (Zaniyah Nahuatl)
Photo by: Mike@mikemelnyk.com

Brittany: What a beautiful day! It’s always nice to see a show outside in a park.

Katie: Yeah, the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater is awesome! Can’t believe I have never been there. Such a great location for this. But for me, the location was one of my favorite parts about it. This one wasn’t quite as inventive and creative as I remember their other shows being. I found myself not super interested in what was going to happen next, because it seemed too obvious and predictable.

B: The last Mime Troupe show we saw was just before the election, and it felt really urgent. It made me feel like “we’re gonna fight, we’re speaking truth to power”! I didn’t feel that after this show. I kind of just felt sad. The final message seemed to be “our immigration system is a terrible mess, but the best thing we can do is help escort undocumented immigrants to their ICE trials”. I did appreciate that they included sound bites not just of Trump, but also of Obama, both Bushes and Clinton showing how long our immigration system has been broken. It’s important to acknowledge this is a huge and longstanding problem, I just wish there was more of a call to action. Although this play pissed off Breitbart News, so that’s worth something!

The Verdict: Any weekend spent sitting in a park, sipping wine, and watching free theater is a weekend well spent. Expect to be entertained but don’t expect to leave inspired to make a change.

The Drama Talk: Not the most inspired show we’ve seen done by SF Mime Troupe. The premise of Walls sounds compelling (an undocumented lesbian immigrant living in hiding with her ICE agent partner) but the script is pretty predictable and not nearly as boundary pushing as other SF Mime Troupe shows we’ve seen in the past. The SF Mime Troupe company is consistently talented, and does a good job playing multiple roles and keeping the show moving. While some of the actors have great voices, none of the songs are really memorable.  It’s a free show and it’s in a park, so if it’s a nice day it’s worth going. Unfortunately, despite Breitbart’s outrage, we don’t think this show will actually spark any leftist revolutions.

The Drinks: These shows are mostly in parks and we recommend bringing drinks with you. We brought Underwood canned wine from Trader Joe’s. Super classy.

Walls is running through September 10th at various locations. Tickets are free. You can check out locations for their upcoming shows on their website.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: A Night at the Palace “just come and enjoy the show and party”

The Speakeasy has added a new show on Friday nights that “welcomes audiences to the immersive, Prohibition-era world of The Speakeasy with a mix of lighthearted cabaret acts and interactive scenes.” It’s called A NIGHT AT THE PALACE and was created to be a less structured theatrical experience and more of a party. We were intrigued and knew we needed to see how this new spin would feel after seeing the full Speakeasy show. So we headed to North Beach to meet a someone on a corner, tell them our secret line, and get escorted to a secret underground location for some drama talk and drinks.

Brittany: I had so much fun!

Katie: What an incredible night out. There really isn’t anything like it in San Francisco.

B: I’ve really never seen anything like it anywhere. The line between audience and performer, the show and reality, is so blurred. You just lose yourself in this other world.

K: This was my first time seeing this new space and it is SO cool! The decor and the costumes were on point, but I think the main thing that really made me feel transported back in time was that there is a no phone rule. There was no point where I looked around and I saw screens, which never happens anymore. People were captivated by the show, or the pleasure of each other’s company, and not distracted by their phones.

B: It is great to be able to fully unplug and just have a really fun time with friends. I also still can’t believe how committed audience members are to dressing for the show. People wear the most amazing costumes, and it’s great that everyone just dives-in and has fun.

K: I know this is a new thing they are trying, having an option to just come and enjoy the show and party. I appreciate that. You could sit in the cabaret and watch the show and when you felt like it you could get up and go to the bar and casino room. I didn’t have the feeling like I was missing out on something that was happening in the other rooms since there weren’t multiple storylines happening around us.

B: I think this could also be a great way to get introduced into the full show, since it introduces you to the characters, but without any of the drama. It lets you explore the space in a much more laid back way too. Besides, who doesn’t love a night of delicious drinks, dressing up, and entertaining characters.

The Verdict: So much fun! It’s both entertaining and stimulating without being overwhelming.

The Drama Talk: The first time we went to Speakeasy we were a bit overwhelmed. So many plots, so many secret rooms, so many actors all around you. We loved it, but it was hard not to have FOMO knowing that some cool story was happening in the other room that we were probably missing. A Night at the Place maintains all the fun and magic of the original Speakeasy show while making it a lot more lighthearted. The cabaret acts were great, we had a bunch of fun conversations with actors trying to sell us on their bootlegged gin, and we still got the feeling of stepping into another era. While not all of the secret rooms are operational on this night (the office and the dressing room which both allow audience members to eavesdrop on different storylines are not used during A Night at the Palace) you get to stay later and dance the night away in the cabaret, which was really a highlight. This would be a great special outing for a group of friends, or an awesome way to introduce out of town guests to the magic of San Francisco.

The Drinks: Are strong, delicious and plenty! You will be able to order drinks from your table in the cabaret or you can go into the bar area and order. Make sure to give them your credit card info beforehand (before noon the day you’re scheduled to see the show) to make ordering food and drink easy.

A Night At the Palace runs Friday nights through September 1st at a secret venue near Chinatown and North Beach (Ticket buyers will receive a text or email the day of the event with directions on how to obtain the address). Tickets are $25-$85 depending on the time of entry you choose. Tickets and more info are on their website.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – “Wow”

It’s rare that plays on Broadway get as much buzz as the blockbuster musicals. The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time is the exception to that rule. Winner of five Tony Awards in 2015, including Best-Play, we had heard about this play for a while. So when we were heard the tour was going to SHN’s Golden Gate Theater, we were excited to see it for Drama Talk & Drinks.

Adam Langdon as Christopher Boone in the touring production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" - photo by Joan Marcus
Adam Langdon as Christopher Boone in the touring production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” – photo by Joan Marcus

Katie: Wow, I couldn’t look away. I was so engaged, and intrigued, and invested in Christopher [The lead character -Ed.] and his story. Even though at moments the plot was predictable, it didn’t matter because it was such good story telling. I was interested in the whole family. The actor who played Christopher (Adam Langdon) was so incredibly talented. The set was innovative and propelled the show forward, which is a hard thing for a set to do. I just really enjoyed it.

Brittany: I agree. It was one of those shows that, although it wasn’t pleasant to watch because of the intense sound and lighting design, it’s just too good not to. I thought the way they used the lights and sound to put the audience into Christopher’s head was so innovative. It’s hard to say it’s enjoyable, because when you’re getting blasted with strobe lights and loud screeching noises it’s definitely jeering, but it’s such a powerful story and creative production.

K: Totally, for once I can’t think of anything to criticize. I was just really moved.

B: They showed a lot of humanness. It’s wonderful that a show told from the perspective of a 15 year old boy who is on the autism spectrum is one of the most empathetic shows I’ve seen. You could totally understand why all the characters in the show did the not-so-pleasant things they did, and feel for them, even while knowing that they were making selfish or wrong decisions.

K: It got messy, but it was so good.The show was engaging, you didn’t really have time to think of anything else, but be present and watch this story about these very imperfect people unfold. It’s definitely a must see.

The Verdict: GO SEE IT! It’s not an “easy” show, there’s some uncomfortable moments, but it’s such a well done play it’s worth a little discomfort.

The Drama Talk: When you walk into the theater, there’s a dead dog in the middle of the stage with a pitch-fork stuck in it (a ‘garden fork’ in the script – it’s set in the UK).  The play’s plot never gets much lighter than this, but still somehow, there’s a joy and lightness to the production. The performance puts the audience into the mind of a 15 year old boy, named Christopher, who is a math savant but “ill-equipped to interpret everyday life”. The set is remarkable, with LED lights and built in projections that transport the viewer to the different settings of the show, but also into Christopher’s thoughts and fantasies. While the show isn’t “immersive” in the sense that the audience never leaves their seats, it does transport the audience into a different sort of consciousness. When Christopher is panicked, the play uses lighting and sound to induce a similar sort of emotion in the audience. While it’s not always comfortable, it’s definitely memorable, and makes for a moving night at the theater.

The Drinks: After the show we decided to check-out a bar we hadn’t tried yet, Rx, a ‘apothecary themed cocktail lounge’ a few blocks uphill at the corner of Geary and Leavenworth. It was a cozy and chill spot to grab a strong fancy cocktail and unpack the show.

 A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs through July 23rd at SHN’s Golden Gate Theater. Tickets range from $55-$200 on the SHN website. There are also a limited number of virtual rush tickets that are available through the Today Tix app, and a limited number of $35 Rush tickets available via an in-person rush,  beginning 2 hours prior to curtain at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre Box Office. Note, the in-person rush tickets are cash only with a 2 per person limit. At time of publishing there are still some $40 Goldstar tickets available for the show too.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: How to be a White Man – “They had me with the title”

Can the idea of ‘fake it til’ you make it’ work for white male privilege? If you just act like a bro, no matter your race, sexual orientation, or gender identity, can you get a free pass when you act like a jerk? That’s what Luna Malbroux and Jennifer Lewis ask in their new play How To Be a White Man now playing at PianoFight produced by FaultLine Theater company. Always up for a play that “takes a bold look at race, sexuality, and gender” we decided to check it out for Drama Talk & Drinks.

Luna Malbroux - Photo by Clive Walker
Luna Malbroux – Photo by Clive Walker

Katie: They had me with the title How To Be a White Man. I love talking about white male privilege and I love seeing new works by women, particularly women of color, so I was excited about this show. I just wish I liked it more than I did. The writing was funny and called out some good shit. It was a fresh and relevant script. Where it fell short was in the execution.

Brittany: I agree, it was a cool interesting script, very thought provoking, but at the same time there was something off with this performance. I know they were having technical difficulties before the show started, so maybe that contributed, but the pacing was off.

K: There were so many awkward transitions which took me out of the show. The actors were kind-of lackluster too. There were moments when I was totally with them, during one of the serious monologues or the hilarious stand-up routines, but then it would fizzle when they moved on to the next moment.

B: It seemed like something was off, like actors were having to cover for someone who was late for an entrance or dropped a line. It was strange since you could definitely see there were talented people in the show, but it dragged, it felt inconsistent.

K: This script has so much potential, the production we saw just didn’t quite do it for me.

The Verdict:  This production had some great moments, but this is one occasion where the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. The script is fresh, relevant, and fun. There is a cool set, some talented actors, and some innovative uses of video projections. But, it fell short because of pacing.

The Drama Talk: This isn’t an easy show. The script is based on comedian Luna Malbroux’s experience as a queer Black woman, and also draws from a series of real interviews the playwrights did with people all over the country on the topic of white male privilege. At times the play takes place in a fantasy world, a comedy club, in the past, in the present, as an internal monologue. Actors are playing multiple roles, and scenes change quickly. There were moments when everyone in the play was strong, but there were also moments when every performer in the play was not. Because of the highly episodic nature of the script, it at times was hard to stay in the moment. However despite pacing issues, this is still very relevant new work, that’s worth seeing just for the interesting content. They also give out free white male privilege vouchers, so that’s reason enough to check it out.

The Drinks: As is always the case when we go to PianoFight, we don’t see a need to go anywhere else. We got drinks and food at the in-house restaurant and bar after the show, and toasted a fun and thought provoking night of Drama Talk & Drinks.

How to Be a White Man runs through July 1st at PianoFight. Thursdays @7:30pm, Fridays @7:30pm, Saturdays @7:30pm with one Wednesday performance June 28th @7:30pm. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased HERE.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Phèdre – “where the hell did she come from!”

We’ve been loving Cutting Ball Theater recently and their “radical re-visionings of classic works”. When we found out they had a new production of Phèdre, the classic Greek tragedy about the perils of unrequited love for your stepson, opening we knew it was time for a night of drama talk and drinks.

phedre_1140x641_iii

Brittany: Cutting Ball is very good at making classic plays approachable. These actors did a great job tackling dense language and making it, at least for me, very understandable. I kinda know Greek mythology but certainly don’t remember it well, and I appreciate how clear they made a very complicated story.

Katie: I struggle with Greek plays. Theseus, Hippolytus, Hercules… all the names and the intersecting myths and back stories. It’s so confusing, and as you said the language is dense. I think Phèdre (Courtney Walsh) did the best job at normalizing the language. She was SO good. But I still found it hard. I’ve seen other shows at Cutting Ball that I’ve liked better. This just didn’t feel as inventive as usual. The only thing that looked fresh were the costumes, and even then I didn’t understand they were from the 50’s.

B: Yeah, they didn’t really do anything with that time period.

K: Yeah, so why even make their outfits 50’s? Why not make it nondescript. So I wasn’t a fan of the 50’s theme, it didn’t work for me. There wasn’t much to the sound or lighting design. The set was clean, and simple and I liked the sky projected thing over the center of the stage. But It just wasn’t as interesting as other Cutting Ball shows I’ve seen.

B: I’m kinda in the same place, mostly because I don’t always love Greek tragedies. The setting it in the 50s for no reason got to me too. But, Phèdre was just amazing, incredibly talented. You should see the show just to see her performance, it’s fantastic.

K: Right! I was like where the hell did she come from!

B: For a play that could be really deadly, corny pun intended, the actors made it come to life.

K: I just feel that for the non theater goer/lover this show didn’t have as much of a cool factor as the other shows we’ve seen them do.

B: I agree with that, I think if you want to see Phèdre, or you like Greek tragedies then you should totally go see this. If you are someone who is not a theater goer…

K: This would be rough.

B: It is a hard play, and although a very solid production, it may not be what everyone wants to see.

The Verdict: Do you like Greek tragedies? Go! Like theater enough to wade through some dense language with a powerful female actor? Go! Otherwise this may be one you want to skip.

The Drama Talk: Cutting Ball reliably delivers fresh takes on classic theater. Their season is full of powerful, perhaps misunderstood, female characters who are chafing at the confines of society. In Phèdre, Courtney Walsh presents a compelling portrayal of a women grasping for the things she wants in the only ways she knows how, to tragic results. It’s a very heavy play, both because of the weighty language and impending doom. While Cutting Ball has a bright set and fun 50s costumes to lighten things up a bit, it’s not really clear why it’s set in that era and the staging isn’t as inventive as we’ve seen in Cutting Ball productions in the past. Greek tragedies are not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a strong cast, and worth a watch if you’re a theater lover.

The Drinks: We have noticed that hotel bars are really making a comeback. After this show we headed a block up Taylor to the 6 week old Douglas Room, which is part of the Tilden hotel. It had a really chill atmosphere and sassy strong cocktails, which was a good combo after the intense Greek tragedy.

Phèdre runs through May 21st at the The EXIT on Taylor. Tickets are $15-$45 and can be purchased on the Cutting Ball website.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: The Encounter – “like nothing I have ever seen.”

Ever since the Curran’s grand-reopening earlier this year, the theater has been bringing some serious theater game, living up to their mission of “presenting bold, daring work”. Their latest show, The Encounter, promised audiences an “epic journey” through the use of the latest in 3D audio technology. Actor and director Simon McBurney’s one-man-show takes audiences into the Amazon rainforest, following the story of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre.  We had a feeling that this was going to be something special, so off we went for a night of Drama Talk & Drinks.

theencounter
Simon McBurney in THE ENCOUNTER (Photo by Gianmarco Bresadola)

Katie: This was like nothing I have ever seen. That in itself was magical. There were moments where I could feel myself making a crazy face and thinking “what’s happening, this is so cool”. I have just never experienced storytelling in that way. He (Simon McBurney) was an amazing actor and storyteller. Then you throw in what he did with sound design and it made it a recipe for awesomeness. It was one man on a very bare stage but I really felt taken away.

Brittany: Yeah, it was mesmerizing. It’s also an interesting juxtaposition. On one hand he’s using the story of encountering this remote tribe in the Amazon to critique the consumerism and technological dependence of modern Western society. At the same time, the way he’s able to transport you on this journey is through the use of this amazing audio technology and lighting. There are a few groups in the environmental movement who are exploring how you can use technology to build deeper empathy and concern for places like the Amazon rainforest. That certainly was one goal of this show. While I don’t know if I came away with a concrete way to change my behavior, aside from shunning bottled water, but it certainly gave me a deeper experience of the rainforest. It was a very innovative way to engage people.

Katie: The show presented a lot of interesting questions and ideas on the environment and generally on life. I appreciated the way it encouraged us to challenge our perceptions about the truthfulness of stories we tell, what it means to be alive, and what we should value.

Brittany: Also major kudos to the Curran. When we were walking out I was thinking how unique it is to see a piece like this in a theater this size. It was amazing to see this on a big scale. One little person on this great big stage and he was able to fill it. I feel like you don’t get the opportunity to do that very often. And it was mesmerizing for the 2 full hours.

Katie: I’d have to say that the Curran is really sticking to their promise to be bold and different. I’ve seen some really cool and innovative theater there. Looking forward to seeing what they do next.

The Verdict: SO cool! A very unique and mesmerizing experience. Go! Go now!

The Drama Talk: Simon McBurney did an incredible job transporting the audience to another place. He gets in your head, or at least your ears, through the use of  3D audio technology that is served directly to each audience member via personal headphones found at each seat. The masterful sound design is at once intimate and immersive. The story takes the audience to the Amazon rainforest and the sound design makes you feel surrounded by the jungle, the river, the mosquitos and the swirling voices of the story being told. Technically speaking it was incredible, but beyond the flashy technology, it also was just great storytelling.

The Drinks: A block away from the theater on Geary we checked out the Pineapple Bistro and Bar in the Alise San Francisco hotel. It was a great choice because is was practically empty with plenty of seating and great service. There were lots of pineapple everything, and Katie’s drink even came in a brass pineapple, which felt appropriately jungle themed after an evening in the Amazon.

The Encounter runs through May 7th at the Curran. Tickets are $49-$185 and can be purchased on the Curran’s website.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Hamilton – “Screaming with joy”

Being a DT&D columnist has its perks. A recent one was scoring tickets to opening night of the national tour of Hamilton, now playing at SHN’s Orpheum Theater. Katie was out of town, so Brittany took her boyfriend and frequent guest columnist, Sam, out for a night of drama talk and drinks.

Ruben J. Carbajal as Laurens, Michael Luwoye as Hamilton, Jordan Donica as Lafayette, Mathenee Treco as Hercules Mulligan & the Hamilton Company – photo by Joan Marcus

 

Brittany: Hamilton is this ground-breaking, barrier-shattering show that transcended the musical-theatre world and ended up as part of pop-culture. It feels strange reviewing it, since everyone knows it’s amazing. I will tell you what was surprising for me though; the show felt like a rock concert. Those tweens behind us were literally screaming with joy when the lights went down.

Sam: You don’t get that often, two thousand people thick with adulation. They definitely come in knowing the history and the songs too. I knew about the Hamilton-Burr duel from the Got Milk commercials twenty years ago. It’s a story that has captured popular imagination in one way or another for a while. I do think knowing the music makes it a much more lived experience, where you can stop trying to understand the fast paced lyrics and can instead get caught up in the show. People knew when to cheer, when to “oooh”, it was participatory. Even though I don’t know the music well, I found it helpful to at least have a passing familiarity with the music and the story. I wish I knew it better.

B: I was very happy that I knew the music as well as I did. This show is lyrically deft. They’re constantly spitting lines and there’s a hundred things happening at once on stage. Even knowing the soundtrack well, there were moments I was like “oh my god, it’s all happening so fast, how do I follow everything?”  It felt very fleeting, which in a way was fitting. Life goes really fast and he’s always running out of time.

S: It was really fast. It’s like reading a book and then seeing a movie, although in this case it was hearing the soundtrack and then seeing the play. You have these songs in your head and your concept of what they’ll look like on stage, then the show paints a different picture.  I spent part of the play just reassigning all of these preconceived ideas I had to the actual staging. It was a much more minimalist production than I thought it might be. They made use of very few props, aside from a desk and some paper or a few chairs. But there was also this amazing lighting that bathed the stage and helped direct your attention.

B: One of the most wonderful things about this show is just listening to the soundtrack is a rich experience. I think that’s why the minimal set and props worked so well. The lyrics are so multi-layered, you don’t need anything else. On one level he’s just telling a story, but he’s also talking about American history and referencing hip-hop artists, and referencing musical theatre and theatre history.

S: Loved that Gilbert and Sullivan.

B: And the Shakespeare too, right? And you can’t see those revolving stages and not think Les Miz.

S: This is totally the Les Miz for this generation. My favorite part was definitely the rap battles in Washington’s cabinet between Jefferson and Hamilton. They were at the intersection of all the exciting things going on, policy and personality, smack talk and realpolitik.

B: So you’re like Jefferson? “Let’s get back to politics.”

S: I don’t want to be on record agreeing with Jefferson.

B: That actor (Jordan Donica) was amazing. When you go into the show you hypothetically know that the guy who plays Lafayette also plays Jefferson…

S: Wait, what?

B: …but seeing it is just remarkable. They were two totally different characters. Wait you didn’t realize it was the same actor?

S: No…

B: Well he was that good I guess. Generally the whole cast was amazing. Another thing I didn’t expect was how much this show isn’t just about Alexander Hamilton. It’s also a story about Aaron Burr and in a certain way Eliza, which you don’t really get from the soundtrack. It’s written by storytellers, so of course it makes sense that the storytellers are the ones who are most important in the end. So, would you want to see it again?

S: Oh yeah, absolutely! Not tonight though, I’m exhausted from just watching it.

The Verdict: This show is a phenomenon. Yes, tickets are expensive (unless you’re lucky and get them via rush) but it’s totally worth it to be part of this unique theatrical experience.

The Drama Talk: So much has been written about Hamilton already, how about we just share some tips? This show is fast. If you don’t know the music, it’s probably worth giving the soundtrack a listen before you go, so you’re not having your mind blown with the lyrics while trying to keep up with the action. Even if you know the lyrics well, there’s so much happening on stage it’s hard to take it all in at once. Just breathe and enjoy, you’re finally seeing Hamilton. It’s rare to go to a show where there’s nearly a standing ovation at the beginning and end of each and every song, but this show manages that feat. Embrace the experience and enthusiasm of your fellow audience members as part of the fun. Not only is this show groundbreaking, the experience of seeing it feels groundbreaking. Maybe it’s the moment, or perhaps it’s movement, but either way it’s a great night at the theater.

The Drinks: A new bar/restaurant called Fermentation Lab recently opened up down the street from the Orpheum on Market, so we went there for drinks. The kitchen is closed by the time the show gets out  (if you go before, get dinner – such good food), but they feature a rotating selection of CA craft beers which is a pretty awesome SF way to raise a glass to a fun night of drama talk and drinks.

Hamilton runs until the beginning of August, and SHN recently released a new block of tickets, so there are still seats you can purchase through the SHN website. Tickets prices range from $100 to $868, with a 6 ticket limit per person. If you’re feeling lucky try the nightly digital lottery where $10 tickets are available to each performance.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: You For Me For You – “The craziness of North Korea”

Crowded Fire Theater company has been on fire recently with their bold productions of innovative new works. When we heard they had a new show opening, in their recently renovated space, we knew we wanted to go see it. So off we went for a night of Drama Talk and Drinks in Potrero Hill to catch their latest show and the Bay Area premiere of Mia Chung’s play You For Me For You.

Minhee (Kathryn Han) finds herself on a mystical journey of memory. Along the way she encounters various characters played by Jomar Tagatac. Photo by Pak Han
Minhee (Kathryn Han) finds herself on a mystical journey of memory. Along the way she encounters various characters played by Jomar Tagatac.
Photo by Pak Han

Brittany: That was a very interesting play. There were certain things that I liked a lot. It was interesting to see the one sister (Minhee played by Kathryn Han) essentially travel through her psyche, dealing with her past and coping with the craziness of North Korea . It was also interesting to see the world from the perspective of Junhee (Grace Ng) a North Korean refugee. It gave a the audience a first person POV of what the immigrant experience feels like.  But then there were some things that confused me about the script, like, I don’t think I really understood how the passage of time worked in the play.

Katie: Yeah, that was confusing. I’m not sure why they brought up time at all. It just made my brain try and connect the dots between the two story-lines, which distracted me from truly connecting to the emotional elements of the story.

B: That happened to me too. It was a very intellectual play, and it was intellectually interesting to me, but the part of my brain that was trying to understand exactly what was going on distracted me from getting as emotionally involved.

K: I agree, once the older sister fell “into the well”, the stakes disappeared since I assumed there wasn’t really any going back. I love magical realism, but the extreme shifts this show between the magic and the realism didn’t work for me, I just couldn’t connect with it.

B: I thought it was a very creative and smart play though. I liked the way they interpreted what it must be like for a person who’s new to a country and doesn’t speak the language. There are sounds are coming at you but you don’t know what they are. I also appreciated the way they used the idea of food to create a powerful juxtaposition between life in North Korea, where she had to beg for rice, compared to life in America, where she couldn’t order lunch because there were too many options on the menu. I think I would tell people to go see it because it’s interesting, even if I wasn’t that emotionally invested in it. I thought the actors were talented too.

K: Yeah, the actors were really good. I just think there was something about the structure of the script that distracted me. The production, the new perspectives, the actors were all good, but overall the play as a whole didn’t quite do it for me.

The Verdict: You For Me For You is a very smart play that provides some fascinating insights into life in North Korea, and the American refugee experience. If you want to see a play that makes you think, go see it, if you’re looking for something that makes you feel all the feels, you may want to sit this one out since it’s a little heady.

The Drama Talk: Crowded Fire Theater calls itself “A vital home for fierce, new plays” which is why we love this company. They’re always doing something fresh and interesting, that usually speaks to the moment in which we are living. New plays can be tricky though, because when you try new things they don’t always work, which is how You For Me For You felt for us. It’s a fascinating script that tries a lot of interesting things and makes the audience think. But sometimes less is more, and You For Me For Youin throwing the audience about in time, space and reality made it harder to connect to the deeply emotional story of two sisters trying to save each-other from the trauma of life in North Korea.

The Drinks: We really only go to one bar after a show at the Thick House and that’s Blooms Saloon. It’s close with plenty of seating, cheap drinks, and a sweet view. We can never find a reason to head somewhere else.

For you For Me For You runs through April 1st at Thick House. Tickets are $15-$30 and can be purchased on their website.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Into the Woods – “Voices like velvet butter”

Stephen Sondheim’s dark take on classic fairy-tales, Into the Woods, has always been a favorite of your DT&D critics. We saw it when we were kids. We obsessively listened to the soundtrack in high school, hoping to get cast as Little Red (Brittany) or The Baker’s Wife (Katie). We even saw the 2014 movie version starring Meryl Streep as The Witch when it came out that Christmas. So when we heard that Fiasco Theater company’s pared down Broadway revival (that originated at Roundabout Theater) was touring to SHN’s Golden Gate theater, we knew we needed to see it for Drama Talk & Drinks.

Lisa Helmi Johanson as Little Red Ridinghood & Anthony Chatmon II as The Wolf. Photo by Joan Marcus
Lisa Helmi Johanson as Little Red Ridinghood & Anthony Chatmon II as The Wolf. Photo by Joan Marcus

Katie: Into the Woods has got to be my favorite musical of all time. It was the first musical I saw as a kid. It is the only musical I have ever acted in. It’s also just brilliantly written. It will always have a special place in my heart and can do no wrong.

Brittany: I love it too. It’s such a great musical. A quintessential Sondheim about how most people kind-of suck and life is messy. This show is so iconic, which means this company had a lot to live up to. I liked some of the decisions they made, it was very creative. But, there were a few places where the more pared down version didn’t quite live up to my idealized image of this show. Particularly in some of the big Witch finale scenes.

K: At first the stripped down -all the actors play multiple roles and instruments-format was a little hard for me too.  I had to really let go of some of my expectations. At the same time seeing it re-imagined was refreshing. I felt like I was watching a group of the most talented people I could imagine suddenly say “hey let’s head down to the basement, grab some rope, a ladder, a sheet and some boxes and put on Into the Woods”. That freshness was neat.

B: I really liked some of the things they did with the music. I’m a total sucker for the actors playing the instruments, and having non-traditional instruments as part of the props and set. There was also just some cool new instrumentation, the almost folk covers of the songs, that was really beautiful. I didn’t miss the big orchestra.

K: Great actors and singers too. Cinderella (Laurie Veldheer) and The Witch’s (Stephanie Umoh) voices were like velvet butter.

B: Yes such a talented cast. They did some clever stuff with lesser characters that was fun too. I loved the new take on Milky White (Darick Pead)!  In choosing to keep it simple and creative the actors were able to play a bit more, which added to the whimsy of the show. However they did lose some of the big magical finale moments that I expect of Into The Woods. I still really enjoyed it, I just love the original so much there were certain elements I missed.

The Verdict: Absolutely go see this show! It’s a creative take on a classic that you don’t want to miss. If you already love Into The Woods just remember to go in with an open mind. There will probably be some things about the original you miss, but this production makes up for it with a fresh new take that will surprise you.

The Drama Talk: Into the Woods is just a fantastic musical. Fiasco Theater company gives this show new life with their stripped-down fast-paced production. With a multi-talented cast,  each of whom plays multiple roles and multiple instruments throughout the show, the company adeptly creates a whimsical story-time feeling that brings the audience into the creative process. While some of the Broadway special effects are missing, the freshness of this production invites new insights into this well loved classic.

The Drinks: After a show at the Golden Gate Theater it’s hard not to go to the Showdown. It’s right across the street from the theater and it’s the no nonsense, no frills, no $14 drinks sort of a bar that is nice to hit up for a nightcap after an expensive night at the theater.

Into The Woods runs through April 2nd at The Golden Gate Theatre. There are $35 both virtual and in-person rush tickets available. You can check-out the SHN website for rush instructions. Goldstar also currently has tickets for $40-70 (normally priced $60-$105).
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Drama Talk & Drinks: Where All Good Rabbits Go – “An actual fucking rabbit”

DT&D always likes the work that local theatre company FaultLine Theater produces (past reviews here, here and here). They do a great job finding intriguing new works and bringing them to life. So when we heard they had a new show opening at PianoFight called Where All Good Rabbits Go we knew we wanted to check it out.

Charlie D. Gray as Julia, Derek Jones as Dorn, and Sugarloaf as Walter in Rabbit Form
Charlie D. Gray as Julia, Derek Jones as Dorn, and Sugarloaf as Walter- photo credit Katie Ravas

Katie: I don’t know what to say right now. I have very mixed feelings. The story was really interesting. I thought the imagery of Walter (Ed Berkeley) turning into a rabbit was really powerful, especially when they had a real rabbit on stage to show the transformation- very cool. But there were some things that just didn’t work for me. Like the transitions with the random ensemble actors, they took me out of it.

Brittany: Those transitions were rough.

K: Right?! They were kinda dancing, but none of them were dancers, so the choreography was out of sync. I don’t really understand the purpose either, aside from giving time for the main actors to do costume changes.

B: I totally agree. If they had been done really cleanly, they may have added to the show. As it was, all they did was distract from what was actually a lovely story. I thought the main actors were good though.

K: Yeah, I warmed up to them. As they got more relaxed, and you got deeper into their relationship, I really felt for them.

B: I really like the script. I think using the metaphor of turning into a rabbit as a way to explore the process of dying, death and how people cope was so clever.

K: Seeing him turn into a rabbit on stage, and to literally watch Julia (Charlie D. Gray) walk out with Walter as a rabbit, an actual fucking rabbit, was such an interesting thing to experience as an audience member. The way they cradled the rabbit and sat there with their arms around it, I honestly felt for a moment like Walter had actually become a rabbit. It was emotional.

B: It was! I was surprised too. When I saw rabbits in the playbill I was skeptical, but it totally worked.

The Verdict: If you can get past the wonky transitions and just appreciate the moving story Where All Good Rabbits Go is worth a watch.

The Drama Talk: We both really enjoyed the script. Exploring the idea of death as a transformation, by watching someone turn into a rabbit, is a very approachable way to deal with some deep subject matter. Also there’s a real rabbit on stage, so no matter what you get some cuteness. There were some opening night hiccups. The hazer they warned us about at the top of the show never hazed. The transitions were strange, and took us out of the show. Overall though, the story was strong enough, and the rabbit endearing enough, that it made for a worthwhile night.

The Drinks: Whenever we go to PianoFight we just end up staying at the bar to get drinks there. Why leave when you have good food, good drinks, and music all just outside the theater door?

Where All Good Rabbits Go runs through March 4th, Thurs-Sat. at 7:30pm at PianoFight. Tickets are $15-$30 on Eventbrite, or  there are currently $10 tickets available through Goldstar.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Rent – “there were a lot of “rent-heads” in the audience.”

We can’t believe it’s been 20 years since Rent became a thing, and it became a BIG thing. Your DT&D columnists were definitely both Rent-heads and obsessed with Rent in high school. We were so excited for this 20th Anniversary Tour!  Brittany couldn’t make it to the opening, so Katie brought her go-to back up reviewer Garrett, who had never seen the show and was excited to see what all the hype was about.

Rent-20th-Anniversary-tour

Garrett: So, I know this is your favorite musical of all time. How did it hold up?

Katie: Well, 20 years later and this show still has me in awe. It held up really well for me. I struggled with my super-fandom, knowing every line and every single word was annoying because I would anticipate everything. But it’s still the innovative, touching, raw, beautifully belted musical that I fell in love with when I was 15 years old.

G: As a Rent first timer, I’m definitely impressed. I did enjoy the second act more than the first, because I was a little lost in the beginning. Not being familiar with the show, I was trying to figure out what I was looking at, and hearing! It was super emotional, very dramatic and well done in terms of the talent. Great actors tonight. The singing was beautiful and the show had a lot of energy. It definitely sucked me in and kept me entertained, which is always what I’m looking for. And it was really cool to see a show that explored important social topics, which are still relevant today.

K: Who was your favorite character?

G: Hmm, I guess If I had to pick one it would be Mimi.

K: Yeah, I really liked the actress who played Mimi (Skyler Volpe). She made some interesting choices that were more subtle and real. Speaking of choices, I could tell that there were a lot of “Rent-heads” in the audience who know the broadway cast recording like the back of their hands. They would acknowledge with a clap or laugh when an actor changed something from the original performance. I could tell the audience was feeling it.

The Verdict: Rent is the original Hamilton. A must see musical, period.

The Drama Talk: This won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and best Original Score for a reason. It’s a brilliant 90’s rock opera that will make you laugh, think and cry. Tackling social issues, this musical grabs you immediately with its raw, fast paced style. With all of the dialogue sung rather than spoke, the style can be choppy and distracting at times, especially for someone new to the show. But don’t worry, you’re in good hands with this talented cast and rockin’ orchestra.

The Drinks: We stumbled upon a new bar called “BIIG” that hasn’t even officially opened yet. It’s just a block up from the theater and was quite bohemian chic. There thing is having no menu so we just told the bartender our choice alcohol and preferences and they create something unique. And unique felt like the appropriate drink experience after seeing this show.

Rent runs through February 19th at The Golden Gate Theatre. There are both $40 mobile and $25 in-person rush tickets available. You can check-out the SHN website for rush info. Goldstar also currently has tickets for $60 (normally priced $90).

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Fun Home – “The real mixed in with the magical.”

If you follow theater in San Francisco you probably heard about the grand-reopening of the Curran Theater last week, following two years of extensive renovations (creating both more bars and more bathrooms – win!).  Our Drama Talk & Drinks crew was on the scene to see what all the fuss was about. As Jan Whal, KRON 4’s theater critic said “all the best people” were there.

Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom kicked off the night honoring Carole Shorenstein Hays, the owner of the Curran who spearheaded the effort to revitalize this important arts hub in San Francisco. Noting in his remarks “In San Francisco we celebrate diversity, not just tolerate it” Gavin laid out one of the themes for the evening; San Francisco and its arts community are sanctuaries for all. It was a fitting introduction to the show of the night, Fun Home, a Tony award winning musical based on the graphic memoir (by the same name) written by lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel.

Fun Home Program Cover - by Alison Bechdel
Fun Home Program Cover – by Alison Bechdel

Brittany: That was a very cool experience. It’s neat to be out tonight celebrating theater, celebrating a play about being queer, celebrating freedom of expression. It feels more important now. It’s also a great story.

Katie: I liked it too. I was actually pleasantly surprised. I’ve listened to the soundtrack and wasn’t that into it, but now I know why. The songs really depend on the strong story, which you don’t really get listening to the CD.

B: It also helps that this production had great actors with great voices.

K: True! I also really appreciated how simple and stripped down the show was. It didn’t rely on big flashy Broadway ballads, but just simple, truthful songs. It was nice. The scene when Alison’s character is in college (played by Abby Corrigan) and has her first sexual experience with a girl was my favorite. It was charming, simple and full of discoveries. Just her, in her underwear, and her date asleep in the bed. It was refreshing to see such a human moment in a Broadway musical.

B: College aged Allison was just so perfectly awkward and innocent. My favorite song was the one with older Alison in the car with her Dad (Robert Petkoff). I loved it. You could just feel the tension between them, and so much love, and confusion, and pain, and excitement too. I thought that was a really great moment for both of them.

K: It was really nice to see a simple, edgy but relatable family story as a mainstream musical finally.  I really think we are there. I don’t need anymore huge generic Broadway spectacles. I want the real mixed in with the magical. That’s when I’m really moved. This show moved me.

The Verdict: The renovated Curran is beautiful, and Fun Home is the perfect play to welcome back this San Francisco artistic hub. Go check it out!

The Drama Talk: The cover of the program (above) has an audience member leaving Fun Home saying “That was exactly like my family! But totally different!” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. By showing an ordinary, yet still extraordinary, life on stage Fun Home helps all of us recognize the value in simple moments. During the pre-show red carpet we got a chance to ask Alison Bechdel what she wanted the audience to take away from the evening. She replied “I’m trying so hard to not be completely despairing right now. We are here, celebrating this thing, while the world is going to fucking hell. It’s very strange. What I would say is that it’s important for us all to keep doing our work. To keep doing the things we love and that are important to us. We have to keep doing that. It might seem trivial but it’s not.”  Theater illuminates, it heals, it helps us empathize, all things we’re going to need a lot of these next few years. Fortunately San Francisco has the Curran back in action ready to be a sanctuary for all.

The Drinks: A big part of the Curran’s renovation is the addition of three new bars  on each level of the audience. In honor of opening night bars stayed open after the show, pouring California wines, and giving the audience the opportunity to snoop around the new space. Fortunately for you, the Curran website says that this isn’t just a one-night thing. They plan to make a practice of keeping the doors open for post-show drinks. So no need to venture far for your drama talk and drinks.

Fun Home runs through February 19th at the Curran Theater. Tickets are available through the Curran website and range from $49-185 depending on where you sit. If you buy a ticket to Fun Home or Eclipsed, the next production slated for the Curran, you automatically become a Curran Club member. A Curran Club membership gives you special access to VIP events, ticket discounts and supposedly other dope deals, so one more reason to catch this show before it’s gone.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Hedda Gabler – “Total girl crush”

Now seems like an important time to revisit critiques of a traditional women’s role in society. So when we heard that Hedda Gabler (the classic Ibsen play about the iconic female protagonist, Hedda Gabler, and her struggle for power and freedom in a patriarchal world) was being performed by the Cutting Ball Theater company at EXIT Theater we knew we had to go out for some drama talk and drinks.

Britney Frazier is Hedda Gabler. Photo by Liz Olson
Britney Frazier is Hedda Gabler. Photo by Liz Olson

Brittany: I really loved it. I have a soft spot for Hedda Gabler since I studied it in college, and she’s such an amazing character. I think they did a great job making it really fast and light, which isn’t easy. The whole cast was really strong, especially Hedda (Britney Frazier), she was amazing!

Katie: Yeah, she was great.

B: She had such a stage presence. Just a half smile, or a slight turn of her head said so much. Total girl-crush. I just loved it. I have no idea if you did, or if I’m just a Hedda head maybe.

K: I don’t know if I LOVED it, but I certainly didn’t dislike it. I did really enjoy how fresh it felt. It kinda reminded me of the Leonardo DiCaprio Romeo and Juliet- edgy and artistic. Particularly what they did with the music. It almost felt like they were scoring the play at the beginning which was cool. I’m just not as big a fan of old-school plays like this. I mean Chekhov and Ibsen are fine, but they can sometimes be a slog.

B: I think that’s what they did so well in this production though. That script has some dense language, and normally it runs over two hours. This show was 75 minutes flat. It was fast. They got in, out, and told the story. If you’re a purist you’d probably be upset with how much they cut, but I didn’t really miss anything. They had such urgency to their performances it made the show exciting.

K: True, and it was visually really cool. An inventive set, and great use of such a small space.  I loved the costumes too. Her dresses in particular were beautiful. Hedda was so powerful. She brought this sense of danger and urgency to the show, it was refreshing.

The Verdict: A vibrant and fresh take on a classic piece of theater. Go see it!

The Drama Talk: This production does a great job of distilling the story of Hedda Gabler down to its essence. It feels fresh, while still honoring the world of the play that Ibsen originally envisioned. Cutting Ball pulls the symbolic imagery from Ibsen’s script and manifests it onstage with a minimalist set full of flowers. Britney Frazier does a masterful job as Hedda, bringing to life one of the greatest female roles in theater. Her powerful performance holds the same power over the audience as Hedda holds over the people in her life. While Hedda is trapped in the domestic life that society demands of women, this production does not feel trapped in the past, and makes for a refreshing night of great theater.

The Drinks: After the show we wanted to go somewhere that kept the energy going. We went a few blocks down to Tradition, which if you haven’t been yet is a totally awesome bar, with great drinks and very cool seating (the have private booths you can reserve). Katie got the Grand Hotel and Brittany got the Molecular and we toasted to a refreshing night of drama talk and drinks.

Hedda Gabler runs through February 26th at the EXIT Theater in the TL. Performances are Thursday-Sunday. Tickets, which can be purchased through the Cutting Ball Theater website, seem to go up in price as the run goes on, so go early to get cheaper seats.  Prices range from $27-$45 for General Admission, there are also discount student tickets available.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Finding Neverland – “business as usual”

Do you remember the 2004 award winning film with Johnny Depp called Finding Neverland? It’s about the playwright, J. M. Barrie, and the story of writing the original play Peter Pan. We really like the film, which made us excited for the musical adaptation to come to SF. It’s usually either a super-hit or mega-miss when a popular film gets made into a musical, so we headed to the Orpheum Theatre to see which of those this one was going to be.

finding_neverland_production_still_4

Katie: Wow. I’m disappointed. This was a business as usual musical for me. It felt like the producers pulled a lets-just-check-the-boxes and throw together a musical based on an award winning film with a popular story and cash-in. This story and music didn’t move me. There was no soul or depth. I didn’t really care about the characters. The music was super generic. I don’t understand how this got green lit. Maybe this was for kids?

Brittany: I don’t think it was 100% business as usual. There were some interesting and beautiful visuals (which you expect from Tony Award winning director Diane Paulus), but you’re right about the music and the play generally, it felt very cookie-cutter. I liked that they tried to create a fantastical spectacle, but even some of the background video projections were too much, they almost looked like screen savers.

K: Yes! I couldn’t think of a word for those wonky projections but that is exactly what it looked like!

B: The music was the big disappointment for me, it didn’t even match the period of when the show was set. Finding Neverland is set in the early 1900s and it sounded like shitty pop-music. I didn’t like any of the songs.

K: Me either, nothing was memorable. From the first 5 minutes I knew this was going to be generic and corny as all hell!

B: Despite the mediocre score and book though, there were some strong performances. Tom Hewitt, who played the producer, Charles Frohman, and the id-version of Captain Hook was fascinating to watch. Also I was so impressed by the kids in the show. The boys were really sweet and genuine and the boy who played Peter (we saw Ben Krieger) was great! So it’s not like there weren’t good elements to this production but the play itself was not good. It’s just not a very good musical.

The Verdict: Finding Neverland was a miss as far as we’re concerned, but some of the kids in the audience seemed to be pretty taken with the whimsical staging. If you have a kid in your life that loves Peter Pan they may like it, but otherwise we’d say sit this one out.

The Drama Talk: This is a very pretty production with some great costumes, sets and actors, but it stops there. There isn’t a single memorable song. The music and lyrics were done by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, who both worked on the X-Factor (the British American Idol spin-off). They have much more impressive pop-music resumes than they do musical theatre, which may explain some of the terribly corny out of place pop-power-ballads in the show. The Peter Pan story is so well loved that you can’t help but smile when Tinkerbell appears, but the play relies on these easy moments of nostalgia to keep the audience engaged while not creating anything truly unique. We’d rather just see Peter Pan again.

The Drinks: We were tired after seeing this show (it’s a 2 hour and 30 minute show with a 15 minute intermission). We needed to go somewhere we could get a strong and quick drink so we headed to Oddjob on 9th and Mission, which satisfied both of those needs.

Finding Neverland runs through February 12th at The Orpheum Theatre. There are $40 both virtual and in-person rush tickets available. You can check-out the SHN website for rush instructions. Goldstar also currently has tickets for $75 (normally priced $105).

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Drama Talk & Drinks: The Speakeasy – “appreciate where you are in the moment”

For those of you who missed the The Speakeasy the first time around, it’s an immersive play set in prohibition-era San Francisco. It had a sell out run in the TL in 2014. After losing their space, they decided to find a more permanent one to keep the show running. They closed for about a year, did an awesome crowd-funded micro investment campaign, got a space on the North Beach/Chinatown border, and set about to converting it into a real, three times bigger than the original, Speakeasy.  When The Speakeasy officially re-opened we knew we had to see it again, so Brittany donned her flapper dress, and brought Sam with her for a fresh perspective. After the show we stumbled over to Vesuvio to dissect what we had just experienced. We pushed our way into a table with a lovely couple who were also dressed as a flapper and a gangster. As we had guessed, they had also just seen the show, so we asked them to join us for drama talk and drinks.

The Speakeasy. Megan Wicks as Velma. Photo by Peter Liu

Gangster: It was striking how much effort went into transporting the audience. The production value, the set design, the sound design, the different story lines, how immersive it was, I loved it. It’s nice to be able to put away our modern life, put the cell phones away for the night, and just experience something amazing.

Flapper: I agree, I enjoyed having a night out with no phones. The show was so intricate, there were so many things going on, but it never felt forced or fake. We were just comparing our experiences and it was fun because we each got something different out of it. There are so many story-lines, I could see how you could go back over and over again and still see something new. If you spend the night in the casino, you’ll have a totally different night than someone who stays in the cabaret, or watches the dressing rooms. It’s also fun to see a theater performance, with performances in it, so you see the characters on the stage in the cabaret, and then you get to see their back stories and feel like you’re behind the scenes.

Sam: It was also fun to be integrated into the scene in a way that you aren’t normally in theater. You’re an audience member in the cabaret, which is a play within a play, so you almost have to become a character yourself. Everyone dresses the part too, like you guys look amazing, you can’t tell the audience from the actors.

Brittany: I think what’s great about this show, compared to other immersive theater plays I’ve seen, is you really have a hard time parsing fiction from reality. In shows like Sleep No More you know the plot. When you see a character you know who they are and their role in the story. Here you don’t know the story-lines, and you have no idea who is in the play and who is an audience member, which makes the discovery process that much more exciting.

F: Exactly, this is the first time in a long time I’ve left a show and really wanted to talk about. Like, which things did you see, what pieces of the plot do you have, because you only get bits and pieces of the show. We didn’t know how much we were supposed to stick to a structured thing, so we didn’t really move around the space until the second half of the show when we realized there were other rooms. I am sure there is a ton we missed.

B: I think no matter what you’re going to miss something, you just have to appreciate where you are in the moment.

S: So true, I think my favorite part was a scene we watched while we were spying on the office where two actors were performing, and just three of us were watching. No one else got to see that bit of plot, and that made the experience that much more special.

The Verdict: Absolutely a must see. We didn’t think it was possible to like this show more than the first time we reviewed it, but this new space is amazing, the show is tighter and overall the experience is more impressive. Yes, it’s expensive, and you have to budget for some of their delicious cocktails too, but buy it as a gift to yourself. It’s totally worth it.

The Drama Talk: The Speakeasy space is absolutely amazing. The cabaret is beautiful, the bar feels smoky even though there’s no smoke, and you totally feel like a creeper snooping into the ultra realistic dressing rooms and office. It doesn’t look like a set, it looks like a real speakeasy with classic cocktails and all. Since the audience is dressed up as much as the actors you sometimes forget that you’re in a play. This is the real-life version of virtual reality – we felt transported to the 1920s. There are so many different pieces to this production that it’s impossible to see it all. Yes it does still give you a certain amount of FOMO, but honestly it’s just too fun to care. While you don’t leave knowing the full story of any of the characters, you do leave with snapshots into their lives which are powerful. You could easily see this show 4 or 5 times and still not really know what happened, but that is part of the beauty and what should make this permanent run possible.

The Drinks: The Speakeasy is a speakeasy.  So much so you can go to the bar known as Club 1923 on certain nights after the show just for drinks. They have great cocktails, which are way too easy to order. You give them your credit card ahead of time so after your third drink you forget that you’re still paying them when you show your wooden nickle. The booze flows freely, and some audience members were more than tipsy by the end, but if you’re looking for a place for more drinks after the show Vesuvio is stumbling distance from the door.

Tickets for The Speakeasy can be purchased through The Speakeasy SF website and are currently available through March. Although some nights are sold-out there are lots of others that still have space, so if you need a last minute gift you can still book now. Thursday and Sunday shows are $85, Friday and Saturday shows are $110. You can also become a member of Club 1923 if you want to keep going back, and get discounted tickets for you and your friends. Club 1923 is also open on select nights after the show, so if you want to get a sneak peek into the space without committing to the show, you can pay a $10 cover for a night of drinking in a pretty dope bar.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Next Time Let’s Take the Stairs – “All these strange people are on a metaphorical elevator ride”

“Darkly comic theater that moves” is how local performance company 13th Floor describes itself. We’re always up to see inventive original San Francisco theater, so when we saw the press release for 13th Floor’s latest show Next Time I’ll Take the Stairs we knew it was time for some drama talk and drinks.

From left, Colin Epstein, Julie Mahony, David Silpa, Zach Fischer and Jenny McAllister appear in “Next Time, I’ll Take the Stairs.” (Courtesy Robbie Sweeny)
From left, Colin Epstein, Julie Mahony, David Silpa, Zach Fischer and Jenny McAllister  (Courtesy Robbie Sweeny)

Brittany: It was beautiful to watch. The movement was mesmerizing. They were really good at integrating lighting, sound and dance to create poetic stage pictures and some fascinating moments. The narrative was so abstract though. I had a hard time getting into the story. It seemed like the characters all had very precise backstories, but I couldn’t really piece them together. I found myself getting frustrated that I didn’t really know what was going on.

Katie: I kept thinking there was going to be a reveal, like oh this turn is going to tell us something. I was hoping for an ah-ha moment, but there never was one.

B: There were moments that I thought I started to understand what was going on, like – okay all these strange people are on a metaphorical elevator ride, and the reason they are all there is because they have some sort of weird painful history, and they all need to be in this space together to be able to eventually get to where they want to go – but I don’t even know if that abstract concept is right? I didn’t know what I was supposed to take away.

K: Exactly, and not being able to connect the story with the movement left me pretty unsatisfied. It was interesting, and the movement was beautiful, but the story fell short for me.

The Verdict: Go to this show for the aesthetics. If you like very abstract, poetic, visual movement-based work you’ll enjoy this performance. If you want a strong narrative with rich characters that tells a moving story, this show doesn’t quite get there for us.

The Drama Talk:  The 13th Floor company is made up of performers who have a strong background in acrobatics and dance, and that is where this show shines.  It’s very clear that all of these actors work really closely together. They move effortlessly through some pretty detailed and difficult choreography. It’s a visually engaging and beautiful piece with some interesting moments, but the storytelling element fell short. Yes, we were engaged, but this piece felt like you should leave with an emotional response, and the storytelling didn’t get us there.

The Drinks: This show is just an hour long, and the show we saw started at 7pm, so we decided to get dinner after the show at Tartine Manufactory. The whimsical space is a good compliment to the show and an appropriate way to end a night of beautiful San Francisco made art.

Next Time, I’ll Take the Stairs runs through this weekend Dec. 18 at Joe Goode Annex. Tickets are available on their website for $15-$40.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat – “It was refreshing”

Golden Thread Productions has been on the DT&D radar for a while, but bad timing has stopped us from reviewing one of their shows…until now. They’re wrapping up their 20th season with a West-Coast premiere of Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat by Egyptian-American playwright Yussef El Guindi, so off we went to Thick House theater in Potrero Hill for a night of Drama Talk and Drinks.

James Asher as Gamal (left)  and Kunal Prasad as Mohsen (right)
James Asher as Gamal (left) and Kunal Prasad as Mohsen (right)

Katie: Wow. What a great story. A good set, good lighting, good acting, and good writing that was deep but also funny. It’s cool to have a theater company focused on stories from the Middle East. I feel like this play offered a well rounded and balanced perspective that often doesn’t get onstage.

Brittany: I agree. It was refreshing to have a show give voice to so many nuanced and authentic perspectives, while still being entertaining. It would be easy for a play that’s dealing with frustration about the way Arab-Americans are represented in American media to get preachy or pedantic. This play stuck to good storytelling and somehow avoided that. I thought that it was a really honest play.

K: I loved the actress who played Noor (Denmo Ibrahim). She was so authentic and in the moment. It was great to watch her find so many discoveries in all her lines. There were moments when she was onstage and I forgot I was watching a play.

B: I loved her too. I also really liked the character of the Sheikh’s son, Hani (Salim Razawi). His monologue emails back from visiting his family in Egypt were really lovely. Overall a pretty strong cast.

K: There just isn’t a reason not to see this show.

B: And it’s cool that it’s Golden Threads 20th anniversary. It’s entertaining, and engaging…

K: It’s unpredictable.

B: It isn’t a perspective you necessarily get to hear a lot either. People should absolutely go see it.

The Verdict: Go see it! It’s a smart, refreshing, and all around engaging night at the theater.

The Drama Talk: This is Golden Thread Productions 20th anniversary year. They are the first American theatre company who is dedicated to focusing on the Middle East and producing “passionate and provocative plays… that celebrate the multiplicity of its perspectives and identities.” Our Enemies does just that. By focusing on three intersecting storylines the show shares the struggle of the Arab American community as it tries to define itself. Families fight and sometimes those who are most like us can be the most frustrating. The heartfelt and multidimensional characters in this play show us how we can sometimes be our own worst enemies.

The Drinks: As is often the case when we go to a show at the Thick House, we decided to head up the hill to Blooms Saloon for great city views and cheap drinks. If you’re looking for a nearby place to get into the spirit of the play though, consider hitting up Pera before the show for some awesome Turkish food. They close too early to be a good post-show option.

Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat runs through November 20th at Thick House. Tickets are $34 for general admission and $24 for students and seniors and can be purchased on their website.Tickets are also available on Goldstar on select nights for $17.

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