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.

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.

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).

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.

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: An Interview with Thrillpeddlers Founder and Director on Losing Their Performance Space

The DT&D team has a soft spot for local San Francisco theater. We love the quirky, innovative, and rule-breaking companies that make our theater scene unique. So when we heard that the Hypnodrome, home of the Thrillpeddlers (and their classic Halloween-tastic show Shocktoberfest), was going to close at the end of February we wanted to know what was up. We asked Russell Blackwood, The Thrillpeddlers Company Founder and Director, to give us the scoop.

Thrillpeddlers Amazon Apocalypse

Brittany: We were so sad to hear about you losing the Hypnodrome space. The work you do is so unique and truly San Francisco.

Russell: I arrived in San Francisco in ‘89 and I remember in my first year here meeting people and saying “you’re the kind of person I came to San Francisco to meet”. Those experiences got me thinking; How do I become the kind of person that people came to San Francisco to meet? How do I make the kind of art people come to San Francisco to see? I think Thrillpeddlers has been a reflection of that without a doubt.

B: From hearing the story of how you got the Hypnodrome space originally, it sounds like a little bit of Bay Area love and luck went into starting the space. Can you tell us a little more about that?

R: Yeah, the space was offered to my husband within 5 minutes of meeting the gentleman that owned it. In the spring of 2004, my husband Jim Toczyl, was working the first day of his new mail route in Los Gatos. He was wearing a Thrillpeddlers “Sissies Stay Home” T-shirt under his open USPS shirt and struck up a conversation with one of the homeowners on his route about our theatre and the daunting prospect, even then, of renting a theater space in San Francisco. Right on the spot he volunteered; “We have building in San Francisco where you could do a show.” As it turned out, the space did make a perfect theatre. While the offer was just for 2 years originally, we’ve been able to stay for 13. I’ve gotten 11 years beyond what they offered so I’m happy with that.

B: Any ideas of where Thrillpeddlers will go next?

R: I believe that there are rental houses in town that would suit Thrillpeddlers well, and I believe that there are a few companies where a co-production might be a possibility in the future. We’re still assessing our options. As I watch rehearsals for Amazon Apocalypse (the final show slated for the Hypnodrome) I realize how – wow, well I might as well say it – smutty and rarefied our aesthetic might be and how it might not play to every subscription based company in the Bay Area.

B: Tell us a little bit about Amazon Apocalypse?

R: We’ve just added 3 more shows to the run. It will be a semi staged concert version of the show we had originally planned to produce in full in April. The show is set in Brazil over the period of about 100 years. The premise is that there is a prophecy that if the devil could come to earth, and enter the body of a human being, and put himself in a position to cum 7 times, there will be a thousand years on earth without conflict. So the show takes us to all kinds of locations in Brazil, through all kinds of periods in history, as the devil is entering the body of everything from an Italian opera singer, to an abortion doctor, to a children’s television superstar. It’s a nod to Brazilian sexuality, but also to the fragility of the rain-forest and the importance of that environment to the health of the earth. So it has both the touchy-feely and really raunchy going on simultaneously. This is a chance for our audience to get behind the work and hopefully see it to fruition at another venue eventually. This is also a great opportunity to workshop the piece.

B: The Hypnodrome is such a cool space, your sets and costumes are awesome. I heard you’re doing a rummage sale as you close down the space. Do you have any particular pieces that you are excited to see go to a new home?

R: Yes, there is very little that we are hanging on to, but I will confess to you now that we have made a decision to hold on to the guillotine, which is probably the one high ticket item that people have been inquiring about. Other than that, there is a lot of theatrical decor and fashion and special effects to be picked up. There are some severed heads that are particularly beautiful, and there are certainly some outlandish costumes from Cockette shows. Even ones that were designed and built by actual Cockettes. We have acquired a lot of things, much of it through the generosity and the altruism of others, so passing those things back out into the world at an affordable price is adding to the flow of karma that we have enjoyed for so long.

B: Aside from coming to the shows and to the rummage sale, is there anything else that people can do to help support Thrillpeddlers?

R: There is!. By buying tickets to our final shows, and of course donating to us through our website. Also, just by signing up for our newsletter, so we can keep in touch. In the future risking going to a new venue, that you haven’t been before, because we are there will make a big difference. Generally we need our community to keep holding the torch for this multi-generational freak theater company that doesn’t exist anywhere else.

The Hypnodrome closes at the end of February, so be sure to check out one of the Thrillpeddlers’ final shows on their home stage before they go. Amazon Apocalypse will be presented as a semi-staged concert for 7 nights February 8th-11th and 15th-17th at 8:00pm at the Hypnodrome (tickets $35 GA, $40 front row, shock boxes or Turkish Lounge). Thrillpeddlers are also hosting two Valentine’s Day benefit concerts and variety shows entitled Farewell to The Hypnodrome on  Tues. Feb. 14, 2017 – 7:00 pm & 9:00 pm (it appears those concerts are sold out at time of publishing). Finally don’t forget to stop by in the final days to fill your requite costume bins at the Hypnodrome Rummage Sale Feb. 25th & 26th, Noon – 5:00 pm. More information and tickets can be found on the Thrillpeddlers website, where you can also donate and sign up to find out what’s next for the company.

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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).

Brittany Janis & Katie Cruz

Posts: 65

Twitter: @brittanymorgan

Biographical Info:

Brittany and Katie are theater lovers with a drinking habit. We love nothing more than seeing shows and telling you what we think about them over drinks. We both studied this stuff (woohoo theatre majors), so we have some idea what we're talking about, but most of all, we want to be brutally honest so you know when we tell you to go see a show, you really really should go see it. Seriously, turn off Netflix and go see some live entertainment!