Your Drama Talk & Drinks Holiday Guide

Here at DT&D we feel like every season is a good season to see theater. But the holiday season, with the relative cold, rain and staycation days, is perfect for getting into some cozy theaters. Katie & Brittany suggest some local shows that you might want to check out. Here’s their report:


[file photo by me]

From gin & tonicah Hanukkah fetes, to ugly sweater parties, to awkward office eggnog-a-thons, your calendar may already be booked through 2015. But for those of you who are looking for a theater fix, or to find a family friendly outing while people are in town, we didn’t want to leave you hanging. Although we normally don’t recommend shows without prior viewing, with holiday parties and cold and flu season upon us, we just didn’t have time to see everything. But that’s no reason for you to miss out. So without further ado, here’s our round-up of what caught our eye this holiday season that we didn’t get to see.

Looking for laughs?

A Merry Forking Christmas
PianoFight’s brand-spanking-new-Kickstarter-funded venue is opening this week! The first show to pop the champagne on its main stage is A Merry Forking Christmas, their reliably funny choose-your-own-adventure holiday sketch show. Go check out PianoFight’s new digs, try their new bar, and forget about your holiday stress. From the mouths of marketers:

The Holidays are the most magical time of the year, unless you’re stuck in the mall on Christmas Eve. PianoFight’s A Merry FORKING! Christmas chronicles the final hours of the Christmas shopping frenzy through the eyes of a pot-dealing Santa and his cookie-stand partner in crime, a mall security guard on his last legs, a bride-to-be deserted by her would-be fiancé, and a bored mortician who’s got nothing to do until people get back to the business of dying once the holidays have ended. The fates of these five characters and whether Christmas can be saved for each is left up to the audience who will vote at crucial forks in the plot to determine the final outcome. This December, with 362,880 possible paths through the show, saving Christmas is up to you. Get your tickets here.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Kinky Boots – “In a way it was crazy impressive”

SF “fun” fact: Lena Hall, who originated the role of Nicola in the Broadway production of Kinky Boots, was in my high school class at School of the Arts, back when it was still behind SF State University. So she’s there, and I’m typing this, so obviously we are both shining our bright lights. Anyway, enough about me, Katie & Brittany checked out the local production of Kinky Boots last week, their reactions split down the middle. Here’s their review:

When it’s rainy in SF it’s a challenge just getting out of the house. But when presented with the opportunity for drag queens, fabulous boots, and a night out at The Orpheum, it’s hard to say no. So we braved the monsoon to go see SHN’s latest tour, Kinky Boots.

Katie: I hate to say it, but I’m a little disappointed. Going into this show all I knew was that Cyndi Lauper wrote the music, it won the Tony, and there were drag queens and boots involved. But given Cyndi Lauper’s LGBTQ advocacy, I thought it was going to have more substance and innovation. I guess I was expecting something more like Rent, but with fancier shoes and a few more drag queens. I came in hoping for cutting edge musical theater that would entertain you and make you think. All that kind of bullshit I love. This was just a little forced.

Brittany: That’s so funny. I had the exactly opposite reaction. I was actually pleasantly surprised. I didn’t think I was going to like this show because I had a feeling it was going to be way too fluffy, but it was actually a bit deeper than I thought it might be. I mean it’s a show about shoes, but there were moments.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: “If Paris Hilton could play Roxie Hart we’d be set for life” – CHICAGO

Katie was out of town, so I got to go with Brittany to SHN’s Chicago tour. I’m a big fan of musicals, and I think more people would be if they gave them a chance. Chicago is a great entry point, with its relentless energy, dark humor, sexy style and classic Fosse pizazz. This cast was great and the show was a whole lot of fun. If you really need another nudge, Seinfeld‘s J. Peterman (John O’Hurley) has awesome personality as Billy Flynn, and of course, Bianca Marroquin is amazing as Roxie. Here’s Brittany’s report:

[via SHN]

Thanks to the 2002 film version of the Broadway classic Chicago most people have an idea where they stand when it comes to this play. Since Broadway touring casts tend to be pretty uniformly great, we thought rather than do a normal Drama Talk & Drinks review of the show, we’d go backstage and give you some insights into why you might want to see this current production in particular, now open at SHN’s Orpheum Theater until November 16th.

After a quick backstage tour, we sat down with Christophe Caballero, swing and understudy for Mary Sunshine, and Adam Pellegrine, who plays Harry, Martin Harrison, and is part of the ensemble, to talk about what it’s like to perform in SF and what’s special about this current production of Chicago. Skip to the end if you want our quick and dirty assessment of the show, but Adam and Christophe had some fun things to say.

Brittany: What’s it like to perform for a San Francisco audience?

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Party People – “I certainly couldn’t dance like that”

Fortunately for all of us, theater is alive and well in the Bay Area. Between some great shows and inspiring conversations, Drama Talk & Drinks is seeming more and more hopeful for lively, challenging and engaging performance around here. I dunno about you, but I am feeling jazzed to get out and see some theater. More on that soon. In the meantime, Brittany and her boyfriend took his mom to Berkeley Rep to see their new show, Party People. Here’s their report:

[(l to r) Christopher Livingston (Malik), Steven Sapp (Omar), and Reggie D. White (Solias) perform in UNIVERSES’ Party People, a high-wattage fusion of story and song that unlocks the legacy of the Black Panthers and Young Lords at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com]

When parents visit, finding events with reasonable decibel levels can sometimes be a challenge. So when Brittany’s SO’s Mom was in town, they decided to treat her to a night at one of the best theaters in the Bay Area, Berkeley Rep, to see their current show Party People. Since the play is partially about fostering intergenerational dialogue, we figured why not do a Drama Talk & Drinks Parent-Visit edition!

Brittany: One of the biggest problems with the current theatre scene, at least in my opinion, is it tends to play it too safe and fall back on what’s already been done. We see so many revivals and classics being remounted, and even with new plays lots of topics have been revisited ad nauseum. There’s definitely something to be said for timeless theater, but it’s hard to stay relevant without taking some risks. This play takes risks.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: “There aren’t a lot of black people left in San Francisco”

Katie & Brittany sat down with Eric Reid, who is starting a new theater company aimed at providing meaningful roles for people of color. Which is awesome. SF has a real diversity problem. Specifically, the African American population is disappearing. And there is far too little effort being made to address this. Eric missed a World Series game to talk with them, so the least you could do is look at his flyer (below), which is also awesome. Here’s their report:

A press release came across our inbox about a new-to-us theater company called Theatre Madcap that was doing a “deliberately diverse” production of True West. Even though we knew we couldn’t make the show to review it, we were intrigued. So we asked the Co-Founder and Artistic Director, Eric Reid, to coffee to tell us about his company and his show.

Katie: Tell us about Theatre Madcap.

Eric: We started it, my wife and I that is, about 2 and a half years ago. We started it really because as a black actor I’m frustrated that I can’t find a lot of roles for myself, or If I’m auditioning for something it’s always “ethnicity ambiguous” roles, nothing really for black folks or persons of color at all. So I thought if it’s going to be hard to be in theater, I might as well do it myself and struggle for moi.

Brittany: What have you been working on so far?

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Drama Talk & Drinks: SO MUCH BLOOD!

Katie was busy, so Brittany brought a friend from the theatre world to a crazy, bloody, sexy, puppety show that sounds like a lot of fun. Here’s their report:

Katie is a bit of a buzz-kill when it comes to Halloween (sorry Katie). She hates dressing up, doesn’t like scary movies and gore makes her queasy. Brittany, on the other hand, has her requisite costume box in the closet and grew up on Tales From The Crypt. So when we got the press release about Thrillpeddlers Shocktoberfest 15: The Bloody Debutant and Katie was busy, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to call in our friend Michael St. Clair, a lecturer in the Theater and Performance Studies department at Stanford who’s been known to wear a costume even outside of Halloween reverie, to come along and review the show.

Brittany: So Michael, for your introductory Drama Talk & Drinks review, what did you think about the show?

Michael: It was brilliant. It was at least 50% more fun than I expected it to be.

B: That was, in my opinion, absolutely delightful.

M: If you don’t like comedy/sex/violence, or lots of gore, of fake blood, or demon summoning, or things flying in your face, it’s not the show for you. But if you like those things . . .

B: And like kinky fetish stuff . . .

M: Spiced up with a bucket of blood and terrible things . . .

B: SO MUCH BLOOD!

M: . . . Then you’ll love it.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Are you okay with tangents?

Last month I saw Old Hats at ACT. Bill Irwin is amazing. It was a really fun show, but I think that title would keep younger audiences away. If the theatre wants to get a new generation coming out, and they need to, they should really adopt a more modern naming convention, as this does this column. Katie & Brittany recently saw The Late Wedding, and while the title may not get you out of your chair, they say the play is worth it. Here’s their report:

[photo by Pak Han]

About a year ago Katie read a play called The Hundred Flowers Project by Christopher Chen in Theatre Bay Area magazine. She liked it so much she told Brittany “Whenever another Christopher Chen play is produced, we need to go”. That time arrived. Crowded Fire Theater Company commissioned the world premiere of Chen’s new work, The Late Wedding, and it’s now playing at The Thick House.

Katie: I really enjoyed the freshness of the format and devices Chen used. It really brought the audience into the story, and I liked that. I thought the staging was really neat, and the set was awesome. It was so inventive and the use of the space was creative, just that alone is worth seeing.

Brittany: I was continuously interested. At times I felt like the play was throwing me around, but it was fun how the playwright acknowledged it. I loved the asides to the audience, where they said, “That was weird huh, this is why” or “Relax and just go with it”. In the opening monologue we’re told to “trust the play and let it take you somewhere”, so after that I was open to it taking me anywhere, even though I didn’t always know where it was going.

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Drama Talk & Drinks: “I’m all about the orgy”

Katie & Brittany saw Pippin, yes Pippin, and really liked it! It sounds pretty sweet. And while we’re (they’re) speaking (writing) of Bob Fosse and Ben Vereen, check out The Jazz Singer, the final scene is one of my favorite in all of cinema. Here’s their report:

An over-educated privileged youth graduates college and desperately searches for something meaningful to do with his life. He tries war, drugs, casual sex, Burning Man-esque orgies, social revolution, religion, and even farming, but still feels unfulfilled. This may sound like every millennial we love to hate, but this time the youth is a prince, the son of Charles the Great, the Ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, and his ennui is the driving coming-of-age story behind the 1972 hit musical Pippin, which won the Tony for best revival in 2013. This lesser known Broadway classic has oddly been Brittany’s favorite musical since she was a little kid (maybe she identified with the privileged angst), so when we found out the tour was coming through SF, Drama Talk & Drinks had to go.

Katie: Wow, so I had no expectations walking in. It’s a musical I’ve heard nothing about, aside from what you’ve told me. So the whole time I was like WHAT! There was a lot going on, and I was a bit overstimulated, but not in a bad way. It was a lot of fun. A real spectacle. It was spectacle spectacle spectacle until the end, and even that was spectacle. I kept trying to guess what the original was like.

Brittany: AWESOME! Yay, I’m glad you liked it. I come into this show with the craziest bias, because I’m pretty sure I’m one of the only people under the age of 30 for whom this is a favorite musical. I watched the movie of the original with Ben Vereen in it at least 100 times. So whereas you were trying to figure out what was revival what wasn’t, I was thinking, “Okay, that dance is the same”, “WHOA, that’s different”, throughout the whole show. It was great seeing what a fresh take on this show can be, and I liked it!

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Drama Talk & Drinks: Berry Gordy in person

Katie & Brittany checked out Motown the Musical, and it sounds pretty great. Here’s their report (with a couple notes from me at the end, I couldn’t help myself, sorry):

We were very excited but also very skeptical about seeing Motown The Musical. (We are always at least a little skeptical when it comes to musicals based on already written music) Of course we knew of Motown Records, but didn’t know much about the man who founded it, Berry Gordy, so we were very interested to see how Broadway was going to tell this story.

Katie: I want some more Motown!

Brittany: Me too! The set was insane! There were many times that I was just like how are they doing that??

K: I was really into all those moving screens with media on them. For a second I thought they were projections but realized that they were large TV’s.

B: Amazing production value and cast. Everyone was beautiful and talented. It was disgusting.

K: It was like being taken back in time and attending a Motown concert. When the Marvin Gaye character started singing “What’s Going On” I almost started crying. I was extremely entertained but the only time it got a little slow was at the end of the second act.

B: I loved that since it was opening night Berry Gordy and the director came up after the show. And it was cool to hear the director talk about how this is exactly what we need right now, music that brings people of all ages and colors together, dancing and being kind to each other. And at the end of the first act “What’s Going On” was being sung during video of protests of the day and all I could think was wow, so timely and so on point. Not that it wouldn’t have been amazing otherwise, but the resonance with what’s happening in the world right now and what this play is about was really in sync.

K: Right, and yet I loved hearing these songs in context of the time period and what was going on in history.

B: The girl who played Diana Ross was so good. She was basically her generation’s Beyonce, and that woman pulled it off flawlessly. People should definitely go see it. There was a real story to tell and they did a great job telling it.

K: I could not stop smiling when little Michael Jackson was singing! So freakin’ adorable!

 

The Verdict: If you love Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, The Jackson Five and being “wow’ed” by talented singers, this is the event you will want to treat yourself to. This was everything you expect and hope for from a Broadway touring show. Amazing set, ridiculously talented actors and being thoroughly entertained for two hours.

The Drama Talk: We were afraid that this musical was just going to be hit song after hit song with a random plot shoehorned in. Instead it was more about what was happening at that time. That’s what really worked, it wasn’t just actors breaking into a song that everyone knows, just because. You really feel like you are at a Motown concert.

The Drinks: We were really excited after the show, so knew we wanted a good, strong cocktail. We decided on a place that was only a couple of blocks away from the theater that we had never heard of called Oddjob, which we found out opened 9 months ago. [They lost me at "bespoke mixologist mastery" - Ed.] Though pricey (our drinks were $14 each) they were really, really good. [Also, re: Oddjob, "working man's cocktail room" with $14 drinks . . . sorry, continue. - Ed.] We both ordered the “For Your Eyes Only”. Such a treat! Oh, and the “secret” entrance is to the left of the building, down the alleyway. Great way to end our entertaining evening. [Oh, secret alleys? Done it. - Ed.]

Motown the Musical runs through 9/28 at the Orpheum Theatre and tickets can be purchased through their website. Ticket prices vary from $45-$200 depending on where you sit. ALSO, another way to go is to grab some of the limited number of $40 rush tickets available two hours prior to curtain at the SHN Orpheum Theatre Box Office. It’s cash only and only 2 tickets per person, and are subject to availability. There are also tickets available on Goldstar for $69-$80.

 

Drama Talk & Drinks: “It felt like a bad joke.”

Brittany & Katie do this column because they love theater. They really do. And so it is with two heavy hearts that they delivered this review of Patterns, at The New Stage in Hayes Valley:

“Wall-size video projections surround the audience with an awe-inspiring panoramic view of love in life.” This was the description we read when we got the invitation to check out Patterns a one woman performance piece. Sounds awesome right? We thought so.

After the show, at the line for the bathroom

Man in line: Did you guys get it?
Katie: Nope.
Brittany: Nope.
Man in line: Ok good, me neither.

The Verdict: This piece feels like a over-thought and over-indulgent Master’s thesis. It’s definitely interesting but not necessarily enjoyable.

The Drama Talk: Amy Munz, The New Stage founder and the creator and performer of Patterns is obviously a talented artist. But Patterns feels more like an artist’s contemporary take on Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, than a piece designed to entertain. The show kicks off with screaming manic laughter and devolves from there. Although The New Stage concept of immersing the audience in video projections is intriguing, the positioning of the screens made us feel like were were watching a tennis match. We had to constantly readjust and look from side to side around fellow audience members heads to catch obstructed views of the dream-like video projections. It was tiring.

Video of what looks like a cow being disemboweled plays while the character of a young girl delivers a disjointed schizophrenic monologue (not about cows getting disemboweled, mind you). It felt like a bad joke. Munz might be trying to alienate the audience, but the performance fails to actually assault the senses (largely because video screens are obscured) while playing into every stereotype of the out of touch ACTOOOR. The characters, though vibrant and distinct, lacked an arc. There wasn’t really a story to speak of, just flashes into the psyches of unstable women. Without a story, without a character arc, and with obstructed video screens which nearly gave us whiplash we didn’t really enjoy the show. This piece has so many promising elements, but this execution falls short.

The Drinks: After the show we couldn’t wait to get a drink and sort through what we just saw, luckily Sauce was very nearby. Sauce is a quaint little bar and restaurant under a boutique hotel. Katie had the moscow mule and Brittany had the American Honey Side Car. They were tasty and strong and helped us relax after a hectic performance piece that left our heads spinning and neck aching.

Patterns runs through 8/16 at the the Dennis Gallagher Arts Pavilion, and tickets can be purchased through their website. Ticket prices vary from $30-$65 depending on what package you buy.