Volume 48 Number 35

THE GUARDIAN CLEAN SLATE

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GOVERNOR
Jerry Brown

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR
Gavin Newsom

SECRETARY OF STATE
Derek Kressman

CONTROLLER
Betty Yee

TREASURER
John Chiang

ATTORNEY GENERAL
Kamala Harris

INSURANCE COMMISSIONER
Dave JOnes

SUPERVISOR OF SCHOOLS
Tom Torlakson

BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
Fiona Ma

ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 17
David Campos

ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 19
Phil Ting

PROPOSITION 41
Yes

PROPOSITION 42
Yes

SF PROPOSITION A
Yes

SF PROPOSITION B
Yes

SF SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE
Daniel Flores

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 12
Nancy Pelosi

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 13
Barbara Lee

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 14
Jackie Speier

To read our full endorsements, click here.

Hold ‘Steady’

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arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Alonzo King’s The Steady Heart (which opened his spring season at YBCA May 21) is among his most dramatic and, thematically, most explicit works. It also just may be one of the finest he has yet created for his 11 Lines Ballet dancers, three of whom — David Harvey, Caroline Rocher, and Meredith Webster — will retire at the end of this season.

In many of King’s pieces, small, individualized sections accumulate into collage-like structures. There is always flow but not necessarily direction. Steady however, has a trajectory. It starts with a duet for Kara Wilkes and Robb Beresford; King closes the work with the whole ensemble evoking a timeless, pulsating, yet ever-changing cosmos. Lama Gyurme’s “The Lama’s Chant: Songs of Awakening” sets the tone for a huge finale with waves of dancers stumbling, falling, rolling, and rising. Webster streaked through them but was eventually absorbed into something larger than herself. With Axel Morgenthaler’s fluidly shifting light design, the dancers moved in and out of our vision with a screen descending on them right before the final curtain. The falling snow in the background, however, was something of a cliché.

Trying to find balance within the body and outside it is a theme that is fundamental to King’s thinking. In Steady it takes the concrete shape of a small, destructive figure (Anthony S. Finley) in a World War I uniform. We only see him twice but his existence, and what he represents, permeates all of Steady.

The sculpturally elaborate opening duet begins with simple touches by two young people, she in a pretty frock, he bare-chested and in jeans. Handholding evolves into an increasingly intricate and unrelenting struggle. Every body part from necks to limbs (Wilkes hangs off his and dips between Beresford’s legs) is brought into action. They reach, grab and shove; she sinks into his arms, he flips her overhead. Yet there is no sense of violence just a feeling of inevitability and, perhaps, a need to reach out as a process of self-definition. They communicated an Edenic innocence until the soldier figure pointed his gun at them.

Steady‘s middle section explodes into something dark and chaotic. With John Oswald’s score building into frightening intensity, the magisterial Courtney Henry with Rocher and Yujin Kim takes command of the stage. They stride, turn, and extend limbs; yet they also curl and embrace the ground. In a final image they call up Rodin’s three “Shades.”

An eloquently expressive solo for Babatunji, performed in silence, then cleared the air, with the dancer sinking, turning, and opening himself to space. A unison walking section felt calm until individuals broke out, most prominently the powerful Michael Montgomery’s whose whipping turns and isolations shook his body into spasms. David Harvey, with Webster, Wilkes and Kim, looked like catastrophe survivors. Bent over they dragged their broken bodies across the stage. Again and again, they forced themselves into upright positions to keep on struggling. At one point Harvey looked like a boxer responding to an unseen opponent’s thrusts and punches.

A second trio’s intent eluded me. The soldier from the opening section re-appeared against a white screen. He elicited a duet for Harvey and Kim in which he offered himself and a rolling stage light as support for the panic-stricken Kim, who never raised her gaze. In the follow-up, a darkly lit duet, Webster — she of the steady heart — repeatedly faced the soldier’s gun but, turning its nozzle away, shoved him into the wings.

Steady‘s dancers, including the three departing ones, shone at the top of their expressive abilities. They were well-supported by the beautifully chosen music, and Morgenthaler’s majestic employment of light and space.

The evening opened with excerpts from three earlier King choreographies: Klang (1996), The Radius of Convergence (2008), and Koto (2002). It was good to see the women in point shoes, a practice that King rarely makes use of these days. The first two works also played with the traditional ballet soloist-corps format. The most intriguing standalone came in Klang; it contrasted frozen unison images with high-energy individual dancing. In the male trio, Beresford’s strutting and pugnacious stances had an almost comic flavor to them, while the women’s slinking kicks and hip poses dripped with old-fashioned coyness.

The male quintet in Radius featured solos for each dancer with Montgomery the outside observer until he jumped into the assembled quartet’s arms. They finally left him flat on his back. Radius segued without a break into a section from Koto. An ensemble piece, it showcased Jeffrey Van Sciver, a tall reed-thin dancer in his second year with Lines. His whiplash turns and long leaps felt like a storm invading a placid world. Unfortunately, Miya Masaoka’s koto music on tape jarred. It sounded tinny and sharp. Besides, I missed seeing her perform live in that huge red Colleen Quen gown of hers.

 

Where evil grows

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM For film fans, there’s a delight that comes from charting a talented director’s progress from obscurity to cult fame to “next-big-thing” status. I remember settling in to watch Jim Mickle’s 2010 breakout Stake Land (his first feature was 2006’s micro-budget creature feature Mulberry Street, which played multiple festivals on the genre circuit). I knew it was a vampire movie, a weary subject thanks to Twilight mania, but it soon became clear that Stake Land was not a by-the-numbers affair: Within the first five minutes, a crusty fang-slinger devours a human infant. “This is not a film to be fucked with,” I scribbled in my review, and filed away the name “Jim Mickle” for future consideration.

Last year, he returned with We Are What We Are, a remake of a Mexican chiller about cannibals fighting to keep their secret traditions alive despite pesky interference from the modern world. It was his third film with writing partner Nick Damici — also the lead in Mickle’s first two films, though he moved to a supporting role in We Are, which focused mostly on the teen sisters at its core. Set in rural upstate New York, We Are had its share of gore, but it also went deeper, teasing out a macabre and surprisingly detailed history of its flesh-eating family.

“To me, it’s more of a dark story about faith and religion,” he told me in an interview at the time. “I was much more interested in the girls’ story, and the story of a family trying to hold together after a tragic event.”

Now comes Mickle’s most accomplished film to date, and it’s even less overtly horror (though it contains a multitude of terrifying moments): Cold in July, a thriller ranging across East Texas, circa 1989. The script by Team Mickle-Damici is adapted from the novel by Joe R. Lansdale, who — buckle up, cultists — also penned the short story which spawned 2002’s Bubba Ho-Tep. That said, there are no supernatural elements afoot here; all darkness springs entirely from the coal-black hearts beating in its characters.

Well, some of its characters. Cold in July begins with a killing, but the trigger hand is attached to mild-mannered frame-store owner Richard Dane (Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall, rocking a splendid mullet). The masked man he shot was breaking into the Dane family home; Richard was just protecting his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and young son (Brogan Hall). That he accidentally, kinda, nailed the burglar — spraying brains everywhere, necessitating amusing later scenes of weary clean-up and furniture replacement — is breezed over by the police (including a cowboy-hatted Damici). “Sometimes, the good guy wins,” they assure him.

The good guy/bad guy dynamic is twisted, tested, and taken to extremes as Cold in July continues; it’s the sort of film best viewed without much knowledge of its plot twists, which are numerous and cleverly plotted. (Which is to say: You may read on, genre junkie, without fear of spoilers, because I don’t wanna ruin anyone’s viewing enjoyment.) The day after his run-in with vigilante justice, Richard realizes he’s the number one conversation topic in his small town, and his shiny local-hero status has attracted the attention of the dead robber’s father (Sam Shepard), just out of the clink and skilled in the art of Cape Fear-style menace.

What happens next is best left a surprise, though it does involve Don Johnson as a flamboyant, convertible-driving pig farmer; plenty more bloodshed; a meeting at a drive-in that just happens to be screening Night of the Living Dead (1968); and the line “You don’t wanna fuck with the Dixie Mafia.” Throughout, Cold in July expertly works its 1980s setting as both homage to and embodiment of the era’s gritty thrillers; its synth-heavy score and neo-noir lensing (by frequent Mickle collaborators Jeff Grace and Ryan Samul, respectively) and the casting of Wyatt Russell (son of Kurt; he was also in We Are What We Are) in a key role add to the feeling that Cold in July was crafted after much time spent in the church of St. John Carpenter. There’s humor, too, deployed with careful timing that doesn’t compromise the slow-burning tension that builds throughout — as when Richard celebrates some good news by headbanging to period-perfect power rock in his enormous, wood-paneled station wagon.

Most intriguingly, and for all its retro trappings, Cold in July offers a very modern exploration of masculinity via all of its leads, though Richard is obviously the embodiment of this theme. “I’ve been waiting for something big like this,” he says to his wife before slithering away on a secret road trip (she thinks he’s talking about landing an important new client). Unlike Viggo Mortensen’s secret gangster in 2005’s A History of Violence, which begins with a similar premise (family guy shoots someone in self-defense, opening a can of worms in the process), Richard has zero past aggression to draw on; dude’s got a history of mildness — with a heretoforth untapped curiosity about the wilder side of life awakened by a sudden bloody act. Once again, Mickle has delivered an unfuck-with-able film. Can’t wait to see what he does next. *

 

COLD IN JULY opens Fri/30 in Bay Area theaters.

Eternal beauty

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Hollywood in the 1920s was shameless about inventing fictitious back stories for its stars, especially those “exotics” exploited for their allegedly foreign-bred mystery and sexual magnetism. The enormous success of Rudolph Valentino — whose 1921 breakthrough feature The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse opens this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival — sparked a particular craze for “Latin lover” types whose true ethnicity was often disguised. (One such heartthrob, Ricardo Cortez, was in fact Jewish New Yorker Jacob Krantz — and when word got out that he was no Spaniard, the studio “confessed” that he was “really” Viennese.)

Yet the era’s leading Latina actress required little such invention, because her biography already sounded like a studio press release. Dolores del Rio was born Maria Dolores Asúnsolo y López Negrete to a wealthy, well-connected Mexico City family of Spanish ancestry. Convent-educated, she married at age 16 a patron of the arts over twice her age, with whom she honeymooned in Europe for two years. Upon returning home, she attended a wedding at which her beauty caught the eye of Edwin Carewe — a Hollywood producer, director, agent, and manager who in all those capacities soon began making her a star. Her first hit was as the main girl fought over by ever-sparring BFF Marines in World War I comedy-adventure What Price Glory?, a 1926 smash.

Her exquisite three-quarter-moon face, framed by long jet-black hair, then graced a series of romances in which she played Russian peasants, tropical maidens, hot-blooded gypsies, Carmen (of operatic fame), and Ramona (1928) — the latter a gorgeous half-caste in old Spanish California. She’s yearned over by the genteel master of the ranchero (Roland Drew), but prefers virile Indian shepherd Alessandro (Ohioan Warner Baxter, shirtless but wearing plenty of shiny bronzer). This third screen version of a hugely popular 1884 novel was boosted at the box office by an original title song recorded by many (including trilling soprano del Rio herself), and featured in the 1928 film’s synchronized-sound version (which offered sound effects and music but no dialogue).

Ramona was assumed lost for decades until a Czech-market print was discovered recently, its restoration premiering in Los Angeles just two months ago. The 2014 SF Silent Film Festival is full of movies that belie their age in one way or another — yet this hunk of overripe hooey feels a thousand years old. It’s surely the worst film in the festival, what with its mean-crone stepmother (“If you marry without my consent, the jewels will go to the church!”), teetering pileup of melodramatic crises, and particularly howl-worthy happy ending. Nor has del Rio’s heavily gestural performance aged well, with nary a genuine note to be found in an emotional gamut that galumphs from cow-eyed innocence to amnesiac shock. Still, she’s gorgeous. Whether cast as prole or grande dame, her looks were so striking it was natural for del Rio to become a beauty icon, promoting cosmetics and fashion as “the perfect feminine figure” — a title she won in leading movie mag Photoplay’s 1933 poll of industry glamour experts.

Del Rio was very conscious of her image — and of her responsibility representing Mexican culture to the world. Unlike rival Lupe Velez, she preferred projecting a more languorous, refined persona than the stereotypically comic, tantrum-throwing “hot mama” Latina. She disliked skimpy costumes and risqué scenes (though one of her biggest hits would be 1932’s Bird of Paradise, a charming bauble of pure eye-candy in which her island princess and Joel McCrea’s sailor pitch woo wearing as little as possible). She turned down the female lead in 1934’s Viva Villa!, suspecting that film’s take on recent Mexican history would be controversial at home. (Indeed, it was banned there.)

Her public character was invariably elegant and dignified — never mind that sometimes her affairs preceded her divorces. One high-profile lover was 10-years-younger Orson Welles. He took her to Citizen Kane‘s 1941 premiere and starred her in 1943’s spy intrigue Journey Into Fear. But when their relationship flamed out, and Hollywood’s affection too had cooled, del Rio at last returned to Mexico. There, she soon established herself as the local film industry’s leading female star — exclusively playing suffering, virtuous heroines — winning a total of four Ariels (Mexico’s Oscar) and very rarely returning to English-language features. When she did, it was no longer as the hothouse object of desire, but as a sacrificing mother, notably to Elvis in Flaming Star (1960) and to Sal Mineo in Cheyenne Autumn (1964), both times playing Native Americans à la the half-Indian Ramona. Such semi-color blind casting and “proud matriarch” roles provided a logical last act to a career that was honorable and iconic — if seldom quite so impressive in, y’know, the acting department.

Ramona may survive primarily as a somewhat campy cultural artifact, but nearly everything else in this year’s Silent Fest remains outstanding artistically, including 1928 German heartbreaker Under the Lantern, and the same year’s fine British working-class drama Underground. There’s also 1923’s The Sign of Four, an excellent Sherlock Holmes adventure, so long as you can overlook some very dated race and class attitudes; atypical early works by Ozu (1933 gangster saga Dragnet Girl) and Dreyer (sprightly 1920 The Parson’s Widow); a goofy Soviet science fiction (1936’s Cosmic Voyage); mountain climbing documentary The Epic of Everest (1924); plus vehicles for Douglas Fairbanks, Buster Keaton, and pioneering French comedian Max Linder (1921’s Seven Years Bad Luck). *

SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL

Thu/29-Sun/1, most shows $15-20

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.silentfilm.org

 

In my room

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esilvers@sfbg.com

LEFT OF THE DIAL Regardless of San Franciscans’ often myopic focus on the tech-employed recent college grads who can afford the million-dollar condos on the market in the Mission, a much larger percentage of 20-somethings in this country will relate to the housing situation that shaped Maryam Qudus (aka Doe Eye)’s first full-length LP: The dreaded move back in with your parents in the ‘burbs.

“There were so many transitions going on while I was writing this record, that was the mode I was in,” says Qudus, 23, the Union City-born-and-raised daughter of Afghani immigrants. It’s the week before her first headlining show at Great American Music Hall [Thu/29], and she and her band are winding their way through the Midwest on a brief national jaunt; she’s calling from Oklahoma City. “I’d moved to Boston [to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music], then moved back to San Francisco less than a year later to pursue music here. And when I decided I wanted to make a record, the way to do that financially was to move back home.”

If it felt like a stumble, that’s likely only in contrast to what had been up until that point a charmed music business debut: Doe Eye made an impressive entrance in 2011, when her four-song demo — in particular the ballad “I Hate You,” which highlighted her incredibly rich voice — earned the attention of DJs at Live 105 the week she released it. It also caught the ear of the godfather of young Bay Area singer-songwriters, John Vanderslice, who produced her second official EP, 2012’s Hotel Fire, on which the young singer got support from the Magik*Magik Orchestra.

Still, when it came time to focus on her first full-length record, living at her parents’ house, Qudus found herself in a weirdly liminal state. “Going back to the bedroom you had in high school is a very weird thing,” she says with a laugh. “It feels like you’re backtracking in some ways, but in other ways, it made me appreciate how supportive and awesome my parents are…which I definitely wasn’t thinking in high school.”

The result of her pseudo-adolescent regression is T E L E V I S I O N, featuring a more complex, full-bodied sound than her previous records have displayed, with Qudus’s raw, honest words and guitar-driven indie-rock sensibility seemingly filtered through layers of electronica, some New Wave and R&B moments; an industrial-lite kind of mood sets the base for her unmistakably strong (and getting stronger) vocals. If these songs feel distant, mediated at points, there’s a reason: The record takes its name from the activity the songwriter realized helped her unwind and turn her brain off after a day of sequestering herself inside her childhood home to write.

“I was dealing with various personal issues, and I would spend hours in my bedroom writing, and after a while when it became too much, I started turning on the TV to get away from it all,” says Qudus. “And I got into that pattern, which [I’d never done] before, and I started thinking about how people across America do this every day: Go to work all day at their job, come home and go ‘OK, I’m gonna watch Mad Men, or Conan, and try to forget everything that just happened.'”

Unsurprisingly, given the past few years of her career, the record (again, produced by John Vanderslice at Tiny Telephone) doesn’t exactly sound like an artist’s debut. That being the case, it’ll be interesting to hear what the next few years bring for Doe Eye. Qudus isn’t thinking too far beyond the First City Festival in Monterey in August, though. Beyond that, she has one main project: getting her own place in San Francisco again.

DOE EYE 
With DRMS, The She’s
8pm, $13
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
www.gamhtickets.com

 

I promise it was unintentional to pair these two together in this fashion, but hey, speaking of good things that come from being holed up in one’s room: Life Among the Savages, the sixth studio album from Papercuts (the creative outlet of longtime San Francisco songwriter-producer Jason Quever) and his first for the LA-based Easy Sound label, is a testament to the good that can come from staying home.

That is, of course, if you have a home studio like Quever’s, Pan American Recording, where he’s produced Cass McCombs, Beach House, and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, among others. It’s also where, most recently, Quever produced perhaps his cleanest, most sophisticated, most lush Papercuts record yet — full of a warmly melancholy ebb and flow that matches Quever’s cathartic, introvert’s tell-all style of writing. The atmospheric indie-dream-folk band has always been primarily a conduit for his songwriting; on this record perhaps more than others, you can hear the solitude in which it was conjured. (He’ll debut songs from the album, out May 13, at The Chapel this Sat/31).

“I think I did about 75 percent of the work here [at home], and yeah, it’s fair to say this one is pretty much all me,” says Quever, though he thanks friend and Beach House guitarist/keyboardist Alex Scally for having shaped some of his arrangements, like the urgent (Quever says “stabby”) strings that open the album’s title track.

“I also had some lyric help from my friend [songwriter] Donovan Quinn on one song. But other than that, I would say it was a lot of being inside my own self-hating brain,” Quever says cheerfully. “I’m working on it. But hey, it gets results.”

It’s a record two years in the making, during which time Quever left Sub Pop for Easy Sound (“They don’t have a huge roster, so you’re not going to get lost in the sea of bands the way you can with a bigger label”), placing Papercuts alongside sonic bedfellows like Vetiver. He also wrote a lot of music that he wound up scrapping.

“A lot definitely got dropped, but to me, what you’d drop is part of what you keep, if that makes sense,” he says. “It’s always moving toward something.” Papercuts songs are short stories and, contrary to what Quever calls most music critics’ impression of him, they’re not all autobiographical. He says he’s not, in fact, incredibly depressed all the time. (To be fair: Part of the oft-repeated Papercuts bio is that Quever started writing music after his parents both died when he was a teenager; there’s more than a little real trauma behind his trauma-swollen lyrics.)

On the other hand, “I’m pretty normal,” he says. “This is my outlet for all the negativity. That’s what catharsis is, right? You throw all your crap into this song and it feels good; I think that’s kind of a tennis match that’s in everyone’s head.” On this record, that catharsis is most interesting when playing with contrasts: On “Family Portrait,” things turn downright upbeat, with Quever gauzily channeling The Byrds (or maybe Ray Davies on Vicodin) through jangly guitar, while his lyrics still speak, poetically, of a vague fear, solitude, and uncertainty — tinged with hope, to be sure. The chemistry is born of the balance.

“I never want it to be all heavy or all light,” he says. “I think you naturally go through phases in writing, and that’s fine. The main thing with taking longer to make this record was I wanted songs where I felt proud of the lyrics.

“That way you’re not up there, you know, mumbling certain parts ’cause you feel dumb.”

PAPERCUTS
With Fool’s Gold, Line & Circle
9pm, $15-$17
The Chapel
777 Valencia, SF
www.thechapelsf.com

PrEP school

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Two weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it was recommending physicians consider Truvada, a medication used to treat HIV/AIDS, to prevent infection for high-risk patients who are HIV negative. Seen as a miracle drug by some and a “party drug” by others, Truvada has struggled to take off as a preventative measure and, prior to the CDC’s endorsement, foundered under its own controversy.

The drug regimen is known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, and involves taking one pill of Truvada daily. The most common side effects are initial nausea and headaches, but even those generally subside after a couple of weeks. Most impressive is the efficacy rate: Studies point to a reduction in risk of contracting HIV that is higher than 90 percent for individuals who take the medicine daily as recommended.

Additionally, the CDC has recommended PrEP only for high-risk patients — meaning gay men who have sex without condoms; intravenous drug users; and couples, gay or straight, where one partner is HIV positive and the other is negative.

“While a vaccine or cure may one day end the HIV epidemic, PrEP is a powerful tool that has the potential to alter the course of the U.S. HIV epidemic today,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, in a press release.

But PrEP comes with its detractors, the most vocal of whom have come from within the HIV/AIDS and gay community. PrEP users often carry the stigma of being hypersexual gay men, looking to justify their promiscuous sex lives and disavowal of condoms with a daily pill. The label “Truvada whore” soon emerged as a means to shame PrEP users (though the term is now being reclaimed by PrEP activists as a source of pride through hashtags and T-shirts).

However, the loudest critic by far has been the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles that provides care to HIV positive patients around the globe.

“This is a position I fear the CDC will come to regret,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein in a public statement. “By recommending widespread use of PrEP for HIV prevention despite research studies amply chronicling the inability to take it as directed, and showing a limited preventive effect at best, the CDC has abandoned a science-driven, public health approach to disease prevention — a move that will likely have catastrophic consequences in the fight against AIDS in this country.”

The push for PrEP is playing out like a grand battle between two formidable foes. On one side is the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company that produces Truvada, Gilead Sciences, headquartered just a few miles south in Foster City. On the other is AHF, the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the US. While on the surface it may seem like a massive corporation taking on the not-for-profit underdog, the reality is much more complex.

 

THE TRUVADA TRAIN

When Truvada was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration 10 years ago, it was a revolutionary new pill used in combination with other drugs to help control the virus in HIV-positive patients. At a time when most HIV medications required taking pills throughout the day and carried intolerable side effects, Truvada was a once-a-day godsend.

Since then, Gilead has established itself as one of the leading companies for HIV medications, producing or helping to produce many top drugs, such as Atripla, Complera, and Stribild, all of which use components of Truvada in their formulas.

But Truvada’s truly revolutionary moment came in July 2012, when it became the first drug approved by the FDA to reduce the risk of HIV infection in negative individuals.

Controversy immediately ensued.

Medicating healthy people is not a popular approach, especially when those drugs cost $13,000 annually per patient (most insurance companies, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, cover PrEP). In comparison, the CDC estimates that the annual cost to treat someone who already has HIV is $23,000. If all of the 500,000 high-risk Americans who the CDC recommends use PrEP were to begin the therapy, the gross revenue for Gilead would be $6.5 billion — all for people who aren’t even sick.

Despite the potential for astronomical profits, as of September 2013 only 2,319 unique individuals had been prescribed Truvada as PrEP, according to Gilead. Half of those patients are women, suggesting that gay men are not being aggressively targeted for PrEP. When PrEP users who are part of research studies are included, the total number of patients is still estimated to be under 10,000.

One reason for the slow start is a lack of awareness. Outside of big cities, there is less dialogue surrounding HIV and prevention techniques. And even in metropolitan areas, familiarity with Truvada is often limited to the HIV specialist doctors treating patients who already have HIV and wouldn’t benefit from PrEP.

“We get a fair number of patients here who are rejected for PrEP from other physicians in the city,” said Dr. John Nienow of One Medical Group in the Castro. “I haven’t heard about widespread adoption in other offices, but I have heard of other physician groups not wanting to prescribe Truvada for PrEP.”

When asked whether the recent CDC announcement endorsing PrEP would change that, Nienow was hopeful.

The CDC announcement “will educate and legitimize PrEP’s use on a widespread basis,” he said. “I think physicians might be uncomfortable prescribing it, and this will make them more comfortable.”

Another reason PrEP has failed to gain traction is that Gilead has spent virtually no money on advertising its own drug. Well, sort of. It is true that Gilead has avoided advertising campaigns — drug companies that push their own drugs tend to stir up controversy — but many of the organizations that have come out publicly in favor of PrEP have received grants from Gilead. According to tax forms, Project Inform and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, two prominent local nonprofits that support PrEP, have both received large donations from the pharmaceutical company.

One such grant was awarded to Project Inform, for the group to produce videos about PrEP targeted toward young gay men, particularly men of color, according to David Evans, director of research advocacy.

Was this donation a part of Gilead’s marketing strategy? It’s tough to say for sure; Gilead did not return Bay Guardian calls seeking comment.

Regardless of money, it is clear that a new approach is needed for combating HIV. New infections in the US have stubbornly hovered at around 50,000 incidences per year since the ’90s, despite pushes for condom usage and education efforts.

“Yes, PrEP is working. It works when it’s adhered to,” Nienow said. “It’s been extensively studied in populations at risk for HIV, and the conclusion was that it is dramatically successful. So much so that one expert even said that the debate about efficacy is now over.”

 

FROM SELF-PROTECTION TO “SLUT”

It’s true that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is no billion dollar corporation such as Gilead. But with an operating budget this year of $904 million and a presence in 28 countries, AHF is still a force to be reckoned with.

Though the list of organizations that are loyal exclusively to condoms as a method of prevention is dwindling, AHF has been one of the most powerful and resolute allies of latex protection since the very beginning. Even before Truvada was approved by the FDA as PrEP in 2012, AHF campaigned to prevent it from happening. Even though AHF may be growing more and more isolated in its anti-PrEP stance, it is anything but ready to give way.

Though the efficacy rate for using PrEP is upwards of 90 percent reduction in risk, AHF and other critics consistently cite a drastically lower 40 percent reduction. The difference between these two figures lies in patient behavior: When Truvada is taken correctly, that is, every day without skipping doses, then it’s been shown to reduce new HIV infections by over 90 percent. However, when research studies publish data they must include all participants, regardless of whether they took the dosage as instructed. Average out the effectiveness of the drug between participants who adhered religiously and those who didn’t take it at all, and you arrive at about a 40 percent reduction in risk.

But as AHF points out, the outcome for the participants who did not follow instructions is an important reality that should not be overlooked.

“When you read these studies carefully, what they say is that research modeling can be whatever percent effective, but research modeling is not real-world applicable,” said Ged Kenslea, AHF director of communications. “In every study participants were given incentives and paid to participate,” yet still didn’t adhere to instructions consistently.

“We can’t even get people who already have HIV to take their pills as prescribed,” Kenslea added.

Even amid legitimate concerns about health risks associated with improper use of PrEP or its inability to act as a safeguard against other STDs, much of the debate has become infused with anti-PrEP rhetoric rooted in stereotypical assumptions about the promiscuity of gay men. Patients who use it to protect themselves are reduced to “Truvada whores,” men who live capriciously and are always on the lookout for their next fuck.

“The last couple of years that we’ve been prescribing [Truvada], there have been reports from patients who have received negative reactions from some people,” said Nienow. “Some people, particularly online, regard it as a marker for whores and promiscuity, and others as a marker for self-protection. The stigma kind of ranges from, ‘Great, you’re protecting yourself,’ to, ‘Horrible, you’re a slut.’ My patients have seen all of those.”

Just last month, AHF President Michael Weinstein referred to Truvada as a “party drug,” setting off such a fury that a petition to remove him as head of the organization is now circulating around the Internet. It has amassed nearly 4,000 signatures.

AHF’s policy of championing condoms above any other method is strange, considering that it cites poor adherence to Truvada as the drug’s primary downfall. While the efficacy of the drug clearly drops when it is not taken correctly, AHF critics point out that condoms are not used consistently either, and having multiple methods of protection is better than one.

After viewing donations by Gilead to HIV/AIDS groups, the Bay Guardian requested a list of donors from the AHF as well, but the organization provided a 2012 tax form that did not include a donor list.

PrEP does have some efficacy, Kenslea said, and AHF clinicians are free to prescribe Truvada as a preventative drug.

“If an AHF physician feels that prescribing PrEP is appropriate, then we do not stop that,” Kenslea said.

Still, AHF’s uncompromising reluctance to consider endorsing PrEP is puzzling. AHF leaders repeatedly list reasons that the drug will not work, despite mounting scientific evidence stating the contrary. There is no doubt that PrEP should not be taken lightly or with a blasé attitude, but why eschew it with such fervor?

“We are not refuting the science,” Kenslea said. “We are disagreeing on the understanding of human nature.”

 

A DAILY ROUTINE

When Damon Jacobs re-entered the dating game in 2011, it was a completely different playing field from what he remembered. At first, he wasn’t sure what to expect after coming out of a seven-year relationship with his boyfriend, but he quickly realized there were some significant differences since he had last played the field.

“For me, getting back into the dating world and the cruising world, I was realizing that people were not using condoms as they were a decade earlier,” Jacobs said. “And I wasn’t using them like I was in 1990’s San Francisco either.”

But even scarier than Jacobs’ risky behavior was the reasoning behind it.

“I noticed that my thinking had changed,” he admitted. “I started thinking of HIV as a ‘when,’ not an ‘if.'”

It was during that time when the PrEP studies were just beginning to be published. After attending a forum about using an HIV treatment drug to prevent HIV, Jacobs gathered all of the information he could on this unconventional approach and ran back to his doctor. He knew he wasn’t being as diligent to prevent HIV as he once had, and PrEP seemed like an effective way to stay negative.

His physician had never heard of giving Truvada to a patient without HIV, but Jacobs showed him the research and promising results. He began taking PrEP in July 2011, exactly one year before its FDA approval for HIV-negative individuals.

“Those of us using PrEP now, we were the first ones asking for this, so we’ve had to be the educators and the advocates,” Jacobs said. “We even educate the doctors. Some doctors take that and say, ‘yes, I want to work with you.’ Others give tacit dismissal, and then some tell outright lies about it.”

In the past three years, Jacobs has never missed one of his daily pills. He has built it into his everyday routine: eat breakfast, brush teeth, take PrEP. If you can remember to brush your teeth, he postulates, you can remember to take your pills.

Unfortunately, Jacobs has dealt with the stigma that surrounds PrEP as well.

“If I’m on a date with someone who is negative and he finds out, he’ll ask me, ‘Oh, so you’re a whore? Do you have sex with everybody?'” Jacobs lamented. “It’s not a common reaction, but it stems from a misunderstanding of what PrEP is.”

Instead of being offended, embarrassed, or angry, he takes the time to educate, often resorting to the same analogy: that it’s very similar to women taking birth control; it reduces the unwanted consequences of condom-less sex.

Even though Jacobs disagrees with today’s critics of PrEP, he seems to understand where they are coming from. He volunteered with the Stop AIDS Project in San Francisco in 1992, while HIV was crippling the gay community and condoms were considered the only safeguard from a then-fatal virus.

“Michael Weinstein’s message has been that people should use condoms,” said Jacobs. “When I started volunteering at Stop AIDS [Project], we had a marketing campaign where we gave out pins and T-shirts at local bars and clubs that said, ‘100%’ because we knew that if everybody used condoms 100 percent of the time, we could eradicate AIDS by 2000. “Well I ask you, how did that pan out?”

Guardian Intel: Guardian Clean Slate clip-out guide, Intersection for the Arts halts programs

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GUARDIAN CLEAN SLATE

Our clip-out guide to take to the polls for the June 3 election. Read our full endorsements at www.tinyurl.com/SFBGJune2014Endorsements

GOVERNOR: Jerry Brown

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Gavin Newsom

SECRETARY OF STATE: Derek Cressman

CONTROLLER: Betty Yee

TREASURER: John Chiang

ATTORNEY GENERAL: Kamala Harris

INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: Dave Jones

SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS: Tom Torlakson

BOARD OF EQUALIZATION: Fiona Ma

ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 17: David Campos

ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 19: Phil Ting

PROPOSITION 41: Yes

PROPOSITION 42: Yes

SF PROPOSITION B: Yes

SF SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: Daniel Flores

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 12: Nancy Pelosi

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 13: Barbara Lee

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 14: Jackie Speier

MELTING ICE

Family members of federal immigration detainees gathered in downtown San Francisco May 23, calling for the release of three asylum seekers who’ve been detained in Texas for months. Joined by San Francisco Organizing Project activists and other supporters, they rallied outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building, and spoke about how tough it’s been to be separated from their loved ones. One detainee, Guatemalan refugee Ricardo Ivan Martinez, who previously lived in San Francisco with his wife and daughter, received death threats after reporting a rape to U.S. Border Patrol. Yeni and Dariela Escobar-Pereira, sisters from Honduras, fled from violence and are now being detained; their mom, a San Francisco resident, is worried sick. The detainees “have been subjected to the ‘hielera’ or the ‘ice box’,” according to a statement issued by faith groups lending support, “where detainees are placed in a cold room for hours and even days with little clothing.”

OCEAN PROTEST LAYDOWN

The best way to become environmentally conscious is to start young. 850 Marin students, grades 2-7, spent the better part of a day last week cleaning up Ocean Beach. After, the students laid down to form a Western Grebe plucking a fish out of the ocean, with the words “Only One Ocean” above it, for an aerial photo. Western Grebe populations are in decline, the California Coastal Commission said. There’s nothing more inspiring than young people doing something to save the world.

INTERSECTION HALTED

In the latest blow to San Francisco’s arts community, one of our oldest alternative art spaces, Intersection for the Arts, has halted its programming and laid off key staff.

“Our financial situation is deeply challenged,” wrote Board of Directors Chair Yancy Widmer in a post on Intersection for the Arts’ website (www.theintersection.org),

“and it has become apparent that the current business model is no longer sustainable.”

“With the specific shifts in the economy and culture of San Francisco, it has been increasingly difficult to operate and sustain a community-based nonprofit arts organization like Intersection,” ousted program directors Kevin B. Chen, Rebeka Rodriguez and Sean San Jose wrote in a joint statement.”

The decades-old studio and artists space will lay off most of its staff and program directors by the end of the month, and will no longer produce its own arts programming.

HOT OPERA

The San Francisco Opera‘s frisky summer season is upon us — this little sister to its annual cavalcade of spectacle is the perfect opportunity to dip your toes into the world of grand song and drama. Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s milestone musical Showboat (pictured) kicks the series off June 1, with La Traviata (June 11) and Madama Butterfly (June 15) following close behind. www.sfopera.org

DEFENESTRATION TOSSED

Enjoy it in its final weeks: Artist Brian Goggin’s iconic installation at San Francisco’s former Hugo Hotel at Sixth Street and Howard, “Defenestration” — the one with all the furniture climbing out of the building’s windows — is scheduled to be dismantled June 3. According to Laughing Squid, Goggin is preparing to sell the beloved furniture at the Varnish Fine Art Gallery. (www.varnishfineart.com)

 

Progressives challenge mayor’s abuse of authority

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EDITORIAL Mayor Ed Lee has repeatedly overstepped his authority on behalf of the entrenched political and economic interests who put him into office, and we’re happy to see Sup. John Avalos and his progressive allies on the Board of Supervisors starting to push back and restore a more honest and equitable balance of power at City Hall.

There was no excuse for Lee and his political appointees on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to sabotage a decade of work creating the CleanPowerSF program, the only mechanism the city has for creating the renewable energy projects we need to meet our climate change goals.

This was a program created by a veto-proof majority on the Board of Supervisors, the body that the City Charter gives the authority to create such programs on behalf of the people who elect them, then the SFPUC used a vote that should have been a procedural formality to block it (see “Power struggle,” 9/17/13).

Lee refused to work with the supervisors to address his stated concerns — most of which have already been addressed by now anyway, from the program’s cost to the involvement of Shell Energy North America, which is now out — draining the CleanPowerSF funding and providing more evidence that this ruse was really all about protecting PG&E from competition.

So Avalos and other progressives of the Budget & Finance Committee last week rejected the SFPUC budget, forcing Lee and allies to now bargain in good faith. That’s the kind of realpolitik in service of progressive values that we’ve been missing at City Hall in recent years, the willingness to get tough with the grinning mayor who disingenuously talks about civility while his operatives stab their opponents in the back.

Avalos is also sponsoring a fall ballot measure that would let voters fill vacancies on the Board of Supervisors, rather than letting the mayor, who heads the executive branch, stack the legislative branch of government in his favor. We should have done that a decade ago after Gavin Newsom executed his infamous “triple play” to gain another ally on the board, and it’s especially relevant now that two supervisors are running against either other for the Assembly.

Avalos isn’t stressing the balance of powers argument for his Let’s Elect our Elected Officials Act of 2014, which would call a special election to fill vacancies in all the locally elected positions if the next election was more than year away (both the Board of Education and City College Board of Trustees would appoint interim members). It even gives up the supervisors’ power to appoint a new mayor (with the board president serving the interim, as is now the law). San Francisco isn’t a dictatorship, as much as that might please Lee’s business community allies. The people and our district-elected supervisors need to have a stronger voice in how this city is being run, so we at the Bay Guardian are happy to see a few new green shoots of democracy springing up at City Hall.

Fool me once…

8

rebecca@sfbg.com

As any job seeker knows, it’s tough to compete for a desirable gig if you can’t point to a solid track record. You might think this would be especially true for city contractors who stand to make a killing on lucrative construction projects.

Take, for instance, a $283.2 million San Francisco Public Utilities Commission contract awarded to perform an absolutely essential service: making seismic and hydraulic retrofits to water-treatment units.

With close to $300 million in taxpayer dollars on the line, not to mention the general importance of having a properly functioning water treatment system in the event of an earthquake, you might think the city would kick some tires and make a few inquiries about the company’s track record before signing a deal.

But according to the results of an audit issued May 20 by the Office of the Controller, local agencies do not “consider past performance in the construction contract award process.”

Which is to say, there is no mechanism preventing city agencies from awarding high-paying construction gigs — over and over again — to bidders who have done a terrible job in the past.

For the water-treatment fixes, the SFPUC wound up selecting what the controller’s audit charitably termed a “poor-performing” contractor. It didn’t go well: The company “delivered poor quality control, and applied poor project management,” according to the audit.

It issued 87 “change orders” — adding work beyond what was outlined in the original contract — consequently padding the bill by an additional $2.1 million. And this contractor was hit with 70 noncompliance notices, issued when a contractor isn’t following the obligations spelled out in the contract. Sending out those notices eats up city resources, auditors noted, while following up on them necessitates further inspections and site visits.

Although the audit didn’t name the contractor, the amount allocated and work described suggests that it was Keiwit Infrastructure West Co., hired to take on a water treatment plant retrofit project at the SFPUC’s Harry Tracy facility, which treats drinking water that originates at the Crystal Springs Reservoir System.

According to the project website, “Seismic retrofits and electrical upgrades will allow us to reliably provide up to 140 million gallons of water per day, for 60 days, within 24 hours of a major earthquake. Harry Tracy serves several communities on the Peninsula in addition to San Francisco.” The company didn’t return a call from the Guardian seeking comment.

Why was a problematic contractor entrusted with such a critical project? According to the audit, city law does in fact require a contractor to have “a record of prior timely performance,” and a history of dealing with the city “in good faith.”

But there’s no system for holding contractors to these standards. Since the city has no system in place for evaluating bids based on a contractors’ past performance, it’s anyone’s guess whether this contractor had a poor track record before being hired — and there is nothing to prevent the firm from being hired yet again despite the problems encountered by the SFPUC.

The city contracting process follows a scoring system to ensure that the contract award is impartial and equitable — but since it doesn’t factor in a contractor’s prior track record, that’s never formally considered.

And because the city doesn’t require contractor evaluations, or maintain any centralized database of records showing how well contractors have carried out their duties in the past, “poor-performing contractors — even contractors incapable of performing the work on which they bid — can secure additional city contracts,” auditors found.

This SFPUC contract was just one example. The report also highlighted a case study from the San Francisco International Airport, in which a construction crew botched a welding job performed as part of a $15 million contract to build a pedestrian bridge and mezzanine to an airport terminal. The report outlines what went wrong, citing “inadequate installation and missed steps in the welding procedures; bolt holes were misaligned and measured incorrectly.” As a result, SFO issued 59 noncompliance notices.

A contractor hired by the Department of Public Works, for a $5.2 million neighborhood branch library project, was reportedly “aggressive and argumentative … focused on preparing a claim instead of the project,” and “left the job midway through the project,” the audit notes. After that went south, the city spent $85,000–$100,000 on litigation, finally completing the job with the city’s own workforce.

The coming decade promises to be golden for city contractors who work in the construction sector. San Francisco has budgeted more than $25 billion for ambitious projects under its capital improvement plan, so many lucrative construction opportunities will arise.

The Controller’s City Services auditor has kept a watchful eye on construction over the past couple years, Director of City Audits Tonia Lediju told the Guardian. That led to the discovery that the city lacks a process for tracking contractors’ past performance when making hiring decisions.

“Given what we learned from our previous audits, not to mention … our reliance on contractors to accomplish our city’s capital plan, the Controller’s Office decided to conduct this audit to more formally assess the adequacy of the departments’ contractor evaluation processes,” Lediju explained.

As part of the audit, the Controller’s Office surveyed construction management staff at various city agencies, finding that a full 70 percent of them reported encountering poor-performing contractors “at least occasionally.”

To address the gaping problems in the construction contracting system, the Office of the Controller recommended that city agencies work with the Mayor’s Office, the Board of Supervisors, and the City Attorney’s Office to strengthen the law by requiring contractor performance evaluations to be completed — and to consider those evaluations when awarding contracts. With $25 billion in spending over the next 10 years, this might be a wise move.

Artists say vote for Campos

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By Sara Jean Yaste



OPINION David Campos stands up for the underdogs. And in this current state of capitalism U$A, we the people need to give power only to leaders who won’t abuse it for personal profit. Foucault once said "society must be defended." Campos defends that society, and was granted a valid power from the people of San Francisco, based on actually helping us and being trusted, not just being a political yes person, like so many other modern politicians seem to be. Most politicians are all too eager to grant favors in exchange for shiny objects.

As some of you may or may now know, Campos is running for the 17th State Assembly District seat, which would enable him to create legislation at the state level. Campos shows that he is a man of the people by creating legislation that increases payouts for folks unjustly displaced by Ellis Act evictions, as well as giving displaced residents priority for affordable housing units as they become available. He champions the underdogs of the art scene by supporting legislation that enables emerging promoters to continue operating, without having to purchase $1 million insurance policies that are currently required of larger concert promoters. Basically, Campos is on the side of ensuring good times may still be had in SF, and that we don’t fall into the culturally disadvantaged realms of whitebread blandness that strangled vitality in suburbia for decades.

Campos is running against Divide Chiu for this seat. Seemingly, both candidates uphold progressive ideals, but in today’s tepid political waters, trying to stay informed often feels more like watching a bloated puppet show with talking heads, rather than participating in a genuine process of civic engagement. The solution? In my humble opinion, in order to really separate the fakers from the real, one must follow the money. Case in point, Campos proves his integrity and commitment to everyday people from all walks of life, in his refusal to accept cash from the financial industry (read: banks). He also has accepted only $82,000 from locally based real estate developers, who have committed to building affordable housing as well as market-rate housing (ex: the old Mission Theater project). Chiu, on the other hand, shows his true colors (they always say "money talks" right??) by accepting $34,000 from the finance industry, and $143,000 from out-of-state real estate developers.

Chiu promotes himself as being someone who can "get things done" in office. But that’s a pandering tired cliché at this point and it’s offensive that someone would insult our intelligence by using such tired rhetoric as a means to gain our trust and confidence. Yet Campos’ background alone (he was an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala’s civil war, who arrived speaking no English as a child, then later went on to graduate from Stanford University and later Harvard Law), shows that he is a true underdog who overcame adversity and has the capacity, resolve, and integrity to continue fighting on our behalf (yes, this writer identifies as a non-commodified emerging artist, aka underdog).

Campos represents those who actually pulling themselves up by their boot straps, as the saying goes, in reality. He demonstrates strength of character and values in not accepting funds from shady interests (unlike Chiu) and continues to help the people who truly need it, those who are unjustly displaced and in desperate need of housing in the community that is their long-term home. He supports emerging artists by being in touch with our needs, and crafting legislation that enables us to stay in our homes, and helps the current law become more just (because let’s face it, justice is always ahead of the law; for example, see: slavery being sanctioned in colonial U$A and marriage discrimination in California by Proposition 8).

From one concerned and civilly engaged resident of San Francisco to the next, I urge you to vote for David Campos in the upcoming primary on June 3.

Sara Jean Yaste is a writer, musician, and creative social interventionist living and breathing in San Francisco. Her band, Future Twin, performs May 31 from 3-6pm at a Happy Hour for David Campos at DNA Lounge.

Volume 48 Number 35 Flip-through Edition

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Oakland roundabout

0

arts@sfbg.com

THEATER Read. Think for yourself. Speak your mind. Map the wide world. Just don’t leave your house.

Those are the parameters for a hungry young mind in a black male body in Oakland in 2008 — at least according to Watts (Michael Wayne Turner III), who has been living by them for years. Watts became a shut-in after his 10-year-old self took in the cold fact and wider implications of the 1991 Rodney King beating. Seventeen years later — which is how many dead young black men later? How many incarcerated bodies? — Watts lives a life of restless confinement with his sometimes prodding but understanding mother, Willie (Halili Knox).

Quick, a little acerbic but generally kind, Watts (played with a frank charm by Turner) is a voracious reader and a self-styled cartographer, aware of every square mile of his city and yet afraid to physically set foot in any corner of it. As if to underscore the danger he perceives outside, his siblings are more or less MIA. As if to underscore the impossibility of holding it all at bay, he eventually finds a guilt-ridden white guy (Dan Wolf) living as a tenant in his own small bedroom. More ironically still, the New Year’s Day he resolves to finally leave the house is the day a BART policeman named Johannes Mehserle (in what was later deemed an accident) takes Oscar Grant’s life at Fruitvale Station.

Like her main character, playwright and poet Chinaka Hodge is mapping her world here with a keen, obsessive focus. In Chasing Mehserle, Hodge, an Oakland native, picks up again the lives of the Oakland family she introduced in Mirrors in Every Corner, her 2010 debut. Once again, too, she teams up with Intersection for the Arts, Campo Santo, and Youth Speaks’ Living Word Project to realize her sure, capacious imagination in what directors Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Sean San José ensure is an overall vibrant transposition to the stage.

Act II is somewhat less sure and consistent in its unfolding than the strong opening act, and some of the staging (especially the video projections against a slack fabric wall) is less effective than it might be. But throughout Chasing Mehserle is strong acting, lyrical yet rooted dialogue, redolent ensemble movement, and scenes that range from effortlessly funny to startlingly potent.

Unfolding on and around a makeshift playing area at Intersection (where a rolling set of wooden stairs, courtesy of designers Evan Bissell and Tanya Orellana, serves variously as stoop, bedroom, and jail cell), the story comes narrated by a series of characters beginning with Watts, who tells us "his" play is not about Oscar Grant but about himself. Then again, we come to see that Watts’ vision of things is skewed by his long isolation. He may be well-read, he may have intricately mapped his city, but once he steps out in it there is much that eludes him, and much he gets wrong, even tonally — his fictional sidekick and co-narrator, Puck (Danez Smith), balks sometimes at the 10 dollar words he’s made to speak. A chorus of four (Tristan Cunningham, Tommy James Shepherd Jr., Isiah Thompson, and Johnathan Williams), that channels the human landscape in some spare and evocative choreography, also serves as a casual, no-nonsense counterpoint to Watts’ rhetorical flourishes and emotional extremes.

This is all the more crucial a corrective when Watts, learning of the death of Grant, takes it upon himself to track down and kill Mehserle, who has fled the Bay Area and gone into hiding. Watts, in other words, addresses his longstanding fear of white authority, and specifically the police, by turning the tables. But the road he sets down is complicated and confused. His unwanted partner is Lyle (the aforementioned white guy bunking in his bedroom). His perspective is in some ways fresh, in others myopic and deeply problematic. We root for him, and recoil from him. Hodge has created a wonderfully flawed hero, around whom a more complicated topography presents itself, and with whom we encounter a truer and more compassionate grasp of our fraught, divided, unequal, haunted, absurd, yet yearning environment.

CHASING MEHSERLE

Thu/29-Sat/31, 8pm; $15-$25

Z Space

450 Florida, SF

theintersection.org/chasing-mehserle

No web jukes

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culture@sfbg.com

THE WEEKNIGHTER Weekends are for amateurs. Weeknights are for pros. That’s why each week Broke-Ass Stuart (www.brokeassstuart.com) will be exploring a different San Francisco bar, bringing you stories about the places and people who make San Francisco one of the most phenomenal cities in the world. Who wants a drink?

 The Internet jukebox may be the second worst thing that has happened to drinking since mankind invented alcohol. The first worst thing was the hangover, of course, but that has existed since the morning after alcohol was discovered. It took millennia for villains to come up with something nearly as vile as a hangover, and when they did, it was the Internet jukebox.

Think about it. The jukebox is one of the best ways for a bar to create its vibe. If you go to Zeitgeist, you know you’re going to hear Slayer. You may not like Slayer, but you at least know what you’re getting into and you accept it as part of the experience. The Internet jukebox pisses on all of that by taking away the establishment’s ability to curate its soundscape. Now any asshole can ruin everybody’s night by throwing a $50 bill in the machine and playing two hours of 2 Chainz. These people need to be taken out back and beaten with any number of chainz.

This was all part of the rant I was giving Alex as we sat on the barstools at Last Call (3988 18th St, SF. 415-861-1310). It was happy hour on a Tuesday and I was already a couple drinks in. One of the many things that makes Last Call great is that it doesn’t have an Internet jukebox. Instead, it has one that the owners filled with music they knew their customers would enjoy. Considering Last Call is a neighborhood bar in the Castro with a mild Irish pub feel to it, the box is filled with music like Madonna, The Smiths, U2, Kylie Minogue, and Cher. And of course, lots of disco. And you know what? It’s perfect.

There’s a lot more that makes Last Call great though. Fresh flowers always adorn the back bar, there’s a small library one can peruse, the drinks are stiff as hell, and there’s a cool ’70s-looking fireplace to keep you warm on one of San Francisco’s many chilly nights. But more than anything, it’s the friendliness of the bar that makes it great.

Last Call is a quintessential neighborhood bar. The regulars all know one another — but are more than welcoming when someone new comes in. While waiting for Alex to show up I sat there bullshitting with a handful of guys who were joking that, while they hated gym class in high school, they’d probably love it now because of all the hot boys.

Then there was Karl, the super duper nice happy hour bartender. Each time, just before my little bowl of popcorn went empty, he would appear and fill it again. Karl must’ve had that bartender sixth sense that told him I desperately needed food if I was going to continue downing vodka sodas. All this was happening while people down at the other end of the bar were yelling and high-fiving each other over something one of the Giants did. There wasn’t a shitty-seeming person in the whole joint; everyone seemed to love Last Call as much as it loved them.

“So in conclusion, I say ‘fuck the Internet jukebox’ and all the spineless bastards who invented it,” I finished haranguing Alex. “Jesus dude,” he responded, “All I did was ask how you were doing.” And to that I got up, fed a dollar in the jukebox and put on some Donna Summers…or at least I wanted to. The thing wasn’t on, since the Giants game was.

Stuart Schuffman aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, and TV host. You can find his online shenanigans at www.brokeassstuart.com