Nicole Gluckstern

The Performant: Surrender to Dorothy


San Francisco’s invasion of Canada has begun

On my first day in Alberta, Canada I am greeted by gracious Edmontonians bearing platters of smoked meats, a local tradition perhaps, and upon joining my reconnaissance troop, the small but mighty Naked Empire Bouffon Company, who I’m stage-managing for their one-month Fringe Festival tour, we head down to the 32nd Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival headquarters to discover what we can about the territory. The Edmonton Fringe is the second largest in the world after Edinburgh (the original), attracting over a half-million people to the festival site, and hosting over 200 performing companies over the course of 11 days. Mixed in with the vast throng of performers from around the world, a small regiment of infiltrators from the Bay Area have scattered themselves throughout the festival grounds and venues, a quiet invasion of quirky monologists and seasoned storytellers.

And Naked Empire of course, whose confrontational buffooning offers an entirely different definition of Fringe theatre.

Once briefed, we spread out into the Old Strathcona neighborhood to make ourselves known. Old Strathcona is one of those sweetly-preserved old town areas filled with historic wood and brick buildings, cute vintage boutiques, head shops, pubs with names like “Filthy McNasty’s” and “The Tilted Kilt,” as well as many of the city’s theaters and clubs. But what catches our eyes most immediately are the community signposts and storefront windows already covered with Fringe show posters and flyers, although the festival won’t open for another three days. We’re lucky we’re so early, there’re still a few empty spots we can claim as our own with a stack of posters and reams of packing tape. The Naked Empire conquest of Canada has officially begun.

Over the next few days I keep an eye out for evidence of our Bay Area comrades. Some shows are familiar to me, such as David Caggiano’s Jurassic Ark, which won a “Best Of” award at the 2011 San Francisco Fringe, and Annette Roman’s Hitler’s Li’l Abomination, which plays the same venue as Naked Empire — the Yardbird Suite, a volunteer-run Jazz Club during the year. Others are performers I’ve seen in previous shows, such as Pi Clowns, here with a stripped-down, three-person venture entitled De(tour), and Randy Rutherford with Walk Like a Man, a low-key, heartfelt solo show combining folk music and reminiscence. Still others are performers I haven’t yet seen in the Bay Area, so it was fun to catch them across the border instead: Howard Petrick on riding the rails in Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed, and Barbara Selfridge in Zero Tolerance: Sex, Math, and Seizures.

Out of all of us, Rutherford is the performer who’s most seasoned on the Canadian Fringe, a linked circuit of 22 individual festivals with staggered starting dates stretching across the continent, making it possible for a Fringe artist to start touring in June in Montreal (or May, in Orlando, Florida), and travel west all summer long, hitting multiple festivals along on the way. Performing his solo shows on the circuit since the late 1990s, Rutherford has won 21 “Best Of Fringe” awards, and is one of the rare performers from the United States to really tap into the potential rewards the Canadian Fringe has to offer. The irony, of course, is that he’s much better known in Canada than in his own hometown, as are many of the Fringe famous.

As for Naked Empire, our second show is today, so it’s still early to tell whether or not we’ll be joining those ranks or not, but stay tuned. The Edmonton Fringe is just beginning and there are dozens of stories yet to tell.

Wanna Fringe vicariously through us? Follow @enkohl and @NakdEmprBouffon on the twit-thing for updates and gossip.

The Performant: The Stiltwalkers Union


In an iconic sequence from Winsor McCay’s eccentrically beautiful Little Nemo in Slumberland, Nemo’s bed sprouts elongated legs and strolls through the city as Nemo and his cantankerous friend Flip cling to the bedsheets and try not to fall out. Whenever I see performers on stilts, the exaggerated limbs of that unexpectedly animated furniture are one of the first things that spring to my mind, their death-defying acrobatics furthering the resemblance to an unnerving dream sequence.

Tapping into both the whimsical and the deeply unsettling nature of stiltwalking as art form, San Francisco’s Carpetbag Brigade and Nemcatacoa Teatro from Colombia performed their unique brand of physical theater in tandem over the weekend, along with Tucson, AZ’s VerboBala and Hojarasca Andina from Colombia, as part of their transcontinental “Bi-Cultural Road Show.”

At Dance Mission, Carpetbag Brigade’s Callings featured a quintet of stiltwalkers, suggesting the virtually alien clime of the deep sea with nothing more than a few rowboat paddles and a soundtrack heavy on implication. A trio of overall-clad performers with impossibly long legs moved in and out of the center point of the stage, paddles aloft, menacingly brandished as weapons, then put to more utilitarian purpose as propellers. A single performer clad all in white held another aloft like a seagull skimming the surface of the waves. Performers recreated the motion of rolling waves and tempestuous storms in synchronized group groundwork and intense, contact improv-style duets.

An innocuous wooden swing on a sturdy rope lost all innocence, serving both as life preserver and obstacle to the performers as they grasped for it from the “sea” and became entangled in it, singly and in pairs, as the pre-recorded music shifted from darkly ominous underwater electronica to sprightly accordion tunes to dramatic strings and clattering percussion in the style of Cirque de Soleil.

Meanwhile, outside the 24th Street BART station, Nemcatacoa Teatro was embarking on a site-specific exploration of the area as part of its “Landscape Re-Invention Society” series. Like reanimated Diggers or extraterrestrial visitors, the troupe turned the mundane into occasion for wonder. Painted black-and-white and clad all in fluttering white garments (streaked, perhaps inadvertently, by their body paint), the stiltwalking group towered above the crowd and many of the familiar landmarks of the area: the metal fences surrounding the station entrances, the busses pulling up to the stop outside El Farolito, the looming McDonalds across the street.

Followed by Hojarasca Andina, a trio of enigmatic musicians with pan pipes, the intrepid bunch felt their way boldly from corner to corner, gazing in puzzlement through windows, hugging trees, tumbling across pavement, and lounging along the BART station walls (the latter segment inadvertently bringing to mind the recent tragic breakdown of Colombian acrobat Yeiner Perez though fortunately for all, the mood is strictly playful, not aggressive), until at last they came to rest, posed flat against the vibrantly-painted mural outside Dance Mission.

Sorry you missed the spectacle? Watch all four companies (Carpetbag Brigade, Nemcatacoa Teatro, VerboBala, and Hojarasca Andina) in their collaborative piece Dios de la Adrenalina at Union Square Sun/11 at 2 p.m., and Yerba Buena Gardens on August 17 at 2:30 p.m.

(Don’t panic! The Performant will be on hiatus for one week as she packs her bags for the Canadian Fringe Festival circuit. Check out her tweets for up-to-the-minute dispatches from the Great North @enkohl)

The Performant: Brave Old World


Tweaking tradition with Minor Empire and Thingamajigs

There are as many roads down the path of “world music” as there are countries represented within that nebulous category. And while there’re still plenty of purists adhering strictly to the musical traditions of the past, it’s just as common for today’s world musicians to use those traditions as a kind of jumping-off point for their compositions, in much the same way that the 12-bar blues have been the foundation for numerous offshoots of “American” music.

A good example of this conscious hybridization between past and present, old word and new, is Toronto-based Turkish-Canadian combo Minor Empire, who blend sinuous Eastern folk tunes with Western jazz-jam, desert rock, and pulsing electronica, providing multiple entrance points to their specific sound.

In an intimate show at Yoshi’s San Francisco, the touring band seemed simultaneously dwarfed by the lofty ceiling and genteel table seating and yet musically unconfined as they introduced their set with building blocks of drone, guitar, bass, percussion, and kanun (a kind of zither), creating an elegant setting for the jewel-like vocals of Ozgu Ozman. Gracious and grounded, Ozman took time to translate some of the lyrics later in the set, but the first songs were left tantalizingly ambiguous, layering different kinds of familiarity on top of one another.

Plaintive traditional melodies of love and loss, an undercurrent of electronic glitch, the occasional flourish of Calexico-style guitar riffs and funky bass lines, the insistent twinned rhythms of the kanun and the doumbek. The resultant mélange sounded to my ears a little like Wovenhand’s Eastern-tinged album The Threshing Floor, a little like Baba Zula, an alt-jazz/psychedelic combo from Istanbul, and a lot like a band I’d want to get to know better in slightly less refined surroundings — a sweatier nightclub, perhaps, or a sunlit outdoor stage. A space where not just the ears could be transported by the complex compositions, but the body entire.

Architecture favored Thingamajigs Performance Ensemble better at the Berkeley Art Museum on Friday, where a trio of trios performed experimental music in the cavernous atrium of Gallery B. Although, like Yoshi’s, the ceiling soared far above the huddle of intently concentrating musicians, and the room sprawled far beyond the tight confines of their performance area, they managed to fill in the gaps with their judicious addition of a multimedia dimension. From the ground to the lofty balconies above, three long scrolls marked with arcane symbols, half-recognizable words, and morse-code like rhythm tablature were slowly unfurled before each trio in sedate counterpoint to the deliberately atonal improvisations.

Live video projections of a poet at work (Sasha Hom) further helped to fill the empty spaces above, while below the oddience was encouraged to shift position and wander the wings during the concert. Scattered about the room, brightly-colored, padded shapes — trapezoids and triangles — designed by Rebar served as seating and further added another playful visual aspect to the event.

Using a variety of traditional instruments in some very non-traditional ways, Thingamajigs has been experimenting with the creation of differently-structured sound since the mid-nineties. It’s an artform with a long lineage, and as such cannot be championed as an entirely new concept. But given the rare confluence of disparate factors in any given concert — space, spectators, ever-evolving interpretations of the potential locked within each instrument and each composition — every performance is in itself as new and as fleeting as the first few moments of a half-remembered dream. Thingamajigs will be in residence at BAM through August 16; check out the website for ways to dream along.

The Performant: Roll Out the Barrel


At Nerd Nite, beer + nerds = fun

One of beer’s most intriguing qualities is that it’s an incredibly easy elixir to get nerdy about. In fact, it’s almost like a double gateway — attracting regular folk to the wide wonderful world of microbiology and science-minded folk to the bar scene. What’s more, beer as a social catalyst has been bringing people together for possibly over 10,000 years and is the third most popular beverage in the world after water and tea, providing plenty of opportunity for historical insight and cultural exchange.  All of which made hosting a beer-tasting event at San Francisco’s 38th edition of Nerd Nite kind of a no-brainer … except with brains.

Nerd Nite San Francisco has been running strong at the Rickshaw Stop since its local inception in 2010 (Nerd Nite as a phenomenon having been founded in Boston in 2003 by Chris Balakrishnan), regularly packing the place to the literal rafters with fans who flock to witness talks on such phenomena as “The World’s Weirdest Fungus,” the science behind circus sideshow acts, the inevitability of the zombie apocalypse, and the intricacies of video game design. But this month, beer. Ok, and video game design. But mostly beer.

After an informative lecture on the history of beer delivered by Jim Withee of GigaYeast (a company producing and packaging a variety of beer yeast strains for professional and home-brewers) came the beer-tasting portion of the evening. An ingrained beer-brewing rivalry between the Bay Area Science Festival and the Philadelphia Science Festival led to three experimental batches being brewed by local craft brewer (and scientist), Bryan Hermannsson of Pacific Brewing Laboratory, the winner voted on by the crowd to become the beer entered into the official 2013 competition. So not just tasting for the sake of tasting, but a group experiment to determine the beer with the best flavor and presentation. Yay for science!

What made the experiment even more intriguing from a beer science standpoint was the fact that all three batches were brewed with the same base recipe of two-row malt and simcoe hops, and under the same temperature conditions, what made the flavor of each different was strictly the yeast strain used in each (courtesy of GigaYeast, natch).  The first was a pale ale, so reminiscent of the Bay Area they even called it the “Norcal”. This one was my personal favorite, the way it embodied both the beer style and the region that brews some of the best of that style in the country, possibly the world. People were less enthusiastic about the Kölsch-style beer, which one member of the oddience likened to “cat pee” and one of the panel judges, Ken Wever, to “Band-Aids”. I just found the flavor and body flat, uninteresting. But the third brew, a Belgian-style with pear, was definitely more inspired. The nose was the best — fruity, rich, and herbal — plus a creamy mouthfeel and a lingering note of bramble and spice. It was a little sweeter than I usually like, but the crowd response to it was generally positive.

The taster cups were generous and the crowd response to free boozing was as enthusiastic as you might expect. But calling the winner was less easy, although the Bay Area Science Festival’s Kishore Hari attempted to do just that (in favor of the Belgian-style) amid loud protesting coming from the back of the room where votes were still rolling in. So clearly some bugs still remain in the scientific process of vote tallying, but you’ll be glad to know that as far as the science of beer-brewing goes, things appear to be better than ever.

The Performant: Parts is Parts


FoolsFURY’s Factory Parts Builds a Future for Ensemble Works

Ever ambitious, the process-oriented foolsFURY theater ensemble has added yet another performance series to its production calendar: “Factory Parts,” focusing on works-in-development from fellow ensemble companies from both coasts.

Structured like a lower-key version of its biennial festival of ensemble theater, “The FURY Factory,” “Factory Parts” brings together ten companies to present segments of unfinished works before an audience (and each other) to gain perspective on how to shape them for the future. Broken up into three separate programs each showing three times over the course of ten days, Factory Parts offers artists and audiences alike to get in on the ground floor of a production’s existence and offer insight and feedback to the companies involved, turning what would normally be behind-the-scenes workshopping into a form of participatory theatergoing.

I caught up with foolsFURY’s associate artistic director Debórah Eliezer to get the inside scoop on the series, which opens tonight.

SF Bay Guardian So how does the focus of Factory Parts” differ from that of “The FURY Factory”?

Debórah Eliezer What we’ve been doing with “FURY Factory” is creating mainstage performances during the weekends; in the middle of the week, we’ve been doing works-in-progress. So what would happen is, we’d do multiple types of shows, and you’d get this cross-hybrid of audience, who were all there to see a different thing. And the secondfold here is to be able to offer a venue for creators who are working together over a long period of time. You need to have these stops on your journey where you go “Ok, this is what I’ve got, I’m going to bare my soul in front of you and show you this, bearing in mind that it’s a work in a larger development process.”

What we’ve found is that there are a lot of venues showcasing this kind of work if you call it dance. It’s very typical for dancers to have five minutes of their work in a choreographic showcase, and then to keep working on the piece. So what we want to do is [similarly] educate the theater audience member. We really want to bring people into process.

SFBG When we talk about works that are in progress in the context of this festival, was there a minimum threshold of completeness required for participation? What was the selection process like?

DE The selection process was in large part determined by time. My thing was, “Just give me ten good minutes. I would rather see that, than half an hour that contains ten good minutes.” I think the majority of the pieces, about 80 percent, are ten-minute pieces, including foolsFURY’s. It allows artists to take responsibility for what they are capable of producing in a time period that is feasible. 

SFBG And how did you wrangle the artists that you did?

DE We did send out a publicity letter, but more specifically, we reached out to people that we thought would really benefit from the experience. And I think we’re building on the strength of “The FURY Factory,” that this is really a way for some of the companies to start ramping up for next year. There’s no guarantee of acceptance but the idea is we’re providing this venue as a stair step for how to develop your piece. ”Ok I’m in ‘Factory Parts’ and maybe I can work toward ‘FURY Factory.’”

SFBG So the main thing you expect audiences to get out of this program is the opportunity to be integrated into the process of creating theater? Or what do you think the main draw will be?

DE [To] invite the audience into process development with the idea that they can then take responsibility for what they see and their own enjoyment, their participation is a vital aspect of the development process. On the third night of every program there’s going to be an audience feedback session, moderated by a dramaturg, a talkback of sorts, so there’ll be the feedback between the artist and the audience. And then there’ll be peer review feedback, between the companies, who are all required to see the other two programs, and they’ll have a feedback forum … and then the third part of this whole response ecosystem will be a roundtable discussion (on the morning of Sun/28). It’ll be a moderated discussion among peers, a community gathering of sorts, to culminate the process as a whole.

“Factory Parts”

Wed/17-Sun/21 and July 25-28, 8pm, $15 ($40 pass)

NOH Space

2840 Mariposa, SF


The Performant: The Real Patriot Act


Celebrating Freedom of Expression with Tourettes Without Regrets

I’m as susceptible as the next ‘Murican to the social imperative of observing certain time-honored holiday traditions, particularly the ones that involve drinking and blowing shit up, but still I appreciate the opportunity to mix things up in that milieu. Which is why this Fourth of July, heading over to the Oakland Metro for Tourettes Without Regrets was the perfect way to celebrate my inalienable right to get freaky.

Probably the least predictable and therefore most electric variety show in the Bay Area, TWR has been throwing down the gauntlet of weird since 1999, a mad mashup of foul-mouthed comedians and spoken word performers, battle rappers, burlesque beauties, and sheer, unbridled chaos. Can YOU guess what’s in host Jamie DeWolf’s pants? Would you fuck a pie onstage? Compete for the prized “golden dildo”? Participate in a bout of pants-off musical chairs? Be forewarned,
there are no true bystanders at TWR and nobody is innocent.

“Everyone is a part of this fucking event,” warns DeWolf at the top of the show, and although his smile is deceptively genial, the cold steel glint in his watchful eyes tells you he means it.

Freedom of speech is so important to our national identity that it was the first right to be codified in the Bill of Rights, way back in 1791. Of course efforts to chip away at that right have been in play from both sides of the political spectrum ever since, and speech considered to be hateful, obscene, seditious, or libelous has been under almost continual attack for centuries. And though much of Tourettes Without Regrets keeps its tongue firmly planted in cheek (any cheek), a paranoid visitor from planet normal could get nervous about the broadness of the show’s interpretation of protected expression.

Dirty Haiku and a sexy pie-eating contest (won handily by a lesbian couple) could easily be viewed in the heartland as obscene, rude Battle Rap as slander, a downright lascivious fantasy about hate-humping Sarah Palin and a joyous spot of burlesque flag-burning as borderline seditious. No stranger to the controversial, the charismatic DeWolf provides as much distraction as direction, deploying an arsenal of colorful tangents and unflinching observations, gleefully pushing the buttons of anyone within earshot, and at some point almost everyone in the freewheeling oddience has at least one chance to squirm uncomfortably beneath the onslaught of freedom we are fortunate enough to take for granted.

Special July 4th additions to the evening’s festivities include a spontaneous shower of sparklers, burlesque dancers in camouflage and red-white-and-blue toting guns and six-packs of cheap beer, and a guest appearance by the Bay Area’s finest amateur wrestling and performance troupe, Hoodslam, who provided their signature wrestling ring to be the event stage, as well as a couple of whirlwind melees involving some of their most iconic players including Johnny Drinko Butabi (sporting stars-and-bars tights with wild fringe), the preternaturally handsome Anthony Butabi, the user-friendly Stoner Brothers, the perpetual user Drugz Bunny, the menacingly masked Scorpion, and the formidable Ultragirl.

And because nothing spells M-U-R-I-C-A so much as conspicuous consumption and wanton destruction, a bout of toilet paper dodgeball involving the entire crowd “wrapped up” the evening in one delightfully riotous exemplar of our constitutional right to make asses of ourselves in public. Now that’s independence!

First Thursdays
8:30pm, $10
Oakland Metro
630 Third Street, Oakl.

The Performant: People are Strange


Ape faces and hocus-pocuses

She was a medical marvel in an age where such marvels were not entirely uncommon. Forced into sideshows or the superficially more genteel lecture circuit, these Victorian-era human wonders were often exploited by their handlers and employers, but in an age where there were already limited possibilities for earning one’s keep, the ability to transform a physical disability into a money-making attribute was at least a more attractive proposition than starving.

For Julia Pastrana, the so-called “Nondescript,” her unusual condition — a form of hypertrichosis which covered her body in thick black hair and deformed her face — touring the world was better than staying in her home state of Sinaloa, Mexico, where she was a marginalized house servant. By all accounts, many of which are recited verbatim onstage in May van Oskan’s The Ape Woman, which played at the EXIT Theatre last weekend, she was an intellectually curious woman who spoke three languages, had a beautiful singing voice and a gracious manner, and even believed in romantic love, even though to outsiders her own marriage had the appearance of an exploitative measure on the part of her husband, Theodore Lent, who also happened to be her “manager”.

In van Oskan’s musical enactment of the Pastrana saga (billed as a “rock opera” despite long passages of spoken text), Julia, at last, is given a voice — and a ukulele — plus a backing band of folksy musicians. Portrayed by van Oskan, who eschewed appearing in “apeface,” which would certainly be a distraction, this Julia lulled us into a kind of melancholy trance as she related her troubled childhood; her escape, of sorts, into the exhibition business; and her journey into adulthood as medical curiosity, wife, and, briefly, mother to a child whose difficult birth resulted in both of their deaths.

Her external circumstances mainly described by a parade of carnival barkers, anatomists, and her exhibitor-turned-husband, Julia’s internal landscape was illuminated through song, a blend of harmony and shimmering introspection, of gracious acceptance of her strange lot, and a wistful yearning for normalcy.

“I keep letting the dreams in,” she confessed in song, as she reminisced over her unusual life path, from obscurity to celebrity, like a reverse kind of supermodel, an exploitable image for others to hang their fantasies and preconceived perceptions on, without taking into account the human soul beneath the exposed skin.

Unusual life paths are what the Dark Room Theater’s summertime Twilight Zone series is all about. Now entering its tenth year, The Twilight Zone is a collection of new plays written to vaguely resemble the Twilight Zone episodes of yore, taking ordinary people and dropping them into unexplainable scenarios that defy reason. This past weekend, a small-town hanging in I Am the Night, Color Me Black, became a metaphor for a creeping wave of hatred that threatened to engulf, not only the stage, but the entire world, and a small-town liar became an unlikely ambassador to the outer reaches of the galaxy in Hocus Pocus and Frisby.

Spoof commercials, a dreadlocked “Rod Serling,” and an intriguing implication for pool noodles reminded the odd-ience that they were no longer in Kansas, nor even in any stale remake, but in a uniquely San Francisco kind of world, where the unlikely lurks around every corner, and the curiosities are all of us.

The Performant: A Declaration of Independence


Taking the road less traveled with the Independent Eye

In a cozy living room in Cole Valley, a small but attentive oddience gathers to watch a trio of short theatrical vignettes performed by maverick theater-makers the Independent Eye.

Entitled Gifts, the three pieces have been performed over the years in previous incarnations, but never together, and the subtle commonalities that bind them are elegant and startling in equal measure. Focused primarily on human relationships, the complexity of desire, and the precarious yet universal nature of a journey into the unknown, Gifts follows three couples on their respective paths as they encounter all the unexpected complications and mysterious rewards that life throws at them along the way.

For Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller, who have been both the creative partnership behind the Independent Eye and also life partners for over 50 years, revisiting these pieces with a deepened perspective honed by the implications of entering their final decades has been a process as revelatory to them as when they were created the first time.

“Everything resonates differently,” points out Fuller, with a gracious smile.
After celebrating their Quinquagenary touring their joint memoir of the life artistic, Co-creation, holding readings in the private homes of friends and acquaintances scattered around the country as well as the usual arts venues, the two began developing a show that could be toured in the same way, in order to utilize the unique intimacy that only a house concert-style performance can capture. A way to demystify and decommodify the theatrical experience, as well as a way to inexpensively return to their touring roots, during which they would perform upward of 200 performances a year, criss-crossing the country in a van, kids and puppets in tow.

What they ended up with was Gifts, a series of tenuously-linked duets, compressed enough in form and expansive enough in intention that Bishop refers to them as “dramatic haikus”.

Completely contained within the parameters of a throw rug, a small table and a pair of stools form the entirety of stage and set, while an array of props and puppets issue forth from a modest pair of suitcases, transforming the small space into an endless series of freeways, the tree of life, an amorphous dreamscape, a three-story walk-up, and the ephemeral realm of a pair of hungry gods. In fluid succession, a wrong turn on the freeway becomes a 40-year commitment to a path that feels as much like a mistake as a destination, the prospect of receiving a major award becomes a bittersweet comitragedy of errors, a couple facing the erosion of their golden years by the leaden weight of market forces experience a visitation from the gods — forces much more powerful than the merely mortal ones that have previously formed their trajectory.

And through it all, the almost subversive notion simmering, that a life lived creatively is a life worth whatever the material drawbacks, and that the transformative nature of the journey is by far the greatest reward.

Or, as Fuller succinctly puts it, “these pieces are a validation of different ways of getting ‘there’.”

See Gifts at the Garden Gate Creativity Center:

Fri/28, 8 p.m.
Garden Gate Creativity Center
2911 Claremont Ave, Berk.

The Performant 150: We are the 99% (gay)


Celebrating Pride Month in the the-ah-tah

We’re already halfway through Pride Month, but there’s no end in sight for the mad whirl of activities you could be availing yourself of. Proud or not, there’s no excuse for a blank social calendar at this time of year. Hate the club scene? Don’t overlook the très gay possibilities of a night in the theatre (Truman Capote wouldn’t). For starters, you might check out one of the ongoing shows over at the venerable New Conservatory Theatre Center, or one by queer theatre stalwarts Theatre Rhinoceros, but for campier fun, The Performant has a few favorites of her own to recommend (being gay not required).

What’s more gay than Marga Gomez at the Mission’s beloved Latino drag bar, Esta Noche (which thankfully seems to have staved off closing, for now)? It’s Marga Gomez at Esta Noche with a stellar line-up of out-and-proud comedians, a special Pride Month version of her regular weekly “Comedy Bodega” shows she’s entitled The 99% Gay Comedy Fest. I’m not sure who comprises that other one percent — perhaps some asexual socialite who’s slumming on the queer comedy circuit — but as laughter is a universal experience, they’d doubtlessly fit right in. Unlike most other comedy shows around town, Comedy Bodega is totally free, and although there is a one drink minimum (it is a bar, after all), well drinks are only $3.50, leaving you that much more money in your pocket to tip the performers. Everybody wins.

Speaking of wins, psychedelic-era, gender-bending performance troupe the Cockettes have permeated both sides of the Bay with the ongoing (extended to July 27) Thrillpeddlers’ revival of one of their outrageous stage shows, Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma, as well as an entire room of historical memorabilia at Mills College Art Museum as part of their “West of Center: Art and the Counterculture Experiment in America, 1965-1977” exhibition, which runs through Sept. 12. Also free to the public, the exhibition includes a June 26 screening of a pair of short films, Palace and Elevator Girls in Bondage, featuring key Cockettes including Rumi Missabu, Fayette Hauser, Hibiscus, and Miss Harlow.

Not free to the public, but always worth the price of admission, Tinsel Tarts is the fourth revived Cockettes’ show at the Hypnodrome, and it’s quite possibly the most outrageous one to date. In 1971, critic Rex Reed described it as “a spangled chaos of flesh, a seething mass of lurching bodies in lavish hock-shop costumes, doing their thing for freedom,” which well describes the Thrillpeddlers’ experience to a tee. If you’re lucky (as I was) you might get a chance to see not one but three original Cockettes strutting their stuff onstage: Missabu, Sweet Pam Tent, and fearless musical director (and “Chico Marx”) Scrumbly Koldewyn.  
And on the subject of ongoing revivals, if you’ve yet to see Boxcar Theatre’s rambunctious revamp of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, now is the perfect time to remedy that. Not only has the show scored a float in this year’s Pride parade, but it just celebrated its 100th performance of its high-octane version of the John Cameron Mitchell/Stephen Trask musical, featuring an octet of sexy Hedwigs swarming the stage at the same time. Punks, trollops, glam girls, rocker boys, and soul singers, each more endearing than the last, no matter which performer lurks behind the wig (the cast rotates every few weeks). After numerous extensions, the show will close for good on August 10, so get proud, get drunk, and get a ticket while you still can.

The Performant: (Somewhat) lost in translation


“Infinite Closeness” was a little ways off

Reminiscent of Mission parlor-art space The Red Poppy Art House, Subterranean Arthouse in Berkeley, upon entrance, is a lot like entering the living room of an artsy friend. Comfortably mismatched chairs and a few scattered cushions, a kitchenette behind the stage curtains, inviting visitors to endless cups of tea, hardwood floors gleaming below a strand of primitive lighting instruments.

Just four years old as a venue, the Arthouse nonetheless gives off the vibe of a place that’s been around forever, lurking just below the radar, if not actually under the ground (unlike La Val’s Subterranean, it’s actually located at street level). In short, it’s about time I got around to attending an event there.

The piece, “Infinite Closeness” is a solo offering of Hungarian performer Csaba Hernadi, an entirely mimed evocation of the poetess Mari Lukacs, whose life spanned the horrors of the Holocaust, the communist regime, and the usual traumas and blessings of a life lived for poetry.

The stage is set with a few scattered props: couch, table, coat-rack, a cracked and legless mannequin. Some pieces such as a dressmaker’s dummy and what appears to be a kneeling refugee from a carousel menagerie lurk in unclaimed corners of the stage, perhaps conjuring the crowded edges of a mind in turmoil. Truthfully it’s not entirely clear what purpose they serve, which is presumably the point.

Clad in a modest high-collared blouse of cream and long black skirt that hangs just above unwomanly large bare feet, Hernadi “awakens” on his couch as a swell of sound, murmur and rushing wind, moves him forward. Stiffly seated at a “dressing table,” Hernadi as Lukacs brushes his/her hair and then takes up an onion, peels it, and presses it abruptly to his/her eyes, a visceral pantomime of grief.

Or at least that’s what it appears to be. Even more enigmatic than the unfamiliar strains of Hungarian would be are the broad strokes of silence that shield the piece from easy interpretation. My trusty theatre-companion V. gets restless. “There should be subtitles” he mutters near the end, though as the piece is silent, maybe he means inter-titles. I know what he means, though. Context is everything.

For just as art interprets us, so do we interpret art. And while we are by no means unwilling to follow Harnadi’s Lukacs’ down the various rabbit holes that turbulent times pulled her down throughout the years, lacking any prior knowledge of her biography makes extrapolating it from the raw movement onstage a challenge. Even the presence of a blurb in a program or a single line of her poetry would have served to round out our interpretation of the event in a way that Hernadi’s tender dances with the broken mannequin and an empty suit jacket don’t quite manage.

And while his reverence for his subject is evident and moving, ultimately the focus of the piece remains on him rather than her, as he is in the room with us in a way she is never quite allowed. Still, I’m grateful to Hernadi, and by extension Lukacs, for bringing me to The Subterranean Arthouse at last. I’ll be sure to not let another four year go by before I return.      

The Performant: Sympathetic resonance


An evening of good vibrations at the Decameron

While there’s plenty of art created around post-apocalyptic themes, what frequently characterizes it is a sense of bleakness, struggle, and violence. Only rarely does the sheer resilience of the creative spirit get recognized, let alone celebrated by our visionary futurists.

But in the here and now, perched right on the edge of the city, lies an autonomous zone where the citizens of an imagined future have banded together not just in a sheer survivalist mode, but in a life-affirming one. Calling their temporary territory Oekolos, these merry pranksters ameliorate their straightened circumstances through their continued artistic endeavors, even as evidence of outside turmoil continues to rage around their peaceable kingdom.

It is in this celebratory spirit that the citizens of Oekolos welcome outsiders into their insular microcosm to experience the Decameron, a 10-day festival of 10 unique works per night (for a grand total of 100), presented by a rotating cast of performers.

Since each night is comprised of different acts and artists, my personal experience on one particular evening (last Wednesday, May 29’s grand opening night) can only roughly forecast what a later visitor might encounter on their own foray.

Ensconced in and around the historic Fort Mason Firehouse, the citizens of Oekolos have prepared all manner of entertainments to share with the intrepid visitor. Outside the Firehouse, I encounter a trapeze dangling daringly above the concrete ground, a flatbed truck quixotically enhanced by a gracious loft, a pair of masts, and a uniquely immersive musical instrument known as a “soundcave,” built mainly of the stringed innards of pianos, an enigmatic length of cable stretched 600 feet across the water, an intimate, semicircular amphitheater overlooking the bay, a wall of windowpanes being slowly painted over with vibrantly colorful vignettes. Inside the Firehouse a room of singular sculptures with movable parts and a room with a stage await inspection as night slowly falls, and the oddience gathers near.

Upon demonstrating the soundcave’s ability to respond to a note played independently within it by vibrating harmonically around it, creator Tyson Ayers uses the term “sympathetic resonance” to describe this spontaneous reaction. It’s the perfect descriptor of the effects such a miscellany of performance arts might provoke in both its participants and its observers.

For myself, the resonance comes in the form of the physical — a lone trapeze artist (Shannon Gray) struggling against the confines of gravity and her own body, the imposing figure of an erstwhile music “professor” (Andreas Bennetzen) attempting to distill the entire history of the music of Oekolos on the spare curves of his “detachable” double bass, an operatic aria swirled against a backdrop of dark night and bright flames (sung by Julia Hathaway), a boldly vulnerable figure (Allie Cooper) twisting along the length of cable stretched across the water to the boom of an electronic soundscape, the sensuous coil of a pair of dancing bodies (Bad Unkl Sista and Michael Curran) circumnavigating a pool of spotlight.

Each striking image vibrating a path into my memory banks, plucking my strings on the way in, staking future claim. There’s no telling in advance what part of the shape-shifting event might resonate with you, but it’s a pretty sure bet that you’ll encounter something in Oekolos to linger inside you, even after it disappears from the map for good.


Through Sun/9

7:30pm, $35

“Oekolos” (Fort Mason Firehouse)

Fort Mason, SF

The Performant: Cracks in the pavement


Gentrification-proof poetry

Although the ongoing eviction saga (and upcomng relocation!) of Adobe Books, “the living room” of the Mission, from its 16th Street digs dredges up memories of all the neighborhood bookstores that have closed/moved in recent years, it’s worth being reminded that the book trade has only ever had a limited impact on the persistence of the written (and spoken) word, particularly where poetry is concerned.

In fact, the more tenuous the economic climate, the more tenacious poetry becomes, pushing itself like a hungry weed through the unavoidable cracks left in the superficially smooth pavement of gentrification. That poets are themselves accustomed to staying hungry yet artistically fruitful is a condition immortalized in the famous Robert Graves quip that “there’s no money in poetry, but there’s no poetry in money, either.”

There’s not much money, but plenty of poetry outside the 16th Street BART Station every Thursday night, rainy or not, when a constantly rotating crew shows up to the unnamed, (un)official poetry jam, armed with the essential tools of urban poets everywhere—tall boys in brown paper bags, open ears under fleece hoods, and a cache of words waiting to be unleashed.

As nightlifers in expensive shoes stroll out of the station en route to the increasingly upscaled Valencia Street, they pass by the chalk circle ringed by a throng of scrappy street poets, belting out their offerings with the hoarse-throated projection of people without a microphone to hide behind. Instigated in 2004 by a passel of performance poets from the now-defunct New College up the road, Thursday nights have continued to attract a wealth of wordsmiths for almost ten years: some published some not, some regulars some newbs, some lifers some dilettantes. There’s may be some good-natured vying for stage time, but the bottom line is anyone with something to share is welcome to jump into the circle, and there’s almost always at least one participant who electrifies beyond anticipation, making even the otherwise mostly oblivious passerby stop in their tracks and pay attention.

Meanwhile, in the Lower Haight, a more carefully curated reading series takes place at The Squat, attracting its own adherents with its appealing blend of irreverence and celebration. Conceptualized and commanded by one “Janey Smith,” The Squat is less of an actual squat (no-one actually lives in it) than a liminal territory for an underground intelligentsia to congregate without the burden of pretension.

Beware the published starting time—the real determiner is the setting of the sun, since readings at The Squat are conducted, perhaps by necessity, in the dark. After night falls sufficiently, the group is led in abrupt silence from Smith’s iconic San Francisco apartment to the “venue,” a completely empty apartment upstairs, barely illuminated by rows of flickering tealights (“if you have hair, try not to catch on fire” Smith cracks). We squeeze into the “living room” together, encircling a pile of sawdust, the “stage.” 

Of the four readers, three locals (Ben Mirov, Erica Lewis, and Cedar Sigo) and a special “guest star” from the East Coast (Alex Dimitrov), the one whose poems most stick in my mind are Mirov’s, whose chilly distillations of word and image and deliberately affectless tone perfectly suit a body of poetry written in and for a digital age. Lewis reads from her latest project, a linked series called darryl hall is my boyfriend for which she provides mixed tapes of Darryl Hall’s music for emphasis, Sigo, most recently published by City Lights, presents a series of short poems rife with lush imagery, and Dimitrov works the increasingly vocal crowd with his confessional anecdotes, both written and spontaneous. The police don’t show and no-one catches on fire, so the event is deemed a success. Housing scarcity being what it is in this town, surely this apartment can’t stay empty forever, so get down there while you still have a chance, or head down to 16th Street on any Thursday around 10 p.m. Either way you’ll quickly discover that though our bookstores might be under siege, our poets refuse to surrender the fight.

The action of bodies in heat


THEATER Tom Stoppard is not a playwright who shies away from topics of unusual size. While other writers might confine themselves more narrowly with plumbing the emotional depths of their protagonists, Stoppard further concerns himself with the very workings of the universe they live in, and the machinery of history and the evolution of thought that informs their relationship to it.

In Arcadia, Stoppard inserts his articulate, intellectually-curious characters into long-winded conversations about Euclidian geometry, determinism, and the second law of thermodynamics, while still giving plenty of stage time to more emotionally-fraught preoccupations such as “carnal knowledge,” public reputation, and even romantic love. Set in both the Romantic age and the modern era, the two storylines are rife with parallel plot points: the philosophical implications of chaos theory; the abrupt self-exile of that most tempestuous of poets, Lord Byron; the struggles of two brilliant female characters to be taken seriously in their respective times; and even a quiet affection for tortoises.

Set primarily in the gracious drawing room of an English estate (designed for this production by Douglas W. Schmidt), the play is nevertheless far from static, spanning, as it does, 200 years of Western thought and several generations of the wonky Coverly clan, who inhabit their Derbyshire home with the carefree insouciance of the very wealthy. However, with the exception of the formidable Lady Croom (Julia Coffey), the expected mannerisms of a stifled upper-class don’t really manifest themselves in either her gifted daughter Thomasina (Rebekah Brockman), or in the modern-day coterie of Coverly siblings, who wander through their stately mansion in hoodies and jeans, speaking frankly of mathematics and sex as if the two passions were one and the same. Indeed, by the end of the play, it’s hard to believe otherwise, testament to Stoppard’s ability to thoroughly contextualize both.

It’s the character of Thomasina, as luminously portrayed by Brockman, who first captures our attention. Armed with precocious directness, the 13-year-old quickly reveals herself to be both sharp-witted and intellectually hungry, tackling Fermat’s Last Theorem, the meaning of “carnal embrace,” and the scientific implications of a bowl of rice pudding with equal intensity. Although her advanced aptitude eventually commands the respect of her otherwise professionally-frustrated tutor, Septimus Hodge (a handsomely rakish Jack Cutmore-Scott), she is constantly and casually dismissed by every other adult in her life — from her forceful mother, to the foppish Captain Brice (Nick Gabriel), to her unpleasant, Eton-educated brother Augustus (Titus Tompkins). Truly a product of her time, even Thomasina’s name is telling — the name given to a girl child whom everyone would have preferred to have been a boy, then left to her own devices until she reaches the age of matrimony.

Shifting to the next scene and the present day, we encounter Hannah Jarvis (a pitch-perfect Gretchen Egolf), a brittle yet erudite academic whose own intelligence has recently come under attack thanks to her controversial book about Lord Byron’s erstwhile lover, Caroline Lamb. As she seeks clues to the identity of the mysterious “Hermit of Sidley Park,” her pragmatic Classicist outlook locks horns with the strident Romanticism of a fellow academic, Bernard Nightingale (a fabulously fatuous Andy Murray) who has come to Sidley Park in search of Lord Byron. The combative chemistry between the two professional and philosophical rivals is one of the production’s great pleasures, and although it’s hard to not delight in Nightingale’s eventual comeuppance, the occasional points he scores in the name of “gut instinct” can be equally cheered.

This is Perloff’s second go-round helming Arcadia, the first occurring in 1995 at the then-Stage Door Theatre (now Ruby Skye). Despite some lags in energy, her measured direction matches the elegance of both the decor and the lofty ideation without sacrificing the sly wit that simmers beneath almost every dialogue. Though the pragmatic, modern-day scientist Valentine (Adam O’Byrne) points out that thanks to the principles of thermodynamics, everything in the universe will eventually wind up “at room temperature,” the emotional heat trapped in the most coolly academic characters nonetheless gradually seeps to the surface. The play’s final scene, a wordless waltz between two unlikely pairs, trembles right at the verge of combustion. 


Through June 9

Tue-Sat, 8pm (also Wed and Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2pm, $20-$95

Geary Theater

415 Geary, SF


The Performant: Dare to DIVA


A yearly performance fest supports XX creatives

Spring is in the air, and so is DIVAfest, the EXIT Theatre’s annual celebration of female artists and theater-makers. Founded in 2002 by Christina Augello to give female creators a secure space to showcase their craft, DIVAfest has hosted an estimated 500 participants have come through in the last 11 years, from visual artists (Sophie Kadow, Kathy Jo Lafreniere, Michelle Talgarow) to playwrights (Kerry Reid, Lee Kiszonas, Margery Fairchild) to music-makers (Beth Wilmurt, Shannon Day, Carrie Baum Love), to burlesque dancers (Odessa Lil, Red Velvet, If-N-Whendy). This year, the fest hits the stage May 9-June 2. 

If the idea of having such a space sounds redundant or unnecessary to you, I refer you to Valerie Weak’s excellent piece at Theatre Bay Area on gender parity which breaks down, in unambiguously hard numbers, exactly how wide the underrepresentation gap is between male and female theater artists in the Bay Area of the moment. Or consider this recent observation made by Lindy West in an open letter to white male comedians: “women are 50 percent of the population, yet when it comes to our interests and grievances, we’re treated like a niche group.” Sound familiar? If you’re a woman in the arts, or practically anywhere else in the public sphere, then it probably does. 

So it’s heartening to see DIVAfest not just thriving, but expanding its scope and mission. Now in its 11th year, DIVAfest has morphed into its own stand-alone, non-profit organization, in the process of developing a year-round season and artist incubation opportunities in addition to producing the annual festival, which Augello envisions as having the potential to someday go national.

“Festivals are great because … there is power in numbers to create more work and draw more audience,” she muses over email. “New companies have been born out of coming together, (and) networking and artistic collaboration also thrive.” Those would be staple side effects of the now-venerable San Francisco Fringe Festival, also co-founded by Augello, in 1992.

This year’s festival, which runs through June 2, presents as broad a spectrum of works as ever, including a new play, You’re Going to Bleed, by Melissa Fall, a staged workshop of an interconnected “modular” play The Helen Project, by Megan Cohen and Amy Clare Tasker, a storytelling-short works showcase and a performance art one, curated respectively by Catherine DeBon and Erica Blue, a songwriter evening hosted by Melissa Lyn, and a burlesque cabaret, Rebel Without a Bra, directed by Amanda Ortmayer.

Education and outreach being very much a part of the DIVA experience, theater-goers and makers will also have the opportunity to dialogue with each other and a panel of Bay Area creators including Valerie Weak, Fontana Butterfield Guzmán, and Susannah Martin at the “Yeah, I said Feminist” symposium on Saturday, May 25, from 3pm to 6pm.

And what exactly is a DIVA, apart from its original descriptor of a celebrated opera singer, or a slang term for an impossible pop star? Augello, who expresses a fondness for all of her fellow DIVAs, past and present, has a definition at the ready, which can be applied to pretty much every artist who has passed under the festival’s auspices over the years.

“A DIVA is a self-realized artist … committed to creativity, with a passion that endures the successes and failures and learns from them to become a better artist and human being.” Long may they thrive!


Through June 2

Various times and prices

EXIT Theatre

156 Eddy, SF

Joyful noise


LIT If the intrinsic value of an ephemeral experience is its very impermanence, then attempting to capture it for posterity is an exercise fraught with peril. No sanitized textbook description of such chaos-driven movements as Dada, Situationism, and Fluxus could ever hope to capture the raw vibrancy of being a part of the action, and the true value of such movements has really never been in spectating, but from the transformation experienced by the participants while pushing their personal boundaries.

With that caveat in mind, the gorgeously-rendered, scrap-and-patchwork anthology Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society (Last Gasp, 300 pp., $39.95) does a pretty good job of conveying not just the external hi-jinks of a group bound together by a yen for the unpredictable, but also the internal philosophical trajectory of many of its members.

Designed to resemble a hardbound EC Comics collection, boldly adorned with a zombie-green, six-fingered hand further deformed by the presences of a bloodshot, unblinking eye smack in the middle of its lined palm, Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society is a collaborative effort between key cacophonists Kevin Evans, Carrie Galbraith, John Law, and, in a sense, the whole of the multi-faceted, loosely-knit “society” which ebbed and flowed through the secret pathways and deep underground spaces of the Bay Area and beyond from 1986 through the mid-aughts.

The comprehensive yet quirky tome gathers together an abundance of flyers, photographs, descriptions of momentous pranks and experiential escapades, and newspaper columns documenting such shenanigans as a Thomas Pynchon Walking Tour; the bunker-squatting “Atomic Café”; bridge-climbing; sewer-spelunking; art-car parades; a hide-and-chase game of “Smuggler” at Fisherman’s Wharf; and a rowdy afternoon of shopping cart sled-racing known as the Urban Iditarod. Strewn with colorful collages of ephemerabilia designed by Galbraith and brightly illustrated “Cacophony Factoids” by Evans, the densely-layered visuals bear a whiff of the cheerfully Dada-tastic aesthetic of counter-culture classic The Book of the SubGenius as well as the Cacophony Society’s own former newsletter of events, Rough Draft.

Birthed from the relatively short-lived but highly influential prankster cadre the Suicide Club, which operated from 1977 to 1982, the Cacophony Society itself has “spawned” a veritable pantheon of offbeat occurrences such as SantaCon, the Bay to Breakers Salmon Run, and that bloated megalopolis of arts festivals, Burning Man. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a San Francisco without the insidious influence of an organization dubbed “the Merry Pranksters of the 1990s.” Even organizations and events (local and national) not specifically born of the society such as Improv Everywhere, Atlas Obscura, the Yes Men, and the Maker Faire bear its imprint: a sense of irreverence combined with a belief in the possible.

“There wasn’t anything that we could think of that we couldn’t figure out how to do,” reminisces Galbraith — who is notably the original instigator of the organizations’ iconic, unmediated Zone Trips (which came to include the first expedition to Black Rock Desert with Larry Harvey’s “man” in tow). This sentiment is echoed by Evans when asked his opinion on the key traits shared by cacophonists, “curiosity, creativity, a deep appreciation of the absurd and the silly, [and] an addiction to making something from nothing”.

Although the idea of a book about Cacophony had been floated around as early as the mid-’90s, it wasn’t until Evans called a meeting between some of his former cacophony comrades in 2010 that the idea began to take a concrete shape. A Bay Area-based fine artist and illustrator, Evans came to the meeting with an already thought-out concept for a “visual history” of the Cacophony Society, and though most of the other people at that first meeting decided against participating, Galbraith, who has a master’s degree in book arts, jumped onboard, eventually spearheading the layout and working most closely with publisher Last Gasp on the final incarnation.

Joining the project soon after Evans and Galbraith got rolling, John Law — a founding member of the Cacophony Society, and a long-time member of the Suicide Club before it — brought his extensive archive of flyers, newsletters, and more to the mix, and, with Galbraith, provided much of the written content. In the end the grueling, three-way editorial process became less about finding enough material for a book, but whittling all the available material down to 300 pages, a process Law likens to lopping off fingers.

“We could have compiled a thousand-page book without repeating anything, or becoming dull,” he muses ruefully by email. “My hope is that others who were involved will write their own books about the period.”

Until that happens, however, pranksters, subversives, free spirits, and urban explorers alike will want to go ahead and splurge on a copy of The Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society. And remember, though now technically defunct, the society has always been open to all. You may already be a member. *


Thu/16, 7pm, free

City Lights

261 Columbus, SF


Sun/19, 6pm, free

Green Apple Books

506 Clement, SF

For more readings and related events, including a May 31 party at the Castro Theatre, visit or

The Performant: Forever young


Rocky Horror turns 40, still crazy after all these years.

Who doesn’t have fond memories of their first Rocky Horror Picture Show experience? Ok, mine are mixed since the first time I saw it was on an old black-and-white television with my father, avoiding eye contact and trying not to laugh too hard at the ribald bits. It wasn’t until I finally saw it on the big screen in the company of peers — armed with rice, noisemakers, and snarky quips — that the full potential of its subversive pleasures revealed themselves more fully.

Part of the fun of repeated viewings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show is emulating the character you most want to be, and for a curly-haired, goth-inclined teenager, the clear choice was Magenta, whose stone-faced cool and extraterrestrial sensuality were so beyond the straitjacket of smalltown teenhood, that to walk an evening in her spike-heeled shoes was akin to a declaration of, well, something. Call it freedom. Peaches Christ does.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show was my ‘It Gets Better’ video,’ she told the cheering oddience assembled at the Victoria Theatre for the 40th anniversary of the original Rocky Horror Show, the slapstick, Ed-Wood-meets-Charles-Ludlam Rock Musical that, two years later, became a film destined to be the best known midnight movie of all time.

Deviating from the tried-and-true Midnight Mass formula of movie screenings, this Rocky Horror birthday bash took the form of a tribute concert at a respectable 8pm, with multiple singers cast in the iconic roles of the universes’ best-beloved Transylvanians, live music provided by the Whoa Nellies, and quick-and-dirty narration by Peaches Christ herself, synopsizing the negligee-thin plotline that happens between all of those undeniably catchy songs: “The Time Warp,” “Touch-a Touch-a-Touch Me,” and “Hot Patootie, Bless my Soul”. Channeling her inner Tim Curry, PC also provided the vox and corseted eye candy on “Sweet Transvestite” slyly replacing her planet of origins, “Transsexual, Transylvania,” with “San Francisco, California”.

But by far the highlight was the moment that the original Magenta — Patricia Quinn — stepped onstage in a sleek leather suit and handfuls of glitter, to sing the opening song she’d been cheated out of 38 years ago when Richard O’Brien took it over for the movie version, accompanied by a visual of her bright red “stunt lips.” My still-practically-teenaged heart be still. Quinn’s still got. It. That elusive, effusive cool. As does the whole freaking musical, which, stripped of the mostly laughable dialogue and B-Movie special effects, really rocks. Not bad for a 40-year-old who regularly stays up until 3am and can’t ever seem to remember to wear pants. Oh, Rocky!

Lest a single inch of stage space go wasted, almost every role was played by a minimum of two performers, including Dr. Frank-N-Furter portrayed mainly by seasoned Rocky Horror vet Jef Valentine, with a counter-point appearance by former X Factor contestant, Jason Brock, who sang a soulful “I’m Going Home” to an interstellar techno backing track provided by Marc Kate aka Never Knows. Exceptions were Musical Director Peter Fogel who pulled double duty as the titular boy toy and the imitable Leigh Crow as Eddie, ‘cause there can only be one Eddie, and really, that Eddie can only be Leigh Crow. And now that such a stellar lineup is already in place, here’s hoping Peaches will do a 40-year bash for the film version, too, come 2015. Don’t dream it, darlings. Be it!

The Performant: The dame, the dick, and the dismembered torso


Extreme adventures in storytelling

 In noir, it’s the clichés that play best: the hardboiled Private Eyes with sharp reflexes and the hardhearted women with secrets to keep. Archetypes, almost, they stand in for something larger than themselves, larger than us, extravagantly idealized Everypersons colored with just enough of the mundane to seem believable, each tawdry crime scene standing in for a twisted version of the American Dream gone horribly awry.

In Dan Harder’s “A Killer Story,” playing at the Berkeley Marsh through May 18, the detective, Rick (Ryan O’Donnell) cuts a familiar figure in a shabby suit, wise-cracking his way through seemingly endless interrogations of his clients, the dame and the duped business partner, both of whom have cause to suspect the other of treachery. Throw in a missing man, a ground-breaking scientific discovery, and an undercurrent of sexual licentiousness, and stir them together with a swizzle stick, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a martini of “Killer” suspense.

The dame, a ferociously icy Madeline H.D. Brown, and the dupe, a furiously twitchy Robert Parsons, flank O’Donnell from opposite sides of the moodily-lit stage (lighting courtesy of Erich Blazeski). He plays the suspicions of each against the other, waiting for one to break, inadvertently setting them both up for a far greater fall from grace than even he can predict. Harder’s grasp of the tough talk of classic noir juxtaposes nicely with his humorous references to present-day markers such as email and anti-smoking regulations. A bit less successfully rendered are the experimental sections of “zippered” dialogue—overlapping lines of cleverly complementary phrases—which call attention to themselves every time they’re trotted out and do little to propel the momentum of the piece. But there’s a wicked pleasure in a crime story that holds not just human nature but the art of the tale culpable for murder, a juicy twist tastier than any lemon rind.

 In the usually hushed galleries of SF MOMA, the stories one typically encounters are of a quieter kind: didactic curator statements of the various artworks on display and biographical information of the artists plus the viewer’s own internal interpretations of what they see. That these interpretations might take fanciful flight into a realm of random association and spontaneous fiction is an undeniable yet under-acknowledged part of the museum experience. It’s this silent side of art appreciation the experimental Storytelling in the Galleries program attempted to give voice to, with some heady results.

Four local solo performers — Victoria Doggett, Sharon Eberhardt, Mia Pashal, and WL Dherin — each wrote and performed a story inspired by a quartet of unique art works. Doggett’s tongue-in-cheek love letter to the untitled, undefended Robert Gober torso crafted from beeswax and human hair was the first story on deck, followed by Eberhardt’s odyssey of an art student enraptured by the muted palette of Philip Guston. Pashal passionately dissected the concept of the artist’s muse while positioned before Jim Dine’s textured canvas of a giant heart bloating around a c-clamp while Dherin narrated a tale as witty and wondrous as the Fred Tomaselli work that inspired it. It wasn’t immediately clear what the effect of these articulated fantasies had on the museum-going public at large, but they certainly added a fascinatingly interactive layer to the typically hands-off gallery experience.

“A Killer Story”

runs through May 18

The Berkeley Marsh

2120 Allston Way


(415) 282-3055

The Performant: The real weekend warriors

Holding down the weekend of the weekend with the Dark Room Theatre’s “Ghostbusters: Live” and Har Mar Superstar

Among the true creatures of the night, Saturday Night has always been passé, amateur night if you will, when even the most accommodating of dive bars or clubs are suddenly jammed tight with lightweight dilettantes, whose allegiance to the night life is as superficial as it is truncated. But the real weekend has always begun on Thursday, straddling the line between Wednesday’s hump and Saturday’s slump, a connoisseur’s indulgence.

Though San Francisco is happily full of those who understand that Thursday is when the party starts, any number of theatres can still attest that packing the house on that particular evening can be a tricky prospect, a trend I can attest to from the personal experience of having attended many a Thursday show where the actors outnumbered the oddience. Awkward. Which made entering the oversold, packed to the rafters performance of “Ghostbusters: Live”! at the Dark Room Theatre that much more refreshing. This is one Mission Street outpost that has thus far ably resisted the siren song of gentrification and co-option, and remains a place where silly good fun can be had for the price of cheap, with an additional calendar of ten p.m. comedy shows that caters specifically to the committed night owl crowd.

“Ghostbusters: Live” was a perfect example of the Dark Room aesthetic from start to finish, one which other no-budget production companies would do well to take note of. Eschewing a set, which would really just impede the action on the tiny, 12’ x 8’ stage, but expending just enough effort on costuming, lights, and sound to support the storyline and bolster the humor, “Ghostbusters: Live!” opened with the three researchers (played by Adam Curry, Tim Kay, and Thomas Apley) looking for signs of a haunting in the public library, the best lines about great sponge migrations, family psychosis, and menstruation left intact. With clever puppetry standing in for any number of ghostly apparitions, and a strong supporting cast including Adam Vogel as a pitch-perfect Louis Tully, and Alexia Staniotes as the acerbic Janine Melnitz, “Ghostbusters: Live!” managed to capture both the essence of the movie it was sending up and the heady geist of a Thursday night out on the town, framing the possibilities for the rest of the weekend to come.

If Thursday Night is the prelude to the weekend, then Sunday night is its final salute, and the true testing ground of the dedicated denizens of the dark. Which made it perhaps the perfect day of the week for the rarified talent that is Har Mar Superstar to perform. True, the tough sell that is Sunday night kept the crowd at the Bottom of the Hill from swelling to the epic proportions you might expect for a performer of his caliber, but wasn’t that just more elbow room for the rest of us?

Often compared to the lovably schlubby porn star Ron Jeremy, the Bay Area celebrity Sean Tillmann most closely resembles is Josh Kornbluth, although Tillman’s a whole lot more exhibitionistic. His alter-ego’s double-entendre filled lyrics, funky dance moves, catchy hooks, and unabashed libido combine into a stage persona of pure sweaty id, while his true weapon, a silkily soulful croon, tongue-bathes the oddience in its liquid smooth. While a lot of his songs skew towards the humorous, including the trashy-pop “Tall Boy” and his boy-band ode to “the male camel-toe” “Almond Joy,” when Har Mar gets serious he wields an epic howl such as when he turns on the retro-soul for “Lady, You Shot Me” and further unleashes his formidable upper register on “Sunshine.”

And while there was some initial trepidation on the part of the crowd, perhaps fearful of the unpredictable intentions of the lascivious songster, by the end everyone was getting into the spirit of the moment, rubbing Tillman’s proudly bared belly for luck, swapping saliva, getting down. Rounding out the set with a literally stripped-down (to the briefs) acapella version of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” provided the appropriate closure for the weekend’s last hurrah, and set the mood for all the weekends to come, the sunshine and the rain.    


The Performant: More than words


Sheetal Gandhi and Ragged Wing Ensemble stretch their forms

If an image is worth a thousand words, how much dialogue does the art of dance encompass, when every flick of the wrist can denote whole unspoken volumes? As dance in the Bay Area moves ever further into hybrid territories, where language and limbs combine to stretch the parameters of storytelling, patrons of more traditional theatrical fare may find familiarity in the broadened scope of this increasingly amalgamated artform.

Sheetal Gandhi’s “Bahu-Beti-Biwi” at ODC is a great example of this heterogeneity, bringing to life a series of characters who speak as much in gesture as with words on an almost ascetically bare stage.

When Gandhi does speak it is often in song, and just as frequently in Marwadi, a dialect of Rajasthani, a language obscure enough that it’s guaranteed to be unfamiliar to a large portion of her audiences. Which means it’s through her nuanced physicality that she connects best, blending traditional dance forms such as Kathak with the modern, inhabiting the skin of each of her creations as easily as she wraps herself in a length of striped fabric which serves sometimes as a sari, sometimes a veil, and sometimes as an evocative hobble.

Ghandi is light on her feet, even when she portrays the hunched figure of a family elder, but many of her characters do bear an internal weight—from the smiling auntie who serves the multitudes with a stretched smile to the veiled woman threatening to throw pepper in the eyes of her father-in-law to blind him, a regretful groom on the other side of an arranged marriage to the young girl being wrapped in a length of golden satin in preparation for her own wedding day. Alone and onstage for the entire piece, Gandhi’s more dramatic shifts of scene are expertly heralded by Tony Shayne’s lighting design, which expands and contracts according to the limits of her characters’ perspectives while the elegant compositions by Joseph Trapanese that frame each portion of her performance are equally atmospheric, mixing electronica and field recorded samples with the distinctive tones of the sitar, the insistent rhythm of the tabla.

Across the Bay Bridge, in a vaulted room dubbed “The Sanctuary,” Ragged Wing Ensemble debuts a new play written and directed by Artistic Director Amy Sass called “Time Sensitive.” Just as dancers such as Sheetal Gandhi are experimenting with theatrical techniques within a dance context, so are collaborative arts ensembles such as Ragged Wing creating works of theatre that incorporate far more than the spoken word as the building blocks of narrative.

In “Time Sensitive,” ensemble members don featherlight robes and enter singing “Da Pacem Cordium” (“Give Peace to Every Heart”) before morphing abruptly into suited, scowling business-persons who scuttle back and forth across the stage chanting “gotta GO GO GO” and position themselves in the manner of a flock of early birds demanding worms. In two of several alternating storylines an old clockmaker and his faithful automaton (Addie Ulrey and Keith C. Davis) travel beneath the cracks of the known world on an existential quest, while an adrenaline-seeking elevator-repair guy (Soren Santos) hurls himself from the top of the city’s tallest building and hopes his parachute (artfully rendered with a bobbing line of umbrellas) doesn’t fail. At two hours plus intermission, punctuated by a series of choppy transitions, the ambitious piece does lose some of its initial ballistic momentum, but none of the curious beauty of its dialogue-defying, sumptuously-devised ritual.

“Time Sensitive”

Through May 18, $25-$40

The Sanctuary

496 38th St, Oakl.

(800) 316-8559



The Performant: Burning down the haus


The Arsonists at Aurora Theatre crackles and sears
If there was ever a time to revive a play best known for its condemnation of the silent complicity of the comfortable classes in times of civil unrest and encroaching disaster, this might well be one of the best. And Max Frisch’s 60 year-old classic Herr Biedemann und die Brandstifter, newly translated (in 2007) by Alistair Beaton as The Arsonists, might prove to be one of the timeliest of cautionary tales to revive. Currently playing at the Aurora Theatre, two years after its bang-up American premiere at the Odyssey Theatre in LA, this Mark Jackson-directed farce might play on the surface as a cheerfully absurdist comedy of manners, but the pointed cultural critique that underlies it is deadly serious.

“It’s hard just lighting a cigar,” observes Biedermann (Dan Hiatt) plaintively at the top of the show, as a trio of uninvited firefighters (Kevin Clarke, Tristan Cunningham, Micheal Uy Kelly) menaces him into putting said cigar and lighter away, before introducing themselves as the “guardians of the city,” and its unacknowledged conscience.

The brilliance of Biedermann, whose very name can be alternately defined as “upright,” “honest,” or “conservative,” is how well his character skewers expectations of his supposed role as the play’s protagonist, even when it becomes clear that he is also its biggest dupe. His classist hypocrisies and dogged belief in keeping up appearances paves the road to his undoing, as surely as if he had set a noose around his own neck. Flanked by his appropriately haughty Hausfrau, Babette (Gwen Leob) and his harried serving-girl, Anna (Dina Percia), and bolstered by his inflated sense of personal worth, even as he is gradually revealed to be an amoral bounder, Biedermann manages to encompass the most troubling elements of both the belligerent right and the ineffectual left, defending, above all else, his right to “not think anything at all,” under his own roof.

By far the most fun characters to watch on the stage are the titular Arsonists, played respectively by Michael Ray Wisely and Tim Kniffin. Wisely’s Schmitz, the very picture of a gone-to-seed wrestler with his softening bulk encased in an immodest tank top and a spiky Sonic-the-Hedgehog hairdo, appeals to Biedermann’s vanity by praising his humanity and acting the role of a borderline mentally-incapacitated buffoon, even as he deftly manipulates the hassled homeowner into letting him stay in the drafty attic—and fills it with drums of gasoline. Meanwhile Kniffin’s Eisenring at turns obsequious and shrewdly blunt, subtly flatters Biedermann by pretending more than a passing familiarity with Beidermann’s social ranking, even as he gleefully maneuvers him into physically assisting in his own destruction.
The insistent rumble of Matt Stines’ sound design at times overwhelms the fragile human element onstage, but the action is well-served by the incomparable Nina Ball’s graciously appointed set, and Mia Baxter’s perfectly-detailed props. And while the humor in the script does provoke its share of laughter, much of it is the kind of horrified laughter emitted by an oddience that reluctantly recognizes its own complicity in its perhaps inevitable downfall. But there is hope too, lodged within this “moral play without a moral,” as right from the beginning the firefighters remark that “not every fire is determined by fate,” meaning preventable, so long as inaction and passivity do not carry the day. Think on it. And see the play.

Through May 12

Aurora Theatre

2081 Addison, Berkeley


(510) 843-4822


Save the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s summer season!


All the world may be a stage, but as San Francisco Mime Troupe fans are finding out, it’s not a free one.

Even as we gleefully contemplate a Fleet Week sans Blue Angels, truly the silver lining of sequestration, the news that the San Francisco Mime Troupe is facing an immediate financial crisis reminds us of its downsides as well. After several anticipated grants failed to be awarded to the acclaimed theatrical collective, including one from longtime funders the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mime Troupe announced that it needs to raise $40,000 by the end of April in order to mount its summer tour of a show about natural resources and climate change tentatively entitled Oil and Water.

By no means is the Mime Troupe alone in facing financial difficulties. Securing arts funding has always been a precarious proposition at best for small theater companies, but one thing that sets the Mime Troupe conspicuously apart from most of their peers is their commitment to providing all of their shows for free  — reaching thousands of people with their often tongue-in-cheek, issue-motivated musicals in public parks across the Bay Area each year.

“I don’t think it’s totally sequester-based but I’m sure that hasn’t helped,” Mime Troupe general manager and collective member Ellen Callas says via email. “Money for arts is not a congressional priority, particularly among the GOP.”

In response to its immediate financial crisis, the Mime Troupe has spoken of downsizing the length of its tour this summer as well as cutting back on its overall production costs, shrinking its carbon footprint as it tightens its belt.

It’s not the first time the Mime Troupe has had to scale back dramatically. After broadly-implemented cuts on the NEA and the California Arts Council in the 1990s, support for the cross-country touring the Mime Troupe specialized in was lost for good, and the company confined itself thereafter to the boundaries of the Bay Area, losing the opportunity to reach out to a national audience, once so central to its mission. The upside to this forced localization, though, has manifested itself in the Mime Troupe’s ability to reach out to its more immediate community, particularly in terms of its youth programs and internships, which are also provided free to participants.

With the summer season in jeopardy, so too are the various youth (and working actor) opportunities to be part of the action, something that Callas makes sure to mention in our correspondence. But she remains optimistic in regards to the Troupe’s reinvigorated commitment to grassroots fundraising, having (at the time of this writing) already raised $15,000, money which will be used to reshape the collective into the “leaner and greener” organization that will be better able to withstand the financial crises of the future.

”We’re seeing this as an opportunity to re-tool our business model so that we can sustain ourselves in the new economy,” promises Callas.

Donate to the San Francisco Mime Troupe at

The Performant: Band(s) of a thousand faces


Borts Minorts/Fuxedos/Polkacide fux shit up at Bottom of the Hill

It had been awhile since I’d stood in slightly gape-mouthed awe before the glorious mania of Borts Minorts, who last played the Bay Area some five years ago, the jerk, depriving me of my Dadatastic fun fix for far too long.

For the uninitiated, Borts Minorts is not a band so much as an alien invasion for the senses. Front-creature Borts Minorts (a.k.a. Chris Carlone) appears clad in a shiny white unitard, which makes him look like a giant cartoon spermatozoon, his frenetic dance moves are the stuff of legends and nightmares. He frequently plays a ski, though for this show he played a cabinet door strung with bass strings instead. When last spotted ‘round these parts, his ballsy backup crew had consisted of dancing girls, an unsmiling Norwegian on a flute (a.k.a. Melting Razor), and someone of indeterminate gender blowing endless bubbles—a deliberate hodge-podge of askew confusion.

But Saturday’s lineup at Bottom of the Hill kicked it up to a whole new dimension, thanks mainly to the addition of a horn section, even more dancers, and a glittering diva who sang operatically and took over the poker-face duties from the absent Melting Razor. Plus, somewhere along the way, the Borts Minorts “look” has been tweaked to include a giant blonde rocker-do complete with Richard Simmons sweatband, which somehow managed to dehumanize his freakish facade even more than his previously shiny-smooth Spandexed pate had done.

Shortly after the mighty Minorts crew exited the stage, the Fuxedos took it over, clad in their signature blood-splattered tuxedo shirts, laden with props. The bizarre brainchild of LA’s Danny Shorago, the Fuxedos can be best described as one part metal, one part big band, one part free jazz, and one part carnival sideshow in which Shorago is both the ringmaster and the principle freak.

I get the feeling that Shorago was one of those kids who spent a lot of time alone in the house playing dress-up, what with his penchant for inventive costuming and character-creating. From his eager sales huckster for “Clams and Flan” (the fast food emporium of all our dreams), to his sword-bearing villager with a “real god” (a giant porcupine named Reggie), to his insulation-clad astronaut whose distressed mantra “I feel the air slipping out of my space suit” precedes an epic death metal roar, to his signature sulky sideshow attraction “Mimsy,” to his cane-swinging, Clockwork Orange-channeling crooner singing the song “Leonard Cohen wrote for me” (“The Future”), Shorago’s unique shapeshifting abilities definitely steal the spotlight. But the fact that he’s backed by truly talented musicians and complex composition really elevates the whole Fuxedos experience from mere tomfoolery to actual art, albeit hilarious art.

And speaking of hilarious art, there really is no better way to describe the imitable, unflagging insanity that Hardcore 2/4 crew, Polkacide, bring to the stage. They’ve been raucously rawking it since before half of their oddiences were born, and their punk rock polka is a true San Francisco treat. Each musician in the band has a musical pedigree as long as the string of sausages that clarinetist “Neil Basa” strategically hangs down his lederhosen, and the practiced patter of frontman Ward Abronski guides the faithful Polkacidal around the world in 80 (give or take a few dozen) polkas—from Warsaw, Poland to San Antonio, Texas.

You’ll just have to imagine the mayhem, as by that point I was dancing too much to remember to take many pictures—but better yet, you should probably just go to their next show and experience it for yourself.

The Performant: The sacred and the profane


Putting the “good” back into Good Friday at “Sing-Along Jesus Christ Superstar” and Zombie Christ Haunted House

They might seem merely irreverent, or downright blasphemous, to conservative churchgoers, but I’m pretty sure the original JC Superstar would have dug the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — you know, the water-into-wine Jesus who supported sex workers and preached tolerance and respect for the marginalized.

The Sisters, who have been preaching the same since 1979, really get a chance to shine (and glitter) come Easter Weekend. One of SF’s most singular events, Easter Sunday in Dolores Park grabs the lion’s share of the attention, what with its iconic Easter Bonnet contest, the sainting of local community heroes, and the ever-popular Hunky Jesus competition, being rescheduled as we speak due to spring showers. But for those of us who find it difficult to get up early on a Sunday morning, hardbody of Christ or no hardbody of Christ, the Sisters have expanded their influence across the weekend, creating plenty of opportunity for the nocturnal among us to grab a little of the resurrection gusto for themselves.

Thus it was the holy day saddled with what must surely be the world’s greatest misnomer—“Good” Friday— that played host to two separate events dedicated to the mystery of the risen dead. The Zombie Christ, if you will.

Kicking off the evening at the endearingly ramshackle Victoria Theatre, the second (hopefully annual) “Sing-Along Jesus Christ Superstar” gathered the faithful together to wave palm fronds and cheer for the last days of cinema’s most notorious Rock Star Jesus (Ted Neeley).

Fortunately it’s not bring-your-own, since I don’t know where one goes to source official Easter weekend palm fronds, nor the communion wafers that get blessed pre-show by Sister Connie Pinko and passed around during the Last Supper scene. The Sisters work in mysterious ways. Props and palm fronds aside, the real fun is bellowing “What’s the buzz?” “So, you are the Christ,” and “just watch me die” along with the brooding, scantily-clad, long-haired Jesus freaks on the screen.

Produced by Bad Flower Productions, and co-hosted by StormMiguel Florez and Sister CP, that the Sing-Along is also a fundraiser for the Trans March makes it a Holy Week “must-do” that I hope finds a permanent spot on the Sisters’ Holy Week calendar.

Later that night I found myself hanging with a pack of monster messiahs, in the Gay-Glo labyrinth of the Zombie Christ Haunted House on Market Street. Another fun(d)-raiser the interactive setup included communion with the holy blood of Franzia (died for our sins), a disco inferno, “glory” holes, a giant pope puppet (scary!), strewn body parts, a smidgen of hardcore pornography, and a variety of cannibal Christs jumping out of dark corners and demanding brains.

“Not much there,” I tell one eager ghoul with fantastic bloody makeup.

“Christ not expecting much,” he reassures me.

More than anything it reminded me of the early days of Bunny Jam, when it was still all about pin-the-tail on the Trailer Trash bunny and less of a fashion show, ragged but vibrant; a fun, freaky kickstart to our famously irreverent Eastertide bacchanal.