Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

THE NEW YORKER recently quoted Tony Kushner (“Angels in America” and “Caroline, or Change”) estimating that an audience’s collective I.Q. goes up about twenty-five points while watching a play.

Assuming Kushner’s prediction is accurate, audiences attending Off Broadway West Theatre Company’s current presentation of INDULGENCES IN THE LOUISVILLE HAREM should swap some highbrow sophistries, savvy notions, lucrative stock tips and illuminating profundities during intermission and while filing out after the final curtain.

Richard Harder, a purist and master stage artist, deftly directs this delightful, sepia toned, rendering of John Orlock’s most successful comedic melodrama.

Characters: Florence and Viola Becker, two sisters rapidly approaching middle age, begin to hear biological alarm clocks clanging like London’s Big Ben; in a desperate bid to bring men, matrimony and maternity into their lives, they respond to mailer cataloguing eligible gentlemen.

Imagine the technology and pickings of Craig’s List al la 1902 Louisville.

Rather than contacting two gentlemen, they link up with two rogues: ludicrous con artists: Winfield Davis and Amos Robbilet.

Once admitted to the sister’s parlor, Davis and Robbilet: a pair of hack charlatans, claiming to hail from the International Institute of Science and Populism, begin to work their conspicuously transparent scam on the spinsters.

Shouldn’t “Populism” alone have set of their smoke alarms?

Using a rich mixture of pomposity, bluster and buffoonery, Davis and Robbilet take advantage of Florence and Viola’s willingness to put false hopes and suspension of disbelief ahead of common sense, good judgment and conservative Presbyterian politics.

Paul Stout is marvelous as the flimflam artist Winfield Davis: every aspect of his countenance, bearing and speech is guaranteed to set off your smoke alarm and BS sensors.

Kim Saunders is stunning as Viola Becker; Kim is able to exude a brand of fragile vulnerability and desperation akin to Tennessee Williams’ Laura in the Glass Menagerie.

Great costuming by Sylvia Kratins and a stunning set design by Bert van Aalsburg really nail down the period, material circumstances and class consciousness of Viola and Florence.

Richard Harder shows an exacting attention to detail rarely evidenced in contemporary theater: this is a piece of art that should not be missed.

For tickets, call the box office at 800-838-3006 or visit

Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Before advancing too far into this review and running the risk of activating an attention deficit disorder, let it be unequivocally stated: if you have not yet seen TITUS ANDRONICUS at California Shakespeare, go immediately.

Get off the hospital gurney; postpone elective liposuction; depart the assignation; stop work on the full torso tattoo: this production of TITUS ANDRONICUS will undoubtedly be ranked as the best piece of Shakespeare performed anywhere this summer.

To say it is a tour de force by James Carpenter and company is a pusillanimous understatement.

Director Joel Sass has chiseled the Elizabethan English of this apocryphal Shakespearean tragedy into a high intensity crystalline vengeance piece that makes the DIE HARD series look like Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

James Carpenter has never failed to dazzle; yet as Titus he has exceeded even himself.

Be warned, this play was kept off Victorian stages because of its graphic gore and violence: dismemberment, decapitations, throat hemorrhages induced by fine edged cutlery, cannibalism, rape, lingual extraction and some swearing are amongst the active ingredients.

All of which might be mild stuff for those who play video games, but it could prove hard core for the other half of the audience.

The play is set in fourth century Rome: when the Goths and the Visigoths were routinely kicking Roman butt: civility, integrity and honor were well out of vogue and everyone was in the survival mode: scrambling to get the last of piece of Romanna pie.

For those who believe the dire auguries of the Wall Street Journal, TITUS invokes some trepidation: will post-imperial America, servicing a $20 trillion debt, with a defunct public sector, second amendment guarantees, a landscape littered with deteriorated infrastructure and bereft of pacifying transfer payments, fare any better than a crumbling Rome?

TITUS ANDRONICUS is scary because it depicts a declining civilization with no system of justice, with no cap on inhumanity and no safety net to stop the free fall into MAD MAX barbarism.

Presaging aside, TITUS ANDRONICUS is riveting entertainment not to be missed.

For tickets call 510-548-9666 or go to

Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

The Aurora Theatre of Berkeley, never a troupe to back down from a theatrical challenge, is currently performing Franz Kafka’s METAMORPHOSIS as adapted by David Farr and Gisli Orn Gardarsson.

This is risky turf given that everyone who reads Kafka's METAMORPHOSIS entertains a personal relationship with the story not to be violated by a stage rendering.

Dramatically, the mood of the play oscillates between humor and horror: give yourself a little emotional distance, and the play is absurd and funny; cozy up to it and it morphs into metaphor: possibly targeting you.

Gregor (dexterously and gymnastically played by Alex Crowther) awakens to find he has become an insect; his family—which is financially dependent on him—sees the transformation more as a family fiscal crisis and an embarrassment, rather than as a personal catastrophe for Gregor.

While play uses trappings from the LEAVE IT BEAVER era—when father knew best and June (the Beav’s mother) wore heels and pearls at home: even in the kitchen—it retains its existential and absurdist, Kafkaesque feel and flavor.

The galloping set designer Nina Ball—perhaps the most acclaimed artist in the bay area—has broken free of traditional Euclidean fetters and abandoned the orthogonal lines of conventional stage architecture.

While the Aurora stage is a rectangular “Thrust Stage” as Director Mark Jackson describes it, Nina has successfully masked that fact, employing a brand of Picasso Cubism which allows the audience to watch Gregor climb the walls as would a cockroach.

The audience sees Gregor, in his room, as if were looking down from a ceiling fan while simultaneously witnessing the tepid responses of Grete, Mother and Father in the dining room.

While Gregor withers away, neglected and locked in his bedroom, the family icily remains focused on the dislocations, the ancillary problems and the inconveniences of the metamorphosis.

This is intelligent, provocative, daring theater at its best.

Would this play serve at a metaphor for the economic precipice that our country presently teeters on?

Find out: call the box office at 510-843-4042 or go to

Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Fortunately for aficionados of quality theater, the Shotgun Players have prudently elected to extend CARE OF TREES through June 26: this is a public service.

Written by E. Hunter Spreen and capably directed by Susannah Martin this marvelous play is a virtual canvas on which many conspicuously great artists within the Shotgun Troupe have dabbed their genius: comingling their creative brushstrokes.

Award winning set designer Nina Ball is consumed by a creative flame: for Nina, it is not enough to create a set reflective of the spirit and suited to the action of the play, Nina goes on to bring entrance ways, the foyer and the outside of the building into thematic harmony with the script: if there is over-kill in scenic art, Nina may have achieved it.

For TREES, Nina seems to have taken a cue frOM Led Zeppelin: she has constructed a spiral stairway, seemingly to heaven or at a minimum to the playhouse rafters.

Much of the mood of the play emanates from the dramatic lighting by Lucas Krech: were TREES a silent movie and illuminated by Lucas, it would still make sense.

The sound and music of Jake Rodriguez make a major contribution to the development of psycho-drama within the play: while the actors express their feelings with words, gestures and movement, Jake expresses their emotions with sound.

Liz Sklar (as Georgia Swift) and Patrick Russell (as Travis Dekalb) perform a stunning and strenuous dance on stage; given the gut retching emotional conflicts they writhe through, one can only hope that they are not employing “method acting” as derived by Stanislavski and Strasberg: an extended run could have them reaching for the Librium or bathing in the Liebfraumilch.

The play seems to borrow ever so slightly from Tom Stoppard’s TRAVESTIES (the greatest production of TRAVESTIES in the bay area was performed by the Shotgun Players): the initial narration, by Georgia and Travis, lurches, halts and rewinds like Henry Carr’s unfurling recollections of Zurich in 1917.

Georgia metamorphosing into a tree is reminiscent of Daphne changing into a Laurel tree as she is pursued by Apollo.

If E. Hunter Spreen has taken anything off the shelf, it is there that the semblance ends: the show is nothing short of a rocket sled: fasten your seatbelt.

For tickets call 510-841-6500 or visit

Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Sensitive Male?

Isn’t that an oxymoron or a contradiction in terms?

Or both?

Assuming he made the selection, sensitive male SF Playhouse Artistic Director Bill English has picked what could easily be termed a cushion right off the psychotherapist’s couch.

REBORNING by Zayd Dohrn makes clever use of comedy to render the audience vulnerable to the message of this heart-warming and thought provoking play about the relentless pain of loss and the protracted process of healing.

Director Josh Costello has fashioned some multifaceted characters to live up to the complexities of the script: Daizy, superbly played by Alexander Alioto, being his best example.

Alexander’s Daizy is a lightweight artist inhabiting the far reaches of three dimensional creativity and sculpture: he designs very convincing, life-like phalluses.

Using high tech procedures and exotic polymers, his finished product looks exactly like the real thing only bigger than what most of us can rightfully lay claim to.

His significant other Kelly: the walking-wounded, played by Lauren English, uses Daizy’s technology to create the next step in the procreative process: babies.

These babies are not merely cutesy dolls that are plumbed to wet themselves as their garage door eye lids slam shut; these are life-like dolls which are so convincing that adults put them in strollers to garner oohs and ahs from passing adoring strangers and to gain a seat on the subway.

Enter Emily, played by award winning actress Lorri Holt.

Emily has lost her child and each waking hour is laced with bone-grinding pain and seemingly interminable grieving.

Desperately betting against rationality, Emily puts her faith in a totem, a polymer facsimile of her deceased daughter to palliate her grief.

As Kelly is putting the finishing touches on the surrogate polymer baby, up pops folie à deux as the French would say.

Kelly and Emily get into a tug of war over baby (see I Kings 3:16-28 for a similar case): abandonment issues are pitted again the grief of infant mortality.

One psycho-philosophical fiber seems to wend itself through the play: where does a fetish end and where does the domain of talisman and totem begin?

If you have ever wondered, from a distance, how people get through shattering kinds of losses or if you “suffer a lack of empathy for the paths people take towards healing,” this play could untie these Gordian riddles for you and ratchet up your compassion index.

Zayd Dohrn, Josh Costello and Bill English prove that serious theatre is far from tedious theater: REBORNING is enthralling and riveting.

For tickets call the box office at 415-677-9596 or go to but hurry, the run ends soon.