From Sets To Singing

During one of the brief entr'acte pauses in yesterday afternoon's performance of Otello at San Francisco Opera, an elderly lady sitting close to me said to her friend: "The sets look cheap. But at least they're not skimping on the singing."Coming from a rather prim-looking person with carefully manicured hair and a tidy suit, the directness of this comment made me want to laugh out loud.But the lady actually made an astute point: SF Opera, like pretty much all the other arts institutions around here, has been going through some incredibly tough … [Read more...]

In The Bay Area This Weekend?

...Here's a list of five cultural activities to make the holiday weekend more holiday-like:The Great Dickens Christmas FairNow 30 years old, a Bay Area favorite yuletide tradition returns to Cow Palace.Through December 20, Cow Palace, San Franciscohttp://www.dickensfair.com/Joe Sample and Lalah HathawayThe jazz pianist/composer and vocalist reunite for three not-to-be-missed performances.November 27 - November 29, Yoshi's, Oaklandhttp://www.yoshis.com/oakland/jazzclub/artist/show/1044The Bald SopranoThank the Gods of absurdist performance that … [Read more...]

Cello As Percussion

Cellos generally used to be found in orchestras and chamber music groups. But these days, the instrument seems to be appearing increasingly in other musical settings. And what's really interesting about the advent of the cello on the bluegrass, electronica, folk and rock scenes is that the instrument is being played like it's part of the percussion / rhythm section rather than the string section.At Berkeley's Freight & Salvage Coffee House folk club a few nights ago, I caught a gig by the brilliant alt-bluegrass band Crooked Still. The … [Read more...]

Easy Targets

I'm getting really tired of going to the theatre and witnessing plays that take pot shots at the most obvious people. Tony Kushner's series of rambling, politically-slanted short plays currently playing at The Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Tiny Kushner, suffers tremendously from this problem.Don't you think it's time we got over making fun of Richard Nixon and Barbara Bush, Tony?Berkeley audiences lap this stuff up of course. But left-leaning, west coast theatre audiences need shaking up. They don't need to have their egos and feelings massaged. … [Read more...]

Theatre artist Dan Hoyle on his work with a Nigerian ex-militant

The San Francisco-based theatre artist Dan Hoyle's solo show about Nigerian oil politics, Tings Dey Happen, explores, among other provocative issues, the impact of visiting westerners on the lives of Nigerian locals. In response to what I wrote about the production in my weekly New York Times culture column on November 15, Hoyle evaluates his work and experiences as a white American conducting research for a theatre project in the Niger Delta. Tings Dey Happen deals explicitly with the impact that white people--even well-meaning white … [Read more...]

An American Farce

There are a few elements in Irish dramatist Enda Welsh's play The Walworth Farce -- currently on tour in the US in a Druid Theatre production directed by Mikel Murfi -- that might confuse or perplex American audiences. The reference to fish fingers (commonly known as fish sticks here) is one that leaps out.After last night's performance at Zellerbach Playhouse in Berkeley was over, however, I ran into a British stage director friend who's been working on this side of the pond for the last three decades and we engaged in a short but lively … [Read more...]

Big Bang

If a comet were to crash into the Earth, it would make quite a dent.But in director Ryan Rillette's production of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's play Boom, this colossal event elicits more of a whimper than a bang on stage. This Bay Area premiere staging of the comedy which centers on a young biologist's madcap plan to save the human race by Marin Theatre Company misses a great opportunity to rock the audience's socks.There are all kinds of ways directors, designers and actors can create a huge explosion on stage. The scenery could collapse, … [Read more...]

Self-Marketing

Artists are becoming very savvy about marketing themselves these days. Everyone's out there on FaceBook and MySpace and Twitter sending out news about their work and related upcoming events to generate interest and hopefully sell tickets.So it's a little disconcerting to hear about artists who are not only unwilling to promote themselves but seemingly against the idea.An exasperated arts presenter shared with me a story about a group of musicians who had done nothing to help her promote a concert she was hosting for the group at her venue. The … [Read more...]

On Making A Good End

More than any other recitalist I've experienced lately, Joyce DiDonato has far outstripped the rest in terms of knowing how to make a good end.It wasn't just the mezzo-soprano's encore choices that touched the audience last night at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, though they made for a magical sign-off. A showy Rossini aria ("Tanti Aaffetti In Tal Momento" from Donna Del Lago) followed by "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" don't sound like great choices. They seem like they'd be tacky, frankly. But DiDonato brought such good-natured feist to … [Read more...]

Only in San Francisco…

...is it possible to walk down the street swinging a yoga mat and be accosted by a homeless person pushing a Safeway cart in grimy clothes who says: "Pilates?" by way of introduction."No, yoga," I said to the man, smiling. I gave him a dollar. Then we went our separate ways. … [Read more...]

Natural/Unnatural

San Francisco is probably the most sexually tolerant city in the world. There are few places where people can walk around in nothing but socks and sneakers with bells dangling from their privates without getting arrested and San Francisco is one of them. Ironically, the fact that the city is so gay-friendly makes the latest work by the luminescent British physical theatre company DV8 so disturbing: It's eye-opening in this lovely, uber-liberal, open-minded bubble we live in to be reminded of just how much anti-gay sentiment still persists in … [Read more...]