Dark Room Theater

The Performant: People are Strange

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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”.

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The Performant: The real weekend warriors

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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.

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