The Performant

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

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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.

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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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The Performant: More than words

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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.

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The Performant: Burning down the haus

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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.

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The Performant: Band(s) of a thousand faces

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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. Read more »

The Performant: The sacred and the profane

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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.

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The Performant: Life is but a dream...

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Bouffonery and W. Kamau Bell's stand-up at Stagewerx

Theater history is full of stories of legendary shows that caused riots at their opening night, difficult to imagine in these more apathetic times. We go to the theatre to be entertained, more rarely to be provoked, and more rarely yet, to be stirred to an action greater than the act of merely applauding at the end.

But the theater of Bouffon turns that theater-going complacency on its head. The entertainer in the room is not the curious creature onstage with exaggerated buttocks and an evil smile, but the squirming oddience stuck in the crosshairs of its merciless gaze. Read more »

The Performant: Our selves

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The body does not lie -- Anne Sexton

So often in the arts it seems like we spend an inordinate amount of time focused on how art engages our minds as opposed to our bodies, as if body were a mere vessel whose primary function was to shelter and nourish the brain. In fairness, this is how we treat our bodies in a non-artistic settings too, at best a cumbersome weight which anchors us to the physical world, at worst, a burden we long someday to be free of. Read more »

The Performant: Whose story?

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Sifting through the past at The SF History Expo

If history is a tale written by the victors, one wonders who San Francisco’s victors are. A chimeral concept as much as a destination, represented by a Phoenix rising from its own destruction, San Francisco has been lauded as a land of opportunity and “the city that knows how,” and detracted as “ingrown (and) self-obsessed,” a “golden handcuff,” and a “Babylon-by-the-Bay” ever since it surfaced in the national consciousness. A city where eccentrics are celebrated, “family values” extend beyond heteronormativity, and the very real threat of natural disaster colors the mundane with an idealized wash of importance. Read more »

The Performant: An expedition report from the All Worlds Fair

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A visitor to the inter-dimensional, pan-galactic celebration known as the All Worlds Fair has to be prepared to fulfill the bureaucratic requirements, which are, by Earth standards, unusually rigid. In order to enter this portal into a unique realm which contains all possible and alternate realities under one roof, travelers must fill out both a visa application and an immigration form and additionally agree to adhere to the more-or-less strictly enforced dress code (black-and-white) and no-digital device accord.

Ushered first into a tented holding area of the sort that will seem familiar to seasoned travelers waiting to embark on a voyage across international waters, travelers are urged to fill out an additional form, as a bevy of extraterrestrial functionaries in matching red-and-black dresses and pillbox hats topped with twitching antennae, scuttle to-and-fro, monitoring progress.

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