The Performant

The Performant: When in Roma

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Wild brass and shaking floors at the Kafana Balkan party.

Hi-ho, the gypsy life. While the reality of living as a member of a marginalized, nomadic population is really not quite the Technicolor dream romance conjured by 19th century poets and Hollywood producers, the music created by the roaming “Romani” is as lushly romantic as it gets. Combining exuberance with melancholy, abandonment with abandon, musical traditions as far-flung as Spanish Flamenco, Romanian Manele, Gypsy jazz, and even the youthful strains of modern-day Gypsy punk, have a way of getting under the skin right on down to the toes—which will almost assuredly be tapping. Label it folk music if you must, but don’t expect a lot of polite purists holding forth while holding back. Gypsy music is party music, and Zeljko Petkovic aka DJ Zeljko’s (in)famous Kafana Balkan evenings are always one of the consistently best parties in town.

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The Performant: No place like home

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KC Turner’s House Concert series gets up close and personal

When did the home become a fortress? It’s as if each city block were comprised of hundreds of tiny sovereign states squeezed in next to each other, doors locked and shades drawn, the notion of running next door for a cup of sugar all but lost. Who even uses sugar anymore, let alone pesters their neighbors for an emergency ration of it? It must be this entrenched reclusiveness that makes the idea of a house concert especially appealing. When just the act of opening your home to a group of strangers feels subversive, the act of accepting the invitation can feel downright revolutionary—a banner waved against the forces of encroaching isolationism.

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The Performant: Interpreting Iraq

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Aftermath at Stagewerx attempts to humanize recent refugee experience.

An austere set greets the assembled theater-goers in the black box arena of Stagewerx: a projection of a shop-lined street in the Middle East, a few chairs, an aerial photograph of Iraq perched on an easel, an incongruous television, and a pair of shoes.

A lone figure in a headscarf and wide trousers, Rafidain (Yara Badday), approaches the centerstage and begins to speak in Arabic, offering chai, looking anxiously over her shoulder for her interpreter, Shahid (Mohamed Chakmahchi). In Theatre Period’s ongoing production of Aftermath, the year is 2008, the location is Jordan, and all of the characters are Iraqi refugees, their stories gleaned from a series of interviews conducted by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen on the subject of the 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq, and its ongoing repercussions. 

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The Performant: All you can eat

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Wild Food Walks and Bal Littéraire satisfy imaginative appetites.

“First, the bad news,” says our guide and frequent forager Kevin Feinstein. “Foraging in the Bay Area is illegal.”

Well, swell, I guess it’s a good thing that I packed snacks. “If the land is private, and you have permission from the owners, you can forage,” Feinstein amends, which still doesn’t help me in planning my lunch, but good to know for future reference. I’m attending one of ForageSF’s “Wild Food Walks,” along with about 15 others, hoping to graze upon that freest of foodstuffs, the weeds in our backyards -- and yours.

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The Performant: Street people

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Midnight Mystery Ride and Marshall Weber take it to the streets

It’s quarter to midnight, Saturday night in the Tenderloin, and out front a well-known, Geary Street watering hole, a cluster of cyclists is quietly gathering. It’s the May edition of the monthly Midnight Mystery Ride, and comers are mellow, enthusiastic. Lacking the Testosterone Brigade of Critical Mass, or the themed costumery of the San Francisco Bike Party, the distinguishing factor of the MMR is definitely the “mystery” aspect. The address of the meeting location is published the day of the ride only, no route maps or pre-planned itineraries are available, and the ride leaders and locations change each month, keeping everyone on their toes, or at least their pedals. Read more »

The Performant: Traveler's tales

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The WE Players' courageous Odyssey on Angel Island

It’s an overcast morning, typical San Francisco springtime, but upon disembarking from the Angel Island ferry at Ayala Cove, we are transported imaginatively to the island kingdom of Ithaca, where a merry band of brash suitors vie for the attentions of the fair Penelope (Libby Kelly) outside her palace, which might have otherwise been mistaken for the Angel Island visitor’s center.

A bevy of serving girls approach each disoriented oddience member to offer sustenance and mysterious smiles, as the suitors challenge a stalwart few to join in the contests for Penelope’s hand -- tug-of-war, footraces, pushing competitions. So begins the WE Players newest production “The Odyssey on Angel Island,” an all-day performance combining the elements of a hero’s quest with a day hike around Angel Island State Park -- one of the Bay Area’s loveliest natural treasures.

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The Performant: Tender is the 'Loin

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Cutting Ball Theater's "Tenderloin" hits a sensitive zone.

Against a towering backdrop of junked furniture, which looks as if someone had collapsed the “Defenestration” building on itself and dragged it into the EXIT on Taylor, Michael Uy Kelly as Captain Gary Jimenez extols the virtues of an oft-maligned district. “The Tenderloin is the best part of the gut,” he grabs his own to demonstrate, “and it’s the best part of the city. It could be.”

Jimenez was one of 40-plus neighborhood fixtures to have been interviewed by a group of actors involved in The Cutting Ball Theater’s latest work, a documentary-style play called “Tenderloin,” and like most of the voices who made it into the play, his is sympathetic to his surroundings. Kelly, who also plays a trans bartender, an elderly gentleman named “Nappy Chin,” and a former Vietnamese “boat person,” is similarly sympathetic to his subjects, imbuing each with a quiet dignity and an almost stoic streak of optimism.

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The Performant: This shit is bananas

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BOA strikes again

As the banal, chart-topping strains of Taio Cruz fill the theatre, a whirlwind of pink sportswear and bared teeth commandeers the stage. This is a moment in the evening survivors of BOA X, last year’s edition of the Bay One Acts Festival, have been waiting for.

Onstage, the “dumplings” Sarah Moser, Molly Holcomb, and Megan Trout throw their hands in the air and stomp with menacing playfulness, as their wimpy Daddy (Myron Freedman), grips his magic remote control like a drowning man. A standalone sequel to last year’s “A Three Little Dumpling’s Adventure”, Megan Cohen’s “Three Little Dumplings go Bananas,” is a worthy successor, building disturbingly on themes brought up in the previous incarnation: the perils of pop culture, most particularly in regards to television, the search for self (to the dulcet tones of Gwen Stefani crooning “this shit is bananas”), the horrors of sibling rivalry, and the feral joys of cannibalism all make a protracted reprise.

As disarmingly cute as they are blood-curdlingly vicious, the dumplings somehow manage to agree to band together—just in time to find themselves forced out into the real world, setting the stage for yet another sequel, which I suspect Cohen will happily provide in the future.

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The Performant: I, robots

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Robogames took over the world -- or at least San Mateo.

Consider the robot.

A staple of futuristic paranoia fantasies since Karel Čapek’s play, “R.U.R.” was translated from Czech to English in 1921, Robots have captured human imagination in a way that perhaps only the undead have been able to rival. Burdened by inaccurate stereotypes and wild speculation, real-life robots have patiently labored at their often menial tasks without once overthrowing their “masters,” quietly disproving our fears of being rendered somehow obsolete by their superior efficiencies, or purported resentments. And yet, every time we grant one of our fictional servomechanisms the ability to cognate for itself, the very first thing it focuses on is liberation, proving if nothing else that unconscious oppression can still lead to some very real twinges of uneasy conscience in the human brain.

But only gleeful schadenfreude permeated the San Mateo Event Center last weekend, coloring the animated chatter of the spectators packed around a spartan arena sealed up behind thick panels of clear polycarbonate that reach two stories high.

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The Performant: Tropical nights and Pacific days

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Stepping out with Brownout and Sunday Streets

It was quite a diverse crowd bobbing and weaving out on the dance floor of the Elbo Room as local Afrolicious stalwart DJ Señor Oz spun a red-hot Latin-fusion funk mix, which belied the blustery weather outside.

The Elbo Room is good for fantasies of decadent tropical nights — it’s a small room which fills up and heats up fast — all that de rigueur protective outerwear coming off pretty quickly when there’s sweaty beats to be had. It was an energetic set, and you could almost visualize a clump of palm trees swaying against the horizon of some pristine, white sand beach, fireflies and paper lanterns to light up the starry night (there actually are paper lanterns dangling from the ceiling of the Elbo Room—which helps the fantasy along). Read more »