The Performant: A mutable feast -- or, theater, buffet-style

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If the venerable San Francisco Fringe Festival is a full-on Circus Circus-style, all-you-can-eat-buffet, I like to think of its kid cousin the San Francisco Theatre Festival  -- which took place Sunday, August 8 -- as more of a pu-pu platter. Tasty little morsels of performance presented in manageable, bite-sized chunks designed to whet the appetite for the main courses (the full productions) to come. I don’t know about you, but when I’m confronted with the choice between dainty nibbling, or cleaning each plate as it comes, I tend to adapt the life-is-uncertain principle and gorge myself on all the available goodies in sight.

Gorging comes more easily than restraint at all-day festivals, and it’s hard to determine before you bite whether your picks will be sweet or savory. A delectable treat, first of the day, was an excerpt from a brand new company: The 11th Hour Ensemble. The 11th Hour members' 20-minute preview of their movement-based, Lewis Carroll-inspired “Alice” was fresh, exciting, hilarious, and completely unexpected. If their full-length production (opening September 8th) is half as charming as their highlights reel, it’ll be a don’t-miss. A quick dash across the park and into the Metreon brought me to Mugwumpin’s excerpt of their current show “This is all I Need” (playing at NOHspace through September 4). Thematically-connected to their last, site-specific “Occurrence” which took place in a semi-residential motel in June, “Need” explores the relationships between ourselves and our possessions. A particularly funny bit involved a convoluted daydream of property ownership and a barricade of berry boxes, but over too soon, it was back outside for a glimpse of No Nude Men (ha! there weren’t any! But there were zombies!). On my way to see San Francisco Recovery Theatre’s modernized take on the Amiri Baraka classic “Dutchman” (opening in October, I believe) I slipped into Ray of Light’s “Jerry Springer, the Opera” (opens September 10). Classically-trained singers reveling in lyrics about adult diaper-play, stripping, and self-abuse? Someone ought to write a show about that.

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A one-man smorgasbord of theatrical tropes and truisms, Will Franken played the Clubhouse this past weekend,serving up a bubbling stew of new material mixed in with a few old favorites. As physical as he is cerebral, commedian Franken’s act conforms far less to the traditional stand-up routine but rather to that of the highly-refined, abstracted-reality sketch comedy of Monty Python, The Kids in the Hall, and The Cody Rivers Show. Jim Carrey might be the man with the rubber face, but Franken’s whole persona is as elastic as a rubber band, and in a whirlwind 20-minute set, Franken portrayed a panoply of distinct characters from cross-dressing panhandler to schizophrenic marriage counselor, Al Gore to General Petraeus, an outsourced solar panel salesman in China to a well-meaning yet ultimately self-deluding “condom lady” in Whitechapel circa 1888. No passively-progressive sacred cow ever emerges from Franken’s contrarian logic unscathed—he’s out there gleefully hacking off the hindquarters and serving them up on a slightly tarnished platter before you can say “yoga mat.” But even late on a Friday night with no BYOB, just a taste of Franken’s mad creations left us salivating for more.

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