GREAT PLACES TO CHECK OUT FOR AFFORDABLE HOLIDAY ENTERTAINMENT
So much is going on in December in the Bay Area that it is very hard to pick which event is the best choice for your time and money. So often, we gravitate toward the bigger theaters with their huge ticket tabs and we think, “I can’t afford THAT, so why bother?”
The good news is that you have many other less-expensive and far more delightful choices. There are some intellectually stimulating plays, musicals and concerts going on at the smaller venues these days and I am going to tell you about just a few I have discovered. The hype isn’t as hysterical, but the quality is often better than what you will see in the more lavishly produced productions, because every one of these shows involves immense dedication to the art of performance. Many feature non-equity actors and the love and effort that goes into each production never fails to enhance the show.
If you haven’t discovered Brian Katz’s Custom Made Theatre Company, you are depriving yourself of stimulating drama and comedy with ticket prices no more demanding than lunch at a diner. The production I saw there was TWO BY WOODY, a double bill of Central Park West and Riverside Drive, both written by Woody Allen and reflecting his very disturbing view of humanity. In both plays, the characters are self-serving, selfish and totally self involved. There was no compassion between the people on stage and the love expressed was possessive and cold devoid of caring or concern. Still, both productions were well paced and there were plenty of laughs at the ridiculous situations only Allen can create. The cast was up to the challenge and were convincing as they could be playing people you would prefer to murder if you ever met them on the street.
Custom Made Theater is planning a workshop of Samuel Beckett’s poetic short plays in January, directed by Leah S. Abrams. Their next production is A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee, opening February 12. Check www.custommade.org for more information on this very interesting and exciting theater company. Their productions are at the Off Market Theater, 965 Mission between 5th and 6th in San Francisco.
Custom Made is part of the Bay Area Professional Small Theatres, an organization “committed to bringing you the most daring and innovative independent theatre in the bay area.” They offer deep discounts on First Date Performances and their members include Woman’s Will, The Boxcar Playhouse, and Virago Theatre among many others. You can find out more about these money saving events plus other theater news at www.theatrebayarea.org,
There are some wonderful productions at Ty and Cory McKenzie’s Stagewerx Theater, the newly opened basement venue at 533 Sutter in San Francisco, featuring some of the most exciting and unusual works that dare to go on stage. In the next month, you can see How To Survive The Apocalypse for a two day run; January 2-3, Bombshell Betty Burlesque, the last Wednesday of every month and this month December 17, and Mike Spiegelman’s My Blog. Kurt Weitzman’s Jesus Roast will be December 26 and 27 and W. Kamau Bell will do an 8 pm and 10 pm show on New Year’s Eve.
The show I saw there was Enzo Lombard’s masterpiece, Love, Humiliation and Karaoke. Lombard plays a complete cast of characters from Lulu Santiago his transvestite, karaoke-competitor neighbor to Nico his adorable Doberman puppy. He sings, he emotes, he touches our hearts with the story of how he met the man he married. Lombard has been in show business since he was five years old. He is a professional singer and has worked in the London cabaret, written a novel, directed documentaries and now he is doing stand up comedy. His show was produced by W. Kamau Bell, the 2008 comedian of the Year, Bruce Pachtman and David Quintero, the very San Diego David Lombard brings to life in this production. “Love, Humiliation and Karaoke is about the intersection of the humiliation we must all risk if we hope to find love, and the tendency we have to “melodramatize” our pasts,” says Lombard.
I suspect the show will re-appear again and again, and if you see it on any theater bill, run, don’t walk to see it. It is a jewel of a piece.
I love Christmas. I love the music; I love the plays; I love the tinsel and teddy bears, the maudlin sentimentality. Any production with green, red and a dash of mistletoe captures my heart before the curtain rises. This year, my first taste of the Christmas Spirit was The Willows Theatre Company’s production NUNCRACKERS written and directed by Dan Goggin, a magnificent romp chock full of humor, music, dance, nuns, priests and little children. It cannot get any better than that. The show premiered at The Willows in 1998 and many of the actors are doing repeat performances. The 2008 production features Amy Washburn: my favorite of all favorites for acting, singing and magnetic charm as the irrepressible Reverend Mother and Deborah Del Mastro as Sister Robert Ann. “It has been such an honor for all of the Nunsense productions we've done here at the Campbell, to have Dan Goggin, the shows' author and composer come and direct us. Imagine-- in the same year he directed me, Cindy Wiliams, and Sally Struthers all as Reverend Mother!" said Washburn.
Both she and Del Mastro were in last year’s production as well. Del Mastro originated her role when the show opened in 1998. It is my personal opinion that once she is through feeding a lot of feral cats in her backyard, playing the trumpet and entertaining us in Nuncrackers, she should go into standup comedy. She is a natural if ever there was one.
In fact, the entire cast are naturals at what they do, adorably delightful, marvelously magical and very, very Christmas. There are the usual clichés of sisters making double entendre remarks, a little drunkenness and a healthy dab of sentimentality but after all, it is the season and this show does it just right. The production runs through December 21 in the Campbell Theatre in Martinez. More information on this show and a magnificent season ahead at www.willowstheatre.org.
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