Exciting new opera “Stuck Elevator” at A.C.T. in SF; Benecia Old Town Theater’s money dissappears and Diablo Actor’s Ensemble mounts final show in Walnut Creek this week!
This past week the A.C. T. Theater in San Francisco opened their doors to a world premiere of an extraordinary hybrid of musical theater and opera entitled “Stuck Elevator”. This is a very different form of opera, one that touches base with more modern lyrics and librettos of today, occasionally embracing story telling through hip-hop poetry and street style opera!
This musical is a fictional creation by two very imaginative collaborative writers, composter Byron Au Yong and librettist Aaron Jafferis, who take elements of a true life experience and fill in the gaps with their own imaginings. These two young men met in the musical theater program at New York University. Jafferis defines himself as a “hip-hop poet and playwright” and Yong envisions himself as a“composer of songs of dislocation”.
In this A.C.T. production, “Stuck Elevator” is a re-envisioned story that actually happened to an illegal Chinese immigrant in 2005 in New York City. In the true story, Ming Kuang Chen was a friendly, hardworking delivery man in the Bedford Park neighborhood of the Bronx for the Happy Dragon restaurant. On one fateful April 1st in 2005, a normal delivery of Chinese food to a customer in the Tracey Towers, just three minutes away from the restaurant, changed his life in a way he could never have imagined. This incident became a very frightening experience for this gentleman as he attempted to exit the building to continue his night’s work. Ming Kuang Chen found himself an unwitting victim of poor maintenance in a rundown apartment complex where he became a prisoner in an elevator cell for over 81 hours, while friends, police and rescue workers searched for him for several days in and around that very same building unaware of what had actually happened to him. At the same time, Chen was unaware of the search going on for him. He remained a captive, hoping that a workman would soon discover him and free him from this 4x6x8 square foot iron prison.
Compounding the problem was the fact that Ming Kuang Chen knew very little English, knew he was in the country illegally and feared attracting the attention of the police or the authorities who would probably deport him back to China. He dared not to have this happen as being deported would break the chain of meager income he was sending home to his wife and young son in China. Further, it would cause him to renege on the repayment of his $60,000 debt for his passage to America. That failure could eventually cost him his life!
“Stuck Elevator” is similar to the real story, taken from this man’s experience. A story that accentuates the day to day reality of the fear and assimilation struggles that many immigrants live with.
“Stuck Elevator” is a musical that is beautifully crafted, imagined and designed, right from the very first scene, as Guāng (our author’s substitute for Ming Kuang Chen) begins his fateful delivery experience and his elevator story begins to unfold. The musical is translated for the audience with both Chinese and English sub-titles, as is necessary, to provide appropriate translation, on a screen above the stage. Guāng’s story emerges in a simple, almost understated manner until it builds to a crescendo of panic and fear. Guāng (played brilliantly by opera singer Julius Ahn), arrives on his bicycle carrying his bag containing food from his employer’s shop, in an ally-way next to a commercial elevator. We see him enter the elevator to make a deliver on one of the top floors. A short time later, we witness him counting his money and re-enter the elevator to begin his decent, followed by the very realistic fall of the elevator in its shaft.
As the hours begin to crawl past him, Guāng becomes more and more hungry, begins to hallucinate, imagining many things. These dream-like encounters and conversations with his employer’s difficult wife, his son still in China (Wang Yue played by Raymond J. Lee), his wife still in China (Ming played by Marie-France Arcilla), Marco, his co-delivery friend (played by Joel Perez), and many other familiar people in his life (all played by the same above three actors and Joseph Anthony Foronda), all take place in and around the skeletal elevator structure. In an incredibly simple but effective set, we join Guāng in his very active hallucination generated imaginary world, hoping for release before he starves to death.
Director Chay Yew has brought this story to full fruition, encompassing a broad range of human emotions including extreme fear, humor, laughter, and even crazy imaginative game-show type dreams. The evocative and eclectic music features Cary Koh on Violin, Michael Grahm on Cello and Allen Biggs on percussion. This is a very powerful theatrical piece that brought a standing ovation from the audience and continues Tuesdays through Saturday with performances at 8 p.m., Matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. and Sunday performances at 7 p.m., closing on April 28th. The performance is 1 hour and 20 minutes with no intermission. Tickets range in price between $20 and $85 which can be accessed by going on line to www.act-sf.org or by calling (415) 749-2228. This is theater well worth the journey to A.C.T.’s Geary Theater located at 415 Geary Street in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, back in our own neighborhood, there are two wonderful little theatrical venues that are in need of your support and best thoughts. The Diablo Actor’s Ensemble at 1345 Locust Street in Walnut Creek has just recently learned that their little theatrical venue and the building surrounding it, has recently been sold to a new owner. Artistic Director Scott Fryer informed me this week, that they have been advised that in order for them to stay in this venue, their rent would probably be increased fourfold, something that is completely out of question for a marvelous little company that was barely surviving at their current rent structure. This exceptionally well designed compact 49 seat theater is anything but little when it comes to sterling performances. It has been a very popular theater for Rossmoor audiences over the years, but following DAE’s upcoming production of “Grace and Glory” which opens this coming Friday, the 26th of April, it will exist no more. I strongly recommend that you join me this weekend at DAE’s production by calling (866) 811-4111 or by visiting their website at www.diabloactors.com for more information.
I thought the events of this past week could not get any worse but when I joined close friends in Benecia at the Benecia Old Town Theater Group’s theater in Benecia to celebrate the remarkable life of longtime friend and actor Robert Parke (OBE) O’Brien who passed away earlier this year, I learned of another disaster in progress. While there, I heard from BOTTG Board President Dan Clark, that the theater discovered this past week that their bank account had been fraudulently emptied of all of its operating funds!
Dan told me that while the company was assessing what shows they were hoping to present in this year’s seasonal offerings, he had asked one of the board members to contact the company that they normally contract with to secure production rights to their plays, in order to determine what the costs would be for a particular show already announced. To the board member’s complete shock, he was told that this particular company would no longer do business with the BOTTG, as there were two previously contracted shows for which they had not been paid; in addition to the fact they had received a bounced check for another production. This was reported to Board President Dan Clark, who immediately went to the bank and discovered that there was only $27 left in their account.
They had been assured as recently as a month ago by their treasurer, Kimble Goodman, that there was at least $10,000 in their account. The theater reported the theft to the police. While Mr. Goodman, through his attorney, Amy Morton, denies the theft allegation, at the same time his attorney admits that there may have been “negligent commingling of funds” and that Mr. Goodman, who filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in January, “intends to make whole the theater group’s loss.”
Solano County District Attorney Robert Hightower stated publicly following the accusations by the theater, that the fact that the District Attorney filed charges against Mr. Goodman, “speaks for what we think of the conduct”.
Now, with absolutely no funds to operate with, the theater is pleading for public support in asking that they try to attend their current production of David-Lindsay-Abaire’s powerful play, “Rabbit Hole” to keep them afloat financially, while they try to raise funds to mount their next show. I have been attending shows in this theater for over 20 years and it would be an absolute shame for them to have to close their doors due to this type of event.
“Rabbit Hole” is a story of a family in crisis following the death of their 4 year old son who was run down by a reckless teenager with his car. The young driver wants to express his regrets to the family for his inappropriate action but the grieving mother, Becca, does not want to hear it.
There are problems with other family members as well and the subsequent grief motivated actions of Becca. While initially a very dark and disturbing tale, the resolution is kinder and gentler and in the end, a very thought provoking award winning play. I have seen this play at least twice and I appreciate the message. I recommend you attend BOTTG’s production. This company puts together some very excellent community theater productions. You can contact the company to secure tickets by calling (707) 746-1269 or by visiting their website at www.beneciaoldtowntheatergroup.com . This production plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. in the historic old BDES Hall at 140 West “J” Street in downtown Benecia.