“Hope” by Si Kahn – a World Premiere at Main Stage West, Sebastopol CA
Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo
Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
Photos Courtesy Main Stage West
Hope’s Timely Message
The world premiere of “Hope” at Main Stage West is yet another heartfelt and rousing work by noted poet, songwriter, social activist and playwright Si Kahn. As Artist in Residence since 2011, it’s his fifth show to be presented at MSW (all directed by his long-time friend, MSW Artistic Director Elizabeth Craven). His “Mother Jones in Heaven” a few seasons back was a sensational hit with audiences and critics alike.
Kahn’s music and passion spring from the beloved American folk-activist tradition (think Woody Guthrie or even Pete Seeger, with whom Kahn recorded an album). But it’s the echoes of his European-Jewish heritage that serve as the heart and soul of “Hope”. Through this warm and moving biographical tale, Kahn opens a very personal book on his ancestors’ journey from Europe for dreams of a better life in the “goldene medina” – the golden land – that they imagined the United States to be. They came to believe in a better world despite the holocaust, Hitler and persecution. It’s an especially timely and important piece these days. It speaks of immigrants, freedom, patriotism, terrorism and racism, all subjects that have held the country in thrall.
There’s tall tales mixed with true family stories, richly seasoned with Kahn’s catchy ballads and anthems (with a little touch of gospel for good measure). In an interesting narrative device, each performer plays different aspects of Kahn, past and present, as well as family members of different ages and genders. Alia Beeton, John Craven, Mary Gannon Graham and Sharia Pierce deliver genuine camaraderie in their honest performances. And those amazing vocals and harmonies! It’s impossible to resist singing along and clapping your hands.
With such compelling material, directed with wit and tenderness by Craven, the minimalist set lets the imagination do its work. In its own way, it helps restore the lost art of simple storytelling with only the most basic of embellishments, like stories told around the campfire long ago.
The perfectly integrated ensemble cast presents a naturalistic approach, and the intimate setting allows for a much more conversational experience. Jim Peterson is billed as the musical director, but he’s much more than that. He not only plays a role, he also heads up a group of musicians (Jeremy Gorman, Roxanne Oliva and Tim Sarter) that are closely aligned with the cast and take their turns stepping up to join in the action.
At times the dialogue is a bit wordy, and you’d have to be taking careful notes to keep track of all the names and relationships and astounding events. But no matter. It all comes together like ingredients in a favorite recipe. These are stories told the way our parents and grandparents may have told them. Only Kahn’s family appears to have had more than their share of truly amazing and miraculous adventures. His story is deeply personal, and yet universal. All can find common ground here, and this is more important now than ever.
When: Now through December 18, 2016
8:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays
5:00 p.m. Sundays
Tickets $15 to $25
Where: Main Stage West
104 N Main St, Sebastopol, CA 95472