One of the best shows this season is Monday Afternoon Productions’ The Quality of Life by Jane Anderson that played in April at the Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco. Addressing tough issues of loss, playwright Anderson demonstrates that rare ability to see beyond the simplistic with an array of complex but engaging characters. First, there is the couple from the Midwest who have lost their only child–a college age daughter to a senseless crime. They decide to visit their cousins in Oakland who have not only lost their house to the fire but the husband is battling terminal cancer. The Midwesterners (played by Richard Aiello and Valerie Weak) have found religion to try to deal with their loss. Their West Coast Norcal cousins (Josiah Polhemus and Laura Jane Bailey) have opted for marijuana. What ensues is a battle for souls and director Michael Shipley so successfully leads his actors away from maudlin emotionalism, the paradoxical effect on the audience is devastating. Rarely, does one get to see both sides of an argument about the value and quality of life and the right to end it without preconceived judgment. This is acting at its best that is both effortless and close to invisible. Unspoken grief comes out in as simple a gesture as a hand flutter held near the face to keep it from breaking apart. Kudos to the cast and production team whose flawless performances inspire hope for the future of live theatre.
Also in April at the Z Space, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s hilarious A House Tour of the Infamous Porter Family Mansion with Tour Guide Weston Ludlow Londonderry played to sold-out houses. Local talent Danny Scheie gave the tour de force performance as Tour Guide Londonderry leading us through the sometimes close quarters of the House that limited the number of attendees. Director Jason Eagan and Sheie kept the pace moving in the 85 minutes that revealed the offbeat characteristics of the Porter couple who spent much of their time together in various positions of intimacy. Their wealth was gained by the invention of the expiration date and their subsequent creation of the mansion invited even more animosity from the curious, strongly disapproving members of society who eventually set fire to the place while the Porters watched from a distance. Innuendo after innuendo joyfully surfaces throughout the text as it celebrates abnormality, stirring one’s “inner misfit” and instilling it with power. In the playwright’s words: A House Tour is “a salute to those who will never be able to fit into any ‘new normal’ nor would they want to if they could. Equality is not the same thing as being the same as everyone else.”
On Clover Road by Steven Dietz had its World Premiere in the Rueff Theatre at A.C.T.’s Strand as part of SF Playhouse’s Sandbox Series. Also closing in mid April, the play directed by Susi Damilano featured Sally Dana as Kate, the distraught mother in search of her missing daughter, Michael Storm as the private investigator who is supposed to de-program the daughter from the cult she’s been living with, and Nancy Kimball as the girl who is initially presented to Kate as her daughter. Set in an abandoned motel, the play takes so many twists and turns that it is sometimes hard to believe who is who and what’s what. When the actual daughter (Rachel Goldberg) appears as the brainwashed disturbed, individual she is, we soon wonder why in the world the mother would want her back. Sally Dana shines as the mother whose complex background gives you pause and empathy for every mother of a teenager.