The Gangster of Love visually explodes at Magic Theatre.

                                                                                                            The cast of The Gangster of Love at the Magic Theatre World Premiere.

THE GANGSTER OF LOVE: Comedy by Jessica Hagedorn adapted from her novel of the same name. Directed by Loretta Greco.  Magic Theatre (Fort Mason), 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA.  (415) 441-8822 or

The Gangster of Love visually explodes at Magic Theatre. Rating: ★★★☆☆

There is a great deal to like about Jessica Hagedorn’s semi-autobiographical play THE GANGSTER OF LOVE that is based on her book of the same name that starts with the sentence; “Jimi Hendrix died the year that ship that brought us from Manila docked in San Francisco.” The ‘us’ are Filipinos: Mother Milagros with two artistic teenage children, Rocky (short for Raquel ) and Voltaire. They have left the father behind. It is a beautiful first scene as the trio takes joy in passing under the Golden Gate Bridge starting a new life during an exciting tumultuous time in the Bay Area. A projection tells us it is 1970. Throughout the play projections note the year and location of many of the scenes with the play ending in 1990.

 Unfortunately the known problem of converting “page to stage” is evident. The play has been two years in the making with 12 rewrites and includes multiple scenes that are embellished with loud rock’n roll music, video projections, parties, poetry reading, pot smoking, LSD use, mob scenes of protestors and even fantasy. By the end of the two hour and 50 minute evening with an intermission your auditory and visual senses are overwhelmed. What should be a poignant coming of age story is lost the mechanics of the production that is much too complex.

Never-the-less there are fascinating scenes and superb acting that will stay etched in your mind while your interest may lag concerning the life progression this new family in a strange land that does not fully accept them. It is mainly Rocky’s story and her growth from a bookish youngster to the founder of the Rock band she names “The Gangster of Love” dedicated to wedding poetry with contemporary music.

On that journey she travels through the City Lights Bookstore, poetry reading era of North Beach, the Vietnam protests, the destruction of the I-Hotel that housed Filipino laborers and other milestones in San Francisco history. As a group the people she meets range from ordinary to famous with each adding a learning phase to Rocky’s progression to leader of the band.

The 10 member multinational cast plays a total 19 roles with fine performances by most but more than once protagonist Rocky is overshadowed by polished Bay Area actors. Those actors are Patrick Alparone, Sean San Jose and Lance Gardner. Sarah Nina Hayon is superb as the mother Mialgros maintaining dignity in crisis situations keeping the family together and gently repelling offers of love.

 One has to admire the direction of the play by Loretta Greco since the multiple scenes uses the entire acting area with the movement of furniture by the cast as well as the crew. All this must be integrated with music, visuals, lighting and sound effects. The best scene in the play is a relatively quiet birthday party for Rocky with all cast members on stage mostly around the dining room table and the banter is both cogent and hilarious. One will wish for more such scenes with reduction of the running time.

CAST: Sarah Nina Hayon as “Milagros Rivera”;  Golda Sargento as “Rocky Rivera”;  Jed Parsario as “Voltaire Rivera”;  Sean San Jose as “Uncle Marlon, Carabao Kid”;  Chuck Lacson as “Basilio Cruz, Shig Murao”; Lance Gardner as “Bugsy Bustamante, Zeke Akamine, Jimi Hendrix”; Patrick Alparone as “Elvis Chang”;  Lawrence Radecker as “Rick Foss” and Dezi Soley as “Keiko Van Heller.”

CREATIVE TEAM: In addition to Ms. Hagedorn and Ms. Greco, the creative team includes Shirley Fishman (Dramaturg), Hana Kim (Scenic and Projections Design), Sara Huddleston (Sound Design), Ulises Alcala (Costume Design), Ray Oppenheimer (Lighting Design) and Michaela Byrne (Production Stage Manager).

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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