You Mean to Do Me Harm brilliantly staged at SF Playhouse

(l-r) Jomar Tagatac, Katie Rubin, Charisse Loriaux and Cassidy Brown in SF Playhouse “You Mean To Do Me Harm”

YOU MEAN TO DO ME HARM; Comedy by Christopher Chen. Directed by Bill English. San Francisco Playhouse, 2nd floor of the Kensington Park Hotel 450 Post Street, San Francisco, CA.

415-677-9596, or www.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/2018-2019-season/you-mean-to-do-me-harm/.

September 18 to November 3, 2018.

YOU MEAN TO DO ME HARM brilliantly staged at SF Playhouse

Interracial marriages no longer refer exclusively to white and black but are multicultural and ubiquitous. In Christopher Chen’s You Mean to Do Me Harm that opened San Francisco Playhouse’s 16th season the couples are Asian and white Americans.  White Ben (Cassidy Brown) is married to Asian Samantha (Charisse Loriaux) and Asian Daniel (Jomar Tagatac) is married to white Lindsey (Katie Rubin). The play had a successful run in 2017 at the intimate Rueff space at ACT’s Strand Theater as a part of the Sandbox Series. This mainstage mounting is considered the world premiere and probably had a few changes since the initial run. Charisse Loriaux is the only carry over from that staging.

All the characters can be considered protagonists since Chen has given equal weight to each and Bill English has directed them as pugilists in a ring with the four characters always on stage but are each is sent to “their corners”  when not actively engaged in verbal battle. The relationship between the characters is both professional and social.

It all begins as a social gathering when we learn that Ben has been hired by Daniel’s search engine firm, Flashpoint that will be expanding into China. Ben who has a smattering of knowledge about China considers himself as the “white China Guy.” Daniel seems mistrustful. The social context revolves around the semi-apparent fact that Ben and Lindsey had a hookup during their college days.  An innocuous remark by Ben about a memory he shares with Lindsey sets Daniel into an adversarial mood and this becomes the basis for the conflict in the play.

Frequently the couples individually meet on center stage while the other two sit or pace on the sidelines.  Awareness of personal and cultural differences creeps into the dialog. This awareness does not lead to rapport and the tension shifts into personal conflict within each couple and further divides both couples collectively.

One begins to feel like a voyeur without really developing any real empathy for any of the characters. This is not because of the acting that is superb. Chen while partially creating individuals seems more content to extrapolate individuality into universality thus making the 90 minutes without intermission somewhat tedious.

One can feel the hidden anger in Jomar Tagatac’s dialog emphasized by director Bill English allowing him to pace in the background waiting for his turn to enter the ring. Cassidy Brown as Ben creates a truly insecure technician hiding behind a superficial bravado. But it is the women who earn the rave reviews. In this #Metoo world they would lead the pack. Behind Charisse Loriaux’s  diminutive stature are strength and resolve of a strong woman. In the final scenes Katie Rubin caps her control of the stage willing to accept criticism while maintaining resolve without sacrificing judgement.

CAST: Cassidy Brown as Ben, Charisse Loriaux as Samantha, Katie Rubin as Lindsey and Jomar Tagatac Daniel.

CREATIVE TEAM: Director, Bill English; Scenic Designer, Angrette McCloskey; Costume Designer, Brooke Jennings; Sound Designer, Theodore J. H. Hulsker; Lighting Designer, Kurt Landisman; Projections Designer, Theodore J. H. Hulsker; Properties Designer, Jacquelyn Scott; Assistant Director, Chrissy Martino; Stage Manager, Maggie Koch; Assistant Stage Manager, Shannon Carroll; Stage Management Intern, Caitlin McFann; Casting Director, Dori Jacob.

Running time 90 minutes without intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com