Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Exit, Hoppin'

I’ve seen three eclectic, fun and brilliant shows at the Exit Theatreplex in the past couple of weeks. (I also got to meet Ramona, the Exit’s new dog, who’s very sweet and affectionate.)

The hot ticket is Spare Stage’s production of Yasmina Reza’s The Unexpected Man, starring Ken Ruta and Abigail Van Alyn, on the Exit’s mainstage. What a treat to see Ken Ruta in an intimate theatre. His acting is so precise yet natural--he makes it look effortless. And Abigail Van Alyn is a wonderful counter to his bitter character, and she does a wonderful job of drawing the audience in. And why don’t we see more Yasmina Reza? The Unexpected Man may come off like a writing exercise, but the writing is fresh, smart, and the ending is brilliant. The Chronicle gave the show a glowing review earlier this week, and I’ve heard the tickets are going fast. Buy yours now. This is a master class in acting and writing.

The Flying Actor Studio was on the mainstage late this afternoon with The Zany and the Surreal, a show to promote its new school of physical theatre South of Market (you may have seen the ads in my Weekly Update e-newsletter for Theatre Bay Area members). James Donlon, John Gilkey and Leonard Pitt each performed several bits ranging from mime to clowning to mask work, all adding up to 80 minutes of pure fun. You’ll instantly recognize John Gilkey (if you don’t know his name already) from Cirque du Soleil, and here he performs some really dark comedy as well as some zany bits reminiscent of Looney Tunes. James Donlon is mesmerizing—his Fish routine is visual poetry. Leonard Pitt starts out with some stand-up, later offering some Dario Fo and enlightening mask work. Great fun. The next and last show is tomorrow (Sunday) at 3 p.m.

Across the hall at Exit Stage Left, Christian Cagigal is mindreading in Now and at the Hour, a hybrid magic/solo show that’s quite unlike anything on the San Francisco boards. He weaves his mindreading tricks into a backstory about growing up with his father, a Vietnam vet who returned from the war quite mentally altered. Christian’s performance demeanor is quite disarming. He immediately makes a connection with the audience, and you feel as if you’re in conversation with someone in his parlor. And his mindreading tricks are quite clever, but if you just focus on that you’re missing out on the complex story he’s telling you about time and memory. His story is kind of like magic in reverse: if magic looks hard but the explanation is easy, then the story looks easy until you realize how many secret compartments and trapdoors are in it.

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I haven’t been going to the Exit as much as I used to—and now I realize again that I love the place so much.

Photo: Abigail Van Alyn and Ken Ruta in The Unexpected Man. Photo by Peter Prado for The Chronicle.

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