Not-About-the-Holidays Roundup

by SF/Arts

A narrated, LGBTQ-centric dance through the Mission District; a musical cabaret that re-imagines Chekhov’s yearning Olga from ”Three Sisters”; a revival of Lillian Hellman’s World War II-era drama ”Watch on the Rhine”: These three productions bypass seasonally themed arts offerings to explore an alternative realm.


When detour dance founder/directors Eric Garcia and Kat Cole interviewed queer, ethnically diverse, longtime local residents as the basis for a dance-theater hybrid—one in which the LGBTQ history of the Mission District neighborhood merges with an imagined fantastical city—they posed three main questions: What did San Francisco first mean to you? What changes have you witnessed over time? What is your ideal city? From those interviews—in person and in survey form—they commissioned playwrights Lourdes Figueroa, Brian Thorstenson and Baruch Porras-Hernandez to each create a narrative.

Those three distinct narratives form the basis of the first part of “Fugue,” during which 10 small audience groups (of up to five individuals) follow, simultaneously, a dancer/narrator along the 24th Street corridor. The “tour” culminates at Studio 210 in a half-hour sit-down dance performance with original music by composer Brent Arnold and sound design by Teddy Hulsker.

On a conceptual level, the guides are leading the audience to a new city. In Thorstenson’s script, the guide says, “I haven’t actually been to our destination. None of us have. …From everything we’ve been told, it’s amazing, extraordinary, breathtaking … almost identical to San Francisco, but better.”

“There’s [a mix of] real memory and complete fabrication about a new, fantastical city,” explains Garcia. Adds Cole, “The scripts are also inspired by the playwrights’ own memories, and the dancers’ memories too are braided into the script—a pastiche formed into a narrative.”

She adds, “And this is your last night in San Francisco before you leave it forever. What are you going to experience in your last 10 blocks?” 

Dec. 1 → 10

Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church
to Studio 210, San Francisco

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OLGA: a farewell concert

Local actress/singer Beth Wilmurt has long wanted to further explore Olga, the oldest of the three eponymous sisters in Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s 1901 play. She relishes the opportunity to spend more time with such a rich, multilayered character, one she’d explored previously in director Mark Jackson’s re-envisioned dance-theater piece “Yes, Yes to Moscow,” in 2007. Over time she has seen “Three Sisters” performed, read different translations of it, considered it from various angles and pondered Olga’s future.

In Chekov’s play, the young sisters live in provincial Russia, long to go to Moscow and are alone, until soldiers visit, then leave the sisters alone again. For Wilmurt’s work in progress—commissioned by Aurora Theatre Company’s new-works initiative and staged as a cabaret in its intimate second space, Harry’s UpStage—she created a similar structure in the form of a concert, and she imagined what Olga’s life might be like if her two sisters had left home, leaving Olga alone. The soldiers arrive (that is, the band: Gabe Maxson, Olive Mitra, Sam Barnum). They play music. Wilmurt sings, plays the piano a little, and the soldiers leave. “It’s like life,” muses Wilmurt. “We’re born, we party awhile, we leave the earth.” She chose about 18 songs for the eclectic set list (“snowy Siberia meets the American songbook”)
that form a story or an organic flow, that allow us to think about such existential things as why we suffer. “Some songs explain Olga’s loneliness,” Wilmurt says. “Some refer to wanting to get out.”

And she imbues the scenario with a personal double meaning, imagining that Olga is the last role she herself will ever play—a “farewell concert.”

Dec. 1 → 10

Harry’s UpStage, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley 843-4822

SF/Arts Event Listing

Watch on the Rhine

“The political contradictions [that Lillian Hellman] writes about in this play are part of our world in a way that feels very pressing and revealing right now,” says Berkeley Repertory Theatre artistic director Tony Taccone via email, referring to the theater’s coproduction, with Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theatre, of the drama
“Watch on the Rhine.” 

The award-winning, 1941 play—adapted for a Bette Davis movie in 1943 by Hellman’s lover, Dashiell Hammett—is rarely performed. In it, Fanny, a wealthy widow living in Washington, D.C. with her adult son, welcomes her daughter Sara home from Europe. With Sara are her husband, Kurt, a German member of an anti-fascist resistance group, and their three children. But Fanny’s Romanian houseguest, Teck, is a Nazi sympathizer who blackmails Kurt. And Teck’s unhappy wife is drawn to Fanny’s son. The stage is thus set for conflict on multiple levels.

“Obviously, this is an incredibly timely play,” director Lisa Peterson told the cast as rehearsals began for the joint production. “What you see is a slice of well-off, progressive America at a moment when a trouble we think is far away actually comes home to roost.” Comments Taccone, “Lisa is so good at revealing the energy in plays set in another period. She’s captivated by this play—not just by its topicality, but by what it’s doing psychologically.”

In a review at the Guthrie opening in October, the Star Tribune wrote that the play “sounds like something pulled from today’s headlines”—from the fight against fascism to a “morally right but legally wrong crossing of the Mexican border” to characters who must choose to resist—or not.

Dec. 4 → 31

Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley 647-2949

SF/Arts Event Listing