Dr. Myers Inquires: What’s New in San Francisco?: Gays, Plays, New Ways

By LARRY MYERS***On Castro Street, Thomasina DeMaio has reignited San Francisco art, theater, and poetry. Conveniently across the street from Harvey Milk’s camera shop and the beginning of gay liberation, her neo-Beat vortex hosted an extravaganza at the Art Saves Lives Studio and Gallery. This brought the 50-year anniversary of the Summer of Love and the LGBTQIA Pride Month to a crescendo. It sailed into town like an art asteroid!
     Performance art was offered by a buxom chanteuse, a virile flamenco dancer, and an LGBTQIA poetess/performer. These were Ruby Vixe, Damien Alvarez, and Nandi La Sophia. An offbeat inclusive mob viewed startling paintings. There was even a mysterious psychic on hand. In the studio’s one room was a spirit painting of Harvey Milk. He seemed to be present. However, the figure who dominated the event was rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker; Ms. DeMaio (left) has done one of her spirit paintings of him. Having seen this work, the Milk portrait, and a boxer portrait, it seems she is a channel of some stripe.  The metaphorical /metaphysical stripes of Mr. Baker cast rainbows across all. This venue is the beginning of something startlingly needed now.
     Attendance at the Equality March in Washington and the Dyke, Trans and LGBTQIA marches in San Francisco reminded me how we live interdependently. These rituals rippled with the force of Golden Age Greece’s Theater Dionysius. We must be reminded that theater and democracy were born in the same day in Greece. An audience member answered the playwright/player/manager on stage and dialogue began. Similarly, in the Dark Ages theater was reborn in the Church when a parishioner answered the priest and his Quem Queritus trope. A new theater must emerge in found spaces — cafés, churches, classrooms.  Today we must seek lucidity through art as Ms. DeMaio and the Art Saves Lives Gallery personalities are attempting. Smarmy, insidious, virulent behavior of factions of our government must be counteracted with the precision of new art. Paintings, prose, poems, and plays must cleanse the smudge streaked across our vision. A mendacious reality TV consciousness has permeated and penetrated like chem trails.
     It is time now for the expressive light workers to speak out in inclusive safe spaces or even unsafe ones. Venal, mendacious, scabrous lies, misinformation, and fake news must be answered with the authenticity of art. Deception and duplicity should be paralleled with “the lie which always tells the truth” (Jean Cocteau’s defense of theater).
We must process, prophesize, and  remember we are our stories and histories. The genesis and raison d’etre of the rainbow flag is a resonant one – a myth for our times.  The tarot cards have been shuffled by tornado.
     Creating a stage work about the late Gilbert Baker (1951-2017) is my new work. It is called F{l}ag.  Like Baker, let sewers and poets tell us what to believe and how to live our lives, not lawyers.  Avanti! The Art Saves Lives Studio/Gallery is not just a space–it’s a force and vibration allowing us to feel what high frequency and rainbow vibration is. Castro Street is again an incubator of thought, performance, confrontation, mediation, and  meditation.
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     In the more traditional theater venues of the San Francisco Playhouse were two outstanding plays with vivid, idiosyncratic writing, genius lighting and sound designs, superior acting and deft direction.  The Roommate by Jen Silverman reminds us how far we’ve come from my friend the genetic male John Ford Noonan’s A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking. Ms. Silverman’s snarky, diabolical two-wo(man)-hander seems the perfect play for any regional theater.  There is always an abundance of talented actresses around— some of a certain age. It reminded me very much of a play called Fossils which I saw in Chicago with Julie Harris.  The great actress played a feisty lesbian traveling with a  widow friend. Of course, the two fell in love.  In real life, Ms. Harris suffered her strokes the very next day. I saw indeed her last performance on a stage.
     Ms. Silverman’s play about a Manhattan drifter who crash lands in the Midwest seems informed by Caryl Churchill’s outstanding drama Blue Heart. In that play, the most seemingly innocent yet mysterious types are revealed to be con artists duping senior citizens out of their money. The mysterious back story of the lady grafter unfolds via banter. The superb Robert Hand’s lighting and outstanding sound/projections of Theodore J.H. Hulsker embellish the set by Nina Ball. These are so superior that they at times threaten to upstage the actresses. However, both women (Susi Damilanno & Julia Brothers) would be hard to beat. Under Becca Wolf’s Accutron-esque direction the play percolates. We all like mischief-makers in theater.  Ever since Milton’s Paradise Lost, the Devil has been more engaging than the goody two-shoes. The audience seemed to delight in the revelation that the gals became successful crooks. How apt for our Trump era! However, the intermission-less drama challenges our bladders.
    Also at San Francisco Playhouse was Christopher Chen‘s defiant comedy of manners You Mean to Do Me Harm, reminiscent of Harold Pinter’s “theater of menace.” Again no intermission and a menace to our bladders! However, it captures the post-cyber conversational culture of tweets, emails, and Instagrams.  Abbreviated discourse with intonations, inflections, and innuendos seem to be our new computer-informed Samuel Beckett.  Zoe Rosenfeld has created a stark stylish sandbox set for the two couples to spar in. Wolfgang Lancelot Waschalovsky’s lighting is picture perfect.  Chen captures the communication and miscommunication of contemporary Silicon Valley types. The quartet of his play has survived zombification of our contemporary Selfie world. The pithy, poetic play (reminiscent of Tom Stoppard) is a welcome relief to the soulless anti-intellectual nightmare “reality” TV now surrounding us.
     Actors James Aster as Ben, Don Castro as Daniel, and Lauren English are proficient professionals. Added to their cross connections is a captivating vamp, Ms.Charisse  Loriaux.  Sphinxlike or loquacious, she threatens to steal focus with her every stage micro-moment. Past, present, and future are crosscut in the plot points. The story is of intrigue.  After being dumped from the business where he worked, Ben is set to be employed by Don.  Samantha and Daniel are Chinese-American. Lindsay and Ben are Caucasian. There are numerous innuendos and silences surrounding the P.C. talk.  Judging from local reviews I scanned, the local Bay Area reviewers seem incapable of perceiving how the informed, symbolic play works. Perhaps these local “critics” might be more comfortable on the agricultural pages. New styles of theater arts demand knowledgeable theater professionals to write about them. Chen has composed his own brand of resistance drama. Psychology and emotions ripple through the pithy dialogue. This critic can imagine this drama being a huge hit in sophisticated Manhattan.