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Euripides al Fresco

May 14, 2009

One thing I admire about many small performing arts companies in San Francisco is their adventurousness. Whether performing contemporary dance pieces on moving trams stuffed with tourists or doing one-man versions of Hamlet, the best and brightest theatrical up-and-comers often eschew performing the usual plays in the usual settings.

After weeks of seeing big splashy shows in gilded theatres, I was happy to find myself picking my way through some back streets downtown to find a park which I'd never been to before and watch Boxcar Theatre's free outdoor version of Euripides' Ion.

The crowd was modest, but not bad for an al fresco take on an ancient Greek play performed in the middle of a hot Saturday by three young actors (Peter Matthews, Stephanie Maysonave and Sarah Savage) dressed in sweat pants with nothing but a bed sheet for a stage and a few random props.

Though the production came across as hammy in terms of performance and was dramaturgically underdone -- I didn't feel that the performers pushed the physical side of what they were doing far enough and the jokes (such as they were) mostly fell flat -- I appreciated the central conceit of Boxcar's approach: The way in which the actors shared all the roles between the three of them, sometimes taking over from each other in the middle of a scene or even a sentence. This idea was used perhaps too much, but it made things lively and created a great sense of ensemble. Not sure how the multiple-personality idea fed into Euripides' play about a warped family reunion, though.

I admire Boxcar for putting it out there. The endeavor not only requires quite a bit of chutzpah, but also a great deal of energy. Last Saturday, the actors performed the show three times in three different locations in San Francisco. For the next two weekends, they'll be repeating this exhausting schedule in the following locations:

May 16th - Northern San Francisco

1:00pm - West Bluff Amphitheatre at the Western end of Crissy Field near Fort Point
2:30pm - Fort Mason Park near the Rose Garden
4:00pm - Aquatic Park near the Maritime Museum on Beach Street

May 23rd - Central San Francisco

1:00pm - Golden Gate Park in front of the Conservatory of Flowers
2:30pm - Civic Center Park on the east side of City Hall
4:00pm - Dolores Park at the shrine (near 19th Street and Church)

If the weather's good, Boxcar's Ion isn't a bad way spend a picnicking-play-watching hour in the city.


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