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Weekend Roundup: Amazon Queen, Intersection's New Space, Contemporary Art in a downtown Hotel, and Wedding Crazies

May 23, 2011

Some brief thoughts on this latest and diverse weekend of culture-vulturing in the Bay Area...

1. Campo Santo presents Denis Johnson's "Nobody Move": Intersection for the Arts recently decamped from its longstanding Valencia Street base to a multi-use building in San Francisco's downtown -- part of the Chronicle Building at 925 Mission Street. The organization's resident theatre company, Campo Santo, inaugurated this new phase in Intersection's life with a world premiere production of the American Book Award-winning author Denis Johnson's new play, "Nobody Move." I saw the show, which tells a picaresque story about a happy-go-lucky young man who somehow always seems to find himself on the wrong side of the law and the low-lifes that surround him, in preview. The play's press opening is tonight so, it's not really fair to pass judgment on it, though I will offer a few comments cos that's what I'm trained to do. What I will start by saying in the production's favor is that the basement space of the Chronicle Building in which the play is performed is a great setting for a contemporary story about a ne'er do well on the lam. The low ceilings add to the feeling of claustrophobia. The triangular-shaped stage area set up  in a corner of the room highlights the protagonist's attempt to avoid being cornered and the overall sterile feeling of the room (which looks like it serves as a conference space when it's not been used for theatre) infuses Johnson's narrative with a feeling of removal from what's natural and real in the world. Campo Santo has also amassed an A-list cast. Catherine Castellanos and Margo Hall are terrific as a couple of tough-minded broads trying to get by, each in her own unique way. Daveed Diggs (pictured) makes for a wonderfully ditzy protagonist. We never quite know whether he's actually got a smart, calculating brain on him, or if he's simply dumb. And Donald Lacy, playing a crook whom Diggs' Jimmy Lutz shoots in the leg, is a comically angry nemesis to Diggs' character. All this being said, I found the experience on the whole to be a bit disappointing. The play has strong characters but it strikes me as being a bit like a third-rate Coen Brothers movie with Tarantino-derived gambits. There's little about it, beyond a forced and poorly-developed sub-current on the theme of Native American community displacement, that makes it feel particularly theatrical. Also, there's a hell of a lot of shouting, which is particularly headache-inducing in a hermetically-sealed basement space.

2. Dark Porch Theatre presents "Eleanor" as part of Exit Theatre's DivaFest 2011: The young, San Francisco-based company Dark Porch Theatre's three-hour-long homage to the powerful Medieval Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, feels about an hour too long. But as a delightfully silly romp through key moments in the biography of one of European history's most powerful women colorfully embellished with simple but artfully-composed songs, it's definitely worth checking out. The imaginative play, which is written and directed by Margery Fairchild and voyages away from the history books into the realm of the imagination, draws heavily on Monty Python. It even goes into a protracted search for the holy grail story complete with an obstreperous hermit in a loin cloth and fantastical wig. The actors look like they're having a lot of fun on stage and, best of all, you come away from the production wanting to read some books about the play's formidable heroine.

3. ArtPad SF at the Phoenix Hotel: In tandem with the San Francisco Art Fair happening at Fort Mason this past weekend, a bunch of contemporary art galleries from the Bay Area and Los Angeles collaborated on a boutique event at the Phoenix Hotel on Eddy Street. The funky, central location of this event created a welcome opportunity for art lovers unable or unwilling to trek out to the waterfront for the more established Art Fair. The Phoenix also makes for an appealing venue to sample the work of many different galleries. Each organization occupied a small hotel room, transforming the spaces into jewel-like mini-galleries. Wandering between some 35 rooms arranged on two floors of the Phoenix was a bit like attending Open Studios, a regular event in which local artists showcase their work to the public. But the fact that it was the galleries in each case that organized the exhibitions rather than the artists created a different flavor. There was a slightly more commercial feel to the proceedings as a result, but the rooms were more carefully decorated to reflect the brand of the gallery and the work on display. The event provided a good way to get a bird's eye view on the local gallery scene and what galleries are showing these days. I wasn't taken with much of what I saw as I wandered from room to room, though I did spot a few trends including scratched out / painted over objects and bird cages filled with unusual things. Spaces presented by Eddie Colla Projects (lurid renegade graffiti), Johannson Projects (heightened-natural sculptures) and Launch LA (faux pastoral landscapes in kitschy sepia) stand out most strongly in my mind. The biggest highlight for me personally, however, was the hotel's central courtyard. The sunny space, where people mingled for drinks and chat, was the site of a truly lovely installation of metallic orbs of different sizes punctured with tiny plant shoots. The orbs were string over the hotel's oval-shaped swimming pool and bobbed about in the breeze. They made for a lovely site that merged the natural world of plants with the synthetic landscape of a boutique hotel.

4. Paul Feigs' "Bridesmaids" at AMC Van Ness: Took myself off to a matinee performance of Paul Feigs' new comedy about a thirty-something midwestern woman charged with the challenge of putting together her best friend's wedding celebrations while trying to straighten out her own catastrophic love life. I went to the movie on the recommendation of several friends and a couple of critics and thought it was quite good on the whole. The smartly written script and a winning performance from several cast members including Kristen Wiig as the protagonist, Annie, make this a film to catch, preferably after happy hour with a bunch of girlfriends. It's full of stock characters and has a Hollywood ending. But the film has a few standout scenes that set it above the average summer "chick flick": My favorites included the scene in which Annie and her nemesis, Whitney, compete for who can deliver the most winning "best friend" speech at the bride-to-be's engagement party, the point at which Annie and Whitney try to attract the attention of a wary traffic cop by engaging in a number of illegal driving behaviors, and the gross-out bit where the bride and her bevy of bridesmaids try on expensive couture dresses at a high-end bridal boutique while dealing with food-poisoning.

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