Sunday, September 12, 2010


Last night SF Playhouse completed its run of The Fantasticks and I am overjoyed that I was there. Please tell me you didn't miss this show.  This production renewed my faith in my belief that The Bay Area has the ability to produce out of this world intimate theatre. Bill English and Susi Damilano have successfully created the kind of small theatre that others should aspire to become. From the moment you enter, there is an atmosphere of joy and creativity. Last night both Bill and Susi mingled with the audience before the show, during the intermission, and after the show. They greet each and every audience member warmly and engage them in genuine conversation. It's so cool.

Now what about the show? In a word - FANTASTICK! Ha! Seriously it was. The set was wonderfully dilapidated, reflecting Mr. English's desire to portray the state of much of our world today. This effect really made the show feel comtemporary in a somewhat meloncholic way. I never had the feeling that I was watching a production of the most overdone musical in history. It felt new and lively and current.

The acting in this show was superb, the direction creative and surprising, the choreography lively and funny, and Robert Moreno on the piano, the only musical accompaniment, was inspired in his interpretation of the score.

Tarek Khan (El Gallo) and Sepideh Moafi (Luisa)
in The Fantasticks at SF Playhouse
Jeremy Kahn as Matt brought a youthful exuberance and charming vulnerabilty to the role. Tarek Khan as El Gallo looked and acted as though Tom Jones and Harvery Schmidt had him in mind when the wrote this play.
Yusef Mortimer as "the man who dies", died with much aplomb and often and he was hillarious. Joan Mankin as Bellomy, a role written for a man, was perfect. This was one of my favorite risks that Bill English took with the script. By making Bellomy a woman, there was an added depth to the story in that the relationship of Bellomy and Hucklebee paralleled the relationship between their children. Without changing the script  much at all, English and the cast were able to create a sense of empathy that otherwise wouldn't be possible. The parent's feelings for one another made it easier for them to understand the trials of their children. It was subtle but wonderful.

Sepideh Moafi as Luisa was superb. I must admit that I have acted with Sepi so one might assume that I am biased, but I'm not.  Her comic timing and dramatic acting skills are superb, her dancing is beautiful and fluid, but as good as all of this is, her soprano voice is angelic. I know it sounds like I'm exacturating but I simply am not. There were moments in the show when I could hear audience members gasp as she sang, simply because what they were hearing sounded like perfection. Unfortuneately, for us, and as is often the case with people of her talent, she is leaving the Bay Area to study with the prestigious MFA program at UC Irvine. I wouldn't doubt if one day in the not to distant future we see her starring on the Broadway stage. I've seen it a few times over the last decade, friends of mine with exceptional talent making it in New York or in Hollywood. I have a feeling that Sepi will be another of those gifted few.

Louis Parnell as Hucklbee was hilarious and touching. He gave such an honest and heartfelt performance as he always does. Norman Munoz as the mute added a touch of testosterone to the show. The shirtless Munoz was strong and atheltic and moved like a gazelle.

Ray Reinhardt the resident celebrity of the cast, who has appeared in numerous productions in the Bay Area  -  A.C.T., San Jose Rep. and others, as well as many roles in television and film, just nailed his depiction of Henry, the aging Shakespearian "over-actor". His performance was just delightful.

Were there any flaws in this production? It sounds as though I am describing something "fantastical", I know. There were some flaws, yes, because actors are human beings. But I don't care about that. Even the flaws were endearing. I was totally won over as was, I dare to say, the entire audience.

Bravo SF Playhouse! Very well done.

Find out more about SF Playhouse and their exciting season of plays!

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