Thrillpeddlers Presents "Fear Over Frisco" Willows Theatre Production of "Chess" Master Harold and the Boys A Daffy Production of Steve Martin's "The Underpants" Kinloch Plantation Products 100% Virgin Pecan Oil

Thrillpeddlers is presenting “Shoctoberfest” at their intimate theatre in San Francisco. This year the company is presenting a trio of Noir-Horror Plays in the traditions of Le Grand Guignol theatre, a small theatre in Paris where such dramas stressed horror and sensationalism. Eddie Muller known as “Czar of Noir” has written three short “Noir” plays showing different periods of San Francisco history. San Francisco has always had a macabre past which included the Weathermen, Jonestown deaths, random street crimes and of course the Zodiac killer. I worked on several Warner Brothers noir films here in the city in the 60’s.

Eddie Muller’s “Grand Inquisitor” opens the night of terror and blood with the cast singing the somber tones “Fear Over Frisco” with music by Scrumbly Koldewyn and lyrics by Eddie Muller. The short play depictes an odd young woman with a cache of used books confronting who she believes is the elderly widow of serial killer. The 20 minute drama ends with a shocking climax. This is the weakest play of the trio to start an evening of shock. Mary Gibboney and Bonni Suval do what they can to enliven the drama.

Eddie Muller’s “An Obvious Explanation” followed after a brief musical interlude with Steve Bohinger nicely singing Johnny Mercer complied by Birdie-Bob Watt on the piano. This 20 minute drama is done in true film noir style and probably the best of the three productions. It involved a daring heist that has gone awry when the crook who stashed the loot suffers from amnesia. An ambitious doctor intends to solve the problem with her “untested” memory serum. The results are far more dramatic than she had expected. Eddie Muller directs a fine cast of Daniel Bakken, Flynn De Marco, Bonni Suval, Erick Tyson Wertz, Joshua Devore, Jim Jeske and Zelda Koznofsky.

The second act opens with the whole cast doing a splendid melodic “Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil” by Irving Berlin. Following this song fest is a true classic Grand Guignol tale called “The Drug”. Rene Berton’s play was originally set in Saigon but Muller transposed and adapted it to 1929 San Francisco. It involves a promising young deputy DA’s efforts to crack the case of a celebrated artist’s disfigurement. It ends up in an opium den in Chinatown of our city. This contains all the gore and blood to satisfy any one with a lust for the macabre.

Thanks to Russell Blackwood direction this very striking piece of Guignol drama had the cast overacting in a grand French manner of that intimate theatre in Paris. Following that all the lights in the theatre goes and the audience sits in total darkness and weird objects like machine guns, gruesome faces fly over the heads of the audience.

"Fear over Frisco” plays through November 19 at The Hypnodrome Theatre, 575 10th Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-377-4202 or on line at
It took great courage for the Willows Theatre Company to present Benny Anderson/Bjorn Ulvaeus/Tim Rice’s "Chess" since this musical has had a checkered past. It is rarely presented today especially a full length stage production. This challenging musical needs top voices to sing the melodies of Anderson and Ulvaeus and sharp enunciations of the powerful lyrics by Tim Rice. The gorgeous score is a grand appropriation that touches many styles from Gilbert and Sullivan to Rodgers and Hammerstein to Italian opera.

I first saw “Chess” at the Prince Edward Theatre in London on April 30, 1986. (I had a vested interest in the musical as I was part of a British consortium who invested in West End musicals) I love the score and the production so much I saw it twice over a two week period. The British critics loved it and "Chess" played three years in the West End.

Some American producers decide to present the musical in the 1988. It premiered at the Imperial Theatre and the New York critics pulverized it. The Times said “three hours of characters yelling at one another to rock music…more lie stock car racing then chess”.

I saw the American version shortly after it opened and the musical lacked depth of feeling that should have stemmed from the characters. They came across as icily characters and looked like they were developed strictly as conveyances for the songs. The producers took out some songs and added new songs that were inferior and completely changed the structure of the musical drama. I could see why the New York critics pulverized the production. “Chess” closed after two months.

Since that time very few American regional or community theatres have attempted to produce the musical. The last time it appeared in the Bay Area was a successful concert version at the New Conservatory Theatre Center several years ago.

The Willows producers have now merged elements of the London and Broadway in this production of Chess in the two hour and forty minute production. Some of the singers were fine and caught the intricate melodies of Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. However the poor sound system did not help several of the singers and much of the dialogue was muddled when we were in attendance. The five piece orchestra situated on the second floor occasionally drowned out some of the singer’s voices. The one big number the erotic “One Night In Bangkok” was disappointing since it forced chorus members to engage in some uncomfortable gyrating. They were far better singers then dancers.

Lena Hart as Florence and Zachary Franczak as Anotoly rose above the defective sound system and presented pitch perfect resonance. Lena had beautiful vocal chops singing “Heaven Help My Heart” and “Nobody’s Side”. Zachary glorious vocalizing was outstanding. In “Anthem” and “Where I Want to Be” and his final duet with Lena “You and I” let the audience to his rich, natural gift. Joseph Brunicardi was excellent as the obnoxious American chess champion. He played the role to the hilt as he insulted everyone in sight. However this singer/actor has a good strong voice he did not need to be mike in this small theater. His voice was handicapped by the mike when singing his self-justification “Pity the Child”. Rebecca Pingree did a poignant performance as Svetlana the wife of Anotoly. She had a mellifluous voice when singing the “Someone Else’s Story”. Jesse Caldwell was provocative playing the KGB member Molokov. The complete chorus was commanding singing Anatoly’s climatic “Anthem”

Director Eric Inman used two screens on each side of the stage that was of little value. They would occasionally show pictures of an airport, Freddie’s hotel bedroom and some old newsreel shots. They did not use the screen when Freddie and Anatoly were playing chess. The British and American productions showed moves being made by these two chess players.
I think “Chess” is one of the great rock operas of the 20th Century and I do applaud the Willows for the courage to present this musical even with it technical problems on the date we saw the musical. It plays through October 30th at their theatre located as 1975 Diamond Blvd. Concord. For tickets online
Off Broadway West Theatre Company is presenting a first class production of Athol Fugard’s eloquently groundbreaking 1982 drama “Master Harold and the Boys” through November 19th. The last time I saw this classic apartheid one act drama was at the American Conservatory Theatre. This small company’s production is just as captivating as the ACT production.

The wrenching drama is set in Port Elizabeth, South Africa on a rainy day in 1950. The apartheid segregation of South Africa’s black population is firmly entrenched. The parents of seventeen year old white school boy Harold’s own a tearoom. Each day Harold stops after school to pass the time of day with two longtime family black servants Sam and Willie. They have become lifelong friends of the young man and over a period of years Harold has taught warmhearted Sam what he has learned in books.

Harold’s family life is not happy. His father is a drunken cripple and the mother is very weak. (You never see them in the 90 minute drama). Harold’s father is in the hospital and the young man hopes that he will never return home so his mother can have some peace and quiet. Harold refuge from this unhappy state of affairs is his sanctuary with the two black servants.

Everything is calm and serene during the first 50 minutes of this intriguing drama. The young boy who is much advanced intellectually for his age plays wonderful academic games with Sam. One could say they are equals in this segregated society. However the last 30 minutes become entrancing as the young liberal thinking boy receives a phone call from his mother saying that his father is being released from the hospital. The boy suddenly turns into a raging tyrant ordering Sam and Willie back to work amid intimidating insults. This leads to appalling confrontations between Harold and Sam that are disgusting and inevitable.

Director Richard Harder has flawlessly cast this deeply insightful production down to the differentiated black and white Southern African accents. LeMont Ridgell gives a superb performance as Sam. He brings a pleasant-sounding sense of order and power to the character. 28 year old Adam Simpson nails the 17 year old Hallie with an impulsive mix of intellectual arrogance, sympathetic naiveté and aimlessness of a teen ager well beyond his years. Both of these two splendid actors make for an exciting night of theatre. Rounding out this superb cast is Anthony Rollins- Mullens as Willie. He wonderfully underplays his role as the “none too bright” servant who is more interested in ballroom dancing then leaving the ways of the world. It is a very convincing performance.

Bert van Aalsburg has designed a very detailed set of a tea room with an 80’s juke box dominating the small intimate stage. Sound designer Sam Saunders has added realistic thunder to show the impending confrontation between Hallie and Sam. Master Harold and the Boys runs through November 19 at the Phoenix Theatre, Suite 601, between Geary and Post in San Francisco. For tickets call 800-838-3006 or on line at . Regretfully this will the company’s last production. Next season they will be doing only play readings.
A Daffy Production of Steve Martin’s "The Underpants"

Custom Made Theatre Company is   currently presenting Steve Martin’s "The Underpants" at The Gough Street Playhouse through October 22nd.  Steve Martin known as an outrageous funnyman based the farce on German playwright Carl Sternheim "Die Hose" .  When it opened in 1910 "Die Hose" was so controversial that the German Government banned the play.

 "The Underpants" plot is basically the same as the German playwright however Steve Martin has turned farce into a melodramatic parody full  of double entendres, Catskill humor and zany situations. The farce takes place in 1913 in a town in Germany where a young housewife Louise (Riley Krull) had been innocently waving to the king during a parade when her bloomers accidentally slipped down around her ankles. Her puritanical husband Theo (David Vega) believes this misfortune will ruin him, jeopardize his job as a government clerk and also his ability to rent out the couple’s spare room. The husband need not worry about renting out the room since Louise has become a celebrity. Gentlemen who witness her moment of impropriety come to the home wanting to rent the room.

Frank Versati (Paul Stout) a gentleman poet is the first to arrive followed by a nebbish barber Benjamin Cohen (Gabriel A Ross).  Both want the room in hopes of becoming her tenant and maybe her lover. Gertrude (Al Davenport) a neighbor lives above the couple wants to see the naïve wife becoming passionate with the poet since she will somehow get a sexual thrill from the intercourse.  Also involved in this farce is a straight lace German scientific professor (Michael Moerman) who would like to rent the room.

"The Underpants" is laced with boob jokes, a funny sex act and double entrades. There are zingers like such as “I want to sleep with you. It will take only a minute”. The techniques of high satire stage acting aren’t often called for these days and sometimes the imaginings of the actors are exercise in that direction thanks to director Hal Gelb. 

Riley Krull is charming as the naïve Louise. She nicely transforms herself from a timid wife to a sexually starving woman. Paul Stout is wonderfully hammy in the role the wacky poet Versati. He flits about the stage looking like a ham version of John Barrymore. He had some of the funniest lines of the parody.

 A J Davenport gave a polish performance as the neighbor Gertrude. It’s a lavishly overheated portrayal of sensual woman who needs to get laid.  Gabriel A Ross with his distinguish theatrical voice is first rate as the barber Cohen. He brings out the character’s idiosyncrasies and the defensive antagonism of character.  Outstanding is Michael Moerman (a veteran of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) as Klinglehoff. He knows how to play a farce. David Vega did a creditable portrayal as Theo.

Scarlett Kellum designed proper costumes suggesting early 20th Century German ware while Hector Zavala has a nice compact set for the three sided stage. <i>The Underpants</i> runs through October 23 at their theatre located at 1620 Gough Street at Bush, San Francisco.  For tickets go to  There next production will be Paul Zindel <i>The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds opening on November 11.

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