Nicole Gluckstern

The Performant: Interpreting Iraq

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Aftermath at Stagewerx attempts to humanize recent refugee experience.

An austere set greets the assembled theater-goers in the black box arena of Stagewerx: a projection of a shop-lined street in the Middle East, a few chairs, an aerial photograph of Iraq perched on an easel, an incongruous television, and a pair of shoes.

A lone figure in a headscarf and wide trousers, Rafidain (Yara Badday), approaches the centerstage and begins to speak in Arabic, offering chai, looking anxiously over her shoulder for her interpreter, Shahid (Mohamed Chakmahchi). In Theatre Period’s ongoing production of Aftermath, the year is 2008, the location is Jordan, and all of the characters are Iraqi refugees, their stories gleaned from a series of interviews conducted by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen on the subject of the 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq, and its ongoing repercussions. 

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The Performant: Border crossings

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Los Jaichackers take SFMOMA on a magical mystery tour of Pan-American culture

What first strikes the eye about the ongoing “Photography in Mexico” exhibit at the SFMOMA (through July 8th) is the variety. With photos dating as far back as the 1800s, and as recently as last year, the exhibit doesn’t focus on any one aspect of Mexico or any one era, but rather its timeless complexities. Elegantly barren landscapes collide with jostling humanscapes, desert isolation contrasts with urban density, photojournalism and surrealism join forces, capturing the espíritu of time and place over a period of about 150 years.

Underscoring the depth and diversity one might expect from a thoroughly modern land with a population well over 100 million people, Thursday’s “Double Grooves and Dirty Menudo” Now Playing event, whimsically curated by art duo Los Jaichackers, focused on artistic mashups inspired stylistically by both sides of the border, for an evening that defied easy stereotyping of either.

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On utopian frequencies

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arts@sfbg.com

CULTURE It's the tangible buzz I notice first, a tingling awareness of something important about to occur, followed swiftly by the realization that there are free quesadillas courtesy of the Great Tortilla Conspiracy, silk-screened with chocolate sauce and rabble-rousing sentiment: "Eat the Rich."Read more »

The Performant: Street people

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Midnight Mystery Ride and Marshall Weber take it to the streets

It’s quarter to midnight, Saturday night in the Tenderloin, and out front a well-known, Geary Street watering hole, a cluster of cyclists is quietly gathering. It’s the May edition of the monthly Midnight Mystery Ride, and comers are mellow, enthusiastic. Lacking the Testosterone Brigade of Critical Mass, or the themed costumery of the San Francisco Bike Party, the distinguishing factor of the MMR is definitely the “mystery” aspect. The address of the meeting location is published the day of the ride only, no route maps or pre-planned itineraries are available, and the ride leaders and locations change each month, keeping everyone on their toes, or at least their pedals. Read more »

C'est si bon

San Francisco's newest theater festival acts locally, connects globally

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER You could call them a pair of crazy kids with a dream. But two years after Playwrights Foundation executive director Amy Mueller was introduced to Ivan Bertoux, Deputy Cultural Attaché of the French Consulate by Rob Melrose, artistic director of Cutting Ball Theater, their vision of cross-pollinating their respective communities with newly translated theater pieces from either side of the Atlantic has become a reality.Read more »

The Performant: Traveler's tales

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The WE Players' courageous Odyssey on Angel Island

It’s an overcast morning, typical San Francisco springtime, but upon disembarking from the Angel Island ferry at Ayala Cove, we are transported imaginatively to the island kingdom of Ithaca, where a merry band of brash suitors vie for the attentions of the fair Penelope (Libby Kelly) outside her palace, which might have otherwise been mistaken for the Angel Island visitor’s center.

A bevy of serving girls approach each disoriented oddience member to offer sustenance and mysterious smiles, as the suitors challenge a stalwart few to join in the contests for Penelope’s hand -- tug-of-war, footraces, pushing competitions. So begins the WE Players newest production “The Odyssey on Angel Island,” an all-day performance combining the elements of a hero’s quest with a day hike around Angel Island State Park -- one of the Bay Area’s loveliest natural treasures.

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The Performant: Tender is the 'Loin

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Cutting Ball Theater's "Tenderloin" hits a sensitive zone.

Against a towering backdrop of junked furniture, which looks as if someone had collapsed the “Defenestration” building on itself and dragged it into the EXIT on Taylor, Michael Uy Kelly as Captain Gary Jimenez extols the virtues of an oft-maligned district. “The Tenderloin is the best part of the gut,” he grabs his own to demonstrate, “and it’s the best part of the city. It could be.”

Jimenez was one of 40-plus neighborhood fixtures to have been interviewed by a group of actors involved in The Cutting Ball Theater’s latest work, a documentary-style play called “Tenderloin,” and like most of the voices who made it into the play, his is sympathetic to his surroundings. Kelly, who also plays a trans bartender, an elderly gentleman named “Nappy Chin,” and a former Vietnamese “boat person,” is similarly sympathetic to his subjects, imbuing each with a quiet dignity and an almost stoic streak of optimism.

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The Performant: This shit is bananas

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BOA strikes again

As the banal, chart-topping strains of Taio Cruz fill the theatre, a whirlwind of pink sportswear and bared teeth commandeers the stage. This is a moment in the evening survivors of BOA X, last year’s edition of the Bay One Acts Festival, have been waiting for.

Onstage, the “dumplings” Sarah Moser, Molly Holcomb, and Megan Trout throw their hands in the air and stomp with menacing playfulness, as their wimpy Daddy (Myron Freedman), grips his magic remote control like a drowning man. A standalone sequel to last year’s “A Three Little Dumpling’s Adventure”, Megan Cohen’s “Three Little Dumplings go Bananas,” is a worthy successor, building disturbingly on themes brought up in the previous incarnation: the perils of pop culture, most particularly in regards to television, the search for self (to the dulcet tones of Gwen Stefani crooning “this shit is bananas”), the horrors of sibling rivalry, and the feral joys of cannibalism all make a protracted reprise.

As disarmingly cute as they are blood-curdlingly vicious, the dumplings somehow manage to agree to band together—just in time to find themselves forced out into the real world, setting the stage for yet another sequel, which I suspect Cohen will happily provide in the future.

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The Performant: I, robots

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Robogames took over the world -- or at least San Mateo.

Consider the robot.

A staple of futuristic paranoia fantasies since Karel Čapek’s play, “R.U.R.” was translated from Czech to English in 1921, Robots have captured human imagination in a way that perhaps only the undead have been able to rival. Burdened by inaccurate stereotypes and wild speculation, real-life robots have patiently labored at their often menial tasks without once overthrowing their “masters,” quietly disproving our fears of being rendered somehow obsolete by their superior efficiencies, or purported resentments. And yet, every time we grant one of our fictional servomechanisms the ability to cognate for itself, the very first thing it focuses on is liberation, proving if nothing else that unconscious oppression can still lead to some very real twinges of uneasy conscience in the human brain.

But only gleeful schadenfreude permeated the San Mateo Event Center last weekend, coloring the animated chatter of the spectators packed around a spartan arena sealed up behind thick panels of clear polycarbonate that reach two stories high.

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Even more from the tUnE-yArDs interview

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Despite a relentless touring schedule, and an intense side-project, scoring the upcoming SFIFF-presented evening of Buster Keaton shorts at the Castro Theatre with Oakland-based guitar virtuoso Ava Mendoza, Merrill Garbus, the artist otherwise known as tUnE-yArDs, gave us a great interview, and not all of it could fit in this week's print feature on Garbus and St. Vincent.

While currently living in Oakland, Garbus hails from the East Coast, and has also lived in Kenya and Montreal, a combination of influences that allows her and her singular, quixotic music to avoid falling into a trap of regionalism or simple categorization. Catch tUnE-yArDs with Ava Mendoza at the Castro on April 23, and at the Fox Theater April 24, in concert with St. Vincent. Read more »