SF Guardian Cries “Long Live SF Theater Pub”

In addition to Nicole Gluckstern’s short review below, critic Sam Stander praised San Francisco Theater Pub’s casual, freewheeling adaptation of Ubu Roi last Monday. The full article, which can be viewed at the Guardian site here is reprinted below.


Sam Stander – San Francisco Bay Guardian – July 22

SF Theater Pub’s one-night-only presentation of Alfred Jarry’s bawdy classic Ubu Roi this past Monday felt like nothing so much as a group of dedicated friends putting on a show because they thought it just might turn out awesome. The staged reading took place at SF lounge Café Royale, a pleasant venue with couches and balcony seats as well as standing room that rendered the production all the more intimate.

The play is a deliberately sick-and-twisted piss-take on Macbeth, eviscerated of all its pathos and stuffed full of crap, and the Theater Pub performers, as well as director Bennett Fisher’s new translation, seemed entirely tuned in to its irreverence. Greedy, grubby protagonist Pere Ubu was played with alternating witlessness and pomposity by Sam Leichter, but the most successful comic performer on display was Catherine Lardas, who delivered a positively Oliver Hardy-esque Mere Ubu. The herald Pile (Warden Lawlor) stood above the other actors on the balcony, reciting increasingly complicated titles for Pere Ubu as he continued to murder and annex the positions of several other noblemen.

Music and sound effects from DJ Wait What were evocative of old radio plays, and the minimal use of props such as a giant plastic sword generated a few laughs. The show certainly felt like a one-off event, with all the actors reading their lines from music stands, but this only added to the sense of comeraderie and fun.

Besides the fact that SF Theater Pub’s events are free (a donation at the door will get you a raffle ticket!), their most attractive feature is their apparent modernist sensibility when selecting plays. They’ve already put on Václav Havel’s Audience and an assortment of Greek tragedies. They’re following up Ubu with a collection of short local plays under the heading “The Pint Sized Plays.” Their blog then announces a series of Beckett shorts for September, though on Monday night they claimed September would hold some Oscar Wilde performances.

Most fascinatingly to this reporter, they’ll be celebrating Halloween with a series of radio play-style adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft stories. There’s nothing I love more than hearing people say “eldritch” and “gibbous” out loud, so those should be jolly good fun. This diverse roster of plays, as well as a genuine sense of joy, means SF Theater Pub are ones to watch in the coming months. Especially since watching them is totally free!

‘Audience’ opens!

Last night, San Francisco Theater Pub made the leap to its first full production with the opening of Vaclav Havel’s AUDIENCE. About forty people came out to the opening performance – both old friends and new faces – and we broke records with audience donations.

The evening was a very different performance experience than previous Theater Pub events. Staged in the round and riding a fine line between tragedy and comedy, the mood of AUDIENCE‘s was subdued but focused, occasionally interrupted by a spasmic laugh.

Nathan Tucker and Paul Stout, in the roles of Vanek on the Foreman, deftly navigated the linguistic obstacle course of Havel’s writing – capturing the meandering dialogue that is at times convivial, aggressive, desperate, or cripplingly awkward.

AUDIENCE runs for four more performances – Monday April 19, Tuesday April 20, Monday May 3 and Tuesday May 4. 8pm every night, admission free. After last night’s performance, several audience members expressed interest in coming again to see it with another crowd (or watch it from another part of the bar). The show will be gone before you know it, so help us to spread the word.

-Victor Carrion, Stuart Bousel, Bennett Fisher, Brian Markley

‘Audience’ opens Tuesday April 13

The San Francisco Theater Pub’s first full production, Vaclav Havel’s one act AUDIENCE opens this Tuesday April 13 at 8pm at the Cafe Royale!

I have been a great admirer of Havel’s writing since I first read his plays, and was fortunate enough to meet him and other Czech Theater makers in Prague in preparation for a production of his play THE INCREASED DIFFICULTY OF CONCENTRATION I directed back  in 2008. I think AUDIENCE represents what is best about both the man and his writing – it is insightful, clever, compelling, and great fun. I have had the time of my life working with such an incredible and devoted team to get this play together, and I cannot think of a more perfect venue in which to share it. Reservations have been coming in, and all of us at San Francisco Theater Pub expect it to be a lively crowd and a memorable night.

The performance begins at 8pm, but, as always, we encourage you to arrive early to get a seat and grab a beer (our last few events have been standing room only). The play runs just under an hour with no intermission. Afterwards, we invite you to stick around after to chat with the cast, crew, and Theater Pub founders.

If you cannot make the 13th, there are also performances April 19 and 20 and May 3 and 4. Admission is free, so if you like what you see, come back with a friend or twelve.

Before the performance, we will be announcing San Francisco Theater Pub programming for the months of June and July. Show up early to be the first to hear about these exciting events and find out how to get involved. We will be announcing the rest of the season over the course of the run – another good reason to keep coming back.

Hope to see you there.

-Bennett Fisher

‘Audience’ in tech

This Saturday we had our tech rehearsal for AUDIENCE in the bar space. Staging a play in the round is always challenging, and even more so when the space is unconventional, but watching the play from each corner of the bar, it’s clear that this is the perfect venue for this play.

The closest audience members will be only about a foot or so away from the actors, giving a sense of immediacy rarely present in a theatrical performance, while the select few people seated on the balcony (another good reason to reserve tickets early), have an incredible bird’s eye view of the action. In both cases, the sense of confinement in Havel’s writing is made viscerally present. Tanya Orellana’s set, comprised of a few mismatched crates, shelves and a rickety table does a wonderful job providing a sense of place that is both distinct from the bar and also merges seamlessly with it. Molly Stewart Cohn’s lighting plot (which we set at about midnight this week as the bar closed), gives a subtle chill to the otherwise warm atmosphere of the Cafe Royale. In performance, there is not so much a clear distinction between the actors and the audience. Instead, the world of the play blurs and dissolves into its surroundings.

Other highlights of the tech included Theater Pub co-founder Brian Markley and sound designer Alejandro Acosta finding an elegant solution to create the peeing noise offstage (note to our audience: go to the bathroom before the performance begins), and producer Meg O’Connor’s discovery of two amazing beer steins at a local hardware store. We still have another week or rehearsals for polishing, minor technical adjustments, and painting the set pieces before we open, but the skeleton we had on Saturday looks very promising. We hope you’ll be able to see the final product.

-Bennett Fisher and the team of AUDIENCE

AUDIENCE opens Tuesday April 13 in the Cafe Royale (800 Post Street, at Leavenworth). Performances are April 13, 19, and 20 and May 3, and 4. 8pm every night. Admission is free. You may reserve seats by emailing theaterpub@atmostheatre.com

A Czech Perspective on ‘Audience’

We are now in our third week of rehearsal for AUDIENCE by Vaclav Havel, and the play is taking shape in an exciting way. Last night, we were privileged to have a friend of one of the actors who immigrated to the states from Czechoslovakia shortly before Prague Spring come to the rehearsal. Helena’s firsthand knowledge of the early days of the occupation, the stories of her friends and family who stayed, and her understanding of the play in its original Czech were invaluable in helping us delve deeper into the text (and ensureing that we were pronouncing the names correctly).

An audience member watching AUDIENCE would not need to know anything about Vaclav Havel or the Soviet period in Czechoslovakia to understand or enjoy the play, but seeing the play in context is terrifically revealing. During the crackdown following Prague Spring in 1968, Havel’s plays were banned from theaters in Czechoslovakia. Havel became more actively involved with dissident groups – including Charter 77 – and spent some time in prison as a result. When he was released, Havel was forced to take a job at a brewery, which inspired AUDIENCE. During the time of the occupation, the play was distributed secretly in samizdat form along with UNVEILING and PROTEST, two other plays that also center around the character of Ferdinand Vanek (a stand-in for Havel). Today, AUDIENCE is one of the most celebrated plays in Czech Republic, and has enjoyed continued popularity since it’s first publication in 1975.

The play paints a simultaneously comic, chilling, and beer-soaked portrait of the informant culture in Czechoslovakia during the occupation. Helena suspects that possibly as many as one in every ten people in the country at the time were informants of some capacity, and that citizens of all social levels experienced that pressure. Helena also offered some great insight on the “brain drain” in Czechoslovakia following the crackdown. Since so many members of the intelligencia fled to avoid persecution, Havel was among a dwindling minority of well-educated citizens. With this understanding, the character of Vanek in the play is a true outsider, struggling to keep his head down in an new and potentially dangerous environment.

Getting back into the script after Helena left us last night, the cast and I were excited for the possibilities these discoveries afforded. It is helping us work towards a tone that is both wonderfully humorous and grippingly tense.

-Bennett Fisher

AUDIENCE opens Tuesday April 13 at the Cafe Royale (800 Post Street, at Leavenworth) and plays April 13, 19, 20 and May 3 and 4. Shows are at 8pm and admission is free. Email theaterpub@atmostheatre.com for reservations.