Young actors bring emotion, passion to musical
By Charles Jarrett
This past week I had the good fortune to visit the Southside Theater at Fort Mason in San Francisco following a tip by my daughters about a new musical drama, “Body of Water,” playing through June 28.
The story is about the anguish, frustration, fear, trials and tribulations being suffered by a group of teenagers who had been sent to hide in an isolated mountain cabin to wait the return of their families who were searching for a path to freedom during a sectarian civil war.
The opening curtain is literally ripped away to reveal 12 young people in a claustrophobic mountain cabin, crying out in their opening song, “Mummy and Daddy,” about their fears and anxieties and their uncertain future without their parents. These young people were sent by their families to this temporary hideaway with the promise that they would be safe from the “shepherds” who were killing their kind, until their parents could find safe transport across the demarcation zone.
What evolves is an absolutely captivating, terrifying sequence of events that keeps you on the edge of your seat, not knowing what will happen next or when. There is a real shock value to the many twists and turns in this story. Death occurs, lives are spared, lives are lost, but not one minute will be lost on the audience, which must ride these undulating waves of life and death decisions all stirred up in a brilliant and cacophonic mixture of words, music and social madness.
I was so engaged when I saw the show, that when the intermission time came around, I said under my breath, “No, don’t stop now!” It’s like when you are reading a really good book and you just don’t want to put it down.
There are several unique facets that make this play, this musical, so special. First, it has a seasoned co-director and producer, Tanna Herr, and Los Angeles actor, author and co-director, Tony Kienitz, who together brought a lot of hard work to the table to engineer, design and give birth to new a totally new musical.
Kienitz is also a talented enough actor to have even shared screen time with the likes of Kevin Bacon, William H. Macy and Jack Lemmon. It was during the time he starred in one of Steven Spielberg’s science fiction anthologies “Amazing Stories” in the mid-1980s when he became enamored with writing.
Kienitz incorporated into his storyline the wonderfully raw, cryptic and thought-evoking lyrics by his friend of 30 years, Jim Walker. The lyrics fit this story like the bejeweled movements in a fine watch. Kienitz carefully selected songs that evoke the emotions, frustrations, anxieties and hopes of the teenagers who are at the heart of this story. There are poignant songs of love, painful songs of longing, songs of excuses, abuses, conciliation and reality, all bringing the intensity of their terrible situation to a full pulsating, heart-pounding fruition.
Walker is a well-known eclectic Portland musician who has over 20 albums under his own label, JVAMusic. He is a musician who is sought out continually in the Portland music scene, seeking to entertain in such venues such as the world renowned Jimmy Mak’s Jazz in the Portland Pearl District.
The young actors cast in this show are asked to weave their own thoughts, words and understanding of emotions into the very script itself during rehearsal, just as if they were actually living in this hell hole of circumstances. And what fine actors they all are. I was actually blown away by their heartfelt passion and devotion to the development of this musical. Their dancing, singing, even some saxophone instrumentation are contributions that really work.
Aaron Slipper, who plays the hideaway cabin’s group leader, Bosh, walks a fine line between controlled wisdom and madness in his portrayal. His delivery of the love song “Rachael” is both touching and chilling. The beautiful voice of 13-year-old Shorty, played by Shayan Hooshmand, is captivating. His song, “All Fall Down,” offers a powerful and cryptic message.
The resolving of the brotherly love-hate relationship between Shorty and his older brother, Charlie (Ali Arian Molaei), is heartwarming and frustrating as well. I do not have space to specifically point out how each and every one of the beautiful and talented actors contribute to the show and how well they bring their “A” game to this production. You will just have to find a way to get to this theater as each one of these wonderful performers are worth the trip to San Francisco, individually.
The lighting and live music are very good and contribute significantly to the entire show. But I cannot close without highly recommending that you go to see the exciting dance choreography, tailored to the story, the young people, and the emotion! The dance and fight choreography was designed by Kylie Caires who lives in Southern California, and who came to the Bay Area specifically to design this unique show.
In 1954, William Golding wrote a book titled “Lord of the Flies” about a group of boys who were war evacuees who became marooned on an island and in the process of governing themselves, digressed to near savages before they were rescued. This play reminds me of that story that so well illustrated the frailties, ingenuity and resourcefulness of mankind. But this play is that and so much more in so many ways, in addition to being so well-conceived and so well delivered. I think this musical has great future prospects as well.
This theater company has a great name to make it easy to remember. It is called A Theatre Near U and it is producing this show in the well-known and comfortable Southside Theater on the third floor of the old Fort Mason military housing complex in building D. The address is No. 2 Marina Blvd, just a few blocks west of Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco.
Tickets range in price between $15 and $20 each and the show runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 2:30 pm. Tickets can be ordered through the website www.brownpapertickets.com/event/62600, or email the company firstname.lastname@example.org for information.