Body of Water Review – For All Events


Body of Water (San Francisco)

By Harry Duke

It’s just as well that Mickey Rooney passed away earlier this year because if he’d seen what his exhortation of “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” has led to, it might have killed him. That’s not a criticism of the production covered by this review, just an acknowledgement that the times have significantly changed since Mickey and Judy got the gang together to put on a show in the old barn.

The “old barn” today is the Southside Theatre in Fort Mason and the show is “Body of Water”, an original piece and the inaugural production of the Palo Alto-based A Theatre Near U company. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale of survival and is performed by a cast who range in age from thirteen to eighteen. Oh, and it’s a musical.

Set in an isolated cabin sometime in the future, “Body of Water” is the tale of a group of young people who are sent away for safety by their parents.  Society has reached a point where either you completely subscribe to the current dogma of those in power or you are lobotomized or killed.  Those who resist and have fled are hunted down by “The Shepherds” and returned to face their fate. The few who have found their way to the cabin scrape by to survive and await instructions from their parents. Things quickly change when they kill one of the “shepherds” and two new escapees arrive who may or may not be what they seem. Is it safe to stay where they are or is it time to move on?  Do they trust the new arrivals or follow their leader?  Will they ever hear from their parents again? Is there any real hope at all?

No, this is not the stuff of typical Youth Theatre and thank you to co-directors Tanna Herr and Tony Kienitz (also co-founders of the Company) for that and for giving a group of talented young performers the opportunity to do something beyond the umpteenth version of “Bye Bye Birdie”.  The book was written by Kienitz, who was savvy enough to accept input from his cast on how a teen might really say something or feel about a situation.

The show contains fifteen songs with music and lyrics by Jim Walker that echo the overall darkness of the piece. Songs such as “We Know Who You Are”, “All Fall Down” and “Alibis” stand in stark contrast to the usual happy-go-lucky fare common to musical theatre. This is Walker’s first attempt at scoring for the stage and he mostly succeeds, though several songs have too-long moments of instrumentation that deadened the action. Under the direction of Pierce Peter Brandt (and accompanied by a very good off-stage band), the vocal work done by the cast in interpreting Walker’s songs was outstanding. These kids can sing.

Choreography by Kaylie Caires was energetic and appropriately anger–based, with a lot of foot-stomping and sharp, forceful movement.  There were moments that I wished the choreography were more organic to the scene, as opposed to the cast stopping, obviously moving into position, and then beginning. On the whole, though, the large-scale ensemble numbers were well done. These kids can dance.

The choreography, however, became an obstacle to those singing solos.  Something was lost when it became obvious that the solo performers’ energy and focus was split between executing choreography and performing the songs.  There were moments when you could see them trying so hard to hit their marks that they lost their connection to the music and lyrics.  While there’s no doubt that the ability to do both should be a goal for any performer with a desire to do musical theatre, it might have been advantageous to lighten the load on them this time around.

So the cast can sing and the cast can dance, but can they act?  Yes, they can.  With a diverse cast of fourteen, one should expect a range of acting ability and stage presence and yes, some are stronger than others, but collectively they do a remarkable job of holding the stage and making the show their own. Each one is a distinctive character and their individual work is key to accepting the totality of their situation. These young people are doing serious work and many aspire to be professional actors. While I am loathe to single out any single performer from such a cast, I can’t resist continuing with the Mickey Rooney references and state that Shayan Hooshmand, like Rooney, is small in stature but big in the talent department.  His character “Shorty” is the heart and soul of this play and Hooshmand delivers a performance that belies his thirteen years of age.  Keep your eye on this kid.

For that matter, keep your eye on all of them, and keep your eye on this theatre company.  If this production is any indication, A Theatre Near U may just have fired the first shot in a revolution to determine the future of Youth Theatre.

Body of Water Review – Talkin’ Broadway


An Energy Driven Production of Tony Kienitz’ Body of Water

By Richard Connema

A new theatre company called A Theatre Near U has debuted its first production at the Southside Theatre at Ft. Mason. This is a theatre academy for teens who want to have a life in musical theatre when they become adults. Tony Kienitz and director Tanna Herr have assembled a cast of triple-threat teen performers ages 13 to 18 to present the world premiere of Kienitz’ Body of Water. This is an intense musical drama about a group of kids who escape the terrors of a civil war by hiding out in an isolated mountain cabin. Since they have not heard from their parents, they believe they have no future with them, so they strike out on their own as their only hope of survival. Watching this fascinating drama, I was reminded of “Lord of the Flies” with one person becoming more like a dictator to the rest of the group. The music by Portland and Hollywood composer Jim Walker is rich and evocative and the dances by San Diego choreographer Kaylie Caires are tornado driven, sometimes reminiscent of the work of the Alvin Ailey and Paul Taylor dance companies. The teen-age cast has been rehearsing for eleven months, yes eleven months, to present this two and a half hour production. All are memorable in their acting, singing and dancing. These are the adult performers of the future and some could very well be stars. Shayan Hooshmand, age 13, gives a uniquely fetching performance as Shorty. His voice has a pitch perfect resonance and he can really shake a leg when dancing. Also outstanding is Aaron Slipper, age 18, who could well become a great actor. He plays the “dictator” of the group and has a vibrant theatrical voice that resonates through the theatre. Winston Wang, Ido Gal, Cara Parker, Jackson Wylder, Ali Arian Molaei, Alia Cuadros-Contreras, Audrey Forrester, Bella Wilcox, Sara Grey, Elizabeth McCole, Jasmyn Donya and Juan Santos give stimulating performances. Backing up these young actors are Will Kast on guitar, Curtis Wu on violin, Jess Feeman on drums and Gabe Galang on guitar and bass; music director is Pierce Brandt. Body of Water plays through June 28th, 2014, at Southside Theatre at Fort Mason Center, Building D, 3rd floor, 2 Marina Blvd at Buchanan Street, San Francisco. For tickets and other information, visit

Body of Water Review – Rossmoor News

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, or email the company for information.