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SF Follies

Heartbreakingly Hilarious

The city of San Francisco has a long and captivating history, from the building of Spanish missions to the 1906 earthquake to the bust of the dotcom industry. Throughout that history, San Francisco has become one of the most wonderful, and most tragic, cities in the world. John Bisceglie’s SF Follies surveys the beauty and the horror of living in San Francisco through the lens of absurdity, giving residents and visitors alike a humorous second look at life in the Bay Area, complete with naked gold miners, rabid sea lions, and ridiculously complicated street cleaning signs.

As the history of San Francisco is re-enacted by a talented cast, no institution is sacred in SF Follies: everything from housing prices to Alcatraz to Jan Wahl comes under fire in a fast-paced song-and-dance format. Beginning with the arrival of the Spaniards, when San Francisco was “a simple, affordable, and heterosexual place,” the revue hits the major points of SF history: the genocide of the Ohlone Indians, the 1849 Gold Rush, the 1906 earthquake, the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, TransAmerica Building, and Sutro Tower (depicted as a super creepy clown-thing complete with crackly radio voice…), all the way up to the Pride Parade and the dotcom boom and bust.

While some of the jokes fall a little flat, the jabs along the way at Craigslist, cable cars, MUNI, and the KQED pledge drives (to name only a few) provide a hilarious outlet for residents who have had a little too much experience with many of these institutions.

In addition, most of the song-and-dance routines are extremely clever and utterly ludicrous: actors slink across the stage in black beatnik gear, complete with berets and black rimmed glasses; a male actor (George Patrick Scott) in swan outfit dances gracefully to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake only to be mauled by a tiger; a meter maid (Ryan McBrearty) sings about his duties to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance classic, “I am the very model of a modern Major-General” while wearing a helmet topped with a blue bubblegum light.

The highlight, however, would probably have to be the number in which Diane Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, and Nancy Pelosi are impersonated by sequined jumpsuit-wearing Jessica Payne, Mandy Wilczynski, and Jenna Davi (respectively), who gyrate with moves equal to those of John Travolta himself, while singing such disco classics as “Dancing Queen” and “The Hustle.” The continually recurring naked miner (Christopher John Lindstrom) and the caricatures of Gavin Newsom (Brett Hammon) and KRON 4’s Wendy Tokuda (Erica Gerard) are also absolutely worth seeing.

On the other hand, many of the jokes and jabs are difficult for a non-SF audience or the non-politically savvy to appreciate, and a few just sort of fizzle rather than crackling and sparking like much of the rest of the show. In addition, while the satin-and-sequin palette for costuming the cast is perfect for the burlesque dancers, disco jumpsuits, and Marilyn Monroe dresses, it does not work so well for the business suits and hippy bellbottoms.

At the same time, though, the field of costume design achieves unsurpassed brilliance in the “Green SF” number: fabulous apparel composed of newspaper, bubblewrap, aluminum foil, and cardboard food boxes rival the designs of Yves Saint Laurent in their creativity and use of unconventional materials, giving new meaning to recycling.

SF Follies combines San Francisco history and politics with eye-popping costumes, hilarious remakes of popular songs, and a sense of absurdity that gives the audience a chance to revel in the ridiculousness that is life in the Bay Area.

At The Actor’s Theater
Runs through April 5th
Tickets: $35-$40