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The Joan Rivers Theatre Project

A One-Woman Show - without the red carpet

When I first heard that Joan Rivers was coming to San Francisco, I immediately began wracking my mind to question why. This city isn’t known for its celebrity inhabitants, nor are we accustomed to any red carpet Awards pre-shows. Then I remembered that Ms. Rivers was always first and foremost a comedian before she became known for her celebrity gossip mongering and fashion critiques.

Joan Rivers will be premiering her one woman show, tentatively titled “The Joan Rivers Theatre Project”. The show is a work-in-progress, and its run at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre lasts from August 22 to September 1, with previews on August 16 & 17. In many ways, it serves the comedienne as a return of sorts to her comedy and performance roots.

Nowadays, Joan Rivers is more famous for her often acerbic, ill received jibes at odd celebrity fashion and Hollywood behavior. Her excessive use of plastic surgery to enhance her appearance has, in addition to garnering an unfair amount of criticism, also been the impetus behind two well-received guest appearances on the FX show “Nip/Tuck.” Her live red carpet pre-shows are renowned as much for their often awkward celebrity interviews as they are for their hostess’ sharp wit and always self-effacing humor. It was this humor that first brought Joan Rivers to prominence in the 60s.

Perhaps most famously, Joan Rivers’ comedy career achieved gold status when she was invited by Johnny Carson to appear on “The Tonight Show” in 1968. Rivers followed her appearances on Carson with performances on “The Ed Sullivan Show”. She would go on to become a regular guest host for “The Tonight Show” whenever Carson needed a replacement for the night, eventually becoming the permanent guest host in 1983. Surprisingly, when a then fledgling Fox network gave Rivers her own late night talk show in 1986, she experienced both personal and professional failure that would keep her from further talk show success but that could in no way quell the quips and wisecracks.

After an almost 50 year career that has seen her at the top of her game with sold out concerts in Carnegie Hall, Broadway shows, comedy albums and best-selling books, the excitement surrounding the premiere of “The Joan Rivers Theatre Project” is justified. Essentially, what San Francisco audiences will get to see is a workshop production of a new play written by Rivers herself, Doug Bernstein and Denis Markell, with direction by Mark Rucker.

The setting for the play is fittingly a backstage dressing room right before Hollywood’s biggest awards show. Audiences will experience firsthand the stress of all the manic preparation as Joan gathers the strength and patience for another awards season. But this year, our hostess is in for a surprise as the appointment of the network’s new entertainment director all but promises trouble.

Ostensibly, the two week run of the show will be used by Rivers as a trial run. Along with a creative team, Rivers will test the play in front of audiences. After each show, there will be a talkback as a part of the process. In this workshop arena, audience responses will be used to further develop and prepare the piece so that it is ready for a fully produced, world premiere production.

Perhaps as a reward and incentive to her large gay following, two special performances of the show will benefit the Positive Resource Center and Magnet. All tickets are $25 and include a question and answer period with Joan after each performance.

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