TENDERLOIN by Cutting Ball Theater is dynamic

(Below)Theater documentarians (l-r Siobhan Doherty, Rebecca Frank,Tristan Cunningham, and Michael Uy Kelly) portray residents encountered on the street in Cutting Ball Theater’s World Premiere of Tenderloin

(Above) Filipino Health and Wellness Director Ester Aure (actress Tristan Cunningham) gives a motivational talk in Cutting Ball Theater’s World Premiere of Tenderloin

TENDERLOIN by Cutting Ball Theater is dynamic.

TENDERLOIN: Docudrama World Premiere Theatrical Piece.Directed and written by Annie Elias with input from multiple cast members and additional writing by David Westley Skillman. Cutting Ball Theater in residence at EXIT on Taylor (277 Taylor Street) in San Francisco. 415-525-1205or www.cuttingball.com. April 27 – May 27, 2012

The Cutting Ball Theatre is the leading avant-garde group in the Bay Area dedicated to experimental new plays and re-visioned classics. Their present stunning production of Tenderloin began as part of “Risk is This: The Cutting Ball’s New Experimental Plays Festival.” It is a dramatized series of interviews that were conducted by the actors who are now playing those they interviewed. From their audio recordings, no video allowed, each actor has recreated the denizen(s) they personally interviewed.The result is a theatrical gem that surely will be a sell out but is not fully satisfying.

When you enter the intimate performing space you are confronted by a floor to ceiling jumble of sofas, chairs tables and personal items that reflect the jungle that is outside the doors of the theater located at the fringe of the Tenderloin District. With a brilliant but simple directorial device each cast member invades the acting space, discards their own shoes and symbolically dons the shoes of their characters. From that point on they truly become those characters in physical mannerisms and speech patterns. It is all very remarkable and riveting.

The boundaries of the area of San Francisco referred to as the Tenderloin are at best nebulous but are defined by its plethora of single room occupancy (SRO)hotels. Most of the characters in this docudrama fit the mold of SRO residents. However they are not the only ones interviewed. Late in the second act the Tenderloin inhabitants share the stage with a police officer, Ministers of Glide Memorial Church and St. Anthony’s food Kitchen and politicians thus attempting to give a moralistic slant to the plight of the disenfranchised. It does not quite work.

The influence of Tectonic Theatre's The Laramie Project , in technique and writing is transparent and Cutting Ball’s production compares favorably but does not have the dramatic impact of that docudrama. However, the cast’s complete submergence into their roles is remarkable. The interview subjects include elders, children, homeless, drug addicts (recovered), transgenders,street cleaners, artists and immigrants.

The evening is book-ended by associate artist David Sinaiko as the narrator as he becomes Mark Ellinger, a former drug addict, who is the de-facto historian of the Tenderloin. A few of Ellinger’s photographs are suspended from the ceiling creating a striking addition to the mound of furniture.

As dramatic as the setting is, it does not detract from the superb performance of the six cast members that includes documentarians Tristan Cunningham, Siobhan Doherty, Rebecca Frank, Michael Uy Kelly, Leigh Shaw, and David Sinaiko. Each has a turn in the spotlight and all intermingle like a fine oiled machine earning a spontaneous standing ovation. Running time about 2 hours with an intermission.
KedarK. Adour, MD