‘Little Shop of Horrors’ in Pasadena: Secrets of a radically reconceived Audrey II
“Strange.” “Weird.” “Exotic little beauty.” “Like something from another world.”
are ways in which the plant of “Little Shop of Horrors” is initially
described by its characters. They’re perplexed by its presence, its
mysterious origins, its unidentifiable genus. But the botanical
fascination is so enticing that it boosts the business of a skid row
flower shop — and convinces its caretaker to commit a bit of murder in
exchange for fame and fortune.
Countless stagings of the Howard
Ashman-Alan Menken musical have remained visually devout to the sprout
that debuted off-off-Broadway in 1982. Based on the 1960 Roger Corman
cult classic and popularized by Frank Oz’s 1986 musical film, the
Faustian fable has been mounted again and again with a green, podlike
growth resembling a Venus flytrap and a bountiful head of lettuce.
“The classic look can be nostalgic but also predictable,” said Mike
Donahue, who directed the Pasadena Playhouse production set to close
Sunday. “All of the language that’s in the piece is about how the plant
stands out, how it catches people’s eyes immediately when people are
walking by. There’s gotta be something about it that, in this drab and
depressed and bleak world, just pops.”
The Playhouse questioned those optical expectations and answered with
a radical redesign of the plant, Audrey II, nicknamed Twoey. Housed in a
large tomato can, its flower is a fantastic fuchsia hue, the five
appendage-like tendrils glistening and sparkling. When closed, a bud of
polka dot petals resembles a head with lips. It opens into a lily with a
playful yellow tongue. This Twoey is indeed a new sight for those
onstage and in the audience, and now that the run is ending, her secrets
are being revealed in new photos presented exclusively here.
wanted to make something that seems alien and extraterrestrial but also
that gives an emotional reaction — you can’t help but smile,” said Sean
Cawelti, who led the show’s puppet design, direction and choreography.
“And when the plant opens its petals for the first time and reveals
what’s inside, it’s not inherently scary but surprisingly whimsical and
Fear is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind during the song “Grow
for Me.” A first version of Twoey — which “faints” via remote control —
is swiftly swapped for a rod puppet plant with hard-to-spot cables
controlled by three puppeteers under a metal table.
Read the full review by Ashley Lee from the LA Times here.
Not far from where playwright Patricia Cotter lives in the Castro District, a bronze plaque in the sidewalk reads: “1953: Lesbian couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon move into their first home together in San Francisco on Castro Street. They help establish the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian rights organization, in 1955.”
Just a few blocks away, on 19th Street, is where the Lexington Club,
affectionately known as the Lex, served cheap drinks from 1997 to 2015,
when its closure marked the end of the last lesbian bar in San
These two chapters of local lesbian history comprise the two acts of
“The Daughters,” Cotter’s comedy whose San Francisco Playhouse Sandbox
Series world premiere runs through Nov. 2 at the Creativity Theater. The
Chronicle met with Cotter at Spike’s Coffee and Teas, also on 19th
Street, to talk about the arc of history she traces in the show.
Q: What was the initial impulse behind “The Daughters”?
A: I think it was really at the closing of the Lex,
which, honestly, wasn’t my bar. I had come to San Francisco later, so by
the time I got here that wasn’t my coming up and coming out, going to
the Lex. But it seemed like an icon leaving, its closing.
Q: What gave you that feeling?
A: It was a lot of women I know really grieving that
it was closing. And then it’s like, “When was the last time you were
there?” “Seven years ago, eight years ago.” … So if we’re not going —
but then also the question, “Do we need it? Do we need a lesbian bar?”
Because any bar can be a lesbian bar; it doesn’t specifically have to be
one. But there’s something lost when you know this is the place where
you’re going to be welcome.
I would have people in this neighborhood say to me, travelers,
“Where’s the closest lesbian bar?” There isn’t one. Actually, there’s
tons of queer bars, but (not one) specifically where you know it’s your
place, where it’s created for you.
I think when (the Lex) closed, it got me thinking about lesbian
history. I hadn’t really seen my history anywhere. I knew about Phyllis
and Del. (They were the first legally married same-sex couple in
California in both 2004 and 2008.) The play isn’t at all a biography of
Phyllis and Del. It’s more of a tribute to the women who changed the
world — in a room, at a party.
I was just so impressed with the risks they took. The women who
started the Daughters were so different from each other. That’s all they
had in common: that they were gay, that they wanted to meet other gay
women, either to date or to just have friends, and they couldn’t do it
in bars. They could, but you’re in danger of getting arrested. You’re in
danger of a raid. There were tons of tourists at that time who would
just come and stare at people.
We had a party for the Daughters, trying to get the word out (about
the show). My friends threw it at their house, and there were tons of
lesbians and straight people and gay guys. It was just a party, and I
thought, “Oh, 60 years ago this was transgressive — to gather in
It is specifically my history, but I’m kind of embarrassed by how little I knew about it.
Q: How much did you know before you wrote?
A: I think my knowledge was like 25%. I interviewed a
ton of different lesbians … younger lesbians, older lesbians, women my
age, and, for the second act, trans men, to get a point of view that
felt accurate and honest.
Q: What surprised you from the research?
A: The women in this group were teachers, government
workers, so they really had everything to lose by coming out. If you
got arrested, they put your name in the paper, they put your address in
the paper, your place of work — that’s everything. That’s one of the
things we’ve been working on in the production — to create that sense of
danger in the room, like the danger of getting into the room and the
danger of leaving the room. Then you get this break when you’re in the
You’re taking a big risk. I think that was partly one of the things I
learned as well: what a need it is to be yourself and have an honest,
authentic representation of who you are. How much courage it would take
to make that happen and then invite people into your home! It takes
courage to go, but they didn’t know who would show up. They had no idea.
Q: And what did you learn from your interviews?
A: For young women, the relationship to the word
“lesbian.” Some women were very much like, “I don’t need it. I don’t
like it. It doesn’t make sense for me.” Other young women still really
wanted to claim it, saw value to it.
Q:What’s your own feeling about the word, for yourself?
A: I like it. It’s never been unappealing to me. My
whole feeling about words in general — and that’s basically what the
second act is about — is the idea of “you tell me.” Whatever works for
you, I want to include. At a certain point, we needed a word to identify
each other and find each other. Now what if we don’t need that word any
more? But what if you want it?
I’m excited by the changing of language, and I’m excited to
incorporate that in my life. I don’t understand a resistance to it. To
me, if “lesbian” goes away, which it seems like maybe someday it will, I
will miss it. I will grieve it. But if that’s the natural way we’re
moving, if that’s where momentum is taking us … .
Q: What do you think of a San Francisco that doesn’t have a bar dedicated to lesbians?
A: I can’t believe it. If there were no gay male
bars — Look at my neighborhood! That’s all there is! — it would be front
page news. (The Lex) got a little coverage, but not that much.
Q: For the two groups of women from the two different eras in
your play, in what ways are their concerns the same, and in what ways
have they evolved?
A: Jessica (Holt, the show’s director) has been
helping me find the thread, where they connect. The idea in the first
act — they’re trying to claim their space. In the second act, they’re
losing that space. In just the space of 60 years — that’s not a lot of
time to have your space, experience your space and then, “Wait! It’s
gone already! It’s gone so fast!”
Also, in the first act, they’re trying to, “If we want to be
ourselves, we have to change. We have to be presentable, and we have to
not scare the outside world.” In the second act, it’s more, “We are part
of the outside world. We don’t need to worry about that anymore, which
is why we don’t need this space.”
And then there are the simple connections of wanting to be in love
and wanting to find your person and wanting to have fun — and then the
other thing is not wanting to talk about politics, but there’s someone
saying, “You know what, guys, it is political.” … Even though in the
first act and the second act there’s this thing of “Oh my god, can we
just have a good time?” it’s like, “Yes, we can, but somebody has to be
the person going, ‘Hold up. We have to take this seriously.’”
“The Daughters”: Written by Patricia Cotter. Directed by Jessica Holt. Through Nov. 2. $30-$40. Creativity Theater, 221 Fourth St., S.F. 415-677-9596. www.sfplayhouse.org
Article by Lily Janiak for the San Francisco Chronicle. Link here.
On Monday, Oct. 7th, 2019, the original cast of THE HELLO GIRLS, Music and Lyrics by Peter Mills, Book by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel, performed in Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center as part of the ASCAP songwriters’ series on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage.
TERRA FIRMA—A dark comedy, set in a disturbingly not-so-distant future. Years after a conflict known as the Big War, a tiny kingdom jutting out of the sea wrestles with the problems of forming a nation—and opposing notions of what it means to be a citizen, a country, and a civilization. Inspired by actual events. Directed by Shana Cooper.
TERRA FIRMA, by Barbara Hammond, was originally a commission for the Royal Court Theatre, the premiere venue for new writing in the UK. This production is co-presented with Baruch Performing Arts Center.
Theater Review: A Hollywood Screwball Comedy for Today
BURLINGTON – Two misfits – the
waitress Lina and the Italian immigrant busboy Roberto – have been
working together seemingly forever in the same Italian restaurant.
Although they have seldom spoken, there is an undeniable attraction.
They have three opportunities to figure it out, each at a different time
in their lives. Will they?
Stage opened a charming production of the oddball romantic comedy “The
Last Wide Open” this week at the Main Street Landing Black Box Theatre.
Thursday’s performance enjoyed its fine cast of two reverting to the
screwball comedies of 1930s and ‘40s Hollywood – with a decidedly
This is only the second production of this play with music. With book and lyrics by Audrey Cefaly and music by Matthew M. Nielson, the comedy premiered in January at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, where Vermont Stage Company founder Blake Robison has been artistic director since 2012.
play’s unique structure is alluded to in the play’s complete title.
“The Last Wide Open: A Love Song in Three Movements” is told in three
segments, separated by folk-style songs: in the first, Roberto has been
in the restaurant and the country for five years, and he and Lina,
finding themselves alone in the dining room one, talk for the first
time; in the second, Roberto has just come to the U.S. and barely speaks
English, yet he and Lina find a way to communicate; and, in the final,
some 10 years later, finds both married – unhappily – meeting together
Lina wants to be a
nurse and is marrying Todd, though she has very little good to say
about him. Roberto isn’t having such good luck with his girlfriend Anna
in Italy either. Of course, they figure it out – but oh what fun along
Directed by Jamien
Forrest, Vermont Stage’s general manager, Charlotte Munson and Jordan
Gullikson are well cast as Lina and Roberto, and seemed to have great
fun in this gentle battle of the sexes. Although Munson hid any
vulnerability to the very end, she proved a witty and feisty Gina. (She
also was quite a fine singer.)
presented a more dimensional and sympathetic Roberto, from meek to
tender to angry to loving, but always irresistible. Most importantly,
their interaction was natural, convincing and very funny.
Stage has benefited greatly from its move to the Burlington Waterfront,
with much fewer limitations than FlynnSpace, its longtime home.
Designer Jeff Modereger took advantage of the malleable space to create
an attractive and decidedly Italian restaurant interior (and exterior),
dramatically lit by Joe Cabrera. Rébecca Lafon devised the novel
quick-change costumes, and Dylan Friedman’s sound design underscored the
stage activity including some particularly dramatic moments.
Vermont Stage’s “The Last Wide Open” is a happy return to screwball romantic comedies of yesteryear.
Read the full article by Jim Lowe from the Times Argus here.