Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Like The Room (and like The Rhino's Flim-Flam, which played last season), every major role in the productionwriter, producer, director, staris filled by the same person. For The Room, that was Tommy Wiseau, a fellow of undetermined provenance, whose background and source of funding remain a mystery to this day. Here it's Rhino Artistic Director John Fisher who carries the load. There are exceptions (notably the aforementioned Citizen Kane), but for the most part, plays and films benefit from their collaborative nature, and having only one person in charge of all major elements of a production is a recipe for disaster. With no one to say "no" to half-baked, under-developed, over-written, or just plain bad ideas, the results are rarely pretty. Or entertaining.
When I reviewed Flim-Flam last year, I stated that, after leaving the theater I "felt the need to soak my brain in bleach." However, I also said that it exhibited "flashes of brilliance" and "manages to elevate itself into a realm of strangeness that it almost stops being theatre and achieves a nirvana of nonsense that manages to be simultaneously compelling and nauseating."
There is no salvation by strangeness here, for Transitions simply ambles about aimlessly, stumbling from one pointless scene to the next, trapping its actors in a miasma of nonsense and bluster. The plot, such as it is, revolves (in a very wobbly orbit) around the concept that Melania Trump (Katie Rubin, who doubles as Russia's first lady, Lyudmila Putin) needs "a cause" (pronounced "cows") to take up, and the U.S. and Russia could use a bit of cultural détente, so she dispatches a low-level staffer (played by Morgan Lange) to find a performer to send to Moscow. He comes back with Ruby (Charles Peoples III), a drag queen whom he, incredulously, presents as a cis-gender woman. Meanwhile, North Korea is rattling its saber, Putin is afraid of Trump's unpredictability (Fisher plays both men), there is a kidnapping, threat of nuclear holocaust, and more than one karaoke-style performance of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance."
The actors, for the most part, are surprisingly skilled. Though Katie Rubin's accent as Melania occasionally sounds like the First Lady is from Sinaloa instead of Slovenia, she exhibits the same delightful comedic sensibility that I first saw from her in Aurora Theatre's production of David Ives' The Heir Apparent in 2016. Gabriel A. Ross, who lost himself in the role of Isaac Newton in Isaac's Eye at Custom Made Theatre, has his talents wasted here. Fisher plays his dual roles with considerable relish, but his Trump seems a combination of Don Corleone-esque mumbling (including packing his cheeks) and Ralph Kramden's baseless swagger.
The set, by Sebastian Attardo andwait for itJohn Fisher, is actually quite effective. Composed of various platforms, with raw metal constructions suggesting windows and railings, and connected by stairways, it provides a stark and flexible backdrop for the proceedings.
After Rhino's Flim-Flam I may have felt the need for a good brain bleaching, but at least I was entertained. Transitions commits far worse sins, chief among them that of being irredeemably boring.
Transitions, through March 17, 2018, at the Gateway Theater, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco CA. Shows are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., with Saturday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $15-$40. Tickets and additional information are available at www.therhino.org or by calling 800-838-3006.