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Unexpected Spaces

May 4, 2009

I've been covering the performing arts in San Francisco for the best part of a decade and am lucky enough to experience theatre and dance productions in many venues across the city. It's a source of continuous delight to me that I still come across performing arts spaces that I have never visited before.

This weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing two theatre productions in spaces that were new to me as a theatre goer.

The first was the studio space at the top of the Brava Center for the Arts in the Mission. Brava has been around for ages. It's faded, crumbling glory reminds me quite a bit of the gorgeous Harvey Theatre at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Until I saw Molly Rhodes' play, For All The Babies Fathers on Friday evening, I had not yet explored the upper area of the Brava building with its small theatre -- an airy wooden box complete with gorgeous old rococo ceiling.

Designer Jamie Mulligan transformed the plain space into something akin to a beautiful contemporary art installation with narrow, knee-high wooden "shelves" upon which myriad glasses of all shapes and sizes and half filled with water rested, like crystals on a necklace. The contrast between the period details of the room and the modernity of Mulligan's set design were instantly arresting.

On Sunday evening, I experienced my first ever theatrical production in a hair salon. OK -- so the Glama-Rama Salon in the Mission District of San Francisco may not be a purpose-built theatre. But I wouldn't be surprised if the salon's owner decided to open her salon to more theatrical productions in the future as playwright Sean Owens' new, 1980s screen romance inspired drag comedy, Stale Magnolias, fits the location as well as as false eyelashes on a tranny.

Like Dolly Parton and Julia Roberts in the 1989 movie from which the play steals its name, a couple of Owens' characters are beauticians. The play even grapples with women's balding issues. And what's more, all of the cast members spend their time strutting about the airy pink-painted salon in some of the most extraoardinary wig creations I've ever seen - designed by Jordan L Moore, wigmaker extraordinaire to many local drag luminaries. Enormous and meringue-like, the show's wigs give Marge Simpson and the members of the heavy rock band Kiss a run for their hairspray.

Still, I wished that the cast had made more use of the Glama-Rama setting - perhaps by employing the salon's wonderful old-fashioned hair-dryers for one or two of the play's many gratuitous makeover scenes. When you get to perform in a space as interesting as a hair salon, why not make the most of it?

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