“San Francisco is a breathtakingly beautiful city, with lots of great contrastsbetween dark and light, often overlapping each other. It’s a great setting for a horror story”
– Christopher Moore, publisher’s interview for his novel A Dirty Job (2006)
I’m sure I’ve mentioned that a lifetime in San Francisco has prevented me from seeing real snow. In fact, I know I mentioned it because the last time I mentioned it was in my review of a show about snow in San Francisco (incidentally, one of the actors in that show directed that month’s KML show). So, you can imagine my surprise when I entered the PianoFight main stage and listened to KML Grand Dame Allison Page explain that the latest show would be about an unexpected snowstorm in San Francisco. Ah, the magic of theatre – it has twice this year given me the magic of SF snow that I’ve been denied, lo these near-39 years of life.
And why not? A great many of KML’s cast and crew are from traditionally snow-covered states, so it’s an interesting prospect for them to make a show about a city where “winter” just means skating on artificial ice. Hell, a running gag of the latest show is how those who’ve come to SF make absurd claims about who’s “a native”. So, as I sat in the audience with a bottle of Red Stripe (warm-climate beer for a cold-climate show) and continued to work through my Stockholm Syndrome love/hate for Christmas, I expected the Lobster-folk to do nothing less than skewer the holiday – and they city in which they celebrate it – with a red-hot poker. Lord knows they swing for the fences come Christmas time.
Also, this one’s a musical. ‘Cause why not? Casey Robbins (formerly?) of Peripatetic Players spends the bulk of the show behind a keyboard. I wouldn’t have expected that from a Page-directed show, given her disdain for the genre, but here we are.
As primarily-written by Kate Elston (co-“blost” of a funny and touching podcast about demystifying the human body – the live version of which is scheduled for SketchFest this January), a recurring theme of the show is the snow trapping people with the last San Franciscans with whom one would ever want to be trapped. This includes a douchey start-up bro (Michael Phillips) pitching a Santa-by-way-of-Bezos delivery service with… morally questionable methods. It includes a would-be office cut-up (Courtney Merrell) willing to go extreme lengths – be they accidental or life-threatening – to entertain her co-workers. And even the opening number (based on Beauty and the Beast’s “Bonjour!”) features a bunch of Millennial roommates and neighbors who come off as strangers to one another.
It also features performers determined to put on a show, snow-induced danger be damned. This ranges from a troupe of carolers who don’t even know the most basic of holiday staples to a BART-appointed motivator (Gabrielle Momah) trying her best to lift the spirits of the riders (and herself) during on a stopped train. One of my favorite sketches of the night involved to SF Center mall-elves suddenly lacking a Santa, so they do a quickie replacement with the next best thing: a freshly-shorn twink in a Santa hat who sings dirty, BDSM versions of Christmas classics. Y’know, for kids.
Celeb satires include Danielle Steele (Joyce Domanico-Huh) peddling holiday books as quickly (and poorly) as McDonald’s makes Happy Meals, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra being felled by one band member (also Domanico-Huh) with a recorder, and Mark Twain (Phillips) reciting a bastardized version of that-famous-quote-he-never-even-said before narrating a tale of the Barbary Coast’s proud sex worker history.
The show works best when staying at a steady clip, as this one seemed a bit long at a mere hour-ten. Weaker sketches include a mulled wine tribute set to the tune of “Blurred Lines”, but my hatred for that fucking song may be clouding my judgement. A later sketch about skunks in Macy’s ASPCA display also goes on a bit too long and gets a bit too repetitive. Even the aforementioned BART sketch overstays its welcome a bit.
Still, sticking to the focus point proves a saving grace for the show. The finale has our cast hypothesizing that the imaginary snow serves as a metaphor “for all that’s befallen the City.” The final song sums up my favorite city perfectly: “I love it. I hate it. Merry Christmas.” No matter how many mean-spirited and hypocritical op-ed The New York Times prints, it just makes me more of that quote often attributed to (but never conclusively proven to have been spoken by) Frank Lloyd Wright: “San Francisco is the only city I can think of that can survive all the things you people are doing to it and still look beautiful.” That’s the great note on which this show ends: be it a snowstorm or tech-based economic inequality, San Francisco will survive.
Also, were the characters singing a song by Lizzo? They sing a song called “Juice”, but my old ass just assumes every new song I’ve never heard of is by Lizzo.
And, as usual, there’s a lotta fine talent on the stage. Joyce Dominico-Huh’s aforementioned performances as Danielle Steele and the recorder-playing band member were personal faves. Gabrielle Momah is quickly becoming another one of KML’s most reliable performers, and that wasn’t a short list to begin with. To see why, wait for the sketch that takes place at Zuckerberg-Chan Hospital (God, it fucking hurts to say title). I last saw Courtney Merrell playing Janet Weiss, but somehow the sight of her doing a soft-shoe routine to keep from freezing might be the most memorable role she’s done this year Alissa Sanchez – whom I last saw in last year’s KML Xmas show – has some pretty great moments when her characters can hardly hide their disdain for goings-on around them; such as a parent receiving a shitty gift from their kid (the hilarious Michael Phillips). And I’m sure Jan Gilbert is sick of me talking about her, so I’ll just quickly say she’s great, too.
In fact, the show has a great “poisoned valentine” vibe in it that makes it an appealing alternative to the overly saccharine sentiment of the season. PianoFight’s got a lot of irreverent Christmas shows going on right now: their new “Holiday Office Party” edition of Pint Sized Plays; the Holidays with a Twist show that opened this weekend; and KML’s latest. I’ve yet to see the middle one, but the former and latter and former work as good ways to kill an hour poking fun at snow season tropes. An early sketch in the show mocks the monotony of re-binging The Office for the umpteenth time. Watch this show and you’ll have an excuse not to.
But seriously, is that song by Lizzo? I’m not gonna subscribe to Spotify just to find info about one song, y’all!
Snowed In is scheduled to run until the 14th of December at PianoFight in San Francisco.
The show runs roughly 1 hr. 10 min. with no intermission.
For tickets and information, please visit the production’s official site here.