Megan Cohen Ridicules the Rich in Climate Apocalypse
by Barry David Horwitz
Under the deft hand of director Ariel Craft, a new vein has been opened in San Francisco satirical theater. With playwright Megan Cohen and the brilliant acting of Stacy Ross and Phil Wong, Cutting Ball Theater has launched a new way of looking at classic theater.
In their “Free for All: A New ‘Miss Julie’ for a New World”—based August Strindberg’s Victorian play “Miss Julie,” Cutting Ball transforms the 1888 play into a shrewd commentary on our lives, today. Cohen and Craft make Strindberg sing about the rich and the poor in San Francisco—as the climate changes radically.
As befits a theater located between City Hall and the Tenderloin, Strindberg’s play (about a spoiled heiress who seduces and abuses her chauffeur and maid) opens with a brilliant scene where Miss Julie (elegant Stacy Ross) is wildly skiing down the slopes of Nob Hill in a hilarious, deadly snow storm. Craft’s stagecraft is funny and astounding.
In “Free for All,” Megan Cohen chronicles violent climate change in The City. Skiing down Nob Hill, Julie’s ski poles are comically manipulated by graceful puppeteers Miyaka P. Cochrane and Charlie Gray. The two puppeteers pop up constantly, providing charming pigeons and serviceable workers to heighten the comedy.
As Miss Julie, the always brilliant Ross swoops down frozen San Francisco, entitled, arrogant, and egomaniacal. Julie heedlessly crashes into her servant John (witty Phil Wong). Their melee in the snow ranks high on the funny scale, sketching John’s ridiculous servitude, as he carries groceries up the hill. Meanwhile, spoiled Julie cavorts in front of massive white sheets with carefree squeals.
John is out and about doing the shopping for the millionaire class, while Julie sports herself. Miss Julie cannot comprehend how the poor and threatened folks down below actually live. Ross creates the perfect snob in her Julie.
Wong, another sharp satirist, heightens the stakes between Nob Hill and Chinatown, while Julie looks down her nose at the peons without a chairlift. She condescends to the people who shop, walk, or live in Chinatown or the Tenderloin. Julie gobbles up all John’s deviled eggs with glee. She represents all those whose taxes have been cut by their buddy in D.C.
Director Ariel Craft makes ideas into sparkling staging. Craft makes us laugh out loud at Julie’s ridiculous ignorance and John’s self-conscious subservience.
In midst of apocalyptic storms, Miss Julie hosts an elegant Snob Hill party for her upper-crust friends. Ross and Wang now play Jacobsen and Brockenfield—in full tuxedoes and moustaches, drinking champagne and making snide remarks about people who work. Ross and Wong’s hilarious One-Percenters gossip and jab with perfect timing, hitting their targets every time.
We in the audience take the place of Hohn’s fiancee Christine, the observer. We join the actio and judge the unequal conflict between the heiress and her workers. All in all, a stirring comic tour of San Francisco’s privilege versus poverty. Craft and Cohen’s comedy shows why the City smells so bad these days.
“Free for All: A New ‘Miss Julie’ for a New World” by Megan Cohen, developed with & directed by Ariel Craft, scenic design by Jacqueline Wren Scott, costume design by Racheal Heiman, lighting design by Cassie Barnes, sound design by James Ard, at Cutting Ball Theater, San Francisco, through Sunday, October 20, 2019. Info: cuttingball.com
Cast: Stacy Ross, Phil Wong, Miyaka P. Cochrane, and Charlie Gray.