In the past San Francisco's Foul Play Productions has given us such campy pleasures as a rock opera of The Wicker Man or stage adaptations of The Blob, The Birds and other B-movies that actually start with the letter B. Now company co-founder and impish playwright Sean Owens gives you a peek at his shorts. Written and directed by Owens, Breeches of Etiquette is billed as "A Tailor-Made Evening of Sartorial Short Plays & Song," but the uniting theme is really more about sex and relationships (and, yes, about etiquette as well) than about apparel.
A couple of the short plays certainly make clever use of clothing. In "The Game's Afoot," Sherlock Holmes (Owens, cultured and assured) and Moriarty (a delightedly self-satisfied Rik Lopes) are depicted as a couple who take pleasure in their little game of clues and deduction, as Holmes peels back the layers of Moriarty's scheme with each layer of clothing. The bittersweet "Double Windsor" shows a heartbroken best man (Eddie Barol) adjusting the tie of his friend and oblivious object of desire (Lopes) before his wedding. Costumer Kathryn Wood, who also performs in the show, provides a pleasing variety of period finery for the various characters in various eras.
Sean Owens and Rik Lopes.
A touchingly melancholy Schoen opens the second act with a sad story about always being the first one at a party until she can't do it anymore. Other plays concern a bland and naive newlywed couple (Barol and Nikita Schoen) being cruised by a cultured, deliciously florid voluptuary (Lopes); a clever bit revealing everything you need to know about a group of characters through a word-association game; and a rhyming encounter between Macbeth and the Weird Sisters that harps on all the anxieties of modern womanhood. Some of these bits go on too long, but it's a fine showcase for Owens' witty dialogue, with solidly amusing performances.
Kathryn Wood and James Mayagoitia.
The songs, too, are terribly droll, with lyrics by Owens and sprightly music by Don Seaver, who accompanies the show on piano. Almost all of these tunes are about dating and relationships, from Mikka Bonel's upbeat and self-explanatory "I'd Do Nancy Drew" to James Mayagoitia's exasperated online-dating lament "Seeks Same." The most charming of these are Amanda Ortmayer and Lopes' ditty about a couple looking to spice up their marriage on bowling night ("Picking up the Spare") and a vaudevillian number depicting two Victorian gentlemen too proper to broach the subject of their attraction to each other amid the obligatory small talk. The actors don't seem to have been cast for their singing voices, however, at least half of which are pretty shaky. There's a wealth of delightful material sprinkled throughout the show, but the opening and closing ensemble numbers aren't particularly strong, merely general "dating is hard" songs that serve more to ease us in and out of the general drift of the evening than to leave us wanting more.
Breeches of Etiquette runs through August 23, 2013 at Stage Werx in San Francisco. For tickets and information visit foulplaysf.com.
All photos by Ryan Wilkes.