Friday, December 9, 2016

Merseyside Miracle: "Paradise Street" at EXIT Theatre

The Queen and her courtiers. Christina Augello as Elizabeth, Phil Wong as Mulrooney,
Luke Brady as Essex. Photo by Jay Yamada.
Maybe a year and a half ago, my friend Stuart Bousel invited me and several other actors to his lair in the hills to read through a rarely-produced, genre-bending Christmas play about sex, violence, monkeys, miracles, Anglo-Irish relations, urban renewal, and a midnight visitation from Queen Elizabeth I.

I didn’t quite know then what to make of Clive Barker's Paradise Street—I still don’t quite know—but I know that the cast and crew* that Stuart has assembled to give this show its American premiere at the EXIT Theatre this month are killing it on all levels.

Cat Luetdke has expertly coached them on five different British Isles accents. They’ve removed a row of seats in the auditorium to accommodate Queen Elizabeth’s farthingale (designed by the amazing Brooke Jennings). Phil Wong gives a beautifully detailed performance as Mulrooney, the homeless Irish prophet. And Kyle McReddie, Jeunée Simon, Nicole Odell, Luetdke and more are great as the ordinary Liverpudlians witnessing a most unusual Christmas miracle.

More and more, when people ask me for general advice on playwriting, the only thing I can say is “Don’t be afraid to GO THERE. Don’t be afraid to BE WEIRD.”

(“Don’t be afraid.” The first words of the angel to the shepherds of Bethlehem.)

The team behind Paradise Street has certainly Gone There, and they’ve brought back tidings of both sorrow and joy. An off-kilter Christmas play for the end of an off-kilter year.

The EXIT Theatre production of Paradise Street plays through December 17 in San Francisco.

*Disclosure of bias: I am friends with many of the people involved in this production but had no involvement myself beyond that initial living-room reading. I attended the Saturday 12/3 performance and paid for my ticket.

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