The Magic touch

Marina Times - Program Notes
By Evalyn Baron
October 2011

Luis Alfaro debuted his world premier of Oedipus el Rey in 2010, and has another world premiere called Bruja at Magic Theatre in 2012. Appearing in the photo are Romi Dias and Joshua Torrez (Photo: Jennifer Reiley)
From the moment the first Barbary Coast saloon gal opened her mouth to sing to the rowdy swagmen and buccaneers in the mid-19th century, San Francisco’s performing arts have been provocative, stimulating and vibrant. Artistic ground has always been broken here, and all areas of live performance have benefitted from the innovations San Francisco has introduced throughout its rich history.

Here, live theater is still open to taking risks with new writers and still not afraid to let innovative designers and performers into the arena. It has always pushed the edge, but going over that edge time and again has not dulled the City’s willingness to try new things. From the days of vaudeville at The Victoria, early moving pictures at The Castro, on up through the vital street theatre of the S.F. Mime Troupe and the dozens of exciting “off-Broadway” companies that exist in the City today, San Francisco has been an innovator in theater and all performance arts.

And for decades, Magic has been at the center of this rich history. Born in 1967 from an embryonic performance of Ionesco’s The Lesson at Berkeley’s Steppenwolf Bar, the Magic Theatre got its start and name from that event. Herman Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf describes an “anarchist evening at the Magic Theatre, for madmen only, price of admission your mind,” and with that literary baptism, John Lion, Magic’s founder, established his artistic dream – his Magic Theatre – as an important nexus for a new American stage. In 1977, with Sam Shepard as playwright-in-residence, Magic Theatre settled in at Fort Mason Center.

In 2008, the gifted Loretta Greco was named Magic’s producing artistic director, an appointment that infused the theater community with an awakened passion for what’s going on at this important landmark theater. Recently, I spoke with Loretta.

EB: Loretta, how is Magic Theatre unique and important to S.F.’s performing arts scene?

LG: Magic Theatre is 100 percent risk – devoted to excellence, to the adventure of developing and producing thrilling new plays that are entertaining and socially substantive. We’re one of the few theaters left in the country whose sole mission is to build new plays, page by page, with the playwright by our side. Magic Theatre is a national jewel in S.F.’s own backyard – the off-Broadway answer to A.C.T.’s traditional fare, an intimate arena where essential elements of theater are at play.

EB: Why is the Marina district lucky to have Magic nearby?

LG: Because Magic is a place where you don’t just come and “see a play.” You experience it. We’re theater professionals dedicated to portraying what reminds us of what it is to be human, to be flawed, to transcend, to remember compassion. So if you live in the Marina you can walk or bike down the street, buy a ticket, laugh out loud at the same time you’re weeping with shared recognition. You can find your community. Share a live experience with neighbors – an experience created by inspired writers, and performed by some of the best actors in S.F. and from around the country! And you can see it right here at Magic before the rest of the country does.

EB: Your 2011–2012 season is launched, so what’s next at Magic?

LG: Nov. 3 to Dec. 4, we present a terrific new piece by Sharr White called Annapurna, and audiences will adore it! One of the bravest, most emotionally raw plays I’ve ever read about relationships, the resilience of love, and redemption, themes that never cease to engage me. Sharr’s writing is sublime! I look forward to directing that one.

EB: And in 2012?

LG: January, we open with Lloyd Suh’s Jesus in India, an irreverent and hilarious new play, surprisingly resonant with a spirituality that cuts across religious lines. Then, in March, Any Given Day, by noted Scottish playwright Linda McLean, holds a quiet miracle inside its taut, tough writing. We close our season with a new play from one of the great dramatists of our time, Luis Alfaro, [that is] written for the Magic, called Bruja – an earthy, very human reimagining of Euripides’ Medea, inspired by Luis’s Chicano roots, his love of San Francisco, Cuba, and the Greeks. His Oedipus el Rey rocked audiences here last season, and won the Glickman Prize for best new play of the year.

EB: Sounds like the Magic is happening.

LG: And we want the entire Marina to share it with us.

So readers, you’ve received your invitation from Magic Theatre! Call for tickets – even buy a special Flexpass subscription for all four plays, so you can meet a friend at Magic Theatre and remind yourself how terrific live theater can be. Magic, right in your own backyard – how lucky can you get?