Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Patrick's review of Tina - The Tina Turner Musical
The feast here is a family birthday celebration for Josephine (Margo Hall), who has invited her two daughters, Lexx (Britney Frazier) and Amaya (Jasmine Milan Williams), her brother Tony (Donald E. Lacy, Jr.), his son Jaden (Tre'Vonne Bell), and Lexx's friend Lani (Tierra Allen). The guests are all atwitter as Josephine has previously informed them that she has a big announcement to make, one she feels her family will take as "somewhat like a death." That's a pretty big Chekovian gun to hang on the wall, so we expect a rather big bang to come later in the play. What could it be? Mom selling the house? Reconciling with her ex-husband, Lexx and Amaya's father? A cancer diagnosis? Entering the convent? But more on that announcement in a moment.
For now, let's concentrate on the skills on display from this wonderful cast. Tre'Vonne Bell, whom I first saw in Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies at Custom Made Theatre Co., is developing into a terrific young actor. His work here is relatively subdued, but his is a powerful presence–even though his character is a little bit aimless and adrift. Donald E. Lacy Jr.'s Uncle Tony benefits from playwright Finch's fresh take on a well-worn trope, the slightly wacky uncle. Lacy plays Tony with a childlike energy and innocence, as though he knows everyone thinks he lacks the gravitas expected of a man his age, while he seems quite happy being a fun-loving naif.
But it's Josephine and her two daughters who provide the most dramatic interest in Josephine's Feast. Lexx and Amaya are almost like an Instagram video of a puppy and an older dog. Amaya is all manic energy, prepping her tropical fruit salad with lavender whipped cream and arranging the colorful and unusual flowers she's brought along–and wrinkling her face when Josephine notes they have very little scent. Meanwhile, older sister Lexx sits quietly on the couch, letting the preparations go on around her as she scrolls through her laptop.
As matriarch Josephine, Margo Hall brings all of her tremendous talents to bear. She move slinkily, but always with purpose, always with an objective. Her eyes seem to take in everything that's happening around her, even if it's ostensibly out of her sightline. It's almost as if she personifies that statement of so many mothers about having eyes in the back of their head. But it's Hall's voice that may be the most thrilling aspect of her performance. It's so resonant, so crisp, so authoritative that it feels like the sound waves she creates reach into the audience like tendrils of a vine, slowly and inexorably wrapping themselves around each of us.
With all this going for it, Josephine's Feast unfortunately fizzles like a sputtering toy rocket that can barely rise above its launch pad when it's time for Josephine to reveal her big announcement. I won't spoil the show by telling you what it is, but I was floored by how relatively insignificant it turned out to be. It's on par with someone telling you they have a confession to make, and then whispering "I'm wearing colored contacts."
Aside from Josephine's mundane pronouncement, Josephine's Feast is a delightful 95-minute diversion. It's always fun watching a mildly dysfunctional family interact with each other–but it's a lot more fun when the stakes are considerably higher than they are here.
Josephine's Feast runs through August 30, 2023, by Magic Theatre and Campo Santo, at Fort Mason, Two Marina Boulevard, Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets range from $30-$70 (audience's choice). For tickets and information, please call 415-441-8822, or visit MagicTheatre.org or the box office, which is open Monday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Saturday one hour prior to curtain.