Sunday, March 20, 2011

Teatro ZinZanni: Caliente

Teatro ZinZanniNever having been to Teatro ZinZanni before, I feared attending Caliente, their new show, on Thursday night. The wooden structure at Pier 29 looked closed, but the moment I stepped inside a different world enveloped me. The experience combines a cocktail lounge, upscale restaurant, cabaret, circus & hat shop. Half an hour before the start the lounge was abuzz. I spotted audience members in carnival masks & feathery accessories, & I spoke with a few random people who turned out to be enthusiastic repeat customers. The show takes place under an antique circus tent from Belgium. My dinner companion & I were escorted from the dimly lit lounge into this womb-like, glowing, red & gold interior by the buxom Madame ZinZanni herself.

The audience sits at tables facing into the center. A thin, Latin-inflected storyline strings together a series of broad skits, musical numbers & acrobatic acts, all anchored by Christine Deaver's big personality & fast mouth. However much she gave in her singing & acting, I always felt like she had even more in reserve. All the performers come up to top speed immediately. Sexy acrobat Vita Radionova looks as stable balancing on her arms as on her feet. Rebekah Del Rio's singing is centered & smooth, & she provided a welcome moment of relative stillness. We all knew that the mute janitor had something up his sleeve, but it was still a thrill when he sped to the top of a tent pole. The production includes many music & lighting cues, a stage elevator, a train, murals, & things dropping from the ceiling.

Audience participation is unavoidable. When I returned from the restroom mid-show (there is no intermission), my dinner companion was on stage, dressed in a colorful outfit I had never seen him in before & engaged in a drum battle with a sweet older lady. We discovered later, to my horror, that the performers originally had their eyes on me, so only my bladder's timing prevented me from becoming part of the show.

And somehow during all this the wait staff delivered separate soup, salad, entree & dessert courses, brought bottles of wine & refilled water glasses, without getting in the way of the performance. I don't know how the kitchen manages to serve everyone at once. I enjoyed my tortilla soup & the crunchy green beans with my beef fillet.

Everyone I interacted with was unfailingly friendly, & I got the sense that each member of the staff feels like a part of the show. When one of the servers stopped at our table, she paused momentarily to watch the performers, enjoying the spectacle as much as anyone. On our way out, my dinner companion cajoled me into trying on a hat in the shop, but before the situation got out of hand I convinced him that we should leave so that the nice young lady behind the counter could close & go home.

§ Caliente
Teatro ZinZanni

Directed by: Ricardo Salinas
Featuring: Christine Deaver, Robert Lopez, Rebekah Del Rio, Les Petits Freres, Vita Radianova, Ling Rui, Ann Bernard

Pier 29, San Francisco

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