Entertainment » Theatre

Insignificant Others

by Roger Brigham
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Mar 10, 2008
Sarah Farrell, Mike Triolo and Alex Rodriguez shine in "Insignificant Others" at Pier 39.
Sarah Farrell, Mike Triolo and Alex Rodriguez shine in "Insignificant Others" at Pier 39.  (Source:Edward Casati, Unbound Photography)

"Insignificant Others," the comic San Francisco-based musical which recently began an open-ended run at Pier 39, isn't your daddy's "Tales of the City." With charming wit and hilarious lyrics, ISO encapsulates the evolution of TOTC's Castro from a place where men explored childhood fantasies in a gay ghetto to a place where gay boys and girls learn how to grow up.

Armistad Maupin did a masterful job when he wrote TOTC of capturing San Francisco's emerging gay sensibility in San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s, a time of emerging political and social consciousness, self-indulgent exploration of sex and drugs, unifying communal action against the threats of AIDS and homophobia.

Fast forward a few decades and the San Francisco that L. Jay Kuo's ISO portrays is a city transformed. Gone is the clarity of color-coded hankies worn on one side or another. Gone is the refraction of diversity into a rainbow of clone, queen and butch archetypes. No longer are sexualities cleanly bisected into neat polarities of top and bottom, S and M, denim and drag, diesel and lipstick. The sexual engine that lurched along in three gears--straight, gay and bi--now strives to move silently with a low-carbon impact. Urban homosexual expression, formerly restricted by external barriers and internalized codes, becomes free to roam the confusing metrosexuopolis. Communication is no longer a look across a bar but an emoticom in an email.

And that can be a very scary place for young folks kicking off their Midwest boots to slip into their ruby slippers for the first time, as the characters in ISO quickly learn.


ISO is refreshingly free of political posturing and social commentary. It focuses on the immediate and the intimate, the depth of pain caused by shallow feelings. Drama queens are drama queens no matter the decade, however, and Kuo makes his characters feel what characters feel no matter the era: betrayal when confronted by dishonesty, excitement when faced by adventure, love when greeted by love. It's the unexpected nature of the dishonesty, adventures and love that causes ISO's characters such consternation and gets audiences LOL.

Drama queens are drama queens no matter the decade, however, and Kuo makes his characters feel what characters feel no matter the era: betrayal when confronted by dishonesty, excitement when faced by adventure, love when greeted by love.

In a nutshell: young gay boys and young straight women escape the Midwest and come to San Francisco. They are techie nerds in office cubicles (the post dot-com bubble's new cater waiters), but they still want the same things newcomers fleeing to the city have always wanted: to get laid, to have someone to love them, and to love someone in return.

But not necessarily in that order.

As metaphor for the metro-sexualization of San Francisco, we are given the Starbucking of SF. Indeed: it's a toss-up as to which are the funniest songs--"Plumbing," "Eleven," and "Evolutionary," in which Margaret (Sarah Kathleen Farrell) tells us of her difficulties dating a girl becoming a guy, a guy with a jack too big for his hammer, and a guy who would make Chewbacca seem hair challenged--or the three songs in which Starbucks' Blockbuster balls get busted. Like customers ordering double lattes that turn out to be all foam and no java, the newcomers find that in a text-messaging, Google-searching world, the quest for happiness too often turns out to be more immediate and less gratification. And as San Francisco's neighborhood character becomes homogenized by Starbucks' bland all-things-to-all-people marketing, the character goes out of the city's characters as well.

In all of her songs, Farrell steals the show, with the animated choral work of Michael Tongko, Bobby Bryce and Joven Calloway doing double duty as the goose-stepping baristas. Jason Hoover (Jordan) and Alex Rodriguez (Luke) as the confused boys and Omi Fernandez (Jeannine) and Jennifer Graham (Kristen) as the confused girls show point-on versatility in their dramatic and comic portrayals of twenty-somethings trying to eat organically (Kristen), date responsibly (Jeannine), love (Jordan) and be loved (Luke). And a truly heart-tugging gem is Michael Triolo's night club solo, "There's a House."

The tempo of the show's opening is ... intense. Too intense. Too relentless, with a mind-numbing drum beat and too much background information crammed into too little time. But once the characters and stories are securely established, the show finally hits its stride in the song "Cubicles," and the second act successfully distills all of the characters' distinct emotions.

ISO first opened in 2005 with staged readings, moved through performances at the Jon Sims Center and The New Conservatory Theatre Center in 2006, then played last summer at the Zeum Theatre. Now promoters are hoping ISO can become a San Francisco must-see institution, a la the pricier "Beach Blanket Babylon" or Pier 29's "Teatro ZinZanni." ISO does not have the topical political humor of BBB or the mind-boggling athleticism of Zinzanni. What it does have at a fraction of the price is a distinctive, timeless character; witty wordplay on excessive hirsuteness and endowment that would give Maupin pencil envy; and a expression of the desire for significance in each other's lives that is as sincere as youth itself.

Coffee without the foam or attitude: just familiar, comforting warmth. The perfect thing for a foggy city by the bay.

"Insignificant Others" is in an open run at Theatre 39 (Pier 39, near Beach Street and the Embarcadero). $39-$46. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Directed by George Quick. Cast includes Sarah Kathleen Farrell, Omi Fernandez, Jennifer Graham, Jason Hoover, Kevin Maldarelli, Alex Rodriguez, and Michael Triolo. Choreography by David E. Garcia. For tickets and more information, visit www.isomusical.com.

Roger Brigham, a freelance writer and communications consultant, is the San Francisco Editor of EDGE. He lives in Oakland with his husband, Eduardo.


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