'How We First Met' played on Valentine's Day for the fourteenth year in a row, with creator Jill Bourque on stage to host three real couples chosen by the live audience to have their love stories come to life with the help of veteran improv artists and a joie de vivre that even somebody alone or just there with his auntie while on vacation could enjoy. You don't have to be in love to love 'How We First Met' although everybody has one such story whether told or untold.
Jill Bourque does an enlightened, inspired job directing from on stage, able to pull out challenging themes and suggestions on the spot and artfully timed, as the lovers' stories unfold live. Since the show is live and the couples themselves are real and not professional actors, there is no editing per se and they are being themselves, in all their endearing honesty and nervousness, products of their own worlds and cultures. The artists rose to the challenge of reading between the lines even to the surprise and delight of the couples themselves. There's 'How We First Met' and then there's 'How We Really First Met'.
This year the audience applauded their votes for couples who had signed up as candidates on line and told their story there in writing for readers to vote on. Audience members from all walks of life came to the upscale Marine's Memorial Theater off Union Square on a gorgeous San Francisco evening and decided on three couples as different as can be. The veteran improv artists performed romantic comedy riffs through impromptu song, improvised music, improvised lighting, improvised poetry, improvised Shakespeare, slow motion . . . anything goes.
Kim and Michael are a married couple with their first child, a boy named Puma. She's an international runway model who strutted her stuff in Paris and partied hard. He's an artist who had a show called 'Love for Sale' with little boxes each with a pill--less an aphrodesiac than an hallucinogen. The artists performed a skit about them deciding to get married and characterizing their relationship . . . so many little boxes.
Lucia and Ken are a couple with one child of their own, he a divorced father and a teacher and she a former nun who currently works in social welfare. She wanted a date for a wedding and that's where it started. The improv artists clowned about his being the only non-Hispanic male at a big Mexican wedding, there with a nun.
The third couple, an older white pair, wore tie-dyed headwear, Jean from Ohio in a Mohawk wig and Kevin from Modesto in a broad brimmed hat, he from Modesto and she from the MidWest. She was a single Mom and he volunteered to give her accounting tutoring while on a business trip to Hawaii. story would be about embracing love Modesto style.
Laura Derry started out relaying Jean's visit to Ohio and trying to be assertive on the job, testing her new business behavior by trying to hail a New York cab. Laura performed the Shakespearean tale full of nobility and poetry, coming to take charge of the situation with the yellow cabbage in the York that is New. Laura really has trained at ACT and varioius Shakespeare companies and sounded brilliant, Mork from Orkian as much as Shakespearian. Later she would take on Jean's awakening again with a Barry White song improvised with Mark Duncanson, who did start out in life playing the clarinet.
Dana Blasingame, who trained in Seattle, actually has a lovely singing voice but her high note was probably impersonating Kim the runway model, who said she partied hard in Paris but her heart was not open. Dana also portrayed Kim lounging in the park reading an adult Batman comic book the moment husband to be Michael the artist saw her and had to draw her. He needed to get close enough to draw her but not so close as to be creepy.
Paul Erskine took on the role of Michael as his eyes first came upon Kim, his vision, Paul stretching out each and every goggle eyed, love struck jaw dropping reaction. This sequence looked so funny it made the face hurt from laughing, that sequence alone worth the price of admission. Paul has indeed been in each and every 'How We First Met' and has seen everything. He's also an animator and created a childrens' story book, that talent becoming evident with his disarming mugging and cartooning.
Scott Keck performed a very clever lovebird rap at the end of the show to wrap it up.
Musician improv artist young Joey "Barely Legal" Hassid hit his high note with an improv version of the Star Wars song done Calypso style.
Lisa Safran, a talented singer, took on the delicate singing role of Lucia the nun who gave it up for love and so of course, started at a wedding where the proper thing to do was come with an escort and then drink. A lot.
The evening ended with a lovely reception in the lobby with champagne and mini-cupcakes with heart sprinkles. The cast and couples mingled and took pictures. Men for once lined up outside the restroom, there had been no intermission.
Traffic had been slow around Union Square that night due to Valentine's Day, a three day weekend with Presidents' Day on Monday and the glorious weather caused by the drought. Marines Memorial Theater is easily accessible from Powell Street BART. Alternatively one could take the cable car or the One California bus from the beginning of Market Street and walk a few blocks down from Nob Hill.
WHERE: Marines’ Memorial Theatre
609 Sutter St, San Francisco, California
For more info: www.HowWeFirstMet.com
For more stories by this writer check out CBS San Francisco's website under Eye on the Bay, San Francisco arts & culture "Best Of"; and San Francisco Arts & Culture on Examiner.com. Subscribe by hitting the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of this article.
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