Arts & Events

Theater Review--'I'm Always Drunk in San Francisco'

Ken Bullock
Thursday February 02, 2017 - 10:57:00 PM

"I'm always drunk in San Francisco/And I don't drink at all." 

Tommy Wolfe's grand alternative to both the nostalgia crooned by Tony Bennett & what Jeannette MacDonald belted from the Silver Screen, introduced by the great (and still swinging) Ernie Andrews with Cannonball Adderley in the early 60s, but made a hit a bit later by Ernie's old pal Carmen McRae and a little later than that by Nancy Wilson ... 

... Has found its way back home as the title and emblematic number of Geoffrey Pond's first-ever solo show, his own brand of tribute to the focal point of the Bay Area he grew up in, featuring the writings of Mark Twain, Jacks London & Kerouac, H. L. Mencken (not a name usually associated with our City in the West) and Gary Kamiya, plus a couple vignettes by Geoff himself. 

Geoff met Stanley Spenger in the early 90s, performing with Shotgun, hopped aboard the vehicle Stan started up—Subterranean Shakespeare under LaVal's—and became artistic director in 2001. 'I'm Always Drunk in San Francisco' is produced by Subterranean Shakespeare presents, but on Sutter Street in the city, not beneath Euclid. 

Directed by Robert Ernst, formerly of the fabled Blake Street Hawkeyes, Geoff's onstage alone, but with a stream of characters he plays—mostly the writers he's picked as—mostly—postmortem collaborators ... and with the shadow or ghost of the city itself. 

There are eleven scenes of various lengths, beginning with Geoff doing up the title song in a new arrangement he's made with Joshua Raoul Brody, and then after recounting Kamiya's vignette of Arch Rock—which appeared and disappeared in Bay waters until dynamited—he goes straight into his exposition of what the city has meant to itself and the world—and what it means to him. 

So the ascent, passing—out of chronological order—on the way up, Geoff's own meeting with Carolyn Cassady, wife of Neal, confidante of Kerouac, then right on to Jack himself, from 'The Dharma Bums,' raving up the Six Gallery reading off Union on Fillmore, where jugs of dago red fueled his cheerleading of Ginsberg's first public airing of the opening of "Howl"—and then through Kamiya's remarks about the older flora and fauna of the wind-blasted tip of the Peninsula ... 

And a droll gem by Mencken from the old New Yorker about the bourbon-soaked Democratic National Convention in 1920, weeks after Prohibition hit, in the new Civic Auditorium, now named after Bill Graham, such a hit with the delegates they voted it should continue for days longer so they could get their fill of booze and city and environs, Mencken himself waking up unexpectedly one morning on the beach at Half Moon Bay ... 

Then the wayward eulogy climbs atop Hippy Hill with a 49er (beating a conga drum!), by Kamiya—and hits a plateau, the best section: Mark Twain describing, in 'Roughing It,' his first humorous lecture anywhere—here, at Maguire's Academy of Music on Pine in 1968 ... and Jack London writing for Collier's of the devastation of the '06 Earthquake and Fire. And after a brief Kamiya-penned vignette about the climate, it's suddenly over—and the outline of it's later—and very pleasing—shape becomes apparent, a salute to a city of dreams that has awakened many times to harsher reality—rolled over and tried to go back to dreamland ... 

Fridays & Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 7 till February 19th; Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (near the corner of Powell) in downtown San Francisco—advance tickets at: —or info at 276-3871. $25-$20, sliding scale, at the door.