Guang, a bicycle deliveryman for a Chinese restaurant in the Bronx, drops off a dinner in a high-rise tenement one Friday night. Counting his tip, he returns to the elevator. As it descends, there’s a crash and the lights flicker. Suddenly he’s trapped.
“Stuck Elevator,” an ambitious new musical premiering at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, takes this real-life story from 2005 and expands it as far as it can go.
Expressing his panicked thoughts in song, Guang considers pushing the elevator emergency call button. He doesn’t, because that would alert the cops and he has no papers.
“The police will ask for my documents,” Guang sings, as he decides to wait it out until someone calls a repairman. “At least it’s quiet, I don’t have to share a room.”
Guang’s elevator confinement lasted 81 hours and the show opens up through an ensemble cast of four who act out his thoughts and dreams. He remembers his wife and son back in China; his co-workers at the restaurant and the money he’s losing while not delivering takeout; $200 he lost getting mugged, and the $80,000 he still owes smugglers who brought him to the U.S. in a container ship.
With increasing urgency, he thinks about food and the lack of a bathroom. He survives on packets of hot sauce, soy sauce and duck sauce.
Julius Ahn plays Guang as a thoughtful, hard-working guy, and showcases an impressive, opera-trained voice. The musical skills of the ensemble and small orchestra are more than up to the task. The ingenious set by Daniel Ostling places the elevator center stage while easily shifting the action to the restaurant and other locations.
Yet the production, directed by Chay Yew, has its limitations. First, there’s the story itself. It’s hard to squeeze a lot of theatricality out of a man stuck in one place for more than three days.
More problematic is the minimalist music by Byron Au Yong, (though the libretto by Aaron Jafferis is clear enough). The score is closer to modern opera than a Broadway-style show, more Philip Glass than Stephen Sondheim, and it’s resolutely unmelodic. You won’t be humming the tunes as you leave the theater.
“Stuck Elevator” runs through April 28 at American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Information: +1-415-749-2228; http://www.act-sf.org. Rating: ***.
Berkeley Repertory Theatre is staging Shakespeare’s “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” and it’s not hard to see why this play is rarely performed.
The first half is a confusing jumble (and probably wasn’t even written by Shakespeare). After death threats, sea voyages and a shipwreck, the Syrian prince Pericles is washed ashore with his newborn child, believing he’s lost his wife (who is implausibly revived by passers-by).
In the second half, years later, the grown-up daughter Marina is taken prisoner and consigned to a brothel, where she miraculously retains her virginity. After more death threats and machinations she is eventually reunited with her father and -- surprise, surprise -- her mother as well.
The engaging cast, under the direction of Mark Wing-Davey, tries its best to bring life to this creaky old story of loss and redemption. Too bad they couldn’t apply their energies to something more rewarding.
“Pericles, Prince of Tyre” runs through May 26 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St. Information: +1-510-647-2949; http://www.berkeleyrep.org. Rating: **.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Stephen West is an editor for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Mark Beech on music, Lance Esplund on art, Jeremy Gerard on New York theater and Mike Di Paola on preservation.