Teatro Zinzani and Cucina Paradiso will elicit a great big grin but the Fringe in Marin may elicit grin or a grimmace, stay tuned - - -

The ever "Kooky" Kevin Kent searches for love in "License to Kiss II, a Sweet Conspiracy"!
Great theater, great food and food for thought all came together in one very eventful week in San Francisco. I often enjoy taking a day out of my normal circle of entertainment venues to try something new or to explore new productions by a company that I have not attended for awhile and I have not reviewed this production company since 2007.

Two weeks ago, Teatro Zinzani, once again opened with another outrageously funny show that brings its unique brand of comic entertainment to the San Francisco Bay Area year after year. Teatro Zinzani melds a bewildering blend of comedy, cabaret, circus arts, music, culinary expertise and absolute chaos, into one of the most entertaining shows in all of the bay area. Its troupe includes a bevy of high energy clowns, attractive acrobats (skilled in pole climbing, rope walking and aerial arts), singing talents (with classically trained operatic voices), and even actors who are (in addition to their stage performing skills) accomplished in the art of tap-dancing as well.

Kevin Kent returns again, this time as a secretive character who is seeking to combine super spy-style super secret espionage, in a film noir mystery and intrigue style, into a really silly story about the theft of some of the world’s best chocolate and its being combined in a mysterious but super-sweet concoction, - - - all in his search for the perfect dessert! This show is entitled, “License to Kiss II, A Sweet Conspiracy”. None of this show’s wacky storyline is meant to challenge your grey matter, nor is it meant to change the way you butter your bread or tie your shoes, it is simply for pure fun, complete silliness.

In the year 2000, this marvelous entertainment and culinary venue opened to rave reviews and found its original footing in the Bay Area. This truly unique theatrical setting is housed in the gorgeous antique “speigeltent”, a circular performance and restaurant venue called the “Palais Nostalgigue”, a cloth, wood and glass tent structure that has exquisitely hand carved wooden interior columns, polished crystal and mirrors. This beautiful theatrical venue is over 100 years old, was originally imported from Belgium and now permanently resides at the foot of Pier 29 on the San Francisco Embarcadero. There are only a handful of these magnificent structures remaining in existence and this theater, as well as its spectacular show, should be on your “must list” of wonderful things to see and experience.

The new show incorporates all the actors and the serving staff into a cohesive company that entertains and delivers the epicurean, perfectly prepared, high quality food to your table, that is, when they are not performing in the center of the circus tent performing area. The circus style acrobatics and circus hijacks include some pretty incredible performances of “suspended animation”, beginning with Kari Podgorski, in a playful and powerful aerial act, suspending herself aloft by a soft and supple aerial rope and endeavoring to perform every kind of exciting and heart-stopping acrobatics. Sam Payne and Sandra Feusi, can shimmy, shake, climb and cavort up and down a vertical pole as if it were their favorite backyard playground. They whirl and twirl and weave their bodies over and under each other in an amazing choreography of pole dancing, in an act that delivers a deliciously exciting Vertical Tango, without their becoming so completely entangled that they endanger each other. Tobias Larsson, is a tall blond and beautiful guy who is (among other things) plotting a great chocolate heist and finds Kristin Clayton a very attractive accomplice in the character of a former girlfriend and operatic singer. Tobias is also a wonderful and amazing rope walker, even while wearing a giant teddy bear costume!

Wayne Dobra portrays a waiter waiting for his opportunity to become a show headliner as a singer, musician and tap dancer. Wayne does a great Bo Jangles tap routine in addition to bringing a greatly likeable character into the show chemistry. He is joined in his fun-filled antics by his lovely wife, Andrea Conway. Lutz Jope, a transplant from East Germany, is delightfully funny and serious at the same time. He appears to be a stage and performance manager who frowns and clowns his way into your heart. The very beautiful Alexa Hukari is a perky pretty little red head who makes me think of the bouncy little red-riding hood character, sweet and innocent on the outside, but with a hint of danger hiding just beneath her sweet smile and charm. She is an accomplished aerialist and artistic acrobat extraordinaire. Kevin Kent plays several characters outrageously, ranging from a bumbling, fumbling spy, to the ultra cool Austrian Secret Agent (007 and ½), from Chaos Control, and finally emerging (coming out) as a gay diva reminiscent of Albert in La Cage Aux Folles (The Birdcage). This cast is truly terrific in every respect.

The production is greatly enhanced by a superb orchestra but perhaps the most important element in the show, is the five course dinner itself! The first course consists of an appetizer with olives, spiced almonds, crostini and Cowgirl Creamery Devil’s Gulch Cheese. The next course, is a soup that consists of roasted acorn squash ambrosia with a curried apple topping, followed by a spinach and marinated fennel salad. The main course allows your choice of three different possibilities, the first (which my wife and I both chose) a succulent, melt in our mouth grilled fillet of beef. The second option, maple glazed roasted chicken breast and the third, a roasted pear and Arugula Ravioli combined with a tantalizing goat cheese. The dessert was certainly the culmination of the great mystery, the great chocolate mousse cake with a divine cherry sauce - - - truly magnifique! What an excellent meal, and just the right amount of food to fill but not spoil!
This superlative and fun filled production continues Wednesdays through Saturdays at 6 p.m., with Sunday performances at 5 p.m., however the show schedules may change weekly, so be sure and check the website weekly for any specific details. Tickets begin at $117 to $145 each, and are available in the box office at Pier 29 on the embarcadero weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on the weekends from noon to 6 p.m. or by phone at (415) 438-2668. For more information, please visit http://www.lovezizanni.org/. Granted, this is type of dinner theatre is more expensive than just a theatrical production, but there are many shows in San Francisco that has required ticket fees comparable to this, but without any food in sight! This meal is truly amazing, prepared as expertly as any fine restaurant in San Francisco, and even the serving process is a show in itself! As the production literature proclaims, “In the end, merriment and chaos reign, giving us all a LICENSE TO KISS!” Don’t miss this fun filled show, I highly recommend it!

The Fringe in Marin offers an opportunity for new writers, but falls short in many respects!

About an hour away, in San Rafael a the Dominican University in the Meadowlands Assembly Hall, the Dominical University Community Players is offering an evening or afternoon production consisting of one act shows that play Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., now through December 5th. This production offering comes under the title of the “Fringe of Marin”, and consists of new and emerging plays.

While there were several very entertaining and thought provoking plays in the mix, we only saw seven of the 13 plays being offered. Two of those were very good. One entitled, Scramble Time by Shirley King and directed by Robin Shild and a magic act put into a story form, entitled “A Magical Trio: The Movies of the Mind” by Michael Belitsos. A third was advertised as a “very adult” production including some nudity and adult themes, and was entitled, “The Story of Oh (revised and abridged)”, written and directed by Jim Colgan. This was quite absurd and yet at times was quite funny, but hardly a work of art. It was nothing more that an opportunity to find as many ways as possible to expound the exclamation “Oh!” in one story line. If the term going “69” means anything to you, this plays seemed like someone’s attempt to find 69 different ways to exclaim “Oh” and get away with it. It was entertaining but did not live up to the hype. The other four shows were definitely works in progress, “Moonlight”, by Ruth Kirschner; “Emily and Walt”, by Carol Hochberg; “What Do We Do with the Coffin?”, by Carol Sheldon; and “The Healing Court”, by Micheline Birger. These four were so amateur in concept and construction, that I found them boring and totally lackluster.

The seating is of the folding chair type on a flat floor and is very uncomfortable. It is difficult for people from the third row back to see what is happening on the non-elevated stage, and many of the audience walked out before the second act began. Unfortunately for them, the best two plays were in the second half of the show, after intermission. The sound was constantly fouled up, the lighting was miserable, acting was occasionally good and sometimes mediocre to fair, but certainly on the whole, this is not theater that I can recommend that you drive an hour to see, followed by another hour to return home, even for the couple of good shows that we did see and enjoy!

The theater is located at 50 Acacia Avenue, near Grand Avenue, in the student dorm building called the Meadowlands Assembly Hall, on the ground floor. Tickets range in price between $10 (Seniors) and $18 each. For reservations and/or information, call (415) 673-3131.

Karen and I did have one experience earlier on that same evening that made the trip more than worthwhile. We had dinner at an absolutely marvelous restaurant in Petaluma called the Cucina Paradiso, located at 114 Petaluma Blvd, in downtown Petaluma. I would even drive back to Petaluma again, just to enjoy the deliciously innovative and perfectly prepared entrées.

I enjoyed homemade ravioli filled with veal and organic baby spinach, prosciutto di parma, asparagus and a rich, tasty cream sauce, described as Pasta del Giorno ravioli de vitello! My wife and her cousin felt that their food was equally superb and raved about it all evening and even the next morning.

I occasionally drive up to see shows in the Spreckles Theatre in Rohner Park and this restaurant is definitely going to be on my radar the next time I drive in that direction. You can secure reservations by calling the Cucina Paradiso at (707) 782-1130 or by visiting their website at http://www.cucinaparadisopetaluma.com/. The meal was a very reasonable, $75 including an excellent house wine and tip, for three people! Wow! What great food and superb service.