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SPECIAL FORCES

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JOY

Both available from Broadway Play Publishing, Inc.

On Stage Now

PRESENT LAUGHTER
By Noël Coward
Eureka Theatre
215 Jackson St. @ Battery in
San Francisco

Now through July 2nd!

PRESENT LAUGHTER  THEATRE RHINOCEROS
$5 OFF DISCOUNT CODE FOR ALL PERFORMANCES: COWARD2016

Use the code on Brownpapertickets.com and be sure to click "Show Available Tickets" after you've entered it in order to get the discount.


 

Earlier Productions

A Song at Twilight

with John Fisher as Hugo
By Noël Coward
Z Below Theatre (470 Florida St. between 17th and 18th Streets) Map It
January 20-31, 2016

 

Shakespeare Goes to War

Written and Directed by John Fisher

November 4-28, 2015

Thick House

1695 18th Street

San Francisco, CA  94107

Shakespeare Goes to War poster

 

Prior Seasons

Timon! The Musical

Book and Lyrics by John Fisher

Music by Don Seaver

Produced by Yerba Buena Gardens Festival

@ Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco

Friday, June 5 @ 700 pm

Saturday, June 6 @ 700 pm

Sunday, June 7 @ 100 pm

http://ybgfestival.org/event/timon/

 

The Battle of Midway! Live! Onstage!

Book and Lyrics by John Fisher

Music by Don Seaver

Plays through November 30, 2014 Only!

@ A.C.T.'s The Costume Shop

1117 Market Street @ 7th Street

San Francisco, CA  94102

Tickets: www.TheRhino.org or 1-800-838-3006

IN MAY...

To Sleep and Dream wins the Bay Area Critics' Circle Award for Best Original Script on Monday May 5, 2014 at the California Ballroom.

 

2014: Submitting my play Hackett Straight (about PT-Boats in the South Pacific) to the Yale Drama Series. Recently submitted my play Pirates! (gays hijacked by Somalis) and a new play about growing up to Playwrights Horizons and The Rattlestick Theatre. Writing a play about the AIDS crisis and adapting a Shakespeare into a camp musical.

John Fisher has written and directed the following plays:

John Fisher, Playwrite

among others

  Plays by John Fisher

new in print

Special Forces

Broadway Play Publishing, Inc.

http://www.broadwayplaypubl.com/

The Best Women's Stage Monologues 2008 (Joy, Jane's monologue)

www.SmithandKraus.com

Joy

Broadway Play Publishing, Inc.

http://www.broadwayplaypubl.com/

on stage

 

 

 

Special Forces

(Theatre Rhinoceros)

John Fisher's plays have been produced in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New Haven (Yale) and on HBO as a part of the annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.

John is the recipient of the NEA Grant, the GLAAD Media Award for Best Theatre, the L.A. Weekly Award for Best Musical and Best Script, two Will Glickman Playwright Awards for Joy and Medea: The Musical, the BackStage West Garland Award, two Cable Car Awards, a San Francisco Guardian Goldie Award, an S.F. Arts Commission Cultural Equity Grant, a Zellerbach Grant and ten Bay Area Theatre Critics’ Circle Awards.

He received his Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley in 2001 and has taught at U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Santa Cruz.

CombatRecently John taught, in a two year appintment (2006-2008), in the Play Writing program at the Yale School of Drama. He currenlty teaches (2008-Present) at the American Conservatory Theatre.

He is currently working on a script about the Mahdi and the Sudan that is funded by a San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity Grant.

Recent directing projects include Red Scare on Sunset for the American Conservatory Theatre’s MFA program and What the Butler Saw for Theatre Rhinoceros.

Recent play writing projects include Richard Burton's Voice at Yale, Special Forces in San Francisco, There's Something About Marriage at the New York Fringe Festival, and SexRev Fighting Mac!, Slugs and Kicks and To Sleep and Dream, all in San Francisco. Special Forces has been adapted as a screenplay.

Even Earlier News!

News:

To Sleep and Dream nominated for Best Original Script by the Bay Area Critics' Circle

Award Ceremony is Monday, May5

Recent:

September 19 - October 6, 2013

To Sleep and Dream
Written and Directed by John Fisher
At Z Below
470 Florida Street
San Francisco, CA

For Tix: www.TheRhino.org

Recent:

Extended! Now to June 23rd

"Powerful! Provocative Performances!"

SF Examiner

Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?
By Caryl Churchill
Directed by John Fisher
Extended! - Now through June 23rd
At The Costume Shop
1117 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

For Tix: www.TheRhino.org

 

Slugs and Kicks

A New Comedy

Written and Directed by John Fisher

Thick House

1695 18th Street @ Arkansas, San Francisco

November 24 - December 9, 2012

www.TheRhino.org

 

Recent:

A Lady and a Woman

By Shirlene Holmes

Directed by John Fisher

Eureka Theatre

215 Jackson Street @ Battery, San Francisco

March 2013

Something Cloudy, Something Clear

ByTennessee Williams

Directed by John Fisher

Eureka Theatre

215 Jackson Street @ Battery, San Francisco

January 2 - 13, 2013 - EXTENDED TO JANUARY 20th!

 

Slugs and Kicks

A New Play by John Fisher

Opening November 22, 2012

Thick House

1695 18th Street @ Arkansas, San Francisco

May 31 - June 16, 2012

www.TheRhino.org

The Cast of Slugs and Kicks

Recent:

"Romanoffs" by John Fisher

Starring Hugh Dancy, Kathy Garver and Amy Povich

With Minnie Driver, Michael Keaton and Chris Noth

Directed by Don Sanders

24 Hour Play Festival

Festival del Sol

Lincoln Theatre, Yountville

July 15, 2012

http://festivaldelsole.org/calendar-2012/2012-events/24-hour-plays/

 

100 Saints You Should Know

By Kate Fodor

Directed by John Fisher

Thick House

1695 18th Street @ Arkansas, San Francisco

May 31 - June 16, 2012

www.TheRhino.org

 

Sorry Fugu

By T. C. Boyle

Adapted and Directed By John Fisher

France Tour

Salle Adyar, Paris

March 2012

Plus Nancy, Angers and Nantes

A Word-for-Word Production

www.zspace.org

 

Ishi: The Last of the Yahi

Written and Directed by John Fisher

Zellerbach Playhouse

March 4 - 11, 2012

A UC Berkeley Production

http://tdps.berkeley.edu/productions-events/main-stage-season/

 

Food Stories

"Sorry Fugu" by T. C. Boyle and "Enough" by Alice McDermott

Adapted and Directed by John Fisher

Z-Space Theatre

January - February 2012

A Word-for-Word Production

www.zspace.org

 

The Two-Character Play

By Tennessee Williams

Directed By John Fisher

January 4 - 14, 2012

Eureka Theatre, San Francisco

www.TheRhino.org

 

SexRev Redux

Return engagement of SexRev: The Jose Sarria Experience

Written and Directed by John Fisher

CounterPULSE

November 10-December 4, 2011

www.TheRhino.org

 

"Sorry Fugu"

By T. C. Boyle

Adapted and Directed by John Fisher

Savory Thymes Fund Rasier

September 24, 2011

A Word-for-Word Produciton

www.zspace.org

Julia

By Lillian Helman

Adapted and Directed by John Fisher

A Word-for-Word "Off-the-Page" Production

August 2011

A Word-for-Word Production

The Jewish Theatre, San Francisco

www.zspace.org

Fighting Mac

The Story of Hector MacDonald

Written and Directed by John Fisher

June 2011, Thick House, San Francisco

                                              

Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray
Adaped and Directed by John Fisher

Eureka Theatre, San Francisco: 8/26/10-9/19/10

                                                     

SexRev: The José Sarria Experience

Written and Directed by John Fisher

 

(The Voice Factory, San Francisco: April 2010) is...

[And here's the whole review from Robert Avila at The Guardian:](Tom Orr and Mike Vega as Josés in grief)

Theatre Review: Robert Avila

"Are You Experienced? Theatre Rhinoceros mounts Sexrev: The José Sarria Experience

"José Sarria is many things: performer, activist, trailblazer, legend, Latino, diva, tenor ... So just how many José Sarrias are there? In the latest meta-theatrical reclamation-and-floorshow from playwright-director John Fisher (Medea: The Musical, Combat; Ishi: The Last of the Yahi) you'll meet several but get no strict count. That's part of the point and much of the charm in SexRev: The José Sarria Experience, a production of Theatre Rhinoceros, currently ensconced in residency at queer performance incubator Mama Calizo's Voice Factory.

"First, there's the Sarria of memory, in the mind of our ingenuous, ebullient narrator (Donald Currie), a gay man in middle age reminiscing about his precocious sexual awakening via "the Nightingale of Montgomery Street" in a certain storied postwar/Beat-era bar known as the Black Cat Café. At one point in this fourth-wall–smashing show, staged in the round as the invitingly sleazy Black Cat itself, audience members are invited to share their own first-hand impressions of the pioneering San Francisco drag performer and gay rights activist.

"Then there are the Sarrias we meet on stage, played to the hilt by Tom Orr and Michael Vega. Each actor is responsible for an aspect of the Sarria "experience," but in the insouciant critical consciousness of Fisher's play, that doesn't necessarily mean it will go unchallenged. "But José Sarria was brown!" shouts a "heckler" at Orr. "You're not brown." The contradiction and ensuing kerfuffle provide Fisher and the audience one way into the continuing political relevance and volatility of his subject matter, of course, and some productive laughs come out of it too. Add to this the real possibility of the "real" José Sarria showing up in the audience one night, and you get a sense of the tangled politics of art, and art of politics.

"Frenetically staged, often very funny, endlessly self-referential, and indeed — as one character doesn't hesitate to complain — a bit long, "SexRev" moves fitfully back and forth across the last several decades of San Francisco queer life and politics. But as a history lesson, a widening of horizons, and a spur to political vigilance on behalf of freedom for everyone, it's a hell of a lively night out." (Guardian, April 5, 2010)

This production also was favorably reviewed by Richard Doods in the Bay Area Reporter and by Sister Dana in the Bay Times.

Two on a Party (Salle Adyar, Paris and on tour in France)

(Sheila Balter and Ryan Tasker in Two on a Party)

I directed and adapted this story which the SF Chronicle descirbed as "warm and funny" for its revivial at Theatre Artuad in March and for its tour of France in March and April 2010. I was at the Paris performaces to answer questions about the show.

Three on a Party (San Francisco: Summer 2009) is...

“Warm and funny, ” from the “giddy… wild word play” and “decadent sensuality” of Miss Furr and Miss Skeene and the “touching… very well performed… sexual tourism” of Two on a Party, to the “affecting slice of [San Francisco] life…” of Almost Home. [The Little Man is clapping!] (San Francisco Chronicle)

"Party trio brings out best in Word for Word, Rhino... there's nothing bettter." (Chad Jones, Theaterdogs.net)

Ishi: The Last of the Yahi (San Francisco: Summer 2008) is...

Ishi: Last of the Yahi 

"Gripping and remarkarbly effective... staged with [Fisher's] usual proficiency." [The Little Man is clapping!] (Robert Hurwitt, San Franciosc Chronicle)

"[Ishi] offers absorbing, imaginative anylysis of thorny ethical issues." (Dennis Harvey, Variety.)

Ishi named by Richard Dodds in the Bay Area Reporter: Best on Bay Area Stages Top 10 Offerings in 2008

Schonberg (Bleecker Street Theatre, New York City: August 2008)

"It might help to go into this sharply etched two-hander already knowing that Arnold Schönberg was a severe Viennese composer living in, of all places, Los Angeles, and that Oscar Levant, celebrated wit of radio and movies, was his piano student. But all you really need to know is that both were Jewish—with different strategies for passing in 1932’s preapocalyptic climate. The former escaped the Nazis, then fell into a deep cynicism; the latter hid behind a thick scrim of one-liners and desperate shtick. As played, respectively, by the play’s author, John Fisher, and his troupe’s assistant artistic director, Matt Weimer, these uneasy associates come to life in bristling, neurotic parlor chats, sharing a bond of anxious subtext that takes on a touching resonance as the play progresses. (Joshua Rothkopf, TimeOut New York.)

"This play by John Fisher imaginatively reconstructs meetings between Oscar Levant and Arnold Schoenberg that took place during WWII. It’s an engrossing glimpse at a circumscribed relationship between two very different Jewish musicians. As it opens Levant provides brief information to bring us up to speed on his own and Schoenberg’s backgrounds. Good move. The short series of compelling exchanges that follows reveals much about both men as it contrasts their personalities and approaches to life and art. Oscar Levant, unsure and attempting to be ingratiating, asks Schoenberg to teach him the art of composition. A musical revolutionary and demanding disciplinarian, Schoenberg calls Levant an entertainer, a neurotic and a clown, while admitting to paranoia himself. War film footage, including horrific concentration camp pictures, plays in the moments between meetings. The play shares a basic format with My Dinner with Andre (which, though it prompts questions like, where can I get the action figures, is nevertheless an absorbing film for enthusiasts). At times this comes across as Fisher taking an opportunity to present a collection of Schoenberg aphorisms, and it absolutely depends upon brilliant acting and direction in order to work. Fortunately, John Fisher and Matt Weimer are superb." (Kathryn Osenlund, Curtain Up.)

The Rhino Christmas Panto (San Francisco: December 2008)

"Rhino Christmas Panto, the latest show at San Francisco’s Theatre Rhinoceros, captures the spirit of the Mission, gay pride, and Christmas in one neat little package. A Gay Christmas Show? The idea may seem a little farfetched... but this show has something for everyone - music, dance, drag queens, guys in small undies, and even Jesus.

"The show follows Aaron (Aaron Martinsen), a jaded bitter gay man who learns the true meaning of Christmas through a whirlwind tour of history that includes a quick trip to Bethlehem, a visit with Emperor Constantine, a small town in Iowa, 1960’s San Francisco, and Oakland in the future. One of the show’s conceits - and a brilliant one - is its audience participation. Rachel the Christmas Fairy (Rachel L. Jacobs) cracks inside jokes and generates interactive moments. There’s even a Bingo game!

Threatre Rhinoceros Christmas Panto"The Theatre Rhinoceros is America’s longest running professional queer theatre. Also, as you may hear if you see the show, it has officially seceded from California State because of the passing of Proposition 8. That being said, the show doesn’t get too preachy or political. Rhino Christmas Panto actually celebrates the ways we can have pride in our history and enjoy Christmas as queer men and women.

"The idea may seem a little farfetched but this show has something for everyone - music, dance, drag queens, guys in small undies, and Jesus.The production values are a little low but the show is well-written. The show even comments on the production values suggesting that everything handmade with love usually looks janky. The music is insightful and the lyrics are well conceived. The show really does evoke some emotion. The trip through time can seem a little random, but the audience participation helps you really start to love the characters.

"Despite the show’s inability to have an Broadway-style set, the actors really shine. The group has great comedic timing and dance skills. Some of the standouts include Nicholas Yenson who dances throughout the production playing memorable characters like Jesus and a young boy who runs away to New York City and falls in love with Carol Channing. Jordan L. Moore shows his versatility playing diverse parts (and looking stunning throughout) including The Virgin Mary, Carol Channing, and a dominatrix fairy (yes, you read that right). The stand-out is Rachel L. Jacobs whose sweet demeanor and amicability enamor you throughout the show.

"Filled with local flair and a lot of Christmas spirit, Rhino Christmas Panto explores what it’s like to be gay on Christmas and how we can all be happy and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. Go see it!" (Christian Cintron, EDGE.)

"The mimicry of everything originated in ancient Greece, survives as a Christmas tradition in Great Britain and its spirit is now brought to The Rhino stage by Director John Fisher. The Rhino Christmas Panto includes many of the standard elements of pantomime, including messy substances and gender confusion, but it is also specific to San Francisco and the LGBT community. The show is a musical revue which explores widely, from the birth of Christ to hippie-era SF to Oakland in the future. The predominant theme is embodied in the opening song, “Christmas is for Queers.”

"Rachel, a Fairy with wings (Rachel Jacobs), leads the show and instructs the audience members to shout, “Hey, Rachel. I’m a fairy.” She is accompanied by Aaron (Martinsen) a fairy with gold wings. He has issues. She leads him in his journey to discover himself. Along the way there is the typical panto fare of physical comedy and multiple characters with costume changes played by a cast of eight, to piano accompaniment. The characterizations range from “a Mission boy” to a black-clad dominatrix to a drag impersonator of Carol Channing (Jordan L. Moore).

"The small, chirpy powerhouse Rachel engages the audience in much lively participation, and carries the show masterfully with her improvisations.

"Sometimes the opening-night audience became overly rowdy, but she was able to shush them. On a set of flats with snowflakes and Christmas lights, she led the action from New York to Bethlehem to ancient Rome. The song interludes (written by James Dudek) are specific to each location. The action begins on Liberty Street on Christmas Eve with the ensemble’s opening number, which lends a sense of openness and empowerment. When they move to Bethlehem, Christ (Nicholas Yensen) pops out of Mary’s womb, dragging along his umbilical cord. He snaps it off, then proceeds to use it as a jump-rope before he launches into “It’s My Birthday.” In 60s SF, Rachel persuades the audience to join hands and sing along to “God Bless Us Nelly Queens.”

"Other audience participation involves the appearance of Norman Muñoz as Emperor Constantine in ancient Rome, accompanied by a lion in costume (Amy Dietz) and pagans with a skull and bones of Christians. Rachel told the audience to shout out, “Look out! There’s a Roman behind you,” whenever they saw the Emperor, which the audience enthusiastically did. Another bit involved gay bingo. The moderator says he wants “gay men to find some way of interacting other than sex and drinking.” They pass out bingo cards and beans as markers, then roll the numbered balls around in a cage until someone claims to bingo. Aaron finally phones his former lover who says he’s in bed with a guy right now. Later he comes in and reveals that he lives downstairs, and there is no other guy. “I’ve been stalking you for six months.” They reconcile, hug.

"The finale returns to Liberty Street for a reprise of “Christmas Is for Queers,” complete with bubble machine. The ensemble performances include an Ox, a Cute Boy in the Mission, a Lamb, a Random Drunk Lesbian, and Oakland Queers. It’s all good fun and very fast paced. John Fisher wanted to use the word panto to signify that almost anything goes, although as Rachel said when Aaron called the show “janky,” “This is a family show,” but there were no children in the audience. Most of the humor would be lost on younger people, except for the extended pie-in-the face lazzi routines. Albert Goodwyn, SF Bay Times.)

Special Forces (San Francisco: May - July, 2007) is...

"Witty, thought-provoking and inventive... Engrossing and entertaining!" [The Little Man is Clapping!] (Rob Hurwitt, San Francisco Chronicle)

"Low-key hilarity, understated and allusive wit, unexpected grace, and distant but bitter sadness in this canny exploration of war through the prism of gender." (Robert Avila, Bay Guardian)

"Fisher's plays bristle with wit, intelligence, and a wonderfully developed theatrical instinct."
(Steven Winn, San Francisco Chronicle)

"Fisher has talent to burn... Not unlike Tony Kushner, this playwright can set his figures to talking like exclamation-pointed position papers that are both clear and funny."
(Dennis Harvey, Variety)

"A sobering tale of modern combat in which romantic notions of war are trammeled... Special Forces is designed to be lean and mean, much as the current Iraq war was conceived to be. But unlike the war, the play actually succeeds in its terseness."
(Richard Dodds, Bay Area Reporter)

*Special Forces Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St; 861-5079, www.therhino.org. $15-25. Extended run: Thurs/11-Sat/14, 8pm. "Kuwait City" opens the repertoire of chanteuse Dinah Blue (Matthew Martin), the cool, globe-trotting transvestite whose liaison with a Marine (William J. Brown III) and flirty friendship with his commanding officer (John Fisher) get her entangled in a little scrap called the Iraq War. Her song, in Theater Rhinoceros's world premiere of the latest from playwright-director Fisher (Medea: The Musical, Schoenberg), strikes the principal notes of low-key hilarity, understated and allusive wit, unexpected grace, and distant but bitter sadness in this canny exploration of war through the prism of gender. The play also ironically pays tribute to the Hollywood image of the fighting 1940s in a saving-the-world-from-Private Ryan sort of way, whereby that soldier has morphed into Lt. "Dame" Anderson. This startlingly tough and disturbingly efficient female soldier (powerfully rendered by Helen Sage Howard) leads a rogue special ops mission that Dinah must reach before its misguided objective is carried out. Set on a sparse stage (accented with Jeremy Cole's authentic-looking costumes and blasts from Tanner Menard's viscerally loud soundscape), the production evokes the moral desert of the hardware-strapped US project in Iraq as it intersects (in a way that leaves one pondering) the panorama of gender confusion under a regime of militarism and war. (Robert Avila, Bay Guardian)

Coverage/Reviews of There's Something About Marriage (New York City: August, 2007):

San Francisco Chronicle story, August 10, 2007

"Rhino charges east"

Theatre Rhinoceros is preparing to celebrate its longevity as the nation's oldest "queer" theater company by taking a show to the New York Fringe Festival just before its 30th anniversary season begins. "There's Something About Marriage" - an "irreverent look at the wannabe institutions of same-sex marriage," conceived and directed by Artistic Director John Fisher - plays Aug. 17-22 at New York's Center for Architecture as part of the fringe. Fisher, who also wrote "Marriage" and developed it in workshops at Rhino in the spring, co-stars in the piece with co-author Maryssa Wanlass and actors Sara Moore and A.K. Conrad.
The Rhino's 30th gets under way Sept. 20 with its own look back in celebration, a revue of selections from past work called "Theatre Rhinoceros: The First Thirty Years." Meanwhile, in a kind of cross-country exchange, the theater is playing host to a show arriving fresh from its own well-received off-Broadway run. Plan-B Theatre Company of Salt Lake City opens tonight at the Rhino and runs through Aug. 26 with its production of "Facing East," an original play by Carol Lynn Pearson about upstanding Mormon parents coping with the suicide of their gay son. Tickets at (415) 861-5079, www.therhino.org. - Robert Hurwitt

Reviews:

There’s Something About Marriage
TalkinBroadway Theatre Review by Matthew Murray
There’s Something About Marriage, which is playing at the Center for Architecture as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, is the first show I’ve ever seen to insists its audience members leave their cell phones on - and mean it. In fact, John Fisher, the de facto emcee and Executive Director of San Francisco’s Theatre Rhinoceros (from which this production comes), even offers a prize - “one whole dollar!” - to the first person to receive a call during the show. Gimmicky? Yes. But believe it or not, there is a point: As Fisher explains it, he wants Americans to be a part of the dialogue about gay marriage, and that means keeping all lines of communication open.

The discussion the show encourages, however, is presented as an all-out burlesque. Conceiver-director Fisher, A.K. Conrad, Sara Moore, and Maryssa Wanlass enact a dozen or so fast-paced skits focusing on topics of vital interest to San Franciscans and Americans in general. Among them: Mayor Gavin Newsom’s 2004 same-sex marriage initiative, scenes from the lives of two couples (one male, one female) pondering the meaning of love and commitment in their own lives, the extent to which President Bush was reelected because of a gay-marriage backlash, and even parodic game shows aimed at identifying in-the-closet straights, unveiling lesbians’s sexual habits, and determining the degree to which homosexual self-loathing is lied about.

Despite being coated with a crude shallowness - which reaches its nadir (or, depending on your point of view, its zenith) in two gay porn clips for which the audience is encouraged to provide the soundtracks - There’s Something About Marriage is a compellingly complex look at an oversimplified subject. Its interweaving of political and social concerns is deceptively sophisticated, and its messages are hardly of the sound-bite variety. If you’re expecting this show to be either an inveterate drum-beater for gay marriage or to firmly denounce it, you’ll be disappointed: The show collects more diverse opinions and attitudes about the subject than you’ll find in most news accounts or editorials.

Even if they’re wrapped in a satiric package, you’re forced to take them seriously. As There’s Something About Marriage examines so many facets of this struggle for equality, you might just find yourself stunned at the fresh understanding you take away from a subject that often seems to have been discussed to completion.

BACKSTAGE.com Review
There's Something About Marriage
August 20, 2007
By Paul Menard
San Francisco's legendary Theatre Rhinoceros has invaded New York and wants to know what you think about same-sex marriage. Its audience-goading Fringe Festival entry, There's Something About Marriage, hopes to illustrate that this frequently oversimplified issue may be more complicated than either side is willing to admit.

A faux seminar about "gay empowerment" composed of improvisation, short skits, and game-show antics, There's Something About Marriage aims to keep audiences off kilter. Whether through the highly personal questionnaire with yes or no the only possible responses to outlandish sexual questions or the screening of hardcore gay porn for which the audience is asked to provide the soundtrack, the show tries to rattle audiences into confronting dichotomies, stereotypes, and facile thinking.

But don't expect the Rhinoceros gang to provide answers or confront the issue of marriage equality itself. Instead, the piece bluntly criticizes the political strategies and social brouhaha surrounding the debate.

NewYorkTheatre.com Review
There's Something About Marriage
Reviewed by Debbie Hoodiman Beaudin
Aug 17, 2007

Theatre can be an excellent forum for exploration of current issues, and Theatre Rhinoceros's show There's Something About Marriage invites the audience to "join the debate" on the issue of same-sex marriage. In this raunchy, sometimes satirical, sometimes political, very silly, show, San Francisco's oldest gay theater company creates a sort of collage of thoughts about gay sexuality and the issue of same-sex marriage.

Structurally, the show is broken up into a few throughlines woven together. One throughline consists of audience participation, led mainly by John Fisher (who also directs and created the show) and sometimes by Maryssa Wanlass. In the segments where Fisher and Wanlass talk directly to the audience, some of the dialogue comes from a dirty audience survey given out at the beginning of the show, and knowing I might get to talk to the actors (or win a prize!) certainly felt exciting. The purpose is to get the audience warmed-up, loosened-up, and involved, not to find out what we think.

There is also a story line exploring the dating history of two same-sex couples (one female, one male) who meet online. This throughline was interesting because it showed how we can think we know what we want in a partner yet be completely wrong about what we need. It's also interesting that the two couples end up having different views about whether they want to get married at all, showing a diversity of opinions, which helps to balance the show. In the story lines of the two couples, I enjoyed the acting by the company, particularly A.K. Conrad's ditzy, pop-culture-obsessed, flirtatious boy and Sara Moore's Midwestern, sort-of dorky, totally sincere character.

There is also a satirical bit about Gavin Newsom (played with appropriate broadness by Conrad), who legalized gay marriage in San Francisco in 2004. The sequences about Newsom make fun of him in a way that is true to sketch comedy, and explore the actual history of what happened. I enjoyed these sequences because they gave information about the politics of the issue and how sometimes controversial issues can galvanize not only those who want change but also those against the issue.

Worked into the live sequences is video, some of which is explicit. One video, credited to David Mahr, is a montage of same-sex weddings, while Mahr's song, "Stop the Gays," plays. The video has a documentary feeling, and the song, which is not completely pro-same-sex marriage, coupled with the video, again, gives the show diversity of opinion.

Theatre Rhinoceros: The First Thirty Years

Conceived and Directed by John Fisher

Opened September 20

Extended to October 21!

Reviews:

San Jose Mercury News

By Karen D'Souza

"San Francisco’s Theatre Rhino may be as piercing as ever. The nation’s longest running professional queer theater is celebrating 30 years of “the love that not only speaks but also shouts, sings and dances its name.’’ Director John Fisher, best known for the phenomenally smart and funny postmodern-disco fable “Medea: the Musical,’’ has extended the company’s anniversary show “Theatre Rhinoceros: The First Thirty Years” through Oct. 21. The tuneful retrospective slices into three decades of cutting-edge comedy, sex and politics. This is musical comedy so sharp it stings."

SF Bay Times

By Sister Dana Van Iquity

"The whole sensational show ends with a catchy cast number, “The Rhino”...  Don’t you dare wait for the next ten years of retrospective; see Thirty Years now!!!"

SF Bay Guardian

By Robert Avila

"Gay times: Celebrating the Rhino's three transformative decades of transgression"

"A series of slide projections cycling through a gamut of theater posters greets audiences taking their seats at Theatre Rhinoceros's 30th season opener. Ranging in design from the openly trashy to the quietly tony, many of these posters offer eye-catching portions of skin and equally intriguing titles: Cocksucker: A Love Story, Deporting the Divas, Pogey Bait, Show Ho, Intimate Details, Barebacking, and Hillbillies on the Moon. It adds up to a hefty if scantily clad body of work that owes its existence to a good extent to the advent of Theatre Rhinoceros. Begun in 1977 by Alan Estes in a SoMa leather bar with a production of Doric Wilson's The West Street Gang, the Rhino today is the longest-running LGBT theater in the country.

Thirty years like these call for a moment of reflection, and the Rhino's lasts a brisk and enjoyable 70 minutes. Conceived and directed by John Fisher, who became artistic director in 2002, Theatre Rhinoceros: The First Thirty Years takes a jaunty look back at a raucous, at times traumatic, but overall remarkable theatrical career intimately tied to the social and political history of the queer community. While making no attempt to be exhaustive, or exhausting, Fisher's swift, celebratory pastiche (with dramaturgy by actor and associate artistic director Matt Weimer) neatly suggests the range of artistic output and the sweep of events and personalities that have gone into defining the theater and its times.

The bulk of the show comprises a choice selection of scenes and songs from productions past (with some original compositions and arrangements by Don Seaver and snazzy choreography by Angeline Young), put on by a capable five-person ensemble, all but one veterans of previous Rhino shows. Sporadically introduced by Fisher — who as MC strikes the right note at once, with a deadpan motorized entrance onto a stage decked out (by designer John Lowe) in a shimmering red glitter curtain worthy of Cher or Merv Griffin — the selections progress more or less chronologically, though the cast leads off with a rendition of "Dirty Dreams of a Clean-Cut Kid," from the musical of the same name by lyricist Henry Mach and composer Paul Katz, which was a hit for the Rhino in 1990. It's an apt piece to introduce part one of the show, "Coming Out/Living Out," the first of four sections charting the development of the theater and its audience.

Other highlights include a scene from Theresa Carilli's Dolores Street, an early lesbian-themed play that marked the Rhino's (at the time somewhat controversial) turn to more inclusive queer programming. It's a still tart and funny comedy about the relationships in a young lesbian household in San Francisco, at least judging by the scene expertly reproduced by Laurie Bushman and Alice Pencavel.

The live sequences come interspersed with videotaped interviews of Rhino founders and associates, including Lanny Baugniet, P.A. Cooley, Donna Davis, and Tom Ammiano. The cast also reads excerpts from letters to the theater from subscribers and some well-known playwrights, most offering praise and thanks, others caviling at the quality of a specific production, expressing indignation over liberties taken with a script, or offering resistance to the changes in programming that opened the stage to lesbian themes and, eventually, many other queer voices. (It's indicative of how far things have come that a letter like this last one, which pointed to once serious divisions in the larger gay community, elicited only comfortable laughter from the opening night's audience.)

In part two, "AIDS," the ensemble re-creates highlights from the Rhino's historic long-running revue, The AIDS Show: Artists Involved with Death and Survival. A collaborative venture between 20 Bay Area artists and an unprecedented, defiantly upbeat response to the terrifying onset of the AIDS crisis, the show took aim at the still largely repressed issue of safe sex through such numbers as Karl Brown and Matthew McQueen's cheeky sizzler "Rimmin' at the Baths" and their equally clever and forthright "Safe Livin' in Dangerous Times" (both beautifully rendered by the full cast of Theatre Rhinoceros), as well as the terrible toll in drastically foreshortened lives (seen here from the perspective of a mother, affectingly played by Bushman, in Adele Prandini's "Momma's Boy"). The AIDS Show, which went on to tour the country and put the Rhino on the national map, premiered to packed houses in 1984, the year its creator and Rhino founder Estes died of the disease.

This show's parts three and four deal with the growing diversity of voices and issues in the years of relative liberation and mainstream exposure for the LGBT population. A scene from Brad Erickson's Sexual Irregularities (played by Weimer and Kim Larsen) broaches the conflict between homosexuality and religion, a theme increasingly explored in new work for the stage, while one from Guillermo Reyes's Deporting the Divas (played by Larsen and Mike Vega) points to the increasing presence of minority voices, reporting on the gay experience from the perspectives of particular ethnic subcultures.

In the postmodern micropolitics of sexual identity characteristic of the new millennium (and spoofed hilariously by Weimer, Larsen, and Vega in a scene from Fisher's Barebacking), queer theater is characterized by increasingly hybrid categories and a plethora of voices from all sectors of experience. The cast sums up the road thus far with a characteristically proud and wry glance at the possibilities ahead in the show's final, original number, "The Rhino" (by Seaver, with lyrics by Weimer). But, to invoke an older song, anything goes."

Bay Area Reporter

"Turning 30: Theatre Rhino revue looks back"
Published 09/27/2007

By Richard Dodds

"There's something Peter Pan-ish about Theatre Rhinoceros, which has grown old without exactly growing up. In Theatre Rhinoceros: The First 30 Years, a revue that pays tribute to three decades of queer theater-making, current executive director John Fisher, the new show's conceiver and director, tells us that the very first show was a happening titled Gayhem, before the cast breaks into characters to suggest what it might have looked like. The new show in which it's included has a gayhem attitude toward trying to sum up 30 years in under 90 minutes.

That's a good thing, because the task is so improbable that the light and loose spirit at hand is likely required. Fisher, who arrives on stage on a motorized scooter, acts as narrator, using notes to provide names, dates, and details, but mostly maintains a conversational, often self-deprecating tone with the audience. The cast of five will offer "a taste, a sampling," he says, of past productions, with the proviso that only works that were written for Rhino will be included. It's a smart choice, providing a necessary limitation, and also surprising us with material that has gone unseen for years.

San Francisco Chronicle

"Don't Miss: 'Theatre Rhinoceros: The First Thirty Years'"
Stephanie Laemoa
Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Theatre Rhinoceros opened its doors to the public in 1977 and has since become one of the pre-eminent queer theaters in the nation. Conceived and directed by John Fisher, this production is a trip down memory lane, with original songs and scenes reminiscent of three decades of this company's particular take on sex, politics, fun and everything in between."

Previews:

San Francisco Chronicle

Pink Section Article

By Rob Hurwitt

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"Theatre Rhinoceros celebrates 30 years of gay and lesbian plays"
"Given another decade, it may have to start lying about its age. Theatre Rhinoceros, San Francisco and the nation's "longest-running professional queer theater company," turns 30 this season. Founded in 1977 by Allan Estes, its first artistic director, and managing director Lanny Baugniet, the Rhino has long enjoyed a higher national than local profile as an incubator of new gay and lesbian plays, becoming the first gay theater to receive National Endowment for the Arts funding.

It's celebrating with a look back, "Theatre Rhinoceros: The First Thirty Years." Compiled and staged by current Artistic Director John Fisher, the show is billed as a revue of "original songs and scenes from three decades of new theater about the love that not only speaks but also shouts, sings and dances its name."

There's a lot to celebrate, not the least of which is the Rhino's survival. It's had to weather more than the usual share of small arts institutions' financial challenges and growing pains - including the cooptation of its special niche, as gay, lesbian and transgender themes have found homes in mainstream theater, films and TV.

The AIDS pandemic took an exceptionally heavy toll among the company's artists, including three Rhino artistic directors: Estes, who sickened and died suddenly in 1984 at the age of 29; Chuck Solomon, who ran its Playwrights Workshop; and Kenneth Dixon, one of the first African Americans to run a non-ethnically defined theater. Dixon's tenure in the late '80s saw the company struggle to broaden its ethnic inclusiveness, wrestling with internal and external issues of racism in the gay community and homophobia in ethnic communities. In some respects, that struggle was civil compared with the one that preceded it - when Estes, not long before his death, began including lesbians in what had been an exclusively gay male company.

"Now we take this stuff for granted," says Adele Prandini, one of the first lesbian playwrights at the Rhino and later its artistic director. "The male-female thing is no big deal anymore. But back then it was, definitely. There was a lot of mistrust from the lesbian community toward the gay men's community and vice versa."

Prandini came into the theater in 1984 for the staging of her play "A Safe Light" and soon found herself involved in the collaborative creation of "The AIDS Show" - originally called "Artists Involved in Death and Survival" - a project conceived by Estes and brought to fruition by director Leland Moss. In a short time, Prandini became an integral part of the Rhino, serving as its production manager for most of the '80s, alongside another "AIDS Show" recruit, popular playwright-performer Doug Holsclaw ("Life of the Party," "Don't Make Me Say Things That Will Hurt You"), who served as her associate artistic director through most of the '90s and succeeded her at the helm.

"It was an organization in trauma," Prandini observes of her first years. "Everyone was getting sick and nobody knew why. And people knew that once you got sick, you didn't have much time to live - so many people, such a waterfall of illness and death.

"At the same time, Allan started taking the first steps of turning the Rhino from a gay men's theater into a lesbian and gay theater. Then Kris Gannon (who succeeded Estes as artistic director) brought that more into being with her leadership. So we were dealing with a community under terrible stress and learning how to work together, trying to make the organization run successfully and be artistically smart. ... I feel I grew up as a human alongside Doug."

The Rhino was also beginning to get some national attention. It had attracted a growing local audience with such shows as Doric Wilson's "West Street Gang," moving from one location to another before settling in its 16th Street home. As much as it built on the popularity of recognizable names like Lanford Wilson, Harvey Fierstein and Robert Patrick, the Rhino had always been dedicated to presenting new works, many by local gay writers such as Robert Chesley, C.D. Arnold, Philip Real and Dan Curzon.

"The AIDS Show" put Rhino on the map. The collection of scenes and songs gained widespread attention as the first theatrical response to the pandemic, touring throughout the country. A second "AIDS Show" in 1985, with new songs and scenes, became the subject of a PBS documentary by Rob Epstein and Peter Adair.

"The very nature of the company, as a sort of loose collective, allowed for the earliest response to the AIDS crisis," Fisher says. "It didn't have to wait for a playwright to sit down for six months to write a play. It could have 20 artists create 20 scenes and songs and almost overnight have something like 'The AIDS Show.' "

Holsclaw, who was one of the creators, remembers that it wasn't easy to get everyone on the same page.

"People forget that the gay community was very divided in the early days of AIDS," he says. "A lot of people were saying, 'This is not happening,' or 'This is a plot by the Republicans to try to control our sex lives.' There were all kinds of conspiracy theories. To me, none of that mattered. We needed to protect ourselves. So I was one of the early safe-sex Goody Two-Shoes. That was my message. ... You know, we had no idea where AIDS was going, but that is how people deal with fear. Some people gain weight. I write a play.

"In the early days, people were hungry for information and a community setting in which to express their emotions. That turned pretty quickly. After seeing enough friends die, they didn't want to see anything more about AIDS. Then came the nudie thing in gay theater."

But not only nudity. As Fisher points out, Rhino was creating "important new work on important queer themes, a lot of shows on subjects that hadn't been addressed yet in mainstream theater. 'The Cradle and All' was an early lesbian play about having babies. George Birimisa's 'Pogey Bait' was about gays in the military, in 1982, long before people were doing shows on this. Brad Erickson did a play about homosexuality and Catholicism in the '80s. The most exciting thing about this theater for me has always been the new work. The Rhino was dedicated to the vision of gay, lesbian, transgender, the whole BLT panoply long before it was hip."

"That's the thing about queer theater," Holsclaw says. "It's defined not by its aesthetic but by its subject matter. So we tried to explore. My years there with Adele, we both wanted to do new work. ... We were creating a body of literature that did not exist before and telling truths that hadn't been said out loud before. And we didn't care what straight people thought. That was our mantra: We're not here for straight approval. ... What we didn't want were plays with a couch onstage: The guy comes in and says, 'Mom, I'm gay,' and she cries, 'Oh, we didn't play enough football.' "

That's the legacy Fisher is celebrating in the season opener, with material from "The AIDS Show," the Five Lesbian Brothers' "Hillbillies on the Moon" and works by Prandini, Doric Wilson, Erickson, Cherrie Moraga and others. "Thirty Years" can't possibly be inclusive, but Fisher says it provides "thumbnail sketches" that break the Rhino's history into four periods: coming out, AIDS, diversity and the new millennium. The season will continue with a still unconfirmed second show (probably a revival of Mart Crowley's long controversial play, "The Boys in the Band"), an annual New Year's Eve appearance by the ever-popular Marga Gomez and the local premiere of David Mamet's elusive and intriguing lesbian play, "Boston Marriage." It closes in late spring with the world premiere of Fisher's newest creation, "Ishi: The Last of the Yahi."

For now, the focus is on a 30-year legacy of new work.

"That's its greatest contribution, this plethora of new plays," Fisher says. "Maybe they haven't gone on to become Pulitzer Prize winners, but I think these are the plays that informed the work of the ones that became famous."

"There's a level on which we accomplished what we set out to do," Prandini agrees. "Other folks are more than happy to do lesbian and gay, transgender material now. The Rhino played a part in expanding those boundaries."

As Fisher sees it, the mainstream media's newfound comfort with gay themes opens up new worlds for the Rhino.

"Our role is changing," he says. "I think it's broadening, locating the homosexual in a more assimilated society. We've got liberation. Now we want rights. So the battle is around marriage and the rights every other citizen has - for gay men, for lesbians, for transgenders, for anybody who has made a choice or been born in a way that is differentiated from the 'norm.'

"We're like the Mime Troupe, in that the problems are always there. The struggle is to find those problems and address them, not just settle for entertainment. There are plenty of gay entertainments out there. We have to remain politically engaged."

Staircase

By Charles Dyer

Directed by John Fisher

November 17 to December 16, 2007

Reviews:

Bay Area Reporter

"Tres gay lovers, 'Staircase' revived at Theatre Rhino"
Published 11/29/2007

By Richard Dodds

Staircase, Charles Dyer's 1966 play about a pair of aging gay lovers, is more remembered for how it was handled, on Broadway and by Hollywood, than for what it had to say in that awkward age just before homosexuality had forced itself into the brewing cultural revolutions. Free of the baggage it accumulated when it was new, Staircase gets a rare staging at Theatre Rhino, where the play is intriguing as much for the cultural artifacts it reveals as for its wavering theatrical impact.

Dyer, a journeyman British playwright, scored his biggest hit when the Royal Shakespeare Company produced Staircase in 1966 with Paul Scofield and Patrick Magee as partners in life and a barbershop in Brixton (realistically rendered in Jon Wei-keung Lowe's set). Charlie and Harry's 30-year-old relationship now seems built on insults, nagging, and revisited disappointments, all of which are exacerbated by Charlie's pending court date for donning drag at a neighborhood pub. "This will ruin my comeback," says Charlie, a one-time actor most famous for an old television commercial. The long-suffering Harry mostly puts up with his partner's idiosyncrasies, though in the course of the intermissionless two-hour play, conflicts rise to a boil before returning to a simmering resignation with, perhaps, a trace of contentment.

Staircase was presented on Broadway in 1968 as a commercial offering with Milo O'Shea and Eli Wallach as Harry and Charlie. In their Playbill bios, as noted by William Goldman in his book The Season, all the main creative people stressed their heterosexual credentials. Despite some good reviews, it quickly closed. "Staircase was dead the minute they decided to style the production," Goldman wrote, "as if it were a charade performed by happily married daddies."

A film version the following year seemed to enhance the charade, as Rex Harrison and Richard Burton took on the roles of Charlie and Harry. It seemed to please no one, but some of its rejection clearly came from a homophobia that critics still felt free to express. "Like homosexuality, which confuses one love object for another," wrote Vincent Canby in The New York Times, "the film is full of grotesque substitutes, false teeth, false hair, feminine pronouns for masculine."

Which brings us up to today and Theatre Rhino, where no one is likely to defensively inject testosterone into his program bio. Nor must mincing be subdued in service of PC gay reformation. As Charlie, the has-been actor and accused corruptor of public decency, Donald Currie throws himself into the role of a preening queen whose main torment is an internalized homophobia. He periodically trots out the fact that he was briefly married and sired a child. "Nothing puffy about me, mate," he tells Harry. "I'm normal."

Harry, on the other hand, seems more accepting of his fate, at least as far as his sexual orientation is concerned. He even dreams of a day when gay couples can adopt children. But he is devastated by the alopecia that has suddenly rendered him bald, and wears surgical bandages to hide his shame. Joseph Tally plays Harry with gentle empathy that provides an endearing contrast with his partner's histrionics.

Overall, this is a small story in both its comedy and drama, though it has been directed with a good deal of flamboyance by John Fisher. After all these years, the main lure of Staircase seems not so much in what it has to say or how it says it, but in the knowledge of when it was saying these things.

Combat: An American Melodrama (San Francisco, Berkeley) is...

"A Berkeley drama department grad student and lecturer, John Fisher took the Bay Area theater scene by storm last year with two brilliantly realized romantic comedies, "The Joy of Gay Sex" and "Medea: The Musical." His first drama, "Combat!," may yet prove to be the great gays-in-the-military play numerous stage scribes have attempted over the last several years; it's two-thirds there. Engaging, witty, resourceful, this 3 1/4-hour script requires only editorial fine-tuning to pull its cinematic sweep into sharp focus.
"Combat!" is already worthy of play on any first-rate regional stage. (Why American Conservatory Theater or the Berkeley Rep haven't pelted this fast-rising author with commissions is a mystery only terminal cluelessness or local-talent distrust can explain.)

"It unfolds its epic saga on three central narrative planes, one of which is fact-based. The period is World War II, from preliminaries to aftermath. Dr. Harry Stack Sullivan (Paul Tena), once America's most famed psychiatrist, helps introduce a psychiatric exam to the Selective Service screening process. But to his horror, other powers include homosexuality as a mental-illness disqualification. A gay man himself, Sullivan protests.

"The other principal threads are imagined romances. Marine enlistee John (Christian Milne) experiences his first gay kiss, and then true love, with squad mate Mark (Jeremy Proctor). Meanwhile, John's ex-girlfriend, Susan (Kegan Stedwell), joins the WACs, where she, too, finds same-sex life partnership with Maj. Beverly (Elsa Wolthausen).

"The playwright's grand design encompasses famous battles as it cartwheels between these stories and larger events. A lone black Marine recruit (Darryl Stephens) adds another dimension to the notion of patriotic, institutional prejudice. Past history, and the United States' willful wartime ignorance of Final Solution rumors, are also referenced, to powerful effect.

"Fisher's main thesis indicts this first explicit anti-gay military policy as setting a precedent that would reverberate for decades, in many arenas. The American Psychiatric Assn., for example, didn't drop homosexuality from its list of disorders until the 1970s.

"Throughout a long first act, "Combat!" juggles myriad elements, with engaging , witty, resourceful, cinematically sweeping results. Those qualities remain thereafter, but Fisher's focus dissipates. When we ought to get closer to individual dramas, he instead pours on figures talking like position papers, riskier shifts in tone and problematic stage gambits. Some work wonderfully. Others feel forced. A reincarnation/love-beyond-death twist is sweet but stands out oddly as the play's single fantasy touch. More troublesome are the many roles (Mark Twain-inspired Devil, FDR, Gandhi, an inexplicable drum-majorette type) played by Jane Paik; their sardonic narration has a campy, Brechtian tilt that cheapens the play as a whole.

"Assistant director/choreographer Paik does lay claim to the show's giddiest interlude, a marvelous war-game maneuver staged in finger-snapping mock jazz-ballet style. With 24 actors playing multiple roles on designer Kate Edmunds' often bare stage (a huge rising/sinking platform is the major scenic component), "Combat!" wears its occasional rough edges well.

"The principals are quite fine; the minor roles sometimes betray student talent. Fisher gives himself a plum role as tough-love D.I. Jake Tower, a spectacular mix of fussy-uncle Paul Lynde and Full Metal Jacket's psycho-sarge Lee Ermey. He's superb.

"'Combat!' feels like a vast screen epic viewed in messy first cut. It needs work, but the expansiveness and substance are already there. Major regional theaters might be wise to sniff out the potential before they're trumped.

(Dennis Harvey, Variety)

"DAZED, scared and determined, a unit of U.S. Marines is pinned down by enemy fire at the edge of a beach on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, in the middle of World War II. One has a gaping wound in his cheek; another, a shattered arm. Their sergeant is barking out crisp commands, trying to figure out how to advance in a desperate attempt to save his men's lives.

"It's a remarkably tense moment, especially considering that the combat in "Combat!" is taking place on a stage. Especially considering that there's virtually no scenery, and that the primary sound effect is a drum tattoo. Especially considering that there's another scene taking place behind the hunkered-down soldiers, involving an argument over the military's policy on homosexuals.

"Especially considering that this is a play by John Fisher. Yes, that John Fisher, the perennial UC-Berkeley Ph.D. candidate and famed writer and director of a series of outrageously funny and thought-provoking camp gay musical extravaganzas - "Cleopatra: The Musical," "A History of Homosexuality in Six Scenes," "The Joy of Gay Sex," "Napoleon: The Camp Drag Disco Musical Extravaganza" - that culminated in the smash-hit, long-running "Medea: The Musical" a few years back.

"'Combat! An American Melodrama,' which opened Thursday at the Victoria Theatre, is Fisher in a very different mode. Inspired by the controversy over gays in the military, Fisher has gone back to its source - in the Army psychiatric tests developed in World War II to weed out undesirable elements. The play he's written combines gay and military history to make a penetrating, inventive and remarkably dramatic argument about gay rights as basic human rights.

"This is serious stuff, and complicated as well. Even at his most outrageous, Fisher has never been one to shy away from intellectually complex arguments. The many layers of competing radical gay and feminist ideas about interpreting the classics were a large part of what made his "Medea" as stimulating as it was hilarious.

"This time, Fisher embodies aspects of his argument in several different stories. There are two romances in which young enlistees discover their same-sex predilections, one among Marines and one among WACs. There's the story of Harry Stack Sullivan, a gay psychiatrist who helped create the military's exclusionary test. There's the drama of a black soldier integrating the Marines. And there's material on the Holocaust, the politics of FDR's inner circle, J. Edgar Hoover and other matters as well.

"Small wonder that "Combat!" was reportedly a sprawling epic that ran three hours and 40 minutes when Fisher staged it at UC-Berkeley two years ago. He's tightened it considerably since then, though it's still epic in scope. Produced by Air Zimmerman Productions (Fisher's regular producer Jonathan Zimmerman) and directed by the playwright, "Combat!" ran about 2-1/4 hours (with a lengthy intermission) opening night.

"Fisher gives it a stark, propulsive staging on an almost bare stage - a long, high, movable platform is the principal set unit - against a rough brick wall (set by Matthew Aslin, based on Kate Edmunds' original design at UC). With the help of Caren Goldberg's spare lighting (based on David Elliott's original), and Jo Vincent Parks' mostly musical soundscape (big band swing classics juxtaposed against military drums), he does a remarkable job of juggling his rapidly alternating stories.

"He also manages to provide a nice, sharp focus on a large number of characters - not least, his own performance as a tough, demanding, gung-ho, fiercely loyal and not-very-closeted gay Marine sergeant, roaring at his men one moment and dishing them the next. His is the unit that gets pinned down on Tarawa. It's also the unit integrated by Brian Yates' solid, quietly seething, dignified Private Adams, and where one of the main romances takes place.

"That one involves Christian Milne's boyishly sweet, curious John Herrick - the play's sometime narrator, tying Fisher's own childhood love of playing soldier into the theme - and Gary Cannon's gently masculine, more experienced Mark Thomas. Over on the WAC side, Herrick's former girlfriend Susan (a sunnily appealing Jana Chavez), who's never even heard of lesbians, falls into a delightful, tragic-tinged relationship with the blunt, swaggering Bev (Erin-Kate Whitcomb).

"Back on the home front, Christopher Herold (who doubles deftly as a soft-spoken Marine colonel) is compelling as Dr. Sullivan. With nicely underplayed, firm resolve, he traces a path of tragic disillusion from his joy at having the Pentagon take psychiatry seriously to despair at how his test has been used to turn gays from a silently shunned to an openly persecuted minority. (With commendable scholarly precision, Fisher details how much of the Sullivan story is fact and how much conjecture.)

"Christopher Corey-Smith turns in a number of strong cameos, a sanguine psychiatrist, a rabidly bigoted General Hershey and a fearfully closeted Assistant Secretary of State Sumner Welles among them. Cecelia Hope Wogan has some nice turns as various secretaries and as the WAC colonel who faces down General Eisenhower's order to rid his staff of lesbians. Jeffrey Fierson's drag diva is another standout in the large, strong cast.

"It's not all serious, of course. Fisher tosses in a bit of camp - a jazz-dance reconnaissance mission; a drag show number - for welcome comic relief. It's not all quite as tight as it could be, either. At times, Fisher rushes his pacing and key moments get undersold, while the ending suffers from what feels like a hurry to get things wrapped up. He needn't rush. By then, "Combat!" has more than earned its stripes.

(Robert Hurwitt, S.F. Examiner.)

"Fisher's Combat! Carries the Day! History, sexuality merge in ambitious, passionate epic!
Exhilarating! John Fisher restakes his claim as one of the most stimulating theater artists to emerge here in the past decade... [Fisher] gives his material such a confident theatrical charge that the audience feels the kind of vibrations Tony Kushner unleashed in Angels in America." [The little man is clapping!] (Steven Winn, S.F. Chronicle.)