Arts Listings

The Theater: ‘The Strangers We Know’ at the Julia Morgan

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Tuesday January 30, 2007

A rather involved tale of the appearance (and disappearance) of a boarder in a Parisian flat, a young woman from Marseille, studying acting ... but is she from Marseille? Or studying acting? Certainly she proves to be “enceinte”—and the effect of the ephemeral tenant on the family, narrated wistfully by Madame, especially after seeing her again, years later, for an instant in a commercial on TV, while the background of the 13ieme Arrondisement constantly changes as Asian immigrants move in ... 

Followed by an adult mother-and-daughter act, tooling around Ireland on vacation, bristling with old “issues,” as daughter Abby just waits for the chance to kiss the Blarney Stone as a boost for her forthcoming promotion from achievement test question writer to inspirational speaker. 

Such is the fare in store when Word for Word brings Strangers We Know to the Julia Morgan for one week, tomorrow night (Wed.) through Sun. afternoon, after a run at SF’s Magic Theater, with an adept cast simultaneously narrating and acting out “Mlle. Dias De Corta” by Canadian storyteller and elective Parisienne Mavis Gallant and “Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People” (Abby’s mother’s constant tag-line) by Lorrie Moore, author of Birds of America. 

Mavis Gallant’s wry tale is seen through the eyes of the lady of the house (Susan Harloe), addressing her long-lost boarder (Maria Candelaria, a would-be surrogate daughter?), the long, raconteurish storylines switching back and forth from past to present, the life of the neighborhood flowing in and out. 

It’s an engaging work, directed by Amy Kossow, though Word for Word’s eponymously literalistic approach doesn’t always match up to the resilient, almost hypnotic flow of the second-person narrative; their quick, indicative turns of family or neighborhood characters breaking into the flow to illustrate what’s been said can distract from the ambient sense of its telling, contradicting rather than fleshing out its charm. 

“Which Is More Than I Can Say ...” is almost a burlesque, a hapless familial takeoff of Buddy and Roadtrip adventures, Abby kvetching while her imperious mother takes the helm of what was originally a solo voyage, plying the rent-a-car wheel and bursting into song (Country-&-Western) as they brave the tourist life and the open road, beset by disapproving, guidebook-browsing sheep (Maria Candelaria in a funny routine) and cranky local folk, many with suspiciously pointed leprechaun ears (Joe Mullinex, who also directs, in a panoply of roles, subbing in some for Paul Finnochiaro). Comedic and a little picaresque (though Abby would quail over so testy a word), the story doesn’t have the sophistication or artfulness of Gallant’s raconte, but it works perfectly for Word for Word and their style, bringing out two splendid performances by Sheila Balter as indecisive Abby, and Patricia Silver as her seemingly flinty mother, who, as Abby comes to realize, has always acted so aggressively that she “never was courted before.” 

Word for Word’s been at it for 13 years now, and have developed a real following. These selections, with choreography by Andrea Weber, set and video design by David Szlasa (a nice arc of emerald green like a rainbow) delight those coming back for yet another story. 



Presented by Word for Word at 8 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday at the Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave. $25-$33. 

(415) 437-6775,